Well, something had to give. Ballet class this morning was a complete nightmare – and it had been in the post for a while now.
I’ve been having private classes since June last year. When I started, the aim was to take my grade one exam in February this year.
Things started slowly, but soon progressed. Although I wasn’t a natural – and never will be – I was starting to remember some simple routines and taking the corrections on board.
After a long break over Christmas and my previous teacher Miss Joanne leaving, things went a bit wrong. Let me be clear – I in no way blame my new teacher, Miss Anna, for this – she’s fabulous.
My barre work, which I’d been getting better and better at, started getting worse, and that meant concentrating on it more and more over the next few weeks – the last few months.
This meant my centre work took a back seat. Positions of the arms and allegro warm-up aside, we might try one of the exercises one week, and then not revisit it for the next few weeks, by which time, I’d forgotten it completely.
I’m the kind of person who reacts really well to praise, which I got loads of from Miss Joanne. I’m also the kind of person who reacts really badly to criticism, which I get a fair bit of from Miss Anna.
Let me clear again – I don’t blame her at all. The criticism is all constructive – it’s all corrections to make me a better dancer.
But if all I get is criticism, I just feel like a failure, and then my confidence suffers, and then it’s just a viscous circle.
So I’d say I’ve not made much if any progress this year, and that sucks. I do sitll sometimes get that feeling of elation on leaving the dance school after class – the feeling where ballet takes your soul and doesn’t just touch it but gives it a massive hug.
But it’s more often than not a feeling of frustration – why can’t I do this? Why can’t I remember the moves? Why won’t my stupid feet do what my head is telling them to do? Why can’t I turn out more? Why won’t something click? Why am I blowing £30 on a private lesson every week when I’m rubbish at this?! Why, why, why!
And so to today. 9.30am and my lesson time had come. I usually practise on a Thursday evening, but I’d simply not had time this week – work had got in the way, with two deadlines to meet. I was also absolutely shattered – not enough sleep.
So I went in with zero confidence, dreading what was about to happen. And sure enough, it happened. I forgot some of the moves, the ones I remembered weren’t good enough and I was making the same mistakes I’ve been making for the past year.
My allegro warm-up was an utter shambles. I wanted to just leave and never return. Put it down to experience – I’ve had some fun, no exams but hey, at least I gave it a go.
But Miss Anna and I just stood by one of the large studio windows, me drinking coffee, and chatted about it.
She’s said a few times before that most students who take ballet exams – or any other exams – at the school get distinctions. Not just passes and merits – but distinctions.
She’s also said that I could get one myself if I could just stamp out the little errors I keep on making. Thing is, I can’t stamp them out – they’re always there. So I’d be lucky to get a pass, let alone the top grade.
Anyway, I said that maybe grade one was too hard for me, and maybe I should have started with the primary grade. So I asked if that was possible, and what she thought.
She went and got her little book from the IDTA – the dance board – and we had a look through it, but she said it would be a shame to abandon grade one, as I’d worked so hard towards it.
Then – a little ray of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy day – she suggested doing the grade one classroom assessment, instead of the main exam.
Basically, this involves eight grade one exercises instead of the full 14, but it’s still under exam conditions and it still counts as a ballet exam.
After that, I can either work towards the full grade one exam or take part in one of the “Medals” exams, which are far shorter – and more “dancey”.
So that’s what we’re doing. I left still feeling grumpy and frustrated, but at least knowing there was a plan in place and we weren’t going to just keep flogging a dead horse.
Bless Miss Anna, she’s been really patient with me and she’s a totally cool teacher, even if she doesn’t sing to me like Miss Joanne did (“Pitter-patter, pitter-patter!”)
She’s also been amazing about my “trans thing”. I’ve now progressed from white tights to proper pink ballet tights, by the way. Just need the body and moves to do them justice now. Maybe one day, eh?
After class, I came home, went back to bed and had about five hours’ sleep – just so tired after those two deadlines. I’m also probably a bit anxious and on edge at the moment as it’s my first appointment at the gender clinic the week after next.
In other ballet news, I’ve been invited to this – click here – a free taster session for LGBT people with the Birmingham Royal Ballet on June 15th.
The blurb states:
This will be a fun and energetic ballet session prior to the showing – an exciting opportunity for anyone LGBT to engage with the work of Birmingham’s International ballet company and experience the unique quality of dancing to live music.
Blimey, live music – I guess that involves a pianist in the studio then, as well as a class with professional ballet dancers. Miss Anna has told me to go right to the front and dance my heart out.
Not sure that’s going to happen with my current crisis of confidence, but hopefully I’ll be feeling a bit more “with it” by then.
What will be cool will be meeting other trans/LGB+ ballet dancers, including two I’ve become friends with online but not yet met – I’m really looking forward to that.
And we get free tickets to see Birmingham Royal Ballet (a brilliant company I’ve seen before) perform Coppélia at the Hippodrome.
Now I just need to decide what to wear – both for class for travelling to and from Birmingham. Because my androgynous jeans and T-shirt just aren’t going to cut it for this.