Review – Dancing Through It, Jenifer Ringer

I remember reading the newspaper or a magazine, a number of years ago about a ballet critic had criticised one of the dancers in a review and had implied that they were overweight for a dancer and how the entire world was kicking-off about it (rightfully so). I didn’t realise until I had read the back cover synopsis of Jenifer Ringer’s autobiography, that this was the story of that very dancer.

This book is really well written, and incredibly easy to read. It’s written how I imagine the author would speak.

Jenifer is incredibly candid in this book and holds nothing back when talking about her issues and the challenges in life that have moulded her to who she is today.

This was the first ballet autobiography that I had read, but I’m a massive fan of this style of book, so was very keen to read it.  I’ve read a ridiculous number of biographies on classical music composers, so had a good idea on what makes a good readable biography/autobiography. 

The book follows Jenifer from her early childhood days in Carolina, USA, where she was raised in Summerville. She began studying dance at the age of ten years old and subsequently joined the School of American Ballet after attending the Washington School of Ballet for two years.

She joined the New York City Ballet in 1990 and was promoted to soloist in 1995. The story follows her as she took time off soon after, and, in 2000, was promoted to principal.

I would gladly recommend this book to any ballet enthusiast, as the revelations of life inside one of (if not the) most famous ballet companies in the world are incredibly eye-opening. 

Ballet Limits as an Adult Beginner

I had an interesting conversation the other day with another ballet beginner (adult) about physical limitations due to previous injury and it really got me thinking about my own situation and the situation that a lot of older ballet starters would find themselves in.

At the age of 40, I have had my fair share of breaks and injuries. I have broken my wrist, my jaw (metal plate), various bones in my right hand, my right ankle and torn my medial ligament in my right knee. I think that’s about it. LOL.

So, due to these previous injuries there are a number of things that I am ‘hesitant’ to do, mainly due to not wanting to aggravate anything.

The other adult ballet dancer that I was speaking to had a major accident a while ago and found turnout sometimes difficult to achieve.

Ballet is something that I find incredibly beautiful, it was the first thing that drew my eye to it. It’s aesthetically pleasing, but this can lead to false expectations when you are either showing someone what you can do, or to yourself.

With the rise-and-rise of talent show competitions, the general public are used to seeing perfection, without necessarily seeing the years and years of work that goes into it. It’s a similar situation with my violin playing. It takes decades to get to the standard that people see on the TV, or in a concert hall, so when someone says to you ‘So, show me what you can play’, expectations are already high, due to their preconceived idea of what a skilled player can do. These expectations have to be readjusted when you explain to them that this is the level of what I can do after 2 and a half years of playing.

The same goes with ballet. We, as student ballet dancers, know how difficult even the most basic of moves are to do in ballet, and how many years it takes to perfect these moves (if ever they are perfected). So, when someone says ‘Is your leg supposed to be bent?’ or ‘How come you’re wobbling?’ it is necessary to let them know that a) you are aware that your leg shouldn’t be bent/wobbling all over the place and b) It’s a work in progress, and you should have seen me when I started, I couldn’t even do ‘this’.

I know, as an adult, you do tend to critique yourself a bit more. Not just in ballet, but in life in general. ‘Why did I say that?’ ‘Why did I not get the promotion/job?’ ‘What could I have done better?’, etc. And it’s tough to try and get this out of your head when you are learning and incredibly technical skill, such as ballet.

We are all individuals, and all different. With different abilities and different reasons for wanting to take up ballet in the first place. It’s important to keep this mind, particularly in the very open world of social media.

Inspirational Ballet Dancers – Steven MacRae

I first saw Steven McRae in the book Pas De Deux, published by The Royal Ballet and was instantly struck by his incredible poise, power and grace. It’s incredibly fortunate that Steven is very active on Social Media, so was able to follow his practices, travels and performances on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Steven was born and raised in Sydney and started dancing at the age of seven, after watching his elder sister in her dance classes. In 2003, Steven won a scholarship at the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland and then entered the Royal Ballet School. He graduated into The Royal Ballet in 2004 and was promoted to First Artist in 2005, Soloist in 2006, First Soloist in 2008 and Principal in 2009.

In 2011 he originated the role of the Mad Hatter in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Royal Opera House, a fantastic ballet, with incredible choreography, dancing and music. In 2014 he originated the role of Prince Florizel in Christopher Wheeldon’s new full-length ballet The Winter’s Tale.

Steven is married to a dancer, Elizabeth Harrod, and they have one daughter, Audrey Bluebell, born in 2015, who is a star of Steven’s social media in her own right.

Feet Exercises

Quick blog today, but I wanted to point you in the direction of a few really good ballet feet exercise links, that I use every day.

