Thursday, January 22, 2015


My dear readers, the time has come for me to say good-bye. Maybe for now, temporarily, or maybe forever; time will tell. For now at least, I know that my lack of inspiration and ideas for new blogs in the past year signals a need for a change. And therefore a break I will take.

Thank you for reading my blogs and indulging me as I shared my innermost thoughts and emotions on something so dear and important to me. Thank you for the beautiful comments you have left me over the years. I look back on my almost-4 years of blogging with great fondness; I have loved sharing my story even if it did (and still does!) challenge me so, to have such a personal journal shared so publicly.

Good-bye dear readers, please allow me to take a bow...
Taking my bow last year after my solo variation from the
Swan Lake Pas de Trois.

In less than a few weeks' time, it will be 4 years since that first ballet class with Tibor at Studio 26. Within weeks, I fell in love again with ballet and have not looked back since. I continue to love being back in the studio. Every moment I get to dance, I feel immense joy. And I have much gratitude for my amazing teachers who have taught me so much and helped me to keep improving. Muscles I never knew existed, I can now feel. There are some things I can do much more consistently now, like balances and having more "attack" in my feet  (sadly, not pirouettes!). My jumps are certainly improved; far from where I'd love them to be, but I'm definitely getting more elevation than I've been able to get in my first 3 years back.  I've performed on stage - twice - and in roles I never thought I'd ever get to do in this lifetime. In short, so many wonderful things to celebrate over the last 4 years, mostly captured within this blog. Along with the frustrating moments too, of course. And those too, are to be celebrated, for achievements seldom occur without their challenges. 

And speaking of celebrations, I will continue to celebrate and be grateful for the gift of ballet and all the amazing things it does for me, not to mention the many special friendships I've made, forged over shared ballet triumphs, dreams and frustrations, and over many wonderful drinks!

While the blogging will stop, rest assured that that will not be the case for my ballet classes. The dancing will keep on going on, fervently, as long as this body allows me to do so. I will strive hard and keep pushing boundaries, after all, there's so much more that I dream an exquisite arabesque that hits 110 degrees with the back almost upright (and not like an ironing board), an a la seconde developpe that can almost brush my ear, a devant leg with a divine, turned out foot right in front of my nose,  180 degree grande jetes that are higher than the barre, clean, consistent triple pirouettes....ah! so, so many things to work towards. It matters not that I will very probably not achieve any of these, ever, but it is the knowledge that it is humanly possible that keep me focused, hopeful and striving. "Reach for the stars", they say" might not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of sand either". So reach for the stars I will, even if scientifically, age is not really on my side. After all, what about that 70-something year old guy whom my 30-something year old friend trailed the whole way during a marathon? Or the 80-somethings who have skippered on the Sydney to Hobart race, widely considered to be one of the most difficult yacht races in the world? And Margot Fonteyn retiring only at 61? Imagine if they'd allowed age to get in the way.

With that thought, I say good-bye. And keep on dancing, all of you, with joy and with great passion, no matter what your level and your age. Because the following is so true:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Adult Ballet Gala Performance

It would be absolutely remiss of me not to blog about the upcoming Studio Tibor Adult Ballet Gala that will be staged in less than 5 days. After all, when I first started this blog I also started my quest to find out how other adult dancers inspired themselves, and whether they shared my need to continue to improve and to keep achieving. And if like me, the opportunity to perform would be a welcomed part of their ballet journey.

This Saturday, over 40 adult ballerinas from absolute beginners to advance levels - some with just a few months of ballet experience - will take to the stage and perform for family and friends in a 500-seat auditorium. The beginners will be performing a delightful piece choreographed specially for this performance, while the elementary/intermediate group will perform Les Syphide en pointe, all 30 minutes of it, and mostly based on original choreography. With almost 8 hours of rehearsals a week for the past 6 weeks, it has taken quite a lot of commitment and dedication from everyone, given that we all have lives outside of the ballet studio. To me this is proof that indeed, adult dancers do want to perform too if we're given the opportunity, get some cajoling from each other to do it together and if we feel that we're in good hands to make us look presentable and flattering on stage.

