Category Archives: dance

Freed of London makers

I’m still alive and kickin’! I am getting married next month (my gown has frou-frou tulle skirt, naturally). After the wedding I hope to be returning to the rhythm of normal life, and back to ballet class.

In the meantime, here’s a fascinating profile of the Freed of London makers. If you aren’t familiar with pointe shoes, they are rather expensive items ($30-$100 a pop), and professional dancers can go through a pair or two a day (I remember reading somewhere that the NYC ballet spends a half million on shoes every year). Freeds are all handmade in London, and there are less than 50 makers. Each maker has an specialized mark that goes on each shoe (my favorite mark is the Maltese Cross!), and each maker his his own unique style. Very interesting stuff.

Adult Ballet: Restarting as an older, wiser dancer

Did you dance ballet as a wee one or teenager? Have you gone on a long voyage away from ballet and are finding that your thoughts are returning to thoughts of pink slippers, marley floors and pirouettes? Here are a few things that you’ll want to consider if you’re pondering starting ballet (again) as an adult.

1. Get your head in the right place.
This is the most important thing. If you go into class without adjusting your expectations, managing your fears, or knowing what will happen, you risk being unpleasantly surprised, and then dropping out before you really give ballet a chance. Here are some common thoughts:

  • Am I too old?No, you are not too old. I can’t stress this enough. I have seen dancers probably well into their 80s–both male and female–in my classes. If they are especially elderly, it’s true that they will usually make some adjustments (i.e. plies instead of grand plies, opting out of jumps), but there is always a full range of ages. And if it comforts you, know that almost every adult beginner or restarter has had this thought, given that the professional ballet world is so intensely focused on youth. But whether you are in your late teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond–don’t let your age stop you.
  • What should I expect? Happily, ballet classes are as set in stone as an art can be; adult ballet classes will mirror the format of your old childhood classes. Do expect that teachers might feel free to be a little more flexible or creative with adult students; you may have a longer barre, for example. If you need a refresher, check out this summary or the Joffrey ballet’s ballet-fit, which has a complete walkthrough of a typical ballet class.
  • What if I’ve forgotten everything and am worried that I’ll look silly? I promise: you have not forgotten everything, and you will look silly. That’s ok; everyone looks silly when they start, and it’s ok to laugh and enjoy this period of awkwardness. With practice, you will improve, but you should give yourself permission to not be amazing when restarting (even if you were once an astounding dancer in your childhood or teens)! Try and enjoy the process–it’s not a competition, and you’re doing this for your own pleasure. So be silly and relax (and keep going).

2. Assemble your gear!

  • The information in this post will probably be useful.
  • If you are serious about starting and continuing, I’d recommend going to your local dance store to try things on rather than purchasing online. Trying on shoes in person is a must. Getting the advice of an experienced salesperson can also be very helpful. If all you’re buying are shoes, that’s only $20 or so; a full get up including shoes, leotard, tights, skirt, and possibly hair accessories can easily land around $100.
  • You won’t look like you did when you were a child or teenager. That’s natural and totally fine. No unfair comparisons!

3. Find a studio

  • Do your homework! See my list of studios for adult ballet (not complete; this list is built on suggestions from y’all!) as a start. Alternatively, do some creative googling and also check out reviews on yelp.
  • Call the prospective studios and see if they’ll let you observe a class. This might give you a good sense of what class level or teacher will suit you best.

