By rough count, I have over 300 dance-related blogs contributing to My Own Dance “Magazine”, otherwise known as my Google Reader.
These display varying levels of activity, of course, but what matters is that people of all ages, abilities, experiences, and walks of life are excited enough about dance to want to write about it.
Inspirational Blogger Award
Recently a young blogger named Melissa created her first blog award, naming 11 of her favorite blogs/bloggers and encouraging them to pass it on. Not all are dance-related but you can see her Top 11 at contemporarydancing.co.uk.
Among these recipients was Jean, of 52 Weeks of Ballet, a relatively new blog which chronicles Jean’s journey as an adult ballet dancer in Sydney, Australia. She’s about 32 weeks in but I encourage you to catch up at www.52weeksofballet.com.
Jean was kind enough to include me in her Top 5 favorite dance blogs and I’m in good company. Check out the others here.
With A Twist and Shout Out
Now, you may know Dance Advantage hosts its own little award showdown, wherein we name Top Dance Blogs based upon your votes. News of our 2011 awards is coming soon so get ready!
Since Melissa’s Inspirational Blogger awards can go out to any type of blog, I’ll be naming my Top 10 inspirational NON-Dance blogs later. I hope you’ll find at least one new blog on the list that will inspire you too.
But first, because I can’t seem to do anything strictly by the book, I wanted to use this opportunity to feature Jean and Melissa, and their respective blogs with an interview. And, because Melissa’s blog award rules originally calls for recipients to give some tidbits about themselves, I’ve added a little twist and asked these two ladies to interview me with 3 questions each of their choosing. So let’s get on with it, shall we?
First a little background:
Melissa is a teenager who loves dance so much she signs off on all her posts as ‘Lover of Dance’. She’s been dancing for roughly 10 years and has been exploring different schools and genres. When she’s not dancing or blogging, she’s socializing with friends, going shopping, or to the cinema. “Friends and family are really important and I love that they are so supportive of me.”
As you might expect, Jean has a contrasting answer when asked what she does outside the studio and the blogosphere. “Previously I would have said – working too hard!” She runs a Procurement Consultancy with her husband but ballet actually seems to improve her work/life balance. “I have found myself more focused at work so I can get out of the office in time for my evening dance classes. I used to play squash, tennis and do lots of bush and harbourside walks around Sydney, but unsurprisingly I’m finding a lot less time for these lately!”
You can bet that like most adult dancers, Jean has a story regarding her path to ballet. She started ballet as a 9 year old and continued until her late teens. She describes it as her greatest passion. “Growing up in a country without full-time ballet schools, it remained an after-school activity for me,” she explains. “Unfortunately, ballet eventually faded into the background as academic opportunities presented themselves and the general distractions of life as a university student took over. For many years, I did very little dancing, always remembering how much I loved it, but I believe I also sub-consciously suppressed my passion for it because I felt I had somehow left things unfinished.”
She threw herself back into ballet 10 years ago, obtaining her RAD Intermediate certification but afterward felt that maybe ballet was too technical and that there was nothing more she would gain. She expected to find joy through other forms of dance. So, for the past few years Jean has been attending Lyrical and Contemporary open classes on a weekly basis. She has enjoyed them, but notices that many teachers view adult dancers as seeking recreation only, rather than continuous improvement.
Earlier this year, she was persuaded to join a ballet class ‘just for fun’. “I thought I’d give it a go for a week or two,” Jean says. “I didn’t expect to be hooked again before the first class was over.”
She credits her teacher, Tibor, for this. “He paid a lot of attention to technique, pushed us to our individual limits, worked us very hard but also took time to acknowledge it when we did something well. In that short time, I was reminded of how addictive the quest for perfection and the thrill of achievement can be.”
