Next Steps and Nerves

Hello everyone!

Sorry for the radio silence recently – my life has been a little crazy recently and I’m only just starting to get back to something resembling normality. I’ve only got a week or two until it all goes hectic again, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

I was a little happy after submitting my thesis...

I was a little happy after submitting my thesis…

Although not ballet related, I’m very pleased to say that a couple of weeks ago I submitted my PhD thesis! It’s taken three years of hard work and I can’t quite believe I’ve handed it in! The last three months have been pretty hellish – long days/nights at the office, and no time for ballet, whilst writing up has been tough but somehow it all worked out. Next up is my oral ‘viva voce’ exam in a month or two and if I pass (I’m keeping my fifth positions tightly crossed!) I’ll have a few months to do any corrections the examiners want. Although at times difficult, my studies have been one of the most rewarding and satisfying endeavours of my life and I’m hugely grateful to have had the opportunity to do this work.

Another great thing about my PhD has been the opportunity to travel for conferences and this year I was lucky enough to present work at conferences in Portugal and Japan. The latter was particularly fortuitous as the conference (based in Kobe) coincided with the Alina Cojocaru Dream Project Gala in Tokyo. So after a busy week at the conference (during which I celebrated my birthday and my supervisor gave me the go-ahead to submit my thesis) I headed up to Tokyo for a couple of days and to review the gala for The Ballet Bag. They’ve just posted my article and I’m really pleased with it – hopefully it conveys how much I enjoyed the performances and the fantastic reception the dancers received. I also managed to fit in a visit to the famous Chacotte ballet store and purchased the first four issues of Clara Dancin’ for Boys. This is a dance magazine just for boys who do ballet, and I’ll be talking about it in an upcoming blog post (because it’s totally awesome and deserves its own post!).

Alina Somova and Alexander Sergeyev in Ratmansky's Cinderella (Photo: Valentin Baranovsky)

Alina Somova and Alexander Sergeyev in Ratmansky’s Cinderella (Photo: Baranovsky from

Since submitting my thesis I’ve also had the chance to see the Mariinsky Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Swan Lake (Stepanova/Parish and Tereshkina/Shklyarov) and Cinderella (Matvienko/Sergeyev and Batoeva/Shklyarov). Needless to say, they were world class and every performance was pretty incredible. The guys were all totally awesome (and so inspiring!) and the ballerinas were all divine. And just to top things off, after the first Cinderella performance I met my ballet teachers from Bristol who revealed that they had known Sergeyev since he was a small boy, and so I got a chance to meet him and thank him for such an incredible performance in person. Talk about inspirational! It was also surreal to think it was my last trip to the Royal Opera House for the near-future (as I’m about to start a new job). I’ve so many good memories at the Royal Opera House over the last three years: it’s strange not to be planning which Manons or Don Quixotes to see in the Winter Season!

So how is my life turning upside down in a week or so? I’m moving to San Francisco! I’m flying out there on the 28th August, and start work at a company in Silicon Valley on the 2nd September. It’s going to be a huge life shift for me: new city (and continent!) and new work. I’m really excited and a little bit terrified at the thought.

One thing I’m particularly nervous about is ballet class. This might sound strange when I’ve now been taking class for nearly four years, but it’s true for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, there’s the usual nerves of starting a new class with a new teacher at a new studio: “what level should I take?“, “where are the changing rooms/toilets?“, “am I taking someone’s place at the barre?“, “what does the teacher mean by tour jeté/cou de pied/?“. But I’ve coped with this fine in the past. My personal approach is to do a little research (already started that with Google searches for “San Francisco Adult Ballet Classes” and helpful hints from twitterers), try and visit the studio before the first class to double check with reception about the level/uniform/etc, and then to introduce myself to the teacher (if possible) either before or after class and be honest to them about my background.

Me dancing with Ellie in the Le Corsaire Adage (© Derwood Photography). Would never have believed I could do this!

One of my most special memories from the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company: dancing the Le Corsaire Adage with Ellie (© Derwood Photography). Still can’t quite believe I did it!

The thing that’s a bit different this time is that I’m starting new classes after about 4 months off. Following the Cinderella performance at the start of May I had a ‘farewell’ class with the Russian Youth Ballet Company: I can’t really express how grateful I am to my amazing teachers for the last two years. They’ve improved my dancing, pushed me to achieve things I could never have dreamed of, helped me gain confidence, given me unbelievable opportunities, and in general taught me so much more than just technique. At the final class they presented me with a photo album of the various performances I’ve done with them over the last two years – it was such a thoughtful gift and contains some really special memories that I’ll treasure for years to come.

