Monthly Archives: April 2016

New Class, Soreness, And More Crappy Pirouettes

Another busy week with plenty of dancing, after last week’s almost-break. Predictably, I’m very sore – ha. I’ve been rolling out my roller and tennis balls like crazy. Some of it just needs time to rest though, like my bottom. This week, in Modern M Teacher had us doing much more floorwork, and my behind is especially sore from rocking back and forth on it as we rolled from one side to the next. The thing we did was like a spinning in a circle, but on the floor (from the middle laying down to each side coming to seated, then using our arms to rotate. I can’t come up with a better way to describe it) and it made me so dizzy. I guess there’s no such thing as spotting your turns when you’re on the floor! I was dizzy enough that I was grateful I was already on the floor, actually.

This week I took a ballet class, Beginner, with a somewhat new to me teacher I’ve mentioned before, G Teacher. He seemed to recognize me/remember me since the last time, so that was kind of nice. It was a good challenge and change of pace to take an unfamiliar barre, because with my other teachers, even if they change it up slightly from class to class, I still somewhat recognize their “patterns”. G Teacher’s barre is just so different to the other classes I’ve been taking, and I’ll make sure to ask what style of ballet it is next time I make it in to that class (which I don’t know when it’ll be exactly, since the time is quite inconvenient for me).

At barre, the grand battement combination included that swivel leg thing where you grand battement a la second, then bend the leg and turn in and bring it across the body and then back out, you know, that thing. The newer beginners looked mystified, even after it was demonstrated a couple of times. I don’t blame them – the first time I saw that in person it was like ‘what is that?!’ It’s one of those things that gets more fun with familiarity, and feels so good (I especially like doing it after a grand battement on releve). There was also a rond de jambe conbination that had the ronde de jambes with fondu and port de bras, like the ones we do in Intermediate.

In center, we did lots of glissades (just one after another all the way across the floor), and then tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, grand jete over and over. This is a Beginner class, and we usually only do that in Intermediate, so it does seem that G Teacher’s beginner class is more advanced than F Teacher’s or Teacher’s. Either way, I really like – and find very helpful – the amount of repetition in center. By the end of class I was feeling pretty confident about all the steps we’d done. During the glissades, G Teacher told me “Good!” (and for once, I didn’t start messing up immediately afterward), and I do feel proud of how far I’ve come in glissades.Back when I first started ballet I couldn’t glissade at all because I was too weak and my balance was terrible. I wasn’t able to land glissades without losing my balance and tipping over. Then, once I was able to land, I was able to start working on pointing my feet and all that. And now, my glissades, at least a la seconde, are not bad if I do say so myself…

In Intermediate class we did  4 balancés, pique arabesque, plie down, pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, soutenu, hold sous-sus balance, other side. Focusing on the good things:I can hold the balance after the sous-sus well, also the plie down from the pique arabesque. Bad things: I’m a little hesitant about my pique arabesque, and the pirouettes to the right are more often than not terrible. That said, I actually landed a pirouette en dehors from fifth to the right (basically, my hardest pirouette), which was nice. To my better turning side (left), I’ve actually felt a little off lately, weird.

We also had a tendu combination that I can’t remember, but it was different from the tendu combinations we’ve been doing. It included a pirouette en dedans, among other things.

This week, across the floor we did saute arabesque, saute coupe, saute arabesque, faille, pas de chat x2 instead of the usual combination. Teacher had us focus on making sure our working leg’s foot was super pointed when we jumped off it for our sautes (technically, temps leves,  I guess). The ones in arabesque are much easier for me to point my feet during, but the ones in coupe not so much – Wonder why? It was the same way to both sides, so it wasn’t a right-left side imbalance.

At home, I had Boyfriend film me going over the choroegraphy as full out as I could in our kitchen to see what specifics I need to work on. Well, specifically I need to work on my attitude devant (higher, more turned out, just cleaner. Actually, this week both Teacher and NS Teacher pulled my leg higher during my attitude balances, so maybe it’s a hint), my bourres (smaller, tighter, and quicker steps), and, of course, that piroeutte en dehors that I’ve mentioned before. Ugh, I’m pretty discouraged about that part right now honestly. Advice, both requested and unrequested, had not been helping me. And yes, I can intellectually undetstand the concept of ‘I’m overthinking it and trying too hard’, but that’s not helping me to put in action ‘under thinking and not trying hard enough’ or whatever would be the opposite. Or maybe I’m just supposed to go for a happy medium, something like thinking and trying just the right amount? But seriously, so frustrated!

