We had our last ballet class of the the year over the weekend and while looking forward to some weeks off, I am also excited for next term, in the New Year. The barre is my happy place.
My first attempt at ballet was a disaster. I ended up at a clueless downtown Toronto dance studio where the quality of teaching was so poor I’d be at my chiropractor in agony every week. Then I discovered Ballet Espressivo and so much has changed since then.
Having always epitomized a ballet dancer with grace, elegance, beauty and an incredible physique, the dancer’s body is something I have always been in awe of. It’s movement to music and life is something I have coveted and even dared to dream about but never quite had.
Amateur dance is something most people find themselves doing throughout life. My first introduction to dance was in an expressive class at high school where I couldn’t touch my toes in a stretch and was made to feel quite inadequate by a teacher for my size and shape.
While her remarks didn’t deter me from dancing and choreographing Bollywood routines in the privacy of my room, it did rattle my confidence and restrain me from asking to attend dance lessons.
Years later, I became a cheerleader at university, after losing a bet with the boys and found myself enjoying it. Dancing in a group of girls was so much fun and I loved our coaches and even went on to become cheerleader of the year. Finally inspired by Shakira, I took to belly dancing.
Yet the videos on YouTube of ballet dancers taunted an unrequited dream, their ethereal moves impressed upon me an art form I craved to explore but never had the courage to try. Then earlier this year, I finally watched Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Natalie Portman’s stunning performance stole my heart.
I started to research ballet and came to learn that as well as being a beautiful art form, that the study of it could help me to strengthen my weak and aching lower back. What I needed more than anything was the internal and infinite strength of the core and this was enough to push me to finally pursue ballet.
If there is one thing I have come to appreciate more than anything in this wonderful practice, it is a teacher who values her students and puts their wellbeing at the top of her list. That is why the hours spent at Ballet Espressivo under the instruction of Donna Greenberg, a teacher who believes in the deeper connection between art and wellness, have been the most enriching experience to my health this past year.
“When you come to class and do barre, it isn’t an escape. It’s not therapy but it is development and that development can help you through the hardest times in your life, because one has made a commitment to themselves.”
Greenberg’s style of teaching has been a progressive experience. It stems from having met a mentor early in her training, who, although strict, understood and encouraged a holistic sensibility towards learning dance and movement, one that Greenberg felt, she had a natural inclination toward. Greenberg has expanded upon that over the years in her own artistic journey.
What I find most inspiring, is her holistic approach to teaching. Greenberg gets student to work hard and try their absolute best by encouraging them to be mindful. In other forms of exercise and movement, my brain often wonders, when doing ballet, for that full hour or so I am totally focused.
You work hard; she doesn’t treat you with any less reverence than she would a professional. Just because we aren’t going to be prima ballerinas, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same respect or quality of education.
Greenberg believes strongly in adult education because there are many people who didn’t have the support or means to do it as a child and that is why she offers classes to adults specifically. There are up to three evening classes everyday, at a variety of levels as well as strengthening floor barre and a modern dance class (which is my favourite).
If there is one thing Greenberg wants students to take away from her classes it is a love for ballet and the confidence to pursue dreams and goals. Not everyone is supposed to be a professional, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the art form.
“The beauty of ballet and dancing is that you get to express yourself, build strength and learn a discipline that helps to develop a higher sense of yourself, a better sense. Even if that is unattainable, it doesn’t matter because the benefits are there for you.”
Amongst the benefits of doing ballet, beyond the more obvious ones like, being toned and stronger, are a responsive body, improved balance and co-ordination. You can also have greater extension of limbs, more connection to how you move in general and in particular, much better posture. Greenberg feels that people with good posture look younger and more vital and I totally agree. I aspire to people who know how to carry themselves and are comfortable in their own skin.
Posture is our greatest weapon against ailments as we age. Sitting is said to be the new smoking. Learning how to use our muscles efficiently and hold ourselves correctly while we sit protects the spine (the key to our central nervous system) and can protect us from so many things later in life.
So I haven’t just learned to dance; I have also learned how to heal and not just physically but emotionally. Greenberg is an intuitive teacher and understands her students in a different capacity and you don’t get away with much in class. She sees your shoulders hiking up before they even do, an elbow dropping before you even realise it’s fallen.
Beyond that, Greenberg recognizes when we are afraid of old wounds and pushes us gently towards them, through dance, we learn to accept the parts of our bodies and selves that we don’t always want and find a way to connect to them once again. Really all we are doing is trying to mobilise our limbs and work with scar tissue, but it always feels like we doing so much more that that, going deep into those places that have suffered the hands of time.
A dancer’s body is not always about being the perfect size. It is about being strong and having a connection, knowing how to use your body efficiently not just for dancing but to move and breathe throughout your life.
That in actual fact, a dancer’s body, is a beautiful thing to behold, because what it gives you is optimum health, wellness and awareness and it is seriously good fun, especially with Greenberg. If you are looking for something to enrich your mind, body and soul in 2015, seriously consider ballet.
Find out more: http://balletespressivo.com
– Photos by Zeeshan Safdar