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!

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.”

Kathryn Morgan’s 12 Week Challenge — Day 1

If you don’t follow Kathryn Morgan on social media, then you might not know that she’s performing at the Kennedy Center at the end of March. To help her prepare and get fit for it, she invited her readers to join her over the next 12 weeks to get fit, strong, and in amazing shape — by launching her 12 Week Challenge:

Morgan has created two versions of the challenge – regular and light. She’s also created workout calendars for the next 12 weeks (although only January is available right now).

Right now, I’m probably basing most of what I’m doing off of the Light schedule, although I expect to move everything around a lot (based on class, work and other workout schedules) since my life can seem so hectic at times. I’ve also done a lot of pilates and running lately, so I don’t want those to fall to the wayside for this challenge (since there’s only a day or two of core and cardio each week).

I don’t expect my workout schedule to change too much (other than coming back from ballet after a one month hiatus), but I love that this challenge will help me be more accountable and track my workouts more. I plan on keeping a journal of it here so that I can track my progress.

Here’s what I did for Day 1 (January 4):

  • 2 miles cardio on the treadmill
  • 15 minutes Pilates Flow (from this DVD set — which I love!)

Plan for tomorrow is to do follow along to one of Kathryn Morgan’s barre and center videos on YouTube (check out this great YouTube playlist with video suggestions for the challenge by fellow adult ballerina Mary Fran). I’ll also probably at least throw in a quick pilates flow as well with some light stretching.

Are you taking part in Kathryn Morgan’s 12 Week Challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Common Physical Therapy Exercises Applicable to Ballet

(Editor’s Note: These are notes from an adult ballerina’s experiences and the article was not written by a trained Physical Therapist. Please see a doctor before starting a new training regimen, and don’t push yourself beyond your limits! Read our disclaimer.) All photos by Helen Mao except #10. 

Two months after surgery for Morton’s Neuroma, I recovered well enough to move around fairly normally; I could even walk one mile for exercise. However, my left foot wasn’t strong and had little flexibility. I couldn’t curl my toes without using my hands to bend them! In order to help the last part of recovery, my podiatrist sent me to physical therapy.

I didn’t know what to expect but was delighted that many of the physical therapy exercises were ones that I had done in the past for ballet and pointe. Of course I needed to keep attending physical therapy sessions to make me DO the exercises consistently. Nonetheless, I found that the following physical therapy exercises designed to rehabilitate my foot also helped prepare me for returning to ballet class.

Exercises 1-5 are done seated in a chair.

  1. Golf Ball Rolls: Warm/loosen up your foot by rolling it forwards and backwards over a golf ball. Although the small hard golf ball helped me for physical therapy purposes, I’ve seen many dancers use a tennis ball before and after class to massage their feet.ex1golfball
  2. Towel Curls: Place a towel flat on the floor. Starting on the closest end, curl your toes to pick up the towel. Lift the towel slightly off the floor and pull the towel a little toward yourself. After putting it back on the floor, place your toes a little further away on the towel and repeat until you reach the other end of the towel. ex2towel1 ex2towel2
  3. Marble Pick-up: Pour a cup or bowl of marbles on the floor but keep them in one place.Using your toes, pick up the marbles one by one and place them back in the cup or bowl. I vary the toes I use to pick up the marbles (big, middle, smaller ones) in order to strengthen all toes. ex3marble
  4. Ankle alphabet: Pretend your big toe is a pen or that you are holding a pen between your big and second toes. Keeping your ankle still, draw the alphabet A-Z (either uppercase or lowercase) with your foot. ex4ankle
  5. Ankle Circles: Keeping your ankle still, slowly rotate your foot and ankle in a counter-clockwise direction and then in a clockwise direction. Repeat 10 times in each direction. ex5circle1ex5circle2ex5circle3ex5circle4ex5circle5

Exercises 6-9 are done while seated on the floor.