Within her first few weeks, Jean decided that if she was going to improve, she’d need to do more than one class per week. Before long she’d worked up to five classes each week, mostly with Tibor. “Unlike other forms of exercise like going to the gym or doing yoga,” she remarks, “I look forward to every class and the sessions never seem long enough. Besides getting very fit and toned, dancing ballet nourishes my soul. My passion for ballet has certainly been re-ignited!”
From dancing to blogging
Jean’s return to ballet coincided with her 40th birthday. Though she wanted to share her experience with others traveling a similar path or thinking about beginning ballet, documenting the 52 weeks began as an exercise for herself. “The challenge is to rebuild my strength and technique in 52 weeks so that I’ll be able to stand beside all the other dancers in class and have the ability and vocabulary to dance well with them. I felt that blogging about my first year back in the ballet studio, as a 40-year old, would help keep me honest to my goal, motivate me to be timely with my journal entries,” she explains.
Melissa, on the other hand, set out to express her passion for dance to a much larger audience. She wanted to interact with people with similar interests and as a result has found a community of dance bloggers. “I am so grateful that I am now connecting with people and people are enjoying my blog,” she says.
Jean too has found a large, vibrant, and diverse community of dance bloggers from all around the world. “It has been very heart-warming to find that in general, the participants are very inclusive, dynamic, helpful and passionate individuals and, so far, all my online interactions have only been very positive experiences.”
In fact, Jean never anticipated the feedback she’s received or the bonds she’s formed with other dancers. She recently received a thank you: “…once again as this week i am hitting a high of 5 classes! And I am sure I would not have attempted that without knowing someone has gone before me…,” commented her reader. “I am sure you can imagine how much it just blew me away,” exclaims Jean.
Melissa’s blog, Contemporary Dancing, is her first and only blog. “I started with a very basic knowledge of blogging and technical stuff, and looking back now I am a bit embarrassed of what I started off with in early 2011. Nevertheless, on August the 8th, I restarted my blog and am proud with my current progress.”
When asked what she felt her best post was so far, she thought a bit and then chose her 10 tip guide to achieving the splits. “Everybody contributed and participated and it was incredibly fun to write. The response was amazing and I hope to go on to do more posts like this in the future. Not only was it useful for me but also for my darling readers!”
Sharing what you know can definitely be useful for your blog audience but blogging can also affect your dancing. “I find that I have become more analytical as a dancer because of my blogging,” says Jean. “Just trying to find something to write about every week makes me look at everything more critically and be more conscious of things around me – whether it’s about a particular step, my feelings, the dynamics in the class, or how our teachers impact my motivation and confidence.”
Dancing through life
Jean points out that there’s a cycle that dancers who are just starting out, or returning after a long hiatus, go through. “First we’re just glad to be dancing, then before long, the better we get, the higher the expectations of ourselves and soon, we are wanting too much, too soon. We look at dancers around us who are so much better, and we start feeling disheartened and feel like we’ll never get there.”
“Patience. Just be patient.” Jean says she went through that whole cycle in her first month, but her teacher Tibor’s words were very comforting and very powerful. He made me realize that if there can be significant improvement in just a month, imagine what can happen in a year and in 5 years, but I needed to be patient and to embrace the process.”
Like patience, practice also pays off. Melissa was more or less an inexperienced dancer when she was granted her first solo performance in ballet, an experience she calls magical. “When you get a main solo part for the first time, you try your best and find yourself practicing all the time – well, I know I did!” For Melissa the reward was the audience members’ applause. She also won a trophy for achieving so much that year.
But what if you’re not performing? Jean says she tries to take each class, one at a time, knowing that everything she does in class is a building block. “I try to stretch and do strength-building exercises once a day at home, without any immediate expectations. But every once in a while, something suddenly comes together unexpectedly – whether an improved balance, or a stronger jump or a higher extension – and it’s these moments that reinforce the need to just be patient and keep working at those building blocks.”
Like most teenagers, when asked about her future, Melissa has many plans. She wants to study dance in college, join a company and perform, go on to teaching, and open a school. “A new contemporary themed dancing school is my ultimate dream and I am hoping for the day where I can be a full time teacher who is teaching others her all time love.”
