It’s Friday lets… get inspired

There is great power in our breath and people have known this from ancient times.

From the ancient texts of the Old Testament to the yogic discipline of Pranayama – throughout the ages, breathing has been described as a source of life, power and creation. The word inspiration, for example, has its root in the Latin word “spiritus” which means breath. In other words, the magical force that moves us to create was equated with the act of breathing.

The real power of breathing first became apparent to me during a special floor barre class I took with Mme. R. We had finished the challenging class and were “cooling down” with a series of breathing exercises that Mme. R. was demonstrating. We were breathing deeply and moving slowly to some relaxing music. I remember enjoying it and Mme. R. asked us to close our eyes to allow ourselves to fully relax.

When the exercise was over, I opened my eyes to find the other people in my class in various emotional states – a few of them had been moved to tears, some looked absolutely exhausted, others, like me, looked utterly blissful and calm. Mme. R. ended the class by telling us “I’ve done breathing work with many dancers before and it affects different people in different ways. Don’t worry if you’re feeling emotional, it’s normal”.

It’s not a surprise that breathing can have such an effect on our emotions – just paying attention to our breathing patterns on an average day can show how the two are inextricably linked. We breathe deeply when we feel safe and relaxed and our breath shallows when we’re scared and anxious.

The evening of the class, Mme. R. sent us a write up about breathing in ballet. Below are a few excerpts:

“In the beginning there was breath. Breath is life, movement… You have to teach breathing as part of movement.”

“The very first movement taught in dance class is how to breathe air in, to fill up the lungs, and then to exhale, allowing the body to fully stretch. Your arms have to look like they’re ‘breathing’; your legs have to look like they’re ‘breathing’. There’s a definite reason why you inhale when you do and why you exhale when you do…”

“Ballet is as much about posture as it is about movement. Though the movements are disciplined and require strength and stamina, the breath is critical to maintaining a relaxed and gentle appearance.”

“… performers of all kinds experience nervousness before stepping on stage – it’s part of a human’s natural flight-or-fight response. To counter this rush of adrenalin, the shortness of breath, the nerves and the unfocused mind, it is important use conscious breathing…close your eyes, ‘see’ your breath, and pay attention to yourself. Like any sort of meditation, you start becoming aware of your breath.”

Am I not lucky to have such a wonderful teacher?!

 

It’s Friday everyone…let’s start becoming more aware of our breathing and get “inspired” in the truest sense of the word!

Have a great weekend!

Taking a breath before the jump

Dance like nobody’s watching

A dancer improvising a dance in a dance studio.

There is something intensely beautiful about being vulnerable – when you’ve nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

It’s scary but I’ve noticed that it also puts me in different state of mind. One where time stands still, everything blurs around me and I can actually feel the blood coursing through my veins.

I guess, in a strange way, it makes me feel more alive.

At MDA, we’ve been doing improvisation exercises in preparation for our performance this October. Nothing can make you feel more vulnerable than improvising dance alone in front of other people. Trust me. NOTHING!

We’ve had to improvise a lot over the past few weeks and the first few times, I won’t lie, it was difficult and oh so awkward. We film our rehearsals so I would watch the videos afterwards and cringe at my self-conscious movements. I’d compare myself to other dancers – their moves always seemed so “natural”, “honest” and beautiful to watch.

During a break last rehearsal, I was sitting at the side watching another company member improvise. Like me, she is a non-professional dancer so I could tell she felt awkward and uncomfortable. She closed her eyes as if trying to block out everything and everyone around her and for a moment I could see she managed to “forget” where she was.

I don’t know if she noticed me but I started to piece together the story she was trying to tell.

Watching her taught me a valuable lesson about improvisation and indeed dance in general. Her dancing touched me, not because her moves were impressive but because she was willing to let go and share her story. She allowed people to share in her vulnerability and that is a feeling everyone can relate to.

We’ve heard it all before, “you only live once, don’t mind what others think of you”, “be yourself”, “dance like nobody’s watching”. These are profound truths that very few of us have the courage to follow.

A dancer improvises a dance in a dance studio.

It’s Friday everyone. Let’s be bold this weekend and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, as scary as it may seem.

Let’s open our hearts, put on our favourite tune and dance, like nobody’s watching.

 

p.s.: sorry for the long break. I’ve missed you all terribly 🙂

The “legs” we stand on

“Kick higher!”

I felt the sweat run down my forehead and along the bridge of my nose.