  1. Resisted Ankle Plantar Flexion: Loop a TheraBand around your left foot and straighten your left leg. Slowly press your foot down and up (resist popping back up!) using only your ankle. Repeat 20 times. ex6flexion1ex6flexion2
  2. Resisted Ankle Eversion: Straighten both legs. Loop the TheraBand around your left foot and hold the excess band with your right foot and right hand. Turn your left foot out and repeat 20 times. Switch the exercise to your right foot and repeatex7eversion1 ex7eversion2
  3. Resisted Ankle Inversion: Cross your legs with the right leg underneath. Loop the Thera-Band around your right foot and hold the excess band with your left foot and right hand. Turn your right foot in and repeat 20 times. Switch the exercise to your left foot and repeat.ex8inversion1 ex8inversion2
  4. Calf and Achilles Tendon Stretch: Loop the Theraband around your extended leg’s foot. Position the Thera-band around the ball of the foot and gently pull on the Thera-band to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles Tendon. Keep your knee straight. ex9calf
  5. Hamstring Stretch: Can be done using Therabands or a strap, rolled towel, bungee cord, etc. Just lie on your back and wrap whatever you’re using under or around your foot. Then, trying to keep your leg straight, pull your leg up with your arms.
    Image via Flickr user bwanderd with Creative Commons License.

    Image via Flickr user bwanderd with Creative Commons License.

Exercises 11-14 are done while standing.

  1. Thera-Band Loop Side Walk: Tie the Theraband in a loop around your legs just above the knees. Walk sideways slowly by first stepping hip-width with your right foot; then bringing your left foot in next to your right foot. Keep feet pointing straight forward. Walk about 25 yards. Repeat walking sideways the other direction.ex11side1 ex11side2 ex11side3
  2. Thera-Band Monster Walk: Use the same loop and position but this time step forward and out to the side so feet are hip distance part, alternating feet. Keep feet facing straight forward. Walk about 25 yards.ex12monster1 ex12monster2 ex12monster3ex12monster4 ex12monster5 ex12monster6ex12monster7
  3. Balancing on half ball: Stand on half ball balance trainer (i.e. a Bosu Ball), first with two feet and then with one. Balance for 1-3 minutes.ex13ball
  4. Heel Lifts: Stand behind a chair (or anything stationary and releve on two feet 20 times. If desired, repeat exercises on one foot, and then the other. ex14heel1ex14heel2
  5. Cool-down roll: Finally you’ve earned the right to sit down in a chair and cool down by rolling your foot over frozen water bottle.ex15cool

Of course you can look up more detailed information on these exercises and use whichever ones help you not only in ballet but also in everyday movement. Luckily, most of these exercises can be done while watching TV!

Achieving Balance in Your Workouts — Part One

By Chris Hunkeler under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Chris Hunkeler under CC BY-SA 2.0

The past two weeks have been rough.

We had a huge event at work and I had other events to go to — so much that with Halloween, HQ and I didn’t make to ballet at all. Then I was having another rough time this week (and felt sick at the beginning of it) that I didn’t think we’d get our workouts in any workouts at all — currently we’re trying to balance ballet, running, and cross-training (mostly pilates, but some cardio, too).

I hadn’t been doing much running, but after we went running when the streets were open thanks to the Pope being here, HQ and I decided that we were trying to go running a bit more. We’ve done a fair amount of running in the past, but ever since I ended up with stress fractures, we never really got into it. A great community, Run215, has also helped motivate me as well to keep going and we’re registered for the Rothman 8K later this month. After a 5 mile run last weekend, I feel more ready than we have for a race in the past.

But — the struggle has been balancing everything, especially with running and ballet feeling like they take up so much time by themselves. Trying to fit everything in has been tough, but usually my system is to schedule my workouts ahead of time, so I know what I’ve got in the upcoming week (work, events, fun) and how I can fit in workouts around that, with a balance of running, ballet, and cross-training.

But sometimes it fails — like when you’ve had a really rough day at work, daylight saving change has messed with your head, and end up quitting .66 miles into your workout. When that happens, I find the best thing to remember is your body needs rest and time to recover. Sometimes taking a break is just what you need.

So my question for you is, how do you achieve balance with all your workout goals? How do you know when it’s time to take a break? I’ll do a follow up post later this week with responses!