Monthly Archives: August 2014

Wednesday Morning Class, and How My Absentmindedness Strikes Again

Second Ballet class of the semester, rounding out the end of Week 1.

Once again we started out with some stretching.  Class meets for an hour and a half, twice a week, so there’s plenty of time for some warm-up stretches before we go to the barres.  I LOVE how this semester’s teacher lets us get out mats to do our stretching on.  last semester’s teacher made us stretch on the bare studio floor and it hurt like hell, especially on the pelvis and tailbone when we would lay down to stretch our hamstrings and work our cores.  I guess she was trying to build character, LOL.

Anyway, we started out today with some theraband stretches on the mats, working on strengthening our feet and ankles: slowly pointing our feet as we worked through demi point to fully pointed, tying our legs together at the ankles and trying to separate our feet from each other,  crossing our legs at our ankles and once again trying to separate them from each other.  Then we lay back and stretched our hamstring by pulling our straight leg back toward our shoulder with the theraband.  We also did this stretch where we lay face down and brought our feet together with our knees out to the side, kind of like a frog.  My body didn’t really like this stretch very much; looks like it’s something to I need to work on.

Then it was barre time! We did a LOT of plies, releves, and tendus.  The teacher was focusing attention on making sure that our feet weren’t sickling when we did any of those.  We did our tendus really slow at first, working through the foot in demi point before fully pointing.  I’ve done those before but they have a tendency to throw me off – I get over-eager and point all the way sometimes.  I surprised myself by actually remembering the combination after she had only said it once, which was unusual ( though I hope it keeps up).  

There were some challenges though.  Teacher asked us to take our hands off the barre and balance in releve, which I was managing ok (actually, better than ok) when we put our arms in middle fifth, especially thanks to the  correction I received two weeks ago at the other studio regarding arm placement.  Going right from holding the barre to high fifth, not so well, unfortunately. I had to put my hand down to keep from going forward at least twice.  I think I may not have been engaging my core to its fullest potential because I feel like I’ve totally been able to balance better before.

Another challenging moment was when Teacher asked us to step back from the barre and do the tendu degage combination without the barre.  My initial reaction – which I did not show, thank God – was panic. It’s not that I can’t do tendu degage without the barre – I can – just that I’ve only done it bar-less at home and after a LOT of warm up.  It went better than I expected (or hoped), so I guess around this time my abs were finally getting the message that they needed to wake up and work. 

We put the barres  away and went to center.  Teacher said we could use this as an opportunity to have a drink of water.  Unfortunately I did, and by the time I had drank a few sips from my bottle everyone else had taken up most of the room near the front. The reason it mattered was that the teacher would be leading us through our first center combination and I didn’t get to actually see what the teacher was doing, due to a very tall guy standing right in front of where I was.  Note to self: prioritize getting a spot over a drink unless I’m super dehydrated.

The center combination involved grand plies, so it was almost (another)  moment of panic.  I honestly can’t remember exactly how the combination went (brain started to get tired?), but I remember it involved tendus to the side, plie and shift weight to other foot, feet back together, grand plie, tendu devant, shift weight to forward foot, arabesque, feet together, repeat other side.  All with a really pretty port de bras that (due to the unfortunate placing of the tall gentleman) I wasn’t really doing right. I felt like I was a beat behind on everything.

For our across the floor work (if that is what it’s called) we did this step I learned last semester.  I can describe it as a fondue, releve, releve, while walking.  I remember when I first encountered it last semester I was having so much trouble with the coordination of it – I can sometimes be a slow learner – but lots of practicing at home helped.  We added arms to it and it felt so pretty!

So that was about it for Wednesday morning class.  Since it is Wednesday, it means there’s also class at the studio downtown.  And since I have a high tolerance for ballet, I’ll probably find myself there in a few hours unless some  unforseen circumstances  were to occur, like last week’s flashflood thunderstorm.

6 hours later…

Ok, I had every intention of taking my second ballet class today at the other studio.  I got ready at home, double checked that I had my shoes, cell phone, water bottle, small snack to have in the car before going in (an apple and the rest of this morning’s sliced plantain that I didn’t finish).  I get there, look for parking, take several minutes actually parking (I’m not exactly the best at parking, especially if it involves backing into the spot), and have my snack.  Right before I’m about to leave the car, I go through my stuff and what did I forget this time, but my wallet! Seriously?! So obviously since I didn’t have my admission fee on me (which was in my wallet, on the couch, at home), I couldn’t attend class. 

