Monthly Archives: February 2016

Like A Flashback

Once again, what a week (and I say that in both the positive and negative aspects).

Ballet’s been going well. In the first few weeks of the sessions I do a lot of remembering at what level I was at in the beginning of the past sessions and assessing my progress as I remember doing that same step back then. In Beginner class we’re doing stuff like basic weight shifting tendu combinations in center (just a la seconde) and chasses across the floor. The memory of not being able to even tendu in center without falling over is still with me, although it does feel more distant every day. I do feel like I’m trying to hold on to it though – I mean, compared to where I was when I started, my progress has been nothing short of amazing for me. If I were to lose that memory of where I was where I began, somehow the accomplishment seems less impressive to myself. When F Teacher demonstrates the chasses, for example, and she tells the class “Then you’ll be able to take the back foot en l’air,  then go up on releve, then jump it” (with a little demonstration as she says it), I almost feel like I’m transported back in time three years ago. I remember thinking ‘Yeah, right. Like I’m ever going to be able to do that – I keep falling over even with both feet flat on the floor’. But, what do you know, with enough time and practice I could! So even if I’m a crappy dancer by anyone else’s standards, I continue to impress myself. That makes me happy.

The more challenging Intermediate classes have been fun as well. So much more fun than last year! I still definitely struggle with remembering long combinations, especially the second side (and it does seem like in the moment all my own advice about remembering different phrases completely flies out of my head. I got to learn to notice the patterns!), but I feel like I’m able to jump back into it with less of a delay than before. Still not at the level needed to make it actually look like beautiful dancing beyond the first phrase, but at least I can start off and finish it in a somewhat presentable manner. Petit allegro, of course, is not even close to looking how it should, but my speed has increased enough so that I’m keeping up the tempo. I’m not trying any beated jumps yet though, just working on making my changements look nice first. Luckily, Teacher gives us the option of going at a slower or faster tempo (I usually attempt both) and of adding the beats or not.

I seem to have figured out the glissade forward (as opposed to a la second. The kind found in saute arabesque, saute coupe, tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, grand jete) which was really giving me a hard time several months back.   We worked on pique arabesques, which are so much harder for me than to chasse atabesque  onto releve, and I’ve been working on getting over my fear of stepping up onto releve. I guess it happens all the time when doing chaines or pique turns, but for whatever reason I find it scarier to just pique arabesque. Even harder adding that plie while coming down off the one foot releve, and holding the balance. But by the end of my second Intermediate class of the week I was able to do a few, even on my bad balancing side.

My single pirouettes en dehors have been ok this week (well, at my regular school – at NS for whatever reason my body just did not want to cooperate this week and I did not do any full pirouettes at all), not good just ok. I’m getting around all the way pretty often, but I haven’t been attempting any more doubles. Perhaps it was a fluke, perhaps not, but either way I’ve just been focusing on getting singles with correct technique and most importantly for me, getting rid of the anxiety surrounding doing pirouettes.

All that being said, I did not end the week having a very good opinion about myself as it relates to movement (not specifically dance). As part of a certification program I’m doing, I have to take these exceptionally challenging Pilates classes on top of what I usually take. Oh man, it was awful!

During (and after) taking it, I felt the closest I had felt in a very long time to when I first started ballet – like I was old, weak, clumsy and uncoordinated (not the agile, in tune with her body person I’ve started to become since starting ballet) . I honestly wanted to cry several times, but I held it in, forcing myself to think about later on that night when I could allow myself some private time with my feelings. As it happens with me, when I repress sadness it turns into anger. So as the hour progressed I found myself angrier and angrier – and unfortunately a good deal of that anger was at myself, for thinking that a person’s body, mine, can really change. There were exercises that I couldn’t do at all no matter how hard I tried, and there were some that I could do, but worried that by doing them I was putting my body in an unsafe position. I was tempted to just leave after the mat portion, but went on to the Reformer part anyway – it was a terrible idea. I managed to get out of doing some of the exercises, but the ones I was made to do sucked. I worried that my hip flexors were going to be angry at me, or worse (due to my weird long leg-short torso ratio, my knees were somewhere around the back of my ears, while other’s knees were still out in front of them).

