Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow reason not to dance

If you live in the UK you'll know that we're in the midst of an increasingly common snowy weather front, which is currently bringing the whole country to a standstill. Schools are closed, public transport isn't running and people are struggling to get out and about. It's probably about time we woke up to the fact that our winters are getting colder and do something to deal with it rather than allowing it to stop us in our [snow] tracks.

I class myself within this group too - I am totally stumped by the onset of snow. So much so that for the first time in months and months I was worried I would have to miss ballet class this evening. It's about a 10 mile drive to my studios, and since I nearly crashed my car on the 1 mile drive to work this morning, I daren't risk driving and possibly killing myself! However, the lovely Mr Ballerina has agreed to ferry me to my class, wait around in the freezing cold and drive me home - he really is wonderful!

Perhaps I could just turn myself into a Nutcracker snowflake and waltz my way there...

Image: Snowflakes in Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker
© Bill Cooper

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Spectacular Fall!

Apologies for not posting for a while, I've had a really busy start to term, and Mr B's been on the other side of the world for the last two weeks, which has quite upset my routine and blogging ability.

Lots of things I want to update on here; thoughts about ballet, teaching, teaching ballet amongst others. But for today, and because I'm still blushing, I thought I'd share with you my slippery experience this evening(!):

During pointe barre, we were doing some pretty basic post-warm up exercises (pas de bouree pique I think - although what happened next made me completely forget), and all of a sudden my foot slipped from beneath me and I was hurtling towards the floor in a helter-skelter motion. Since everyone else was still vertical, and I made quite a commotion as I hit the floor (arms still suspended above me, clinging for dear life to the barre!) everyone stopped, stared and burst out laughing. Although that makes my classmates sound really mean, they obviously checked I was ok too, but I must have been a sight for sore eyes, legs akimbo on the floor - my teacher even, jokingly, asked if I needed a 'spotter' for the rest of the class! The only thing I could do was to laugh it off - how embarrassing.

Have you had any spectacular accidents (funny or otherwise) in class? How did you deal with them?!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

New (school) year's resolution

For some time now, I've had in the back of my mind, the idea that I want to learn to teach ballet. I'm already a teacher of children (7-11 mainly - all subjects), and as my school's resident dance fan, I run a dance club, and am first point of call for anything dance related. Dance is on the British National Curriculum, but the amount of time dedicated to training teachers in actually delivering dance is so minimal, most teachers, even those with a healthy interest in dance, have little idea, or inclination to teach dance. I for one had less than 4 hours 'dance teacher training' in my post-grad teaching course, and learned more in a one day teacher's course at Northern Ballet Theatre.

Even so, whilst I'm happy teaching curriculum dance (use stimulus, play music, get children to respond through movement, usually connected to a topic being studied), I'm not so confident in delivering dance instruction, i.e. this is the move, repeat it and that's a dance, and really, that's what the children who are really interested in dance really want! 

So... my new year's resolution is to learn to teach dance properly. And I began the long process this evening - I'm so excited!  I fully expected my dance teacher to laugh me out of the room when I asked her if she thought I could train to teach dance, but she invited me to join the older teenagers (all of whom are much more experienced than me) in the intermediate class. In the UK, you need a qualification to teach dance, but can only gain that when you have been through at least part of the vocational syllabus and passed the exams, intermediate being the first step on the road to teaching others the approved syllabus.

Thus, for the forseable future, I shall be spending my Thursday evenings learning the intermediate syllabus and attending a teaching course, and my Saturday mornings observing the experienced teachers in my studios. I'm apprehensive and excited all at the same time, but pleased that I bit the bullet!

What are your new (school) year's resolutions? Are you embarking on anything new and exciting this year - I'd love to hear about them!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

My "Cinderella" moment

In a week when I both saw English National Ballet's 60th anniversary production of Cinderella and went to the most opulent wedding I've ever been to, this post seemed a pretty apt reflection of my thoughts about these.

Like many little girls, I dreamed of being a princess as I was growing up. Whilst clearly those particular dreams will never come true, I think that for the sake of our inner little girl, it's fun to embrace those dreams of becoming a princess for a night, just like Cinderella! In both the ballet and the fairy tale, Cinderella gets to go to a ball and dance the night away. ENB's ballet perfectly captured the romance of the 'ball' in the gorgeous romantic, midnight blue dresses worn by the corps in the ball scenes; the sweeping, timeless elegance and poise of their flawless waltz. It was these images that will remain with me, and probably every little girl (whatever her age) who watched the ballet that evening.

So imagine my utter delight when, the following evening, I got to have my very own Cinderella moment in my very own navy romantic tulle dress. Ok, I haven't been condemned to sweep the kitchen for ever, and I certainly don't have horrid step-sisters (quite the opposite), but for just a few hours I got to feel just a little of what Cinderella must have felt, when I attended a decadent (yet beautiful) wedding in the ballroom of an exclusive London hotel!

Incidentally, I've owned the dress for nearly 2 years, and it's the first time I have worn it, but it was definitely worth the wait: the way it moved made me feel just like a princess!

( Yes, those are ballet shoes, died to match my dress, after the 5 inch heels I was wearing (just seen, in my left hand) had done their worst. But, unlike Cinderella, I didn't lose one on the way home!)

Monday, 26 July 2010

Following Our Dreams

This post is dedicated to my wonderful middle (little) sister, Kate, whose blog (misswatsonincambodia.blogspot.com) is just starting out, as she does, on an adventure into life in Cambodia.

