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

Performance Story: Once Upon a Ballet

The walls of the theater look like the walls of a castle, don’t they? And scenery is like the page of a storybook…

“She sleeps: her breathings are not heard
  In palace chambers far apart.
  The fragrant tresses are not stirr’d
  That lie upon her charmèd heart.”

-The Sleeping Beauty by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Stepping inside a fairy tale never gets old.

Growing up, I loved getting so lost in a book that I felt like I was in its story. I went on to major in English in college.

But, with narrative ballets, I discovered a more thrilling way to be lost in a story—by becoming a character in it.

I also love music, particularly classical music. So, I find it special that, in this form of storytelling, music plays a large role in creating your character’s feelings within you, sweeping you into the plot and inspiring expression in motion.

Sleeping Beauty is, thus far, my second favorite story ballet to perform in after The Nutcracker. I’ve been in it three times now, most recently this past winter when I entered the tale as a member of the royal court and as a villager.

 My costumes! Garlands and flowers for the village Kelly Milam as the Queen

 1. My costumes 2. Village garlands and roses 3. Kelly Milam as the Queen

Being absorbed into a drama is also liberating on a personal level, because, like many performers, I’m rather reserved in real life.

During rehearsals, it’s harder to come out of my shell and act in the studio than onstage. In the theater, the atmosphere of fantasy created with costumes, sets, lighting etc. helps dissolve feelings of self-consciousness. In the studio, that alchemy of elements isn’t present.

One little thing I found that helped the dramatic process this time though was giving my rehearsal look a makeover.

In the past, I typically wore everyday clothes to rehearsals for character roles. But it was time for a change. My fellow adult ballerina Kelly Milam usually wears a lovely, long dance skirt to practice in. I used her as my fashion inspiration.

I looked for character skirts online, but the reviews of most available styles said the sizes ran very small. So, I ended up purchasing a Body Wrappers worship dance skirt to wear with a leotard.

The movement of the skirt’s fabric as I rehearsed formed its own dance, simulating the sensation of wearing the kind of costumes I would wear in the performance. It helped me be more immersed in the story and feel freer.

A new look.

The week before we transitioned to the theater, I thought I knew pretty much everything I’d be doing in the show: attending a royal christening, birthday, and wedding, whirling through village merriment…

Then, I got a last-minute surprise.

I found out I was going to be dancing with one of the professional male dancers who were guesting from Madison Ballet in Wisconsin.

Phillip Ollenburg and I would dance together in a passage of the “Garland Waltz”– which just happens to be my favorite part of the ballet. (As Disney fans know, the song Once Upon a Dream is based on the music used in this scene.) Our dance was composed of balletic folk/historical type-steps: natural, uncomplicated choreography that allows you to enjoy the movement and the moment. Yes, it was as fun as it sounds!

Sleeping Beauty unfolded during the last weekend in February.

Yes, it was all over too soon, as always.

Inevitably, with any performance, there are things you wished you’d done better, but that’s the nature of live theater. And, by the end of the week, you feel like you’re ready for your own hundred-year nap! At the same time, you’re wishing you could come back and do it all again the next weekend and the next weekend after that.

Post-performance blues? Ouch, they hit hard afterwards. To any performer, I highly recommend Dance Spirit’s article Coming Down Easy. It’s a great breakdown of the slump you feel following a show, why it’s normal, and how to deal with it.

Still, coming out of that slump is different for each performance. This one proved more difficult than others. Well, I guess that’s a good thing. It means it was that much more enjoyable!

Hopefully, it won’t be long before it’s time for “once upon a time” again…

Ballerina Profile: Nancy Lorenz

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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

 

Interview: Jana and Abby of Ballerinas By Night

Adult ballerinas Jana and Abby created the Ballerinas By Night YouTube channel and blog for adult ballet students. Learn about their journeys in dance, their mission, their advice for struggling students, their dream ballet roles, and so much more!

Abby and Jana of Ballerinas By Night.

Abby and Jana of Ballerinas By Night

Tell us a little about your ballet backgrounds…

Jana: Despite being obsessed with ballet from a very young age (my parents had recorded Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker movie off TV), I didn’t start ballet lessons until age 8. My first ballet was a local production of The Secret Garden and I played a beetle 🙂 I went on pointe at age 12 and danced in various local ballets until age 16, when I put my social life on priority over ballet. Typical teenager!

At age 21, I found myself back at the barre, thanks to the encouragement of my then-future husband. At first, it was just a great way to get exercise and lose that college weight, but then I went back on pointe and started performing again! I met Abby at this time and she was in the process of opening her own ballet school. When she opened it, I started training with her and quickly realized how poor my technique actually was. Her teaching really clicked with me and I found myself feeling stronger and more confident with my dancing. The few years I had to train and perform with her before she moved away were some of the best years of my life!!

