July 10, 2011

Dancathon - First Week Recap

I really could get used to this way of life.. It´s Sunday afternoon, and I´m as relaxed as can be. No getting ready for another week in the office, instead 14 more days of vacationing and loads of ballet. Daily ballet in fact. What a nice ring that has. Dai-ly bal-let. I´m sorry to rub it in, especially to any reader who has to wait until the end of summer for their dance studios to re-open. But I really had forgotten what a difference it makes in your dancing! Everything becomes more natural, more responsive and less strained. Oh, and let´s not forget the gorgeous outdoors, the beach and the sun! It all makes for one seriously happy combination.
Roll out your landing gear!
Beginning of this week, it almost came to an untimely and disastrous end. I landed badly from a jump. We were practicing grand allegro in center, traveling in four diagonals. Tombé pas de bourré - glissade - grand pas de chat - contretemps - repeated three times - and on the final fourth sequence, instead of grand pas de chat one big saut de chat. This is where you start like a pas de chat, but developpé the front leg in mid-air. It is a new jump for me, tried it a couple of times, but certainly not part of "my repertory". On the left, it went suprisingly well, but on the right.. Oh dear. I had traveled too far, and was jumping off-mirror, without any visual feedback. Mid-air I did something weird, and suddenly had no sense of my placing and timing. It was like flying in the dark, without radar. I came down with my left landing gear still in, that is on pointed toes. Ouch! 

Luckily I landed on two feet, and the toes of my left foot kind of rolled under. God, I would have fainted at the sound of breaking bones! Most of the impact I felt between the third and fourth metatarsals, right at the base of the toes. There was some minor bruising the next day, and I went right back to class. It really only bothers me coming down from a big jump, and on one foot. Which I stupidly keep forgetting. Somehow I have managed to bang the same spot every class, until I had the better idea of easing off it. Last Friday I only did some lite big jumps, and with the added weekend-break the sorry foot seems to be okay now. I hate to think that my dance-vacation could have gone to the dogs.. 
You win some, you lose some, sometimes it rains, and sometimes you get to dance.
Alas, it did not. Phew. Tuesday I went to The Other Place, to try out a different class and a new teacher. Hmm.. What can I say? Every dancer experiences this. Sometimes you come across a class which would have been terrific at another point in your "career", but now it just does not happen. I did appreciate this newly graduated teacher´s eagerness and the knowledgeable preparation that went into the class. She even brought along textbooks and pictures, which we proceeded to look at mid-barre.. For me, however, this disrupts the flow and pace of the lesson. Even though it is commendable that a teacher has such keen interest to share her knowledge with students. As long as you balance theory with practice. Class is short enough at 60-90 minutes. 

The anatomy & alignment lecture, however, was not my reason for not "feeling" the class. I know many others who did. A friend of mine was quite excited after class, saying that she really liked this teacher. I don´t consider it bad judgement at all, it merely goes to show that there are different needs at different times. In the past two years I have been learning a lot of new things, about technique but also about what actually happens between the steps. I have written a lot about it in this blog, but to recap: it has to do with breathing and elongating, phrasing the music, bringing something of yourself into it, of telling a story with the very first movement. There is still focus on very clean technique, but with a new emphasis on expression and artistry. It has been both a relevating and liberating experience.

The zen of ballet class

It is also the very antithesis of robotic dancing, something our teacher M-P disdains greatly. This class at The Other Place had nothing to do with robots, thank goodness, but the movement quality is somewhat sporty, with stick-it-out-there tendu degagés and bouncy pliés. There are some beautiful cambrés, but mostly class feels like a hurried gym exercise. There is a lot of choreography even for the first pliés and tendus, and I can see how others like as much variety as possible.. But it´s not the best way for me to get going. I need that moment of zen to find my center. Give me a simple beginning, some beautiful music and I´m a happy (and properly warmed-up) dancer already! Must be my old age ;) So, despite one very energetic teacher, and lots of sensible focus on anatomical placement, I leave class without my usual après-ballet buzz. I gave it another go on Friday, even switching levels, but with the same result. Class just feels like I´m taking a step back into the wrong direction. But it´s not the teacher´s fault. 
Classes with my own school´s Summer Sub are, on the other hand, getting better every time. The barre is still a little too short & lite for my liking, and I wish we could repeat at least a third of it. I am not the only one who thinks the same, and we are currently wondering if and how we should bring this up.. The exercices are good, we just want more! There are also considerably less corrections at the barre, at least compared to our regular teachers (and even less than at The Other Place). Much more focus is placed on correct breathing - very important - and economical movement. This is something our other teacher, M-P, has also talked about. You can´t be at 110% all the time, or your dancing will look contrived, instead of effortless. It is something that is very hard to teach in the beginning, as muscle memory and strength have not yet developed. But it is a valuable lesson, one that I´m continuously learning.

