Spring has sprung (in my part of the world anyway) so I thought it perfectly acceptable to kick off the new season with a video of Sergei Polunin. Just because.
Once you catch your breath, I've got a few little snippets of fact, fun and observation...
Documentary The Dancer charts the extraordinary rise to fame of ballet's bad boy Sergei Polunin.
It had a limited USA release late last year and now it's spreading its wings. If you didn't catch it, it's now on wider (worldwide) release from this month and well worth a look.
Because, let's face it, there is something totally mesmerizing about this guy...
In a complete departure from dance, he'll be seen again on the big screen later this year in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Murder on The Orient Express. Although I'm betting he'll probably have more clothes on in that. Unfortunately.
Usually each month, I choose one topic for pupils and one for teachers directly related to getting the most from adult dance classes...
This month, it's stories from both pupils and teachers on a prickly subject and there's just one tip needed.
Last month, you'll probably remember I wrote a piece on bad dance teachers and how to identify and avoid them. In the interests of fairness, it's only right and proper that we now shine a light on the other side of the coin; rubbish dance pupils.
A comment on a Buzzfeed article recently caught my eye...
Chrissy Nefe wrote: "I was in a dance class once with a guy who insisted on pointing out everything that was wrong with everyone else's dancing... and couldn't perform any of the same moves himself. Seriously, he decided to tell me how my turns were wrong, when he was nearly taking other people out every time he did it. He also swatted me in the face once while we were learning a combination and barely apologized and didn't bother to give me more space. So glad he left."
I've seen all kinds of bad manners in dance class. But this time asked for your experiences:
Lindsay: "Yes, I’ve come across exactly the same in partner dance classes when a guy was completely disparaging about everything everyone else did and yet was so mechanical and had no feeling for dancing at all. He was way too busy promenading his 'talent' that he didn’t think to try to improve and understand the essence of dance – which is to feel it, not to slavishly execute it like a robot. Horrible person. And sadly, he's still in the class."
Pamela: "I also came across a guy who was neither a dancer nor a bona fide critic, but sat through a lively performance of Burn The Floor criticizing absolutely everything. He held fort during the interval, loudly pointing out where (he thought) the choreographer, director and dancers were getting it all wrong. And look, this guy had the physique of a life-long competition-level couch potato, if you know what I mean."
Laura: "I'm a teacher, and was running a modern ballet for fun class for adults. And it really was fun – a lot of laughter and nice free movement. I noticed that one of the new class members was dancing the moves quite stiffly and was doing the classic version of each step, arms in position, head tipped just so.
She was an older woman, and had very thick dramatic makeup on and an updo that surely took three hours to style. She didn’t speak to any of the other pupils, but frowned at them all the way through. Her classic form wasn’t good though – bottom sticking out a mile, stiff shoulders and elbows, pointed fingers!
At the end of the class when all the other pupils applauded, she performed this terrible, exaggerated curtsey, which doesn’t really have a place in modern ballet. But each to their own – modern dance should be interpretive and if she wanted to interpret it in a very formal way, that's ok. But she then swanned up to me and gave me a complete run-down of the etiquette and tradition of ballet and how to respect it. She suggested that I use a stick to straighten people’s supporting legs with (think she got that one from Degas?), and how I should question every pupil about their diet and refuse to teach anybody to ever "eats chocolate or drinks cola". Haha! As if I would.
I think she just had a really specific picture in her head of what ballet classes should look like, but was clueless about the reality. She was so silly and pompous, I just smiled at her. She didn’t come back."
Dance is a performance art and as such will always attract those who think they know best, arrogance, bad manners and the daft people described above. If you're going to go to dance classes, you'll come across some of them eventually.
And yes, there are a lot of rules, steps to be performed exactly, movements to remember precisely. Wherever you get rules and strict ways of doing things, you always get those who think they understand better than the next person.
But dance is also personal. If a fellow pupil criticizes your dancing, I think that says a lot more about them than it does about you.