Abby at age 17

Abby at age 17

Abby: I grew up dancing from the age of 8, and started really taking it seriously in my teens. Alabama Ballet started a school when I was 15 and I traveled there 5-6 days a week for two years. It was amazing because my teachers had been high-level American Ballet Theatre dancers, yet our class sizes would often be 4 to 6 people, because it was the first year. The training I got was incredible, and in a more intimate setting than I could have possibly gotten any other way.

Alabama Ballet offered me a contract with the company my second year. I did correspondence school in my senior year so I could dance full time, but ultimately opted to go to college. Dancing in college was not a fit for me, so I left to get my academic degree.

Stepping back into the studio after 3 years off was like starting over. From there, I have just continued to plug away. I opened a studio, got teacher training, closed the studio, got back in shape, danced more, retired, and now I am teaching fairly full time.

What inspired you to start Ballerinas By Night YouTube channel?

Jana: Abby’s teaching inspired me to start our YouTube channel. There’s this stigma that adult students can’t achieve as much as younger students can. Abby doesn’t care about any of that. If you show up and want to work, she will help you achieve what you want – no matter how old you are or what shape you are in. She just sees potential! She helped me push myself to limits I never thought I could achieve. I got over the idea in my head that if something didn’t happen naturally then I couldn’t do it. If there was a struggle, she would take the time to break it down and figure out what wasn’t working. I learned so much from her and I knew there were other adults out there who feel just like me–no ballet career ahead of them, but wanting to train hard for personal fulfillment! Fortunately, Abby was on board to start the channel as she is passionate about spreading her love of teaching!

Abby: After I closed my studio, I used leftover materials to build a small studio in the spare bedroom of my house. Jana would come over 2-3 times a week and we would do as much class as we could (barre and some center). But, we felt like we needed more ballet in our lives and wanted a project to work on. Jana is very good with a camera and it was basically her getting it all started. All I did was sit awkwardly in front of the camera! Once I moved, we had more challenges–mainly that I am terrible at filming and Jana still has to do all the editing for me! Some people criticize YouTube as a place where people want to get famous, but I think we are both much more guarded. I rarely discuss the channel in everyday life. Our focus has always been to put information out there and hope there are people that want or need to hear it.

What do you find most challenging about ballet?

Jana: Currently, I find it challenging to build strength and technique and maintain it. Some of it is due to being an adult and not being able to make every class. Some of it is because my current classwork is just combinations and nothing building upon itself. I think that’s the hardest thing for teachers of adults–they can’t expect adult students to commit to class like young students, so that makes it hard to figure out what the group needs and how to build technique from day one, when every class is filled with different people. So, it’s challenging for me to remember to apply every correction, past or present, when, in one class we work on those corrections, and then, in the next class, I’m just trying to keep up with difficult combinations.

Abby: Ballet is hard to keep as a part time thing. If you do it part time, it’s hard to get where you want to be with it. If you spend more time on it, it can start to eat into your personal life.

For me personally, I’ve been a professional, but I regressed so much after being off for 3 years that I didn’t look like a professional anymore. I have gotten caught in between the worlds of being a student and being a professional because I haven’t always fit into a specific mold. I feel this constant struggle between claiming what I am and not feeling worthy of claiming it.

Jana in class

Jana in class

What do you find most rewarding about ballet?

Jana: The thing I find most rewarding about ballet is the feeling of accomplishment. Having the strength to do a difficult combination, be in control, and feel pretty while you’re doing it feels so amazing!

Abby: This is so hard to put into words, for me. It’s like one of those things you have to experience to “get” it. I remember the first time I really applied a correction and saw how much better I got–instantly. I was 11 or 12, and it was about my posture in my pliés. I realized that once I thought about posture, my pliés were so much better. I loved being in control of my progress and craved getting more corrections so I could apply them to every step I executed.

But, as time has gone on, it’s been more about the mind/body/spirit connection. It’s my meditation. Which is good, because, most of the time now my body does not cooperate, so I definitely do not feel in control of my progress like I did as a student. Now I think much less about the steps and the technique, but how the movement is produced. I think about my rib cage, and how it affects my limbs. But then I also think about my emotions and my spiritual life, and how to convey that to the audience (even if it’s just the teacher or other students). I just try to turn myself inside out, and that is now the most rewarding thing for me.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about adult ballet students?

Jana: I think the biggest misconception about adult ballet students is that they want to come to class only for exercise or social reasons. Some of us (probably those reading this blog!) want to build good technique, be challenged, and be pushed to be the best we can be.

Abby: The biggest misconception is that they just want to have fun, and don’t really take it seriously. I find that adults take their dancing more seriously than a lot of younger students because they are really invested in it. Unlike (most) teenagers, they are paying for their classes and are taking time away from something else to be at class. So, it’s serious business for them. I have had so many adults thank me for my teaching simply because I treated the class like they could move forward and would take time to explain things and really give corrections. If they just wanted to dance for exercise, they could go to Zumba (and yes, I have done that too!). They come to ballet for something else. I know that once I returned to ballet as an adult, I felt what it was like trying to find teachers to take you seriously. So, I’ve been there, and I just treat my students like I wanted to be treated.

