When I found yoga several years after finally hanging up my tutu, I remembered the thrill of connecting the body and mind, the heady mix of discipline, exertion and mastery. I made yoga my new ballet, and made my sister practise with me nightly. There is, however, something in the pleasure of dancing that is unique to it and the latent ballerina in me always regretted having to give it up because, let’s face it, ballet is for young girls, unless you go professional. Or is it?
When I heard that a former ballerina suspected there might be many women in London like me who missed ballet and wouldn’t mind the benefits of it as an exercise, Golborne Place was born. I went along to see if I still had a decent pirouette in me.
The morning started with a gyrotonic session with Monica Zamora. A former principal with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Monica found herself relying on pilates (‘it retrains and strengthens the body’) and gyrotonics (literally meaning ‘circular toning’) to keep her body supple. As an exercise, gyrotonics is akin to a seated yoga: movements are designed to loosen and strengthen the body’s muscular structure.
I then moved onto a ballet lesson with Isabel McMeekan and was delighted to find I could still execute a rond de jambe (and somewhat surprised to find that a half hour lesson of fairly basic movements designed for a beginner left me out of puff). After class I indulged in a massage before sitting down with Monica and Isabel for a cup of tea.
As we chatted, I realised that the skills learned through ballet are surprisingly applicable to city life: ‘professional ballet is highly demanding and emotions can jeopardise the way you move, so ballerinas learn to understand the connection between the state of mind, nervous system and body,’ Monica told me. ‘Dancers therefore are centred and dancing helps to dispel anxiety and control adrenaline, anyway.’
During our conversation I couldn’t help but ask about the lifestyle of a ballerina and the common assertion that most live, like models, in a state of starvation. To this, Monica said: ‘to dance at your best you must eat the right thing at the right time and if you under eat you can’t do that. So in my experience good ballerinas learn about how food reacts and which kind of energy certain foods provide.’
This inclusive, cover-all-angles approach was part of Monica’s vision for Golborne Place; she wanted to provide a ‘welcoming, friendly and warm-hearted’ atmosphere for all. The studio is now used by professional dancers and novices alike, exactly as Monica had hoped.
‘Ballet shouldn’t be exclusive. The body is your home for your whole life and dance promotes health and healing. We all have the tools to look after ourselves and even something as simple as stretching can make a difference to the way we feel. This deadness from the neck down shouldn’t be. I believe movement is the essence of being alive.’ Hear, hear.