Ballerina Profile: Kat H.

11248074_801941201893_3359701117220624683_nWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

3 weeks ago!

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Yes. I started when I was 2.5 and danced up until I was 21.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I missed it terribly! I have been trying to be better about taking care of myself, and dance feels natural. The local studio started having adult ballet classes and I jumped at the chance!

Where do you take classes?

Lotus Studio in Salem Oregon

What is your favorite part about ballet?

The way my brain still remembers how to do it (even though my body isn’t listening yet) and how fast I’m seeing results. My posture is improving, my flexibility has already increased, and my stamina is getting better every day.

What is your least favorite part?

That my brain remembers how to do everything but my body isn’t listening yet. 🙂 It’s so frustrating to set up for a pirouette and then lose my balance half way through. My body isn’t the same as it was 9 years ago.  Also I’m not happy with the current selection of larger sized dancewear. That needs to change.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Wayne Sleep is an inspiration. His documentary Big Ballet helped me get over the fact that I’m not built “like a dancer” anymore. It really doesn’t matter.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

How happy I am when I have my ballet slippers on. It’s like a drug. I just want to keep dancing once I start. I’m already seeing results too!

Do you take any other dance classes?

Not at the moment. I used to take jazz, tap, lyrical, ballroom, and I’ve taken a Zumba class or two. I’m hoping to start taking ballroom again this year. There aren’t many adult dance classes in my area…yet.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

I ride motorcycles, play golf, and remodel my house.

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

If you want to do ballet, then go try a class! Don’t worry about how silly you look, because you don’t look nearly as silly as you think you do. As adult dancers, we aren’t all going to be tall lean size 0’s with 180 degree turnout. If a size 12, 190 lb, big cheasted (I’m talking 34GG’s here…)30 year, with 90 degree turnout can dance around in a leotard and tights so can you! Everyone else in that class is so focused on themselves that they don’t have an ounce of thought left to worry about you. 🙂

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d love to see more adults be empowered and get into ballet. The dance world won’t change itself. Ballet isn’t just for little girls and skinny bitches for goodness sake! (Note: I’m NOT skinny shaming…I love all dancers equally.)

Ballet Instructor Profile: Liz Borromeo

Sun King Photo Shoot1How long have you been dancing?

About 30 years.

Why do you dance ballet?

Ballet is where I began my training, and I continue to find new ways to improve my technique all the time. Doing ballet helps my focus and I especially enjoy taking class myself, as after a great ballet class, I feel like my mind and body get centered again…

Who/What inspires you to dance?

My students (of all ages) inspire me. I find that hearing a beautiful piece of music will give me instant inspiration to dance and create as well. When I am feeling emotions deeply, I am inspired to dance.

How long have you taught ballet?

I have been teaching ballet for about 20 years.

Where do you teach ballet?

I teach at my own dance studio as well as in various other studios in Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR. I also am a teaching artist in local public schools, though I focus my teaching more in Modern dance and dance for musical theater in those venues.

Who do you teach?

I teach students of all ages (from 2 to adult-including active Seniors).

What other types of dance do you teach (if any)?

I teach Modern dance (based in Graham technique primarily), Improvisation (including Contact Improv), dance for Musical Theater (mostly classic Jazz styles) as well as West African Dance.

Why do you teach ballet?

I love to see students make connections from class to class as they gradually master ballet. I like to encourage students who maybe think that ballet won’t be as enjoyable as other dance forms to give it a try and see them become inspired to continue their training.

What is your favorite ballet step to teach and why?

Pirouettes–actually turns of all kinds. Throughout my own training, working on turns has been a constant challenge, and I love to help students discover what they need to do to be successful with pirouettes. I find that for myself as a student, if I have a good turning day, it’s a great class, and if my turns are “off” it really influences how I feel about dance class…helping my students have a good turning day is a great feeling.

What advice/tips would you give to adults who want to begin ballet for the first time/adults starting ballet again?

I would say go for it and let them know that just having the courage to start (or return to) class is a huge success. Taking ballet is a chance to really focus the body and mind, it’s a fun experience with other adults (we have so much fun in our adult classes) and it’s really an accomplishment to dedicate time and effort to something that requires so much discipline. Ask questions, love the amazing thing that your body can do and let yourself enjoy dance class.

