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

Guest Blog Post – What Does Ballet Vocabulary Really Mean (by Catherine of

Hey everyone! It’s been a while (sorry!) but I’m super-excited to have a guest blog post! The awesome Catherine (@catoucat on Twitter) of, has written an amazing post about the true meaning of ballet terms. Catherine, who I take class with here in San Francisco, has created this must-read guide on the french meaning of terms such as cou-de-pied and pas de poisson, and has thankfully let me put a copy up here (it was originally posted on her own blog here). So without futher ado…

If you have already danced ballet (or maybe other dances which use the same vocabulary) you already know a lot of French without knowing!

I am a French ballet (recreational) dancer, and I am amazed how people from all around the world share the same vocabulary. They can attend any ballet class in any country without knowing the local language, and still can understand the instructions. See by yourself: a class in London Royal Opera House for World Ballet day 2015, it’s full of French terms! (with a strong accent, though)

But do you know what ballet term mean? For instance “fouetté” is not just a quick turning movement, it is also associated with food and sometimes nasty activities? Here are the litteral translations of most common ballet terms, you will see there’s usually a logic or full of imagery meaning.

Positions and directions

The first vocabulary you learn is the five basic positions, which are called “first, second, third…”. Maybe you recognize for some of them the numbers “one, two, three…” in French, which are “un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq”. Add a “à la” (to the) and it becomes a direction.


Regarding directions, those additional words give an indication on the way the movement should be executed.
En-dehors and en-dedans are probably the most common ones, they litteraly mean “”towards outside / inside””. The goal of a ballerina/ballerino is to be “towards outside”, so hips and feet trying to go escape outside!
Dessus and dessous (over and under) refer to how the feet should close in reference to the standing leg. You may also hear “en remontant” and “en descendant” (going up, going down) in the center, they refer to the stage which used to be inclined towards the audience. “En remontant” means therefore “going up (in direction to the back of the stage)”.
Ouvert and fermé (“open” and “closed”, with an additional “e” when it comes with a feminine noun) refer probably to the legs at the end of the movement (e.g. “sissone ouverte”).


Finally, the French terms about body position also use basic position words in French: devant (in front), derrière (behind), écarté (apart, or separated, the leg is to the side in diagonal and the furthest from the standing leg).
The next ones also make sense: épaulé (shouldered) tells you have to show your shoulder (therefore not be “en face”, which is opposite). In croisé (crossed), your legs must be crossed. And in effacé (faded, or shy for a person!) you must look a little behind, as if you were shy.


Barre exercices

The first terms of barre exercices (during pliés which are bent movements) mean litteraly half-bent (demi-plié), big-bent (grand plié), tilted/inclined (penché, like in “penché en avant” which is inclined towards the front), raised or elevated (relevé), and finaly arched (cambré, which is mainly used when we talk about somebody’s back).


Then come the full of imagery terms!
During jetés you must be sharp and quick as it means “thrown”. Imagine you’re throwing away your leg!
In frappés, ballet teachers usually say you have to brush the floor. Actually you want to brush it and also do it with anger since it means “stricken”. The floor must be struck by your foot…
A fondu is “melted” (like a chocolate or a cheese fondue). Both your legs must be bent and soft like melted cheese.
A battement (small or big, “petit” or “grand”) is a “beat”. And battu is “beaten”. Then again your legs are involved in a battle and must beat each other, or beat the air.
Finally, tendu is simply “stretched”.


Cou-de-pied is “neck of the foot”, not to be confused with “coup de pied” (kick with the foot). Many people think it means kick since they are both pronounced the same way and cou-de-pied is never used in French besides in ballet.
When you do battements en cloche it means like a bell. See a bell swinging from left to right? Yeah, that’s it.
Port de bras is just “carriage of the arms”, it just means you mustn’t leave your arms unsuported!
When you do a rond de jambe, it’s a “leg round/circle”. Ever wondered why it is called that way? I’m still wondering! (you really do half a circle…)
Coupé is to be cut, so you try to cut your ankle with the toes of your other foot…
Retiré (foot to the knee) means “wirthdrawn”, although I often hear “passé” (passed) abroad.


