Daring to Dream

· Q & A with Emilee ·

While we would never dream of quitting dance, any dedicated, recreational dancer knows that studying ballet as an adult comes with its own set of challenges. We must curb our cravings for studio time with work, family, and various obligations. If we are fortunate enough to find a good balance between these responsibilities, we are always confronted with fresh obstacles.

We worry that our passion for ballet may be too self-indulgent.

We struggle to focus on progress instead of failure.

And we are constantly faced with the realities of our aging bodies.

As dancers, we are acutely aware of our bodies, which is why it seems like a betrayal when they succumb to illness or injury. All we want to do is dance, but our means of doing so—our physical selves, our instruments—feel broken.

How and when will we dance again?

My friend Emilee is currently facing this question, but with the good humor and resilience that I would expect of her. Since she began dancing in 2011, she has been a pleasant, positive force in the adult ballet community, both online and at her home studio, forging genuine connections with others and encouraging them to dance despite their fears. In her blog, Another Night at the Barre, you will see a theme emerge—many iterations of a phrase found throughout her writing: “I wanted this more than I was afraid of it.”

Overcoming fear. This was how Emilee began to dance and how she was able to seize subsequent opportunities in ballet—opportunities she never thought possible. To me, there is nothing more empowering than watching women push anxiety aside in order to do something extraordinary.

Emilee during a performance (a dream come true!)

Fear is one thing, but dealing with illness—something we may never fully “overcome”—is another matter.

Ongoing health issues, including a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, have disrupted Emilee’s daily life. Finding the energy to work, let alone dance, has been a struggle. Despite all of this, she has fought to keep a healthy perspective, reminding others to “extend yourself grace” during these frustrating times and to remember how far you’ve already come.

She writes in her blog, “I didn’t wait and wish and hope that one day I might dance, I got out there and fumbled around like a baby giraffe until it started to make sense. I chased my crazy dream until it came true. And it did. Just in time, it did. And no matter what happens, no matter if I ever get well or stay sick the rest of my life, no matter if sickness comes in and takes more from me, I will always have that. I will always know I dared to dream and my dreams came true.”

There are so many things I could write about Emilee, but she is also a writer, and her own articulate answers speak for themselves. You will not want to miss her interview below!

Q & A with Emilee

Q. Tell me a little about your background. Where are you from? How old are you? When and where did you begin your dance training?

I’m from a tiny town of 300 called Bayside in Texas, near Corpus Christi along the coast. I’m 28 and started dancing six years ago this October at the age of 23 at a local place called Instep Dance Studios that has since closed down. I now dance at Munro Ballet Studios and also with the Corpus Christi Ballet.

Q. What are your interests and/or occupations outside of dance?

I work for a CPA firm doing bookkeeping, largely. I also take pictures on the side and love to write, whether it be on the blog, random poetry here and there, or in the 50+ journals I’ve filled since I was 12. And reading. I love to read.

Q. What first drew you to ballet? What do you still love about it?

I took classes when I was a kid at a tiny local studio that really doesn’t teach technique. I was six years old, but there was something about ballet that made me feel alive. I loved it. My mom took me out of classes and I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to go back one day, but no one really took me seriously about it. When I was old enough to make my own decisions, and also more afraid of never trying than how afraid I was to start, I put out a post on Facebook asking if anyone knew of studios that took super beginner adults. A good friend of mine told me about Instep, and so I emailed them to see what was available. I’m so very glad I did.

Q. How do you prepare for ballet class? Any strange habits or rituals?

I usually get to the studio early, partially because it’s a 45 minute drive, partially because it helps me clear my head before class. When my hands aren’t hurting, I like to have something to crochet before class. It helps me sort of find my center.

Q. At the moment, what is your favorite dancewear brand?

I’m a big fan of Capezio. I also love Eleve Dancewear’s leotards and Flic Flac Dance Skirts on Etsy. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Covet Dance or Cloud & Victory with their super clever dance clothes!

