What Dancing Looks Like for Me

I have been dancing for nearly ten years now, and while I’ve had my ups and downs, (you can read about those in my previous 2 posts about ballet and contemporary) I’ve always enjoyed it. Now, as I’m starting a new chapter in my life I’m facing the fact that I probably won’t be able to access lessons all the time. I’m heading into university where my transport will be limited and my studies will take first priority.

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I’ve always said I will never stop dancing, and I know that this change will not affect that, but it will mean it is harder for me to dance as regularly. I will write a post all about my transition into university life, but what you need to know is I’m moving from my 8 year home in South Africa to my childhood home of Canada.

Tutu 1

The dance studio I’ve been with for eight years has been like a home for me, and I could not have enjoyed my time there more. My teacher has always been encouraging and the atmosphere is joyful and relaxed. Knowing that I have to leave has been a real struggle for me because I don’t know if I’ll be able to find somewhere else that I enjoy as much. Dancing, especially ballet, can be very strict and stuffy at times, but where I have been, it has always been lively and joyful. I actually don’t know if I would have stuck with ballet if not for the atmosphere I found myself in.

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I have grown immensely as a dancer and a person, and I want to continue on the path that I set out on eight years ago. The question is, how?

The great thing about dance is you can do it just about anywhere. You don’t need a fancy studio with a full-length mirror and a barre to have a good time or work on your technique. With ballet, there are a few more requirements, a smooth floor for example, but dancing is about so much more than that.

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Sometimes around the house, I’ll just randomly do a posé turn or step into a penché or put my leg up into a wall split. Dance stays with you and will follow you wherever you go. When you’ve done it for long enough, it starts to become second nature.

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The thing about dancing is it teaches you about more than just steps; it teaches you about life, about patience, about perseverance, and about awareness of others. The kindness and commiseration you feel with fellow dancers is extraordinary because you know you’ve made it this far together.

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Some people think ballet is all about pointe shoes and tutus, but I’ll have you know that the first time I put on a tutu was last year… after 9 years of dancing! The time shown in these pictures was probably my 2nd time wearing a tutu to show some kids at a local daycare school about ballet. The looks on their faces when I went up on my toes was absolutely priceless! Even the parents were amazed, it was really quite something. Ballet captures some of the beauty of life, and I am honoured to be an ambassador of it.

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So… what next? I’ve told you about my journey with dancing, and shared my passion, but how will I continue doing it when I’m supposed to be studying?
All I have to tell you is a dancer will find a way.

If I can’t get to a studio, I’ll dance in my room, if there’s nowhere to practice, I’ll stretch in the gym, if I start losing my strength and balance, I’ll do it anyway because there is nothing like being able to express yourself. It’s kind of what I’m all about here on my blog; expressing yourself in whatever way suits you, and expressing yourself to the fullest. It’s something you can’t fake.

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I’m not the best dancer in the world, but that doesn’t stop me from always doing my best, and trying my hardest. Even though my foot may be sickled, at least I tried and had fun doing it.

If you’re struggling with self-esteem in a field where you feel insecure, I would say to not do it for anyone else. If I based my dancing off of having to perform perfectly for other people I probably would have been killed by the pressure. The beauty is, in the art world, you only have to do it for yourself. If you’re wanting to make a job out of it or get an opportunity to pursue it full time it may be different, but ultimately you have to love what you are doing, and that doesn’t come from any outward recognition or praise.

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The dance has to be inside you. It’s what drives you to do more and be better. Don’t worry about what other people think; take their comments in stride and never stop pursuing what you want to achieve.

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Dancing Accomplishments

Ballet Exam 10

These photos were from my Advanced I ballet exam near the end of last year. I meant to write up this post right away, but time got away from me. Nevertheless, I think it is worth documenting because it was a huge personal accomplishment for me.

At the moment I have a lot of dance photos, so look out for more posts coming soon about my most recent dance endeavours.

Ballet Exam 4

I’ve been doing ballet for ten years now. I started dancing in Canada and I can trace back my love of dancing to a prayer written in a little book when I was 7 years old…

“Dear God, I want to be a ballerina so I can dance for you… please help me. Amen.”

I would never have thought that dance would become such a huge part of my life. In my dance class I’ve seen people come and go and over time I’ve realized that what I get out of dance class is exactly what I put into it. It doesn’t matter who comes and who goes, dancing is ultimately about you and your body (and your mind, and your soul, and just your well-being in general).

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With the realization that I am responsible for my body (which my dance teacher had already told me multiple times) I started putting a little more into my dancing. I can’t quite remember what drew me to ballet, but I think it has a certain allure that calls to any young girl. The grace and strength of it is something every woman should aspire to in her heart.

