There are some girls who grow up dressed by their parents in pink tutus and who always insisted on wearing frilly dresses. I was not of them. I was never a girly girl. In junior college, when I was 17 and 18 years old, I joined the windsurfing squad, where we trained at least twice a week in the scorching sun and got really tanned as a result. In university, I joined the women’s football team, where we ran around in muddy fields in our studded boots.
My girliness only manifested itself in the past year when I started taking photos of my friends in yoga poses. I became entranced by the the aesthetics of the body, specifically the lines and planes of one’s body that made for a beautiful photo. That led me to ballerinas, who have the most beautiful lines of all dancers.
I first started my adult ballet “career” at a community centre with Joni. She taught my friends and I the basic arm and leg positions over a period of 10 weeks. I enjoyed the classes but lost interest towards the end when my knees starting hurting from the turnout. It was only much later did I realise that I should not force my turnout from the knees.
Following that, I gave up ballet until I chanced upon a new dance studio at Boat Quay called Wings to Wings three months ago. The studio was small, which limited the number of students that were able to attend the class. Instead of a traditional class that tend of to be quite hands-off, our teacher Denise went around adjusting her students. I was thrilled because I finally understood what muscles I needed for ballet and how I was not suppose to lift my hips whenever I raised my leg up.
At the end of the class, Denise said, “We are having our year end concert in November and we need dancers for ballet. Please sign up for it!”
I thought nothing of it when she said that. It was laughable that I could even perform as an absolute beginner. But as I attended more classes and became less intimidated, I started thinking that I could indeed prance around on stage. It also helped that the other dancers were truly “adult ballerinas” and not child prodigies who stopped for a few years and started once more.
So on 27 November 2015, I took the stage in a ballet recital at the ripe old age of 31.
We arrived at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts at 3pm to do up our hair and put on makeup as well as take part in two rehearsals before the actual performance started at 730pm. In between that, we had time to muck around and take photographs.
Soon, it was time to take the stage. The performers range from the most adorable 3 year old girl in her pink tutu to us, the oldies.
The dance went quickly. I remembered the chereography (mostly) but I remembered thinking that the moves seem a lot quicker than what I thought. It was only during the playback of the video that I realised what the ballet recital had taught me:
- Feet, feet, feet: I knew that I didn’t have the best pointy feet but I pointed much less in the actual performance than in rehearsals. I didn’t have the strength in the muscles in my ankles and feet to point intuitively yet so I actually relied a lot on conscious thought. But during the performance, my mind was so focused on remembering the chereography that it made me forget about my feet. I also lost my balance a few times during the dance, which is a result of having weak ankles.
- Arms, arms, arms: Perhaps more important than the feet were the arms. Although having great legs and feet is very important for dancers, the eye of the audience tends to be drawn to the trunk of the body, including the head, neck and arms. During rehearsals, Denise taught us to focus on elongating our neck and lifting our chin, which I can see makes a big difference from the audience’s pointo of view. I also realised that when I get uncertain about chereography, my wrists tend to flop.
- Choreography: All this ties into the last point – choreography. The more one worries about dance steps, the less one has space to focus on the beauty of dance and music. If I were to do this again, I would make sure that I have the choreography to heart so that I can focus on dancing.
Before we knew it, we went on stage again for the curtain call. You can see the very adorable children behind us.
So what’s next now that the adrenaline has eased and I no longer have to rehearse until 10pm at night after work? Well, there is still a lot of work to be done. I may never be able to achieve the much coveted banana feet or perfect turnout of a ballerina but dancing as an adult ballerina means working with what you have (creaky joints and all) and improving from where you were yesterday.
If you are interested in adult ballet, do check out:
Wings to Wings Dance
10 North Canal Road