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First Week of Ballet Austin

I've talked in some of my recent videos about how my son is attending the Ballet Austin junior intensive this year. It's not his first intensive, but it is his first time at something associated with a professional company. We've worked as hard as we can to prepare him over the summer, even amid all the hardship associated with losing my Mom.

What I wasn't prepared for was the amount of dancing I would be able to do. As it turns out, I have been able to take class everyday in the morning. BUT, even better, is the fact that almost all of the classes have been full of Ballet Austin company members! So the level of the classes has been higher, and of course I have gorgeous dancers to watch each class. It's amazing how much more you push yourself when the level of dancers around you is higher. It's like something automatically clicks in your mind, and a step that I might be too chicken to try, I just naturally go for without thinking about it.

I have a huge amount of existential angst about how I quit dancing. I got to dance professionally with the Alabama Ballet when I was 17. I was very young and immature, and certain things about it were very difficult, but I loved the dancing. I loved being in the studio all day watching amazing dancers. I loved classes that pushed me to my absolute limits, and the fact that when you dance your body to the point of exhaustion, its intuition takes over and things start to work in a different way. I loved going into class in the morning and feeling like I was still somewhat warm from the day before. I didn't have to constantly start over. I didn't want to give that up, but I did. To go to college. I tried to dance in college, but it wasn't the same. I didn't make the progress I made dancing professionally, and it left me continually frustrated. I wanted to go back to my company, but by then I was entrenched in college as well. I quit dancing. I quit, not realizing the finality of that decision and how hard it would be to ever be back in that world.

I know in the eyes of the company members, I'm mostly invisible and insignificant. That's okay. I'm having the time of my LIFE. I feel like I have gotten a second chance. I feel like Cinderella at the ball. I know that as of today the clock struck midnight, because they will go into the big company studio next week, where I can only longingly look through the window and watch. I never took that experience for granted, but I definitely didn't know that stepping away was so forever and permanent.

I don't fully know what I'm doing right now. Why am I getting back in shape? What purpose is this going to fulfill? What good is a triple pirouette on pointe when I'm not preparing for stage? Honestly, I'm past caring. I don't have to know. I just want to go DO. I just want to dance.

One of the best things I have gotten to do is to get new pointe shoes. I haven't had a shoe that I like in a long time. I've been able to make certain shoes work, but I haven't been completely happy with them. So, I took the chance to go to a dance store here and try on a bunch of different brands and styles. I thought I would love Freeds, given everything I have heard about them, but they didn't work for my feet. Maybe if I could go to a Freed store that really had a lot of different makers I would find something, but the stock shoes and the makers I tried weren't a fit. I landed on Suffolk Spotlights. The box, platform, and shank are just right for what I need. When I'm up, I'm up, and I love the support so I can balance in turns. But the sole wasn't wobbly at all for adagio, and they were flexible enough to feel and (I think) look good in allegro.

Week 1 has been amazing! What will week 2 hold? Time will tell, and I'll keep you updated. It was very nice at the end of the day to be able to go get a grassfed burger, too! Ahh, Austin.

Friday Dance Links

A weekly round up of dance links from the adult ballet community + dance world.

  • The Conversations on Dance podcast has been at the Vail Dance Festival this week recording episodes with  Lauren Lovette, Tiler Peck, James Whiteside, and more!

  • Fellow adult ballerina, Joanna, released a novel recently (about an adult ballerina, of course!) which is such a fun read!! You can grab a copy right here.

  • So You Think You Can Dance? is back and the top 10 dancers were revealed in Monday's episode. Are you watching this season? Thoughts on the chosen dancers & change in structure (again lol)?

And from us at BBN this week:

Happy Friday!
- Jana & Abby

A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance

Losing my Mom has been a huge change in my life. We shared everything dance from the time I was 8 years old.

For many years, we shared classes and recitals. She taught me to sew my pointe shoe ribbons and elastic, made my costumes, and took me all over Alabama and the surrounding states to classes, workshops, auditions, etc. I always knew we had something special, but I didn't fully realize just how unique we were.

I watched my Mom get frustrated in class, pushing herself to do what the teenagers did. She was always pushing to become more flexible, and it was hard for her to pick up combinations quickly. But, she always fought for it and pushed through. She had amazing arms and épaulement - something I still wish I had gotten from her! My Dad was at every recital filming us; these were the days of VHS tape recorders. We would go home and spend the rest of the night watching our performances over and over. 

Seeing my Mom dance was my inspiration for wanting to teach adults. I grew up seeing the adult dancer from the inside out, so I understand the benefits and the struggles. It's beautiful.

But, the biggest thing to come out of this, for me, is a new-found fuel to my fire. I have allowed myself to be fed up and frustrated with myself and my body, and I thought I had thrown in the towel forever on my dancing. 

Then it hit me. Mom returned to dance when she was in her 40's. She danced for YEARS after that. She became capable of doing things she had never done in her youth. She attended teacher training seminars and became a ballet teacher - and a darn good one. None of this began for her until I was 8 and she was going back after almost two decades away from it. 

What am I so afraid of? WHAT is holding ME back?

Only one answer - me. 

In her last couple of months, Mom pointed me in certain directions and helped set me on a path. After her death, that path opened up even more. So here I am, dancing 6 days a week, and getting back into better shape than I have been since I was 18. I don't know what the future holds or what I'm doing it for, but I know I'm doing it for me and I'm taking care of myself in the process. I feel like I'm where I should be and where she would want me to be. I know if she were here I would be able to talk to her about it, but I also wouldn't want to dance as much because I would have wanted to spend more time with her. I feel like the baby bird still being pushed out of the nest by my Mom, and I know I will end up doing exactly what I should be doing - whatever that might be.

Crazy Petit Allegro Challenge!

Are you guys ready for a crazy combo?! My teacher, Alvin, is known for his complicated combinations, so I asked him to come up with a really crazy petit allegro combo (my weakness, haha) to share as a challenge with you all! We filmed it after class last week and I learned the combo right there on camera. Follow along as you watch me work through it - do I master it or is it a flop?! OOh, watch to find out :)

Follow Alvin: http://instagram.com/alvintov
Music by Levon Mikaelian. Petit Allegro in 2, Motherland

Freed Pointe Shoes First Impressions

I finally put on my Freed pointe shoes tonight after class! These are the ones I got in New York in May. They are Classic Pros, Anchor Maker, No X, size 6.5. I can't believe I have waited this long to put these puppies on, but life has been busy and I wanted to have my full attention when I gave these a run for the first time.

Last Saturday I did a pointe workout at home, fully intending on wearing my Freeds, but remembered I needed to Jet Glue them first! Every Freed-wearer I've encountered has said to do this before wearing them to prolong their life, and I wanted to make sure I did that! So I did pointe work in my Capezio Arias (to Kathryn Morgan's new Beginner Pointe Class video, btw. It's excellent.).

I'm actually glad I did that class in my Arias because I was able to easily compare doing the same class again in the Freeds. My initial first impressions and thoughts beyond the obvious "OMG THEY'RE SO PRETTY!" are:

  • The more I did in them the more comfortable they got - like they were molding to my feet. This is probably why they are known to not last as long!

  • The platform is really flat and "sharp" feeling, if you understand what I mean by that. It's lovely for securing your placement once you're up there, but right now I'm having a hard time getting fully over the platform every time. I didn't do any additional work on the shank prior to wearing them, so I will try that before next time.

  • I'm noticing I'm not currently getting my weight over my first three toes en pointe. It was noticeable in both my Capezios and Freeds, so I know I can't blame it on a shoe :) This is something I've had to fix before, so I have faith I can fix it again! 

  • I like one shoe better than the other. Freeds are handmade so every shoe is going to fit a little differently. I like the one on my left foot better from this pair!

  • They just...feel different. I don't really know how to explain this, but it comes back to the handmade factor and materials. These are softer-feeling, but not less supportive. There is a comfort level I haven't experienced in other shoes.

So, I will work on adjusting the shank to help me get over the platform all the way. I did a lot of forced arch stretches to try to hold myself in that sweet spot over the platform, but my darn feet just aren't there yet. I think if I can get there, I will really like these shoes. But this also confirmed just what a great fit the Arias are on me. They've been my best-fitting shoe ever! I'll continue to work in the Freeds, though, and maybe it will help with my feet strength and flexibility! I will keep you all posted :)

- Jana

30 Minute Ballet Barre

We have a new follow-along ballet barre video! This one takes about 30 minutes to do and is considered a "warm up barre" to prepare you before a performance. This is also nice to do at home when you need a workout, but don't have a whole lot of time to dedicate to class. Abby explains more about this type of barre:

"A warm up class is going to differ from a typical class in a few ways. When trying to get ready for stage, you need to be extra efficient. Every combination needs to do as much as it can to get every part of the body moving. For me, a typical class will have a theme (maybe working on retire position at barre, then carrying that into turns and pas de chats in the center). In this type of class, I focus on certain muscle groups throughout the whole class in the hopes of making my students feel those muscles the next day (they love me for that, right?). I build my warm up classes, however, to be athletic and to work as many muscles groups as possible throughout the entire class. There is extra stretching and extra balances."

I really love this barre for working at home because it allows me to concentrate on placement and muscle usage. It's also helpful to do every few weeks so I can gauge my progress with stability and balances. I can tell if I'm improving in weak areas when I come back to this and it's either easier or harder. I also love that I get in a good sweat in a short amount of time while not skipping anything important about barre.

Everyone give Abby a big "Thank you!" for the combinations and we also want to thank Sarah Lund for providing the wonderful ballet class music!!

Let us know what you think of this one in the comments here or on YouTube!

Adult Dance Intensive Experience at Alonzo LINES!

Oh dear readers, do we have a treat for you this week! Fellow adult dancer, Natalie, recently attended an amazing dance intensive for adults at Alonzo LINES Dance Center in San Francisco! She's written an incredibly inspiring post about her experience that will make you want to sign up immediately for next year's session (I know I want to!). Natalie, we are so excited you had this experience and wanted to share it with the community! Happy reading, friends!


I had found it!  One day in March I was searching the internet and stumbled on a dance intensive for non-professional adult dancers…at Alonzo LINES Dance Center in San Francisco no less!   This opportunity arose at a select time in my life; I had recently lost my job and was busy alone trolling the internet and networking for the next career move.   Stumbling upon the advertisement for what would be a chance to embolden and practice my passion for dance left a light in me during the search process.  This chance to be connected to other dancers who danced most of their lives but didn’t choose it as a full-time profession excited me.  Dancers who love to dance and still need it to express themselves- and get in a good work out!  The decision to go was not an easy one. LINES is in San Francisco and I live on the East Coast (yes, I did try to find a similar dance intensive in NYC and couldn’t find anything!)   Also, LINES is mainly a ballet company and I am more of a jazz and modern/contemporary dancer.  However, I knew I could not pass this opportunity up.   Not only did I want to connect with other dancers but I also really liked how the intensive was made up of both technique classes AND composition classes, as well as a variety of electives- all types of classes that support, enrich, and challenge dancers besides “simple” technique.  Dance by nature is certainly athletic but it is also artistic.  Dancers of all ages need to be stretched in the creative process of dance.  How do we come up with the movement we are doing?  What other movement vocabulary can we pick up from other dance styles?  How can we strengthen our bodies in other ways besides our dance technique classes?

In June I made the cross-country voyage a day before the intensive started to explore Golden Gate Park and prepare for the intensive.  The next day (a Thursday) the intensive started at 5.  I was nervous.   The intensive was well-organized and the dancers were greeted with a folder containing a plethora of information and a water bottle.  To my surprise, I was joined by Bay Area and non-Bay Area dancers-a man from Baltimore, a woman from Jamaica, and even a woman from France- about 15 of us in all.  The first night we participated in a ballet class but we also had improv, a somatics class, and the first of four choreography and composition classes.  Day 1- check!  

On the second day we took another choreography class, as well as Alexander Technique, and we had a chance to explore an optional class.  I chose an Afro-Haitian class. The instructor did a great job of breaking down the moves we did across the floor (mainly in plié- yikes!).  She even brought several members of her family who watched, drummed, and in the case of the children, danced along! 

The weekend definitely tested me physically and mentally.  We met from 9-5 on both Saturday and Sunday.  We took ballet, modern, and composition each day, as well as repertory classes with current LINES dancers.  Some of the highlights of the weekend included a ballet class with Kathy Mata.  I was really looking to get back to basics with ballet and Kathy was an amazing teacher!  Her way of explaining plies, tendus, dégagés, etc was firm yet kind.  She wanted us to understand where the movement was coming from and was thus informative and supportive.  I encourage anyone in the Bay Area to check out her class and her adult ballet company (also for adult non-professional dancers!): http://kathymataballet.org/.  One of my favorite quotes from the weekend was from a choreography teacher who said that a spiral and opposition make everything more beautiful.  So true! Have you ever seen a more beautiful dancer than one whose head and arms reach spinning toward the heavens while feet are firmly planted in the ground?!  Another highlight was getting to spend time with Alonzo King, the founder of LINES Ballet!!  He had each of us perform improv one-by-one and, surprising all of us, prompted us with “fight the enemy”.  In the last part of his class we talked about doing versus being and discussed what sort of concepts we wanted the next generation to know about: humility, strength, and acceptance, to name a few.  By 5 o’clock on Sunday evening, I was exhausted but so glad I had made this trip!

I’m thankful for the staff at LINES for offering this intensive.  It’s not only important for adults to have a creative outlet, but it’s also important for adults to study with the vigor that we once had in our youth.  Just because we aren’t selling out crowds at Lincoln Center doesn’t mean we don’t strive to lift our leg higher, perform better, or find ways to express the pain or joy that comes with adult life.  On the flip side, I encourage adults to seek out opportunities to continue a childhood hobby or talent, especially dance.  Just because you aren’t professionally dancing doesn’t make the pursuit of your passion any less valid.  Seek out opportunities like this; see if you can teach at a local studio, find ways to volunteer to teach less fortunate children the magical power of dance.  

Thank you to the founders of Ballerinas by Night for building this community as well!

Side Notes:
For those of you in the DC area, the studio Joy of Motion has a particularly interesting program for adult trained dancers:
As I mentioned above I tried to look for a non-professional adult dance intensive in the NYC area but came up empty-handed!  If any Ballerinas by Night readers have ideas, please send them my way!


If you'd like to connect with Natalie she can be reached either by email at nataliepankow@yahoo.com or on Facebook under Natalie Collet.

If you have an adult ballet or adult dance experience you'd like to share with the community, please send us an email at ballerinasbynight@gmail.com!