I love it when things fall into place without too much strain in the planning department and it feels as if the Universe is conjuring magic using the tiny rockets of desire that you send out while daydreaming. Last week … Continue reading
As an adult ballet student, discouragement is a feeling I experienced often since the beginning of my ballet journey. Over the past nine years, there have been so many instances where “life gets in the way,” including repetitive injuries, my father’s death, a major surgery, loss of job/starting my own business (which made ballet unaffordable), a recent major life crisis and so on. Every time something big happened, I was forced to take a break and go on a hiatus. Needless to say, I felt discouraged and fearful that I would lose all my technique and flexibility. The thought of having to start from scratch/square one made me shudder!
There were also times when “studio politics” got in the way of my enjoyment of going to class. And then of course there were frustrations concerning the inability to master a certain step or technique after trying it for so many years, such as the venerable pirouette!
Yet, through thick and thin, I have always come back to the studio, gone back to the basics, and just tried to stick to the routine of going to class, no matter what the external circumstances of my life are.
I have also discovered that muscle memories built over the years aren’t easily lost. One technique I have adopted during those inactive periods was to “dance in my head.” I would visualize myself dancing in a studio, coached by a world-renowned dancer, and let that image run vividly for a while in my mind while I was in a relaxed state. This has allowed me to pick up the movements and steps with relative ease when I went back to the studio. This practice has eased my overall anxiety and allowed me to know with certainty that “not all is lost.”
Another source of discouragement is the discrepancy we see between our own image in the mirror and the “ideal” image we have learned through photos and videos of professional dancers. Thus most of us have a tendency of frowning upon ourselves in disapproval. How many times do you catch yourself talking to yourself in a negative way or tone in a day? Negative self talk seems to be rampant! But does it help improve your technique or artistry? Does it help you enjoy dancing more?
One day I saw this on a friend’s status on FB and a light bulb moment dawned on me.
how you are talking to yourself,
because you are listening.”
I used to berate myself for every little mistake or ugly movement I made in class. The result was that I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I could’ve. And what’s the main purpose for me to learn ballet? I asked myself. To enjoy myself! Right! So when I recently came back to ballet after a six-month hiatus, I decided that I would dance with joy and enjoy every moment of it! Sure, I still make mistakes and look ugly from time to time, but those are no longer reasons for me to stop enjoying ballet. I fill my heart with joy when I dance, and no matter how the results come out, it would be a wonderful experience.
So, starting from today, treat your inner self as a little child who needs to be encouraged and pampered. Give her/him some tender loving care as if you would to your child/any child. Because she/he deserves it!
The more joyful you *feel*, the more joyous experience you will attract. Try it!
P.S. The photo above was taken about eight years ago when I had learned ballet for not so long. Sometimes it helps to look at old photos and remind ourselves of the enthusiasm we had when we started.
It has been a tough winter for many of us who live in places where the temperatures are unseasonably low (most likely due to global climate change). Hong Kong recorded the lowest temperature since the 1950s. On the coldest day, January 24, we registered just above-zero temperatures—around 2-3 degrees Celcius in the outskirts of the city (roughly 35 degree Farenheit). While it may sound “warm” to those of you in North America or Europe, the high humidity level, the zero insulation and lack of central heating or built-in radiators in Hong Kong’s buildings means that we have all been freezing our butts off!
Prior to the cold spell, I got sick with a nasty stomach flu. Luckily I was back on my feet within a week (thanks to many factors but mostly the wonderful probiotics—Dr. D’Adamo’s Polyflora—I have been taking and Miracle Mineral Solutions 1 & 2). Yesterday I made my way back to the ballet studio. It was very very chilly and most of us didn’t get warm even after the barre exercises! For me, I usually start to sweat after the first tendu, but yesterday I didn’t start to feel warm until ronds de jambe!
During the class, I also found it a big challenge to maintain the proper ballet posture as I had been lying in bed a lot and sitting in a hunched position in this chill for the whole week. My muscles were so tense (still are!). My teacher kept on reminding me to activate the scapular as my upper back was not upright and my arms and shoulders were not properly stretched out. This really affected all my movements. I felt it acutely when doing pirouettes. But as soon as I became more mindful of my alignment, I had a better go with turning.
