Dr Dance Blog
|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on November 20, 2019 at 10:30 AM||comments (2)|
It's election season, and while the main political parties are putting together their general election manifestos, I wondered what I would propose if I put together a dance manifesto of my own.
If I was to lead a political party it would be The Dance Party, and this would be our manifesto; it is a manifesto to enhance the physical and intellectual wellbeing of the nation.
Dance is a central part of human life. We need a political culture which recognises the importance and value of dance in every aspect of society. In addition to strengthening the current dance provision, The Dance Party will legislate for the following.
Dance in every school – no child left behind
We believe that every child, from pre-school through to year 12, should have access to high quality dance provision, and this dance provision should have the same status as literacy and numeracy.
Industrial and Business Strategy
We want to support our industries, businesses and workers by getting them moving, to increase productivity, creativity and wellbeing. Every workplace must have a place to move and dance, and we will bring in legislation to ensure that five minutes in every working hour should be set aside for non-work-related movement.
Health and Social Care
Dance and movement will become central parts of the health and social care system. Dance and movement activities will be available on prescription. To this end, the study of dance and its impact on health and wellbeing will be introduced to the medical school curricular.
The National Dance Service
To deliver on our priorities we will create a National Dance Service, where an ambitiously wide variety of dance services will be provided to educational settings, businesses, the arts and in health and social care settings, free at the point of need. The National Dance Service will be staffed by dance professionals on full time permanent contracts.
Research and Development
A National Centre for Applied Dance Research, will be established, which brings together scientists, artists and practitioners, working together to advance our knowledge of dance experimentally, theoretically and from an applied perspective.
National and Regional Dance Galleries
A series of national and regional dance galleries – similar to art galleries, will be built in every major city. The role of Dance galleries is to showcase the history and rich social culture of dance.
Local councils will have a legal duty of care to provide local communities with opportunities for shared movement and dance. We believe that every community should benefit from the increased social interaction and social bonding that comes from shared movement and dance. Furthermore, this dance provision should include a diverse range of social dances to help people learn about, and integrate with, different cultures and cultural practices.
A Living Wage
All dancers and dance professionals must be paid a living wage. In our first year in office we will pass legislation to make it illegal to ask any dancer to work for exposure.
Town planners will be instructed to make provision for places to dance in every town and city in the United Kingdom where there are fast food outlets, smoker’s shelters and coffee shops. The number of places to dance should always be equal to the number of places to eat, drink and congregate. Every community should have public places to dance, accessible to all.
Balancing the Books
Our manifesto is fully costed, with all current spending paid for out of taxation or redirected revenue streams. The Dance Party believes that the provision of dance on a national level will lead to a more efficient education system, more creative and productive workplaces and a healthier and a more socially supportive nation. Investing in dance will lead to a reduction in our nation’s historic fiscal deficit.
|Posted by email@example.com on September 10, 2019 at 10:25 AM||comments (2)|
It’s the start of the Strictly Come Dancing season and people are jumping from foot-to-foot and hopping up and down at the prospect of same-sex couples dancing on Saturday night TV.
I was contacted by the BBC yesterday and asked for my views on same-sex dancing, and whether I thought it should be included in Strictly Come Dancing. I really couldn't see any reason why same-sex dancing should be treated any differently from different-sex dancing. I was told tha even Len Goodman, one of the original judges on the show, is worried about it. He isn’t sure that same-sex dancing is the right way forward, and then I heard the views of several people who really didn't think that same-sex dancing should be allowed on the show.
The format of the show is well established. Male and female professional dancers are paired with female and male celebrities. Each week they learn a new ballroom or Latin dance and then perform it live on national TV in front of a panel of esteemed judges. Several weeks later someone is crowned the winner and they become a national treasure.
There is nothing in the format which precludes same-sex couples dancing, but traditionalists don’t like the idea. Here are seven reasons I’ve heard in the last 24 hours for why same-sex dancing should not be allowed on Strictly Come Dancing, and why I think each of these reasons is stupid.
