Musings on Balanchine’s, “Jewels”

When I was younger there was a summer replacement show on television called International Showtime. It showcased performers from all over Europe. It was the first time that I heard the European style of applause – a rhythmic controlled audience clap that held a steady beat in direct contrast to the American burst of uninhibited ovation. It was my first taste of European performance and reception.

I bring this up, as I just saw the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema presentation of Jewels. First EMERALDbroadcast live on January 19, 2014, this repeat showing offered the work to all who wanted a second viewing, or to those whom had not seen it before. I was one of the last group. Even though it was created in 1967, I’d never seen it all those years I lived in New York, and in the ensuing years after I left; therefore, it was a real treat to see this gem of a ballet!

Consisting of three acts, each representing a different jewel– Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds – the ballet incorporated the styles of three major schools of dance: French, American and Russian. Host Katya Novikova said that these types of ballet were Balanchine’s own experience with the three cities he loved: Paris, New York and St. Petersburg.  The ballets were indeed different.

Emeralds, according to the Pathe/Bolshoi program, with its green romantic tutus represented the “nineteenth century dances of the French Romantic.”  It was lyrical and emotional, and was danced to the score of Gabriel Faure’s, Pelleas and Melisande and Shylock.

Rubies, according to the Bolshoi, incorporated the American musical style “epitomizing Balanchine’s work RUBIES2with Stravinsky.” This was danced to Igor Stravinsky’s, Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra.

The last segment, Diamonds, contained a gorgeous pas de deux, along with the corps for a delightful classic white ballet with “the grandeur of Imperial Russia.” Peter Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #3 in D Major was the music for this exquisite work.

The cast of the Bolshoi, as always, was excellent. Dancing three different styles and genres of ballet in one night was certainly a marathon; nevertheless, the effort was invisible, and the ethereal lightness of skilled dancers glimmered, leading us to another world for but a few hours.

The original production of Jewels had its premiere on April 13, 1967, and presented a DIAMOND#2stellar cast. According to NYCB’s website: some of the more famous names included:

Emeralds: Violette Verdy

Rubies:    Patricia McBride, Edward Villella

Diamonds: Suzanne Farrell, Jacques d’Amboise

What a great evening that must have been!  

I’d still love to see the NYCB Balanchine version; however, I was enchanted with the offering of The Bolshoi.  With every bravura move in this Bolshoi in Cinema production, the audience showed their appreciation of the performance by implementing that classic rhythmic European applause. And, a bravura performance it was.   Now, that I have seen Jewels, it will be a part of my viewing repertoire because of the acumen of the choreography, dancers, concept, music and wonders of this sparkling Balanchine gem of a ballet.


Where is the original cast of Jewels now?


Suzanne Farrell – in the original production, now has her own ballet company, and you can visit her website,or Facebook page at Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

Patricia McBride also has her own ballet company – The Charlotte Ballet – in North Carolina. She won a Kennedy Center Honor in 2104.

According to the Washington Post, the Kennedy Center Award recipients for dance include: George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell, Jacques d’Amboise and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Jacques D’Amboise, an original Jewels dancer, played the carnival barker in the film version of Carousel. He also founded the National Dance Institute to educate children in schools about dance. See link:

Edward Viella continued after his dance career by creating the Miami City Ballet.   His web site is linked here as well.

Violette VerdyA ballerina who worked in France and the U.S, and currently teaches in Indiana. See her entry on Wikipedia.


Other Trivia and Info

1) A fourth ballet, Sapphires was discussed by Balanchine, but never created.

2) Merrill Ashley was a repetiteur for the Bolshoi for this production, danced Jewels, herself, and was an NYCB dancer of note.

3) NY Times original review of the January 2014 film of Bolshoi’s Jewels



New York City Ballet website:

New York Times Review:


Photo – Emeralds

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo – Rubies

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo – Diamonds

By Mario Sarto (Self-photographed) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Ballet: Stage vs. Film – What’s the Difference?

Going to the ballet in a theater venue is always an exciting experience. People dress up, and black-tie galas bring out the tony social set. We hear the buzz of the crowd around us, and erudite comments, as we pass through the marbled lobby adorned with gold.

“Haven’t seen you in ages!” “We’re in the Dress Circle…” “…a platinum sponsor…,” “Fabulous reviews!” ‘Saw this in Europe when the company was on tour,” “Let’s meet for dinner after the show.”Opera House - Regensburg_Stadttheater_Zuschauerraum_2004

The lights dim, and the orchestra warm-up blends into an odd harmonic synthesis of music, diminishing conversation, and program pages, perused.  All of this builds anticipation for the grand ballet to come, and the big, velvet curtain rises.

This is how we used to do it, at least those who were lucky enough to live in a major metropolitan area. Art was limited to a certain segment of the population, both geographically and financially.

The good news is that now ballet has come full circle into not only the electronic age with videos online, and “World Ballet Day,” but to cinema as well.   There have always been a few ballets in cinema, but these were mainly limited to smaller art houses.  I remember Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev’s film, The Sleeping Beauty” that came to theaters decades ago. It was, however, for a niche ballet audience, and the theater was not always convenient to attend.

Now, however, a number of major ballet companies are offering a series of ballet films at major theater chains throughout the United States. Art is more affordable now, and the price of a movie ticket promises immersion into another world inside the cinema. Some of these ballet films are live from around the world, while others have been recently taped. These include The Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi, and Lincoln Center at the Movies, and more.

But, is there a difference to the audience member who watches a ballet on film versus on stage? Let’s take a further look….

Academic reader reception critics, Wolfgang Iser and Hans Robert Jauss, claim that there is a connection between reader and author.  I think  that the same holds true for performer and audience in live theater. The audience and performers create a bond of suspension of belief, cajoling the audience into a shared experience. Audiences also may be different on different days. A Tuesday night audience may be tired from work, while a Saturday night audience may have higher energy from the weekend, which then feeds into, and aids performers. Feedback of applause, (appreciation for fouettes or grand pas) gasps (if dramatic) and laughter (if comic) can help to drive a performance. Reaction from audience helps performers to hone skills, whether technical or comic.  Whether it’s opera or ballet, when you know the audience is with you, it encourages you to go for that high note, or turn that extra fouette!

