How’s This For A Funny Story

So, I drove myself to my regular school, with my black leotard pink tights “uniform” and plenty of time to spare, and I was so excited and happy that classes were starting up again and – surprise! – turns out I got the date wrong  and classes won’t resume for another week! Although I’d been looking forward to taking class in “uniform” again, I took myself to New Studio instead, where we had quite an challenging class.

My extension was back! After that last class the week before with the mediocre extensions, I was happy to have it back. Don’t know if it’s related, but I did give myself a nice long Pilates and Yoga session at home before class, which was out of the norm – and the day before the bad extension day I’d been cooped up in the car for hours, But yeah, in class I felt both well-stretched and strong.

A challenging extension combination we did was rond de jambes a terre, lift to rond de jambe en lair, from derriere position leg goes to passe, then developpe a la seconde (don’t remember the rest, i was too busy being happy my extension was back, it may have been the combination with a penchee, bring it up to attitude derriere and balance, or the one with failli, pas de bourre en tournant, other side ). then fondues to releve front, side back, bring leg to a la seconde, to retire and back out four counts up on releve the whole time, plie on supporting leg while keeping working leg en l’air, soutenu, other side. I really started to feel both my supporting and working leg by this point, for sure. And that was before the really slow fondues up to releve, with more of holding the leg out in extension while up on releve after doing at least 6 consecutive fondues per side.

Center was intense. We jumped a lot – 32 sloooow changements, with a sous-sus balance every eight counts, then sautes in first, second, echappes from fifth to fouth, second, and fouth, and changements, twice, at regular speed. 32 pas de chats, changing directions every fourth one, which is way harder than it looks, if for the slipping factor alone. We did a combination that included a jump called a gargouillade which appears to be (to my undeducated eyes), of course(a pas de chat while doing little rond de jambes in the air with both legs. Despite looking hard, it was actually really fun to do  attempt and I started running into the problem of … laughing. It reminded me of when I was a kid at school, someone else would do something funny (or dumb, probably, looking back) and I would get the giggle fits and not be able to quiet down long after then initial set off had happened, therefore getting in myself in trouble. This was reminding me off that because I just kept cracking up everytime we got to that point in the combination. It just looked hilarious in the mirror and it felt funny, and the whole time I was amused that I could even do a crappy attempt instead of just freezing up like I used to, or tripping over or something. I don’t think I’m much a fan of the step even while done correctly, after seeing it on youtube.

We also did tombe, pas de bourre, chasse, pirouette en dehors, en dedans, repeat. My pirouettes still remain my weakest point in center. While it does feel discouraging, at the same time I don’t mind because I know these things take time, sometimes lots of time. I mean, breaking it down to all the parts of a pirouette – I was too weak to even go up on releve on one leg at the barre until I’d been down ballet for maybe 8-9 months (and at the time still couldn’t balance on releve on two feet for any length of time ), and I’m pretty sure I wrote on here back sometime in late Fall 2014 about the first time I went up in passe releve in center, and barely about 3 months ago I had my first good barre releve retire balance (and I have not really been abl to replicate it), so yeah, these things take time. I am patient… it’s weird because I actually struggle with being patient quite a bit in other areas of life, but with ballet it feels different. Perhaps because I’ve improved so much at ballet in other areas that I know it’s at least possible to get better. I don’t think I expected to get “good” when I started, but I hoped to get to a level that I could participate in center without immediately losing my balance. At the time even that seemed unbelievable and far off, but I’ve gotten there at least. That helps me convince myself that some day when I least expect it pirouettes will become no big deal, but for now I just practice without expecting too much results.

The other classes I took were more on the basic beginner level, so mostly working on technique fo plies and tendues. I’m happy to notice that my grand plies, especially in first, have really been getting deeper. I wish I knew what exactly I did differently to improve or get stronger though, because it appears to be one of those things that did improve when I least expected. I was not happy to note that during grand plies in fourth I have a tendency to lean forward. Sometimes my torso just feels so heavy. Sigh.

Anyway, ballet classes at my regular school should return this week – this time for reals – and I think I’ll be doing Intermediate level as well as Beginner, so we’ll see how I hold up.

