Dances On Rooftops

A (mainly) ballet blog

2017: In Review

Hey, guys! Welcome to 2018–now that we’re three months into it. For my first post of the year, I want to look back on my ballet life in 2017. The ups, the downs, the progress, the performances–you name it. I was inspired to do this post after I flipped through the “ballet calendar” I kept last year. I got the idea to start keeping a calendar to track my classes on a monthly basis from Jana over at Ballerinas By Night. It’s an interesting way to measure your progress as well as a good motivator to keep going to class!

So, without further ado, here are my personal ballet totals for 2017. *drum roll please*

Total classes: 89
Classes en pointe: 26

writer's calendar page marked with ballet notes

To break it down for you, I kept track by marking the days on the calendar for when I went to class, noting if I wore pointe shoes. Then at the end of the month, I would tally it up and see how many classes I took that month. My schedule at my home studio this year has been two adult classes per week plus a Saturday class for pointe. So usually when I would look back on the month, I liked to count the maximum classes I could have had for the month and compare the number of classes I actually went to. That’s where the motivation part really starts to kick in! (The dollar signs really start to add up when you realize how much of your tuition money you wasted by missing class–that is, if you’re paying on a monthly basis, which I am.)

Along with the calendar idea, I started a ballet journal. It did start off well! But I quickly got behind. I managed to keep notes for my January and February classes, writing 8 entries in total. I broke up the entries as so:

  • quick overall note
  • corrections from my teacher
  • my notes (other things I noticed during class, goals I wanted to work on, etc.)
  • new things learned (new exercises, combos, etc.)
  • “homework” (to remember and/or work on for next class)
  • progress notes

writer's journal entry

Seems simple, right? But hand writing all of that is time consuming, especially when you’re verbose like me. And I don’t usually get home from my adult class until 10pm, and then I need to shower and eat dinner. By that time, it’s already pretty late, and by the time I finish journaling, there’s not any time left to “decompress” before bed. At least, those are the excuses I’m going with as to why I stopped my ballet journaling.

Looking back on it, it is a great way to keep track of progress and remember everything I wanted to work on. And it would be great to keep so I can look back on it in the future to not only cherish certain “eras” in my ballet life but to also see how far I’ve come. If I can get my act together–and maybe condense the wordiness–I will start this habit up again.

Hands down the biggest change in my ballet life last year was going en pointe. I started taking my pre-pointe class in August 2016 and got my first and second pairs of pointe shoes (pictured below) in December 2016 and January 2017. My first class en pointe was January 28th, 2017.

collage of photos showing writer wearing her two pairs of pointe shoes

Although I am nowhere near what you would call “good” at dancing in my pointe shoes, I’m at least stable (most of the time!) and have learned so much about pointe and ballet technique in general in a relatively short time. Experiencing the difference between dancing in flat shoes and pointe shoes has helped my basic technique so much. It is a really hard feeling to explain, going en pointe. It’s something you’ve been waiting for for a long time (maybe since you were a little girl), and then all of a sudden you’re actually standing on the tips of your toes, balancing your body weight on the space of a half dollar. You’ve heard about how much it hurts, you’ve seen all the pictures of nasty but beautiful professional dancer feet on Instagram, you’ve dreamed about the moment for so long. But when you’re up there, it’s like nothing you ever imagined and you definitely can’t explain it. The fruition of actually dancing on your toes is a dream come true for many. It was this way for me.

You also don’t realize how excruciatingly hard it is to dance en pointe until you’re actually doing it. The professionals make it look so easy and beautiful–that is why they’re getting paid to dance, after all! I always thought certain things–like échappés–would be easier en pointe than in flat shoes. Well, the short answer is–not really. Everything is ten times harder. It’s harder to point your toes, harder to not sickle your foot, harder to not sit in your heels, harder to maintain turn out. Everything. Is. Harder. But it’s the difficulty that makes it so rewarding when something that you’ve been working on clicks and you turn to look in the mirror and see that you actually look fairly decent in your pointe shoes. Maybe you don’t look like a professional, but you look like you kind of maybe know what you’re doing, and you feel beautiful at that. It’s exhilarating, humbling, and freeing.

