Thursday, August 9, 2018

Edmonton, AB, Canada: BooTy® Fitness Class

Strong are bonds of friendship forged in dance class and it was such a joy on my most recent trip home to the True North Strong and Free, to reconnect with a friend in our natural habitat: a dance studio.

At La Girandole dance studio, in Edmonton’s La Cité Francophone, my sister and I partook in BooTy®, a class that combines “music, movement, fitness and yoga” in a fun, supportive, non-judgmental workout environment, led by my great friend Karen Zimmerman.

Karen and I met in a dance class in 2005, when we were both students and members of Orchesis, the University of Alberta’s Modern Dance Group. Over the years, we’ve danced through many Orchesis Motifs and closing night parties, summer jazz classes, post-Oilers victories and defeats at the bar (Karen’s then-boyfriend, now- husband, David, taught me how to two-step during the Oilers playoff run in 2006), each other’s dance-themed stagettes, and our weddings. The natural next step – pun intended – has been both of our journeys into teaching dance, as well as continuing to shake it ourselves.

Dance is at the center of our friendship and I was so excited to take a class she was leading. Karen is a warm, upbeat and kind soul, which makes her a natural to lead Edmonton’s BooTy® class. Her class is fun, energetic, supportive and challenging for women of all backgrounds and body types. We recently caught up over a long-distance phone call to chat more about her involvement with BooTy® and what she finds most rewarding about being Edmonton’s BooTy® Leader:

EM: How did you find out about BooTy® and the teacher training?

KZ: One of my cousins is a BooTy® Leader (we prefer to call ourselves ‘leaders’, rather than teachers) in Stettler and she encouraged me to come to her class. I really enjoyed it and not long after, I met Tara [Newbigging, the creator of BooTy®] when she led a workshop in Stettler. I actually only took two classes before I took the Leader Training.

EM: What drew you to the program?

KZ: It’s really fun and the class atmosphere is great! I hate working out in a gym; I prefer to take classes, like dance or yoga. I’ve tried barre fitness and I enjoyed it, but there’s something much more freeing about BooTy®, in my opinion, since it’s more choreography-based. I’ve been a trained dancer since I was three years old, so finding this dance-cardio class just felt like a perfect fit. It just feels like I’m dancing but I happen to be working out as well!

EM: I also prefer to take classes, rather than straight-up work out. Way more fun and I agree, a great class atmosphere is key. How would you describe the atmosphere of BooTy®?

KZ: It’s all about creating a sense of community: a supportive, non-judgmental environment where women can just let go and have fun while moving. For the physical atmosphere, I prefer soft lighting to harsh florescent lights, because it helps everyone feel more comfortable in front of the dance studio mirrors, and I turn the music up loud so we can really let it go. It’s a safe space to move and sweat and have fun.

EM: Before becoming a BooTy® Leader, had you ever taught dance before?

KZ: Not really, but I’m a former tour guide from the Alberta Legislature, so I’m used to public speaking and I feel pretty comfortable in front of people.

EM: How would you describe the style of BooTy® class?

KZ: It’s a little bit of everything: dance, yoga, really just movement set to music with a cardio element. We use a playlist of 200 songs and the music really drives the flow. The songs are meant to be empowering and inspiring, to really make women feel good. We also put a lot of emphasis on the Shavasna [the corpse/resting pose] portion at the end of class. We set it to a powerful/meaningful song that the ladies can take in and release tension.

The choreography element, I think, is really great for building a mind-body connection because you do have to think in order to follow along with the movement, but there’s no judgment when you don’t get it perfectly. Dance stimulates different parts of the brain, so it’s a mental workout too.

EM: What do you find the most rewarding about BooTy®?

KZ: Definitely getting to meet the women who come out to class. BooTy® attracts the kindest, most incredible women of different ages and backgrounds. We’re creating new friendships, we’re starting to go out after class and to get to know each other outside of class. It’s so great too, while in class, when I see how hard they’re working, how they keep going when they make mistakes, and how much fun they’re having. The people are the best part for sure.

EM: What would you say to encourage someone, a first-timer, maybe someone who doesn’t have a lot or any dance experience, to give BooTy® a shot?

