Shelby in Copenhagen

Shelby is a junior President’s Scholar majoring in dance and psychology. In Spring 2009, she is taking classes at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in affiliation with the University of Copenhagen and also will be taking dance classes at Dansens Hus professional training school.

Dancing in Denmark

How it all began:

I arrived in Copenhagen in mid-January and began taking ballet classes at Dansens Hus a few mornings each week with my academic classes. Every ballet (and modern, though I predominantly attend ballet classes) there has been absolutely wonderful.

Dansens Hus is a professional training school; the dancers in attendance are students (aspiring professional dancers or teachers), working professionals or retired professionals. Every week or two, a new teacher with professional work experience teaches class. Three notable teachers I have taken class with are Martin James, Niels Kehlet and Eric Viudes.

Martin James taught two weeks of the best classes I’ve taken in a long time! His classes yielded an average of 24 to 33 students each day, including almost the entire company from the Danish Dance Theatre. Even with the large attendance, Martin’s time-management skills were amazing. Each dancer received a full class from start to finish.

I spoke to Martin after class a few times, introducing myself fully the last day (it’s hard when there are so many excited students in class and you are short on time!). He is a former professional dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet who is now happily pursuing his passion as a freelance teacher. I would highly recommend his classes if ever we were looking for an international guest teacher.

A new friend and mentor

Eric Viudes was my most recent teacher, and we really connected in the time he taught. After my first class with Eric, I went up and introduced myself. We spoke for a few minutes: he is a former principal dancer from Norwegian National Ballet who is also working now as a freelance teacher in France and Scandinavia. As luck would have it, we also ran into each other leaving Dansens Hus after class, and then again at the bus stop to go into the city center. Eric and I sat on the bus (I actually missed my stop) and talked for a good amount of time.

I took class again that Friday. There were only six dancers in class because there was an audition for a modern company in Olso. By the end of class, there were only three of us “still standing” (there were a few older dancers in attendance), so I got a lot of personal attention. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn and improve, for which I am incredibly grateful.

Again we met at the bus stop. That day, the buses on our route were not running for some mysterious reason. (I’m sure it wouldn’t be so mysterious if my Danish reading skills were a bit better, but alas, they leave some room for improvement). It actually turned out to be a great experience. Eric and I ended up walking into town together, talking about a range of things including dance, politics, weather – clearly topics of varying depths.

I took class from him the following week as well. We rode the bus together again that Tuesday. Wednesday, I spoke after class to Eric about areas in which I could improve technically. He gave me some corrections and advice, which I value and am working on. I had the whole day off so I stayed after class to stretch and talk to my new friend, Adrian. He is a Danish dancer who will be traveling to London to train next year.

Friday, Eric’s last day, was a fabulous class. Afterwards, I thanked him. He asked me to stay – he said he had something to give me. I agreed, and waited upstairs in the studio for him to get his stuff together. Some 20 minutes later, he was finally ready. We walked toward the bus, and he told me he had a brochure and a gift for me.

He handed me a brochure for a six-day summer program called “Bournonville in Biarritz” (France) that he is coordinating. The program looks absolutely amazing – the instructors include incredibly noteworthy members of the Royal Danish Ballet and the Danish dance scene! Eric told me that he could help me get a grant to attend the program if I was interested (I AM!), and asked me to share additional brochures with my friends. I mailed a few brochures to SMU for the Dance Dept!

Eric also gave me a gift of two ballet class CDs. He created the class structure and advised the musicians in the creation of the CDs, and is actually pictured on the front of one of them. I gave him a pair of red Meadows socks. (We laughed because we both had the same idea of exchanging gifts). We also exchanged email addresses. I need to email him soon …

At the Dansens Hus, I have also met a few very neat people and very talented dancers, including a girl from UC Berkley and a girl from London. Jennifer, the dancer from London, is actually performing in the Ny Dansk Teater performance of Phantom of the Opera as Meg. We exchanged phone numbers with the intention of getting together to have coffee. I promised to call her when I come to see her perform as well.