4. Attend class

  • Aim LOW. By that I mean try dancing a level below what you think you really can do. Since you danced before, you may have memories of being able to do certain steps or dance at a certain level. However, mental memory and muscle memory are not the same thing! I recommend dancing a level below because this will 1) help you avoid unnecessary injury and confusion and 2) if you kick butt, give you a nice little ego boost! You can always move up a level or two. But start low. Taking the “absolute beginner” class is not a mark of shame, even if you have danced before.
  • Do let your age inform what you can do. When you are in class, it’s OK to stop or modify if a movement is painful. This goes for all dancers, but if you had danced as a child or teen, you may try to put the same intensity back into your current dancing. Be careful, especially in your first few weeks, and tell your teachers ahead of time if you have a particular physical concern (a bad knee or any other limitations). They can give you modifications or watch out for you.
  • Relearning is a slow process, but faster than learning for the first time. Because you have danced before, you will recall many of the terms and steps. However, it may be frustrating to you that you can’t execute exactly what you can remember in your mind. That’s normal. On the bright side, muscle memory is a wonderful thing and you’ll find that you’ll progress much faster than someone who’s a total newbie. But if it’s going slower than you expect, give yourself a break–with effort, you will improve, and you’re now getting to experience dance in a different way than you did as a kid. That’s a wonderful thing.

I’m something of a serial re-starter. Everytime I move (and I’ve moved, oh, 7 times in the last 10 years) or change jobs, I have to adjust my schedule or switch studios. And if I happen to be doing a lot of job-travel or falling in love or being distracted by other things, I neglect my ballet classes. I imagine that once I have children, I will have to stop taking classes for a little while; and I’m actually in a bit of a lull right now, where I’m only taking an intermediate class once a week (barely enough to maintain!). That’s ok, I have other life goals that I’m working on. For the recreational adult dancer, these things are inevitable and OK.

In your own personal case, you may have had lots of reasons for having stopped ballet–college, travel, work, family. Those are all important and valid things to have in your life. Do know that if you get the urge, ballet is always there, and that it will always be OK to start, over and over again, and I promise that you’ll find something valuable each time that you do.

If you are a re-starter, I would love to hear your story in the comments!

Romeo & Juliet

Do you recognize the impossibly fuzzy dancer in this photo that I took?

It is none other than the incomparable Yuan Yuan Tan of the San Francisco Ballet.

A fellow balletomane and I attended a pre-performance talk at the Green Room before the evening performance of Romeo & Juliet. Sarah Van Patten was dancing Juliet that night, so Yuan Yuan Tan attended as the featured guest. I sat only a row behind hers! So that accounts for the fuzzy, stalker-y photo. She was memorable mainly for her presence: direct, uncompromising, and skinny. So skinny! It’s funny that that’s what struck us the most about her; on stage, I suppose you don’t notice, but in person she is all vertical lines up and down. She was quite vehement in her opinions, rejecting outright the host’s suggestion that Juliet and Giselle were similar heroines. Tan had the air of someone who didn’t suffer fools gladly, which kinda makes sense, considering that her climb to the top of the ballet world was nothing short of spectacular. No corps for this girl.

San Francisco Ballet Principal Highlight

The ballet itself was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on the stage. The stage itself (in the War Memorial House) was old-fashioned and gold-leafed.

My crappy cameraphone picture. It does not do justice!

What more can I say beyond the facts that it was ballet at its most gorgeous? Sarah Van Patten was a delicate and nuanced Juliet. I would, however, like to see Macmillan’s version at some point; Helgi Tomassen’s version felt more visceral and real, but the videos I’ve seen of Macmillan’s pas de deux are just so, so glorious. But this was a fine production.

The only downside to the evening were the drunken lovebirds in front of me who could not stop whispering to each other. That aside, a wonderful evening.

Dance every day forever

I love this video. It’s a simple portrait of a 95-year old ballet teacher, Maia Helles. She doesn’t teach or dance ballet per se in this clip, but you can see the dancer in her in the way she moves, in the way she does her morning exercises. Here’s hoping that we’re all so limber, articulate, and lovely when we’re 95!

I found this powerful because you can see the positive impression that dance has made on this woman’s life, again confirming that dance is for all people, at every age.

Why I’ve been quiet

I’ve fallen in love. I think this man is the one! For the rest of my life!

I’m very very happy.

To celebrate, a Macmillan pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet.