To make matters worse, the instructor said something along the lines of ‘some exercises aren’t for everybody. Some very inflexible people, or a pregnant woman, wouldn’t be able to do them.’ Ok, maybe I took it the wrong way, but hearing that just about destroyed my mood (I was the only one who couldn’t do that particular exercise (when she said it) in the whole room, and last time I checked I’m neither pregnant nor extremely inflexible (by this point in my 3 year stretching regimen)). It’s been days later and I’m still feeling extremely down on the whole thing. This is so how I felt when I first started ballet. The big difference is that although ballet was the hardest thing I’d ever attempted to do, I cared enough to get over the horrible inadequacy and just keep going (and nowadays I’m so glad I did). But I don’t have that same passion for Pilates – sure, it’s a great way to stay in shape and condition the body, but there’s no need for me to do the extremely challenging exercises at the harder end of the spectrum. To me this is a body conditioning method, and I wouldn’t want to risk not being able to dance by injuring myself while doing what to me is woking out.

So I’ll probably just leave, because that’s so much easier for me than talking to the instructor. I keep trying to ask myself if it is that I genuinely worry that I may hurt myself, or that my pride is extremely wounded for not being able to keep up. Perhaps it’s both.

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Back In My Element

… if by “in my element” I mean out of my comfort zone.

Last week’s break resulted in my body getting some much needed rest. When I returned to ballet class this week I felt stronger than before. While I wish it didn’t take me feeling (mild) pain to convince me that I should take a break, I’m learning to accept that this is how things go with me. Perhaps with time I will learn to listen to my body when it whispers, rather than waiting for it to raise its voice.

Every time I take a break though, I always find myself haveing anxiety the night before returning. However, the minute I’m back in the studio I feel this familiar sense of comfort, like I’m home again.

Due to scheduling, my first class back was Intermediate. Yes, I’m taking Intermediate again. I know I said before that I would just stick to beginner class for a while, and I did for several months, but I feel that I’m up to the challenge again.

At barre, I mostly held it together throughout the plies, tendus and degages. During rond de jambes, the second time through there was a slow port de bras during the 4 quick rond de jambes. Ahhh, Intermediate class, I’ve missed you! It didn’t look quite so pretty, but it was still fun. A different day, the rond de jambe combination included a chasse and temps lie. Going en dehors with the chasses forward, temps lie back, makes perfect sense to my brain, but for whatever reason when it’s time to reverse it I find it so confusing. I think I ended up with the wrong leg in front and totally confused.

In general I felt good, like it’s far from perfect but I wouldn’t say I’m struggling, like a year ago. Teacher mentioned that my fifth position is looking much better, so there’s that. And when I let go of my foot in the barre foot-in-hand stretch, my leg can stay extended up there for what seems like forever. Finally, something ballet-related that I’m good at, haha.

Center started off weird. When we marked the combination I couldn’t seem to find my balance, but by the time we started it for reals I was on my leg. I can’t seem to remember the combinations to differentiate between them (I had an extremely busy day, aside from ballet class) but I remember some steps. We did a promenade in arabesque, bring the leg through passe and developpe devant, and I was actually getting around in my promenades. But I kept losing it at the pasing through part, except for the very last time on the second side when I finally forced my body to Get It Together! I also landed several single pirouettes en dehors to the right before I got tired or psyched or or something, and couldn’t seem to do it any longer. I was remembering that trick of staying up in sous-sus (sort of like a soutenu) rather than just coming down ungracefully. Probably bad technique, but less jarring of an effect. A teacher once told me that at least this way you’re still working.

We also did pirouettes en dedans, which I’ve always enjoyed more than en dehors. They were fun, though I wouldn’t quite say that I’m good at these yet. I really liked how the port de bras for these was to bring the arms up to high fifth, instead of middle fifth. Our across the floor turns combination was 4 pique turns, 4 chaines, repeat, chasse into arabesque, and the tempo was much too fast.