KZ: I would just say, just come and try it out; it’s such a supportive, encouraging, non-judgmental class. It’s amazing to see women trying something and getting better. You’ve got this!

I couldn’t agree more. Plus, the first class is FREE! You have nothing to lose, so go for it. You’ve definitely got this.

I should add, as the photo clearly indicates, that I was 24 weeks pregnant when I took the class (our baby is due anytime now!) and though I had to make a few modifications to the choreography (no burpees for me!), my heart was pumping and I got my sweat on. The next day was all ‘Hello Calf Muscles and Quads! It’s been awhile!’ To me, that’s one of the marks of a great dance workout: fun, challenging and leaves you feeling it a bit the next day.

I stand by my previous disclaimer regarding dancing/working out while pregnantI’m not a healthcare professional, I checked with my midwife, I know my body and I didn’t push myself beyond what I knew I could do safely – and I strongly encourage any mamas-to-be to check with their doctors regarding safe exercise practices.

For more information about BooTY®, Leader Training opportunities, or to find a class in your area, check out the website:

You can also find info regarding BooTy® in Edmonton on Facebook: BooTy® Edmonton.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The National Ballet of Canada: Nijinsky

When the National Ballet of Canada announced it was going to tour Paris this fall, I couldn’t wait to cheer on my fellow Canadians in the City of Light. One of my family members even suggested that I wear my Team Canada jersey to the ballet. A fun thought for sure, but I bought a new dress instead – two actually – because it’s not every day the celebrated ballet company from my home country comes to my adopted home, to show Parisian audiences how we dance in the True North Strong and Free.

NBC’s production of Nijinsky was a poignant choice for their first performance in Paris in 45 years.  Choreographed by John Neumeier, it chronicles the life, the brilliance and the struggles of the great dancer Vaslav Nijinksy, who rose to stardom with the Ballets Russes in Paris in the early 1900s.

Performing on the stage of the Théâtre des Champs Élysées, where Nijinksy himself danced and where his own ballets were performed, added an extra layer of significance for this momentous tour. Théâtre des Champs Élysées is in the heart of the 8th arrondissement, on the upscale Avenue Montaigne. It is a beautiful, intimate theatre space, perfect for such an emotionally charged production as Nijinsky. It also doesn’t hurt that the glittering top of the Eiffel Tower is in full view from its front steps.

The ballet opens in silence as theatre goers from 1919 gather to witness a performance by the man of the hour. He arrives wrapped in a white sheet, his gaze unresponsive, emanating an air of mystery and melancholy as audience members on both sides of the stage wait for him to come to life. The chair he sits in and the theatre set around him anchors the ballet in a specific moment in time, perhaps one of the last performances he gives before spending the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions, and we revisit this place at key moments in the ballet.

The ballet is a kaleidoscope of memories and defining moments from his life. We see glimpses from his performance of the Golden Slave in the controversial Scheherazade, based on the One Thousand and One Nights, Le Spectre de la Rose  and his own ballets Jeux, and The Rites of Spring. The dancers flit in and out like shadows, representing the choruses and the various characters from Nijinsky’s life on the stage, as well the rigid society, his adoring public and the ravages of war.

When the theatre set reappeared with its audience clapping and cheering in slow motion as soldiers marched and fell among them at the end of Act One, the effect was chilling. The juxtaposition of the slow motion against the feverish speed of Nijinsky’s solo struck me as a powerful way to depict events set in motion, beyond anyone’s control and his powerlessness to stop his mind from breaking down.

It was a dream to see the starring roles of Nijinsky and his wife Romola danced by the National Ballet’s superstar and real-life couple Guillaume Côté and Heather Ogden with intense passion, chemistry, fire and heartbreak. Nijinsky’s conflicted, intoxicating relationship with his mentor and lover Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes, is also highlighted, danced with power and menace by the formidable Evan McKie.

Guillaume Côté was magnificent. Nijinsky’s climactic solo, at the breaking point of his mind, is difficult to watch as he literally throws himself around the stage, the impact of his body hitting the floor reverberating through the theatre, yet he executes every movement with total control and precision. His characterization is impeccable as he blends his physical strength with a sharp vulnerability through his piercing eyes.

