Dance and Wellbeing with Parkinson’s and Mobility Challenges

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I had a great time helping out at the Move into Wellbeing class with Ballet4Life in West London this weekend. The class is aimed at people living with Parkinson’s, and I had found out about it after doing a bit of research stemming from the World Ballet Day segment featuring Dance for Parkinson’s classes.

Dance for Parkinson’s supports classes and learners and is a research-based approach to developing high quality dance experiences for people living with Parkinson’s. Their website lists classes all around the country.

Ballet4Life’s class in Turnham Green is a lovely welcoming group, it was really easy for me to slot in and start taking part. We started off with saying our names around the seated circle with an accompanying movement, which is a really nice way of making eye contact around the group and getting a taste of everyone’s personality with their choice of movement!

Class leader Beatrice then led us through the seated section, beginning with roll-down warm-ups and moving on to an increasing range of movement, incorporating some different rhythms and targeting different areas like mobilising the fingers. Ballet4Life founder and teacher Donna and volunteer assistants take part around the circle too, so that movements can be followed without having to strain to see just one demonstrator.

I recognised a lot of ballet movements that had been adapted to the seated position and made use of a strong stacked parallel posture. There was lots for me to think about in terms of keeping my weight placed and engaging good placement. One of the things that Beatrice is really good at is encouraging little bits of performance, for example one movement became the “Marilyn” like the famous skirts gusting up to the sky, and a shaking our fists became a Popeye-like “Youuu!!”. It’s another way of getting involved in the movement and creating fun moments shared between the group.

We then moved on to the barre, although participants can choose to remain seated if that’s more comfortable, with some plié combinations in parallel and turned out, rond des jambes and port des bras. Although we were doing exercises from ballet practice, this wasn’t overstated – instead the focus is much more on engaging with your own movement range.

Centre practice was a brilliant Charleston-inspired routine, with rhythmically-moving feet and the option to freestyle some jazz hands!

The class always ends on coming back into a circle with the group, which I think is a brilliant idea. We continued with some Charleston feet in the circle and then in place of a traditional revérence we bowed to each other in sequence around the circle, to the right and then left. It’s a great way to all come back together at the end of class and re-establish the energy

If you want more info about getting involved, get in touch with Ballet4Life or comment below!

 

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Talking about Examinations

I posted here a while ago about thinking about taking ballet exams.

Well, I’ve been taking the RAD Intermediate Foundation syllabus class for a couple of terms now, and I’m just getting ready to step it up to twice a week to start prepping in anticipation of taking the exam in the near future.

I totally love it, but here are a few things to think about if you’re considering syllabus work.

First of all, time commitment. What’s your week like? How often can you dance? If you’ve got a steady one-class-a-week habit, I would consider sticking to non-syllabus class. It totally depends on what kind of learner you are and what you enjoy, of course, but I think I would go a bit mad if I was only taking syllabus class and no others. Plus, I do think taking an exam-focussed class alongside a much more free form, creative class that is not end-goal orientated is the perfect complement to one another. In exam class the whole point is that this is stuff you can do, and the challenge is to memorise it and perform it to a high standard. And performance is key here – you are expected to present and communicate to an audience. In general class, the constant and unexpected challenge, and the fact that you are doing it for yourself with no other expectations, is what it’s all about. I definitely think that my work in both types of class have improved what I do in the other.

Another thing to think about is financial commitment. Of course, it’s taking on a new class, and as you become a bit more proficient and start thinking about the exam, it’s pretty much essential that you pick up two classes a week. There’s also private lessons to think about, for focussed attention that you can’t get in class. There’s ways to lessen the cost here – taking privates shared between two or three students to a teacher is a good option, and some schools offer student-teacher (as opposed to fully-qualified teacher) rates. When you’re getting ready for the exam there’s the exam uniform to consider too, which depending on your school and exam level might involve specialist kit like a tutu.

Of course I want to do the variation that means I have to wear this.

Of course I want to do the variation that means I have to wear this.

Then there’s homework! Again, it helps to think about what kind of learner you are as the syllabus textbooks and DVDs are of more use to some than others. However, I am such a verbal – and above all text-based – learner that being able to read and write my own notes in the textbook is incredibly helpful. I also have the RAD videos on my phone to watch when I have moment on the bus or the tube. I really enjoy giving myself a little bit of structured time to revise like this, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!

The kids in the learning materials are SO CUTE.

