Being Graceful 24/7

I’ve been going strong with my ballet classes at the Athletic Centre, but I can’t believe I’ve completed a semester of pirouetting. Honestly, it still has not hit me that I will no longer be going to the dance studio every week to practice my dance moves—however, that doesn’t mean that the dancing has to be over!

Over the course of the semester, I learned to incorporate one of the toughest type of sports into my daily life. I practiced the art of strengthening my core by correcting my posture while in class, I kept up with my planking, and I stayed faithful to my warm up stretches. When I was not in the dance studio, I tried my best to incorporate every graceful aspect of ballet in between dance classes. Now, I call that discipline.

I remember attending my first class and having to depend on looking at the wall-length mirror for guidance as the instructor called out positions. Now I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it comes to going from one position to another—it’s slowly becoming second nature to me.

1st position, feet are angled opposite from one another while touching at the heels.

2nd position, feet are still angled opposite from one another, but this time a few inches apart.

3rd position, one foot is placed in front of the other while still angled opposite.

4th position, same as 3rd position, but this time a few inches apart.

Are you noticing the pattern here?

Last but not least, the 5th position, where feet touch each other again, but heel to toe.

Dancing does not have to be an optical illusion. -VIA MOILLUSIONS.COM

See, I got this. And I’ve improved with each class!

With practicing straightening my posture while in and out of class, I’ve also found myself focused dancing gracefully. I decided to look at my participation in ballet as something more than just physical activity. After all, ballet is both a sport and an art form. As time went by, I learned that balance within my core is key when trying to perfect the plié and tendu. I found myself more in-control than ever and I’ve been able to twirl around the dance studio with a little more self confidence. Most of all, I’ve been able to relax while going to this class, which was much needed considering how exam season is here.

I started this class with sore feet, but I think I’ve been able to toughen up after all of that practice.
I’m never going to be a professional ballerina, but hey, one can dream.

One can dream though! -VIA 5-SECONDS-OF-IDOLS.TUMBLR.COM

What have you done to prepare yourselves for exams while staying active?

—Amanda

Pirouette is the new plank

Since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to try out ballet. The graceful movements, spinning, and endless pirouettes inspired me. I wanted to learn how to dance like that. So I was thrilled at the beginning of this semester when I discovered the ballet class being offered by the Athletic Centre. I had to sign up!

No big deal. VIA COEURGLACE.TUMBLR.COM

Classes like Zumba and Nia are dance-like programs offered at gyms all around the Toronto area. Yet, for an instructional class like ballet, I thought the only way to take a class was at a dance studio. After researching online, I realized that both the Athletic Centre and Hart House have dance studios that offer many distinct fitness classes—even ballroom dancing!

The dance studio at the AC. VIA PHYSICAL.UTORONTO.CA

As I have mentioned in the past, the only group fitness classes I’ve taken at the gym were stretch-based like Yoga and Pilates, or cardio-based ones like Cycle Fit. So I didn’t know what to expect. However, once class began, my nerves went away and I became excited at the prospect of starting something new.

Following along with the dance instructor was easier than I thought. At some moments, I would stumble and fall out of place, but at this stage in my journey I’ve learned to laugh that off. I was ready for the challenge.

While I allowed my mind to wander while taking part in stretch-based classes, I quickly learned that in this class, I really had to focus. Ballet, quite like Yoga and Pilates, demands attention to posture and position at all times, but is even stricter with accuracy. If anything, this class teaches discipline by repeating moves again and again until they’re perfect. If the instructor saw someone struggling with a move, she would help them and if you were doing it right, she would let you know. It was encouraging to have the instructor praise you when she saw you nailing a move spot on. Hard work does pay off!

I tend to shy away from competitive sports, so I found ballet to be right up my alley. While you’re learning your steps, you’re also collaborating with the rest of the group. Everyone wants everyone else to do well. After all, a crucial part of dancing is for everyone to flow together. Near the end, all of us in the dance studio were prancing and twirling, but somehow we did it in unison. After only one lesson, I felt quite proud of myself!

After class ended, I left the warm AC building and walked back into the typical icy weather.
Once I got back to my room, I started practicing my ballet moves. Last semester, I tried to master the plank in between my Pilates classes. This semester, it’s the pirouette.

Have you tried any new fitness classes this week?

—Amanda

dance, dance, dance

Off-beat bop. Wild shoulder shake. Index-finger-point with hip-shake. Y-M-C-A. Lawnmower. Sadly, that’s about  the extent of my dance moves. But I love dancing and take every opportunity to bust this short repertoire…in the privacy of my own home, of course. I’m sure my cat thinks I’m nuts.

So, readers, you can imagine how much I love watching great dancers perform. I become mesmerized by their grace, style and flawless ability to move their bodies like they’re part of the music. I start dreaming of the day, where after years of living room shimmying and shaking, I confidently declare “no one puts Shannon in a corner,” rush onstage, and wow the audience with my jaw-dropping talent. If only…

No one puts Shannon in a corner!

No one puts Shannon in a corner!

This past weekend, I watched my friend, Ali, along with many other talented U of T dancers in the Only Human Dance Collective, showcase their stuff in “Pieces: A Collection of Choreographic Works” at the Winchester Street Theatre. I was impressed with the range of dance styles – like hip-hop, modern, ballet and jazz - that the dancers fused together to pull off creative, energizing and passionate performances. But, most of all, I was inspired by the obvious love of dancing that came through with each step by every dancer on stage. Regardless of their level, experience and technical ability, it was clear that these dancers were having a great time.

The Only Human Dance Collective (OHDC) has “a unique all-inclusive mandate, which is to welcome all dancers regardless of experience and draw on all members of the university community – students, staff, faculty, and alumni.”  This means all dancers - from living-room hip-shakers like me to seasoned experts -are welcome to take part in classes and work towards a professional dance performance that the group puts on every year.

Initially, I was a bit surprised when Ali told me she was going to be in a dance show. I never would have described her as a “dancer,” just “someone who loved to dance.” Now, after seeing her talent and flair on stage, I’d say she’s a “Dancing Queen!”

Watching the range of skill levels that “Pieces” showcased made me wonder how many of us lovers of dance hold back from getting more involved out of fear of that we aren’t quite the “dancers” we see on stage, in movies or in music videos. But chatting with Ali made me realize how important it is to keep doing the activities we love to do, especially when our busy lives as students can cause us much stress and anxiety.

She got involved with OHDC after seeing a poster advertising the club at Hart House in September, which emphasized that, “dancers of all levels were welcome to join.” Since Ali loves to dance and thinks it’s important to have a healthy, active lifestyle, she went to an information session where choreographers led demonstrations of what their classes would be like. After sampling her options, she signed up for a weekly contemporary/jazz class aimed at intermediate-level dancers. This experience gave her the opportunity to meet new people, and forced her to take a break from her busy student life each week to do an activity she enjoyed.

If you’re someone who loves to dance, Hart House offers registered dance classes like contemporary, street jazz and ballroom dance so that beginner to experienced dancers can stay fit and healthy while doing something they love.

Readers, have you made an effort to get involved with a physical activity you’ve loved this year? What was it? Please send me your stories so that I can keep getting inspired to take my bopping, shimmying and shaking out of my living room! Or maybe, you’ll introduce me to a new passion altogether!

-Shannon