Since then I haven’t taken a ballet class, and in the last month or two have been so swamped with work that I’ve barely been to the gym or done much exercise at all. This combined with long days hunched over my desk writing my thesis, stress-snacking whilst doing so, traveling to conferences, and celebrating submitting my thesis, have meant I’ve gained a decent amount of “thesis-weight” and lost tonnes of flexibility. So I’m a bit scared about going back to class and actually facing up to this fact. I’ve got to realise that I’ve taken a few steps back (in fair exchange for finishing my thesis) and when I look in the mirror in the studio it will be a little different to the last time.

I'm also really excited to see San Francisco Ballet perform! (Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin in Scarlett's Hummingbird from Photo ©: Erik Tomasson)

I’m also really excited to see San Francisco Ballet perform! (Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin in Scarlett’s Hummingbird from Photo ©: Erik Tomasson)

For quite a while I had decided that I wouldn’t take class again until I’d gotten back to my pre-thesis weight and regained a decent amount of flexibility. However, I’ve realised that it’s almost certainly better to just jump straight back into class, starting with some beginner level classes. This way I can work back up to where I was by working hard at the barre, as well as the gym (and watching what goes on the dinner plate!). I know I can get back to how I was dancing if I put the time and effort in, and I’m already excited to get back to class. I’ve missed those incredible feelings you get when dancing – the serenity when adage is going well, the thrill of a good grand allegro, or simply the calm as you place your hand on the barre for those first set of pliés. I’ve started off by doing some daily stretching, but am looking forward to getting back into a studio.

So that’s what I’ve been up to! Has anyone else recently returned to ballet after a few months (or years) off? Anyone have some tips for coping with that first class? Please share in the comments below, and if you’ve any tips for classes in San Francisco it would be great to hear them too!

Until next time, keep on dancing!



  1. Ballet classes at Lines Dance Center: 1) adv beginner taught by Liezl on Mon, Wed, 6pm
    2) int. ballet taught by Leewei
    3) beg ballet taught by Kathy

    Modern: taught by Dexander Montalvo on Wed 10 am. This is a class u cannot miss. His style is so unique.

  2. Finis Jhung has created some marvelous DVDs that help you learn the whys and the hows of ballet technique along with routines you can do in your own home. He has made several DVDS specifically with male dancers in mind. Whatever your level and whichever DVD(s) you choose, you are bound to learn and understand ballet better after watching them. The DVDs are a great way to learn, practice, and improve on days when you can’t make it to class.

    Congratulations on your splendid news and the best of luck in your new endeavors!

  3. Good luck in the new city!!

    I find after layoff, the first class usually goes really well. Maybe it’s the excitement of getting back into the studio or lack of lactic acid buildup or lack of muscle fatigue? It’s classes 2,3, and 4 that are really killer. Push through those and don’t give up! Also remember it will be hard to notice changes from day to day, but week to week will certainly have discernable changes.

    • Thanks for the advice! Had class number 1 last week and will be heading back to the studio a few times this week so hopefully I can make it through that tough patch :) Felt so good to be back in the studio and moving again…

  4. I took four months off this summer because we were expecting our second child, and my spouse had a difficult delivery. On top of that, we moved cities, which meant I had to find a new studio. I ended up going from an intermediate pre-pro class to a beginning adult class due to having to learn a new barre and centre routine, but the break reinforced how much I love ballet.

    • New studio + a break can be tough – glad to hear it reinforced your love for ballet! I had my first proper class back last week, at a new studio, and absolutely loved it! It was a beginner class and I had forgotten how hard doing things slowly can be :P I definitely think half-pirouettes are much tougher than doubles! Can’t wait to get back in the studio. Hope your classes are going well!

  5. Congrats on finishing your thesis and best of luck on the orals! Been through that slog myself and it’s a huge accomplishment AND a wonderful relief to be done :)

    I’ve visited San Francisco several times and have taken classes at and highly recommend the Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, which is the community dance outreach of the Alonzo King LINES contemporary ballet (which you should definitely see in performance!). They have tons of classes in all sort of dance genres, including a wide choice of ballet levels and instructors.

    Kathy Mata is a tough but encouraging teacher who is dedicated to teaching adults and even runs an adult ballet performance group. I very much enjoyed her classes.

    Here is a short video documentary on Mata and her classes:

    Wishing you the best in your future move and career! :)

    • Thanks Kaija! Yeah – it’s a big relief to have my thesis submitted and I’ll be even happier once the defense is done. I’ve taken one class at LINES since coming here to SF (my accommodation for the first two weeks was right by the studio) and definitely aim to go back! I’ve heard great things about Kathy Mata’s classes so will definitely be trying them out. I’ve just started at another studio in the city (it’s a bit nearer where I now live) and had my first class last week – absolutely loved it! Will be blogging about it soon, I promise!


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