Provence and Pointe Shoes: Writing About Ballet as an Adult Ballerina

This is a guest post by Jessica Rosevear Fox. Read our interview with her here.

I’ve been a lifelong Francophile, and two years ago, my Provence-themed wedding led to a French honeymoon. After spending a few days in Paris, my husband and I headed down to Provence, where we spent our time in lavender fields, strolling down tiny village streets, and exploring the rustic countryside.

I bought a book while I was there–I thought it was French chick lit, but it ended up being a French translation of an British novel. Titled Tout ton portrait and written by Isabel Wolff, it told the story of a portrait artist and her family relationships. The character’s mother was a former ballerina who retired after an injury. I hadn’t thought about ballet in years, and I had a moment when I thought–Oh yeah–ballet. That’s a thing.

The idea of ballet stuck with me, and when we got back to the States, I dove into the Internet for more. I’d taken ballet for a few years as a kid but was never serious about it. Now, as an adult, I became much more interested in the art form. I found beautiful ballet images on Pinterest, technique and documentary-style videos on YouTube, and helpful information in online communities like the Adult Ballerina Project and Ballerinas by Night. After engaging with ballet at a distance for a few months, I finally took the plunge and started taking adult ballet classes at a wonderful studio nearby. After a year, I advanced to pointe. I absolutely love it!

I’m also a writer. I typically do one major writing project each summer, and I knew last summer that I wanted my project to have elements of Provence and elements of ballet. They were both areas of my life in which I wanted to spend time, even if just in my imagination. That writing project became “After the Ballet,” a short story that I published through my indie imprint, Killing the Angel Press, an extension of the literary magazine I run.

“After the Ballet” was the first time I started writing from a sensory point of departure–the buzz of cicadas, the scent of the lavender in its endless purple lines, shiny pink pointe shoes. I’d been learning about the career trajectories of professional ballet dancers and found it fascinating. What really interested me was the fact that some dancers advance so quickly from the corps de ballet, to being a soloist, to being a principal dancer, while others take a very long time. Others don’t advance beyond the corps de ballet. Nothing is guaranteed. I became interested in the question of what would happen if someone decided to leave that world behind for something new after a lifetime of singular focus. I also wanted to pair that character with a sister experiencing changes of a more domestic nature. The idea of facing change against the backdrop of a lavender farm in Provence really inspired me. It was a world I just wanted to hang out in for a while. In the meantime, the theme of the story grew beyond the external details into one that might be more universal, something many different people could recognize.

A few people who read the story told me they could see it becoming a full-length novel. I think I agree, and so I’m looking forward to this summer’s writing project!

Ballerina Profile: Jessica Rosevear Fox

10150550_10103658194825129_715991065_n (3)When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I started ballet when I was 31 and have been dancing for about two years now. I started pointe last September. I love it!

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I took ballet lessons for a few years in elementary school and quit after fifth grade. It was just something I did; I wasn’t passionate about it.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I became really intrigued by ballet the summer I turned 31. I read a book where the mother was a former ballerina, and I sort of thought, “Oh yeah, ballet, that’s a thing.” I started watching ballet videos on YouTube, reading different ballet blogs, and looking at ballet-themed photos and posts on Pinterest. I became really interested in pointe work. It fascinated me. Finally, I decided to check out an adult ballet class with the goal of eventually getting to pointe.

Where do you take classes?

I take classes at a dance and yoga studio about ten minutes away from my house. The classes are small, and so I’ve been able to grow a lot in a short amount of time. It’s a really nice community there. I’ve taken other classes in different studios, both in the area and in the city, but nothing beats my local studio.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I have so many! I’m really drawn to the emphasis on precision, even if I don’t always achieve it. I love the push to be both powerful and graceful simultaneously. I also love my pointe shoes. They are my prized possessions! I love the feeling of waking up the day after a great class and feeling the soreness that tells me I worked hard previous day. I also love grand allegro. Tendus are my favorite barre exercise. I have lots of favorite parts of ballet!

What is your least favorite part?

I have really tight hamstrings, so developpes and extensions in general are hard for me.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

I’m inspired by professional ballerinas, pointe shoes, classical ballet music, my ballet teacher, and other adult ballerinas who are out there making it happen, imperfect as we are!

What motivates you to keep dancing?

I’m motivated by my own goals. I love dancing en pointe, and it’s something you need to do consistently to keep it up.

Do you take any other dance classes?

No, just ballet.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

I run a literary magazine inspired by Virginia Woolf called Killing the Angel, and I recently wrote a short story called “After the Ballet”, now available on Amazon, in part inspired by the ballet world. I’m obsessed with French language, French culture, and lavender, so part of the story is set in France on a lavender farm! I also like cooking, knitting, and running.

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

I would say to go for it! Don’t worry about the reasons not to go; just try it out. Also, if you don’t like your studio, try others until you find the right one. In my experience, having the right teacher and the right environment makes a big difference.

Do you have a blog?

I have a website for my literary magazine and indie press.

Photo by Skyler Fox

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.