But – there’s the bright side –  in addition to practicing my pirouettes, I’ve also been working on my placement and balance, just trying to make sure I have a solid muscle memory platform to build on (and my balances in center on releve retire have improved so much, as a nice bonus).  Since I’ve gotten told by teachers to use a smaller fourth position, I’ve been working on that. I have disproportionately long legs, so it feels really strange, and not too far from a really bad fifth. However, it does seem to keep my alignment in place, so I’ll trust that my teachers know what they’re talking about. I also practiced rising up to passe releve, balancing, and closing in front in fifth, then I did it with closing back into fourth, before trying my pirouettes again. One thing I noticed is that I come off my highest releve some time during the turn, and that’s what may be causing me to fall out of it. So, just to rule out that it’s not lack of strength that is the issue, I made myself do something like 24 single leg releves and eleves (no, not all at once on one leg – I’m not going to lie and pretend I’m at that level of strength – though that is a goal I’m working towards. I did three sets of eight, alternating legs with a pas de bourre). I think I’ll be doing this often, as well as my rotator muscle exercises. I should do the feet theraband exercies (flex and point with articulation) as well, but when I do them it almost feels like they’re not doing anything. Maybe I need to switch to the heavier resistance band, or just do more of them.

Even if it doesn’t improve my pirouettes, I’ll have freakishly strong and powerful feet. Which is kind of cool.

Advertisements

… Or Maybe I Do…

… but knowledge (though it is power) does not automatically “fix” the problem…

*Sigh*

A little while ago I mentioned in one of my posts that I’m learning some choreography, and it just got harder because it now includes a (single, en dehors from fourth) pirouette. You know, presumably clean, with good technique throughout and a flawless finish – not my tipping-over-or-barely-making-it-around-if-at-all brand of pirouettes. Which is understandable, since it will be before an audience, and all that.

So, my initial reaction was ‘ok, I will work on it, but be very prepared with a back-up plan, which is in high probability going to be needed…’. Then I set to work on it, not really expecting much. That part of the combination/choreography is (other steps), chasse, pirouette en dedans, tendu out to second, close fourth, pirouette en dehors from fourth, saute arasbesque, saute coupe, ballet run 4 counts, 3 quick soutenus, bourre, 2 pique turns, etc. Very heavy on the turning, and the music’s pretty quick. I’m wasn’t having trouble with all the other turns once I learned to anticipate what was next, due to having memorized the choreography. On pique turns and soutenus I tend to get sloppy only after doing maybe 6 or so at a minimum (maybe I get tired? dizzy?), so just a few in a row is not intimidating. But the pirouette en dehors, since it’s the thing that I’ve been struggling with the longest, it just has Intimidation written all over it.

A little over a week later, and I’ve actually pulled it off. It’s not a hundred percent reliable, but during my practice sessions I did manage to do it – the whole choreography, in time to the music, not just the pirouette – at all (and more than a couple of times) which is more than I was expecting this soon (because the amount of practice time I’ve done so far is only a small fraction of the time I’m expecting to spend on it). But the best part is that since my body has felt that it is possible to do it (and eventually, yay muscle memory!), there’s really no excuses I can make about it being too difficult or beyond my level. It becomes a matter of ‘will I invest the amount of time and energy needed to make this happen, or not?’ not ‘what’s the point of even trying since there’s just no way that’s even possible?’ or ‘ok, I’ll try, ’cause it’ll be funny, but I’m not expecting much.’

It did make me wonder what else can I do that I think I can’t…

I mean, I know some people like to go one about how ‘you can do anything!’ but when the laws of physics are involved I always wonder if that still applies. But then, in the words of R Teacher “If you can master ballet, you’ve defied the laws of physics.” So who knows…

Resisting Inertia

Found that phrase in an article I was reading about being-lazy-but-not-really, and it just seemed such a fitting title for my post and my week – can’t get moving, can’t stop when already moving…

As I mentioned last time, this week I had some extra free time. This was due to my regular school being on a break, so only classes at New Studio for me. I figured this would mean yay-nonstop-ballet-fun-day-every-day but no, for some reason it didn’t really work out that way – I overestimated the time off, and decided to undertake too many new projects (and then, of course, nothing was finished). Also, my hike on Tuesday left me so sore, which is somewhat disappointing because there is a blog post on this very blog from a year and a half ago (here’s where that little linking feature that refuses to work would come in handy…) in which I’m hiking and taking class on the same day, like no big deal.

