Today's ballet technique class was taught by Laura, whom I'd never taken class with before. She mentioned she had recently returned from a decade or dancing and teaching in Amsterdam and was now mostly teaching at Alonzo King's LINES Ballet and at the ODC in San Francisco, which was exciting to hear. Her class did not disappoint - it was full of class-strict, classical staples, but yet wonderfully influenced by a slightly contemporary edge.
What really got my attention was Laura's singular focus on the influence the mind has over the body. After we finished a combination at the barre that ended in a front passe balance, she asked us what our thoughts were as we got into the balance. To be honest, my thoughts were something like: "Okay, balance coming up. HUT!" and as a result, as Laura helpfully pointed out to me, my chin was lifted a little too high, and my chest, neck, and shoulders tight. Was I even breathing? Probably not enough!
Now I'm pretty proud of my strength and the balances I'm able to execute. But does that mean I can't improve or make it easier? As I found out, I certainly can make it easier, and present a more beautiful presence at the same time. Laura exhorted us to think very positive thoughts as we embarked on our balances. "I am so ON today!" she exclaimed gleefully as she pulled up into a passe balance. We all laughed, but when we tried it from there and throughout the rest of the class, I was humbled by the difference it made.
In addition, I received another crucial correction from Laura: I'm pushing my chest out too soon when hitting a balance, especially at the end of a moving combination. I was to pique up into a back attitude en releve (step onto the ball of the foot, with the other leg bent behind me), and I was giving the full "Ta-DA!" with my upper body way too soon. "If you give it all at the beginning, there's nothing else left! Save it a little, then when you know you've established the balance, then show it all off!"
The result of these two observations was that I felt I could balance for longer, with less tension in my upper body, and it was just ... less effort. As I stepped into my attitude balance, it was not about "nailing it", it was about establishing a presence and then blooming into the full movement. I hesitate to even call it a pose - when I tried her correction, I was constantly moving, evolving. I felt elegant and beautiful, even!
Laura's consistent reminders and excited exclamations of "Yes!" whenever someone incorporated her corrections were very encouraging, and made me work that much harder. I wanted to receive a "Yes!" (I did get a few :-)
"Have your mind be a witness to your body," Laura concluded about the positive thoughts concept, and I was struck by how powerful this statement was. It also made me realize just how much dancers must overrule the natural tendencies of our bodies in order to hone our art, to constantly gird ourselves psychologically to master limb and muscle. But the way Laura described it, I suddenly felt that it's less about overcoming our bodies, but about observing and encouraging. Our bodies are, after all, our prized instruments - I've only got the one, and it's irreplaceable. It's time to stop fighting it and to work with what I've got, imperfections and all, and to make the best of it!