In ballet on film, however, there are actually two audiences – the “live” one in Russia, and the cinema one, where people throughout the world sit. On one hand, the “live” audience drives the elite performance. On the other hand, the cinema audience is pulled into the excitement by the first audience, and then has its own reaction as well. Because the movie theater is also dark, the focus of audience is just as great on the screen, as it would be on stage at a grand theater venue.

Another noteworthy point is that while it is also wonderful to see star dancers in person, and share that theater space with famous people, it is also wonderful to see them on film, which may freeze a performance in time capsule form for future generations.

Yet another difference on film is that we are presented with a treasure trove of narration, behind the scenes “sneak peeks,” backstage flurry, and interviews with dancers, fresh from Act One who describe how they felt about their performances. We have even more ambiance as audience members watch in a movie theater with “special features” type interviews and background.  We can glimpse the reality of the process of performance from the dancer’s elation regarding his or her execution of steps, to the sweat that trickles down the ballerina’s neck. The commentary and clips of rehearsals in between Acts also make the viewing of art both fantasy and reality at the same time.CINEMA - Cinemaaustralia

Most of the ballet on film is live, so the live theater effect still kicks in. Anything can happen. After all, a bravura performance can make a crowd roar, and we, in the cinema audience, can actually hear that crowd. It simulates the live theater effect for us, and we feel that we are there!  We have a much better seat, as we go from stage to behind the curtain!

One problem with live ballet though at major companies is that unless the ballet is filmed, those performances, sadly, will be forever lost. Film, however, immortalizes and captures performance. It will last throughout the changing technologies, and though the performance itself will never vary, it can be studied, and endlessly enjoyed.

Another distinct perspective is a philosophical one. A filmed performance captures a three dimension physical reality on a two dimensional piece of celluloid (or whatever digital process now being used). To see the artistry, technique and uniqueness of every performer on that film, in three dimensions is amazing.

The idea of capturing performance or images of people and objects always fascinated me. When I was about nine or ten years old, I had a Viewmaster toy, with multiple discs to view different scenes of live action stills of people, animals movies, or puppets. I was fascinated by the perception of these images on a two dimensional piece of film, and I would take the disc out over and over to feel the celluloid, knowing that it somehow held volume within its thinness.

This is the way I feel about ballet movies today.

I had an academic paper, The Philosophy of the Red Shoes, published in a journal in 2013, in which I looked at three ballet films along with the idea of reality in performance and filming. Film historically archives life, time period, social dress, behavior and more. Shirley Temple’s smile at the end of almost every movie she made will always be there – a symbol of optimism for the 1930’s. Buster Keaton’s silent antics, Charlie Chaplin’s balletic moves, musicals, such as An American in Paris, along with ballet in cinema will create an historic record of art for decades to come

So, whether you dress up for a black-tie gala at The Met, or wear jeans and munch quietly on popcorn during a cinema showing of Swan Lake, you experience “art.”  I must admit that I love to attend black-tie galas and ballet premieres, but even though I love live performance, I think that the more valuable of the two, between stage and film however, may be the cinema version of ballet. It is an historical record that will preserve the elite form, its star performers, and showcase its famous choreographers.

Ballet is a synthesis of several artistic forms: music, design, costume, and unique personalities who bring to life the great characters from the ballet world, whether literary, fairy tale, myth, or works of original origin. It’s much like the argument between who is the better dancer – Baryshnikov, or Nureyev?  It’s an impossible choice, as both are exceptional dancers!  Stage and film also share that wonderful positive, but also that impossible choice.  What a panacea for ballet lovers to have both!

If you still have any doubts, however, about the merit of ballet on film, just take a glimpse at the historical fragment below of Anna Pavlova, and more…


Ballet in cinema is a treasure!


If you’d like to see the movie schedules for ballet on film, here are the three major sites:

The Bolshoi

The Royal Opera House   (opera and ballet) 2015-2016 season   (Click on black cinema box)

Lincoln Center at the Movies



Image – Opera House:

By Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work own photograph) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Image – Cinema

By Fernando de Sousa from Melbourne, Australia (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Image – Anna Pavlova, Natalia Makarova and Yvette Chauvire

By Betsi Jane (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

October 4th, 2015

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Commedia dell’ arte – An Unusual Root of Dance

The Company of Wayward Saints was a play that I performed as a teenager in a little theater in New Jersey.  Little did I know at the time that I was participating in a piece of theater and dance history.

The characters in the play were those from the school of Commedia dell’ arte, an early form of theater from Italy. The stock characters included an innocent young girl (Isabella), an old man (Pantalone) the lover (Tristano), a captain, (Il Capitano) a learned, but foolish doctor (Il Dottore), a clown, (Scapino, or Harlequin), and an assortment of other comedic figures.

A little background history though… Commedia dell’ arte players of the medieval period used to gather in troupes and travel throughout Europe in wagons. They performed wearing masks of their assigned characters, and delighted crowds during pageants of carnival, the period between Epiphany and Lent.   Historically, these characters played out their parts on an elevated stage on the street, or, in the royal courts of Europe.

I, however, was a humble understudy for the role of Isabella in a play done by a community theater on a high school stage. Despite its noble effort, or shortcomings, the memory of that commedia play would return years later, as I learned more about the roots of theater, and also of dance.

But, how does all this apply to ballet anyway, you ask?

“Gestures in commedia were more important than words.” Sound familiar? In ballet we tell a story through movement and pantomime. “Pantomime, which flourished in the 18th century, owes its genesis to the character types found in commedia, particularly the Harlequin.”  (1)

Harlequinade_-Score_Frontispiece,_1900_-1The character of the Harlequin is used in ballet as well.  Think of The Nutcracker at Christmas, and also of the ballet, Harlequinade.

