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 Fredrick Davis

Photo Rachel Neville

“Fred is on a journey and he’s going to get there and that’s very beautiful.” Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director, Dance Theatre of Harlem

Having seen the documentary From the Streets to the Stage, the Journey of Fredrick Davis, it is hard to contain the excitement in sitting down with this incredible dancer at the height of his career. One could anticipate that the stardom of having danced as a Principal with the legendary Dance Theatre of Harlem could easily go to one’s head, but this is farthest from the truth with Fred. His hard work and humble beginnings reflect who he is today.

Our conversation began on a Sunday evening, a six hour time difference between New York and Stockholm. Fred, in the middle of a pandemic forced move, was just settling into his new Hamilton Heights apartment in upper Manhattan. He has spent much of his time post Covid lining up teaching gigs and planning future collaborations in Tennessee.

Fredrick, born in Brooklyn, grew up in Chattanooga and returned to his roots as an adult. His early childhood was rife with uncertainty, hunger, and homelessness. He spent much of his childhood on the streets of Chattanooga with his mother. His grandmother took him in and under her wing giving him the home he needed. At the tender age of 11, his life took the change that lead him to where he is today.

How have you been coping during the pandemic?

I have been optimistic by teaching people online ballet classes during the Black Lives Matter protests. Instead of going to protests I have been teaching online classes in Australia, Italy, Chile, Nigeria, Kenya East Africa, London, UK, Greece, Italy, Hawaii and across the United States.

I saw the documentary featuring you. What an inspiring and amazing journey you have been on. It seems that your grandmother was one of the great influences in your life?

She knitted the quilt. She made sure I was making my own choices.

How old were when you knew that you wanted to dance seriously?

8th grade. I had many dreams. I wanted to be a lawyer, businessman, firefighter, wrestler, football player. I coudn’t afford to try out for the football team and the dance auditions were free, so that was where it all started.

Can you see yourself doing something other than dance ever?

I would love to act and model. I am in the process of opening a non-profit dance school and company in Tennessee. My goal is to build a bridge going forward for the African American and underprivileged community in Chattanooga.

What would you say to the dancers that feel like they don’t fit the ballet mold to dance-too tall, too big, too old, not flexible enough?

To quote Stan Lee I would say, “don’t listen to the naysayers.” If you really want to do something, do it. Don’t look for a job or career. Find your purpose in life and goals and go for it. Nothing is ever certain in life. You can can never be ready when the time is right, you can only be ready enough to take the chance. Be the best that you can be.

Thank you Fred for taking the time to share your story and inspire dancers of all walks!! We look forward to following your journey. Join us on September 12th in our first virtual Adult Ballet Master Class with Fredrick. Find out more about Fredrick in the Emmy award winning documentary From the streets to the Stage:the Journey of Fredrick Davis and follow his journey forward via his Instagram.

Until our next plié ❤

What is a Ballet Master Class?

Screenshot_20200515-103137_FacebookWoohoo, Ballet Gothenburg is excited to announce that we are beginning to host Ballet Master Classes JUST for adult dancers!!  Since I started planning and mentioning master classes to my own students, I have had a few questions that I thought would be perfect to answer in a post.

At Ballet Gothenburg, adult ballet students are our passion.  Our mission since inception is to offer inclusive ballet classes for adult beginners and adults coming back to ballet after many years.  From the student trying ballet to stay in shape to the more serious student attending several times a week, we believe ballet is for every age, body, size, gender, and color.  Given the current circumstances and the need to adapt, we will begin hosting our master classes online via Zoom.

What is a ballet master class? 

A ballet master class is a class taught by an individual that has mastered the art of ballet through dancing professionally and/or teaching at the highest levels.  Simply put, it gives students the opportunity to take class with the best of the best in the art of ballet.   Master classes are taught by current professional dancers dancing with top companies worldwide as well as teachers from the best schools.  Taking a master class gives students a taste of the different schools of teaching and flavors of ballet.

Who should take a master class?

Everyone 🙂  Master classes are a way to polish technique, make breakthroughs, learn from different schools of teaching, and above all, have fun!! The best way for students to advance in their journey is to study with various teachers.   Students learn in different ways and different teachers can help along this journey.

Do I need to be an advanced dancer to take a master class?

The simple answer is no.  A master class refers to the teacher who has mastered the craft.  The class is geared toward the level of the students taking the class.  Ballet Gothenburg hosts Beginner/Advanced Beginner master classes for our students.  Students should have a basic understanding of placement, turnout, and port de bras.  In this way, all are welcome and can enjoy the class.

What to Expect in a Master Class?

It depends on the teacher.  The invited master teacher will usually plan a class based on the group of students he or she is teaching.   A master class is similar in structure to other ballet classes. 

How do I prepare?

There is no preparation required.  A master class is meant to be fun-a way to take what you already know and enjoy.  Your only expectation is to show up and have fun!!  Prepare to learn ❤

What Should I Wear?

Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and represents you as a dancer.  Leotards, tights, yoga pants, skirts, tutus, anything goes 🙂

Where do I Sign Up? 

Check out our Adult Ballet Master Classes page for details and to book.  Each class will be hosted on Zoom.  All you need is a small space in your home.

