Catching my balance for a moment has the easy satisfaction of catching a ball. It’s a suspension, a momentary win, an opportunity taken. It stems from a lengthened, fluid, effortful lift. It takes a quiet internal strength, but without tension or gripping. It also takes trust, letting go of control, and letting go of the barre! When my balance is on, it feels weightless, like a rising breath of air, and when it is off, it feels wobbly, uncertain, and totally frustrating.
I fight to maintain balance in the studio as well as in my busy New York life. Recently, I came home to Hawaii to visit a friend and help her welcome her new baby into the world. Letting go here is less about releasing my hand from the crutch of the barre, and more about melting into the landscape, life with a baby, and her milk-drunk cuddles. Yet in ballet class, I found my balance here in Hawaii was better than it has been. Maybe it was my friend Annie’s class, or maybe it helped to let go a little.
1. Set yourself up to succeed. While you are holding on to the barre, line everything up. Put your feet in sous-sus, in fifth position, in relevé, and start from the bottom up:
relax and lengthen your toes along the floor;
- lift your heels in relevé as high as they will go;
- make sure your legs are straight and long;
- turn your legs out from deep in your hips, with your heels yearning forward,
- pull your legs together like a baby snuggling, with no spaces between, or like a ziplock bag, zipping up all the way together with no holes;
- relax your tailbone towards the floor, as you lift your lower belly up;
- press your belly button to your spine as if wearing your skinny jeans;
- calm your frontal ribcage, knit it together towards your hip bones and make space in your back ribs;
- relax your shoulders down away from your ears and widen your collar bones;
- lengthen your head toward the ceiling;
- reach your arms up into fifth position – notice I didn’t say “place” – your arms also have a dynamic lifted energy. In a balance everything reaches up and out!
2. Before you let go of the barre lift more out of your hips by pushing down, reaching up and thinking happy thoughts of seeing friends, eating delicious pineapple or ahi poke, and Hawaiian trade winds. A balance is not total stillness, it has energy. Happy thoughts!
3. About wobbling – sometimes in letting go of the barre, there is some wobbling. A little wobbling is okay, focus on lifting and breathing. If I am wobbling badly, either I’m not fully lined up properly, not lifting in my core, or I’m hardening and gripping somewhere. I breathe and try again. Sometimes wobbling can be because of lack of sleep lack or food, or emotional distress. I refocus on pushing down, lifting up, and try again.
4. Breathing is not holding your breath-don’t forget to exhale too!
5. Your mind can play tricks on you with respect to other dancers in the room. Don’t be fooled. You are just as glorious and wonderful and have all the capacity they have. Yes, you can balance. Fight for it! Yes it is possible. Believing anything else is a cop out. Let others challenge and motivate you, and make you work harder, that is what dance friends are for! But your ultimate competition is you, your body and perhaps more importantly, your mind. Don’t give up on yourself, and don’t let yourself off the hook either. Go for it!
Now that I’m back in New York, mornings are no longer about burping the baby and her falling asleep on me to the music of mourning doves, a rustling brook, and the neighbors chickens. Letting go is about saying goodby to dear friends even as new exciting projects lure me back to the big city. But then again, it’s all about balance.
One of my projects is a fundraiser to raise money for Liberated Movement, the studio where I teach. You should come! It is going to be held on April 22, 5-8pm at Blender, located at 27 West 31st street at Madison Ave. Get your tickets here!
Coming to New York? Come to my class! Tuesdays 7-8pm and Saturdays 12-1:30! 380 Broadway two blocks south of Canal street, buzzer #5. Only $10, yo!