The only downfall to Dansens Hus is that it takes me a good 45 minutes to get to class from my kollegium, and then variable amounts of time to get from dance to school (15-20 min) or my practicum site (1 hour). The additional “travel time” coupled with my academic requirements have severely limited my morning dance opportunities, which is very unfortunate considering the vast number of morning classes offered here. Thus began my quest for additional classes at additional studios.

The Danish dance scene

At first, it was difficult to figure out the Danish dance scene, largely due to two things: the language barrier and the public transportation system. I collected (and still do) brochures at every dance venue I visited: the local dance supply store on Norregade, Dansens Hus, performances, etc. I emailed a few studio contacts, sheepishly asked my Danish-speaking friends to translate fliers for me, and eventually found the studio Sceneindgangen.

Sceneindgangen is a fairly small, privately owned studio space in Norrebro. The faculty is wonderful. They are also either working or former professional dancers, and have a rich knowledge of the Danish dance scene. My ballet instructor, Claude Lammen, is a member of a Danish company called Pantomime. Jenny Major, the modern and jazz instructor, trained for a semester at the Martha Graham School. She is also familiar with Limon and Horton techniques, and uses them as a foundation from which she derives her own stylistic choices.

I love attending her classes, and believe she is a good source from which to grow artistically. The emotion and passion she infuses in her dancing is inspiring. I have also befriended Martin Svaneborg, a former musical theatre artist who teaches tap, musical theatre, and jazz. I have yet to take class from him, but we talk often because he has a rich knowledge of the dance scene and I expressed my interest in pursuing a professional career in Europe. He advised me to look into the Danish Dance Theater as a potential company because they hire strong international dancers and are currently under the direction of Tim Rushton from London. I hope to attend a performance and to try to sit in on rehearsals or class before I leave.

Martin also invited me to attend a modern performance with him because he had an extra ticket, but unfortunately I am out of town. If I were in town, I would be there in a heartbeat! Martin is currently working on a new musical that will premier in London within the next year. Before I left for my travel break, he asked me if I would be in town in late May to perform with the studio in a spring recital of sorts and hinted about my participation in his new musical project. There is talk of a demonstration of a portion of the show in London in either late May or September.

I can’t begin to express how excited I am about even the prospect of this opportunity! If there is any possible way that I can change my flight home to accommodate this chance, I will take it in a heartbeat! Something to look into …

New opportunities

Another thing I would love to do, though it’s more unlikely than not, would be to audition for and dance at Tivoli this summer. Tivoli is an old Danish amusement park and garden, and I hear it is absolutely gorgeous in the summer!

There are so many possibilities and so many potential opportunities surfacing! I just finished the first week of my travel break, and have two more to go. As fun and exciting as it is, I cannot wait to return to Denmark to see what opportunities are in store!

I return to Copenhagen the morning of April 10. The evening of April 10 and 11, there is a competition and showcase called Cross Connection Ballet near the Royal Theatre. It features prominent European companies, including Danish Dance Theatre and Bejart. I have every intention of going, and as soon as I get the internet access to send this note, I will be purchasing tickets!

* A note on painting:

On the Friday there were only six of us in class, a student from a Danish school of architecture watched class. His school is working on a new artistic project at the King’s Garden that is inspired by different styles of dance and movement. He invited me to participate, which would involve putting on socks and performing various dance steps with paint on my feet! As many of you know, that is one of my favorite ideas (Comp. 2)!

Unfortunately, I had a midterm after ballet that day. I still regret not participating in the project, knowing my feet could have been a part of the King’s Garden! This is one of the few times in my life I wish I wasn’t so academically motivated.

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Children and croissants

Today, I went to the Danish Institute for Human Rights for a field study with myDSC03256-300.jpg Danish Politics class. We had a very interesting presentation from four workers at the Institute, addressing a number of “hot topics.” Among those discussed were the political history and importance of political interest groups (specifically the Institute for Human Rights), issues of ethics concerning immigration and assimilation, the Danish prison system, etc.

In the afternoon, I visited a special after-school program for children with movement disabilities for my Children with Special Needs course. The school worked with young children with a wide range of cognitive, physical, and learning disabilities. The children were divided into small groups with others with similar needs and a high pedagogue-to-student ratio. They participated in a number of activities based on the ideas of sensory-integration theory.