Last September we both, independently, came to the realisation that just because we were grown up, didn't mean we had to stop following our dreams. She had always wanted to travel, so for her, it meant taking the financially pragmatic approach of finding a job in a far flung location (hence Cambodia.) For me, it meant rediscovering the passion for performance (both dance and acting) that I had always had, but since the start of my working life 4 years ago, had let fall by the wayside. So, whilst Kate begins her adventure on the other side of the world, I have begun, and continue, to travel on my own journey as an adult ballet student, feeling like I am finally being true to myself by pursuing that element of performance I have always enjoyed.

"Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal"

This quotation has haunted me for years, but never has it held more meaning. To anyone who has a dream, all I can say is start following it now, begin your adventure because it's never too late! It will be worth it.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The most thoughtful present ever?

As you may have gathered from some of my previous posts, in 'real life' I'm a primary teacher and today was my last day before the summer break. No more school until 6th September. How exciting!

This part of the year is always full of mixed emotions, and I always say goodbye to my children with a mixture of relief and sadness on both mine and their part. Today was no different. It also means presents, which are an obvious perk of the job (although absolutely by no means expected!)

Over the year my class have got to know me as much as I have got to know them, and they are fascinated both by the fact that I 'do' ballet and by my pointe shoes. So, imagine how touched I was when a little girl in my class presented me with a present this morning and insisted I opened it because she was so excited about it. I opened it to find this:
She explained that when her mum asked what I would like, she knew straight away and said 'a ballet book'. There couldn't have been a more thoughtful or personalised present and I am so, so touched. Although she's only 8, she really made me feel valued. Not because she'd bought me a present but because she understood me so clearly. Children are amazing!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Shock and Elation

A really quick and slightly bemused post to say I passed my exam. But I didn't just pass, I passed with honours, which is the highest category awarded.

I'm totally bemused but, obviously, completely elated, as I was absolutely certain I'd messed up. My feedback said I had a very 'balletic approach and responded well to direction' - my marks for performance quality were higher than for the other categories (musicality and technique), so obviously, dancing from the heart helps. Clearly I don't know myself nearly as well as I thought I did.

Tomorrow is the end of my working year, and I feel like I'm going out on a high. I'm thrilled! To everyone who supported me through kind words and advice: thank you! I really do appreciate it, and it obviously paid off!

Now: to sleep, perchance to dream (of ballet and sugar plum fairies and summer holidays, of course!)

Friday, 16 July 2010

Quietly waiting

I am still waiting for my exam results, sadly. Every day brings the anticipation of the phone call to confirm my suspicions (or not, either way!) about the outcome. But still no news.

It's "exam season" here, so it's hardly surprising results aren't back yet, but I find the waiting unbearable. At least with public exams there's a set date; GCSEs; A levels; Degree: all had official release dates for results, but with these we're at the mercy of the postal system/ backlog of examination forms to process, and results could arrive any day.

Until they do, I can't really focus on moving onwards and upwards for this, and other reasons so apologies for my lack of blog. Since my last post, the regular teacher has been away and the stand-in teacher has been the youngish/inexperienced teacher (mentioned before) who doesn't exactly run a great class, plus everything seems to be gearing down for the summer and I'm utterly exhausted from my own school teaching and end of year preparations.

School holidays in less than a week, my holiday in just under 2. I can't wait... I'm dreaming of a relaxing week on the beach.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Back in the saddle

I went to ballet class this afternoon: new syllabus (IDTA classical award class); same old teenagers; newly found love of class teacher (I used to be scared of her, but since she worked through my exam preparation with me, I think she's brilliant!) and it wasn't half as bad as I anticipated.

After Thursday I had butterflies in my stomach before I got there, and I was worried I'd feel despondent throughout the class, but no, it was great. Fab to have a new challenge and fab to just get right on back up there dancing. Mr. B was right, it was important to get back in the saddle. If I hadn't done it today I might never have done it! But I'm pleased I did.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Wishful thinking

I so wanted this to be my victory post...

My exam went awfully. Awfully.

I lost my nerve and from the 3rd exercise on the barre, made silly mistakes, closing the wrong foot behind/infront, panicking and dancing out of time to the music. I can't believe it. I really can't. If I had written this a month ago before I was prepared, I could explain it away, but I knew my stuff, and I didn't perform it even half as well as I know I can. I am so disappointed and I would be surprised if I scrape a pass.

My dance teacher was lovely and mopped up my tears, reassured me that we always think things are worse than they are, and if the worst comes to the worst, I can retake in July, so that's something, but I'm just so sad: it meant so much to me.

It won't stop me dancing, but I need to pick myself up and remind myself that whatever happens, it's a good 12-13 years since I last took an exam and try not to be too hard on myself. Thanks for all your good wishes and support (especially Elise, I'll email you!) and I'll be back dancing (or at least writing about dancing) better than ever when I feel suitably restored (I bounce back pretty easily, so it won't be long!).

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

This time tomorrow...

So, less than 24 hours to go. Lessons all complete and I can honestly say I've tried my hardest. I've been practising putting together enchainement, and I'm honestly getting better (not brilliant, but better!), and the pas de bourrees over and under/ under and over aren't the stuff of nightmares anymore. One, maybe two last run throughs of the syllabus CD I have before the exam at 5.50pm tomorrow.

I'm aiming for at least a highly commended. I may be really disappointed, mess up the exam and fail to reach my target, but I figure writing it down makes it more plausible in that I'm focusing myself on the goal. I'm taking all that positive psychology (where you picture yourself doing it the best you've ever done etc!) and I'm putting it into practise. I'm setting aside my inner doubting demon, and I'm going to put it down in writing: I *want* and am setting out to get, at least a highly commended. Honours would be awesome, anything from a pass upwards is completely acceptable, but I figure I've worked hard enough to set my sights relatively high.

