I met Finis Jhung at his studio on the upper west side of NYC. I was between contracts with Kansas City Ballet and The Washington Ballet. I had a few months break and was looking to study. I knew Finis was considered a great teacher and after my first class with him I was hooked for life. I never knew anyone like Finis Jhung. A pure teacher, one who gave information without drama, he loved to teach. I continued to take his classes in NYC whenever I was on break. Years later I found myself teaching and I thought back to Finis.
He began to create videos now DVDS and also Teacher Training Programs and wonderful books. I purchased everything, I watched his DVDs over and over so I could absorb the information.
My studio, although small by choice because I wanted to run it myself, has produced many professional dancers. I attribute this success to my training with Finis Jhung.
I attend the Summer Teacher Workshop every year. The notes he gives on the class exercises are thorough, it is anatomically perfect. He teaches us how to teach people to dance to move, not positions and not forcing the body. We work and learn to engage the muscles properly, on balance standing or in the air. Its all the same.
There is always something new to learn. It is also really exciting and fun to connect with other teachers around the world and hear their stories. Finis brings us together. He is my mentor and friend. He is an amazing example for everyone not only in ballet but in life.
Natalia A. Shulgina is a native of Russia. She holds an M.Div. from the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Emory University. When not impersonating an adult ballerina, she is involved in the teaching and practice of pastoral care, spiritual formation, and clinical pastoral education. She lives, with her husband Mark and her dog, Rhodesian Ridgeback Rey, in Raleigh, NC.
If you love ballet and if for you, like me, traveling to NY is not really an option, give yourself a gift of this class — you body and soul will thank you!
I am not new to Finis’s teaching DVDs. Having started as an absolute beginner in ballet at the age of 40, I have been returning to his DVDs and books for inspiration, guidance, and clear explanations that work. Finis’s method of teaching ballet is unique, both his ability to explain the hidden “why” and “how” behind the movement, and his unswerving belief that ballet is not merely for the art of the chosen few but for the joy and health benefit of all.
Not anymore. With this DVD, adult ballet students of all ages, shapes, and walks of life are given an unprecedented opportunity and gift — of being able to peek and step into Finis’s class, as he teaches it. It is a beginner level class, but I dare say, its benefits extend far beyond that level. Ballet is an integrative art, and practicing the basics correctly is fundamental to doing ballet safely and progressively better.
Content: the DVD starts with important stretching exercises to loosen and warm up the body for the movement. Next come instructions on proper posture, with Finis’s signature metaphors and expressions on how to hold ourselves properly in space. It might be tempting to skip these two sections, but that would be a mistake: those sections lay down the foundation of the bodily awareness, which will protect your body from injury in the long run. The rest of the DVD is pedagogically astute and balanced, as it moves progressively from the feet and legs to arms and core of the body, finishing up at the center. There, we get to see, how the exercises that were given before, incrementally, without our fully realizing it, prepared us to move through space with balance, strength, and grace.
The bonus content of the DVD includes short video-clips with Finis’s students: real people with real lives outside of the studio, who will never audition for ABT or NYCB, but who have truly become ballet dancers. I found this part deeply humbling and inspiring.
In conclusion: The real contribution of this DVD lies in the opportunity it gives us, not only to receive Finis’s instruction (always top-notch), but to see how other non-professional ballet dancers work at the barre and in the center. In the last 4 years of practicing ballet, I have noticed that even though we all are different in so many ways, the mistakes we make in ballet class are surprisingly similar: we forget to transfer weight to the balls of our feet, we stick our butts out in plie, we sickle our feet, we fail to keep the turnout muscles engaged as we begin the movement…Being able to see other people making those mistakes and receiving Finis’s correction in real time is priceless, because it allows us to learn better.
If you love ballet and if for you, like me, traveling to NY is not really an option, give yourself a gift of this class — you body and soul will thank you!
From dancing at home to working One-on-One with Finis, Maria tells how her technique improved over the course of a year.
After watching several videos of professional ballet dancers, the thought occurred to me that “I want to be doing this not just watching it. Heck, I’m only 72.” I found Finis Jhung’s Ballet Barre for the Absolute Beginner on Amazon and purchased it. I did the exercises 5 days a week and improved a little bit each day. I was so impressed with the quality of Finis’ teaching that I e-mailed him. I thanked him for the progress I was making due to his innovative teaching. Two hours later, he e-mailed me back.
The ballet barre exercises have gone from being something I do to being something I experience with awareness and pleasure.
On the 25th of this month, I took a One on One—a 90-minute class with Finis Jhung at Pearl Studios in New York City. What a rich experience! When I did the exercises with Finis in the studio, I realized I could go even deeper into the movements than I had been going. His corrections were made with a firm but gentle hand. I could feel and see the changes in my body on the spot. When I returned to work at home, I was on another level. I went from wanting to do the barre “perfectly” to wanting to feel each movement fully. The ballet barre exercises have gone from being something I do to being something I experience with awareness and pleasure. Because Finis did not judge me, I do not judge myself. He taught me to understand the movements and the mechanics that create them.
