Thursday, 29 December 2011

New Beginnings & hope

With the dawn of 2012 rapidly approaching, and a request from my lovely friend Katie to keep her amused whilst she's in sunny Benidorm, what better time than now to blog about fresh starts and new beginnings

I think it's safe to say that 2012 hasn't been my finest year. In fact, I did remark to a friend in November that it has, possibly, been the worst year of my life, but that I had high hopes for 2012. At the time, it was a passing comment, but ironically, minutes after saying this, I found myself in the audience of a play called 'void story' by a company called Forced Entertainment. I say ironically because the play basically took two characters and put them through the worst possible chain of events: it was *so* dreadful it was hilarious (that was kind of the point...) At the end of the play, my friend turned to me wryly and remarked:,'so, you were saying, this year was the worst of your life...?' I honestly can't say I've ever been shot in the stomach by intruders, bitten by giant poisonous insects, or been forced to dance in a never ending dance competition until I can no longer stand before being exterminated by a bomb dropped by a passing drone place, so, by comparison, it's really not been that bad. But, that doesn't mean I don't look forward to the promise of a new year, especially after the difficulties of 2012.

A new year is the perfect time to consider the past and make resolutions for the future. I once made a resolution to learn to ski, but within days of me uttering these words, Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident and my sister's colleague paralysed himself on the slopes; suddenly it didn't seem like such a good idea. So since then, I've tried not to make too many 'solid' resolutions. People are always talking about having smart targets, but I think I prefer something altogether more wooly; the possibility of what *could* be as opposed to the possibility of falling at the first hurdle.

Someone clever once said "Imagine what you would do if you could not fail. Now go and do it" - I think that's the best thing about new starts. No one expects anything of you. If you want to reinvent yourself and wear new clothes, or adopt a new way of speaking, it's all allowed. The more shocking and exciting the better.

So, my question to you, readers, is this; not "what are your new year's resolutions?" but "what are your hopes for 2012?" - hope is so much more forgiving.
I began this post somewhat somewhat terrified by the weight of expectation, since Katie was expecting witty tales of new beginnings with (and I quote) "comedic interludes!" I'm not sure I've quite delivered what she expected, but I hope it kept you, dear reader, entertained for ooh, at least 5 minutes. And if I haven't, check out my blog roll on the right, there are numerous talented, witty and entertaining bloggers ready to be read! They will not disappoint, I promise!

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Beauty of Sleep

My first week of work in 6 months is over and I can't remember ever being so tired. I have only worked 2.5 days this week (as my normal work pattern will be) but I am soooo tired! I could sleep for a hundred years, just like Aurora in Sleeping Beauty!

I'm so aware of the value of sleep and I'm trying hard to look after myself, so I was in bed at 9 last night and managed to sleep until just before 9am this morning. When you consider that between February and June this year I didn't get more than 1 hour a night, this is a massive improvement. My body (and more importantly, my mind) has learned to switch off and I feel like I'm still catching up with all those lost hours, and sleep feels so restorative.

It also feels like a positive tiredness. I've taken the big step of returning to work and it's been a good week, even though I'm exhausted, it feels like I've really earned my weekend! Which is great as it's my mum (and my sister's - although she's in Cambodia until next Saturday) birthday today so I am going home to celebrate with my family and really looking forward to it!

On a slightly different, but sleep related note, I noticed this poster in my hunt for pictures of sleeping ballerinas. If you live in the UK - The Royal Ballet is doing a live broadcast of their Sleeping Beauty at 7.15pm on Thursday (in fact they're broadcasting around the world too, although obviously at different times), so it would be well worth scoping out your local cinema (or the ROH website: to see if you can get seats! I saw this last year at new year and it was definitely a brilliant production (as you would expect from the Royal Ballet!)

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Please sponsor me!

In February 2012, I turn 30. This is a momentous month, of course, and to make it even more significant, I've also decided to take part in a sponsored tandem sky dive for BEAT, a UK charity supporting a cause very close to my heart. It will be freezing cold here, and I will be launching myself into the freezing air from a massive 10,000 feet.

If you have followed my blog you will know that earlier this year I spent a (very long) month in hospital with Anorexia Nervosa. I am lucky. I have amazing friends and family and I have had brilliant care within the NHS. But there are hundreds of sufferers who don't get the support they need. BEAT is a charity that provides very real and practical support to sufferers and carers of those with all kinds of eating disorders, many of whom can't access the kind of support I've had. It also runs outreach and support programmes into schools to target vulnerable young people. 

Trust me - they are an AMAZING charity, I wouldn't be considering such a crazy act if I didn't wholly believe in what they do!

So, this is my plea to you, dear blog readers. I have a target of £395 sponsorship and a little over 2 months to hopefully smash this target... I'd be ENORMOUSLY grateful if you could donate, even 50p will help me to meet this target - follow this link if you think you can help!

Thank you, thank you, thank you! the UK's national charity supporting sufferers and carers

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Christmassy chocolatey ballerinas

So, Hotel Chocolat (a posh but tasty chocolate shop in the UK) have released these AMAZING little chocolates in the run up to Christmas. They are so cute, I don't know whether I just want to own them, or whether they'd be equally delicious to eat!  If you (or any little girls you may know, whatever their age!) are remotely into ballet, I reckon they're just the thing to complete your Christmas list!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Missing Mr B... (and my first giveaway!)

