The Dying Swan: A profound workshop. I didn’t realise what I was getting myself into.

Why am I writing? Because I feel compelled to record what I felt.

Why am I sharing? Two reasons:

  1.  I hope it resonates with other dancers, teachers, encourages those too afraid to fly free, spreads the unique powers of dance
  2. I want to remind myself why I dance when I next hit a dance low. I wish my writing to help pick others up when at that point, to remind them of their power

When I started dancing again as an adult I just wanted to jive to the free-and-fun-loving popular tunes to which I am naturally drawn. Having never really liked what I saw as the stiffness and formality of ballet, it is amusing to notice how it has become one of my passions. Previously it seemed a bit uptight – a far cry from what I now admire.

Although my primary goals were simply to improve dance technique I found learning the biomechanics of the body and movement to be an awe-inspiring process. Something even greater happens when mind, body and emotions are focused to a point: a sense of bursting free.

Even more so, today.

I had signed up for Franziska’s Dying Swan workshop with my usual attitude of grabbing opportunities to experience life and challenge myself. In a safe way, I might add. It was an online workshop, a lockdown lesson like those we’ve seen over several months.

I didn’t fully realise what I was getting myself into!

Every one of Franziska’s lessons broadens my awareness. She uses metaphors to elicit the feelings and sensations you aim to achieve when dancing: the shoulder blades acting as cogs of a wheel in the back or focusing on the heart expanding outward to release your wings. This latter thought brought with it a revelation.

Physically, I felt a huge expansion. Deeper, I felt a more profound, spiritual sensation. The overwhelming power of love.

It reminded me of the words of Martin Luther King:

‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’

In that moment, I realised the POWER of love. The sheer force of it. It is a force I can often be afraid of. I am sure others feel this too – spending most heart-based attention trying to cover it up, hold it back, protect it…as though it’s a weakness, an area of great vulnerability, an Achilles’ heel.

How foolish would it be to show others where to aim their arrows!

This lesson made me reach a new perspective. This one area of your body contains so much power, so much strength, the heart contains a force to overcome hate; to drive darkness out.

Why be afraid of this power? Why shun this strength? Being able to tap into such a potent force offers potential strength to the point of being invincible.

What would life be like moving forward with this knowledge? This power?

At the end of a short break the workshop proper began. In her usual, quiet way Franziska started to demonstrate the dying swan choreography to Camille Saint-Saens’s haunting cellos. A sense of stillness surrounded her movements.

Perhaps more natural and potent in the studio than on stage, her dancing was so beautiful I wanted to cry. This time I did.

As on previous occasions, I was in awe of her accomplished, graceful movements and just wanted time to stop so I could absorb it all. This time my awareness heightened to contemplate the message in the music and her gestures: this beautiful swan was dying.

Again, this realisation took everything to another level. Each and every motion has meaning, a story to tell, a depth of emotion to convey: the sorrow of dying. How deep this instinct is to resist death and question its certainty, even when inevitable. Such is the life-force.

Initially, I didn’t feel able to follow my teacher’s beautiful expressions with my own, butchered attempts. But what is the point of a life not lived? Had I not signed up to dance?

Through my tentative efforts emerged the natural joy at how much I could embrace. Months of barré work were being applied. I was grateful for those previous efforts! Even if incomplete in form, I still reaped benefit from all that work. I became assured in my movements, and as Franziska had said, there was scope for some self-expression. Although an intimidating thought, the desire to express myself emerged naturally, prompted and gently encouraged by my teacher.

A little safer in solitude, behind a screen, in lockdown. Perhaps entrapment can be a catalyst for spiritual freedom?

As with previous realisations, it may seem that emotions are forces to consistently temper and contain. To express them may indicate a personal weakness, loss of control or inappropriateness. 

How much of our lives do we spend trying to maintain some degree of emotional safety?

What a pleasant change it is to be in an environment where, not only are the depths of human emotion freely referred to, but the embracement and utilisation of them for their purpose is actively encouraged. To be blunt: it’s ok to be human. In fact, it is to be revered.

By the time the workshop finished I had died several times. I wouldn’t want to do that on a regular basis!

Never before had I given consideration to what is blindingly evident: the devastatingly complete offering performers present to us on stage.

It is a colossal gift to contemplate. I now feel humbled by those leading us in the task of being a fully-fledged human being. I am subdued to sense the immense toll this takes on their daily wellbeing. I am in awe at the thought of merely being in their presence.

Some people give you their time, attention, expertise. But performers give you their all – draw every last drop from their essence to share with you under spotlights.

A snippet of the Dying Swan Workshop with Franziska Rosenzweig:

Several potent tips for arm technique, taken from the workshop, is available here:  

Franziska Rosenzweig – Holistic Ballet

Finding Franziska’s Holistic Ballet classes has been a pivotal discovery on my dance journey. She creates an atmosphere of calm order, balancing detailed, progressive tuition with an understanding, flexible approach. I feel safely challenged in her classes and have consistently grown in knowledge, ability and enthusiasm as a result. I can also personally recommend both her personal training sessions for effective rehabilitation, as well as her Cognitive Hypnotherapy for overcoming obstacles such as stage fright. Franziska is a uniquely talented, experienced and perceptive teacher.