1. Same-sex dancing is “not traditional”
This is stupid because dancing is a living, breathing art form which changes over time. Dancing evolves as ideas and cultures change. There are, of course, examples of traditional dance which are passed down from one generation to the next, but it is the evolution of dance which keeps it fresh, exciting and relevant
For many dances there is a distinction between “traditional styles” of the dance and a “ballroom style”, which tends to be more codified and choreographed. There is a lovely, funny, example, of the tension between traditional and ballroom styles of the Paso Doble in this clip from Baz Lurhmann’s film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUO5WPaIr-s" target="_blank">Strictly Ballroom.
To argue that same-sex dancing is “not traditional” is simply wrong. Same-sex dancing dates back further than the onset of competitive ballroom dancing. Groups of same-sex dancers has been doing it together for thousands of years. In some cultures same-sex dancing is the only way to dance. If people think that two men dancing together is a modern liberal idea then take a look at Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1GV5o5xNqU" target="_blank">Ziegfeld Follies from 1946.
2. But who will swish the skirt?
I heard a former professional dancer argue on BBC Three Counties radio that two men couldn’t dance together become some dances require a skirt to be swished and men would look silly in skirts. This is clearly stupid because, quite simply, there is no dance that “requires” a skirt to be swished. Skirt swishing is a physical expression of a feeling or the communication of an idea, and there are thousands of ways of communicating an idea or expressing a feeling without the need for a skirt.
But let’s assume that a skirt is necessary for a particular dance, and lets assume that we want to stay traditional. There are plenty of examples of men dancing together in skirts, just have a look at the https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkuimX1bh6g" target="_blank">Sufi Whirling Dervishes, or at some https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcmaMUiYqh4" target="_blank">traditional Greek men’s dance.
3. But who would do the lifting?
Many ballroom and Latin dances performed on Strictly Come Dancing include lifts. One stupid reason I heard for not allowing same-sex couples to dance together is because we wouldn’t know who should do the lifting.
I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve come up with a solution. Perhaps the physically stronger of the partnership should do the lifting, and if the partners are equally strong then they could lift each other. If neither of the partners feel able to lift the other person then perhaps they could dance without lifting. There.
Ultimately, men can lift men and women can lift women. The ballet world, which is one of the most traditional forms of dance, has shown that sex is no barrier to lifting. Have a look at Mathew Bourne’s Swan Lake or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXpQHzb1jx0" target="_blank">Ava Gordy’s video about dancing from a nonbinary perspective.
4. But who would lead?
In social ballroom and Latin dances, the sequence of movement is not pre-determined and as such one person “leads”, which means that they decide which movement to do next and subtly communicate this to the other dancer (the follower) through their body movement. Argentine Tango is especially famous for this. Typically, it is the man, in a female/male dance partnership, who leads. However, there are examples of dances where each partner takes it turns to lead.
However, in Strictly Come Dancing the dances are choreographed in advance (they are not created on the spur of the moment) and therefore there is no need for one person to take the lead during the dance performance. In fact, the lead will be taken during the development of the dance by the professional dancer, and the celebrity will take the role of the follower. This will happen regardless of the sex of the professional dancer. If the pro is female then she will take the lead, if the pro is male then he will take the lead. In this case the person with the most experience leads.
On this basis it makes no difference to the dance whether there are two men, two women, one of each, or none of either. The more experienced person will lead the teaching of the choreography and they will perform the dance together. If they decide to go off piste and freestyle, then either one of them can take on the role of the lead.
5. You cannot express emotion in same-sex couples
This one is simply bizarre. A woman said that if she was forced to dance a rumba, the dance of love, with another woman then she wouldn’t be able to express emotion during the dance performance.
A big chunk of performance dance is acting the character and telling a story. While couples who dance together make it look like they’re in love with their dance partner, the best dancers are also the best actors. In the rumba you act the dance of love – you don’t actually have to fall in love (though some people do), it is not a requirement.
The biggest challenge to communicating emotion through dance is not to do with the sex of your partner or your own sexuality, it is about feeling something in your heart and communicating it with your body and your partner.