All that remains to be said is: wish me luck, or merde, or break a leg, or whatever it is that dancers say. This time tomorrow it'll all be over...

Saturday, 12 June 2010


The countdown's on. Whilst some of my colleagues and friends have been counting down the hours, minutes and seconds to the start of the [interminable] world cup, I've been counting down the weeks, days and hours until my exam. It's now just under 11 days until my exam. To be precise, 11 days 22 hours and 50 minutes: Thursday 24th June at 5.50pm! I'm excited and nervous in equal measure. I couldn't have worked harder preparing for it, and I really want to do my very best, whatever that is..!

As the clock ticks on, I'm determined to use every moment wisely! Wish me luck (and please, feel free to impart any exam taking/performance advice!!!).

Sunday, 6 June 2010


I need help!

I actually cried today because of ballet, and that's so not me. I'm getting myself really worked up about the [unseen] enchainement part of my exam because a) I really struggle with enchainement anyway, as it's not something I did before taking up IDTA syllabus but b) I really messed up my enchainement yesterday, and whilst I knew it was bad, I'm pretty certain that I saw one of the studio teachers mouth to another that I was 'dire' just after I'd done it. I knew it was bad, I may even have said it was dire myself, but I am now just feeling really negative about this part of the exam.

I need to get over myself and just do it! I know. It's just hard, as it means a lot to me. I really want to go on and do my next grade and now I'm worrying that I won't be allowed to do that.

So, dear blog readers, if you've waded this far through my moaniest post so far (so sorry! I'm picking myself up as I write, I promise!), do you have any tips for tackling unseen enchainement under pressure. I don't have a problem with the moves, just the putting together under pressure. How do *you* do that? Have you any tips or practical advice for picking it up and just going with it. Meanwhile, I'm going to give myself a good talking to and get out of my temporary dip to make sure I blitz this exam (in a good way!!).

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Exams looming!

So, I am taking my exam in less than a month now: what a scary but exciting thought! I think I'm nearly ready but I'm taking a few extra lessons in preparation for the exam so that I don't completely freak out, especially at the enchainements! What I need now is some really focused, dare I say it harsh, correction to make sure I'm as prepared as possible. I'm trying really hard to take everything on board, but it's harder than it looks.

Amusingly, my dance teacher, having said she would prefer to put me into the exam with adults (as the examiner would be more likely to be more forgiving of any mistakes and if she put me in with younger girls the examiner would assume I was also a teenager) has entered me along with 2 sixteen year olds! I am not quite sure what to make of that. I think it might be a compliment. I shan't speak too soon!

Royal Ballet Triple Bill at the ROH

This was only the second time I had ever seen a ballet at the Royal Opera House, but felt like I really got value for money for my £16 ampitheatre (face on, about 4 rows back - not bad!) ticket. Chroma, Tryst and Symphony in C were, I believe, performed for a specially reduced rate to encourage non-typical ballet goers to attend, and they didn't disappoint. Quite how the dancers didn't pass out through the heat in London that day (it topped about 33degrees at one point, I am told) made their spectacle all the more impressive.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Chroma, but it certainly didn't disappoint. The programme talked about Wayne McGregor's desire to challenge the status quo and push dancers to their physical limits. The stark 'box' of white the dancers performed in only served to enhance this strangeness: it was at once ballet and not-ballet as I know it, but none-the-less beautiful. The music was compelling, although, again, rather more pulsating than symphonic. It certainly took an orchestra of unspeakable skill to make such an amazing job of whitestripes music gone orchestral. Mr B. was most impressed although, as we both saw E=MC2 and the Centre and its opposite recently, I think we were both expecting something more musically akin to these. The dancers, however, were flawless, filling the space with their often alien movements and showing off their beautiful lines both in solo, duet and trio work. There was a real harmony to the way they both moved together, and at odds with one another, and it left me with a sense of relationships not quite explained, yet perfectly balanced at the same time. I'm not sure I totally understood the ballet, but then I'm not entirely sure it was meant to be understood in the way, say, Sleeping beauty (or even E=MC2) had a narrative; it was, however, stunningly danced and really showcased the talent of both principal and solo artists of the royal ballet.

I'm going to gloss over tryst quickly, not because I didn't enjoy it, because I did, but because by the end of the second performance, having driven for 2 1/2 hours to get to London and probably not drunk enough water throughout the heat of the day, I felt quite dizzy, and therefore don't remember a great deal about the specifics of the performance (I admit to feeling rather sad about this as my overall impression was that it was equally, if not more, impressive, than chroma!). Still, thanks to the wonderful hospitality at the ROH, and their ample supply of free water and a truly awesome chocolate browny on the beautiful rooftop terrace of the Opera House at the expense of Mr. B, I was fully ready to appreciate the wonderful Symphony in C!

I had never seen a Balanchine ballet before, but I loved it. I think to say that it was everything I probably expected from a ballet as a little girl would be the best way of describing it. Beautiful white tutus, gorgeous lines and 'proper' classical ballet dancing of a range of stars. I was completely mesmerised throughout. I enjoyed star-spotting Alina Cojocaru (she has AMAZING footwork but also incredibly, scarily, bendy feet... I think I am quite jealous) and Rupert Pennefather. But I also have to admit (and I blame the heat) to not realising that there were actually 3 sets of Ballerinas until right near the end. Mr B. was rather more perceptive than me, but does say that if it hadn't been for Rupert Pennefather's shock of red hair he too might not have realised this! Whilst the other two ballets were more suited to the more open minded ballet goer, I would recommend Symphony in C to anyone who wants to see a 'proper' ballet; children and adults alike. I loved it!

