Being in the Body: Biodynamic Massage

I went for Biodynamic Massage this week! I think touch therapy is so positive and I have been finding out about low-cost options in London. I found a concessionary rate with a therapist in South London (comment below for details if this would be of interest to you!)

Here’s how a Biodynamic sessions goes:

The therapist will sit down with you and ask you a bit about yourself and why you’ve sought massage in particular. It’s a chance to talk a bit about yourself but isn’t too intrusive. I outlined my mental health briefly and talked about how I’ve found touch therapy makes me feel better.

The massage in my case was Shiatsu-based and so was clothed, focussing on pressure points and seeking out areas not just of tension but of resistance, pulling away, and hotter or cooler areas. I’ve never had shiatsu before and found it really soothing. I really appreciated the sustained attention to different areas – right down to fingers and toes, for instance.

Afterwards, the therapist checks in with you, asking how you were able to relax and what areas in particular came up for you. The therapist feeds back about what particularly struck them too. For me, my shoulders in particular and also my hips are areas that are really tense to the point of being sore, but I was really surprised to hear that for my therapist my feet and legs were noticeably resistant and I was unconsciously pulling away. I found that so interesting, and told him that with dancing I spend a lot of time thinking about my feet. He told me that the feet and lower legs are associated with rootedness and feelings of being grounded. It struck me how ballet is all about the illusion of being aerial, and although use of the floor is integral to technique, we never get down to floor and instead float away from it.

Fingers and toes are associated with each other and the therapist said he noticed anxiety in both – at that point I realised that I had nervously raised my fingers towards my mouth and was fiddling with them! I am prone to eczema, which is exerted by stress and anxiety, which crops up on and in-between my fingers.

I found the experience so soothing, and another way (like ballet)  in which I can be present in my body. I’d love to have some more sessions and see how this all develops.

To find out more about Biodynamic Massage, take a look at the London School of Biodynamic Psychotherapy.

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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!!

Treating the dancer in your life.

It’s that  time of year again isn’t it, when you have to start thinking of yuletide gifts.

Ok so I’m totally writing this because these are things which *I* would like for Christmas and also my birthday is the week before Christmas which you know is difficult and people don’t have time to think of all these gifts so really I’m doing everyone a big favour…

But seriously, don’t buy your ballerina bestie something lame.

What is this even?

What is this even?

Good lord no.

Good lord no.

Here are things the dancer in your life will deffo appreciate…

(**Heads up – my list is London-centric and assumes mostly female dancers, but does work for other regions and all genders too! Comment if you have even better ideas for your region and the danseurs in your life.**)

Dance Direct Vouchers
We all have our eye on our next leotard. Even though we have more leotards than clean knickers. Don’t risk sizing and style nightmares, get a voucher for dancedirect.com which stocks loads of brands and normally at a bit of a discount. If you’re just looking for a small gift, even a fiver will be appreciated – trust me.

ROH Vouchers
Yes, the Royal Opera House does vouchers! It’s really not very obvious at all from their website or actual box office but is true!
Again, just a fiver or whatevs would be appreciated towards their next tickets, or if you’ve got the spends give them enough for a box. Luxury.
If you’re not near or in London, a special overnight trip to the Royal Opera House would blow their minds and would be the most incredible friend date / romantic actual date eveerrr (you’re welcome).
And if you want to treat them to tickets for a different ballet company, theatre vouchers can be used almost anywhere.

RAD Vouchers
This one’s specific to dancers who are taking exams, but kitting up with the right exam uniform is a bit of an investment. Honestly, we need the right colour leotard, tutu, even hair ribbons.

The DVDs and Syllabus outline textbooks are super useful too, if you know which grade they’re taking.

If your fancy dancer has passed, then you can get them the corresponding silver pendant woooo.

This is the pendant for the exam I'm taking jus sayinnnn

This is the pendant for the exam I’m taking jus sayinnnn

Tights

I’m not joking here. Buy me tights. I ladder them all the bloody time and the cost mounts. And even washing on delicate, the gorgeous matchy matchy shade you’ve carefully chosen does fade. The cost and frustration can be especially true if your dancing wellbeloved likes to match their skintone, and their skintone doesn’t fit into the massively circumscribed spectrum of most widely available tights.

One great company is NudeBarre with a fabulous selection of products and colours. You can even order a colour swatch to get the matchy matchy absolutely perfect. (I so want some nude fishnets yesss.)
Revolutions Colour Flow tights are brilliant value for money and offer a better than usual selection of colours, in full foot, stirrup and convertible. I’m crazy about Prima Pink which matches the pink of my satin slippers perfectly.