So here it is - my key tip, my one answer (for pupils and teachers) to give to the pedants and misers:
"Dance is personal. People who are great at it understand that."
Justin Slee has produced a fantastic set of behind-the-scenes pics of the Northern Ballet rehearsing their lusty production of Casanova. You can see the full collection here.
A discussion with a couple of dance teacher friends recently revealed a very mixed reaction to the Fabletics brand headed by Kate Hudson. It's a huge company (on both sides of the Atlantic) but bad experiences, dodgy reviews and now the threat of legal action by a consortium of furious customers has tarnished things a little. Reflecting on my dance teacher chat, here's my take on it...
When you type Fabletics into Google, one of the auto-suggestions is 'fabletics scam'.
Now, I don't believe it's a scam, but for every happy customer, there's an unhappy one. Much of this stems from the fact that the company relies on 'inertia selling' - that is, the customer has to remember to opt out of a sale every single month. If you take no action, your bank or PayPal account will be debited with nearly $50 each time.
That's not a scam as such, but it can feel like one if you've been charged for things you're adamant you don't want and haven't agreed to. So the message here is read the fine print (you know, actually read it) and be fully aware of exactly what it is you're signing up to. It's a monthly membership scheme and can get very expensive very quickly if you don't manage it well.
Personally I don't like being tied into things like this, and I'm particularly wary of having to remember to take action or else I'll get charged for something I don't want – I like to keep my personal administration clean and simple. That's just me.
As for the clothes themselves, well, I have to say that a lot of the leggings look WAAAAY too low-cut for me (as per the pic of Kate above). A plié in those things could go very wrong indeed. I like my leggings to sit at my waist. But the Fabletics site does show leggings that are higher waisted, so OK. Dancing isn't specifically mentioned on the site, but there's an entire section devoted to outfits for yoga, which features high-waisted leggings, so they'd be fine to dance in.
There's no doubt that some of the outfits are beloved by the customers. But there are styles that haven't been successful and there have been plenty of people who feel that some of the fabric is poor quality. Leggings made from little more than t-shirt material are totally pointless. So read the reviews of individual pieces before committing to buy. You're looking for good strong elastic and seams, and fabric of reasonable thickness that will hold its shape.
Overall, when the fit and fabric are good, I think they seem fine to dance in. As long as the tops hold everything firmly in place, and the bottoms are comfortable (which means having a waistband that doesn't move once it's on), then fine.
If you like always having something new to wear to class and are meticulous about your personal admin, this scheme could suit you fine.
I just prefer my dancewear a little more worn in, and once I find kit that fits and is so comfortable I can do all the moves of my class without ever having to pull it about or re-position it, then I wear it to death, patching and repairing as I go. Seriously, I've got leotards and woollen leggings that must be close to 30 years old. I've danced in them, washed them a squillion times, resewn straps, darned holes and when I'm done with them, they can go on the Antiques Roadshow, OK?!
A company of Irish dancers had a gas on St Patrick's day in London by freaking out commuters and tourists alike.
Leaping around on the underground made for enchanting pics too. Sláinte!
A tiny tip for the very shy:
If you're heading to your first (or a new) ballet class and desperately want to melt into the crowd rather than stand out, DO NOT head straight for at a place at the back of the line at the barre. If you think no-one can see you back there, lo and behold, once you've finished doing the step facing one way, the whole line will turn around to face the other way (holding the barre with their other hand). Which means you are now standing right at the very front of the line. So, shrinking violets, if you value a little anonymity for your first few lessons, chose a place in the middle of the barre.
Dare I say it... next month's entry in the Dancer's Diary will be the penultimate one before the end of the dancing year. Where-oh-where is this year going?
That means it'll be exam season for those of you doing formal training. And for those not, it'll be coming up to 'summer body season'. So as usual, there'll be my top tips for all.
And keep your emails coming in - I'll answer the best questions right here. And will as ever keep my eye out for dance news from around the world.
Until then, happy dancing