Guest Post: Profile of Susan Attfield from Pretoria, South Africa

Today’s post (Adult Ballerina Project’s first guest post!) is brought to you by Susan Attfield, who owns her own ballet studio, Dance Hub, in Pretoria, South Africa. You can read her blog, Ballet for Adults in South Africa, here. Enjoy her post about being an adult ballerina and going on to open her own studio!

I started dancing just more than four years ago. I did two years of modern dancing when I was about 15 years old, but always want to do ballet. I had no prior experience in ballet till 2008 and never did ballet as a child.

Prior to starting ballet myself, I have not even seen a ballet or a live ballet performance on stage ever! I have always known that I wanted to do ballet, even as a child. My mother however, believed ballet was too expensive to take on as a hobby and wanted me to rather excel in athletic track events, which I did.

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Ballerina Profile: Chris from Leotards and the Buns in Them

Chris does some ballet attitudes while mounting his bike while he does cyclocross racing.

Chris from Leotards and the Buns in Them recently talked to Adult Ballerina Project about why he does ballet and what advice he gives to his fellow ballerinas. As I’ve mentioned before, I first found Chris’s blog when I was looking for instructions on how to build my own barre, and I found them on his website–it worked wonderfully and I only spent about 30 dollars. You can find out how to make your own here.

Adult Ballerina Project: When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

Chris: I was in college, so I’d say 22, 23.

ABP: Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

C: No, but I always wanted to.  For some reason I couldn’t get up the nerve to tell anyone I wanted to be a dancer.  I happily played sports instead, baseball, soccer and eventually tennis. However I did get a yearly dose of dancing, we did square dancing in elementary and junior high. I didn’t care much for it at all, until I realized I got to be close to some girls who I had huge crushes on. However, in my mind those two styles of dancing weren’t even in the same galaxy, square dancing didn’t do it for me.

ABP: Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

C: I realized that if you wanted to do something you should go ahead and do it. It’s a total cliche, but life is too short not to do something you always wanted to do. I found myself with the time and the means and couldn’t think of a reason not to try. Plus, I had a class with two girls who were ballet students in the conservatory program and after talking to them all semester long I finally got up the nerve and signed up for a class, and fell in love with it from class number one.

ABP: Where do you take classes?

C: Currently I go to the School of the Kansas City Ballet. They just moved into a beautifully rehabbed building, a former powerhouse for the nearby Union Station and former post office. I’ve been to a long list of other schools since I started stretching across the country as I’ve moved around. I also try to drop into classes when I travel, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco…

ABP: What is your favorite part about ballet?

C: Everything, it’s such a liberating experience, it’s difficult to pick what would be my favorite.  But if forced to pick something, I’d say jumping or leaping.

ABP: What is your least favorite part?

C: Paying for class, those damn class cards it can get expensive, especially when your taking three classes a week. I’ve purposely never sat down and added up what I have spent on classes and dancewear. Cha-Ching!

I don’t much care for the injuries classes may or may not have caused or have aggravated. I’m currently on a two month hiatus, tendinitis and an injury from a bike accident, only a few more weeks to go though.

ABP: What motivates you to keep dancing?

C: It’s pretty simple, I just want to improve. I can be quite competitive at times and the thought of classmates improving while I’m not really gets me going. I know that I haven’t a future in ballet, but I keep at it regardless. That’s one reason I built myself a barre. There was talk about a performance opportunity for the adult open classes, which really peaked my interest, I’d love to be in a place where performance is a possibility.

ABP: Do you take any other dance classes?

C: No. But I’ve tried modern and jazz, they were fun but I think I’m a classical ballet kind of guy.

ABP: What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

C: I race cyclocross, a quirky form of cycling, it’s a f’ing blast!   It’s funny but several members of my cycling team are former dancers and we all have found that our background in ballet has enhanced our racing both physically and mentally.

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

C: Do it! It’s never too late.

More profiles:

Advice from Ballet Instructors: Interview with Cynthia McCranie

Cynthie McCranie, an ex-ballet instructor took the time to talk to me about her 49 years of dance experience and gave some great advice to us ballet newbies (there is even some great stretching advice in there for those doing the #30daystretchchallenge)!

These photos are from a summer technique class Cynthia taught last year.

Adult Ballerina Project: How long have you been dancing?

Cynthia McCranie:  I began ballet lessons at age 4 1/2. Had to stop in 1998 after involved in a car accident. So,for around 35 years, I danced.

ABP: How long have you been doing ballet?

CM: Entire length of time in ballet is 49 years. I continued to teach after the auto accident.

ABP: Who/What inspired you to dance?

CM: Music inspires me and when I met Margot Fonteyn, I knew I was doomed. I was both exhaulted and depressed. Her artistry amazed and electrifid me, while at the same time I was depressed. I knew I would never achieve her stature in my art.

ABP: Where have you taught ballet and for how long?

CM: I am no longer teaching. For over 30 years I taught in the metro Atlanta area for my own studio and others. A few are: Atlanta Ballet (now called ABCDE- Atlanta Ballet Center of Dance Education), Smyrna School of Ballet, Dan & Company, Dance 411, Peachtree Presbyterian Fine Arts School, La Grange Ballet Theatre, Susan Chambers School of Theatre Dance, Georgia Ballet, Georgia Dance Academy, the Savannah Ballet plus many others.

ABP: Who do you teach (ages, gender, level, etc.)?

CM: I have taught ages 3 through adults, male and female. From the very beginning creative movement/ballet ages 3 & 4 through the advanced levels of Pre-professional teens and adult

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

CM:  My primary focus is ballet. I  also have taught modern, tap and jazz.