Or maybe what did it was when I decided to go ballet-skipping along this path by home. It’s a jogging/bike path that follows along the road, and there’s trees lining it and when no cars are passing by you can almost trick yourself that you’re just happily skipping along the forest or something. After I’d been walking for a long time and knew I was warmed up, I started skipping, like a chasse-gallop, then bringing the other foot up through coupe to chasse-gallop on that one, and little skips changing feet by bringing it to coupe. I’m doing a terrible job of describing it, but it was fun.  Probably a little too fun, since I ended up really far from home then had to walk all the way back.

So, at home I keep telling myself that I should practice so I don’t lose a lot of progress from cutting back so much on class-hours, and I’m just feeling so unmotivated about it. Not about working on choreography, or just putting on some music and dancing, but of doing barre. I manage to convince myself that at the minimum I should do some plies, tendus and releves to not lose my turnout rotator muscles, and foot and ankle strength. Getting up is the hardest part, but once I’m there I decide I’ll stay (or perhaps what happened is that I’d finally warmed up). But I still feel unfocused once I get past the first few exercises (which I do facing the barre and mirror, slow so I can focus on every single detail of my technique), and just want to dance.

By this point it was obvious to me that the issue was not that I didn’t want to dance, as it was giving myself a full barre like a real structured class. Just couldn’t get excited about that no matter what. I may be spoiled after getting to take class so often, because before I always did a whole barre alone at home and enjoyed it. Then I got an idea and decided to do Kathryn Morgan’s Classic Barre video on youtube. It turned out to be just what I needed! I followed it up with the her Easy Center video, also on youtube.

Besides motivating me to actually get through barre, there were other benefits of doing the videos. With the barre one, for sure, it was a test of my musicality and memory – I would do the first side facing the video, then the second side facing away so that I had to rely on the music completely. I surprised myself by actually being on the correct count most of the time. I think even if I was finding it easy to motivate myself to do barre, if anything I should continue to do these videos to work on memorizing combinations, especially center. I only did the Easy Center video this week (which I wouldn’t call easy, and there’s different level versions available during it), but I remember trying the Classic Center one last year and the combinations were hard for me to remember. So it’ll be good practice.

My classes at New Studio were fun, although not particularly challenging this week. Since it’s open level, the difficulty depends on who shows up, and lately there’s been a lot of new-beginners. The demographic seems to be Ladies That Work Out (I’m assuming by the visible muscle tone and work out gear, instead of dance wear or t-shirts and leggings) and it’s always so interesting to me because they are so strong, even though they’re just starting out. It makes me wonder how the ballet as an adult beginner experience is different depending on one’s individual strengths and weaknesses. I got stronger as I learned technique, so I have no idea what it’d be like to learn technique while already being super strong. Probably easier, I’d imagine, but maybe the obvious answer isn’t the correct one; it may be harder because there’s other similar movements already in muscle memory that will tend to come out when trying to ballet (like doing yoga poses instead of retire comes to mind). Or not. By now I’m officially rambling…

A fun combination we did was 2 balancés, tombe, pas de bourre, chasse to arabesque, pirouette en dehors from fourth, pirouette en dedans, repeat. I managed some of the pirouettes, but they’re still not what I’d call reliable. On the one hand, I’m really stressing on that pirouette I have to be able to do for one of the pieces we’re performing. But on the other hand, I’ve been practicing that segment of the choreography, and I’ve been able to do it, so once again it seems like it’s pirouettes by themselves that are the most difficult for me.

I was pleased that during petit allegro I kept up with the tempo. It wasn’t a hard combination, just really, really fast – 8 changements, (glissade, assemble)x2, soublesautx2, repeat. Another petit allegro combination was four changements, four changements while turning right, four changements, four changements while turning left, 3 sautes in first, hold plie, echappe, close, repeat. So many jumps! Maybe that too is why I was so sore…

Our across the cloor combination was also super fast. (2 pique turns, 3 chaines)x3, contretemps, tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, grand jete. My grand jete to the first side was ugly, enough for NS Teacher to comment (which was kind of funny). I tried harder on the second side…

 

Taking Lessons From Ballet Class Out…

… into the “real” world.

No, this post is not about my tendency to strike up a ballet pose at random, or attempt traveling steps the second I have an open area of more than 8ft by 10ft in front of me… though those things have been known to happen quite frequently. Perhaps a misleading title again…

Anyway.

