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.

Ballerina Profile: Suzanne Kadinger

Interview PhotoWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I started taking ballet classes when I was 26, and I went en pointe at age 30.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I took dance lessons as a child, including ballet, but it wasn’t strong training in classical ballet technique. While a small amount of the movement was familiar to me when I started back up, it was really like starting from scratch. I had some bad habits to discard, and I definitely had some terminology to learn!

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

My daughter had already begun taking a creative dance class at the studio when she was five, so I was familiar with Muncie Ballet and their program. I was looking for a way to unwind after work, and I set out looking for a yoga class with a coworker. We couldn’t find a local yoga class that suited our schedule, but we did happen upon the studio’s adult class. My coworker wasn’t able to keep up classes after she moved away, but I’m still there after more than 12 years.

Where do you take classes?

Muncie Ballet under Lisa Love.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I love that when I am dancing, I’m not thinking about anything else. The stress of the day melts away during those hours in the studio. Now, as my daughter prepares to graduate from high school and head off to college, we can both say that dancing together and sharing a stage has been one of the best experiences either of us has had. It’s pretty special to experience something so meaningful with your daughter. Every special dancer memory is a shared memory for us.

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Ballerina Profile: Yulia Klim

10931432_10153057791291310_1981081137301356605_nWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

9 months ago, I was 26.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Nope. I was living in a very small city, more of a village, we had one acrobatic center, which I never was interested in trying. Unfortunately never participated in any sport activity.

 Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I am not a big fan of weights and gym, as it is so hard to motivate yourself there, I find it boring but music always helped. So I was looking for a way to stay fit and enjoy it at the same time: salsa, pole dancing… Nothing called my name. And then I tried Beginner Ballet.

 Where do you take classes?

Dubai Dance Academy. I live in UAE, where some people would hear Belly Dance instead of Ballet Dance couple of years ago. However, Art forms are growing here and becoming more popular, and I am glad I found great studio with a great teacher, who is very passionate on bringing this form of art into the region.

 What is your favorite part about ballet?

Love barre work overall and its discipline. Quite enjoy any jumping activity.

 What is your least favorite part?

Grand battement. Already tired, hearing: “Ok, and now let’s do some grand battement” is like a punishment for me. It’s a massive reminder on how much core strength I am missing along with flexibility.

 Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

High arch is definitely something I admire, I’ve always appreciated the beauty of strong lean legs. However, watching any sport or dance professionals is always something inspirational, showcasing the beauty and great capabilities our human body has. In fact, wide range of abilities of our body is something that amuse me, from gymnastic to singing and composing music… We all are capable of A LOT.  Yes, starting something as a kid gives you a great advantage, but just because it is more difficult as adult doesn’t mean you should not do it, nothing is easy.  It is all in our hands to shape ourselves spiritually and physically the way we want it, at any age.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

Too many things… First, it’s the challenge. It feels that in ballet there are always new things you learn every day, there is a constant challenge even in the most simple and basic moves. Getting over-confident over something you think you finally got right, and then being told off by your teacher about your hands or chin or shoulders. There is always something more to it, there is always something new you will learn about your body, about ballet and its technique. Constant perfection. And secondly, it is the beauty, posture and elegance that ballet gives your body and its movements. Being quite skinny and light, I still felt like an elephant during my first classes. My moves were so heavy, so terrible. Well, I still feel like an elephant but I notice changes. Your posture slowly is getting better, and you do not want to stop there, you want more and you continue.

Do you take any other dance classes?

Not yet, but always been aiming at trying Jazz or Contemporary classes.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

With my office work I barely squeeze time to do ballet, so if collecting turtle toys counts as a hobby, that would be one.

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

Be patient and positive. Everyone started somewhere. No one was born a professional and even prima ballerinas didn’t do well back into their beginner years. You are starting now, and doesn’t matter how old you are, taking even one class already makes you better than you were yesterday. Be proud of yourself, take it slow, learn the technique first. Set realistic goals. Build the core strength and try to get closer to the right execution of the move. Technique is the key, our teacher may spend a long time simply explaining how your arm should be placed and which muscles you shall engage and I find it essential. Get the basics first, the foundation. If that requires lowering your leg, lower your leg. Do not rush, do not expect quick results, it will come to you after months and years of practice. You just have to be very patient. And of course, practise every day, even if it is just 5 minutes, anything is better than nothing.

 Anything else you’d like to add?

I heard that those who dance or sing live longer that could be another motivation haha.

