Elizabeth Parisi, a self-confessed Betty Ballerina, returns to the barre for our Contemporary Ballet class.
I’m not going to lie, I felt childishly giddy stepping back into the studios of Australia’s most prestigious ballet company. I was last in the building as a teenager for The Australian Ballet School's summer school, approximately five million years ago.
The space is still rich with history and elegance. A stunning portrait of Dame Margaret Scott adorns reception and perfectly poised dancers float around the corridors. Despite its hallowed atmosphere, the Ballet Centre is super-friendly and welcoming, just as I remember it.
Tonight I’m back to take a Contemporary Ballet class, the latest addition to the Studios program, a series of drop-in classes held by The Australian Ballet at its Melbourne HQ.
Our teacher is Deanne Butterworth, a highly acclaimed contemporary dancer and choreographer who also happens to be an incredibly lovely human. She has created a safe and supportive environment in which students can explore their unique physical possibilities and feel comfortable expressing themselves.
While the foundations of contemporary ballet lie in classical technique, it allows for a greater range of movement and open-ended experimentation. It uses the language of ballet, but sets that language free to create new conversations.
Our class is similar to a traditional ballet lesson, but more loosely structured. Exercises at the barre are followed by work in the centre; we finish with a choreographed sequence. The entire class is set to recorded contemporary music for that extra hit of inspiration.
Deanne’s commitment to the contemporary style is palpable. Patient and gentle, she clearly communicates the essence of the work. We focus on isolating each body part, connecting to the breath and establishing grounding, all of which encourage heightened physical awareness and a connection to the space through which we move. I feel completely centred, as though in a yin yoga class.
We plié in parallel, we flex our feet and we push through body lines to full extension, moving beyond precision to individual expression. As we perform the choreographed sequence, Deanne doesn't focus on perfect execution; she encourages us to “be playful" with the steps and to explore them in our own way, according to the fluidity of our own inner rhythm.
Deanne also has a wonderfully inclusive approach. She is “less concerned with the rigidity of technique than a student’s enjoyment and full participation in the class." Instead of teaching the positions of the feet or explaining concepts of turnout or port de bras, she encourages students to learn as they go by watching and doing.
If this stimulates your creative core, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that contemporary ballet drop-in classes are suitable for adults of any level and any age. So it’s perfect for complete beginners (or yogis) looking for a new way to engage their bodies. It's also ideal for Betty Ballerinas like myself who want to re-engage with their bodies and awaken muscle memory.
I couldn't have wished for a more magnificent re-introduction to dance. By the end of the class I was dancing barefoot – ballet flats strewn to the side of the room. While I’m sure my muscles will feel it tomorrow, the class certainly stirred my senses and took me back to a very happy place.
Turns out your ballet days are never over.
Inspired? Take one of our Studios classes.