Oh dear, this is turning into a mid-term paper, not a blog post. I do hope you´re not tempted to surf elsewhere before getting to the closing sentence.. Please let me know if I´m writing too lengthy posts! I was actually planning to do daily short posts this week, but it has been to darn hot to blog. Anyway, it has been a terrific week, even with the classes at The Other Place. You always learn something, maybe a new step, or a new pointe of view. Sometimes there are ahaa-moments, thrills and triple pirouettes. Sometimes it´s just a work-out. But it´s all good. Good to be alive, and dancing.

P.S. Pictures were taken today on my local waterfront trail, around 20:00 hrs (8 p.m.). It´s midsummer, so the sun does not set in Helsinki until 22:39 hrs. All this light = lots of extra energy to dance!


  1. Wow, I'd definitely love to take class every day, even just for a week or two! I hope your foot is OK! Back in college, I remember doing (jazz) dance rehearsal for a show, and landed strangely from a jump and it was the first time I ever even remotely sprained my ankle. Oww. If I can help it I never want to do that again. :)

    I like good lengthy posts! And you've broken it up into sections with headers, which I like to do as well. It gives the reader a little break, even visually, to change gears. Beautiful pictures, by the way!

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Foot feels much better, but class will tell. I hate to miss out on any big jumps! Ankle sprains are really nasty.. In my early teens I sprained mine 3 times! Was a total tomboy, always jumping off something and running down stairs. Luckily that was before dancing. We sure don´t want to repeat that! :P

    I´m glad you like my lengthy posts :) The pictures were taken with my new camera, and I´m still practicing. Would you believe that this is my first digital camera? :)

  3. Wow Johanna! You live in such a lovely place! It looks so heavenly! Thank you so much for sharing, I am loving reading about your Dancathon!! And you sound like a true artist when you talk about the importance of what happens 'between the steps'. So lovely and so true!!!

  4. Thanks, N!

    It is really nice here, the sea is just some 8 minutes away (on slow foot) :)

    There is so much to think about in ballet, which is not easy when you´re trying to warm up and remember all the steps! Sometimes ideas and feelings come when I´m already home - but thank goodness there are always new classes to try them out!

  5. I absolutely love the title of your blog! I danced with a local professional company until I was about 22 and then "came back" two times- once when I was 25 and again at 28 and I know how hard it is to get your body back in ballet shape! My biggest challenge was to try not to look in the mirrir too much and criticize, instead I tried to just enjoy the music and the feel of the movements. One thing I could never get back fully was the arabesque I had when I was younger. I would love to dance again (I'm 36 now), but that will have to wait until I have some free time (I'm raising 4 kids!). Enjoy your dancing!

  6. "The zen of ballet class"...that's a wonderful phrase. I also liked your comparison of new teacher at the Other Place versus what you know that you like NOW. I also have my preferences and they include a nice long barre to really get everything opened up loosened up and focus on technique before moving to center. One of the classes I take is just the opposite, very short perfunctory barre and then lots of center, including facings and positions of the body, proper stage use and traffic patterns (stage right yields to stage left, etc), which fills in some gaps in my ballet training, but I MISS that long sweaty barre. :) I guess this is why a lot of us adult dancers shop around and take classes in different places (that and trying to get enough classes in a week to support our habit!).