Q. Do you have a favorite step or section of class? Least favorite?

I really love adagio. Something about it makes the whole experience of ballet for me. Realizing that I’m doing the same moves that thousands of dancers before me have done, even though I’ll never be a professional or anywhere close. It’s the history and tradition of it; the connection to dancers past and future.

I’m not a big fan of any sort of allegro in execution, but largely because my legs are uneven so it causes pain to my long leg’s knee as well as my hips and back. My hips are perpetually never square. The struggle.

Q. What is your favorite ballet to watch?

I’m actually fairly new to the ballet world, especially when it comes to viewing. I saw my first live professional ballet just last month, which was La Bayadère at the Houston Ballet. It blew my mind. So incredible. They used to bring the Ballet to the cinema’s here locally, where I got to see Romeo and Juliet and La Fille Mal Gardée. Those dancing chickens are probably my favorite thing I’ve ever seen.

Q. Learning ballet as an adult can be frustrating. Do you have any advice to give to adults who would like to begin or re-begin ballet?

Don’t give up. When I first started I would panic in the corner until one of the “older girls” (she was fourteen) would come and pull me out and do whatever step with me that I was freaking out about. I got in my head a lot. But you have to face that panic and fear and not give up. If it seems overwhelming at first, go home and find ballet dictionaries and YouTube channels online that help break it down until it becomes familiar. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself being the example for the new girls. It’s quite the incredible feeling when you get to that point. (I highly recommend Ballerinas By Night, Kathryn Morgan, and Claudia Dean on YouTube)

Q. As I continue to train, I’m finding that I would like to know more about music and music theory. Do you have any sort of musical background or training? How does a good pianist affect class?

I always wanted to learn violin, but once again my family didn’t take me seriously. (It’s still on my list.) I’ve found myself drawn to music, though I don’t play any instruments myself. I did get thrown into running the sound board at my church once and apparently did it well, though I’ve never had any training. I do have many classical music vinyls and albums on my iTunes that I love listening to when I get a chance.

A good pianist is everything. I feel they are the well placed adjectives and adverbs in the sentence that is dance. Just enough to flourish the sentence to give the reader a true feel for what is being expressed. For me, it also makes me feel more official, giving me the sense of pride that makes me stand up straighter and approach the class giving 100% of what I have to offer.

Q. What are your goals for your dance training and for your life in general?

My current goals are largely just to keep with it. Most of the goals I had developed as my training progressed have been achieved. I earned my pointe shoes at age 25, was in my first performance the next year, and my main goal–to be in the most advanced ballet class and dance of our spring performance–was accomplished this past spring. When I started out, I never expected to be able to accomplish all the things I’ve been able to, especially in performing (and especially at my age.) For now, I would love to just continue to teach the baby ballet classes I get to teach at my studio. This year is my second year, and those kids are the fire in my belly. They help put things in perspective when things get hard or when my body decides to work against me.

Q. You’ve been honest about your struggles with illness and finding the energy to dance. What would you like to say to others who are facing similar issues? Have you been able to strike a good balance between dance and the rest of life for the sake of your health?

The balance is still a struggle, especially since the diagnosis I do have is so new, and the illness I’ve had for years still isn’t diagnosed. I don’t really know what I’m going to get one day to the next until I wake up. Sometimes it’s just enough to get through the work day, sometimes it’s that and a bit more, sometimes just getting through work is a struggle itself.

The important thing is to figure out what works for you. To know your limits, but also know when you need to push them. Ballet is so important in keeping my body as healthy and functional as it is, especially for my digestion, arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome issues, but I do have to realize that there are some days where pushing it will do more harm than good. At the same time, I can’t be afraid to push through on other days when I know my soul needs the studio time.