A Mixed Week, And Headstand Progress

If I had to use one word to describe the past week, it’d be ‘inconsistent’. Not as far as my class attendance and practicing – for that I get an A for effort – but as far as my actual dancing. I’m not too worried, because by now I’ve noticed patterns and sometimes it does appear that I’m getting weaker or my dancing’ getting sloppier right before it gets better. And besides, if all my classes went super well and it was all compliments and not corrections i would start to feel like something’s off. I guess at this point in my training I need not-so-encouraging classes just as much as encouraging ones, to keep my perspective balanced.

The biggest inconsistency/disappointment this week had to do with extensions on releve. At home I’ve been doing the  Pointe Barre video (which is by far my favorite of all the youtube barre videos that I have tried, and it is really challenging. A year ago or so, when I first started to do youtube barre videos at home, I remember I was most comfortable with the Easy Barre video, and would have been so lost on this), where my favorite combination is the  adagio (developpe devant, plie, pique attitude derriere, plie, allonge, developpe a la seconde on releve, close, cambre, reverse this time developpe derriere, pique attitude devant). I actually rewind and do the combination 2 or 3 times, I love it that much. I love the fact that I can actually do this combination without feeling like I’m about to fall over, and it actually looks ok in my mirror, and I can’t help admiring my extension because it seems so unbelievable for me considering the less-than-mediocre extension capabilities I brought to ballet.

Anyway, during class we did a combination at the barre that was not similar but did involve an extension on releve. We were bringing our working foot up from coupe to passe on flat, then rising up to releve before extending a la seconde and holding it there, then back to passe and coupe derriere. For whatever reason my extension was absolutely terrible, I felt like I’d used up all my energy just going on releve. Which made no sense because I’d done the video class at home the day before and the developpe on releve had been fine. I think the part abot having to hold it out there may have had something to do with it? But either way I did feel off.

Center varied immensely from a day with only brand new beginners (we did tendus with basic port de bras, and then sautes and changements)to a day with crazy fast combinations that were close to impossible at my current level. At some point NS Teacher had us do 16 entrechats, and then we were supposed to start with the other leg in front and do 16 more and there was just no way. I don’t think I’ve ever even done one entrechat correctly, but I tried the combination anyway. It was pretty awful. The whole time I think I was doing it in half time, taking a small rest between each jump to charge up, not on purpose but because i just can’t jump that fast yet, not even with unbeaten jumps. I also wasn’t really able to fully cross on the beats, but at least my feet didn’t do some wierd flexing thing, I guess. Another combination that day was glissades with assemble battu. I’d never tried to beat my assembles, so I was unsure about how to go about it.  NS Teacher said we didn’t have to beat them, possibly noting my apprehension, but omitting the beat sort of threw off the timing.

At home, for center, I’ve finally gotten through the entire Classic Center video (except for grand allegro, because there’s just no room, I do my petit allegro and sautes on this rubber mat thing I have that I put on the carpet), being able to do all the combinations. The way I approached it was to repeat the exercises several times in each practice session, until I started to remember them (it also helps that she goes over the combination several times). Another thing that helped was that I’ve just been going up on releve retire instead of the pirouettes (so I can devote the energy spent to pirouette anxiety on remembering the combination instead).  The combination that I’d had the most difficuty remembering was the adagio, because there’s all the changes in facings and chasses and temps lies with port de bras, and honestly at first (and second, and third, and tenth…) glance those kinds of steps majorly confuse me and I have trouble remembering them until I’ve marked them many times.  I’d set the goal for myself that I wanted to get though the Classic Center video before my regular classes resumed for the Fall and I wouldn’t have much time to practice at home. I found it really fun to work on the same combination until I was able to remember it, and then actually feel like I’m dancing it, which is something that I don’t get much opportunity for during regular classes outside of the beginner level. I’m hoping this continued exposure to a more intermediate-ish kind of combination will help if/when I return to Intermediate class. I’ve also become really comfortable with promenades in attitude.

