What this year has made clear to all of us is that class has strangely become the most important part of our days... As we can count on one hand the amount of times we saw the inside of a theater, ballet class at our counters, chairs and barres have been crucial to stay in shape and keep our connection to our dancer soul. Even if we slowly are getting back to our beloved studios, we cannot satisfy our creativity as much, so let's try to at least have satisfying classes and still grow!
My beautiful friends: Estheysis Menendez, Cecilia Iliesiu, Megan LeCrone and I will share with you some tips and thoughts on how to feel just a tad more fab during class. 😘✨
Taking class at home and in a studio is obviously a different vibe so we will touch on both scenarios!
IN THE STUDIO:
- First off, one word for a feel good start to your day: Fashion. 😘 Wearing an outfit you love puts a smile on your face. It may seem trivial but it will give you a boost of confidence. Think about how you feel when you wear a gorgeous costume on stage!! So put on your favorite leo, skirt, tights, or T-Shirt & feel your power. You might even get a compliment or 2 ;)!
- We concentrate so much on ourselves in ballet but it is also an amazing community. I've made my lifelong strongest friends through dance. So interact with them in the morning while warming up, get some laughs in and throughout class, support each other. (A "yes, girl!!" or a snap goes along way, I promise👏) Here some dear friends from Nice to Raleigh:
- Some days start off bad and end good and versi versa... Wether emotional or physical, we're never the same. We have to adapt, realize when to push or pull back. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!!! If your calf is super tight, don't go crazy on jumps, if your hip is hurting lower your leg a bit, if you're emotionally exhausted, do one side go away, rest and join back for the other side. But if you feel good, force yourself out of comfort zone and try that extra pirouette, go in the first group and closer to the center of the studio!! Yesss, you can do it💪
- When you become frustrated, pirouettes let's be honest here are high up on the list, remember that even Marianela Nuñez and Skylar Brandt have "bad" turning days (ok, I know for them it's doing a triple, but still! They're human!). Try to understand why yourself and if you can't figure it out, ask your ballet master or teacher at the end of class.
- At times during class, I also ask a colleague to help me out with something they are talented with. Don't be scared and have them watch you during an exercise. They will have some great insight which could be a piece of advice you'll never forget!
FOR THE STUDIO AND AT HOME:
- Concentrate on ONE thing throughout barre and even center. Choose one and stick to it, reminding yourself about it before each exercise like, using your feet and making them malleable so your little muscles become stronger, focusing on your core, placing your shoulders, putting your weight on your standing leg efficiently Etc...
- Listen and USE the music. You will find much more enjoyment when dancing with the music, its rhythm, its melody, its emotion.
- Use your two senses, hear and watch the teacher's explanations and corrections to get further. Try to stay present using your eyes and ears to prevent zoning out.
- Make sure you move your furniture around to have as much space as possible. At barre, dance the biggest you can since center work might be a little more challenging. That way, when you come back to a real studio you won't have taken the bad habit of making your movements small. Try a fun Zoom class at Ballet Together! 😊
- You don't have a mirror? Perfect. No Judgement zone! Use this time to focus on the FEEL of the movement when it's right and try to find it again and more often so when you come back to the studio, your muscle memory will have taken over.
- For center, choose slower tempi of music so you can have a second to re-adjust your spacing, not rush into something and hurt yourself hitting your your lamp or a shelf!
- Make sure you have an adequate floor for pointe work..❗️Go back to basics.
ARE YOU READY??? On to my VIPs' testimonials:
The gorgeous Estheysis Menendez (demi-soloist with Houston Ballet) and her take on it:
"I have always been the type of dancer who works in classes focusing on the roles I have to assume artistically and technically in that moment. Before the pandemic, my motivation in class was always to have a goal to work for. Currently it is so difficult to have a goal since we are not able to perform. The best motivation that I am experiencing these days is to not hold on to the idea of what should be but "BE" literally more present in class. Focusing on one thing at a time has helped me to be more aware of my performance in class and truly listen carefully to my body. The ballet class is the only real live performance we are able to have during these times. If you don't have a ballet master, you might only have a dance partner and a pianist, or even just your pet or your baby :). So, once the curtain is up, the show (class) begins and there are no excuses. I call it "THE REAL 'LIFE' PERFORMANCE"." ✨
The fierce Cecilia Iliesiu (Soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet) and her wisdom:
The last year in quarantine has taken the ballet world (and the whole world too!) on a journey of patience, stress, motivation, grief, and resilience. Take a moment to look back a year from today, remember what you were thinking and how you thought the future was going to go. I hope you realize how strong you are and all those around you too. We have collectively had our highs & lows, ridden the wave of this unpredictable life together and we are still doing it!
You might ask me, "Cecilia, what does this have to do with ballet class?" I am here to tell you it has everything to do with ballet class. It is how we show up mentally and physically to our ballet barres, kitchen counters, dining chairs, window sills, etc.
