July 3, 2011

Back to Basics

Beginning of June I returned to basic level ballet class. Not to worry Dear Reader, I have not suffered a sudden injury, nor the onset of ballet-amnesia, and neither have I been scared away from advanced class - quite the opposite! I have never been more comfortable out of my comfort zone. Thrilled in fact. Which means it is time for a new challenge, like taking a regular ballet class in pointe shoes. The timing was coincidentally fitting, as there are no actual pointe classes in summer. And no way could I hang up my shoes for three entire months! Come fall, I´m sure my feet would have punished me for such negligence.. However, our advanced level is too difficult for me to do en pointe, but my teacher okayed it for the basic class. It has been an interesting experience.

Wearing those pointe shoes is like a time-warp back to Akward. Sure, I´m ahead of the rest of the class, but learning to dance on pointe is like learning how to dance all over again! Last time another girl from my pointe group was there too, and after our teacher gave me another painstakingly precise correction, she explained to class that, yes, we are more advanced, but on pointe everything becomes newly challenging again. So true! Especially when we are not doing pointe-specific exercises. Whenever we stand flat, for tendus, degagés or center adagio, I miss feeling the floor under my feet. The first time we did a simple temps lie in center, finishing with arabesque, then plié, then pas de bourré, I was suprised most by the arabesque on flat foot. It´s like standing in a rocking boat! One one foot! Which is kind of odd, that I can balance better up, but I suppose that´s what those clobbers were designed for.. It´s a good exercise, makes you concentrate on proper placement. 

I´m really glad though that our teacher has also incorporated pointe-exercises into the barre, like various soutenus, piqués, sous sous, lots of balances (which I have been doing both rolling and springing up), and even relevés facing the barre. These are not just for our benefit (i.e. us who are pacticing pointe through the summer) but very useful and fun exercises to do on demi-pointe as well. Still I keep getting weird looks, especially when there is someone new. At the barre I´m fairly invisible to the rest, except to whatever poor girl is standing behind me, and getting confused by my modified barre. Hey, it´s a good exercise for keeping your focus!

In the center it´s different. I would prefer to go to the back of the class, but it´s already crowded. Strangely the entire first third of the floor is empty, so I take my spot there and try to lure some other girls to move up as well. I remember how daunting this was the first time around, and it is a bit nerve-racking again. Those pointe shoes sure are a great equalizer; I feel as clumsy as I did, what, 18 years ago.. When we do piqués in the diagonal, my teacher tells me to do just balances, even though we have been praticing piqué turns in our pointe class (or was that with my other teacher?). I decide to give it a go anyway, and one the left I manage to keep up with the other dancers.

It really makes me appreciate basic level ballet again. It is such an important time in your dancing! It is when you build your foundations for everything that is to come, and you want to be a strong house, not some shack with the construction gone all wrong! I sometimes wonder why certain dancers are in such a hurry to leave basic levels behind, even disregarding their teacher´s advice in the process. There is no award in showing up in advanced ballet, not if your basic technique is seriously and sadly lacking. I would like to pull these girls/women aside, and tell them this: why not take the extra time, and hone your skills, build your strengths, do the real work, pay your dues and enjoy the whole journey! It will show in your dancing, and eventually you will be happier for it. Trust me.

Luckily, these few somewhat misguided wannabe-ballerinas are the exception. The basic class I´m taking is full of motivated and smart women who obviously love to dance and want to make the most of it! I thoroughly enjoy being in the same class with them, and hoping to be a good example makes me work even harder. The regulars are also used to my noisy pointe shoes by now - maybe some even like getting a preview of what´s to come.. In any case, if they decide to go en pointe, my teacher requires a minimum of three years of consistent and solid training, which would place them at basic-intermediate level..

And of course they are curious: "So how long have you been dancing before you got to go on pointe?" Me: "17 years." There is laughter, and someone joking that she will be a Grandma before she ever gets that far. Then there is also relief. Me being a teenager´s lifetime worth ahead of them, it kind of takes all peer pressure away. Of course, you do not have to wait as long as I did, but my example goes to show that you can take your own sweet time to get there. In the meantime, be a proud basic level dancer. Appreciate how far you´ve come already and know that you can get much further still!

The following video is not about basic level class, but I want to share it with you because Etudes is a true hommage to classical ballet training, and a dazzling display of brilliant dancing. Here it is danced by the Royal Danish Ballet, one of the finest companies in the world. The choreography is by Harald Lander. The first danseur, Kenneth Greve, is currently Artistic Director of the Finnish National Ballet.


  1. So true! I really cherish basic barre exercises, getting all those basic steps sharp! There is always room for improvement. I want my ballet house built on a solid foundation not a rickey shack too :)
    Glad to hear that you are enjoying sort of being a "beginner" again :D

  2. Neat perspective! There is definitely something satisfying and exciting about approaching familiar things from a new angle.

  3. Yeah, it keeps you on your toes!
    Ooh, I have so been waiting to deliver this pun ;)

    Thanks Jeff for your comment!

    Hi bead109!

    I love that in ballet you can always rewind and clean up your act ;)

  4. You are right, it is fun to get a prewiew! You are a great example and motivator to us, but I am slighty envious too, I must admit :) I am counting how old will I be in 17 yrs, and keep kicking my self that I didn't do my ballet comeback a decade ago when I took some occasional classes... I don't reegret anything in my life except that I gave up ballet when I was young :(
    Oh well, I'm happy that I'm dancing now, and I am truly aiming to advance as far as I can!

  5. Bead 109 -

    You know this of course already, but in ballet you are never finished studying. We are continuosly learning new suff, while doing maintenance on everything that has come before.

    That´s why I never take my ballet for granted. The moment I start feeling the least bit complacent, you can come and kick my butt back in line. :)

  6. Aija, it´s not like you have to start from scratch again! And trust me on this, you are not too old to advance beyond your younger dancing self. Obviously you have the desire, and the dedication as well.

    Anyway,if you are talking about my 17 years of dance you have to subtract the years you already got to dance! Might I remind you again that I missed out on ballet classes as a child/teen? This is the one thing I sometimes regret, that I did not start earlier. Not that I ever could have danced professionally, but it still makes me wonder.. Could I be a better dancer now?

    You can see, there is no point in contemplating the what ifs. You and me, we are both lucky to be dancing. Past, present, and hopefully long into the future!


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, ...