Stiff upper lip

So in class the other day, I was trying to see if there is ever one single moment when I have my ass clenched, my shoulders down and pulled to the back, my head lifted, my arms turned out, my knees straight and my heels forward — and all held as still as a robot — while I correctly execute an exercise, and there is not. I get mildly close to it during the petit battement, but we’re doing a short and easy one right now — and even then I am waving around like a car antenna in a 50-mph wind.

This is the hugest ballet paradox I have learned: the harder and tighter you clench everything, the lighter and more graceful and more blow-awayable you look.

For example, Chan Hon Goh:

Even though she is only pretending to be putting on her shoes, she looks light and lithesome, and that is because she is clenching like crazy, everywhere.

This is the shock for the practitioner: ballet does not feel from the inside like it looks on the outside. If you look ethereal and airy, chances are good you’re feeling like you’re about to suffer a stroke.

I think this dawned on me when we were dancing in the auditorium of St. Giles’ Church (my second favourite of all our church venues). Young S. was with us then — she was about 13, beautiful, and had a lot of natural talent. Her mother and her mother’s mother (who looked like the kind of quiet, well-bred British ladies who would populate Agatha Christie mysteries), and occasionally one or two St. Bernards, would watch our class, week after week, two or three times a week. It was clear they had a lot invested in S.’s future artistic career… or so I thought. After a year or two, the grandmother stopped coming and the mother started taking the class!

However, this was how S.’s mother started doing the barre, despite all that class-watching:

(She was particularly like the girl in the background).

I thought: "OMG, she thinks the barre looks lovely because everyone is feeling some kind of inner loveliness."


At that moment, I stopped trying to feel comfortable and got on the robot train to better-looking dancing.

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