22 July 2021 15:26
Silver Swan’s pandemic project leads to exam success
At 65 years old Jennifer Dennis was looking for a challenge to see her through the pandemic. It had been 40 years since she stepped inside a dance studio. Read her story in her own words here.
All of us have been trying to stay positive and active during the pandemic. For me, I decided to return to ballet after a 40-year break!
I joined a Silver Swan Ballet Class. It was nothing like impersonating a swan, but rather a ‘proper RAD Ballet’ class of barre, centre, free movement and character work. Everything except pointe!
My ballet teacher Corinne Urquhart, an RAD trained teacher in Sydney, and my cohort of aspiring ‘swans’ went on a journey of discovering the beauty and joy of ballet.
My body protested initially. Standing in 3rd and later 5th was hard work; trying to coax my ‘turn out’ muscles to ‘turn on’ took some convincing. Every class was a challenge in the early days, but this was soon offset by the reduction in the pain I was experiencing from my arthritic knees. As my muscles started to rebuild, my body slowly strengthened, and enjoyed the journey.
As every dancer knows practice is key to improvement. On my daily walks I would be found at the local café, while awaiting my coffee, doing ‘battement fondus’. Later, when I hit further ‘blocks’ in my training, I would relegate practice to the coffee shop barre! This became an unconscious habit, so much so, that my daughter asked me whether I had been teaching my grandson ballet? I hadn’t noticed that he had started copying me at the coffee shop.
The next big hurdle in the journey back to ballet was pulling off a pirouette, without getting dizzy, jumping without hurting my bad knee and finally and most challenging, was remembering every sequence correctly. Ballet demands a high degree of attention to detail, with feet and hands in the right place, at the right time, and on the correct beat.
Corinne suggested over coffee after class, that I sit for my RAD Grade 6 exam. At the time it seemed a ridiculous idea, but after further consideration I was up for the challenge. Having been through the higher grades as a teenager, I knew what I was up for, or so I thought?
As the exam got closer I realised that I was taking too long to remember the syllabus. So, practice included Polish character dances in the local park, jumps in the pool, and increased café shop barre – much to the amusement of the local dog walkers.
I had forgotten how terrifying it is for me to turn up for an exam. With hair slicked back, into a ballet bun, and assigned a number, I entered the studio feeling a child again. It took all my courage to remember what my teacher said: To stay focussed, remember the technical details and to enjoy the dance and perhaps even smile!
I had told Corinne that preparing for the exam had been like walking up a huge mountain and that on the exam day, I intended to ‘enjoy the view’. I can’t say it was easy to dance for 50 minutes on my own. However, I was so pleased to have turned up, trying my best and dancing my heart out! I was equally very relieved when it was over!
Recently, I heard I had ‘Passed with Merit’! What a joy! I am looking forward to the next Grade ahead and the associated challenges.
I am so blessed to be able to get back into dance at my age: To turn up to class, do an exam and lose myself in the art of dance.
All those café barre classes paid off. But most of all I passed because of my conscientious and well-trained ballet teacher Corinne. Despite my struggles with my aging body, she pushed me to achieve well past my ability and never let me accept ‘second- best!’ What a gift to have a teacher who corrects you constantly and consistently and never gives up on you, no matter how old you are!
It is never too late to do a RAD exam!