Saying yes

The funniest thing happened to me the other day in my favourite ballet shop (www.jumpin.at). I was there to buy some much needed new pointe shoes but, from the corner of my eye, I noticed the shop assistants hanging up some beautiful new warm-up trousers. I thought about trying them on but convinced myself not to – pointe shoes are expensive enough as it is.

As I was trying on pointe shoes, a man with a professional camera marched in. As many of you know, buying pointe shoes requires 300% of your concentration so I barely noticed him at first.

The shop owner greeted him and began discussing the photos he needed to take. She pointed to the new warm-up trousers saying “we have to get photos of those today so we can put them up on our website before Christmas”. I tried to guess who the model would be – a famous ballerina from the national ballet or one from abroad?

It turns out, I wasn’t the only one wondering who the model would be. At one point, the photographer said, “the mannequins make the clothes look lifeless. Don’t we have a model?”

You know those moments in films when everything falls silent as the character on screen realises everyone is looking at them? I looked up from the pointe shoes I was admiring only to find everyone’s eyes were on me.

“Would you be our model for the day?” he asked me.

Now, I’m no risk taker and I seldom act spontaneously. So my first thought was “quick, pretend you don’t understand the language he is speaking and calmly back out of the shop”!

But I didn’t do that.

Maybe it was the euphoria of buying a new pair of pointe shoes or maybe just the pressure (literally EVERYONE and their mother was looking at me) – either way I said “yes”.

Soon I was changing from outfit to outfit and having things put on and taken off me. For someone like me who doesn’t like people fussing around them, it wasn’t fun and even the consolatory chocolate cookies I got didn’t make things better. I was happy when it was over.

I bought my pointe shoes and was ready to leave when the shop keeper handed me a bag saying “thank you so much for helping us, we really appreciate it. The trousers suited you, I hope you’ll wear them.” I looked inside and found TWO pairs of the beautiful new warm-up trousers I had been admiring when I first entered the shop.

On my way home, I thought about all the times I’ve taken the comfortable way out of similar situations. What could have I have gained from saying yes instead of no? A new friend, a new hobby or maybe just a new chance to grow?

It’s Friday everyone. There are plenty of new opportunities to try out this weekend. Let’s take a chance and say “yes”.

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If you’re wondering what pointe shoes I bought – I got my first pair of Gaynor Mindens. Does anyone have experience with them? I’d love to hear your opinion.

The curious girl

I’ve been visiting more art museums than usual lately. This is certainly not the best of news for my “ballet-burdened” bank account but, I’m afraid, sometimes it simply can’t helped. Like the last exhibition I went to. I HAD to go because everywhere I went in town, they were displaying posters for it. I couldn’t have ignored them, right? 😉

Posters of Albertina Museum, ViennaVienna, Albertina Musuem postersPosters of Albertina Museum, Vienna

Jokes aside, the exhibition was really worth the visit. It was a collection of paintings and sculptures from Henri Matisse and his fellow “Fauves”, on loan from museums and private owners from around the world. Photos were not allowed, which was a shame, but I did jot down the names of the ones I liked the most.

Albertina Musuem, Vienna
The Albertina Museum where the exhibition was held

Wondering through the exhibition was like walking through the middle of a rainbow. The Fauves are known for their use of vivid colours and simplified representations of life but I don’t think I ever really understood just how colourful the paintings are until I saw them. The brush strokes they used are amazing, too. If you get really close (not too close or the guards will be at you), you can see how aggressively and “wildly” they painted (part of the reason for their name “Fauves” or the “wild beasts” in English).

The Gypsy, Henri Matisse
The Gypsy, Henri Matisse (1905/06)
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Seated Nude, Georges Braque (1906)
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Without a doubt my favourite painting from the exhibition was by Kees van Dongen. I’ve loved his portraits of women since the time my sister sent me a birthday card with the painting “Woman at the Balustrade” on it (that card hung over my dressing table for years, until I moved in with D).

