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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Dancer Behind the Desk

Guest milky

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Guest milky

Hi -


I work in an office and my job can be fairly stressful. I take classes mainly at two different studios - one is closer to my house, the other is closer to my office. On the nights when I get the chance to go home first, I know that I get more out of class - I think it's easier for me to relax and concentrate. On the nights when I leave straight from the office and head to the studio, I'm much more tense. The teacher for those classes is always commenting on it - I guess I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders.


I'm guessing that some of the other adult students here might be in the same boat. Does anyone have a suggestion for making the transition smoother?



Edited by milky
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Your question reminded me of a short essay I wrote a number of years ago about going to ballet class from the office and the transition involved. I hope the moderators don't mind if I post it below. Maybe it will at least help you see how much you have in common with other women.


Prelude to a Dance Class


It is Monday. Half past four on a winter afternoon. Throughout this typically frantic, charged up day, when I grab a glance outside my office window, I see the rest of the world. But now, as the day progresses to an end, more and more of my own image is reflected by the glass. I am beginning to return to myself …


The overture of the evening ahead begins to play, barely audible in my mind’s ear, as I go through the well-rehearsed choreography of ensuring that all the “must do’s” have been done, organizing the next day’s projects, and tidying my nine to five home. The music begins to build. I smile momentarily, picturing a dozen other women I will see shortly, concurrently performing similar routines. I imagine that if all the other buildings and people were edited out, with the lights focused only on us, we would resemble a corps de ballet of remarkable precision.


Watch us now. Files closed. Terminals down. Walking shoes on. Canvas bags slung over our shoulders. See how much we’re in step?


Outside at last. I take a big gulp of freshly brewed night air, once and for all shedding my career face and worldly worries. It is seventeen minutes past five, which means that I won’t be late at after all. Not, that is, if I’m allowed safe passage across the road. This is the biggest challenge of the night. Messengers on bicycles streaking out of nowhere. Cars the size of boats, with dispositions borrowed from a Stephen King novel, threatening from all directions. I’ve worked too hard on these legs to take unnecessary chances …


At last I dart across. Safe. A half block away, I perch myself between two lions’ heads which adorn the halls of justice. Tendons and muscles and arches all begin to twitch in anticipation. The steady whir of traffic cannot dim the orchestral sounds that continue to mount. Almost all of the drivers stare at me for a second or two. This I’ve never quite figured out. Can they hear the music too?


At last my carriage arrives – a rather large model with M A G A Z I N E blazoned across the top. It never quite stops. Rather, I have to catch it running and gain a toehold on the step while inserting the requisite change. We are an interesting crew: high school athletes with rangy gaits, blue collar workers with honest dirt under their nails, large people clutching greasy boxes of fast food, harried mothers with more children than they have hands to control, a businessman who spends far too much time assessing me, and an elderly woman toting a large, blue wastebasket she has just purchased from the five and dime. We may all share the same bus but we definitely move to the beat of many different drummers …


My fellow passengers gradually depart in twos and threes until only I remain, bound for State Street. How peaceful this is, to bump along, ever entertained by the assemblage of shops with their antiques and art and flowers.


Even before I alight from the bus, I can see Jackie in the studio window. I feel comforted in the same way as decades ago when coming home from school and finding my mother in the kitchen, in nearly the same place I’d seen her hours before.


And then, when it is almost time to burst into movement, my private symphony suddenly halts as I feel compelled to utter this somewhat unorthodox prayer: Thank you, thank you, thank you, for letting me be a young woman on her way to ballet class instead of a war refugee with no guarantee of food or shelter, or a downtrodden single parent overwhelmed by responsibilities, or one of millions stricken with disease, handicap or injury, or maybe just a lonely, elderly lady whose most memorable moment today consists of buying a large, blue wastebasket. Thank you, God, for bestowing on me the beautiful gift of dance.

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Guest gillian

Great essay, Funny Face. Sometimes I think we take all of the arts for granted when we're so incredibly lucky.


Milky, I often have a similar problem - I carry a LOT of tension in my back and shoulders. If you have enough time when you get to the studio, you might try lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and breathe. My chiropractor makes me do this for 15 minutes a day, and it really has helped with the tension and upper back pain (but even 5 minutes helps). If you're pressed for time, you might do a few stretches while on the ground as well. Shoulder shrugs (bringing your shoulders up and clenching them as tight as you can for 5 seconds, then letting them drop and relax for 5 seconds) might also help you. The other thing that you might do is try to get into the mindset of classes you've taken when you weren't so tight in your neck and shoulders. If I remember how it feels, I can find where I'm clenching my shoulders and (usually) relax somewhat. Hope this helps!

