February 6, 2013


Looking at my last post "Without Dance", I should have named it "Without Blogging" instead. But, as life happens, sometimes you get busy with stuff and other stuff suffers. Not to make a mystery of it: I went back to full-time paid employment. Which was a welcome change after stretching my budget till no end. Seriously, the end of all ballet classes was thisclose. So you can imagine my relief and enthusiasm after finally finding what I was looking for, and still being able to dance as much as I want. And need. But the blogging has been hard to squeeze in. For a while, I moved "operations" over to facebook - but I do miss the writing (and hope you've missed it too.) So much for explaining my blogabsence. Now let's get on with the blogging!

"I Want to See Colours From You"

That's what my teacher told me, some weeks ago. I trust she was not refering to my class attire, although I did change into a more colourful outfit the next week: a red cotton tank top, which goes well with my two-layered ballet skirt (black & red), and a crocheted multi-colour triangular scarf to tie around my waist. I figured that it would at least work as a reminder. Because what my teacher was essentially telling me, is that my dancing is kind of bland. Technically fairly neat and clean, and all the arm and head positions correct, but without colours and nuances. Madame wants me to be more pronounced with my épaulement, more creative with my port de tête, and not look like a ballet school robot. She wants to see me dance in class, at the barre, in center - and then do the same on stage. Which is possibly the best feedback I've ever gotten. There was really nothing negative about it ("bland" is my own choice of word). Instead I feel like I've been given a positive task, a compliment even. She must think that I'm ready for it.

If all else fails... ; ) Dancer: Ilmira Bagautdinova. Photo (c) Mark Olich.

"Play With Your Port de Bras"

Seriously, how often do you get told to play in ballet class? For me, it was a first. Now, I've always been confident about my port de bras, and have considered it as one of my strengths in ballet. Madame said nothing to the contrary, she even called it nice and pretty - but now she's asking me to play. Again, I think this is positively awesome advice. All my other classes are very much text-book academic, at least at the barre. Even allongés are strictly regulated. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to strict ballet class academics. You do need to learn the rules first before you get to break them. Playtime is earned.

Colour Me Happy

I have to admit that I've been somewhat shy to follow these new in-colour-instructions. I'm not one to shout out my presence in class, or elsewhere for that matter. Blogging is different. But I've noticed something very interesting. When you focus less on your feet, and think more about the upper body dancing - you dancing - then the rest follows much more easily. It can be no coincidence that my triples have returned at the same time I started to "play"! And it makes class so much more joyful when you get to infuse some of your own personality into everything.

Up until recently, I used to think that my weak points (lack of flexibility and turn out, among others) would always outweigh my strong suits and set me apart from the more talented crowd. You know, along the lines of "she dances quite well for an adult, shame about the _____ (insert whatever perceived or real flaw). But it's not like that at all. I have it in me to be a beautiful, elegant and expressive dancer. It's not going to be easy - but I fully expect it to be wonderful. This is why I love to dance, after all.


  1. "You do need to learn the rules first before you get to break them. Playtime is earned."

    Spot on!

    I have a strong belief in building technical prowess, but once you've got a firm foundation, it is SO essential to play within the technique! A "ballet school robot" (love that term!) will put the audience to sleep... there's no magic in cleanliness! ;)

    It took me a while to be comfortable being expressive in class, too. I was okay when I got on stage, but had a hard time acting for an invisible audience. It felt so... uncomfortable. Like, who do I think I am to be putting on airs? But at the same time, class is the safe space to explore what works and what doesn't work with the artistry. And playing makes it so much more fun and easier sometimes! So many of my challenges in ballet are purely because I get bogged down in the details and forget that I'm there to dance, not just to execute a perfect [whatever].

    I do think it's a great compliment to be told by your instructor to play, so congratulations!

    1. Thank you very much, Rori - it does feel like a big milestone! :)

      "Like, who do I think I am to be putting on airs? " Oh, I can so relate to this! I've always worried that I might come off as pretentious, or even worse, look like a wannabe-ballerina (and get it all wrong). But I do trust my teacher implicitly. If my playing is over-the-top, she will let me know - and be nice about it. Because that's what I need at this point in my dancing: gentle but firm prodding to dance ahead. I like what you said about class being a "safe place to explore".

      The details are of course important, as is improving/perfecting your technique. But it's still first and foremost about the joy of dancing, even in class. When you let yourself dance, the reast will follow. :)

    2. I feel exactly the same! And sometimes, it's killing me because I really want to DANCE, but worry what others will think and hold back and strangle my expression. You seem to have a wonderful teacher in every respect. I envy you! And well done with the new job, congratulations!

    3. Thank you, Aliénor! :)

      How about we worry less what others might think? Let's just DANCE and trust that our teachers will guide us into the right direction, should we look too melodramatic or insanely goofy.. ;)

      And yes, you're right about my teacher - she's great! I love taking class with her. :)

  2. Yay! I'm so glad you're back...and honestly, I was getting a little bit worried that something had happened to you. But it's GOOD things, like being employed and having a dance budget and getting inspired :)

    I really enjoyed what you wrote about your teacher's feedback/motivation to you because I feel like I could apply it to myself as well. Sometimes I just get lost in my internal world of processing what I'm doing in class. Other times, I find myself holding back because I'm trying too hard not to make a mistake instead of taking chances and putting myself out there so the "show your colours" is a great mantra :) I also have one teacher who encourages us to let go of the purely academic port de bras and play with individual graces and interpretations and I find that it's a bit difficult at first but a good change of pace that I'm starting to really like.

    Congratulations on the new job and good wishes for your ballet progression...always inspiring to read about :)

    1. Thank you, Kaija! :)

      It looks like we share the same "issues" in class. It's hard to engage in the artistry of ballet when you're struggling with technique and steps. And it does often seem more important not to make any mistakes than to "colour" (y)our dancing. But when you do get to that level (strong technical foundation), there's no other way to grow as a dancer. Providing your teacher gives you the green light and steers you in the right direction. And it does make the technique appear effortless instead of looking like a struggle! Well, that's what I'm aiming for anyway.. :)

      I like that you've found a teacher/class like mine! It's a whole new adventure, n'est-ce pas? :)

  3. I'm going to be "sitting" my Grade 4 exam this summer and practicing for it is killing me. So much technique to want to perfect, far too much concentration on technique to enjoy dancing and putting expression in the movements. My teacher pointed out that, whilst we feel inferior to the 11-year-olds who also do this exam, we can also earn more points with expression than they would. One reminder I keep getting is, "If the examiner is toying with what mark to give you, a decent smile after the spot turns at the end of the dance will make her mind up."

    Having an exam to work towards helps me remember to do this, even just warming up at the barre. Because we're a small school that doesn't do productions very often, we only ever act towards an invisible audience with "no need" as such to ham it up for a real person.

  4. I've never commented before but am moved to now … for me, the fun of dancing as an adult is that one can, simply, DANCE. Gone are the fears of not being technically perfect. (Who could ever be? But we thought it might happen if we worked hard enough.) We bring our adult experience of many, many things to the dance studio and we know that the dancers we most enjoy watching are not the most technical, or even those blessed with the most appropriate physiques. As adults we know it will never be our career. We can have more fun. We are less self-conscious and more confident. We are, in reality, better DANCERS: better at dancing. Now, if only one could only go back and share that wisdom with our striving, sincere 14-year-old younger selves!


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, ...