Dancer's Diary April '17

It's exam season.  Anyone who is (of knows someone who is) preparing for any kind of end of term exam or performance or showcase or whatever, will have a few butterflies and a few nervous knots to deal with.  So I share my own.
And on the other side of the coin, to take your minds off the end-of-term preparation, I've included lots of sweet videos and little snippets for you

  • A quick update ~ you have lots of feelings about Fabletics
  • Quote ~ over to you, Benjamin Button
  • My dance thought this month is ~ all about the night before
  • Top Tip for pupils ~ don't stink
  • Video of the Month ~ the one and only Mr Fred Astaire and a bit of a dare
  • Letter from a reader ~ how to find something to keep everyone happy
  • News ~ congratulations, Sir Matthew Bourne
  • An offer you'll want to keep
  • And finally, meet an incredible young man called Joel

Update

I just want to start with a quick update on Fabletics (following my thoughts I shared in the last diary entry - which if you haven't seen it, is here).

I mention it again because I had quite a few emails about it afterwards.  And you know what?  It was all over the place...

Some absolutely love it, some, not so much.  Here's a selection...
"The outfits are cute"
"I went in to it with low expectations because of all the problems, but I really love the yoga pants – they’re the best fit and so cute"
(I had about a dozen people email me who clearly love the company.  Strangely, you all used exactly the same word.  EVERY SINGLE PERSON who praised the company put 'cute' in their email.)
"Once you know what to opt out of and when to, it’s easy"
"It's OK as long as you watch the date and stay up to date with the billing"
"The bit I hated was the quiz at the start - I want to see the stuff myself."
"It’s a con"
"They never never never have my size"
"They’re just hoping you forget and then they’ve got your money and you don’t realize for weeks".

So there you go - it's one to go into eyes wide open, and with a firm grip on your own personal admin.

Quote of the month

Let's cleanse our palate with a sweet little quote.  This one, I love. 
It's from 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' and is really an ode to all the people he’s met and loved in his peculiar life.

Some people were born to sit by a river
Some get struck by lightning
Some have an ear for music
Some are artists
Some swim
Some know buttons
Some know Shakespeare
Some are mothers
And some people DANCE

Some people were born to sit by a river
Some get struck by lightning
Some have an ear for music
Some are artists
Some swim
Some know buttons
Some know Shakespeare
Some are mothers
And some people DANCE


My thought for the month ~
The lesson of alone-ness

For anyone preparing for a dance exam or performance, this is my story of how I felt the night before my biggest (at that time) exam of my life, and why I remember it so clearly.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling.  Even now, 35 years later, I can bring it back, hear the sounds, see the images, feel my thoughts and hopes and dreams all whooshing around in the darkness.

I was 12 years old, and was about to take a ballet exam that, if I passed, would be the last exam I would do in soft shoes.  Although I was already dancing en pointe, I needed to pass one last exam before I would transition completely to the full array of pointe work.  So this was a huge deal for me. 

I’d trained every day for months, practiced and rehearsed.  I’d learnt all the spoken answers to the set text questions which would be asked at random, so you had to learn them all.  I’d had my tutu fitted, my new soft slippers had fresh new ribbons, everything was in place.  And then we found out that the examiner was the toughest, strictest, meanest examiner in the whole wide world – dreaded by teachers and pupils alike for her ferocious manner.  And I was adding extra burden myself – I’d got every other ballet exam I’d ever done with top marks.  I wanted to keep up that standard.  Just passing wouldn’t be enough – I wanted those honors marks.

And so, the night before the exam rolled around.  There were no more classes, no more practice to be done.  It was time.
Goodness, I remember this so vividly.  I was alone in my bedroom, ready for bed, and of course, wide awake.  I had turned off my bedside light and for some reason, went and sat by the window and looked out at the garden in the dark.  I think I wanted to make sure that the world was still out there.  Because inside, I felt so still.  Still and quiet – like my insides were just space and darkness and nothing else, and I was the only person in the universe. 
That’s how I can best describe it – I’ve never had a feeling quite like it since.  I wasn’t nervous, afraid, or sick with stage fright.  I was just completely alone – I thought that no-one anywhere could possibly understand how I felt; a little resolute, determined even, but mainly just alone.  No-one could help me.  What I had to do, only I could do – it was down to me.  I think, that night, I formed what has become a truly useful tool in my amour over the years: Self-reliance. 
Because that’s the thing with dance – it’s so utterly, completely personal, no-one can ever feel what it feels like to you and no-one can ever do it for you. 

I passed my exam with honors – funny thing is, I don’t really remember the exam itself much, and don’t remember being awarded honors at all.  The memory that remains is of the night before, looking out at the dark garden and the world beyond and understanding, at the tender age of 12, that my success would be down to me alone. 

So that’s what I think about when the subject of dance exams comes up.  I don’t have a ‘moral of the story’ ending for you.  If you (or someone you know) are preparing to take an exam, I don’t have any wonder-tips for you, no quick wins.  Just do your best (and perhaps make sure your ribbons are tied firmly). 
But if you do suddenly feel very alone in your endeavors, I’ll be right there with you in spirit.

Top tip for pupils ~

You know how I just rather poetically said that I don’t have any top tips for you exam takers?  I lied.  I do have one, even if it is teeny-tiny.
Here it is.  Don’t stink.  I don’t mean that your dancing shouldn’t stink (because that’s obvious.  Isn’t it..?).  I mean don’t actually stink.
Put it this way.  Did you know there is a ‘correct’ way to apply deodorant and most people have no clue what it is?  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need my ‘How to apply deodorant’ page. 

