My time at the National Ballet of Canada’s Adult Winter Intensive

This past week has been amazing! I was able to go to the National Ballet of Canada’s Adult Winter Intensive in Toronto, where I took class from some of the country’s top teachers. Here’s a rundown of what I learned in the 18 hours (!) of class I took while I was there.

Wednesday

Floor Barre

The first class I had was a warmup floor barre. What I liked about this class was that it wasn’t like any of the other floor barre classes I had taken that focused on repeating the same step over and over again. Instead, this one went through the barre work rather quickly and focused on technique rather than repetition.

In this class, I learned that I need to be engaging my core and butt muscles more when I’m doing actual barre work, because my abs were shaking about halfway through the class!

Ballet Technique

Since this was the first technique class, the teacher was mostly focusing on gauging the level of the students in the class and thus wasn’t technically difficult.

What I thought was funny was that the teacher automatically knew I was an RAD dancer (she’s an RAD examiner) because of when my muscle memory kicked in for one of the centre exercises we did. In Advanced 1, there’s a series of of consecutive pirouettes from fifth, landing the last one with your arms in fourth. My arms automatically went to fourth even though they were supposed to go down – we had a good laugh about it!

What I learned from this class is that I need to take extra care to make sure my positions derriere are staying right behind me. She pointed it out in tendus and I noticed that it followed me all the way to penches and further.

I’m also soooo not used to turning or doing anything on such a sticky floor! I have to put so much extra muscle into my movements!

Classical Repertoire

We started learning the Royal Ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairy variation!

Now, I’ve been off my pointe shoes since halfway through December so my feet were killing me mid-way through the class.

What I noticed was that I’m not confident at all performing poses going backwards – I’m so afraid I’m going to hurt an ankle! Other than that, I did pretty well I think for learning the first few sections of the variation en pointe. I’m sad now though that I don’t have my tutu with me!

Day #1 Thoughts

I’ve never been to a class at the National Ballet’s InStudio before so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Like any new ballet class you attend, there’s always a worry about hierarchy (ballet I find is all about social order), so I wasn’t sure where I found fit into the pack. I had heard from some of the dancers at my summer classes back home that the dancers were way better, but maybe I just didn’t experience that because it was for elementary/intermediate dancers and not just advanced…

As far as the studio goes, WOW is the National Ballet gorgeous! It makes me envious of those who can take classes there all year round because they live in Toronto. There’s no way I could ever move though.

It was so cool being in the same studio (and at the same barre omg) as some of my favourite dancers and being able to see what it would be like going to work there every day. I passed by the darkened room of pointe shoes and the musical instrument cases (including the Lyon & Healy harp trunk – I’d have spotted it anywhere!).

I loved everything from the cast lists up on the wall, to the arrows marking the large Prima studio, to the little post it notes left around the building (like to leave the scissors in the pointe shoe room so ~everyone~ can use them). It’s only been a day and I already know that I can’t wait to go back tomorrow and for the next intensive this summer!

Thursday

Pilates

Oh man was I ever sore for this class! I’m pretty sure she took it easy on us but even then I found it a pretty challenging class.

What I learned from this is that I should really look more cross-training options like yoga or pilates because I found that it really helped, but it was still really hard. I had no stamina! I also need to work on my ab muscles because those seemed to be non-existent during this class.

Ballet Technique

This was another not-too-challenging ballet class, but what I liked were the interesting arms that the teacher used, like third for a tombé pas de bourrée into a fourth pirouette prep – so you switch from one third to the other during the preparatory steps. What I also found interesting was that he used different names for the arms than I was used to – my 5th was his 3rd, my 4th was his “big pose”, and my 3rd was his “small pose”. It took a couple times to remember what he meant when he said any of the arms.

From this class, I realized that I need to make sure that when I start using more of my upper body that I don’t overdo it and compromise technique for style – during tendus en croix (tendus seem to be the death of me!) I noticed I was leaning back quite far during tendu devant, and arching too far forward during tendu derriere.

Classical Repertoire

We continued working on the Sugar Plum Variation in this class, and added a couple more phrases. There was a part in the new section that I was a little nervous about where you go into an arabesque facing de côté, then quickly fouette into a retiré facing devant and repeat. I thought it was going to be a lot more challenging than it actually was, but then did it without too much problem.

