May 22, 2011

Sink or Swim?

Last night I had the weirdest ballet dream.. I was in pointe class, and about to do a piqué  - when all of a sudden the pointe shoe had turned into a stilt, making it impossible to go up. No need to consult a psychiatrist to figure this one out, not with the class I had on Friday.. It was as if someone had pressed the fast forward button, but edited me out of the loop. Or if everyone else had hitched a ride on the time machine, but left me holding my ticket. I can´t decide which metaphor to use, but you see where I´m going with this. For the first time in a long time I felt like I did not belong in that class.

Part of the reason for feeling sidelined is that it´s no longer the same class, nor the same teacher of late. Madame had to take an early leave, and our previous teacher G (who has been my main ballet teacher for the past three years) returned one month early from her maternity leave to spring in for Madame. Please don´t get me wrong,  I love G´s classes just as much; she is energetic, strict, fun, gives lots of spot-on hands-on corrections, and her technique is precise, quick, springy and very musical - all good. When I started pointe last August, it was in fact with G - and the the best introduction to pointe technique I could have asked for. Even though it was a mixed level, I could begin from point zero, and G took great care that I would not get ahead of myself. We had 10 weekly classes before Madame took over.

I gotta tell you, it was not the easiest of transitions! Classes were more difficult and I had the hardest time trying to keep up. Fortunately we were very, very lucky to get Madame to teach us! I have already sang her praises in many posts, but in short - she really knows how to get the best out of everyone. I don´t think I have ever been more challenged, and yet happy at the same time. She gave us real work to do, killer body-and-feet-building barres, combined with elegant épaulemant and center work that was both scary and exhilarating. It was often way over my head, but she would never give up on you, always taking the extra time to help you get there.

So you get used to a certain way, and then comes another way of doing things - which I should welcome as an exciting challenge! However, The Thing is, I sort of figured G´s classes would be easier. I mean she knows that I am still a pointe-beginner, and would not expect me to do too advanced stuff.. But no such luck. While the barre was relatively easy compared to Madame´s painstaking boot-camp, center was anything but. New steps I had never done before, and in combinations too fast for my feet to grasp. The advanced girls had a blast, and I was miserable. Finally I  changed back into my soft slippers, so I could at least dance until the end of class!

You may think that it´s no big deal, and that I will catch up with the rest. You are probably right. I just resented the sink-or-swim tactic. I do know that our teacher was testing us, figuring out what we have learned while she was away. And I understand how difficult it is to teach a mixed-level class and adjust every exercise to every individual learning experience. And yes, I really miss the attention I was getting from Madame. You may call me a Big Ballet Baby, but I´m far from confident in those pointe shoes. All I ask is that you do not push me into the deep end without throwing me a life-line too!

Dear reader, before you suggest I talk to my teacher, I already did. I know that G really cares for her students and wants us to learn, advance and still enjoy our dancing. I told her class was too difficult for me, and she agreed. She has already promised to give simpler exercises next week. Though I almost wish I had been wrong, that somehow she would have thought it possible for me to be that advanced already. Maybe she even did.. Sadly, I´m no ingenue at ballet. I have my dues to pay, and tons of relevés to do - just like every other dancer. But there is hope. I am not hopeless. And you know what? I used to be a swimmer before I did ballet - so there will be no sinking to the bottom for me!

Underwater picture taken for Australian Ballet´s new Swan Lake (choreography Graeme Murphy).
Dancer: Simone Goldsmith. Photography by Hugh Hamilton & Keith Lo Bue


  1. It sounds like a tough pill to swallow, Johanna. I'm glad that you know you're not going to sink - just might be a bit painful getting there for a while. Pay those dues, girl, and you will rewarded when you find yourself in the shoes of those more advanced dancers, having a ball.

  2. Thank you Kim for those honest words!

    There is no pointe in sugarcoating it. Ballet has never been easy, else it would not be half as rewarding as it is and can be. Though I very much doubt if it´s possible to catch up with those advanced dancers. You gotta remember that I am a very late, if not ancient starter. It takes many years of hard work, physical abilities and real talent to get there.

    But I would be very happy with a recreational ballerina´s intermediate skills.

  3. I totally sympathise with that. Even in our total beginners' class, we have so much variety that students are either in front or behind most of the time. There's no happy medium. I'm glad you had the confidence to speak up about it though and I really hope you feel better about it in next time's class. Agree with Kim - you clearly enjoy the challenge coz that's what it's all about! :)

  4. On the other me, the best thing about ballet is that it's all just work. Talent not required: put in the hours and you will get there eventually.

    There is no silver bullet. :)

  5. @balletbelly I know this teacher well, she´s really nice and easy to approach outside of class. Had it been another substitute teacher, I would probably have left it at that.

    I think open adult ballet classes have such variety that it is impossible to cater to everyone´s needs and skills all the time. But for the advanced girls there is no harm in doing simpler stuff once in a while, quite the opposite actually! And for the less advanced it does wonders to be challenged (within reason). Best case scenario: everybody wins.

    And yes, I´m really excited about next class - not at all frustrated :)

    Thanks for commenting!

  6. candice
    No no, You need to have talent. But it's not so necessary imo. Oh I wish i had such dreams too.

  7. I just read about another dance dream elsewhere and I find it so interesting that I have never had one, despite the fact that I've been involved in dance for over 38 years!
    Nice underwater photo btw! And great blog! :)

  8. That is curious! But I´ve read somewhere that we do not necessarily remember all our dreams.. Or, there is nothing dance-related for you to resolve in your subconscious!

    The picture is a stunning visual, and it fits my text so well! I hope the Australians don´t mind me re-blogging it ;)

    Thank you for the comment & compliment, I´m really happy you like the blog!

  9. I've had moments in ballet class where I felt like I was in over my head too. Keep working hard and you will be amazed with your progress.

  10. Thanks, Jen!

    Yeah, I gotta agree. Ballet is like that. If you want to learn and advance, leaving your comfort zone is part of the journey. I´m defintely getting better at this business of never giving up! :)


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, ...