Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Bally-Nuisance

After a year where burlesque was securely fixed on the back burner (while I tried and repeatedly failed to attain a driving licence, finally passing on my fifth attempt at the end of November) I decided that January would be the start of a more serious focus on burlesque.

I had decided some months ago that once I had my new wheels I would take the opportunity to take a class that would help me in my endeavours as a performer. In the end I was torn between taking a dressmaking class to improve my costume making skills or taking a dance class to improve my grace, poise and movement onstage. The decider for me was performing on a bill with two very talented performers, Dani California and the inimitable Beatrix von Bourbon. Seeing these two move (each in their own way) across the stage with every gesture flowing flawlessly into the next, always in perfect control of their body, with no hint of stumble or fumble I felt like a clod-hopping klutz by comparison.

Now, anyone who has seen me perform knows that my acts are not particularly dance based. I tend more often to use pantomime and facial expressions connected with 'movement' rather than dance per se, however, watching these performers so in control of their bodies, so perfectly comfortable and fluid made me realise that, for a performance that is more pleasing to the eye, and more comfortable to perform it would be really useful for me to take some dance lessons and the general consensus was that ballet would be the best choice. My sister came with me as she loves to dance and has fancied giving ballet a go for some time.

So last night was ballet class number one. I was nervous. Partly I was nervous because the class was in a village about twenty minutes drive away and this would be my longest drive unsupervised by someone with driving experience. Mainly I was nervous that I would be the worst in the class. The drive turned out to be fine, but my nerves about the class itself had some justification. Although I do not have two left feet exactly I do have really poor spatial and bodily perception and issues with left and right. I find that once I have made a movement myself I can replicate it again without any trouble but looking at someone else and trying to copy their movements and the shapes they make is tricky for me for some reason. I can see what they are doing but I find that hard to relate to my own body. It's not just movement, if I have to copy a pose from a photograph it seems to take me longer than most to translate the image to myself and make the same pose. I see the basic shapes but often confuse which arm/leg should be doing what and which direction each part should be pointing in. So this was always going to be a challenge for me.

We began with barre exercises. So far, so good. I am nowhere near as flexible as a lot of my classmates and I sometimes found I was doing the exercise with the wrong leg at the wrong time, but essentially I felt I was keeping up. The teacher and the other ladies were friendly and welcoming and it felt like a non-judgemental space where it was ok if I made a mistake. The came the proper dancing. The teacher led us through a couple of short and theoretically simple combinations. They were not simple to me! After a couple of tries it became clear I would need to abandon any attempts at the graceful, balletic arm movements and just focus on my feet for now - they needed all the help they could get! I found it so hard to find the rhythm of the steps (normally not a big problem for me) and although I could see a bent knee or a straight leg with pointed toe I found it difficult to translate even one static position from the dance to my own physical position- moving from one to the next, and in time, I found impossible. Some of the other women in the class were clearly inexperienced too but I felt that I was lagging quite obviously behind.

At the end of the class the teacher came and chatted with my sister and me for a few minutes, even complementing Sis on her turnout (she has been practicing!). Despite the fact that I was quite clearly more Mavis the Fat Fairy than Sugar Plum Fairy I felt positive about the lesson and hope that if it's hard then that means the improvement it will make to my movement on the burlesque stage will be all the more marked when I finally do master some of these techniques. I am looking forward to returning next week and Sis and I are even considering going to the Modern class they run beforehand to really make the most of the resource.

So that was my first ballet class. As my Grandad used to say when Sis and I used to twinkle our toes around the room doing make believe dances 'Ballet dancer? More like a bally-nuisance!' But hopefully with time this clunky-duckling might evolve into something a little closer to a swan.

'Til next time!

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