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

Support Adult Ballerina Project — Grab a “anyone can do ballet” Shirt, Tank, or Sweatshirt!

As you may have seen on Facebook or Pinterest, I recently launched a Teespring store featuring some ABP merchandise. Just like the stickers I made earlier, I’ve put together a few shirts, tanktops and sweatshirts you can purchase with the ABP slogan, “Anyone can do ballet” on them. You’ve got a few different style and color options to pick from:

T-Shirt:

blue-shirt

Flowy Women’s Tank:

pink-flowy-tank

 

Tanktop:

purple-tank

Sweatshirt:

pink-sweatshirt

The store is at https://teespring.com/anyone-can-do-ballet-abp. I plan on using the profits from the sales to fund ABP, including hosting and other costs that go into the website and maybe (if I eventually sell enough) coming up with some sort of way to fund regular contributors. So if you want to see more great content, purchase a t-shirt or tanktop and show it off!

To Return or Not?

9154522701_e7e8bc8f45_z

Many adult ballet dancers take a break for various reasons like work, family and school obligations, health issues and financial constraints. Returning to ballet after any hiatus is often difficult. Even harder for me was deciding whether or not to return. Until 10 months ago and despite having Morton’s Neuroma, I attended 2-3 ballet classes per week. Non-surgical treatments (Epsom Salt soaks, acupuncture, acupressure, cortisone shots and even ultrasound guided radiofrequency ablation – which is sounds scarier than it is) helped temporarily, but eventually dancing full-out become impossible. Rolling up onto demi-pointe was painful; even everyday walking in comfortable sneakers hurt. If I stood high up enough on my toes (e.g., en pointe or on 3-inch heels), I could roll through and past the neuroma in the ball of my foot. However, in flat ballet slippers or low heels (like 1-inch character shoes), my weight rested squarely on the ball of my foot, radiating pain to my third and fourth toes.

Stubbornly, I kept trying to dance but eventually stopped; I had to stay on flat or mark steps whenever I put weight on my left foot. After years of avoiding surgery for Morton’s Neuroma, I finally gave up and gave in. Due to work and family obligations, however, I couldn’t fit surgery in for another 5 months! During that period, I missed ballet but also felt strangely relieved too, no longer rushing to and from class squeezed in between meetings and errands.

In the meantime, on other adult ballet blogs I found similarly ambivalent feelings towards ballet. Last year Nikki (profiled on ABP) of Mercietchatons also had surgery and during recovery wrote, “You’d think I’d be dying to go to dance. But I don’t. I want to be normal again most of all.” Nikki returned to class but noted, “sadly a lot of the Adult Ballet-er blogs I followed have gone silent.” I was touched by the insightful, articulate and self-aware posting by Zoe (also profiled on ABP) of Bush Ballerina on why she decided to stop dancing this summer. Blogger Rheumatic Princess admitted, “I’m in such a ballet funk. I really just don’t want to go at all, right now.

5 months post surgery: I’ve endured a slow but steady recovery that progressed from barely putting weight on my left foot and using my hands to bend my toes to walking 2 miles and pointing my toes unassisted. Physically, I may be ready to return to ballet but ask, why?

My reasons for “why not” are:

  • Money (gas, parking, class fees, gas)
  • Time (a 45-minute commute each way to and from the studio for a 1½ hour class)
  • Preparation (changing on the run; remembering necessities like a water bottle, shorts to wear over my leotard, change for parking, etc.; putting up my hair at red lights)
  • Guilt (I’m not a pre-professional teenager and thus have trouble justifying devoting so much time, money and energy to ballet).
  • Fear (Will my foot hurt? Will I be able to dance?  If so, will I ever return to my previous level?)

My reasons for “why” are:

  • I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try at least a couple of classes again
  • Ballet is one of the few forms of exercise I actually like
  • Ballet is a unique pursuit among 40-something suburbanite women (that I know)
  • I love and miss dancing ballet

During recovery, the only ballet step I’ve executed outside of physical therapy and on my own at home was relevé (on both feet) to put away dishes in the kitchen. I’ve tried to relevé on my left foot alone only a few times and for no longer than 2-3 fraught seconds. Was I really ready? A professional ballerina friend was encouraging but advised, “Take it slow and don’t be frustrated by not being able to do what you used to do.”

Fast forward to after my first class back, which I’ll discuss in another post: I enjoyed it! I survived class and fulfilled my 3 criteria of success:

  • I didn’t fall or hurt myself
  • I didn’t hurt or make anyone else fall
  • I didn’t get in anyone’s way

The disciplined barre exercises, muscle memory/ingrained technique for combinations (on both sides), live piano music, and my welcoming teacher and classmates all made me feel like I returned home after a long trip. I’m rusty, weak and out of shape, but at least I’m back.

