I hope you have had an enjoyable Easter break and are enjoying the spring sunshine… I have now scheduled the next batch of BiSS ballet classes, and will be resuming teaching from Thursday 22nd April. Classes will be continuing online via Zoom for the coming term as the URC remains closed; I am in touch with them about what may be necessary to enable them to open again safely, and will keep you posted of any developments.
I am issuing invitations to the following:
Thursday morning Advanced classes starting on 22nd April 10.00-11.30am
Monday Intermediate classes starting on 26th April 5.30-7.00pm
Adult beginners classes starting on Saturday 24th April 10.00-11.15am
If you would like to receive an invitation for any of these classes and have not already received one please email me. The price remains the same at £7 per class; you are welcome to pay for a batch of classes rather than singly if that is more convenient. If you are having any issues over payment or affordability please do contact me.
If Zoom is not your thing, why not check out the series “Enchainement of the day” on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channel here, which provide you with a daily enchainement to work on in your own time and at your own pace. For less experienced dancers wishing to maintain their practice at home in their own time there is also film of last summer’s adult beginners’ class with full explanation and demonstration, available by private link for £25; please contact me for details.
Looking forward to seeing you back in class soon! Susie
When I finished last year’s review of the year with best wishes for 2020 little did I suspect quite what a year it would be… Apologies for a long posting! Do hover over names and titles to find embedded links to further information.
2020 began busily, making final corrections to my doctoral thesis and writing papers emerging from my research. I delivered “Developing craft in the ballet class” at the Parallax 14 Craft and Art Symposium at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on 12th February. This friendly but thought provoking one day event brought together papers and performance presentations from artists and scholars in a variety of disciplines and genres in stimulating discussion.
No sooner that completed than I was preparing “We can know more that we can tell: transmitting knowledge in the ballet class” for presentation as part of the University of Malta’s three day Conference Performance Knowledges: Transmission, Composition, Praxis. Husband Pete and I left London for sunny Malta on Tuesday 10th March, my paper scheduled for the Friday. Held in the heart of picturesque Valetta in the dignified stone building of the old University the first day programme of this international gathering was truly exciting in its breadth and variety. But at the end we were summoned together in the main hall and it was announced that the rest of the conference was to be cancelled. The seriousness of the contagion of Covid19 taking hold frighteningly in Italy was beginning to be fully realised, and the Maltese government summarily imposed strict 14 day quarantine measures on foreigners arriving from several European countries. Over a final convivial drink with colleagues and new found friends we made the sad but necessary decision to get the first flight out the next morning, back to the UK, where the following week lockdown was announced – and life changed.
Like so many other self employed I lost all my work with lockdown; it was no longer possible to teach my regular classes, as the URC Hall had to close, and such communal activities were in any case not permitted. Soon other commitments further ahead were also cancelled as all realised that restrictions and social distancing measures would be in place indefinitely. It soon became apparent that the only way to maintain practice and perhaps a livelihood was to embrace possibilities online offered by platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and the newly emerging Zoom; a daunting prospect for a technical Luddite like myself. Here a huge thank you to Arts Council England for their speedy and sympathetic deployment of Emergency Funding ; their grant provided a cushion of time and funds for resources while I struggled to adapt to online working and develop new skills and ideas for taking Ballet in Small Spaces forward in the digital realm.