Also, a diagnosis isn’t a death wish. It may cause you to have to adjust some goals and dreams, but it doesn’t make them impossible even if it seems like it now. Take it one day at a time and do what you are able. You never know what doors will open when you least expect it. And don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to do as much as you’d like. Unfortunately, we’re all human, and sometimes human bodies work against us more than they work with us. Take it as it comes. Being active is important and does so much good for our bodies, but we also have to find what works for us.

And don’t compare yourself to others! In health and in life in general, really. Your story can’t be the story of the person next to you. We have to do what’s best for us. I could go on and on, but really, just fight for what you want and remember to extend yourself grace when you need it.

 

To connect with Emilee, follow her on Instagram @anothernightatthebarreofficial and visit her blog, Another Night at the Barre.

 

In the Moment

· Q & A with Ana ·

 

I’ve never met Ana in person, but I’m certain that she is a kindred spirit—the INFJ to my INFP, if we are to speak in Myers-Briggs terms. She is kind, reflective, sensitive to beauty, and a self-proclaimed “idealist and eternal dreamer.” Naturally, these qualities carry over to her love of dance. She approaches ballet with discipline to be sure, but also with warmth, mindfulness, and imagination. I have been moved by the encouraging words she speaks to others in the ballet community, reminding us to be gentle with ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, but also to be brave.

Ana is 40 years old and lives in Florida, where she works as a corporate consultant. When she’s not spending time with her husband and dogs, she loves doing any sort of creative endeavor, from painting and writing—she has kept journals since she was ten—to knitting and whatever else strikes her fancy. In 2014, after an almost 25-year hiatus, she decided to return to ballet class.

“I danced when I was a teenager but gave up ballet at 14,” Ana says. “…so aside from the few basics, it was like starting from scratch.”

Despite the difficulty of starting over, she stuck with it. Nowadays, she dances regularly at two schools that follow the Russian/Vaganova method, and she continues to document her ballet journey on Instagram. And, while she doesn’t get around to watching many live ballets, she admits to being addicted to Dance Academy.

Um, that makes two of us!

One of Ana’s amazing watercolor paintings!

My interview with Ana reminded me that ballet class can be a meditative experience—a time when we can set our troubles aside and be fully invested in the present moment. I believe this is why so many of us have been attracted to ballet. A good class offers respite from anxiety-filled days, exercise for our often-neglected bodies, and a creative, energizing community. We can stand at the barre, alone but not lonely and, as Ana’s teacher says, “Just let it go.”

Q & A with Ana

Q. What first drew you to ballet? What do you still love about it?

I am not a very active person. I hate the gym, did not like yoga and am definitely not into anything too social. Ballet encompasses many things I find attractive: it is a solitary practice (it only depends on me and as an introvert, it is appealing), it is structured and disciplined, and at that same time, it is an expression.  I love it because I can see the changes in my body, from not being able to touch my toes to being able to extend a leg, from having to look at other students for combination to being able do an entire combination all on my own. Little achievements, that are so rewarding.

Q. How do you prep for ballet class? Any strange habits or rituals?

Not really. I don’t stretch before class. I find it that it makes me tighter. My biggest ritual is that after a long, stressful day at work, I just put my ballet clothes on and try not to think about it too much. Otherwise, I will just stay on the couch.

Q. Let’s talk dancewear. What is your typical class attire?

I went through an insane phase of buying every leotard, skirt, leg warmer you can imagine. Now, I just wear something that makes me feel pretty and comfortable. I am skinny but I am very top heavy, so backless, spaghetti straps are not for me.

Q. Do you have a favorite step or part of class? Least favorite?

I hate fondu. HATE IT. lol. I used to dislike rond de jambes very much, but now I really like them. Hoping that one day, I will feel the same about fonduI love everything else about the class.

Q. Learning ballet as an adult can be frustrating. What do you do to stay positive?

The most important thing is acceptance and not comparing yourself with others. I say the same to any newbie that comes to class. It will fall in place.

