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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!