A Pointe-less Class, Great Week, And Some Firsts

Though by no means pointless… I don’t think I’ve ever taken a pointless ballet class…always learn something new…

This past week was a little different. To start off, the night before the first class of the week after I finished resewing my ribbons on my pointe shoes, I somehow I misplaced one of my toe pads. I then searched everywhere, literally everywhere, for them, because I knew I hadn’t been outside so they had to be somewhere, but they were nowhere to be found. After combing the area repeatedly I finally resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to be able to do any pointe work the next day. Though I was disappointed, I wondered how it would feel, as it would be my first class in over a month  that I didn’t wear the pointe shoes for at least barre.

It felt…hmm how to explain…not easier, but ‘why is this not more uncomfortable?’ I guess. Like when we did an eleve in all the positions during the plies combination, I pressed up to releve and then felt ‘is that it?’, like I knew that I could press up even higher. Springing up into sous-sus to soutenu for the second side didn’t have that extra challenge that I’ve grown to like. However, when we held a balance in retire on releve, I let go of the barre and actually balanced for a good 10 seconds! I think all my attempts at balancing on one leg en pointe (I always at least attempt it) have been helping. For comparison, last fall I was a little unconfident about letting go of the barre on one-legged releve balances, though I could balance in passe releve in center.

Afterwards, I went by the dance store expecting to get the Ouch Pouch to replace my lost one, and instead got shoes (I wrote about this a couple days ago) when I found my missing pouch.  I figured I’d just saved $20, so I could apply that towards the cost of the shoes…Anyway, the rest of my classes this week were with my new shoes.

First off, these shoes feel completely different. And by different, I mean much better. From the beginning I noticed that it was much less pressure when up on only one foot en pointe. But once I used them in class I immediately noticed that I was able to balance so much easier in first and second (I usually don’t have a problem balancing in sous-sus). Though barre went well, my first day wearing these shoes I only kept  them on for barre. Since when I wear pointe shoes for center I’ve been doing one-leg rises on demi point, I didn’t think these shoes were ready.

The next day, I decided to leave them on for center. We were working on a tendu combination using facings (since it is a Beginner class, we usually just face front, except for the more intermediate options for combinations). It was 2 tendus, 1 grand battement, first croisse, then ecarte, and efface derriere with port de bras in between, passe releve bringing the back leg to the front, tombe on front leg, pas de bourre, sous-sus. It was a nice combination and I was really excited because except for the passe releve I did the whole thing en pointe! Well the parts that involved rising, the pas de bourre and the sous-sus. Good thing I’ve been practicing my pas de bourre while facing the barre over and over and then stepping away from it a few inches because there’s no way I would have just one day decided that I was confident enough to try this in center without all that preparation.

We did a waltz-y combination: balancé x2, balancé en tournant x2 (this was a different balance en tournant than what I’ve done most commonly – in this one we turn  towards the direction we’re going and it takes 2 sets of three steps to complete the turn, I’m used to turning in the opposite direction of the direction we’re going and the turn taking 3 steps. And no, this was not traveling waltz en tournant, which we did do in a different combination), tombe, pas de bourre, piroutte en dehors, repeat starting to the other side.

The traveling waltz combination was 4 waltz en tournant, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, temps lie back to tendu, pirouette en dedans. It was really fun, because at this point I’m comfortable with waltz en tournant and that’s something that I wanted to get to, a medium-term goal you might say (the first time I ever tried an Intermediate class, one of the combinations had waltz en tournant, and as I fumbled and stumbled my way through I was just thinking ‘I want that!’ watching the more advanced dancers glide across the floor). Since I had my pointe shoes on, the pirouettes weren’t so great, since I only go up to demi pointe and was a little afraid of the amount of momentum I picked up.

Petit allegro was glissade, jete, pas de bourre, jete, ballote x2, pas de bourre, royalle, other side. This combination was pretty challenging for me, more so than the past few week’s combinations even though this one didn’t really change direction of travel. After the ballote I seemed to freeze for an instant before remembering the pas de bourre whereas last week’s transition to into saute arabesque seemed more fluid. I feel like I could really improve on this combination if we stuck to it for more time though. Unfortunately, since this was the last week of the session, we won’t…

We did emboites across the floor, first bringing our legs forward, then back. While my emboites to the front feel less weird, the ones to the back, just no…such an awkward movement! Well, at least it felt better than the last time I’d tried them. Then we did the forwards traveling ones and ended the last one in assemble. That was fun and the one that ended with the assemble to the right looked pretty good. To the left it looked funny…story of my ballet life LOL.

After this we did temps leve (saute arabesque), faille, pas de chat x2, and then this little skip (on the left leg if going to the right) with the other foot in coupe before repeating across the floor. I really enjoyed this combination once I got the pattern, but it frustrates me that my second leg in the pas de chat tends to lose its turnout. Then Teacher let us get in groups and make an across the floor combination with our group. We came up with saute arabesque, saute passe, saute arabesque, faille, pas de chat x2, glissade, assemble which was so fun (and of course I messed up the ending to the left).