The dance world responded to the devastating curtailment of live activities with immediate enterprise. Companies made recordings of past performances digitally available to make up for the lack of live shows; but also, alongside numerous independent teachers, began offering live-streamed classes for dancers to participate in from their own homes. An extraordinary choice opened up, enabling professionals and amateurs to study with teachers from all over the world, sampling class practice at institutions such as English National Ballet, where Director Tamara Rojo taught a series of daily classes from her kitchen, and Paris Opera Ballet, whose grandes étoiles such as Dorothée Gilbert took turns to share barre work from their homes. I enjoyed dipping into the sympathetic and upbeat class of the Norwegian Ballet’s ballet master Jahn Magnus Johansen, and the wisdom of veteran Paris based teacher Wayne Byers. Some of the huge online offer was of questionable quality; so special thanks to colleague Ségolène Tarte and Sonia Tycko for their instructive sampling and judicious recommendations…
My initial experience of the live interaction of Zoom and streamed classes was negative; we are all now familiar with peering at thumbnail pictures of anxious faces or partially obscured bodies in cramped domestic spaces, stilted conversations, inexplicable loss of sound or picture, screeching sound distortions. For that reason my heart goes out to those who have decided that Zoom ballet classes are not for them, too stressful to follow teaching this distanced, or perhaps just one online interaction too many in a day where much work is now by computer. I began teaching online in late March by posting single enchaînements on Instagram, soon migrating to YouTube, with the idea of providing something fully visible, explained in detail, and viewable as many times as necessary, that people could learn in their own time and at their own pace. Our kitchen was cleared to become a space for dancing, and I owe a huge vote of thanks to Pete for filming me demonstrating these on my iPhone. The “Enchaînement of the day” series worked gradually through the barre and centre of a whole class and then some further groups of related enchaînements around particular themes. You can find all 51 on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channelhere.
By the end of April it became apparent that we were not going to be back in the URC Hall for the foreseeable future, and there was a real need to provide some complete live online classes tailored to what people could do in their own homes. I started to offer a series of Monday evening “Kitchen classes” via Zoom, welcoming back regular students; at the end of May adding a series of BiSS Thursday morning classes. An impressively large number gave the classes a try, and an encouraging number began attending regularly. Eternal thanks to all who generously provided illuminating and helpful feedback on their experience of my initial pilot!
These two classes for intermediate to advanced dancers gave me the confidence to offer through July a 5 class series for adult beginners. I had worried that beginners would find learning by Zoom particularly challenging; without the support of others around whom one could watch and copy in moments of doubt, and the mutual encouragement and shared fun that had become so much a part of these classes before Covid19 struck. It was heart-warming to see how people embraced the opportunity to resume their learning of ballet in this new way. Under normal circumstances we would have spent a whole term on a particular class; this short series seemed to end just as we were getting going. Emboldened by my YouTube experience I rashly promised to film the whole class so that people could continue to practise and develop the work we had begun. Another steep learning curve through August as I worked out with much cursing how to film myself on iMovie and edit my clips together with captions interspersed. The result three videos, comprising a warm-up, barre work and centre practice with demonstration and explanation, which are accessible via a private Vimeo link; contact me if you are interested in purchasing this.
I was but one of many exploring dance on film under lockdown. A feature of this period was the outpouring of creative homemade and small-scale dance movies reflecting the difficult career changing circumstances of dancers both poignantly and humorously; both students and professionals skilfully and imaginatively exploring the possible. Not only filming within the confines of the home, but also out in deserted streets, beaches, parks and gardens, taking the chance to leap and bound in casual clothes and sneakers, revealing dancing personalities in fresh and liberating ways in relation to the natural world. Regular permitted walks brought aesthetic delight in observing the process of seasonal transformation; I spent a happy summer afternoon improvising in the atmospheric gardens at Rousham, and another in nearby woods with Banbury based dance practitioner Paula Bailey in embodied response to the tangle of fallen branches, accompanied by the rustle of leaves and birdsong…
Meanwhile out of all these learning experiences a choreographic project was taking shape, building on a longstanding interest in the concept of technical studies, borrowed from musical composition, that I had previously explored in Inside Out in 2011; theoretical ideas emerging from my research now seeping into my practice. It felt as though, for many ballet dancers, training at home in a confined space emphasised maintaining physical fitness and mechanical abilities; but provided little opportunity to explore and refine the expressive dimensions of their technical skills. My idea to produce miniature dances tailored to performance in smaller spaces that would embed technical concepts, study and challenge into an artistic form, to give dancers something beyond mere exercises when theatrical performance opportunities are non-existent; and to enable non-professionals to develop their own sense of dancing as a communicative expressive statement.