Both are by (and I mentioned her in an earlier post) YouTube user LisaMaree. The first is entitled ‘Ballet Feet Exercises’, has had 1.8m views on YouTube and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nh9fdJftCE

The second video, again by Lisa, that I use every few days is the ‘Follow Along Feet Exercises’, again on YouTube and has had 321k views so far. It can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY5FW9BPbBg

I swear by both of these videos, they hardly take any time, but I have found massive improvement in my arching and foot flexibility since starting following these exercises.

Notes from Ballet Class

I swear my ballet teacher has eyes of a hawk! Quite how she can see that my toes are not all flat against the floor, under socks, under shoes, from 10m away, is beyond me! And then, after the (what seems to me) the tiniest of tiniest of movements, I get a ‘Yes, well done, that’s it!’. Eyes of a hawk, I tell ya! 🙂

Last week, in class, we started going through a group routine, in centre. It was SUCH good fun! But still very, very tough, remembering more than 2 or 3 movements combined together! And I find that when I go the wrong way, or use the wrong arm/leg (which happens quite a lot), my momentum is going in the wrong direction, so I find myself having to ‘re-adjust’ my balance, and ending up looking very, very odd indeed! Imagine setting off to jump to your left, then just at the last minute changing your mind and jumping right! Yep, you get the idea!

I can, however, feel that my turnout is improving, but that brings with itself even more problems. And that’s where the ‘Four Stages of Competence’ comes in. In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the ‘conscious competence’ learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill.

You start off with ‘Unconscious Incompetence,’ this is where the individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognise the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognise their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

Then you have ‘Conscious Incompetence’. Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognise the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

Thirdly you have ‘Conscious Competence’. This is when the individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

And finally you have ‘Unconscious Competence’. This is when the individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

So, in a nutshell, you start off crap, but don’t know any different. Then you’re still crap, but realise that you’re crap. Then you’re good and realise that you’re good, because you still remember what it was like to be crap. Then finally you’re good, and just get on with being good, because it’s been a while since you were crap.

I’m at the 2nd stage of Conscious Incompetence, in my turnout. I’m getting better, but still a bit crap. But I know when I’m being crap, and when I’m being good

My diet

I’m not sure whether or not this would be of interest to anyone, but as I originally got into ballet as a fitness tool, and as fitness always starts in the kitchen, I thought it might be useful to some if I shared what my normal daily diet routine is. I’m currently (as it stands today) 150lbs, and have come down from 190lbs since January and 5 foot 10 (and a half). I’m happy where I am weight-wise now, and want to give myself a bit of a weight buffer from between around 145 and 155 lbs. 10lbs is a lot, but I know that I will fluctuate between these two ‘end zones’ as this is what I tend to do.

Right, food! LOL. This is a typical day’s worth of food for me.

Breakfast

Porridge oats/Muesli/Wholegrain Fruit & Fibre (50g)
Unsweetened Almond Milk (1 cup)
2x Coffee with Almond Milk

Lunch
Either Sandwich thins with Violife vegan cheese or wholemeal wrap with Quorn vegan chicken and salad
Walkers chilli sunbites
Grapes (150g)

Dinner
Can vary, but typical is:
Spicy Bean Burger
Large wholemeal pitta bread
Cauliflower rice
Mixed salad

On a normal day, I consume around 1750 calories.

Frustrations of Learning Ballet as an Adult

Ballet isn’t the first thing that I have learnt as an adult, that most people start as a youngster. I picked up the violin for the first time in January 2014 and have started to go through the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music exams. I’m currently working towards my grade 5 music theory and I have my grade 3 violin at the beginning of July.

There are a great number of similarities between learning ballet and learning an instrument and I am certainly experiencing the same kinds of frustration learning ballet as when I very first started to learn the violin.

The first frustration is the fact that just because you’re older, doesn’t mean that you are going to pick it up any quicker. In fact, quite often it’s the opposite. Our bones are already formed and not as flexible as those of a child. You are more ‘set in your ways’ as an adult and sometimes I find it tough to adapt my brain that it’s okay to be a beginner and the fact that it is going to take time to get this.

I’ve always said ‘I’m like a bad doctor, I have no patients (patience)’. And this goes for learning a new skill, whether it be learning the violin or taking up ballet. I fully understand that this is going to take time, and I discussed more on this on an earlier blog post, but it still doesn’t stop me, unfortunately, sometimes frustrated when I can’t quite get a one-turn pirouette just yet. The best advice I have been given with this is just to leave it for the day. Or move onto something else, and then come back to it another day.