Wrapping up the week (and session), we got the opportunity to do something I’d been  longing to try for a long time – partnering.  It’s a rare opportunity, but we actually had enough guys to attempt this (it wasn’t mandatory to participate). First we started by them hold us by the waist while standing behind us and shifting our weight forwards, backwards and to the sides. I don’t know about for my partners (I got to work with two guys!) but for me this took so much effort. Like I was engaging everything as hard as I could.  Then we faced our partners and they walked around us for a promenade. After this we first went up to passe releve to test out our balance and then we did pirouettes. With pirouettes it was tricky because our partner has to step back so we don’t knee them by accident, and then step closer to catch us for the balance at the end. With one of my partners it wasn’t really working out (he’s around my height when I’m standing completly flat, so don’t know if that was a factor), but with the other guy we got some good balances at the end of the pirouette. While it was fun, it was so hard though – I can only imagine how it’d be so tiring to do a whole pas de deux!

I’m hoping…that maybe it’s something that I don’t have to just imagine…I know it’s a more complicated goal than my usual (because all my improving-at-ballet goals just involve me) but I would really love to dance a pas de deux. I’m often reluctant to publicly express goals that I feel are highly unlikely to come true, but what the heck…what do I got to lose, you know? Before I felt even dumber about it, because I wasn’t even sure if it was something I really wanted to do, and making sure that it wasn’t just the idea of it that I liked. Just like how the first time I tried on a pair of pointe shoes I realized that this was something I really wanted to do. So yea, I guess let’s see what happens? (Yes, I feel incredibly ridiculous right now…but to be fair, before the idea of me going en pointe would have seemed ridiculous, so who knows what’s possible)

Speaking of pointe, this week I unlocked a couple of acheivements (for the longest time, Husband was such a gamer that we still talk about things in this household in terms of ‘unlocking achievements’, ‘leveling up’ and ‘spending our XP/MP points’ on different things…umm yeah, anyways): besides the pas de bourre in center that I mentioned earlier, I also got over my fear of doing a pique (specifically arabesque, but once I got going I did some into a passe traveling a la seconde) in center. While I didn’t try it, I almost felt like I could have done a pique turn, I was stepping into the pique by doing the little rond de jambe that preceedes turns and everything. I don’t know whether all my practice at the barre has been paying off or is it that my feet work so much better with these shoes. Perhaps both? I will say that with these shoes I’m able to actualy feel how my feet are pointed in the shoes as I’m up en pointe and I love the feeling. I’d read before somewhere that one should use the least amount of padding as possible to really “feel the floor”. I wonder if that is a different way of explaining the feeling that is the differnce between these new shoes and my old ones (with the built in cushions)?

And finally, some pictures if you’ve made it this far.

First my coupe derriere en pointe

image

Left foot

image

Right

A Picture is worth 1000 corrections…

Note to self: lower side arm! (No I'm not holding on to anything, but the angle kind of sucks)

Note to self: lower side arm – a lot! (No I’m not holding on to anything, but the angle kind of sucks)

Pointe Shoes Adventures

Like the title says, this is about my pointe shoes…just stuff  I haven’t had the chance to write about.

Ever since I got my shoes, let’s just say I’ve become friends with a needle and thread. After initially sewing them, and wearing them once (this was before the school session started and I was just doing eleves in first and fifth at the home barre), I realized my left one had to be resewn. The ribbon was just not where I needed it to be to help mold the shoes to my not-so-high arches when up on pointe. That time it took as long as the first time, since I was still getting the hang of it. Since then, though I’ve gotten much better – and quicker – at it. Or perhaps the time just appears to be going by quicker…

Then couple weeks ago, I resewed the ribbons my left shoe. A few days before, when I was putting on the shoes at home, one of my kitties decided to paw at my ribbons, so they had a little scratch that I was hoping wouldn’t turn into a hole or tear. Since the other ribbon had a scratch too, I switched out both ribbons on the shoe. Now that I wasn’t being impatient to put the shoes on I found the process somewhat enjoyable. I’m glad I’ve come around to liking it because I’ve found myself doing a lot of ribbon sewing since then…

My first pair of shoes (Bloch Balance European) seem to be done. My feet, especially my smaller right foot was feeling like it was sinking in too far andnot being supported. That’s when I discovered that I do need something between my big toe and rest of the foot, at least on my right foot. While I have a space between my big toe and second toe on both feet (due to my stupid flip flop habit a decade ago), my right foot feels, and behaves, completely different from my left. After putting together some common sense with good old youtube research, I realized that I was at risk of developing a bunion, and needed something for my toe gap (it being close to midnite whe I figured it out, and no chance of going to any dance store before my next class, I improvised… and used some disposable earplugs, which were the only thing available that seemed like the right size to do the job). While that helped, I still was feeling like the shoes could at any time cross the line from broken-in comfortable to unwearable.

So I got another pair of the same exact shoes because, well, up until they’d started to increasingly put pressure on my toes they’d been good, so it seemed like a good reason. Unfortunately, even though I made sure to get the exact same model, size, width, they shoes felt completely different. At the store I was able to slowly roll up to pointe very easily, which should have made me think something was up. I don’t know if this is a dumb (or simply unasked – believe me, I typed it in to my search engine of choice and nothing came up) question but I wonder, do pointe shoes become somewhat “broken in” by being tried on constantly in the store? Well, anyway, the store only carries one pair of each size in stock at any given moment, and I wanted to have a pair of back up shoes ready to go in case my first pair failed at a time when we couldn’t get to the store. So I got them and hoped that they would, in time, feel like my first pair.

