Admittedly, it's been more than a fortnight since I have posted here. I got caught up in the things that life requires, such as raking the yard (a real hamstring strengthener!), choreographing dances for the small children's Christmas recital, and trying not to panic when I realize that I've forgotten all of my high school calculus. Our brains get stuffed awfully full, don't they? I think that, especially in this digital age, it's easy for us to be overwhelmed by the torrent of information that pours down on us, from songs and advertisements on the radio to hilarious videos of Conan O'Brien trying to dance with the Alvin Ailey company.
With all this information, though, there are so many resources for younger dancers that I wish I'd had access to when I was a student. That sentence makes me sound ancient, but it's true. Technology has evolved so quickly in the last decade. YouTube was in its infancy when I was in ballet school. Facebook still had "bumper stickers" and no such thing as live video. Even blogging was new. Where did I turn to answer all of my questions about the dance world, you ask? There was and is the ever-lovely Pointe Magazine, which did an excellent job of interviewing professionals, offering stretching tips, and displaying gorgeous photos from companies around the world. I also exhausted my library's trove of ballet- and theater-related books, right up until high school homework made it much more challenging to just read for fun.
I humbly present to you, below, the things that I did not learn right away from those books/magazines, the things that it took real life experience to get through my head. Dear 14-year-old Laurel, please take heed:
1. Knees are so terribly important. Other body parts are certainly essential to your ballet technique (hips, spine, ankles, and the like), but you only get one pair of knees and they do a LOT for you. Your knees are what catch you when you land a jump, help you take off for a pirouette, and unfold when you developpe. Please do not force your turnout from your knees; please take care of your knee injuries right away, rather than trying to do triple pirouettes barefoot after 5 hours of Saturday class.
2. Pointe shoes can get more comfortable, even if you think you like your current pair. Feet may change over the years, or pointe shoe technology might, and you'll suddenly slip into a pair of shoes that will make you say, "Wow!" One brand or maker could be what you swear by for eight years, and then a shoe representative will hand you an unfamiliar pair that changes your life. #Suffolks
3. It's not necessary to cram bobby pins into your head until your scalp bruises. Yes, I understand that you don't want your hair to flop out during fouettes, but there are good pins and hair elastics and bun-making techniques that can prevent all of the pain. At least just use half as much hair spray as you want.
4. Teachers are not there exclusively to make you feel bad about your life; in fact, sometimes they push your buttons just so you can discover how to take your dancing to the next level*. They're trying to unearth what they know you have inside, and build as strong of a dancer as possible, not to bury you in guilt and self-doubt. You'll understand when you're a teacher...and you probably will teach at least one workshop class at some point.
*this one took me over a decade to learn
5. It's a fact of life, but your body will become less limber as you age. The nutritionists and physical therapists don't say this to scare you, only to make sure that you're using your time wisely and protecting your body while it's still resilient. Even those dancers with insane flexibility will start hearing weird popping noises with time. These changes are normal and they teach you how to be a smarter dancer so that you can use your technique to maintain a high performance level.
6. And lastly, Marzipan/Mirliton/Commedia/Bo Peep...whatever you call it...is one of the hardest variations in Nutcracker. Or ever. The music is sweet and perky, but I guarantee you that you will feel less than perky once you get offstage. Enjoy the ride!