A Rough Week In Ballet-land

So, this past week has been one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in a while, as far as dancing goes. At times – many times – I’ve been feeling like I can’t do anything right at all.  Then I get so frustrated at myself, because even though there’s no rushing it when it comes to learning technique – it needs time, repetition, PRACTICE – why can’t I at least not screw up at remembering combinations? I feel so unfocused when this happens.  I mean, during the combinations my mind is definitely focused on doing the steps, but before the part when we do the combination, I’ve caught myself getting distracted. Whether it be by a classmate’s ridiculously high extensions, the kind of flexibility I’ll never have no matter how much I stretch, so why bother (I realize this is sounding really negative – I apologize), or just by random intrusive thoughts. It’s driving me nuts, but I’m hoping desperately that it’s just a passing phase.

There’s been some memorable class moments though, as well as some things that have been of great help.  At New Studio, we had a sub for one of my classes this week, and some of the things she had us do were pretty helpful.  During tendus, she would have us close to first, and then squeeeeeze our thighs together into fifth. At first it was weird getting used to it, but afterwards my balances on releve seemed much more stable, and my sous-sus much tighter.

We also did rond de jambes with a new-to-me different port de bras.  It was challenging to do, but I liked it. It went something like when the foot comes up to the front the arm goes to low fifth, when the leg goes a la seconde the arm goes to middle fifth (first), when the foot goes back arm goes to high fifth, and when the foot closes the arm goes a la seconde. Reversing it was the exact opposite, when foot goes back arm foes a la seconde, foot goes side arm goes to high fifth, foot goes forward arm goes to middle, foot closes and arm comes down. Well, those were the slow rond de jambes. The quick ones had a slightly faster port de bras – it took two rond de jambes for the arm to make the same port de bras as the slow ones. Like I said, it was confusing but fun.

Across the floor we did these super slow chaines, with our arms up on our shoulders. The tempo was really, excruciatingly slow, just a half turn at a time, staying up on releve. The teacher told us to keep our ankles touching the whole time.  This was one of the hardest things I’ve done recently (I wanted to say “done ever”, but honestly, during my first year of ballet everything was the hardest thing ever). My calves were so sore! Then after we’d gone across the floor twice in both directions we did regular speed chaines, which my legs were too tired to cooperate during.  If I’m having a bad chaines day by this point I know it’s not a good ballet day…

Then we did pirouettes. First 1/4 pirouettes, then 1/2, then full, en dehors from fifth (which are my least favorite – and hardest to do – pirouettes).  As usual, the 1/4 and 1/2 ones went fine, the full ones sucked. And here’s when I heard some new pirouetting advice, which I’ll now share, I guess: the teacher told us that if we feel like we’re not going to make it around, rather than just flop down to the floor, stay in sous-sus so that our muscles are working anyway.  Once I started doing this my turns felt smoother. I guess I realized that I was just kind of letting go, giving up halfway through the turns when I felt my balance starting to go.  For the rest of that class I felt much more confident about my turns, though that didn’t do me any good in Intermediate Class the rest of the week…

At that class we also did a petite allegro that was fun, though a bit on the fast side. It was petite jete, temps leve x2, echappe releves (no idea how many, becuase it was about 3 times faster than I’m comfortable doing), 2 passe releves on opposite legs, 2 changements,  entrechat (yeah, wasn’t happening), pickup pas de bourree. I think our pickup pas de bourres were pretty bad because then the teacher had us practice those over and over. Then we went to the barre to work on entrechats, where I manage to kick myself.  I’m definitely not good at beated jumps, at least for now.

Intermediate class this week was tough.  Our barre combinations have been getting increasingly complex, and with my full dance schedule I haven’t been making enough time at home to slowly go over the combinations. One day I had time, but I was so sore from the two preceeding days of classes that I just lounged about at home on the couch. So that didn’t really count as free time…

We did a lot of switching our working leg between the outside leg and the inside leg (like 3 tendus devant with outside leg, 1 derrier with inside, 3 a la seconde with outside leg and 1 devant with inside leg, etc), and instead of going en croix we would do a totally different thing after derriere, like a pas de cheval, or a passe balance. Oh, and all this was with port de bras, of course, and Teacher wanted us to use epaulment as well. I try, but at some point there’s only so much I can do, you know? Lately Teacher has been correcting me on my fifth position, saying that I need to cross it even more, more!, even though my far-from-perfect turnout makes it look less nice, my feet farther away.  So yeah, during barre I’ve been feeling flustered.