Harlequinade, originally titled, Les Millions D’Arlequin, originated with  Marius Petipa, and was later staged by George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet in 1965.  In fact, Harlequinade is currently on the NYCB schedule for the Fall 2015 season! (2)

But that’s not the end of the story. “Commedia masks and plots from the Italian theater also found their way into comic Opera-Buffa,” and Opera-Ballet, where both opera and ballet were incorporated to tell stories. Commedia also influenced the ballet d’action form, which emphasized emotion, rather than                          Sheet Music frontspiece of Les Millions D’Arlequinn elaborate costume to develop                                                                                                              characters in the ballet (3/4).

Additionally, two of Igor Stravinsky’s ballets – Petrushka and Pulcinella, used elements of Commedia dell’ arte to tell the story in dance.  “Petrushka is a descendant of the commedia dell’arte, Pulcinella, a clown representing the trickster archetype” (5).  In both ballets the character is a trickster or derivative of one, harking back to the commedia of the 16th century.  According to the Wikipedia entry, the choreography for Pulcinella was done by Leonid Massine, sets were by Pablo Piccaso, and was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev.  Petroushka was choreographed by Michel Fokine and Nijinsky danced the leading role (6/7).  What a collaboration in both productions!

I look back now, and reminisce about my internship at that little theater in New Jersey. Being the understudy for Isabella, the young innocent stock character, was training for dance as well. Knowing the manners, customs, dress of the period, doing pantomime, and speaking stylized dialogue with stylized movement, set the stage for future ballet performances. As an adult, I now see how those commedia dell’ arte characters in the play impacted dance in their own fashion.

Having studied the Humanities as well as English, I know how different subjects can relate to one another. Interdisciplinary studies look for these connections, and tell us the story of who we are, and how things synthesize.   Dance developed in interesting ways, and shows us that no art really stands alone.  Art touches and influences many other arts: music, dance, theater, fine art, and even writing.

It is the artistic metanarrative of civilization, and how we tell that story.


Photo Credit:  Harliquinade – Sheet Music

Les Millions d’ Arlequinn. By Mikhail Zimmerman, European publisher of sheet music. (Scanned by the uploader.  [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Commedia D’ell Arte –’art
  2. Harlequinade.
  3. Opera-Buffa   –
  4. Ballet d’action –
  5. Petroushka –
  6. Pulcinella – and..
  7. Pulcinella –

The Company of Wayward Saints.


Eating for Optimum Ballet Energy

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV…

That being said – I’ve always been fascinated by what other dancers eat to give them power.  So, I set out to take a poll of what dancers eat for fuel for that incredible stamina that gets them through a full-length ballet, or class.New_Zealand_-_Dance_class_-_9514

Did you ever notice that girl in the ballet studio who seems to possess boundless vigor?  Does she seem to soar when others droop?  Does your own energy flag mid class?  If so, you may not be eating for optimum energy.

Dancers eat a variety of things for that special “oomph”  before a class or rehearsal. Many drink protein shakes, or wash down a heavy dose of multi-vitamins and supplements. Each dancer is different though. He or she may be able to ace two classes with only a bottle of water, while others have to gobble down a complete meal.

In my younger dancing days, I could take two or three ballet classes back to back without a lunch or even a snack. Going back to dance years later, I found that I needed that extra bit of snack energy to get through an hour and a half class. Back then, we also did not have the luxury of water bottles, and had to wait until end of class for a drink from the water fountain!  Today, as an adult, I feel dehydrated more often, and have to sip water several times during class!

How times have changed!

Dancers though have various dietary and caloric needs, and there is no “one snack fits all” mantra. Overall, dancers tend to eat snacks before or after a workout, and have their own system, superstitious food belief, or routine. What foods psych us up to reach the heights, or script a positive image for our elite workout?

“If I eat X + Y, will I dance like Misty?”

These days, I need to have a small meal before taking a class or entering a rehearsal   If it’s a morning class, I try to grab a bagel with cream cheese (for carbs), or head on out to the nearest Starbuck’s to grab an egg sandwich with ham for protein. I usually carry a mini Ghirardelli chocolate square with me for some sugar energy, which gives me an extra spurt of power. After all, it’s an antioxidant! (A little justification!, I suppose).  Sugar, however, can offer a quick boost, but it can also make you crash and burn later, so if you indulge, eat just a small amount.

After class or rehearsal, I have a small container of chocolate milk. Chocolate milk has been proven to restore muscles after a workout, due to the combination of calcium in the milk, and the protein in chocolate, which work together to repair muscle damage.

See the following article from Web-MD.

Chocolate milk sounds good to me!

Many ballet dancers stuff little plastic containers of snacks into their dance bags to munch on during breaks that will promise more endurance: peanut butter crackers, granola and power bars, cereal (for energy) sports drinks (for electrolytes), nuts and cheese (for protein) as well as dried fruit (for iron). Some dancers even get creative and invent their own protein mix or shake that works best for their own metabolisms. What you bring is a personal choice; but snacking certainly can improve your endurance.

I took a poll of adult and teen ballerinas to see just what foods they ate before or after a class. Many suggestions are above and below, but here are some more of the results:

  1. Protein, carbs and fats and chocolate
  2. Nuts of all types, especially unsalted and chocolate covered almond, and cashews.
  3. Lean meats, such as salmon, tuna and chicken, but also fatty meats, like bacon and duck.
  4. Breads with sprouted grains
  5. Wholebake’s Flapjack Bars
  6. Greek yogurt.
  7. Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter with banana spread on top.
  8. Luna bars and Kind bars which are nut-based.
  9. Sargento’s snack pack (cashews/almonds, dried cranberries/cubes of cheese)
  10. Oatmeal or oatmeal cookies
  11. Smart or Vitamin water with electrolytes
  12. Vities Digestive Cookies
  13. Cantaloupe and blueberries
  14. Apple slices with peanut butter
  15. Granola, or granola-based cereals

In summary, it seems that nuts and peanut butter, as well as dark chocolate (an antioxidant) fruit, lean meat, cheese, yogurt, energy bars and carbs all help to give energy.