My ever so clever husband is away on business at the moment. And when I say away I mean away-away - like on the other side of the world. He's currently on leg 2 of the trip, in Tai-Pei (Taiwan), having already visited Hong Kong, and he's going to Seoul next. Whilst he's there he's meeting distributors who sell the anti-nausea wristband 'Sea-Band' (or want to).
Mr B's first plane from London to Hong Kong
Part of me wishes I was with him, part of me wishes he was here. But I do miss him. I'm keeping myself busy, but I don't know how people do it when they live apart for months at the time (my sister's boyfriend is currently  on tour of duty in Afghanistan, and I don't know how she copes!) Still, Mr B will be back a week today. He says he's bought me presents, which are obviously a bonus, but I'm mostly looking forward to cuddles when he gets back, and to see all the photos he's taken on our new camera.

I have never sponsored a 'giveaway' before, but since I have a spare pair of Sea-Bands (brand new and boxed), I'm going to offer a free pair to one reader, picked at random from entries (if I get more than one!) who leaves a message below telling me how they cope when they're missing someone close to them, (perhaps this is particularly poignant with the holiday season upon us). The deadline is next Wednesday (23rd November) when Mr. B will be back in the country!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A poem in my head

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
Carol Anne Dufffy (1994)

I woke up this morning with this poem in my head. I can't explain where it came from, but it was there, as it probably has been since A levels. Once upon a time, I had a conversation with a friend at university who said she couldn't bear this poem because it was just so obvious. But for me, that's what makes it so beautiful; the everyday mundanity of it, the secularity of the music and the landscape of Britain so wonderfully drawn in so few lines.  I adore Carol Anne Duffy's poems, but I think this has to be my favourite because it is so deceptively complete, although it feels so simple and barely even there. Some days, although I cannot pray, this prayer utters itself in my waking.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Meaningful words

I just wanted to share this.

It's not mine, it belongs to the blog I borrowed it from, but I thought it was wonderful. I hope I can ingest and learn from at least some of it, and I hope it speaks to you as it spoke to me.

Friday, 11 November 2011

I got the job!

A quick, pre-weekend, jubilant post to say I got the job! Thank you for your good luck wishes.

The University of Nottingham (I won't be working in this building though!)
Henceforth I am no longer HannahBallerina, primary school teacher, but HannahBallerina, Primary Academic Support Manager for the University of Nottingham. I hope it's everything I think it will be; I am so excited about getting back to work, about doing something I really believe in and getting to wear exciting and pretty clothes to work (no, seriously, this may be the most exciting part, since as a teacher, you always have to consider the mess factor in outfit choices.)

I am starting in December so have a few weeks to plan my outfits and psych myself up for this massive change!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Reclaiming my life

Many of you will know that I have been out of action, both ballet and work wise, since May now. A sure fire sign that I'm really getting back to being me again is that I am itching (almost literally) to get back to some form of employment. As lovely as it is to meet friends for coffee, or to lie in most mornings, I crave the structure of employment; the feeling of accomplishment after a day or week's work and the luxury of having some R&R time in a busy schedule. Strangely, R&R time loses its appeal when it's all you do every day. I guess it's all about balance.

I feel like I'm perched on edge of a new frontier. I am mindful of not sliding backwards in my recovery, but also desperate to reclaim my life, move onwards and forge a happier future for me, Mr B and [hopefully] our family yet to come. A while back I made the big decision that I didn't want to return to teaching, and although each time I said that I balanced it with 'but never say never', I am very much resolute in this decision for the forseeable future.

So, it is with enormous excitement and great trepidation that I go into this week, as on Thursday I have an interview for a part time job working in outreach management to primary schools at a local university. I couldn't be more on board with the ethos of the programme from a sociological or philosophical point of view. And... (I whisper the next sentence so as not to tempt fate...) I happen to think I'd be rather good in the role. All I have left to do is finalise my presentation and sort out my interview outfit.

Wish me luck.  I am a great believer in fate, but a little luck never goes a miss! I am sure if it is meant to be it will be (and if it's not, let's hope there are bigger, as yet unforeseen, plans afoot).

Wise words I intend to keep in mind this week!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Tutu Dreams

Today's post is inspired by my wonderful friend, N, and a truly adorable photo of her when she was tiny (well, when I say tiny, I mean very young, as she is still a very petite grown up!) - apparently she had to wear a tutu for her ballet exams. I love this photo because she looks so proud of herself, so balletic and also because she looks so much like her daughter (who is in the ballet class that I help with. In fact so much so, I had to double check who it was!)
N in her Tutu as a child. I am so retrospectively jealous!
When I was little, the only thing I wanted more than to be a 'real' ballerina was to wear a 'real' tutu. I dreamed of tutus, I imagined that, simply by wearing one, I would be transported into a land of sugarplums and pirouettes. Sadly, I went to a very strict and serious RAD ballet school, where the focus was on getting girls (for we pretty much all were girls) through their RAD grades so they could start pre-vocational/ vocational training. The closest I came to wearing a tutu in all the years that I attended the school was wearing a little cotton broderie anglaise dress for my primary exam. I can't even show you a picture so you'll just have to trust me on this - it was no tutu, much to my disappointment.