Not wanting to give up too easily, I did dig through my center console and under the seats just in case I got lucky, but I only came up with a couple dollars in coins.  Which is kind of funny…

Well, at least I had a good morning class.  Evening class is only for an hour anyway.

Ballet Back-to-School

Nothing says “Back to School” like an alarm set for 6 a.m. after a nice long, lazy summer vacation!  I’ve been ready to get back to taking more than 1 ballet class a week though, so  as much as I enjoyed the break, I’m ready to go back.  

To ballet class, at least.  I’m a feeling a bit more ambivalent about the rest of the back-to-school stuff, we’ll see.  

I’ve been stressed out this weekend, worrying mostly about getting a spot in ballet class.  I wrote back around registration time about my eagerness to get back to ballet class.  Unfortunately, I ended up caving in to pressure and attempted to sign up for academic classes first, so I ended up on a waitlist for ballet rather than guaranteed registration.  Since this semester ballet class is with a new teacher, I had no idea what her policy was on adding people. So today I made sure to be there on time regardless, in case people got cold feet and didn’t show up (there’s been a few each semester).  

 Turns out my worries were for nothing (I love it when things turn out right!).  The teacher was cool and let us waitlist people into the class.  While I did take all my ballet stuff today, I didn’t change into it because I know from experience that the first day we don’t usually do much – if any – dancing.  But just in case we did some stretching (which we did), I wore some comforable yoga pants.  The girl sitting next to me had the same socks as I did so that was pretty funny.

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My ballet gear: leotard, pink tights, emergency black tights, slippers, hair ties, hair nets, bobby pins, homemade lotion for my elbows, brush.

The teacher passed out the class sylabus (sylabi?) and I was pleased to see that there is no class midterm, only a final at the end of the semester.  It is such a relief! Ballet midterm is super intimidating – or at least it has been the past few times I’ve taken this class. She didn’t discuss the final, but I wonder what it will entail: will we choreograph our own piece as we did with one teacher, will the whole class learn the same dance and then perform it one at a time as we did with another, or something completely different?

We got out some mats and we did some floor barre exercises.  I like that the semester ballet classes start out this way because we can work on identifying different muscles that we may have not known we had. We practiced turning our legs in and out and pointing our feet while sitting down.  We lay on our sides, bent our legs and brought the top knee up and down. Easy at first, but then I really started to feel it. Then we picked up both feet, keeping them together, and brought the knee up and down again. Fun!

The teacher had therabands, which I’ve never used before, and we did different stretches with resistance for our feet to practice articulating.  We also stretched out our legs (I believe specifically she said our hamstrings), also using the therabands. These theraband things are nifty – I’ll probably look into getting one for home use.

The teacher reminded us that we will be learning the correct French terminology for all the moves we’ll be learning (which of course I already learned the first time I took the class). We then stood up and went over basics, for anyone who had no ballet experience. We reviewed the positions of the feet, the positions of the arms. I am so happy that I don’t feel completely lost about the arms anymore. I’m not saying that I got it down, but I remember as recently as the start of last semester (February 2014) I had no idea what I was doing when it came to arms. Now at least I know that the elbows are supposed to be rounded, hands no higher than elbows, shoulders down.  Actually executing it correctly rather than intellectually knowing, that’s another story.

My classmates are a diverse bunch, different skill levels, body sizes and shapes, though probably all younger than me (unless someone has an anti-aging secret they’re not sharing, lol).  I recognized some people from past semesters. The guy from when I was just starting out, who referred to  certain parts of a woman’s anatomy as “weight”, is in the class (yay, awkwardness) as well as a few people from last semester. This semester, it looks like there’s only two guys in the class, down from last semester’s seven.

Since technically we get college credit for this class, there are written assignments – good thing I love to write! Our first assignment is to write out our dance experience and goals we have for the semester.  Which will probably end up getting posted to this blog…

 

 

 

Classless Wednesday, Blame the Rain

Wednesday evening came and I didn’t get to go in to class. 😦

A thunderstorm rolled in. About 2 hours before the time I usually leave to go to class,the lightning started flashing and thunder started to roll. Eight seconds in between – good to know that it was nowhere near.

