Ballet and the Joy of the Present Moment

Dyumna Chhabraadult ballet, Ballet, inspiration Leave a Comment

By Pournami Dheeshjith (far right in the banner image)

When I first joined the Adult Beginners’ Ballet class at The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet taught by Ms. Sushmitha Margad, I was so excited and nervous at the same time. Ballet demands years of training simply because of the strength, stamina and muscle memory that a dancer must achieve to reach a certain level of proficiency. It seemed daunting to start something new, when it felt like the journey was so long and the destination so far ahead, that there was no end in sight. It’s safe to say that my first class was quite overwhelming, it felt like everyone was getting the steps right and faster than my eyes could even pick them up! But as it is with anything we start for the first time- we fall, pick ourselves up and try again anyway. When we think of learning any classical art form, there’s often a misguided notion that it’s tedious, repetitive, strict and boring. After a year of learning ballet, I can say that it can seem that way, if you’re focused on the movements and how difficult it is to keep your spine straight all the time, and not what I call the ‘magic’ of ballet.

You’re probably wondering which rabbit hole I accidentally fell into, but I’d like for us to take a trip down a little thought experiment.

If you had already achieved whatever you wanted to achieve in this moment, how would you attempt to do it now?

It sounds complicated but the idea is simple- that our perspective can change everything about how we learn something new. If the future version of you has already mastered the pirouette, what would that version of you do now?

Wouldn’t it feel natural to whip your head and find a spot on the opposite wall? Would you really be so hung up on how awkward you feel and look, or would you just turn with ease?

Perhaps, the wisdom of the ancient Japanese can further illustrate the importance of perspective:

Mindfulness – This may sound strange because the last thing you want to do is sit down and meditate in a ballet class. The idea isn’t to ‘empty the mind’ but instead to forget about everything you think you know and stay present in the moment. When you’re focused on the present moment in class, it becomes quite simple- just that one échappé, a relevé and then a plié. There’s simply no room for the negative thoughts that are so insistent on putting you down, with everything you
could do wrong or how the sequence seems so impossible.

Oubaitori (桜梅桃李) – A Japanese idiom that comes from the kanji for four different flowers that bloom at different times in spring. It acts as a reminder that everyone has their own journey; it’s important to celebrate our own growth instead of comparing ourselves to others. Trust that your body knows what to do, in its own way and its own time.

Kaizen (改善) – A Japanese philosophy that conveys the idea that small improvements can create an impact over time. These small improvements over time are subjective- one day, it means showing up for class and the next, it means that you’ve mastered the fifth position of your feet. However, it doesn’t take away from the overall growth and deep sense of self-fulfilment that comes from consistently taking action.

There are some caveats to this. Sometimes, we get so caught up striving to reach the next goal and the next, that we often don’t realise that what we’re looking for, can never be fully realised without appreciating where we are now and how far we’ve come. I’d also like to emphasise the importance of acknowledging and honouring each and every hurdle along the way, because they’re often hidden milestones and breakthroughs disguised as obstacles!

Shu-Ha-Ri (守破離) – A Japanese martial arts concept that describes the stages of learning to reach mastery. We feel vulnerable and uncoordinated when we learn ballet for the first time, so it’s always helpful to have someone guide us through the basic positions and movements of the arms and feet. A teacher can help us build a solid foundation, before we leap into exploring and experimenting with new approaches and techniques, when ’the teacher disappears.’

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.”
– Tao Te Ching

We learn most effectively when we’re curious, brave and willing to trust the process instead of letting our minds dictate how and when we can ‘have ’something. It steals the best thing about ballet, the joy of learning something we love. After all, we can never learn the same thing twice, so it’s important to notice when the magic happens!

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