The cushions in my shoes are also starting to die a little bit it seems, so that was pretty uncomfortable. I have box liners and little blue ovals in the tips of my shoes and I think I’ve made a dent in them! I’ve been alternating which shoe the little ovals are, but I think I need to do the same thing for the box liners before next class because I did not feel as supported on my left foot as I usually do.

What I learned from this class was that I should be making sure of my alignments for things that travel en arrière because it’s so easy to have a ridiculously unflattering angle.

Day #2 Thoughts

This was a really hard day because of how sore I was, mostly in my abs and thighs. The material itself wasn’t too challenging technically, but the repetition and pointework was really starting to get to me towards the end of the night. It definitely wasn’t my best performance.

The studio we were in (different than yesterday) was also very warm when we first got in, which was nice to warm up in, but not so nice to dance in for an extended period of time. I’m glad that I’ll be back in the large Prima studio for the rest of the intensive, because I liked the floors a lot better. I honestly don’t know how the company dancers dance on those sticky floors every day – I could barely turn at all! Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m so sore today…

It was also nice being able to grab a drink at Starbucks before class to warm up with like I usually do. Due to car troubles (because I’m an idiot) yesterday I wasn’t able to grab a drink on the way to class unless I wanted to get there with not a lot of time to stretch, so I forewent the hot chocolate. I find I dance better usually after I’ve had my drink because it’s become sort of a ritual now, and it feels just like part of my warm up process.

I should also not put my hair up into a bun for Saturday and Sunday until after the first warmup class because my bun was making it uncomfortable to lie down during Pilates. I figured it might happen but my hair was kinda gross with hairspray and I didn’t want to mess with my good bun ponytail.

Friday

Yoga for Dancers

It’s been a couple years since I’ve taken a yoga class. That combined with the fact that I was super sore and stiff from the past two days of classes meant I wasn’t completely at my most flexible for this class. It was really nice to have a yoga class to just relax in the middle of the intensive though – the third day is always the hardest.

Contemporary

I’ve never actually taken a legit contemporary class before so I started out quite awful. I wasn’t used to moving in a non-classical ballet way, so having turned in legs and large use of the upper body when moving felt awkward and uncomfortable. Most of the way through the barre work though I started getting the hang of it, and it was really nice to be able to just move without having to worry too much about proper placement and technique like I do in ballet class. While it isn’t my usual style of dancing, and I don’t think I’ll become a contemporary dancer anytime soon, it was nice to be exposed to it at a non-beginner or basic level.

Saturday

Floor Barre

Just like the first floor barre class, this one went really well as well. What I learned is that I actually really like floor barre (I hadn’t really liked it in my usual classes when we’ve done a floor barre class), but I’ll definitely be looking into ways to integrate floor barre into my warmup and cross training.

Ballet Technique

I took this class en pointe, and while it went well it made the classical repertoire class afterwards quite challenging because my feet and toes got so sore! What did help was switching the box liners in my shoes, and I actually felt like they were doing their job of protecting my poor toes. Tomorrow I’ll probably need to tape up my toes as well so they don’t rub against my tights too much and cause more blisters. I’ve got another 2 days of dancing after the intensive and I can’t sit them out!

One correction that I specifically got (that I KNOW I’ve gotten before and really need to correct!) is that I have a tendency to overarch my back backwards when I have my arm in fifth in the centre, like when doing port de bras and centre practice work. Since the teacher is an RAD examiner (which I’m super thankful for – it made the classes that much more meaningful to me) she was able to put it into the context of if I was in an exam – I would’ve gotten a big backwards “S” on my sheet. I appreciated having that extra little tidbit of information because it solidified the correction for me more than just “don’t arch your back”.

Classical Repertoire

We started with a bit of a pointe class here which I was really warm for, and it was nice to have a bit of a pointe-specific warmup as well as get the teacher’s thoughts on pointe shoes and some tricks from her. I never knew that your ribbons were supposed to be sewn at the highest part of your arch. It makes sense, but I was always just told “wherever it fees comfortable”, which isn’t really that specific. On my next pair of shoes, I’ll try moving my ribbons forward more and see if that makes a difference.