Q. Do you have any other advice to give to adults who would like to begin or re-begin ballet?

Just do it. One of my favorites teachers had a beautiful message to us last Saturday: Dance big. Dance. You come to class to dance. If you are timid and in this little space and afraid of making a fool out of yourself, then you are wasting your time and money. No one is looking at you. Everyone is too concerned with themselves. Just let it go. What’s the worse that can happen?

Q. What are your goals for your dance training and for your life in general?

Flexibility is and will continue to be my biggest challenge. I have very tight hamstrings. And I want to dance a choreography beautifully.

Q. I love your paintings. How does the creative process compare with that of ballet? Do you see any interesting parallels between the two art forms?

I believe both are a form of expression. Ballet is like a painting in movement. They are both so amazingly meditative. You can get lost and forget about all the craziness and just be in that moment. Ever present and mindful.

Be sure to check out Ana’s incredible artwork and ballet posts on Instagram @introvertedart !

In Pursuit of Perfection

· Q & A with Katie ·

When I first stumbled upon Katie’s Instagram account, I assumed that she was a professional dancer. Then I took a closer look at her profile and was shocked to find that—not only is she not a professional—she has only been dancing regularly for the last four years.

Four years. Incredible.

The technical progress she has made is astounding, and it is clear that her passion for dance is the driving force behind it. After all, there are no shortcuts in ballet—no hacks or fast-tracks to improvement, save for more hours of practice. Even then, practice is no guarantee. But Katie has made the most out of her time in the studio.

“I’ll seize every opportunity to dance until I can’t,” she says.

Katie is almost 32 years old, hails from Taiwan, and, like many of us recreational dancers, she must schedule dance around her career. By day, she works as a sales manager for a local company, where she handles international sales and marketing. When she’s not travelling for work, you can find her in the studio on evenings and weekends, wearing the most fashionable dancewear and balancing en pointe with the poise of a seasoned ballerina. (She can even do Italian fouettés.) Her technique is seriously impressive, her discipline and determination perhaps even more so.

Katie’s amazing extension!

Given her professional attitude, it is no surprise that she takes ballet very seriously—so seriously that she hopes to raise support for other dedicated recreational dancers, who are rarely afforded opportunities to perform.

“I believe many of us have the same passion as professionals do,” she says, proceeding to explain the sacrifices that adult students make to attend class. “[Their] devotion to ballet is incredible, and they deserve a stage to shine.”

Katie has been fortunate enough to perform solo variations on stage, herself. Despite having to overcome fear and self-doubt, she treasures the opportunity to share her passion with others. Indeed, her love for ballet is too profound not to share, and she has a lot to say about the subject. I hope you will find her words as fascinating and inspiring as I do!

Q & A with Katie

Q. What first drew you to ballet? What do you still love about it?

Ballet first caught my eye when I was five years old when I accompanied my friends to their ballet class in the US. Although I knew nothing about it, it was love at first sight. Now that I have taken ballet class more in depth as an adult, I think what fascinates me the most about ballet is the incredible strength hidden underneath the effortless elegant exterior. I love howballet to me is so irresistible yet so unattainable and it has no end to the pursuit of perfection.

Q. When and where did you begin your dance training?

I took ballet lessons once a week at a local studio near home for a few years (definitely not professional training) when I was young and stopped at the age of 12 to focus on school work. I did pick up ballet several months when I was 20, but stopped again due to injury caused by improper stretching. I came back to ballet at the age of 28 and am now in my fourth year of adult ballet journey.

Q. How do you prep for ballet class? Any strange habits or rituals?

Not really, but I do care a lot about what I wear in class so I’ll always have that planned out beforehand.

Q. What is your typical class attire?

I always wear a leotard, tights and either shorts or wrap/pull on skirts (I’m still insecure of wearing only leotards and tights). In the winter, I wear rompers, warm up knit pants and leg warmers. I’m a big fan of leotards with three-quarter sleeves and those with mesh and laces that are elegant and feminine.

