Monthly Archives: March 2016

Variety And Variations

We had some variations as well as a lot of variety in my classes this week.The break from the usual routine was quite nice.

There was a lot of work on releve during barre this week. We did our fondues with rond de jambe en l’air combination up to releve and the grand battements en croix were on releve  as well. This was in Beginner class, and it was optional, not required for the more beginner students. I remember I used to struggle with working on releve at the barre a year ago, so I was happy to see that I was able to do it without my supporting leg feeling like it was going to give out, even after we reversed it. We’re not even halfway into the session yet, so I do wonder what new challenges there wil be in the weeks to come.

We frappes on releve in Intermediate, 3 frappes en croix then 1 beated frapped en croix, then recerse.  On my first side I could do them, sort of, but then when we turned around for the other side I felt like I was just randomly beating my leg around. So I guess for now I can do them as long as I’m facing the mirror.

In Beginner class we had a do-able across the floor combination: 2 waltz step turns, 2 balancés, tendu a la seconde, close in fifth, passe releve (optional pirouette en dehors), change facing for other side and do the whole thing to the left. It was so much fun. The more beginner version of the combination had no turn in the waltz steps. In Intermediate there was a not-so-doable waltz combination. This one had much faster waltz turns (and Teacher’s preferred port de bras throws me off a little bit, because F Teacher’s is more classical and I’m used to it), balances front and back instead of side to side, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dedans, and a bunch of steps that I’m forgetting in there somewhere. I tried my best to keep up, but it was sloppy enough that Teacher suggested I not go in the front row. It was still fun though, because en dedans pirouettes are my favorite.

A different day, for center Teacher decided to teach us some variations (not for a show, just for fun). She picked out some really fast tempo ones, so it was really hard to do the variations, but I kept thinking at least I didn’t fall. Keeping the theme from the last few classes going, there was a lot of work on releve (the original variations are en pointe). My feet were so incredibly sore by the end of class. One of the variations also had stepover pique turns (lame duck turns), which I really enjoy doing (and have come a long way since I first started practicing them at home little over a year ago). While what my reflection in the mirror was doing did not look like what the more advanced students and Teacher were doing, it was so much fun!

I’ve been thinking lately about how I used to wonder a year ago how someone is supposed to cross the gap between what is taught in beginner level class and intermediate. The first time I tried intermediate I was completely lost, as some of the steps had never even been taught to me, and here they were in the middle of combinations. I thought that intermediate class was geared towards people who danced for years as a kid, not to any actual beginners who had been dancing for a couple of years. I thought I would never get to the point whre I would feel even a little comfortable there. After this additional year of taking classes, I think I was struggling with it back then because I hadn’t taken beginner class for enough sessions.By now I’ve noticed that the teacher’s teach different steps each session (since there’s not enough time for everything), but if you keep taking beginner class eventually you’ll have been introduced to all the steps that will be expected to be known for intermediate.

Turning Out(v.) vs Turnout(n.)

So, the action of turning out – engaging the hip rotator muscles to turn the legs out from the hips – and “turnout” – the degree of flexibility in someone’s hip joints – are similar concepts but not the same thing…right? I mean, someone with very flexible hips can have a bigger degree of turnout than someone with less flexible hips (say… an adult beginner…), even if the less flexible person is engaging all the correct muscles, right? And we’ve all seen that picture in Classical Ballet Technique that shows the “ideal” ballet student and their near perfect turnout, even without any prior training (or engaging of the muscles).

(If I’m totally wrong, feel free to set me straight, people)

It’s so aggravating when people (and I’m not talking about a trained ballet teacher here… just fellow students) want to measure one’s degree of turnout by how far the feet are from that perfect 180 degrees. You can’t tell me whether I am turning out or not just by my feet, not unless my entire leg is visible. And turnout that’s not coming from the hips, but rather just faked with the feet is just asking for injuries. If my hips only allow for ~110 degrees without sacrificing alignment, then that’s what I will do. I’ll continue working on strengthening my rotators, of course, and stretching, and perhaps with time those 110 degress will increase to ~120 or more. But 180 is not going to happen – and nor do I expect it to.

Besides, I read once somewhere that if you use your epaulement to its fullest, and dance, no one will be looking at your feet 🙂

End rant.

As If Pirouettes Weren’t Hard Enough…

Pirouettes (en dehors) during ballet are still somewhat of a struggle for me on most days. The getting all the way around part, specifically, because for whatever reason half pirouettes are no big deal. It’s the actual turning part, not the balance (ok, I could use some more balance – it certainly wouldn’t hurt…).

But then, in Modern class, M Teacher introduced pirouette preparations last week: just tendu out to second, then close in plie in fourth position to the back, and then spring up to passe (first in flat, then passe releve), while coordinating the arms. The kind of thing I couldn’t do back when I started this blog for sure, but by now has become no big deal – even the releve part. I though ‘cool, now I get more practice on my passe releve in center, yay!’

