Monthly Archives: June 2014

I only run if I’m being chased

I’ve been enjoying my new practice area complete with giant mirror tremendously.  It’s really been helping me get an idea of how I look in motion while I’m moving (so I can instantly correct it, rather than try to remember what I need to adjust).  I’ve especially been enjoying practicing glissades, pas de bourees, and balances (the jumping side to side move, not actually the art or balancing, which I am also improving on.)  Since I have so much space to work with, I’ve even been working on one of my weakest points, running.

I am not one of those people who enjoy running as a hobby or way to stay in shape.  I’ll take hiking and uphill walking over running any day.  I’ve had friends tell me that they love it, it’s relaxing, etc, but I must be missing something because I just don’t see the appeal.

Now, ballet running, I’m not sure how I feel about it.  I’ve seen it done right, and it looks beautiful, graceful, like the dancers are so lightweight and about to float away.  How do they do that?! It appears that I am having trouble making sense of the instructions the teacher gave us on how to ballet run.

She said to keep our feet turned out. Ok that makes sense, since it is ballet after all.  Then it gets more confusing because she said to run fast, like you’re being chased or the building is on fire.  The problem is, when I try to run faster I tend to look even less graceful.  Like I’m doing some kind of crazy sprinting thing complete with bent arms.  She also possibly said to keep our knees bent, or was it to always land in plie?  At times like these I wish I could have just recorded everything the teacher ever said so that I can listen to it again and again at my leisure and practice it repetitively at home until I get it right.  In private.

Because there’s another problem, one that the other girls in the class didn’t have: when I run, I bounce. A distracting amount, for sure.  I mean, even when practicing by myself at home the bouncing manages to distract me!  In class, more than once I caught someone blatently staring at my chest as we were doing the bouncier, more running-ish part of class.  It was so awkward!  It remind me of p.e. class in high school when the more well-endowed girls would always cross their arms during the jumping jacks segment to hide the bouncing.  Except in ballet class, instead of crossing your arms to hide the bouncing, your arms are wide  open and everything is like RIGHT THERE.  Not to mention that besides the whole aesthetics of it, when your boobs are heavy and they bounce, it hurts.  A lot.  So there you are, trying to hold your balance, make sure your arms are in the right place, and make sure you get that grimace of pain off your face!

I’ve seen for myself that practice, while it may not make perfect, it does make improvement.  And improvement is all that I ask for.  But this ballet running thing is so discouraging!  I don’t know if all I can hope for is a teacher that doesn’t include a lot of running in her combinations or if there is actually hope for me improving on this particular aspect.   I’ll keep a positive attitude and continue to practice but this may be one of those things which my body just may not be made for.

Thoughts on flexibility

I was in grade school the first time I realized just how inflexible my body was .  We were doing some kind of fitness testing at school that involved, among other things that I have long forgotten, testing us on our flexibility and if we could do a pull up.  Most of us kids could not do the pull up but I was horrified to realize that I was in the minority in that I could not touch my toes.  In fact, I could barely reach my ankles, and that was by cheating by bending my knees.

I remember I would sit on the floor at home, trying in vain to force my legs into a butterfly stretch (I think that’s what it’s called.  The one where you put your feet together and open your legs out to the side, trying to get your knees to touch the floor.)  My knees didn’t make it within 6 inches from the floor.

Time passed, puberty, junior high and high school happened and I lost interest in increasing my flexibily.  I think I had just accepted that some people just aren’t flexible.

When I first started ballet, I had been doing yoga for a short while.  I began to see small improvements in my flexibility, but nothing extreme.  I wasn’t putting my foot behind my head or anything.  But at least I had gained the ability to touch my toes without bending my knees.  And one day as I was sitting on the floor, without thinking I put my legs in the butterfly stretch.  All the way down.  At first I was kind of in shock and I kept looking down to make sure.  I took my hands and put them under my knees to make sure. But it was true, something that I had tried so hard for and had seemed out of reach just happened when I least expected it.

My first ballet teacher was very big on stretching.  We would do several stretches with our leg up on the barre. With our leg in front, making sure to keep our hips square to the barre.  With our leg out in second we would stretch our upper body both towards our foot on the barre  and then away from our foot.  We would put our leg in attitude on the barre and then turn around and have it on the barre in attitude derriere.  After all of these barre leg stretches we would then get on the floor and try to stretch into the splits.

At first, my body was not having it.  The barre hurt my ankle and it was hard to do the stretches.  But as time went on, I noticed that it was easier an easier to stretch, especially since I would practice the stretches at home as well as in class.  The splits continued to elude me, however, but since I was preoccupied with the other aspects of ballet like balancing and remembering the combinations I didn’t give it too much thought or importance.

The next ballet teacher I had did not have us do that many stretches in class, though we did do some challenging ones like putting our bent leg on the barre, plie-ing and  and bending towards it.  I still continued doing the stretches the previous teacher had taught us at home, but I didn’t keep trying to get into the splits.  I think I had kind of  given up on it but I was excited with my improvements in other areas.