Long story short… they didn’t. I wore them around at home, hoping to mold the box to my feet like with the first pair, but it didn’t seem to be working. But when I did eleves and releves the shank just seemed so flexible. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wan’t for the box being so uncomfortable. I started to worry…it had seemed too good to be true that I would find the perfect shoe on my first try and things would be so simple. I was also worrying because…this feels like confession time, but the reason my first shoes were so comfortable was because that model comes with a built in cushion, which combined with the Ouch Pouch really took the edge off things (ok, honestly, I’ve been feeling like such a cheater…). But, the downside is I was afraid I was now stuck to that particular model because of the stupid cushion. Except that the box of this model, even at the narrowest width, was starting to feel like it might be too roomy for my foot, like I needed a lower profile, and so, if I flattened the box it would be too wide . How stressful! What to do…

Well, through a small series of coincidences I wound up at the dance store again, and decided since I’m there I may as well try out some shoes (so strange, I usually hate trying stuff on, but for some reason with pointe shoes it’s different. Perhaps it’s the utilitarian factor?). I started with the same model I have, because the girl suggested that maybe I’d just gotten an off pair. Hmm, well I was not convinced, because the pair I tried on seemed ok, but it was just too easy to roll up, and I didn’t want to deal with that issue again. I asked for something with a lower profile and she gave me a couple different models of Russian Pointe shoes to try (I think Rubin and Alekssandra?). They were not very comfortable on my feet once en pointe (not to mention pricy), and I was starting to think that I’d just had beginner’s luck when I found my first pair. Or perhaps they’d been completely unsuitable from the beginning, but maybe I’d just wanted it to work out so badly that it did?

Then, my friend suggested I try on her shoe model (Grishko 2007), and figuring I had nothing to lose by this point, I did. Oh my gosh, as soon as I went up en pointe with them (not rolling up, because the shank was much stiffer, and the heel kept sliding off, but just stepping to pointe at the barre), they just felt so comfortable. I even experimented just being up on one leg, and still, no pain (which made me realize how unsuitable my first “fitting” [I mostly fit myself] had been, since I’d been scared to stand on one foot en pointe – perhaps rightly – but I hadn’t been able to gage how much pressure there’d be on my toe while on one leg. Since my first pair were getting more painful by the day, I decided to get the shoes. When I got home, I looked up these shoes in the pointe shoes database at PointePerfect (which is an amazingly useful tool) and saw that these are low profile shoes designed to reduce the pressure on the big toe joint. Perfect!

More sewing. First I unsewed my second pair of Bloch Balance Europeans, so I could reuse my ribbons. I managed to get the ribbons placed correctly on the first try, but ended up adding a second piece of elastic to keep the heels from sliding off. But my work was rewarded once I put the shoes on and did some barre work. I was feeling really secure in these shoes, like I could hold balances for longer, even on one leg. Even though the platform is narrower, I just find these shoes easier to work with. Then again, they are still really new, so we’ll see.

I feel pretty bad about the pair of shoes that didn’t really work out. The box appears to still be far from broken in, but at the same time I don’t feel supported. I suppose I will still use then for basic barre work at home, but there’s also the possibility that i could use these as the pair that I turn into soft pointe shoes. I know the box isn’t comfortable now, but if I knew I wasn’t going to be going up en pointe in them I could soften it up more.

And now, some pictures. I’m too lazy to take some of me wearing them while doing anything remotely cool right now, but yeah…

My pointe shoes

My pointe shoes

From right to left, my first pair of Bloch European Balance, second pair, and Grishko 2007

From right to left, my first pair of Bloch European Balance, Grishko 2007, and second pair of Blochs. Notice how the platform on the Grishko is much narrower

Why do cats like pointe shoes so much?!

Why do cats like pointe shoes so much?! Could it be the string…

 

Better Pirouettes And Turns; A Good Week

The things that sticks out as the most memorable about this week is pirouettes – for whatever reason, they were much better than usual (the usual, for me, when it comes to pirouttes, is downright crappy with the rare exception). Now, me being the way I am, I want to know exactly why is it that they have been getting better. One thing I figured is that before I wasn’t getting my weight up and forward enough. While I heard that correction many times, it was something I couldn’t really do – or was scared to. But as I think I mentioned before, working with pointe shoes takes away some of the fear of doing stuff in slippers. Since a releve en pointe requires a certain amount of force to get up there, I think I’ve gotten more comfortable with using more force, which gets me up over my leg. Anyway, I was practicing after class and I kept landing clean pirouettes over and over. I was feeling incredulous, like do-I-pinch-myself-to-check-if-I’m-awake kind of feeling, so I would attempt another one, and land it, and keep repeating. Even better, I was able to do it to both sides reliably.

To me this is important to me because for too long pirouettes have been the thing that frustrate me because by this point I should be able to do them (by “should” I mean, not trying to put undue pressure on, but when I look at what different levels should be able to do, like on the Sun King Dance website – not that I have the remote chance of going – I noticed that compared to where I am in terms of technique or other steps I am behind in pirouettes. I think the problem began back years ago when a teacher asked me to do them in center when I didn’t even have a passe releve balance or strong core – I was not ready, I was terrified, and the initial failure – and almost fall – stuck with me. Because for at least the past year I ‘ve been able to do pirouettes when I least expect it, but when the pressure’s on I screw up. So hopefully now that I’ve seen with my own eyes that it’s possible for me to do more than one clean piroeutte at a time (and even hold a balance after) it will help. And then I can focus on multiples!

