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.