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Guest milky

Funny Face, what a lovely essay! It made me think about how lucky I am to have the luxury of spending my evenings doing something I enjoy so much - maybe I'll try keeping that thought in the back of my mind on my way to class.


And Gillian, I'll try your stretches once I'm there! Or maybe before...one of my coworkers, who's recovering from knee surgery, sets up his Outlook calendar to remind him to do his stretches. I could schedule some shoulder shrugs for myself?


Thanks to you both!

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I worry about this with some of my adult ladies also. I remember how hard it was to go from high school to ballet class if you couldn't get home in between...and a high school day is different from being at work! Is there anything you would like to see a teacher do to make the transition easier?

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Though I’ve worked at home for the past 8 years, I spent 35+ years going directly from either school or work to whatever physical activity I was doing at the time. I think the key to making the transition from office to dance, or any outside physical activity for that matter, is the routine of your warm-up. A regular routine (emphasis on routine) for warming up is not only physiologically beneficial, but also psychologically beneficial. It tells lets the body know what is about to happen. Many is the time I have begun to warm up feeling absolutely dead, stressed, or otherwise distracted only to find the activity I was doing go extremely well.

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I find it helps if I can get about 15-20 minutes time at the studios before the class, to stretch or just sit around and think. I don't like to talk to the other dancers at this point, but I really like it when there is a class on in one of the studios, so that I can listen to the music. It sets me to the mood fast. It's kind of MeditationLite, I suppose. :D


As for what the teacher can do, I think there is probably not much, but it helps if the beginning of the class is as controlled and quiet as possible. Things like, if students are used to going and finding a place at a barre quietly and without too much chatting, and if the teacher has a familiar way of starting the class, a routine of sorts, mean much when if comes to getting "to the mood". (No complex routines are needed, and I don't think it matters what they are, just that they are familiar so that every regular knows what to expect... Say, one of my teachers always has the roll call at this point and then says "Hello everyone, we will start with...", another has a nice way of greeting everyone when they come in, and so on. Maybe it sounds silly, but I really feel the familiarity is important for me.) If there are announcements to be given, I prefer them to be at some other point, say between barre and centre, not at the beginning of the class.

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Funny Face, I loved your essay. You have a gift for writing.


My biggest problem when going straight to ballet from my college classes is finding time to eat!

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As for what a teacher can do I would ditto the routine for the beginning of class there is something meditative about it as my body and mind know what to expect and can let go of some of that work and rushing to class stress, it also helps for those times I got stuck late at work and am running late to class as I can just slip in unobtrusively and join in. Also having sometime to adjust before getting corrections... I really do appreciate corrections, but for some reason in the first 15 minutes it will make me flustered and throw me off more than anything (if I'm mayorly screwing up or risking injury that of course is another thing).


Ideally I like to get there 15 minutes early and stretch and zone out or maybe catch up with my class mates, but unfortunately my shedule doesn't allow for it too often during the week. Walking to class (even if it is just a few blocks) is also nice as it helps get my body limbered up and I find walking a nice transition from sitting on my bum all day. As for food, I always pack an apple or some kind of snack to eat on the bus ride to class and try to make sure I had a decent lunch on that day.

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I am hopelessly spoiled because my routine allows for a bike commute home, then a bit of down time and some food if needed, then class.


A bit of transition time is really helpful--if your classroom is usually empty ahead of class, it might work to get there early. If not, and if you can arrange to walk a bit extra (terrain, cargo, weather, etc. permitting), that can also help--anything that can give you a few minutes to clear your head!

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I guess I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders.


Talk about carrying tension there, in my job I frequently carry a 25 pound TV camera on my shoulder. I constantly keep the right shoulder tensed to keep the camera level. This translates into my ballet and if I don't constantly work on relaxing my shoulders, I look like Lurch from The Addams Family.

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Guest milky
Is there anything you would like to see a teacher do to make the transition easier?


Thanks for asking! I thought about this during today and yesterday's classes. I have to second Jaana and everyone else who mentioned routine and and a "meditative" environment. It's a bit harder to relax in my class with the chattier teacher. My other two teachers are very poised, which sets the tone from the beginning of class and helps me focus.


