Thinking and Dancing

For many of us, the holidays bring about the great dread of a break in ballet classes. As for myself, I’m extraordinary fortunate to have classes available to me but I’ve been so busy with teaching stuff and holiday plans, including holiday visitors, that I haven’t been going to too many classes this month. I think that we can all agree that going to class is not only fun but doing ballet is the best way to really discover ballet in our bodies. But I’m going to go out on a ledge here and say that doing ballet isn’t the ONLY way to train our bodies to dance. And I’m not talking about hours stretching, cross training, and all those foot exercises that we all do. I’m talking about thinking about ballet. At this point, I know that you are not surprised that I’m a thinker – I spend a lot of time thinking. Actually, that’s my day job – I earn a paycheck by spending most of my day thinking.  And I spend a lot of time thinking about dancing. Not just day dreaming mind you, but thinking about me, my body and ballet.

During my injury+dissertation time away, I spent a lot of time thinking. I’m not going to claim miracles here but it helped. A lot. A lot a lot, as a matter of fact. My regular teacher told me that he was rather amazed as how fast I came back to my previous level and how quickly I am gaining ground to surpass what I was doing both technically and artistically before I went out. And I will confess right here, right now – when I was off, I did not stretch, I did not cross-train, I did not diet. I ate a lot of Krispy Kreme doughnuts washed down with Diet Coke and sat on the couch writing and reading for hours at a time, for months on end. I watched ballet on DVD but mostly because Manuel Legris is adorable and I like to look at him. But every now and again, I’d take a moment to put an arm in second position, look at my fingers, feel my elbow, thinking about my shoulder. When I would brush my teeth, sometimes I would look in the full length mirror at my hips and turn out and think about what it means to be lifted out of the hips and up through the knees. Because of the dissertation, I was even more in my head than I usually am – and that quite a bit, let me tell you – but I spent time thinking about different positions and steps, the differences, the movement, what it should look like on my body and what it should feel like. I thought about where I should be breathing and imagined how energy should flow. Sometimes I would move my body a bit but in truth, not that much really, it was much more visualization.

I didn’t just look at photos and videos of ballerinas dancing; I thought about what I looked like and what it feels like when I am turning, jumping, gliding, moving. Getting back into the studio, I took all that thinking and imagining with me. I discovered that I could find where I should be breathing and could more readily access energy flow – where it should begin, where it should be going. I also discovered that I could feel what I had spent all that time thinking about, I began to discover what muscles I was engaging and which ones really need to be strengthened, I noticed where I am flexible and where I am tight, I could feel where I flow and where I hiccup. I am so much more aware of where my real turnout ends and what my lines actually are. All that thinking was indeed paying off in the studio! To my surprise, I could relax a bit more because I had done all the hard thinking before I got there, rather than knitting a furrowed brow in concentration trying to think through every little thing at the barre like I normally do. It was recall rather than deep contemplation.

I probably won’t be back in class until the new year but I will be thinking about ballet. And I won’t be sweating too much about that piece of sweet potato pie or spending time away from family to do 100 crunches a day. I’ll get to that later. And I won’t feel bad that I’m not doing something over the break to enhance my dancing because I am. I will think about my body and my movement and I will think about what it means to feel dance in my arms all the way to my fingers and I will think about how my feet actually do belong to me and the wonderous way they work. And I will take all that thinking and contemplation with me to class in 2014 and I will dance. And it’s going to be fantastic. I hope that you will be there too.

~All will be well.

7 thoughts on “Thinking and Dancing

  1. I LOVED this post. Actually, I’m going to say that I think this may be the most important ballet-related blog post I have read all year. I love reading all posts, from all our ballet peeps, but this one has such a huge lesson in it.

    I visualise everything I do in ballet. Perhaps not having in-person classes has helped me? I’ve had to think about every movement before I start to learn it because I don’t have someone I can watch and copy? Although I am also a big thinker, so maybe it’s partly that too?

    In any case, I think about my movements in ballet much as you described, and when I watch a ballet on tv or youtube, I often imagine what it would feel like in my own body to be dancing those moves that the ballerina is dancing. I do HEAPS of thinking and visualising my body within the movements and positions.

    But I have never visualised the energy travelling through my body. That is amazing. Feels like the next step for me. Thanks so much. You’ve really inspired me to love these thought processes, indulge in them and add the energy flow to the mix!

    • Thanks, BB! I’m so glad that this post spoke to you! I’ve had more than one teacher talk about feeling the energy in our bodies – not just keeping up the energy all the way through class but feeling the energy moving through the body! I sort of imagine my energy as a light and I sometimes imagine that it sounds like a lightsaber (could that be any more nerdy?!)

      I admire you so much for learning ballet on your own! I hope that visualizing and thinking deeply about ballet enriches your self study!

  2. When I went back to dance class at 42, I found that I had to think a lot about steps and especially about turns. Actually, I spent a lot of time trying to visualize turns before I was able to do them correctly, even turns I had done as a teenager many times without thinking.

    • Thanks for reading, Paulina! Before I went out on my injury, I could barely do a single pirouette to the right every now and then when all the planets were aligned and the month had the letter R in it 😉 I spent a lot of time thinking about turning – the physics of it, the geometry, the whole spatial aspect of what it should look like and when… my first class back, I was able to do solid singles to the left and right from fourth and fifth. It was like a miracle! Granted, my turns still need a lot of work and practice and are not as consistent as I’d like them to be. I also think that as adults, we tend to think a lot anyway so if we can funnel all of that thinking into something positive, that would be all the better for our dancing 🙂

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