Monday, October 29, 2012

Life lessons from ballet class: It's not how you look, it's how you dance!

We all do it to some extent: you walk into that adult ballet class, look around for an unoccupied space at the barre, and notice the other people warming up while you make inner assessments of who "looks like a dancer."

"That woman in front of me, with her sleek French twist and sinewy arms, is surely a brilliant dancer. The one to my right – I sneak a look at her as I stretch out over my legs – is arching her back, and between her shoulder blades I can see the tiny bumpy ballet muscles sitting just under the skin. I feel instantly intimidated, and make a mental note not to stand next to her at the barre. Comparison is the thief of joy, and if I dance next to these women, I’m going to get mugged."

But this wonderful article by Chloe Angyal sums up the honest truth: looks can be deceiving and simply because someone does or doesn't "look like a dancer" doesn't mean a thing once the music starts and the bodies of all shapes, sizes, and ages start moving.

"In the classes I take in New York, there are women who are shaped like dancers, all lean and long and willowy. When they walk into the studio, my instinct is to feel instantly intimidated. But then they start moving, and they’re totally outclassed by the chubby woman next to them. She doesn’t look like a dancer, but she has ten times the grace and strength they do."

If you or anyone else you know has felt intimidated or uncomfortable with the idea of trying a ballet class or any other dance/exercise class, this article states what many of us in the grown-up ballet community know from our own experience: it's not what you look like, it's how you move and how you feel.  One of the most naturally beautiful movers I have ever seen in an amateur dance class was a middle-aged woman who otherwise would never be mistaken for a dancer; she was nearly completely invisible until she started to dance, and then no one in the room could take their eyes from her...she had that intangible ability to transform through her movement. Models look stylish when they are posed artfully and statically in front of gorgeous backdrops after hours of professional styling, but a dancer can look fluid, graceful, and otherworldly simply by moving across the floor of a stark empty room in her practice clothes regardless of her age, height, weight, build, body shape, skin color, hairstyle, etc. if she has movement quality and embodies the inner joy that dance seems to impart.

Angyal also extends this lesson from ballet class and challenges us all to examine how we make assumptions about a person's appearance, our own included:

"We live in a culture where body size and shape are considered indications not just of what a person can do, but what he or she is worth. We see a slender woman and see discipline and fitness. We see a fat woman and see greed and illness. It’s a snap judgment we make, one we rarely stop to evaluate. It’s also often wrong. 
The truth is, you can’t know much about a person just by looking at them. You can't know much until you let them dance."

Read the entire article here...it's a good one:
http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/real-life/what-you-cant-tell-about-a-woman-from-her-body-shape-20121023-282at.html

Happy dancing and enjoy the movement :)

14 comments:

  1. Little Angelic RoseOctober 29, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    Another good post. I am so lucky to dance with the same group of girls every week so there is an excellent rapport and we help each other and are not afraid for showing weakness. I've danced in front of strangers twice recently, the first week at my new school and for a masterclass. Both were terrifying! So pleased I don't have to do it every week.

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    1. Hi LAR,
      Yes! Good classmates make the class that much more enjoyable. I look forward to seeing my "ballet buddies" each week and feeling like we're in this adventure together. I also find it a bit intimidating to dance with/in front of new people, but congratulations on your new school :)

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  2. Great dancers look graceful and poised when they dance, but the thing is, they never worry about anything at all. Everything falls into place if one is confident and don’t worry too much about how you project. The more worrisome you are, the more you will desist from dancing with grace.

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    1. Hi Nicolas,
      So true...the more you think about what you are doing, the less able you are to free yourself to simply dance! However, it's much easier said than done. I hope we all get there :)

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  3. Confidence is the ticket to doing this exercise superbly. Being conscious while dancing doesn’t mean you obsessively think about how pretty you must look in front of the audience. Consciousness in dancing means you are aware of how to project and move graciously.

    Celia Maciomhair

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly, Celia...once you can get to the point where you feel that flow and that lack of self-consciousness and a wealth of dance consciousness....well, it's just plain addicting and a truly transcendent experience that keeps people dancing (and practicing and rehearsing). The trouble is that it takes a lot of practice and time for true beginners to get to that point :( A middle-aged adult walking into his or her first ballet class ever is going to feel mightily self-conscious, but there's no good outcome without struggling through the hard slog...and as the article says, we can all make the journey our own and not a competition. :)

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  4. Yeah, looks can be deceiving. :P Being graceful in dancing is not something you can immediately tell just by looking at a person; you have to see how he/she moves and dances. In fact, I know some people on the big side who carry themselves well on the dance floor. It’s really just a matter of being passionate about something, regardless of one’s size.

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    1. I know some people like that too...they may look nondescript before the music start, but then it's like Superman doing the big change of identity in the phone booth: the Superdancer arrives on stage :) Another example that comes to mind was Warren Sapp, the ex-professional NFL player who competed on the US version of Dancing With The Stars. Warren is a BIG man, but he's also an athlete, and when he danced, he was quick and graceful and light on his feet...and he clearly was having FUN as well. I've heard through the grapevine that on these "dance competition" shows that are so popular now, the producers and coaches love the athletes because, like dancers, they have a good work ethic, have good movement and body awareness, and are used to being coached/evaluated/critiqued and respond well to it versus the celebrities who are very unused to any sort of corrections or anything other than flattery and deference :)

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  5. Thank you for this article, I really needed it right now.

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    1. Thank you...I'm glad it came in handy. Some days we all need to be reminded that looks are deceiving and the only comparison that matters is the dancer you are today vs. the dancer you were in the past. "Eyes on your own barre" is a new mantra for me on those days when I need to focus on my own journey :)

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  6. Am I too late to the party to say "I love this article!"? And I love your blog, too, by the way. I love that it's a group of you contributing, so we can hear different voices. (I am also already a fan of Johanna's Pointe til You Drop.) I'm a dance blogger (at The Classical Girl) and I'm going to hop right back home and link this site up to my blogroll!

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    1. Terez, you're not too late! I'm sure Kaija will love reading your feedback. :)

      By the way, would you be interested in writing a guest blog for us? If you have any ideas, or themes, let me know - we would love having you on the team!

      You can PM me on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PointeTilYouDrop
      or on twitter: @PointeTilUdrop

      - Johanna / GUB admin & Pointe Til You Drop blogger

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    2. Hi Terez,
      Thank you for your lovely comment...I'm glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for adding us to your wonderful blog as well :) Looking forward to more collaboration!

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    3. Thank you, Johanna and Kaija, for your nice replies to my reply (just now seeing it - whoops!). Johanna, I'd be thrilled and honored to write a guest blog and play part on your team! I'll get my little brain whirring and drop you a FB or Twitter line this week.

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