What’s your favorite romantic pas de deux? I want to know!

Sit down, Natalie Portman.

Sarah Lane, Portman’s body double.

I wrote before that I was utterly unimpressed by Black Swan. The predictable plotting, melodramatic acting, and subpar dancing got to me. Now that has evolved into active dislike, thanks to the lack of acknowledgment of the REAL ballerina whose contribution was muffled in an attempt to exalt Portman’s “grueling” ballet training.

Benjamin Millepied, Portman’s babydaddy, stated in the LA Times (see dlisted article for full quote)  that Lane “just did the footwork and the fouettes and one diagonal in the studio. Honestly, 85% of that movie is Natalie.” Terrible quote. Footwork, fouettes, and diagonal=only 15% of ballet? What then composes the 85%, pray tell? Arm flapping and looking constipated? Millepied needs to brush up on his basics.

Anyone with a reasonable degree of ballet training could recognize Portman’s dancing for what it was: a non-dancer trying VERY HARD to look convincing as a professional. Which, for the sake of a Hollywood movie, is fine; but let’s not pretend that Portman is some kind of prodigy.

I understand that so much of this is probably the studio pushing its agenda and not the fault of Portman or Millepied per se, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Sarah Lane is the real thing, and Natalie Portman is not.

Can you imagine taking class here?

This is the Guangzhou Opera House. What a beautiful studio!

I’ve taken class in a wide range of studios. My first was really lovely, with floor-ceiling windows and wonderful sprung floors. Then there was the dismal community college studio with cement (ouch!) floors, and the tiny studio with no windows at a small neighborhood studio in a strip mall. I take class now in a studio that’s part of a theater (converted from a gorgeous, wood church). It’s very old-fashioned, creaky, and has a lot of historical character.

Overall, though, I prefer the shiny, sleek, modern studios (see above photo!). Being that adult classes are hard to find in any case, I’m just glad that I have the chance to take them at all. What’s your favorite studio?

Black Swan…meh.

High hopes. Not quite crushed, but…

1. Highly predictable. Maybe this was because I sat through the movie with an inveterate “ok here’s what happens next” movie partner, but I knew from the start that everything was just a big stress n’ sexual deprivation induced hallucination. I would’ve liked the movie better if there had been more ambiguity here: maybe the other characters start seeing things, aside from Nina?

2. Maybe it’s just the Red Shoes speaking, but the ballet-dancer-gone-bananas trope seems to be, well, a trope. A very tired, grumpy trope that just wants to lean against the barre and smoke its cigarette and twirl its hair.

3. Not enough ballet. Obviously.

Still, I hope the success of this movie will mean more dance movies to come, and hopefully ones with greater depth and thematic flexibility. I love a good campy dance movie, but it seems to me that the possibilities are so much…greater! than camp dance movie or crazy ballerina movie.

Jenifer Ringer: fat ballerina?


Is Jenifer Ringer overweight for a dancer?

I say no. Her port de bras is lovely and I’m not aware of her being much more different than the average corps girl. I had read with interest in some biography of her that while she was with ABT, she had something of a breaking point, left, gained 40 pounds, decided to come back, lost 40 pounds, and rejoined the company. An uncommon journey, I think, but one that someone with less talent would not have been able to accomplish–that is, I feel that once you leave a company, it can be hard to get back in, whatever happened in the meantime.

In any case I feel that the NY Times critic was not making a useful criticism of her as a dancer. It’s one thing to say that a dancer isn’t light on her feet, but it’s quite another to say that she’s overweight. That kind of critique is taken very seriously–too seriously–by professional dancers.  I think this happened some time ago with a Russian dancer–her company had taken her partner away because they thought she was too big? In all honesty weight is important in partnering, but from what I’ve read men prefer partners who are well muscled because they can hold themselves better than a weak girl who has a low weight but not enough muscle tone.

More about this here, plus a video interview with Ringer: