Hey! It’s holidays! No ballet till January!!! Woohoo, school’s out!
So… how long can you go without your ballet fix? Me, I last about one and a half weeks..
As a teacher my technique needs to be good – I need a nice strong body. And I need to be able to demonstrate well (until I’m Really Old then I’ll get a younger dancer to show you all, right?!) So I practise at home, and video myself to make sure my bendy body isn’t going skewwiff without me noticing.
It is really helpful – like REALLY helpful to identify areas to improve both technically and artistically. But I’m not going to lie. It’s brutal. Brutal on your body-image and self-esteem. I’ve had to learn (in self defence!) ways of utilising video that doesn’t slay me, both as a human being with a fallible body, and as an artist. I’ve also learnt some practicalities in setting the video up.
- I used to have a phone camera holder (a couple of $ from ebay) but it fell apart when I got a new, bigger phone. I worked out I can just stick the new phone in a cup, and tilt it to the right angle to video me.
- I set up the phone to record a certain amount of my living room – as my students know I use my bookshelves as a barre. To capture my entire body I set the camera up to record from just above where the top of my head comes to on the wall, downwards, and then centre the picture over the centre of my bookshelf. That way I know where to stand. I use the same technique of lining things up, when filming just a part of my body.
- I usually follow a ballet video online to practise to, such as some of the great RAD resources, or I follow a Checcetti video. Sadly they don’t have videos of the grades, only the more advanced stuff. If you’re a beginner or intermediate the RAD resources on YouTube might be a better fit. This one is my personal faves! Unfortunately I haven’t found videos for absolute beginners that are much help. (Holiday project no. 258 – make some myself for my own beginners, dammit!)
- Choose something you think you can do 80% really well. You’re aiming on improving that 20%. Identify what that 20% could be and go for it.
Keeping your self esteem intact – in essence, set yourself up to succeed.
- Dress up for the video! Wear your class gear or your prettiest leotard; or a wrap skirt with tights or over leggings. (Wrap skirts really show off your line. I’m a total fan of them!) Wear your ballet shoes. Nothing says a dancer means business more than a pair of ballet shoes nicely scuffed, nicely moulded to your feet!
- Start with recording just one part of your body and build up to your entire body as you get better at seeing videoing as a tool, not a torment. Eg, line the camera up with your feet and only your feet. Or your head and shoulders but no lower.
- Remember your artistry! Decide what you want to express, and experiment in ways to express it. Like wearing ballet gear, you’ll be setting yourself up to be able to focus on what you’re doing with your ballet, not your body shape.
- Don’t record yourself every practise – once a fortnight at most. Too often and you don’t see the improvements, which is depressing!
- Choose one thing to focus on for the video, such as turnout, or beautifully pointed feet, or a gorgeously strong, tall but supple torso. (Honestly if the only practice you do over the holidays is simply keeping your knees and feet straight and feet beautifully pointed I’d be a very happy teacher when term starts again!)
- Practise this one area then use the video as a tool to see how well you’ve achieved it (and only it) and anything in that area that might need further work. (Find it frustrating you’re still not technically perfect? Let’s discuss my right foot that keeps sickling in coupe! Watch for it in class ;-D)
And now… the real secret to both videoing yourself, and using the studio mirror in a way that preserves your self esteem, and may even improve it, is to understand your body not as an ornament, but as an instrument. Women grow up with such strong messages that our bodies are there as ornaments to be beautiful (or not) and we’re ornaments for other people to view.
But actually they’re OUR OWN instrument to live our lives as we choose.
Ballet itself, the studio mirrors and videos can all be used to destroy our self-esteem – we’ll never be Good Enough, our bodies will never be beautiful enough ornaments, the outside gaze will never find pleasure…
Or we can use them as instruments to express whatever we want. The dance floor is our own, as dancers, artists and humans, we own it. We’re IN our bodies, we ARE our bodies. Ballet tells stories. As dancers, we’re telling stories to the audience, we’re not there to be an ornament. Our body is our instrument.
When videotaping yourself, as when looking in the studio mirror, what you see isn’t a reflection of your self-worth, it isn’t about how ornamental you might or might not be. They’re simply tools to help you, as a dancer and artist.
And hey, you also might be pleasantly surprised at what you see. The first time I watched a video of myself doing barre, I was stunned. I was a lot better a dancer than I realised. My legs were straighter and longer than I thought, my line was (mostly!) gorgeous but strikingly, I filled every single moment of music with movement, expression and … well … sheer musicality. I had no idea I did that.
Of course, I come from a very musical family – this was SO my childhood!
I know music isn’t there to provide just a beat to do exercises to. Those musicians are playing for a reason! They’re expressing the music just like us dancers are. But my musicality is also from good teaching.
From my first lesson ever with Miss Jan, she told us to ‘use all your music!’ (Hey, heard that phrase from me?! I love how ballet is such a living artform, passed down from teacher to student directly like that.)
So if you’re feeling brave enough to practise with the help of video, go for it! Start with your feet, say, and work your way up from there. Focus on one thing at a time, and most of all, forgive yourself for not being the perfect ornament for society, and revel in your body as your instrument. And I reckon you’ll be pleasantly surprised too 🙂
Or, you could just kick back and rest and enjoy your holiday. I plan to. Well for the next week and a half at least 😀