Part of this has involved an extensive search for suitable music, initially sticking with piano music as an extension from class. Devising the enchaînements for YouTube had alerted me to the minefield of copyright in the digital domain, throwing up not simply the practical questions of music rights and permissions, but also profound philosophical questions of ownership of both music and the dance. An absorbing black hole where there are as yet more questions than answers… I have valued throughout this year email dialogue and discussion on musical matters with the immensely knowledgeable and experienced ballet accompanist Jonathan Still, and commend all those interested in the use of music in the ballet class to his enlightening blog, highly recommended!
To bring structure to a project developing a very different outcome in an unfamiliar medium I have participated in two of the inspiring mentored programmes run by Caroline Salem of Clarence Mews. This year dancing in that tranquil studio has been almost entirely impossible, but Caroline set up online programmes in which artists might continue to come together to share their emerging work in a safe and supportive environment, and give and receive feedback; also valuably try out new techniques for sharing and producing work online. From July to August I took part in an intense Virtual Month of Making via Zoom with 5 other artists, comprising weekly sharings and regular one-to-one sessions with Caroline; and have just completed a further 10 week programme with 4 others. It has been a joy to share the solitary and often doubt ridden process of creation with artists from as far afield as Finland and Tokyo as well as closer to home, and who are also working with media beyond dance; aerial work, comedy, spoken word, writing (both prose and poetry), flower arranging, installation work, film, sharing these in stimulating cross fertilization… And to marvel at the richness of ideas budding despite enormous restriction, artists putting forth hopeful green shoots in a year which has often seemed barren and devastated.
Another positive aspect of this difficult year has been closer involvement with Oxford Dance Forum (ODF) . Following last autumn’s conclusion of the successful 3 year ACE funded Evolution programme, a new phase beckoned, time to re-evaluate and initiate new projects. At the AGM in January a small steering team was confirmed, with Jenny Parrott continuing her valuable work as Administrator, Jane Connelly as Treasurer, Ségolène Tarte as Secretary and myself as Chair. We looked initially to continue valuable practical programmes for Oxford based dance artists such as monthly Creative Labs, and Scratch Nights at the Old Fire Station. With lockdown these were inevitably indefinitely suspended; but our activity was not! We have met regularly, using this down time to revise ODF membership arrangements and constitution; we also instigated regular Thursday afternoon informal Check in and Chat sessions. As well as providing a way for local dancers to keep in touch these have helped ODF to link up with similar organisations across the South East region and beyond. Jenny’s heroic efforts have ensured that a monthly newsletter packed with information about opportunities and assistance has gone out to members and wider associates; providing cheering evidence of solidarity and ingenuity within the beleaguered but unbowed independent dance sector.
ODF’s huge gratitude also goes to two local venues, themselves struggling with the financial devastation wrought by lockdown closure, but still reaching out to support freelance artists facing suspension of activity and loss of livelihood. September brought a fruitful collaboration with Oxford Playhouse to provide a week of free Covid safe rehearsal space for local artists in the Burton Taylor Studio; and in November and December Arts at the Old Fire Station (OFS) began a generous programme of affordable access to its studio, which ODF is further subsidising for its members under the name “Breathing Space”; a real bargain and a chance for local dancers to get on with developing work in anticipation of the eventual resumption of performance opportunities… continuing into 2021, watch this space!
Also continuing bravely to programme events despite setbacks was Dance Scholarship Oxford (DANSOX) based at St Hilda’s College. It was not possible to bring people together at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, but indefatigable director Professor Sue Jones programmed a Virtual Summer School featuring enlightening lectures on major American choreographer Paul Taylor by Alastair Macaulay and beautiful Taylor dancer Parisa Kobdeh, alongside new dance scholarship, including a lecture by myself: “The Ballet Class: A Critical Reading”. All the lectures are now available on the JduP YouTube Channel, along with previous DANSOX lectures by distinguished scholars and practitioners, you can find this treasure trove here.