Heather Ogden is the perfect counterpoint. Her lines are long and fluid and her flawless jumps reveal a stubbornness to match Nijinsky’s intensity, but her facial expressions and lightness in her footwork expose her fragility.

To say it was a special evening would be a huge understatement.

The energy in the theatre was tremendous as the audience demanded multiple curtain calls. There was a sense of welcoming the National Ballet back to the international stage after far too long a hiatus. It was thrilling to be part of that historical crowd. Then, the evening culminated in some very special introductions after the performance…when I met the stars of the show, Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté!

In the lead up to that incredible Saturday night, I was tuned into my Twitter feed to catch snippets of the touring process, such as the short video of Evan McKie standing outside the Canadian Embassy, just up the street from the theatre, beneath the fluttering Canadian flag. And as always, I made sure to watch as much of the World Ballet Day live-stream as I could. Whenever I was out in Paris, I kept wondering if I would bump into any of the dancers and how cool it would be to meet them.

Then I realized, why not just ask? If I did nothing, I’d have no chance. But if I asked, what was the worst that could happen? I might get a no, but at least I’d know I did everything I could. 

As another great Canadian once said, “You miss 100% the shots you don’t take.”

So I went for it and sent this tweet out into the universe:

And then 20 minutes before the show – when the dancers are full-on warming up and getting ready to dazzle us and break our hearts – I got this reply:

We did some quick re-con during intermission to find the backstage door and after the multiple curtain calls ended, we made a bee-line for it.

There they were backstage, getting congratulated by none other than Karen Kain.  The Karen Kain.

The legend herself who put the National Ballet of Canada on the international map as the greatest dancer to come out of Canada; who now is the company’s fearless Artistic Director, whose mandate is to the bring NBC back to the international stage; whose farewell tour poster adorned the wall of my childhood bedroom; who I saw speak in 2005 in Edmonton when the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium was reopening with a performance of Swan Lake. She was hugging the other superstars I’d been invited backstage to meet.

It was almost too much for this dancer abroad.

But I pulled it together and introduced myself to Heather Ogden. We chatted for a few minutes about the show, how she and Guillaume were enjoying Paris with their 8 month-old son who they’d brought on tour, and how inspiring she is to me, as a dancer-mom myself.

When I introduced myself to Guillaume Côté, (“Hi I’m Erin, the one who tweeted you before the show…?”), he immediately thanked me for coming and talked with me for a full five-minutes. I somehow managed to be coherent enough to tell to him how much I loved the show and his performance, and about teaching dance in Edmonton before we moved here.  

“Next time you’re in Toronto, come say hi!” He said. You bet I will. I am a fan for life!

The generosity of these two artists after such a physically and emotionally gruelling show was incredible. They are true ambassadors for the arts and for Canada and I’m so grateful I was able to thank them for their work.
I didn’t get the chance to meet Karen Kain, but meeting two out of three stars is a pretty good score.

The National Ballet of Canada returns to its home stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto with Nijinsky November 22 – 26, 2017. If you have the opportunity to witness this spectacular ballet, take it. You won’t be disappointed.

And when you’re there, be sure to tell the dancers I said hi from Paris, with love.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Paris Opéra Ballet: Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Éte

When someone mentions ‘Fairy Land’, what key words spring to mind?




Butterfly wings and twinkly lights.

Paris Opéra Ballet’s recent production of Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Éte, known in English as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, evoked all these  images during its recent run at Opéra Bastille. 

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
By William Blake - Tate Britain Image, Public Domain, 
It was the Paris Opéra Ballet debut of this George Balanchine production and it showcased the depth of the company with a cast of both veteran and student dancers. 

Le Songe d’Une Nuit d’Éte is a story ballet of love, passion, confusion and trickery within the collision of two worlds: the mystical world of fairies and sprites ruled by Queen Titania and her consort Oberon, and the mortal world inhabited by young lovers Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena. When Lysander and Hermia flee to the woods because they are forbidden to be together, they are pursued by Demetrius, who also loves Hermia and shows no interest in the advances of Helena, though she clearly loves him.