On the 5th of this month, I had my second One on One 90-minute class with Finis Jhung at Pearl Studios. Finis arranged for his son Jason to videotape the session. I’d spent the past five months practicing the skills I learned in July and tackling new movements (pas de bourrée en avant, pas de bourrée de côte, glissade, glissade précipitée, and pas de valse). I arrived at the studio and was immediately at ease. The taping was unobtrusive, and Finis immediately zeroed in on how to make what I was doing better. Once again, he corrected me with a firm-but-gentle hand. When he gave me a compliment, I knew I deserved it. Seeing me on video, and hearing the corrections on tape truly enhanced the experience. I can go over the session on my phone any time I want, play the audio back, and zoom in on a particular aspect in the frame. I don’t have to wonder, now, what did he say about that? It’s all right there.
I returned home motivated, encouraged, satisfied, grateful, and happy. I am ready to move ONWARD.
Awaken your body and refresh your mind with these short bouts of ballet dancing that don’t require any warm-up. You’ll get warmed-up naturally as you dance your way through these short, choreographed exercises. Finis Jhung breaks down each exercise and then it is demonstrated by Antonio Carmena, former New York City Ballet soloist. To dance is to live!
Most adult ballet beginners are exactly that: professional adults—lawyers, doctors, teachers, bankers—who live extremely busy lives and do not have the time to take regular ballet class. In fact, many of them either took ballet “lessons” when they were young children or are starting from scratch as adults. What they lack in aptitude and suitability is more than compensated for by their open minds and willingness to try their best.
Even so, they sometimes feel discouraged (or lost) in the most basic Absolute Beginner class. Initially, I thought the solution was to offer monthly intensives, but that did not seem like enough.
So, I have created “Finis Fridays.”
Starting this fall, adult beginners can improve their ballet technique in a new series called FINIS FRIDAYS: three different 2-hour classes to be held at the Pearl Studios in Midtown Manhattan.
The first class is titled LET’S DANCE! and will be exactly that. It begins with a short barre followed by exercises in center floor which teach correct body and arm positions; connecting footwork that travels in different directions; the waltz and balancé, and choreographed dances. If time permits, basic jumps will be included.
The second class is titled TURNOUT, EXTENSION, and begins with a warm-up jog, followed by seated and reclined stretches taken from my video Stretch, Turnout & Extension. After this, the students will come to the barre and work on selected barre exercises which will help stabilize turnout and extension. This class will end with relaxing floor stretches.
The third class is PIROUETTES, TURNS. After a short barre, students will practice preparing for and executing pirouettes en dehors and en dedans, châinés, and piqué turns. As always, the emphasis will be on teaching students the “untaught” preparations all good dancers use onstage, but which go unseen by the uneducated eye. We are going to enjoy unraveling the mysteries of turns!
These slowly paced, extremely detailed, step-by-step classes have proven to be remarkably effective. Not only do the students learn the material needed, they also develop self-esteem as they discover that they are capable of doing more challenging ballet work. Some of the more avid students further their knowledge by studying my instructional videos at home, and that too has proven effective.
The Return to Class.
Now, these “Adult Babies” are ready to move confidently with the rest of the class!
Ultimately, it’s the classroom experience where we are all together that makes the biggest difference in helping my “ballet babies” advance. It requires extreme patience and constant instruction on my part, and devoted concentration and muscular involvement on theirs. But time has proven that this is the best way to teach adult beginner ballet students what they need to know. FINIS FRIDAYS will help ballet newcomers learn how to move with graceful dignity and strength, both in the studio, and in the world.
Photo: Finis Jhung and demonstrator Mayumi Omagari show how it’s done. (photo by Stephen von der Launitz)
Pictured above: Russell with two lovely partners, Claire and Christina.
I call my adult students my “ballet babies” because, like young children, they are so eager to learn, are “pure” in that they have no pre-conceived notions, and dance as if there is no tomorrow. Some of my babies are teachers and students who live in Australia. Some have attended my workshops; all use my videos and music; and most have my memoir Ballet for Life. Russell Merriman lives in Bicton, Western Australia, and began studying with my streaming videos this year.
In his own words…
Streaming from Perth Western Australia is phenomenal. It is simple to log on and there are no delays in finding my videos. I am a ‘mature’ student. I turn 75 years of age on July 19. My ballet has improved dramatically since I started using your streaming videos. I have started pas de deux and my partner who was a professional ballet dancer thinks that I am a ‘natural.’ I purchased your Partnering Techniques DVD.