What advice would you give to adult students who are struggling with their journey in ballet?

Jana

Jana. Photograph by Abby.

Jana: If you’re an adult student struggling with your journey in ballet, first of all, I feel for you. When Abby was living and teaching in the same city as me, my ballet classes were so fulfilling every single time. Since she moved two years ago, it’s been hit or miss with classes. It’s tough. If you can make at least one friend in class who’s on the same page as you, that helps. It’s good to have someone to talk to who understands ballet! That friendship could turn into staying after class to work on things together, or taking private lessons together. Sometimes it’s easier to ask for what you want in class when you’re not the only one who wants it. If you can’t make it to a physical class, give yourself barre at home! Also, hop onto Instagram. There’s a super supportive adult ballet community growing there! (start your search with #adultballerina)

Abby: First, give it more time. Dancing is something that happens a little at a time. Try not to get frustrated if it feels like things are not happening right away. Second, try to find ways to fill in the gaps of knowledge. That’s been a huge goal for our channel and a big part of our mission. Either you grew up dancing, but don’t remember certain things. Or, you were never really taught something. Or, you began class as an adult and got kind of thrown into classes and certain things were never fully explained. Whatever the case, we are trying to deliver content that will bridge any gaps adult dancers may have.

Who are a few of your favorite ballet dancers?

Jana: I adore Michaela DePrince, Ashley Bouder, and Daniil Simkin. Natalia Osipova is freaking amazing, of course. I love to watch powerhouse dancers because I am so far from being a powerhouse 🙂

Abby: Isabella Boylston is probably my favorite ballerina currently dancing. There is just something really special about her artistry and movement quality. I follow Catherine Hurlin because I saw her as a child when I was doing my teacher training at ABT, so it’s been fun to watch her grow up and move up through the ranks. My husband and I are both huge fans of Daniil Simkin. But, I also enjoy a good corps as much, or more, than lead dancers doing solos.

What’s your dream ballet role?

Jana: I feel like I don’t have the typical ballerina answer to this! Because music is what inspires me to move, I desire to dance in works where movement is inspired by music and not so much a story. I would love to dance in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering or Balanchine’s Serenade. But it would fulfill my childhood dream to be a Snowflake and the Peacock in Sendak & Stowell’s The Nutcracker! I finally got to see it live last year at PNB before they retired it and afterward I got to go backstage and sit in the Peacock cage! So close 🙂

Abby: Oh, so many! Kitri from Don Quixote, Aurora from The Sleeping Beauty, and almost anything from La Bayadere or Le Corsaire. The list could go on and on. But, I also have a deep love for contemporary ballet, and wish I had gotten more chances to do more of that. I’ve never been built like a classical ballet dancer, and often don’t feel like I fit into the traditional roles. Had I known about Complexions Contemporary Ballet as a teen I would have pursued that company and that side of ballet much more.

Abby. Photograph by Jana Carson Photography.

Abby. Photograph by Jana Carson Photography.

Ballerina Profile: Melissa Kolbeck

melissaWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I started back about 2 months ago (early September 2015) after a 2 1/2 year hiatus.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I did! From age 4 and up through college and beyond.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I thought I was done with ballet because of the emotional toll and having gotten married an started a family. But I simply cannot live without it. It’s who I am, and I knew I needed to get back.

Where do you take classes?

Lois Ellyn Ballet Studio in Fullerton, CA. I’ve also studied at UC Irvine (while in college) and at Maple Conservatory in Irvine, CA

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I love the challenge. I love that you will never attain perfection yet you always work for it. I love the grace of ballet and freedom that comes with movement. I also love the work ethic that ballet taught me growing up.

What is your least favorite part?

The pressure to be skinny and the intense competition. Those are what caused me to take a break for a few years. I needed to grow and mature and realize that I dance for me and no one else.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

There have been many over the years, but my current favorite is Misty Copeland. The fact that she is local to Southern California, broke a racial barrier, and does not have the “typical” body yet is a principal dancer with ABT just makes me HAPPY. As a girl who can put on muscle very easily and struggled with not having the “perfect body,” I love seeing dancers with similar bodies to me make it big.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

I took a break already, and I don’t want to do that again and have to come back again. I’ve been lucky this time in that my technique still seems pretty solid and most things have come back to me. But that may not be the case if I ever were to take a break again. I also want to keep dancing and share my love of it with my daughter. She may not end up loving it as much as I do, but if she does she needs the encouragement to stick with it even when it’s hard.

Do you take any other dance classes?

No, ballet is my favorite. Nothing else really compares for me.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

I enjoy other types of workouts, especially PiYo, and have also run some half marathon and marathons. But right now it’s all ballet, writing my blog, and working with women to help them get in shape physically and emotionally.

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

Don’t give up!! When you first start, especially as an adult, there is a very steep learning curve. Give yourself some grace and just enjoy learning something that not many people in this world can say they’ve learned.
Anything else you’d like to add?

Try ballet. Seriously, just do it. It’s the best.

Do you have a blog?

www.melissakolbeck.com/blog