If that Shakespearean-Soap Opera wasn’t complicated enough, the mischievous sprite Puck, on a mission from Oberon to trick Titania into falling in love with a man with the head of an Ass, fumbles his potion/fairy dust and causes both Lysander and Demetrius to fall for Helena and to jilt Hermia. This prompts a duel among the men, a lot of hair-pulling among the women, and an exasperated dance- declaration from Puck: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Thankfully, ‘all’s well that ends well'. By the end of Act One, the lovers are back in the arms of their correct partners, Titania makes a sufficient (metaphorical) ass of herself with Bottom, the literal Ass, that Oberon lets her off the hook and makes up with her, and Puck and the Fairies rejoice!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is right up there with Romeo and Juliet for popularity and success with both play-going and ballet audiences. Both stories translate well to dance due to their action-packed plots and large casts of characters. The trade-off when transforming these texts into dance is the loss of the text itself and of that poetic, rhythmic language. At best, those iconic words are reimagined through creative, character-specific dance vocabulary that captures the essence of the text and highlights the character’s emotional state; at worst, the text is reinterpreted by dancers doing a lot of mime. Aye there's the rub.

Fortunately, in this ‘Dream, the mime was minimized and the characterization was solid, particularly among the Fairy trio of Puck, Oberon and Titania. I really enjoyed how Puck’s trickster persona was gleefully showcased through springy jumps and flawless, scurrying footwork. It was fun to see how Titania - at once elegant, proud, and refined  – go head over heels in her worship of Bottom and his adorable Ass head, while Oberon took it all in, a satisfied smirkiness in his steps.

The lovers were fine, but the only real distinguishing features between them were the colours of their costumes: Team Lysander/Hermia in blue, Team Demetrius/Helena in red. Balanchine’s choreography looked great on the quartet, but they needed that something extra to really ignite the characters and heighten their ridiculous conflict. Some of the best feisty-women quotes are in this scene:

Hermia:                How low am I, thou painted maypole? speak;
How low am I? I am not yet so low
But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes.
Helena:                 O, when she's angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school;
And though she be but little, she is fierce.

Here are two women ready to have it out with each other, but the dancers just didn’t bring enough attack. It was much too perfect, too restrained. I wanted more: more frustration, more passion, and more heart. How can you fight for love without heart?

The student corps in the fairy ensembles of Act One also danced well, if somewhat stiffly in their turns and ports de bras, but that’s nothing more performance experience can’t remedy. The large corps divertissements of Act Two matched every majestic blast of the horns in Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. They brought the smoothness, precision and fluidity I’ve come to expect from the POB and they were a joy to watch.

The sets and costumes were lovely and everything you’d expect to see in this most classic of classical fairylands: lots of shimmering pinks, soft greens, gossamer fairy wings and sparkling tiaras. The music was top-notch as always and the rich operatic vocals during Titania’s scenes with her fairy entourage added another element of whimsy to their magical world, where “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.”

While “the course of true love never did run smooth”, watching it all unravel on a beautiful stage, with stunning music and dance, was a delightful way to spend a mid-spring evening with one’s love.
Date night at the ballet!
Special thanks to our friend Crystal for babysitting our munchkin
and for taking this photo. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Putting the 'Dance' back in 'Dancer'

My first dance class this New Year took me back to the very beginning of my Paris dance experience, where it all began in September 2014: the beautiful Centre de Danse du Marais.

Back then, we were a few days shy of our one month anniversary of moving to France. Everything was so new and we were still in the ‘honeymoon/feels like vacation’ phase.

We were still living in our temporary apartment on Rue Pernety, a charming, loft-style space with worn hardwood floors, a spiral staircase and much more of a neighborhood night-life than we’d bargained for.

Public transit was so daunting; I would look up my routes well in advance and make meticulous notes in my phone. We didn’t even have French phone numbers yet, let alone decent data plans, so any and all transit apps were out. I got by on the wifi in our apartment and the occasional functioning off-line map. 

