Blog

A Sit Down with Marie Walton-Mahon Part Two

“Pure line doesn’t have a measurement. Fonteyn never had high legs, but when she left the stage she radiated something that was still left in your heart”

Since posting Part One of my conversation with Marie Walton-Mahon, I have had the pleasure of incorporating a regular Progressing Ballet Technique into my weekly routine, as well as introducing the Adult Program One to my students. Let’s dive right back into our interview with Marie and learn how Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT) became what we know it to be today and how it can benefit adult ballet dancers on their journey.

How Did PBT grow to what we know it to be today?

I had no intention of sharing it to the world until 2012. Back then I was an examiner for the Royal Academy of Dance and also a tutor. I was giving a tutor course and I always had my fit ball with me.

This day I said to the teachers, batterie is so problematic. If students don’t understand where the batterie comes from (those deep rotators and adductors), then the muscle memory tells them that this is OK and they keep doing it wrong. If they stand up and do it wrong, whether it’s a child or an adult, wrong goes into the body that wrong is right. You have to take the floor out of it, get them to actually do that batterie. I said to the teachers, “I’ll show you. One at a time lie on top of the ball, hips center, and do some royale or changement battu and just beat and feel where that comes from.” It was like this light bulb moment. And this day in 2012 they said to me, “Marie, how many exercises have you got?” When I told them I have been working like this for years, they asked me to please share. And I said, “Really, share it?” My husband said, “Oh I don’t know, who’s going to want this? What, ballet on a ball?” The first website was made by our son and we cut a DVD. I had absolutely no idea. I’d have laughed at that crystal ball if it’d have said that PBT has gone into over 40 countries now. It’s extremely humbling.

Many adult ballet students are very serious about their training and they dive head first. How many days a week do you recommend PBT for adults?

PBT can be done daily if they’ve got the time. I practice it daily. If they set aside an hour or hour and 15 minutes a day, it will transfer through their muscle memory into that ballet class. Study the coaching, do the exercise, and then by the end of three weeks be able to do the exercises by themselves without the coaching. This is the indicator of whether they are ready to go to another stage. The last class I love for them to shut their eyes and use imagery and actually tap into what their body is feeling. Breathe the music through the body and listen. And make some notes. I encourage the adult students to make some notes about what they are feeling. If something feels too hard, go back a bit. Don’t push beyond because the best result is taking it slow to move into the class.

What are your thoughts on pointe work for adults?

The pointe does worry me with adults. I have seen a lot of dangerous things. They must do the pointe preparation–the toe slings, the doming. They must prepare the feet and not leave the barre. Their bones are stronger than the children, but they still need that preparation. They need to understand the intrinsics, not to pronate, where it all comes from. I think something needs to resonate with adults that want to get on pointe quickly–the grand master Balanchine said, “What is the use of being en pointe if you don’t know what to do up there?”

What advice would you give to adult students that struggle with not being taken seriously?

There are more and more teachers offering just adult work. They are springing up everywhere. I suggest they research. A lot of teachers are following the curriculum Silver Swans.

What advice would you give to the adult student that maybe doesn’t feel they have the right body type? Not flexible enough, they don’t have the ballet body? Those that are afraid to take the first step?

Love the movement. Forget the surroundings around you. Just love the feeling of breathing the music through the body. And pat themselves on the back for going for it. They’ll get coordination. They’ll get an understanding of better breathing. Much better posture, they’ll have better balance. They’ll understand the value of transfer of weight in daily life instead of just standing on one leg with one hip sinking. They’ll understand their bodies better.

And they are going to be a valued member of an audience. They will sit in the theater and know how much it took to get there. This art is very beautiful but not many people understand the in-depth training and what goes into it. We need valued audiences.

They should feel proud of themselves for going for it. It’s about personal best, not about competition. Take the word “competition” out of it. It’s those little milestones and those light bulb moments that they understand. Just go for it and love this beautiful art.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with the adult ballet community?

The body is like a house and if it has no foundation, it will just crumble. The body needs a foundation. PBT tweaks the muscles that are close to the bones, that protect the bones. For health and safety, just for well-being, and love of movement and music, its a wonderful thing to do. But they should never compare themselves. And remember that pure line doesn’t have a measurement. Fonteyn never had high legs, but when she left the stage she radiated something that was still left in your heart.

Thank you so much, Marie

It is so wonderful to have PBT. I am so happy that all of those suggestions along the way pushed you in this direction because you are changing the world of dance in such a positive way. Thank you so so much for taking the time!

For incredible online classes with Marie and other PBT teachers, check out https://pbt.dance/en. For live classes via Zoom, book with us here at https://balletgothenburg.com/

A Sit Down with Marie Walton-Mahon Part One

“PBT is about the feeling before the form”

In the last decade the adult ballet world has grown exponentially. Adult dancers are wanting more than a class where they are sandwiched between two perfectly molded teenage dancers in their community’s weekly class. It is a global phenomenon where we have created our own place in the ballet world, and rightfully so. We can dance beautifully, build strength and flexibility, and, with the right encouragement and teacher, meet our own personal dance goals.

PBT is the perfect way to safely meet these goals. What is Progressing Ballet Technique or PBT? It is a gift from Australia to every dancer, young or old. According to PBT’s website, Progressing Ballet Technique “is an innovative body-conditioning and strengthening program that has been designed to enhance students’ technique by focussing on training the muscle memory required in each exercise in all forms of dance. It is a unique training system using ballet-technique specific exercises to train skill acquisition in a graded and progressive manner from junior through to advanced levels. PBT helps teachers around the world prepare their students to receive the strength they need to achieve their personal best.”

Founded by Marie Walton-Mahon, PBT is the ingredient missing in every dancer’s regimen. She has been changing the dance world at as rapid a pace as the pandemic and the pandemic has pushed her to expand her latest program in the PBT repertoire-Progressing Ballet Technique for adults.

Her decades of experience, both dancing and teaching professionally, have led her to create a program taught in the best schools and practiced by professionals. It was such an honor to sit down and chat with her and be able to share with you, the reader. Our lovely hour plus interview was intended to result in a single post but has now evolved into a two part series. There was just too much valuable information not to share.

PBT has a new program for adult ballet students.  Thank you for thinking of us. What inspired you to create these courses just for adults?

The inspiration came really from the need and request from so many adults and I know there’s a whole resurgence out there for this love of movement, love of music. At first I kept telling them to just follow my Junior Program and work through the Junior Program and when they feel strong enough, move into the Senior Program. I had so many adults saying, “that’s great but I feel intimidated watching the children and I would like my own.” It came from requests and fair enough, adult students deserve their own program.

If they are going to take their training serious, students need to know the how and why before the movement. It’s a little bit like peeling apart an onion and then putting the layers together. PBT is about the feeling before the form. The ethos underneath it is that if they don’t understand where the movement comes from how can they stand up and do it. They are intrigued by it so why not give them all the information. They’ve got plenty of freedom to ask questions as my daughter and I are the ones answering questions every day.

How can PBT help adult ballet students as they begin or continue their journey?    

First of all if they have danced before they have to retrain and align things. If they have danced when they were young and had a big break, they’ve got an idea of their body but those muscles need to be tweaked again. The alignment needs to be there. It’s not about how high, but how the alignment is for the pelvis to sit right instead of just throwing things. And they can go into it just too fast. This prepares the mind and body to then train safely. It’s all about safety. Adults deserve this and should be treated seriously but it has to be safe or it’s not worth doing at all. It’s the feeling before the form. It works best if they have a PBT class and the elements of that PBT class molds into the ballet class to follow.

Where did the idea originate to use a fit ball in ballet class?

I have taught with a fit ball in the room forever-since they came on the market. Tweaking that alignment is so important. Because the ball is moving constantly, it gives the student that instant feedback. It resonates quite quickly. In ballet class if something is amiss, I’ll just bring the fit ball and put that same déveoloppé or grand battement onto the fit ball to feel it then stand up and repeat it. I am constantly referring back to it.

I have always been interested in trying to keep myself to be able to demonstrate enough, I started to work on a Reformer and did some Pilates. And that’s expensive. I love the feeling of it – the taking the weight out of it and using the Reformer. That feeling is wonderful, but how many of those students can afford those sessions? The cross training is so necessary, but ballet is expensive and they’ve got the shoes and everything else. How many can afford that? So I thought I’ll get a fit ball and just trial some of those things with a fit ball because they are cheap.

I bought fit balls for a ten-year-old class. I started to substitute a class every couple of weeks and we just called it BB Day, Ballet Ball Day. The parents viewed the class at the end of the term and commented how much the children loved it and were practicing at home. They said that instead of substituting a class, they would like to have a special class. And they improved drastically. It was absolutely amazing. It went from there and I kept creating more.

And so PBT began its inception and evolution. It is truly amazing how one creative teacher’s need to help her young students has evolved into one of the most in demand teaching programs in the dance world and beyond. This kind and generous woman is making the dance world a safer place one fit ball at a time. Stay tuned for my next post as we dive deeper into Marie’s personal advice for you, the adult dancer, on your journey.

Until our next plié ❤

A Sit Down with Madame Olga

“Adult students should be taken as seriously as anyone”

Most Saturdays post Corona have become a new routine consisting of two cups of tea before the day starts followed by one of many amazing virtual ballet classes with the best the ballet world can offer. I have taken every chance to train with the best. Most days I find it hard to decide. Do I want a taste of ABT? A taste of Balanchine? The decision is daunting. That is until my first plié with Madame Olga. She had me at “one,” her hilarious shrill and signal that class had begun, and has had me ever since.

Amid her tough love approach to teaching, lies a kind and sensitive lady that just wants her students to believe in themselves and be the best they can be. In one breath she will say you are lazy and in the next she has you repeating a positive affirmation. Anything from “I am free to I choose freedom to I create my own reality,” she somehow knows just what her students need to hear on that particular day. Her hysterical comparison of an American’s turn out to a Russian’s will have you crying with laughter mid barre. Some days she will sing you a song at the end of class and if you don’t already know, Madame Olga is a triple threat.

But who is Madame Olga? She is the alter ego of Michael Cusumano, native New Yorker and former dancer with American Ballet Theatre. His professional life has extended beyond ballet including spending six years on Broadway in the musical Chicago as well as teaching. He teaches both as himself and Madame Olga all over New York. In his own words, “Madame Olga has been inside Michael since he was a kid. She was just always there.” The following is our recent sit down with his alter ego.

What is the secret to success for all ballet students?

The secret to success is you have to be resilient and never give up. You have to really love what you do or you can’t sustain the career.

What do you expect from your students?

I expect my students to stay open to different ways of learning, be kind in the world, and absorb as much as they can from all of their teachers. 

How do your students in America compare to your students in Russia?

My students in America and Russia are honestly very similar. I believe we connect on an energetic level and it just becomes an exchange of knowledge and love.

How do you encourage those that may never dance the role of Odette or Siegfried with a major company?

Most of us won’t dance the lead in Swan Lake and that’s okay. But you can dream as big as you want and dance it in your own world and that is just as beautiful. 

What advice would you give to an adult beginning ballet for the first time-someone that is maybe afraid of taking the first steps to join a class?

My advice is it’s normal to be afraid and have fear, but you have to do it. You literally have to just make yourself do it. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain in your life.

Should adult ballet students be taken as seriously as any other ballet student?

Yes adult students should be taken as seriously as anyone. The reason is because ballet is bigger than just dancing. It’s creativity and connection that shapes and enhances your life in a beautiful way in general. That is what makes a difference.

Thank you Madame Olga. Your kindness has inspired many of us during these challenging times. You have brought me back to my first love and given me hope when some days it feels there is little. I know I can speak on behalf of all your students when I channel you and utter your own words, “we love you.” We all look forward to your documentary and meeting you in person on November 15th.

Don’t miss our Adult Ballet Master Class with Madame Olga live via Zoom three weeks from today. Booking and info….

https://balletgothenburg.com/adult-ballet-master-classes/

Until Our Next Plié ❤

A Sit Down with Josephine Lee

Photo Jazley Faith

Pointe work in ballet needs to be a more holistic approach

Amid a state of emergency in California, I had the chance to sit down and chat with pointe shoe guru, Josephine Lee from the Pointe Shop. She was forced to stay inside due to the raging wildfires and poor air quality that is plaguing her home state.

Josephine was born in South Korea and grew up in southern California. She danced for years as a child and then went off to college to study communication before returning to the dance world.

Who is the lady behind The Pointe Shop?

My mom was a pointe shoe fitter so not only did I dance as a child, but learned fitting from my mom. I started fitting when I was 14. After college, I opened a brick and mortar dance shop called The Dancer’s Choice. In 2014, I opened The Pointe Shop, my mobile shop.

What has your experience been fitting adult ballet students compared to younger students?

I love fitting adult ballet students. They are my favorite! They are so passionate. Their feet are as diverse as the children we fit. Adult students’ bodies are stronger, more set, and physically more stable than children getting fitted. While their feet are harder to mold, they can be molded and reshaped.

Are you seeing an increase in adult ballet students getting fitted?

Yes, definitely in the last 10 years. It has even become more acceptable in my native Korea where it used to be that dance was only for those training to be professionals. Recreational dance was such a revolutionary idea.

Are there any circumstances other than obvious injury, that you would not recommend or put an adult dancer in pointe shoes?

Yes, definitely. For example, those that come with injuries that they maybe did not even know they had. I trust a teacher’s discretion when it comes to pointe readiness, but they might need a physician referral from me instead of a pair of pointe shoes. It is definitely safer to fit an adult because they are stronger and more stable.

What are some tips you would give an adult student that is about to fitted for the very first time?