Also, while my combination-recalling memory has improved so much in beginner level classes, I sadly can’t say that this ability has transferred to intermediate. Perhaps it’s the direction changes that make it so nonsensical to my brain?

I also took a class with F Teacher, also Intermediate level. Though I’ve been taking Beginner class with F Teacher pretty regularly, I’ve missed her Intermediate level barre combinations. Here’s one I really liked: four tendus devant, four tendus a la seconde, coupe devant, coupe derriere, pas de cheval a la second, close back, reverse, then repeat with two tendus instead of four; other side; repeat the whole thing with degages instead of tendus. In addition to the length, the tempo was brisk and we were using full port de bras, so it kept me on my toes (ha ha). I loved it.

A  center combination we did was 4 ballet waltzes, tombe, pas de bourre, tendu, close fourth, pirouette en dehors, half turn (like a pivot of sorts), pirouette en dedans, chasse into chaines, finish in releve arabesque, tombe, run off .  The hardest part (besides the speed) is that pivot thing because since I never ‘officially’ learned it as an actual step, it’s hard for me to figure it out. I mean, I get it that the point is to change facings for the piroutte en dedans, but I can’t figure out what I’m actually supposed to do. It’s one of those times when my body and I still don’t quite understand each other despite all my progress.

I’m also taking Beginner class (got to take ballet at a level that is still encouraging and in my confort one, after all. It’s funny, when I showed up to sign up, F Teacher was like “You know this is a Beginner class, right?”. No, I won’t get bored, I’ll work on my technique and feel pretty and dance-y in center), rehearsal class, and Modern. Thankfully, not on the same days. Also, I’m pretty swamped at the moment with school and house chores, so it’s going to be a hectic several months. I will try my hardest to keep up with the class notes at least weekly (no other way to evalate my own progress) or if something comes up that I feel I need to write about and I have the time, but if I ever go missing for a little bit, now you all know why. Also a challenge to keep up with reading blogs – when I came home yesterday my WordPress Reader said there was  32 unread posts! When I have several dozen pages of a textbook to read and outline, it’s not going to happen. Especially if I want to keep up my other hobbies, which I do.

I also wrote a private post which can be found here:

https://balletandorbust.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/sequels/

If you’ve forgotten the password, feel free to send me an email:  balletandorbust at inbox.com.

Long Weekend, Long Walk, Short Break

It’s been an extra long weekend, which meant a shorter week, and less days of ballet class. My mini-intensive ended as well, so I’m sort of on a break – at least until the long weekend ends. Been doing lots of ballet obsessing, but also been spending more time outdoors in the real world. Actually, quite a lot of time, especially in my garden. The weather has been just lovely these last few days, and staying it seems like such a shame.

Ok, honestly I only went to one class last week. Other ones I’d usually have the option of going to were off because of the holiday weekend. Compared to the amount of classes per week I’d gotten used to taking, it’s felt like quite a change, but not necessarily a 100 percent horrible one. I have been practicing at home, though not as much as I had originally planned. On Friday we went for an extremely long walk and it left me much more sore than I had expected (It was close to ten miles, but relatively flat terrain. I usually walk and jog around 4 miles). So that ruined my balletful weekend I had been planning, as I figured it would be better to play it on the safer side. It did confirm to me the necessity of cross-training, because as usual it was my weak quadriceps that felt like they were giving out. At least it wasn’t the same leg I hurt a few months ago, so I’m not even more lopsided, ha ha. Anyway, my leg is feeling much better.

Let’s see, stuff I remember from the class I took…

We did this barre combination, fast tendus with alternating working leg, then this somewhat unusual en croix pattern and reverse. It was two devant with the outside working leg, two derriere with the inside leg, then (all outside working leg) tendiu devant, a la second (close front), a la second (close back), derriere, reverse. It doesn’t sound too hard on paper (on screen?), but it was at a super fast speed, and when I hear en croix I tend to automatically think of the regular pattern. I had it by the second side, though the tendus themselves felt sloppy, like my feet were not warmed up yet. Oh, and did I mention that I had forgotten my ballet slippers? I was already halfway to the studio when I realized it, and was too lazy (and on a time constraint) to turn back. So I did class in socks over my tights and dealt with it. Can’t say I enjoyed taking class in socks over slippers.

