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!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year!

A couple of days late, I know, but Happy New Year to everyone! I have big plans (or plans, at least) for 2011, both dance and non-dance related and am looking forward to all of the opportunities that the new year brings. Some of the things I'm looking forward to (not necessarily in chronological order):

  • The ballet & pointe workshop my studios has arranged next Sunday - run by a teacher who regularly teaches vocational students. I'm really excited about this start to my new year!
  • Continuing with IDTA intermediate ballet - hard work but it'll be worth it.
  • Taking my IDTA classical award ballet (which I nearly did before Christmas but decided to wait till easter - it'll be the first exam I've done in (flat)shoes with ribbons since I was 15 - how strange!)
  • The prospect of finding a new & permanent job in my 'real' life. I love my job but as I'm still only temporary, I'm going to take the bull by the horns and hopefully find my perfect and permanent job this year.
  • Coordinating a school performance of 'Bugsy Malone' in June. It's one of my favourite musicals and loved doing it when I was younger so can't wait to enthuse my children with the magic of this performance!
  • Going to see many more ballets and taking advantage of all the opportunities available through my studios & online.
  • Visiting my sister in Cambodia in July (it will be the furthest I've ever been from home & I'm very excited!)
  • Taking part in my studio's show in November - that seems a long way away but I'm excited about getting back on stage!
That's about all, apart from to say I had an amazing new year's eve, thanks to the wonderful Ballet News - I don't want to give away too much for now, but just to say it was out of this world!

Wishing you all happy & healthy dancing 2011s!