In non-ballet-related news, I have  leveled up on my headstand skills. I no longer need a doorway to walk my feet up to get into the headstand. I’d been practicing the doorwya method for the past few weeks, and finally this week I decided I felt brave enough to try it by myself (still against the wall though). I’m still not kicking up, just getting in the clasped hands and head between the arms position, and really pulling up with my core then lifting up one leg and pushing off a little but mostly just using my core. The first time I tried it I was pretty scared, but by the third or fourth day it was starting to feel very muscle memory-ish. My next goal is to be able to do it without a wall at all, but I imagine that one will take a little more time…

Also, i never got around to publishing my yoga session thoughts, and that is because it turned into a rambling mess, and I’m still not sure what I want to say on the topic (not to mention I’m torn with guilt because I get it that yoga is Good For You, but I just don’t feel as inspired to do it as I do ballet, and I hate that you-should-know-better feeling). But I do have to say that besides the headstand progress, yoga did help me improve my flexibility even more and even out the flexibility gap between my tighter and less tight side. I’ve noticed that my extensions on either side are becoming more or less comparable, although as far as strength goes I remain uneven.

 

Some Classes, And Thoughts On Childhood vs Adulthood

This past week I continued my schedule from the week before, three classes at New Studio and then youtube classes for the other days. Mostly I’ve been concerned with not losing the strength that I gained during summer session – cutting back on class hours will do that to me. Luckily, fall session at my regular school will resume next week, so it’ll be a full ballet schedule again.

At home, I’ve been mostly working on a better, more controlled passe releve, hoping that it will traslate to better pirouettes. It appears to have worked! I’ve been doing the combinations in Kathryn Morgan’s youtube videos Easy Ballet Center and Classic Ballet Center, but during the pirouettes I just go up into passe releve instead (the floor at home is pretty terrible for turning). So then, when I was in class at NS and we went across the floor (tombe, pas de bourre, chasse, pirouette en dehors, repeat), I was actually getting all the way around on my pirouettes, even to my harder side (right). I got to be honest, I was surprised to be getting around consistently! This must mean that it’s been working though, so I will continue on with the video practice.

I had committed that I would be doing the Classic Barre this week, but then I found a newer video class called Pointe Barre. After giving it a quick view, I noticed that the combinations seem faster and more involved, so I just had to try it. It was a bit more challenging that the Classic Barre video, but I was able to keep up (except for the frappes on releve, but I just did them twice through in flat). I’ve actually gotten better at customizing the difficulty so that I can get through all the exercises, and even start to memorize them. However, I don’t know if I should be working on the same barre video to focus on technique, or if I should switch up the barre videos so I’m forced to learn to remember combinations faster.

My timing was a little bit better during class, not like how I kept starting too soon in all the combinations last week. So perhaps last week I was just having on off week after all. During sautes I got a little bit ahead of myself, but once I realized it I was able to settle back down to the correct speed. I’ve gotten so much better at remembering to breathe during my jumps instead of holding my breath, and as a result I feel like I can jump for longer and longer.

And then, something else, something I almost feel like I’m not supposed to/allowed to say… I feel like it’s as though i’m saying ‘why does everyone say the sky is blue?; it looks green to me’… but since it’s my blog I’ll say it anyway, even though it is not the experience for the majority of people (and besides, if you want the majority opinion, there’s plenty of other places to get it) – it drives me absolutely nuts when other adults keep going on and on about how easy everything is when you’re little. Or how flexible you are as a child and how it all goes away. Not that you can’t have that opinion; your opinion can be whatever you want. But I can’t stand it if someone whom I barely know (new classmate) starts going on and on to me about how this would be so easy if we were children, and don’t I remember how easy everything was back then, how can I not remember? And it’s like no, I can’t remember because it was NOT easier for me to do physical/kinesthetic things as a child. It just wasn’t my experience. And flexibility? Back then I couldn’t even reach my  knees, much less touch my toes, and my extensions would have been nonexistent – all my flexibility came as an adult (though my hands and locked knees do indicate possible hypermobility, even then). But for whatever reason people always seem to look put out when I express my truth, and it’s not that I’m trying to be deliberately contradictory, but if it just wasn’t my experience for things to go a certain way why should I lie about it? Am I supposed to lie about it, in order for them to have the piece of mind, to keep believing that their truth is the only one? Is this one of the reasons why I can’t even have simple small talk conversations with most people, because I refuse to give them the answer that they expect (if it’s not true to me), so they move on to those who will just echo their sentiments?