It’s also painful. I went though my rite of passage when I got my first blister. I learned the hard way to always remember to tape my toes when the blister reopened after I forgot to do so before pointe class. The majority of the year went smoothly and without too much pain. There were some stumbles here and there, and I think I did fall on my butt at least once, but nothing too serious. It wasn’t until my very last class of the year when I was doing a changement/échappé combination where my brain totally farted on me and I ended up jumping onto the échappé en pointe and wrecked my big toenail. It’s still black and blue. I knew not to do what I did, but I relied on my muscle memory when my brain started forgetting the combination, so when I went to go from a changement to an échappé, my body couldn’t quite catch up with my brain and I literally jumped onto my toes. It did not feel good. Luckily, the pain only lasted a couple of days. It looks way worse now than it actually feels (still). To further protect my toes from any more accidental or incidental bruising, I went to my local dance store and a fellow dancer helped me in finding the big toe tips from Bunhead. I’ve only had a few classes using these, but so far, they are a life saver!

a collage of photos that show the writer's blistered and bruised toes

As we ballerinas like to say, my pointe shoes are my favorite torture device! I’ve learned a lot from being en pointe in only one year, and I can’t wait to keep learning and improving.

In May of 2017, I participated in the spring recital for my school and performed with my adult ballet class. As always, the choreography created by our teacher was stunning. The ‘theme’ for the recital was basically Spanish–the advanced/pre-professional girls did scenes from Don Q and Paquita. Our choreography was set to ‘Friends’ from Don Q – Act I. One of our adult dancer’s daughters (who is one of the advanced girls) performed a solo during our piece, making it even more special. While this year’s choreography was more simple than in previous years, it flowed together beautifully, and I enjoyed the challenge of learning the Spanish style.

I always enjoy being involved in the recital — it’s a rush being backstage, surrounded by friends and dancers. The little girls in their tiny tutus look adorable, and it’s fun to watch them being herded back and forth between the stage and dressing rooms. The advanced teenaged dancers always look beautiful, and it’s a privilege to watch them get better and better every year. Knowing some of those little girls will become one of those advanced girls someday is inspiring.

The nerves are also an essential part of the experience, but I find that once I get on stage, I know it’s my time to shine. I love that feeling of performing — dancing to my heart’s content to show the audience how much I love ballet and to share the joy that I get out of it with them is a blessing and a privilege. I only wish I could perform more often!

writer in her recital leotard and skirt

Though I only performed once myself this year, I went to many, many professional ballet performances. Looking back, I attended nine ballets this year!

In Oklahoma, I saw a world premiere and shared the performances with loved ones. Tulsa Ballet premiered Edwaard Liang’s Dorothy and the Prince of Oz, complete with puppetry by Basil Twist. I also saw Tulsa Ballet’s Swan Lake with my best friend, Sarah, and was blown away by the performance of Youhee Son as Odette/Odile. We also went to a pre-show talk with artistic director Marcello Angelini, who knew and worked with Nureyev (the ballet world is so small!). They also had a nice mini historic display of the company to celebrate their 60th anniversary.

As for my more local ballet company, I saw every work of Oklahoma City Ballet’s this year: Sleeping Beauty, If These Walls Could Talk & A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Firebird & Rodeo, Swan Lake, and, of course, The Nutcracker. Seeing OKC Ballet’s Swan Lake, in particular, was interesting because I saw it when they revived it in 2012–that was around the time that I started going to professional ballet performances more often and more seriously. In ’12, I got to see then-soloists Miki Kawamura and Yui Sato perform Odette/Odile and Albrecht AND get promoted to principals. Amazingly enough, this may have been THE performance that got me to look into coming back to ballet as an adult. So of course that performance meant a lot to me, and I know Swan Lake as a whole is near and dear to many of us! Last year, I specifically went to see DaYoung Jung perform Odette/Odile, as she has become my favorite dancer from OKC Ballet in recent years. She got promoted to principal last year, as well, and I was so excited to see her finally move up in the ranks–it was long awaited and well deserved.

writer with principal dancers of OKC Ballet

Principal dancer and ballet master Ronnie Underwood (center), principal dancer Alvin Tovstogray (left), and principal dancer DaYoung Jung (right) — please forgive whatever the heck I was doing with my feet because I was freaking nervous