I was a bundle of nerves leading up to that first class: on the one hand, I was anxious about getting there on time, having to speak French at the front desk, finding the right studio, and actually doing the class itself – what if the instructor spoke too fast? Was my technique up to ‘snuff? What if I got injured?

But on the other hand, I was so excited to be finally taking a ballet class in Paris, at this historic dance center, in the land where ballet originated. My excitement won out over my anxiety; I went for it and I loved it.

My experience in that first class was a victory on many levels: my street-smarts, my French and my technique. It proved I could figure it all out and make it work. I could dance here and feel at home, so I could live here too.

But that was then. What about now?

Two and a half years into what will now be a five-year stint in France, we are settled squarely into our real life here; ‘real life’ being work, baby, groceries, cleaning the bathroom, changing diapers, paying taxes, endless French bureaucracy/paperwork and lingering homesickness. We are well beyond the ‘honeymoon’ stage. We live in the suburbs, where we’re close enough to the city that we can go in for a day and still marvel at all it has to offer, but then go home where it’s quiet.

Public transit is so integrated in our daily lives, it’s actually fun to try different routes to get places. Now when I leave my house, all I worry about is getting somewhere on time, not getting lost.

And apparently, my French has also changed over the years. Aside from that one weird time someone thought I sounded Portuguese (?), more people ask if I’m British, not assume I'm American.

These changes happened gradually, as life unfolded itself day by day. But I was hyper-conscious of them as I made my way back to Le Centre. I strode in confidently from a direction I’d never taken before, spoke French to everyone, found my class without any fuss and got down to dance class business.

I was still nervous, since it was my first post-baby dance class, but I found out quickly I didn’t need to be. The exercises were straightforward and not overly complicated, but still technical and challenging. We spent a few minutes really breaking down the ronde de jambe exercise and reviewing the key elements: rotate from the hips, pull up out of the supporting leg, engage the abs, etc. It was a great refresher for my dancer brain, as well as my body.

The music choices were spot-on. I couldn’t help grinning as we did our frappées to a piano version of ‘Everything is Awesome’ from the Lego Movie and some center exercises to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’. Who wouldn’t love that?

What a wonderful feeling, after constantly negotiating the changes in my life, to discover the essence of some things is exactly the same. The class was still great. The instructor, Laurence, the same from last time, was still welcoming and supportive. I still love to dance and my technique is still good enough.

Only this time, it wasn’t about proving that. It was about revisiting the fundamentals, finding my center and building on where I was at that moment. It was a very ‘yoga’ perspective to have in a dance class.

It also still felt like home, which is such a joy and comfort these days.

Sometimes, it’s important to get back to basics - to go ‘home’, check-in and see how far you’ve come – and use all that to keep dancing onward.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Let us Read and Let us Dance

"Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world."

These words adorn the current brown paper bag from Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, one of my favorite places in Paris. It's my new favorite quote because it brings together two things I love to do; things I can do on my own but also share with my baby girl.

I have always loved reading and being read to. What child doesn’t? One of my favorite childhood memories involves the Book – the one every kid has on repeat, demanding it be read over and over and over again. Mine was Peter and the Wolf.

Or as I called it, Peter and the Woof.

I remember it well: after much asking, pleading (or let’s face it, nagging) my Grandpa would finally bring it down off the shelf in the hall closet. I would clamour up onto his lap and together we would dive into the story of Peter, his Grandfather, the Cat, Duck, Bird and the menacing Wolf. Grandpa wouldn’t just read me the story; he told me the story, which meant it was different every time. It also didn’t hurt that our version was a beautiful pop-up book, so the plot really came alive on every page.

I know now the reason it was always different was so my poor Grandpa wouldn’t go crazy with having to read it exactly the same every time. He had to change it up because we read that book A LOT.

It was my favorite and I loved it. Every single time.

Books can transport and transform; educate and entertain. I have such fond memories of being read to and reading that books are now my go-to gifts for the kids in my life. Kids can never physically out-grow books and as they get older, they can share their favorite stories with the other children in their lives – their siblings, cousins, and friends. Stories may be repeated over and over but repetition is an important learning tool. I know – repetition can sometimes get painful but it doesn’t have to, as my good-sport Grandpa demonstrated. A beloved story can inspire imaginative retellings and feel brand new again.