6. But what happens if a heterosexual male professional dancer is paired with a homosexual male dancer?
Nothing will happen! Everything will be OK. Look at Fred and Gene. Maybe they’ll fall in love, maybe they’ll become lifelong friends, maybe they’ll do a brilliant job at the dancing, maybe they won’t get along and it’ll be terrible. It doesn’t matter what happens. Being in a dance partnership is just like working closely with another person in any other field of work. It’s a professional working relationship and sexual orientation shouldn’t get in the way.
Of course we sometimes love to watch dance-partnerships which are positively charged with sexual energy, but we also like watching dance-partnerships which are based on non-sexual relationships too, I’m thinking now of the wonderful partnership between Anne Widdicombe and Anton du Beke. Not all dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.
7. People might not like to watch it
Len Goodman said that some people might not like to watch same-sex couples dancing on TV and they might therefore choose not to watch the show.
Dance shows on the BBC, such as Strictly Come Dancing, should reflect society, and the society we live in is already full of same-sex couples dancing, and this is wonderful. Therefore, I believe that Strictly Come Dancing should introduce same-sex couples in the show.
The more we see same-sex dancing on mainstream TV, the more people will learn about it and with extra learning should come less ignorance and prejudice.
|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on May 18, 2019 at 9:40 AM||comments (3)|
Why did you apply for BGT?
As a university lecturer I love my subject, the Psychology of Movement and Dance. I wanted to give the biggest lecture of my life and to share my subject with the largest possible audience. As no one has ever given a lecture on Britain’s Got Talent before I thought the world was ready for an entertaining and groovy lecture. Also, I heard that the auditions would be held at the London Palladium, and walking on that stage has been a dream for as long as I can remember. I LOVED being at the London Palladium, I even got to see where Bruce Forsyth’s ashes are interned under the stage.
I also wanted to experience what it felt like, psychologically, going through a reality tv audition. I give lectures on the Psychology of Performing Arts, and although I performed in my younger years, I wanted to experience the “reality” of a reality TV audition first hand.
What was the audition like?
The audition was both exhilarating and terrifying. Before the audition I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to give a lecture in just three minutes, as I had never done that before. As I walked on to the stage, I felt a bolt of electricity run through my body. The auditorium looked smaller than I was expecting, and it seemed such an intimate place. 35 years ago, when I was a professional dancer, I used to attend auditions, but they weren’t like this. Performing in front of an auditioning panel is one thing and performing in front of a live audience is something else, but to audition and perform in front of both at the same time is something completely different, something I had never done before. During my audition I wanted to give a lecture and get the audience dancing. This is what I do, I explain the science of movement and dance, by getting the audience to dance.
How did you think the judges would react to your audition?
I was expecting some of the judges to engage with it, and some of the judges to switch off. Regardless of their reaction, I hoped they would enjoy it, and maybe learn something. My greatest fear was that I’d get four buzzers and have to walk off before the end of the lecture; and I was ready for that.
You say that you had prepared yourself for the worst of all outcomes. Tell us more about how you prepare or something like that?
In addition to preparing your act, you have to prepare yourself psychologically too. I do this by thinking about the four corners of Psychology, these are the Social, Cognitive, Physical and Emotional aspects.
Social: It is important to have a good social support network. I had someone supportive with me all day, and I had a group of family and friends in the auditorium too. I knew that whatever happened on the stage I would be able to count on their support. It was also important before deciding to take part in the process to discuss the pros and cons of being on the show with my support network. This made me feel as though I was part of a team, and we were giving a group performance.
Cognitive: Mental skills are absolutely essential for any performance. This includes managing anxiety, having a clear idea of what my motivation was for taking part in BGT, managing tension and relaxation throughout the day, and thinking about my self-esteem, self-worth and social identity. Mental skills can give you a coat of psychological armour; no-one likes to be criticised, mental skills training can help deflect the critical arrows by helping performers understand that it is the act that is being criticised, not the person.
Physical: It’s important to be physically fit because filming days can be very long. I arrived at the London Palladium at 8am and didn’t go on stage until after 9pm. The day was exhausting. I had to make sure that I had a good breakfast and I had access to food and drink throughout the day. Thinking about and managing the physical consequences of performance anxiety was important too, especially as I would be dancing, I knew I had to keep my muscles warm and stretched all day, but I also knew that I couldn’t go on stage physically exhausted.
