“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!