Ballerina Profile: Laura of Surf and Hydrangeas

unnamedWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

February 2014, at 34 years old!?!

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

No. My mom tried to sign me up for a session and I hated every second of it. All I wanted to do was jump around and I don’t think I even finished the classes – I was a kid with ants in my pants!

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I was looking for something to add to my strength training routine to mix it up a bit and I had been curious about ballet for a while. I wanted to see what real ballet training was like – it seemed like it would be a great challenge for me. {Being graceful has not historically been one of my strong suits! :-)}

Where do you take classes?

I take classes at Align Ballet Method in Los Angeles.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I feel like the answer to this question changes every day! I’ve written a post about some of what I love, but so many times I come out of class and say “I loved that barre or combination today!” In general I think adagios and anything “pique” are my favorite parts of class.

What is your least favorite part?

I’m a pretty Type-A person and I get frustrated when things don’t come easily but I’m not a huge fan of frappes – they get me every time.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

I’m obviously in awe of pretty much every professional ballet dancer out there, but I find most of my inspiration closer to home. The Align Ballet Method teachers each bring their own style to class that inspires me to work on different parts of my dancing. I’m also constantly inspired by my classmates as well. They all have their own strengths that I’m in awe of and it pushes me to work harder.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

The constant challenge and my continued progress are what keep me motivated. It is amazing, and so much fun, to realize that I can do things I initially struggled with and to see how my dancing has developed over time. I also love that no matter how much I figure out there is ALWAYS something new to work on.

Do you take any other dance classes?

I only take ballet. But whenever I’m traveling for work or fun, I try to find studio to take a class in that city.  So far I’ve taken classes in New York at a few studios, {Broadway Dance Center was by far my favorite} and Toronto at the National Ballet of Canada.  Toronto was very cool since you are in the same building as the professional company!

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Ballet has definitely become #1 on my list in the last year but I also like photography and exploring LA. I try to go somewhere new once a week.

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

Keep at it! It is frustrating, difficult and sometimes a little painful {I STILL get sore!} but don’t let a bad class discourage you. Everyone learns at their own speed and when things start to come together, it is totally worth it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I was fortunate to be able to share my ballet experience on video not long ago and I hope that if anyone is nervous or not sure about taking ballet as an adult, my story helps them feel like this is something they can take on. It’s also really cool to have a record of my dancing so that next year {and beyond} I’ll be able to see my continued growth.

Do you have a blog?

Yes – Surf and Hydrangeas. It is more of a lifestyle blog, and not all about ballet, but I do write ballet related posts a couple times a month.

Ballerina Profile: Ashley Daily

Ashley and DrueWhen did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I started taking ballet class just 2 months ago.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I *think* I took ballet for a single class when I was around 5 years old. The only reason I have to suspect this happened is a single picture of me in a basic ballet leotard, tights and slippers. But I might also have been just “dressing up”. So, I honestly don’t know.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

This is such a great question! I wanted to try taking ballet when I was around 10-12 but my sister was trying out ballet and I didn’t want to encroach on her territory, so I did gymnastics instead. I am friends with a whole bunch of dancers and I’ve always admired their grace and poise. After having my third child, I desperately needed something to DO that would get me out of the house, away from my duties for just a moment and allow me to become the floaty-beautiful-perfect-ballerina-princess I have always wanted to try to be. I thought at first that I was too old. Surely, I thought, my time has come and gone. There certainly cannot be a class that will take me as I am: still fluffy from being pregnant, bad hips, endless ambition, no fear, and no experience. Yet, amazingly, a good dancer friend of mine pointed me in the right direction and I’ve absolutely loved every single minute of it!

Where do you take classes?

I take class in Lincoln Nebraska at Studio 2 under the very capable tutelage of Lindsay Fischer. It’s a small studio but the hard wood floors, exposed bricks and stone, and soaring ceilings give the studio such a unique character!

What is your favorite part about ballet?

My favorite part about Ballet is the finesse required. The solid determination to pursue a single movement to perfection. I love the discipline required. I am a classical pianist and I am amazed at the parallels between the two disciplines. Each finger has to be under control at all times, thought put into every note, knowing when, where and how to make the music your own while simultaneously belonging to everyone else. This lazer-focus on perfection appeals to me and so Ballet is a natural fit! The same principles apply: control, articulation, accentuation, dynamic, phrasing, performance. Attainable perfection! What a heady drug.

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