Q. Do you have a favorite step or part of class? Least favorite?

I love adagio and also turns and grand allegro where you can travel/fly across the studio freely. Petit allegro is my least favorite since my body and brain can never connect fast enough; it will take me a lot of practice to get the same combination correct and smooth.

Q. What is your favorite ballet to watch?

Since we don’t have many opportunities to see full act ballets in Taiwan (only on YouTube), it’s hard for me to really say which in particular is my favorite. But I love many variations from various ballets such as Don Q, La Bayadère, Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, etc.

Q. Studying ballet as an adult can be frustrating. What do you do to stay positive?

It could indeed be very frustrating sometimes. I think besides learning to adjust my mindset and trying to find some positivity within tiny progress, I’m also lucky that I have positive fellow adult ballet students around (in the studio or on social media) to discuss the problems we face, to share our own solutions, our experiences, and to encourage and cheer each other up.

Q. Do you have any other advice to give to adults who would like to begin or re-begin ballet?

Be focused, listen and really think over about all the tips and corrections the ballet master gives, try absorbing as much as you can and feel your muscles. Also, try developing a sensitive body with the collaboration of the brain. As adults, there is much less that our bodies can give, but a lot more that we can gain from the brain to even up. And most importantly, never forget why you started it in the first place, as that’s what keeps you going and moves you forward. Life is short; if you love it, just go for it!

Q. You’ve had opportunities to perform (wearing gorgeous tutus, no less!) What have you learned from your performances? Do you prefer the stage to class?

I love being on stage wearing beautiful tutus and tiaras (well, who doesn’t?) although at the same time feeling nervous and often overwhelmed by fear due to the lack of confidence. But I also know that true confidence is built in class to give you the power to enjoy that magical moment on stage so I cherish every dancing opportunity no matter onstage or offstage.

Q. What are your goals for your dance training and for your life in general?

I’ll seize any opportunity to dance until I can’t. I hope there is the day that I can really feel my dance without being distracted by worrying about technique or body limitations, which is when I can really show my passion and love for ballet.

Q. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

As an adult ballet dancer, we have far fewer opportunities to perform on stage and to really experience the life of professional dancers, but I believe many of us have the same passion as professionals do and if not show even more by trying to pursue our dreams as much as we can while juggling a full-time job (the real salary that financially supports our interest), family responsibilities (at the most awkward age having to take care of both our parents and kids) and still struggling to make improvements.

I know some determined adult ballet dancers around me (including myself) who wouldn’t mind taking a huge commute and rush to ballet classes after a long day of work, or even return to the office late after finishing the class just because they wouldn’t want to miss the chance to dance. They sacrifice the tiny free time left to relax just hoping to have a little bit more practice to improve their techniques. That kind of devotion to ballet is incredible, and they deserve a stage to shine.

I do hope that there is the chance that soon we can come up with a project to find a way of gathering financial support (as we know how overwhelming the cost of renting studio, hiring teachers for choreography, training, rehearsals and all kinds of stage costs could be) for these serious passionate adult ballet dancers to have the opportunity to pull together decent annual performances of their own, to inspire and show the world their love for ballet, and their courage and determination to pursue their dreams.

 

Precision and Grace

· Q & A with Bane ·

 

This is Bane in his natural habitat—leaping over railings, scaling buildings, and being all-around awesome as he documents his Parkour training. Take a peek at his Instagram account and you’ll notice a quality in his movement that is both powerful and precise. It’s not surprising that Parkour Generations praised his ability to make Parkour look “natural” and “utterly elegant.”

What may surprise you, however, is that—at least once a week—you can also find Bane in a ballet studio.

Bane is 31-years-old, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and he has been taking classical ballet for two years. Prior to that, he had “absolutely zero dance experience,” but he could have fooled me. Like many of the dancers you’ll read about in this blog, I became acquainted with Bane through Instagram, and I was immediately struck by his willingness to tackle complex turning sequences. If you haven’t seen the video of him turning multiple pirouettes (and even a few fouettés) while dressed in a full-on Disney Beast costume, well—let’s just say you’ll be impressed that he has only been dancing for two years.

