Meet Mary Fran Wiley’s hope.dance Project

sp-adBallet saved me. Dance was medicine when nothing else was working.

I took my first ballet class since childhood on February 16, 2015 and I haven’t stopped since. I’m quite the unlikely ballerina – I’m a bit curvy and I suffer from a rare, progressive and incurable pain disorder called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It causes constant, intense pain even from a gentle breeze or soft fabric. The treatments I underwent caused my left leg to feel heavier and not feel the floor.

Ballet gave me the opportunity to start taking my body back. The building of the movements throughout class, the repetition of exercises on each side allowed me to relearn how to engage the muscles on the left side of my body. The stronger I got, the less secondary pain I had started to go away. I was able to walk and get through my day with more confidence.

I want to help others who suffer from pain disorders find this strength and freedom, so I am starting an organization to do just that. Hope.Dance will be focused on creating dance classes rooted in traditional dance forms like ballet and tap for pain sufferers. Using a model similar to the English National Ballet’s Parkinson’s classes, I want to create classes that are welcoming and beneficial. A place where the pain can melt away and no one feels like a burden on the rest of the class or be afraid if there are movements they can’t do.

To get started and before I can start fundraising, I need to create the legal entity for the organization (legal fees, state fees). I’m selling shirts to help cover these costs and maybe even help rent a studio for my first class.  If you don’t want a shirt, I have also set up a GoFundMe page.

The goal is to sell 100 shirts. If I hit that goal, I will raffle off a custom-made ballet skirt to one of the people who either bought a shirt or shared the campaign on social media. To enter the giveaway, send your order number or a screenshot of your social media share to hello@maryfranwiley.com with the subject “Sweat and Pirouettes Raffle.”

Knitting Projects for Class: Fingerless Mittens and Barre Leveler

Two problems that sometimes arise in ballet class are cold hands and wobbly freestanding barres. I found these two quick and easy knitting patterns that provide simple solutions.

Fingerless Mittens

With cold weather here, I see people layering on garments: leg warmers, rip stop (“trash bag”) pants, wrap sweaters, and more. One day I saw a person wearing fingerless mittens and thought, how clever! Fingerless mittens keep your hands warm while allowing you to still feel (or in my case sometimes grip) the barre. This free pattern from Lion Brand Yarn called Highland Gauntlets is perfect. Scroll down for instructions.

If you want to cover your lower arms as well as you hands, just follow the pattern. If you want to shorten the gauntlets and just cover you hands and wrist, simply shorten the gauntlet potion of the pattern to you desired length. I altered the pattern a little to shorten the gauntlet into fingerless mittens.

knithand2 (1)

knithand1 (1)

Freestanding Barre Leveler

 

Have you ever started class only to hold the barre and realize you unfortunately picked a wobbly one? The music has begun, the teacher has handed out combinations and it is too late to changes places … so you are stuck with a barre that moves every time you touch it. This barre is no help for balance and the sound it makes with every wobble is irritating/distracting. You could solve the problem by putting a towel under one of the barre’s four feet, but you might want to use your towel. A piece of paper is usually too thin to be helpful. I’ve seen an old ballet shoe shoved under a barre, but who wants to use his or her own ballet slipper in case there isn’t an extra one lying around the studio?

I’ve encountered plenty of shaky freestanding barres and finally decided to 1) test the barre for steadiness before class begins and 2) if needed, whip out my simple knit square to put under a foot of the wobbly barre. I used this simple pattern called “Not Your Average Washcloths” by Elizabeth Prusiewicz.

knittingbarre

Of course you could use any small square pattern — think of it like a coaster for the barre. Find simple knitted square patterns here and here.
Now you’re ready for the cold weather with warm hands on steady barres!

 

A Hiatus From Ballet and Adult Ballerina Project

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around a lot lately, and that’s partially because I’ve been really busy with a lot of things — new job (part-time) and taking new classes (I’ve signed myself up for a front-end web development course and spend a good portion of my free time doing that). HQ and I also started running a lot more (running our first 8K in November) which also takes up a lot of our time, but it turns out is a hobby we really enjoy doing together.

As a result of all these combining factors, I’m putting both Adult Ballerina Project and taking ballet classes (at least on any sort of regular schedule) on hold for the time being.

In part, I’ve started to grow really frustrated with ballet, my lack of progress, my injuries in regards to ballet (without it, I’ve been happily injury free for the past three months), so it’s time for an extended break, I think. I’m hoping one day I can come back to it and enjoy it (as I think I will) once I feel less stressed by so many things.

The blog and its many resources will stay up here — many of them written by many wonderful people who’ve dedicated their free time to the blog.

The Facebook group will also stay up — but I could use some help moderating it (mostly making sure the content is ballet related and help adding people). Please shoot me an email (aballerinaproject@gmail.com) if you’d be interested in helping.

Thanks everyone who has helped make this “project” a success, and I look forward to continuing to follow along with your progress and journeys as well as hopefully restarting mine someday in the future.

Ballerina Profile: Nancy Lorenz

NancyVeganologo--4

Here’s author Nancy Lorenz’s ballerina profile! Don’t forget to check out her blog!