Easing Back into Class

In my earlier post “To Return or Not?”, I concluded that restarting ballet has been a surprisingly positive experience. As I dip my toes in the water, I need to preserve my toes (and the rest of my body) by heeding advice from a professional ballerina friend:

  1. “Take it slooow.” (i.e., proceed slowly and with caution)

The first time I rolled up to demi-pointe, I anticipated pain in my left foot and, much to my relief, felt nothing. Just to be safe, for barre exercises I stay mostly on flat because my feet, ankles and calves are relatively weak. For retiré/passé, fondu and pique steps, I sometimes gingerly venture onto demi-pointe. In center during the first class, I marked pirouettes on flat but when dancing full-out, I automatically rotated on relevé – without pain! Although I can dance some steps in relevé, I know that in order not to strain my muscles, I’ll gradually have to work up to a more consistent demi-pointe.

  1. “Don’t be frustrated or disappointed by not being able to do what you used to do.”

When I saw myself in the mirror, I grimaced: feet shaped like spatulas when pointed, heels not raised high when feet in relevé/demi-pointe, and a 5th position resembling 3rd position.  While standing in retire/passé, I noticed that my passé knee was not as turned out as used to be, but instead it drifted forward. Although I know this rustiness is expected, I’ve decided to stop looking in the mirror until I’ve been back to ballet consistently for a few months.

I’ve thought of a few more pieces of advice:

  1. Be aware of bad habits formed by previous injuries or chronic pain.

Before surgery, at bottom of a grande-plié in first position I used to favor my left foot and rest more weight on my right foot because of my injury. The first time after surgery when I lowered into a first position grande-plié, I instinctively braced myself — for what ended up being nonexistent pain in my left foot. So now I need to retrain my body to plié correctly while evenly distributing weight between both sides.

  • Maintain your sense of humor about:
    • coordination: When working on side tendus from 5th position at the barre, I kept closing in front while the rest of the class kept closing in the back, and vice versa!
    • speed: While executing double frappés at the barre, I found myself concentrating more on getting my foot out (front, side, and especially back) on time, rather than on proper technique – wrong priority!
    • combinations: When my teacher marked a long center combination toward the end of class, I glanced at clock and was dismayed to see we still had 15 minutes left!
  1. Just do it. (i.e., GO to class)

Although responsibilities (like jobs, childcare, housework, errands, etc.) dampen my motivation for class, I’m even less inclined to go because I’m out of shape. Yes, you read that correctly: I don’t want to go to class because I’m out of shape. Of course going to class is exactly what I should do in order to get back into shape! While driving to class I frequently ask myself, “Do I really want to go? Eh…. I don’t know. Should I go? Yes, I’d better or I’ll regret it.” Despite these internal debates en route to the studio, I’m usually happy once I’m in class. On the drive home I always smile and think, “I’m glad I went to class after all.”

Featured Image “Untitled” By Alice Barigelli

Relive World Ballet Day

Didn’t catch World Ballet Day? Did you have to work through part of it (I unfortunately did). Or if you just want to re-watch it, you can now watch The Australian Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada’s videos on YouTube:

The Australian Ballet:

Royal Ballet:

National Ballet of Canada:

Ballerina Profile: Renée O’Neal

Dancer PoseWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?
January 2014
Did you ever take lessons as a kid?
When I was about 9 years old, I used to have a coloring book called “Betsy Takes a Bow.” It told the story of a little girl named Betsy who takes ballet lessons and eventually dances the lead in Swan Lake. The best part, for me at least, was that the studio in the book was called “Renée’s School of Dance.” (I’m fairly certain that’s the reason that I never wanted to be a professional dancer – I wanted to run the show and own my own dance studio instead.) Anyways, the book had some pretty awful pictures of ballet positions and steps, and I tried to imitate them as best as I could. Even though I was a bit of a tomboy, my mom signed me up for ballet lessons (thanks, Mom!). I studied classical and contemporary ballet for many years, and I danced with two companies, the Tallahassee Ballet and Renascent Dance Theatre. After about 13 years, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore, so I stopped and went on what became an extended hiatus.
Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?
I moved around a bit over the years (Maryland, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia), and I would occasionally take a class here and there. Even though I loved ballet, for one reason or another, I found it difficult to commit to anything on a regular basis. I tried some other activities, specifically yoga and fencing, and it was because of those outside interests that I met a wonderful man, got married, and had a baby girl. We relocated from Richmond to SW Virginia a couple of years ago so that he could work on his PhD, and being a stranger in a new town, I once again found myself longing for the community of pink tights and pointe shoes. As a 40-year old mother of an adorable toddler, I knew that my post-baby body, my post-hiatus abilities, and my adult perspective would make for completely different dance experience. I researched the local studio options and spent a few months debating on whether or not I really wanted to “go back”. It was during this time of indecision that a chance encounter at a coffee shop settled the matter. I met an amazing dance teacher, Carol Crawford-Smith, and after speaking with her briefly, I took it as a sign that I should get myself to a barre ASAP! Within a week, I found myself in one of her adult classes and completely in love with ballet once more. Ever since then, I’ve taken classes at two studios, performed as a Court Lady in a production of Cinderella, became a member of the Ballet Project at Virginia Tech (BPVT), danced as the Mouse Queen and a Flower in the Nutcracker, and served as a costume designer and stage manager for BPVT’s spring show. It’s been an amazing year.
Where do you take classes?
When time and money permits, I drop in for adult classes at two studios – the Center of Dance and Little Leapers.  I also enjoy the free open-level classes offered by the Ballet Project at Virginia Tech.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about ballet?
There’s no single thing about ballet that I love more than anything else. The leg warmers, the tights, the shoes, the smell of the marley flooring, the music, the sweat, the balances, the turns, the jumps, the aching muscles, the rehearsals, the stage, the performance. I love it all.
What I find the most interesting is how my preferences and abilities have changed to accommodate my older, post-baby body. Back in the day, I loved turns, especially combinations across the floor. However, I now find that turns are more of a challenge because my inner ear just doesn’t want to cooperate. It doesn’t matter how well I spot, if I try to do too many in a series, I get really super-dizzy. I’ve talked to an Audiologist and an ENT doctor, and they both said it’s most likely age-related. It’s a bit of a bummer, but I don’t let it stop me.
I’ve also noticed that my attitude (no pun intended) toward jumps is different. Petite allegro was never my forte, but I’ve found that I have more fun with it now than ever before. I also used to be fairly ambivalent about grande allegro, but now I look forward to leaping and soaring across the room.
Who/What is your ballet inspiration?
I’m inspired by anyone that works hard at what they do and enjoys doing it. I love to watch dancers that are willing to try every step, and even when they are overwhelmed, they still manage to smile, laugh, and keep going. There’s a girl that occasionally shows up to one of my classes, and she always puts in extra effort, repeating combinations in the corner, over and over, even after the music stops. Whenever I see her, I am inspired to keep going, to work harder, to try that combination again. Once more with feeling, indeed.
What motivates you to keep dancing?
It varies. The reflection in the bathroom mirror reminds me that I need to stay active. As a returning dancer, I’m fascinated by what my body can –and sometimes can’t– do, especially after having had a baby. Every class, for better or worse, is an opportunity to discover something new about myself, and I always feel an amazing sense of accomplishment when it’s over. Plus, I love that my daughter identifies me as a ballerina, so that’s a powerful motivator to keep dancing. When I come home, and she asks me in her sweet little voice if I had a good dance class, I just melt. 
Do you take any other dance classes?
Living in a small town means that there aren’t as many chances to branch out, and having a husband in grad school and a toddler in day care means there isn’t a lot of time and money available for anything other than one or two ballet classes a week. Whenever possible, I try to participate in any opportunities that come my way. When the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet came to town last year, I was lucky to be able to attend their master class. It was an awesome experience, and I learned so much.
What are your hobbies outside of ballet?
I enjoy crafty things, especially knitting, and I also enjoy playing board games. When the weather is nice, I love spending time outdoors with my husband and my daughter, which usually involves spotting airplanes, picking flowers, and looking for bugs.
What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?
Don’t worry what anyone else thinks. Have fun with it. Just dance.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think I’ve probably said enough, but I will add that I am grateful for this opportunity to share a bit of my dance experience with everyone.