My first dance technique was contemporary dance. While a student at Flinders University of South Australia I attended a week-long workshop at Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide. I was aged 30 years and very stiff and inflexible. I was excited when, at the end, we performed a dance to the song of Buffy Sainte-Marie: God is alive, Magic is afoot. How prescient for my life!
I then joined a small group of dancers at Flinders University and after we performed, I was ‘hooked.’ I moved to Perth in 1974 and commenced contemporary dance classes with Ruth Osborne, wo taught the Graham Technique. After I turned 40, I found an introduction to ballet of eight free classes. After discovering pirouettes I never stopped.
Around the same time, I joined the Keszkeno Hungarian Dance group. I was mesmerized by the athleticism of the male dancers and remained with the group until 2016. We performed at concerts in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Hungary. I had to stop Hungarian dance as an old ankle injury couldn’t cope with the stamping.
I continued ballet classes, and my first brief ballet performance in October 2017 included a ‘mini’ pas de deux which introduced me to the delights of partnering.
I am indebted to Heather Callander who has been my teacher for over 30 years. She told me about the videos of Finis Jhung which allowed my enthusiasm for ballet to expand. She uses his concepts in her teaching. Justin McNamara has been instrumental in his beginner classes in teaching me the fundamentals of posture and balance. Justin says he ‘Really found it so helpful the way Finis explains the way to approach teaching the use of arms for beginners in classical ballet and the example for pirouettes of the kids toy where to make it spin you push down to make it turn.’
I have found that the secret of ballet is that it is anti-gravity as the movement is all UP. This lengthens the spine and frees up space in the joints. Obviously this counteracts the normal effect of aging where people ‘shrink’ and their body contracts. The change in one’s posture from ballet can be dramatic (mine has) and it results in new breathing patterns. So, like Finis, I will never give up.
PS: My favorite video right now is The Art of Teaching Jumps. I’ve had double hip-surgery, but will persist with patience and determination for my share of air-time.
The demi-plié is almost isometric. In both the downward and upward movements, the feet—rather than the knees—should initiate the movements. The feet grip the floor and pull the legs into the plié and then relax and push down to return the legs to the standing position. This also applies to pliés on one foot.
Most dance movements are on one leg. What must be developed at the barre is the ability to balance on and move from one foot. Try to work at portable barre placed parallel to the mirror. Stand behind the barre, on the diagonal. This will allow you to keep an eye on your supporting side and encourage you to work correctly. Test your balance by frequently taking your hand off the barre during exercises. In addition, check your readiness to move. You should always be able to rise off your heel whenever you press down on the floor.
The supporting leg controls the free leg, and initiates each movement. The timing of every movement is made by the supporting leg. The free leg (the foot that brushes or slides) never pulls or moves the body. Only the supporting foot that pushes the floor should move the body.
In the center floor, every step you take must be balanced by an arm, or both arms, reaching in the opposite direction. At the barre, develop this sense of the “back arm” by reaching for the barre and pressing down it. Never pull on the barre.
When you pirouette from the fourth position, be sure that you go to “the end of theplié.”
A jump is a relevé in the air. Push the floor, stand in the air.
Overcross the glissade précipitée, which leads into battement fondu developpé relevé, and jumping steps where the free leg is brushed into the air.
Here’s what Andy Blankenbuehler, my former student at BDC and three-time Tony-winning Broadway choreographer (Hamilton, Bandstand, and In the Heights) says: “Thousands of lessons, hardships, joys, and triumphs . . . thousands of moments when generosity shapes the future. These are gifts along the journey of life! In this book, Finis Jhung honors those gifts, and shows through his words, teaching, and career, that the journey is not successfully navigated without a stunning love for the work and a great deal of inspiration. As a teenager, I walked into Finis’ class with my dance bag and countless hopes and dreams. Luckily for me, a stunning love for the work and a great deal of inspiration was waiting at the barre.”
And strangely enough, twenty years ago, when Andy first tried his hand at choreography for a regional theater, I interviewed him for my website. I knew then he was a special talent who had the makings of success—but never to the degree he has since attained! Busy as he is, Andy found time to write his thoughts about my memoir while flying to the UK to set his choreography on the London production of Hamilton which premieres this December.
Finally, my mind can relax, and I look forward to sleeping at night without memories of the past making me jump out of bed to write them down to add to the memoir. The hardest part of writing the book was not so much the writing—which I’ve always enjoyed (even as a cub reporter for the local newspaper in Honolulu when I was eighteen years old)—but hunting down the people who took photos of my dance activities from 1949 to 1986 and getting their permission to publish.
This has truly been a labor of love, and with the completion of each chapter, I have continually been reminded of how fortunate I am to have been able to enjoy the realization of all my once seemingly impossible childhood dreams.
Release date is December 1, but Ballet for Life is available to pre-order now.