My baby girl already has an impressive library of books on all kinds of topics and we are so excited to keep building it as she grows. Story time is an important part of our bedtime routine and it’s something we all look forward to as a family.

As my gift to you this holiday season, here is a list of some of our favorite storybooks about dance. They have all passed my Tiny Dancer’s enjoyment test and I hope they will for yours too.

Dance Bunny Dance - Jellycat Books 

This board book is from the Jellycat brand of toys and books and it’s a favorite in our collection. Its simple, rhyming text pairs nicely with tactile aspects of Bunny’s world for Baby to explore: fuzzy ears, a piece of tulle for Bunny’s tutu, a real ribbon bow on her head, etc. Dance Bunny Dance was one of the first dance books we read to our Tiny Dancer and it’s we one we enjoy coming back to for a fun, quick read any time during the day.

Dancing with Degas - Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober

It`s never too early to introduce your little one to beautiful art and there’s no better way to start than with the magical works of the great impressionist Edgar Degas. Dancing with Degas features some of Degas’ famous ballerina paintings alongside text that explores the story of each painting. It`s part of the Mini Masters series, so you can continue Baby’s art education with other titles featuring Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Seurat and Cassatt.

Rupert Can Dance - Jules Feiffer 

This book tells the funny story of Mandy, a girl who ‘dances her days away’ and loves to perform for her cat Rupert. Little does she know that Rupert is a dancer himself and spends each night dancing in secret – in Mandy’s dancing shoes. It`s the perfect arrangement, until Mandy accidentally finds out how her cat spends his nights and tries to give him dance lessons. What`s a dancing cat to do? Jules Feiffer’s cute characters and delightful sketch-like illustrations are sure to charm you, your child and your cat.

Ballerinas and What They Do - Liesbet Seglers

This book offers a great introduction to the day-to-day going’s on in a dancer’s life: from class, to rehearsal, to performance. It's full of straightforward and practical information for inquiring young minds, such as “A dancer must get enough sleep, eat healthy food and stay fit”. With its bright illustrations, this book is a fun behind-the-scenes look into the dance world.

T is for Tutu: A Ballet Alphabet - Sonia Rodriguez and Kurt Browning

What better way to start learning the ABC’s than with this lovely ballet-inspired alphabet? Written by Canadian power couple Sonia Rodriguez of The National Ballet of Canada, and her husband, World Champion Figure Skater Kurt Browning, T is for Tutu is a must-have for any dancer’s library. My girl enjoys its rhyming script and Wilson Ong's richly painted illustrations, and I enjoy the short educational snippets on each page, such as the history of the pointe shoe (‘P is for Pointe’…) or an explanation of the French terms used in ballet’s ‘Universal language’. I’ve even read it to my junior and senior high aged dance students as an intro to ballet vocabulary and history. This book is one of my personal favorites and I look forward to reading it again and again.

Firebird - Misty Copeland

A new addition to our library, Firebird is gorgeous and destined to become a classic. American Ballet Theatre's Misty Copeland weaves a heartfelt tale of a young dancer who struggles with self-confidence and doubts she can ever achieve her dancing dreams. It’s a story that’s very close to home, as Misty herself faced the same struggles yet found the courage to persevere and became the first African-American Principal Dancer with ABT. Through her sincere, poetic text, Misty is a guiding voice, providing gentle encouragement and reassurance that all is possible, and with faith and hard work, the young dancer will someday dance like the Firebird. Exquisitely illustrated in textured collage-style by Christopher Myers, Firebird is a mesmerizing, uplifting story for dancers of all ages.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Misty Copeland’s Bestselling Memoir

I couldn`t resist adding this memoir as a bonus title for older dancers and fans. I finished it in three days and all I can say is my admiration for this incredible dancer and woman quadrupled - and then some. There’s a quote that gets thrown around a lot on social media: “She needed a hero, so that’s what she became”. That is Misty Copeland.