The kids in the learning materials are SO CUTE.

But here’s what I love about syllabus class. It’s so clear to self-assess how you’re progressing, which is really satisfying. Going from having difficulty doing barre without being led by the teacher, for example, to fully memorising all the barre exercises feels really great. I’ve just had a bit of a confidence boost recently because I feel I’ve got our 3rd allegro under my belt – which when I was first taught, seemed like such a far off prospect! My absolute favourite aspect of exam class, however, is performance and musicality. These are criteria in the exam so they are something you have to pay critical attention to, and I find it really rewarding. It is like rehearsing a part for performance, especially in the solo sections like the variation. It’s so nice to have your expression and performance quality recognised and developed like this. Our teacher often tells us that performing out to a big audience (which we should feel our audience is, even if it’s just the examiner!) is like projecting outwards from the heart. I think that captures something of the special and rewarding nature of working like this. I have to add that my teacher is great too and makes class so pleasurable!

I think ultimately, although taking ballet exams as an adult isn’t necessary at all, it’s really satisfying to work towards a recognised level, and I will be so proud if/when I eventually reach it!

Things Dance Teachers Say

My teachers are being hilarious at the moment.

(After grand allegro on the left side)

Joel: Let’s do it again on the right, so we can all feel better about ourselves.

(Practising glissades)

Kate: (showing a plié in fifth, demonstrating the diamond shape the legs make) Remember we’ve got to see those fairy windows!

FAIRY WINDOWS!!

Rosy Lips

I don’t usually wear make-up most days. Anyway yesterday I had some bright rose lipstick on and didn’t take it off for class.

I was getting changed afterwards and a classmate told me how she liked my lipstick. She said she kept seeing it during class which cheered her up, and she was using it for spotting during centre practice. I said I’d bought it recently to cheer myself up a bit, and I was glad it was having the same effect on others!

Mwah!

A Totally RAD Adventure

I took part in the Royal Academy of Dance’s Adult Summer School at the end of last month. A whole week’s worth of evening ballet classes, followed by Pilates! It was wonderful to dedicate a whole week to dance – normally my limit is about three classes spread over a week. And I found that working hard each night actually really boosted my energy levels! Brill.

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The RAD Headquarters in Battersea is a lovely place to visit and to dance in. Battersea Square is a lovely continental-style cafe square, and the fragrant wisteria blowing across the cobbled yard on a balmy summers’ evening was just beautiful. Inside the complex of buildings, there are dance posters and ephemera everywhere – a real treat for someone like me who researches and loves theatrical prints and ephemera of all kinds. I tried to snap some particularly old and interesting bits and pieces…

I’m really excited that the RAD Library is also open to visitors, for a nominal fee. It looks like a really nice space to work in, and for a performance history researcher like me it could promise some interesting – and seldom-seen – finds.

A nineteenth-century bill for Giselle, or "La Giselle". You can see how ballet was appended to other performances rather than presented as stand-alone pieces.

A nineteenth-century bill for Giselle, or “La Giselle”. You can see how ballet was appended to other performances rather than presented as stand-alone pieces.

I had a great time in class with our teacher Kate. My usual classes are “holistic” style, borrowing bits and pieces from different modes of ballet study. I’ve never been taught RAD Syllabus, so working in RAD style was a new challenge that I really enjoyed.  Sometimes it was a term that I wasn’t familiar with – balancé instead of waltz step, for example – or a way of working. We won’t generally work through and name the series of arabesques in my regular classes, for instance. I found that my waltz step was actually quite old fashioned, and that instead of raising the foot fully pointed, a more natural step was preferable.

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An original costume sketch, 1956.

The great thing about working on consecutive days was an appreciation of just how much the body can take on and learn in a fairly short amount of time. By Friday we were prancing about as Giselle’s peasant maidens, and in adage posing in arabesque allongée like the wilis. The opportunity to work with a pianist was brilliant too, and I really appreciated our pianist’s skill and sensitivity.

Pilates next, and I must admit that the little Pilates I’ve done I have found a little…boring? I appreciate learning about my body, but I’d much rather be dancing. However after a really intense hour’s class (in the late July heat!) some time to calmly yet engagedly work through the body was quite a far-out, trippy experience! I think my Pilates practice has really improved, and I’ve learnt a lot about the tension that I tend to hold in my body.