I also saw a couple of productions when I was in Australia. While in Melbourne, I found out about an International Ballet Gala–via Instagram, of all places–featuring many ballet stars, including two of my favorites–Joy Womack from Kremlin Ballet and Akane Takada of The Royal Ballet. My friend from Sydney was actually visiting us in Melbs that weekend, but I couldn’t not go to this. It would likely be one of my only chances to see some of my favorite ballerinas in the world perform. Joy was absolutely astounding doing the Don Q pas de deux with Vadim Muntagirov (from The Royal), and Akane was breathtaking and impeccably willowy as Giselle in the pas de deux with Benjamin Ella (also from The Royal). The Gala was hosted by the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, and the students were quite impressive and very inspiring–an ever present reminder of the dancer I could have been! I do plan on doing a review post of this Gala because they did a lot of different programs, and I remember them being eye-opening, and in some cases, changing my view on some dance styles. So I better not give away too much now!

When I was visiting Brisbane, I got to see Queensland Ballet do La Fille mal Gardée. I planned the timing so that I would be able to go to the post-performance Q&A with Artistic Director Li Cunxin (aka Mao’s Last Dancer!!!), conductor Nigel Gaynor, and the starring dancers–in this particular performance, Yanela Piñera and Vito Bernasconi. I plan on doing another review blog post about this production as well, but it was beyond inspiring to hear Li and the dancers talk afterwards. Li’s vision for Queensland Ballet and ballet as an art form in general is progressive and passionate, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of Queensland Ballet in the future.

Li Cunxin speaking on stage with conductor and dancers seated on stage

2017 was also a pivotal moment in my ballet life because I took my first class(es) outside of my home studio for the first time. I started off my website with a post about my experience taking class at Oklahoma City Ballet in June, which looking back on, I’m forever grateful for (and hope to return at some point). It helped prepare me for the classes I took while I was in Australia. Taking new classes was a bit unnerving for me, but overall, a positive experience. If you remember from my first post, I was unbelievably nervous to be taking class anywhere new, and on top of that, taking class from a professional dancer I admired. But after surviving that class–and recovering from it–I felt ready for anything. So taking the Studio classes at Australian Ballet was very exciting. It also helped that I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t know anyone–and likely wouldn’t see those classmates again anytime in the near future. It was almost like a clean slate. And experiencing several new styles of teaching, and from teachers at one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world, was eye-opening and I think essential to becoming a well-rounded dancer.

I also got to take a pilates class for the first time, which was great! It’s very complimentary to ballet, and as relaxing as I found it in the moment, I really felt the burn in my abs the next day! And it was a good feeling–I hadn’t worked on any muscle-building activity in a while. I do plan on blogging about my experience with the Studio classes at Australian Ballet, too… Now that I think about it, this post is becoming less of a 2017-in-review post and more of a what-I’m-going-to-blog-about-in-2018 post!…

I couldn’t finish my writing without mentioning the adult ballet community on Instagram. It was my first full year to be on the social media platform, and I have to admit I only joined it for hedgehogs at first. But then I slowly started following more and more ballet accounts and realized there was a whole community out there of people my age and older who dance ballet and love it! Although I’m not a huge fan of some social media platforms *cough–Facebook–cough*, their ability to bring people together is undeniable. Seeing other people who have been both struggling and making progress in their ballet lives who aren’t professionals but dancing purely for the love of it has been incredibly encouraging and inspiring.

Although I haven’t met up with anybody from this group (yet!), I have made personal connections with these women and men. They are from all around the world, speak lots of different languages, and have various dance backgrounds. But we all share this love of ballet, and it is a beautiful thing. Often the night before my pointe class, or at any time to get encouragement when I feel distracted or otherwise put off by the many difficulties of this art form, I scroll through Instagram and see what my fellow adult ballet dancers are working on–their hard work and accomplishments inspire me to never give up (never stop dancing). We’re all in this together, and the support this community provides has been a highlight of my ballet life in 2017.

So, all in all, 2017 has been a busy year for me and ballet! I saw a lot and did a lot. I started pointework, took new classes, performed, and learned some lessons the hard way. Looking back, there are so many things to be grateful for, and I feel pretty humbled by all the opportunities I’ve gotten to experience over the last year.

writer posing in her pointe shoes

What about you? How was your ballet life in 2017? If you kept track, how many classes did you take? What were your goals, and did you accomplish them? Did you take part in any performances or see any productions?

I’d love to chat with you about your ballet life. Feel free to leave a comment below to join the discussion!

Also, if you’d like to follow me on Instagram to see my ballet life in action, click here!

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