As an adult you do tend to be more harsh on yourself and if I ‘fluff up’ a move in the middle of a combination, then it does linger in my mind, when I should just be concentrating on the next step, not what has gone before. It’s something that I’m aware of, and need to work on it a bit more!

Ballet Magazines

There are a few magazines on the market that are either specifically aimed at the ballet industry, or who have a core focus on ballet. I tend to go a bit overboard when it comes to buying magazines, so I have narrowed down my subscription to two magazines. One digital, one print.

The digital magazine, that I subscribe to is Pointe. It’s a US-based publication, with pretty much a 100% focus on ballet. It is published once every two months. Print versions of the magazine are available, but as I am an avid iPad user, it just made sense for me to subscribe to the digital version.

Pointe is 52 pages long, including covers and has a varied selection of articles, opinions, interviews and news stories. Most of the pieces are on US dancers, but as most of the dancers featured in the magazine are part of travelling companies, the likelihood is that as a Brit, you would be able to see them perform. They also do feature international dancers, include those that are based in the UK, and there were more than plenty of names that I recognised.

There are plenty of full pages photos, with incredible imagery using staff photographers as well as photos owned by either dancer or agency. The front cover of Pointe magazine is always a studio shot of one of more dancers, that are then interviewed and featured in the magazine later on.

Features within Pointe magazine include ‘Your Style’, ‘Call Board’, and ’Show and Tell’ which focus on a ballet dancer’s individual clothing style, notes from ballet companies and showing what a specific pro dancer has in their dance bag, respectively.

A really great read!

The other magazine that I subscribe to, and this one is in print and based in the UK, is Dancing Times. This publication is 124 pages including covers and is aimed at mostly ballet, but also modern and tap.

The articles inside Dancing Times generally cover the UK dance scene and include news stories, interest pieces, features and opinion pieces.

One of the most useful regular features within Dancing Times is the calendar of events. This shows you National and International listings for various ballet companies and venues.

Although Dancing Times is not 100% focused on ballet, it’s still a really good read, and does tend to veer more towards ballet than any of the other disciplines. It’s not available, as yet, from the high street, so I buy it though Newsstand, online.

Dance Like Noone’s Looking

Last week, in class, we did jetés, for the first time. And it was such good fun! I can’t say that my technique was perfect, or that I didn’t nearly put a hole in the studio floor with my feet when I landed, but do you know what? I really, really enjoyed myself. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed or smiled so much in a ballet class before.

In my class, which is an adult beginner class, I’m the only bloke. I don’t mind at all. In fact, when we do slightly different exercises (men and women), I get 1 to 1 tuition from my teacher. Can’t argue at that!

I was slightly nervous and self-conscious when I very first started lessons, I am after all wearing tights! But now, I honestly don’t even notice it. It’s part and parcel of what we do, and honestly, if anyone else has a problem with it, then it’s their problem, not mine. For too many years of my life, when I was younger, I cared too much about what people thought. Obviously, I don’t mean that I would do anything to purposely upset anyone. It’s that if I’m doing something, and it’s not hurting anyone else, and it’s doing me good, then hell-yeah I’m going to do it.

So, when it came to jete’ing across the dance floor, I really did ‘give it some!’ No inhibitions, everyone else it doing it, everyone else is having fun, smiling, laughing, including the teacher, so what’s not to like? Why are there not more people doing this? Why aren’t there more blokes doing this? It’s really, really good fun, you get fit, you feel great doing it, no harm, no foul. What have you got to lose? Other than a few pounds. Ha ha ha. Yep, that should be my ballet for men slogan! Hey, maybe I’m on to something…

Jedi Mind Tricks on My Feet

I often feel that I really do have to ‘will’ my body into doing what my mind is telling it to do. ‘Bend, damn you! Bend!’ It’s not that I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing (not all the time, anyway!) It’s that my body just won’t bloody well cooperate! 

It’s like doing foot circles, with toes flexed when rotating my ankle inwards, and extended when rotating outwards. Sounds easy enough…yeah right! Firstly, my circles are more like squares.

You would think with the anatomy of the foot, that it would make sense for them to rotate in nice, round, circles.

Then why oh why, do they make more right angles than a GCSE geometry exam?? Add to that flexing and extended my toes in the same exercise.

Flex inwards, extend outwards!
I said extend! No…extend….exxxxxxxxteeeeeend!
Okay then, you don’t want to.
You just want to do your own thing, like you don’t even belong to me!
Okay, let’s just stop here.
Extend!
That’s right.
Now flex!
Okay, cool, got that!
Now do the same thing whilst I’m rotating through my ankle!
No?
Really?
Can’t do two things at once?

So, yep, Jedi mind trick…not working on my feet yet. Must believe in the force more!!