Then the rain started. And continued. Soon the balcony outside my apartment was flooded and the slight downhill slope of the parking lot carried a small river along the wall. And while I was having a great time standing in the doorway and watching – I love watching the rain fall – I did not have any intention of driving down the hill in it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I live up on a hill, sort of. The studio I’ve been taking wednesday evening ballet class at is located down the hill, in the downtown district of the city that lies directly west of where I live. It’s not far from the community college I attend and, let me tell you, it is not a fun place to get caught in the rain.

It happened last year, during the first week of school. One minute it was regular late-August, Southern California weather: bright, sunny, highs in the 90’s. The next minute dark rain clouds rolled in and it began to pour with a ferocity that knocked down power lines and branches from trees.

Street lights went to blinking mode – which made traffic hell – and streets were flooded, water overflowing from the gutters and tree branches carried down the street by the current. Long story short, traffic leaving downtown was backed up for hours.

So as much as I wanted to go to class I did not want to go through that again. It’s pretty disappointing but I’m working on cheering up. I’m sure it’s for the best and it happened for a reason. This high humidity weather causes my body to feel unusually stiff and achy – I was really feeling it during my home ballet practice. In fact, I was feeling so much more sore than usual that I even cut my home practice a few minutes shorter than the regular time. I got through all my “barre” exercises, but didn’t feel up to practicing center. It’s ok though, throughout the day I’ve been practicing balancing in releve and passe releve in front of my big mirror, so I’m sure my muscle memory won’t suffer too much!

In other unrelated news, I went through my personal computer and I found all my writings about ballet from before I started this blog. I didn’t write back when I first started ballet unfortunately, but I did begin to write, as an emotional outlet, around the end of 2013. It was pretty neat reading about my experiences in class last semester, reviewing my corrections, and evaluating my progress. It was also a reminder that there’s good ballet days and bad ballet days – some days I seemed to be thrilled with my progress and others I felt so discouraged. I like things that help me keep everything in perspective.

My Newest Friend

It’s now been 4 weeks (so it counts to me as a month, even though it might not technically be a month. We could pretend it’s, like, February or something.) since I took my unfortunate mid-summer slide  down the stairs and two weeks since I stopped experiencing any pain or discomfort while walking. A month seems like a nice, neat time frame to celebrate something, so I’ve been celebrating by… walking, which just so happens to be one of my favorite things to do.

I’ve been focused on working my way up to what was my usual pre-fall morning route – a 1.8 mile (3.6 miles round trip) series of tree-and-cactus-lined residential streets, winding up and down through the foothills of a small (3000 ft.) mountain. Not yet, but I’ve been getting closer every day this week. Perhaps even tomorrow. It’s been mostly the heat that’s made me decide to turn back, not my fatigue level. Not that we’ve been having a heat wave – if anything it’s cooled down a bit and today was downright nice. But I’ve been waking up a little bit later than usual, due to staying up too late enjoying my last week of summer vacation, and have not made it out for a walk as early as I would have liked.

I’ve also been doing some midday walking, which is not my favorite – it’s hot! there’s people! – but I wanted to be supportive of Boyfriend’s efforts to get some exercise and spend some quality time before I start school. It was his birthday this past weekend, and the consequent partying is a big factor that led to my desire to increase the exercise level. Class is coming up tomorrow, the start of the semester of ballet next week, and leotards, tights and mirrors are unforgiving.

Also, ever since I started going to class I’ve resumed practice at home. My first week returning to practice I just worked on the most basic moves there are: plies and tendus. I didn’t even go up on releve. This past week though, I’ve gone back to regular practice – without any jumping, although we did sautes and changements in class last wednesday and my ankle felt fine.

The familiar soreness is back – and I love it! I could almost swear that the time I was off, before I started doing floor barre, my muscles felt noticeable weaker and were almost visibly shrinking. Or it could be my imagination. I hope.
Anyway, along with the awesome all-over-body soreness seems to come the (also familar) not-too-pleasant foot soreness. Not pain, nothing related to any injuries, but just a soreness that is usually (temporarily) aliviated by a foot massage.

