On ballet and the left side

Echappé, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemblé. Echappé, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemble. Sissonne failli, sissonne fermé. Pirouette, pirouette, pirouette (and BREATHE).

I was feeling giddy, breathless and happy at my favourite Wednesday night class with Ms. R. Or, as I like to the call it, the “no-time-to-think-class” because everything moves so quickly.

We had just finished a tiring combination and were exchanging smug glances of satisfaction when our teacher uttered those daunting words:

“ok, now let’s try the exercise from the left”.

We all knew it was coming, but that didn’t help.

Those words always send my mind into panic mode. I feel like I’m being made to write a complicated essay on the spot, but backwards. My mind is already engaged with the difficulty of the essay but then I also have to think about writing everything backwards?! It’s daunting to say the least.

I’ve spoken to dancers from various walks of life, professionals, amateurs, teachers, students – every dancer seems to have a “bad side” or a “weaker side” where they feel they have less control. For me it’s my left side and I’ve grown accustomed to never really expecting much from my attempts at “left-side exercises”. They always feel less controlled and are less fun to execute.

 

Ballerina

 

We all lined up at the other end of the room to start the exercise from the left. Smugness had disappeared and anxiety had taken hold.

The music started.

Echappé, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemble…

The first group danced across the floor.

Echappé, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemblé…

The second group followed.

… Pirouette, pirouette, pirouette (and BREATH).

Relief. We’d made it to the other side of the room.

I wish you could have seen our faces and compared it to how we looked after doing the exercise from the right. It was literally like night and day.

Ms. R. noticed and said “Why do you all hate doing exercises from the left? Do you think it looks worse?” There were nods all around.

She continued. “That is not true. I think you actually do better from the left. You are all more focused, more dedicated and you take more care of your placement. It’s all a matter of perception, ladies!”.

I had never thought of it that way.

Was I performing worse on my left side because I dreaded it so much?

I guess it’s like everything in life – perception is key.

 

What if I tried enjoying “exercises from the left”, what difference would that make?

I’ll find out in tonight’s class 🙂

Happy birthday Marius!

Without him there would be no Swan Lake, no La Bayadère and no Nutcracker ballets. Indeed, without him there would be no romantic era of ballet at all.

Marius Petipa was a ballet dancer, a teacher, a choreographer and a great creative genius.

The world of ballet owes so much to him and, as a balletomane, I owe a lot to him, too.

So today, on his birthday, I would like to dedicate an excerpt from a beautiful poem called “On Imagination” to him.

What an imagination he must have had and what a testament he is to the wonderful things we can each create if we let our imaginations run wild (he created over 50 ballets in his lifetime!).

 

Marius_Petipa_Feb._14_1898

 

Source

 

On Imagination by Phillis Wheatley

Such is thy pow’r, nor are thine orders vain,

O thou the leader of the mental train:

In full perfection all thy works are wrought,

And thine the sceptre o’er the realms of thought.

Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,

Of subject-passions sov’reign ruler thou;

At thy command joy rushes on the heart,

And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.

Happy birthday Marius!

Marius_Petipa1

Source

 

Girl in green cap

There is something quite satisfying about being able to write about the artists that I like on this blog. Especially because most the artists that I like usually get little to no media attention and are often unknown to the general public. Everyone knows about the Degas, the Picassos and the Warhols and while their art has undoubtedly earned its place in the lime light, I like to think there is plenty more wonderful art to discover hidden in the shadows.

The other day, flipping through (the “shadows” of) a wonderful library book I found on the Harlem Renaissance, I came across a beautiful painting by an artist called Laura Wheeler Waring – a wonderful yet little known African-American artist. The painting is of a gorgeous young lady in a black dress and a dramatic white puffy blouse, her neck adorned with a heavy green bead necklace.

girl in green cap (1943)
Girl in green cap (1943)
Source

I love how soft the painting is, the gentle strokes the artists used and the muted colours that surround the sitter. I couldn’t find out anything about the pretty sitter but there is something about her that I find really appealing. It could be the air of nonchalance about her. But can you imagine being nonchalant about having my portrait painted? I certainly wouldn’t be!

On closer inspection, I noticed the furrow in her brow. Perhaps it’s not “nonchalance” she is emitting but dejection or melancholy. She looks tired and, if you imagine what her life as an African American woman in 1940s America must have been like, you can certainly understand why.

Whatever mood she was in while this painting was being made, whether nonchalant or melancholy, she also exudes a grace and peace that I felt immediately drawn to. I googled Laura Wheeler Waring and I seem to get the same feeling from many of her paintings – calm, grace, peace, tainted by a slight melancholy air.

I can’t quite put my finger on what is so appealing but I really like them and I hope you do, too.

On ballet and productivity

Spoiler: this post is nerdy. Very nerdy. You’ve been warned.

We all had that one subject at school that we disliked, usually because we were not very good at it. So, we closed our minds to it and deemed ourselves incapable of learning it – “I’ll just find a job were I don’t need it” we thought to ourselves. The funny thing is, as we get older and enter the workforce, those subjects we avoided often come back to haunt us.

At school, I had an unshakable dislike of anything that involved maths – I just couldn’t get my head around how it applied to everyday life. My dislike for maths later spread to other subjects including economics and now, over a decade later, it has come back to haunt me. It turns out I chose a job where knowledge of economics (and business studies) is pretty important (oops), so now I’m taking evening courses.

2014-01-29 18.30.24

Contrary to what I expected, I’m actually enjoying it – especially the business studies module I am taking. There are so many interesting concepts and theories that I’ve come across that are actually applicable to everyday situations. One concept that I love at the moment is that of “productivity”. Simply put, being “productive” means getting the highest amount of output from the lowest amount of input. Every business must strive to be productive, if not they are bound to fail.

Would you believe me if I told you that this applies to ballet, too? Give me a chance to explain.

During last Wednesday’s ballet class, I reached a whole new level of frustration. I was frustrated with myself mainly and the fact that my body was simply not doing what my mind was demanding. To make matters worse my teacher kept remarking “You are trying too hard”. “Is there even such a thing as too hard?” I thought.

But she continued, saying “You need to dance smart and not hard”.

At home (as a consolation for the terrible class) I watched videos of the Prix de Lausanne winners on Youtube. I had read a few pages from my business studies course book before so I guess my mind was already in limbo between business studies and ballet when suddenly, something clicked.

The dancers in the Youtube videos were not trying to push and pull their bodies to execute the complicated ballet steps. They were using technique and not pure brawn and power.

Speaking for myself, I know that I often waste a lot of effort on being frustrated, not concentrating and using power and not skill (e.g.: using too much power in a pirouette and falling over from the force instead of concentrating on using skill and good technique). To use the words of my ballet teacher, I don’t dance “smart”. To use the words from my business studies book, I don’t dance “productively”. Both mean the same thing.

So there you have it, dear readers, a connection between (micro) economics and ballet. Who’d have thought? There is something so ironic about my applying a concept from a subject I once hated to a hobby I now love. Life is funny, isn’t it?