This week our petit allegro was (glissade, assemble)x3, entrechat x2, ballote 4 counts, temps leve (saute arabesque), faille, pas de chat, pas de bourre, other side. Last time I did ballote I felt so ridiculous, but this time it felt so much better. I was still doing it wrong the first couple of days, until realized that the leg that is kicked out is not in tendu but actually off the floor, but in general I felt way stronger than last time (which was probably close to a year ago). There was the two beated jumps right after the other, and even though I wouldn’t say I did them well i do think I getting more comfortable with them.

While practicing, I noticed that soutenus and pique turns (with slippers, of course) feel more controlled, and I’m able to turn faster without losing my balance or that certain “rhythm” that happens once I start doing the turns. A correction I’ve gotten quite often is to turn out my passe leg more during pique turns,and I feel that now that I feel more stable in my balance I can better focus on that.

As far as pointe, I’m still staying at the barre and facing it for one-legged rises. I do feel increasingly comfortable with two-legged rises off the barre though. This week Teacher worked with me and was correcting me on releve from first, telling me that I need to feel like my feet scoot in a little when I go up so that my releve position en pointe won’t be too wide. She said this will help with my passe releve. At first I was not really able to put into practice what she was telling me (instead I used excessive force and jumped up), but then suddenly I felt it, that little scoot. It’s sort of how the feet come in together to go up to sous-sus, but less distance.

Teacher also told me when doing a pique (I was facing the barre and pique-ing onto my front leg with the back leg going to coupe) to get up there quicker and to bring my back leg in quicker as well. I’m still working on that…

I also worked on pas de bourre on pointe at the barre. I was hoping that this would help get me over my apprehension of stepping up on pointe. Once I felt like I had the feel of it down I gradually reduced my hold on the barre until it was just a finger from each hand resting on it, then I brought my arms out to second while continuing to pas de bourre. This was so cool, and brought back my memories of when I was still new at ballet and I wished I could pas de bourre without the barre without falling over immediately. I didn’t try it complely in center, just facing the barre with my arms out but it was still nice to get to do this.

As I mentioned last post, this week I attempted to begin chaines en pointe without the barre. It was not exactly a success – after about two half turns (or one chaines turn) I would start to lose my balance and resort to doing little steps to stay up (bad habit!). So apparently I’m not ready for that yet…

Overall, it was a good week. One more week left in the short session (I’m gonna miss it! We have a real cool group of people this time around), then a new schedule and some new classes. I got to have a cool conversation with some classmates, talking about ballet and my learning curve, and giving them lots of encouragement to continue (if they want to). One of them said something like “Wow, you started ballet four years ago and you’re already  en pointe!” and that was pretty cool because I’m used to hearing about adults going en pointe after much less time (because there’s no issue of the foot bones still being soft I guess? And most people, even adults [if the internet is representative of ‘real’ life] tend to not be as unbalanced and weak as I was when they first start ballet) and people harrasing me  about why am I not en pointe yet. So it was nice to hear something different.

And then, completely unrelated, a beginner girl asked me to be her ballet teacher for privates! I am beyond flattered (and of course I said yes) because secretly I’d been wondering about the possibility of getting to teach ballet as well as pilates some day. I tend to think it’s unlikely, that I won’t be taken serious because my body doesn’t meet the (current) ballet ideal, (let’s be honest – at worse I’ve imagined being laughed right out of the studio) but this cheered me up so much. I felt…accepted.

Conquering The Fear… Sort Of

I think I can tentatively say that this past week was much better…

After last week’s (admittedly whiny) post, I gathered myself together, took myself to my home barre and decided to face some of my fears head on. I mean, there’s things that are not in my control but the least I can do is practice, right? As I’d mentioned, I was afraid of being completely off the barre for pointe work, specifically quick   releves and echappes to second. So, after a warm up barre in slippers I put on my pointe shoes and started to go through my eleves, releves and echappes at the barre, at first with my hands resting on it, then with just a finger resting on it. Then I forced myself to step back from the barre, gave myself a little pep talk, and before I could wimp out, quickly sprung up in sous-sus, followed my my first echappes completely off the barre! Even though I pulled it off, once I stopped to rest I had to give myself another pep talk before doing it again. So it’s still not something that I felt confident about, but at least I knew it was possible? I didn’t know it yet at the time, but good thing I forced myself to take this next step because during our last class of the week, Teacher asked us to step away from the barre for our echappes combination and for once I didn’t feel that deer-in-headlights feeling when she has us do something new while I’m wearing pointe shoes.

This week we continued with similar barre combinations from the last few weeks, except adding on longer balances in sous-sus, coupe, retire and attitude on releve (which meant all the way on pointe for me). And yes, I even let go of the barre a little bit while up on one foot but no super long balances or anything yet. After our frappes combination we did petit battements on releve. I do think my eyes got wide when I realized what we were going to be doing, but once doing it I found that for me they are much more difficult on demi pointe. Teacher’s always mentioning how it is much less stressful on the body to be in a higher releve than a lower one, and I think the same thing goes for being en pointe instead of in demi pointe. I mean, yea, my big toe was hurting, but my calves were not even feeling it compared to all the times I’ve done this on releve in soft shoes.

