Posted on October 3, 2012
Since retiring as a first soloist with The Royal Ballet, Isabel McMeekan has set up Everybody Ballet. The company offers adult ballet classes for beginners, as well as private coaching for students of all ages.
“I started off just teaching friends, one summer,” explains McMeekan (pictured, with students). “I retired from The Royal Ballet three years ago. Carlos Acosta let me go and stay in his place in Cuba, so I went there for a holiday, and started teaching two friends of mine who came with me. Everyone was really enthusiastic, it felt great for their bodies. So I set up a class at St Peter’s in Portobello, and it developed from there.” She now holds classes at the Royal Opera House, at Rambert Dance Company’s studios, at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill and at Golborne Place, the London studio run by former Birmingham Royal Ballet principal Monica Zamora.
What do McMeekan’s adult beginners get from ballet? “It’s a lifestyle thing,” she says. “There’s a real sense of well-being – it’s starting to know how to look after yourself, physically, mentally, nutritionally. There’s a cultural element, they start going to the theatre a lot more! Once they get over the initial hurdle of ‘Oh my god, am I really doing this? I feel like I’m six years old,’ people find it a lovely alternative to the gym. We’ve thought about it, we’ve structured the class so it’s a really healthy thing for the body. It’s about providing a safe environment, so it’s joyful and warm, and nobody feels intimidated.”
How do her classes work? “The Everybody Ballet method is divided into three parts. We start on the floor, doing specific stretching and strengthening work. It’s a culmination of all the experience I’ve gathered from Pilates, gyrokinesis, ballet, stretching. We target specific muscle groups, to strengthen them.
“Then we get them onto the barre. It’s a gentle barre: plies, tendus… Last, we come into the centre for ports de bras, tendus, jumping and sometimes turning. They’re just blown away by it. They’re also surprised by how mentally taxing it is. It’s like bridge for the body!”
Ballet dancers turn their legs out from the hip, to create classical lines. Turning out is much easier if you start young, when the body is naturally more adaptable. How does McMeekan address turnout with adult students? “It’s been an interesting balance,” she says. “We spend a lot of time talking about the alignment of the pelvis. We start in parallel [feet straight, rather than turned out], and use the muscles to rotate, and open up into a natural first position. Obviously, we don’t want any Harley Street knees! It’s about getting the kneecap in line with the second metatarsal, and really correct placement. That comes from the pelvis.
“That’s what’s really beautiful about ballet as a system of training. If you think of the skeletal system just hanging there, once it’s in correct alignment and placement, rotating is not that unnatural. The femur can do that. It’s just making sure that the correct alignment is there, for that natural rotation to happen.”
McMeekan’s first holiday students had no dance experience. She is preparing younger students for vocational schools, but the adults “tend to be beginners, though we now have an intermediate class.” One of her students is now doing a dance degree at the Royal Academy of Dance; others are keen to become more involved with the ballet world, helping with fundraising. Zamora and McMeekan have also held ballet retreats, with one planned in Oxfordshire in November.
For more information, see www.everybodyballet.com.