Sadly this year brought great losses within my dance family. At the beginning of February John Travis, genial former Director of the British Ballet Organization whom I had first come to know in the late 1980s, died after a long battle with cancer; you can read an account of his rich career as a performer, teacher, educator, director, librarian, archivist, and mentor here. And then the teacher who had taught me and others so much over recent years, both as dancers and as people, the wonderful Roger Tully, passed peacefully away on 26th February. My last social gathering before lockdown was his funeral; a beautiful sunny spring day with blue sky and nodding daffodils paying perfect tribute. Here is the heartfelt obituary written by fellow Tully alumni Jennifer Jackson and Nicholas Minns for The Dancing Times. You can also read some reflections on Roger’s teaching in my essai “Outside the mainstream: ballet teaching at the margins” recently published in Theatre, Dance and Performance Journalhere. Roger’s Wednesday classes for the “Tully Collective” continue in London and now online, providing an opportunity to keep his refined and thoughtful teachings alive through their on-going practice, with classes taught on a rota by Naomi Sorkin, Jennifer Jackson, Patrick Wood, Aniko Nagy and myself.
Closer to home at the beginning of lockdown my Oxford ballet friend and fellow student, Caroline Wheatcroft (nee Pavely) died shockingly too soon of a brain tumour. Her untimely death prompted nostalgic reminiscences about our happy times learning ballet together, first with Beryl Jackson at the Tetlow Hulme Ballet Studio off New Inn Hall Street, and then with June Christian, before we both went to the Royal Ballet School; you can read more about this lovely sunny person and our early experiences here.
Finally on 17th November much loved teacher and exemplary dancer Karen Sellick, stalwart of the Oxford dance community, passed away, again from cancer; another cruel reminder that Covid19 is not the only killer. She is greatly missed by pupils and colleagues for her unfailing interest and support, and her joyous dancing in classes well into her eighties, providing inspiration to us all. Oxford Dance Writers will be publishing a tribute to her.
Throughout this year I have struggled to keep my anger at bay. I am horrified by the shameless ideological dismantling and removal of democratic representation and rights, the mendacity and corruption of government, the trashing of opportunities for generations to come, and the political incompetence which has allowed Covid19 to rage. I have watched with despair as the arts world suffers the perfect storm that is its downgrading and disappearance through impoverished educational policy and the short-sighted commodification of higher education, combined with the economic havoc wrought by Covid19 closures and now the loss of freedom of movement through Brexit. Yet I have also regularly been reminded of the miraculous transformative effect of engaging with the arts, which have been there through this most difficult of years bringing joy, solace, and enlightenment, genuinely enriching the lives of those who embrace them. A New Year’s resolution then to do my utmost to continue, promote and support the artistic activity and community this battered and misguidedcountry sorely needs.
I hope that you have had an enjoyable Christmas break despite current restrictions. New Year is creeping up on us, so here are plans for classes from January.
Given the ongoing Covid19 situation I will be continuing to teach via Zoom from my kitchen for the foreseeable, and there is as yet no fixed date for URC to re-open. My plan is to resume the usual schedule of classes starting from Thursday 7th January 2021 as follows: Thursdays: 10.00-11.30am Advanced from 7th January Saturdays: 10.00-11.15am Adult Beginners from 9th January Mondays: 5.30-7.00pm Intermediate/advanced from 11th January I will nearer the time be sending out Zoom invitations directly to those who have attended these classes before; if you have not previously attended but would like to, please contact me so that I can send you the necessary link and payment details.
The price of classes remains the same at £7; and classes can be paid for individually or in batches, online or by cheque. Please contact me if affordability is an issue.
