Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Back to the Barre #1

This year, I'm taking a step back from reviewing dance to focus on dancing myself. But unable to stay away from writing completely, I've decided to write a monthly diary about my progress – hope you enjoy reading! More entries to follow...

January 2016

One of my 2016 resolutions is to take-up ballet again. It's been 10 years since I left dance school and apart from a brief stint in an amateur adult company (seven years ago!), I've stayed away from the barre. But I now go to the gym regularly and am feeling fit and healthy, so I think I’m ready to get back into it. I want to rediscover the wonderful sense of enjoyment in dance whilst also building up towards performing onstage.

I start the new year well – attending a class on 4 January at Central School of Ballet. It's not too tiring, and I don't look as horrific in a leotard as I have feared. But my right knee isn't happy and I sustain a hamstring injury during a jump.

I take two weeks' rest to heal and think more about what I want from ballet. I feel like I need a goal – something achievable but challenging to work towards. My last ballet exam (taken in 2004) was ISTD Intermediate. I decide that working towards the RAD Intermediate exam – which is now open for adult candidates – will be ideal. I watch all the exercises on the syllabus DVD and make a mental note of the greatest challenges – pirouettes and pointe work are going to be really tough.

My knee is still niggling, so I see a dance-specialist physiotherapist. He explains that my hamstring has been overworked repeatedly over the last few months (in my intense gym workouts) and needs to build up strength through various exercises. Luckily, my injury isn't serious – I can start dancing again right away but need to avoid jumps for four weeks.

New pointe shoes
February 2016

I start teaching myself the RAD Intermediate barre work. I perform the exercises while watching the DVD and then try again without to test my memory. They aren't too difficult technically, but I struggle to remember the varied endings.

I particularly love the pliés music from The Pharaoh's Daughter. I can feel my strength build up as I repeat each exercise – the balances, leg lifts and rises to demi-pointe are gradually getting easier. 

I'm worried that my feet have lost all their strength, so I decide to face my fears and go shopping for pointe shoes. I expect the fitting staff to be judgemental of my age and less-than-perfect ballet figure but they are lovely. The woman who helps me also takes adult classes herself and recommends a teacher at Central School of Ballet. I stick with Gaynor Mindens (my shoe of choice from 10 years ago) and can't wait to sew on the ribbons.

I try some gentle rises and relevés holding onto the kitchen counter and am pleasantly surprised. I feel – and probably look – like I’m wearing a pair of bricks, but I can do more than I thought I’d be able to. I can even do some echappés and slow courus in the centre (of the kitchen).

I spend an hour teaching myself the syllabus port de bras, trying to understand the written syllabus and then checking the DVD. There's a huge sense of satisfaction when I'm finally able to perform the whole exercise. I feel beautiful bending and curving my body into those familiar ballet shapes; I feel like I'm really dancing again. But I'm very sure there are a million things I'm doing wrong, so I start researching adult syllabus classes. My next step is to get a teacher's opinion.