If you want more ideas though, check out the article 50 Pre and Post Workout Snacks (link below) for some more yummy, nutritonal snacks.

Please Note!

Before changing your eating routine, however, remember to eat sensibly. What may be golden energy to one ballerina could be an allergen to another dancer. Read the labels carefully, and always consult your doctor, especially if you have an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, peanut or other allergy, or chronic illness.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, has redesigned the old food pyramid as a “plate.”  Check this site out as well with its interactive tools, printables and information on all food groups at:USDA_MyPlate_green.svg

Ballerinas need to be healthy, to eat enough, and also to eat the right foods.  If you follow good nutrition, you will probably dance better, and have the fuel to ace that adagio, or petite allegro!  We all love to dance, but don’t forget to eat nutritiously, …. and, oh, yes,

Have a snack!

A “Special Thanks” to all in the Adult Ballerinas Facebook site, and dancers in classes, who contributed their snack ideas to this article!

You are the best!


Photos and Graphics

Ballet Class Photo: © Jorge Royan /, via Wikimedia Commons

Plate: United States Department of Agriculture [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons




Sacrificing for a Career in Ballet

When you want to be the best in your art, a dancer must sacrifice some things in order to get SWAN LAKE COUPLE - 7-15-15 - iStock_000006639633_Mediumthere.  Whether you are a teen, or an adult,  setting a goal means being single-minded, nurturing your craft, and continuing despite any obstacle.

But, it’s not always so easy…..


It’s a competitive world out there in art, and, it is very expensive to dance at the elite level. According to the School of American Ballet’s website, tuition ranges from $3,000 – $6,000 for the Winter term, with room and board for the dorm for 2015-2016 at about $16,000. This totals to a whopping average of $20,000 for the term. Furthermore, unless your teen goes to a public school, you can add private school (or pricey Professional Children’s School) to the  equation, where tuition will be thousands of dollars more per year for a more flexible academic schedule during training. Add to it that the teen may be living away from home and family.  It’s a lot to ask of a young dancer, and parents.

In my novel, The Strength of Ballerinas, character Kendra Sutton goes to a fictional pipeline company school, and attends a tony private school as well.  In addition she lives on posh West 79th Street in New York City.  In the story, she had everything, that is until she lost it all.  My book addresses the expense, the geographic location to elite training, and the angst involved.  The same can be said though of other elite athletes.  It costs about $40,000 a year to train at the Olympic level. Some parents move, mortgage their homes, and allow children to live with a coach states away in order to compete.  Sacrifices must be made, whether it’s ballet or gymnastics.

The financial aspects aside – the attainment of perfection (or near perfection) is a must. Technically, ballerinas today are more flexible, and perform more difficult moves than dancers of other eras. Every year the temptation to be even more perfect looms over the entire ballet community, demanding higher extensions, more fouettes, and bravura jumps. The audience expects the thrill of live theater, and the ballet world hands it to them on a silver platter.

In order to attain that perfection though, a young dancer must think, drink, eat, sleep, and breathe ballet, absorbing all of its ethereal allure, along with its unyielding demands.

Ballet is a high-pressure pursuit.

Nuturing Craft

Teens, in particular today, have a very full plate – school and a pre-professional track for a career, which may begin when they are only sixteen or seventeen years old! Some lucky dancers attend elite pipeline schools such as SAB in New York. For the most part though, many study at their local or regional dance centers, and must vie for that elite status through various other pathways: summer intensives, training programs, and apprenticeships, which may lead to a permanent position as a member in a company’s corps de ballet.

Once in a company though, a dancer has a full schedule – classes, rehearsal, and performance, as well as publicity and fundraising events, along with travel with the company when they go on tour. There are sacrifices, but there are benefits as well. The thrill of performance in a beautiful costume is worth all the hours a dancer puts in. You only go around once in life, so you want your moment in the spotlight to show the world what you can really do. That is why dancers put themselves through the agony of pain, exhaustion, and the ROH - WIKIMED - TUTU - The_Little_Costume_Shop_The_Royal_Opera_House_2_(6477838727)repetition of daily classes.

It’s the promise of stardust.

Overcoming Obstacles

Along the way though, teens may have to sacrifice some things in their personal lives, such as boyfriends (What’s that?”) parties, school dances, cheerleading, after school clubs, or even volunteering. This means giving up some things, such as time on social media, which can offer                              (ROH Costume Shop)      technique in ballet videos, but distract as well. While dancers may occasionally get to participate in some of the above, dance can be merciless, and leave little time for extracurricular activities. The same is true of other performers. Students at Julliard and other performing arts schools need to hone their crafts as well in orchestra, voice, and theater, where total devotion to the art is also vital. Add to the fact that many dancers are triple threats, disposable time is consumed, and art takes precedence.

I can’t go to the movies. I have to practice the violin.

While it is true for teens, it is also true for adults in ballet. As I’ve said in previous articles, ballet costs money, and adults have responsibilities. Sacrifices, such as lunches out with the girls, or budgeting more closely with bills and groceries may seem harsh, but again, the value of taking class, and the performance – living that stardust – makes it all worth it.

Adults see ballet not only as a means of creating art, or returning to a dream of childhood, but also as a method of staying fit. The sacrifices are less for an adult, as exercise is beneficial for health, and can promote wellness of body and mind. The barre is a low impact workout, which strengthens and elongates muscles, sculpting bodies into better form. And who wouldn’t want to look better, or fit into that new black dress?

While there are sacrifices, such as sore muscles, possible injury, or lack of funds, there are many advantages. Most adults are not seeking a professional career; therefore, their pressures are less. Needless to say though, they may retain that childhood image of swan perfection in their minds, and try to live up to it at any age, which can be rewarding, or self-defeating, depending on mindset and body shape.