Center exercices

Now let’s go on with center exercices. Ever heard you have to jump during a glissade? Some French teacher would argue it means to “glide” so you must stay close to the floor (“this is called a glissade, not a jeté!” once said a teacher).
Then tombé is “fallen”, so just think of tumbling and finish on one foot.
Assemblé is of course “assembled” since you assemble your legs in the end of the step.
Chaînés mean chained (easy one), but déboulés (which is their more commonly used name in France) means tumbling/rolling. For instance a rolling rock on a hill will “débouler”.
Balancé means “rocked”, sometimes you can also hear “balançoire” which is a swing.
Chassé means “chased/hunted”, so imagine a running deer?
As of échappé, it means “escaped”. Each of your feet tries to escape in a different direction then, weird.


Temps levé is an “elevated time”, and temps lié is “linked time”.
Then come the weirdest terms: a brisé-volé is litteraly a “flying broken” (brisé = broken, volé = flying). I can definitely see what is broken (legs, after trying brisé de volée for a while), and that it ”should” be flying. However I think they mispelled the name of this step, and it should be called “the step of the hell”. What is a brisé-volé? [See this video
We say fouetté when we talk about a cream or Zorro. Yes fouetté means “whipped” so use your leg to beat eggs or whip the air!
A piqué is something sharp and quick, since it means “pricked” (you can be “piqué” by a mosquito, or a needle for instance).
The term promenade is maybe the most ironic one. It means “a walk / a stroll”, and not “stay balanced why turning slowly in a very uncomfortable position” :)
I like failli, it means “almost” like in “I almost made that huge jump but in the end I decided to just slide into 4th en avant”


Last but not least, all the “pas de” (step of). You can immitate a cat (“pas de chat“), or a horse (“pas de cheval“), and even a fish (“pas de poisson“).
However you can also try to walk like a Basque (“pas de basque“), who is a person from a region between Spain and France.
If you drank too much you can also do a “pas de bourrée“! Actually “bourrée” is an old dance but it litteraly means “drunk woman/girl”.


I hope you learnt some new French meaning and you will remember them at your next class!

Thanks to Catherine for such an awesome post! Were you surprised by any of the meanings? Or do you have a favourite term? Let us know in the comments below.

Until next time, keep on dancing!


Tips for Memorizing Combinations

As ever, apologies for the delay in posting! The excuses this time include sorting out a new contract at my work, and applying for a visa (eek!). Thankfully, all that work hasn’t stopped me from taking ballet (my current schedule is six classes a week: Sat-Thu) and seeing some ballet and theatre (particular highlights: San Francisco Ballet’s Don Quixote with Frances Chung and Taras Domitro and Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years with Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor).

This post, I thought I’d concentrate on something that I’ve been asked a few times in the past, and something that I struggled with for quite a while when I first started dancing. How do you memorize a combination in class?

My concentration face during class - I promise I'm still enjoying myself!

Me concentrating on a combination during class…

In a standard ballet class you have to memorize a lot. At a quick estimate, I reckon during a normal class there are at least 18 different exercises (10 at barre, 8 in centre). Assuming each has 32 counts, and every movement takes a single count, this makes 576 different steps to memorize. If you think that for every step, at a minimum, you need to remember what your head, arms, and legs are doing, that makes 1,728 different things to memorize – every single class!

So how do you keep all that stuff in your brain?! Here are some of my tips…

  • Pay Attention! This should go without saying, but the first thing you need to do is pay attention. I’m amazed when I see people in class not paying attention when the teacher is describing an exercise. If you don’t watch then you’ll never know what’s coming next!
  • Count along. This is one thing I always do when seeing a combination being demonstrated. I always say the counts along with the movement, even if just in my head. This helps me, especially if there’s a tricky part – I can associate with a specific count to make sure I’m on track.
  • Use your body to mark. This is a big one, that you will see many dancers doing. Follow along with the combination as the teacher demonstrates or says it. Generally I won’t do a full movement (unless it’s particularly tricky and I want to make sure I’ve got it “in my body”) but will use my hands, legs (at half-power), or my head to dance along. You’ll probably end up making your own set of gestures for different movements – my favourite is always twirling a finger in the air for multiple pirouettes… If only it was that easy! Remember to include the dynamics of the movement in your gesture: big gestures for big movements, small gestures for small movements!
  • Focus on directions and leading sides. These are two things that I always try to keep in mind when learning a combination. Less important for barre, in center direction is key! Always make sure you note which corner or wall your facing. Further, note when your leading leg changes – switching legs mid-combination can throw a lot of people!
  • Think of levels. I got this advice from a teacher in London a couple of years ago, and it was really useful. In center especially, keep note of the different ‘levels’ of a combination. When are you down in plie? When are you up on releve? Make sure you know which goes where.
  • Use the music. The music can often tell you what should come next. It can highlight certain movements – try to noticee when the teacher demonstrates which beat is dominant, and if you are placing emphasis on or off the beat. If you have a live accompanist then often they will slightly slow towards the end of a key phrase or before a change in the exercise (like rondd de jambes into port de bras). Don’t just dance to the music, dance with the music!
  • Don’t memorize things you know. Try and note what things you don’t need to memorize. For example, once you learn the ‘standard’ arms for a jete in petit allegro and have them built into a habit, you don’t need to memorize the arms unless they’re different from the norm.
  • Force yourself to memorize. Learning combinations quickly is a skill, and needs to be practiced. One way to do that is to force yourself to work on memorizing combinations – maybe stand at the end of the barre, or go in the first group for an exercise in the center. This will hone your skill and also hopefully give you confidence in your memorization.
  • Forget it! I personally think I saved the most important tip for last. Don’t aim to memorize these combinations forever. Only try to memorize the combination for the few minutes of the exercise. As soon as you are done, then forget it! Move straight onto the next exercise. If you ask me during fondu what the tendu exercise was then I’ll probably not be able to tell you – and that’s totally fine! Obviously this doesn’t apply to learning choreography for a performance or an exam, but for class it’s totally fine to forget what you did. Mind you, don’t forget your corrections! (That’s what a Dance Journal is for…)