A couple days ago, I remembered something about a tennis ball. I wasn’t really sure what I was to do with it, so I set it on the floor and rested my foot on it, feeling it’s rough texture against my foot. Then, I applied pressure, almost curving my foot and sort of “rolled” it around for a few minutes.

Best Feeling Ever! Not only was it amazing during the time I was rolling it around, like a foot massage, but afterwards the soreness was completely gone, unlike a foot massage.
I can’t believe I didn’t know about this before!
Thank you Mr. Tennis Ball!
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Now, if only I can keep you safe from my dog…
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She’s not looking. RUN!!!
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Corrections, Corrections, Corrections!

You know what I’ve been wondering: Do ballet teachers take into account a student’s level when giving corrections or do they mostly give out corrections based on what they are currently seeing in front of them that just looks wrong (or at least like it needs some improvement?

I guess I started thinking about it after my last class when there were two brand-new-to-ballet students. Watching them reminded me of my first few weeks taking classes a year and a half ago when I had no idea how to do anything. I wasn’t really at a level where I would have been able to apply a subtle correction about my hands, for example, while I was having enough trouble figuring out how to stay upright.
I really wish I had kept track of all the corrections that I received my first semester taking ballet. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me until I had been doing ballet for a few months to write down corrections. So much wasted learning potential!

The way I see it, and this could be completely wrong,  there are different types of corrections. There’s the ones where you’re doing the move wrong because you aren’t physically strong enough to do it –  for example, like pointing your feet all the way when you are just starting out. These corrections are nice because they are inspiring in a way, like “You think I could actually pull that off one day?!” It kind of feels good if the teacher has more faith in my abilities than I do. At the same time, those corrections can’t really be applied that day so it’s kind of a thing to work on over time, a long term goal.

The other kind of corrections – my favorite – are the kind that you can apply right then and there and it is such an immediate change that you wonder “How could I have ever thought I was doing it right before?!” These are my favorite because I love seeing drastic improvements in my dancing (if I could call it that) and, since I can physically pull them off right then it’s not a long-term goal but instant gratification.

During my time dancing, I’ve received three of these awesome corrections (that specially stick out in my mind) that have made a huge immediate improvement:

1) During my first semester taking ballet, when we would rise up to releve sous-sus I could never find my balance, not even for a second. It wasn’t until one day the teacher came over and pushed my front foot a couple inches to the side (and closer to the back foot) that I realized what I had been doing wrong: Since we were starting from third position instead of fifth my feet had been too far away even after bringing them closer to each other, preventing me from making a stable base. After she moved my foot I was able to balance for the first time ever, at least for a couple seconds. It was such a breakthrough for me!

2) A few months ago, the teacher was going over coupe, passe and developpe, explaining the basic mechanics of it to the newer students. Since I had already technically learned those moves, been practicing them, and had become comfortable with the motions I thought that I had been doing then correctly. But then she grabbed my ankle and pulled it away from my supportive leg and I realized that my foot had been sickling. I’m really glad she was a hands-on teacher because – having already been corrected on that before – I’m pretty sure that a verbal correction on that wouldn’t have registered; it’s like I had to experience the feeling for myself to understand.

3) Just this past class, during barre exercises we were doing a lot of taking both hands off the barre and balancing. I was doing ok, a little bit of wobbling but waaaay better than how unstable my balance used to feel. She came over and said that my arms in middle fifth should be a bit higher, almost at bust level, and it will keep me from falling backwards. Well, I’m thinking “Backwards? I’m more concerned about falling forwards!” but I raised my arms a bit anyway as she said. Holy crap, the shift in my balance was insane! Now, a couple days later, I’m loving the improvement in the balance. And the weird thing about balance (and other ballet-related things) for me is that once I manage to do it the first time and I guess prove to myself that I can do it, it becomes easier like unlocking a skill.

I look forward to more future corrections and improvement!

My Weekly Class Update

I had class today (this summer schedule has me mostly classless and on my own). Unlike the last 2 times that I’ve previously been to this studio, a month ago before I sprained my ankle and last week, we had a full class. Or at least as full as it’s I’ve seen it. There were more than double the number of students today as I’d seen before (5 the first few times, 13 today). There were 3 guys, 2 I’ve never seen before and the same guy from my last two classes there. By process of elimination – or subtraction, whichever way of viewing it that works – that must mean there were 10 of us ladies.