The women in his portraits (socialites and it-girls of the day were van Dongen’s forté) have the most stunning eyes – large and heavily made-up – and wonderfully full red lips.

I was so excited to see one of my favourite portraits on display at the exhibition – “The Curious Girl” (also known as “the Gypsy”). Painted sometime around 1910, the portrait is usually housed in the Musée de l’Annonciade in Saint Tropez so I was lucky to see it in my home town.

The Curious Girl, Kees van Dongen
The Curious Girl, Kees van Dongen (1910/11)
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Look at her gorgeous eyes and pouty lips – I think van Dongen could have had a successful career as a make-up artist had he wanted to, don’t you?

Happy Birthday Choura and Maya!

Today is a pretty special day. I wasn’t late for work this morning (like in this post), I’m finally having a good hair day (yay, no rain today!) AND it also happens to be the birthday of not one but TWO of the most inspiring and important figures in ballet history. See, very special indeed!

Alexandra Danilova, Prima Ballerina (1903-1997)

Alexandra Danilova, Prima Ballerina, Ballet Russe

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The great and irreplaceable Alexandra Danilova, known to her friends as Choura, was born today 110 years ago in Saint Petersburg.

Known for her extraordinary versatility, wit and charm, she is most famous for being one of the star performers in Diaghilev’s renowned Ballet Russe. She danced almost all the major pieces in the ballet repertoire of the time including Swan Lake, Coppelia and even Leonide Massine’s balletic comedies ”Le Beau Danube” and ”Gaite Parisienne.” Her rise to prominence was quick and people would buy tickets specifically to watch her expressive and elegant movements on stage. From 1964 to 1989 she was also a much beloved and respected ballet teacher at the American School of Ballet and is credited with bringing the traditions of Russian ballet technique to America.

Alexandra Danilova, Prima Ballerina, Ballet Russe

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Unfortunately, parts of Danilova’s life read like a tragedy – she was orphaned at a young age, later fell in love with her former schoolmate George Balanchine (falling in love with a womaniser like Balanchine is a tragedy in itself) who left her for another, was never good at keeping her finances in check and married unhappily twice. Oftentimes when things looked like they were heading up, something would happen to pull the ground from under her feet. But Danilova never gave her craft up, even in the toughest, loneliest times. In her Autobiography “Choura”, published in 1986, she wrote ”I sacrificed marriage, children and country to be a ballerina, and there was never any misunderstanding on my part: I knew the price.”

Maya Plisetskaya, Prima Ballerina Absoluta (b. 1925)

When Danilova was 22, a little baby was born into a prominent Belarusian-Jewish family in Moscow. Little did her parent’s know that she would someday be heralded as one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th Century.

From the start Maya Plisetskaya was a trailblazer in her own right – she excelled at ballet school and spent only a short time in the corps de ballet before becoming a soloist. To me, Plisetskaya is the quintessential ballerina – she had (and still does at 88!) long, slender limbs, incredible flexibility, strength without strain and, to top it all off,  a charming, fiery personality and hardworking nature. She excelled in adagio as well as allegro (how many people can claim that!) and mesmerised audiences whenever she performed. She is without a doubt, one of my favourite dancers.

Maya Plisetskaya, Prima Ballerina Asoluta

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Sadly, Plisetskaya’s life, like Danilova’s, was not void of misfortune. Being a wealthy Jew at a time in Russia where “anti-Zionist” and “anti-bourgeois” campaigns were commonplace and bloody she and her family suffered prejudice and persecution. Her father was murdered during a Stalinist purge and she was banned from travelling and dancing abroad during the first part of her career. Like Danilova, Plisetskaya never gave up ballet despite all that she faced. She continued to perform (with grace and agility) right up until she turned 70!

Maya Plisetskaya, Prima Ballerina Absoluta

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There are so many things I love about these two extraordinary women and so many lessons I think I can learn from the amazing lives they led. To me, both stand testament to the fact that when you find your calling, you just have to stick with it and keep going no matter what and for as long as you can.

