Getting back to ballet (and blogging)

Well it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

The last time I posted one of my own posts on this site was April 2015. That’s nearly 18 months ago! I’m sorry, readers, to have been absent for so long! This blog post was pretty hard because it meant facing up to the fact that I didn’t just stop blogging, but for about nine months I stopped taking ballet class too.

In short, the last year has been a little crazy for me, and ballet class was something that got dropped to the sidelines. I’m going to talk about why that happened, and then what it’s been like getting back to classes.

Well, what have I been up to?

My PhD graduation garb, along with a copy of my thesis!

My PhD graduation garb, along with a copy of my thesis!

The last twelve months have been a little insane. Last September signalled the end of my year in the programme that brought me to San Francisco. This meant a few things, but the worst was that half of my housemates had to move back to the UK. I also had to apply for a new visa (meaning trips to the UK and Canada) and move apartments. And a couple of months ago I got an offer for my dream job and started that a few weeks ago. Oh, and I went to my PhD graduation and got to wear a brightly colored gown and floppy hat!

In the midst of all this work/visa turmoil I had some personal stuff going on (don’t worry, all good things!) and it was hard to keep everything juggled and under control. Unfortunately, ballet was one of the things that lost out in terms of my priorities.

Why did Ballet get put to the side?

Before I stopped taking class I had gotten into a great routine. I would head straight to class from my commute on Monday through Thursday, and then take morning class on Saturday and Sunday. That was six classes a week and I was loving it. Not only that, but a new men’s class was starting at my local studio on a Sunday afternoon. A men’s class for non-professional adults! How awesome is that?!

But I just couldn’t keep up. I moved apartment and suddenly the weekday classes I usually take were now at an awkward time and location. My commute increased substantially and I couldn’t make it back in time for any classes in the city, and even when I did I had no energy.

But most of all I was mentally exhausted. Part of this was because my work was getting harder and I was completing further training in my spare time. Part of it was also the mental exhaustion of so much change happening in my life and the accompanying readjustment.

So ballet got left behind. And, to be honest, pretty much all my exercise and activities outside of work went. I would get home during the week and either meet friends or go straight to bed. I would spend my weekends catching up on life-admin, seeing friends, or trying to recover from the week. Everything else just seemed to have higher priority than ballet class – it didn’t seem essential (I now realise that ballet would have helped me so much during this crazy time!).

Why didn’t I get back to class for so long?

So that explains why I stopped taking class. But that was last September (when I stopped taking regular class) to November (when I stopped taking class altogether). Why did it take over nine months for me to get back to any class whatsoever?

This was what I was missing out on - pre-class warmup!

This was what I was missing out on – pre-class warmup!

Well, there are a few reasons, but I think the biggest is that I was out of shape. Over the months I had put on a bit of weight. In fact, I now weigh more than I have ever done whilst taking ballet. This got me down quite a bit (I’ve always been conscious about my weight) and I got a little in denial about it. The thought of going to class and looking in that big mirrored wall was, if I’m honest, a little scary.

On top of that I could clearly feel I had lost some flexibility with my time off, and I knew I had lost some technique (those triple, and occasional quadruple, pirouettes seemed ancient history). I knew that there’d be frustration when I get back to class, and would be wishing I was back to where I was a year or so earlier. Added to that, the thought of going back to my usual class, with my teacher who knows me well, made that disparity even more pronounced (at least in my head).

So I felt a little stuck. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy: the thought of being out-of-shape and having bad technique in class was making me stay away from class, which only made it more likely that I’d be out-of-shape and have bad technique when I next go to class! All logic was thrown out of the window and this somehow made total sense to me.

How did I get back to that first class?

I finally realised that I had to get back to class. I had no choice. I missed the feeling of freedom during grand allegro. I missed the emotion of doing an adagio combination. I missed the release that class gives me.

But I was still too scared to go back to class.

Luckily, I have some pretty amazing ballet friends. With the encouragement of Ethan, Jeff, and Jen, I decided to bite the bullet and get my butt back to a class. The thought of going back to my usual teacher still scared me (too much expectation) so Jeff suggested I come with him to one of his regular weekday classes. I agreed to come, and now had no excuse not to go. Having the moral support of Jeff in class meant a lot to me, and as I was warming up, in walked Ethan to take class too. He’d known I was taking class and came for more support – I was so grateful!

