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A little more than four years ago, I signed up for an adult ballet class. It was out of an urge to improve my health that I made that move. Prior to this, I had major problems with my lower back. Sometimes it would go into spasms when I did little things like bending down to brush my teeth. Once or twice I couldn’t even stand up straight after the brushing. I felt that something serious was happening to my body and so I started a frantic search for solutions.

First I went to stretch therapy and yoga. But it didn’t help that much. In fact, the difficult yoga posts added stress to my already frozen back. So I kept on searching, until one day it dawned on me that I had to first experience the “feeling” of health before I could achieve health. I searched in my own experience to see if there was an age when I was feeling absolutely healthy, with no ailments whatsoever. Voilà! I arrived at age 7. That was the time before I wore glasses. I remember being in total health. And that was the time I started taking ballet lessons. How did I feel back then? All I could remember from my faint memories was that I was happy. I was feeling “whole.” I loved to move my body. I loved to jump and turn and point my feet. So that’s the feeling that I decided to relive, at the beautiful age of 35.

Little Ballerina

Yours truly (middle) taking ballet class at around 10 years old 筆者(中)在大約十嵗那年上芭蕾課的情景

When I told others about going back to ballet, many scoffed at the idea in disbelief: “What? Is that some kind of infantile regression?”

Well, that’s the attitude most people have when you mention ballet. They think of little girls in pink tutus jumping around with their chubby little legs. But ballet lessons are not reserved for little girls. Increasingly, adults are getting interested in taking ballet lessons for various reasons. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 1 million ballet students over the age of 30. In other countries, too, adult ballet has become a very popular leisure activity—from China to Japan to the UK. Where I live, Hong Kong, the trend started a few years ago and the number of adults joining the dance studios is increasing. I constantly come into contact with adults who take or have taken lessons—male and female across a wide age spectrum and some whose children also take lessons.

In the beginning my back pain did bother me a bit during class, as there were some movements that I simply could not do, like the back bend. Luckily I started off with a studio that combined some sort of Pilates stretching with simple barre and allegro exercises in the center. So I was given a good, slow warm-up and opportunity to improve my flexibility. Flexibility is a thing that comes extremely slowly. Even some dancers who have studied for years struggle with it constantly. So I had no illustion at all what I would be able to achieve.

Over time, my back pain started to get better. Of course, ballet itself is not the main antedote to the problem. But it did help by getting my butt off the chair and into the “swing of things.” My main cure was the Egoscue Method by Pete Egoscue. With the help of his functional exercises (introduced in his book “Pain Free“), I was able to get rid of my lower back pain from the root level. This really freed up my ability to pursue ballet on a more serious level.

I mentioned “serious” because, funny enough, there is a spectrum of seriousness when it comes to adult ballet students. There are those who consider it a hobby to keep fit or to lose weight, with the added benefit of a socializing opportunity with those who share the same interest. There are those who want to fulfill their childhood dream to do ballet because financial limitations or other reasons prevented them from doing so as a kid. Then there are those who are balletomanes and want to gain firsthand experience of their beloved art form. And then there are “ballet moms” and “ballet dads” who study it in order to understand their dancing kids better. Finally, there are those who take lessons with the goal of becoming a ballet teacher or even to perform.

For me, it is really a combination of all of these, except for the last two categories. You’ll find many adult ballet students get hooked to ballet lessons once they have started. It is not difficult to understand why.

Entering a ballet studio is akin to entering a sanctuary, where worries of daily life just go out the window. Instead, you allow the beautiful music—often classical—to flow through your body and then move along with it. This moment is transcending. No words. Just music and movement. Everything is contained in that sacred body of yours. Whether you lift your arm or point your toes, it is your pure being experiencing the moment in its full presence. Your mind cannot wonder, as ballet requires full concentration, or else your movements won’t coordinate and flow with the music. This total presence in the moment is what makes it a transcending experience. At least for me it is. Dance, in this sense, surpasses words as a way to express our soul. You cannot hide what your body sends out to the world, whether it’s a feeling, mood, or just, you.