I’ve already decided to come back in the September term to attend a weekly non-syllabus class. I’m still thinking about eventually taking an exam, and our teacher for the week advised that as I’ve never learnt RAD style before, a general class to get accustomed to the vocab would be the best idea to start with.

Have a look at what classes, in ballet and more, RAD offers here.

A snippet of all the ballet art to admire.

A snippet of all the ballet art to admire.

 

A Canvas Conversion; and on Being the New Girl Again.

I went Bloch shopping this week! If you’ve been in London, maybe you’ll know about the conglomeration of lovely dance shops around a couple of streets in Covent Garden. I could easily spend hours cooing over them all. But a quick visit for new flatties is a Bloch stop.

Y’all know I love my satin. But I decided to try on some canvas just to see what it felt like. My problems with canvas include the fact  that canvas shoes on my feet just look like bags and don’t make me feel elegant at all; the line is just rubbish and just no no no. Part of the problem is the shape of my feet and toes. Whilst I have naturally very high arches, this means that over the years the pressure exerted on my toes has made them kind of crunch up – if I say I have curly toes, does that make sense? I don’t want to show you a picture of them!

However Bloch have brought out a new canvas shoes with ultra-stretch canvas. This means that instead of there being a huge bag over my toes where my toes don’t reach the end, the fabric forms to my shape! Here they are, they are the Synchrony :

Oh and trust me to choose the most expensive Bloch flat...

Oh and trust me to choose the most expensive Bloch flat…

They also have the elastic binding which is maybe not so important for the amateur dancer – I know my teacher has callouses from his binding and drawstrings over the years! – but it is very comfy.

So new shoes, I went straight into a new class! Double scary.

My plan at the moment is to mix up classes as much as I can. I have mega love for Fab Teacher, but his classes are so popular that it’s very hard to get specific, personal corrections. I work on the general class corrections of course, but I’m finding it difficult to get a good idea of where I’m going right and wrong.

Also I do tend to hang back from challenging myself, and will often push myself to get familiar combinations perfect before trying to do a faster or more complex class.

So along I went to a beginner/general class, and I’m already terrified at the “general” bit. I’m happy to report that I had a great time, that I knew most of the individual steps, but the barre was much faster and the centre a lot more “joined up” and complex. I have to laugh at myself attempting what I think of as a proper ballerina dance with balletic walking and everything. Also my new shoes felt great on the floor! I love a good floor-feel!

A new step for me was the pas de basque. I struggle with attempting to mimic during class and do need stuff breaking down, so along I went at the end of class and asked the teacher to demonstrate. I’m now trying to find an adequate video break-down online as I struggle visualising how to link it together!

It’s a big change for me being a new girl in a new class, as usually in my regular class I’m confident enough to go first in a group exercise. Just recently a girl taking our improvers class for the first time had hung back until the end of a centre exercise and the sub teacher expected her to go across the floor by herself. She asked me to go in front to lead her across, and I was happy to go across again, although I’m definitely not the best technique-wise for a new person to copy. I suppose the part of me that loves performance won’t pass up a chance to pretend to be Fonteyn either!

So new shoes, new steps, and a new mind-set to get to grips with. Any pas de basque tips gratefully received!

 

 

A Really Radical Correction

A few weeks ago I was in class with Stern Teacher. In my regular classes, we’re encouraged to do tiny pliés, and I’ve always pliéd within my comfort zone, paying attention to how my muscles are engaging rather than how deep my bend is.

However in this class, I was encouraged to really work a deeper plié. My teacher watched me for a while in first – telling me to relax as usual! – and then I went into second. Then she did something really hands-on and intense!

She held my knees from the back, pulling them over my feet, and pushed her head into my pelvis. It felt INCREDIBLE.

(I felt like I’d had a baby for about a week afterwards, and my walls at home are all scuffed where I’ve plied in second down them to stretch out.)

Although I’m not encouraged to go deeper in my usual class, this really radical correction made me focus on my plié, which after all is such an essential building block of dancing.  Having such a radically different physical sensation demonstrated to me like this actually cut through  lot of the mental querying and testing I’d been doing around my plié too.

I’ve been missing getting corrected lately, as Fab Teacher hasn’t been giving me many in the last few weeks. Of course my mind is whirring as to whyyy! rather than assuming I’m not in need of any. I’m hoping to mix up a few different classes in the coming weeks because I’m greedy for more more MORE!

Is there a YES moment for you like this, a new correction or different way of phrasing one (or physically manhandling you!) that made you think differently?

