December 31, 2015

My New Year's Dance Solutions

1. Remain curious. Be open to new ideas, suggestions and corrections.

With ballet practice relying so much on repetition, it's easy to get settled into the same old routines. But developing your muscle memory is more than going through the motions. To make exercises into dance, you have to stay awake and alert. What is it that you're really doing? Are you applying all corrections as well as you could? Do you ever question and understand the mechanics of both your weaknesses and strengths? Do you attempt to self-correct, find new ways to improve? There is a lot of excellent dance literature and dance videos for additional study. Sometimes, it's also a good idea to seek out a new studio and teacher (you don't have to abandon your old one).

2. Take care of yourself

Get enough sleep, rest and enjoy a well-balanced diet. There are degrees of fatigue: feeling tired after a long day doesn't necessarily mean a bad class, in fact it's often the opposite - you leave feeling like a new person! But if you're tired all the time, haven't recovered from previous classes, muscles are heavy and sore, and you're low on energy... Then you're setting yourself up for disaster. Your brain doesn't communicate with your body as well as it should, fun challenges turn into frustrating obstacles, your positive attitude evaporates, and you even risk injury. I've been there, but I've also learned my lesson. For example: When I get home after my Wednesday evening class, I've only one hour to get ready for bed (if I want a full 8-hours of sleep). I have to unpack my bag, pick out new stuff for Thursday morning class, shower, eat and stretch. What not to do: log onto facebook, or any other social media. I love to share, like and comment, but it's very distracting! And after that last ballet class, I'm hyper enough as it is... You know the feeling?

3. Practice good habits

Practice does not make perfect, but practice makes habits - and good habits make you a good dancer! It starts at the beginning, which is why I like to take a weekly basic class. Slow and simple exercises give me time to focus on proper placement and line, and to improve tendus, pliés and turnout. Luckily, I have a teacher who does not make it easy for me. Just because I have studied ballet for over 20 years, doesn't mean everything is super clean (technically speaking). Far from it! I'm still working to fix quite a few not-so-nice habits (the recurring banana foot, and losing my turnout in ecarté). I love going back to the basics. Sometimes, it feels like being back on solid ground. To give myself an additional challenge, I do the class often on pointe.

4. Be a fearless learner

Focus, pay attention, apply yourself - but don't worry about making mistakes! True, you might not look very graceful on your first or even fifth attempt, and you might make a complete mess out of that complex pirouette... So what? It's not a competition, not an audition. And even in auditions, artistic directors look at how well you recover from mistakes or falls - the mistake itself is not such a big deal. Don't turn a failed pirouette diagonal or a bad day into an existential crisis. Your teacher wants you to learn, to do well and enjoy yourself. She/he knows that it takes many tries, failures and a lot of work. That's why s/he keeps correcting you, not to criticize but to help you. Fear less, dance more!

5. Make it interesting

Who wants to look at a boring dancer? Dare to dance big, to challenge yourself, to go boldly where you haven't danced before. Even when it's basic class tendus, every tendu is dance. It's always movement, never dead. Ballet school robots are not interesting, expressive dancers are. This includes your face and your eyes. Dance outside your bubble and let your eyes sparkle. Express your love of dance!

6. Bring a positive attitude to class

Ballet is hard. Don't make it harder on yourself, or others (this includes both your teacher and fellow students). Of course, you're allowed to have feelings, nobody is immune to frustrations or bad days... But keep in mind that negative moods can be contagious, and dampen the joy of others. Even your teacher can be affected - and all she/he wants is to give you a great class! It's also a waste of your valuable class time. Whenever you feel a negative mood lurking, try to postpone it until after class. With the risk of sounding like a kitchen psychologist: acknowledge the feeling, put it aside and move on. You can deal it with it later on. Either you forget all about it, or realize it wasn't a problem to begin with, or you can be proud of yourself for acting positive. Having said that, there are some problems you cannot shut out of class. If you're having a difficult time, and can barely manage (but class is still respite), say something to your teacher before class. You don't have to be a perfect student all the time. It's fine to do less, it's okay to take care of yourself.

7. Cultivate a positive body image

I've struggled with this, on and off. Not having a body that is considered "beautiful for ballet", despite all my passion and hard work. In this context, "beautiful for ballet" means a physicality that is suited for a professional career - and very few people are! But when you look at facebook, instagram and pinterest, it can seem that everybody out there has that beautiful ballerina body... Except you. My body type is short, sturdy, with square shoulders, wide hips, big thighs, big hands, muscular legs. I'm almost 47, and seem to have missed the memo where it says: "Start your upper body workout now and never ever take a day off!" There are wrinkles on my body which I've not noticed before. I've gained weight, again. It does affect my body confidence in class, no use lying about it. But ballet class is not a beauty pageant! Nowhere does it say my body is not suitable or pretty enough to learn ballet and enjoy myself! How well you dance does not depend on your body shape. A beautiful dancer is not born, but made - with hard work, discipline, musicality, artistry, and passion. When I see myself in the mirror, and feel less than confident and pretty, I try to remember this. Dance is movement, stories and moods told to music... There's so much beauty, right there.

8. Be grateful, stay humble

I never take my dancing for granted. I'm grateful for every class, even the hard ones. Especially the hard ones! I'm grateful that my teacher Marie has never lost patience, nor interest. After five years, hundreds of classes and thousands of corrections, she still takes care... And that means so much to me! Also my other teachers and classes... I've had some wonderful learning experiences last year, with Ophélie, Misha, Nicholas, Jarkko, Arja, Virve, Pattie, Minttu, and Dmitry, the best pianist ever. I'm looking forward to more hard work, to new and old challenges, to many mistakes, lots of corrections, single turns and sometime triples, balances and Balanchine steps, a bit of progress and a great deal of bliss.

Wishing you all a wonderful New Dancing Year!

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, ...