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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Physical Efforts


skyish

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Skyish, welcome to my world....

 

Just came away from the podiatrist, who diagnosed posterior ankle impingement syndrome (only usually seen in ballet dancers, btw) and gave me a shot. I'm praying it works because I want to get back on pointe!!!

 

I want to be able to do pirouettes on pointe confidently again. I want to be able to anything on pointe confidently again.

 

I want my leg to go at least to my shoulder again, and my back to do what it did before I broke it (20 years ago). The BACK is actually doing very well, considering, but the rest....oy vey!

 

The goals you set yourself can be long-term ones. How do you get there, though? Do you just jump to it? No...I know, and you know, it takes small steps to get to where we want to be.

 

Quit???? Who said anything about quitting!!?!? Certainly I would never agree with that, nor do I think anyone else would. What's that cliched poster say: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll still land among the stars."

 

I'm at the "leg forward and side releve in passe" portion of fouettes because balance problems (inner ear, I've discovered, now) are keeping me at that point. And for pirouettes at all - I used to be a turner in my youth - loved it! - I can manage 1 with proper spotting and all, and then am dizzy due to the vertigo issue.

 

When you are an adult, with our already formed bodies, some things won't happen, no matter how hard we try. That's not to say that one should stop trying, just that it might not be possible physically due to one's body limitations. Granted, that's true of all pupils learning to dance - even if they start young.

 

You were quite vague in your initial posting so the assumption is usually "can I go pro...?" Your initial post, as written, really can only be interpreted that way. But if you read the bios of many dancers, you might find that the all out dedication likely only started when they were in their mid- to late teens, when they realized they might actually have a chance at dancing professionally. Before that, unless they had "ballet mums" they were probably just like any other kid taking dance classes.

 

My dream is to do the Silver Fairy solo (again, one I did in my youth) from Sleeping Beauty. For now, I'll settle for a watered down version of the Bluebird....I can cope with that! LOL!

 

In the meantime, when I'm in the gym, I lay on my back in butterfly position and put 5lb weights on my knees to help the turnout.... It's the best I can do right now.... ;-)

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... I just wanted to hear other kind of success stories that don't include horrifying details.

I don't know if this counts, but here's a piece of my story.

 

I graduated college with a math degree and went into engineering - acoustics, because of a love for music. Not to brag, but I was pretty good at engineering. After four years, my girlfriend got a job offer to work in Greece, and (since the war was winding down and I could quit without being drafted and sent to Vietnam) I quit my job, we got married, and we lived in Athens for a year and a half. That decision certainly derailed my career; I returned to that job eventually but was never able to get back on the "fast track". Twenty years later I got involved in the "total quality" movement, and learned a lot about group dynamics. That side trip also seriously damaged my career, so much that I took the earliest retirement that I could.

 

Both of those decisions opened up new things in my life that have been incredibly rewarding; I am so much happier and have had so much richer a life that it is inconceivable now to think of trading them for a more successful career. I could (I truly believe this) have been much wealthier and more widely respected - but I would have been much less happy. In both cases, I got to learn new and exciting things, and exercise talents that were lying dormant before.

 

If you have only one source of passion, then a complete obsession with it may provide you with the best chance of happiness. But if you have more than one, happiness still requires that you give all of them some exercise. If you have many, you can be a polymath or a dilettante, but you'd be miserable as a monomaniac. And I submit that happiness and fulfillment are what's important. Being the best you can be, at ballet in this case, is just something that you think will achieve happiness and fulfillment.

 

I don't know if that was very clear; articulate writing is NOT one of my talents!

 

Incidentally, we are still married after 35 wonderful years, we still travel when we can, and I still do some engineering part-time - it pays for my dance classes, which is another source of happiness and fulfillment that I did not even know was waiting for me all those years.

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By watching a number of examples, I have come to believe that time is the fundamental limiting factor for adults wishing to attain a professional level of competence in ballet. However, just taking a lot of ballet classes won't do the trick. There are two differences between attending a bunch of open classes and what teenagers do:

 

1. The kids engage in a curriculum that brings them through everything they (and their bodies) need to learn over 8 years. Not so with open class, it can be a lot more random.

 

2. The kids get experience in a student performance group. Some people also get this experience as an apprentice with a professional company. This real-world performance experience leads to a huge leap in general quality of one's dancing. It is absolutely essential, in my opinion, if one wishes to pass beyond the intermediate student level.

 

For my part, I'd like to know the russian secrets to training male dancers.

I can't find them anywhere. It's quite frustrating.

 

The Russian methods of training are well documented and highly respected around the world. They are not at all secret.

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Skyish, if I'm understanding your first post correctly, it sounds like you're being too hard on yourself. You allude to being lazy for not devoting 110% of your time to ballet, but you're taking a lot of classes and doing private lessons. The time you're putting into this is significant, especially since you're not a 13 year old kid with no other responsibilities. It sounds like you're already setting goals and achieving them - you don't have to dance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to call yourself a dancer. Personally, I admire anyone who can do even one fouette on pointe - that beats me!

 

Yes, as "older" dancers we may have to work harder and things may not come as easily as younger kids. But, as others said, it's all about finding the right balance between our work, family, and dancing lives and giving 100% when you are in class.