Beyond this spiritual experience, I would say that many of us enjoy ballet as a “me time”—a time to spend on a passionate hobby that belongs to you alone, 100 percent of the time. No bosses, children or relatives to nag you during the hour or hour-and-a-half lesson.

And what gets adults to go back again and again to the dance studio is the exhilarating feeling of seeing ones’ own skills improve. This may happen quickly, but most of the time it occurs extremely slowly. Sometimes we dance students have those blocks that are similar to a writer’s block. We get stuck with a particular step, position or movement. We do it over and over again but we still fail—sometimes to such a degree that we feel jinxed. But then one day, it suddenly clicked! Eureka! That’s how I feel when I manage to do a nice and clean single pirouette. I think I can count the number of times with my fingers on one hand. Still, it feels almost like a miracle when I managed, and to come to that illusive perfect turn, you spend countless lessons trying to achieve it. When you manage, it’s only a split of second, and then it’s gone. But the joy lasts for weeks and months to come.

I don’t know if there is a particular type of adults who are drawn to ballet. But I would say those who have continued to take lessons year after year are those who really like challenges. Every lesson is filled with challenges. An outsider may not notice that at all, as the challenges are very subtle. But because ballet is an art form that requires precision and aims at perfection, the challenges are wonderfully numerous. Onwards and upwards to my next challenge!

舞在當下: 一個成人芭蕾舞學生的日記

四年前,報了名參加成人芭蕾舞課。原因嘛,是爲了改善我日漸衰退的健康。那時,我的腰背出現了嚴重的疼痛, 有時連做些細微的動作,例如刷牙,也會令背部抽筋,甚至伸都伸不直。我開始有恐懼的感覺,身體真的那麽糟糕了嗎?這促使我四處尋找解痛之法。

最初的時候,我嘗試了做拉筋運動和瑜伽,但這些都幫助不大,尤其是瑜伽的一些難度高的動作,對我本身已經太緊的肌肉造成壓力。於是我繼續尋覓,終於醒覺,要重拾健康,必須先重拾健康的“感覺”。我在腦海中找尋一段完全健康的日子,結果給我找到了:在我七嵗的時候,我擁有絕對的健康。那時我還未開始戴眼鏡,也在那一年開始了學芭蕾舞。當時的感覺是怎樣的呢?在模模糊糊的記憶中,我非常開心,感到“完整”。我愛活動我的身體,愛跳、轉圈、踮腳。就在我三十五嵗這個勝年之時,我渴望重拾這種感覺!

當我決定了學跳芭蕾舞的時候,我身邊的親友不禁嘲笑地問:“你想返老還童是嗎?”

其實談到學芭蕾舞,大部分人都有一種想法,就是一群小女孩,穿著粉紅色的舞衣和紗裙,用她們胖胖的小腿在舞蹈室裏蹦蹦跳跳。但今時今日,芭蕾舞課不再是小女孩的專利品了。在世界各地,越來越多的成年人,因為種種原因而學芭蕾。在美國,已有超過一百萬年逾三十的人學習這種舞蹈。在很多別的國家,例如中國、日本和英國,芭蕾舞在近年都成了熱門的業餘活動。而在我居住的香港,成人芭蕾舞在好幾年前開始流行,如今還越來越多成人投身舞蹈室呢!我經常接觸到不少有這個嗜好的成人—他們當中有男有女,從十幾嵗到五、六十嵗,有些人的子女還在同一舞室上課呢,挺有意思的!