Emotional: I tried to frame the whole experience of taking part in Britain’s Got Talent as just about having some fun and I tried not to take myself too seriously. I agreed with loved ones that I could pull out at any time. I enjoyed experiencing the different emotional states, the excitement, anticipation, butterflies, awe and wonder, fear, rejection, without letting them interfere with my mental skills and sense of self. Being part of Britain’s Got Talent is like spending the day at a theme park, where for three minutes you are one of the rides.
How did you think the audience would react to your audition?
I hoped the audience would enjoy the lecture and join in with the dancing. I have given lectures to very large groups of people who have always joined in with a good boogie, but in these lectures, I always spend some time getting the audience warmed up, both physically and psychologically. In Britain’s Got Talent I didn’t have time to warm the audience up, so I didn’t know whether they’d join in, and as this is a central part of my performance it added extra tension.
How did you think you would react to your audition?
I wasn’t sure. I’d rehearsed my three-minute set hundreds of times so I knew what I was going to say, but it was the performance anxiety, or stage fright, that worried me. I give a lecture at the university on performance anxiety so I knew what to expect, in terms of the racing heart, tight muscles and dry mouth, and I tried to put to the back of mind that my performance might be criticised by the judges. I was also worried because I had some members of my family, and some good friends, in the audience, and I didn’t want to let them down. Although I have given thousands of lectures before, this one was completely different; It was a gladiatorial experience, I felt like a gladiator going in to face four lions.
Did you enjoy the experience?
Yes! I loved it. Walking out on to the London Palladium stage was a bucket list item ticked off. Then, when the audience stood up and danced with me, it was a dream come true. At one point even all of the judges stood up and danced, even Simon Cowell, I wasn’t expecting that! But it was over too soon. Three minutes goes by in a blink of the eye; I wanted to dance with the audience all night long. It was interesting to see how each member of the judging panel reacted to my audition and each of their reactions linked very much into the research I do on why people do or don’t dance.
Did you meet any other contestants and how did they find the experience?
Meeting the other contestants was one of the best parts of the whole experience. Some were excited, some very quiet, some extremely nervous. I loved being around all the other performers. The range of other contestants was as wide as the Grand Canyon. There were first time performers, performers who’d just created their first act, seasoned comedians, young people and older adults too. I even met a legendary performer who used to be on prime-time TV in the 1980s. She’d flown over from the USA the night before the audition, which made my journey to the theatre seem like a hop, skip and a jump. I love being around performers. However, there was one chap, a young magician, who I spoke with backstage as we were in the wings before we went on. He asked me what my act was. I told him I was going to give a lecture and he looked at me with puzzled disbelief, and he asked “and in what way is that going to be in any way entertaining?” I must say, it made me wonder. I bet he wins. I think it was the theatrical equivalent of sledging.
What was it like behind the scenes?
Behind the scenes was vibrant, it was packed with what seemed like dozens of different filming stations; behind the stage, under the stage, in corridors, on the stairs and in holding rooms. Each filming station had camera and sound operators, directors, researchers and people writing down everything that was said. It was a huge operation. I arrived at 8am on the day and spent time with at least ten different film crews, which I loved. My favourite bit of filming was dancing in the middle of the road in Oxford Street in London’s West End.
What was your take on the judges’ reaction to your audition?