I hope those help!

I also reached out to Twitter to see how other people remember combinations. Here a selection of some of the answers:

Do you agree or diasgree with any of the advice? What are your tips and tricks for memorizing combinations in class? Please share them in the comments section below!

Until next time, keep on dancing!


3, 2, 1… Smile!

Things have been pretty busy here – my first Christmas away from home, increasing responsibilities and opportunities at work, finishing all the admin for my PhD (finally got my paperwork through on Wednesday – I’m officially finished!).

My concentration face during class - I promise I'm still enjoying myself!

My concentration face during class – I promise I’m still enjoying myself!

Amidst all this I’ve been taking lots of ballet – class six days a week at two studios with five teachers. It makes my schedule a little hectic at times (big understatement) but I wouldn’t swap it for the world. It took a month or two for me to shift my ‘style’ to match my teachers (i.e. one teacher likes me to keep my weight more forward that I’m used to, one likes me to finish my pirouettes with my arms in second etc).

Since then, I’ve been focusing on various parts of my dancing and I’m pleased to say I’ve seen some good progress. There was one shift in particular that I made before Christmas that has had a huge difference on my dancing: smiling!

It’s really easy in class to get sucked in by an exercise and become really focused. When this happens to me I tend to end up with a ‘concentration face’ – I end up looking pretty serious and slightly scary at times! Further, there can be times when you mess up a combination, end a pirouette badly, or get your feet tangled during petit allegro – this usually results in a grimace or a scowl directed at yourself.

One of my favourite photos of me dancing (in the Swan Lake Pas de Trois from a gala in 2013)  - and I'm smiling! Sort of...

One of my favourite photos of me dancing (in the Swan Lake Pas de Trois from a gala in 2013) – and I’m smiling! Sort of…

I’m not saying that I look miserable every second of a ballet class, far from it. I’m generally having an amazing time and often can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. So it seemed a shame that wasn’t being shown (and I felt bad that teachers didn’t see how much I was enjoying class – although hopefully they realised that with my profuse thank yous after class). So in December I decided to concentrate on smiling.

What was the effect? I danced much better! I think the main reason for this is because it has helped me relax in class. I’ve had the correction to relax a lot in class recently and I definitely find I’m more relaxed when I’m smiling.

So that’s my tip for this post – next time you’re in class take a few moments before each exercise to think about smiling. It doesn’t have to be a massive grin throughout (although I’m usually about that happy!) but a little smile can help your dancing a lot. Do you have any similar tips? Share them in the comments below!

Hopefully I’ll have the next blog post out soon – how to memorize combinations in class! Let me know if you have any tips to share…

Until next time, keep on dancing!


P.S. I was totally honoured to be included in Adult Beginner’s Blogroll of Ballet Dudes this week – a list of totally awesome blogs by dudes who dance. Check it out – and if you’re not following AB then got on that right away, she’s awesome! (I should know, we fought the Rat King in the NYC Subway once…)

The Dance Journal – what is it and why should I have one?