A personalised sewing kit

You can get such cute little tins and one filled up with the essentials is a super-cute stocking filler. You’ll need: some ribbons and elastics, some ballet-pink Nymo, a card of needles, a stitch-ripper, a thimble. I also love my fold-up scissors, so useful. And a fancy little mini lighter for sealing your ribbon ends would be the cherry on top.

Here's mine. Cute tins! Cute cheap tins!

Here’s mine. Cute tins! Cute cheap tins!

Ballet DVDs

We all love watching dance. We just do. Maybe your prima bestie has a favourite company or is a mega fan of a particular dancer? If you’re not sure, it’s safe to say that the Royal Ballet DVDs are consistently top quality and they have a really good library of performances, from classic Royal Ballet primas like Fonteyn and Bussell, right up to brand new productions.

Ballets are increasingly being live-broadcast to cinemas too, so check out what’s on near you.

Pop this on and get ready to DIE OF WEEPING.

Pop this on and get ready to DIE OF WEEPING.

Ballet wear, clothes and jewellery

Everyone’s tastes here are different I know, but I have to shout out some excellent companies…

Cloud and Victory – are hilarious and oh so stylish. A little pricey, and shipping from Singapore, a special delivery from them would be absolutely delightful.

Yass kwene

Yass kwene

Designed by Alice – I own two of her gorgeous skirts already and the quality is so good. The elasticated waist ribbon makes such a difference, the cut is lovely and she always stocks an ever-changing selection of gorgeously patterned fabric.

Les Nereides – just. these. yes.

Classes

The absolute best things all dancers love is to dance! Gifting a class or a set of classes is the most wonderful gift I can think of. Studios like Danceworks offer different gift card options, others like The Place offer carnets of 6 or 12 classes, or even for a terms-worth of classes. If you’re feeling generous you could offer to pay their invoices for their  pre-booked classes? Another special treat would be book a private lesson for them – ask their usual ballet teacher, a lot of teachers will offer privates.

I know some people don’t like to give money as it isn’t gift-wrapped and special like a present, but honestly anything at all towards class fees would delight any dancer – and you could even dress it up in a lovely card.

Odile's costume. Drool.

Odile’s costume. Drool.

I’d love to know what your best-ever fancy-dancy present was. And you have to promise to tell me if you get a special something for your special dancer!

Ballet state of mind

I’m starting a new type of therapy, which is scary and exciting and hopeful.

I’m just at the stage of having initial assessment appointments. Which can be hugely stressful – I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve gone through this stage with all different types of talking therapies. And, although it was hard, and exhausting, I feel like it it went pretty well this time.

One thing which I’m turning over in my mind is how my therapist was interested in my ballet classes. Therapists want to know that you have interests and that you are getting exercise, and ballet has been a really positive thing for me in this regard – not just in my general everyday life, but as a thing I can bring to therapy and say Look – I am doing this positive thing.

But this therapist said to me – I am interested in your doing ballet. Because it seems to be a very exacting discipline, and a very self-critical one.

Now, I have thought a lot about the psychological aspects of dancing, and I hope to think a bit more about them on this blog, but this was something that had never occurred to me. Sure ballet is a discipline, it just is, but I had never thought about the critical aspect of it. I don’t necessarily see this as a negative quality – but even looking in the mirror and self-correcting needs a critical eye doesn’t it? If we were not able to be critical of ourselves as we dance we would not be capable of much improvement, I feel. In a sense I mean critical here in a way similar to literary criticism, noticing and analysing and improving. But there is a sense in which criticism is scary, hard to accept, maybe hurtful and destructive at times. Most of us must have noticed the difference between teachers giving constructive criticism and the kind that feels destructive, for instance.

I wonder how this resonates in my life. I am an intensely self-critical person, to the point of being destructive. Maybe this is a reason for being drawn to ballet? But, more importantly, maybe ballet can help me model more positive ways of being self-critical?

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?

 

 

So Lyrical

This is a fun thing at iSport:

Types of Ballerina

I am so lyrical. Ha! I mean, I don’t excel at anything in particular, but goddamnit I will PERFORM! And finish each combination as if I’m on stage being watched by the Queen. And do reverence like the poster of Alicia Alonzo I have on my wall. Just call me Fonteyn okrrr?

I think I possibly love adage more than I love everything else, but as I say I don’t think I’m measurably better at it or anything.

I’m going with Lyrical. What are you?

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?