Following your dreams (it is possible): Pineapple Dance Studios

The Royal Ballet Company almost blacklisted me once.

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I was four years old and my long-suffering mum took me to London to see The Nutcracker, and I was more excited by hitting audience members with a plastic wand than watching the performance.

Strangely, this behaviour was not permitted; a stern usher instructed me to behave, or I would never step foot in the prestigious Royal Opera House again.

Not gonna lie, this first experience didn’t allude to a life-long passion for dance.

It wasn’t until I was eleven with an obsession with S Club 7 when the signs started to show. I wanted to learn every single dance move, to the point where they’d change it to S Club 8. I would be that good. I spent hours practising in my bedroom, acting nonchalant whenever my sisters knocked on the door.

But behind the privacy of four walls, I was safe. Granted, my Beanie Babies weren’t an enthusiastic audience, but I never considered myself to be a ‘true’ dancer; one that could go to classes, perfect their turn-out and achieve the splits. That just wasn’t me. And so, my secret dance love affair continued. I would record music videos from CD:UK on my ‘GRACE’S TAPE – PLEASE DO NOT RECORD OVER’ tape, and practice the popstar of the moment’s routine.

Reaching my 18th birthday, I felt old. It was all very dramatic. I hadn’t chased my dreams, taken chances, truly lived. Y’know, the usual.

I was someone I felt I should be, not the person I wanted to be. I set myself resolutions, and the first of these was to learn how to dance.

I remember my first ballet class distinctly – an intimidating group of near-professional 14 year olds in pink ballet tights and shoes with fancy ribbons. And me – a clueless teenager in some tracksuit bottoms and a pair of holey socks. It was tough and humbling. A whole new cosmos to breath in; incredible strength and technique to conquer (all whilst remembering to smile like you were in the Miss World competition).

I left the first class exhausted. But vibrant. Maybe I wouldn’t be the next Darcy Bussell, maybe I looked like an idiot. But I had found my identity. Over the next few months, I tried and loved everything – modern, tap, lyrical, musical theatre, commercial.

A year later I left my hometown for University, and as all true love affairs go, things don’t always run smooth. New surroundings, academic challenges and friendships took me away from dance classes.

After graduation, I found myself in London. A huge city, I was lost. Full-time work was an alien concept – that Friday Feeling, the Sunday blues… I was suddenly an adult (in the technical sense, at least), yet something was missing.

After a quick Google search, I found Pineapple Dance Studios. I was sceptical – surely they only let professionals in with a penchant for Fame?

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No, it turns out. You need neither experience nor leg warmers – just a passion to learn. Class after class, I fell in love all over again.

That was nearly two years ago. Pineapple now feels like my second home. Friendly faces and inspiring teachers, I can be me. Dance gives me focus, purpose, contentment. It encourages me to better myself, whilst teaching me to accept myself now.

I am still very much a beginner. It will take years to make significant progress, and of course there are thousands of dancers more skilled than I am.

But that’s OK. I don’t dance for other people. I dance because for me, dancing is breathing.

This post was originally published here.

Guest Post: Performing Character Roles

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 Party Scene in Birmingham Ballet’s Nutcracker

Adult ballet students often find themselves cast as party guests, mothers and fathers, royal court members, and villagers. On the surface, these can seem like “little” parts. But, as veteran performers know, character roles are challenging, rewarding, and worthwhile–not to mention being important to the plots of story ballets! Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet, told Pointe Magazine, “In a character part, the dancer doesn’t have the technical framework of a traditional role to fall back on. It’s all acting. People really have to go deep into their emotional side, and it takes guts to get out there and do that.”

Ideas for Preparing for Character Roles…

Think about the “who, what, and why” of your character –what motives them, how they respond to different situations, and why they respond this way. If your character doesn’t have a name or back story, create one yourself.

In her video Becoming a Character – NutcrackerKathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, says that you should ask yourself the five key questions that actors are taught to inquire about their characters:

“Who am I?

“Where am I going?”

“Who am I going to meet when I get there?”

“What do I want?”

“What extent am I willing to go to get that?”

Morgan also advises that you consider, “What is the music telling me?” She says, “The music is your guide to your character.”

Watch movies with characters similar to one you’re going to play. 

When New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin was preparing for the role of Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, she turned classic childhood films for inspiration. She told Pointe Magazine, “I called my dad and asked him to send me tapes of every Disney movie that had an evil witch! I took a lot from 101 Dalmations’ Cruella de Vil in particular.”

The first year that I was cast as the feisty, flirtatious maid in the Nutcracker party scene, I used Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolitte from My Fair Lady as inspiration for interpreting my part. Like my character, Eliza is working-class, spirited, romantic and enjoys dancing and chocolates. I also liked Eliza’s animated body language and I tried to imbue some of that energy into my performance.

If your character’s personality is more open to interpretation, such as a party parent or royal court member, period dramas or movies and tv series from the fantasy genre might be a place to find a character to inspire yours.

Remember, you don’t have to directly mimic every aspect of a film character, you can just take elements of their personality, expressions, and body language that you like best and that work well for your role.

Watch performances of ballet character parts on YouTube, DVDs, or live if possible.

Do strengthening exercises like Pilates. Movement is part of acting and greater strength will improve your overall movement quality. This will help your performance even if your character doesn’t dance or isn’t supposed to be graceful. American Ballet Theatre director Kevin McKenzie explained to PlaybillArts, “Character performances must be defined by energy—by how the dancer moves.”

Film yourself rehearsing at home. Experiment with different expressions, reactions, and gestures. See which ones you like best.

Have fun! Character roles are great opportunity to explore your dramatic side and become more fully immersed in the fairy tale onstage.

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Photo by Rachel Hellwig.

~Resources~

Pointe Magazine: Quite A Character

PlaybillArts: In Character with ABT: Exploring Character Roles in Ballet

Becoming a Character – Nutcracker | Kathryn Morgan:

Rehearsal of Carabosse for the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty:

Ballerina Profile: Nerea of Interpreting en Pointe

This week’s profile is of Nerea from Interpreting en Pointe, a blog that focuses primarily on ballet as well as some translation. Check out her awesome post entitled “Ballet is French.” 

Nerea performing  Kitri's wedding variation from Don Quixote in July of  last summer.

Nerea performing Kitri’s wedding variation from Don Quixote in July of last summer.

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

Nerea Fernández Martínez: I started two years ago, when I was 20.

ABP: Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

NFM: Yes, I started taking ballet lessons twice a week when I was 6. I used to go to school and learn Maths and Science like everybody else, and then in the afternoon I went to the gym to learn ballet with a beautiful teacher. We used to do performances at the end of each year, so I know what being onstage is like!

I continued dancing for seven years (I even got promoted to pointe) and then, when I was 13, I had to stop because the school decided not to offer those lessons anymore. It was very hard for me, but since I lived in a really small village, there was no other option: real schools were very far away from my home.Continue Reading

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