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 ❤

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 ❤