But if I may be honest, even though I may sound irritated or angry in my little rant, I’m actually lonely.  It can be very alienating not having anyone to relate to. I mean, sometimes they all start having a group conversation about how great things were when they were little girls and I just feel so lost, so unrelateable, like there’s something wrong with me. I often feel like no one can relate – I know what it feels like to be an adult who can do somewhat awesome things, but I don’t know what it feels to be a child who could. And since it’s presumed to be easier to do things as a child – no one expects a grown up to be able to jump and skip and dance and cartwheel – there’s this feeling of failure that I carry around with me, like I was an inadequate child, like if we were living in caveman times I would have been left by the group to die as the weakest link (I know that sounds so dramatic, but I think about stuff like that…).

Anyway, I’m trying to find something constructive in all of this….Yes, I may have been a disappointment as a child, but at least now I’m not full of excuses? Or at least since I don’t have those memories of the happiest childhood ever, it makes it so my adulthood is really fun in comparison? I feel like if I was more motivated, and social, I could turn this around and have it be somehow inspirational, to not let your past define your future. But I’m not really that motivated (except to practice ballet!) – or social – so it will be up to someone else, if there even is anyone else like me out there. There probably is… they’re just not coming to my local classes, or writing about it on the internet (yet – if you’re different that the “norm”, please share your story; we need it).

(p.s. yes, I know that it’s easier to recover from things like falls as a child, and that bone remodeling rate or cell growth slows down when one is older, and these things may apply to everyone, even me. But I’m not really talking about the physiology of it, so much as the mental/cognitive aspect of it. Even though I had healthy bones as a kid, and if I scraped my knee it would scab quickly, that doesn’t mean that I could do all the things that other children could do. I just couldn’t do it. And the whole thing about kids being fearless? Uh-uh, not this child.)

Summer Session Summary

Alternate title: What I Did On My Summer Vacation (ahhh, memories)

Even though I didn’t have much time to write about it while it was going on but a weekly little summary, my ballet summer session was pretty awesome. I learned so much and I really feel that my dancing has really progressed. It was Beginner level, but I do feel that I needed to fill up gaps in my technique in order to be better prepared for Intermediate, should I decide to take it again (and who are we kidding – I probably will).

Here’s probably the most important thing I learned: When you actually use your technique to the fullest – believe it or not – it gets easier (there is a catch though – you have to actually have enough strength in  your muscles to begin with to be able to physically do it. Back when I started, I was so weak that I couldn’t physically do a lot of things that feel like second nature now). If I’m actually holding my turnout and pulling up and not tilting my pelvis (and staying untilted at the pelvis has a huge impact on turnout) I have an extremely higher likelyhood of not losing my balance. My problems with balancing before were partly (at least – I’d say mostly, but there is that little issue of my weight distribution and center of gravity) caused by the fact that I kept losing my turnout and not pulling up. Of course, back then I wasn’t strong enough to even stand up completely straight, let along pull up, so yeah…

But anyway, I’m much stronger now, so when I remember to fully use my technique – and I’m hoping that writing this down will serve as a reminder – it results in much better dancing. I think the promenades issue is a clear example of this. Back a few months ago, I would start feeling like I was going to tip over anyway, so might as well just let it go. But now I’ve realized that when I feel like I’m going to lose my balance is a great time to pull up even more, and not let my leg drop! Same with the turnout, if I feel like I’m off balance I need to check myself and see if I’m actually holding my turnout and not bending my knees when they should be straight. Also, another thing G Teacher would constantly remind me of was having the weight on the toes not the heels – he said if the weight is on the toes I would not wobble. I really took his advice while rehearsing my dance and it was true – the change was obvious and I feel like my dancing improved so much. I’d always heard that when you rest back on your heels you’re “heavier” and therefore slower, but it was one of those things that you have to be strong enough to be able to do it first.