So imagine my surprise one day when I was showing a classmate how far down I could go and found myself all the way down.  Just as it had previously happened with the butterfly stretch, I was in shock.  I was actually doing the splits! I couldn’t believe it.

At this point in my life I am the most flexible I have ever been and it feels great.  I have heard it been said by various people that flexibility is lost as you age, that you are the most flexible as a child.  While that may be the majority, it doesn’t have to be an absolute rule.  There are exceptions and that is something I find extremely uplifting.  There is hope. It is not too late.

Another thing that I find curious is that I was able to do both of these things after I had given up on them, yet when I was trying my hardest it just wouldn’t happen.  It does make me wonder if I am limiting myself or if I am my own worst enemy.

An even weirder thing a friend once said to me was that you can’t have body flexibility unless your mind is also flexible.  She said you must show that you are flexible about life before your body will respond with flexible joints.  I’m not going to say that she is necessarily correct, but it is a pretty big coincidence…

Green Juice gives me wings

After all the furniture moving that I mentioned in the previous post, I was feeling excited yet very tired.  I was not really feeling in the mood to cook.  Besides, it had taken way longer than we had planned to get the job done.  I still wanted to make sure I could fit in a ballet practice session though.  What was the solution?  Green juice!

Whenever I’m not in the mood to have a meal (and all the preparation that goes into it, of course), I usually make myself a nice tall glass of juice.  It’s like an immediate energy shot, except it’s also very nutritious.  And it’s so much faster to get it inside myself than a whole plate of food.

In case anyone is every interested, this is my most frequently used juice recipe. (serves 2)

-2 large or 3 medium sized apples

-a cucumber

-3-4 celery stalks

-around 8 carrots (depends on carrot size, if you want it to be sweeter then add more)

-a bunch of kale (I’ve never counted how much, but enough to fill a salad bowl)

– a few sprigs of parsley

– a couple broccoli stalks or florets

After drinking this juice, I usually find that I have enough energy to dance, go for a hike, or simply clean and organize my house!

More room to practice. So excited!

I try to be one of those people who always see the glass as half full (and for the most part I succeed ).  After a long and disappointing apartment search yesterday, the boyfriend and I resigned ourselves to staying put where we are.  So, we decided that the next best thing would be to give our current apartment a completely free makeover by rearranging our furniture.  After some mental puzzle-solving, I figured out a way to place stuff so that it gives us more open space in the living room.  And what this means for me is more room to practice ballet!

Our current apartment has wooden floors, so while it is not the same as the studio floor that I was used to during classes, it is a decent substitute.  Hey, it beats trying to tendu on carpet.  I am so excited because now I have a cleared off area of about 12ft by 9ft right in the middle of my living room to practice in.  For a short while I contemplated setting up a practice area in one of the bedrooms instead, by moving the furniture out to the living room, but ultimately I decided that I like being right in the middle of things, so the living room it is.  Even better, I have this enourmous mirror that we are going to set up against one of the walls.  Now I will actually be able to see my port de bras and when I move around I will still be able to see my form.   Prior to this I had been using a smallish  door sized mirror, so while it had helped me while I practiced barre stuff, once I started practicing center stuff it was of no help.

After moving around furniture for hours I was exhausted, but I just couldn’t resist having a practice session.  I find that I enjoy practicing so much more when I have a mirror to give me immediate feedback.  To be honest, I was kind of pleased with what I saw.  It actually almost looked like I was really doing ballet, rather than some stretching weirdness.  My pas de bourees in center are looking way better than the last time I attempted them without the barre.  My fondues are actually looking sort of graceful. I actually don’t lean back when I developpe!

I’d been bugging that I need more space to practice my dancing for a while, so I’m glad that we finally made it happen!  Now the next thing I have to work on is actually having a real barre…

My #1 fan

Of the handful of people in real life who know I do ballet (seriously, I could count them on one hand), 3 of them are related to me: my mom, dad, and little sister.  Of the three of them, the most supportive by far has been my little sister.  She is 13 years old and she is my biggest fan.

When I first told my mom that I was learning ballet, her initial reaction was something like “Why would you want to do that?! At your age?  You need to focus on your real studies.”  Because she doesn’t understand that it is in part because of my studies that I do ballet.  I need the beauty and art balance out the math and science.  You could say I do ballet because it balances me out (not sure if a pun was intended, but ballet has helped me find balance in so many ways).  My dad’s initial reaction was somewhat similar to my mom’s, though a lot calmer because he’s just a more laid back guy like that compared to mom.

It was my sister who said “Really, you’re doing ballet? That’s awesome! Is it hard? Is it fun?Do you love it?”  All like that in a flurry of excitement so common to young people.  And I said “Yes, yes, and I totally love it!”  So now whenever I visit, after I’ve helped her with her regular school work, I can show her the latest ballet moves I’ve been working on.  I am so grateful for her support and encouragement and just simply for not implying that I’m just wasting my time as others have.  When I was growing up I always wished I had a big sister to look up to.  I hope that I do a good job of filling out the big sister shoes.  I really want to be a positive role model for her.