By now I feel more comfortable leaving on the pointe shoes for center. Of course, I’m still doing passe releve facing the barre, still scared to do it with one hand at barre (and of course in center). However, I’m not longer using the death grip at the barre when doing 1 foot passe releves or the chasses to releve arabesque (side note: why do the chasses to releve arabesque feel much less terrifying than the passe releves? I mean, they’re both a rise up on one foot from two). I’m feeling patient with myself, I mean back when I first started ballet I practiced passe releve facing the wall every day for about six months before I attempted it with only one hand on it, both for lack of strength and fear reasons. So why should I assume that my progress en pointe should be any faster?

Since there’s a mixture of levels in the class, when the newer beginners work on tendu, close, passe releve in center I do that combination near the barre (so I can use the barre for the passe releve part), and then when we do the more beg-int combination I come out to center and do the single leg rises or pirouettes on demi, two leg rises en pointe. This week we did tombe (in efface line) pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, pivot, pirouette en dedans, soutenu, chasse into chaines. I substituted the soutenu with sous-sus en pointe, because even though I can do the half-soutenu to switch sides at the barre (detourne?) with no hands, I still haven’t figured out how to do the full revolution soutenu while en pointe. I asked Teacher about this last class, and she said that the hardest part is the sous-sus, so if I’ve got that part I’m good to go, so we’ll see how it goes next time I practice. For now, it’s like half soutenu and half bourre turn…

I  continued with the chaines en pointe along the barre. They’re starting to feel much less scary, thankfully. I was thinking about how when I first started learning chaines, I would put my hands on my shoulders and just slowly do half turn and pause , gradually speeding it up as I improved. It suddenly struck me that if I can hold a balance in first position up en pointe then I should be able to slowly start working on chaines off the barre, using a similar approach. I don’t want to feel like I’ve become too dependent on the barre after all.

During pique passes at the barre (to prepare for pique turns), one of my classmates mentioned that I was making it harder on myself by traveling out too far. I told her that yea, it feels like I’m pole-vaulting, but if I don’t go out that far I feel like I will slide on the tip of my box instead of getting over it. I asked Teacher about it and she said to think of it as pushing off my second leg to get up there quicker and  to also think of pointing my toes more of my landing foot so I don’t feel like I have to launch myself out as far to get over the box. I will work on applying those corrections in the coming week.

This week, I actually kept the pointe shoes on for the jumps and petit allegro parts of class. I was surprised to find out that sautes and changements are not any more difficult while wearing pointe shoes. If anything, I was really liking seeing my pointed feet in the mirror. Petit allegro was glissade (right), jete, glissade (left), jete, pas de bourre (left), pas de chat (right), entrechat, royalle, other side. As I’ve mentioned many times, beated jumps are hard for me, but I think I’m starting to feel a little more confident about them. By that I mean that I’m actually attempting them mid-combination, as opposed to just taking the easier route (substituting changment for royalle or soubresaut for entrchat). One correction I got was to close my glissade a little quicker. I think I’m struggling with this because all the times I practiced glissades I would go really slow to really feel like I was pointing my second foot, and when I try to speed it up my second leg kind of drags behind a little. Doing glissade jete over and over quickly while wearing pointe shoes makes me feel like I’m tap dancing…

We  did temps leve (saute arabesque) chasse, temps leve, chasse, repeat all the way across the studio while alternating legs. Then we incorporated ballet run and grand jete into it. I took off my pointe shoes before that last part because I just wasn’t up to running and grand jete-ing while wearing the shiny, slippery shoes (though I did leave them on for one go across the floor of temps leves and chasses). However, one day when we had a slightly shorter class I technically kept the shoes on the entire class all the way through reverance (which, by the way, was lovely: cambre forward in croisse, come up and cambre back with the arm closest to the barre up, chasse backward to tendu devant, bend towards the pointed foot as you extend the arm the length of the leg, step forwards into B+ and curtsey, ronde de jambe the back leg around to do the same to the other side). I did feel like I’m getting over my mental block of keeping the shoes on for the whole class.

This week I also had the opportunity to do lots of practicing on my own – and with a ballet friend – at school. I worked on pique turns and chaines with my slippers on (since during class I’m usually working on the preparation to do these en pointe I don’t get to work on them on flat as much as I’d like). We also worked on pirouettes and stepover pique turns. I haven’t been doing pirouttes in my soft shoes lately because I’ve been wearing the pointe shoes (and turning in demi pointe), and that may have been a factor in my pirouettes suddenly coming out way better! As in, holding a balance after instead of falling out of them, actually attempting a double just by spotting without using extra force (I made it about 1 3/4), going from one side to the other consecutively. I don’t know if the improvement is from working with pointe shoes (even if on demi point) causing me to be more hyperaware of technique and that translates to stronger pirouettes, or getting over the fear of attempting pirouttes in flat shoes since they’re scarier – or supposed to be – in pointe shoes (even on demi point, just because of the satin being slippery) and I’ve in theory attempted them, so if anything I’m doing something that should be less difficult.