We did 8-8-4-4-2-2-1-1-1-1 away from the barre and with port de bras. We also did 8 degages a la seconde with no barre and with a slow port de bras that took the whole 8 counts to do, and battement cloche for 8 counts.  I have to keep reminding myself that even being able to do stuff like this with no barre without falling over is signs of progress, though as barre progressed the combinations get harder and harder to do. During rond de jambes there was this bending of the upper body going with the port de bras that felt like I was doing it totally wrong (and there was no clear view of the mirror from where I was).  As I focus more on that I start losing my turnout.  I really like rond de jambes, so I’m especially displeased if I’m messing them up. Still, I struggle to keep up…

But then, we did frappes on releve.  It was horrible – horrible, I tell you! It was 3 devant, hold, flex, and point; 3 a la seconde, hold, flex, and point; 3 derriere, hold, flex and point; then doubles en croix, reverse the whole thing – all on releve! Focusing on not losing my balance with all the fast motions, there’s not enough brain power to devote to actually doing a nice frappe with a pointed foot and to the correct place. So hard! On the second leg (my right foot, my weaker foot), I actually fell off releve during the reversing – there was only so much the barre death grip could do. This was definitely not one of my finer ballet moments…

Center started with an adagio, which I kept forgetting the order of steps the first day we did it, but my memory was much better the second day. It was 2 steps ballet walk with port de bras, pique sous-sus. 2 balances, soutenu, chasse into arabesque, promenade, developpe devant then a la seconde, chasse, pirouette en dehors from fourth, tendu, pirouette into a temps lie, repeat other side. As I got better at remembering what step came next I got better at doing it, but it was still a pretty challenging combination.

Across the floor turns was 3 pique turns, soutenu, chasse, chaines, all of this happening in the space of 8 counts. It’s hard enough to do this at a slower speed, but that fast it was so messy. I started not getting all the way around during my pique turns while trying to do them faster, which gave me a crooked trajectory across the floor. The hardest part is that after the last chaines we are supposed to go back into doing pique turns.

Petite allegro was also much too quick and involved the dreaded beated jumps. Unlike what F Teacher had said (and how I had started to teach myself) Teacher said that a royalle opens up before it beats and changes. This is considerably harder thanjust doing a soubresaut and closing in back. So I guess I can’t do a entrechat or a royalle then. The combination was changement, changement, echappe, close, 2 pas de chat and pas de bourre, royalle, other side.

Across the floor jumps was a little better, perhaps because I do enoy this part of class more than petite allegro. It was saute arabesque, saute coupe, saute arabesque, saute coupe, tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, pas de chat. While actually doing the jumps was a little bit easier this week(instead of stumbling around and randomly putting legs in different places after the first 4 jumps), my timing was off. After that we did it again (yes, the whole class had to do it again because I was off) and as long as I go in the back and see the others doing it I have a better chance of staying on timing. Once again, ballet is so hard!

Also, Teacher said she will push me because she knows I can do it. She belives in me more than I believe in myself, it appears. She said I’ve already improved so much (and I totally have, at least from those early days of not even being able to plie on flat without losing my balance) and to not get discouraged. It’s not hard to get discouraged when there’s extremely good dancers there though.  Sometimes I feel that no matter what I’ll always be a beginner level dancer, due to the fact that I didn’t grow up dancing. I mean, I can do a lot of steps, and back when I first started I would have loved to be able to do this much (and I still do), but when there’s a step I don’t know yet I tend to mess up horribly. This lack of natural grace combined with being a slow learner really gets me down.

To end on a good note, I noticed during my last class of the week that my balancing in second position and fourth position releve have been really improving. And I managed to get the second arm in high fifth during a balance at the barre in passe releve, instead of my usual quick tests of letting go before I quickly put my hand back down. I’ve been working on my turnout in second(mostly in the form of standing in a wide second while making sure to turn out from the hips, so that my knees are also facing the sides not just my toes) randomly at home.  When I take Modern class I also feel like I have a big ballet advantage over people that are also taking the class for the first time.  We do plies, tendus and releves, and I continue to forget to not do ballet arms. Since we don’t use a barre at all I do think that it will help me for center in ballet class. We’re also going across the floor, doing something that looks like chasses, then shifting out weight to only the front leg, or turning.  I’m still having fun with it, but I don’t know yet if I’ll be wanting to continue the way I did with ballet once the semester’s over.

