Emmi's Pen (8): Pursuit for balance

Emmi’s Pen is a blog, appearing on our website every two weeks. Dancer Emmi Pennanen will take you behind the scenes into the daily joys and struggles of a dancer, each time zooming in on a specific aspect of life at Ballet Vlaanderen.

Pursuit for balance

The surface of the tip of a pointe shoe is, by estimation, a 3 square-centimeter area. Needless to say, standing ‘en pointe’, whether on one leg or two, is a challenge, that requires steady concentration every time. Each morning we redefine our physical balance that day, find our centre, sense our axis. In fact the whole act of dancing, regardless of footwear; pointe shoes, soft shoes, socks, bare feet or sneakers; is a constant play with balance. Resisting gravity, elevating yourself, staying still in a difficult pose or letting bodyweight drive the movement. To fall, catch or control, speed up or slow down. All these choices come back to the current relationship with physical balance.

In the way we train and work our body day in day out, we most certainly are equal to athletes and could be defined as such. Yet, contrary to sports, what we do should most of the time appear effortless, easy even. If an audience member leaves a performance thinking they could copy what they just saw, then we have succeeded extremely well in our very demanding job.

In addition to the mechanic interplay with equilibrium in our dancing, we confront many other frontiers that are sensitive to fluctuation. In order to reach the precision we aim for, everything has to be repeated many times. Where is the line between enough and too much practice? We have a very intensive work schedule. How far can you push the boundaries of tiredness before full collapse? Often we experience some sort of body pain. At which stage does it pass from healthy and tolerable to dangerous and injuring ? Our work is also our passion. Where lies the crossover from necessary dedication to losing yourself and all perspective? Because what we do is so visual and exposed, we have to maintain a slim figure. When to switch cake into carrots and reversely, when absolutely to choose the cake?

This is an occupation that starts at a very young age. We harbour the dream of becoming a professional dancer and work intensely towards it, all through our teenage years. Entering a company in our early twenties and being thrown into the reality of that very romantic dream, it is most likely that the answers to most questions above are not there yet.

Many ballet and dance schools try to provide their students with tools for mental preparation, injury prevention and proper nutrition. But in the midst of ever changing circumstances of the work, all these are matters that need to constantly be redefined and -evaluated. Personally, throughout my own seven years as a dancer so far, I have found myself on every side of all the lines. With time and through the accumulation of experience I do feel balance happening more and more naturally. Sometimes one has to get lost to be found. Everything, after all is a matter of practice.

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