Another thing that helped me extremely: The turnout exercise we did (super slow (16 count) rond de jambes en l’air with a flexed foot, from fifth,  four counts devant, four counts to a la seconde, four counts to derriere, four to close on right working leg en dehors, then left working leg en dehors, left working leg en dedans, right en dedans, and repeat the whole thing with supporting leg in plie) did much to help me with my balance and stability, but also with my confidence level. In the start of the session, I liked the execise because I could really see it helping with strengthening my supporting leg and my hip flexors and rotators of my working leg, so that was all good. But then G Teacher said he wanted me to do it with my hands off the barre. At first it was very wobbly, and I thought I would lose my balance, so I held my hands very near to the barre, just in case. But by the last two weeks of the session it was like ‘I’m going to do this!’, and I held my arms confidently in second the whole time… and I didn’t fall off balance. Not even when G Teacher would come around with corrections (usually involving turning out more my supporting leg while in plie). And every day, after completing the exercise successfully my confidence would grow. By the end of the session, if he had said ‘do it in center!’ I think I could have! (well, I have at home, but you know how it seems easier to do stuff when everybody’s not staring…at least for me…)

I will say that this exercise in particular – sans barre – has the power to wring sweat from my body more than any exercise I’ve ever done. By the end of it every time I was dripping and ready to remove the warm ups, looking like I just stepped out of a sauna. So this will be a good exercise to remember this winter when i need a way to raise up the old body temperature!

Something I really liked was that I got a lot of attention from the teacher (ok, that sounds horrible… let me try to explain). G Teacher was really generous with both corrections and praise. When I take a beginner level class, often times the teacher focuses more on students that are more beginner (and I can understand why, if they need the help more), and if I’m not really being watched, how will I know if I’m doing it correctly? G Teacher often said ‘Good!’ or ‘Nice!’, but he also pushed me harder and expected more from me. And, I’ve always been somewhat nerdy, so I kind of like that feeling when teachers expect more from you, i respond to it real well.

For example, the solo at the end of the session, when I first approached him I hadn’t expected that he would have me learn a real variation. I had just been checking what we were doing for the end of session so I could begin working on one of my own chorographies if I needed to (and hoping to avoid having to work in a group to create one, because that just does NOT work out for me, as I’ve found out). So I was surprised to be assigned a real choreography to learn, and I was pleased when I ran it by G Teacher and he said he was impressed (I’m trying not to think that he was impressed because he expected much less…). Also, and I think I mentioned this before, since it was a bit fast it took me stepping out of my comfort zone. While stepping out of my comfort zone scares me quite a bit, the anticipation of it, afterwards I do I feel… not just relieved, and not just somewhat incredulous, but like I’ve grown as a person (and not just as a dancer, but that too).

And, amidst the constant correction to stop tilting my pelvis (also known as sticking out my derriere), I finally asked the question I’d been dreading to ask – more like dreading to hear the answer I feared I already knew: In order to keep it from happening through muscle memory, does it mean I have to stand with my pelvis untilted even when I’m not in class or trying to stand in a balletic manner? G Teacher answered ‘yes’. Ok, so officially no more excuses – if I want to be able to access all of my turnout and maintain my stability while balancing and turning, no more tilting of the pelvis, even outside of class. Ugh, despite the fact that an untilted pelvis makes my butt look horrible and my tummy pooch (yes, even if I hold my core as tight as I can – I have stubborn flab and loose skin left over), I will have to sacrifice whatever vanity I have left for the sake of ballet. Seems like a fair trade…I guess… I hope…?

Editted to add: Can’t believe I forgot to mention this other thing, also falling under the category of confidence – going in the front row. I think during this session was the first time that I was completely ok with going up to the front row for center work without hesitating. Previously, it had been that I could do it, if the teacher told me to, but out of my own, no way. But something appears to have changed, because now I’m ok with it. I think part of it has to do with how my own classmates seemed to accept that I’m kind of an intermediate-beginner, so that helped to reinforce it to me that even though I’m the same person who couldn’t even balance on one leg long enough to lift the other foot of the floor for a milisecond, that has changed. Which sounds really bad, because I think it sounds like I’m saying that I can only define myself by how others see me? Which is not what I’m trying to say necessarily – I define myself, in my own company (which I love); in the company of others, especially others who I find intimidating, I tend to freeze up, and so their defining of me becomes the only one… perhaps that’s closer to it. I realize it might not make much sense to anyone reading, but these are some of my struggles, and not just in dance, but in life. But it does seem that through dance I’m tackling my issues, so that helps.  Anyway, I’m hoping some of this new confidence will stick around for a bit.