Quick recommendation for anyone visiting London: Go to the ROH terrace restaurant, even if only for a chocolate brownie. It's GORGEOUS! We felt like we were back on honeymoon in Italy as we relaxed in the sun, listening to the bustle of Covent Garden far below.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Isn't it great when things work out for the best?

I have a job! It's the job I wanted (even several posts ago) and I couldn't be happier.

Yesterday my boss took me to one side to tell me that he was extending my contract. He'd agonised over telling me as I had another interview today and he didn't want to stop me from interviewing. My opinion of him has gone through the roof over his whole approach to this. Most people would have advised against (or even insisted I retract) going for the new job, but he made it a condition of offering me an extension on my contract. I feel I really have a boss who is looking out for me for the best. How lovely was that?!

I didn't get the job today, but I am so so pleased I didn't. I did my best, and I am proud of what I did, but it would have been such a wrench to drag myself away from my wonderful colleagues and a job that I love to start afresh. If I had got the job, I would have felt compelled to do so for my professional development, but I didn't, so I get to consolidate, enjoy and settle down for a year. I am SO pleased!

I was so sad that I didn't get the job a week ago, but things have worked out. I could sing with joy I'm so happy!

So happy, in fact, I'm going to try on some new pointe shoes tomorrow! Yay!

Monday, 10 May 2010

My feet and perfect pointe shoes

I promised Madeline that I would post a picture of my feet for her perusal, so here it is. I always thought I had a square toe, but I may be mistaken. They look pretty tired as I've been on my feet all day, so this is probably them at their most swollen/flabby looking, but you may be able to help me identify my toe type, which, in turn, might help me on my new quest: to buy a new pair of pointe shoes.

A couple of weeks ago I trimmed my toenails far too short and my pointe class was PAINFUL as a result. I cursed myself, and thought nothing more of it, but since then, I've been thinking more about the fit of my pointes, and that, although they are pretty, I really don't think they're the best ones for my feet. I have a really small (probably compressible) bone structure, and at the moment, my shoes (bloch serenades) feel like they're just not supporting my feet. My metatarsals feel like they're taking all my weight and although I was able to pull up and out when they were new, the shank feels like it's not supporting my foot anymore. It certainly isn't hugging my arch as I would like it to, even when I'm on pointe, I feel like my entire foot is only being supported from the demi-pointe region.

Look at the picture of my foot on pointe, and where the shank arches, my arch sits about half a centimetre above that, which is really frustrating! My dance teacher has suggested I try 3/4 shank pointes as she had this problem and needed something that really pushed into her arches to help her to lift out. I've been looking and the grishko proflex with 3/4 shank looks ideal. I come up really quite narrow in the grishko (just an x) though and the local dance store needs to order me some in. Has anyone had any experience of Grishkos - a friend has them and they seem very loud to me, but then I've heard people say that about blochs (and mine are very quiet).

It's all either a) very exciting, or b) very frustrating if this is the beginning of my perfect pointe journey.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

(Thank goodness for the) Meditative benefits of ballet

Tomorrow's a big day for me, not ballet wise, but I have a job interview that means a lot to me. It's for the place where I already work, so there's a lot at stake, and there are no certainties as there are 2 internal candidates for 1 post and they're interviewing 5 people (not to mention it starts at 9am and doesn't finish until 4pm). To put it bluntly, it's really very stressful, and a horrible situation to be in.

I was going to forgo my ballet class this evening in favour of preparation for said interview (I have been preparing most of the weekend) but I am so glad I didn't. Two hours of technique work later and I feel so much better than I could have imagined; cleansed, more balanced and everything in perspective where it wasn't before. I worked so hard today, there was no brain space to think about ANYTHING but turning out/pulling up/lengthening. Even if I do say so myself, I actually did really well today. I picked up all the combinations, and responded well to some general corrections; I felt focused and empowered to be able to change and I could feel the difference in my dancing.

Although not exactly meditation, I can't imagine an hour of meditation could have been more useful to my state of mind (or my technique). The only thing left then, is to hope that this new focus and confidence lasts me through tomorrow and the interview day! Wish me luck!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Cuban National Ballet does Giselle (and I see Alicia Alonso in real life!)

Oh my goodness, please forgive my gushing whilst I just repeat my title. I saw Alicia Alonso. Live. On stage. The dancers brought her on at the end. Replete with headscarf and red lipstick. Live. For real. Wow! Wow! Wow!

Now we've got that out of the way with (I kind of feel a little like I would have done had I ever seen Margot Fontein!), I will say, I was also totally blown away by their Giselle. There was so much passion, it was so alive and the dancing so beautiful I don't know where to begin. So I shall begin with the ballet itself. I've never seen Giselle before and I didn't really know what to expect but I shouldn't have worried. The precision and clarity of the dancing didn't detract from the story, and I really felt that as much as they danced the roles, the dancers really acted. Passionately and realistically, with all of their hearts. Sometimes I am wowed by the dancing but I don't always believe the dancer IS the character, but I couldn't fault the dancers' (Annette Delgado and Javier Torres in the lead roles) commitment to character. Their eyes spoke the words they couldn't say, and their bodies pulsed with the rhythm of emotion beyond the tempo of the dance.