 

 

Adventures En Pointe #2

You may remember I had a bit of a moan about feeling overwhelmed in my first pointe class.

I kind of psyched myself out of returning to that particular class, and instead waited for my usual, fabulous, teacher to start a pointe course for absolute beginners. Which started today.

I feel wonderful! I feel like I own my shoes, they don’t own me.

We were very lucky to have a ballerina from the Northern Ballet come in to chat to us about pointe shoes. Although I had already sewn my ribbons and laccys, it was great to have a pro there and be able to just chat and ask questions about everything related to pointe. I learned that my elastics actually should be moved slightly, and I asked all about darning and demi-pointes and all the stuff I wonder about on here. I will post a pointe pics and walkthrough up here soon I reckon.

And then we tried it out, just getting up there, seeing what it feels like. This was incredible. I can’t tell you how great  it is just to know what your feet in the correct position actually feel like. The problem with being shoved straight up onto pointe and trying to do combinations is that you have no idea what correct positioning feels like, you’re kind of flailing around trying to get through the combination whilst never coming a safe and correct “home” position. So Fab Teacher came round, shoved my demi-pointe over for me a bit, and said – fab!

I’ve got it!

Next week, the real hard work begins…

 

Formation Training

The other week I was in class with Fab Teacher and we were were getting ready for petit allegro, lining up eight at a time to do the steps towards the mirror. There’s always a bit of a shuffle as we figure out eight leaders, and line up behind them. A couple of girls got in muddle about groups, and then kind of mouthed Oh it doesn’t matter to each other and sort of formed their own ninth group shoved in the middle somewhere.

Of course, I’m thinking Nooo, it does matter! And, of course, I’m not going to say that and sound a total douche am I? But come on, there is no way this man who has trained most of his life in a performative art isn’t going to notice. This man notices a tendu that needs help in a roomful of people!

And so music off, class stop, we all start again. Fab Teacher might say something like People aren’t going to pay 120 quid a seat to watch that sloppiness on the tour I’ve booked us on this Summer, or something equally hilarious. But then comes the realness – this is formation work. This is ballet training!

I don’t mind starting a sequence again, and I’m not frustrated with these particular people in class, but this little episode made me think about formation. We’re not a corps de ballet, and we don’t have to arrange ourselves on a stage. We could be forgiven for thinking – what does it matter?

It’s the ethos of ballet isn’t it? It’s why we do it, and not ballet barre or pilates or something. (We do those too, but as training for the main event!) If ballet could be said to have a theory – or a manifesto, or a way of explaining life – the discipline of formation would be a huge part of it. And the particular ethos of dancing as an adult amateur adds layers to this. There’s never going to be a performance – we’re internalising and working with the beauty and strangeness of ballet for its own sake, not for some projected end-point where we’ll be seen and appreciated or judged.

I’ll be honest, this can sometimes sit oddly with me, the same way I can appreciate the beauty of a tutu and pointes (and want them for myself) and yet feel critical of the culture which prizes them.

There must be books about ballet theory out there somewhere, but I haven’t read them. But – if we were to write down our own Ballet Ways of Living, from our own lived experience as amateurs (lovers!) – what might it start to say?

 

 

The Pirouette Quest continues; and a strange thing

Well y’all, I can report I’m turning clean full pirouettes on BOTH SIDES. Fairly good hit-miss ratio, left ankle a bit weaker and so not keeping releve as well on that side, but a resounding victory none the less! I’ve finally got my pirouette!

(And still struggling against labyrinthitis nausea and dizziness. Waltz turns were nnnooott happening.)

So! I’m one of the people who doesn’t mind going in first group on centre exercises now!

A strange thing: a classmate who I don’t know, a bloke, tapped me on the arm as I was stretching my calves after class. He says, You’re gripping the barre too hard. I responded kind of interestedly and he demonstrated a flat hand not even gripping the barre at all, just barely touching.

Two things here. First, am I being over sensitive, or is it weird to correct a classmate on something the teacher hasn’t commented on?

Secondly, and this is what I said, a different teacher I take class with says the complete opposite. The barre is there in lieu of a partner’s hand, so grip it but don’t break his wrist! A good grip helps with alignment. And also, the barre is there for a reason, otherwise why do we bother with it at all and not just head to the centre?

He didn’t seem convinced. But I’m not changing owt until Fab Teacher tells me! Any barre thoughts over here?