The class had three girls in the technique class, each on a different level.

ABP: Why do you teach ballet?

CM: There was no way I could live off the income of a professional company member in the Savannah Ballet. We were on a weekly wage, but it was very low compared to other professonals. So, I began teaching classes in the ballet school and took on extra duties to compensate my income.

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

CM: For the beginner adult my advice is to be sure and not take it so seriously that you can’t breathe! Enjoy your class,let yourself smile and perform as you learn. LAUGH at your mistakes sometimes. It IS important to take it seriously, but not to the point that it becomes dire for you. The majority of the adults I taught were very serious, smart and self-motivated. They entered the studio scared and very self concsious. I understand that, but my job as I saw it, was not to cut them down, but to raise them up. Having had a few instructors along the way who were very mean spirited and who traumatized me in class, I determined I would never repeat their behavior. So many knowledgable and talented teachers exist nowdays in every coner of the world, that  there is no excuse for a student to remain in a saddistic class. Sure, ballet is strenous and demanding. Taking class and working well  is why you are paying your money. There is a difference in working “had” and working “well.” Sometimes a student can work too hard (as I did as a young student) to the point of detrement. Balancing out knowing when to put 110% in and when to relax is part of every student’s ongoing learning curve. That just goes with the art form. You are re-training the body to do something that is physically unnatural. This requires great effort in order to make it appear effortless.

She made sure to give each girl appropriate corrections for their level.

When you are early for your class (I hope this is the case, anyway, lol) be sure to start with gente stretching on your own. The best thing to start with is usually the parallel calf and achilles stretch.Standing, facing the wall a few feet away, place your hands on the wall. Stand in a parallel 1st position and slowly slide one leg en arriere (to the rear.) Consciously breathe deeply an slowly as you continue the leg to a deep lunge. Stay in this position a while- a minute and a half  to 2 minutes and enjoy the stretch. Do the same with the other leg. You want to go as far as you can (ithout the heel releasing the floor) until you feel a good stretch along the back of the leg, especially on the back of the ankle.

ABP: Anything else you’d like to add?

CM: In conclusion, it is good to try new things and learn new skills. Ballet is incredibly rewarding. Just remember though, it can’t be learned in 6 lessons! Enjoy the journey. 

Boyfriend does Ballet

Last week I dragged my boyfriend, Hoai-Quoc (or HQ, as everyone calls him) along to my Intro to Ballet Class at Koresh Dance, since they offer $5 dollar classes to first time customers (if you’re in Philly, check them out–and don’t let those who are really good at ballet scare you!). Afterwards, I asked him a few questions about his experience. While he had some dance background from classes in high school (and he does hip hop now), he had never been in a formal studio dance class before. HQ is also doing the 30 day stretch challenge, see his picture from day 2 below!

My boyfriend and I at a wedding last year. I make the loveliest faces, I know.

Adult Ballerina Project: What did you expect about the class beforehand?

HQ: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect because while I know basic ballet techniques, I have never gone to a class that covers barre work, center work, and cross floor work. I was looking forward to getting the full studio experience to see if what I knew could hold up to it.

ABP: What ballet experience did you have beforehand?

HQ: I did ballet in high school through my theatre program. We covered basic jazz, ballet, tap, modern, and hip hop. I know things like my tendus, développés, rond de jambe, and the other types of basic moves as well as some leaps from necessity for the musicals we performed

ABP: What did you think about the barre portion of the class?

HQ: The barre portion was probably the most interesting for me since I have never done barre work….at a barre. I knew how to move my legs given prior experience but when it came to chaining the different things together as well as having to try to follow the arm positions, I got super confused. I ended up just keeping my arm in an open second and doing the leg movements.

ABP: What about center work?

HQ: The center work was fun because while I knew what to expect, I couldn’t necessarily follow along. The type of combinations that I did in high school were much simpler being things like a chasse to front attitude to arabesque to a layout (which isn’t correct, just example of the simple techniques we did) and that would be all. In the class I was instantly lost when the instructor named the combination of being pique -switch-arabesque-developpe-tombe-pas de bourree. I was overwhelmed from the combinations but thought it was a good look at what real ballet classes teach you.

HQ has also decided to do the #30daystretchchallenge with me. This is from Day 2 yesterday.

ABP: What did you think of the studio?

HQ: The studio I thought had a good environment. You were surrounded with people that obviously were there with a passion (some more than others) to learning ballet. The physical studio wasn’t quite as impressive due to the flooring not being kept up super well (not that it was bad, was just irritating stepping on the tape between mats and having a toe go half way in). In all though I thought the studio was successful in the atmosphere to learn dance as well as a space to learn dance.

ABP: Would you take a class there again?

HQ: I would take a class there again but I feel like I would take one once I have gained more experience in ballet. The class for a mostly beginner like me came across as very challenging and I felt as though I was struggling to keep up at times. So while yes, because I could tell that the quality of the class was rather good, for now I would say no until I get a little more experience under my belt.

ABP: Would you take a ballet class again?

HQ:  I would definitely take a ballet class again. I enjoy dancing and definitely enjoy expanding my knowledge in the different styles of dance that I learned in high school. I feel like ballet especially is great to keep taking because while the physical aspect is very strong and necessary, I enjoy the discipline that must be held by a person learning it to make the most of it. If you go in and just kinda go about the class as if it was a chore I feel like you essentially didn’t learn anything.

ABP: Anything else?

HQ: It was a great experience. I enjoyed being able to expose myself to taking studio classes and will definitely have to take more studio classes later on.

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