There's nothing quite as balletic as a white tutu, right?
(image courtesy of
Even now, I still harbour a longing to wear a tutu, and sometimes even wonder if I did ever actually have occasion to wear one whether all my ballerina dreams would come true in an instant. My fear is that if it did happen, perhaps I would have no reason to carry on dancing, for my very 'raison-d'etre' as a dancer would be utterly fulfilled. I think now, as a grown up, my preference would be for a romantic rather than a 'plate'/ classic tutu, but actually, I really don't think it would matter, since I'd be so excited that you'd have to restrain me to stop me from dancing!

What is it, I wonder, that makes tutus so alluring to the little girl in all of us? Ballerinas (professional ones, that is) say they are often uncomfortable and restricting, but I think, to me, they are the very essence of being a ballerina, and I don't think I'll ever stop dreaming of the day I get to wear one!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

BRB's Autumn Glory

Sometimes my husband, the wonderful Mr. B, knows just how to lift me when I'm feeling sad. And yesterday, he did just that by surprising me with tickets to BRB's triple bill, Autumn Glory. He only booked the tickets at about 2 yesterday afternoon, but by 3.30 we were on the road to Birmingham to watch my favourite ballet company. 

I always feel a (slightly misplaced) sense of pride at the BRB. I think they're wonderful. They are technically amazing, have a fantastic repertoire, always put on a brilliant show, but more to the point, they are a first rate predominantly classical company based outside of London. And the fact that their home is only a 40 minute drive from where I live makes me feel like they're part of my cultural makeup more than any London based company could.
The beautiful Symphonic Variations (image courtesy of BRB)
Autumn Glory showcased BRB in all their glory. Of the three ballets performed, my favourite was definitely Ashton's beautifully classical Symphonic Variations, although I think it seemed out of place in the Autumn bill, since it seemed so evocative of Spring in its freshness, verdure and precision. I felt very privileged to see both Natasha Oughtred and Elisha Willis on stage as well as Cesare Morales and Jamie Bond. Their technical prowess and clean lines were stunning to watch, especially in the moments where they were accompanied only by the pianist - I loved this, as it is so rare to see a ballet just to piano, and that is, after all where most of us began dance, accompanied by a single piano. 
Chess themed ballet - how odd! (image courtesy of BRB)
Checkmate was an oddity, in my opinion. I was amused by the costumes, with the pawns looking like 1950s air stewardesses, and the setting, on a giant chessboard, was obvious. The movement, however, seemed a bit contrived: I think dance has come such a long way since this was choreographed, and if you gave the theme to a modern choreographer like Wayne McGregor or Stanton Welch, the resulting  ballet would be exciting and groundbreaking, but this being created back in the first half of the 20th century, it felt constrained by a lack of athleticism and an over-reliance on repeated motifs. It also was the first ballet I have ever been to where Mr. B had to explain what was going on to me, rather than the other way round, since the 'characters' moved as chess pieces do, and I've never played chess, so to some extent it was lost on me! Mr. B, however, thought it was clever how each playing piece was brought to life with a character befitting the character behind their chess piece.
Ambra Vallo was brilliant as the plucky Pol! (image courtesy of BRB)
I was expecting to hate Pineapple Pol but actually found myself laughing out loud and beaming from ear to ear by the end. It was just joyful. The score, and the plot, is a Gilbert and Sullivan fancy: Basically a good looking sailor comes into town and all the women go mad for him. So mad they all pretend to be sailors and stow away on his ship with hilarious consequences! The acting in this proved that BRBs dancers are excellent character actors as well as technically brilliant dancers. The characterisation of the women was completely un-p.c. but incredibly funny. Definitely a family classic!

So, although I started the day feeling a little sad and sorry for myself, by the end of the day, I felt uplifted and on a serotonin high! Thanks Mr. B, you're great, and thanks BRB, you never fail to impress me, I'm so pleased you're my 'local' company.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Blogs are the new magazines. Only better...

I have only just realised this. I think I now glean more enjoyment from reading blogs of people I follow, and friends of theirs, and friends of friends of theirs, than I do from reading magazines.
Monthly magazines - Not half as enjoyable as the range of blogs out there.
Thank you internet. Thank you bloggers. Blogs are amazing! Where else can you read musings on all the things you adore (for me: ballet, fashion, arts, etc. etc) on a daily basis, and then carry on reading others' simply by clicking a tab? And all for free. Where once I would have subscribed to a women's monthly, now I can choose what I'd like to read on a daily basis, where each blog is as unique and interesting as the writer who writes it. Where each day brings new discoveries.

For someone who loves reading and finding out about others, it's heaven. How incredibly lucky we all are to have this amazing wealth of knowledge and entertainment so readily available. So, if I read your blog regularly, I'd just like to say thanks; I may not always comment, but I do always appreciate!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

In pursuit of perfection?

