So it seems like all of my latest blog posts have started with an apology for not posting much recently, and I’m afraid recent history is doomed to repeat itself. I reckon I have a pretty good excuse though… I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that I’ve been going through the most momentous time in my life.
Following the submission of my PhD thesis in July, I had a week or two in Bath before heading back up north. I then had a week or two at home with my parents before moving out to San Francisco. I was pretty nervous moving out here. A new city/continent, a new job, a new career, and a new experience. But so far, everything has been amazing! I’ve made some amazing friends both from the programme I’m on (the Silicon Valley Internship Programme) and my new job. I’ve really enjoyed work so far and have gotten to work on some really cool projects already, although it has been pretty tough at times to get used to moving from an academic environment to industry. I’m now living in a really nice area of San Francisco along with five of the guys on my scheme in an amazing house (we even have our own elevator!?!), with a great view over the city to the Bay Bridge and East Bay.
Amongst all of this change, I also had to prepare for my PhD viva. This is an oral exam conducted with an internal examiner from my own university and an external examiner who is an expert in my field (in my case, from NYU in NYC). Lasting for anywhere from an hour to five hours, it is a chance for my examiners (after reading my thesis) to grill me on my work, and how it fits in the wider context of my research area. With me moving to San Francisco, there was a little trouble organising where and when it would take place, but eventually we set a date for mid-November in New York. This meant quite a few weeks of preparation in lunch breaks and on weekends, along with the worst nerves I’ve ever experienced in my life. The week of the viva I went straight to the airport from work on the Monday, flew on a red-eye to NYC, met with my examiner for final admin on the Tuesday, before starting the viva itself at 9am on the Wednesday.
I’m happy to say that the viva went really well! It was a chance to exhibit the parts of my thesis that I was proud of, as well as defend the parts of my work that my examiners had questions about. After a couple of hours talking through my thesis (with interjected questions), my examiners had a short discussion amongst themselves and I’m happy to say they announced to me that I had passed. I’ve had a couple of final corrections to do since then (add a couple of paragraphs to clarify some points in my thesis) and I’m just waiting for my final confirmation that the examiners are satisfied. I then spent the rest of the week following my viva celebrating in New York. I managed to see five Broadway shows (all incredible!) and the Mikhailovsky Ballet in Flames of Paris (so many balletic fireworks – also incredible!). I also managed to take a couple of ballet classes in the city – after the good news I felt like I was dancing on air.
During this whole time, in fact, ballet has helped keep me grounded. It’s been really helpful having the familiarity of ballet class amidst a time of immense change. It’s reassuring to know that I can take a class, and it will always start with pliés, and work through to me letting off steam in grand allegro. I’ve always thought there’s something cathartic about class – it’s almost like a physical meditation.
When I first moved to San Francisco life was a little too hectic to take class. I managed a single class in the first month or so – it was a really great class (and my first in three months!) with a fantastic teacher. There was a weird atmosphere in the class though, but I think it was just a small crowd in this particular class – I’ve since been back to the same class and it’s been great.
Then, once I had settled into my new house, I found a local school that offers regular classes. I started with two beginner classes and two advanced beginner classes to ease myself back into classes. My teachers are awesome and have given me lots of useful corrections already. After a month, my teacher wanted me to step up to the intermediate and advanced classes, so since the start of November I’ve been taking four 90 minute classes each week (Mon-Thu) and loving every second! I’m hoping to add some weekend classes at other schools (now my weekend isn’t clogged with thesis work!) and my main aim at the moment is to get back into shape. Hours sat in front of my thesis stress-eating are certainly starting to show. I’m not aiming for a particular weight as such, but my main aim is to be able to wear a particular biketard I own to class without feeling ashamed. It’s going to take quite a few months to lose the fat, gain the muscle, and generally tone up enough for this, but I’m going to take it slow. Oh, and my other goal is for a quintuple pirouette – my teacher said after class one night that he wants me to do a quintuple and I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but it’s certainly a goal to work towards!
Alongside amazing classes, I’ve also met some awesome ballet tweeps in San Francisco already. I’ve been reminded how friendly the adult ballet community can be: lots of people suggesting classes and tips on where to go. I’ve even had people offer me lifts to and from classes that are particularly hard to reach. Thank you to all the helpful people – you know who you are!
This week has been Thanksgiving here in the US (we hosted a dinner for 12, which went surprisingly well considering none of us had ever roasted a turkey before!), and it’s been a nice opportunity to reflect on what I’m thankful for.
First, I’m grateful for the support of my family and friends, particularly over the last few months. Without them, I’m nothing. Second, I’m grateful for the opportunities I have been given – I’m very lucky and try my best to make the most of my chances. Finally, I’m thankful for having ballet in my life – both for ballet itself, and for the community at its heart.
So now my life has started to settle down, it will hopefully be back to regular DaveTriesBallet service! I’m hoping to post much more regularly, and about a range of topics. I want to talk some more about the practicalities of taking ballet as an adult, how you can get ‘more’ from your classes, what I look for in a ballet school or teacher, how to dance outside your comfort zone, and more. Do you have an idea for a blog post you want to see on DaveTriesBallet? Let me know in the comments section.
I also have a couple of projects I’m starting to work on that I hope to share with you all soon. I want to try and help make adult dancers (especially you guys who dance!) feel part of a community, no matter where you are in the world. Fifth positions crossed I’ll be able to share something with you all soon.
So until next time, keep dancing!