Monday, 31 October 2016

Back to the Barre #5

Here's the latest update in my adult ballet learning adventure... 

September 2016

My ballet assessment with the RAD teacher goes smoothly and she is happy to enter me for the exam. Apart from pirouettes, there's just one major problem I need to work on – my arm positions. Whether my bad habits are new or have simply gone unnoticed previously, I'm now placing my arms too far back in second position and frequently flexing my wrists. 

I feel disheartened – I had been feeling increasingly confident in my technique. But I reassure myself that there is plenty of time to practise and correct things before the exam. 

I also commence pas de deux classes with the London Performance Company and am pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm and technical capabilities in the room. One woman is working towards the RAD Advanced 2 ballet exam and has flat turn-out, another takes ballet classes four times a week. There are also an impressive number of men (although the male-female ratio is still one to two). 

We learn the opening section of Hans van Manen's Five Tangos and my part includes a lift with both legs unfolding in front. I exclaim to non-ballet friends that “I get lifted really high – by a real boy” and they are bemused. I had forgotten the feeling of flying when being lifted by a partner. 

As rehearsals continue, however, I find I'm in little of the choreography and spend most of the sessions standing at the side either chatting or attempting single-leg relevés and hops on pointe (which are much easier with a real barre than my kitchen worktop!). I'm disappointed to be dancing so little. 

October 2016

I feel like a dancer again. Having two ballet classes each weekend and also trying to practise during the week, my life feels filled with ballet. I’m also excited about taking the RAD Intermediate exam (especially as the date has been confirmed for 15th December) and I’m now confident enough in the syllabus exercises that I can really enjoy dancing. I feel beautiful. 

I’m still getting lots of technical corrections but they’re minor improvements rather than major problems. I’ve got my misbehaving arms more or less under control, and they’re only going too far back during the toughest steps like brisés. Double pirouettes are still troublesome but I’m now almost always able to hold the retiré position even if I come down from demi-pointe or lose my balance. I’ve also got used to my demi-pointe shoes and can balance in them more easily. I’m pleased too that I’m getting regular praise about my performance quality and presentation.

I take a trial intermediate class at RAD headquarters and sign up for the rest of the term. It’s particularly enjoyable dancing with a pianist (rather than recorded music) and on a proper, non-slippery dance floor. The teacher gives me a lot of positive encouragement but tells me my ballet runs are like “an old man in slippers!”. I try lots of different running styles and find one that seems to suit me better. 

Unfortunately, my London Performance Company classes are going less well and I leave each week feeling increasingly frustrated. The choreography is undoubtedly tricky in itself, but what is most difficult is the lack of clarity over steps. We learn a section one way and then the next week, various details – such as musical timing, arm positions and partner holds – are changed, and then the week after, they’re changed again. No one seems to know the ‘correct’ version and I find it impossible to feel confident. Combined with a lot of time spent waiting rather than dancing, I decide to leave the classes. I know it’s absolutely the right decision but I’m sad that I won’t be performing onstage in 2016.