I found myself with some rare extra free time, so I went “hiking”. I put hiking in quotes because, due to curently not having a hiking buddy for safety, my hiking options are somewhat limited; I usually end up on this local-to-me mountain – more of a glorified hill, I suppose – that, while it does have some legitimate hiking trails, the vast majority of people end up on the main trail, which is a narrow paved road. So, it’s more of a steepish uphill walk. But it’s still one of my favorite local places outside of ballet class and my garden – and a great leg workout nonetheless – so today I ended up there.

Where the ballet relevance comes in is my posture while walking. I like to use the opportunity to really focus on my posture, staying pulled up, core held tightly, collarbones open, sternum up, shoulders back, lats engaged, tailbone down, head up – all the things that a ballet teacher corrects on during class. I’ve found that doing this when I’m doing stuff around the home really helps keep the muscle memory more active than just letting it all go the second I leave class. It’s also a sign of progress for me, because back when I first started ballet – and even as late as over a year into my ballet journey – even just standing there pulled up for a long time was a huge challenge. To be able to keep that posture while doing housework and chores would have been unthinkable. I’m getting stronger, hooray!

There’s also the being in public aspect of it. A few months ago, I read this blog post online that basically stated that our posture and body language is a function of our self-esteem – or lack thereof – and that to work on the posture of the body from the outside in, rather than the other way around (work on self-esteem first, posture will follow) was foolish. I have to admit, I had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction against what he was saying. ‘No way!’ I thought, ‘Give me someone with terrible self-esteem and have me train them using Pilates and ballet, and I will get them to stand up straight!’. After all, it’s about having the knowledge of your body and engaging the correct muscles. I mean, before starting dance I didn’t even know I had lats, let alone how to engage them.

Then I did more thinking (yeah, I’m one of those people who overthinks everything, whatever…) and, well, perhaps there’s something to what he was saying. I mean, no, it’s not impossible to train someone with low self-esteem to stand up straight, but there’s more to it than that. I’ll continue to use myself as an example (I don’t know if I (still) have low self-esteem necessarily, but at times I have a hell of a lot of anxiety).

I’ve noticed, and have known this for years now, that even if I consciously choose to stand up straight, when in the presence of someone I perceive as intimidating my body will sort of close itself down. Like, I’m telling it ‘shoulders back, head up’ and I do it, but slowly start shrinking back down. I found something online that said that I’m subconsciously trying to make myself smaller, to appear non-threatening, to not challenge the other person, to avoid confrontation. Which does seem quite accurate, if I must be honest with myself.

So, I’ve been practicing keeping my good posture even when surrounded by people, especially if I feel intimidated. I’m hoping to lessen the anxiety surrounding it, until it eventually goes away completely. Will it work? Who knows, but for now I am showing signs of progress and that’s all I can ask for.

The “hike” reminded me of my old hiking buddy Lindsay (I wrote about her on here before, mostly about how I haven’t told her than I’ve been doing ballet since she moved away because I didn’t want her to tease me about it), and times past before I started ballet-ing. As a weird way of keeping the memory alive, when I came home I took a nice long bath with candlelight and essential oils, totally a Lindsay thing to do. I took a book with me to the bath, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, which I found at a thrift store a couple months ago but hadn’t had a chance to read because homework and chores. Only got about 60 pages in before the timer went off  (I had set the kitchen timer to go off so I didn’t turn into a prune in the bath…), but still, an extremely relaxing time was had.

 

More Dance-y Fun, And Some Challenges

It was a very dance-y week, with four ballet classes, two modern classes, a rehearsal, and lots of practicing. If I include all the time spent practicing, I think I danced something like fifteen hours! My body held up pretty well, even though the weather remained gloomy and wet. Perhaps because the temperature hasn’t dropped as much it didn’t affect me as much.

Beginner ballet classes this week were more focused on working on the fundamentals, with the entire class doing the same exact combinations regardless of level.

On the one hand it’s easier, because the at the barre there’s much less port de bras, and in center the steps are beginner level (for example, waltz is not en tournant, and passe in on flat). On the other hand it’s harder because it’s so slow and everything has to be just so… precise. And as a not-completely beginner in the class, I feel an expectation to do it correctly. Also, since I’ve been doing the slightly more challenging version of every combination, I’ve commited those to memory, not these. This is only relevant to the fact that we’re going to be tested on these combinations sometime in the near future, and we’re expected to do it without F Teacher calling out the steps.

