Forgetting Combinations and Intimidating Dancers

At class at New Studio there was a new group of dance students this week. It was intimidating because they all  looked  like dancers, the kind that know what they’re doing.  It was funny because once we went out to center the group of regulars (I guess I’m kind of a regular here now) kind of huddled together on one side and the new people stood together on the other side of the studio. NS Teacher made some kind of crack about it, something like “What, are we going to play dodgeball?” and that broke the ice a little.

After a short barre, center started off with an adagio, and I completely messed it up (so sad, I love adagio). It was developpe devant, brush back to arabesque (and here is where the messing up began. I thought we were supposed to switch arms when we brush back, but I guess not in this case), promenade, penchee, and pas de bourree with picked up feet, then other side.  My pas de bourree with feet picked up (not in coupe, but it looks like it’s higher, and the foot goes in the front) is something that I need to work on, so for now I just get confused.

There was a really fun combo that began with 2 sissones (one to the right and one to the left for the first side, opposite for the second side), then 3 changements, 4 changements turning one way, 4 changements turning back the other way, and a balance in sous-sus. I really liked this combination (and not just because we all did it together instead of in small groups).  With the exception of the arms (bringing them up from a low position to high fifth while doing the changement turns) it went ok.  My sissones have gotten better, wish I could say the same about my assembles!

Across the floor we did developpe devant of the upstage leg (which I think was supposed to be taken to releve, but I was kinda flustered and NS Teacher didn’t specify), tombe, pas de bourre, chasse, pirouette en dehors from a deep fourth position lunge, glissade, assemble, and ballet run away.  When NS Teacher first gave this combination I was so overwhelmed! Kind of feeling like ‘ok, after the developpe what happens?!’ But after the first groups went I started to get a better idea, and by the time it was my turn it wasn’t so bad. I mean, my assembles suck, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, but the rest of the combo was fun.  I hadn’t done a tombe from developpe devant before and it felt less scary than it had sounded.  I even got around in the pirouette.

I think the presence of all these new students made NS Teacher amp up the difficulty of our combinations. Though the new students looked intimidating at first glance, once we left the barre and went out to center it was evident who was an experienced dancer and who wasn’t. Ah, center, where no one can hide (including me)! As it turned out, with the exception of one lady they were not very experienced ballet dancers. That lady was really good though. She could do triple pirouettes effortlessly, one after another.  She would also ask the teacher about all the little details of how she wanted the combination done.  It was so intimidating! Like, here we are trying to remember the combination and not fall over and she’s asking these ultra specific questions.  It was hard not to think she was showing off, but I tried to stay positive.  I really hope I don’t come across like that when I take class with students who are more beginner level.

As for class at regular school, we seem to be slowly picking up the difficulty level.  It’s not feeling completely discouraging and overwhelming, but I’m definitely being challenged.

Barre was not too bad – though it had it’s moments! There were lots of long balances on one leg on releve (which I didn’t let go of the barre for a long time, but it was still challenging on the strength-building aspect), as well as on 2 legs. We did echappe releves with no barre and those were rough.  It also was not a good frappe day.  I managed the singles ok, but the double frappes were all over the place.

In center, we did the standard tendu devant, tendu derriere in croisse, tendu a la seconde in ecarte type of combination.  The difference in this class’s combination was that after our tendus we did 2 grand battements in each direction, and after the last direction we did a passe releve balance, bring the leg down behind in fourth, shift weight to front leg and point back foot with arabesque arm, then pirouette en dehors from fourth.  Compared to my first attempts at this combination a few months ago it felt much smoother.  My transitions from tendu devant to tendu derriere, and to ecarte especially. Ecarte used to feel so unnatural to me, but it’s slowly but surely getting into my muscle memory. Not only that, I once again surprised myself by getting around in the pirouette, though to be fair it was from fourth.  As for the grande battements, when we were marking the combination I wasnt fully engaging my core and I almost went flying to the side. Once we did the combination “for reals” though it was much better.

We did across the floor waltz turns, pique arabesque, chasse into chaines.  I’ve been working on speeding up my waltz turns ever since I figured out the problem was that I was turning too soon in the sequence.  To the right it went ok, but to the left I pique arabesque’d onto the wrong foot and it was all confusion from that point on.