Following on from the previous update; ballet classes via Zoom from my kitchen will be continuing throughout November and the first half of December as follows:
Monday Kitchen classes 5.30-7.00pm: a new series of 5 classes up to and including Monday 14th December will start on Monday 16th November.
Thursday Advanced classes 10.00-11.30am: a new series of 7 classes up to and including Thursday 17th December began last week.
Saturday Adult Beginners 10.00-11.15am: a follow-on series of 6 classes up to and including Saturday 12th December began last week.
Please email me if you would like to receive a Zoom invitation for any of these classes or need further information. The charge for all classes continues to be £7.
Sadly under the current lockdown live classes in Oxford have had to cease for the time being. Colleague SégolèneTarte will however be resuming offering some classes online over this period, so check out updates to her schedule here: https://dancingconvolutions.blogspot.com/p/teaching.html
An update on ballet classes for October… I can now confirm that sadly the URC will not be re-opening its hall until the new year, because of staffing issues compounding the complications of Covid19 compliance. So I will be continuing to teach online until Christmas at least.
During October I will be teaching the following adult ballet classes from my kitchen: Mondays 5.30-7.00pm Intermediate Thursdays 10.00-11.30am Advanced Saturdays 10.00-11.15am Adult Beginners (series of 5)
Please email me if you would like to receive a Zoom invitation for any of these. The charge for all classes is now £7 and the Adult Beginners series of 5 is therefore £35, but please let me know if you have issues of affordability.
If Zooming is not your thing and you prefer to be back in the studio, Oxford dancers will be very glad to know that Ségolène Tarte is now teaching a range of classes for dancers from Improvers through to Advanced; at St Matthews Church Hall on Mondays, at Mortimer Hall in Marston on Tuesday evenings and just starting at Wolvercote Village Hall on Friday evenings, with full safety measures in place. You can find details on her blog here: and here is a link to her most recent newsletter with further information; also some superior face masks for sale! Please note that because numbers are limited you will need to register in advance to attend any of these classes.
And for working in your own time and at your own pace, remember you can always sample the “Enchaînement of the day” series on YouTube here …
Here we are at the beginning of September… a long update with information about classes going forward.
At the moment sadly the URC hall is still not open, although they are doing risk assessments; so I am as yet unable to return to offering live classes there. So for the time being I will continue with teaching the following ballet classes online via Zoom: Thursdays 10.00-11.30am Advanced Mondays 5.30-7.00pm Intermediate (resuming on Monday 7th September) Saturdays 10.00-11.15am Adult Beginners (series of 5 from Saturday 3rd October).
Please email me if you would like to receive the relevant Zoom invitations for any of these classes. I have had to increase my charges to £7 for all classes.
As I was working on a project through August I will be taking a short digital detox holiday from Saturday 19th to Sunday 27th September, so there will be no classes over this brief period, but all classes will resume in the week commencing Monday 28th September. I am not planning too far ahead in case the situation changes, but am likely to continue online classes into November.
However if Zoom is not for you there are some alternatives… great news that Oxford colleague Ségolène Tarte will be resuming teaching next week from Monday 7th September and offering two live classes as follows: Mondays 1.15-2.45pm for adults with prior experience of ballet, St Matthew’s Church Hall, Grandpont, Oxford OX1 4LW (Ségolène maintains this popular class originally set up by Karen Sellick) Tuesdays 6.15-7.45pm for adults with prior experience of ballet, Mortimer Hall, Old Marston, Oxford OX3 0PH
Full details of these and the very thorough measures she is taking to ensure the safety of all participating can be found in her new newsletter, accessible here: https://mailchi.mp/daf17c7e4372/adult-ballet-autumn-term-2020 Do be aware that because of spatial distancing and limited numbers it will be necessary to pre-register for these classes.
As the URC is not open Ségolène’s usual Friday evening classes there are until further notice being subsumed into one remote online mixed level class 6.15 – 7.45pm accessible via Webex; full details and invitation link in her newsletter.
