We often notice our bodies when we think they have failed us in some way. When there is pain or illness, or we take an unexpected stumble from a misstep. Being aware of how your body goes through the motions of life might just be the key to better ballet technique and quality of life. Do you inhabit your body or take it for granted?
It’s easy to see your body as some other ‘thing’ that carts you around, something that you observe from a distance. Humans are thinking creatures – we understand instructions and carry them out by sending a message from the brain to organise all the required actions. But what would happen if you tried to inhabit your body rather than only leading from the head? Have you ever considered how your body feels when you move?
In class your ballet teacher asks you to stretch your foot in a tendu, and you do. The message comes from your brain, and when the thought command has been sent it’s easy to lose touch with how your leg, foot and toes feel when they complete that movement. The floor pressure and muscle work that is required to complete the tendu has more meaning and power if you are thinking and feeling it.
Ballet steps are difficult to learn and there is a huge amount of thinking required. You need your brain to organise and instruct the body in order to create the movement. Once a new step has been learnt it’s easy to tuck it away in the brain’s vault of ballet steps! We often mistake knowing the step as being able to do the step. Two completely different things! Being able to do the step requires mindful practice, and an awareness of how your body is moving when executing that step.
Professional dancers attend class every day to refine their technique and stay ballet fit for their rehearsal/performance schedule, but they are also practicing awareness of how every movement feels. It’s like hardwiring your brain into your body.
It’s all very well to contemplate this, but how can it be incorporated into your ballet class? It’s true, there are many things to consider in class – the enchaînement, the music, the corrections, dynamics and quality… the list goes on (and sometimes seems unreasonable!) so adding in something else might seem a little overwhelming. The best approach is to start slowly and don’t try to do it all at once.
A good place to start is at the beginning of class with the points of contact. Notice how your body feels when you are standing ready for your pliés. How your weight is placed on your feet and into the floor, or how your arms curve to create bras bas. Build your awareness to when you’re holding a balance – but again nothing too complicated at first! Your brain should be helping your body when dancing, not the other way around.
We can’t help but notice people who move well. A good dancer stands out through their ability to dance in their body – that understanding of where every part of their body is in space at any given moment. It requires you to pay attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it, not just from the distance of your head, but through all the nerve endings throughout your body. Your body is amazing and you should inhabit it, especially in your ballet class! Are you up for the challenge?