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Daniel Pratt has some New Year wishes

Posted on January 30, 2017

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January is a strange month. Christmas probably seems like a distant memory now. I’m always disconcerted by how bare my living room looks once all the decorations have been taken down; the red-berry warmth that infused our exchanges as we anticipated the Holiday season is replaced with an altogether more minimalistic, somewhat beige, mood. As we return to the rhythm of our quotidian, a feeling of space emerges. I suddenly find that there’s lots of time for reflection, for planning and organising.

New Year’s Eve is always filled with revelry, but this time it felt distinctly meditative. I smiled at Jonathan Gray’s comment in the editorial of January’s Dancing Times that “we live through changing times”; with change comes opportunity. The wonderful thing about a career in dance is that you never know what a new role, a new partner or a new challenge might draw out of you. Many of us would have just finished long runs of festive ballets, and very often talk turns to what the next season might bring – even if there are still a few ballets left to dance between now and the summer. The general atmosphere amongst my dancer friends and colleagues in companies around the world at this time of year is one of introspection: audition season is beginning, and whilst one may not be thinking of a change-of-scenery oneself, the visiting dancers who come to take company class offer a mirror to measure yourself against, a sort of physical barometer.

Customary talk in the media about fitness and getting in to the best shape possible after yuletide excess might not be as appropriate to professional dancers, but January is still a good time to take stock of your physical well-being. Pilates is the key way I keep my body in balance. Some people find it a little boring, but its whole-body approach is excellent for teaching and promoting effective muscle patterns. I know I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. Gyrotonics was a revelation for me, but I haven’t found it as easily accessible on my travels thus far. If you can, find a studio that offers it – I know of one international guest dancer who credits it with saving their career after a serious back injury. Another self-care technique I have experienced is Cranial Sacral Therapy. It’s strange and other-worldly, and perhaps not for everyone, but the wonderful way it brought my body and mind in to accord was magical. Indeed, I’d say the months I was practicing this technique felt like some of the most empowered of my life. Now I’m curious to try Body Stress Release, as explained by Debbie Malina in October 2016’s Dancing Times.

Sometimes in the depths of winter, comforts that are a little less auspicious are required. BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen Live came to my rescue at the end of January’s chilly first week (yes, even in Florida it was bleak, if only for one day). Perky Olympic diver Tom Daley was a guest, and whilst it was fun to discover that ballet forms a small part of his dry-land training, his “daley” meditation sessions are of more-worthy note. It allied itself with another piece of topical discussion I’d listened to during the week: comedian Ruby Wax spoke about mindfulness on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on January 4. So much of a dancer’s life is spent contrapuntally to ballet’s centrifugal aspirations; the level of careful introspection and self-awareness can become crippling. Wax described herself honestly as “a victim of comparison” and it’s a phrase that easily transfers on to dancers. Daley spoke about how he overcomes nerves by using a mindful approach, systematically being in the moment to observe the process of the diving technique. I think this is key and so useful for artists. When you make yourself the observer of your own thoughts, and accept that good and bad come and go, you relinquish the impulse to act on all of them. It gives you a wonderful set of choices.

So in changing times, there seem to be many things we can do to anchor ourselves in readiness for the year ahead. Reflecting on times past and filling the future with incentive is what January is for. That’s the wonderful thing about beige – it can become anything you want it to be.

Daniel Pratt was born in south London, and trained with Janie Harris and Stella Farrance. He attended The Royal Ballet School Associates Programme, and then Central School of Ballet. He is a dancer with Sarasota Ballet and has written a number of articles for Dancing Times.

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