  7. Hi Ballerinamama!

    Wow. I can imagine how hard that is.. Seems that the height of the arabesque is among the first things to go. Sigh.. I´m still hoping to get mine higher, before it all starts going down hill ;)

    Oh yeah, that mirror can be your friend and your worst enemy! I try to look beyond my not-so-perfect ballet bod, and focus on the line I´m trying to create. Sometimes I get frustrated that I´m stuck with "me", but then again I´m kinda proud of how far I´ve come.

    I do hope you can get back to ballet class at some point, even if it´s only twice a week. Moms need their own special time too! :)

    Thanks for commenting, and I would love to know more about your pro-years! :)

  8. Hi Kaija!

    I always enjoy your comments, they are among my favorites!

    I like to mix it up, but when it´s a change from my usual preferred class, it still has to give me something in return. The worst kind is where you don´t get warmed up at all, and have to jump all stiff and un-bouncy..

    I can take class where I get no corrections, no prob. But I avoid classes where the teacher is insistent on 180 turnout, or has a very archaic vaganova style..

    But like you said, we have to shop around. I am quite lucky that my own school has already two amazing teachers, which equals three nights of super ballet. But where to go for the 4th or 5th class?

  9. Johanna, I couldn't agree more on the "insistent" part...I have had classes on both extremes, where the instructor either insisted on forced turnout OR told those of us without perfect 5th positions we should work in 3rd and not even try to work on a closer 5th. I suppose at those times you just have to trust your instincts and know your own body.

    One of my regular classes is more Vaganova, not in the turnout, but in the very expressive use of the upper body, while another of my regular classes is more RAD-based, with very simple and stark use of the upper body. It's been very challenging (in a good way!) to go back and forth between them. I see it as a good opportunity to work on being able to adapt to and dance in different styles :) It's a brain workout as much as a physical one, for sure!

    Last night's class had a substitute teacher who did the short barre and then lots of jumps and hamstrings and Achilles tendons were feeling it, stiff and unbouncy just like you said. :/

  10. Kaija, ouch on the "stiff and unbouncy" part! Usually I love jumps, but with growing years I need all the prep I can get. Especially with those grand jetés!

    I also love trying out different styles.. Bournonville has been interesting and very challenging on the brain! With Vaganova I´ve had different experiences, some good, others less so. Even when there has been that big port de bras, it´s always seems pretty much the same. I prefer when there are little surprises, and more variety in choreography.

    Currently I´m very much into French School, with some American thrown into it. Our Summer Sub is also very big on fluidity of movements,as opposed to big poses. Her class is very different from my regular, but I really like it! :)

    But it´s an odd choice to limit possition to 3rd, just because turn-out is not perfect. Third position is really only for beginners.

  11. Hey!
    Im starting ballet at the age of 13. Id like to ask that do I have any chance to become a professional dancer?(ballet)
    I know that Misty Copeland started at the age of 13 and dances in ABT right now..

    Thank you!

  12. That is a tricky question. For a professional career you would usually have to start much earlier, around the age of eight. It may take as many as 8-10 years to become a classical dancer even at pre-professional level. And though you are smarter at 13 and probably understand some things better, the body needs time to develop.

    Exceptions are few, and Misty Copeland is a very exceptional dancer.

    You are, however, never too old to dance ballet recreationally. I´ll see if I can get some of my teacher friends to help / comment further.

    Classical Ballet Teacher might answer you best with this post:

    In the meantime, work hard and enjoy your classes!

  13. Hello Anonymous and congratulations on beginning your ballet lessons! It would be impossible for any one person to say with certainty what your chances of dancing professionally are at this point. It is true that it becomes more challenging to catch up and excel the older you begin, but it is also true that a decent number of pros began at 13. If you are a male dancer, you might be successful starting as late as 16.

    So what should you do? Go to class, enjoy your new world of dance, read about dance and see where it takes you!

    Just remember that there is a lot more to dancing than the possibility of a pro career. Read the beginner articles Johanna linked up there (Thanks, Joahnna!) and then also read thoroughly this invaluable article from Nichelle at Dance Advantage:

    Best of luck to you!

  14. Thanks for answers!


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, ...