As many of you know I will be having hip replacement surgery performed this Wednesday, September 6th at the NYU Langone Medical Center under the direction of the inventor of a new procedure, Dr. Roy Davidovitch.
My son, Jason, will be documenting my recovery on Instagram and you can follow @fjballet or search the hashtag: #fjrecovery
Here I am at the Pre Admission Testing Center last week:
Hopefully I will be able to pirouette again, and sometime soon!
FJ Now: Memoir Update
I am 80% finished with the memoir having just completed Chapter 10 – Chamber Ballet U.S.A.
Many of you may not know that I owned my own company from 1981 – 1986, and writing this chapter reminded me of hair-losing dramas like being forced to choreograph a ballet for opening night in New York in less than two weeks.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 10 – Chamber Ballet U.S.A.:
Juan and Ellen were to perform Vicente Nebrada’s brilliantly choreographed A Dance for You, a bravura pas de deux to the piano music of Teresa Carreno. Both Ellen and Juan are exceptionally talented virtuoso dancers with extraordinary technical facilities, musicality, and artistry. This would have been the highlight of the evening—or, for that matter—any evening anywhere. A truly staggering dance event.
And then, two weeks before the show, Juan’s knee begins to give out. Before coming to New York, he had had trouble with his knee. The demands of Vicente’s choreography have reawakened an old injury. Juan breaks down in tears, saying his knee hurts so badly he’s afraid it’s going to give out on him. Oy vey. What are we to do?
So, out goes A Dance for You, and in comes Libido.
With our limited budget, and without Juan, it fell to me to choreograph a replacement ballet. Bill Soleau is such a graceful manly dancer. He is not a ballet virtuoso, but he moves beautifully. And Ellen can do anything you ask. So, I desperately create a duet for them that I intend to be fun and sexy. I begin listening to music, and discover the scherzo movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7. Libido is born.
Bill and Ellen are good sports about working late at night. We do the best we can, under the forced circumstances, and this is why it promises more than it delivers. In 1984, I’ll rework it and critics and audiences will get what they paid for.
People have been asking me to write my biography for years.
But, I don’t like looking backward – I’m always trying to think of new ways to teach ballet, so my mind is always focused on the present and future moments.
This past winter, my son Jason started producing my new FJ Single Streaming Exercise videos and he sat me down for an interview for what was supposed to be a short video for the About section on my website.
He asked me a question about when I first found my love for ballet, and I ended up talking for 40 minutes and more or less told the story of my life since I first began dancing at age 9 in WWII Honolulu.
After finally watching the whole interview, I began looking through my photo collection, and realized I have a lot of very interesting pictures from my past 71 years of loving ballet.
So, I thought, why not a pictorial memoir? Not a biography with zillions of words, but more like a scrapbook of interesting photos and little stories about them.
I spent most of January and February collecting all the photos I could find: from growing up in Honolulu, studying with “Mr. C” (William F. Christensen) at the U. of U., dancing on broadway in Flower Drum Song, joining the San Francisco Ballet, going to Hollywood to dance in the film version of Flower Drum, joining the Joffrey Ballet, the Harkness Ballet, leaving the ballet world for 3 years to devote myself to world peace through Buddhism, opening the Finis Jhung Ballet Studio, getting married, losing our first child to meningitis, but then having another son, Jason, who is today my office manager and emerging video producer, founding and directing my own Chamber Ballet USA, going through a divorce and single-parenting Jason, teaching in all the major studios in NY, and at workshops in the USA and Europe, and producing more than 50 instructional ballet videos and 18 music CDs for the ballet class, and today teaching my adult babies at The Ailey Extension.
What has been extremely time-consuming, frustrating and rewarding was locating the photographers who took the photos so that I could have their permission to publish. Michael Avedon photographed the Harkness Ballet, and after weeks of searching I was told that, sadly, he had passed away. I was greatly saddened to learn this as we had been good friends. And even more saddened to know that I would not be able to use his photos.
And then, through Christine Redpath, I was referred to Mimi Paul (yes, that gorgeous NYCB ballerina of the 60’s) who told me Michael is very much alive! And now I have secured his permission, and you will be able to enjoy his photographic artistry.
I did not keep diaries, and, in fact, I threw out some incredible media when I left the ballet world, so it is challenging to try to remember specific events.
But at the same time, I am being energized as I realize through the photos all the wonderful events that have happened so far have fulfilled all my childhood dreams I had growing up in a poor family in Honolulu.
I am blessed, and hope to share that with you in BALLET FOR LIFE: A Pictorial Memoir by Finis Jhung.
Speaking of which, if any of my customers or friends are in publishing I am actively seeking a publisher. Please contact me via email: email@example.com or via phone: 1-800-357-3525
Finally, do any of you have a favorite memoir? If so, what do you love about it?