Please take a moment before the beginning of the class to test the Zoom platform out.  Create a free account on Zoom and explore the platform, do a test meeting with a friend.  The teacher should be able to see you clearly from head to toe.  In addition, you should be able to see the teacher clearly.

Join us for our first of our Ballet Master Classes with the amazing Fredrick Davis, former Principal of Dance Theatre of Harlem.  Learn more about him in the Emmy award winning documentary, From the Streets to the Stage.  

Until our next plié ❤

Ballet Terminology

The following are commonly used ballet terms used in ballet class.  All ballet terminology is in French reflecting ballet’s origins.  At first it can be overwhelming to remember, so here is a little guide.  All terms are taken from Gail Grant’s Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet.  The list will be updated as we learn new movements.

Allégro- Brisk, lively.  A term applied to all bright and brisk movements.  The important qualities to aim at in allégro are lightness, smoothness, and ballon.

Allongé- Extended, outstretched.

Arabesque- One of the basic poses in ballet, arabesque takes its name from a form of Moorish ornament.  In ballet it is a position of the body, in profile, supported on one leg, which can be straight or demi-plié, with the other leg extended behind and at right angles to it, and the arms held in various harmonious positions creating the longest possible line from the fingertips to the toes. The forms of arabesque are varied to infinity.

Assemblé– Assembled or joined together.  A step in which the working foot slides along the ground before being swept into the air.  As the foot goes into the air the dancer pushes off the floor with the supporting leg, extending the toes.  Both legs come to the ground simultaneously in fifth position.

Battement Dégagé (same as Battement Glissé,Battement Tendu Jeté)- Disengaged battement.  A term of the Cechetti method.  The battement dégagé is similar to the battement tendu but is done at twice the speed and the working foot rises about 4 inches from the floor with a well pointed toe, then slides back into the first or fifth position.  Battement dégagés strengthen the toes, develop the instep and improve the flexibility of the ankle joint.  Same as battement tendu jeté (Russian school), battement glissé (French school)

Battement développé- Battement developed.  From the fifth position the working food glides up to the retiré position and and forcefully opens in the required direction. On reaching the extreme point, the leg is lowered to the fifth position.

Battement en cloche– Like a bell.

Battement Fondu– Battement, sinking down.

Battement Tendu- Battement stretched.  A battement tendu is the commencing portion and ending portion of a grand battement and is an exercise to force the insteps well outward.  The working foot slides from the first or fifth position to the second or fourth position without lifting the toe from the ground.  Both knees must be straight.  When the foot reaches the position pointe tendue, it then returns to the first or fifth position.  Battement tendus may also be done with a demi-plié in the first or fifth position.  They should be practiced en croix.

Coupé– Cut, cutting.  A small intermediary step done as a preparation or impetus for some other step.  It takes its name from the fact that one foot cuts the other way and takes its place.

Demi-plié– Half bend of the knees.  All steps of elevation begin and end with a demi-plié.

En Croix- In the shape of a cross.  Indicates that an exercise is to be executed to the fourth position front, the second position, and to the fourth position back, or vice versa.  As, for example, in battements tendus en croix.

Glissade– Glide.  A traveling step executed by gliding the working foot from the fifth position in the required direction, other foot closing to it.

Jeté, pas– Throwing step.  A jump from one foot to the other in which the working leg is brushed into the air and appears to have been thrown.

Pas de bourrée– Bourrée step.

Pad de deux– Step for two.

Pas de cheval– Horse’s step.  This step is so called because it resembles the movement of a horse pawing the ground.

Passé– Passed.  This is an auxillary movemen tin which the foot of the working leg passes the knee of the supporting leg from one position to another (as, for example, in développé passé en avant) or one leg passes the other in the air (as in jeté passé en avant) or one foot is picked up and passes in back or in front of the supporting leg (as in chassé passé).

Plié- Bent, bending.  A bending of the knee or knees.  This is an exercise to render the joints and muscles soft and pliable and the tendons flexible and elastic, and to develop a sense of balance.

Port de bras– Carriage of the arms.  The term port de bras has two meanings: (1) A movement or series of movements made by passing the arm or arms through various positions.  (2) A term for a group of exercises designed to make the arms move gracefully and harmoniously.

Relevé- Raised.  A raising of the body on the points or demi-pointes, point or demi-pointe.  Relevé may be done in the first, second, fourth, or fifth position, en attitude, en arabesque, devant, derrière en tournant, passé en avant, passé arrière and so on.

Sous-sus- Under-over.  A term of the Cechetti method.  Sous-susis a relevé in the fifth position performed sur place or traveled forward, backward, or to the side.  The dancer springs onto the points or demi-pointes, drawing the feet and legs tightly together.

Rond de Jambe- Round of the leg, that is, a circular movement of the leg.  Ronds de jambe are used as an exercise at the barre, in the center, and in the adage, and are done à terre or en l’air.  When used as a step, ronds de jambes are done en l’air and may be sauté or relevé.  All are done clockwise (en dehors) and counterclockwise (en dedans).

Sauté- Jumped, jumping.

Soutenu–  Sustained.

Until our next plié ❤