Bane is not your typical re-beginner or late-starter. He is primarily a Parkour athlete and coach, whose unconventional path to the studio derived from a curiosity about ballet training methods. His focus on athletic training does not diminish his deep respect and appreciation for the art form, however. An artist himself (he is a painter), he is no stranger to the paradoxical quality found in good artists—that is, the ability to make strenuous effort appear effortless. His insightful comparison of Parkour with ballet expands upon this idea, but I’ll let you read it in his own words.

Joker & Harley, one of Bane’s paintings available on Etsy.

In his answers, I found traits we can all model in our own practice—good humor, determination, and a willingness to experiment in dance, no matter how awkward we might feel at first. After all, we never know what will lead to improvement.

When asked about his goals for his training and life in general, he succinctly states, “I just want to be better than I was yesterday.”

Good answer. Me, too.

Q & A with Bane

Q. What first drew you to ballet? What do you still love about it?

I don’t recall a solitary stand out moment where I discovered or was drawn to ballet for the first time. I think that my experience in other movement disciplines, Parkour for one, gave me insight into the spectacle of ballet from an athletic perspective. The two disciplines are intrinsically linked by their defining characteristics. They both demand incredible strength and condition. They both prioritize technique, execution and consistency with fluidly linked movement all while making it look effortless. They both have hidden depths that a casual observer may miss entirely.

For a growing number of years in my 20s I developed an increasing admiration for it, ironically contrasted starkly by my complete inability to dance and indeed the fact that ‘dancing’ actually makes me feel awkward. It was seeing my first live ballet on stage that spurred me to query just why, after years of wanting to know more and being curious of the training methods, I had not done anything about it. I quickly learned that there was a whole world of adult ballet out there. An acquaintance on Instagram was able to recommend a local class to me, and I bit the bullet walking into a studio as a blank slate ready to learn.

What I enjoy about it is the precision and the grace. While I can adequately perform neither, it’s the development of and subsequent attainment that is the most intoxicating elixir. I love it when something finally works… after countless hours of seemingly futile effort. I also love the 4th dimension of appreciation it nurtures when watching a professional performance—it becomes more relatable and I constantly find my eye breaking down elements and trying to figure out any one little part I might actually be capable of.

Q. Speaking of performances—what is your favorite ballet to watch?

I really love Giselle. A lot of the male parts stand out to me and I love the story. I’m booked to see the English National perform this again in Belfast in June. I loved Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein last year. I think I prefer classic ballet in times of royalty and nobility over more modern variations. For example, I much prefer the classic Swan Lake over Matthew Bourne’s, both of which I’ve been happy to see live. In saying that my knowledge is limited so I remain open!

Q. How do you prepare for ballet class? Any strange habits or rituals?

Ballet is secondary to my primary focus of Parkour. I try and get out for movement work over the weekend so I’m typically pretty well drained and sometimes muscularly sore before I even look at my ballet class on a Monday evening. I like to spend some time in a resting squat both in parallel and with feet in second to start the hip opening. I also am guilty of every dancer’s habit of seeking out the ‘regular’ spot at the barre and I go straight into warming up my feet and calves. I HATE cramping on my very first retiré!

Q. Do you wear the typical class attire for men?

We don’t have a ‘uniform’ or prescribed attire in our studio. Nice and relaxed. I wear Capezio footed tights and a t-shirt.

Q. Do you have a favorite step or section of class? Least favorite?

I think anyone who follows me on Instagram will know I LOVE turning! When I practice at home it’s in my wooden floored living room so no space for grand allegro and very little for petit allegro. I really get a kick out of pirouettes for some inexplicable reason. I’m not a natural turner, or a natural anything when it comes to ballet for that matter, but I probably work on turns the most as I can dip in and out when I’m cooking or making coffee, etc.