Perhaps because we jumped – a lot. After doing 32 changements. We did a combination: 8 changements, then echappe to second,  echappe to fourth, echappe to second, echappe to fourth (with a different foot in front than the last time), repeat, all with port de bras. Amazingly, especially because the last time we’d done a similar combination I was all over the place, I was getting the coordination of the ams and landing in the correct positions somewhat. It was exhausting, and then we followed up with another jumping combination, this one with sissones after the changements. I like sissones a la seconde (and think I’m decent at them), but this was sissones en croix and the tempo was really fast. It was not pretty.

On the positive side, ever since those landed double pirouettes last week, single pirouettes have seemed easier. I didn’t become great at them overnight or anything, but I feel less nervous about attempting one, less likely to mess up, to use too much or too little force. Even from fifth position, or to the right, both of which have given me difficulty. Let’s hope I still have this going on when I return to class!

 

 

Flesh And Bone, Anyone Watch It?

 

When a classmate mentioned to me a couple of months ago that there was a new ballet series, I put it on my to-do list for a future day.  That day turned out to be over this past weekend, when I unexpectedly found myself with a copy of it on dvd.

I guess I should clarify that I hadn’t heard or read anything about this show besides that it was from one of the writers of Breaking Bad or something. Boyfriend and I binge-watched all the seasons of Breaking Bad about a year ago on Netflix, so I get it that it was going to be rated R. However, I was unprepared for just how… graphic the show is. Also, I’ve only watched the first three or four episodes so far; I decided I need to take a break and watch something more light-hearted for a few days.

The actual ballet dancing appears to fade into the background, with graphic nudity and explicit – not to mention abusive, exploitative, violent, etc -sex scenes taking main focus. There are way too many extended scenes taking place in a strip club. I mean,we get it, a character (or two?) works there (how they would have any time and energy left after rehearsing with a professional company all day every day is anyone’s guess). Why must we then repeatedly watch random other girls’ extended-take striptease dance when we can’t seem to get beyond a few short clips of ballet class here and there (including this beautiful adagio danced by Sarah Hay in the first episode that is seriously the only scene I’ve felt the urge to watch more than once – if anything, I’ve fast-forwarded quite a bit…). Perhaps I’m old-fashioned – no wait, I know  I’m old-fashioned – but I just don’t understand how this level of gratuitous nudity is relevant to the plot. If the writers needed it to emphasize any character development traits and they couldn’t think of any other way, in my opinion they’re not very good writers. Come on, stop just going for the cheap thrills!

I don’t know… I watched Black Swan and was surprised when a different classmate had said it was graphic, but this seriers is so much more intense. It presents a (hopefully at least partly fictional or at least exagerrated – can’t say “exagerrated” with out an “r rated”, ha ha) picture of the professional ballet dancer world that definitely does not make me wish I’d could’ve been one. It takes people that we may admire (in the general sense, like their dancing), and makes them not just regular people, but incredibly messed up trainwrecks of people. I don’t think there’s one likable character in the whole bunch (except maybe the homeless dude, yes seriously). I’ve met ex-pros before (taken class from or with) and they seem like perfectly normal people. Well, extremely flexible, with good posture, and in better shape than average normal people.

And yes, I am also asking myself if it makes me somewhat hypocritical that I enoyed Breaking Bad but seem to find this show draining. I think it’s because with the other show I knew right from the premise that it was about something somewhat dark (the illicit manufacture and trade of drugs), whereas with this genre (ballet movies) I thought it could be something like Dance Academy, Center Stage, or at it’s most graphic, Black Swan. I was wrong.

Am I just super uptight and showing my age? (Ha!)

Anyone else watch it? What are your thoughts?