I ran through one of the variations I’m working on (a simplified version of Swanilda’s variation from the first act of Coppelia – when she’s trying to get the doll’s attention) a few times, as I’m trying to make sure my stamina’s up to par. In general, the variation’s going ok, but I’m still feeling a little clumsy on those pas de bourres en dessous and en dessus. Other than that I’m pleased that I have memorized it already, just need to clean it up, possibly speed up those turns…

After that, we put on some music and then just improvised and randomly danced around. It was so much fun! I love ballet improvising, and having a large space to play with. Confession: I couldn’t resist putting my pointe shoes back on and dancing around with them a little bit. I didn’t do anything crazy that I hadn’t done previously, and did lots of stuff on demi point (because all I’m doing en pointe in center is bourres, two-legged balances and echappes to second) but it was so surreal to look in the mirror and see that I was dancing in pointe shoes. I mean, seriously, when I got these I was already thinking that it was ok if I didn’t get to fully dance with them, I was just going to enjoy my eleves and feeling so lifted. And I had never really planned on going en pointe – honestly, when I decided to start ballet I didn’t even think of it as an option, I just wanted to do a beautiful barre routine with my slippers and call it a day. Dancing in the center, was still nowhere in sight for a long time. I’m so happy I didn’t quit back then, when everything about ballet seemed impossible.

(readers, sorry for the long post length… Just saw the word count and was like :0

Week 3: Ambivalent

To be completely honest, this past week didn’t have the same yay-everything-is-awesome-in-ballet-land feeling that the previous couple weeks had. That’s ok, plateaus are to be expected; perhaps they will help me appreciate the times of great improvement even more. But that’s not it, not really… I mean, I did improve at some things this week, after all, but… I don’t know… I feel somewhat unsatisfied, I guess, for lack of a better word (I’m sure there’s a word for what I’m feeling, I just don’t happen to know it, haha). I’m sure this is just a low mood, so I’m working my way through it regardless.

Actually, just writing that down helped me better articulate what I’m feeling (which I will now share, uncensored): I’m frustrated. Frustrated because I’m aware that I hold myself back; frustrated because I have low expectations for myself, because then – if I keep my goals low – I won’t have to face much disappointment (and won’t grow as much either, on the downside); frustrated because though I’m willing to work hard and put in time and effort, I hate pain and discomfort and am not willing to do things that will result in these, or similar, feelings; frustrated because even though I know that these thoughts are erroneous and counterproductive, I can’t seem to stop thinking them, wondering what was I thinking, why do I bother, why try if I know I’m going to fail, if I’m always  going to lose, simply because that’s what I’m used to, been used to all my life, and it’s too late to change the script now. (or IS it?…)

Yeah, some dark, low thoughts indeed… but I’m not going to lie – sometimes not everything is happy and cheerful. Sigh. We’ll get through this as we always do.

It’s kind of dumb, but I think part of the reason I’m in this mood is because the room I use to practice at my school was not available this past week, so I didn’t get to do any extracurricular dancing. Some of the happiest times I have involve just me and my headphones, working my way though a variation or crafting my own choreographies. I mean, the creative process for me begins at home, and I do walk through different segments of my dances at my home studio space, but even though it’s great for marking the choreography and nitpicking details, there’s no room to actually dance full out, using all of the space. I think I need my actual dancing time to calm my inner turmoil. It doesn’t  help that the weather’s been sucking, making it impossible to go for a long relaxing walk, or work in my garden.

Anyway.

This week I continue to wear the pointe shoes at barre. That fondue up to sous-sus from last week seemed much less scary. I don’t remember if I’d specified, but that was from a fondue devant, the kind where the supporting leg is bent and the working leg is off the floor out to the front. This week I added in a sous-sus from a fondue derriere and it was much less scary. Don’t know if it’s because I’m getting used to it or because it’s easier less difficult from this position. There was also a single leg rise up from either arabesque or a degage devant position (it was after our rond de jambe combination, so from arabesque after going en dehors, and from the devant position after going en dedans) and I was too scared to rise up to pointe, instead just going up to demi-point. So then I tried it with both hands on the barre and it still felt like a bit much. I do think I’m strong enough, but I’m pretty terrified.

The first time I took class during the week went along as normal, with me switching out to slippers after barre. But then Teacher said how about we left our pointe shoes on for center and do the center combinations near the barre, so we can use it to assist with the more difficult parts. These difficult parts turned out to be a pique sous-sus (in the combination it was a soutenu, but she said to substitute it with a pique sous-sus), and a chasse to releve (on pointe) arabesque then pas de bourre. The first day attempting this I was able to do it all to the right side, but to the left I was too scared to do the chasse to releve arabesque, only rising to demi. The next day I pulled on my (metaphorical) big girl panties and made myself do it.

Then the class did chaines across the floor and Teacher had us do them on pointe at the wall barre. It was scary at first, then awkward, then just slightly uncomfortable in that pressure-on-the-toes way. I also did some chaines off the barre while wearing the pointe shoes but just going up to demi pointe (I guess my shoes are broken in enough to do this now, but I do wonder if doing stuff in demi point  in them will break them down faster?). When the class worked on pique turns across the floor I did pique passe releves along the wall barre. Once again, to the right side it felt much more secure than to the left (like a crazy discrepancy – to the right it felt like I’ve been doing this forever, to the left I was terrified). It’s funny, up until very recently I would have said that without a shadow of a doubt my left foot is stronger, after all I balance much better on it on flat and demi point with soft shoes, do better promenades on it and everything. And my right foot was the one I messed up in a car accident years ago (though the left ankle was the one I sprained when I very gracefully fell down the stairs) But pointe work has shown that it is actually my right side which is much stronger, weird.