Mr Ballerina (as I have been instructed to stop referring to him as my husband (as it makes him sound too old and sensible, apparently) - this will be my new name for him, or rather, Mr. B) said, "It was the most beautiful ballet I've ever seen. Especially the Wilis!" And I have to agree. The whole of the second act was utterly mesmerising, the dancing beautiful and I loved the Wilis too. I thought they moved so seamlessly together, and by turns were both sinister and magical: moving in and out of formation as if controlled by some higher force. It took my breath away..!

My last comment, really, links more to my own experience of ballet. One of the things that I loved most about BNC doing Giselle was that their technique was so clean, so musical and spoke so clearly of the story that they did what many great experts (of anything) are able to do, which is make it look beautifully simple and effortless. It was, perhaps, the first time I have watched a ballet and have been able to identify the steps, how they are put into sequences and how they are danced and feel that I could, with practise, perform the same. Clearly I am completely deluded, as I could never perform with the perfection and precision the BNC did, but it's a nice thought...

Saturday, 1 May 2010

A ballet filled day

Just a quick one - I'm about to go to my Saturday ballet lesson. Who knows what will be in store today. The teens have all completed their exam so I'm just going to go with the flow and see what happens. There was talk of a carnival...

More exciting, then, is the fact that I'm going to see the Cuban National Ballet (Ballet Nacional de Cuba) dance Giselle at the Birmingham Hippodrome tonight. I've never seen Giselle, so I'm really excited, but I'm even more excited that I get to see the Cuban ballet since I've been desperate to see them since I saw the documentary about the Royal Ballet in Cuba at Christmas.

I shall review (or pass comment, at least) here in the next few days!!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

In the spotlight

I'm currently practising for my exam and have been working pretty hard at learning the syllabus inside out, getting my feet and arms right as well as sorting out the terms in my head ready for the enchainement (which is totally new to me coming from an RAD 'learn it perfectly and don't ask questions' approach to an IDTA 'thinking dancer' approach!). This all sounds fairly straightforward, usual dancery stuff, but I feel like I've had a lot of catching up to do since only starting back to ballet properly in November.

I'm proud of myself for rising to the challenge, and as I mentioned before, my teacher has been complimentary recently. Why then, is it that, in front of other people I go to pieces? All I had to do was perform a pas-de-bourre over and under and then in reverse and I totally fluffed it up! It wasn't even like I was standing at the back of the room not paying attention whilst the other girls performed, I was practising all the while! But as soon as I had to perform it to the room, I got it all wrong. My teacher even noted that she'd seen me do it so why couldn't I perform it. The same for the variation. I do it perfectly every time at home, I usually stand in a place where I can't see anyone else so I'm sure I know the dance without watching anyone else, but as soon as I have to perform it by myself it just doesn't come together how it looks in my head. What frustration: I am working so hard and being so, so positive about the whole experience, I don't remember being like this as a teenager, so why now when I'm supposedly a more confident adult?

Any advice? Any tips for helping me to still my beating heart when I have to perform? They'd be gratefully received!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Through the eyes of a child

I went to see Peter Pan by NBT on Saturday and whilst I can't remember a great deal about the production (I wasn't feeling all that great!), I do remember it was excellent, and thoroughly enjoyable. The production was brilliant and as my husband said, it definitely captured the magic of the story: the flying; the mermaids; the ship and the superb sets throughout.

However, I have to say that what made the performance for me wasn't the dancers (although captivating) or all the other outstanding production elements, but the three children sitting 3 rows back from us in the theatre: the smallest, a very vocal 2 year old in a tutu, the eldest a little boy of no more than 6 in a pirate outfit and the middle, a little boy dressed as Peter. They had dressed for the occasion and they didn't disappoint; "Wow, they're flying" gasped the smallest as Peter, Wendy et al launched into the air. Then, when Hook made his debut appearance, her elder brother, sounding somewhat shocked yelped, "It's a pirate!" There's no doubt that, due to the pitch and excitement of their voices and the fact they were in the back row of the gallery (and therefore their voices traveled forward and down through the theatre), that the whole audience heard them and chuckled as a result.

Shamelessly, I have to say it made the performance for me! It's a children's story, and NBT is a narrative ballet company that told the story so well (without words) that even three children under 7 were so utterly transfixed by the action they were unable to restrain their awe! I'll hazard a guess that they have 3 new fans and a whole audience who saw the magic of the story, and the theatre, come alive just a little bit more than usual because of them.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The perils of being ill

So, I woke up yesterday morning with a sore throat, and throughout the day I became achey and weak. Thinking it was just the result of first week back to work tiredness, I had an early night, took some cold and flu remedy and... woke up this morning at 5am unable to swallow and in complete agony.

Thanks to the wonderful NHS (no irony intended), I spoke to an advisor, nurse and doctor within about an hour, then was advised to go to the walk in centre, where they looked at my throat, told me it was definitely infected but it was too swollen to tell if it was tonsilitis and prescribed penicillin. Since then, I have slept, slept and slept some more. I hate being ill :-(

What's more I hate missing dance. Work's really stressful at the moment and it's almost quite meditative to go to ballet class and just concentrate on turnout, pulling up, placement and counting. I certainly have no time to
contemplate the daily stress of my day job. I get to be a ballerina for only a few hours a week, so I hate it when I have to miss it for any reason, but especially when it's because I'm achey and poorly. I feel like I'm really missing out.

On a positive note, and hopefully if I feel well enough - I'm going to see NBTs Peter Pan this evening. Plenty of ibuprofen and paracetamol should get me through as I've been waiting for so long to see it. I was on a training course at the NBT studios in December and saw a lot of the props and preparation for the show
- and it looks excellent. They are very much a narrative ballet company, and despite my love of all things classically balletic, I think, had I ever been fortunate enough to follow the professional dancer route, they are the company I'd most likely ally myself with; beautiful yet quite dramatic as opposed to traditionally classical.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I bought a new leotard recently; a lovely, royal blue, low back camisole leotard, almost the same as the one in the picture (except without the princess seams!). I finally got to wear it today in my adult class, but I think I may now know why it was quite so cheap...