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When I read the earlier posts I can see the wisdom that comes with age (sorry younger folk).

 

In my mind all adult ballet is recreational. Unless you make your living through dance, you are a recreational dancer. You do it for fun. You derive pleasure from both becoming more skillful and because of the intrinsic enjoyment you get from taking class. Intrinsic enjoyment can last a lifetime. Becoming more skillful has a time limit. After about 10 years of serious training, your skill level improves so slightly regardless of what you do that improvement is essentially unnoticeably. You can continue to improve artistically, but in terms of pure physical skill, you’ve reached the end.

 

Again in my mind, the secret to having ballet as a lifelong adult activity is developing that intrinsic enjoyment for the simple routine of class.

 

A famous coach I knew once told me that to be really top notch in sport (dance too I would say), one has to have three characteristics: the right physical characteristics (talent in dance), willingness to work exceedingly hard, and that intrinsic enjoyment in doing the activity. To get to the top you need all three. The most difficult one is the first. Better have the right parents.

 

Personally, I see passion as a fleeting characteristic. Ultimately, passion cannot be sustained. It evolves into either frustration and disappointment or into understanding and acceptance. A teacher of mine was speaking with Kyra Nichols about her development and career. That teacher said that in her conversation Ms. Nichols said she simply did what she was asked to do. I liked that response. No dramatics. Just taking each day as it is and going forward.

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I think what may be in order here is a general observation about a great deal of writing about life as a dancer, particularly from the "more experienced" to the younger crowd. It often works its way into a style of writing called bathos:

 

"You young people today don't have what it takes! Why, in my day, I used to have to sling both my first babies (I had the first one at 11, the second one at 11½) onto my back, put on the parka, get the snowshoes, hitch up the dogsled and mush in to class 50 kilometers in a driving blizzard every day, uphill both ways, and then the volcano would erupt...."

 

Do you recognize this style of storytelling? Even in other disciplines?

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There's a big secret about professional ballet... professional dancers do it because they like it! Yes, ballet is fun! It's also a lot of work of course. But ballet is inherently enjoyable (recreational) in a way that some other jobs --- dish duty at a restaurant, say --- are not. People who are really having an awful time with the profession (for whatever reason) eventually find something else they'd rather be doing.

 

Again in my mind, the secret to having ballet as a lifelong adult activity is developing that intrinsic enjoyment for the simple routine of class.

 

That is true, and it applies just as well whether you're a professional or amateur. Professional careers average only 7 years, which leaves you with another 30-50+ years AFTER the career. Some post-professionals have an intrinsic enjoyment/need of the simple routine of class and continue to come to class for decades. Others are able to never set foot in the studio ever again, and remain quite well adjusted. (Only some post-professional dancers launch a dance teaching career).

 

I would agree that attaining skill for its own sake is a questionable proposition. I know someone who is attaining a lot of skill as an amateur pianist. But that's all he's doing, attaining skill after skill, he's not playing for or with anybody. If one is going to spend an overwhelming part of one's life attaining a skill, I prefer to find a way to use that skill in engagement with the wider human community. For example, my pianist friend could be playing for ballet class. Or weddings. Or teaching students. Or giving recitals. Or...

 

 

A famous coach I knew once told me...

 

Dance is different from most sports in the sense that the physical characteristics required to be a good dancer are a LOT more varied than those required for a particular sport. That is because dance is a lot more multidimensional, and requires a body that works well in many different ways. Compare to running, which essentially only one physical skill (ability to run fast) leads to success.

 

That teacher said that in her conversation Ms. Nichols said she simply did what she was asked to do...

 

That should give pause to anyone contemplating/envying a ballet career. Most of one's life as a dancer is spent doing what one is asked to do. That is very different from, say, a career as a consultant. Directors end up making a large number of decisions, and then asking dancers to implement them.

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davidg,

Today's dancers don't always just need to "do what they're told"..... many of today's choreographers work in tandem with their dancers; they want dancers to collaborate with them to create a piece. I do think that there are some companies where a dancer becomes much like a model- shut your mouth and be a coathanger- but there are also many companies that offer dancers a very creative environment.

 

Be careful not to be myopic. In other words, your experiences with your locality are just that- your experiences. But they may not hold true for the rest of the country, let alone world. :)

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My assessment comes from beyond my own experience. The very nature of the art dictates that the more dancers are involved, the less feasible it is for those dancers to independently decide what they're going to do on stage. Seeking suggestions from one's employees is not the same as empowering them to make decisions for your organization. Ballet would not be ballet without this level of control from the director.

 

I would not want to see a ballet in which the dancers are making all their own choices and the director did not have control. (Actually, I have seen such a ballet, and I was duly unimpressed).

 

The military is a good analogy. In a well disciplined army, you cannot have soldiers deciding on strategy. Their job is to follow orders. Of course a general can ask his soldiers for advice, but the decision of how the battle will be fought is ultimately his.

 

Then again, there are some choreographers (mainly in modern dance) who want to let issues of chance or on-the-spot dancer choice play into the work, even when there are many dancers on stage.

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From the standpoint of a military man: Aw, stuff a cork in it! :)

 

This endless, aimless thread is closed.

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