I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I can think of for now. Next up, my thoughts on my yoga summer session.

Jumping The Gun

If there was one obvious issue I’m having in ballet this week (but not to worry, there’s more than one), it was timing.
Not just the timing during combinations, like not rushing through, but also at the beginning of the combinations – the counts for preparations.  It happened more than once that I attempted to start the combination too soon, and it was awkward and made it so that when the real start of the combination happened I wasn’t ready . Like, we were all starting in B plus, and I thought it was the preparation counts so I did my arms preparation port de bras and prepared to step onto my foot when I realized no one else had. So then by the time I got back into B plus to start, they had already started. It was a little frustrating, because I could see that it seemed that I was not focusing, but the distressing part was that I couldn’t really do anything about it. My internal clock seemed to be running on fast, and unless I’m super familiar with the music I think I totally count the counts rather than go by just hearing the music, so everything was being affected. I was trying to just not beat myself up over it because it seemed like it was one of those off days, but I was feeling really self-concious about it – like by ths point in my ballet training I was supposed to know how to stay on the music or something. I’m feeling a little ashamed of the fact that I still rely on counting quite a bit. It could be worse, I know – at least I don’t count aloud or even move my mouth along as I count silently (I’ve seen both of those things before during class, especially when G Teacher filmed our class so we could watch ourselves and see what we needed to work on). But I can’t help feeling like an impostor because I count to dance rather than just dance…

I really do thing some of it had to do with it being an off week though. Ever since my summer ballet session ended I’m down from about 10 hours of ballet class per week (not counting rehearsing, or crosstraining/conditioning) to three hours, plus practice sessions at home (during which I did Kathryn Morgans Classic Ballet Barre, Easy Center, and Classic Center from youtube). The home practice is important to keep my muscles strong, but not having a teacher present may make it easier to slack off. I try my hardest to self-correct, but that sense of urgency, of  I-better-try-my-hardest-or-teacher-may-yell is not there…

At my classes at NS, we mostly did similar combinations to what we’ve been doing recently, which are at a good level for me – kind of complex, but not too long. We had an adagio combination with developpe devant, a la seconde, derriere, promenade in arabesque, promenade in attitude, allogen, faille, run off. It wasn’t anywhere as clean as I was able to do last week, but still better than I had been doing for a while. Also, we started in croisse, but facing right, so first it was on my harder-to-balance leg. I think that played a part in it.

We also had some combinations with en dehors pirouettes, and I think my pirouettes were a little better than I remember. At home I’ve been working on preparing for pirouettes and just going up into passe and bringing it back down to fourth, and it may have been helping. I figure in order to have a stable pirouette I need to be able to stay balanced on retire in releve for longer, so I’ll work on that and the full pirouettes can happen later (like in class).

We’ve also been working on our strength for extensions during barre stretch at NS. After doing the standard plie and cambre barre stretches, NS Teacher has us lift our leg off the barre and bring it to arabeque, then attitude derriere, the attitude a la seconde, and extend a la seconde. My extension by that point is about 10 inches lower than when I had first taken it off the barre, so I see some room for imrpovement there.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been attempting the Classic Center video instead of only the Easy Center. I’d mentioned a cople of months ago that I was going to be working on it, but during my summer session I didn’t have any time to do any videos at home. So, I revisited it this week, and it seemed like it’s gotten much more do-able.  I’m still not at the point that I can just watch it through once and remember the combinations, but it only took several repetitions and I could actually do it and remember. Of course, I’m only working on the first three or four combinations for now (after doing the Easy Center video), but I’m going to continue to work on it. I really enjoy doing the Easy Center video because it’s completely in my comfort zone, but I’m trying to push myself a little harder so it’s not so shocking when i return to class at my regular school.

 

The Fear Of Falling Holds Me Back

While this post does have the ballet tie-in, somewhat, it is pretty tangential…

In the last couple of weeks of my beginner yoga course – which is now over as well as my summer ballet session – we started focusing more on inversions, which as it sounds, involved inverting the body. Which means the equally fascinating and terrifying concept of being upside down (as well as any time the heart is located above the head, according to Yoga Teacher). But it’s the truly upside down – like vertically – stuff that I’m mostly referring to.