Since my life has settled down (after a pretty momentous few months) I’ve been trying to take more ballet class and step my training up a notch. I’m currently taking class Monday-Thursday and try to take class on Saturday and Sunday wherever possible. Each class is 90 minutes long, with a variety of teachers (usually 5 different teachers at 3 ballet schools), so I get a whole range of corrections. It can be hard to take on board all these corrections, especially if they are small/subtle changes, and even harder to build on them class by class.

That’s why I have a dance journal.

What is a Dance Journal?

My current Dance Journal

My current Dance Journal

I’m going to give a complete non-answer here: a dance journal is whatever you want it to be. That wasn’t very useful, was it? Sorry!

It’s true though: there’s no set definition of what a dance journal is or what should be in it. I think of a dance journal simply as a tool to help me progress in my ballet training. Personally, my journal is a small notebook (make sure you pick a nice one – you’ll be writing in it a lot!) that lives in my dance bag. It’s there for me to put in any notes that might be useful to look back on in the future.

Abstractly, my dance journal is both my reflection and motivation. It enables me to build on my corrections from class to class, and to look back and see my progress. It enables me to see if bad habits are forming, or if I’m improving a particular movement or technique.

What should I put in a Dance Journal?

So what should you put in there? You’ve got a lot of choice and it’s really down to you and what you think will be useful.

Here’s a few things I put in my Dance Journal:

  • Corrections: This is definitely the bulk of my journal. After class I’ll try and write down all corrections I was given, although sometimes I don’t remember them until a day or two later!
  • Metaphors and Imagery: If a teacher uses a particular piece of imagery that I find really useful then I’ll note it down.
  • Nice combinations: If there’s a particularly nice combination in class then I’ll note it down. I’m probably not going to use it in the future but it’s a nice memory to keep.
  • Choreography: If I’m learning a piece of choreography, I’ll keep notes in my journal. It’s not necessarily the entire piece, but hints and prompts to help me.
  • Achievements: This is something people (including myself!) often forget to note down – when something goes well! Nail a triple pirouette? Put that in your journal!

Why should I use a Dance Journal?

Do you want to maximise your progress? Can you spare (literally) five minutes after class to write down some notes? Then there’s no reason not to use a dance journal!

A glimpse into my Dance Journal…

So, how do I use my dance journal? I thought I’d share some notes from my recent classes (along with a pic of my first ever dance journal!).

Don’t leave chest behind in pirouettes – move trailing arm before anything else to get chest round before anything else.

Don’t do 32 jumps, do a single jump 32 times – last should be as good as the first.

A couple of pages from my first Dance Journal entry

A couple of pages from my first Dance Journal entry

Work on engaging the core without tightening the chest – especially for developpés.

Make every balance grow – keep pushing through standing leg and reach chest up and over (think of a cresting wave).

Frappés should be cheeky and cute. Balancés should be sexy.

An entry from my dance journal a couple of weeks ago.

An entry from my dance journal a couple of weeks ago.

Hold muscles like water – can’t hold with clenched fists or open palms. Need to be somewhere between.

Got a “great!” during my grand jeté in grand allegro – and teacher said the woman in my group and I were in “perfect sync”. Yay!


Do you have a Dance Journal? What do you put in yours? If you don’t have one yet, how about adding it to your Christmas list…?

Until next time, keep on dancing!

Moving Continents and Giving Thanks

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.

Working isn't too bad when you have this view!

Working on a Sunday evening isn’t too bad when you have this view!

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.

My concentration face during class - I promise I'm still enjoying myself!

Taking ballet class always makes me feel much calmer and relaxed. Don’t know what I’d do without it!

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!

Carving the Thanksgiving turkey!

Carving the Thanksgiving turkey!

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!


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. Continue reading

Quick Update

Just a really short update to apologise for the lack of posts on my blog recently and explain why I’ve been quiet. I’m in the midst of writing up my PhD thesis (58,000 words and counting…!) and everything outside of my research is having to grind to a halt. I’m working around the clock and so haven’t had any time to write anything for the blog. Don’t worry though, I’ve got loads of ideas for future posts that I’ll start once I’m done with my PhD! Continue reading

Review – The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker on Digital Theatre

It’s a little strange to be watching the Nutcracker in the middle of March. But there’s a reason to feel Christmassy – Digital Theatre has just released two more Royal Ballet productions (and two Royal Opera productions) to accompany its current roster of Sylvia (with Darcey Bussell/Roberto Bolle) and Swan Lake (Marianela Nunez/Thiago Soares). I’ll be reviewing both of the new productions, the first of which is Sir Peter Wright’s magical production of The Nutcracker from 2010. Continue reading