April 7, 2011

Early Revelations, continued..

Note: This is the second instalment of a two-parter. Read the first part here: Late Starts..

I was already obsessed with ballet, taking classes up to six times a week, and loving every moment.. Looking back, I had actually forgotten how not-scared I was about leaving my comfort zones behind! Come to think of it, I probably did not yet have any! Within a couple of years I took the plunge and made the jump to intermediate classes, with the permission of my teacher of course. But it was a whole different ball(et) game.. The dancers in that class were all more or less advanced, mostly adults (18-35+), with a variety of pro-statuses: ballet-pro (with sub-categories of corps/soloist, even principal pros), retired ballet-pro, pre-ballet-pro, possible future pre-ballet-pro, former pre-pro ballet students (who never went pro) plus a colorful assortment of modern/contemporary/jazz dancers, again with a variety of pro-statuses.. Well, you get the picture. I was the late starter without any status, the new kid on the floor, trying hard catch up and stay out of the way at the same time! 

Knowing that I was just barely allowed class-access, I never asked any questions so I would not slow down the flow of the class. Instead I tried to soak up the moves and positions as fast as I could. I took the last free spot at the barre, seeing that the regulars had their fixed places. I practiced in the back row for the longest time, which was a fairly safe place to be.. The exercises we did in the diagonal, however.. Yikes! Jill loved to change directions mid-step, and I was still trying to figure out my left from my right. The weird thing is that because everything was equally difficult, I had no idea of what was outright out of my reach - so I tried to do everything! Though I did fail, frequently and miserably. But I can still taste the adrenalin rush I got out of those classes.

You know those moments, when a perfectly executed pirouette catches you (and everyone else) off guard, or when a quick allegro suddenly feels like a breeze to do? For me that first moment was a balance. We were doing adagio in the center: from 1st, temps lié to seconde, push off into balance with left leg extended high to the side and arms in 5th (couronne). From there, enveloppé left leg to passé and down. It might have continued into pirouette. Anyway, I did the whole sequence in balance, using every bit of the music. I just didn´t think about it. My teacher raised one eyebrow appreciatively and said "nice balance". For me, it was like a stamp of approval. Also, I figured out that I have at least one strength in ballet - balances!

Check out her balances..

Another revelation permanently etched into my memory came in my regular intermediate-beg. class. It was a valse, and something about the music.. I did not know enough to fret about technical purity, but I loved the sequence of the movements - such fluidity - so I just enjoyed myself. After class, my teacher came up to me.. and praised me for my musicality! Needless to say, I was totally floored. My extensions are not at 6 o´clock, my splits let light shine through, and I will never do Kitri´s grand jeté (where the head and back leg almost meet). But, baby, I got me some balance and some rhythm! You can´t go too wrong with that combo..

In Memoriam
I was not sure this would be the post to write about my first ballet teacher, but now that I did.. And before someone else writes about it in the margins of the comment box: Almost four years ago we got news of the worst kind. Jill had died suddenly, in the middle of ballet class. She had just finished teaching her own group and had rushed over to take the professional´s class. Help came quickly, but too late. She literally died mid-dance, and as her rabbi consoled us two days later, Jill had danced straight into Paradise. Her untimely death tore a huge gap into our dancing community - she had been teaching over 25 years! She was a wife, a mother of three, a friend, a mensch, a dancer and a mentor to many. She was my teacher for more than 15 years. I still miss her. I wish I could show her how much I still love the gift she gave me so many years ago..


  1. Intensive text again, I like it! :)

    In my opinion, musicality is equally important in dancing as technique. Of course one can manage with just counting numbers & bars of the music, but it leaves something out. And as I am a musician, it feels even more important ;) I get very irritated in classes, if it's not clearly said for example if we start on the 1st beat or just before it (kohotahdilla in Finnish :D). Or when the teachers don't figure out some tempo-issues (and I could tell it to them right away...) It was The Worst thing in the 7th-9th grades at school! Our gym teacher had poor sense of rhythm & calculation - and she taught us some dances and aerobics...

    I had my first ballet teacher for 10 years, after which I quit. She was amazing <3 Also my nick "Iepukka" is a name she called me :) (And she never had difficulties with music ;))

  2. And you are so right! Did you read the first part, "Late starts"? Without musicality, dance becomes nothing but exercise to music. You could just as well put a metronome in the corner! If the teacher is good, I don´t really count, but listen to the music. That should tell me all I need to know..

    I can believe that it is even harder for you, being a musician. BTW, what is your instrument? Could you accompany a ballet class on the piano? Coz that would be awesome :)

    Iepukka is a really cute name! Have you ever been to see your old ballet teacher? Now that you´re back in business..

  3. I'll read it Now :)

    My instrument is flute, a hobby that turned into my profession (because I didn't know how to stop, haha...). I do play a tiny bit of piano, but not good enough to accompany (except sometimes my youngest pupils).

    Unfortunately my old teacher isn't teaching here anymore, don't know if she's anywhere else either. I heard just a while ago that she lives in Helsinki (married to Jarmo Rastas). Would be so nice to meet her!

  4. It could be interesting to dance ballet to the flute :)

    Oh, you mean Arja? I never got to take class with her, but I did with Jarmo! A year ago he was still occasionally teaching at Tanssivintti. But I had my first experience with him some ten+ years ago. He was still really fit back then, and a great turner. Also got once taste of PDD, when Jammu lifted me in jete tournant :) He´s really fun :)

  5. Yap, Arja <3 Once I played flute for her, as she had birthday and our class wanted to congratulate her :D She was amazing and I regret that I wasn't more enthusiastic back then. Well, I was too tall to be a dancer anyway, so "no harm done" :P

    Jarmo was substitute a couple of times for us, those classes were quite energetic!

    ...memories! :)


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...