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.