But really, how nice of you to ask! I think I'm going to find the answer for me lies in trying to calm down before I get to the studio, and warming up well once I'm there. The weather here is finally nice enough to bike, which always helps me shake off project deadlines, overruns, and whatnot.


BarreTalk - I don't envy you your shoulders, but what a cool job!

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just thought i would add that was a great essay funny face :angry:

i look forward to classes through the week and am always racing of after work to catch the bus, if i miss it there isnt another i can take!! (must get a car)

i would be horiffied if i had to miss class because i had missed the bus, i hate being late but i find it better to be late than not be there.

i always try and eat something healthy at lunch time and then a banana just before i leave work, for extra energy.

when im late i feel anxious and unorganised for most of the class, although i always feel better after!

i comprimised with my boss to finish early on a monday and make the time up on a thursday, as monday class starts at 5.30 - which is when i should finish work! Now i leave at 4.45pm and get there 15 mins early and stretch and compose myself.

Does anyone have any good ideas for food on the go? I have to admit that quite often i skip lunch at work and dont eat untill i get home from class at about 8.30pm! (very bad :) )

I eat alot of banana but am not so keen on fruit, especially anything acidic.

If anyone has any suggestions it would be appreciated.


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Like others, I'm often dashing from work (usually a very stressful job in the office less so if I've been working from home that day) to class but I always allow at least 15 minutes to warm up (brought up by an actor-dancer mother - if you're not at rehearsal early to warm up, you're late!). My focus too is my shoulders and back. Like others, I have a rough routine, and can start feeling tired, stiff, and heavy, but know that just by stretching out and lying down, I will wake up my body. I start in the position called either 'neutral' or 'constructive rest' in contemporary dance - flat on my back, arms at shoulder height, knees to ceiling and feet flat on the floor. I'm aiming to get my shoulder girlde flattened out and 'held' by the floor, and my pelvis levelled and again flattened against the floor (mantra: the floor is my friend). Sometimes I need to adjust the width of my feet and their distance from my hips. From this position I have a number of stretches I like to do - the yoga Plough, which I can then flip into a backward somersault and a forward stretch over one leg. Or I let my knees fall to one side keeping my shoulders on the floor to stretch the mid-back. From there I stretch the top leg out, with toes at hip and then shoulder level, and roll through into a split (at this point it's never a full split!). This all sounds strenuous I know, but it really isn't - I'm not pushing the stretches, let gravity do as much of the work as possible, and I do a lot of heavy breathing - breathing out on the stretch bits very deliberately. I also stretch my back out using the barre - flat back and pull away from the barre to stetch under the shoulder blades, and lots of side bady twists (my lateral lower back movement is quite stiff & congested and this affects my arabesque which is usually pretty horrible above 45 degrees). Then I might start leg swings to loosen the hips. I like the swing you do facing the barre, out to second, and then turn in across the body in retire, supporting leg en fondue, and then back out to second - a kind of flattened sideways eternity symbol, weird ronde de jambe en l'air. I also have to get my feet and toes going, particularly in winter so I do lots of miniature running on the spot and really trying to work the metatarsal joints some of which are quite stiff.


I know that stretches shouldn't be done full out 'cold' (although I'm usually walking fast or running for 5 minutes getting to the studio!), but I'm pretty flexible and by doing this routine, my muscle memory kicks in. I certainly don't push the stretches past that (almost) pleasant stretching twinge (what IS the correct name for that?). I also use the stretch reflex - stretch, relax, stretch, relax. I have a print out from the old ballet newsgroup (alt.arts.ballet) about using the stretch reflex which is useful.


So that's my 15 minute routine and I don't tend to chat with others - I go 'inside' & try to visualise my skeleton, particularly spine and pelvis, get my breathing going, and empty my mind, as well as stretch cramped muscles. Over the years I have incorporated stretches given by teachers that I've liked, and the older I get, the more I find that the contemporary classes I do help with keeping flexible and open for ballet. I don't do the remedial stretches I know I should do, and which have been given me by teachers & physiotherapists to help with specific body issues - these are too hard at the beginning before I'm properly warmed up. I do the more difficult remedial stretches before we go into the centre, and at the end of class when I'm thoroughly warmed up. The stretch/warm up before class is MY time!

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