I came to ballet late in life, and sporadically. I didn't begin that way. I started ballet in kindergarten, and loved it. Loved it. Well, as much as any child whose spirit animal is sometimes a Labradoodle can feel a dedicated love for anything that isn't candy, sweet, sweet, candy...
There was a magic moment in third grade, where suddenly things made sense, and in centre work, I was moved from the back row to the front row.
But my family reached a point where they couldn't afford all the lessons my sister and I were taking, and we had to drop ballet. I was a little sad, but I was still able to take piano - which I also loved. I would go on to take choir, band and Gifted class, thereby setting myself on firmly on the path of Serious Geekiness before I ever got to junior high. So I didn't immediately feel the pang of giving up ballet.
But deep down, I always, always missed ballet. Every Christmas, when I saw I saw Gelsey and Mischka on PBS, or heard a friend talking about her classes, or performing, I always felt a sad little squeeze around my heart.
In college, I took ballet, modern, jazz, and tap for my first two years - until I realized I didn't have infinite money to spend on electives that weren't advancing my degree (first, music, then political science, both unfinished). So I let it lapse.
It was only in my mid-30's that I picked back up dance, in the form of onstage musicals, and flamenco dance theatre. Both have brought me unparalleled joy.
But I have always missed ballet. This past fall, I made a commitment to take it back up, as a hobby. I started taking an EBAS (Elemental Body Alignment System) class, followed by a beginning ballet class, every Thursday.
I was delighted to see how much both have helped with flamenco. Then I started a series of private flamenco lessons. I hope to resume those this fall.
And in the ten months, I have gotten the two most useful corrections I have ever been given in a dance or fitness class:
From my flamenco teacher: she kept saying, "Pull your shoulders down". I would bring them down, and she would say "more. Bring them down". But they were down as far as I could get them - but they wouldn't stay down for long. My shoulders just naturally hike themselves up around my ears when I feel stress, or even just because that is their natural default setting. In one of our lessons, she was scolding me, because my shoulders kept coming up. The problem was, when I pulled my shoulders down, my arms would tense, and doing floreos with my hands became infinitely more difficult.
Finally, in a moment of exasperation, she put her put her hand on my lower latissimus dorsi, just above my waist. "Pull down from here".
WOW. VIVA LA DIFFERENCE!
Whenever my shoulders want to climb up, I pull down my lats just above my waist. My arms stay relaxed, and my hands rotate easily.
So if you keep getting told to 'bring your shoulders down', try this instead: 'bring your lats down'.
See the difference it makes.
The second correction wasn't a specific correction. My EBAS/ballet teacher had us pair up, and while one student did a tendu front, the other student pushed against the heel. The idea was that the movement came with a feeling of resistance in the inside heel. I paused for a moment, realizing my buttcheeks were clenching - which is my factory default. I clench my buttcheeks to open a jar of jam, to unlock my car door, to brush my teeth. Seriously. It was all those "Buns of Steel" video workouts I did in my 20's.
I asked my teacher, "do the glutes assist in this?" She replied no, try to relax them. And in a moment that I can only compare to Helen Keller learning that water was 'water'... I realized...
I SHOULD RELAX MY BUTTCHEEKS FOR EVERYTHING IN THIS CLASS. EUREKA.
My stretching and flexibility in my lower backs, hips, and legs has vastly improved. My turnout is past 45 degrees - which I find thrilling, given my age (ahem, mid-40's. That's all I'm saying).
And for the first time, in mid-April, I did a side extension in second position, that was over 90 degrees. I had a celebratory Kir Royale that night when I went out with JC and friends!
So, to recap:
1. Pull your lower lats down to get your shoulders down.
2. Unclench those buttcheeks.
So how about you? Have you had any aha! moments lately?