Dances On Rooftops

A (mainly) ballet blog

A New Class

Yay, my first real blog post! While this one isn’t about Australia, I thought it would be a good way to start off the ballet-themed posts and introduce you to the feel of the blog. Welcome!

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I decided to attend a class outside of our normal studio. I received a couple of free community class passes from a company performance I saw in the spring and had been planning on using them for a while. I just didn’t make myself go and use them until I was running out of time and about to pack my bags for Australia!

This was my first class at any different dance studio as an adult. And you already know this if you know me–I overworked myself about this class big time. Jitteriness, sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach–the whole deal. I was nervous as hell. It didn’t help that the class was going to be taught by a company dancer whom I had seen perform in roles like Peter Pan and Puck. I had seen our teacher literally fly as a professional dancer. And here’s little ol’ me–the adult ballerina that would have been–trying to dance in front of someone who gets paid to do so and is pretty phenomenal at it. Anyways, I’ll get to more of those nerves in a second.

My friend and I decided to carpool up to the city and we talked about everything under the sun on the way there–including the idea for this blog (thank you for the encouragement, Lisa!). Not to go into full detail here (another post for another time, perhaps), but we talked about how we love our home ballet school but have been feeling a bit stagnant in terms of personal growth. We thought getting out of our comfort zone and trying something new would shake things up a bit and help us figure out a new way to approach things in our dancing lives.

The class we had settled on was labeled as intermediate/advanced (the beginner/intermediate level was scheduled for the same time as our regular classes), and having only been to the same school for my entire adult dancing life, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s hard to gauge what level you are when you’ve only been dancing with a couple of teachers at the same school for five years. Pile the fear of the unknown onto my nerves and my awe at our new teacher, and it was a shock I wasn’t falling apart right there at the barre.

young dancers and a teacher in a large dancing space with an oval-shaped window

At the beginning of class, the barre went fairly slow as we worked our way up towards more quickly paced and complex combinations. But the combinations were generally longer than what I was used to and the teacher used some terminology that we didn’t use as much at my home school, although I was familiar with it. Okay, I can handle this, I thought (shaking all the while).

The teacher gave me a few good corrections right off the bat. It seemed like he had his eye on us newbies in particular since he hadn’t met us before. I got a correction that I have been waiting to get the entire time I’ve been dancing (more on that later). Alright, I can learn from this. 

But then came the new things.

And then came my panic.

Towards the end of the barre, the teacher would add some fancy tricks in at the end of each combination, which included steps that I had not even learned yet. But I wasn’t about to blurt that out and use it as an excuse to not do the combo. I was going to at least try it instead of standing there like an idiot. One of these new steps for me was a fouetté turn on the barre–which is probably easy peasy for all of you seasoned adult ballerinas. But we had not even approached talk of this at my home studio. So I watched the demonstration as close as I could (he even repeated it for us), and attempted it, though I got disconnected from the music–which was honestly just an afterthought for me at this point–somewhere in there.

Okay, so this is maybe where I need to pause and let you in on a little secret about myself, if you haven’t guessed already (although if you know me, you can probably skip this section): I’m a major perfectionist. And even though I’ve been working on this in my adult life and it’s gotten a little better, I still have to admit that if I can’t get something right the first time, I become incredibly disappointed in myself. I beat myself up about the small things and replay anything that was less than perfect over and over again in my mind so I can nitpick at what was wrong. Yeah, I’m probably one of those ‘type A’ personalities, but I also have blue hair and love metal. I’m a psychiatrist’s dream.

So, anyways, you can only imagine how I felt when I attempted–and failed–that first fouetté turn on the barre. And of course the teacher had me try it again after the formal combination was over in front of the rest of the class so he could give me a more detailed correction. Of course he wasn’t to know this, but instruction would have been better in my case since I had no idea what I was doing in the first place. I probably looked like a literal dying swan. Only more chicken-like and less ephemeral. Anyways, from that point forward, I was and felt like a mess.

You can probably guess where this is going, but the nerves never let up. It was like they were controlling me and my muscles. My brain had no choice in the matter. I think every little fiber of my being was holding on for dear life and relying on muscle memory to execute any steps that were given to me. And there were times I froze, too, because I got so lost or far behind the music that I didn’t know where to pick back up again. Even though after assessing the class afterwards and realizing that I did know most everything technique-wise and what I didn’t know I at least understood in theory, it was the quick pace that (ironically) dragged me down. Some things I just could not keep up with. And of course for the perfectionist in me, this was simply not acceptable.

the outside of a dance center building with the facade as an oval shape
The centre was much like the barre, only my nerves compounded and my body got even more tangled up. Now even my muscle memory was failing me and my brain and body were just not in sync. Even with the first petit allégro combination that was simple, my brain knew what to do, but the movement would get stuck halfway down my body and then my feet would not go where they were supposed to. All of centre was like this for me, including pirouettes and a grand allégro with a saut de chat (which I understood in theory but actually hadn’t learned in practice). I was embarrassed and flailing all over the place. Pretty sure I even let out a curse word or two somewhere in there.

All the while, our teacher was the most pleasant one you could imagine. His corrections were on pointe (pun intended) and his analogies vivid. His inner comedian escaped at times, which would normally relieve any lingering tension in the room, but I had to laugh through my teeth. He really was an amazing teacher. But my nerves would not be undone.

I’m gonna be honest with you guys– by the end of class, I was almost in tears. If it weren’t for my friend being there, I probably would have had to run to the bathroom to escape to a private pity party. But she was all smiles. She had a completely different experience than I had. She was exhilarated by it all–a new class, a new teacher, a bigger floor to dance across. I understood her excitement and was glad she felt what I couldn’t.

