Sunday, 8 January 2017

Back to Class

Author Lambtron
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

With the honourable exception of Danceworks which has remained open for business throughout the Christmas holidays (see  Working off the Christmas Pud 21 Dec 2016) there have been no dance classes since the third week of December. In case there were other classes open in this period don't moan at me for not mentioning them. At the end of that article I wrote:
"Should any dance studio or accredited teacher run a class in any dance style anywhere in the UK between now and 9 Jan 2017 I will publicize it here, in Facebook and on twitter. Indeed, I shall even try to attend and review it if it is at all possible."
Did you get in touch with me?  Well then.

For most of us adult ballet classes start this week.  Yippee!  Not a moment too soon in my book. I attend improvers classes at Northern Ballet Academy and occasionally Dance Studio Leeds in Leeds and KNT in Manchester.

I am aware of excellent classes in Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newport and Sheffield and will put you in touch with them if you care to contact me.

"All very well for you" I hear you say, "you live close to three big cities but I live in the back of beyond."  Well, there are great classes even in rural neighbourhoods. Ballet West runs adult ballet classes in the Western Highlands and Terence Etheridge teaches ballet in Cornwall.  Ask around and if you still can't find one I am sure I can find you an RAD or ISTD accredited teacher with full insurance near a church hall, gym or community centre who can take you on.

"I would have loved to have done ballet when I was young but there wasn't time because .................." Usual  reasons are competing attractions, lack of time, pressure of exams or more immediate priorities on the family budget.
"That's OK, you can start now."
"But I'm much too old aren't I?"
"Rubbish! I reply. "I started when I was 64. I shall be 68 on Valentine's Day. I am a relative stripling. There are students years older than me in Leeds and the BBC reported that there was a student in Scotland who was over 100."
Northern Ballet run 4 classes in Leeds for students aged 55 or over and I am aware of similar classes in Glasgow, London and elsewhere. There is also the RAD's "Silver Swans" programme. No. You are never too old to take up ballet. Or even perform it.  I have danced twice in Northern Ballet's Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre and once in the Dancehouse at Northern Ballet School.

"How much will these classes set me back?" About £6 or £7 a session in Leeds or Manchester. A little bit more in the Smoke but, even there, the cost of classes won't break the bank.

"But I'm not the right shape or size. I'd never fit into a leotard."

First, you don't need a leotard. Trackie bottoms or leggings and T-shirt will do and, at least for the first few classes, you can dance in bare feet. Secondly, I am not exactly sylphlike as anyone who has met me can confirm but I have bought kit to fit me from Just Ballet in Southend, Planet Dance in Batley and Mr Frog in Huddersfield.

You can spend a fortune on dancewear but you don't have to. All you need are a couple of leotards which you can get from £20 or less each, a couple of pairs of shoes, again for £20 or less, maybe some dancers' tights which are a bit more than you would pay for a pair of opaques in Tesco and a devil to put on and a ballet bag to keep them in. Oh and a towel.

"How long does a ballet class last and what happens?"

Between 60 and 90 minutes.

First, there is the warm up. Different teachers have different techniques. My favourite way is to start with a gentle walk around the studio, then move the arms in a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction, then a gentle run, then change direction 30 seconds in, skipping facing out, skipping facing in, Jumping Jacks up and forwards.  Warm up finishes with some stretching exercises.

The class starts with pliés. Plier means "to fold" in French and this exercise consists of bending the legs - like a badger or maybe a copper (the constables in this clip can also do some tendus, simple jumps and even lift their serjeant). Then there are leg and foot exercises known as tendus. After that there are glissés, ronds de jambe and several others that you can look.   In all of those exercises the student can hold a rail known as "the barre" to steady him or herself.

After about 20 to 30 minutes at the barre the teacher calls the class into the centre of the studio and repeats some of the tendu or other exercises so that the student can find his or her balance. The teacher then combines some of the steps he or she has taught the class into a simple exercise known as an enchainement which the students practise as a group and then try to repeat in smaller numbers.

Next come turns - either chaines or pirouettes which is a sort of pons assinorum in ballet - a bit like Pythagoras's triangle in maths. You either pick it up immediately if you are well co-ordinated or you struggle and I am sorry to say I am one of the strugglers.

Then there are the jumps and they are my favourite part of class. Simple ones to start with and then more complex ones with the evening ending in joyful soaring grands jetes or temps leves which I shall leave you to look up.

Quick cool down exercises. Bows or curtseys to the pianist and instructor.  Then everyone leaves chatting and giggling and wondering where the time went.

There's a picture of a dance classs circulating the internet with the words
"Money can't buy you happiness ....... but it can buy you a dance class which is kinda the same thing."
I'd go along with that.

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