Then we worked on pirouettes, and since I still had my pointe shoes on I attempted to do some on demi point (because there was no way I was going to try a pirouette en pointe at this, umm, point in time. Perhaps I should have been working on just rising up to pointe in passe at the wall barre at this time). To my surprise, I found that pirouettes on demi point feel much more stable for me in pointe shoes than flat slippers. Not only that, balancing on demi point in general felt more stable with the pointe shoes. I guess I’ve officially decided that once these shoes die I will deshank them and wear them to class sometimes instead of my soft slippers.

Then it was time for sautes and petit allegro (chagement x2, echappe, glissade, assemble, pas de chat, coupe, pas de bourre, other side) which meant it was time to take off the pointes. I mean, I think Teacher would have let me leave them on, but I think I have some sort of mental block at the idea of doing the whole class en pointe (even though, who are we kidding, I was either using the barre to help me or only going up to demi, so it’s not like I was really doing the class en pointe, just merely wearing pointe shoes…).

But we all gotta start somewhere, right? To be honest, I never thought I would be doing this much with the pointe shoes already by this point in time (I would have been content with just doing eleves, releves, and sous-sus at the barre for the next six months or so – there’s those low expectations I mentioned earlier…). It’s been exactly one month to the day since I first slipped the shoes on. I remember on the way home from the dance store, Husband asked me if I thought it was going to be like starting from scratch as a brand-new beginner again and I said ‘Maybe, but I hope not. But if it is, it’s ok.’  Well, one month into it, I’d say that it’s not like starting from scratch, but at the same time I can see how my fears of trying new things rear their ugly heads. For example, even though I’ve been practicing it with just one finger from each hand resting lightly on the barre (so not much support), I get quite scared of springing up to sous-sus or releve in 1st with no hands. I feel like I need to go through the motions of it thousands of times on my own before I can do it confidently in class in front of everyone. In class there’s not enough time to repetitively work on the same thing, so this is something I need to put some time into on my own.

On the positive side, I did meet my goal of doing a half soutenu on pointe with no hands this week, I even did some away from the barre after working on springing up to sous-sus with no barre. I did not meet my goal of bringing my feet up to coupe with no barre, but I did let go of the barre while up in retire on pointe, so maybe we can consider that goal halfway met? I continue working on my bourres with no barre while doing port de bras. I know for an upcoming goal I would like to do echappes with no barre, but I don’t believe I’m ready yet. Perhaps then for now my goal for the week will be to improve on that chasse up to releve arabesque, and springing up to pointe on one foot.

As far as non-pointe work, this week I really concentrated on working on glissade assemble. To the right I’m not bad at this sequence, but to the left it feels sloppy. So after class I went over it repeatedly, both sides just back and forth, and I’m feeling much more confident about it. We worked on chasse, saute arabesque across the floor and I got a correction on not losing my turnout, so I will be paying more attention to that. Also, after class I worked on these pas de bourres that we would do in Int/Adv class last session, the kind where you plie your supporting leg and the working leg kind of degages out a la seconde, then it comes in to sous-sus (the pas de bourre part), and the other leg then degages out to seconde as your supporting leg plies. I think F Teacher called them pas de bourre en dessus and en desous. Anyway, ever since I slowed the steps down I feel like I’ve been improving on them, because at the speed we would do them in Int/Adv class I was mostly just flailing around and trying to not fall behind (thankfully, not trying to not fall, period). I guess I should just be grateful for that.

I think I’ll end this post now, before it becomes a novel…

Week 2: Testing Out My Comfort Zone

As anticipated, class increased in difficulty for the second week of the session. Nothing too extreme – we’re still firmly in Beginner territory – but enough for me to be glad that this isn’t my first ballet session ever. My learning  curve is flatter than that…

I wore pointe shoes for barre for all the classes, which did prove a bit challenging because of the increasing difficulty pushing me out of my comfort zone (which previously was working on two feet). Barre included a fondue devant up to sous-sus – yes, a releve on one foot. I was approaching it cautiously, which besides being incorrect also made it harder. It was my first attempts at releve, not eleve, on one leg. The first day we worked on it I was hesitant and, honestly, a little scared, but by the second class doing this I was feeling more confident. For now, my right supporting foot seems to be stronger.

We were also working on soutenu at the barre when changing sides. This was also new to me en pointe, and a little scary at first but once I got the hang of it I just kept going up into sous-sus, doing a soutenu to the other side, coming down, and doing the same thing again. Yes, it is that fun, I promise. Balancing in 1st, 2nd, and sous-sus, on point is sometimes easier than other times (and easier towards the end of barre once I have my alignment completely sorted out). Definitely not comfortable letting go of the barre completely for echappe releves yet, but I am discovering the perfect amount of force needed to spring up to pointe without it being a jump up. I love the end of the grand battement combination because  when we turn for the other side after the three grand battements en croix everytime we changed direction we would do two quick changements, and when we changed directions it was like changement-changement-sous-sus-soutenu and it was so fun. (I’m pretty sure that was a run on sentence, but but it was out of excitement…)

At the end of last week I set a goal that I would do some bourres en pointe off the barre this week. Initially letting go of the barre was a little scary (is there a theme here?) but I got over it and did some bourres with pretty arms (mostly swan arms, but also going through the positions). Been doing that after barre every day. I also did a completely spontaneous promenade in attitude while wearing my pointe shoes and that amused me. My goal for this week will be to pick up each foot up to coupe while on pointe without the barre. And – maybe this too ambitious, but what the heck – to do the barre soutenu to the other side with no hands. I’d like to clarify that for goals I don’t set any that I think will be unsafe, just a little out of my comfort zone (meaning I’m strong enough to, but just being a baby).

