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…)

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

Cinderella – performance time!

I still can’t quite believe it. Last weekend, I danced in the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company’s production of Cinderella at Stockport Plaza. Not only did I get the chance to perform in front of hundreds of people to raise money for a fantastic charity, but I also got to share the stage with two of the country’s greatest dancers: Elena Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas. Continue reading

Cinderella – three days to go!

This is going to be a quick blog post – written in a coffee break between PhD work (I’m “writing up” my thesis at the moment – lots of work!).

I can’t believe it, but I’ll be performing in Cinderella on Sunday! It’s suddenly appeared out of nowhere – it seems like yesterday we were just learning which roles we’d be playing (for me: Dance Teacher in Act I and King in Act II). Continue reading

A week of ups and downs…

This week has been a little bit of a rollercoaster for me.

Firstly, I was very humbled to see that my blog has reached 1,000,000 hits! (A hit is a unique visit per 24 hours) I’m pretty sure most are probably spam, but I’m grateful for all you ‘real’ people who have checked out my articles. I hope that over the last three or so years I’ve helped inspire people to give ballet a shot – if I can do it then I guarantee that anyone can! It also seems a good time to remind you that if you ever have any questions then you can always get in touch: either by posting a comment here, shooting me an email, tweeting me, or posting on Facebook. Continue reading

Goals for 2014

Sorry for the lack of posts recently – I’ve been completely swamped with work and job stuff…

To start, I’ve begun writing my PhD thesis. As in actually putting words on paper (well, typing them into the computer) that will eventually make their way into a thesis that will (hopefully) earn me a PhD. I can’t explain how freakily scary that is! The aim is to submit my thesis around July 2014 so I’m hoping to have a first draft done over the next few months; then I can start thinking of entering the Dance Your PhD competition… This is alongside a couple of paper submissions in my research group and covering for a couple of lectures (for 300+ undergraduates!). I’ve also gone from not having any post-PhD plans to having a whole load of job applications on the go. I’m not quite sure what my future holds: what my job will entail or what city/country/continent I’ll be in. Continue reading

How time flies!

They say that time flies when you are having fun. This is certainly the case when I realised that this week marks my 3rd “Ballet-versary” – it’s three years since my first ever ballet lesson!

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

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

I can’t quite believe it. It seems like only yesterday that I did my first ever plié and got confused by “the glissande-thing” (at least I know my terminology has improved since then!).

Since my first class I’ve managed to do so many things I could have never imagined. I daren’t think of my reaction if you’d told me before that first class that I’d perform in a full-length Swan Lake as Rothbart, or that I’d perform the full adage from the Le Corsaire pas de deux.

The only reason I’ve been able to do so much is that I’ve been lucky enough to have some truly amazing teachers. Not only have they been patient and welcoming, but they’ve inspired me to push and stretch myself beyond my self-imposed boundaries. I cannot thank them enough, and hope that they can see just how grateful I am.

I also need to thank all you readers! You help inspire me with every comment, tweet, or hit to the website. In particular, I love receiving emails from people just starting ballet. If you have any questions then feel free to tweet me or send an email to info@davetriesballet.com. And if you thinking about taking the leap into your first ballet class – DO IT!

Something else that happened this last week that I’d never have imagined three years ago. Thanks to being a Student Ambassador for the Royal Opera House last year, I was chosen to get a week’s work experience there. I was working with the Digital Development and Digital Media teams and had an amazing time! I can’t go into much detail about the actual work but I got to work on some exciting projects for their website and even wrote a couple of news pieces – my first ever article on the ROH website is about the awesome mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato!

Just being part of such an institution for the week was highly inspiring – everyone I worked with seemed so passionate about their work. Plus, walking past dancers like Lauren Cuthbertson, Steven McRae, Thiago Soares and Bennet Gartside in the corridor (and mainly being too ballet starstruck to say hello!) was obviously a massive inspiration, even if I never managed to escape work to go see Don Quixote rehearsals… I guess I’ll just have to wait until the opening gala at the end of the month!

This last Sunday (just like every fortnight) I had 4.5 hours of ballet – and loved every second. It was jam packed – my teachers had me learning Basilio’s variation from Don Quixote, the opening section of the Swan Lake Pas de Trois, and the following Pas de Quatre from Raymonda‘s Grand Pas de Dix:

Needless to say – so much fun!

I’m going to try to update the blog a bit more regularly than recently – my life is settling down into a bit of a routine so should be able to fit in more blogging. Unfortunately, work has meant I’ve had to stop my Tuesday class each week, but I’ll still be taking class every Wednesday and Friday, and every other Sunday for my mammoth rehearsal sessions. I’ll be blogging about stuff happening in class and preparations for two productions I’m going to be in – La Fille mal Gardée with the adult group in December (I’ll be performing as Colas), and Cinderella with the youth ballet company in March (I’ll be performing as the King and Dance Teacher). I’m also planning some pieces on specific ballets – Romeo & Juliet is top of the list (as it’s my favourite ballet!). Please let me know if there’s anything you want to read about.

You’ll also notice some changes to the DaveTriesBallet website over the next few weeks. I’ve been having some real difficulties with WordPress at the moment – all of my comments have vanished from the dashboard! So I’m also taking this as an opportunity to freshen up the site a bit – any feedback on the changes is very welcome.

Until next time, keep on dancing!


P.S. An update on the website: Thanks to the truly amazing @clouddancefest comments should now be working! Unfortunately I’ve lost all previous comments (*sadface*) but new ones should work – yay!