Other online alternatives: I have just made a film of adult beginners’ class material that the group did with me via Zoom in July, so that people can continue working on it independently. This consists of my teaching the warm-up, barre and centre practice enchainments, and is available on Vimeo for £25 via a private link. Do email for details if this would be of interest. I would also remind you of the series Enchaînement of the day that I was posting on YouTube from March to June which continues available free here on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channel. The level of these individual enchaînements is variable, some simple and some more complicated, but all very much designed to be done at home in a small space, in your own time and at your own pace. Check them out if you have not already…
Following a successful first series of BiSS Thursday morning ballet classes by Zoom for advanced and experienced dancers, I will be continuing Thursday teaching throughout July with further classes on 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th July at 10.00-11.30am. If you are interested in attending, please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request an invitation – which will be valid for all of them.
The Monday Kitchen Classes 5.30-7.00pm are also continuing until 27th July; if you would like an invitation please email.
Saturday 4th July 10.00-11.15am saw the first of an experimental series of 5 Zoom classes for adult beginners, with further classes on 11th, 18th, 25th July and 1st August. Please contact me by email if you would be interested in attending such classes in future.
I will be taking a brief break from teaching after that, but plan to resume online teaching via Zoom from 20th August. No news yet as to when it may be possible to return to live studio classes at URC… will keep you posted of any developments.
Following a successful first series of ballet classes via Zoom, I have scheduled a new series of a further seven Kitchen Classes for experienced dancers, starting this coming Monday 15th June 5.30-7.00pm, and continuing until the end of July. If you would like to attend any or all of these, please do email me soonest so that I can send you an invitation for the new Kitchen Class series; this new link will be valid for all seven classes. The suggested donation rate per class will remain the same for this series at £5. Please do pass the word to any colleagues or students who might be interested, with the message that people should contact me with any concerns about affordability.
The current Zoom series of Thursday morning classes10.00-11.30am will be continuing till 2nd July; and I plan to run a further series of these after that. As with the Kitchen Class series, please email me for an invitation. And you can meanwhile continue exploring ballet enchaînements from some of these classes as well as others via Enchaînement of the day on the Ballet in Small Spaces YouTube channel
Please contact me if you have any queries.
Looking forward to seeing you in class on Monday!
An annual spring social gathering in our road about recycling and exchanging household stuff, plant cuttings, and meeting the neighbours over a mug of coffee and home-made cake was sadly impossible in its usual form this year while observing guidelines for social distancing. So alternative ways to share and promote community spirit were proposed by the tireless organisers, encouraging all to contribute in other ways, with people posting up poems and images for passing residents to enjoy, and a moment to come onto the street to greet each other from a suitable distance. I devised a topically themed physically distanced Scottish country dance which we could participate in without breaking the rules – and much entertainment and amusement was had by those who wholeheartedly joined in or watched. Accompaniment on the bagpipes from husband Peter was a medley including “Cock of the North”. Feel free to use the instructions below in your own street…
An update on Ballet in Small Spaces classes happening via Zoom…
The Monday 5.30-7.00pm Kitchen class series continues up to and including Monday 8th June; after which a new series will begin, details to be posted. However this week on Thursday 21st May I am resuming my previously regular Ballet in Small Spaces Thursday 10.00-11.30am morning class, aimed at experienced dancers of intermediate to advanced level, to see if this provides a viable and useful alternative for people. Please email to let me know if you would be interested to join this class and I will send you an invitation for the series which will last till early July. As with the Monday Kitchen classes, there is a suggested contribution of £5 per class. Please do pass the word to any colleagues or students who might be interested, with the message that people should contact me with any concerns about affordability.
Meanwhile for those who prefer to take their time in learning and work at their own pace, the Enchainement of the Day series continues on YouTube; check them out here and give them a go! This is an evolving work in progress, so comments, feedback, requests and even likes would be greatly appreciated…