August 6, 2011

The Bar/re

Ever been to an informal get-together of dancers and seen anyone sitting on chairs, fixed at their table placing, for the entire time? Nope, didn't think so. Dancers tend to migrate to the floor, always stretching and limbering up their bodies. And if we're not limbering up our bodies, we are dancing. Relevés while getting the plates out of the cupboard, penché arabesques when picking up something from the floor. Heck, pirouettes whenever there's enough space. I've done mine in the kitchen..

In the company of fellow dancers, nobody thinks anything of it. It is perfectly acceptable and normal behavior. Seriously, it's hardly a wonder that the body stays in dancer-mode 24/7. That is what practice is all about, to make the physics of dance an integral part of your system. Once you have converted your body to ballet, it seeks every opportunity to move in its now natural state! A dancer is a dancer, outside of class and out of leos and tights, and even between dances. As for myself, I'm no pro, far from it, but I cannot help but feel my ballet body take over!

Sadly, out of class there are not that many opportunities. No piqué turns in office corridors, no checking out lines in every mirror, no grand jetés in the park, no waltzing to the bus-stop. Ballet is life, but life is not a ballet. Or is it? Last Thursday, after another fun & challenging ballet class, my ballet sis spontaneously suggested that we head for a post-ballet drink. Despite it being a work-night, I could refuse neither the good company nor the chilled bubbly. It was a lovely evening, warm enough to sit outside and relax into girl-talk and ballet-chat. Perfect, except for the sitting-in-place. Because when we got up to leave, we were both all stiff and sore. Pretty sure this is not the norm with non-dancers..?

Someone fixed that barre all wrong!

Must have been the bubbly (Spanish cava), but it got me into thinking about a bar for dancers only. You know of après-ski, the hot chocolate and sitting by the fire, relaxing? I would like to propose a similar space where tired dancers can spread out on a cushioned floor, stretching with refreshing drinks in hand. Protein-enriched banana smoothies or sparkly bubbly, whatever works for you. And as for the actual bar, remember the railing where you can put your feet? Lift the whole thing up, and presto: you have the barre at the bar. Mirrors optional.

But why stop there? Lets add a jacuzzi and sauna, plus epsom-salt foot-baths and free massages! Come to think of it, and leaving the bar out of it (just for a second) - why are dance studios not more like fancy gyms? Dance classes cost more, spaces are essentially the same (except for the dance-flooring), and showers are there already. Yet in Finland, where saunas are everywhere, not a single dance-studio has one. Except for the National Opera House. They heat their sauna every day. Lucky dancers, but I think they deserve it.

But back to The Bar/re. It's a funny and fitting coincidence, that our building used to host one of the more popular (and later, infamous) night clubs in Helsinki. Many, many years ago I stood at that bar, drink in hand, two floors under our current barre-filled studio space. That club is long since gone, but others have come since. One time last spring we left after our evening Friday class, just in time for the opening of an new club. The red carpet had been rolled out, rose petals were strewn and hunky doormen were giving us way. After our reverance to Swan Lake´s music, it only seemed appropriate. Darlings, I'll have champagne with that..


  1. Hi Johanna!

    I hope you’re not getting sick of my comments…I am turning into a real blog-stalker-creeper, but I just enjoyed your last post too much not to comment!

    As much as I would like to let my aching muscles relax in the sauna after an intensive dance class, to me the asceticism of the studio is something that separates dance from regular fitness activities done purely for the sake of “looking good” and “being fit”. For me, the dance studio is an art space like a painting studio or a photography studio, except the medium is the body and the music is the canvas. And you don’t see saunas in regular art studios (or do you?!).
    I have the urge to do ballet everywhere ( the bus stop, the supermarket, the street etc. etc.), and sometimes, when I see a long empty corridor, the urge is just too much. I’ve done a grand jete in the catfood section of Citymarket once. : ) Luckily everyone was too busy loading groceries for Midsummer’s festivities to notice a crazy person jumping…

    By the way thank you for your tip on the grand battement. I’ll have to try it with the cambre, though I can’t yet quite figure how to operate the cambre and the grand battement simultaneously… If you have any tips on combating the piriformis syndrome, I’ll take them gladly. It seems, for the last year or so I’ve been using my butt muscles to help with turn out, and now the tight piriformis muscle is compressing my sciatic nerve and hence all the hip pain…

    Anyway, have a great weekend! I hope the weather in HKI clears up soon.