In a recent article in the Times by ex Royal Ballet star, Deborah Bull, ballet is apparently "about perfection, not punishment." This headline worries me somewhat, because although the rest of the writing is staggeringly well balanced for a mainstream media effort (well, she does have a wealth of real experience rather than simply a 2 hour date with the film Black Swan), it still perpetuates the myth that perfection is possible. Read into what she has written (you'll need to be a Times subscriber) and you'll see that she talks of dedication, building strength and flexibility, the demanding schedule of a dancer and the years of practise it takes to get to dance with a company: all of these things are doubtlessly integral to dancers' everyday lives, but still, I find the use of the term perfection troublesome.
Deborah Bull (image courtesy of the Times online) - Pursuing perfection even as a child?
What is perfection? In Black Swan Nina pursues perfection to an obsessive degree; it is her nemesis and her eventual downfall. Ballet companies (and any company for that matter) pursue perfection all the time. But at what cost?  I wonder, is art ever perfect? And if it is, is it still art? I don't mean to belittle effort or achievement; I for one wouldn't go to the ballet if I didn't think it was well rehearsed and full of dancers showcasing their well honed, practised talent. I'm not suggesting dancers shouldn't strive to achieve their very best, but perfection? I'm not so sure:

I came across this definition of perfectionism in a book I'm reading:

Perfectionism is the setting of, and striving to meet, very demanding standards that are self-imposed and relentlessly pursued despite this causing problems. It involves basing one's self-worth almost exclusively on how well these high-standards are pursued and achieved.
(Shafran, Egan & Wade, 2010)

Anyone at the top of their game is, obviously, aiming to be the very best they can be, but the problem with perfectionism is that good can never be good enough. We've all done it, haven't we, when we've been praised for something good and dismissed it as fluke or thought that something else must have had a role in our success? Any classical art, especially one as potentially rigid and structured as ballet, has the potential to drive people onwards to better things, and this is good, this breaks barriers and forges new paths through the art(s). But, relentless pursuit of 'perfection' - that's not healthy, surely?

When I was little, my mum used to tell me a story about the women who weave Persian rugs: apparently, somewhere in every rug, they weave a deliberate imperfection. These women are highly skilled craftswomen, whose work is highly revered the world around; they are the very best at what they do, but they choose to make a mistake. Why? Because they believe that God (their Allah) is the only one who is perfect and it would be arrogant to suggest that anything man can do could be as perfect. They aren't shoddy craftswomen, they are apprenticed for years before they are considered skilled enough to make the highest quality rugs, but they are humble too.

I love this story: it captures my imagination and reminds me of magic carpets and stories from the 1001 nights. But I also think it holds a really important message: Pursuit of excellence is essential; it drives us onwards as humans; it makes our great artists (and ballet companies) what they are today - exciting and mesmerising to watch. But maybe, as dancers, instead of citing perfection as our aim, we need to change our choice of words, because, like the Persian rug weavers, maybe we need to acknowledge that mistakes are human, and that's what makes us man, not machine.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Ballet themed jewellery

Last year I bought myself (indulgent, I know) a charm bracelet. I already had a charm bracelet, a present from my parents when I graduated back in 2004, but the one I bought last year because I really wanted a ballet related piece of jewellery.

Here's what the charm looks like:
Simple and unfussy, right? I fell in love with them even more when my friend's daughter told me they would fit her imaginary friend - so sweet!

But, today, whilst trawling the internet on a totally unrelated mission, I came across these:

Then imagine my absolute delight when I discovered that the same company (Azendi) do a range of beautiful ballet related charms! There's a cute tutu, a ballet dress and even a swan lake charm. Apparently, for a while, they teamed up with Northern Ballet as a sponsorship deal.  But it got me thinking: I could have a whole charm bracelet dedicated to ballet. I think I might start a ballet jewellery related christmas wish list for Mr. B!

Look how pretty they are: (all images courtesy of

Monday, 3 October 2011

Ballet Erotica?

This isn't a review, just a few ruminations on Northern Ballet's Cleopatra. In case you were wondering, it definitely lived up to the hype - the score was excellent and the dancing was a perfect mixture of classical and contemporary (which given Northern Ballet's slight tendency towards non-pointe-shoe ballets, is great!) and also fantastic story telling, but there were certainly moments that took my breath away for a number of reasons!

The bath scene: I can only say 'oh my!' to this - never before in a ballet have I seen something so overtly erotic or sado-masochistic. I can't describe it, you just have to see it. There was water, (practical) nudity and  murder in a see-through glass bath. That's all I have to say about that, I certainly did NOT see it coming!

The end of act one: hooded red costumes of the egyptian men and women - like a cross between a ballet blanc and something far more futuristic. Visually, totally stunning! Mr B said it was a 'ballet rouge' - the overall impression was of blood but the company were technically excellent!

Mark Anthony's Bacchic orgy: writhing bodies, very little ballet, but certainly very physical, and extremely powerfully choreographed. This may have been part of the reason for the parental advisory warning on the posters!
A snapshot of the aforementioned Orgy... I'll leave the rest to your imagination (courtesy of
Clever use of set & projections: There was one moment where blood seemed to trickle down the scenery. I've never seen this done before and it was an extremely powerful evocation of Cleopatra's state of mind at the time.

Apart from that, there were some amazingly powerful moments in the ballet and it really showed off the technical prowess of the company whilst not being at the expense of storytelling (which is something northern ballet ALWAYS do well anyway.) It was certainly my favourite NB classic to date and I think that the company have marked a new era in their development. New name: new style, and extremely powerful indeed. Even  if Mr B did term it 'ballet erotica' I think that doesn't give credit to the absolute technical and narrative brilliance of the piece. My only regret is that I didn't see the first cast, but the second, but it's a minor quibble since, I, for one, am just glad I was there to see it!