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Three Years…

It’s now been three years since I started ballet. Perhaps because of this I have been in a weird mood lately, contemplating my history with ballet. These last few weeks have been especially packed with ballet and I’ve been constantly sore, fluctuating between confident and not. It’s been nice seeing that with enough time even formerly clumsy and uncoordinated me can become somewhat graceful and agile.

For me at least, there is such thing as too much ballet class. I’m not saying ‘too much ballet’ or ‘too much dance’, because at home I’ll keep wanting to dance around or practice ballet. I mean like in a class environment, with everything that comes along with that, the good and the bad – and what category I place specific things into seems to change on a daily basis. Sometimes I just want to dance without the rest of the class watching on the sidelines, I guess. Sometimes I don’t feel like having an “audience”, I just feel like letting my inner ballerina out – alone.

How much security I feel at the barre! It’s not even a matter of balancing anymore, by this point. When we’re asked to step away from the barre to do the exercise barre-less the second time through, I’m always up for the challenge. But at the barre there’s this feeling of safety that is not there at center – or could it just be that we ALL do barre at the same time, so everyone’s just focused on themselves? Sometimes I strongly lean towards that option.

At one class I took this week, I felt a bit intimidated by some of the beginner students in class. Not because they were good dancers, but just because it was a group of them that came together and I was having some kind of high anxiety day and felt … I don’t want to get into it too much here… but let’s just say off.  I could feel them watching me before class started and it was just weirding me out so much that when class did start I felt awkward, which traslates to ‘I danced awkwardly’. It sounds bad, but I felt less intimidated when I saw that their elastics on their shoes were all tied in bows and untucked. Although I’m not necessarily in agreement (or compliance? I’m oddly attached to and don’t cut my elastics, but make sure to keep the bows tucked away), I’ve often heard that the ballet slippers should not have a bow. But I did feel better, because it would have sucked even more to be pre-intimidated by experienced dancers. Class anxiety sucks, but thankfully it’s not an every day thing.

I’ve read accounts before of a beginner adults class where no one ever has to go across the floor alone or in a small group, or there’s no actual corrections but just a lot of “good job!”s. I didn’t start off in classes like that (most definitely not – in fact it was quite the opposite), and the closest I’ve gotten to something like that is probably Basic Beginner class at Adults Only studio, where it’s just general group corrections (and across the floor in small groups).  By this point, for me that class is somewhat of a ‘feel-good class’ – very little challenge and helps me see how far I’ve come since I started. But as for classes at my regular school, sometimes they can be tough (by adult recreational ballet dancer standards). I’ve seen dancers get singled out and corrected (which definitely motivates me to apply the correction to myself in advance!) in a way that would be quite a culture shock to a brand-new beginner (I remember when I was one!). I’ve seen a teacher go from adult-teaching-mode (which is pretty laid back and keeping it fun with a good technical foundation) to real-ballet-teacher-mode in a mixed class, and it was nothing short of terrifying. I mean, I felt bad for that girl, it was that bad!

The expectations are high, but perhaps that is why we actually improve when we do? Back when I first started, I was so terrible at even the most fundamental things (not to mention weak – and there is definitely a relationship there), that I didn’t have very high expectations for myself. Medium-to-long-term goals consisted of things like ‘get through a basic beginner level barre’ or ‘tendu in center without falling over’, then gradually ‘string along several steps together without forgetting them’, ‘balance in releve’ and, of course ‘point your feet while jumping!'(and, my ultimate goal, which was to be in a performance). As these more or less basic things eluded me (especially the balancing in releve and pointed-feet-jumping), I fixated on them, wanting to improve. And I did improve, and did get to perform, but I feel somewhat directionless now. The gap between decent enough and actually good is so big, and I don’t think I can – nor feel the urge to, I guess – cross it. On some days, perhaps even most days, I’m content at the level I’m at. I feel much more patient about improving. It’ll happen, no need to rush it. Not that all is well, because instead I feel a preoccupation for not losing my improvement, as I seem to have it in my mind that I’ll rapidly lose all the strength I’ve gained if I take a break. So I feel driven to practice even though I’m not actively seeking improvement…

But these things are more my problem ’cause I’m such a weirdo, more than anything else. At least I can rationalize it away to others as ‘hey, I’m off the couch and getting my exercise!’. They don’t need to know that I don’t look at it as only a workout regimen, and it keeps the questions short.

