I am not sure what exactly I was worried about. I guess I thought I would not be able to keep up with the others, that my ankles would wobble and my balance would be off. It has been over nine months since my last ballet class – work, social commitments and my wedding (yes, I got married!) took up more time than expected. But last night, I braved it and went.
To cut a long story short, my worries were indeed justified. My ankles did wobble, my balance was completely off and I did find it hard to keep up with the others. In fact, I got so mixed up during one of the exercises in the centre that I piqué turned right into the row of dancers behind me.
I felt like I was back at square one, the same place I had been when I first started this blog. And yet still, as disheartening as the prospect of starting over felt, I knew it also meant beginning a new and exciting journey.
As I watched my awkward moves in the mirror, I could not help but laugh – here we go again!
Bring on the sore muscles, tapped toes, messy buns and sweaty leotards – I am ready to do it all again!
Dear reader, thank you for sticking with me despite my long leave of absence. I’m starting over and I sincerely hope you’ll join me for the ride!
“Don’t make yourself small”. Mme. R. shut her eyes and opened her arms widely to show me. “You have to use those long arms!” Something about the words “long arms” didn’t sit well in my stomach and for the rest of the class I struggled to concentrate.
If you saw an old photograph of me from my primary school days, you would recognise me instantly. I was hard to miss. I was skinny, tomboyish and tall – taller than most of my other classmates. I was never bullied for my height but, as is the case with most children, I didn’t like being different. I wanted to be small and “cute” like the other girls in my class. So over the years, I formed habits, mostly subconsciously, to help make me seem smaller. I slouched my shoulders, bent my knees ever so slightly whenever photos were taken and generally did all I could to take up less space.
Then puberty hit and my growth spurt stopped and suddenly I wasn’t the tallest girl in class anymore. But while I felt more comfortable with my height, my old habits still prevailed.
When I started dancing seriously again a few years ago, I came face-to-face with these subconscious behaviours. Slouched shoulders are a no-no in ballet class, as are bent knees (aside from the plies of course) and taking up space with long elegant lines is what one is meant to do. When my teacher mentioned my “long arms”, she hit a nerve that was still raw from my childhood days. She meant it as a compliment but in my mind’s eye all I could see was a lanky kid who didn’t look quite as “cute” as the other little girls.
We all know how body language changes our internal state – people who are open-minded tend to have more “open” body language and vice versa. So I began to think about what my body language was saying about me and my internal state. Why am I so afraid to take up space? Do I not feel I deserve to? Or is it just a result of social conventions of “femininity” (“women should be small”)?
The past few weeks, Mme. R. has been trying to get me to lengthen up and take up more space. She keeps telling me to use my long arms and make myself “bigger”. This, I guess is another case of how dance can ultimately lead to self-acceptance and a better feel of who we are.
I know many people who were tall kids/are tall adults who have all developed their own “creative” ways to make themselves seem smaller. What would happen if we deemed ourselves worthy of taking up the “space” that is rightfully ours?
Something tells me that if we let our bodies unfold, our minds and hearts will undoubtedly follow.
As I stepped forward into the light, it was like entering another world.
All I could see were my fellow dancers on stage and all I could hear was the music. This, I thought, is WHY…
Why I’d rather go to rehearsal than go for a night out in the town; why I’d rather spend my money on leotards and pointe shoes than high heels. This is why I dance.
We had our first performance as a company on the 11th October. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we first began working on the choreography and now it’s over. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to perform with such a wonderful group of people. I’ve learned so much about myself as a dancer and as a person and I’m finally not afraid of improvising in front of strangers (this is a biiiig step, believe me)!
I spent the whole day after the performance in a daze – trying to re-live the experience of dancing on stage. Up until then I had convinced myself that performing on stage was not that important. That going to class, improving my technique and having fun were all that counted. Now I’m not sure if that’s really true.
I know it’s subjective – some people “need” to perform on stage and others are content with “performing” in class alone. On the 11th of October, I realised I belong to the former group and I can’t wait for the next show.
Have you ever wished you could get worse at dancing? Yes, you read rightly, worse.
If so, here is a list of seven of the best tried and tested ways to worsen your technique, demoralise yourself and make your classmates and teacher dislike you in the process.
SPOILER: this post is sarcastic; follow the advice only if you really do want to get worse.
1. Get frustrated – You’re learning a new movement but your body isn’t keeping up. This is the time to implement technique number 1, frustration. Say things like “I’ll never be able to do this” and “I am so slow/ stupid”. Frustration is key to losing the valuable energy you could otherwise use to improve your dancing.
2. Never rise to the challenge – This technique will see you stay at the bottom of your class, forever. Don’t EVER push yourself, err on the safe side and only do what you KNOW you can do. After all, the aim is not to improve but to stay just where you are or, better yet, get worse with time.
3. Don’t pay attention to the teacher – Is the teacher explaining what to do? Now is the time to go get a drink of water, daydream or, better yet, speak to someone – maybe they want to get worse, too. This technique will make you unpopular with teachers and classmates and ensure you never make the most of exercises.
4. Forget about dancing, move like a machine – Dance class is not about dancing – it’s about making robot-like movements. It’s not a place to enjoy yourself – it’s a place to repeat tiring exercises, countless numbers of times. Make sure you move like a machine, don’t enjoy any of it and most importantly, do not smile. Ever!
5. Never ask questions, always pretend to know everything – then just wing it! – Use this technique if you want to hurt yourself. I tried it and tore my menisci (on both knees!). This technique is also particularly good for people who would rather waste time looking confused and ridiculous instead of just asking for help.
6. Compare yourself to everyone and everything around you, all the time – ever heard the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy”? Well, it is also the repressor of improvement in dance. You know that lady in class, the one with the perfect ballet body, compare yourself to her until you feel bad about how you look. And compare yourself to the guy with the super-doper, amazing technique. Pick yourself, your body and your technique apart until you feel genuinely awful. You’ll not only feel worse, you’ll also dance worse as a result.
7. Over think. Everything. – The teacher has just given you the exercise and it’s time to mark it. Implement this technique now. Let the exercise run through your head at high speed, over and over again. At the same time, fill your mind with doubts about whether you can actually execute the steps. The second you are about to start the exercise, let all the corrections you have EVER gotten from your teacher run through your mind until you are reduced to a nervous wreck. This is the best, surest and quickest way to mess up an exercise.
Or maybe not? – Do any of these sound familiar? I made this list based on common things the dancers in the classes I take said they do as well as things I do myself.
We all have bad days where some of the techniques above become inevitable. But most of the time, we fall back on them simply out of habit.
If you don’t actually want to get worse at dancing and find yourself following any of these techniques, maybe it’s time to rethink your strategy. I know I will.