Pre-COVID, the daily ballet class was (and still is) one of my favorite parts of my day as a professional ballet dancer. The routine of warming up my body for the day, surrounding myself with my dance family at PNB, listening to beautiful live music and moving in the studio space. Most of the steps in ballet class are familiar and comforting for my body & soul, but there is always a twist of judgement. Judgement that I am not as good as my friend on the other barre who has their leg higher than me. Judgement that I don't look the way I want as I stare at myself in the mirror. Judgement that my rehearsal director or artistic director watching class is casting me for the next repertoire. The list goes on..
Taking class during the COVID quarantine, at home or in a studio alone, took away those judgements of being surrounded by others and replaced them with new ones. Judgement that I am stuck in a Zoom square and the teacher can't see me working hard. Judgment that I wasn't doing enough to stay in shape. Judgement that I wasn't motivated. This forced me to look inward as to why I dance and why I show up to my barre.
I have been an avid yogi for many years, but I never practiced as much as I wanted due to the lack of time. As the world came to a pause in March 2020, yoga became my daily physical meditation instead of ballet class. I couldn't take class properly in my tiny apartment and it gave me anxiety. I felt like I was doing more harm to my ballet training and mental wellness than good. So, yoga became my safe space to move on the safety of my mat. I felt like I could move, not be judged by myself or others, and physically express myself through movement.
Again, you might ask me, "Cecilia, what does yoga have to do with ballet class and helping me motivate?" Since taking yoga daily during the most stressful first few months of quarantine, I learned how to show up to my yoga mat with inner joy and purpose. For the first time, I am bringing that mentality to ballet class. Instead of looking at class as something I am expected to do, I have reframed ballet class as a physical meditation. I don't judge myself for not being in shape or not looking a certain way (of course, I have my moments). I take class for me and what I need rather than what is expected of me. I make ballet class worth my time, even when I am by myself at home standing on my window sill, because I am showing up to "my barre" FOR ME!
My advice to you:
Do not take class because it is a chore to check off your list. Show up to class because YOU want to be there.
Find YOUR focus and purpose for each class. It can be anything that sparks joy for you that day. You can change it daily or weekly. Some examples could be focusing on using your feet more intricately, moving your upper body and port de bras more freely, consciously breathing more deeply.
Each time you doubt or judge yourself, remember why YOU dance.
Tune into YOUR joy for dance. Tune out the stress you bring on yourself or others put on you.
Be patient for YOURSELF. Take a deep breath and work with what you've got today. Tomorrow will be another day.
You are stronger mentally and physically than you know and be proud of yourself. We are all in this journey of life together. Show up to your barre with a purpose and make it worth your precious time. YOU GOT THIS… WE GOT THIS!
The mesmerizing Megan LeCrone (Soloist with New York City ballet) and her insight:
I was asked by Alicia to write a little post about how to stay motivated as a dancer during Covid... Normally, dancers have many opportunities throughout the day to work on their technique, musicality, artistry, and memorization of steps. They don’t just do this in class - they can work and develop themselves and grow through rehearsals, performances, and by watching and learning from others. Since the opportunities to work in this way are rare right now - many dancers can only spend only one or two hours a day working alone at home by just doing class.
This can become frustrating over time as ballet is meant to be done with people and seen live and dancers rely on criticism and coaching to improve.
During this time many have had to be their own teacher and coach. What has helped me first is to not give up hope. I try to remember that we will be back in the studios together and we will be rehearsing and performing and able to see live performances eventually.
Trusting in this drives me to keep my body mind & heart in the best condition for when that day comes.
Some practical advice I’d give to dancers that can only work alone from home is this:
- Use the technology available during this time to get coaching, work with teachers that would not normally be accessible, watch other dancers online, take lots of different kinds of classes, watch Ballets, performances, anything available online and listen to music!
- As we grow as technicians and artists we have to get to the point where not only do we rely on the feedback from coaches and our contemporaries but we must also be able to coach ourselves at times.
- Use this time to become your own guide knowing all the while that you will still need to get some eyes on your work at times. Teachers and coaches are still available - through zoom, etc. It’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing. So don’t be afraid to reach out to them.
Try to tell yourself:
I’d like to come out of this time a better version of myself as a human and and as a dancer.
This time is just not about sustaining and maintaining, it’s about growing.
We all grow at different rates so it’s important to understand very intimately what you’re growing process is like and not compare it to anyone else’s.
If all you have is class at home each day, make the most of it, work hard but make it enjoyable and use your imagination - pretend you are onstage or that there is an audience if that helps! And remember just by doing the work each day you will make progress.
Focus on what is improving and have a healthy mindset about things that aren’t going so well. Set goals and know that Rome was not built in a day.
And don’t be afraid to reach out to other dancers for advice or listen to interviews, etc read posts (like this one)! Merde!
In the end, warm up class will always be part of our job. We can't get away from it even during these times... You have to try to accept the days that are hard, frustrating and discouraging. Be curious, try to find new tips, don't be scared of the trial & error and remember, tomorrow is another day with other possible gems to discover💎!!! A HUGE Merci to my stellar guests who showed vulnerability, honesty and amazing openness to this quite personal subject. ♥️♥️♥️