Tag Archives: ballet

The Upside of Falling

18 Jun

There are worse things than falling. Giving up when faced with adversity, for example, and living safely within one’s certain boundaries of success, as another. I recently learned of these through beautiful and tangible illustrations worthy of sharing.

Last weekend, I went to see some friends perform from Delibes’ famously charming ballet, Coppelia. You may recall my friend Caroline and our ballet mistress, Stella, from my past posts about breaking the Guinness World Record. So the first excerpt was a lovely duet with Caroline and another dancer. Next came a male solo by Stella’s young and talented grandson, Lashard.

Then, at about (3:20) in this video, Lashard’s music stopped. For a second, my heart stopped with it. But then something truly remarkable happened: Lashard kept dancing. For what seemed like a frozen eternity but was really only another seventy-five seconds, he kept dancing. Even though the music played only in his head, Lashard orchestrated every leap, jump and turn on beat, causing a stunned and appreciative audience to applause throughout. Their spontaneous clapping punctuated the intimidating silence, during which could only be heard the deft workings of Lashard’s feet, as they landed in their prescribed positions on the vast and empty stage. I was incredibly proud of my young friend and deeply moved by his courageous perseverance.

Next came Caroline’s solo, which was executed gracefully and flawlessly. Finally, the three dancers joined together on the stage. After about four minutes of challenging choreography, however, the unthinkable happened to Caroline. As seen in this video, she fell to the ground. It was only for a second, and she was back up again in her final pose as if it had never happened, but I was devastated for her. An otherwise perfect performance had been ruined at the very end. Or had it?

When I afterwards attempted to console my friend, expecting her to be very upset, she surprised me yet again with her casual, good-humored reaction. She laughed and explained how falling is actually a good thing. While not ideal for a performance, of course, it does help you know that you’re stretching the limits of what you can do. She had gone for the double pirouette, feeling it within her grasp. This time, it didn’t work out, but that was okay. Or to grossly misquote Lord Tennyson: ‘Tis better to have tried and fallen than never to have tried at all.

What’s more, Caroline’s theory means that never falling is actually bad, a sure sign of complacency. Yikes! The metaphorical mandate for my life is clear. I must reprogram my brain accordingly.

FALLING IS NOT FAILING. They are two different things. Trying and then falling is growth, and hence, succeeding. So here is my challenge–and yours, if you want to take it: Let’s see if, the next time things don’t go according to plan in our lives, you and I can embrace falling with more perspective and, yes, with more grace.

Not-So-Great Expectations [Part 2]

26 May

Play by play of the day I helped break a Guinness World Record.
Let’s face it, while Orlando is the widely hailed vacation capital of the world, it’s not exactly thought of as a cultural Mecca.  So how did the city manage to unseat New York for a ballet world record last Sunday? For starters, 245 people–ranging in age from 11 to 71–defied low expectations and showed up at the Orlando Convention Center anyway.

L to R: Caroline, me, Judi, Sandra and Jennifer

The Most Dancers en Pointe for a Minute. NYC’s 230 was the record to beat. Orlando’s planned record attempt started as the brainchild of one proud local grandfather named Doug Nawrath, whose granddaughter is active in Dr. Phillips High School’s dance program.  I learned of the event through Orlando Ballet School, where my daughter attends, although she is not en pointe yet. When I told my husband about it, I think he knew how much just going meant to me. Without hesitating, he agreed to watch not only our kids but also my friend Caroline’s daughter for the day.

I had convinced three of my ballet compeers, other of Stella Mawoussi’s loyal adult students, to come with me.  My friend Sandra’s sister had also joined us, planning to watch. When we arrived after church at what was supposed to be the latest check-in time, we were dismayed to see our numbers: 161, 162, 163, 164. Meanwhile, there were myriad performances going on in front of us.  Local studios were showcasing their best talent in diverse dances from classical ballet and lyrical to modern jazz, funky hip-hop and rhythmic African. Between each dance and the subsequent emcee banter, organizers tried to relay with increasing urgency the importance of texting anyone we knew who could come to help us make the record.

As time passed and the count was still not even near where it needed to be, our little group fitted Sandra’s sister with an extra pair of Caroline’s pointe shoes. We gave Jennifer a quick lesson on posture and weight shifting before registering her: 194. Still short.

Mom Lisa was at first reluctant but then enthusiastic to don an extra pair of pointe shoes.

Not long after, this strategy was made official. The local dance supply store, N’Style, arrived with a slew of new pointe shoes.  For just $25, shoes were made available for sale to complete ballet novices. Mothers and sisters in good physical condition were encouraged to partake. The risk of injury was overshadowed by the urgency to beat the record and not make the day to have been in vain. Still, the number lingered around 200, with not long before the scheduled record attempt time. Hence my friends and I encouraged as many hesitant moms as we could to participate, including a reluctant mom named Lisa, whom we managed to fit with yet another pair of Caroline’s pointe shoes. Lisa was added to the list: 226.