When did you start doing ballet as an adult? 

I went back to ballet seriously four years ago; however, I took classes here and there in California before that as well.  (I also ice skated competively in California before I found a good ballet class here. I had done my solid ballet training in New York and New Jersey previously, but after getting married and moving to California, I found little ballet that was accessible in L.A. at the time.  So, until I found a good class, I figure skated competively, and did ballet on ice, of course! This kept me in good shape while being an active mom in my child’s life. After my child got older, however, I happened to find a few good ballet schools, and went back seriously to ballet only.  Love my schools!

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Yes! I started ballet at the local recreation center in Philadelphia when I was four, and then got to take class again at age twelve.  A few years later, a move to Jersey made me look for another school.  I found a good one, and trained.  Later, when I went to New York, I took classes all over Manhattan, but mainly at the American Ballet Theater School’s open level classes.   The school closed in 1979, as only company members then were allowed after that, and the school moved a few blocks up more toward Lincoln Center.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

Because I started serious training too late for a professional career, but wanted to recapture that ability, and try to attain a more elite status.  (I am working on that one!)  Ballet is not only good for my artist’s soul, but also for health, and keeps me fit for my day job – teaching.  I love music, and the combination of ballet’s movement with classical works is a synthesis that thrills me to my very soul.  I feel the music, just like Leslie Browne said in the film, The Turning Point. “I feel it!”   It’s just there, inside of me, and I have to do ballet to blend with it.  It is not a choice.  Like most dancers, I have to!

Where do you take classes?

I don’t like to reveal my class locations, being an author/public figure. I also respect the studio(s) and their privacy as well.  But, I will say that I take class in a very professional studio with large rooms, gorgeous floors, beautiful barres, and a wonderful live pianist, plus a great teacher who was an elite professional herself.  Also, I have great fellow ballet dancer classmates, who support one another.  It is always a great experience!  And, I am learning a lot!

 What is your favorite part about ballet?

There are two parts to this question: watching it and doing it.

Watching it has everything to do with dreaming it.  Imagining not only the story, but myself in the roles – Of course, we all do this!  The beauty of the productions, which encompass not only the dancers, but the orchestra, set design, costumes, choreography, lighting effects – the magic of theater and the suspension of belief for a few moments in our lives.

Doing it – It is the stardust, the tulle, the performance of art to the music, the dream and the reality of actually getting to do it – Living the dream, and dancing on pointe!  As Shakespeare said, “It is such stuff as dreams are made on!”

What is your least favorite part?

The least favorite part is when I lose my strength and stamina.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak and loses fuel.  Part of it is being an adult ballerina with energy issues, and also the adult weight of responsibilities, which can drain you emotionally.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

I always loved Gelsey Kirkland for her dreaminess and emotional depth, as well as her beautiful technique. I also loved Cynthia Gregory and Natalia Makarova then, as well as Edward Viilella, Peter Martins, Fernando Bujones and of course, Mikhail Baryshnikov on the male side.  Currently, I like Natalia Osipova, and Svetlana Zakarova.

8.    What motivates you to keep dancing?

I have to!  But the opportunities for adult ballerinas today are there, whereas they were not there before.  Once that “window of opportunity” closed for a young dancer long ago, there was no turning back. It was housewife, or career woman, or both, but not “ballerina.”  Now, fortunately, we can have it all!

Do you take any other dance classes?

In New York, I used to audition for Broadway shows, so I took tap and jazz classes as well as a lot of ballet.  I also took voice lessons.  Somehow, with my 9-5 or temporary jobs, I managed to pay for them all.  It IS expensive living in New York, but I did it.  (I am currently working on a theater book as well).  Right now, I am taking ballet only, but took some tap and a few jazz classes in the past few years to keep my Broadway dancing  “foot” in!

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

I write books; I am a member of a writing critique group; love watching TV science shows and love reading.

What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

I’d say, “Don’t get discouraged, if you can’t do it right away.  It takes time, but your body will mold to your demands eventually.  Muscle memory will kick in, and you will only get better and better!”

Anything else you’d like to add?

I realize as I write this that ballet has left its mark in every state where I have lived –  Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and California. I have studied in every one of them! My memories of ballet follow me, and have prompted me to write books about ballet.  My sequel to The Strength of Ballerinas came out in November entitled, American Ballerina.  The tone of the book is a little lighter (and there will be more romance!).

Also, I am so thankful that there is a ballet community out there that supports adults.  Childhood dreams and artistic endeavors are sometimes seen as frivolous; however, they are important.  An inclination to any art, such as dance or music is innate, and will never go away; therefore, we must act upon it. Dancer/actress Shirley MacLaine writes in her book, Dancing in the Light, that dance is “an art that imprints on the soul.  It is with you every moment, even after you give it up.”   So true!

Do you have a blog?

Yes, I blog on my website at:  www.Nancy-Lorenzauthor.com/blog

 

Check Out ABP + Other Great Dance Bloggers in Dance Advantage’s Dance Circle

OffDay

Find Rachel’s post “The Off Day Ballet Dictionary” and other great posts over on Dance Advantage’s Dance Circle roundup where my fellow dance bloggers shared their top posts of 2015!