The world of books is a wonderful, magical place that we like to visit each night. Everybody wins when you make time to read and dance together, so on that note, I wish you all many joyful hours spent reading and dancing, and a peaceful and very happy 2017.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

When 1st Position Looks Different – Part Two

I’m carrying an extra 15 lbs in front and an extra big smile when I stand at the barre these days: my 6 month old Tiny Dancer is strapped in for the ride and it’s even better than I thought it would be.

I was extra excited to dance with her on October 4 – World Ballet Day 2016. I dressed Moira in the tutu onesie we were gifted with this summer, plus some baby legwarmers and - for the ultimate dose of cuteness - the pink, baby-sized ballet slippers.

 Mid-Pas de Cute!
(Step of the Cute)

After the photo shoot captured the moment for posterity (and her future graduation and wedding slideshows), I strapped her in her carrier, took the obligatory selfie, and we danced together once again.

We were joined by our YouTube friend, former New York City Ballet Soloist Kathryn Morgan as her Easy Ballet Barre Video began. As I went through the exercises, accompanied by Kathryn’s beautiful piano music of Disney and Broadway hits, Moira cooed and giggled, smiled at our reflections in the mirror of our office ballet studio, and kicked her feet along with my movements. She already has quite a powerful grand battement and sometimes the shoes end up across the room, however the slippers stayed on that time.

I still modify the exercises so I can do them with her safely. The first time I tried a grand pilé in 1st while wearing her, everything cracked – my hips, my knees, my ankles – and I couldn’t get back up without pulling on the barre. Not exactly proper grand pilé alignment! So instead, I work on deepening my demi-pilés in 1st, 4th and 5th position and only go for the grand in 2nd.

All port de bras need modifying too, since it’s not safe to bend forward at the waist or too far to the sides while baby-wearing. I always take her off to stretch and for the final grand battement exercise. Other than these modifications, this is an excellent barre video to do with a baby. Her extra weight really makes me work on proper alignment through my core and the footwork strengthens my feet and legs. I still stand by my standard disclaimers that I’m not a health care professional and you should consult yours when planning to baby-wear while exercising and do what’s best for you.

And did I mention how much fun it is for the both of us?

It’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing a basic ballet barre! Though I want to keep working on the basics and maintaining proper technique, I’m not out to be the perfect dancer or to impress anyone. My main goal, when I strap on my baby and step into my ballet shoes, is to be in the moment and just enjoy dancing with my girl.

Because this Mom thing is a hard job.

The nights are long and some days are filled with doubt and second-guessing. But it’s also full of so much joy. Dancing with her is joyful and I consider it a huge victory that it’s an activity that balances taking care of her with taking care of me.

Dancing with Moira has also helped me get motivated to get back into dance class shape. My goal is to keep working through Kathryn’s videos along with some yoga, so I can take more dance classes in Paris in the New Year.

I don’t know if Moira will want to dance when she’s older and I promised myself (and my husband) that I won’t be one of those Crazy Dance Moms if she does dance. It has to be fun, first and foremost. That’s the moto my mom went with when I was a young dancer and it’s a good principle to live by.

I do hope that our dancing together helps to instill an appreciation for music and movement. I want her to enjoy being active and moving her body. I want her to be happy and healthy and to find many moments of joy herself.

Until then, we’ll find them together when we dance our special pas de deux.

Some tips for Dancing while Baby-Wearing:

1-Check your baby’s diaper first. Unless you want a new definition of Dirty Dancing, this is just common sense.

2-Make sure your baby is secure in their carrier. Common sense again.

3-Modify exercises when necessary. See my suggestions for modifications to grand pilé and port de bras exercises above.

4-Watch for your baby’s sleepy cues. Sometimes the movement and the music can lull Baby off to Sleepy Town (You're welcome!), so be prepared to press pause and resume after you've put your Tiny Dancer down.

5-Have fun and make it your own! I like to talk through the exercises with Moira, hold her little hand or even say the counts out loud to her.

I also never pass up a chance to share an extra smile or funny face in the mirror with my girl. That’s not something I can do in a regular dance class and that’s the whole point(e).

Happy Dancing to All Dancers, the Big and the Small!