The judges’ reaction to my audition was at first surprising and then predictable. When I started to give my lecture, I asked the audience to stand up as I taught them a dance routine. I was surprised to see all the judges stand up and join in, even Simon stood up and wiggled for a moment; I think he even smiled. For a second, I was overjoyed, and then it turned. Simon sat down and buzzed. It was SO loud. On TV the buzzer doesn’t sound too bad, but in real life it makes the whole stage vibrate. You don’t just hear the buzzer, you feel it too. Although I was expecting to get buzzed, let’s face it, I was giving a lecture on Britain’s Got Talent, when it happened I didn’t know what to do. I thought it was all over and I remember thinking, and perhaps saying out loud, “Oh, should I carry on?” It knocked me off my stride. I’m used to the occasional student looking at their phones during lectures, or chatting, but I’ve never heard a buzzer that loud before. I did carry on, and then I heard a second buzzer, but this was just Simon playing around with David’s buzzer, so it didn’t count. At the end of the three minutes I stood and waited for the judges’ feedback and their verdict. Simon didn’t like it, he said he wasn’t sure whether there was either too much talking or too much dancing, either way, talking and dancing is pretty much, my whole routine. David, Amanda and Alesha were much more positive. They all gave me a great big yes, so I was told I was through to the next round. I think Simon’s reaction was typical of a lot of people’s reaction to dancing. Some people find dancing, especially their own dancing, uncomfortable. Many people say that they don’t dance because they feel self-conscious, or they don’t know what to do, or because they think that dancing will make them look silly. Some people think that dancing is something that “other people” do, or is in some way not for them. I think Simon’s reaction fell into several of these categories. What was amazing though, was that Simon joined in with the dancing to start with, and he looked like he was enjoying himself.
Do you think auditionees need to have any coaching or support to help them to cope with the BGT process?
The BGT process can be very up and down. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. Members of the production team are lovely to all the contestants when they arrive. They make you feel wonderful and fill you with confidence. They make you feel as if there is no doubt that you’ll do well, you are well and truly fluffed up. You get the impression that getting buzzed off is something that only happens to other people, and you’ll be fine. However, people are buzzed off, they’re criticised and some people are humiliated. I witnessed several people coming off stage in tears and I saw some others who looked psychologically crushed. They’d believed that what they had to offer was entertaining and valuable. When they were going up the steep side of the coaster they might have believed that they’d get to the top and plateau, perhaps even get the golden buzzer. But then the roller coaster takes a steep dive, steeper than expected, and the decline can take your breath away. There was immediate support backstage at the London Palladium, but I do wonder, and worry about, how some people feel when they get home and the adrenalin wears off. I am very lucky, I have a wonderful support network of friends and family (my wife is a therapist), I think I would feel very different if I was going home after the show to an empty apartment.
|Posted by email@example.com on June 4, 2014 at 9:40 AM||comments (3)|
I'll be giving a pre-show talk on the Psychology of Watching Dance
at Sadler's Wells, London
on Saturday 21st June from 6.45 to 7.15.
My dad didn't get modern dance. He used to say things like: "What am I meant to be looking at?", "What is it all supposed to mean?" and "Why isn't that bloke moving very much? - it doesn't look like dancing to me".
Judith Mackrell writes in the introduction to her excellent book Reading Dance "...the only basic skill that's needed for reading dance is a curiosity about the event - a willingness to let the movement play on our senses, to let its rhythms charge up our pulses and to let its pictures range around our imagination" (p. 1). Perhaps my dad was over-thinking it.
As a dance psychologist I'm interested in what people see and think about when they watch people dance. I'm interested in questions like: Do people search for meaning when they watch an artistic dance performance? If two people watch the same piece of dance do they see the same thing? From a choreographer's perspective, is there a right way to watch a piece of dance and do we have to understand the choreographer's intention to fully understand what we're watching? and Is reading dance the same as reading words? If so, can I learn to get over my dyslexia for dance?
This all sounds a bit heavy, but its not. I'm going to talk about the Psychology of Dance. I'll show some videos of people dancing and we'll discuss what we see. No previous knowledge of dance or psychology required.
|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on June 4, 2014 at 12:15 AM||comments (8)|
I read a paper this morning on older women in dance and it reminded me of an excerpt from Pina – the film by Wim Wenders based on the work of Pina Bausch. The paper is about “the look of youth” and how women, who are not in their youth, think about their moving, dancing, bodies. Pina Bausch’s dance company included older as well as younger dancers and she used both to create psychologically rich pieces. I recommend watching Kontakthof - Mit damen ind herren ab 65 (with women and men over the age of 65) once you’ve read the paper.
