The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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FIRST: Ballet - Self-discipline, determination and perseverance

Joanna Demarco Wednesday, 1 November 2017, 11:21 Last update: about 7 years ago

Now that a new scholastic year has begun, and it’s back to routine and extracurricular activites, First magazine spoke to Johanne Casabene from Johanne Casabene Dance Conservatoire, about the benefits reaped by dancing ballet, and her own journey centered around her passion for the locally-popular dance genre. Photography by Baskal Mallia

Over the decades, ballet practice seems to have engrained itself within Maltese culture, especially amongst younger girls. However, only a few ballet dancers grow up to continue having the art woven into their adult life. When beginning ballet from a young age, the benefits go beyond just learning dance techniques; and naturally, when the training is continued, they increase as the dancer grows up and develops.

"Classical ballet technique is both physically and mentally demanding, therefore students, from a young age, learn about self-discipline, commitment, and responsibility," Johanne explained, when asked what values students are instilled with. She said that like any other hobby, it is necessary for the students to develop a passion for the practice, in order for the seeds to be sown and the individual to continue pursuing it. She listed perseverance, teamwork, inclusion, collaboration, and stepping up to challenging situations as other benefits.

Looking at the more committed, long-term ballet dancers, the advantages only increase, to the point where they are even visually recognisable.

"You can immediately recognise an individual that has trained ballet for an extended time.. by the way they walk, their posture and how they present themselves in front of others," she explained. "Ballet dancers have an instilled respect for their bodies and for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Other benefits listed by the school director are ones that you would typically think of such as good memory and fast-thinking, strong and independent personalities due to competitive nature of the industry, as well as control over stress levels.

 "Being used to working in a team helps them develop very good social skills. Another positive outcome is that these students very often have to learn how to manage their time well in order to cope with their academic studies alongside their dance training," she said, adding that "good time management is definitely essential when concerning students who need to find time for homework and assignments whilst attending afternoon ballet classes at least four to five times a week at an older age."


When the dancers stop dancing

Johanne, who has been running her own school for 22 years, has seen many dancers come and go, and many-a-time, the reasons for throwing in the towel are similar.

"I have seen many talented students not being able to cope with the academic pressure of O'levels and A'levels and because of this, they either reduce the number of classes they attend or, in some cases, sadly, they even stop their dancing," she said.  She follows this with a positive note, saying that those who were truly determined have, indeed, managed to find a way to continue their ballet training whilst pursuing their desired courses.

Another factor which may sometimes be a hindrance in continuing the practice at a higher level is the appropriate physique, which sometimes changes with puberty, following which a change in dance genres is sought for.

Other times, the make-or-break moment is affected by the parent, who "fears that ballet may be a distraction and they insist on reducing the number of classes their son or daughter may be attending."

In an age where social media may be a distraction, Johane believes that extracurricular activities teach them to better make use of their time when they are not studying.

Is there an age when ballet dancers need to stop dancing?

On an adequate level, until they still have the energy and technical level to do so, according to Johane. "Therefore, it is rather a personal decision when it comes to deciding to stop," she said. Of course, injuries must also be taken into consideration. "Some ballet dancers recover well from an injury and are able to continue dancing, however someinjuries may unfortunately lead them to stop dancing," she said.

The woman behind the school

Johane, school director and mother, recalls that from a very young age, she would ask her parents to send her to dance lessons, but her parents initially insisted that she learns violin instead.

"I attended violin lessons from a young age and when I was nine, a school mate spoke to me about the ballet classes she attended.. it was then that I managed to convince my parents to start ballet," she said, adding, "dedicating my life to ballet was not a decision I had to make, it was rather my destiny, I never considered being or doing anything else. All the decisions that I took in my life from then on were strongly linked to a career in dance."

How does she juggle being a mother, running a business and performing?

"Any working mother would agree that it is not easy to work long hours and keep up a career whilst being a good wife and a mother to your children. I guess the very discipline, determination and time management skills that I have acquired through my dancing have enabled me to persevere and continue with my career," Johane said.

"I am blessed to have a husband who supports me in what I do and contributes in the utmost way possible in every situation, enabling me to keep up with my profession and the long hours of work it entails. Sadly, due to an injury I had that has now become chronic, I am not able to perform any longer, however I still do regular classes to keep myself in shape and I now dedicate myself fully to teaching and choreography which I enjoy very much."


Email the dance school at [email protected] or call on 99427933 for more information.

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