Ballet Bootcamp

The View from Ballet West
© 2018 Jane Elizabeth Lambert
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The point of setting up Powerhouse Ballet is to give as many of us as possible an opportunity to take part in a full length ballet before a paying audience in a theatre in one or more of the big cities of the North of England. However, we have to be competent and confident before we can walk on stage even in a minor role such as a guest at Mr and Mrs Stahlbaum's Christmas party in The Nutcracker. 

My problem - and I think I speak for many other adult ballet students particularly those who took up or returned to ballet very late in life - is that we progress from beginners to improvers without always mastering the basics.  Also we pick up all sorts of bad habits.  That was brought home to me with a vengeance when I booked a private lesson in Manchester a few weeks ago.  I have never really got the hand of pirouettes or indeed posés, chaînés or soutenus so I booked an hour with Verity one evening to sort them out.  Verity asked me to do a single pirouette and I was all over the place.  She then instructed me to do some pliés in 2nd and diagnosed the problem at once. "How can you possibly expect to turn if you are not straight?" she exclaimed.  The bulk of the hour was spent in trying to correct faults that had become ingrained because I never realized that I was doing anything wrong. My hour with Verity was one of the most useful lessons I have ever had in my life.

It is easy to see how we adult ballet students learn patchily and pick up bad habits.  We all have jobs or other commitments which take priority over ballet.  By the time we have battled with traffic or the elements on the way to class we are often frazzled.  The teacher can only give so much time to each exercise. Each of us learns at different rates and in different ways.  Often there is more than one way of teaching an exercise which confuses us all the more.

So what can we do about it?  I think the answer is to go back to the start and relearn.  Adam Pudney spends the first part of every adult ballet class on getting us to stand and hold our arms properly (see Class Review - Adam Pudney Wednesday Night Beginners at Pineapple 31 Dec 2017) which I found to be very useful.   I wrote in relation to pirouettes:

"I think I could actually get them right if I could take Adam's class regularly because he breaks the exercise down into elements that even I can understand. Those who take to them easily are annoyingly well-coordinated types who just do not appreciate the metal effort of rising onto demi, bending the legs, positioning the arms and spotting all at the same time. Though I doubt that he ever had a problem with doing all that at the same time, Adam is sympathetic. He understands that some of us do. And he really helps us to get it."

Alas, Adam is in London and I am in Yorkshire.  Moreover, even if I lived in London I could not come to him every day.

Ballet is not easy and we need to work on it.  The best way to do that is to take time out of our busy lives and concentrate on mastering it 100%.  Armies train recruits by taking them to barracks miles from home and subjecting them to rigorous drill in the military arts over a very short period.  We call it "basic training" and the American "boot camp".   That American term has a ring to it.  It is now used for all sorts of other intensive training in sports such as cricket, golf and tennis and non-physical activities like coding and entrepreneurship.

So what about a "ballet boot camp" for adult ballet students?  

I discussed the possibility with Gillian Barton when I visited Ballet West last week (see Visiting Taynuilt 4 May 2018 Terpsichore).  She seemed to think it was a good idea.   We discussed rates.   Her basic rate for a private lesson is £40 per hour.   That is roughly what I would expect to pay in Manchester.   If enough people wanted to join me on a week's intensive covering everything from basic posture to tricky jumps (all of which we should have learned but probably haven't) we could bring the cost down to a few hundred pounds per person.  We could also make a holiday of it for, as you can see from the picture, Taynuilt is very, very beautiful.

At this time of the year there are more workshops, summer schools and repertoire intensives than you can shake a stick at.  They are all very well for those who have reached a certain standard (especially the young) but for those of us who need to bone up on pirouettes or chaînés, learning the steps for the entry of the shades in La Bayadȅre or the cygnets' dance in Swan Lake is somewhat premature.

If anyone - particularly in the North of England  - but indeed anywhere else in the world would like to join me in a "ballet boot camp" do let me know.  Send me a message through my contact form.   If there are enough of us we can make a joint approach to Gillian.

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