July 5, 2015


It's been three weeks since my last ballet class. In the past nine years, three weeks is the longest I've gone without dance. Now I'm looking at five more weeks, at least. My best case scenario: back at the barre by the 11th of August. The more likely scenario: sometime in fall, hopefully before winter. At least I'm not sick or injured, so that's good. I'm struggling with my dance budget, is all. Classes are expensive, you could easily feed yourself for two or even three days with just the cost of a single lesson! And when you are living on a very tight budget, every non-essential luxury means significant compromises elsewhere. For instance, I love to travel. But, given a choice, I love dance more. I like pretty shoes and clothes, but if it's class or a new outfit, I'd rather shop second-hand. I get my hair cut on birthdays only, buy generic brands (which often are just as good), and happily borrow occasional clothes from my more stylish friends. Ballet class might be a luxury, but I've never considered it being non-essential. The benefits and pleasure I get from dance far outweigh any compromises or sacrifices. The prospect of not dancing saddens me. A life without dance? Unimaginable.

I have been very fortunate this past year. In addition to my regular classes, I got to participate in a 6-month long intensive workshop (part of a dance pedagogy master thesis study), totaling 129 45-minute sessions (usually 3-4 sessions at once). The workshop helped improve body awareness and placement, and I've definitely seen and felt some progress since. There was even a performance at the end, in front of a small but appreciative audience. The movement material was based on our own improvised dancing, which made the rehearsals and show extra exciting! I'm very happy I had such an amazing opportunity to learn and grow.

There have been great classes throughout the year, with wonderful teachers. I've enjoyed the exercises and challenges, just as I've appreciated their advice and personal corrections. One lesson was a slightly bitter pill to swallow, and I've had to revise and adjust my attitude in the process. Turns out that negative moods (due to stress, fatigue, insecurities, whatever) can be contagious, affecting class mates and teachers alike. Facial expressions (think concentration face, or "resting bitch face syndrome") can also be misconstrued as something else entirely, for instance, showing lack of respect. When this was pointed out to me, I was aghast... Because I had no idea of the negative impact I was making! I was letting my everyday problems affect both my focus and body language, without realising it. Needless to say, I've since made every effort to improve my attitude. The lessons you learn in ballet... Not always about technique, but just as valuable, if not more so.

There have also been new teachers, and new discoveries. When my own teacher Marie announced that she would be leaving 6 weeks early, and we would have substitute teachers for the remainder of the season, I was initially anxious. I already knew that I would not be able to dance in the summer, and I did not want my last classes to lack in personal corrections and inspiration. It's not that self-evident for (middle-aged) adults to get such detailed and plentiful attention, with some teachers tending to put their main focus on more talented (and younger) students. Not that you cannot convince them otherwise, but it usually takes some time to build a working relationship. Well, I approached class with my best attitude (no pun intended), an open mind and my usual eagerness to learn - and it worked out better than I had expected! Of course, I missed Marie; the warm atmosphere, the corrections and encouragement she would bestow on us, but Arja was just as nice - and she made me work on other areas I had been neglecting. I have been "scooping up" my abs ever since! It was also fun trying more difficult enchaînements, faster tempi and new steps. Sometimes, you need those challenges to progress!

I also enjoyed guest teacher Minna Tervamäki's classes. I only got to attend four times (out of five), but having a recently retired principal dancer share her tips and "tricks" is nothing if not special. The focus was less on academic technique, more on neo-classical and contemporary ballet (think Balanchine, Forsythe..). I did not receive a lot of personal corrections (one or two per class), but there was a lot of fun dancing to compensate! In the long run, I would be frustrated not getting personal attention, but combined with other classes/teachers, it works just fine. Anyway, you cannot rely on your teacher to spot every mistake at all times, or to hope for praise every time there's a nice pirouette or balance... It's very important to develop body awareness, and to learn how to self-correct. Do it before your teacher reminds you! Also, you have to take pleasure in your progress, with our without praise.

Then, just when I thought my classes were over, there was an announcement of a 2-week summer intensive: morning classes from Monday until Friday, at a very cheap price I could actually afford! Of course, I signed up immediately. Classes were aimed at (semi-) professionals, but some exercises were simplified to accommodate a variety in levels. We had a different teacher almost every day, and while I only got a few personal corrections, it was a really good work-out! I even got to try some never-before-turns: pirouette en dehors, opening into seconde (like a fouetté), continuing into arabesque en dehors. Did not "quite" get it, but it sure was fun trying! The intensive was also excellent preparation for the Kuopio Dance Festival's courses. My going to Kuopio was a huge stroke of luck, and definitely the grand finale of the past dance season. I've already written about it (and there will be some follow-ups yet to come), but I could not have wished for a better finish - nor could I ask for more.

What happens next, and when, is uncertain. At present, I cannot afford classes, but that doesn't mean I'm quitting ballet altogether! I just need to stay in shape until I can go back again. Walking and jogging in the nearby forest, swimming, stretching, planks and pliés, plus tendus and fondues in the kitchen, ab exercises, relevés, strengthening feet with rubberband, waterballet... As long as I do something, because it's use it or lose it! So, I try to approach every day as if I have morning class the next. Eventually, hopefully, that day will come. 

Wherever there's a "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, ...