For Jean, it’s been only 9 months since she returned to class, but she feels she’ll soon be a better dancer than during her teenage years. “Probably due to the greater focus, determination and maturity I now have as an adult student, but mostly because of the amazing guidance I am getting. I feel that I have been gifted the opportunity to finish what I left unfinished, and if the body permits, there could be even more than 20 years of dancing left in me.”
On what the future holds for an adult student, Jean reflects, “I did wonder for a short while if I’d “missed the boat” and whether there was no longer something meaningful to pursue, but I have quickly learned that the pursuit of perfecting the art and enjoying it in itself is meaning enough. That the dreams may have faded but the passion is still fiercely alive.”
Jean and Melissa Interview Nichelle
Melissa: What did you want to be when you were younger?
Nichelle: Dance is the only thing I ever considered, that I recall. For a while, I thought I might double-major in education so that I’d have something to “fall back on.” But during a high school internship at an elementary (primary) school, I realized I was entertaining this out of fear, not because of a strong desire to teach in the educational system. So, my degree is in dance… period.
Jean: You seem to have found have a great balance in life, fueling your various passions through the different roles in your life – as mother, teacher, dancer, writer. Was there a piece of advice or a principle that you live by, that has helped you achieve this well?
Nichelle: I’m chuckling at the word balance because if you shadowed me for a day, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t use that word. Like most moms, most people for that matter, the day to day can be pretty precarious. But you’re right, I’m able to follow my interests, instincts, and passions, and for that I feel extremely fortunate. If there’s a principle behind it, I guess it might be “to thine own self, be true.” If there’s a rule to guide it, it’s the golden one. And if there are people who’ve made it possible, it’s those who never told me I couldn’t.
Melissa: Do you dance at this current time?
Nichelle: Yes and no. I’m by no means at peak performance level, ultimately since having my son 4 years ago, but I also just had my daughter 3 months ago. These days I’m doing a ton of writing and before kids I was doing mostly teaching. But, I have had the opportunity to participate creatively in some recent dance performance projects, primarily dance film,. Again, I’m very lucky to be able to keep a toe in several dance pools at once.
Jean: Has blogging delivered you an experience or outcome that you didn’t expect at all?
Nichelle: That I”m still blogging is itself unexpected! I had know idea when I began where it would go. I’m still going because, like dance, there’s always something new to discover.
Melissa: What do you love most about DA?
Nichelle: I could probably answer this in a dozen different ways, and I probably have in other features. I mentioned the online dance community in a recent interview at 4dancers.org, for example. (You can check that out for a bit of my own background and blogging story).
Today, what I love most about DA is that I’ve loved it, and watered it, and made it grow. Not without help from others and some lucky conditions. But, it gives me satisfaction to see it thrive and know that others appreciate it too.
Jean: What advice would you give adult dancers who feel regret that they will never become the dancers that they might have been, or disheartened that they haven’t a concrete goal to work towards?
Nichelle: I could say a lot but I’ll try to keep it very concise (and perhaps expound at a later date). The word dancer, is not limited to an occupation. Would you have pursued a dance career and loved it as much as you love it now? To quote a wise owl, “The world may never know.” And so, I think you said it really well, Jean: The pursuit of perfecting the art and enjoying it in itself is meaning enough. In fact, that belief is what makes a dancer in my opinion. Also, I’ll add that if, to you (as in anyone), becoming a dancer means only one thing, you’re not driven, you have tunnel vision. And you’re likely to always be disappointed.
Wow, thanks ladies. Great questions!
I love to encourage the practice of blogging about dance. I want to help people do it well and I want to highlight people who do. And I hope very much that Dance Advantage inspires good dance blogging – my columnists and I try very hard to lead by example.
But now, I want to know,
Who Inspires You?
A certain performer?
A family member?
Tell us in the comments!