After our 16 sautes in first and second, we did a petite allegro combination. 2 changements 2 soubresauts, echappe, pas de bourree right, echappe, pas de bourre left, repeat the majority of the combination except the second time around do 3 entrechats instead of the second echappe and pas de bourre. I still can’t do entrechats, so I either jumped around, or forgot (not on purpose – I swear) and did the echappe pas de bourree. Then afterwards we were all practicing entrechats and I landed on my foot a little weird. Not enough to get injured, but enough to make me reconsider trying entrechats again without the barre until I get stronger. Oddly enough, I don’t feel too discouraged because I see that my sautes have come a long way but it took a lot of time. So I just have to force myself to be patient…

Actually, if there’s something that does make me feel discouraged, it’s my slowness at remembering brand new combinations. We had some choreography thrown at us – nothing too difficult (a few chasse gallops one direction then a grande battement  out of the back leg, chasse gallops the other direction and a kick out the other leg, then something like soutenu, ballet run, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette from fourth) – and I totally blew it. I’m upset at myself because I know that it wasn’t that the steps are too difficult for me (except my hit-or-miss pirouettes), it was that I forgot what came next after the second set of chasses and kick. So I was trying to follow someone and then I was late on the timing. But since we didn’t have the combination ahead of time there was no way I was able to practice it on my own.  I’m feeling a little down about this, but I’m trying to tell myself that it’s for the best – I would have probably mssed up on the pirouettes anyway if I had to do this combination reliably  . ..

Modern dance class is still going well.  We’re still doing lots of stretching, and plies, and now we’re doing tondus. We’re doing them mostly in parallel, so it’s a different feeling from what I’m used to. We also do this thing where we point our foot really fast in the air (also in parallel).

Across the floor we’ve still been working on doing walks at different tempos, as well as this walk where we stay in plie, pushing off with our back foot.  Sort of like a turned in, badly done chasse. While all this stuff has felt really easy for me, I know that I have ballet to thank, both for the leg stregth and the body awareness. It’s also really hard for me to resist doing ballet arms or hands when we coordinate our arms with our movements. Ballet is just so much more beautiful to me (but so much harder, too).

I’ve been having fun though, except for all the core conditioning exercises we do. The floor hurts – though I do wonder if this is on purpose to prepare us. A lot of modern dance pieces I’ve seen at school do include a lot of work on the floor. I could do without any floorwork. I don’t mind doing core conditioning exercises al all, but couldn’t we use a gym mat?! But that’s not the majrity of class, so in general it’s still a fun class.

5 thoughts on “Forgetting Combinations and Intimidating Dancers

  1. Trippmadam

    I guess the intimidating new group was as scared as the old group was. About coming across as showing off: I love to ask specific question myself, but I tend to stay in the back and be silent, when I am taking class with people who are less advanced. However, when I get a feeling that a beginner wants to ask a question and is too scared to, I sometimes try to understand what is her problem, and ask the question myself. (My awesome teacher, who has known me for years, seems to be fully aware of what I am doing and always patiently explains…)

    1. kit Post author

      I think you’re right about both groups being intimidated by each other…
      That’s so nice of you to ask the questions when the rest of us are too scared! I personally am usually too scared to speak up, but I’m starting to think teachers that are somewhat familiar with me can recognize my “confused face” because then they’ll ask me if I get it.

  2. A Writer

    I understand what you mean about not remembering combinations! I only really get a combo down if we do it in more than one class… which doesn’t happen at my current studio. I’m constantly forgetting steps and getting off tempo. It’s definitely frustrating.
    I don’t have a solution, so if you figure something out, share!

    1. kit Post author

      Hmmm, someone gave me some advice in the comments a while back to help remember combinations. She said to watch videos of class and practice remembering what comes next, and that with practice the step that comes next will be logical/obvious. It works for me when watching the videos (on the comfort of my couch), but unfortunately during class I’m more focused on not losing my balance so the old brain power is not exactly available to help with my memory!
      I will say that I’m better at remembering now than I was, say, a year ago, so I do believe it (eventually) gets a little better.


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