In order to prepare for a headstand, Y Teacher had us practice interlocking our hands, placing our elbows the correct distance apart, and then lifting our hips up while pulling up with our backs and shoulders, feet still on the ground. So far so good. She has us practice the next step – do the above while facing away from a wall that is leg distance away, and then walk your feet up the wall. Still so far so good, and quite fun in that head-rush-y kind of way.

Then came the next step – do it facing the wall and basically end up in a headstand with your feet resting on the wall. :0 What?! There’s no in-between baby step…? She did say that none of us were required to try, and you could sit out, or do downward dog, or practice the previous step. Which I kind of wanted to do… but I had told myself that if this class provided the opportunity for me to learn once and for all the technique to being Upside Down, I was going to take it! Besides, pretty much everyone else in the class was going to try it, so I didn’t want to miss out. Y Teacher told us we could try getting up ourselves, or we could wait for her to come around and assist us.

I took the second option, and when she came around she said something like “this should be easy for you, you’re very strong”. I agreed  (that sounds awkward, but I wasn’t going to say ‘no, I’m weak’…) and told her it was a fear issue. She had me get into the practice position, lift up one of my legs as high as it could go, and sort of held it there as she guided my second leg up. And I was upside down – really upside down, not like any half way point, or just my head below the heart – and honestly it was so cool that as soon as i came back down I immediately couldn’t wait to do it again. Which Y Teacher cautioned against, something about doing a headstand repeatedly in one session dehydrating the body…and my upper back and triceps were pretty much done anyway. So the next day…

We did handstands instead. The extra length of the forearm makes it seem as though the floor is so far away and it was so scary. I wanted to get up into the pose, once again same reasons as before, but once I got up it was too much. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t find it as awesome as the headstand, but I’m willing to give it time, especially when I think of how slow my ballet progress was.

We did headstands another day, and still I couldn’t get up without Y Teacher’s help. I did attempt it though, except I was too scared to kick up into it, so I put one of my legs up and then tried to hop with my other leg. I don’t know how I though that was going to work, looking back, but at the time I guess I thought by getting one leg on the wall the next would follow. Except I would have had to kick my legs up harder, which I’m scared of doing.

I asked Y Teacher if there’s anything I can do since I can’t get up by myself. She said something like “you can’t, or you won’t?” and again mentioned that it’s not a strength issue. I again said, “but I’m scared…” and she mentioned some of the other poses I’ve been able to do which are hypothetically as scary and can lead to falling on ones face (she specifically mentioned this side plank pose in which you grab on to your top leg’s foot with your top hand and balance). I don’t remember what I said, other than I’m scared to kick up my legs and fall sideways, but she did show me this way to get up that involves a doorway and walking your feet up. I felt… empowered – while I’d loved getting into the headstand in class, I’d felt a little sad that I couldn’t get into the pose without assistance.

So of course I want to try at it home the next day. I found this nice wide doorway and set up to do it and… it’s still terrifying. I got up to the point where both my feet are high up, one on the opposite doorway, one high above me in the air, and I’m technically upside down, but not completely vertical, at a slant something like a seventy-five degree or so angle I’d say. And I start feeling a little panicky, because I have no idea what to do next. Boyfriend was nearby, and asked me “do you want me to help?”. I said yes, and he guided my feet, first the top one that had been so close and then the second one. I was happy to be upside down (at home!), but disappointed that I still couldn’t do it by myself…

I was determined to do it myself (with the doorway) in class the next time, under Y Teacher’s supervision. This time, I was able to identify when the problem began: when my first foot left contact with a surface, my second leg was afraid to follow unless the first foot found a foothold (which definitely made me think of ballet, as I’ll explain later). I made myself stay calm as I sought out the wall in front of me with the top foot. Once I found it, I lifted my second leg off the wall behind, and I almost felt like a snap together as my second leg joined the first. Things were well, until it came time consider getting down. In all the excitement I hadn’t even considered that part. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared (I have a history of being more afraid to get down or on the downhill part than climbing up or the uphill, for reason which I don’t know or understand yet).