A Gala in the Sunshine

This Saturday I performed at a local Gala for a charity’s 60th birthday. The charity had got a local stately house to open up its grounds and were celebrating by having a day filled with arts and crafts stalls, picnics and live entertainment. As it turns out, both of the local groups I dance with had been asked to perform, and I would be dancing with both on the day – with only 20 minutes break in between!

With the adult group I’d be performing three pieces – Pas de Deesses (a Pas de Quatre), a selection from the Precious Stones Suite in Sleeping Beauty (a variation and a short closing segment) and the male variation from the Pas de Trois in Swan Lake. With the youth ballet company I’m in I’d be performing five pieces in total: Act III Spanish from Swan Lake, the pirate character dance from Le Corsaire, the waltz from Cinderella, a new contemporary piece, and the most exciting/scary piece of all: the Adage from the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux!

Whilst all the pieces with the adult group I had performed before (even if the variation from the Pas de Trois had been learnt in a rather hurried fashion), four of the pieces with the youth ballet company were new to me.

The pirate character dance is a really fun dance, where I even got a pair of pistols to wield! I was dancing with one of the girls from the youth ballet company, along with six girls from the school. Although technically not the most difficult piece (apart from a few grand saute de basques to the knee) it involved a lot of running around and jumping! Turns out pirates, or at least balletic ones, were an athletic bunch! Here’s the music for the dance to give you a feel for it:

The waltz from Cinderella was a big group piece and, as the only male dancer, I had a little solo string of saut de basques to the knee, followed by some pirouettes and then a bit of partnering (some nice simple little lifts with a couple of the girls) before a final pose. The contemporary was a new piece our contemporary teacher had created on us to the most beautiful piece of music: Quintett N.1 by Dustin O’Halloran. The dance ended up being Cunningham-based (an artifact of being a youth ballet company I guess) and really lovely. There was a recurring movement which was, to me, akin to an emotional shock and made the piece quite cathartic to dance.

So the biggest piece for me to perform was the Adage from the Corsaire Pas de Deux. I’d be dancing with Ellie, a girl from the youth ballet company who is a beautiful dancer who is off to vocational school next year. Because we could only start after Swan Lake was over, and because the youth ballet company only meets every 2-3 weeks, we only had three rehearsal sessions before the performance. Because of this, we added an extra hour-long rehearsal with my awesome teacher on the day of the performance (just before I had to go dance with the adult group!).

The Adage is, without question, the hardest piece I’ve ever performed. There isn’t much solo-work, but there is a lot of partnering, and some quite tricky bits! So as well as getting my assisted pirouettes up to scratch, I had an attitude promenade, arabesque carry/lift, penchee promenade, turning grande jete catch, assisted grand jete, assisted grande saute de basque and a gateway turn to contend with! Luckily me and Ellie ‘synced’ with our partnering fairly quickly, and whilst the first rehearsal was a bit tricky (it felt like I was “putting on the brakes” in pirouettes – entirely my fault) the later ones went really well.

By the final rehearsal we had all the steps learnt and were working on the polish and characterisation. As the slave I had to be deferential to Ellie’s Medora, but I also had to personally work on making all my movements more expansive (a problem I always have).

There were a couple of problems once we arrived at the venue: most significantly the fact that it was 31C and bright sunshine! As all of my costumes for both groups involved multiple layers of tights and tunics (made out of lovely thick material) this meant that I spent most of my day very very sweaty and didn’t even get a tan out of it! On a more serious note, it meant I had to be really careful about dehydration – I had a headache most of the day and even after drinking 3+ litres of water I didn’t need the toilet… not a good sign!

The stage itself was a small raised platform. It was rather small which meant I had to be a bit careful about jumping off the stage (seriously!). It was also black, which meant it absorbed all of the heat from the sun, meaning that we couldn’t put down the marley floor without risking it melting! In fact, the heat coming through my shoes whilst standing on it was quite uncomfortable. It wasn’t actually too bad to dance on, not too slippy, but we had to be careful not to trip over or land on any of the joins of the various platforms.

The performances themselves went pretty well. The first two pieces with the adult group went without a hitch (except for nearly kicking one of my partners in Pas de Deesses because of the small stage!). I then took my place for the variation from Pas de Trois – starting in croise attitude downstage with the music meant to start during my first entrelace. Unfortunately, when the music started it was the wrong piece! Turns out the wrong piece of music had been added to the CD and there wasn’t much I could do except for sneak off the stage whilst the music continued…

The youth ballet company was next and I honestly don’t think any of the pieces could have gone any better! No mistakes, I managed to stay on the small stage (although the Cinderella string of 3 saute de basques to the knee were a tight squeeze!), and perhaps most importantly I really enjoyed every dance. In fact, I think I enjoyed the Corsaire Adage the most; I reckon it’s my best performance I’ve ever given.

I’m rather excited and nervous (after checking it was okay with my partner Ellie) to post a video of the Adage on here. It’s the first video of me performing I’ve posted and I hope you enjoy – any tips would be welcome, but be nice!

And with that I’ll sign off this (unintentionally wordy) blog post. In the coming weeks I’ve got my birthday, followed by two weeks of Summer School with my Russian teachers in Bristol (including some guest teaching from Elena Glurdjidze, Senior Principal at ENB!) – I’ll make sure I post an update about it. What are your dancing plans for this summer? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, keep on dancing!

P.S. If you want to see the pro’s dance the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, here’s a rather gorgeous version by Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares (on a slightly larger stage….!):