Edited by: Victoria Chang
Written by: Felicia Chua
Photos by: Lai Yun Xin and Ong Yong Jia
“Ballet isn’t modelling business. It’s about dancing.
It’s about how you express yourself and how you use what you have.”
A few weeks ago, NTU-USP Special Projects committee organised their first USPecial event of the month, USPlié. As the name suggests, it was a ballet session held by our own NTU-USP faculty member, Dr. Rebecca Nichols – also known fondly by students as Prof Becky. The event was held at the function hall of the Crespion Halls.
Prof Becky shared with the class about her personal experience with ballet. She had started as early as 4 years old, and part of her childhood routine would be to go for classes every Saturday morning. However, she took a long break away from dancing altogether a few years after her family moved from Portland to Texas. She started again only when she was in high school at the age of 14 and has been dancing ever since. From her own experience, she said, “I feel that it is not a ‘be all and end all’ to dancing the moment you stop or take a break. There are still classes to go back to dance again even as an adult. Even now, I still feel at home every time I go back to ballet class.”
She went on to briefly teach the students the colorful history of ballet. From its origination in the 1400s in the Renaissance court of Italy, where its purpose was to serve the nobility, to the 19th century where ballet was adapted as a performing art in most countries after the World War, marking the beginning of the form of ballet we most commonly see now. Prof Becky also highlighted how fine distinctions were made to different classes of ballet and the evolution of dance throughout time, drawing similarities between ballet and modern or contemporary dances. Vanessa Nah, a year 2 Linguistics and Multilingual Studies student, said: “I think there was a nice balance between the practical and the theory part of the session. Teaching us about the history of ballet lead to a greater appreciation of the dance forms.”
Dr. Becky brought her pointe shoes and passed it around to the students. It was a first time for many of them to handle and touch the pointe shoes, which was a cherished possession for many ballet dancers. “If you know a professional dancer, it is normal that their feet will be constantly bloody and beaten up by these shoes, it is kind of a gnarly sport.” This draws a startling contrast of how ballet seems so beautiful on the surface, yet it is such a painful sport behind the stage.
Finally, the students went ‘to the barre’ as Dr. Becky called it, which in our case were the back of plastic chairs. We held onto our makeshift barres for support, and practiced the dance moves. She started by explaining the positions of the plié and the 5 basic positions of ballet, going slowly to ensure that all students would be able to follow. Victoria Chang, a year 2 Psychology student, said that she was strongly encouraged to join, even though she had no prior knowledge. “It was extremely fun and easy for beginners and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Prof Becky taught at a comfortable pace which made it less daunting for us to learn.”
After practicing the moves a few more times, Dr. Becky taught the students how to dance to the music to produce a basic ballet routine. The students had a lot of fun as they slowly grasped the rhythm of the music and the counts, and moved effortlessly to the music. Prof Becky said: “Dancing is about being fully present with your body and for everything to come together seamlessly, it takes a lot of focus. What I want the students to experience is dancing not only for the sake of art form, but to feel the music in their bodies and dance to it.”
Christina Tan, a year 4 Biological Science student, said that the overall experience was amazing. “I took ballet when I was in Primary 1 and 2, and I forgot how difficult it was after not doing it in a long while. It was really cool to see Prof Becky being so graceful and elegant!”