How embarrassing: half way through my pointe class, my strap 'popped' off! It's one of those adjustable strap connections - the ones that slip into a loop of fabric and promise to hold. Well, whilst it might hold on a bra under a 'safe' top, it didn't as I was pique-ing my way through multiple pas-de-bourres. Fortunately I caught it just in time to save my modesty but decided, for safety, to wear it cross backed for my normal class as I was terrified any batterie might be more than it could take in standard-camisole mode.

I think I might need to get my sewing kit out and sew it in place, because apart from that, it really is a rather nice leotard!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Enchanted Barcelona

Although I'm pretty obsessed with new dancewear and dance shops, I wasn't on the look out for one when I stumbled across a tiny dance shop in a tiny backstreet of the Barri Gotic area of Barcelona. Like the Freed shop in London, or the shop where I buy my pointe shoes now, it was really old fashioned: a window display of a few leotards and a couple of pairs of shoes and that was about it. A world away from the amazingly high-tech and modern Bloch shop in London, but perfectly formed in its own way; oak panelled inside, with an unmistakeably musty smell, almost like stepping back in time. I recently read a comment that said the perfect pointe shoe is a little like the perfect wand in Harry Potter, and this shop certainly had the magic twinkle of Oleander's Wand Shop about it. I probably wouldn't have seen it had it not been for the large sign in the window saying "puntas Freed E6.50" - it took me a minute, with my [extremely] limited Spanish to work out that they were selling pointe shoes for 6.50 (that's about £6!) which is a crazy price in any country!

I wouldn't normally venture into such a tiny shop in a foreign country for fear of the obligation to buy (or the even greater obligation to converse - a problem since "hola, que tal?" is about the limit of my Spanish). But I couldn't resist. Sitting in a large plastic box were about 30 pairs of Freed pointe shoes looking very unloved and slightly dusty (yet still in their plastic bags). The assistant was, thankfully, serving another customer, so I was left alone to rummage through the box. There were many 7x pairs, a few 8s and some 2s and 3s. It's been a while since I wore freeds and I simply couldn't remember my size (I'm a 3 1/2 c in bloch serenades now but that didn't help...), the 2s and 3s were out of the question but the 7s looked about right (I think I was a 5 and a half or 6 in Freeds...) Sadly, I didn't have the guts to ask the shop assistant to help, and I'm not naive enough to think I can fit myself for pointe shoes without repercussions, so I left without them and continued with my discovery of Barcelona!

Like a window of opportunity only open for the tiniest amount of time, despite retracing my steps and looking for the shop on the second day, its presence and whereaouts eluded me. Why didn't I take a photo or mark it on the map? It now feels like a strange but poetic memory from which I could probably draw many conclusions about missed opportunities (in life as well as Barcelona), and morals about feeling the fear and doing it anyway...

Somewhere, deep in the pretty streets of the gothic quarter is the [enchanted] dance shop...

Saturday, 3 April 2010


Not a proper 'ballet' post today, but it's bank holiday weekend, and in the great English tradition of days out, I went with my husband and a friend to Chatsworth House in the Derbyshire Peak District. I've driven past many times, and we've even pic-nicked in the grounds, but I've never been in so it was a real treat to spend time inside the house yesterday. Although not much of the decor is to my taste, it struck me how elegant the architecture of the whole place is, and by association, the family to whom it belongs.

Deborah Devonshire/Mitford, is the dowager Duchess pictured (credit to Norman Parkinson for the photograph), and although an awful lot older now, she still looks so refined and beautiful, like she should float around the house as opposed to walk! I'm captivated by tales of debutantes and 'coming out' at the palace, so the highlight of the trip was the section of the house about Deborah Mitford and her amazing life. 

The photo captures for me an elagance of a bygone era, which, although will probably never be replicated during my lifetime, and certainly not within my life experience, is a fiction that I adore, and one that is shared by the stories and spectacles created within ballet. I avidly read the interviews on Ballet News, and it strikes me that many of the ballerinas interviewed would love to dine with Audrey Hepburn and I suspect it is for the same reason: she enscapsulates all that is feminine, delicate and elegant, which to me, is the ultimate aim of ballet.

In other news, no ballet for a week and a half now - Easter holidays! I did compensate by doing a two and a half hour class on Thursday evening (or rather 2 and a half classes!) and I'm still aching, mainly in a good way, as a result. I've got lots of practise to do, and I have a new, bargainous leotard (it was £1.70 from Porselli online!)in a beautiful royal blue colour, which I can't wait to wear to class.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Tuesday night ballet, again, and despite the title of this post, it wasn't quite as frustrating as you might think. It was a great lesson but we (by which I mean I - the royal we, perhaps?!) are still working hard on the sisonne/coupe/assemble, only now I seem to have the sisonne and assemble, but am somehow missing the coupe! Before I was flapping my legs about wondering how to get the assemble right, now I've sorted the assemble; I'm missing the coupe. I realise this is not a really complex move, but it's like my brain and feet will not liaise with one another. How frustrating! I'm just going to have to keep trying hard and practising until I get that and the eternally confusing pas de bourre over and unders. (I get pas de bourres but 'behind side front/infront side behind swap really confuses my poor, work tired brain on a Tuesday evening.)

