O que nos motiva a continuar
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I started this blog thinking that there would be plenty of enriching experiences in the theatre throughout the season that I could be writing about, from performances to rehearsals and everything in between; what it feels like being busy and exhausted from hours of working in the studio, what it is like taking part in the creative process of a ballet, an overall insight into my usual juggling of activities. But this has been the most bizarre of times. The theatre is empty, and I’m still waiting to be able to put into words what my life is actually like in the heat of a busy season.
Thankfully I also imagined I would be writing about my personal journey, and through the course of thirty-four posts, I have retold my entire story, from baby ballerina to how I ended up living in London and joining The Royal Ballet; but now I am so anxious for better times to come so I can be writing about performances in great detail and everything that my present life entails, especially what it feels like to be a part of this company when it is running at full speed. We are always working towards something, preparing ourselves mentally and physically for what is coming up in our repertoire, wanting to do our very best in a new role or premiere of a ballet, but now that the chance of performing has been taken away from us for the most part of the year, is there a purpose to us coming into class every morning and continually working hard? What are the main motivating factors of our job?
I believe that performing is behind a dancer’s every thought and sweat. The challenges that come with new roles, premieres, creations, and the opportunities each new part brings is what keeps us inspired, sparking our desire to do better and better. This past season, however, ballet class has been our main focus and stimulus (where before it was just a warm-up for a long day). We have had a chance to really work on our technique, but at the same time, it is hard to keep building the stamina and body conditioning required to excel if we are not fully dancing, at least not in the way and intensity we are so used to.
In most places of the world, dancers have had to step away from the stage and the main reason for why we do what we do every day. Why not take a long vacation (without going anywhere) and wait until things get back to normal again? When the prospects of performing for an audience - other than the person staring back at you in the mirror - dissipates, it is also difficult not to fall into the traps of your own self-criticism.
‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.’ (unknown)
There is a lot more to dancing than doing things out of habit or routine. Everyone knows that ballet requires a lots of practice and that we are constantly trying to improve. Every day in the studio feels like a chance to surpass our own limits, much like in sports or Olympic training. When one leads an active lifestyle, it is very difficult to stop everything so suddenly and just "wait around", not doing much exercise and not trying to carry on living life as normally as possible.
If we were mathematicians working on an equation or accountants dealing with precise figures, we would get the job done once the math was resolved and we would know exactly how we got there. It is all written down in black and white. In ballet, however, each day brings a set of new challenges, and the formula you thought you had found for perfect turns and balances needs discovering all over again. Everything depends on how your body feels and what mindset you are in. We have rules and guidelines, but in practice, it all takes time. We can perfect our technique to the point of being confident that things will work, but in order to keep it sharp, one also needs to work continuously. (Pictured below: training at 13 years-old)
There are so many things one can think of improving, but coming into work and focusing solely on our faults and imperfections is very straining and discouraging. We need to also appreciate small achievements and take compliments. Hearing a ballet master or colleague say I have improved gives me such a great feeling. Suddenly, it feels like my work hasn’t been in vain.
‘Really?’ I feel like saying, ‘I’m glad you noticed because I’ve really been thinking about it!’
Our progress in the studio is so gradual and subtle that we dancers don’t feel much change (unless you are coming back from an injury). it is only when someone points something out to me that I trust my instincts that things have actually being feeling easier or better coordinated. Feedback is very important in our job, and I tend to ask for it a lot, but too much negative feedback can knock our confidence right down. It is a fine line, just as there is a fine balance between striving for perfection in dance and enjoying ourselves, the music and movement.
Every dancer knows that the nature of ballet is such that, the minute we stop dancing, we lose muscle strength. In order to be fit, we not only need stamina and a conditioned body but we also need to engage the right muscles and work in ways that only daily training can prepare us for. It is astounding how quickly one can feel ‘out of shape’, only a matter of days, unlike writing, where I can stop and start whenever I feel like it.
By keeping ourselves going, we are making sure to maintain a certain level of fitness that we could build on eventually, without getting ourselves hurt. If we push ourselves too hard too soon, the risk of injury is far too great. That, in itself, has been a big motivator for me. The thought of being relatively ready and strong to pick things up from where we left off makes me feel calmer. I’ve tried to replicate my lifestyle as best as I could, bearing in mind that the release of endorphins from exercising triggers a positive feeling in the body, something we could all benefit from.
Usually, dancers come back from a holiday feeling reinvigorated and inspired to work hard again, and I see that all we needed was rest and some SPACE. Having no prospects of performing after Christmas, nothing solid to work towards, I felt like I needed an extra boost of energy and motivation, something I always find when seeing family. When super busy at work, even going out for a coffee and good catch up with a friend can lift up my spirits.
Being one of the lucky ones, I was able to travel home for what would have been our mid-season break. Spending two weeks with family, receiving their love and support, and catching the warmth of sunny afternoons worked as the perfect remedy for me. Having time away from work usually helps me put things into perspective. I learned that it is more beneficial for me to keep active at home, pausing to enjoy and cherish family moments, than beating myself up in the studio.
Whenever I feel stuck with my writing, heading out for light walks and taking my mind off it helps with the flow of creativity, and I’d say it is the same for dancing or anything we set our minds to do. Having a hobby helps us carry on with the main task.
My physiotherapist tells me:
‘when we focus too much on a complaint, we do not give it space to resolve itself, to find other strategies for movement. When we focus too much on the skill we don't have, we lose the opportunity to work on what we do have.’
‘sometimes we just need to move away from the goal and surrender more freely, more relaxed and unpretentiously to the process. In addition to the thieves of creativity, there is the fear of self-judgment and others.’ (@movase.mais)
Last but not least, I think what carries us through hell and storm are OUR DREAMS. We are driven and encouraged by what we envision ourselves to become one day. When, two weeks ago, we started having coaching sessions - variations and pas de deux lessons - everyone’s mood improved! There was an unmistakable enthusiasm surrounding us which slightly resembled old times. Not only are we learning steps in our beloved classical repertoire, we are being coached by absolute legends like Laura Morera, Sarah Lamb, Alessandra Ferri and Marianela Nunez. By imagining ourselves as princes or princesses, and getting a chance to work on that which we love so much and aspire to be, we gained a new sense of purpose in our days, a little spark of joy and magic.
I have always thought dancers to be a little bit crazy. It takes a lot to get a ballerina to stop, not even a fever or cold would do (in the old days). Some work to the point of insanity and obsession, which is unnatural, but we each have distinct beliefs and work ethics. We do what feels right for us. Generally we are 'tough cookies', hard workers and incredibly resilient and self-disciplined, but I believe that only the love for dancing would have kept us going this far.
A dancer's routine may seem a bit obsessive and neurotic, but underneath this repetitive cycle, there is something in it which helps us grow and understand human nature better. Our work, making ART, goes beyond the everyday technical challenges; it is a journey (my favourite word) of little transformations, the collecting of tiny little achievements.
‘I found that dance, music, and literature is how I made sense of the world… it pushed me to think of things bigger than life’s daily routines…to think beyond what is immediate or convenient.’ - Mikhail Baryshnikov
We are learning Ashton's Cinderella pas de deux, coached by Chris Saunders, ex-dancer of the Royal Ballet and now Rehearsal director/Principal Character artist. Prior to our first session, I watched this video with Lesley Collier and Anthony Dowell. Not sure what year this was, but I found it extremely beautiful.