“Don’t be afraid! Push, push!”

I gripped the barre a little tighter, bracing myself for the extra effort I was about make.

“Aaand up! And up! And up!”

I kicked my leg as hard as I could to the beat of the music.

 

By the end of the “grand battement” I was so out of breath, I doubled over to clutch my knees and breathe.

I thought I had done quite well. My leg went up high and I made sure I controlled it on the way back down.

But, as usually is the case in ballet class, there was still a lot of room for improvement and I knew my teacher was about to tell us how.

 

She walked up to the woman in front of me at the barre and asked “Which of your legs is more important?”.

Ha! What a question! I was glad she hadn’t asked me!

The woman shrugged, looking to the rest of us help.

We all shrugged back.

 

“Ladies!” my teacher continued, “When you are dancing, which leg do you need to pay special attention to? Which is more important?”

Someone mumbled “both?”

“Of course both legs are important, but one leg really makes the difference. Which one?”

Sensing a response would not come soon, she answered her own question.

“Ladies, the standing leg! The standing leg is the one that makes all the difference. You are all concentrating on the active leg – the leg that gets all the glory, the leg that does the fancy moves – but it’s the standing leg that you should keep your mind on. Is it stretched, is it turned out, is it stable, is it ready for the action you are about to perform? Your standing legs, ladies, can make you or break you!”

Dramatic, but true.

Later that day, I started thinking about the value of the standing leg.

It keeps the dancer upright and well connected to the floor. It bears all the weight of turns and leaps yet still it’s overshadowed by the active leg doing all the “fancy tricks”.

My mind does some crazy things when I’m the right mood (usually after a good ballet class).

At some point, thinking about my standing leg led to thinking about the men and women who form the “standing leg” of society. The ones engaged in the thankless and undervalued jobs that actually keep society “upright” and bear the weight of our collective “turns and leaps”.

Housewives are the standing legs of their families, nurses are the standing legs of doctors and patients, secretaries are the standing legs of their bosses, the list goes on.

Despite the significance of their roles, they are still often overshadowed by the “leg doing the fancy moves” (e.g.: working spouse, doctor or boss).

 

It’s Friday everyone, let’s shine a bright light on the “standing legs” in our lives this weekend. To use my teacher’s words they are actually the ones who “make or break” our world.

 

Ballerina at the barre standing on one leg
Focusing on my standing leg

The benefits of boredom

Things are winding down now after a super busy start to my working year. Despite the many benefits a slower paced life brings, there is one aspect of it that I am slightly (read: very) averse to – boredom.

I really, really, really dislike feeling bored. In fact, I go to great lengths never to have to get bored – I always carry an ipod, a mobile phone (with internet and all the goodies social media has to offer), a novel/magazine, a Sudoku/puzzle book and I also used to carry a Nintendo DS Lite (I’ve never really grasped the concept of “travelling light”).

I’ve never questioned my opposition to boredom before. I mean, all I’ve ever heard about it has been negative – “boredom is the root of all evil”, “bored people are boring themselves”, etc. We live in a world that idolises people who are always busy, always striving and always doing something.

boredom 2
Practicing guilt-free boredom on at home 🙂

On the plane ride home from a business trip last week , in an attempt to ward of boredom, I started flicking through the airline’s magazine and found an interesting article on, what else, boredom (read it here).

Distinguishing between the chronic form of boredom that is often linked to depression and the “transient” form of boredom which one might experience while waiting in a cue, the article shed a refreshingly positive light on the latter form of boredom. I love articles like this so I really enjoyed reading about the many “boredom researchers” who are currently studying it (what an interesting job!). The article gave numerous examples of how bored children often made imaginative games for themselves to play and bored artists experienced great creative bursts when they started working again. Boredom it seems, could be one of the keys to increased creativity.

Bored at home

Something about the article actually made me feel happy and strangely relieved. It’s almost like I now feel justified in feeling bored – hey, I’m not being lazy, I’m just brewing some creative juices. I googled boredom when I got home and it seems many artists, writers and poets saw value in boredom and used it to their advantage. If they were able to revel in their boredom why shouldn’t I?

I have to admit, boredom got kind of...boring after a while...
I have to admit, boredom got kind of…boring after a while…

It’s Friday everyone! Why not trade surfing the internet and watching TV this weekend for twiddling our thumbs and watching the clouds pass by. Let’s get bored and see what creative insights we might gain because of it!

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”.

EXT_saying yes_2013

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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.