Musings on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. While ballet has very much developed into an art form in which the dancers are predominantly women, there is still a big gender disparity in terms of those in the decision-making positions, such as artistic directors of ballet companies as well as choreographers.

A prominent female figure in the ballet world today is English National Ballet Director and Principal Dancer Tamara Rojo. She is a heroine in my eyes, my role model of a perfect ballerina embodying superb strengthen and grace, and above all, a strong woman with just the perfect balance between chutzpah and femininity.
Tamara Rojo

In an interview with Dance Tab last year, she said that “the way that art, that everything, is seen in life, has different angles depending on the people that do it. And that in dance, very often, choreography is created by men, so it has that perspective. And it would be good if we could have it more often created by women.”

To that end, she has commissioned a new triple bill, “She Said,” featuring new works by world-class female choreographers: Aszure Barton, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Yabin Wang, which will be staged next month by English National Ballet. It will be a truly exciting event.

Despite their small number, women are starting to make inroads into the top echelon of world-class ballet companies around the world.

For just over 10 years, Karen Kain has been the Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada and taken the company to a new level of international recognition.

Madeleine Onne, former Artistic Director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, has been the Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Ballet for over six years now. While I wouldn’t consider HKB “world-class” (yet), the fact that she is a female—and foreign—director of this artistic institution should be recognized, considering the challenges she faces in this conservative society.

Aurélie DupontAurélie Dupont, the darling of the Paris Opera Ballet, who spent her entire 32-year career there and retired last May, will take over the helm of the world’s oldest ballet company after Benjamin Millepied’s one-year tenure.

Julie Kent as Juliet

Julie Kent, one of the most celebrated American ballerinas of her generation, and who retired from the stage last summer after a 29-year career at American Ballet Theatre, has just been appointed the Washington Ballet’s new artistic director.

Both women had previously expressed their strong wishes to live a more carefree life and spend more time with their children and families. However, they changed their minds. I am sure that they have received tremendous support from the men in their lives and the communities around them. Just as successful men often have supportive women behind them, women—especially those who have children—could use a ton of support if they want to fulfill their highest dreams and potentials.

These new appointments are truly good news that we should celebrate. I hope we’ll hear more of such appointments and, with much anticipation, I hope the leadership by experienced female dancers like these will change the ballet world in a way that will truly reflect the balance of genders and different perspectives.

A Valentine’s Rose for You

The rose is an ancient symbol of love and beauty. While most people think of Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate romantic love, the true meaning of “love” transcends this narrow definition. I wish all of my ballet friends love and beauty in your lives, in whatever form! Here is a card I’ve made for you, my friends. To the left is Vaslav Nijinksy posing as the rose in the 1913 Ballets Russes creation “Le Spectre de la Rose” (1913), and to the right is a blooming rose from my garden today. Enjoy!

Nijinsky - Le Spectre de la Rose - Balletomanehk.com

R.I.P. Violette Verdy, Luminous Balanchine Ballerina

Violette Verdy in Jewels (Emerald), 1967

Violette Verdy in Jewels (Emerald), 1967

Two days ago, Violette Verdy, Balanchine ballerina and coach extraordinaire who helped to bring the Balanchine legacy to generation after generation, passed away at the high age of 88. She had earlier directed the Paris Opera Ballet and the Boston Ballet, and later became a ballet coach, a writer and an honorary music professor. Her contribution to the arts was enormous! (Read more about her in this New York Times article.)

I first became aware of Verdy when I first started to learn ballet as an adult. It was about nine years ago. I bought the DVD “Violette et Mister B,” in which I saw how she coached Isabelle Guerin in “Dances at a Gathering,” among others. Her energy and humor, and her fervor in passing on the Balanchine style in the most faithful manner really impressed me.

Here is a clip from the DVD:

And here is a video of her talking about Balanchine, taped at her home in 2005. The opening and closing shots in the video come from the film “The Poor Little Ballerina,” shot in 1950 when Verdy was only 16 years old! Look at her technique and acting skill, both of which were quite marvelous given her tender age.

May this beautiful and strong flower of the ballet world continue to bloom wherever she is now.

George Balanchine and his ballerinas in "Jewels." Verdy was the one standing directly behind on, in the Emerald costume.

George Balanchine and his ballerinas in “Jewels.” Verdy was the one standing directly behind him, in the Emerald costume.

Cardio Day and Nice Reward

How is everyone doing with your 12-Week Challenge? Here is how my calendar looks like:

12-Week Challenge - Balletomanehk - www.balletomanehk.com

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!

Organic Garden Salad with Salmon - Balletomanehk - www.balletomanehk.com

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!

Postural Alignment for Ballet

Second day of Kathryn Morgan’s 12-Week Challenge: I had to switch things around as I couldn’t really do the cardio as suggested on her January calendar. It was raining cats and dogs for the most part of the day, so I decided to do some gentle stretching instead, especially since I have developed some muscle aches after my first class yesterday (as expected!). “Yoga” was suggested for Thursday, so I decided to swap “cardio” with that. And since I haven’t really properly learned to do any yoga myself, I opted for Egoscue exercises instead.

You may never have heard of Egoscue exercises. They are exercises for correcting our postures so that our main loading joints align properly, giving the entire body balance from left to right and from front to back. I learned to do these more than eight years ago, about the same time I started to take ballet lessons. At that time, I had a severe case of back pain, and I tried many different modules until I hit the jackpot—the book “Pain Free” by Pete Egoscue showed up in my local bookstore right in front of me. Following the exercises for back pain in the book helped me get rid of most of the pain and I was able to function normally again.

Later on I realized that ballet strictly requires a symmetrical alignment of the body and mine was far from the ideal. In fact, being desk-bound for my work made my right shoulder much lower than the left, and there was a serious imbalance between my left and right hips. Such imbalances caused pain in the lower body, such as pain in the knees and ankles. So I looked into the Egoscue Method further and found the following book: “The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion.”

The book shows three different kinds of imbalances and mine (left-right and anterior pelvic tilt) are two of those covered in the book. The other one is posterior pelvic tilt. I started doing full sets of exercises to correct both the left-right and front-back imbalances. I did them first thing in the morning every single day for about four years, and the result? Voilà!

Egoscue_Condition1_Before-After-Left

2007 vs. 2011

Egoscue Exercise for Condition 2 - www.balletomanehk.com

Life got busy, and I haven’t been doing these exercises diligently after the initial four years. Sure enough, the long hours sitting behind the computer screen have taken a toll on my posture again. With Kathryn Morgan’s 12-week challenge, I have found the motivation to squeeze some time into my busy schedule to realign my posture again.

Some of the exercises are borrowed from yoga and some are unique creations by Pete Egoscue himself. Below are some snapshots of what I did today:

Egoscue - Downward Dog - http://www.balletomanehk.com Egoscue - Frog - http://www.balletomanehk.comEgoscue_Standing-Quad-Stretch Egoscue - Abdominals - http://www.balletomanehk.com
Egocue - Supine Groin - http://www.balletomanehk.com

I feel so good now that I have aligned my posture for the day. The whole body feels relaxed and light, and the exercises have given me the kind of gentle conditioning that would prepare me for the ballet workouts that are coming up.

Thanks to the rain, I did manage to do a tiny bit of cardio after all—it made a mess with my garden on the roof, so by cleaning up the mess, I did get my heart rate pumped up and I got a little sweaty too! 😉

How has your challenge been so far? Share with me in the comment section below.

My First Real Class after the Hiatus

First-Ballet-Class-2016

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.