Least favourite is probably any step sequence in class. Hear me out! I’m the kind of person who would need to spend an hour or more just going over a tiny step sequence just to get the order of movements right, then to figure out all the right steps to get from one technique to the next all before actually trying to do it well. Arm coordination is another thing entirely. This obviously doesn’t lend itself to a class format where you get a few tries and then move on to the next section. Ironically, I would probably love it if it was just 90 minutes of booked studio time and I was given a video of just one step sequence to work on. I’m all about the drilling and the repetition so always find centre work impossible in a class scenario.

Q. Learning ballet as an adult can be frustrating. What do you do to stay positive?

No truer words have ever been spoken. Frustrating covers all bases. I am endlessly frustrated because I tend to impose high expectations on myself. This isn’t through a cavalier attitude or a belief that it ‘should be easier’, but I feel that I am capable of more than my body lets me do a lot of the time.

To stay positive, I need to constantly check myself and remember that until my 30s I hadn’t danced a day in my life and that people spend their lives developing in this game. Also, Instagram is a big part of my learning process. Predominantly a training log for myself of Parkour, conditioning work and now ballet. It’s less about showing people what I can do (which is very little honestly) but more capturing the hard work I’m putting in so that I can continually review successes, or failures. Case in point when I was really feeling like my turning was not improving in the slightest I was able to dig out a video of my very first attempt at a single pirouette after a class ever, then I found my first ever raggedy double pirouette and then my cleanest triple at that point to date, after about a year and a half. I edited them all together into a little ‘milestone’ post and the difference was like day and night in terms of improvement. I try, in these situations, to focus on how far I’ve come and not on how far I still have to go because that road is endless.

Q. Great answers. Do you have any other advice to give to adults who would like to begin or re-begin ballet?

If you can afford the time and money—do it! This may be slightly controversial, as I’m not convinced it’s best practice, but my advice would be to not be afraid to experiment. I regularly play around with variations, turns, etc., that I really have no business trying at my current level. However I’m convinced that I am better for it. While I’m not deluded that I have great technique, I taught myself how to double pirouette long before I even attempted it in a class. I’ve also experimented with fouetté turns, turning with different arm positions and lots of little step sequences that I break down from videos found on IG. Having some basis for these, I feel, makes my class time more productive because when we do cover something I’ve tackled at home I am better equipped to take direction on board and improve the technique rather than just floundering trying to get to grips with the mechanics of what we’re trying (as I’ve already done that at home!)

To learn more about Bane, be sure to check out his Etsy shop, and follow him on Instagram @baneparkour.

 

Beginning Again

· Q & A with Sheri ·

Meet Sheri, the dancer who rekindled her passion for ballet after over a decade away from the barre.

Sheri and I got to know each other during a production of Sleeping Beauty. We were both supernumeraries (ballet “extras”) and were thrilled to take part in a professional production. The opportunity is rare and, as it turns out, quite confusing to people unfamiliar with the ballet world.

We received questions like:

“So, does that mean you’re turning pro?”

Heck no.

“But you’re dancing?”

Not really.

“But you’re getting paid?”

Negative.

I would chuckle and try to explain the situation using pro sports analogies. But, as I think about Sheri and her past, I wonder if these questions struck a nerve for her. I didn’t know it at the time, but it took all of her willpower to get through our first rehearsal without bursting into tears and running out of the studio.

You see, Sheri trained at a prestigious ballet academy and was on track to joining a professional company when an abusive teacher crushed both her spirit and her love of dance. She quit at age fifteen, while her classmates went on to have successful careers. After she left, even thinking about ballet was too painful.

Eventually, however, she began to heal from the sudden loss of dance. She allowed herself to admit that she missed ballet and the joy it had brought her as a child. One day—over a decade since she had quit—she was fed up with living without it.

Sheri had just plucked up the courage to go back to the studio—and had just bought a fresh pair of pointe shoes—when a severe concussion took her out for another year. She couldn’t exercise. Couldn’t work. Couldn’t even look at a computer screen. The wait to dance again was agonizing. Once she was finally cleared to exercise, she bravely went back to ballet feeling completely out of shape.