Then she said to add the turn. The big deal is that in Modern we are barefoot – no ballet slippers, no socks, nothing. So, if I have trouble getting around all the way while wearing footwear, you can imagine how difficult it is with sticky feet grabbing on to the marley. At first I thought, ‘maybe I should really focus on spotting’. So I did for the next turn, and still I can feel the pad of my foot getting stuck while the rest of my body continued on with momentum. Umm, I don’t want to risk twisting an ankle or injuring my supporting knee. So I pulled my legwarmers down a little so they would cover the ball of my foot and did a whole pirouette – yay, the problem’s not me, it’s my sticky foot. Then I got paranoid M Teacher would get upset that I was “cheating”. I pulled the leg warmers back to normal and struggled through a couple more turns.

No idea what I’m going to do about this… as I already mentioned, I don’t want to risk hurting myself. When a fellow classmate asked “What do we do about our feet sticking?”, M Teacher said something along the lines of “Get some dirt on your feet!”. Uh, ok, I guess? Except my feet already come out of this class plenty dirty, so no idea what else to do.

I guess the good news in all of this is that at least regular pirouettes (with slippers on) in comparison should be a piece of cake. Mmm, cake – gotta go check on the oven…

Once You’ve Been Sprung You Don’t Want To Go Back

And other ramdom thoughts from my ballet week.

Recently, I had the opportunity – the priviledge – of dancing on a sprung floor studio for the first (and so far, only) time. It was amazing – I felt like I could jump all day. The landing is so much more cushioned and smooth. Then, I returned to reality my regular studios. Anyone who gets to work on a sprung  floor on a regular basis – I hope you realize how lucky you are. But then, I get to dance at all, so I should consider myself lucky as well. (And I do)

This week, there was a sub at NS, and it was a cool experience, as it often is taking class with someone who is not one of my regular teachers (if anything, I seem to get different – and extremely helpful -corrections when taking class with a new teacher.) One thing I really liked was that for the balance in releve retire at the barre, she had us just rest the hand lightly on the barre, the only use one finger to rest on the barre. I find this so much less abrupt to switch to no hands than to just take the hand off, espccially since I’m still working on my balance and confidence. That one finger does so much for my confidence, but at the same time I’m having to work much harder to pull up than if I had my whole hand on the barre. This sub in particular is really big on pushing us to go for a deeper plie, which is something that I need. I also like this intense stretch we do at the wall barre: from the croise leg at the barre stretch, she has us twist back with our leg still at the barre and grab the barre behind us with the opposite hand. I’m not good at describing it but it looks so hard to so that I felt a sense of accomplishment just for being able to get into it, like my flexibility’s come such a long way.

This class also got me thinking: good teacher will find a way to challenge everyone – even the girl that is showing off that she knows what she’s doing (and insisting on multiple pirouettes when everyone else is struggling with singles, yet she’s late on the count every single time (reminded me of that scene in CenterStage when one of the characters – I think her name was Anna? – kept trying to squeeze in an extra revolution, and the teacher called her out on it)). I tend to get intimidated when there’s a more experienced dancer – and I know I’m not the only one, but when the teacher corrects them too instead of just heaping praise upon them it makes the class atmosphere so much less intimidating. Or maybe it’s just me..

Speaking of showing off, I still struggle with the whole idea of me being one of the more advanced dancers in a particular class. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m taking a beginner Modern class. M Teacher has us do almost the same exact exercises she had us do the last session, so they’re familiar to my body. I’m at the point where I’m focusing more on making them look as they should rather than just holding my balance. During warm-up, as we all stay in place, I’m able to stay more or less inconspicous. But when we go across the floor, there’s nowhere to hide (as we all know). My classmates are visibly struggling with the across the floor combinations and I feel really guilty going through them seemingly effortlessly. I mean, they can’t know the huge amounts of effort it took me to get to this point just from looking at me. It’s so awkward when we line up to go across the floor and even though I didn’t set out to be in the front they just line up behind me anyway, placing me in front by default. Then we went across in partners and there was an odd number of people so I ended up going by myself. It was a somewhat challenging (for beginner level) combination, including balances on one leg, this weird plie/lunge/glide walk, direction changes and quick turns. I didn’t feel shy or awkward about dancing, or going alone, but about being able to do it. I suppose I’m just a weirdo, because I fully realize that the exact opposite (being the only one who cannot do it) is a place I don’t want to be as well.

There’s a girl who starts randomly dancing around (not doing the steps M Teacher set out, just kind of shimmying around), and I find myself feeling irritated, so maybe I’m just projecting.