The pirouette has always been the bane of my ballet existence through the years. Even after almost nine years (with many hiatus in between), I have yet to make a good clean single. In the past, I would condemn myself and feel devastated each time I failed to execute a good pirouette. But my mental state has changed. I have learned to laugh at myself and pat myself on the back every time I fail. In fact, I don’t even use the word “fail” in my head anymore. I just think of it as an attempt that leads to mastery one day. And I try to really focus on what went wrong and make an effort to do it differently the next time. So instead of pouting, I would put on a smile and try, try again.
While I’ve totally “gone off the wagon” of the 12-Week Challenge, I just try to go easy on myself and allow my body to slowly adjust to the temperature and my physical conditions instead of feeling frustrated. It is never a good idea to push yourself from zero to perfection, especially for those of us mature recreational dancers. Don’t you agree?
How is everyone doing with your 12-Week Challenge? Here is how my calendar looks like:
For me, keeping up with the light schedule is itself a challenge. I had to swap a lot of the exercises to fit them into my schedule. But going back to regular class definitely helps to get me into the groove. The cardio is often the part that stops me…. I would find all sorts of excuses, like having a sore back or headache, for not doing it. As on any day of the week, I have a short supply of time today, but the weather is super nice and I decided to give cardio a try. So I made a search on YouTube and found this awesome video—a 10-minute cardio workout for busy people by Amanda Russell:
It’s made up of 10 exercises. You would do each for 45 seconds and rest for 15 seconds then start the next one. This would make the set a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), perfect for fat burn. In the past, I have done HIIT in the form of jogging. I have to admit that these exercises are much more fun to do than jogging, as they provide a good amount of variation. But at least half of them are extremely difficulty for me as they require a lot of strength in the core, thighs and quads. At first I thought that 45 seconds would be easy peasy. Nope! I had to stop in the middle of at least three exercises to catch my breath. The good thing is that they really get my heart rate up fast and they are not as tough as the other set by Jenna Wolfe that I mentioned in my last post. Give it a try and see if it suits you. The best part is that it takes less than 10 minutes to complete once you are familiar with the routines. I think this would make the cardio part of the challenge easier for me. And I am starting to appreciate the benefits of doing cardio exercises for my ballet training. They seem to contribute to my stamina and strength.
Before I did those exercises today, I was actually starting to get hungry and debated whether I should eat first or exercise first. But I decided to hold off eating and finish the workout first. Sure enough, I forgot about the hunger and got the exercises done. It didn’t take that much time as imagined. Then I rewarded myself with an organic garden salad, freshly harvested from my little rooftop garden. Yummy yummy!
Hope you are having fun with the challenge, seeing progress in your ballet training and most important of all, feeling good about yourself! See you next time!
Yesterday was the first time I went back to the ballet studio after half a year’s hiatus. I was so thrilled and nervous at the same time! Also, as I just recovered from the flu, I was a tad worried and didn’t know if I could make it through the class or not. On top of that, I was too careless not to have checked the ballet studio’s Facebook updates to see if there was actually a class today. So I messaged the teacher but I didn’t hear from her even though it was only 15 minutes before the class would start. The door to the studio was locked and I started to wonder if I had wasted the almost two hours’ trip from home. Well, turned out that the teacher was stuck in cross-border traffic and the class would start half an hour later and so my journey was not wasted after all. But I had to cancel a tutoring appointment, which I scheduled right after the class… and lost HK$500 :'(.
In any case, I was determined to rekindle my ballet training this year. So off I go against all odds! This just happened to be first day of former New York City Ballet dancer Kathryn Morgan’s ”12-Week Challenge.” I mentioned this challenge a couple of days ago, and was super excited about starting it. I am really not sure if I can follow through even the light version of the challenge, but to get started would be to have won half the battle, at least in my case, as I had so many reasons to put off resuming class last year. But I finally made it!
