Ballet class has a wonderful way of teaching me important life lessons, each and every class. But I haven’t been going to class for quite a long time and I’ve missed not only the dancing but the wisdom that seemed to come out of every class. The other day I realized that I have learned a very essential lesson in regular life that will lead me back to ballet class. How is that for a reversal of wisdom! I sometimes teach a university course in management. In this class I like to give a writing exercise where I ask students to challenge their definition, thoughts, and ideologies about success. It can be a really difficult exercise because as much as some vague idea of success surrounds so much of our lives and as much as we use the word, we so rarely spend any time at all trying to understand what we mean. Since it’s my exercise, it’s one that I’ve done and thought through quite often – except when it comes to ballet. I’ve never really considered how I define being successful in ballet. I want to learn well and I practice hard and carefully. But what does it mean to me to be successful? There have been several reasons why I’ve been reluctant to go back to class. Lingering issues with my injury is what I usually tell people but it’s definitely more than that. Self-image, feelings of starting over yet again and the inadequacy that brings about, a lack of direction and goals, have all been eating away at the passion that I’ve had since the very first class I had with my awesome ballet teacher. It occurred to me as I was grading “success” papers that I did not have an idea of what kind of success I wanted with ballet, if at all. Did I really want to go back? What did I want out of going to class? What did I want from me? What does success like in ballet class, not just for an adult ballet student, but specifically for me? Here was a chance for my regular life to influence my ballet life and I was a bit amazed that I still feel like I have a ballet life even though at this point, I really have not been going to class regularly in two years. TWO YEARS!! I do want success in dance – I want to return to the pure pleasure of working hard, sweating a lot, and smiling from ear to ear at the end of class. I want to dance with my head and my heart. Success is had, day-to-day, class to class, in each tendu, plie, and glissade. Yes, success in dance is for me.
Still got questions about dance camp for grown ups? Worried because you’ve recently had an injury? Here is what the folks at Sun King Dance Camp have to say about it.
How do I make it to dance camp when injuries keep interrupting my training:
Part 1 – When Ballet Is Painful
Learning dance often means experiencing some injuries. I don’t mean that this is inevitable, but it is often part of the learning process, especially for adults. Our bodies are usually easier to injure and slower to recover. When you are injured it’s best to stop the movement that hurts and address it immediately.
Part 2 – Prevention
How do you avoid getting sidelined? It’s really important to pay attention to the body’s pain signals. The kind of injury that starts as a twinge in class often goes ignored. Pain when you move is a sign that there is something funky going on in the system. It might be a muscle imbalance or it might mean there is a problem with your technique. The sooner you address it, the more quickly you will be back doing what you love. If the injury is ignored, the pain may progress and linger after class. Eventually, you can develop chronic pain. Then your recovery may take months. So when you feel those first twinges, take a moment to check in with the pain and allow it to tell you the story and seek the advice of teachers, doctors or therapists to clear up the issue.
Ballet doesn’t have to hurt. When it’s done technically well, at appropriate levels and for reasonable periods of time, fewer injuries usually occur. Great teachers are very careful not to give students more than they are ready for. Often though, with adult classes, the teachers hands are tied pretty tight. Mixed levels are thrown in together, students are deciding when they are ready to progress, the pacing of the class is prioritized over the substance, and there is not enough time in class to talk about the technical issues of one individual. It’s like giving the student the cake without a fork with which to eat it! It’s quite a mess.
There are a number of important ways in which we at Sun King Dance deal with this problem. We have a meeting and informal placement with each new student to identify the most appropriate technique level for them at camp. We also address alignment immediately on the first day of classes. Daily EBAS class helps to reeducate the musculature so the body can perform movement more effectively and with greater ease. In the workshops we dissect anatomy and technique. It’s also an opportunity to work with students individually.
Part 3 – When You Are Injured
Trust me, as someone with the experience of a recurring injury, it’s best to take your time and fix it properly the first time. This process can be insanely hard to have patience with unless you take a new approach. Here is what I mean.
Move your focus to what you can do. Learn dance through other means and find other activities that don’t hurt. For example, you can learn terminology and history through books and videos. There’s so much to learn from just watching and listening to teachers and classmates. You can immerse yourself in the world of dance by watching videos, live performances or creating choreography in your head. You can cross train in Pilates, yoga or Gyrotonics and Elemental Body Alignment working the parts of your body that aren’t injured. Even just walking can be very beneficial to maintaining muscle tone.
Part 4 – Getting Back to Dance
Your body cannot just pick up where it left off pre-injury. An injured muscle is weaker than an out of shape muscle. You need to start back slowly – more slowly than you think! Your body will feel good long before you are ready to return to full activity. Start by doing just part of the barre the first time and work up to all of the barre exercises over a period of days or weeks. Then do barre and half of center floor. Even if you feel really good at this point in class, don’t jump yet! Your endorphins are kicking in and you will not feel pain until later. Use this slow time as an opportunity to clean up your technique. When the muscles are weak, that is the best time to correct the way you work.
Need some more personal advice about Dance Camp? Here is a great feature written by my good friend and fellow adult ballet class student, Jasmine Flanagan.
Three years ago I attended my first dance camp as an adult. I had only been dancing for about a year when a friend of mine, came to class all excited about an adult camp she found online. Immediately it peaked my interest and I sent off an application, and to my surprise after a few more questions and a quick chat with my teacher I was accepted. Now came the scary part, train as hard as I could in order to be able to dance 8-10 hours a day for a week and also prepare myself to meet and take class with dancers from all over the country who most likely would be much more talented than me. I also had another burden of being a transgendered woman recently starting to discover my true identity, and had no idea how I would be treated. My fear was real and palpable as I slowly walked to the dance studio with my friend from back home. At first everyone I encountered was friendly but most were off chatting with friends they had made from prior camps. Not too long after that we had a complete group meeting where everyone stood up and talked about themselves, and soon after we were divided up into groups and started taking class.
Class was hard, really hard, and as I was struggling to figure out the combination or remember the new correction I could see that the person next to me was equally struggling in her own way. Then there is a break in class and in the hallways, these perfect strangers a few moments ago have become your biggest supporters as class is dissected and reassembled into ways that makes it more understandable.
This goes on for many days and the struggles only get worse for me as we start learning choreography to not one but 3 different pieces. I become so overwhelmed that I have to leave class crying because I just can’t do it. Amazingly people start coming over and comforting me, and building me up, saying how hard it all is at your first camp, and that everyone has noticed how hard I am trying and how brave I am for coming to camp and before I know it the first day is over, … except that it isn’t. I get invited to the “party” down the street at the Mexican restaurant. A couple more introductions and a few adult beverages and everyone is laughing and joking and just having a great time.
As the week progresses there is more crying and frustration in class, but more hugs and support from everyone and then nights filled with good cheer. Friday afternoon arrives, everyone performs and after all of us are filled with joy and laughter, the pressures of performing gone. and l That night we have a large feast where both teachers and students celebrate the fruits of a very hard week of both personal and physical growth and endurance.
Here at camp people saw me at my most vulnerable moments, but they also saw me persevere and come out on top. These are the types of bonds can never be broken. Although we are all scattered across the country, we continue to reach out and touch each other’s lives. I can’t imagine a year going by that I don’t attend camp, and I know I have built friendships that will endure. As an adult we have so few opportunities to create these types of relationships, I am extremely thankful that I found the courage to attend, a highly recommend everyone try to find a similar situation.