The Risk versus the Benefit

They say in medicine that you have to weigh the “risk versus benefit.” What are the risks involved in ballet?   Fatigue, injury, debt, disappointment are just a few. The benefits, however, are many. Reaching a goal, can foster qualities, such as perseverance, determination, and a better self-esteem.

Dancers must ask though what their goals really are, and, where their ambitions truly lie. Why do they want to get to the top of the ballet world? Do they want it for themselves because they are driven to art, or, are they being pushed by a parent, or friend?  As an adult, do you want to achieve your childhood dream, or, is it just fun to dance?   Whatever the motivation, we have to ask: “Is it worth it?”

What am I contributing to the world of art?

While it would be a dream to study at SAB, it is not possible for everyone due to financial hardship, talent, or geographical location. Therefore, for most of us it is a search for training, being focused, showing up for class, and overcoming impediments. The word, “impediments” has the root syllable for “foot” in it – “ped.” We must continue on our ballet journey through our “peds” (or “pieds” in French)– our feet.

We all love ballet, and I am sure that the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices, but, what is the benefit versus the risk to you? What sacrifices are you willing to make?

Only the dancer can answer those important questions.



ROH Costume:  By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Swan Lake: iStock License – 7/15/15)

The Advantages of Taking Single Classes

Ballet_ClassesSingle classes have value.

While some studios may frown on students taking single classes elsewhere, I believe there are advantages to the practice. Today, there is a wide range of opportunity for dancers, both young and old.   Master classes, intensives, trainee and apprentice programs… they all have an allure that eventually will pull students temporarily away from their home bases. Whether its a three-week intensive, or a single class, the benefits of stepping outside one’s comfort zone are many.

Absorb new ballet styles

“Oh, that’s why they do that!”   I didn’t know it at the time, but I was trained in a combination of Cechetti, Russian and French.   At different ages, I went to different schools, where I found difficulties with the simple port de bras. Cechetti had eight port de bras positions, whereas Russian technique had less. I wondered why my arms were going in the wrong direction in class. Because I wasn’t aware of the different styles, I was locked into a certain mindset, believing that classical dance was a generic, wrapped up in the all-inclusive word – “ballet.”  The nuances of different techniques I later discovered were wonderful, and awed me.  English ballerinas varied from Russian ones. French dancers were slightly different from Americans, who mixed styles more.  The good news is that you can try these different techniques out for yourself. Experience this live in a single class that introduces you to one of these different methods.

 Learn new ballet steps

“I’ve done this step before, but not this way!”   Instructors at different schools may teach certain steps with nuances of difference, even when taught in the same style (Russian, Cechetti, or English). Dancers also embrace personal favorites concerning certain steps, such as fouettes, or pirouettes – usually moves that are offer immense enjoyment of the art. Different classes may focus on allegro, while other classes may work with adagio more intensely. One studio may have a difficult barre, while another may have a very creative center floor, or recreate repertoire from the classics right in class. This diversity of content is excellent if you need more alacrity, creativity, or a better level of strength. Use a single class to enhance skills and bolster weak areas, since it may be that school’s forte.

Learn new center floor choreography

What comes after echappe?”* Good memory skills within a short amount of time are needed for center floor exercises. How quickly you can remember a combination in time to the music is proportionate to your future as a professional. It is good audition practice, whether it’s an audition for the San Francisco Ballet, or the Great White Way. You need to pick it up quickly. At your own school, you may anticipate the steps. When attending a single class elsewhere, you must jump into that combination, totally unfamiliar with the choreography of a new teacher, and figuratively sink or swim!  Good practice!

Find additional class times.

“Yes! They have a lunch hour class!”   Taking a single class has its advantages, but also provides you with additional class times that conveniently fit within your schedule.   It’s a way to get in that extra practice, helping you to progress more quickly to that pointe shoe fitting, or pas de deux class that you’ve been pining for.  And, there’s nothing wrong with more practice!

Orient quickly within a new space

“I’m so turned-around, I’m lost!”  This, I think is a really important advantage for both auditions and touring. When you scope out a new studio, check out the feel of the barre, the visual of the other dancers, and the color of the walls, the positioning of the mirrors, where the music comes from – a live piano, or a sound system. All these sensory images get mixed up within the exercises from the first plié to the grand jete leaps of center floor. The orientation within a new studio is a spatial intelligence. How quickly you can scope out the new environment, focus and execute the ballet moves, will help you to improve as a pre-professional, or, even as an adult.  When a dancer lands a corps spot with a big company, he or she might go on an around-the-world tour. Every studio and stage is different; therefore, quick orientation, as well as focus will serve you well whether you are a corps member, or a principal.

Fun to dance to different music

“The classical version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is haunting”  Get your music groove on…. Some teachers use classical ballet music, while others play jazzy tunes. Still other teachers may favor the operatic, or classical orchestrations of Broadway, and Beatles’ songs, just for fun. You just never know what music you’ll dance to, and this is true even of teachers within the same school, who also favor specific music pieces for their own classes.

 Expand your network of dance friendsPas-de-Quatre

“We’re both moms, getting back into ballet shape.”  Finally, whether populating Facebook, or looking for your next BFF, you can never have too many ballet friends. Another advantage is that a wider network can grapevine information on auditions, jobs, new lines of dance wear, toe taping, trends, as well as ballet websites and videos.

While it is also true that you could learn bad habits at a lesser studio, overall, the benefits seem to outweigh the risks.  So, whether you are young or old, take an occasional single class at a different studio. If you’re new, or  returning to ballet, it can help you find just the right class. Exploring single classes can be a                         “Pas de Quartre”                        real boon to your training.  Professional dancers for ballet and Broadway do single classes often. The classes can benefit you as well, as they not only expand your repertoire, they  expose you to new styles, and help you network with the like-minded, who will in turn, support and encourage you.

I’m not advocating single classes as a steady diet.  After all, you should retain a solid home base school. However, by supplementing with drop in-classes, you can build a better knowledge base.

A quote from my website…

 “Love what you do, but also branch out …

The more you learn, the more you can bring back into your art!”