And she persevered.

Before Sleeping Beauty, I had noticed her in class. She may have been “out of shape” and embarrassed to take off her warm ups, but I never would have known. She looked beautiful, and I could tell that she had some serious training in the past. But what struck me the most was her work ethic. She was sweating profusely by rond de jambe, and she had that look of acute awareness that intelligent dancers have. I remember thinking that it would be nice to know her story. But I’m not the type to introduce myself to strangers.

Luckily, we were destined to become friends. When people ask what my favorite part of Sleeping Beauty was, I tell them it was meeting Sheri (and Kathryn, another fellow super.) I’m so proud of her and what she has accomplished—especially reclaiming her joy for dance. Though returning to ballet has been tough both mentally and physically, she has proven that it’s never too late to begin again. I mean, just look at these photos!

 

Q & A with Sheri

Q. What first drew you to dance and to ballet in particular? What do you still love about it?

I can’t remember the first thing that drew me to dance because ever since I could walk, I danced. My parents shared with me that I danced at a year and half old until I had blisters on my feet. I always begged for “toe shoes” and finally received my first pair at seven years old.

 I was an extremely shy and quiet child. Dance was the way I could speak. I grew up watching old musicals with Gene Kelly, Betty Grable, and other dancers. I’m sure this had an impact on me with the love of dance and choreography.

Classical music is so beautiful; it moves my soul. I come alive with classical ballet. Whenever I see ballet dancers I always become in awe of the beauty and grace. I love the challenge ballet presents—a never ending journey. I love dance as if it were my dearest friend. 

Q. What are your interests and/or occupations outside of dance?

I am an artist. Painting, interior design, graphic design, hair stylist, makeup artist and photography have been ways to make a living.

Q. How do you prep for ballet class? Any strange habits or rituals?

On a perfect day I would like to go to the gym before class to have my muscles warm and awake. I usually listen to classical music on the way to class.

Q. Do you have a favorite step or part of class? Least favorite?

I love adagio and the center part of class. I don’t particularly like bar or petite allegro.

Q. What is your favorite ballet to watch?

Sleeping Beauty is my favorite classic ballet. I’ve always loved the music and the happy ending to the story.

Q. What are your goals for your dance training and for your life in general?

After leaving dance and mourning it as a death, I’ve had the great pleasure of my best friend, ballet, returning in my life. I envision myself surpassing the level I was when I quit at fifteen and performing again. I believe the joy I feel when I dance comes out and brings others joy. I love beauty and feel it is so important in a world that experiences so much pain.

Q. Finally, do you have any advice to give to adults who would like to begin or re-begin ballet?

I think the one obstacle everyone faces is that it’s too late. It is better to jump in with both feet and then after a couple of years you’ll look back and be glad you began. You won’t keep wishing that you could. Just do it! 

 

The Ballet Librarian Blog

· Introduction ·

Hello, and welcome to the Ballet Librarian Blog Series!

To celebrate my upcoming novel Cantique, I will be collecting the stories of adult ballet students and non-professional dancers from all around the world. Each post will feature an interview with a different dancer, all of whom have a passion for ballet. I can’t wait to get started!

Some of you may be wondering, why interview amateur ballet dancers?

Well, because they’re fascinating.

Ballet is one of the most difficult art forms around, yet these women (and men) are serious about their training and share many of the traits found in professional dancers. They’re dedicated. They’re disciplined. They swallow their fear of failure or of looking ridiculous. Though many will never perform on stage—and they may not even want to—they know that class is an end in itself. The studio is a place for joy, expression, frustration, exertion, escape, even worship. And though these brave dancers are faced with impossible standards and the agony of gradual progress, they keep coming back to ballet.

Intrigued? Subscribe to receive these upcoming interviews delivered straight to your inbox!

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