Friday, 30 September 2011


So, it's been a while, but this evening, all things being well, Mr B and I are going to the ballet. I am so, so excited!

Northern Ballet are coming to Nottingham with their highly acclaimed Cleopatra and I just can't wait. It feels like it's been so long since I've been, or even dared to enjoy watching ballet (knowing that I'm not allowed to do it for now), that it feels like an enormous step to be going to see this. Add to this the excitement of the fact that it's an entirely new show with new choreography and a new score, as well as the fact that it's been labelled a 'grown up ballet' and I just can't wait!

I'll let you know if it lives up to the reviews (I hope it does)!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Technique, Turnout and Pilates

I am really very excited, because, after nearly 5 months of no ballet classes, I have finally been given a tentative go-ahead to return to dance very soon! I've been working hard on recovery and it's finally paying off. (And more to the point, I'm starting to feel positive about recovery which is a mind-shift from even a month ago)

On the negative side, it's going to be another month or so, continuing apace, before I am 'safe' to return to ballet, but on the positive side, that fits in nicely with my dance school's current schedule, since they are currently preparing for a show which will happen in early November, so it makes sense for me to aim to return to classes after the show. This news has made me quite abstractly happy, especially as I was beginning to think that perhaps I was never going to be ok enough to return.

Now what I need to work on is strength. Anyone who's ever been ill or bed-ridden for any length of time will know that feeling of weakness that you get from having not used your muscles for a while. For me, this is a little more extreme: I've always had very strong legs, people often comment that I have 'dancer's legs', and whilst my calf muscles are still as strong as ever, I have really quite significant muscle wastage in my thighs and around my hips (I think these are called my hip flexor or lateral rotator muscles) so holding turnout has become something of an issue. Obviously, the solution to this is to rebuild muscle by putting on weight and working my turnout muscles regularly, but I feel like I've got a mammoth task ahead of me. My feedback from my last exam (remember I said I missed out on an honours but got a good highly commended?) alludes to this, and my dance teacher went through with me the reasons behind this deduction of marks for technique. This is partly the wake up call that I needed to make me realise the damage that my body has sustained over the last year, and it's a reminder that I have a lot of (positive) work to do to put it right.

As I won't be back at ballet class for a little while yet, and since I now need to retrain my body to build up these muscles again, my therapist has suggested pilates. Now, I know that pilates is considered excellent conditioning for dancers, but she thinks it will help two-fold: one; with the reconditioning that my body needs before returning to full class and, two; with body awareness, which, in her words "any one, but particularly a dancer, recovering from an eating disorder, would benefit from".

So, today's job is to investigate local pilates classes: If anyone out there in the dance or blogging world has any advice about what I should be looking for, or what to avoid, questions to ask, stories of how pilates has helped etc etc. it would be appreciated enormously.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A struggle between heart and head

Have you ever had to over-rule your heart on something that means the world to you? It is so hard when you really want one thing but you know it might not be the right decision. The whole 'heart vs head' conundrum is so difficult; always so emotive and there is never an easy solution.

I had one such decision to make this week: to return to ballet sooner or later?

Obviously, my heart says "now, now, now!" - I long for the sound of the music as barre begins, the graceful freedom of my arms during port de bras and the developing warmth in my calf muscles as we progress to adage work, not to mention the amazing feeling as we jump and twirl our way through grande allegro (ok, so maybe I'm romanticising a little here, but you get the picture...) but for now I have had to over-rule my heart. My head says "not yet; get better first, then go back to ballet when you're ready" - oh how I hate my sensible head at times, because it is so right.

I stopped dance because I didn't have the energy or the strength to complete a class without feeling like I could collapse. I justified it because I was signed off: there was no way I could do something like ballet when I wasn't fit to go to work. I rationalised that it wouldn't be wise, given how many classes I take with senior teenagers, to show off my shrunken frame - that would be uncomfortable for both me and others (even though to me, I looked 'normal' - such is the nature of an eating disorder). But through it all, I never really lost my passion for dance. And I do miss it. So much.

Being out of hospital (because I persuaded the doctors I could continue recovery at home), the temptation to run, or perhaps dance, before I am ready, is so great. It is taking all my will power to fight the impulse to return just yet: like the dancers who return too soon from injury, I fear doing more longer-term damage if I am not careful, and whilst I am still very fragile, I need to take heed of the voice of reason.  So for now, my head wins, but my heart still longs to return.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Theatre of my dreams

Though I have loved ballet as long as I have been able to walk, my childhood notions of dancing on a stage were dreamlike, Degas-esque, just beyond my ability to express in words, and always intangible enough to feel magically unreal. I knew, somehow, that they were connected with London and Covent Garden (having visited with my family as a child, although never to the ballet) although I could never pin these ideals to anywhere specific therein. Whilst friends, aged 10 or 11, dreamed of being talent scouted by a model agency (a la Kate Moss), I hoped against all logical hope that I would be approached and asked to join the Royal Ballet school. To this end, I always made sure I carried myself balletically in and around Covent Garden, just in case the impossible happened. Of course, it never did, but my connections between Covent Garden and ballet have remained as strong as ever.