For me personally, these past 6 weeks have been a totally different experience from the rehearsals for the 52 weeks and Pas de Quartre performance 2 years ago, and I have to say I am enjoying it immensely this time around. With a fully-fledged school and faculty now, Tibor and Damian have been able to share the workload around and stress levels have been minimal this time. Our choreographers Hassan and Vadym have been a real joy to work with, and the support from the other teachers and full-time students have been simply wonderful. Also, experience has taught me how to pick up choreography faster and how to fly under the radar as much as possible at rehearsals, which has helped me feel much less like a rabbit in headlights like I used to. 24 months on, besides being a stronger and smarter dancer, I have much greater self-belief and determination now than I did then. Now, I turn up at rehearsals with thoughts of doing the best that I can each time, rather than just about surviving and not getting yelled at.

The other dancers have just been wonderful to work with. There is a strong sense of support and friendship and I love that everyone just gives it their very best and gets on with it. Of course there are personality conflicts and frustrations or tensions that sometimes come to the fore, just as with any group of people in a common endeavour, but for the size of the group, intensity and magnitude of what we are trying to achieve, I would say we have fared extremely well and done very admirably. I have always said that the friendships at Studio Tibor are a huge part of what makes ballet so important in my life, and that hasn't changed one bit.

Over the last 6 weeks, we have been very fortunate to have one of the other dancers (who loves photography and is excellent at it) come in to our rehearsals and capture breathtaking photos of the work in progress. In effect, we've had our journey journaled in photographs, and admittedly these beautiful photos and a private Facebook group has certainly helped to enhance the whole experience for us.

There is so much more I'd love to write about the upcoming gala; so many thoughts, emotions and experiences but I will not get this post up before Saturday night if I try to get them all down in this blog. So for now, I will let the pictures tell the story.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Now, THAT'S exciting!!

Dear reader, my apologies! I haven't been blogging for a while now, but hopefully you'll be pleased to know that I've been able to keep dancing, except for the few weeks over the Easter/Anzac Day and school holiday period, where it was a little challenging finding classes to get to regularly. But things are back into full swing now and it's really super to be doing classes regularly again.

Lately, I've been getting a little resigned about my inability to do grande allegro jumps; there have been no screams and no corrections from Tibor as I do my piddly little jumps. I've been pretty sure that he's given up on ever getting me off the ground. I've thought to myself that perhaps I'm destined to always be an adagio dancer and not cut out to ever do a Kitri or anything big, fast and exciting.

Then on Friday night, I sat and watched young Claire (barely 12-years old, she's the youngest dancer in our classes - an amazingly expressive and gutsy dancer with brilliant technique that belies her age) rehearse for her Eisteddfod routine. I found myself mesmerised by (and analysing) her grand jetes that seemed to hit 180 degrees so effortlessly, one after another, and with very little need for a "runway" to take-off.

On Saturday, when we finally got to grande allegro, we were given the tombe-pas de bouree-glissade-grand jetes combination - the one grande jete combination I feel most comfortable and familiar with. I thought about Claire, the way she kicked her back leg up in each jump, and I thought about Andrea teaching me to reach forward and give my jumps horizontal movement as well - to move along the floor, not just upwards. And for the first time in my 3.5 years of trying and trying, I finally saw reflections of myself in the mirror, in a few grand jetes that seemed to have some height, and closer to 140 degrees than the 60 degrees that seemed to be the best I've had. That I had lots of space and that Tibor was most encouraging with his "MOVE, Jean, MOVE!" every time I launched into the combination also helped. And when he gave me a smile of approval and said "Now, THAT'S exciting!!" my day, in fact, my week, was made. A few days on, I'm still holding on to the memory of those wonderful moments  - because it's been one of the steps that has eluded me even more than my pirouettes, and has most frustrated and puzzled me since my return to ballet.

I have found the sliver of hope I've needed, where my grande allegro is concerned....and I'm sure if you're a dancer reading this, you'd understand that that is often all one needs to keep striving and striving again for the next breakthrough.

I've had a sliver of hope - enough to
keep striving and striving again

Monday, March 3, 2014

Inspired by Bush Ballerina

I first came across Bush Ballerina (Zoe) when she dropped by 52 Weeks of Ballet and left some lovely comments for me last year. As I've followed her journey over the months, I've been incredibly inspired by her story and what she's been achieving. Even with the ability to get to classes 4 to 5 times a week, with all the support and encouragement of our teachers, and being able to share my experiences with ballet buddies, ballet is challenging at the best of times and improvement can be elusive. Imagine then doing it all by yourself - teaching yourself ballet, with no teacher to give you pointers, to tell you how you should be doing a step and to give you feedback on what's going well and what isn't. Well, that's how Zoe is doing it - teaching herself ballet on her verandah in rural Australia, and if you look at her photos and videos, she's looking great and improving! What an inspiration she is, and a great reminder to me not to take for granted the wonderful classes and teachers that I have such easy access to every day of the week, here in Sydney.