我最初學舞的時候,由於背痛的緣故,做不成某些動作,例如往後拗腰。幸虧我去的第一間舞室,在每一節課中都包含了好一段時間去做一些類似普拉提斯的伸展動作,以改善我們學員的柔軟度。這方面嘛,對於成年人來講,一般都需要較長的時間去訓練出來,即使學了很多年芭蕾的,有些也縂達不到理想的柔軟度。所以,在我來講,也不會寄望太高。

漸漸地,我的腰背痛減少了。芭蕾的確幫到不少,至少它讓我不再整天坐在案前,並且讓我定時活動全身的肌肉和筋骨。不過我的主治來於Egoscue Method。我根據Pete Egoscue的著作“無痛”(中文版由張象濟翻譯的,但已絕版),每天做一套看來非常簡單、但功效卻非常神奇的“功能運動”。由於這個方法從痛的根源著手,所以使我進展到完全無痛的狀態,進而可以要求自己在芭蕾技巧上認真地提升下去。

我提到“認真”這個問題,是因爲學芭蕾的成人,當中包有不同的學習目的,有的把它當成業餘消遣,在做運動、keep fit 和減肥之餘,又可以交到志同道合的朋友。有些呢,過去孩時家裏無法負擔學舞的經費,現在有了經濟能力,就決定一圓童年的夢想。再有一些本身已是芭蕾舞迷,愛看芭蕾舞劇,進而希望親身領會一下跳芭蕾舞的滋味。還有一些是因爲子女有學,自己也想從中了解到底子女學習的過程是怎麽的一囘事。最後,還有一小部分人希望可以成爲芭蕾舞導師或從事專業表演。

對我來講,除了最後兩類,這些都是我學芭蕾的初衝。很多開始了上芭蕾課的人,會發覺對這門藝術越來越有興趣,甚至簡直會好像上了癮一般,不能自拔,原因很簡單—

當你一達入舞蹈室裏,你會感到身處於一個“避難所”一般,日常生活的各種憂慮,頓時抛諸腦後。聼住優雅的古典音樂,你的全身會跟著它的節奏和旋律而舞動。這一刻,是超越時空的,沒有言語、只有音樂和動力。一切都只存在於神聖的身軀裏,一舉手一投足,都是你個人的精粹,百分之百地經歷那一刻無界限的時刻。這麽講來,好像“夢遊”,但其實在做芭蕾的每一個動作時,都需要全神貫注,不然就無法把身體語言和音樂協調。在每一刻都“舞在當下”,所以令人產生一種“超覺”的體驗。起碼,我是享受這種體驗的。如此一來,舞蹈,比文字更有力地表達我們的靈魂。身體的語言,在跳舞的過程中,隱藏不了真我。

除了這種比較玄妙的感覺外,我相信很多成人芭蕾學生都籍上課來享受一段完全屬於自己的時間。在一個半小時的課裏,沒有老闆、小孩或家人喋喋不休地要求你做這樣、做那樣。

是什麽令我們一次又一次地渴望回去舞蹈室呢?就是那種看到自己的技巧有進步的美妙感覺。對某些比較有條件或天分的人,可能進步會來得比較快,但對大部分成年人,這可能是一個漫長的過程。有時,我們會像一些作家一樣地有一種“寫作障礙”,只不過,這種障礙是關於如何去做好一個動作,如何達到完美的技巧。有時,一遍又一遍地去做,總是做不到,會感到洩氣。但如果做到的話,就好像“中了六合彩”一般,真想大叫一聲:“我得咗啦!” 對我來講,能夠做成一個清爽的單次轉圈,是寥寥可數的“奇跡”。可能要練習幾百次,才能做到一次,而做到時的感覺真棒啊!雖然那一刻,確實是太短了,過眼雲煙,但,那種興奮,可以維持幾個禮拜,甚至幾個月!

我不清楚,到底長期學芭蕾的成人,是否屬於某一類人,但可以肯定的是,他們都喜歡挑戰自己。每一節課,都充滿大大小小的挑戰的,因爲芭蕾是一門要求極度準確性和完美性的藝術。讓我繼面對下一個挑戰吧!

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