Like me, my sister did not get the chance to do ballet as a young kid.  The  reasons that my mom used to not let me do ballet are the same reasons my sister hasn’t gotten to try it: we were both told that we are too heavy, and it’s too expensive.  Luckily for me, I am now an adult who doesn’t live with my mom, so I lost some weight and started ballet.  Unfortunately for my sister, she still  lives with her, so if she is interested in trying it (as she’s said she is) she will have to wait a few years.  In the meantime, she cheers me on, and that makes me happy, though I really wish I could do more for my sister.

My sister is 13 years old and close to 100 pounds overweight.  Our mom raised us on plenty things that are fried, lots of animal products, and especially lots of carbs.  I grew up thinking that being overweight was in my genes, until I realized that I could change my lifestyle and eating habits.  I know my sister could have a better childhood if she could eat healthier but I also kno w that as long as she is a minor and under my mom’s roof, the chance of this happening are not too good.  She is upset about her weight, but I feel powerless to help her.

hello, summer

Well, it’s officially summer here now!  And while I love the sunsets (seriously though, I think sunsets from around late May or so until about September are so freaking beautiful, I could stare at them all day. or at least until, you know, the sun sets), it is just so hot! Even at 6:30 in the morning or 7 at night it is so hot that it makes physical activity at least somewhat unpleasant.  During this time of year if I want to go hiking,  or at least for a nice long walk, I have to be out there by 7 am so I can be back home in the shade before it heats up too much.

And ballet practice?   Lately I’ve been waiting to practice until it’s almost sunset. I like to practice for at least an hour (on days when I’m not feeling particularly enegetic) and on other days I’ve been known to stretch it out for almost two.  But in the summertime, it gets tough.  I guess during the colder time of year I’m happy to be in motion because it will help me stay warm.  This time of year, just sitting on the couch without moving a muscle is already keeping me warm, so to get up and do some physical activity just means it will get warmer.  And it does.

Usually by the time I’m done with my warm-up plies I’m already starting to sweat.  I think that’s the hardest part, getting motivated to get off the couch and warm up, because for some reason it gets easier after that.  I’m not sure if this is due to me getting used to the heat or just me getting into it and getting caught up in the ballet-ness of it.  All I know is by the time an hour has passed I’m dripping in sweat but I don’t want to stop, it almost feels like it takes that long for my body to go “oh we’re dancing? Cool, let me help you!” instead of it being my mind doing all the work.

Except that by the time this happens it’s already nighttime and I get sleepy, probably from getting up early to beat the morning heat and go for a walk.  And as much as I love the summer sunsets (and summer vacation), I miss winter.  Winter, when I can have a ballet session at 2 in the afternoon, go for a walk at any hour of the day, actually be active outdoors, just sounds so nice when it’s so hot outside that even going to check the mail sounds like an effort.

But as you get older, time starts passing faster and faster and you realize that if you spend all your time looking towards the future then you are not really living in the moment.  An so, I will appreciate this summer weather and enjoy it.  I am grateful that I have figured out a way to work a schedule to fit my activitites around the heat.  And besides, now that the longest day is upon us, it means that the days can only get shorter and shorter, right?

On the positive side

In the interest of fairness, I figured out would point out the positives of my last ballet teacher.

1) She did do a good job of going around giving corrections during the barre part of class.  She actually would make it to everyone all around the room, which I thought was kind of nice.

2) Sometimes before doing the harder moves, like jumps, she would teach us first a “beginner” version of the move so we could get a feel for it before actually trying it “for reals”.

3) She was really big on strenghthening the core, which as I have found out thanks to her, is extremely important for ballet.

4) She emphasized working on the port-de-bras and hands.  My previous ballet teacher barely went over that kind of stuff so it was nice of her to break it down a bit for us beginners.

I improved a lot during my time taking class with her.  For sure I can tell a difference in my port-de-bras and hands from before, though I still have a ways to go.  Another correction she gave me, which I really needed, was that my foot was sickling when I would coupe in the front.  After the first time she grabbed my foot and moved it into position, pulling my ankle away from my supporting leg, I could totally feel the difference.  I also was corrected on basic posture because apperantly before I was not shifting my weight forward enough (though I don’t think with my body shape it will ever be possible to shift my weight forward  as much as she would have liked me to). But still, a definite improvement.  Thanks to her, I also realized that I hadn’t been tucking my pelvis in (I guess I had been sticking my butt out), and once I fixed this it improved my turnout and plies so much.

And a few times, I even got complimented! (mostly on my tendues and plies, nothing crazy)

Now that those nice things have been said, I guess I’ll list my main issues with her

1)Pushing us too hard, especially those of us that obviously are not looking to going pro.  But seriously, none of that “you must not really want to learn” stuff.

2) Expecting everbody’s body to be able to perform at the same level in a short amount of time.  everyone is unique and this should be respected.

And I guess I just wanted to say, the fact that it’s at a community college so we actually get a grade for class is kind of stressful.  It’s so much more fun to do ballet without having to worry about your G.P.A.