The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
I know now what I should probably always have known: that for me ballet is the Royal Opera House. Everything about the place is magical and everything that ballet is in my mind. It is beautiful, elegant and timeless. Ballet = The Royal Opera House and The Royal Opera House = Ballet.

When I moved to London to work in commerce after university, I worked only a 10 minute walk from Covent Garden. This, for me, was both bliss and torture: I would often wander through the lobby of the ROH wistfully dreaming of a life in the arts, whilst knowing I would have to return to my soul-destroying office job at the end of my hour out. Strangely enough, I never once visited the ballet whilst I worked and lived there: that discovery came much later (I suspect the actual presence of ballet would have been more torturous than I could have coped with at the time.)

The stunning, vaulted glass, Floral hall
Now I live an hour and a half from London, but attend as many performances at the ROH as possible. We have discovered the secret of the £6 upper-slip ticket - often with a restricted view, but still enabling us to enjoy world class ballet on a shoestring, and the atmosphere is no less electric the further up the auditorium you go. Indeed, it is worth the price of the ticket alone to hear the sublime orchestra as they accompany the Royal Ballet.

The elegant interior -  given any budget, this would be my dream wedding reception destination
The inside of the building is, if possible, more enchanting than I thought possible as a child. From the lush red velvets of the entrance lobby, to the breathtaking floral hall and the unbelievably vast auditorium, magic seems to permeate every brick and seep from every seat in the house.
The ornate and vast auditorium.
I still hold Covent Garden and this 'grande-dame' of a theatre in the highest of regards, and although I have lost the childish notion of becoming 'discovered' as a ballet dancer wandering the streets below the theatre (ok, so maybe I hope, just a little, every now and then), I am still filled with awe and wonder at this amazing place and all that happens within. The ROH is the place where dreams are born, live and, eventually, die after a life lived to the full.  It is a place I long to be a part of in any small way possible - and one where just such an opportunity may have just arisen... 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

"Me" again

My husband pointed out last night that I hadn't posted for a while and that, with 30 followers, perhaps I was being slightly neglectful. So, apologies, dear readers. Let me explain where I have been and update you a little.

I am currently writing from a hospital room in Leicester where I have been for the last 2 and a half weeks. The hospital room is in an anorexia unit. I guess that's my way of explaining that I've really been struggling recently.

The room I am 'living' in at the moment
This is a blog about dance and my life as an adult dance student and I intend for it to stay that way, but what this has meant for me, whilst I'm now on the long road to recovery, is that I am missing out on my dancing life. So, firstly, I want to thank you all for your wonderful dancing posts, which have helped me to feel connected with the dance community. Secondly, I want to reassure you that I want to get better so that I can return to dance. My illness has nothing to do with body image associated with ballet, and everything to do with the rotten time I've been having in my working life and a great deal of anxiety that I have been experiencing on top of my 'massive perfectionism' that has caused me to feel like a real failure. Returning to ballet is one of my key motivators (along with having a baby) and I love that so many of you celebrate the mental and physical strengths of 'real' dancers - something that I have lost sight of recently.

From in here, the world is all upside down, but for the first time in months, I am beginning to feel like "me" again. I am starting  to take control in a positive way and I can see how bright the future could be, I have more energy and the more healthy side of me is gaining in strength every day, but for now, my posts may be somewhat lacking in 'real' dance experience so I hope you will share yours with me!

As an aside, I just wanted to let those of you who asked know - I got 82% in my exam. Not brilliant, but not awful either - that's a highly commended (not far off an honours) and given that I was really quite poorly when I took it, I am going to force myself to be pleased with that.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

My new hat (and a crazy weekend)

Apologies for my lack of posting recently, it isn't through lack of ballet or other exciting events, simply that I've been so busy I haven't had time to write. Not strictly ballet, but I wanted to share with you a picture of my first ever hat (beany hats excluded.)
My new hat - I feel very grown up!
I've never had to own a hat before, but since marrying it's now the expected thing to wear whenever I attend a synagogue service with my [jewish] husband - and this weekend was his cousin's bar mitzvah; a pretty big deal in the Jewish world. Since I am not Jewish, this is all new to me, but I have to admit to being quite excited by the purchase, and to being delighted when I found the perfect 1930s-40s inspired hat to go with my little white dog-print tea dress. It's remarkable how different one item of clothing can make you feel, and it made me feel ultimately feminine and demure: I loved it! By some happy twist of fate I also already owned a pair of shoes in the same colour with matching bows, so I really felt the part despite the absolute manic nature of the rest of the weekend.

The rest of the weekend was spent in a blur of partying and traveling between London and the midlands as I had, crazily, arranged my final graded ballet exam for Sunday morning. Since I've now been waiting for a while to take this, there was no way I wanted to wait any longer so it just had to be done. But, by 1am on Monday morning, after the bar mitzvah/lunch on Saturday and a train journey back north on Saturday evening ready for my exam on Sunday, and then a train back to London for the black tie Bar-mitzvah party on Sunday evening, I was well and truly exhausted.

On a positive note, it really is amazing the difference in how I feel about dancing now to a year ago. I didn't have a great deal of time to work myself into a 'tizz' about my exam and instead, just went in and danced. I made a few mistakes but smiled and presented myself well. I am certain I have passed, and although I don't know how well, I am more relaxed about how I did than this time last year - I didn't even panic at the enchainement, I simply did it. Hopefully my love of ballet will have shone through. I will update as soon as I know the results!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Mirror, Mirror...