Most notable was an obstacle course created by a physiotherapist on staff. The obstacle course was constructed in such a way that the children always had to change levels and/or textures when walking or moving from one space to another. They had to walk along a soft, unstable mat, step over a block, crawl over an incline and under a hanging block, and walk across different colored and textured blocks. Such changes increased the sensory stimulation and responses in each of the children, helping them to gain a greater spatial awareness (particularly of their body in space) and improved sense of balance.

DSC03262-300.jpgThe methods the pedagogues employed to stimulate and teach the children were simple but effective. A great emphasis was also placed upon achieving a sense of community and kinship among the children in each small group so they wouldn’t feel isolated or limited by their disabilities. Compared to some other facilities, the school I visited was modest, but the theories and goals were inspired. I was very much impressed.

Later today, I made homemade croissants with Szymon from his Grandma’s recipe. Homemade dough filled with either apples or dark chocolate – yum! (Well, technically he made most of them. I was cooking dinner after I returned home from the Albertslund gym, so I only made a few on my own. I did, however, make an inspired apple AND dark chocolate croissant that was quite tasty!) I’m still trying to convince Szymon to give me a copy of this recipe!!

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Al the Snowman

I received the most wonderful Valentine’s Day surprise from Trigg today – a custom-designed, pink and silver SigEp t-shirt! There is nothing that makes you feel quite so special than a personal touch from home!

Today, I returned home from class in the early afternoon with my friend Shea. Then186601278_30429127_7469748-300.jpgpast two or three days, it had been snowing (rather uncharacteristically) in Denmark, and the ground was covered with a fine white powder. Just after arriving home, I received a call from Szymon inviting me to a snowman building and snowball fighting party. A large number of my friends from my kollegium were present: Szymon, Shea, Marcel, Philip, Marek, Mae, Tomasz, Mical, and a couple other girls. Later, Maria, Rodrigo, and Jesus joined us for a bit.

Shea and I made a small snowwoman outside Marcel’s window. Then, we joined the group in creating a large snowman, named Albert, after Albertslund. Al turned out to be taller and wider than me! This certainly beat the eight-inch tall snowman I so fondly made with my brother and sister as a child in Texas!

We then moved downstairs between the first block and the laundry room to a large, untouched snowy patch for the snowball fight to begin. I was an easy target and quickly became soaked – especially because I was the last girl left by the end of the fight!

After getting cleaned up and into dry clothes (my new shirt!), I met up with some of the group to drink coffee, do some homework, and watch TV. It was the perfect conclusion to a fun afternoon!

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An evening at the theatre

Today I went to the Royal Danish Ballet’s performance of Romeo and Juliet. After 4DSC02829-300.jpgpm the day of the show, the Royal Theatre offers any unsold tickets for half price. I arrived at the theatre around 7 pm, and purchased a ticket for 98 Kr – approximately $20. My seat was in the top balcony, but not bad for the price. (Honestly, I think the show would be breathtaking from any seat in the theatre!)

The Royal Theatre embodied the classical image of the theatre: warm, expansive, ornate, and breathtakingly majestic.

The ballet, Romeo and Juliet, was truly spectacular. None of the videos I watched in Dance History truly captured the beauty and spectacle of a live performance. Yes, I have an enhanced understanding and appreciation for the Bournonville technique and the biedermeier sensibility that is characteristic of the Danish ballet. However, the finesse of the dancers’ technique, the clarity of the transitions, the cleanliness of their lines, and the precision and unity of the corps de ballet was unbelievable! This was honestly one of the best and most unforgettable experiences I have had in Denmark so far!

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Star-Spangled in Denmark

Sh-DSC02695-400.jpgToday was another amazing day. I woke up early again and rode the 8 am train to Norreport by myself to challenge myself to find my way and not be afraid of getting lost. I did it!

Our introductory Danish lesson, “Survival Danish,” was intimidating. The pronunciation and letter combinations don’t make sense, and the alphabet seems almost unnatural, even though most of the letters are the same. We did go to the supermarket to identify the Danish/English translations of words – that was incredibly helpful!