The skill levels ranged from “This is my first time ever. I’ve never done this before,” – two students – to a girl that had the most awesome port de bras so she has clearly been doing this a while. The way she moved her arms and head was like “Wow! How did she do that?!” It was so intimidating because it would just happen that her barre placement was right in front of me – you know, which becomes so I’m directly in front when we turn around ( to do the left side which also just happens to be the recovering foot!) and there’s also no mirror on that side, which also doesn’t help. When we went across the floor her group was also directly in front of mine but her groupmate (partner?) was a beginner so it wasn’t as intimidating, lol.

Since the combinations at this place are starting to become familiar, barre went a lot more smoothly. I hate it when I technically know how to do the move – correctly even – but I mess up by not remembering something, like whether to close in the fron or the back from a tendu a la seconde (to the side for anyone who might not know). On the one hand I’ll feel like “Oh cool, I’m getting the hang of how it goes,” as far as keeping my legs straight or articulating my feet, pointing my feet. But as long as I mess up combinations because of little mistakes like that, or messing up on the timing, I’ll feel like I’m doing some complicated stretches not quite dancing. Of course, everything the best student did looked like dancing, lol.
Since we had the two brand new students (and quite a few that were not brand new but not much more than a few months), we did a LOT of very sloooow tendues. It was a nice warm up and my ankle did not give me any trouble. I finally was able to put my finger on why I kept messing up on the tendus to the side : I’m used to doing 3 counts ( so close back, close front, close back), but in this class we also do 4 counts (close front, close back, close front, close back). I kept wanting to switch legs on the first count out of force of habit the last two times that I’ve had class there but today I was able to keep that in order.

The level of today’s class did feel way easier than the last times though. We did plies and grand plies, tendus in different tempos and counts, tendu degage, ronde de jambe, grand battement. No developpes or frappes like the last times. The teacher spent more time than usual explaining things and possibly conducted class in a slightly more “official” way – at least by my perceptions. It was still fun and laid back, just somehow like a “light” version of the classes I take at community college.

I’ve been working on my arms a lot this week since the correction last week, and hopefully the fact that the teacher didn’t correct me today means it’s worked – at least a little. Of course, compared to the best student’s port de bras my arms looked so stiff and lifeless – though curved!

In center, I decided to go for it and not sit out on the jumps. We did sautes and chagements and my ankle did fine. We also did this thing that I’ll describe as a “fondue-walk”, because we basically walked while fondue-ing. I did ok, but I’m sure after practicing this at home I’ll have it down better.

Today I didn’t really get many corrections – of course not because I was doing everything right but because the teacher had her hands (or her eyes) full with the newer students. I did remember that my ballet teachers in the past said to apply others’ corrections because chances are they apply to us also, so I did that. Mostly the arms, and just making sure to keep the core tight, legs straight. It’s always good to be reminded of the basics, the foundation is very important.

Coupe Confusion and Pointing Feet

The way my first two ballet teachers taught us to coupe our foot was more or less the same: in front of our supporting leg’s ankle, making sure to touch it with the toes and not the heel, lest your foot be sickling. I guess sort of like this

image or if you prefer without the shoes so it can be clearer

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So that’s the way I’ve been practicing it this whole time, and I’ve gotten used to bringing it up to passe from that positionimage

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My new teacher however, teaches us to coupe in a slightly different way: we are to wrap our foot around our supporting ankle – so that it’s behind it? – and then when we bring it up to passe we bring it to the front to the knee.

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Sort of like this.

It’s an adjustment, that’s for sure. I’m still trying to figure out how to comfortably get into that position. It might require greater hip flexibiity/ turnout than the original way I learned how to do it. Or it could just be one of those things that after you’ve been practicing for a year and a half it will make sense. Who knows?

In other news, I still can’t point my left (the one I recently sprained) foot as well as the right foot, but at least there’s no pain and it doesn’t feel sore or weird. Little things to be greatful for.

Here’s the right foot…
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and here’s the left
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Feels so good to be back to practicing!