On the happier side of things… fun combination of the week: balancé, balancé, soutenu, developpe devant croise, tendu close, brush back to arabesque, plie and hold balance (I could have sworn a promenade would follow, but not this time), close to pas de bourre, pirouette from fifth en dehors(that I kept accidentally taking en dedans because that seemed more natural in a hurry), land in fourth, pirouette from fourth, other side. This was in Intermediate class. Pirouettes from fifth continue to be my weakness, but from fourth I’m starting to feel more comfortable.

I continue to work  on straightening my knee. A big part of it was just needed the reality to sink in. Now that I’m super aware of the issue I’m making sure to really feel like I’m pushing the floor away every time.

In Beginner class our combination was port de bras with plies fo four counts, developpe devant, developpe a la seconde, close back in coupe, pas de bourre x2, passe releve balance, other side. We also worked on our chaines across the floor and lots of jumping. The easier combination was 4 sautes in first, in second, 4 changements, and 2 echappes – standard jumping combination. The more challenging one was the same except instead of the 2 echappes at the end there were 3 jumps where we jump in second, beat the legs, and land in second again, followed by one jump from second, with a beat and landing in fifth, then reverse the whole thing to the other side. I remember last summer I definitely couldn’t do those jump-from-second-and-beat jumps – I think I was too weak to attempt them – but I tried them and they could have been worse. My comfort level for beats is increasing, as well as my leg strength. And at least I no longer flex my feet while attempting to beat.

Sometimes, Teacher will switch up the music she plays for class and she will ask the class if they know which ballet the piece is from. This week, I must have been feeling bolder than my usual self, because I actually spoke up and named quite a few of them. Then one of my classmates made a comment about it and I felt like a total nerd. I don’t get it though – why take ballet (as an adult) if one is not enthusiastic about it? I couldn’t imagine devoting so much time to a hobby if I didn’t feel very interested in it (and as such, spend countless hours watching it on youtube). But I guess we’re all different and it is not my place to understand…

Straighten That Knee!

Lately (I’d say the last couple of months), I’ve been corrected a few times on straightening my knee.  Usually my supporting leg, though I think one time R Teacher noticed it during an arabesque balance in center (though she did say “Or is it your leg warmers?”.

So, I kind of blame it on my legwarmers (in my head, not out loud). Or on the fact that I worry my leg will hyperextend and lock if I straighten it too far, and then when it comes time to land jumps I won’t have it in muscle memory. I’m aware the obvious is ‘Why don’t you straighten your leg while standing and bend it while landing? I mean, duh’. The answer would be ‘because my body, underneath the muscle memory  I know-what-I’m-doing-sort-of exterior, is still the lazy (my body will take the path of least resistance to do anything, unless I have a new way of doing that motion, activity, or pose in my recent muscle memory), somewhat relatively weak, and clumsy body that I had before. Those reminders, despite how much dance has helped me, are quite discouraging.

Anyway, I am working on it, but I have to be honest and say that did let myself think that maybe it was my legwarmers. Good old-fashioned denial.

But then we were in center, and the tighter leg warmers don’t hide anything, and there it is – my perfectly bent supporting leg knee. Not cute. Definitely motivation to work on it. I’m thinking the bent knee supporting leg may be the reason my balancing on one-legged releve could definitely be better.

 

Improvise

No, not the kind of improv done during Modern class, though that is fun too…

Some awful person ran off with one of my leg warmers (I took them off after class, could have sworn I put them in my bag, I had somewhere important to be (family emergency), then I get home and there’s only one leg warmer in there. Not to worry, the studio has a lost and found. Except I get there the next day -as I spent the rest of the previous day with my Dad at the hospital – and the leg warmer is nowhere to be found.) What kind of awful person takes things that are not theirs?  (That may be a rhetorical question)

Anyways, I had another class to go to and no way of keeping my legs extra warm. An idea struck. I remembered this old pair of pink leggings that I kept around that no longer fit. I’d been keeping them around on the hopes that I would fit into them again – not going to happen unless I want to lose all my newfound jumping power (muscles) – or if not to donate them to a local thrift store once I accumulated enough items to make the trip worth it.

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Pink leggings, not ballet pink but close enough

Instead, I cut the legs off from the gusset and improvised myself some leg warmers. They actually fit really nice and snug all the way up to a little over my knees – perfect leg warmer length. I wore them as is already, but I’m thinking of possibly hemming them so that the knit doesn’t begin to run.

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They come up to a good height mid-thigh without feeling like strangling my leg

Even if I do get another pair of dance legwarmers like the ones I had (which I feel so guilty about because I was so irresponsible as to put myself in the situation that someone could take them…) – and I might as the stirrup part really helps keep my arches warm during barefooted Modern class, and unfortunately warm arches are a necessity for me – these fit well underneath pants or leggings to keep me warm throughout my day.

Bonus: The gusset part that I cut off makes a great pair of warmup shorts (not pictured).

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The post would not be complete without showing my crappy turnout…