Why Do We Dance (Too) Cautiously, Sometimes?
Do you remember how you loved spinning around as a young child? Twirling until you lost all sense of space, dropped to the ground until the feeling of dizziness subsided?
Apparently, this natural urge of spinning in children (don't worry if we're not one of them!) is necessary to help the wiring of the brain and its neurological development.
But it is not just spinning, I remember, doing jaunty forward rolls (having my front leg wrapped around the crossbar) on a carpet beating rack in our backyard (Hinterhof), something that seems awfully dangerous to me today.
How come most of us are so much more adventurous in our early years?
Partly, because we lack the imagination, and hopefully the encounter, of how seriously we could hurt ourselves. But also, as we are experiencing the world at a more physical level at that age, we simply trust our bodies, until we start school and are made to sit still for prolonged lengths of time. We begin to develop our intellectual faculties and many tend to disconnect from their bodies from then onwards.
Even if young children and teenagers are encouraged to attend dance and sports activities, at around the age of 16, they often have to give up these classes in order to concentrate on their studies and pass their exams with good marks.
Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Eurovision Contest, Stockholm, 1993
It is, therefore, not surprising, that when people finally find the time or courage, or both to (re)join ballet classes as adults, they can be at first very self-conscious, without trust in their body's abilities, and may find it extremely difficult to remember even basic the steps. At the same time, something deep inside reawakens that brings them back to more classes, and I, as an adult ballet teacher, can only admire the bravery it takes for some.
Beginner ballet students seem happiest during the barre work, a bit less confident in the centre work, and sometimes at a total loss when it comes to turning. Pirouettes and travelling turns can be the most fun part of ballet class (and on stage) but also the scariest, especially when we 'think' rather than 'feel' what the body is supposed to do.
As said earlier, children learn through their bodies whilst adults learn new material with their heads. Grown-Ups need to intellectually understand and remember the various pieces of a movement and talk themselves through its sequence. This process is quite lengthy and requires more time to react and correct if things do not go according to plan.
We get the feeling of not being in control, which can make us nervous, fearful, and perhaps mildly panicky. We may adopt a coping strategy of dancing with extreme caution or we may not try certain steps at all.
Although there is nothing wrong with it, we possibly deny ourselves greatly satisfying experiences of progress. Students of mine repeatedly told me that facing and overcoming their limitations in ballet class also brought huge benefits to other areas of their lives.
What can we do?
Since we are passed our movement-centred learning phase, we need to grasp new movement patterns with our intellect first. We need to take complex sequences apart to understand the details before we can put everything back together with improved and refined knowledge.
The second step is to practise, practise and more practise, showing great patience and perseverance so that little by little our intellectual knowledge can trickle down from our brain into the body, thereby transforming the many bits of information into one single physical experience.
To illustrate: you have probably seen people re-learning how to walk after a serious illness or accident. They have to think of each move separately: lift knee, move foot forward, place foot down, transfer weight forward...bend back knee, and so forth.
Or, a much happier example: when I learned skiing three years ago, my mind had to instruct my body: lift right leg, turn in, place down, lift left leg...don't ski with your legs turned, don't balance with your arms in 2nd position, etc. For days, I could think of only one instruction at a time.
Towards the end of the holiday, encouraged by brief moments of 'getting it right', I thought it was time to relax a little, to stop thinking and to allow my movement system to guide me. But no, I had my hopes up too early and kissed the snow!
Returning to the subject of ballet turns, I believe their mastery depends on 'talent', 'gift' or 'natural skill' more than other aspects of ballet technique. They are not always easy to teach either because even with all the information imparted, students have to find their own balance and rhythm.
The less turning comes naturally to you, the more important it is to know exactly what to do just before and after a pirouette, and how to best handle 'wobbly situations'. Working like this transforms the feeling of being at the mercy of your turn to being in control, which has much better prospects of succeeding.
In this context, I am always reminded of my ballet teacher, Renato Peroni, who said: "Attack the step or the step attacks you!".
You see how pirouettes and turns can be an almost endless subject. To get a chance for us to delve deeper into it, I created the Secret Of Turns workshop in July where I am going to teach you conventional and untraditional techniques so you can 'attack' your turns with more confidence. You will further get the chance to apply the new learnings by dancing (modified) excerpts of classical ballet repertoire.