There is a description in the paper of how women in a dance class react to the presence of a mirror in the studio, and hence the reflection of their own bodies. One women says that when she’s at the hairdressers and looking at herself in the mirror, she hides her hands because “they look so old!” (Coupland, 2013, p. 13).
Here’s the abstract
Bodily display and self-awareness are generally mediated by restrictive ideologies of youthful beauty. ‘How do I look?’ is therefore a salient question in terms of personal ageing. Dance makes bodies watchable, while ageing has been claimed to make bodies ‘unwatchable’. Ethnographic research conducted amongst a group of older dancers provides an opportunity to study these ideological tensions empirically, by analysing the discursive representations of older dancers and their teacher. ‘The mirror’ is a productive theme in the data, giving access to understandings of (un)watchability of more and less literal sorts. It proves to be the case that, while dance as a practice for older women remains fitfully tainted by culturally dominant ageist assumptions about the body and ageing, it also opens up far more emancipating ideologies. Older dancers’ articulation of these ideologies are suggestive of how embodied ageing can be reconstrued, well beyond dance contexts.
Reference: Coupland, J. (2013). Dance, ageing and the mirror: Negotiating watchability. Discourse & Communication, 7(1) 3–24 .
A (very short) extract from Pina:
|Posted by email@example.com on June 2, 2014 at 3:25 PM||comments (1)|
Since attending a day of discussion on Dad Dancing with Second Hand Dance at the Battersea Arts Centre I’ve been thinking about attitudes towards men and dance. About why it’s sometimes seen as comical that men dance, about why more men don’t dance and about the stereotype of male dancers. I was pleased to find a reasonable body of academic literature on the subject. More on that in a bit.
I spent the summer of 2012 working with the Rochdale Hornets rugby league team. I was there to see if I could help them improve aspects of their rugby training by introducing elements of dance. The idea was to get the players and the coaches thinking differently about their training habits and therefore to try something new. They were in a losing cycle and it was clear they had to make small changes to what they were doing before they would start to win. So, for example, I encouraged them to try folk dancing to help them think about group spatial awareness and ballet to help one of the players think about agility training.
One of the hardest aspects of my time was dealing with their negative attitudes about dance. Although most, if not all of them danced socially at nightclubs none of them had been involved in dance-based training and they tended to see it as trivial, at best. I took the head coach, and the winger who wanted to be more agile, to the Northern Ballet School in Manchester to meet some advanced male dance trainees and see them train in the studio. When we arrived I asked the coach what he was expecting from meeting the male dancers. He said, “lesser men”. I asked what he meant and he said, amongst other things, that he thought they’d be homosexual and wear tights. Well, he was right about the tights. I didn’t ask about the dancers sexuality (or care). He told me they were lesser men for wearing tights. I reminded him that his rugby players wear tights too and he corrected me without the need to take a breath “Oh no, Peter, they’re skins”. Of course.
There’s a bit of research on attitudes to dance and dancers (see Holdsworth, 2013, Bailey & Oberschneider, 1997, Burt, 1995, and Sanderson, 2000, 2001, 2008).
Sanderson developed a dance attitude scale, which she used to explore sex and social class differences in young people’s attitudes to dance. Although her results were interesting (she found that male attitudes to dance were generally less favourable, and attitudes to dance varied with social class) I was most interested in the tool she used to test attitudes about male dancers.
Sanderson asked 48 young people for their opinions on several aspects of dance, including their opinion on male dancers. From this she compiled a list of 7 statements about male dancers that 1,668 people had to rate for agreement. The statements she used are:
1. If you saw a man dancing to really soft music it would look stupid.
2. Male dancers should do movement that is very difficult
3. Men shouldn’t move to gentle music.
4. Boys shouldn’t do ballet or modern dance.
5. Male dancers look silly wearing tights.
6. Ballet dancing is for women.
7. I don’t like to see boys doing expressive movement.
What concerns me about these statements is that they are mostly framed in negative terms and as such they might set the tone for how people are meant to answer them. She is, I think, setting up a testing protocol which says “This is what people think of male dancers, do you agree?” As such I think Sanderson is really measuring people’s attitudes to a stereotype of male dancers and this is not the same as measuring people’s attitudes to dance. I think we need to re-run Sanderson’s study with a different set of statements.