Photo Credits:

Ballet Classes – by Arturo de Albornoz from México D.F., México (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pas de Quartre – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Lorenz, N. What Comes After Echappe? Author website (February 3, 2015)


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Doing Ballet – As an Adult

BARRE  - 512px-Exercises_at_the_barre,_Prix_de_Lausanne_2010

When I was younger, I possessed flexibility. I could do splits and a backbend with ease. While I never stopped exercising completely, a cross-country move, along with marriage and motherhood put my ballet on hold for quite a while.

When I returned to the barre to regain my former ballet self, I found that getting older had some unintended physical consequences, such as loss of flexibility, stamina and lower leg extensions. Other issues were work schedules, and expense, not to mention remembering all the French terms, as well as center floor combinations.

What I found was that what I’d done years before was now twice as hard to do as an adult. After all, there is a big difference between sixteen and thirty, or twenty-something and middle age! When you are older, the problems increase, affecting your performance at the barre and in center floor.    Photo: WIkimedia Commons

If you’re a working mother you probably expend all your energy on kids and job. Being an executive in an office can demand long hours. If you are a nurse, or teach, you are on your feet all day long, and leg muscles can get sore before you even get to class. You might even pull a muscle or a tendon in class, and have to limp around the workplace for a week or two, which is difficult to explain to co-workers.  In fact, many adult ballet students may not even tell their employers that they take ballet at all.  Employers may see them as less serious about their careers, when in fact, ballet is extremely hard work, and embodies all those corporate “sports” metaphors, such as perseverance, goal-setting, and team player, not to mention that you are also highly fit!

Nutrition is another area.  If you don’t pay attention to nutrition, take vitamins, or eat vitamin-enriched food, your energy can tank at work, or, in the middle of a barre.

What can you do?

The good news is that little by little, you can regain a lot of your flexibility and stamina. I know this by experience. By going to class as often as possible, you will eventually notice that your body responds to the gentle stretching, and you’ll be surprised by the muscle memory of all those moves you’d learned earlier in life.  After a year or more of stretch, my hip flexors finally relaxed, and I could get back fully into my right split, and almost down to my left.

A good example of this patient wait for results, is an elderly man I used to see in a college gym. I’d visit the gym once a week, and there he’d be, practicing up on the high bar. He would swing around once, and then jump off in a simple dismount. He was at least seventy-five years old! Every week it was the same routine – one big swing around the high bar, and dismount.

Then, a funny thing happened. One week I saw him do not one, but two swings around the high bar, with a slightly different dismount. I was impressed. A few months later, he did five. I learned from that lesson. Someone I had discounted as a one-swing wonder, achieved highly for his age, by persistence and practice alone. In other words, he got better! If he could do it, then anyone could, even adults in ballet!

IMG_0736Adults are supportive of one another also. After all, they’re all going through the very same thing. Work schedules conflict with dance studio schedules. Babysitters are needed. Distance from home is a factor as well if you drive, especially when taking class at night. Expense is an additional element. Where do you get the money to allocate to ballet class after paying, rent, bills, the plethora of insurances, groceries, kids’ tuition, shoes and the latest iPad?  You have to budget.  After all, adults have more responsibilities than they did in their teens or even their twenties. There are more expenses too. Cable bills, cell phone and Internet didn’t exist for many dancing moms                                   Photo: My pointes!                             pre the electronic age.  How do they now juggle all that responsibility, and find the time and money to dance too?

Motivation can do it every time. “If there is a will,” they say, “there is a way.” Adults are taking ballet more and more for exercise, and to achieve a dream they never got a chance to catch. According to the National Dance Education Organization, there are approximately 32,000 private dance studios in the United States, and many of them hold adult ballet classes. Famous schools, such as the Joffrey in Chicago and New York, Boston Ballet, and The San Francisco Ballet School hold classes for adult students, so training can be very high level for the older student as well.

While there are many good, local dance studios that cater to adults, I have listed a few of the more famous schools that have adult ballet programs.


San Francisco Ballet

Joffrey – Chicago

Joffrey – New York

Boston Ballet School

The Rock School – Philadelphia

Steps on Broadway – New York


So, whether you’re on the East Coast, or the West, if you are a beginner, perhaps going back to pointe, or just want to exercise to glorious ballet music, there is a ballet class waiting, just for you.

But, will you ever achieve that willowy arm look, and regain that extension or flexibility? Every student is different, and has differing amounts of time and money to spend. The point (pun intended) is that ballet for adults exists, and is achievable. Whether or not you become the next Swan, will be up to you!

Ballet and Literature


There are many ballets that are based on classic literature:  novels – (A Christmas Carol, Anna Karenina); fairy tales –  (The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella);  Shakespeare – (Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream); and even ballets based on myth –  (Agon, Orpheus).

Author, Charlotte Bronte

Are there, however, any references, or connections to ballet in the texts of the literary works, themselves?

There are many scenes of dancing in Jane Austen’s Regency era novels (1811-1820) as well as novels of the Victorian age (1837-1901); however, in these stories the dancing is usually social dances of the day, which evolved from the same root as ballet – court dancing of Louis XIV.   Ballroom dances, such as the Quadrille, and the Sir Roger de Coverley, along with other country-dances provided much entertainment danced by the social, and marriage-minded set.

Ballet was still in its infancy then, having only truly come into prominence in the late 1700’s, and emerging into the public limelight in the 1800’s with the appearance of Maria Taglioni, who is credited with being the first ballerina en pointe. Therefore, in novels, we see mostly social dancing within country estates and mansions, but not much of ballet in the more urban setting of a proscenium arch theater.

One mention of ballet though is in my favorite novel, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.  The child, Adele, being watched over by the heroine, Jane, is a child of a French dancer from the Paris Opera. The child has inherited the inclination and talent to dance, and demonstrates this side of her personality frequently. This passage from the book, describes the child’s inclination well.

Adele, “entered, transformed, as her guardian had predicted. A dress of rose colored satin very short, and as full in the skirt, as it could be gathered…a wreath of rosebuds circled her forehead, her feet were dressed in small white, satin sandals.”

