Beginner Ballerina Profile: Michelle McCarthy

This week’s profile is of Michelle, who contacted me a few weeks ago about doing a profile on her ballet friend Karen (who will be featured next Friday!). Michelle reminds us so much that you need to only compare yourself to yourself–not to any other dancers! It’s amazing how much you’ve improved, even when you don’t think you’ve come that far.

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When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

 Michelle: January 2013 (33 years old)

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Michelle: Nope. I was interested, but I think my parents thought it was too expensive and my mother didn’t want to hang out with the “dance moms.” They did let me take gymnastics, tumbling, and cheerleading for a while. In college, I went swing and salsa dancing.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

Michelle: I was interested in taking barre fitness classes but balking at the expense. A co-worker suggested I take the “basics” workshops at her studio since it was mostly barre work. I took both 8-week sessions and became interested in ballet for its own sake (although it has been a great workout). And I’m now spending a lot more money per month than my old gym membership…oops!

 

Before class!

 Michelle: School of Contemporary Ballet Dallas.

 What is your favorite part about ballet?

 Michelle:  The combination of mental and physical challenge. I love the routine of class and the fact that no one is really paying attention to anyone but themselves. It’s been a very restorative activity for me during the last year after some rough spots in my personal life. Also, learning ballet is the opposite of being a tax lawyer (which is what I do for a living).

What is your least favorite part?

Michelle: Getting discouraged that its a lot harder for me to pick up new physical skills in the my 30s. My goal for the summer was to be able to do a single pirouette, and I’m don’t think I’m going to make it. I am getting closer though!! Also, my “old” brain has a hard time remembering the combinations (but that’s getting a little better too).

 Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Michelle: Really, all the people I’ve met at the studio. I really enjoy that the students are of all ages and levels and taking a couple of hours to do something they enjoy. I have a “ballet friend” that I met in the basics workshops and its fun to have someone to discuss class and our frustrations and accomplishments with (because no one else is interested – ha!) The teachers as well. After taking a few classes at other studios, I can safely say that classes of all levels at CBD are tough!! But the teachers are always very encouraging, even when it must be frustrating (and hilarious).

After Class!

After Class!

What motivates you to keep dancing?

 Michelle: Getting out of the house! Ballet has become my “mommy time” activity and it gets me moving instead of collapsing onto the couch as soon as my kid goes to bed.

 Do you take any other dance classes?

 Michelle: I have taken a few modern classes and really enjoyed it. I’d definitely like to explore other styles, but am limited in how many classes I can get to in a week.

 What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Cooking, Gardening, Book Club, and Toddler Wrangling.

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

Michelle: Stick it out when you get frustrated and only compare yourself to yourself!! I try to remember that even though I’m still terrible, I’m less terrible than 8 months ago (or even 1 month ago).

 Anything else you’d like to add?

 Michelle: Thanks for the inspiring and interesting blog.

Beginner Ballerina Profile: Marlene

Profiles are back this week with a profile of Marlene, a ballet dancer who takes classes at Irene Dance Hub in Centurion after she was never motivated to go to the gym and decided to try ballet instead!
Marlene
When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

Marlene: January 2013.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Marlene: No, never. When I stepped into the ballet class beginning of this year, I was a true “absolute beginner”.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

Marlene: Well, I desperately needed to start exercising! But I didn’t want to go to a gym – been a member once, but because it bored me and there was no fixed times that I had to go there, I soon quit. At the end of last year, the word “dance” just jumped out everywhere. Mmm, what about starting to dance? I already love music and rhythm, so I just had to start moving with it! 🙂  I hoped that dance classes would be on fixed times during the week, and I knew I probably wouldn’t get bored because there will always be something new to learn. OK then, but where in the world do you get adult dance classes? Uhm, ask Google. And so I found…

Where do you take classes?

Marlene: Irene Dance Hub in Centurion, with passionate dancer Susan Attfield as the owner, and Louina Prinsloo – our no-nonsense, “stop moaning”, teacher 🙂  We love you both!

What is your favorite part about ballet?

Marlene: Believe it or not, when my muscles are shaking and burning – that means something is working! 🙂  Other than that, I love the “jumps” we do.  It is then that I feel freedom.

What is your least favorite part?

Marlene: I hate to miss a class, or when a class ends… more, more!  Also when my mind messes with my feet and arms 😉

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Marlene: I love watching Miko Fogarty.  She not only loves ballet, but in the way she dances, she makes sure the audience enjoys it just as much as she does.  One of my favorite videos of her is:

(I just wish there was a better “non-stretched” recording available).

What motivates you to keep dancing?

Marlene: When I get discouraged I watch a few ballet movies on youtube or read the good stuff on the Irene Dance Hub’s facebook page, and soon I’m out of my pit 🙂  Also doing a few plies and easy moves in front of the mirror keeps me going as it helps me to remember that a few months ago I didn’t even know what a plie was, never mind do one!

