A Sit Down with Lynne Charles

If you have not heard the name Lynne Charles before, ballet friends, you’re welcome. She will change your pointe work forever. She is an American who has spent most of her adult life living and working in Europe.

Former principal dancer with John Neumeier and the Hamburg Ballet, Béjart Ballet Lausanne, and principal permanent guest artist with English National Ballet, as well as professor of classical ballet, Lynne has made it her mission postretirement to push the evolution of pointe work in a holistic and safe way. It was so exciting to have the opportunity to sit down with my amazing teacher and pick her brain. 

How was 4 Pointe conceived?

As a dancer, pointe work or articulation in the legs and feet was my specialty. I was well known for being an extremely articulate dancer, which I learned from my teacher Robert Scevers, who has since passed away. The first year I moved to Europe, I would go to his home every night and hang on his stove and do barre with him. He retrained me. He promised me that if I listened to him and did everything he said, I would become a very articulate, wonderful dancer like Elizabeth Carol, a ballerina with Harkness Ballet who we both were big fans of. I trusted him. He also said, “It will make you have a long career,” which was true because I danced until I was 53. I didn’t have injuries or problems like most dancers have. 

When I retired and started teaching and coaching, I started noticing that dancers today are being required to do, ever since Billy Forysyth, such incredibly difficult pointe work—so much turned in and over the foot and back on the foot and just much more than is required in a simple classical ballet. I thought there must be a way to add something to the pointe class to make sure that in doing this, dancers can do it well but don’t get injured. 

I was a Professor at the Folkwang University in Essen and worked with contemporary dance students for five years. I learned a lot about the contemporary side of dance. This opened my mind to more possibilities. The only way dancing will survive is if everything evolves and changes. One does not want to ever lose in classical ballet the classical, pedagogical background or the essence, but over the last twenty years classical ballet has changed and evolved through pilates, Gyrotonic exercise, and sports medicine. I pride myself on being a teacher who’s very open minded and also looking to evolve my class. 

This all led me to wanting to do 4 Pointe. I had also watched a lot of things on YouTube and discovered there has been no evolution in pointe training. Pointe training has basically stayed the same as it was 50 years ago. I decided to use aspects of everything I’ve learned and work with dancers to discover and develop how to make pointe training better. 

I always say that right now, in the phase where my 4 Pointe is, it is never meant to replace a pointe class where you do piqués and all the classical pointe stuff. It is meant to be an addition. Within a year, I hope to have developed it so that it is a whole class. That being said, if you do my whole 4 Pointe barre, you have worked your whole body. 

What are some of the most important elements for an adult dancer preparing for pointe?

The correct shoes. If an adult beginner does not have a good pair of pointe shoes, it’s miserable. They will get blisters, have sore feet, it’s going to be an uncomfortable experience. Do some research. You may want to wear the same shoes as your favourite ballerina, but maybe those shoes are not good for you. You have to invest time and find out what kind of shoes there are. Try on 4 or 5 different shoes. Invest and try 2 different kinds, alternating until you see which works better. Your first time on pointe is an experience and you want it to be a good one, so you need to have good shoes. Pick a teacher that is interested in your well-being, not interested in making a buck. Otherwise you become one of the crowd. 

What advice would you give to adult students going on pointe for the first time?

I think in the beginning it is painful in the knees, hips, and lower back. This is normal. I would advise strengthening their feet with a TheraBand. Do some relevés at the stove when cooking to strengthen the ankles. I think if they are interested in doing it, more power to them. 

I have great respect for adult beginners. For someone at 40, starting ballet puts tremendous strain on the body. It’s a tremendous investment of your time and your energy. I think that sometimes adult beginners are not treated with enough respect for who they are and what they have achieved in their life. Some are double, triple mothers, have had a full-time job, and take care of families. It’s a whole different kind of person. It’s not a 12-year-old, it’s a mature adult. I think sometimes they are not taken seriously enough. 

If you can teach an adult beginner and a child, then you can teach anybody. The easiest thing to teach is a very talented dancer. Half your work is done. If you can get something out of an adult, that is a real challenge to your teaching qualities. 

Any final thoughts for the adult ballet world?

Don’t let anybody demotivate you. If you have two kids, three kids, a husband, a house, and a job and you still want to do ballet, oh my God, more power to you. And even if you don’t have any of those things and you want to go to ballet and you’re not 18, you’re 35, 40, 50, whatever—if it makes you happy, ballet is a wonderful thing to do and it’s a way to get in tune with yourself. I think anything you do that makes you happy, you should just do it. And ballet is not just wonderful for the body, it’s a wonderful art form. Don’t give up, don’t let people discourage you or make fun of you, just go for it. 

Thank you so much Lynne for sharing with us. I leave you all with Lynne’s mantra….

“4 Pointe is meant to be a somatic and mindful method of training dancers on pointe. I believe a dancer’s body is their tool and it must be cultivated with wisdom and respect, kept in good health, well fed as well as artistically nourished. This is the challenge of our generation. Therefore as leaders we must learn enhanced ways of transmitting valid and timeless information as well as further developing how classical training methods can be updated without losing the sense of what art is and why we do it.”

Find Lynne on Youtube….

On her Instagram…

https://www.instagram.com/4pointe/

And meet Lynne in person at our upcoming Adult Ballet Weekend Intensive on June 13th. Details here…..

Until our next plié ❤

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 ❤