For across the floor we had a couple new combinations (walk x4, passe balance on flat, developpe devant, walk x2, pique arabesque, plie, pas de bourre), including a waltz combo that included a pirouette en dehors from fifth for the more difficult version. Pirouettes from fifth suck for me, so I wasn’t feeling too confident by then. But then in the back I was able to do some pirouttes en dehors from fourth in which I even stayed balanced on releve after making the turn. Then we did chaines across the floor, and I (re)discovered that it’s even harder to do just chaines across the whole studio than to do them in a combination because it’s more of them in a row.

For jumps we did changement x4, echappe x2, changement x4, pas de chat, coupe, pas de bourre, soubresaut. Teacher then changed the final jump to entrechat, and once again, there went my confidence. Ugh, beats are still something that have much to improve on. I did get a correction on front leg losing the turnout when landing, so I have a concrete thing to pay attention to.

Across the floor we did chasse gallops x4, ballet run, grand jete. While I am by no means great at grand jetes, I’ve noticed that they’re not as awful as they used to be (especially with my right leg in front). There’s hope yet…

 

Quotes Challenge!

Earlier this week, I nominated myself (lol) for DorkyDancing’s (at http://www.dorkydancing.com) 3 days, 3 quotes challenge, but I’m also tweaking the rules a little: 1 post, 9 quotes (sorry if that ruins the effect), and if anyone reading wants to nominate themselves, please do 🙂

I didn’t really know where to go with this, but I thought it sounded like fun. That said, these are some quotes that I find meaningful, relatable, that I’ve either pondered on or that have helped me enjoy life to it’s fullest. As this is mostly a ballet/dance blog, I decided to start off with some dance-related ones, but the rest are out there ’cause I’m weird like that. I’m not going to apologize for myself and the way I am, but just thought I’d give a heads up on that. Anyway, hope someone finds these inspiring, thought-provoking, or both.

1 “In another life i could fly, so in this one I dance” – Tara, Dance Academy episode 1.

When I first started watching this show, this quote jumped out at me. It immdiately sucked me in, which is rare for a tv show, and it remains my go-to for dance-related entertainment (with the exception of, you know, actually watching a ballet…

2 “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

While I like the reference to dancing – and sometimes do find myself dancing to music in my head, perhaps appearing insane to everyone else – to me this quote has a deeper meaning – that one’s actions can be nonsensical to someone who doesn’t understand our motivations.

3 “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him, he will win.” – Ed Macauley

This quote can come across as ultra competitive, but I find it both motivational and comforting. Motivational because it’s a remininder to practice when I’m being a procrastinator, and comforting because I realize and accept that I don’t practice as much as humanly possible, and therefore I can’t rationally expect “to win” (whatever that means) at whatever I’m doing which takes off the pressure that I sometimes put on myself. And this doesn’t just neecessarily apply to dance; I actually first came across this quote on a syllabus for a trigonometry class, but find it applies to pretty much everything.

4 “Open your heart; your mind will follow” – unknown, possibly misheard. I guess this is my version of “free your mind and the heart will follow” which is apparently a quote that previously existed. Well, I like my version better and believe it to be true; I believe a closed heart can get in the way of our mind functioning at our full potential.

5 “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – Franklin D Roosevelt

Without going into any detailed explainations I’ll just say I believe this one to be literal truth. I just wish that I didn’t keep forgetting this…but I’m getting better at remembering.

6 “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”
~Brennan Manning

I actually came across this quote very recently (like, during this week kind of recent) but it was one of those moments when I was like ‘yes! that’s it!’. Anyway, it’s really personal – more personal than I’ve gotten on this blog, but let’s just say I’ve had a lot of personal growth in the last half-decade and when I look back to where I was ten years ago I am astounded. However, even though I have faced up to my (many) mistakes and tried to rctify what I can, I do carry a sense of shame about my past. But I have come to the realization that our past – however regretable at times – when contrasted with our present can seerve to give hope to those who are struggling whre w once were. Or something…since I’m not trying to get too philosophical here.

7 “Long is the road, and hard, which out of hell leads to light” – John Milton, Paradise Lost

Similar to my thoughts on the last quote actually…let’s just say that I feel like I’ve had to go through hell in order to finally emerge out the other side. It’s ben a long, hard road, but worth it.

8 “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one” – Albert Einstein

Another one that I believe to be literally true…but I won’t be getting into that right now.

9 “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” – William Blake

I see this as an explaination for the previous quote. Once again, beyond the scope of this blog, but a quote I love.

And there you go. Now I guess anyone reading it can get a better picture of where my thoughts are when I’m not obsessing about ballet. Perhaps this will better explain why something as difficult as ballet, which requires such an extreme amount of focus and obsession dedication is actually an escapist activity for me.

(Here’s to hoping I don’t feel too vulnrable and have posting regret and tak this down/make it private)