My main issue with all the practise I'm doing is that the more I practise, the more I ache, and although I really enjoy the practise and would do it every day if I could, I can't work out whether I ache because I'm working really hard, or whether, perhaps somewhat sadly, it's a sign of my age. I'd prefer to think the first, but I do worry it might be the second(how do you ever become old enough to say that? It just creeps up on you from nowhere.)

Worries aside (and I
do worry quite a lot- one of my less appealing characteristics!), we did do some fun allegro work today, which was great: lots of pose turns in pointe and ballet class - it makes me feel like a proper dancer even if I'm not brilliant at it!

Vaguely to return to the topic of the sisonne - my [much younger, teenage] ballet-class friend today declared, in response to my extreme struggle over the very simple move, that there was nothing quite like a sisonne to wake you up and that she would do one as she got out of bed every morning if she could! I had to giggle: she's mad!

Next project: to learn to use the Theraband I've bought. I've been googling how to use it but I need to spend some time get
ting to know what's best for strengthening my feet and ankles for ballet!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Exam Prep

For about the last month I've been preparing to take my grade 5 IDTA Ballet exam with the studios I dance with. I already have my RAD grade 5 from my teenage years, but I thought "why not?" as it's a challenge and a target to work towards (and I'm quite into measurable goalposts that make me feel like I've accomplished something.) I'm also quite keen to do well but with only one adult lesson a week at my studios I couldn't quite see that happening - especially as my head is often not in prime learning mode on a Tuesday after work. So... I've been taking a class with the teenage grade 5s on a Saturday too. Although it was odd at first, I've just about slotted in now: I guess it helps that I am smaller than most of them and have been known to be ID'd for a lottery ticket (you have to be 16!) within the last year. There are moments when I feel old: when they talk about school; when they discuss teen politics (aka who's popular/who's not!), but generally they are amenable, and one or two even stop to chat, which is nice!

These extra lessons give me more time to run through the syllabus, strengthen technique and also take
an additional lesson a week, so I've been really enjoying them but, I was particularly chuffed today when the teacher stopped to give me a lengthy correction. In our adult lesson, it can often be difficult to stop for corrections because many of the dancers just want to get on and dance, and if they're not taking exams it sort of seems irrelevant, but it's great to have the chance to go through something I'm struggling with. The lovely teens were quite happy to chat amongst themselves as I went through the exercise with the teacher (sissone ouvert, coupe, assemble - if you want to know!). I think when I first went back to ballet I felt quite anxious about being corrected, but now I relish it and really appreciate it, and in a strange kind of way makes me think I must be getting better if the teacher thinks I warrant a correction! Anyway, eventually I managed to complete a few rounds of the exercise ("jump out, coupe back, swish, together"), by no means perfectly, but I'm getting there! By the end of the lesson I felt like I'd worked incredibly hard and as I was waiting for my teacher to photocopy the syllabus notes for me, we had a little chat where she said she really felt that I'd come on. Not massive praise, you might think, and I qualified it with, "Well, give me a couple more months and I might be there" but she dismissed my comment and reiterated that I'd really come on rapidly, and that I'd be ready for my exam. What a positive feeling that gave me! I've always somewhat doubted my ability and even as a teenager I'd prepare myself for a scraped pass then get a commended/highly commended, but this felt like such an enormous compliment, and genuine too, as she'll say when things aren't great!

I beamed with pride all the way home! Her little comment has given me a real boost and I now feel like it's really worth going all out for my exam preparation. I'm not suggesting that I'm going to get the highest mark ever recorded (as lovely as that would be, I know that's an impossibility!) but I feel that I will be ready to give it my best shot! I'm so aware that pride comes before a fall, but I'm not going to let myself fall - I know I've still got lots to do, and much more practice, but I feel like I will be ready and I won't let my dance school down!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Pointe Progress

It's the small things that brighten up my day! And I really do look forward to Tuesday evenings as it's my mid-week pointe and ballet lesson. It's one of the little things that keep me going and I look forward to the clock hitting 5.05pm so I can leave and be on my way to the other side of the city for my lesson.

Tonight was even better; everything seemed to go in my favour - (although I shall touch wood as I say that!) I had no meeting at the end of the day, the traffic wasn't too horrendous, and then, I had a really great pointe lesson: My pointe shoes finally feel broken in! I've had them a few month
s and only a fortnight ago realised that when I put my foot flat in them, the heel my left foot really digs in. My teacher had suggested I shave them down to make the sole's profile slightly flatter, which I did, but last week they felt far too soft (I wonder if perhaps they hadn't dried out since I'd been practising the day before) and I had fears that I'd have to buy a new pair. But - this week they felt perfect! (Take a look at my pic, right, to see my bloch serenades!) I even managed to balance in second arabesque (albeit low) without wobbling! We tackled some more advanced bar work and it's such a great feeling to think that when I began a few months ago I could barely rise onto one foot without gripping the barre for dear life, and now we're doing wonderfully balletic things like pose balances, pas de bouree piques and my favourite, coupe fouette racoursees! Now, I'm not naive enough to think I'll be pirouetting like Natasha Oughtred by Christmas, but it's great to feel progress and to be able to see it in the things we can do.

I learned pointe for about a year as a teenager, but since I didn't pursue the vocational examination route, my teacher didn't 'push the pointe' (so to speak!) and it was always a final 10 minutes at the end of a syllabus lesson. Taking a dedicated pointe class now feels quite indulgent, given that I'll never dance professionally, but I really do love it! Perhaps the most exciting point(e) tonight was when the teacher explained to us that she was having to set up a new 'beginner's pointe class' since we were no longer beginners. As we looked on dumbstruck she explained that what we were attempting wouldn't really go down very well in a 'beginner's lesson' since it was a little more advanced. Now, I don't really care how much more advanced, but the fact that we're spending more time in the centre, more time side-on to the barre and less time repeating simple rises and pliees, is a brilliant feeling of accomplishment and really made me smile!