Image via Flickr User Kryziz Bonny via Creative Commons License 

Ballerina Profile: Dr. Karen Lambie

Screenshot 2015-09-23 10.33.05Profiles are back! We’re kicking off this week with a profile of Dr. Karen Lambie. Want to be profiled? Fill out this form.
When did you start doing ballet as an adult?
I started taking ballet about 2 years ago after a 30+ year absence.
Did you ever take lessons as a kid?
I did take lessons as a kid from the age of 4 to the age of 8. I started classes again when I was in my 20’s.
Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?
I decided to take classes as a 61 year old ( I am now 63) because I loved it so much when I was younger and felt I needed the exercise.  
Where do you take classes?
I take classes right here in my small town of Statesboro, GA.
What is your favorite part about ballet?
It is difficult to say what is my favorite part of ballet, but I have always loved being able to express the emotions I feel from music through the beauty of dance, especially ballet.
What is your least favorite part?
I suppose my least favorite part is wanting so badly to be able to execute a particular move and not being able to due to the level of difficulty.
Who/What is your ballet inspiration?
I get my inspiration simply from the beauty of the art of ballet. Some of the most inspirational ballerinas for me include Gelsey Kirkland, Sylvie Guillem, Margot Fonteyn and Svetlana Zakharova.
What motivates you to keep dancing?
What motivates me to continue is the feeling that runs through my entire body when I am dancing–I feel as though I am flying! No other kind of dance makes me feel like ballet and I believe that a good barre and center workout is about the best exercise there is!
Do you take any other dance classes?
Occasionally I go to a modern dance or jazz class.
What are your hobbies outside of ballet?
My hobbies include reading, making jewelry and I love playing around with drums.
What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?
What I would say to anyone starting ballet or who wants to start is that it is not an easy discipline. It is very challenging, however, it is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling endeavors ever! It can be extremely frustrating at times, but most of the time, you will have a wonderful sense of accomplishment at the end of a class or performance, so don’t give up! Let yourself go as far as you can! Even at the age of 63, I am still improving!
Anything else you’d like to add?
 
Additional information about myself: I am a retired teacher with 32 years of experience. I am a foster parent. I have become a public speaker concerning the fast growing crime of human trafficking. You may visit my Facebook page at facebook.com/Karen.AmbassadorOfHope. Thank you.

 

Personal Stories: My first few months in ballet

Editor’s note: This is our first user-submitted post! Want to submit your own? Check out here!

There are many ideals to learn from ballet. I first started researching the topic in hopes to prolong the demise of my decaying body. I was a serious couch potato. I’ve just recently converted my desktop computer to a standup ‘workstation’ (it’s still just a big screen to play video games and watch TV shows on). All in all, I feel better and love what I do, which is constantly practice ballet.

The first ideal in ballet is posture. Core strength is EVERYTHING in ballet. Thus, the most important part of dancing is to activate your core. Spine stabilization allows for other muscles to be used for range of motion to lift your legs past 90 degrees, or just to balance better.

However, the classical teachings of ballet are still in practice, and I believe it is time to usher in a new wave of thought, that abdominal bracing is superior to abdominal hollowing, most notably praised by Dr. McGill. As an adult, I’m most likely not going to dance professionally, so the idea of sucking in your belly button to look pretty (and classically activate your core) are obsolete, according to recent studies. However, showing my beer belly (because I’m 30 years old and like my craft beers) is much more beneficial to spine stabilization than I ever thought possible. I use abdominal bracing when I bend over to brush my teeth over the sink. The entire concept is a revolution to the idea that we would forever be known as hunch-back computer homo sapiens. It could very well be the cure to lower back pain in the majority of adults.

The second ideal in ballet is flexibility. Witnessing those young dancers hyper extend their splits, is almost as psychologically painful as watching The Deer Hunter for the first time.

Jules Mitchell, who is developing the concept of stretching in her master thesis (soon to be a book), processes the exact nature of muscle tissue, down to sarcomeres and myosin. The idea of “tightness” is a fallacy we perpetuate over and over again when in fact we really just need to build strength in the muscles to increase range of motion. Mitchell also adds that regular stretching is not completely bad and that it does add a comfort level, so not to retreat from our maximal range of motion; however, the classical thought, yet again, could be revolutionized by this new way of thinking.

So, I’ve been researching and practicing dynamic stretching. Leg swings, arm circles, squats and lunges, all to help loosen major joints. It’s now known, that passive stretching can decrease your strength in those muscles. Thus, picture yourself doing the splits before class, and then getting yelled at for not going higher than 45 degrees in your developpe. I’ve still been putting off actually pushing my comfort level to increase my range of motion, but at least I know the proper steps, and willing to at least try.

The third ideal in ballet is to love ballet. My beginner class teamed up with the intermediates, and I was so jealous that they could so easily follow the routine. Of course, they’ve been at it longer than I, but WOW! They do the little mimicry with half motions of their arms and legs to get the muscle memory going, and all of a sudden, they can either hear it, see it, or feel it. Me, on the other hand, I was just trying to follow them. I think the ideal to love what you do, is paramount to everything in life.

I might look kind of odd when I’m standing at work doing rond de jambe, and releve, but I love ballet! It is such a beautiful display of art, that when standing at my standing ‘workstation’ I find myself in arabesque, and perfecting my port de bras… and I could care less who looks in on me dancing to my heart’s content.

Skip to toolbar