Today we wrapped up the last class of the Adult Intensive for 2008. I was thrilled with the classes this year-- the attitude and commitment of the students is always gratifying, but this year I felt an especially strong and high level of determination to learn in the studio, along with an unusually high amount of skill and aptitude. I think we had fun (I know I did), and I do believe we all connected as individuals working by ourselves yet in a group, pursuing common goals that are also solitary and unique.
In speaking with another of our regular adult students, John Thoren, I realized something else that's valuable and remarkable about the experience of taking ballet classes as an adult, which is the opportunity to appreciate a performance with an artist's perspective. He told me a bit about how he came to start taking classes in the first place:
"In January 2001, James Canfield taught a one-off absolute beginning ballet class for adults. While there had long been various adult classes offered by OBT, this was the first I knew of that allowed people to learn from ground zero. Having long been an avid ballet performance viewer, I realized how little I understood or even noticed of what I saw. A friend who'd been taking ballet classes for years suggested that knowing a bit about doing ballet would make watching performnaces much more enjoyable-- how correct they were.
It's now been seven years, and as any dancer realizes, the opportunity to learn in ballet is infinite. I guess that's one of the main attractions for me."
John expanded on how his new perspective of ballet changed his experience of viewing performances:
"Even after the first few months of class, the insights from ballet class gave me a quantum leap in enjoyument when I watched performances. There really is no comparison to what I see and enjoy in performances and performers now, as compared to pre-ballet class."
Yay! Now I have first-hand proof of what I've always suspected-- the more you know about something that at first seems intruiging but remote or for which you have no real frame of reference, the more fascinating it will become. And there are even more benefits than just gaining a personal connection and association to what happens onstage at the ballet:
"First, what I love about doing ballet is the mixture of music and demanding physical work, which is very satisfying to me. Ballet is complex enough to demand my attention at almost every level. There is physical coordination, strength, timing, and a development of very acute self-awareness. I am constantly required to move, then evaluate how close that move came to what it was supposed to be and consider how to adjust my mind, attitude, body and awareness to improve it the next time. At the same time, there is the classical piano music. Working with the music to tune the movement adds a cerebral and expressive component, so there is never dull moment. The class environment is a bit of an escape (from "real life") for me, a place where I can concentrate on many things I love-- movement, music, coordination.
Having been physically active all my life, I had never thought of myself as uncoordinated, but ballet class has brought me to a completely different level of coordination. Now, when I do the other things (other physical activities in my life), I have far more awareness of the difference between what I'm trying to achieve and what I manage to do. With that awareness comes the means to adjust and improve in ways previously not possible to me."
It's true what John says about the time spent in class as an "escape from real life". For that hour and a half every day almost everything else in our lives and the world outside gets put on the back burner, if only because of the intense concentration that we fall into as soon as that first plie happens. I've often thought class was almost like a meditation. The mind is so busy with the dozens of minute physical adjustments and corrections that are being made every moment, that the outside world can seem very far away and almost startling to come back into. In the studio, we class-takers become like a little team, bonded by individually executing all the same the class exercises, by ourselves, yet together.
In any case, I'm wonderfully glad that others can experience that "escape" and feel in their own bodies and minds the satisfaction that comes from working on something so unattainable!
Thank you, David and John, for your insight and perspective.