10 thoughts on “A Rough Week In Ballet-land

  1. Trippmadam

    I really admire your courage and honesty in describing your difficulties. It does remind me of my beginner/intermediate days, and I must admit, even as a somewhat advanced student, I still struggle with new things. I have very little talent. O.k., I am told I have nice arms, but every new step requires a lot of hard work. For some reason, I do not give up.

    1. kit Post author

      As hard as it is sometimes, I wanted the blog to be accurate as far as the experience of an actual beginner to all types of dance attempting to study ballet. Sometimes I see people pick up new things right away and I think “Well, that’s definitely not been my experience!”
      I, too, feel that I don’t have natural talent, but since I also don’t give up I’ve been improving. Often times people who do feel talented tend to slack off and my extra hard work makes up for it. But when there’s people that are both talented AND hard-working, it’s like, oh watch out!

      1. Basia

        “Often times people who do feel talented tend to slack off and my extra hard work makes up for it. But when there’s people that are both talented AND hard-working, it’s like, oh watch out!”

        …And they are called professionals lol!!

  2. Basia

    Ok, so you might think I’m nuts… BUT….
    Regarding your first comment about not remembering combinations – if you just let go and stop worrying about the fact you can’t remember and let your body know what to do…ie mind resigns from commander and chief of body and stops micro managing….and voila! Your body will indeed step up and know what to do. Trust me. I’m speaking from experience. This works.
    You can try it like a little experiment for one class… and if it doesn’t work, then please let me know.
    I owe this to one of my teachers… he said: stop thinking!!

    1. kit Post author

      Oh my gosh – one of my teachers especially is really big on the whole “stop thinking” thing! She’ll be like “No, don’t intellectualize it, your body knows!” or “Don’t count it, just use the music!”

      I believe you that it worked for you. However, I guess I’m wondering – before started ballet were you what’s considered a coordinated or athletic person? Do you have natural rhythm? Reason I ask is because I’m naturally so uncoordinated that even stuff like pas de bourre or balancee I had to count in my head to not trip up over my own feet. Every time the teacher would say to “stop thinking!” I would be thinking “Maybe that works for all these lifelong dancers, but if I were to not think I’ll do an even more terrible job!”
      I do want to try this (the not thinking thing) because maybe I’m totally wrong about it, but at this point I wonder is it’s like learning to write with my other hand.

      1. Basia

        I hate computers sometimes… I typed this really long response only to lose it all a moment later…**sigh**

        I don’t have any grace or coordination at all – I came from a cross-fit/bodybuilding/martial arts background – so I’m far from a ballerina as one can get…

        Basically, I think the way this works is that you’d need to have practiced the basic move eg pas de bourre. But then you need to let your mind stop controlling it.
        I don’t think this would work if you don’t know what the step is.

        The problem is you are trying WAY too hard. You “think” you need to “try” hard because that’s what you think you need to be doing. Part of it is trusting your body can do it. The body dances, not the mind.

        I think this analogy is ok (not the best): Its like learning to drive a car – at some point you need to stop thinking – hand on shift, de-clutch etc etc.

        You have nothing to lose. At the moment it’s not happening for you anyway – right? So why not try? Its not like anything will happen that you’ll look back a year from now and regret.

        I do hope I’ve been somewhat helpful 🙂

      2. kit Post author

        Hmmm, I fell like I almost get it… kind of like instead of stressing out over what leg is going to step first (instead of just noting which step is next when the combination is given) just trusting that my body’s done it enough times to just automatically doing it.I think I’m almost there with some of the more beginning steps, so I’ll be trying to not overthink it. The car analogy works perfectly, I was actually thinking about something similar as I thought about your earlier comment.
        As for the background thing, at least you have an athletic background. Prior to ballet I was pretty much a lifelong couch potato with no athletic background, so no only was I uncoordinated but weak as well.
        Oh, and I’ve definitely been there before when I type up a long response/comment and the computer makes it vanish. Argh! I’ve found that my second time typing out a reply just doesn’t have the same effort to it, I get lazy LOL. So, thanks for writing out a very detailed comment twice. It is helpful advice 🙂

  3. Basia

    ha ha – we both have our “crutches”, you the weak potato couch and me the over bulked, muscle memory reversal, lack of coordination problems… yes.. *sigh*
    I’m grateful for your response because it made it all the worthwhile to come back and type it again 2 hours later 😉 And yes, it was a slightly shorter response (ever so)
    I wish you luck in the next class when you trial some crazy stuff (maybe if you’re up for it) May the force be with you!

    1. kit Post author

      My next class wound up being Basic Beginner level (I’ll write about it soon) and it was wonderful! And I definitely tried to not overthink (which was much easier at that level.


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