Then I met the woman who literally wrote the book on pointe shoes.  Trained by ballet masters throughout Europe and just returned from a London book-signing, Patricia Storelli is a Registered Ballet Teacher of the Royal Academy of Dance among her many credits. Patricia’s book, The Magic of Pointe Shoes, came out just last month. She was attending the Orlando event to promote the new book, as well as to lead the warm-up class which had been intended by the event organizers. As Patricia spoke, I began to realize the full depth and caliber of her extensive experience. I felt honored to be meeting her, and frankly, I could easily understand if one such as she viewed the forum of a Guinness record attempt as incongruent with the disciplined dignity of a classical ballet performance. Perhaps that is why many (if not all) professional local ballet company members were not to be found in attendance. It may even help explain why even the Big Apple could muster only 230 record-breakers.  Either way, without 231 even semi-experienced dancers in Orlando’s Convention Center and the deadline approaching, the free-for-all grew, abetted by the ever-humorous male and female emcees.

Our humble group meets the extraordinary Patricia Storelli.

At last all the dancers–experienced or not–were summoned to the observation pit.  As we entered, we each spoke our name into an emcee’s microphone, one by one for the official recording. Unlike the scores of teenagers, I squealed after my friends and I passed through. We were quickly shuffled into rows and lines. Mom Lisa was near the front with her daughter. Beside me was Sandra’s sister, who had never been worn pointe shoes in her life. When I turned behind, I saw Patricia, who had worn pointe shoes almost her entire life. Even she ultimately succumbed to the excitement of the moment. Pinned to her chiffon-layered ballet dress was her registration number: 245.  I’d later learn that this was the total, a mere 15 bodies ahead of New York’s record.

Then the moment came. There was a very quiet minute of stationary bourees with alternating cornering croisse. Afterwards, the crowd exploded into excitement. Cheers and spontaneous embraces erupted.  The Guinness adjudicators soon confirmed what we all knew: Everyone had stayed up for the full minute.

I hugged Patricia first followed by Sandra’s sister, immediately struck by the odd-but-poignant juxtaposition of the beautiful ballet veteran and the beautiful ballet beginner. When I joined my separated friends a few seconds later, we celebrated our shared triumph, having worked in class with each other over years of a shared journey.

On the ride home, we reflected on the synchronous events leading each of us to Stella, to ballet, to this day. Orlando had become the world record holder, and we had played our small part. It was something none of us would have ever expected, making it all the more perfect.

Not-So-Great Expectations [Part 1]

24 May

I Have Found the Secret to True Creative Success: Don’t Expect Anything Great.

That said, I haven’t actually learned to apply this profundity to most of my life, with one notable exception. It’s the one thing I was expected not to do well, and hence the one thing I have been truly free to work at without the slightest expectation of greatness.

You see, I have a congenital hip defect. I was born without a left hip socket, and my left femur was 180-degrees backwards. There were numerous surgeries to diagnose and eventually attempt to correct the problem, as well as several body casts. When my mom wasn’t pulling me around in a red wagon, however, I was pulling myself and my twenty odd pounds of extra weight around with my upper body. Meanwhile, not wanting to give false hope, the doctors told my parents there was a good chance I might never walk, at least not without a severe limp.

Fortunately, that prediction turned out to be wrong. Once out of my final body cast, I did learn to crawl and then walk. As a mother now, I can only imagine my parents’ relief and joy then, witnessing this already significant milestone with such a heightened appreciation.

Not long after, my mom enrolled my older sister and me in dance classes, per my doctor’s suggestion. My sister, it must be noted, had (and still has) a classical dancer’s physique–long, lean and strong. As a kid, I really admired her dancing. Okay, yes, I was jealous, especially watching her work on her splits and high kicks. I, on the other hand, endured each dance class as a humbling sort of physical therapy. Whenever it came time to do “butterflies” on the floor, I looked more like a wounded duck. I would flop over awkwardly, unable to touch my feet together and “flutter” gracefully. That’s because the rotation of my hip remained–and still remains–very limited. At my most recent orthopedic visit, it was estimated I have about 10 percent the full rotation of a normal person in my left hip and only about 30 percent even in my “good” right hip.

Almost thirty years later, I was reintroduced to dance–to classical ballet, no less. Having enrolled my own daughter in dance classes, I thereby met Stella Mawoussi, an amazing woman who would change my life in a way I never, well, expected. She first lured me to take her ballet-style Pilates class while I was waiting for my daughter anyway. Before long, Stella had me and a handful of other ballet novices hooked on a traditional ballet class, comprised of barre, combinations and work across the floor. When I tried to explain and apologize for my limitations, Stella only encouraged me. “Everybody has to start somewhere,” she’d assure me. “Just do what you can.”

Wow, what empowering words. This was a freeing concept for me. For once in my life, I was giving myself the liberty to be just okay at something. To be a beginner. And to work, learn and grow for no one’s satisfaction but my own.

That was seven years ago. Since then, I’ve attended Stella’s biweekly classes as faithfully as possible. I’m addicted to Stella and to ballet, because they both encourage me simply to do my best. They challenge me to explore the boundaries of what I can and cannot do. Ballet is not just healthful exercise. It’s soulful art. So it provides physical and creative endorphins. But even more, for me, it’s providential irony. To quote the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Yes, my turn-out still frustrates me. And my grande bat mas aren’t at all grande. But I have improved, little by little–step by step, as it were.

Even so, I never could have imagined that little I would be part of breaking a Guinness World Record, the event that inspired this contemplative look back. Full details on that inspiring day to follow in Part 2.

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