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

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

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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

 

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!

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