Thursday, August 4, 2011

My First Ballet Class and Ballroom Practice: Some Reflections

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 2

Tonight I had an unexpected break from my usual choir rehearsal, so instead of hitting up the cardio machines, I decided to do something drastically different and attend my first ever ballet class with the Pacific NW Ballet school in Bellevue for their adult open beginner 1 1/2 hr. class. I always wanted to do ballet as a kid and never had the opportunity, and I know it can really only help my dancing, balance, flexibility, and, why not? Now I had been told that this was not a progressive class, but was more of a drop in session, so I'd be just fine to come to this particular class, even with no ballet experience whatsoever. Um...that wasn't quite accurate. After the more basic stretching type exercises, groups of dancers would take turns turning and leaping in intricate patterns down the floor, all of which they seemed to already know, and I could not figure it out. Then there was the fact that I stuck out like a sore thumb, being surprisingly the tallest girl there, and wearing all black, with my standard super erect posture and knees that kept going soft. Still, since I've started dancing I've learned to just laugh at myself in situations like this, so I just kind of shook my head at my lameness and admired how good everyone else was. I always respected ballet dancers, but now I realize even more what true strength and skill this discipline takes.

One thing I thought about after the class was a big difference I found between the mental frame of mind I think ballet engenders versus ballroom. To me, it seems like ballet is an almost meditative style of dance; it requires so much mental focus and a kind of internal presence...I felt like it really made me get deeper into myself as I focused all my mental energies on balance, poise, and my own body. In the dancing itself there's very littler interaction with others, if's very much about finding a personal equilibrium. Very introspective, I would say. Ballroom, on the other hand, is about getting out of yourself and opening yourself up to others. As a follow, the focus should be on the other...your partner, and on how to make oneself more pliable and responsive to his directions and how to turn those movements into a beautiful whole. As a lead, the focus is more internal perhaps, but also ultimately outward as he has to translate those ideas into something that his partner can understand and respond to and develop. So as a partnership you're constantly trying to communicate, to give and take; yes, the lead provides the direction, but he's got to be able to get it outside of his own head and body so that it is communicated to his partner.

Ballroom therefore is much more communicative and social than ballet in that sense, and therefore might more deeply satisfy that human need for an interpersonal connection. I think that probably the mindset of the ballet dance style would have fit with my personality very well, if I had trained in it consistently from a young age, as I already possess a very introspective, focused, and internal kind of personality. I think now, though, that ultimately I much prefer ballroom dancing and what it has done for me personally. It has brought me out of myself in a lot of ways; taught me not to take myself so seriously, helped me to be more open to others, to be less afraid, and to open myself up more in general. Perhaps for similar reasons an more outgoing and people oriented person might find something like ballet very helpful, since it would help them find themselves again and kind of re-center.

In this vein, my personal approach to my dance practice has become more and more relative and less and less objective (as I believe ballet would be). My focus has shifted to how best to open myself to receiving the lead's communications and directions, how to make whatever he is doing look the best that it can, and how to complete his expressions, as it were. This is different than trying to make sure I am doing every little piece of my part objectively correctly. While I'm working on the same concepts, I feel that the approach is quite different. Instead of thinking about waiting a bit longer to take this reverse pivot step, for example, I'm trying to allow my leg to stick with his and see where he goes...instead of placing my head where I think it's supposed to go, I'm using it to make the turns he is leading more efficient. This is one thing that I could never have worked on on my own, and that several months of partnered practice have allowed me to begin to understand.

All philosophizing aside, we had a pretty good practice last night. Jeff unfortunately decided to kill his legs prior to practice, but we still worked on tango with the bar, and quickstep as well. The killer section of tango was remarkably improved, I thought, and the word that it brought to mind for me was "tight." I'm keeping my steps really beneath the body now on that portion, and as long as I do that and keep my frame rotating with him isolated from my hips, it's much smoother and we have less gaping and bumping. I think we're being a bit sharper with our steps too; delaying them slightly and taking them faster...less polite, if you will. Apparently I was leading part of the oversway (oops), but once I got called on it, I fixed it. Sometimes I don't realize I'm doing it until Jeff mentions it, so then I just have to make myself conscious that I need to really wait at that part.

Quickstep involved more slow practice on the tough parts, but I didn't feel that we made as much headway tonight as yesterday. I think we're doing better about leveling out coming out of the rumba crosses though.

Waltz and foxtrot were essentially run throughs. There was goofy moment where we started the foxtrot and Jeff took an unexpected heel lead coming out of a feather into the bounce fallaway and it felt like we hit a rock in the road...but otherwise it's been going pretty well. Those are most likely our two best dances right now. I think waltz is feeling pretty powerful these days, especially at the beginning with the turning lock. My focus in waltz right now (besides my stupid neck), is to be patient and stretch myself out as tall as I can...I just think about stretching into every corner as we "bank" into the sways.

Tonight, I expect we'll hit up quickstep once again, and will continue to until it can hold a candle to our other dances.


  1. I think you're right ... I have always loved ballet, how it quiets and centers me. In fact, that's usually my reason for dancing, whether in a class or alone. I sort of enjoy social dancing, but it isn't really "dancing" for me, and I guess this explains why. When I dance, I want to dance by myself. Dancing with a partner just leaves me tired.

  2. Yes, Sheila, I was remembering how you said you loved ballet, and I think that makes sense. I think I would really enjoy it too (if I started at the beginning), but I don't think it would challenge me to get out of myself the way ballroom has. I think it's been a good balancer for my already introverted temperament.