Sh-DSC02697-400.jpgWe also went on a scavenger hunt of the city – I wore entirely the wrong outfit: my tights, brown knit dress, high heeled boots … and I picked up my textbooks before the tour began.

SH-DSC02663-400.jpgThe scavenger hunt took us all over, including to the Black Diamond, the Queen’s Mansion and courtyard (complete with guards – I got a picture with them!), Parliament, the largest cathedral in Copenhagen, and to Magasin, the largest department store in Copenhagen. The tour was a fabulous opportunity to explore the city.

At the “Immerse Yourself” Fair, I got some good information about potential local dance and fitness classes, as well as information about student bartending opportunities. Lots of exciting opportunities!

Sh-DSC02717-400.jpgTonight was the Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Tim, Mitch, a few other friends and I went to dinner at a deli, and then to the speech at a bar. The majority of people at the bar were individuals of African origin. It was neat to see how excited and passionate they were about change and the new presidency. As they explained, America’s economy significantly affects the entire world’s economy, so our hardship contributes to the extended network of hardship. It was really neat, though! We stood up for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” One of the women asked if we were American, and when we said yes, the whole bar stood up alongside us for our National Anthem. The experience was very moving for the sheer passion and enthusiasm expressed across cultures.

Sh-DSC02644-400.jpgMy Polish friend, Szymon, helped me set up my Internet connection. After, Szymon, Tomasz, Anna, Jakub, Jill, Carly, Rodrigo, and I played charades. Later, I joined Mitch and Tim to watch the movie Defiance. What a fun day!

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Orientation Day

Orientation Day! I couldn’t sleep, perhaps due to jet lag or anticipatory excitement. I woke up around midnight and facebook-ed and skype-ed for a bit before forcing myself to go back to bed.
In the morning, I made it downstairs just in time for the hotel’s breakfast buffet. It was expensive, so I took some food to go (a common college practice, which is not so common in Denmark). I got a few “looks” and was a bit embarrassed, but I didn’t take a ton and I did pay for it!

Tim, my IU friend, and I took a cab to the University of Copenhagen. The driver was really friendly. He actually stayed at the kollegium we are living in about 10 years ago.

Check-in was bustling with activity!

Getting on the bus to the kollegiums was a nightmare. I ended up helping the bus driver rearrange bags so we could fit them all under the bus and in the small trailer attached to it. Somehow they all fit!

Our kollegium is modest, but a lot more spacious than I expected! My power was out in my room when I moved in (there was a problem with the electrical fuses), so I hung out with Tim until someone came down to fix it for me.

I met some really nice Polish guys at the local supermarket – Szymon and Michael. I think that they found it amusing to see the herd of American students trampling through the store.

The DIS and our kollegium hosted a dinner party for us – pizza, interesting-tasting soda, and beer for a relatively cheap price. I met a ton of really neat people – DIS students and more Polish students.

I was the last girl in the bar (as one of the only people who arrived early and was not jet lagged), so I ended up talking to the bartender. That’s a story in and of itself!

I also made a point to wander around my block, and I met a bunch of cool people in the kitchens. There’s already talk of us going out dancing or partying, so I could have a very interesting social life very soon.

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Getting to know the people and places

I woke up around 12:15 pm today to the housekeeper knocking on and opening my door. That was quite the surprise! (I was up really late trying to combat jet lag, and slept through my alarm!) I took my time getting ready and did some emailing before I hit the streets – this time without a map!

I did some serious window-shopping until I came to a shoe store that had a ton of boots. I found a pair of flat black boots that fit and were on sale. Everything is EXPENSIVE in Denmark, but the sales only last through January, so this was my self-proclaimed only purchase! I must say, they have proved since to be a great purchase. Fashionable, weather-resistant and not bad when walking long distances.

While I was paying, my friend from Indiana called. (We both arrived early and were staying in the same hotel, so we connected over Facebook before we left). We met up at the hotel, and then embarked on a night of wandering around Copenhagen. We ate pizza at a tiny restaurant we discovered, and then walked around until we began to freeze.