After many months of dreaming about it, in recent months, Zoe has finally been able to get herself on the plane and to classes here in Sydney, twice, at Studio Tibor, and is hoping to be able to get to more classes, more regularly. No matter how hard I try, I won't be able to do Zoe's story justice, so I won't even try to summarise it here, but do drop by her blog at And more importantly, do check out her shop front, where she is selling products she has personally designed, to raise funds to get to more ballet classes.

I hope you will be as inspired by Zoe as I have been, and let's show our support, in whatever way we each can, to our fellow adult ballerina going it mostly alone out there in rural Australia.

And in case you're wondering, no, I have not yet been able to meet Zoe in person but we have promised each other that in the near future, we will stand with other and share the barre. I can't wait!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The harness

I've just been reviewing my notes on jumps, from the brilliant private classes I had with Andrea last year. And one of the things that comes back to me now, which I must keep reminding myself to do, is to think of the lift coming from under the pelvis area, or having rockets under my sitz bones when jumping (Clancy always reminded us to think of poking ourselves under our butts when jumping too). All too often, I am focused on getting my toes off the ground instead of the lift coming from under my pelvis. I suspect this is keeping the energy of my jumps too close to the ground, and keeping my jumps heavy. My grand jetes especially are pretty dismal.

The imagery that Andrea used with me is that of a harness lifting up my pelvis, and I love that, as it works well for me, when I remember to think about it when I jump. I was googling for a harness image to use, and found an article on jumps with the image as well - bonus! Lots of great tips in this article by the very knowledgeable Nichelle at Dance Advantage, and look out especially for the section on Lift Off, with the picture of the rockwall climber in a harness.

So this week the harness will be my main thought when I'm doing jumps. Let's see how I go. Will you try it too?  ;)

Need to work on the oversplits, height of jumps and
grand jete technique if I'm ever going to get
remotely close to looking like this some day.
Better start cracking this week!

Saturday, February 1, 2014 must believe in yourself. Because everything is possible.

You never know how a class will turn out...and that's why there's never a dull moment in my ballet world. On Thursday, I was counting down the hours all day, really looking forward to a great class. Yet it turned out to be a little bit of a let down. While I felt reasonably strong and clean, it seemed like there was little I could do right that evening. You know the feeling when you think you've just done your best, thought you remembered to keep your back straight in the grand plie, kept your turn-out, remembered not to look down but instead kept your chin up, remembered to look into your hand etc. and then you hear your name being shouted out from across the room "Jean, you look like a maid!" and you throw a confused look at your teacher because you have no idea what you just did wrong? I had a few of those moments on Thursday when I least expected it.

So today, I went to class with less anticipation, prepared to work well, but unsure how it would all turn out. I was hoping to get a few clean double pirouettes in and get my jumps up. None of that eventuated as Tibor decided to do probably one of the technically hardest barres I've done over the last 3 years. Almost 75 minutes of a tough, tough barre. We had the great fortune (and misfortune!) of having a lovely pianist, Philippe, today and that meant Tibor could choose for us to do multiple repeats of the exercise and continue to the next side without stopping. It also meant he could keep saying to Philippe, "even faster" (for our tendus, jetes and frappes) or "make it really, really slow" for all the wonderful adages.

An example of an exercise - jetes were first, first, fifth; first, first, fifth, again and again, FAST, and we had to get them to 45 degrees. I was little more than a spasmodic mess, missing nearly every beat by the end of the exercise. I know that it's about giving it a good try, even if you can't get it perfectly right and in time, but I wonder when I will ever have enough fire in my feet and legs to do this right. How incredible a feeling that would be!

Then there was the Rond de jambe a terre exercise (I think it went something like this, as my brain's a bit dead at the moment)
Releve with leg to devant at 90 degrees, hold and balance, then close. 3 Rond de jambes a terre, and close.
Repeat from the back.
Then releve with the leg to seconde at 90 degrees, and hold and hold and hold and hold, in a balance.
On the third time to seconde, hold, then fouette to the barre, hold, then fouette back to seconde, hold (and try to keep turning both heels out of course!), then close.

Frappes were 16 quick and strong ones en croix. Then repeated without the barre.