  2. I wouldn't mind at all having a sauna by our studio :P Personally I don't think it would turn ballet classes to regular work-outs... :) Actually our dance school's second studio is located at the local swimming hall, so there are saunas. One of them is by our dressing room, but it isn't warm usually. When I was teenager, our ballet classes were held in this second studio - we used to go swimming after classes :)

    The Bar/re is an excellent idea ;D

  3. I would love a sauna right now, everything is sore...

    And I am that person who dances everywhere at work, forever getting caught doing tendus waiting for the kettle to boil or doing chainés down the corridor. Sometimes you just have to release the dancer within ;)

  4. I totally dance everywhere at work. The elevator conveniently has a barre just at the right height so when im all alone in there I have 8 stories to practice to my heart's content! I also frequently get caught doing releves in front of the microwave while waiting for my lunch to warm up; I can usually do about 40 before the timer goes off :D

  5. Actually the dance school Baila Baila has a sauna, probably because its situated in the location of the old Sauna Bar...and I have to say that having a relaxing sauna after a flamenco class was heaven for the tired feet and muscles! I would definitely pay a few extra euros for having a sauna after a ballet class, too.

  6. I am SO guilty of the penche thing. And I am not even a ballerina :S Go figure|!

  7. First of all, I LOVE the idea of bar that caters to dancers! I would definitely show up with my ballet pals (those other dedicated barre-mates I call "friends" even though we don't see each other outside of class) in tow and settle in for a nice drink, a foot soak, and ballet chat with kindred spirits! :)

    Secondly, this post and the comments have made me terribly homesick for a real Finnish sauna :( My parents are at our lake cottage right now for the August holiday and when I phoned last night, my mother told me they were waiting for the sauna to warm up and were making coffee and setting out snacks for sauna company. Here in Canada/North America, is difficult to impossible to find a real sauna. And those "hot rooms" at a commercial gym? Ugh...I find it offensive that they are even associated with the word (yes, I am a sauna snob!).

    Anyways, I wish I could join you all at the post-barre bar! :)

  8. Wow.. Five comments in before I´ve had a chance to respond to anyone - thanks guys! :)

    @Noora I always welcome your comments, keep them coming! I also like to read about different opinions and points of view.

    I do appreciate the romance of the ascetic aesthetic, sort of.. For ballet (class), all you really need is a decent space, a good floor, a barre, a mirror, music and a good teacher. I like that I can get by with as little as a leotard, tights and slippers. No need for fancy sports equipment.

    However, the artist is a dancer is a human - with a tired body and sore muscles at the end. I do not think a sauna would be any sort of extravagance, especially not in Finland. On the contrary, taking care of yourself is pragmatic. I do believe that even our National Ballet has saunas :)

    Maybe I have danced for so long that some of the mystery has gone. Maybe I´m old enough to appreciate the little niceties.

    For me the magic of dance happens in the interaction of the dancer and the music, in the joint mingling of physics, intellect and spirit. Where we practice our art is not so relevant.

    Unless there is that sauna. And pool. And the après-ballet Bar/re ;)

    About that grand battement: The cambré is in place before you throw the leg, but remember it is a small cambré of the upper back. Actually I would advise doing it only after a "regular" battement is strong enough and properly aligned throughout.

    As for the piriformis issue: unfortunately I have neither the expertise nor the personal experience to help you out with this one. I would have to google for answers..

