Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Feet with potential”

My feet have “got potential” – not my words but those of my dance teacher Holly.

That’s the good news. Sadly it seems that at the other end of my body my brain has more work to do.

I’m finding that coordinating the top half and the bottom half of my body is one of the ballet beginner’s knottier challenges. I choose my words carefully…you quite often find yourself almost literally tied up in knots as the head, arms, core, legs and feet try to work together to create balance and poise.

Today was the end of term and, aside from last week’s skivolitis, progress is definitely being made. The jumps are getting slightly better, the pliés slightly deeper, the arms slightly less ungainly.

But it’s time to shift up a gear, so next week I’ll be joining my local gym to try and build up the strength in my legs and my midriff…I’m noticing that as we get more advanced in class, and rely more on the strength of just one support leg, I’m beginning to shake like an autumn leaf every time we’re required to “go monopod”.

In other news, it’s been a busy old time at work. I experienced an interesting contrast last weekend, watching on Sunday afternoon a gaggle of very talented teenagers compete for the RAD’s annual Phyllis Bedells bursary before going onto the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing dinner dance later that evening. Despite the painful experience of squeezing myself into the dinner suit I last wore aged 21, I enjoyed a day full of very different dancing – from the bursary competitors’ regimented ballet variations, through the UK ballroom dance champions’ swoops and sashays (not to mention FIVE costume changes!), to a young couple performing a contemporary duet to Paloma Faith.

And all of that before the week even began!

In short, it’s high time for a holiday…so happy Easter one and all.

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Skool Daze

I’m skiving.

I apologise, but I’m skiving.

I went to the pub instead.

Look, what good are lessons if you can’t skip a few every now and then?

General update to follow later in the week by way of compensation (sorry Holly).

Boy, oh boy, oh Balletboyz

So to begin today here are a few things I’ve learned a month and a half into my new vie de ballet:

  1. it’s lovely to learn something completely new as an adult – I’d encourage anyone to give this a go.
  2. having live music in the lessons (thanks to pianist Jenny) is a real luxury…it means our teacher (Holly) can really tailor the lesson to our particular needs.
  3. to be any good at ballet you have to train your hip bones to twist in their sockets, which I guess is one reason ballet has so many advantages for older people (where hips are vulnerable).
  4. you have to strain every sinew in your feet to get them into the habit of being able to ‘peel’ off the floor…the toes, like an over-exuberant party guest, are the first to arrive on the floor after a jump, and the last to leave it.
  5. manipulating your own body weight and your centre of gravity is critical (I practice this on the Tube in London, which demands good balance if you’re travelling ‘hands free’).
  6. it’s all about the line you create with your body…the quest to create that perfect silhouette.

As part of my ongoing search for inspiration I took a trip to see the Balletboyz this week. They’re a sort of ballet equivalent of a boy band…let me put it this way: body fat percentage is not an issue for these boys. (Miine seems to be keeping pace with my age, rather like one of those tracker mortgages.)

Anyway they performed a couple of very exciting works, using ballet movement in a very contemporary way (you can see a preview on their website).

As they tumbled and pirouetted and leapt and created one tableau after another, I thought to myself “I’d like to do that”. But first perhaps I’ll focus on getting my port de bras right.

A highland fling

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Dear readers: sorry this week’s update has been so long in coming.

It’s mainly because I’ve been in Scotland, venue for this year’s Genee International Ballet Competition, which is RAD’s flagship event.

Last year the Genee was held in Wellington NZ, the previous year London, and before that Cape Town, Toronto and Hong Kong to name just a few. In 2013, it’s Glasgow’s turn.

Around 60 15-19 year olds will compete in September for one of the prestigious Genee awards…often a stepping stone to a career in dance (Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Steven McRae is a former Genee medallist).

I spent a couple of exhausting days darting about town checking out venues and hotels and potential sponsors and all the accoutrements that come with staging a big event like this.

First appointment of the day was with Scottish Ballet, one of the partners we’re working with this year. After a productive meeting, I was given the guided tour of their new premises in a converted industrial building called The Tramway.

It’s now an extraordinary facility that houses every element of staging a ballet, from performance spaces to dance studios to set design and storage vaults.

I was particularly struck by the costume department. Scottish Ballet manufacture and store all their costumes on site…this apparently is something of a rarity. So they have separate rooms for making, fitting, dyeing and laundering and the whole place is strewn with visual treats like the rooms which are equipped with both fluorescent ‘task’ lighting and more glamourous stage-style flood lighting to show the costumes in – literally – their best light. The costumes reveal their detail in the former, but truly sparkle and shimmer in the latter.

My favourite image of the day was the box of ‘mouse tails’ from an archive performance of the Nutcraker. Carefully archived of course, and in transport-ready containers so going on tour isn’t too much of a chore.

The lessons continue of course and I promise next week a fuller update on my progress to date. I was listening to Desert Island Discs recently though, and the castaway was Jonathan Agnew, famous as the cricket pundit who collapsed into uncontrollable giggles with Brian Johnson when he observed that “Botham just couldn’t quite get his leg over”.

Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I tried to master my battement tendu (an exercise in which the leg is extended to the front, side or back ) I couldn’t help but feel for Botham.