We didn’t add too much onto the variation and didn’t get all the way through to the manege section and allegro, but we did practice the manege moves across the room. I just couldn’t get the combination of 2 soutenu turns and 3 half-pique turns at coup de pied on the left at all! Maybe it was because the music was slower, but I had to do it on demi pointe.

We also got a chance to film the variation, but I wish I had done better at it. I was overexerting myself a little bit and couldn’t do all of the steps that I wanted to on pointe, which was a little disappointing. If I had known we were going to film, I probably wouldn’t have done the class before on pointe. It’s nice to have videos of myself dancing so that I can look at them and learn from them. I usually don’t like to look at myself dancing but in this case I didn’t mind too much, so maybe I’m becoming more mature about it. Either way, I hope to take more videos in class, or at least in my summer classes where there’s a more relaxed atmosphere. I don’t think I could get away with sneaking a camera into my usual classes!

Yoga for Dancers

Unlike last yoga class, this was more of a yin yoga class, which I loved because yin is one of my favourite styles of yoga to do. I think the yoga class at the end helped, but I can’t be completely sure. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow!

Sunday

Floor Barre

Towards the end of this week I have to say I’ve been getting used to having a nice floor barre warmup before class. I love how warmed up it gets me, but also how it helps to strengthen my muscles and technique.

In this edition of floor barre, I didn’t really learn anything new other than how much I need a good warmup before class!

Ballet Technique

This class was taught by one of the principal dancers at the National Ballet, Harrison James, and was actually a really good workout! He didn’t take any of the exercises easy on us at ALL, which of course I loved since the rest of the week wasn’t challenging technique-wise.

In his class, I learned that I sometimes sickle my feet when I tendu devant, so I need to be aware of that. I think part of the reason why I’ve been doing that more recently is because of my pointe shoes – I’m not used to dancing on my soft shoes anymore!

Pas de deux

This was my first-ever “real” pas de deux class, and I loved it! We had to alternate between the guys since there were way more girls than guys, but I liked being able to communicate with my pas partners in terms of placement, and I was fortunate to pick a good pas partner. The best part was when we were trying out a promenade in arabesque when Harrison was explaining things and everyone watched and clapped. It was both of our first times trying it and everything! What was also interesting was during promenades in attitude having to support myself en pointe and move around. I could feel when I was off my box and it was a weird sensation still moving and being ridiculously winged! Then of course at the end I got a video of Harrison James and I doing a quick promenade and penche (because how many times are you going to have a principal dancer there PLUS a good reason? Yeah. That’s what I thought.)

In this class, I learned that I really love doing pas de deux work, and I need to find situations where I can do more! It was so cool being able to combine what I know in ballet and the partnering work I’ve done in ballroom. It’s the perfect combination in my book, now if only I could convince the boyfriend…

Stretch

This class was part stretch and part ab work, which I totally was not expecting! I learned some new exercises to work on my abs and inner thighs that I’ll definitely remember, as well as a few new stretches that really hit the right spot (although that might have just been that I was overworking my muscles all week!)

Overall Thoughts

 

When I first started this week out, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I had heard that the dancers here were at a level way above what I was used to, and that it would be a difficult adjustment.

What I found though was a group of super supportive and sweet women and men who all love to dance more than anything else. I still don’t even know some of the names of the people I met (sorry if that’s you, btw) but I know that if I go back to another intensive or even just a drop in class that I’ll be met with smiles and jokes reminiscing about all the good times we had this past week.

This was the first “legit” intensive I’ve been to, but not the first time I’ve experienced this same level of energy and enthusiasm in a ballet class. Since I’m at a competition studio I find that sometimes ballet is seen as a requirement instead of an enjoyable style of dance all on its own, and through my summer classes and this intensive I’ve realized that there are other people like me out there that love ballet.

In the future, I would love for InStudio to change its level system slightly to have a Beginner/Elementary and Intermediate/Advanced option instead of Beginner and Elementary/Intermediate, because there definitely were a good number of us in the higher level that could’ve been in an even higher level had there been one offered. This didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the week at all, but it didn’t feel as “intense” as I would’ve liked.

Even though this week did sort of make me sad that I’d never be back as a professional dancer myself (although a girl can dream), it was so inspiring to be in the same studios as some of my ballet idols (and even pass by them in the hall once or twice!) and breathe in the atmosphere. I’ll definitely be back for the next intensive.

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