The Dancer Abroad and the Tiny Ballerina

Friday, October 14, 2016

When 1st Position Looks Different...

It started off like any other ballet barre workout: I ran through my checklist of positioning and alignment, like all dancers everywhere, when I started my pliés.

Rest hands lightly on the barre.

Turn out from the hips.

Engage the abs.

Tuck the pelvis under.

Pull up and press the feet into the floor.

Knees over toes.

And then I laughed at out since I could barely see my feet at all. My baby bump was squarely in the way.

At 32 weeks pregnant, first position looked very different.

I enjoyed dancing throughout my pregnancy for so many reasons. It was good for my growing and changing body, it was good for my mind and it was wonderful for my soul. It kept me active and helped ease some of the pregnancy discomfort of sore hips, back and feet. It gave me a comforting, familiar activity to do during a very unfamiliar and somewhat anxious time.

And it was a great way to connect with my baby. I loved feeling her little feet and hands respond to the music and to my movements. It was a very special pas de deux.

Before I go any further, it’s important I give the same disclaimer from my Yoga for Dancers post: I’m not a healthcare professional and though I’ve been dancing for most of my life and have even taught dance, I don’t consider myself an expert. I can only speak to my own personal experience. I talked to my doctor and my midwife about dancing while pregnant, as I would recommend anybody do. You need to do what’s best for you.

For me, that meant alternating gentle ballet barre workouts with prenatal yoga, taking lots of walks and meditating.

I followed Kathryn Morgan’s Ballet Barre videos with a few modifications as things progressed: no forward port de bras, very small port de bras backwards, extra special attention to hip placement and low extensions. It was really interesting to feel how my body was changing and to figure out how to adjust to those changes. No surprise, the biggest shift I felt was in my balance. I really had to work on engaging all the muscles in my ankles, legs, core and arms to compensate for my bump pulling me out of alignment.

I searched and searched for a prenatal dance class in Paris but I just didn’t have any luck, hence why I opted to dance at home. But if you’re in the Edmonton area, check out J’adore Dance for their excellent pre and post-natal dance classes. My sister did Salsa Mama dance class there with both her boys and they now offer a Ballet and Barre Mama class.

Most yoga studios offer special prenatal yoga classes. Do some research beforehand and ask around so you can find the right class for you. Additionally, there are tons of prenatal yoga videos on YouTube. Again, be mindful of how you feel and always check in with your doctor/midwife/healthcare providers.

Another perk of dancing while pregnant was the exciting thought of having something in common with some of the top Ballerina Moms and Moms-to-Be around the world:

Dana Stephensen, Soloist with The Australian Ballet, recently celebrated her son’s first birthday and her return to dancing full-time this season. Check out her excellent blog and Instagram account, The Balance Point(e) for her insights into balancing dance and motherhood, plus tips for healthy eating and general wellness.

Principal Dancers Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté of The National Ballet of Canada are expecting their second child, a sibling for their young daughter Emma, in January 2017. Their announcement on NBC’s Facebook page was beautiful and garnered thousands of ‘Likes’ and comments from well-wishers around the world, including yours truly - The National Ballet even ‘Liked’ my comment back!

New York City Ballet Principal Ashley Bouder documented her pregnancy on Instagram with her own hashtag #Bouderbump. There’s a great photo of her, sweaty and beaming post-performance with her fiancé and an 8 week sticker on her belly, having just performed the roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake at two months pregnant - like a boss! Her little girl Violet was born the day after my Moira made her grand entrance, also by C-section. It’s cool to know I have a badass C-section scar just like one of the best ballerinas in the world; that definitely bolstered me during my recovery.

Though I was never whipping myself around in perfect fouetté turns at six months along like Ashley was in this video, I was always proud and thankful to be dancing while pregnant. It kept me happy, healthy and connected to my Tiny Dancer and I will cherish those memories forever.

It also reaffirmed how much I love to dance and how much I looked forward to dancing and sharing that with my girl.

And that’s something so special, it needs its own blog post.

Watch the blog for Part Two of When 1st Position Looks Different coming soon!

37 weeks pregnant at Le Centre de Danse du Marais
Photo credit: Crystal Hedeman