    Thanks again, Noora, for taking the time to comment! :)

  9. Huh, there sure is a lot of traffic here.. I was just typing my response while two more comments popped up. Gotta love you readers! :)

    @iepukka - how nice to have a studio located at a swimming hall! When I haven´t longed for the sauna (especially in winter), I would have loved to jump in a pool after class! This summer has been so hot & humid, it would just have been awesome :))

    Swimming is also a very good supplement for dancing, as there is no impact on the joints. You could even do water-ballet in the pool! Not a la Esther Williams (swimming Hollywood siren), but standing, with water at chest height. Developpés, grande ronde jambes and beated allegro. Have done this at my local beach, and it´s great fun!

  10. Hi Penguinshuffle - that´s some cool name BTW - :)

    I work in a open office, so corridors are just passages between desks and wall-dividers.. No way could I dance there! But in my own little space I´ve done the occasional relevés, and even worn pointe shoes under my desk. LOL :D

    Thanks for commenting!

  11. @Four-eyed Ballerina - Hahahaaa, I can imagine! That elevator must be the smallest dance studio in the world!

    Since ballet took over I can´t look at any railings without getting other ideas.. ;)

    At my bus-terminal are these steel-railings, fixed in front of the glass divider between the waiting areas and bus platforms. They are too high for a regular barre, but at perfect height for stretching legs. So many times after class, and waiting for the bus, I have felt the strongest urge to pop my leg up!

    Thanks for your comment :)

  12. @Riikka - now I´m a little jealous :)

    The only drawback I can think of, is that I would be home even later. But what fun it would be to relax in the sauna afterwards. If not everyday, maybe just once a week..

  13. Hi Kaija!

    You´ll definitely have vip-access to our Bar/re :)

    I agree with you, saunas outside of Finland (and Sweden) are rarely the real thing. For that ultimate sauna-experience you need a little sauna-mökki next to a lake or sea, a wood-burning stove, the "vihta" made out of birch-twigs, and good company that knows to appreciate it all.. Aah. I wish I could throw some water on a hot stove right now.. :)

  14. I would also like to have a sauna, and now when you mention it: it IS weird that none of the ballet schools/studios have sauna around here... On the other hand, sometimes even the basic stuff is missing, broken or in a bad shape so no wonder.

    And I have just spent a week enjoying sauna every night, a real, proper sauna with vihtas (the scent is FAB!) View to Lake Saimaa and surrounded by Finnish nature. Bliss!

  15. @JV - that does sound soo perfect, I can just imagine the scenery, the vihta smelling of fresh birch leaves, the water pssishing on the hot stones, the relaxing heat, swimming in the lake, and the bliss after.. Sigh :O)

    Glad you had such a good vacation!

  16. What a lovely post Johanna! I'd love to have a sauna, now I'm just running home in a hurry to get a proper shower. But if there were a sauna I could take the changing clothes with me and stay a little longer... and enjoy the company of my ballet buddies.


  17. Thank you Katja :)

    When there is time, I´m perfectly happy to take a shower in our dance studio. I like to carry some nice travel-sized shower gels & lotions with me..

    Of course, it would be so nice to share the post-ballet sauna with your ballet-buddies! :)

  18. Just a fun follow-up to my earlier comment...inspired by this post and the discussion, I did some internet searching and found a day spa in my city that offers a "water therapy" circuit with pools of differing temperature, salt content, a "green tea" pool (not sure what I think about that!) and shower, dry sauna, steam room, etc. The lady who showed me around assured me that "most people skip the 'cold plunge pool' unless they're Scandinavian..." and was quite amused when I told her I was Finnish and yes, I WOULD be looking forward to the cold plunge :) No cottage or vihta or löyly bucket, but it's the next best thing for now! So, thanks to YOU for the inspiration to seek it out :)

  19. Like this Bar/re idea very much. There's a definite lack of places where a girl can hold a gimlet in one hand and pull her leg up over her head with the other without getting some funny looks.
    Walked past a bar the other day called The Fifth. And was like, "omg ballerina bar!" until realizing, duh, it's referencing the fifth amendment, oh well.
    Might pop in and see if they sell t-shirts though, could be fun to wear to the barre.


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, ...