They need to be technically sound-taking at least 3-4 classes per week. The time period to achieve pointe for adults is a lot shorter than children, but they still have to be technically strong first. They also need to be stronger in other areas. Pointe is not just about the strength of the ankles and feet. They also have to have a strong core, back, arms. Just taking ballet class is not enough.

Any words of encouragement for those intimidated by the fitting process? Those fearful of not being taken seriously?

I see this all the time-adults that come in poorly fitted because the time was not taken to get a proper fitting. My advice is be vocal. Speak up when something does not feel right. Do a lot of research before going in to get fitted. Take your time.

Anything you would like to add?

Pointe work in ballet needs to be a more holistic approach. It is important to rest, sleep, eat well, and give time for recovery when needed. Everything accumulates, injuries don’t happen over night. Most injuries build up over time. Treat your body with more maintenance in mind rather than going through the motions.

Thank you so much Josephine for taking the time to chat and give the adult dance world the time and insight needed. We hope you and your loved ones stay safe from the fires.

Until our next plié ❤

Dancing Amid a Pandemic

“We are in this together and will get through this together”

As the numbers of Corona Virus continue to rise while many of us slowly return to class, I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on getting through this together.  I am not just an adult ballet teacher/dancer, I am also a Registered Nurse.  While I no longer work in bedside nursing, the Nightingale Pledge I took to promote public health and safety as a new nurse almost twenty years ago sits in every fiber of my being to this day.  The well being of my ballet students for me goes far beyond dancing safely and mindfully, but that they are mentally well too.  I try to teach and live by example, so what I teach them I try to teach to myself as well.  So how can we as dancers stay safe, happy, and healthy amid this pandemic?  Here are just a few thoughts.

Wash Your Hands

It sounds like common sense right, but did you know that, Corona aside, over a million lives could be saved worldwide each year with proper hand washing?  Nurse Florence Nightingale changed the course of history during the Crimean War when she saved thousands of lives by teaching hand washing-yet to this day, people are still dying because this basic skill is neglected.  That’s how important hand washing is.  It is key to the prevention of the spread of disease.

Wear a Mask

Wearing a mask is a proven way to safely lower the spread of Corona Virus.  Bloch has the best breathable masks I and many of my students have been using since we started meeting for in person classes.  Take regular mask breaks during class meaning when you grab a sip of water, find an open window where you can safely lower your mask to get fresh air.

Stay Home if You Are Sick

Stay home at the first sign of illness.  This is a sign your body needs rest.  If you are well enough, join a class online or warm yourselves up and stretch instead.  Whether it’s a headache, mildly sore throat, or just general sense of malaise, stay home.  I know how hard it is to want to get out of the house at every opportunity, but stay home and let your body rest.

Add a Few Things to Your Dance Bag

For those going back to the studio, protect yourselves and others.  Bring a towel to class if you will be stretching on the floor.  Keep your bag stocked with hand gel.  Hand gel before and after barre work.  Don’t forget your mask.  Keep a bag to place your soiled, reusable face masks in when you remove them.

Nourish Your Immune System

There are several things we know about the immune system-how it functions, what happens when it is dampened, and how to optimize it.  Exercise.  Get plenty of sleep.  Eat nourishing foods including plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Breathe and relax.  Start your day with a few moments of deep breathing while lying in bed or sitting on the side of your bed.  A deep breath lowers and stabilizes blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels (stress hormones).  Plan something weekly that relaxes you.

Take Care of Yourselves

I have read many posts in dance groups that so many of you have a hard time with online classes and dancing from home.  It makes me so sad that many have stopped dancing all together.  If you have put dancing on hold since the pandemic, try to find a way to move and breathe whether walking regularly or testing yoga, Pilates, or Progressing Ballet Technique.  Learning to adapt and change with the new world we live in is so challenging, but so important for mental well being.  Walk along the water with a friend or meet friends or family outside to fill your human need for nearness.  Take care of yourselves.

Nourish Your Ballet Soul

Teaching and taking classes during the pandemic have saved me these past many months.  My husband laughs because every free moment I have, I am filling with my favorite ballets, workshops for continuing education, and taking online classes with my favorite teachers.  In no other time in history have we dancers had the opportunity that the internet has given us during Corona times.  On any given day, you can take class with the greatest dancers on the planet.  A side note, while there are lots of amazing free classes online, please donate to the teachers if possible.  So many professionals are out of work and are struggling to make ends meet.

Time will only tell when life as we knew it will be back.  Instead, try to shape a new normal for yourselves.  Think positive and stay positive.  Remember, you are not alone.  Think of your ballet tribe around the world.  We are in this together and will get through this together ❤

Until our next Plié ❤