We ducked into a quaint, old English-inspired bar and talked for a long time. Five people stumbled in and sat across from us a little later looking very American (the Hollister sweatshirt one guy was wearing was our biggest clue!). They were also DIS students staying at a hostel nearby. We had a great time – it was really nice to meet people and start building some friendships.

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My first day in Denmark

s-DSC02594-sm.jpg London-Heathrow was huge, but emptier than I anticipated. I appreciated that the signs were clearly marked. Oh, and I did set off the security alarms and had to be frisked. The joys of having a “titanium core!””

It took forever for the airline to post the gate number, so I perused the bookstore and bought a “Top Ten Tourist guidebook” to familiarize myself with the city and some of the attractions I need to visit.

Boarding the plane was difficult once again, thanks to the superior packing advice of my father and Trigg. Yes, the airline does not weigh your carry-on bag, so you can financially afford to make it ridiculously heavy. However, that makes it ever so difficult to place it in the overhead bin without any casualties!

In Copenhagen, I scooped up my huge bags and tied them together. They were easier to maneuver than I expected – through large open spaces. If only those were easier to come by in airports!

I ended up purchasing a clip card for the bus/train system, and took Platform 2 of the train to Station 3. Only I had no idea what train to take – I guessed! And I wasn’t sure what exit to take – Central Station, it turned out. (Again, my pink suitcase duo was too heavy to lift up and down the stairs to board the train, so some nice men assisted me in my struggle).

Those majestic cobblestone streets quickly became the bane of my existence – and the workout of my life! Rolling suitcases and cobblestones don’t agree – my bags kept getting stuck, or rolling and flipping over. Thank goodness my hotel was close to Central Station! (But you know you are working hard when you are sweating in a literally freezing climate!)

s-DSC02622-sm.jpg My room was modest but clean, and perfectly suited for my purposes.

s-DSC02616-sm.jpgThe shower really was the entirety of the bathroom – a drain on the floor and a curtain around a corner of the ceiling. This appears to be fairly common in Denmark.

s-DSC02612-sm.jpg After catching up on some email, I went on an expedition to find the DIS, the school at which I’m taking classes.

It turned out there was a staff party going on, so I got to meet a group of really cool interns (all former DIS students). They invited me to go to dinner with them, gave me lots of advice, and were generally wonderful. It was a ton of fun, and made me feel really welcome.

Here are some quotes from the evening:

• “The bigger the flame, the better the hygge*.”
*Hygge is a Danish concept that every Dane understands, but no one can fully express in words. Cozy, warm, comfort – those words come close, but don’t fully embody the idea.

• “Danes are like ketchup bottles. It takes a while to get them going, but once you do it all comes out.”
(discussing how they tend to be shy and reserved until you get to know them)

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Departure day

I thought the day would never arrive. After waking up altogether too early to accomplish that seemingly endless list of things you remember you must accomplish at the last minute, the time came to depart for D/FW airport. Mom, Dad, and Trigg escorted me downtown to Terminal D, the site of International flights. Saying goodbye was definitely bittersweet. I’ve been planning my trip to Copenhagen for a year now, but at the moment of departure the gravity of leaving sets in. I’ve had very little experience traveling long distances, so leaving behind everything I know was both exhilarating and frightening!

Now, I am sitting on Flight 192 to London. I’m taking two flights to Copenhagen via British Airways: D/FW to London-Heathrow and London to Copenhagen-Kastrup. The British flight attendants are incredibly nice and efficient – perhaps more so due to the nature of their accents. But we are kept well fed and entertained – with the exception of the child a few rows in front of me who won’t stop crying and the line for the lavatory that has been in a constant state of existence since the “fasten seat-belts” light went off. I think we’re scheduled to arrive at 7:40 am London time…but from what I understand, it’ll be somewhere in the 11 pm-1 am range Dallas time. Perfect breakfast time, eh?

Well, since it’s supposed to be night, I’m going to try to sleep. It’s 7:50 pm Dallas time. This will officially be the earliest I’ve gone to bed since Elementary School. The lights just went off in the cabin, so it’s official. Goodnight!

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