The Zen of Ballet

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by Alexandra O’Donnell

I am encouraged and inspired by the number of adults enrolling in ballet who have never studied before, or may have only had a year or two of lessons. A common thread among these different personalities seems to be a “beginner mind set”, an openness to trying something new, willingness to persist as difficulties arise and the sense of satisfaction that comes from finally getting it. Students often come back and tell us that the discipline and persistence developed in ballet lessons helped them do well in school or at work. This summer, one adult student (who hadn’t previously studied ballet) told me that he was “living his dream” with his semi-weekly lessons. Whether it’s as a hobby or a calling, a person can start ballet at any age, make progress and reap benefits.

My parents (John and Camilla Chiapuris) and I danced professionally in New York and overseas, so our involvement in ballet was geared toward performance. However, in 1979, when John founded the studio, he and Camilla wanted a school for people of any age or background to learn ballet because it is beautiful, and as a way to express themselves with grace, confidence, and strength. We stress the importance of our students receiving strong basic ballet training. My mother and I are Registered Teachers (RTS) of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) London, England and are certified to teach the internationally renowned RAD syllabus. Regardless of age or ability at your first lesson, safety comes first. Exercises are progressive and based on age/level, with the goal of reaching optimal strength and development (whether age 4 or 64+).   

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The prevailing message today about aging is the importance of remaining active, both physically and mentally, in order to remain healthy and vibrant.  Classical ballet study offers an all-in-one package for this in each class - no previous experience necessary! Every lesson includes strength training, cardio, weight-bearing and balance, along with a mental workout (since students must remember a different series of instructions for each exercise).  Barre and center floor exercises are done to a variety of musical styles, providing an aural experience as well as rhythm (or a heartbeat) to the movements. The class ambiance is encouraging and supportive, yet students are all serious about improving some element of their dancing. Our goal at CSB is for dancers to be able to perform exercises correctly, with confidence and to the best of their ability based upon their body type and particular strengths or limitations.

There is definitely a “zen” in ballet class, that sense of timelessness that comes from clear structure and complete immersion, particularly with the barre work.  For an hour and a half each week, people tune in to themselves physically and become deeply aware of their movement and all of the physical interconnections as they move arms and legs in different directions at different times.  Ballet class is the perfect antidote for our over-scheduled lives, because we cultivate and carry a sense of calm, grace, focus, and strength from class to our other activities, perhaps only for fleeting moments at first, but more and more over time.  

Students of all ages and backgrounds are welcome in our classes. Please visit our website for a schedule, or contact me if you have questions or would like to observe or participate in a lesson.  

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Posted on September 27, 2018 and filed under Art, Creativity, Health and Wellness, Excercise.