The Making Of The Holistic Ballet Class DVDs
I announce, with great pride and relief, that my final 'Holistic Ballet DVD: Level 3' is going to be launched on 10th October 2016! Five years after I embarked on this project that became ever more complex.
It started in all innocence with a few of my students asking me whether I had a DVD for them to practise outside classes. I had no immediate intention of creating one but the seed was planted.
Meanwhile, I got the fantastic opportunity to assist my friend James D’Silva with the production of Trudie Styler’s Ballet, Pilates and Yoga workout DVD series and found myself on the film set of Gaiam, one of the biggest producers of fitness and wellness DVDs.
The standard was extremely high, as one would expect, it was a lot of hard work and I loved it. Since I was 'only' assisting there was no pressure on me to whether these DVDs would become a success or not.
Nevertheless, the whole experience rekindled the idea of creating my own DVDs. So I started to think about a concept and began to write down exercises.
At this time I was teaching ballet classes for more than 10 years. They were strongly influenced by the 'Maggie Black Barre' and 'Christina Bernal Method' that I learned from my incredibly supportive teacher Renato Paroni.
I intended to create my DVDs based on these until Renato mentioned that I may have to ask for permission, something I was too naïve to think of myself.
Deep down, I already knew that I needed to develop my own ballet training system, but so far I had resisted the challenge. I also lacked the confidence that I would be able to create something that could exist alongside other distinguished methods.
Holistic Ballet Class DVD: Level 3, Advanced
DVD shoot @ Nice Images
The New Approach
After a few months of sulking, I began to concentrate on the most common difficulties I observed in my students, mainly adult amateur dancers who did not possess the ideal 'ballet bodies' but also professional contemporary and ballet dancers, including myself. One thing that stood out was the discomfort of the 5th position of the feet. I used to answer 'It is not meant to be comfortable.' when beginner students complained. Now I looked for a technique that would help people achieve their 'fifths' safely and with more ease.
The details of how and why the 5th position is so important would go beyond the scope of this article and may be the subject for a future one.
For months I experimented and designed my new approach to ballet training in classes, in private lessons, and on the spreadsheet. My concept was to structure the training DVDs in such a way that the classes built upon each other vertically as well as horizontally. This meant that each of the three DVDs (beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels) comprised of two classes: an easier class (A) and a more difficult one (B), with class A preparing the student for class B.
At the same time, class A of the beginner level should also provide the foundation for class A of the intermediate and advanced levels whilst beginner class B was the preparation for class B of the intermediate and advanced levels. If you are confused and lost reading this, you got a taste of what I put myself through.
A skilled ballet pianist, playing live or recorded, is essential for a successful and enjoyable ballet class. Therefore, I asked the very talented Cyrus Gabrysch to compose the music for my venture. Up to now, I choreographed the classes on the ballet CD tracks I owned. My plan was to rehearse and do the filming using the CD tracks and have Cyrus compose the music afterwards as there was no time to arrange it beforehand.
Wrong again, Cyrus informed me that the pianists of my CDs played rather emotionally, meaning they did not stick to the same beat per minute but slowed down or speed up, depending on their mood and it would be impossible for him to copy it.
I nearly had a nervous breakdown when I realised that this meant I had to figure out the tempo (beat per minute) of every single exercise, which amounted to six hours in total, and record it on a metronome.
I had no choice but to lock myself in my room and get on with it. It gave me an opportunity to also structure the tempos vertically and horizontally.
DVD shooting footage @ Nice Images
The filming itself, I assumed, would be the least difficult bit. In some aspects this was true. However, I forgot that I did not attend a ballet class myself for the past two years. Consequently, the three full days of filming were pure agony, especially day one where we shot at the slow, unforgiving beginner level.
Moreover, I have never had pointe shoes as painful as the ones I bought for the shoot. Since then I always, always advise my students never to buy pointe shoes on a cold day and if they must, to walk around in the warm shop until their shrunken feet regain their normal size before trying on shoes.
I have nothing but admiration for Steve Watson, the man behind the camera (as well as the editor) who endured three long days of listening to metronome beeps with me.
I would feel utterly confident for Steve to teach my ballet classes as he began to dream 'pliés' and 'relevés' and knows the order of the exercises by heart.
The light at the end of the tunnel was that I could end two months of my strict ballerina diet. This was the last time in my life, so I told myself, that I needed to look like the ballerina I had once been.
With more than 12 hours of footage (from two cameras), Steve and I spent two weeks in a tiny dark room to select and edit the material.
It took a lot of courage to watch myself presenting a technique class without a fancy costume and stage decor. There was nothing to distract from any flaws. I had to drop my vanity and remember the purpose of these DVDs: to make ballet training relevant and accessible for others.
Cyrus joined us to synch his piano music to my movements. (He too was close to throwing in the towel on several occasions.) It was fascinating to see what difference a slightly off (less than a breath) and a perfectly synched beat can make to the way a movement looks. A very time-consuming process and without Steve, who insisted on checking and double-checking, Cyrus and I would have made for the run much sooner.
Steve and Cyrus synching the music
one of my two assistants
I almost lost it doing the voiceover. My first attempt was plain ridiculous. I realised how often I got away with saying things that make little sense or unfinished sentences, not to mention my limited grammatical proficiency. This is no problem in a live class, some may find it charming, but it can make you cringe when you hear it on a DVD.
Because I needed time to think and to have my tantrums, I did not rent a soundproof studio to record my commentary. Instead, I barricaded myself in my small hall, cushioned it out, placed my microphone in a (Pilates) box, crouched in front of my laptop and tried my best to record meaningful holistic guidance.
The problem were the constant interruptions by car alarms, drunken people in the street, waste collections, neighbours coming and going, etc. as well as two determined cats, who requested unlimited access to my closed-up cushioned space, aka cat-heaven. They would not survive one nap in the wild as they would attract predators from miles away with their loud snoring.
Somehow I got it done, not without recording the very first class three times until I figured out the technicalities.
The Final Cut
Fortunately, I did not know the difficulties I was going to encounter. There were many more obstacles and people who helped me to overcome them. A dear friend called once a day to check how I was doing and to allow me to moan, whine, and to curse. I am forever grateful.
People asked me why I wanted to produce my DVD series? It was simply something I had to do, an urge you might say, and I wanted to interest people in thorough, clean, healthy ballet training.
I certainly did not do it for financial rewards. It may take decades of substantial sales to cover the production costs, the energy, time, tears and tantrums not included. Yet what I gained from undergoing this project is priceless!
I created a way of teaching ballet that is unique, that inspires and fulfills me every day. It fuses and expands my knowledge from many different sources and I am happy to pass on my passion and experience to my students with complete integrity.
My hope is that this can be seen and felt in the Holistic Ballet DVDs and classes.
Watch the trailer for the Holistic Ballet, Level 3: Advanced DVD.