We’re told that preparing for exams is like an audition, and that she will treat is as such so that we can be prepared for that. I temember my first time taking ballet, I used to think how unlikely (and, given my skill level at the time, ridiculous) the idea of me ever being at an audition was, but here we are, 3 years later and I’ve actually auditioned – and performed in – performances for my school, so yeah, you never know where life will take you…

I also had my midterm exam for Modern, a performance, in small groups, before the class of a combination we’ve been working on for a few weeks.  I hadn’t done a class performance since the end of my last ballet session a few months ago and I’ve come to realize that I really love performing. That feeling – the racing heart rate, am-I-about-to-pass-out? rush right before the music starts as we wait there before our audience – I think I love it. As an introvert with some kind of social anxiety, who can be terrified of interaction unless it’s people I’m comfortable with, and gets really uncomfortable in crowded or group/social situations, I feel this is my only release, my only time to have attention focused on me and me actually enjoy it. Or something. I worry that it’s just a cover up for underlying problems that I should be working on (my anxiety issues, shyness, social awkwardness, overcoming the childhood truamas that actually contributed to these issues…), but for now I’m just going to dance and see where this goes. Anyway, performing’s such a thrill, and I’m glad that there’s at least a couple more class perfomance opportunities coming up in the nearish future.

The combination itself for the Modern class exam was not challenging, especially since it’s the same exact combination we did last session 6 months ago or so. The parts that are the hardest for me involve the contraction movements, since they’re still somewhat new to me, but I’ve improved much since last session. There’s this part where we do a jump (like a saute arabesque, but with less technique) and land in a way that we drop to the floor and roll over sideways, and it’s much less scary this time around. Floor work is something that still continues to intimidate me a little, but since it’s my second time taking Modern it feels a lot less foreign. I’m still glad that my first dance experience was with ballet, because it provided such a solid foundation for Modern, as opposed to the other way around. And,o of course, there’s the whole being able to rely on the barre at least a little thing; I definitely couldn’t have done Modern back when I first started dancing.

This week, Intermediate ballet class was just plain hard. I don’t know if Teacher turned up the intensity level or if it was just me, but I found myself struggling more than usual (for that level class).  To start with, Teacher was using the CD that F Teacher always uses, and that was thowing me off quite a bit. Especially when the piece we always use in Beginner to do 8-8-4-4-2-2-1-1-1-1 degages was being used for this complex-ish tendu combination, something like 3 devant with outside leg, 1 derriere with inside leg, 3 a la seconde with outside leg, 1 devant with inside leg, 3 derriere with outside leg, 1 devant with inside leg, 3 a la seconde with outside leg, en croix with outside leg, reverse, soutenu for other side (I may be missing a section in there, it’s not like I had the combination perfectly figured out). A lot of our barre combiations include switching the working leg from the outside to the inside leg in different patterns, and I usually am able to get it by the time we do the end of the first side (we usually mark the barre combinations before doing them, at least halfway). But the music was really really throwing me off.

During frappes (3 single frappes devant, beated frappe derriere, 3 derriere,  1 beated devant, 6 super quick beated frappes a la second in this weird pattern that I haven’t quite figured out, temps lie away from barre a la seconde, pique onto retire on releve back at the barre, and once again I’m possibly missing something in there) I slammed my toe into the ground. That kind of sucked, but it didn’t get in the way of m finishing out class. I think I’ve improved on the pique onto releve retire since last time we did that at the barre (because for whatever reason it feels scarier at the barre than center).

Center was where the challenge really was though. The first combination was ok, just 2 tendus and a grand battement in the usual croisse devant, ecarte, derriere pattern, then brush the working leg forward and pas de basque, chasse, pirouette en dehors, other side. The hardest part was the piroeutte en dehors (more on my pirouette woes in a bit), but other than that the combination felt quite do-able. The pas de basques that Teacher has us do are different from the ones we do with F Teacher; Teacher’s are like rond de jambe-glissade-chasse (I’m really breaking it down here, but the moves just flow together) and F Teacher’s are like rond de jambe, coupe the other foot behind that one, then step it through in front of the other one. I like doing both kinds, but I think both versions of the step have a completely different energy quality to them from each other.