For now I’m still getting up into a headstand by using a doorway. I figure I’ll look at it as how in ballet we depend on the barre when we’re beginners, and then once we’re stronger and more confident we don’t use the barre as much. Once I’m super confident with the walking up the doorway method I’ll try to kick up into the wall or use my core strength to bring up my legs, and then eventually work up to doing it wall-less. Once I’m more comfortable with the upside down part I’ll see about moving on to the handstand (and then other cool things that are not yoga but involve being upside down, like walking on my hands or a walkover (which also involves being able to sustain the bridge pose and push up out of it). Yes, I have not yet given up on my inner 8-year-old’s dream of doing a walkover. Perhaps I’ll never get there, but I have set a goal.)

As for the part where I was reminded of ballet, I think the fear of letting go of the floor I’m having here is related to my difficulties with cabrioles (and by extension, all beated jumps except for royalles). That feeling of one foot already being off the ground or unsupported, and then bringing up a second foot to meet it, it scares me. I mean, I can bring my legs together off the ground if the objective is to come down altogether, like in assembles, but for whatever reason it’s different here. My teacher’s expect me to try the cabrioles, even if not high off the ground (which makes it even more scary because now I feel like I’m more likely to land wrong), so that means they do consider me strong enough to do it. I wonder if they also feel that it’s not that I can’t, it’s that I don’t want to…?

(Which is a tough way of putting it, but in a way Y Teacher had a point? I mean, there wasn’t a physical reason why not, so I can see why someone would say ‘you don’t want to’, but at the same time, when you’re the person it’s happening to, and it sure feels like you can’t, it can be really hard to hear that the only thing getting in the way of you is You.)

Well, for now I’m going to continue working on conquering the fear of headstands, and hopefully that will lead to me feeling braver overall.

PS. I will probably write another yoga post about my experiences in the course in general at some point soon, as well as a summary of my summer ballet session

Some Parts Are Functional…

For years now, almost a decade, I’ve had some umm… toenail issues (I think I should just give out a TMI warning right now and get it over with!). The back story is that I used to live in flip flops and sandals, and I used to get pedicures at a local salon. One day I stubbed my big toe (easy to do since I literally lived in sandals) and my toenail cracked and broke in half. When I went into the salon for my next pedicure, the lady asked me if I “wanted her to fix it?”. Like an idiot – give me a break, I was young! –  I said ‘yes’ without asking her what it entailed, and to my horror, she applied a coat or two of acrylic to it. Not what I’d had in mind – what I’d had in mind, who knows – but I’ve always sucked at standing up for myself and I figured the damage was done so I  didn’t raise a fuss and went on with my life.

A few months later, I noticed that the nail that had been acrylic-ed had started to grow weird, both curved up and in (like, the ends were going ingrown, the middle was going up to the ceiling). I stopped going to the salon, and once the acrylic part grew out altogether it fell off. Unfortunately, my toenail was never the same. The curvedness remained, and it continued to grow away from the nail bed. Around this time is when I started wearing flip flops less anyway, so I didn’t pay much attention to the problem – out of sight, out of mind. It didn’t hurt or feel uncomfortable, so I just left it alone.

By the time I started dancing, my toenail had become rather deformed and thickened. It still didn’t hurt, so I continued on. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I researched a bit and realized that when my nail had originally cracked all those years ago and been covered with acrylic, I most likely caught a fungal infection – moisture and acrylic don’t mix! The thickening of my nail was a symptom, and if I hoped to treat it topically I would have to get past the hardened, thickened part to the nail bed where the infection originated from. Easier said than done…

But about two weeks ago, while trimming my toenails I was finally able to cut off the hardened part. The end result is that I now have hardly any big toe nail on that side (but now I can easily treat it with the topical anti-fungal ointment). In the meantime, while my nail grows back I am having more difficulty balancing on releve. It’s still possible to balance, but my foot feels less stable, sort of like that ‘brake’ that keeps me from going past is not there. I’ve heard/read that many dancers lose toenails completely when they are en pointe, so I figure dancing toenail-less – especially on flat – is not a huge catastrophy. But still, I’m hoping my nail will hurry up and get better and grow!

I already knew this in a factual, I-read-it-in-a-text-book kind of way, but I needed that hands on knowledge to really understand that our toenails are not just decorations for the feet, they are Functional!

Now I’m off to research if there are any specific ways of coping with dancing while missing a toenail…