Now that I’ve had plenty of time to process this experience, I’m glad to say I’m over the melodrama of my emotions during that class. I’ve been able to wrap my head around everything I learned through trying something new. And I did learn a lot. Plus, it was the perfect ‘practice round’ before I start taking new classes in Australia.

Lessons learned:
  • The obvious one here–RELAX. Calm down. Just enjoy–all of that jazz. It’s easy to say those things but harder to engage your mind and body in a way that will allow you to actually do them. But the experience of being that nervous was almost excruciating. I don’t want to go there again. So I think just from learning that I don’t want to feel the nerves to that level again, I can talk my body into taking the anxiety down at least a couple of notches next time. If my body even gets a hint of how hard it went into overdrive with those nerves during that class, I think it will probably throw a tantrum. So it can only get easier from here, right?
  • It’s okay to feel like you’ve failed. I find that many of us dancers and artist types have a tendency toward perfectionism more often than not. As I get older, I’ve found that it’s better to try and feel like you failed or got something wrong than to not try at all. FOMO is apparently a real thing, and that applies perfectly in this case. I don’t want to wonder “what if _____..?” Neither do you. It’s better to go, try it, maybe suck at it–or maybe not, learn something about yourself, and move on. I came home feeling like a failure that night. But you know what? I took a bath, cried a little (I’ll admit), ate some chocolate, and woke up the next day still wanting to dance. I got over it. And you will, too.
  • Appreciate what you do know. When I stumbled during this new class, my body would sometimes take over and keep going even though my mind wasn’t there. The muscle memory formed through tendu after tendu, jeté after jeté, and class after class was still there underneath those nerves. And you know what I found? The foundational technique I do have is pretty solid. And through this experience, I came to be really grateful for how far I’ve come as a dancer in such a short time. It makes me even more appreciative of the teachers I have at home and the lessons they’ve already taught me.
  • Try something new with a familiar face. If you can help it, don’t go alone. Having my friend there changed the whole experience for me. If she hadn’t have been there, I probably would not feel motivated to try a new class ever again. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic–I probably just wouldn’t have wanted to go to that specific studio again and face the embarrassing reminder of my previous class there. But I do feel like going there in the future and trying it out again (maybe at the lower level class!). And if she hadn’t have been there, I probably would have endangered myself and others while driving emotionally reckless on the way home. All jokes aside, knowing she was there in front of me, doing the same combinations I was doing, experiencing the same thing I was experiencing–dancing alongside me–reminded me that I was not alone and that I wouldn’t ever be.
  • Port de bras in second position–
    Just the basics here. My port de bras at the barre always seems to be in flux. I’ll have times where I’ll experiment and try new things for a different line or posture. Now I have a new correction to add to my constant self-adjustments to my arms. His main suggestion–with just the touch of his hand–was to lift the elbow to the point where you feel that absolute stretch. That stretch indicates your port de bras is in the correct position. That stretch also gives your arm the natural curve it needs for the right line–not too straight and not too round. The last part was to hold my arm more forward. I think my port de bras tends to slip back a little too far behind me at times, but holding it just slightly forward than it needs to go will help remind me of where I truly need to be with my second position at the barre.
  • Arabesque hip–
    This was the correction I’ve mentioned that I’ve been waiting for all my dancing life. And it sure is hard to explain. And I’ve still not got it quite down as I’ve been practicing my arabesques with the wrong habits ingrained in me, but as with everything in dance (and life), it’s a work in progress. So when you’re in arabesque–on flat or relevé, doesn’t matter–the hip of the working leg should not be totally open. My teacher kept repeating for me to “drop the hip.” I could feel the height of my leg drop as I did this, but that was not the point here. Before I got this correction, I was sticking my hip totally out so I could get my maximum height and turnout in arabesque. But opening up the working hip is not correct posture for arabesque. I think the main thing here is to square off the hips to your dancing space in front of you. The way I was doing my arabesques before, the hip of my supporting leg would be square but the hip of my working leg would be totally open and facing the other corner, if that makes any sense. And when I would do this in class, I could feel that it was wrong. But I just didn’t know what to do to fix it. So when the teacher at this new class gave me this correction right off the bat, the gears started spinning–so that’s what I’ve been doing wrong. Like I said, it’s hard for me to put this correction in practice since I’ve been doing arabesques improperly for so long, but when I do it right, things click–my balance is there, my lines are long and flowing, and it just feels right. You know what I’m talking about. So this is one of those that I’m going to have to keep an eye on to break my old habits and institute the new.
  • True fourth position–
    This one is very basic, as well. I was given this correction while doing pirouettes from fourth. The bottom line is that I was overcrossing my fourth. My teacher adjusted my feet from a plié in fourth and gave me a little bit wider stance than before. Previously, I had been doing my fourth almost like a fifth where my feet would try to line up with that little box of space between them. But this correction placed my feet in their true fourth where they were almost meeting at the heel with the space between. I hope this is making some sense. It’s very hard to explain corrections in writing–I’ve had to stand up and do all of this just to visualize and get the feeling of what I need to explain. I think Ballerinas By Night have it right in filming corrections to show everyone! Perhaps I’ll have to start vlogging as well…

blogger pictured outside the same dance center building

Now that you’ve had nearly 2500 words of my ballet nerdism, I hope you got something out of this or at least had a laugh or two. Let me know if you have any questions or have anything to share in the comments below! Perhaps you can let me know what corrections you’ve been working on this month?

Keep reading–my next post should be more exciting–about the tour I had at the Australian Ballet’s Production Centre!

As they say here in Oz, “Cheers, mate.” And as one of my favorite ballerinas, Georgia Reed says, “Never give up–never stop dancing!” —  a very appropriate way to end this post.

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  1. Patti July 12, 2017

    I enjoyed your writing. Of course, I love you very much & I am very proud of your ballet accomplishments. Mommy D.

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