Every single exercise was very much in the same vein. Not complex, choreographically, but so very challenging. And strengthening. But surprisingly addictive. Much as it was an unpleasant feeling to feel so weak (especially those long holds in seconde, trying to balance on demi-pointe and trying to keep the working leg turned out), I know that I certainly can do with more of such classes as it would do so much for my strength and technique. Tibor said to us that classes like this show you where you are weak and need to build strength. But once you are able to do the tough classes like these, then everything else becomes easy and fun. "But you must believe in yourself. Because everything is possible."

Oh! to be able to look
as good as this
en pointe some day...
Not long in to the class, there were already huge droplets of sweat on the floor all around me, and I was drenched and near-shaking by the end of class. It made me wonder whether or not to stay for pointe class next, especially since it would be my first pointe class for the year, and my shoes were softer than I would like them to be (as I did not succeed in sewing my ribbons on my new pair in time before class.) But the amazing "Give-it-a-Good-Go" Tomo (who had already done 2 classes before this one) was all ready for pointe and that inspired me to dig deep and model Tomo's persistence and determination. And I'm so glad I did because I did a great pointe class today, despite feeling the pain a little more than usual (toes have probably gone a little soft over the Christmas break?) and got more "Goods!" than I have gotten in a class in a long time. It's funny that no matter how old I get, a "good" is still so rewarding.  And I don't think that feeling will ever go away.  In fact, I don't want it to ever go away, and I could be wrong, but I believe many ballet students (young and old) around the world feel the same way...and why not?! If ballet was easy and if we didn't work our guts out, it probably wouldn't mean as much.

As we moved into our last exercise at the barre, my big toes were really protesting, and every movement was quite uncomfortable. Then Tibor decided that he'd get us to do the exercise, one person at a time, and at that moment, I'm not sure where it came from (the exhibitionist in me that I didn't know about?), but adrenaline kicked in and I made a decision that I had to ignore the pain in my toes and do my very best. Incredibly, when I stopped focusing on my pain, I did not feel the pain, and instead did the exercise so well, I earned my most enthusiastic "Yes!" for the day.  Discussing this with Tibor later, he confirmed that that's what you call upon when you do your variations. That something kicks in and you don't feel the pain when you're focused on doing your best in the variation.

We were really stuffed at the end of the pointe class, but I felt incredibly good at the same time. It was a huge buzz to have worked so hard and feel like I'd made progress. And when Tomo suggested that we go for a drink after, it was the best suggestion I'd heard all day. My cold glass of Pinot Gris certainly did not touch the sides, given the warm evening that it was, and the gruelling classes we'd just survived.

Reflecting on my classes today, a few key lessons stand out for me....

  1. Don't give up - "cheating" when you're burning is the worst thing to do because pushing through at that moment is when strength is really built (I gave up a few times during class today rather than push through the discomfort, so I'm a tad disappointed with myself about that.)
  2. Modelling excellence works - they always say to look at those who are achieving the results that you want - look at what they're doing, what mindset they have, and just model that. I decided to model Tomo's mindset today, as she is one of the most determined and committed dancers amongst us adults,  doing amazingly for someone who has only been dancing for 14 months. (I've just found out today that she used to run marathons and now I understand her wonderful tenacity which I have great admiration for.)
  3. When you stop focusing on the pain, and focusing on the right things, the pain goes away. And that's when the real magic can happen. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Counting my ballet blessings

A little belated, but Happy 2014 anyway! I’m finally back in my blogging seat and can’t believe that in just a few days it will be February. We’re now well and truly into 2014 with only 11 months left to make this year all that we want it to be. Looking back at my blogs, I last made an entry in August. How time flies, and no, there won’t be any resolutions about blogging more regularly this year! I still love being able to blog when time and inspiration allow me to, so will keep checking in with a blog as often as I can.

2013 was a tremendous year for most of us at Studio Tibor. We are all so at-home at Studio Tibor now, it’s hard to remember how it used to be before this  - “following” Tibor around to the different studios he taught at. Watching the inaugural batch of Studio Tibor full-time students grow, achieve and excel in the past year has been really exciting for us adult dancers – we can’t help but feel a connection to these beautiful, young dancers (who sometimes join our classes), and be proud of them every time we watch them dance or hear of their successes.

And the teachers whom we have been taught by in 2013 – wow! Where does one start? We are so fortunate to have had the “who’s who” of the ballet world teach us in the last year, that it would be easy to become blas√© about it. On the contrary, we do realise how fortunate we are and continue to pinch ourselves often.