Do you take any other dance classes?

Marlene: No, not at the moment.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Marlene: Music, books, outdoors, gardening.

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

Marlene: The only dancer you should compare yourself to is the one you used to be.

Marlene is on the far left!

Marlene is on the far left!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Marlene: Thank you for your blog, Kristen.  It is such an encouragement to read about other adult ballet dancers and their experiences.  We need that 🙂

Can you be TOO flexible as a ballet dancer?

OY VEY! I am so sorry that I’ve sort of “slacked off” on my stretching series. I’ve been sick for the past week and then I just sprained ankle on top of it. Apparently I can dance better than I can walk. 🙂 So while I’m taking a little hiatus from dance and intense stretching to let my body heal from the illness and injury, I figured I’d bring up a topic that seems to be controversial at the moment- can you become TOO flexible or overstretch when it comes to ballet?? I found an article about how the positions of ballet have changed over the years and how they require a different level of flexibility and it raises interesting questions about the pressure it puts on dancers to be crazy flexible. I’ll fess up… one of my guilty pleasures is following a ton of little ballet Instagrams that are likely run by 12 year old girls (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m “old” in comparison so it makes me feel a little silly haha). So my Instagram feed is overrun with pictures of girls doing tilts, oversplits, and various other insane in the membrane stretches.

One of the first pictures on google image search of "oversplits"

One of the first pictures on google image search of “oversplits”

Part of me is blown away at the awesomeness of the stretches. It’s really amazing to see what the human body is capable of when you stretch it out and push its limits. The other part of me is really curious as to the concerns and dangers associated with stretching to extremes. I am, of course, a huge advocate of stretching as I find it’s very important to keeping a healthy body as well as progressing in ballet. I am also very cautious and try to make sure to weigh the costs with the benefits before I do anything. For me, the biggest concern that I have with these extreme stretches are the dangers involved. Could you imagine if one of the chairs in the above pictures slipped out during the process of getting in this position?! Holy pain, Batman. Or when I see people stretching their arches by sticking their foot under a couch and forcing it down I can’t help but wonder how much potentially “unnecessary” strain they are putting on their joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles that could later lead to serious injury.

When trying to do research on the topic I found some really weird mixed messages. A lot of sources say that you can’t really be too flexible and that you should try and push and push until you can get further. A lot of other sources say that being overly flexible is neither necessary nor helpful in ballet because it actually makes you need to work harder to maintain the classic lines that make ballet seem graceful rather than looking contorted. Although I found a lot of opinions of parents of dancers, adult dancers, and teen dancers, there aren’t a whole lot of easily accessible resources based from more reliable “official” sources. So, because I am no expert and definitely cannot give you advice on the matter, I advise that you weight the pros and cons yourself before attempting any stretches of that magnitude and always recommend caution. But I figured it could be an interesting point of conversation. Do you feel that these extreme forms of stretching can help or hinder ballet? How do you feel about the ever increasing flexibility requirements of ballet and how it changes the way the lines of the body look?

 

On a more fun note, I also decided to do the ABC survey Kristen posted to tell you a little more about myself after the jump 🙂

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Stretching Series: Stretching Tips and The Back

In my previous posts, as well as on the Adult Ballerina Project Facebook,  I mentioned that I would be doing a post on stretching. I got some good requests and feedback on what type of stretches you’d like to see and I decided that rather than squeeze it all into a horrible 5 page long post or a short one without pictures that I’d do a series instead. So this will be the first of my stretching series and I’m starting with my favorite part of the body to stretch: The back!

83eb6bb7f3e5113d03859d2cf0cfcc79Before we begin with that, I’d like to give some of my general tips on stretching.

1. Bundle up. Ok, this may sound really unpleasant. Especially because it’s summer. But this has been a huge help in increasing my flexibility. When I stretch I typically wear tights, legwarmers, shorts, sweatpants, a leotard, and a sweater. As I heat up, I strip layers but I tend to leave my legwarmers and shorts on to keep my legs and hips nice and toasty. One word of caution if you do decide that this tip is something you’d like to try… don’t overdo it. Make sure you’re hydrated and that you’re not pouring sweat. It should serve to help get and keep your muscles warm, not to make you pass out from heat stroke.

2. Warm up for your warm up. This may sound silly but when I stretch I like to walk around the room fast for a few minutes, do a few jumping jacks, or something similar. Getting your blood flowing just a little bit will help your muscles warm up and be more flexible.

3. Use Therabands to help add some resistance or to help you grab your leg when your arms cant quite reach yet.

4. Make good use of fences, counters, doorways, couches. I love to stretch my legs out by just resting one on my counter like its a barre. When I’m at hotels I use the door frame to help me stretch my back out. Be creative and use whatever is safe that you can use to help aid you in stretching.