“Tenez, je crois que je vais danser?”

And, spreading out her dress, she chasseed across the room, …wheeled lightly… on tip toe….”

Called, a “French floweret,” and passionate just like her mother, Mr. Rochester continues to describe the child’s situation. “…she was the daughter of a French opera-dancer, Celine Varens.” Rochester, the master of the house had at one time fallen for the child’s mother, and called her, a “Gallic sylph (132-135).ADELE - ZWTTD00Z

Margaret O’Brien, as Adele.

While author, Charlotte Bronte, did not write the word, “ballet” in the text, she wrote around the word, with the illusion of costume, ballet move – chasse, references to the Paris opera, as dancer, and the ballet root characterization of “sylph,” with its connotations to every Giselle, or Syphide we have ever seen. These references to ballet were ones of beauty and grace, but also offered the negativity, from Mr. Rochester’s point of view, of a self-destructive artistic passion, frowned upon by many in English society at the time.

Dancing was mentioned in other novels, as well, however. Whether it was social or rudimentary ballet is not entirely clear, but according to Leslie Ann MacLeod’s blogspot, there were numerous Victorian schools for young ladies where, “They accepted anywhere from five to thirty-five pupils, and taught as little as dancing, deportment and French…” (1) Novels, such as Vanity Fair’s Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies, as well as Dickens’s Miss Crumpton Minerva’s House in “Sketches by Boz,”, and Austen’s Emma with Miss Goddard’s School, all catered to young ladies, teaching them social skills, including dance.

Another example of a ballet connection in a classic novel is that of Gustav Flaubert’s famous novel, Madame Bovary. The film version of the book (link below) shows a very married Emma Bovary, dancing at a ball with a younger man. The clip begins with a very ballerina-like Emma, in a ballet inspired white tulle topped dress, as she sits at the party. Agreeing to dance, she then graceful waltzes, but also passionately gets caught up in the frenzy and passion of the dance, whereupon she declares she is about to faint. Several men nearby jump into action, and reveal the real drama in true ballet fashion. They exclaim…

“The lady’s going to faint!  Break the window!”

As you view this clip, notice the ballet connection in dress, movement and drama!

Madame Bovary clip

It is an interesting aside to note that in English novels, characters, who were foreign born were deemed overly passionate, wild or unrestrained, which was the antithesis to proper English behavior. The fact that ballet emanated from France, meant that Adele and her mother, Celen Varens, in Jane Eyre were carriers of this unruly passion that had the potential to destroy either themselves or others. English women and men valued restraint, and viewed foreigners as outside the mainstream of society.

Thank goodness, that today we know that dance, which so gloriously originated in France, is not a profession full of wild, unrestrained passion, but a classic art that humanity has created to reach the heights of civilization!

A final word about literary dance… I just had to address one of the romantic era poets – William Wordsworth. His poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, uses flowers, as dancers. There is one reference to dance in every stanza, where the flowers are personified (non-human objects, acting in a human way).

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

But that doesn’t surprise us, does it? The Waltz of the Flowers is already a familiar scene in the holiday Nutcracker every year.  So, whether it is the child, of an opera-dancer, a waltzer, or a flower, dance permeates literary works (and we haven’t even touched on those social dances, such as the Quadrille in Jane Austen yet!)

The truth is that dance is part of humanity’s past time, and, it always will be.




Bronte, C. (1847) Jane Eyre. Mineola. New York. Dover Publications.

MacLeod, L.

Madame Bovary. You Tube.

Photo credits:

Charlotte Bronte – WIkimedia Commons

Jane Eyre – Google images. (Photographer unknown). movie. Twentieth Century Fox. 1943.

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Where Do Ballet Words Come From?

Since I not only write about ballet, but am also an English professor, I thought it would be fun to look at the word origins of some popular ballet terms.

I chose the following French terms, but be warned. Even though we use French words, not all ballet terms come from the French! Shocked?  Some words emanate from Italian, as well as Latin, the root stem of all romance languages, and of many words in English. Ballet words come from roots of other languages as well

Let’s take a closer look!

====================================================BALLET - WHITE TULLE - MEDIUM - iStock_000012219522Medium


According to the Etymology dictionary online, the word, “ballerina” originated in the year, “1792, from Italian ballerina, literally ‘dancing girl,’ fem. of ballerino ‘dancer,’ from ballo “a dance” … The Italian plural form ballerine formerly sometimes was used in English.”



Origin: 1890-95 It is a noun form of a verb – the past participle – “plier” to bend

From the Old French, “Ploier”



There is some disagreement about the origin of the word, “Ballon.” According to the Etymology site, it originated in 1830 from the French word for “balloon.”   Wikipedia states that it could also be named after a French ballet dancer, Claude Balon.

Wikipedia’s explanation:



A whipping movement of the leg has a ballet origin of about 1820-30; however, according to My the word, “fouette,” dates back to the 17th century, and comes from the root word – “fouet.” The breakdown is interesting:

  1. French:               “fouetter” – the past participle – to whip
  2. Middle French: “fouet”
  3. Old French*       “fou beech”      (* Old French is aka “Norman”)é



Oh, the pirouette! Done in single, double, triple rotations, and more! According to Etymology, its origin as a word began in “1706, from French pirouette “spinning top; pirouette in dancing,” from Middle French pirouet “spinning top” (15c.), from Gallo-Roman root *pir- “peg, plug” (source of Italian piruolo “peg top”) + diminutive suffix -ette.

Let’s reconfigure here….. It’s from…

French                           pirouettter (to spin)

Middle French: pirouette     (spinning top)

Gallo-Roman:     pir                 (peg)

Italian                   piruolo       (peg top)

Therefore, the term, pirouette seems to have transformed from peg top, to peg, to spinning top to spin. And, Voila! We have the pirouette!



