This post is a little bit of a ‘cheat post’ – because I didn’t write most of it!
I’ve been honoured recently to be asked to give an interview with a couple of ballet blogs. It’s been really interesting for me to look back on my ballet journey so far and what my aims are for the future. I thought I’d share them both here – let me know what you think and if you have any more questions for me!
Reckon ballet is all about romantic tutus and pink leotards? Think again! In 2010 Dave decided to give ballet a go. What’s more, he set up a blog and began logging his progress. Since 2010, Dave Tries Ballet has transformed into a cult media success, challenging traditional preconceptions about the dance form. Naturally, LBB was keen to have a chat with Dave about his thoughts on ballet and the gender divide. Lucky for me, I managed to catch up with him last week.
“Why lift weights when you can lift girls?” This is what happened when LBB met…Dave Tries Ballet:
Hi Dave, can you tell us a little bit about your blog?
I started ballet a little over two years ago (when I was 23) and my blog has chronicled my journey so far. I started out with absolutely no dance experience so to begin with my posts were about the intimidating side of starting as an adult: buying my first dance belt, taking my first class and so on. I’m now taking over 10 hours of ballet a week and performing with three local groups (an adult repertoire group, my university’s dance society and a youth ballet company) so the posts have shifted to my experiences performing for an audience and constantly striving to improve my technique. Alongside these posts, I also write reviews about performances I’ve seen, talk about where I get my inspiration and have even written about the links between maths and ballet!
What made you “try” ballet?
I have no idea! I was studying for a Masters (in maths) across in the States two years ago when the idea to take a ballet class sprung into my head. I had recently completed a triathlon for charity and wanted to get away from the whole swimming/cycling/running thing. Ballet seemed the perfect way to stimulate my artistic side whilst staying in shape. Despite having only seen one ballet in my life (which I couldn’t really remember) I headed to my first class and was soon hooked!
Most men assume that ballet is just for girls – what can it offer aside from pink tutus and why should they give it a go?
The first shock I got when I started ballet was how hard it is! It requires a combination of strength and agility that I didn’t have when I started (the jury is out as to whether I’ve got it now!). I’ve found since going back to other sports such as swimming, cycling and rowing
that ballet has improved my performance immensely through greater fitness, flexibility and core strength. Guys also get to do the really cool stuff in ballet – all the big impressive leaps and lightning-fast turns. Then there is the opportunity to do partnering (my favourite
part of ballet) where you show off the girl’s grace and your own strength (as a friend pointed out: “why lift weights when you can lift girls?”). Finally I get to do something I love, which also keeps me fit, whilst surrounded by gorgeous ladies – what is there to complain
What would you say is the biggest misconception about ballet?
I think there are two major misconceptions about ballet. The first is, as you mentioned above, that ballet is not manly. Male ballet dancers are in top physical shape and male ballet roles tend to be all about guys who can’t help but make women fall in love with them! I think the second misconception is that ballet is elitist. Again, this is completely wrong – I can go see the Royal Ballet for £4 and go to my local cinema to see the Bolshoi or Royal Ballet whilst munching on popcorn. I think English ballet companies (RB, ENB, BRB) are really leading the way worldwide in terms of making ballet accessible: initiatives such as Royal Ballet Live or ENB’s Agony & Ecstasy are paving the way forward.
Which ballets would you recommend for a man to try if he’s never been before?
Personally I think triple bills are the best introduction to ballet – you get to see three different pieces in one evening. There are a few great triple bills coming up in London this season. The Royal Ballet have their Viscera triple bill (featuring three of the most exciting current choreographers) and their Apollo triple bill (showcasing the Royal’s male principals in Balanchine’s iconic role). ENB’s Ecstasy & Death bill features Kylian’s abstract and powerful Petite Mort (which begins with six men on a darkened stage holding swords – amazing!), Roland Petit’s male showcase Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and Lander’s
superb classical piece Etudes. In terms of full-length ballets I wouldn’t hesitate to say MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. Not only, in my opinion, the best choreography ever created but this ballet has it all: love, heartbreak, sword-fighting, stunning music and even a collection of harlots!
What have you learned through doing this blog? Any feedback from fellow guys trying ballet?
I’ve definitely learned from my blog how inclusive and supportive the online ballet community is. I can write a post about my (eternal) struggles with multiple pirouettes and the first comment might be from a similar amateur who is also struggling, then the next might be from a professional sharing how they got the hang of it. What is amazing for me is when I get emails from guys who were in exactly the same place as I was two years ago; hopefully I’ve helped calm a few pre-class nerves for them!
If you could pick your no.1 professional male ballet dancer who would it be and why?