5. Don’t push yourself too far. Stretch just enough for a little discomfort and hold for 15 seconds. Then next time hold for 20, then 30 and so on. When it becomes “easy”, then push yourself a little farther and repeat the process. This will keep you from torn muscles.

6. If you’re having a stiff day, stretch after a warm bath.

7. You might not look like the hot babes in the yoga pictures you found online- and that’s ok! I get annoyed with this all the time. I imagine myself doing a stretch I see online and when I do it it looks TOTALLY different (and much less cute) than the pictures I saw. But lets get real- that’s what the person in the picture does for a living and they usually have also sat through hair and makeup (and get touched up) and are taking a full day to take like five pictures. Stretching isn’t about the visual product as much as it is making sure that your body is flexible and ready for dancin’.

Ok so now I’ll start with my favorite back stretches. I do these almost daily, if not twice daily. I have found that my posture has totally changed with these stretches and that my arabesque and port de bras have also improved as well.

back2

 

1. (Left to right) I start with a cobra pose focusing on keeping my shoulders down and pushing up with my sternum rather than my lower back.

2. Once I’ve reached that pose and have held it for about 30 seconds or longer, I bring my feet up as close to my head as I can get them. It’s ok if you can’t get them to your head yet, just keep trying by bringing them up as high as you can.

3. I always like to reverse my stretches. When I stretch one muscle group, I stretch the opposing muscle group. I find that this helps me avoid soreness and keeps me from having any part of my body from being more flexible one way than the other. Soooo, to reverse these back stretches I do a cat pose, remembering to pull up from the back as well as pushing up from the core.

back

 

4. From there I turn over and do a back bend, feet and hands flat on the floor. After holding as long as you’re able between 15 and 30 seconds.

5. Slowly go down onto your elbows one at a time. I like to put my hands together in the center but you can also put them parallel to each other on the ground. Start by staying on flat feet and holding for a few seconds, then go up on demi pointe. Hold.

6. Walk your feet outward as far as you can to see if you can straighten your legs. I’m still unable to straighten completely but I’m getting there. I find that the easiest way to get out of this pose is to just keep sliding until you’re laying on your back.

7. Last I like to lay on my back and sort of just wiggle around, loosening everything back up. It seems super counter intuitive that stretching would make you tight, right? But I’ve noticed that sometimes with back stretches, your back wants to revert back to it’s previous happy place right away after you’ve pushed it so I just roll out my back, twist around, and try to loosen it back up before I go about my business. 

This is also a great video that can be really helpful. Click here.

What stretches do you do to increase your back flexibility/strength? Also, what parts of the body do you want to see stretches for in this series? (I know that we got one request for knee stretching and I will be certain to get that done!)

Happy Stretching!

**Keep in mind, these are just MY favorite stretches and you definitely need to make sure are careful trying anything new.

Ballet is (almost) like riding a bicycle

Ballet is (almost) like riding a bicycle

4093835537_170cc4a8a9As I’ve mentioned before, I unintentionally took 2 and half weeks off from ballet, starting with birthday plans and my WordPress class and extending all the way to the Fourth of July and bouts of the stomach flu (twice–I’m one lucky girl!). Fortunately, I finally got to go back this Saturday.

What Went Well in Class

The barre went really well. I didn’t have any trouble remembering combinations like I sometimes do when I first return after a break. Usually I’m miserable the first couple of classes back. I think it was a confidence boost that we had a relatively tiny class and the fact I was comfortably tucked in the middle of the barre, instead of my usual end space. My pirouettes seemed to be up to par with what they were (which isn’t necessarily the greatest). It was nice to know they hadn’t deteriorated.

What Didn’t

So I tried to find myself a nice spot in the middle of the floor, but everyone ended up gathering behind me (guess I wasn’t far back enough!) and I ended up being in the front row, and my brain ended up being slightly scattered. Although my balance seemed good during the barre portion, I couldn’t balance on my right leg to save my life. I just felt like I was watching myself struggle in the mirror. Once I left class, I had shooting pains in my lower right leg (it’s been having issues ever since something went wrong on the treadmill a few weeks ago). I have a feeling that’s what’s to blame for my lack of stability. Hopefully I’m able to make up with it with class on Monday (if my leg is up to it) and Saturday.

Future Plans

I probably won’t be updating as much this week, as it’s going to be super busy. I’ve got a few big articles to work on and I’m starting another Girl Develop It class on HTML/CSS that I’m super excited for. Hopefully I’ll be able to fit in some indoor runs this week too (heat wave all week in Philly) but we’ll see. I also stopped with my abs and legs challenge this week because the leg exercises were taking too much of a toll of my legs. But I did start getting back into stretching, which is a good sign.

What are your plans for this week?

 

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