For the past two weeks I have been going back to my classical roots, attending Gemma Brannigan’s Sunday morning ballet classes at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.
The trouble with ballet classes is when you first go along, you never know what to expect. Ability can range so massively that it can be difficult to know what you’re letting yourself in for – you can find yourself in an adults advanced class with a room full of beginners, or perhaps worse, attend an advanced class strictly for professionals… and find yourself struggling to attempt a triple pirouette en pointe.
Photo: Peter Voerman, the Oude School
But Ballet Academy Principal Gemma Brannigan seems to have found the happy medium. Turning up for the class last week, I was feeling thoroughly underprepared, having not attended a class for over a year (journalism postgrad courses don’t leave an awful lot of time for dancing!).
However, as we started the barre work, it was apparent that I needn’t have worried. The intimate class of 10 (including two guys!) was made up mainly of beginners, with a handful of us benefitting from more experience. As I prepared myself for a 10-minute lesson on how to plie properly (crucial, but a little tiresome when you’ve had it drilled it into you from the age of 3), I was pleasantly surprised – not only was I saved from any sort of lecture, but the class had a good pace and the teacher managed to cater for all abilities in the room.
Gemma’s teaching style is light-hearted, yet she never fails to point out and correct the fundamentals of ballet training – posture, elegant arms, correctly placed feet. Through her infectious enthusiasm, Gemma conducted a class which was suitable for the vast range of ability in the room, including achieving impressive results from the two guys who had turned up as complete beginners.
The centre work was tailored to each ability, the teacher taking the time to demonstrate the different levels of difficulty available to her participants. Despite this variance in difficulty, every achievement was congratulated, and no distinction was made between the participants.
The class also provided a fun break from the norm, using current pop music for corner work instead of the usual ballet class set pieces.
Technique was also a main feature of the class, and the participants benefitted from Gemma’s RAD training. In my opinion, there is no point going to a class where the teacher can’t be bothered to correct you – I once went to a class where the teacher demanded double pose turns, without teaching the class the basics first. All I can say is I left with a face down to my feet and another girl with a swollen ankle.
Gemma’s Ballet Academy is in it’s infancy, however is showing real promise as a dancing school. The Academy fills the niche which Cardiff has been begging for for a long time, and provides the choice from which aspiring dancers can really benefit.
For more information, tweet @GemBrannigan / @BalletAcademy or visit the website