Early in the year, we had a Master Class taught by none other than the divine Isabelle Ciaravola. Imagine having the √©toile from the Paris Opera grace the spaces of our studio, correcting our delinquent arms, legs and heads, telling us jokes and witnessing some of us (i.e. me) actually trip over ourselves! Until today, we still talk about that surreal evening with Isabelle.

Not long after that, we had the good fortune of being taught by the technically meticulous Edmund Stripe, just before he was appointed Artistic Director for the School of Alberta Ballet.

I remember turning up to class one evening to be told that Gillian Revie, former ballerina with The Royal Ballet Company, was going to be our stand-in teacher for the week, while Tibor was away. Like, oh, ok – we swan in to class from our daily lives as accountants, teachers, mothers, university students, management consultants, sales managers, authors, (the list is very diverse), and there’s Gillian, in her typically poised and vivacious fashion, standing, waiting to teach us ballet – just like that! Gillian is on the faculty for the full-timers and occasionally stands-in for our adult classes so we have since had a few more classes with Gillian. They’re always full of energy with great new tips and imageries to help our learning, and never lacking challenge.

In the later half of last year, we had the great privilege of having at least 10 classes (if not more – I’ve lost count!) taught by the Martin James, former Principal and Ballet Master at the Royal Danish Ballet, who has partnered legends such as Natalia Makarova and Sylvie Guillem.  Every one of Martin’s classes feels like a master class and I’ve come away with fabulous tips and corrections that are so subtle yet have made such a difference towards becoming a much cleaner and stronger dancer. His exercises often seem deceptively simple but can be very challenging technically. When Martin taught us a La Sylphide solo during our variation class, it was a little hard to comprehend that this was the same person who had, in the week prior, just been rehearsing the Australian Ballet dancers for their performance of La Sylphide later that month.

For our weekly classes, we are spoilt for choice – we have the option of taking classes from the softly-spoken and fabulously gifted Andrea Briody (to whom I owe a great part of my stronger jumps and improved pirouettes); after an illustrious dance career Andrea is also ballet teacher for the Sydney Dance Company dancers. Or from the lovely and nurturing Christine Keith, ex-Royal Ballet and ex-senior Soloist at the English National Ballet. Or from the divine and most inspiring Catherine Goss, (ex-soloist of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and former Sydney Dance Company dancer amongst many others), the beautiful and technically precise Clancy Rowe and the wonderful and demanding Vadym Domaschenko. Very spoilt indeed. 

The common thread linking all our amazing teachers is that they are inspiring teachers who care immensely for our growth as adult dancers, they nurture and challenge us, there is always much emphasis on technique, their classes are always choreographically enjoyable and they are truly wonderful people whom we all have a lot of time and respect for.  

Tibor and Damian have created a wonderful space at Studio Tibor...
where talents flourish, dreams come true and beautiful friendships abound
...within the culture of discipline, hard work and drive for excellence,
 that co-exist with passion and FUN.
It goes without saying of course, that we continue to love the many classes taught by Tibor - the much-loved, one-of-a-kind, passionate, “hard-core” and inspiring leader of this illustrious faculty, who meticulously and tirelessly moulds and trains us week in and week out, in the proud Vaganova style, tinged with influences from the other styles he acquired throughout his career - from Hamburg to New York, Stockholm and Helsinki to Paris.  

And if it’s our lucky day, we sometimes get the gorgeously warm and always-welcoming Damian (and equally inspiring co-leader of this wonderful place we almost call home) out from behind his desk, to give us invaluable tips and pointers from his many years of performing on the Moulin Rouge stage, amongst many others, whilst we’re practising in the studio.

All these wonderful classes taught by our amazing teachers would not be the same if I didn’t have so many wonderful ballet buddies to share them with. Our friendships continue to flourish, the store of great memories continues to build and the group of beautiful people dancing together continues to grow. We cheer each other on and celebrate each other’s achievements and breakthroughs, and we look forward to seeing each other and catching up over drinks after class almost as much as we look forward to the class itself.

I have no idea what my life would be like today if I had not re-discovered ballet in 2011, but I know for sure that it would not be as complete nor as blissfully happy.  And I look forward with great anticipation to what 2014 has in store, and to another great year of ballet, especially at Studio Tibor....with my heart open to new learnings, new achievements, more joy, more challenges, more fabulous classes, great teachers, great friendships and everything else wonderful.