Cabriole in all its forms in language means, “light.” There were horse drawn carriages from the 18th century called, cabriolets, while the ballet term derives from the infinitive form of the verb, “carbrioler,” meaning light leaps. From the Italian, it is “cabriolare,” “a jump in the air,” and Latin, capreolus” – a wild goat!   This word has a wealth of language in it. From:

  1. French
  2. Italian
  3. Latin, Old Irish, Welsh, Old English, and Old Norse! (goat definition)

It seems that the aforementioned goats were light leapers, and hence the origin of our ballet cabrioles!



The word, arabesque has a long history, and from many parts of the world as well! Etymology Online claims that it originated in 1610 from “Moorish or Arabic ornamental design.” It then transformed into the French arabesque (16c.), and then into Italian “arabesco,” from “Arabo” with its reference to Moorish architecture.

As a ballet pose, it originated in 1830. In the musical use, it is from 1864, and “originally the title given by Robert Schumann to one of his piano pieces.”

There was also a film with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, titled, Arabesque, which was a story of intrigue with much tension. The film used the concept of tension which stems from the ballet pose itself. This connotative use of a degree of uncertainty and tension translates from the ballerina’s pose (sometimes held for a full 6 seconds on pointe) with tension in the spy film.   An arabesque on stage is always beautiful, but also tense as the “live theater” effect kicks in, as the audience watches, mesmerized to see how long the dancer can retain the perfection of the pose before faltering. In the spy film, the intrigue is the tension – the arabesque – that keeps us on the edge of our seats.



The word, “jete,” according to the etymology site, is a ballet step originating in 1830, from French (pas) jeté, from [the] past participle of jeter “to throw.”  We can have grand and petit jetes, as well as jete entrelacé. places the date of origin from 1820-30 though.


There are many other terms to explore. These are merely a few. Language is interesting, and comes down to us from many countries and centuries.  How a word is transformed tells the story of language, history and the activity that evolved  – in this case – ballet!



The Oxford Dictionary Online




Photo credits

Ballerina – iStock standard license



The Royal Opera House’s “La FIlle Mal Gardee” – In Cinema

La FIlle Mal Gardee, the latest in the Royal Opera House’s cinema offerings was shown on Tuesday, May 5th, and what a delight it was!

Frederick Ashton’s 1960’s version of this old, comedic ballet from 1828, was in the farce genre, in which situations are exaggerated for comic effect.  Notice the characters of the mother, the simpleton, and the broad gestures of the young lovers. Stage demands big, broad moves, but the moves should not be so large, as to detract. According to the interview with Leslie Collier during the cinema presentation, Frederick Ashton wanted this comedic touch, but did not want to go overboard with it either. The result was exaggeration for comedic effect, while still retaining the charm of the characters, making them at once comedic, yet beloved.

I had never seen this ballet, and wish that I could have included it in my last blog post, “Of Characters and Kings,” as there were extremely good characterizations within this piece. There were the wonderful chickens, that introduced parts one and two. They were funny, theatrical, technically fabulous, and always “in character.”

The ballet in general seemed to have more than a touch of theater about it. The Widow Simone, played by Philip Mosley, was very theatrical; and almost seemed a throwback to comedic stock characters of early theater.  Alain, the simpleton, played by Paul Kay, was completely immersed in his role as well, at once being revolting, as well as endearing. Both of these characters used more than pantomime to present their roles; they used theatrical techniques, including comedic timing, acting skills and personality.

La FIlle Mal Gardee is an unusual ballet in that it employs a great use of props that require great facility in handling by the dancers. For example, ribbons are used frequently throughout the ballet in extremely creative ways. Ribbons integrate into the storyline in the ribbon dance (solo),

Maypole with colored ribbons unfurling, sunny skies

Maypole with colored ribbons unfurling, sunny skies

the pas de deux with ribbons, the maypole scene, and more. Other props used were scarves, and sticks. The choreographer, Ashton, created patterns with mathematical elements to enchant the audience.

Music already possesses mathematical patterns in major and minor themes, which repeat through symphony and opera, as well as ballet. Think of Wagner’s Ring cycle, which has at any time, two pieces of music that weave throughout the opera as an over and under counterpoint. Creativity in Frederick Ashton’s ballet, La Fille Mal Gardee possesses these mathematical patterns employing intricate design within the choreography. The quick-footed dancing of all demonstrates a well-rehearsed and thorough knowledge of the patterns with ribbons (maypole weave) and sticks (male dancers). Formations, such as horse and buggies, come to life as people become vehicles in various incarnations throughout the ballet as well.

The Frederick Aston biography, Secret Muses (1996) written by Julie Cavanaugh offers us additional insight about these formations. She writes that, “the use of ribbons reaches the virtuosic during the harvest festivities. …the girls spell out a row of kisses… transform the ribbons into the spokes of a cartwheel.” (And, at one point, seem to form a row of bows of Cupid, himself!)  “Softening the geometry are the lyrical exchanges between Lise and Colas who yearningly weave toward each other.” The ballet is a veritable well of creativity and mathematical genius (421).

The dances are charming, but intricate; light, but classical. Farm dances are interspersed with ballet, and clog surprises us in the midst of it all. Cavanaugh goes on to state that, “Ashton has superbly integrated the different idioms, merging cosmopolitan classical styles, with pantomime, English musical-hall routines and native country dances” (423).

All in all, it was a great performance with Natalia Osipova, as Lise, and Steven McRae, as Colas – the child-like, but maturing, young lovers. Even the pre-curtain call spotlight, with the principals rising like the top of a carousel in the middle of a group was charming. The commentary provided by Darcey Bussell was wonderful, along with the interview with Leslie Collier. I gained even more appreciation for the talent of choreographer, Frederick Ashton in this frothy presentation of technique and frolic!  I look forward to next season’s ROH productions in cinema!

If you missed the film version of La Fille Mal Gardee, (aka The Wayward Daughter) here is a link to see some of the highlights.

See also my previous article on character parts, “Of Characters and Kings” below:



Cavanaugh, J. Secret Muses. The Life of Frederick Ashton. 1996. New York: Pantheon Books.