Guess what? I finally went back to the ballet studio last Saturday. It was a workshop called “NYCB Ballet Essentials” hosted by the New York City Ballet in the building where the School of American Ballet is (Samuel B the & … 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.
Four years ago, I saw Rudolph Nureyev in my dream. In it, I was teaching him how to do port de bras (geez, does he need any help?!) . We were talking French. At the end of this dream sequence, I said “ta den” (take this) in Swedish to him (referring to his arm), and he repeated these words in a sexy voice and then moved his arm in a most graceful manner! Hardly do I have dreams as vivid as that!
Thanks to Facebook, which gave me a reminder of what I wrote in my status on the same day four years ago, I can now savor this sweet dream 😉 I also dreamt of Yuan Yuan Tan one time, but I will share it in another post later. Have you ever dreamt of a ballet dancer? Or do you mostly see yourself dancing in your dreams? I’ve had quite a few of those myself—in which I was able to perform some feats that I normally aren’t able to in the waking state, such as 10 pirouettes landing in 4th. Of course I have also had less pleasant dreams… such as this, this and this. Please share with me your ballet dreams—if you remember them!
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!
Today’s the fifth day of the 12-Week Challenge. I missed a day on Wednesday as I had to travel to the city for work, which means almost four hours back and forth. On Thursday, I picked up the challenge again by jumping rope on my roof.
I made around 120 rounds… not that much if you think of the little time needed to do that, but still, it was better than nothing and my heart rate certainly went up a notch. It’s amazing how a simple exercise was able to lift my mood as well—I was feeling rather depressed about my economic situation after paying tax, and worried how I’m going to pay the rent, let alone my ballet classes! (If you are so inclined, please consider sending in a donation so I can keep on taking ballet class… click here. I’ll be forever grateful!)
The Universe does have its way of comforting and encouraging me. First, I saw this quote while browsing Instagram:
“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up.”
It was like a gentle nudge that life goes on, keep doing what you need to do and what you love to do.
Then, another sign—The following cardio workout routine showed up on my Facebook newsfeed. Exactly what I needed to get my cardio exercise done for the challenge:
The trainer, Jenna Wolfe, said the exercises progress from the easiest to the hardest, from the largest number of reps to the smallest. To my surprise, I almost stopped dead in the middle of the sequence. The squatting one was so tough. My thighs were killing me. But the high kicks were easy, without me having to bend the trunk forward like Wolfe does in the video (dancer’s advantage, I guess). I don’t know if I burned 100 calories or not (the goal of this workout) but I don’t care about calories. It’s the heart rate that matters, and I surely could feel the blood pumping fast after the workout!
Then, somehow I stumbled upon the following video on workout exercises. Although I was going to try out Kathryn Morgan’s leg workout, my attention turned to this instead. In my first time back at the ballet studio, I noticed how tight my hip muscles were and how little turnout was left of me, so I decided to work on that. Check out this video! I love it because all the exercises were done with a focus on warming up and rotating the hip joint… no forcing at all. And the video is not too long, around 8 minutes. You can do it along with the instructor Lisa Maree. Some of her audience members reported much better turnout after having done this workout repeatedly. So it might be something to build into the 12-week challenge routine and beyond.
After my workouts were done, my legs were totally shaky! But I feel good. The quote above is so spot on! Thank you, Universe.
This Christmas, I gave the best gift to myself… No, it’s not those Christmas slippers (I bought them for Christmas two years ago). It was a home ballet class.
For various reasons, I’ve taken a six-month hiatus. But yesterday, which happened to be a full-moon day, I finally got an impulse to start picking up ballet again. I took to the roof, placed a couple of children’s thick play mats (which are placed together like a jig-saw puzzle), covered them with a sheet of Marley, and made a “sprung floor” out of it. It actually felt pretty darn good! Then I just used the edge of the roof as the barre (though a little low). Voilà!