Happy birthday Choura! Happy birthday Maya! In the hope that some of your ballet-genius rubs off on me today during class, I dedicate this post to you!

Lady in yellow dress

I have a confession to make. I love museums. I always have and I believe I always will. There’s something sacred about about them – people behave differently and the most mundane things become magical and “worth looking at” (Duchamp’s “Pissoir” comes to mind).

As a museum lover, there are few better cities to live in than beautiful Vienna where I currently reside. Of all the museums the city has to offer (over 100), I have a few personal favourites that I visit whenever I need inspiration or some quiet thinking/daydreaming time. One of these is the wonderful “Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz” (Wien Museum, Karlsplatz) which houses a unique mixture historical artefacts from the city as well as key works from local artists such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

The museum is also home to one of my favourite (albeit 2-dimensional) ladies in Vienna.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the lovely “Lady in Yellow Dress”. Isn’t she stunning?

Max Kurzweil, Lady in Yellow Dress, Dame im gelben Kleid

When I first visited the Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz this painting literally stopped me in my tracks. It’s quite big and was fittingly placed at the very end of a long hall. I fell in love with her instantly and visit the painting every now and then.

I just love her body language and how she’s sitting – it’s so unconventional for the time it was painted (1899). She’s not some shy, demure little lady. She is a confident, feisty woman in a fabulous dress. You may be looking at her but she’s looking right back at you asking “what are you looking at?” – she is just amazing. I wonder if the artist Maximillian Kurzweil (Austrian artist and print-maker) told her to pose that way or if she decided to herself.

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I couldn’t find any information about her other than the fact that she’s the artist’s wife. But somehow I think it’s better that way – the story I’ve made up for her is probably far more entertaining. 🙂

The dancer’s mirror

I actually wanted to write about something else today but I was bitten by the inspiration bug last night and, as it’s Wednesday, I thought I would share it as midweek inspiration.

The inspiration bug that bit me has a name, Lorry, as well as an awesome blog called The 109th Bead. In her last post “My new little corner” Lorry described how a chance situation got her standing at a new spot at the barre in ballet class – the spot directly in front of the dreaded full body “fat mirror” (shudder…). I won’t give away the story in the post because I think it’s best you read it yourselves. But I will say that the experience that began with the horror of the full body “fat mirror” (shudder again) ended up being a positive lesson in self-acceptance.

It was the last paragraph of her post that really brought something home to me.

“…what if we begin to think that when we look in the mirror there are dancers looking back, not girls with tummies or thighs that we don’t like; that we begin to see ballet dancers moving and dancing instead of boys and girls that are just making believe.” – Lorry, The 109th Bead

As an adult dancer I often feel like I’m “faking it”, like I’m simply “not the real deal”. After all, who am I to call myself a “dancer”? Diana Vishneva can call herself a “dancer”, Polina Seminova can call herself a “dancer” – how can I place myself in their league? But I guess it’s not about placing oneself in their league. It’s about believing that I am a dancer in my own way and in my own right.

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I spend hours practicing dance, reading about dance, watching dances on YouTube (my main procrastination tool). Despite all that, why do I still see a “girl who is just making believe”? And, most importantly, what would happen if I thought the opposite and allowed myself to see a “dancer looking back”?

A few hours after reading Lorry’s post, I tried an experiment. At ballet class, I voluntarily stood right in front of that horrible, dreaded full-length “fat-mirror” (I wonder why no one fought me for the spot). Before we began, I straightened myself up and repeated the words “you are a dancer”. It may sound like a complete cliché but it really helped. My teacher even noticed and complimented me on the height of my jumps! I can honestly say, it was one of the most satisfying classes I’ve had recently.

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So, thanks for the inspiration Lorry, you’ve helped me find a new pre-class mantra to recite and my own new little corner at the barre – smack in front of the lovely, full length “dancer’s mirror”.