When the winger was in the dance studio with the male ballet dancers he, eventually, threw himself headlong into thinking about agility, strength and ways in which ballet training techniques could be implemented into his own training regime. He was a bright, motivated guy who spent a lot of his spare time in the gym doing strength work, stretching and toning. I was very hopeful that he’d take some of what he’d learnt back to the squad, but it wasn’t to be that easy. Although he was happy to wear ballet shoes in a studio full of dancers, and wear skins in front of his team-mates, he couldn’t discuss the benefits of tights. That would have looked silly.
|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on June 1, 2014 at 6:35 PM||comments (0)|
I've been dancing jazz for several years. It's one of my favourite forms of dance (to dance) as it's funky, emotive and, in the class I attend, danced to very loud music. You feel the rhythm bouncing through you. I feel comfortable dancing jazz. It lifts me.
I wanted to push myself in a new way, so I took up ballet. I've done ballet before, but not for several years. To add an edge to the learning (and enjoyment) process I joined the London Amateur Ballet (LAB) company, a group of adults who perform a mixed bill of classical repertoire once a year. I joined LAB on April 22nd and I'll be performing with them at the Bloomsbury Theatre on the 5th July. It's a steep learning curve.
One of the hardest things to learn (apart from the steps, technique and deportment) is what to do with my head. I don't mean what to do with my head in space and time, I mean how I come to terms with learning ballet all over again and trying to pre-empt what I will look like doing ballet in front of an audience. Actually, I can't think about what I'll look like. If I do that too much I'll probably pull out.
Learning ballet as an older man is odd. Psychologically. It's odd because I have a memory of being able to do certain things (jumps, turns, fast foot work) that I simply cannot do (as well) anymore, and I'm not sure whether practice will improve things significantly. It's odd because there are not many older men in a ballet class and therefore I feel like I stick out. And it’s odd because ballet classes are extremely competitive and hierarchical. In addition to attending a ballet class before rehearsals with LAB I’ve been attending adult ballet classes at the Central School of Ballet and at Danceworks (both in London).
Classes and rehearsals at LAB are now great. In the few weeks I’ve been attending I have learnt most of the barre and the centre work is challenging for everyone – at least that’s what it looks like to me, I’m not the only one who struggles with a pirouette combination that ends in multiple fouette turns. Tom, the ballet master, is clear, decisive, patient and engaged and I feel very comfortable being taught by Tom. Joining LAB, or rather walking in to the studio for the first couple of times, was anxiety provoking. Amongst 20 plus women there is one other man and I think we’re about the same age, build and ability level. He might even be 10 years younger than me. I cant believe I'm in the final few months of my forties. Perhaps we're both in our late 30's.
I was waiting outside the dance studio to go in. I arrived a bit too early. A man unconnected with LAB walked up to me and asked what I was doing waiting outside a dance school. He asked if I was there to pick up my daughter. No. Then, “well you’re not one of the dace teachers are you?” I walked away. I then met, for the first time, a female member of LAB. She asked if I was the new pianist.
In other ballet classes my head and reflexes feel old. I find it hard to remember (and perform) long enchainments, or sequences of steps, particularly the allegro sections. I’ve found myself just standing in the middle of the studio not sure whether to sissone right, left over or under as everyone else darts this way and that.
The hierarchy in open ballet classes is taking a bit of getting used to. I’ve recently attended several elementary adult classes in one Mayfair studio but most of my classmates were far from elementary standard. While we were asked to turn double pirouettes some male students were turning quads plus and finishing with double tours. What really stuck in my craw was that these advanced-level dancers got all the attention and were given multiple corrections. Older dancers like me seemed invisible. It is as if we are not worthy of correction.
I want, desperately, to return to the comfort of jazz, but before I go back I want to get my head and body around ballet. I am determined to keep on until ballet feels comfortable again, or until the 5th July when I’ll be performing with LAB at the Bloomsbury Theatre.