Kathryn Morgan was my instructor, and here are her easy ballet lessons on YouTube:
It feels so good to have worked up a good sweat after the barre and center. Kathryn Morgan’s videos for beginners as well as dancers returning after an injury are really wonderful. They are slow-paced and do not demand high extensions. Yet they are beautifully choreographed. They made me feel like I was totally ready to get back to class yet was not forced to do anything uncomfortable. All the exercises were manageable and Morgan’s tone was so encouraging throughout the tutorials.
I had so much fun doing the center exercises, especially the port de bras 😉 To my surprise, my balance is still quite good and my ankles didn’t wobble very much during rises!
A neighbor peeked out from his roof and was wondering what the heck I was doing. Obviously he could not understand the English instructions coming out of my laptop, but the beautiful piano music and my movements got him curious, ha ha! I bet no one in my village does adult ballet. Perhaps this will get people interested.
In the new year, I hope to be able to do class more regularly. My the force be with me!
How many of you have experienced this moment of truth shown in this ballet meme? Well, I have had plenty in the long and winding path of my adult ballet journey, but I can truly say an emphatic “reality bites!” after my barre practice on the roof recently.
Due to numerous reasons which I will not bore you with, I haven’t been able to go to class for quite some time. So I try to grab a make-shift barre in the corridor of my workplace to practice whenever I can. Recently the weather has been surprisingly “cool” (relatively speaking, as it is still in the upper 20C’s to lower 30C’s here, but with a nice breeze), so I practiced in the early morning on the roof of my home.
What became my make-shift barre on the roof is the flat surface of one side of the wall, which came up to about the right height for me. But there isn’t any possibility for me to grab it. So I just laid my hand on it. First awakening: Without grabbing the barre, I found that my supporting side was actually much weaker than I thought, so that my working leg had a lower extension and less stability when it moved. First lesson: Work on the core to stabilize the supporting side, and don’t rely too much on the barre.
Now, there is a little window that reflects the image of my trunk. When I looked at it during practice, I was quite appalled to see how much my pelvis tilted forward and my belly just sloughed during my exercises. There isn’t any reflective surface in the corridor of my workplace, so I hadn’t been able to see myself from the side. Second lesson: Tilt the pelvis backward a bit and engage the pelvic floor muscles, as I have learned in Pilates. It surely wasn’t easy to to do that in every single movement. My muscles felt so very different!
I tried videotaping myself by placing my smartphone on the floor. It captured the movements of my legs and feet. Gosh! My knees were not straight. My turnout was horrible, and because of that, the feet looked a bit sickled. Despite the horrid awakening, I realized that I hadn’t been putting enough effort into firing my muscles and using the correct alignment in the simplest exercises. So, lesson Number 3: Give up the need for 180-degree turnout and high extensions, and focused on the basics instead. It turned out that every movement required so much more muscle power to be right. I have often felt that I have straightened my legs and pointed my toes enough. But the reality is, “straight” for everyday living is still far from the “ballet straight.” The same goes for pointed feet. I just have been way too relaxed in my practice over the past year. But then I forgive myself, as I am making a come-back after all my muscles went into post-surgery entropy. The muscles are gradually waking up and firing with the help of physiotherapy and Pilates training. Now, this has to translate into my regular practice.
Recently I come across an article by dance physiotherapist Lisa Howell, who wrote that it takes a much longer time to correct wrong movements than to learn them (see here: http://bit.ly/1KRfs9r). So I expect a lot more repetitions to correct everything that’s wrong about my movements. Luckily, I am at least aware now of how I am doing things incorrectly. So that’s a good start, LOL!
I also recommend my fellow adult dancers to try to check your posture and alignment in the mirror whenever possible, and to videotape yourself just to see how you are progressing over time. While we often hear the saying: “Dance like nobody is watching,” when we practice and aim for improvements, let’s try to dance like everybody is watching, and put up a good performance!