Video of the month

Ready for some dancing?  Thought so.  But... you might want to sit down for this one.

This Easter, I watched Easter Parade (as I hadn’t for years), and was reminded all over again how Fred Astaire was just the smoothest, greatest, fun-est dancer ever.  Above everyone else, he made dance look easy. How did he do it?  How did he make ridiculously athletic and complicated dance steps look like walking on air?  He was (and remains) simply incomparable.

Why not try a bit?   Go on, I dare you – just even try the staircase bit from the first 90 seconds or so – easy enough, right?  No, he just makes it look easy.

If you want to feel like your thighs are on fire, and need to spend a week in traction before dying of total exhaustion, try dancing the whole routine, including the slo-mo bit towards the end.  You won’t make it.  It’s just ridiculously hard.

If you ever get to see a dancer do this routine live on stage, give them a standing ovation when they’re done. 
And maybe oxygen.

Letter from a reader

A lovely letter from Australia hit my desk this month.  A teacher wrote saying that she’d like to give each of her students a small end of term gift to reward them for their hard work during the year.  She had a budget of around $10 per pupil and what could we suggest?

The idea we came up with was charms.

I've mentioned dance-themed charm bracelets before, at Christmas.  But thinking it through, the idea could work on a smaller, individual scale for all the pupils in a class or school.  A small silver charm (with a dance theme), can be put on a charm bracelet, of course.  But it can also easily be used as a pendent on a chain, hooked onto the end of a hair clip or onto the zipper of a dance bag or hooded top.  This means that everyone can use theirs in a way that they choose – and you can’t always say that about class presents.
Here are a few examples of simple, effective and modestly priced charms that be perfect for an end of term gift to the deserving student.

The charms above can all be bought individually - just click on an image to go to the Amazon listing for more information.  Most are sterling silver and these ones start from as little $7.  Of course there are much cheaper options if you're not fussy about the quality.  But just be aware than silver plate or the cheaper alloys do tarnish very quickly - particularly when they come in contact with sweat, which they certainly will if someone wears their necklace or bracelet while dancing.  So me, personally, I'd stretch to sterling silver and give a little gift that's sweet, thoughtful and will last.

But if your budget doesn't run to one of these let alone one for every pupil, a handwritten note can be just as effective.  Maybe you can take the time to think about a classic dance sequence from the movies that would suit each individual pupil - let them know how you see them and give them something more unusual and exciting to aim for than great exam results.  Just a thought.  I never got any 'thank you' from my dance teachers - it was us pupils who were expected to thank the teacher!  So I think it's just lovely to do something nice for them.

Red Shoes news

Pic: Kalpesh Lathigra

Remember back in December I reported that Sir Matthew Bourne was launching a new stage version of classic dance film The Red Shoes?

The Stage called it "his finest achievement to date" which is high praise indeed for the man who created the now iconic Swan Lake with its ground-breaking male swans.

Well, congratulations are in order, as he won Best Theatre Choreographer for it at the prestigious Olivier Awards in London, and the show also won Best Entertainment.

Will it transfer to Broadway?  Who knows.  It'd help to assuage the terrible memories of the last time Red Shoes took to the Broadway stage back in the '90s in a musical version that closed after just a few days losing $millions. 

Matthew Bourne's show is in a league of its own (as all his productions are) so let's just hope that we see a world tour after the UK one this year.  I'll keep you updated.

Only for Dancer's Diary readers

I want to give you a heads-up that I’m now offering a 1/3rd discount to all you Dancer’s Diary readers off any of our full price DVDs.

New readers will get the special link to the discounts page when they sign up. But as all you folk have already been signed up for a while, just email me (below) for the link if you’re thinking of buying any of the DVDs.

With the discount, the partner dance DVDs are $33.33 each, Hip Hop only $11.99 and Salsa, Modern Dance Workout and Ballet are now all just $23.33 each. 

And finally...

If you haven’t heard of Joel Kioko yet, you soon will.  Born and raised in the slums of Nairobi, he started attending a ballet class just a few years ago.  But this summer, his amazing ability will see him dance with the Cincinnati Ballet training program.  And his ambition?  It’s not for himself, but to reach a professional stage where he can return to Kenya and open a ballet school himself.  Meet this extraordinary young man…

Coming up...

The last edition of The Dancer's Diary for this academic year will be published at the end of May.  Yes, this year really has gone by in about five minutes.

So there will be key advice on how to keep up with your dancing (or at least suppleness) over the summer.  And for teachers, a few tips on planning for the new semester.

There'll be my last round-up of news from the dance world and a bit of end-of-term fun, too.

Until then, happy dancing

Just so you know...

On some of my diary pages, there will be featured items that you can buy.  I do a lot of research into items to recommend - I don't just fling any old crap at my readers.  The things I recommend are things I genuinely use, or can see that have been well-received by their target audience via reviews and feedback.  When I post links to products, I generally try to find the product on Amazon for you, so you know you're dealing with a reputable supplier and that their customer service policies will cover you in case anything goes wrong, or you're unhappy for any reason.

If you follow a link that I've posted to products and do go on to buy something, Amazon pays me a tiny percentage of the profit of that sale.  It helps to keep DanceClass.com free and keep me researching and writing about dance for adult beginners in a way that I hope you find useful and insightful.  I think that's fair and hope you do too.

Dancer's diary › April 2017