"LE TALON EN AVANT IVANA!" the teacher yells out as I point my left foot to second position. My right foot is in third position struggling to keep it together. My back is as straight as an arrow and my belly tucked in. One arm is lightly but not too lightly arched with fingers delicately placed in the air, as if holding a feather, while the other is hanging on to the old but sturdy wooden barre. My chin is up and my neck is long. I am looking forward with an intense concentrated look on my face as sweat is beginning to pearl on my temples. Once again, the teacher yells at me: "IVANA! LE TALON EN AVANT SINON JE HURLE!" to which I mentally respond: "Mais J'AI mon talon en avant! Je LE FAIS LÀ!" At the same time, I want to show her I can do it the way she wants so I push my heel even harder while pointing my toes. My entire body is fighting to keep my position flawless at this point until she finally notices and rewards me with a "OUAIIISSS! C'eeeeest ça!" Phew! I got it. And right THERE. That's the moment when you think you nailed it and your body decides to relax just a bit as though to reward itself. So my elbow dips ever so slightly. Needless to say I am immediately snapped back into correct form : "IVANA! ton COUDE!" and then I think " Oh my god, seriously?!" Yes. Seriously. This is classical ballet I signed up for after all.
Why did I sign up to endure this agonizing torture? For one, because I have tremendous respect for ballet's discipline: the precision, working in opposition and the intensity of it all. I have taken many types of dance classes and this is by far the most demanding and difficult kind. It is also the foundation to many kinds of dancing styles. So, in case you are curious or not sure on whether to join a classical ballet class or not, here are some benefits you will thank this particular kind of dance for.
Improving physical fitness and engaging the mind
It works on the body's strengths and will channel your energy in different ways by using different muscles. Ballet is like an army of dancers and the grueling body training begins as soon as you step into the studio. You get changed into your uniform which consists of tight body wrapping material as though to harness it properly and show body movement as much as possible. Then you slip on those soon to be worn-out slippers and you start stretching on the floor, physically and mentally preparing for the upcoming pain. You will be sweating five minutes into the class guaranteed. You will discover and strengthen muscles you have never used before, especially in your back, arms and feet. The movements can be small but the precision is what will finish you. Inevitably however, your posture will improve and so will your flexibility and muscle strength.
Ballet is synonym of perfection which means: repetition. Lots of repetitions. You will do the movements again and again to get them right. Until your body knows its way perfectly and when you do get it perfectly? You will do it again and again. You know, to make sure you can do it right more than once. Then you think you are done. Nope! Gotta do the other side now. You will bend your body in many different ways and you will be mentally swearing as you wonder how the hell do those beautiful ballerinas look so elegant and flawless when just this one movement is making my face scowl by reflex? Practice. Years of it.
Since ballet is all about precision and opposition, it tends to be serious. It is not the kind of dance where you just "go with it" effortlessly. No. There is so much to think about if you want to get everything right. Good form is of the essence, especially if you want to actually get to pointes or to a more professional level. Your brain is highly solicited as it is trying to figure out the moves and who was the crazy fool who invented this dance? It fully engages the mind. Believe it or not but trying to do "grand battements" and synchronize your head with your arms while having someone watching over closely leaves you no choice but to drop all other concerns that are occupying your mind and focus on the music to nail those grands battements. You are in the here and now, forced to forget all other thoughts…a great escape!
Discipline: being pushed out of your comfort zone
Like in many activities, discipline will always pay off and seeing a classical ballet dancer at work is like watching years of rehearsals and repetitions perfectly unfold before your eyes. Of course, none of those professional ballet dancers would have been able to get to where they are without their ballet teacher.
A good teacher is one that is structured and that will push you to your limits. In ballet, it is important to master all the basics before moving forward and a teacher who truly cares about his or her students will grind them until they are solid enough to pass to the next level. Even if you are there just to have fun and aren't quite serious about it, the teacher usually still pushes you and calls you out on your mistakes by name in front of everyone. So if you aren't ready for that, watch out. I think this is an effective old school discipline method though as it was the same when I was little. But why would the teacher be so strict? Because Ballet is tough. These aren't movements your body is used to. Do you think your feet naturally want to be in fifth position? No. You have to force your legs and feet to reach that position again and again. Every movement is analysed and every inch is measured. It takes time and practice to get there. The teacher reminds us of that and help us get the movements right. If we were never corrected, we would be wasting our time and money.
I personally believe that teachers are on your case because they see potential. Maybe the movie whiplash is a little extreme to draw a parallel but the principle is the same. They won't let you off the hook until they see it in your eyes that you understood. Your body is trembling, your feet are aching and your toes are now supporting your entire body's weight but the teacher won't let you go down from "relevé" until EVERYONE has it right. So you feel the pain but then, you own the pain. You decide if you let it dominate or if it's just a small price to pay to get where you want to be. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. So you let the sweat drip and you hold your relevé...until the end.
It is actually when the teacher no longer intervenes that you have to worry. They've perhaps noticed you don't take the matter seriously enough and hit your maximum so they intervene with those who do.
Sense of achievement and stress killer
For a 33 year old I keep up fairly well in ballet class: I train regularly, I am naturally flexible and I have taken ballet and other dance classes before so I'm not too bad. The musical training helps as well. However, there are some Thursdays when I really don't feel like going to class. I have my little ballet bag and bottle of water staring at me in my office and I am trying to find excuses not to go. "I should go, I know I should" I think, but my pajamas and my couch are so much more appealing on this dark and cold evening. Then I remember...
I remember the sense of achievement that follows this 90 minutes of grind. I remember the challenge of being pushed in front of everyone and the pride I feel when I get the movement correctly. I remember that my muscles will feel stronger, leaner and better. Most importantly, my mind will have been recharged. It will be re-energized with new ideas, new thoughts and I will see my concerns in a more positive way. Hey, if I can get my damn heel in place while doing my rond de jambe, I can pretty much do anything. It is an unbelievable source or fuel for the ego and quite the stress killer! A foolish fourth reason to do ballet would be to admit I am trying to satisfy a childhood dream. But then, even more foolish would be to let my poor heart suffer, so I listen to it.
Bee rocking ballet class! xx
N.B.* I enrolled at l'Académie du Ballet Métropolitian and highly recommend it.
P.S.* I also encourage the interested to sign up in a French school.
My name is Ivana. I love photography and meeting people. I hold a Master's in counselling psychology and work as a career consultant. Music is my fuel and an important source of energy in my life. I drive my vespa around the city and I love what I do! :) About this blog: me on my artistic soap box!
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