Ballet class was good too, we did lots of enchainement and I wasn't rubbish, for once. Having been brought up on a diet of RAD syllabus work, it's hard to get my brain to process all the steps at once without practising them till they're second nature, but my IDTA class embraces the enchainement and though tough, I feel it's really improving my dance-sense and ability to pick things up. I'm not always great at it, but I can feel a slow, but steady, improvement and I feel more like I'm actually dancing each week. I wasn't sure about IDTA to start with, but I'm really enjoying it now and learning to enjoy the music and dance as well as the technicality rather than the practised perfection of RAD.

NB: Please forgive my pointe puns - lame, I know - but I couldn't help it!

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Sleeping Beauty (BRB)

Friday evening's Sleeping Beauty at the BRB was wonderful. As a former (amateur) theatre critic, I know for a fact I am no ballet critic, and there is much I have to learn, but these are my musings about Friday night's Sleeping Beauty:

I was really excited to arrive at the theatre, not knowing the cast, to discover that not only was Marion Tait playing Carabosse, but Natasha Oughtred and Iain Mackay were in the lead roles. It was almost as if I had picked the line up for my own personal ballet performance. I've followed Natasha Oughtred for some time and feel that she represents, to me, everything I would love to be if I were a ballerina; and I had seen Iain Mackay in Cyrano in October - and had thought him very accomplished, so I was, understandably, excited before the curtain went up. And, by and large, I was not disappointed.

Of course, the ballet doesn't start with the entry of the evil fairy but Marion Tait, as Carabosse, stole the show for me. I can't believe how a woman of such diminutive stature (in real life) could command such presence on stage. She conveyed an icy evilness that permeated the stage and was utterly delicious in its malevolence. I thought she was perfect in the role and I could have watched her all evening! She didn't overdo it, but you certainly got the feeling that she could have frozen any member of the company with one of her powerfully withering glances. I can only imagine how effective she is as ballet mistress at the BRB. I wouldn't want to miss her class, that's for sure!  Mention here for Andrea Tredenick, who played the queen. She, too, was wonderful and has a definite Marion Tait-ness about her: I think she might be one to watch.

The lilac fairy was beautifully mimed/danced by Lei Zhao and I really believed in her care and compassion - not to mention her stunningly soft port de bras. Crucially,  Natasha Oughtred didn't fall short of my expectations (as I was a little worried would happen at one point!), and despite a minor stutter in the rose adagio (she didn't look as confident as perhaps she should - although perhaps this was part of her naivety as a 16 year old), she danced lyrically and musically(which is my preference over, for example, some of the overtly technical dancing of Russian trained ballerinas) and she looks every inch a prima ballerina on stage . 

In the prologue, both my husband and I loved the fairies and their lightness of touch in their initial performances. In fact, little could be criticised of either this or the first act, since it was so sumptuously costumed and mimed by even those not in dancing roles. The corp de ballet were all, without exception, wonderful to watch in the roles of Aurora's friends and the Lilac Fairy's assistants - they danced musically, lightly and with beautiful arms and feet (if only I could do the same - they made it look so easy!).

The third act, in the forest, seemed quite different to the Royal Ballet version, but I think I preferred this one. The positioning of Aurora in the centre of the stage certainly made more sense to me, and when we caught glimpses of her through the forest, it seemed more apt for her to be at the middle of the stage rather than to the side, as in the RB performance.  Oughtred, accompanied by the fairy's assistants, was mesmerising to watch, and I certainly felt the frustration of Florimund when he couldn't identify Aurora. Mackay was strong, manly and lithe - turning swiftly and deftly, desperate in his chase of Aurora. When the two finally met (both in the vision scene and later in the final act), I felt they were a well matched couple - and he a noble suitor to her constantly maturing Aurora. Their pas de deux was moving and musically approached, even if the music left little impression on me! I know that it's set music, but I wanted more of the Tchaikovsky  Sleeping Beauty refrain "I know you I walked with you..." - (apologies to Disney) at this point!

The final act didn't quite have the punch that the RB version had, and although the pas de quatre and bluebirds were entertaining they served as a distraction before the union of Florimund and Aurora. I also preferred the fairy tale characters in the RB version, although will always have a soft spot for puss in boots and the white cat, regardless of who plays them! 

Overall, and perhaps because I was watching from the middle stalls of the Hippodrome rather than the upper slips of the ROH, I preferred the BRB version. I felt it to be a strangely more palatial production, and I also had more invested in the musical and emotional interpretations of the main characters. That isn't, of course, to disregard the RB version, but rather to say that my heart is stolen by the Florimund and Aurora of the BRB. I felt it spoke more directly to me and I came away remembering exactly why I LOVE the BRB!

Here's my first foray into the world of blogging. I love reading them, so perhaps I should offer my own to the online world too!

I'd never really thought about it before, but I hope this can become an account of my experience as an 'adult' ballerina (I hate that expression, it makes me feel so old!) and also my thoughts about all things balletic. I'm always interested in what other people think, so do comment, I'll look forward to hearing from anyone who has anything to say on my topics!!

First things first, I'd just like to recommend a far superior blog to my own... I know one shouldn't say such things when setting up alone, but if one day I could become even half as engaging as Elise, I'd be very impressed with myself!