Truth is though, in ballet class I forget not just my everyday troubles, fears and stresses, but also how old I am. For that period of time I’m able to forget that, and to me that is one of the greatest things. It’s almost like laughing in the face of time, as well as gravity.

Anyway, onto some class notes and combinations:

In beginner class, we did frappes on releve, the kind where the foot stays pointed instead of flexed when it comes in. We also worked on beated frappes, at a really slow tempo that seemed to actually make it more difficult.

At NS, we did a fun barre combination with fondues up to releve devant, a la seconde, and derriere, then balance in arabesque on releve, bring the leg to attitude derriere and arms in high fifth and balance (umm, the balance is not going to happen, only on flat for now), allonge, penchee arabesque, sous-sus, soutenu, other side. Although fun, it was a little confusing, and some of the newer students were looking completely mystified.

We did some pretty long (for beginner class) center combinations. One was across the floor  2 waltz step turns, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, 4 balancés, repeat. It was manageable, though I think after the first time through my timing was off.

Another combination was: slow ballet walks with port de bras, faster ballet walk on releve, grand plie in fifth (or third), developpe devant, developpe a la seconde, developpe derriere, 2 pas de bourre, tendu derriere, rond de jambe the leg to tendu devant, pique sous-sus. This one was also manageable, though honestly I have a tendency to blank out what the next step will be the first time through. I’ve also noticed it tends to especially happen when the next step is a pas de bourre – what is up with that?!

There was also a combination that was (glissade, petit jete)x2, 2 regular pas de bourres, 2 pas de bourres with picking up the foot to passe instead of coupe, soutenu in place, glissade, assemble, repeat. It was a really fun combination, possibly because it included a variety of steps and it wasn’t quite up to regulation petit allegro tempo. I really enjoyed it though. F Teacher corrected me on my petit jetes traveling too much from side to side, as they’re supposed to stay in place.

We worked on tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, pas de chat, repeat, across the floor. R Teacher mentioned that on my pas de chats, my second leg to jump tends to lose its turn out. So that’s something I will be keeping an eye out. My glissades a la second seem to be getting much better, but since we haven’t really practiced the glissades to the front in beginner class I’m worried they will still make no sense when I try Intermediate class again (if I do, which I’m feeling like I want to, but being a little more careful this time). But I do feel much stronger in my jumps in general, from basic sautes to assembles and sissones.

 

Score So Far: Left-2, Right-0

Revolutions, that is…

But yes, today in class I did a double (en dehors, from fourth) pirouette to the left – two of them, in fact. I’d been noticing that I felt like I still had momentum when coming out of a single, so I figured ‘why not? just go for it!’. It worked – yay! Pirouettes to the right still limping along, of course.

Well, I guess that’s not exactly right – I did land one or two singles out of the dozens that I attempted to the right. When compared to my higher rate of full pirouettes to the left though, it leaves me feeling very lopsided. My balances still feel much more stable on my left foot, and my retire position is also much more turned out on my right side, so still no idea why I struggle with turns to this side so much.

I have been focusing on just going up and balancing and letting my spot and arms be the only things that provide the momentum for the turn, which did help me feel more stable. Perhaps I just need to practice more – R Teacher told us that improving at pirouettes is just a matter of practice, practice, practice. And I do tend to under-practice things that I suck at (like pirouettes to the right vs to the left)…

At least now when NS Teacher asks us to do ‘a double or triple’ I actually have a fighting chance to one side.

In other random ballet news, I’ve found out that it’s actually harder for me to choreograph a short piece now than when I was way much more beginner. It makes no sense: before I always though ‘when I get better I’ll be able to do cooler stuff, and maybe actually dance like I do in my head’, and now it’s all ‘no! sloppy, not good enough!’ even though it’s at a level that I thought was utterly impossible a couple of years ago.

Looks like it’s time to break out the recording of my first choreographic attempt for some perspective.