Personally, my favourite male dancer and biggest inspiration is Federico Bonelli from the Royal Ballet. He embodies everything I want to be in a dancer and is as comfortable in classical roles as modern abstract pieces. This last season I was lucky enough to see him in a range of roles, my highlights being the Prince in Sleeping Beauty (opposite Tamara Rojo) and my favourite male role, Romeo (opposite Lauren Cuthbertson). His technique is flawless, his acting impeccable and he seems one of the most attentive partners in pas de deux work. Watching him on stage is like a masterclass – I learn so much every time.
Could you share your top London ballet spots?
Well my favourite company is the Royal Ballet so the Royal Opera House tops my London ballet spots. The range of repertoire the Royal Ballet perform each season and the depth of talent in the company make every trip to the Royal Opera House unique. Other spots for watching high-quality ballet include Sadler’s Wells (upcoming highlights: BRB, National Ballet of Canada) and the Coliseum (upcoming highlights: ENB, Mikhailovsky, BRB). In terms of doing ballet, my favourite places to take class are Danceworks and The Place, although the proximity to Covent Garden means I often pop into Pineapple for a class between a matinee and evening performance at the ROH!
Check out our awesome interview with David Wilson of Dave Tries Ballet. He started ballet at the age of 23, and now takes classes in the UK and performs in a couple of repertoire groups.
Adult Ballerina Project: When did you start doing ballet as an adult?
David Wilson: I started ballet two years ago, when I was 23.
ABP: Did you ever take lessons as a kid?
DW: Nope, I had never really done any kind of dancing before I started ballet classes.
ABP: Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?
DW: I’m still not entirely sure! I was studying for a Masters in the States (in mathematics, so nothing arts-related) and had completed a triathlon for charity. I decided I wanted to do something completely out of my comfort zone and for some reason ballet popped into my head. At that point I had only seen one ballet in my life (an ex-girlfriend had taken me to see Swan Lake during my Undergrad degree).
ABP: Where do you take classes?
DW: When I was living in the States I took class at the Princeton Ballet School and in New York (mainly at the Joffrey Ballet School). Now I’m back in the UK (living in Bath) I take classes all over the place, including with a couple of repertoire groups I’m performing with.
ABP: What is your favorite part about ballet?
DW: It’s the absolute freedom you feel when everything ‘clicks’. As cliched as it sounds, it feels like you’re flying! It might not even be a big jump or multiple pirouette, sometimes even a simple balance can feel beautiful.
ABP: What is your least favorite part?
DW: I honestly can’t think of a single thing I dislike about ballet, except perhaps that I didn’t start when I was 3 years old!
ABP: What motivates you to keep dancing?
DW: Ballet doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, before I started I would have certainly described myself as having two left feet. But it is amazing to be able to see my own progress and I guess my motivation is to see how far I can go. Since coming back to the UK I’ve joined a couple of adult repertoire groups and a Russian Youth Ballet Company which has allowed me to perform. The rush you get whilst performing I certainly something that keeps me hooked!
ABP: Do you take any other dance classes?
DW: Not at the moment. I’ve taken a couple of contemporary, jazz and theatre jazz classes in New York and London but I personally like the structure of a ballet class. Knowing that you’ll start with barre (including plies, tendus etc) is reassuring, especially in a class you’ve never taken before. That being said, I really would like to try tap – bring out my inner Fred Astaire!
ABP: What are your hobbies outside of ballet?
DW: Before I started ballet I had rowed and cycled for my University and completed a triathlon. Although these have taken a backburner since starting ballet I still enjoy subbing in to the occasional rowing outing and cross-train with running, cycling and, especially, swimming. However, I’m currently doing up to 12 hours of ballet a week to there isn’t much spare time (at least, not if I want to get my PhD!)
ABP: What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?
DW: Don’t let yourself be your own worst enemy. Just throw yourself into it. As an adult it can be really easy to get really nervous or self-conscious in class. Try to ignore that feeling! You’ll soon realise that no-one is watching (except perhaps the teacher, which is a good thing!). Don’t worry if you make a mistake or fall over either; I have a teacher who was a Principal in the Royal Ballet and after falling square on my backside during a pirouette exercise she simply said: “Good. That means you committed to it.” So I guess falling over can sometimes be a good thing!
ABP: Anything else you’d like to add?
DW: I guess just to say that if you’re a guy don’t be intimidated! You’ll probably find yourself heavily outnumbered in a class, but teachers are usually aware of this (and you sometimes get extra attention which is nice!).
I hope you enjoyed reading these just as much as I enjoyed giving them! Let me know what you think, or what your answers would be in the comments below. Oh, and if you have any questions you’d like me to answer then pop them below too!
Until next time, keep on dancing!