Let me preface this post by stating that last Monday was my very first ballet class. Unlike my other posts in the Cross Training Series, this one comes from belief and research rather than actual practice.
After an hour and a half of stretching, barre work, floor spins and runs, I am by no means a ballet expert.
What I am, however, is an enthusiastic adult student who got to live out her childhood dreams last night – albeit in active wear and socks rather than a tutu and ballet slippers!
Since taking up pole, I have allowed my dance obsession to take it’s own course. When I’m too tired, or it’s too hot to train, I read about dance, watch dance tutorials, and binge on YouTube clips. My research into ballet, just heightened my desire to join a class, and I really do believe it is going to help my pole dancing.
Coming from no dance background, my childhood was busy with hockey and athletics more than cartwheels and ballet school. My hips don’t like to turn out, I have trouble with neutral spine, and when I raise my arms in fifth position my lats and biceps bulge considerably, interrupting the dainty lines of the rest of the ballerinas #poledancerproblems!
If you were a ballerina as a child, you probably already know how your training is of benefit to your current dancing as an adult. You have muscle memory that supports your posture and ability to point your toes. You may even have retained a certain range of flexibility that helps your lines and success with splitty, flexi pole tricks. Your body may also remember that limp hands spoil the grace of many poses, thus ensuring your lines end with the most authentic and poised gestures – “like holding a flower or champange flute” as I’ve been told!
These are just some of the elements of ballet that I hope I can bring to my own dance practice. I received feedback from a judge once who offered criticism of not using arms and shoulders enough. She explained, that common with many pole dancers, our shoulders are strong and tight, and may help stabilize movement but also restrict it to the point where we don’t use our arms at all except for holding on. I am hoping that ballet classes can help bring movement into my arms and help me coordinate that movement with the rest of my body.
I was given pointers for using my arms from the ballet teacher:
- I should carry my arms like holding a beach ball
- I should lower my arms as if I have an orange in my armpit
These are common cues offered to beginners utilising visualisation to think about engagement and alignment. The ballet teacher also came around and made adjustments to the class to help with maintaining posture.
On the barre, I was able to stand behind a girl who clearly was beyond a beginner but seemed to be in the class to refresh her basics. I studied her movements like a hawk, watching her back muscles fire and lengthen as she raised her arms and just floated them around above her head. I could actually see her flatten her shoulder blades against her back bringing new appreciation for the common alignment cue – “shoulders back and down”.
My other light bulb moment from the barre work was observing how my stabilising arm (the one holding on to the barre) was causing my body to do crazy things! It was like my brain was so focused on coordinating the other arm and my legs that it completely ignored cues from the other side of my body. It was only when I was completely out of balance and nearly falling over (yes! while still holding on!) that I realised. The arm holding on to the barre was gripping tightly, white knuckled even, and cramping under my shoulder. My torso became twisted as the tightness on this side attempted to compensate for the lightness I was so seeking with my other arm.
Clearly I was doing it wrong!
These observations provide near endless learning for my body work here on. I plan on taking a full ten week course in beginner ballet in the New Year, hopefully joining a class of true beginners who are open to the ballet teacher to working her magic.
I’d also like to share, perhaps a small consolation. The photo attached is a screenshot from a pole freestyle taken just yesterday nearly a week after my ballet class (when all the DOMs had finally subsided!). I was so pleased to see a little arm flourish appearing to come from nowhere.
Watch this space for more from the barre!