In my last post I explained how, earlier this week, I was 'ousted' from my usual place at the barre, and how this had temporarily upskittled me. However, it would seem that every cloud has a silver lining, and this one is particularly reflective!  I was forced to take a place at the barre along the back wall of the studio, which happens to be well placed for a mirror on the back of the studio door, something that I have, until now, shied away from.

As a teenager, the mirrors at my dance school were legendary for making you seem shorter and squatter than you could ever possibly have been, and when I went on the Norfolk dance summer school in August last year, their phenomenal studios were lined with mirrors along the facing wall, but my current studios has limited and often curtained-over mirrors, so I enjoy a relatively mirror free existence, and until now, this has suited me just fine (I don't like having my delicate self-image toyed with by distorted or warped mirrors!)

It's no secret that mirrors help dancers to perfect their technique, but it can still be unnerving staring at your reflection for hours a week! But, watching my arms and legs in the mirror through Tuesday's barre made such a lot of difference; I could suddenly see when my supporting leg needed pulling up, or when I was sickling in retire, and as if to hit home the point, the grade 1 children this morning pulled back the curtains on the studio mirrors, and I watched my teacher really disect the technique of a compound step with them: The difference it made to their performance was vast.

It wasn't quite a revelation; more a reminder of just how powerful the mirror can be. Narcissus I am not, but I am going to make a conscious effort to utilise rather than fear the mirror from now on!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What a difference a year makes

In my class this evening were 4 new girls (ok, women, but we're all girls to the teacher); girls I had never seen before and girls new to the adult ballet scene. Evidently, from their placing in the advanced class, they've danced before, but they were also clearly nervous. After I'd got over my initial indignation of having my barre space 'stolen' (I really hadn't realised how possessive I could get about a space) I began to think about my initial return to ballet about a year and a half ago.

My blog is not quite as old as my attendance at adult class, so I missed reporting on the first tentative months of my return, but in a friendly chat at the end of class this evening, my dance teacher pointed out just how terrified I looked in most of my classes back then.  The new adults were explaining how they felt they couldn't remember anything and that perhaps they should go back into beginners and my dance teacher piped up, "you should have seen Hannah when she first joined; I could practically see tears welling up every time I asked her to do something new." And she was right - I remember coming away thinking "I'll never be able to do this," I couldn't put together combinations easily, my brain and feet felt completely stressed out, and I felt more clumsy than I could imagine.

But, a year later, and how different do I feel? I'm still not perfect. It still takes me longer than the teenagers to pick things up. I still have to switch my brain and feet on before I enter the studio. But I feel like a different dancer: My muscle memory has returned; my strength has grown and I'm tackling more complicated combinations (especially in the centre) than I would even have done as a teenager.

Don't look too closely at the hands - look at the smile!
(Image - Bex Singleton via Ballet News)

What a difference a year makes. It's gradual, and at times imperceptible, but I'm becoming a better and more confident dancer, and that makes me happy!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Dancing for joy

Dance has such a capacity for joy, and for expressing that joy physically: I suddenly realised that this weekend at an amazing class lead by Olivia Pickford (usually found choreographing London Children's Ballet) at my studios. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to take a class with an extremely experienced teacher and amazing dancer, but it really reminded me why I love ballet.

I won't even go into the fantastic imagery she used to get us to understand steps or enchainement, or the way she motivated us with her voice and her stories, or even her effervescent passion for dance; If I took nothing else away from the class it was her indictment to 'dance for joy' - to show that love of dance in your upturned eyes (yes, finally, I know why I need to keep my eyeline up - it's sheer joy and theatricality - I felt so different doing this) and the lightness of certain steps.  It's so easy to get bogged down in technique, that often when someone reminds you to smile, it's a mechanical, forced smile, so having someone reminding us why we dance in the first place really threw my perspective.

Given; not all roles are joyous or light and so it doesn't always fit, but whether like me, you only take 2-3 classes a week or you dance for hours a day, I think it's worth remembering to dance for joy - for dance's sake, but for your own sake too!

Image: Olivia talked and danced some of Juliet's light and joyous steps - what a fantastic image to take away!

Go, do it - dance for joy, feel like a ballerina and enjoy it! (and tell me all about it!)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Preparing my pointe shoes

Whilst I'm not a professional dancer, taking pointe class each week means that I still need to prepare and look after my pointe shoes.

With a little help from an online friend identifying my foot type, I finally found a shoe that seems to suit my foot, and have been happily wearing said pair since the summer (I do only use them for class for about an hour each week). Sadly, and I'd felt that it was coming, I snapped the shank on Tuesday, and had to start again with a brand new pair.

My battered but comfortable (until they snapped) Grishko 2007 4 1/2 xxx's with medium shank. On the second photo you can see in the demi pointe where the shank has died!

So began the process of breaking in my brand, shiny new shoes. And I'd forgotten just how painfully hard they are when they're unworn.
Look how stiff they are! It made me wonder if I'd ever releve again.