The class was conducted by a young substitute teacher, whom I have been an acquaintance for quite a few years. It was slow-paced but she really made sure we got the alignment and movements right. We had only two center exercises, starting with a tendu+temps lié and ending with sauté. The last set of sauté was long-ish and I almost felt like collapsing, but I persisted till the end and am really proud of having completed the exercise.
To my surprise, my technique is still there, despite not having much strength and flexibility. But I know these will come back in time. To me, at this point, being able to move my arms and upper body in a graceful way means more than being able to have high leg extensions or super flexibility, as the important thing is to be able to do what I can still do to get back the feeling of dancing again. So, I’m just taking things in baby steps now.
After class, I could feel the endorphin rush… I wanted to sing James Brown’s song out loud: “I FEEL GOOD!!!”
Looking forward to more ballet this year.
If you are like me, who find yourself sitting at the computer desk for way too many hours a day, you probably would have developed tight hip flexors, or psoas—the largest muscle group in our body responsible for flexing our legs from the hip joint. Well, this is bad news for anyone serious about doing ballet the right way, because a good ballet posture calls for a relatively neutral spinal alignment (vertical, but allowing for the natural curve of the spine). When the hip is tilted forward as a result of tightness in the psoas, it is more difficult to move your legs freely from the hip down, and it affects the balance and all sorts of movements too.
The following photo illustrates how an anterior-tilted hip looks like (yea, that was me many years ago 😉 ):
I’m sure most of you have heard this instruction from your teacher in class: “Drop your tailbone!” or “Coccyx forward!” Basically, it is a reminder that we should keep our hip level and not tilted forward (or in some cases, backwards).
But most of you probably have found it difficult to maintain that neutral position, having to constantly be reminded or try to remind yourself.
There is a solution to this problem. But before I share the solution, let me just explain the reason why we have anterior tilt in a simple way: Our muscles in the back are too tight from many hours of sitting. The tension of these muscles must be released before they can do their work of properly holding the upper body in the upright position.
The following picture shows how we can release those tight muscles in a very easy and relaxing way. It is free and can be done in the comfort of your home. Find a chair, a sofa or any piece of furniture that has the height of the length of your calves, such as a low coffee table. Lie down on the floor. Place your calves on the flat surface of the furniture so that your calves and thighs form a 90-degree angle. If the surface is too low, try to pad it up with a firm cushion so that you get that 90 degrees. Lastly, place your arms on the side at a 45-degree angle to your trunk. Make sure the palms are facing the ceiling.
Now, you’re likely going to feel some tension at the lower back at this point. Try to place your hand under your back and feel if there is a gap. If you have a gap there, it is a sign that you do have an anterior tilt. What you do next is just to lie there, deep breathe through your diaphragm (horizontal expansion of rib cage), and relax. You can listen to music, daydream, go through ballet combinations in your head, or just dose off—whatever you feel like doing in a relaxed state. Just try not to watch TV as this would strain your neck and back muscles and defeat the purpose of doing this exercise.
Gradually, you will notice the tight muscles on your back loosening up. You may feel so relaxed that naturally fall asleep! How long should you be doing this? It depends on how tight your muscles are, but check the gap under your back after 10-15 minutes. If it is still there, I suggest staying there until the gap disappears. Half an hour would be really good as a start. Of course, if you are short of time, just do whatever you can. But if you keep doing this 10-15 minutes a day, you will find a difference in your spinal alignment. This simple exercise can contribute a great deal in achieving the “aplomb” that is so important for ballet. Try it, and let me know how you feel! Off I go to do this!
Have you made New Year resolutions? Studies show that goals are more realistic and people tend to achieve more with them than with “resolutions.” And in ballet, a disciplined approach with mini goals would be easier to implement than big lofty goals or wishes such as “I want to have higher extension, more flexibility and stronger core.”
Here is Kathryn Morgan’s 12-week challenge to help us get started. There is a regular version for those of you who are already training regularly, and a light version for those of you who are getting into ballet or restarting it like me. The timing can’t be more perfect, as going back into ballet is my goal for this year. Although my busy schedule may not allow me to follow the schedule strictly, having this guideline will surely motivate me to get back into the dance groove and the fitness routine. Who wants to join?