Full of smiles with Jeff and Ethan after my first class back! (and just before post-ballet beer...)

Full of smiles with Jeff and Ethan after my first class back! (and just before post-ballet beer…)

Yes I was out of shape. Yes my flexibility sucked. But my technque wasn’t awful, and I had no problems remembering what to do at the barre and center. Also, I found that the mirror didn’t bother me nearly as much as I expected – I was too busy focusing on what I was dancing. In those moments I did inspect myself in the mirror, I just told myself that the best place for me to be at that moment was in class. Oh, and every time I did catch myself in the mirror I was grinning!

For my second class, I used the excuse of a trip to Vancouver to take class at an unknown studio that had been recommended to me by some kind Canadian twitterers. I always like to take class when travelling and I would have been disappointed in myself if I didn’t bother with class. Again, class was great (even if I ended piqué turns en manége totally dizzy).

Now I’m trying to get into a routine of class. I’ve found a great Saturday morning class that I’m going to try and make each week, and there’s a Sunday morning class I’ve always loved that I took again for the first time in over a year today (as my teacher said: “It’s been quite a while”!). Getting back to the city during the week in time for class is still tricky, but my workplace has an on-site gym so I’m trying to go there as much as possible. Oh, and there’s also a company dietician, so I’m trying to work on that to. In short, I’m trying to sort my life out – and I’m including ballet in that!

So what ballet stuff have I been up to?

So although I wasn’t taking class, I did get to see a lot of ballet. First off there was the San Francisco Ballet season, which included some fantastic performances. My highlights were probably the new(-ish) Forsythe, which had been reworked from its original staging at POB, and Onegin (simply one of my favourite ballets). It was also nice to see the company for the second season in a row, as I could see some dancers start to shine and stand out as “ones to watch”.

When I was back in the UK to get my new visa, I managed to grab a standing ticket to see Giselle at the Royal Ballet. This just happened to be the night they were filming for the Cinema Relay and, my goodness, the performance was sublime! I love the Sir Peter Wright production, and two of my favourite dancers, Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov, played the doomed couple. I cannot express how special the performance – one of my favourite nights at the ballet ever. Oh, and there was an arabesque balance in the second act from Nuñez that felt like time froze. Check out this interval-video of the two stars working on the mime from the ballet with Sir Peter Wright:

I’ve also been trying to make it to the San Francisco Symphony as much as possible, and I caught the Vancouver Symphony whilst visiting there. Lots of Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven – heavenly!

The perfect way to spend a weekend in NYC - theatre and the Highline!

The perfect way to spend a weekend in NYC – theatre and the Highline!

Finally, when heading back to the UK I stopped off in my favorite city, New York, to catch some Broadway Theatre. I saw four shows over a weekend, and I’m not ashamed to say every single one made me cry – albeit for different reasons. These shows were The Color Purple (first time I’ve seen a mid-show standing ovation, and well-deserved for Cynthia Erivo too!), Fun Home (the staging in the round made it feel like you were in the Bechedel’s living room, and such an emotionally devastating show), Fiddler on the Roof (my first time seeing the show, and the choreography by Hofesh Schechter was so powerful and strong – would love to learn some of the choreo), and An American in Paris (Wheeldon proving as deft a choreographic and directorial hand in broadway as in ballet, and Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope truly shine as the lead couple – bravo!).

So I think it’s safe to say I’ve been keeping busy!

Next Steps

So this blog post is kind of a pledge to you, readers, that I’m going to try and take a class a week for the rest of 2016. On top of that I’m going to try and put up a new blog post every month, and post on my Facebook Page every week. I’m doing this because I don’t want to let ballet slip out of my routine again, and I’m going to try my best to make sure that doesn’t happen!

I’m also telling myself that it’s totally okay that I stopped ballet for a little while. Sometimes life gets in the way of other things and we prioritize. And now I’m just going to savour every moment in the studio a little bit more.

Have you stopped/restarted ballet recently? How did you find getting back to class? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, keep on dancing!


P.S. Make sure you check out World Ballet Day on Tuesday! There’s a 20(!) hour livestream from The Australian Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, and The San Francisco Ballet… it’s gonna be good!

P.P.S. Here’s a fun little video I was playing around with before class today – my feet warmup at 6x speed!

Warming up my feet before class… At 6x speed! #twoclassweekend

A video posted by David Wilson (@davetriesballet) on