Ballet Classes “Up North”

So I posted recently that I’ve headed back to the UK, and one of the problems with coming back here is the lack of Ballet classes. I live in rural Northumberland (just south of Scotland) and, to be honest, there isn’t much of anything around here, never mind dance schools! I live on a farm, my nearest village is a mile away and has a grand total of one greengrocers, one butchers, one delicatessen and four pubs (we have our priorities straight!). My nearest cities are Edinburgh and Newcastle – both 50 miles away. So it wasn’t going to be easy finding classes.

The lovely town of Alnwick

So I contacted a family friend, Clare, who is currently training in dance physiotherapy and is a really good dancer. I guessed if anyone would know where to take classes, it would be her. I sent her an email back in April and she sent me the contact details of her old teacher, Miss Moseley, who teaches at Alnwick. Alnwick is an old market town with a fantastic castle (that was featured as part of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films) and some cool open Gardens I worked in for two summers (including Europe’s biggest treehouse).

So I called Miss Moseley, who was very nice and explained that term finishes in three or four weeks time but I’d be welcome to take classes until then. I assured her this was fine; any classes are better than none! I got all the details and yesterday went to my first class at Alnwick School of Dance. Classes are held at the Mechanics Institute and after getting changed in the shower room (the room usually used as the boy’s changing room had a WI meeting in it) I headed on upstairs.

Alnwick Mechanics Institute - a bit of a change from Broadway Dance Center!

I’m sure most of you reading this blog will have seen Billy Elliot. I absolutely adore the film and have watched it countless times. You know the scenes where Julie Walters is teaching in the local hall – hard wooden floors and a couple of free-standing mirrors? Well this was kind of like that! Not in a bad way either – it was kind of quaint, but a big change from the big open studios of NYC!

I had been told tights were a no-no, so I had jazz pants and a white t-shirt on and headed in. Miss Moseley was really nice, and asked what I’d done before. Class was pretty busy; she was teaching the new RAD Intermediate Ballet (I think!) so the class was a mix of Grade 6 and 7 students. This did mean I was surrounded by 14-18 year olds, but after the first 10 minutes it didn’t really bother me – and they were really good! I was pleased to see quite a few boys there too, probably 5 or 6 out of a total class of 15 or so!

Class was very different to normal. First off, we were learning to a syllabus. So for example, plies were a set combination that the students are having to memorize for their exams. Also, we all started facing the teacher and that meant I started with my right hand on the barre. This was really strange! I always start barre on my right side and it was a pleasant mental exercise to start the ‘wrong way around’ for once. Other differences included relaxing my fifth – the English system seems to require not as tight a fifth as the Russian system, so the teacher recommended relaxing it a little to save my knees some stress.

During centre work we got to pirouettes and I was surprised to find separate boys and girls combinations. I’ve only ever had one class where there was any distinction between guys and girls (when we did tours en l’air) and it was cool to see the difference. I managed some clean en dehors doubles which I was pleased with and although she asked for doubles en dedans I stuck to working on clean singles.

Grand allegro was simply grand jetes across the floor and this was where I realised that taking open classes means there are some gaps in my training. Grand jetes still don’t come easy to me and I find them one of the hardest jumps to do, even though they seem like they should be pretty easy. They just don’t quite feel right – I always want to switch legs mid-air – and they dredge up some pretty painful memories of failed attempts at triple jump in Middle School. She also asked if I’d done jetes en tournant a manege – I think that’s what they’re called: those leaps guys normally do in variations in a big circle around the stage. When I said I hadn’t she said she might pop them into next week’s class! Here’s the step – if I’ve got the name wrong please correct me in the comments!

And the coolest thing was her saying that next week if I could stay around for the girl’s pointe class afterwards, I could do some partnering work! She asked how much partnering I had done, if any, and I told her I had done a workshop but nothing else. She said that was fine and I hope I didn’t come across too excited at the prospect of partnering! It is one aspect of Ballet I wish I could do more of, and hopefully will get a chance to do more in the future. And that was the end of my first class in the UK!

And before you know it, I was back again today for another class! Although I was originally meant to take Miss Moseley’s Grade 6 class, she suggested I take the Grade 7 class instead as she thought it would be more interesting for me. It was a non-syllabus class, so a little random at times, but a lot of fun. After a fairly standard barre (including a killer grand battement combination with releves and 24 on each side) we headed to centre for turning work.

I’m not a natural turner (far from it) but survived the soutenou/chaines combination. Then we did fouette turns, which was a crazy coincidence as just before leaving for class I had been reading about the physics behind fouettes (thanks to @TheDanceTheorem’s inspiration). I’ve never done them before, and did a couple to the right but then decided to play it safe and work on the coordination on the left at the barre. It’s definitely something I’m going to work on at home, and can’t wait to try them ‘for real’ again some time. The beats combination was also a lot of fun – including entrechat quatres, battu changements, echappe beats and entrechat cinq!

Another benefit of living here: seeing this every day!

So these are my classes for the next four weeks, but after that I don’t think there’ll be very much. I am planning on a couple of trips to London (including a trip to Cloud Dance Festival : Firefly where I’m really looking forward to seeing Tommy Franzen dance Kristen McNally’s solo) so hopefully will take a few classes in the city, as well as occasional trips to Newcastle or Edinburgh. Other than that though, I’ll be working a lot – so I guess I’ll just have to be content in thinking that I’m saving money that can go towards classes down in Bath!

Well that’s it for now – I’m off to stretch whilst eating freshly picked strawberries. There’s some definite perks to living on a farm!

Until next time, keep dancing!

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