Accomplishing a new move is such an empowering experience and I loved feeling my body get stronger over time. I started dance because I liked the idea of it, but I kept with dance because I loved it.

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However much I enjoyed dancing, I never did well on exams. Our studio participated in ballet and modern exams once a year and whenever we got our results back we would all gather around my teacher and sit on the floor while she read out our grades. I always got lower marks than I wanted, and even my teacher expressed surprise when I didn’t do as well as we expected.

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I would get so nervous in the exam room I think it affected my ability to show the examiners what they wanted to see. Because of this, I didn’t think I was particularly good at ballet. I always thought that the freer, more lyrical styles of dancing came more naturally to me. I figured that ballet was good for staying strong and supple, but it was modern dancing that could be my niche. That opinion of myself started to change when I saw my peers around me gradually stop dancing. One would stop because of school, another because she was moving away. It started to occur to me that sticking with ballet is not as simple as I thought it was, and I was all of a sudden one of the only girls in my class. Almost overnight dance became less about what the other person was doing and more about what you could do to better yourself.

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When my Intermediate exam rolled around I actually missed the session closest to us because I was away in Canada, so I decided to do an early session the following year in May… the only catch was we had to drive 6-7 hours to get there.

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I passed that exam with a 75%; a merit. Not only had I passed, but I had significantly improved from my previous exam! I had a general idea that I was one of the harder workers in my class, but I had never experienced such an amazing show for my effort.

Because I was planning to start university the following year, I had decided that I wanted to start work right away on the next exam. My first exam was in May, the second one in August… it was doable, but only just.

Then, I sprained my ankle. You can read all about my thoughts on that in my “Persevering in the Berg” post.

Now not only was doing the next exam in August difficult, it was completely impossible. You try getting right up on your tippy toes in a pointe shoe with a fraught ankle. Yeah, not going to happen.

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My only other option was to go up to Pretoria (the place I did my Intermediate exam) again for yet another exam in November, praying that my ankle would not only heal but be strong enough to support me en pointe.

I did vigorous physio with multiple physiotherapists and was rubbing gel and putting ice on my ankle every day and night. After all this, I thought, “I had better be able to do my exam.”

Ballet Exam 1

And so we drove, for the second time in one year, up to Pretoria. I listened to my ballet music on the way and read my teacher’s notes on what the examiners were looking for.

Leading up to this exam I made a conscious decision. That decision was that I was not going to be nervous. No matter what happened, no matter how stressed out I wanted to be, I wasn’t going to stress about what the examiners were thinking, and I certainly wasn’t going to let any stress affect my dancing. I was so sick of being paralyzed by fear going in to these exams that I was not going to have it.

While I was warming up in the room with my peers who were to take the exam with me, everyone was chattering about how nervous they were and how they hoped the examiners were nice. While we talked a bit, I was ultimately focused on my own mental space. While we were warming up I didn’t allow myself to get stressed out; I wouldn’t worry when I was in the exam, I wouldn’t stress, I would just dance. And I did.

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Getting out of the exam I was an extremely happy dancer. Apart from losing my balance at the barre, I did amazingly well. I just relaxed into my work and performed it for the examiners. I didn’t even worry about the dancers around me, they might dance on the spot while I danced around the whole room; I didn’t care if I went the length of the room in the time it took them to move two steps, I just did what I knew and did it well.

I knew I had passed, I just didn’t know by how much.

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I got an 83% for that exam…. a distinction. The highest mark I have ever gotten for a ballet exam. Saying I was thrilled would be an understatement. I’ll never forget when my dance teacher broke the news. Normally she just sends a message, but this time she called. I saw my teacher’s name pop up on my phone and I hesitantly picked up. She said hi, I said hi. Her next words to me were,

“Before I tell you your mark, what did you do?!”

Here I am going oh great, I probably got a 60% or something. I couldn’t even think straight, I wanted to say “I just danced” but I’m pretty sure I just said, “I don’t know.”

My teacher replied with, “Shall I just tell you your mark?”

I think I said, “yes, please.”

“You got an 83… a distinction.” I burst out crying. My teacher was so funny, “The lady at the office told me you got a D, and I was like a D?! what on earth is a D?”

Turns out, it’s a distinction.

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Whatever doubts I had about my ability vanished. I remember the smiling faces of the examiners and I hope I managed to brighten their day a bit with my dancing. This was to be my last exam of the South African method before I move, and it couldn’t have been a better ending.

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I now know that no matter where I am, I will always continue to dance. I see professional dancers on youtube and know I will never be as good as any of them, but it doesn’t matter because I am an accomplished dancer in my own right. Knowing this for myself makes all the difference.

Ballet Exam 6

Stay tuned for more dance-related posts!