My initial exctement about new shoes waned quickly when I put them on and felt the restriction of the super hard box and unpliable shank. Despite the snapped shank on my previous pair, they were at least fairly comfortable for class.

So I set about the lengthy process of making the shoes fit to wear:

First I stripped the satin off the toe, 'sealed' the satin by burning with a lighter, and began to blanket stitch around the platform to gain a little traction and stop the satin fraying. I used to darn the whole of the platform, but discovered that the piece flat to the platform came off after a few weeks anyway, so it made more sense to remove it and make sure the edges are secure.

Ta-da: fully sewn platforms. By using thick thread, this only took about 15-20 minutes per shoe, as opposed to the hours it used to take to darn the entire platform.

Although I haven't photographed the rest of the process, I then sewed on covert elastics from heel to heel, and sewed the ribbons on, roughly to match the sewn line that marks the back quarter of the shoe. Then the bit that makes me nervous: squashing the box to make them more comfortable on my toes. I do this initially with great trepidation (as it's easy to crack the box) but within a couple of weeks I'll be standing on them to make sure they are comfortable. Whilst my shoe has a 3/4 shank, which cuts down on shank preparation, it also has a pretty high and stiff vamp, so I have to spend time softening it with my hand.

If I got through several pairs a month I don't know how I'd manage the final part of the process which is to simply wear them around the house with socks over (to warm and soften them) and gradually work through the demi pointe doing gentle rises & pliees. This is the longest part and as my shoe seems to have a particularly strong shank (apparently Russian shoes like Grishko tend to be much harder) it's always the most painful bit.

My fully prepared shoe: it'll be a few classes before they're genuinely comfortable and can do what I want them to do.

Do you wear pointe shoes? What brand or How do you prepare them? Do you have any advice on speeding my process or making it more efficient? I find the ritual of preparing pointe shoes fascinating and would love to hear/ see images of how you prepare yours.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Black Swan

Not really a review, more a sigh of relief...

Thank goodness that's over: I haven't had such a visceral reaction to a film since nearly hyperventilating and sobbing at Crash about 5 years ago.

I had known it was going to be a psychological thriller, but hiding behind my hands and biting my thumbnail down to the quick, I hadn't counted on it being quite so gory or scary. In fact, for me, the psychodrama of it was a little overplayed and cliched: Nina is such a caricature of herself that the bits that should have had me guessing didn't; it didn't come as any surprise that they were, ultimately, psychotic, imagined episodes. No; whilst disturbing, I didn't find it cleverly disturbing, just horrific!

I'm not even going to go into the dance aspects of it, as it's not the ballet that left an impression on me. The parallels to Swan Lake were clever, and in terms of the cinematic impact and film, it was doubtlessly impressive, but I hated the one dimensional characterisation - especially that of Nina and her abhorrent mother. In fact the only character I actually liked was Lilly, and I think I was supposed to hate her!

Now I'm going to go and watch something that doesn't make me feel like I've been thumped in the solar plexus. Or perhaps I'll just practise my tendues (or maybe not, just for tonight!)

Sunday, 9 January 2011

What I've been waiting to share with you...

Image: Bex Singleton
Courtesy of Ballet News

I mentioned my new year's eve was out of this world, thanks to Ballet News and I can finally share this with you too!

I've been dying to tell you all about what I did, but I didn't want to spoil anything for the wonderful Elise (Ballet News), but a while back, I won a competition to watch rehearsals at English National Ballet. As I'm restricted by school times, it's taken some time to arrange, but finally, and on New Year's Eve, my prize became a reality.

I had an amazing time, watching a range of dancers and rehearsals of Rudolf Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet, and was simply blown away by the whole experience. You can read more about it (and see some fantastic images by the wonderful Bex Singleton) at this link to Ballet News.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


As you'll know if you've read my previous posts, I'm working my way towards my teaching qualifications in ballet. As part of this course, I get homework from time to time: this week's homework is to start thinking about the choreography for 2 short and simple dances (one for preparatory grade - usually around age 6, and one for grade 2/3 standard). My teacher has suggested that as preparation I make table of all the steps that fall into these grades to help me fit them to music as a dance.

This is a totally new pastime for me; some people create breathtaking dances with every step they take in a dance studio, but whether it's lack of confidence or simply lack of experience in doing so, it feels like an alien process to me. I listen to music all the time, and I generally make a judgement on whether I like it or not by whether I feel I could dance it, but to formally choreograph a dance: that terrifies me!

So, dear dancing readers, you may well be lucky enough for this to be second nature to you as a dancer, but If you have any friendly tips for a beginning (terrified) choreographer, please share them!

Image: Benesh Notation - a way of recording choreography (I'm not this advanced yet!!)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Vote for ENB's emerging dancer

If you have seen English National Ballet in the last year, make sure you vote for the people's choice emerging dancer award. The deadline is 24th January and it's between 6 of their most talented young dancers.

The six Emerging Dancer nominees for this year are James Streeter, Ksensia Osvanyick, Laurretta Summerscales, Max Westwell, Shiora Kase & Vadim Muntagirov and I know I shouldn't prejudice choice, but my vote's with Ksenia Osvanyick or Max Westwell: both AMAZINGLY talented performers with real stage presence - especially for their ages (ok, now I sound old).

I know I normally blog about my own dance experiences, but I think this is a worthy cause so go, vote if you can!