Across the floor combination was pique arabesque, rise up on releve on the other foot with the other leg in attitude devant, pique arabsque, releve attitude, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dedans, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, attitude derriere pirouette, hold balance in attitude, plie, pas de bourre, other side. Ummm, yeah, I’m not there yet at this level, and was having trouble remembering the combination. I think if I had time to mark it – slowly- about 20 times I’d be able to get it, but obviously that doesn’t fly in a class environment. I kept getting confused on which leg was I supposed to pique arabesque or releve on attitude devant on (like, did the legs switch? was it always on the same leg?), then forgetting to tombe, pas de bourre after the pirouette en dedans. And holding the balance after the pirouette in attitude devant was not going to happen since I wasn’t even getting around all the way.  It was still a fun combination to attempt though.

Petit allegro was only in group, not a slower group and a faster group, and that reduced my chances of getting it remotely close to right. The combination was (glissade, assemble)x2, echappe, changement,  4 sissones ferme, alternating sides, pas de chat, pas de bourre, other side. I was getting confused from the beginning because I kept ending up with the wrong foot in front, and Teacher wanted to to do the arms for the sissones (which apparently open in the direction you’re traveling), which confused me further. Then we reversed the combination, and by this point my brain was just mush, so I just kind of clunked along one count late. Honestly, it’s much more fun for me when we can go in 2 groups at different tempos, because this way I feel like I’m not even learning, just struggling along. I should really just practice this combination at home, but center combinations change so often in Teacher’s class that there’s never a guarantee that if I memorize a combination it’ll help me the next class.

Speaking of practicing, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, as I have been getting access to a place to practice lately that’s larger than my little home kitchen studio. Mostly been working on choreography for our upcoming class shows, with different classmates. For one of the pieces we’re working on, my classmate insisted on adding a pirouette (en dehors, from fourth and not fifth thankfully) to the choreography that I had come up with. I explained that I don’t know if I’ll have a reliable pirouette by show time, and I could also have the alternate backup choreography ready to go, just in case. She said something like ‘it’s just a single pirouette, you’ll be fine by then, don’t be so negative’. I was somewhat annoyed, because I don’t like it much when my being realistic is mistaken for negativity. I don’t have a negative attitude – if I did, I doubt I would have ever gotten this far from where I started. But I’m also realistic in the amount of time it took me to improve, and how slow progress can be. She mentioned something about how she’s been dancing less time than me and has a clean pirouette which, if it was intended to motivate me, had the opposite effect – it was a reminder of how slow my learning curve is. I often feel that no one at my school can truly understand how difficult it has been for me to pick up ballet, what an uphill struggle it has been every step of the way. But I agreed to practice my pirouettes more, and I will (and have been since this happened). At least I get to do it to my stronger side, which I do get a clean single occasionally, something like one of of every 3 or 4 (which drops to one out of 10 when under stress…). The main problem, as I tried to explain to her, is that it’s not reliable when I’m going to be able to pull it off. But, I’m doing my part and practicing.

Either way, I love working on choreography so much. Repeating the same movements over and over enables me to achieve this level of comfort that I’m not able to when doing a combination that I’ve only done a couple times. It’s especially exciting when putting the little phrases of movement together and ending up with minutes worth of dancing. It feels so awesome for me, and it’s something I wanted to do since I first started, to be able to dance. 

What Might Possibly Be The Cutest Ballet Costume EVER!

Youtube surfing ballet again…  and when I find ballet mixed in with cute kitties, that’s two of my favorite things right there!

In the middle of this video of Sleeping Beauty Act 3 by the Royal Ballet, there is the most adorable costume ever. So cute! Wish there was a full length ballet about kitties like these.

image

A kitty!

image

I’m not very good at taking screenshots of videos…

And  a few more screenshots

 

I definitely recomment watching the video, my screenshots do not it do it justice (ha, like if that even needed to be said). The kitty dance begins at 9:34, but the entire video is really fun to watch if you have the half half hour to spare. The rest of the dancers are absolute gorgeous and talented as well. The wedding pas de deux at the end is so beautiful.

 

Down And Up

This week I’ve been feeling down – perhaps burned out or maybe just down, it’s sometimes hard for me to tell. The weather’s turned chilly and wet again, bringing with it soreness and aches. It’s one of the surest signs for me that I am getting older, when I see my decade-younger dance classmates happily skipping through the rain, not bothered by the cold and I can’t (after last year’s slip and fall in the rain, I treat the rain with respect!). One one level I don’t care; I’m doing quite well for my age (and – perhaps more importantly – for myself; certainly a decade ago I wasn’t able to do the things I can do now with my body). For a long time I was worried that I had to keep my age a secret, that if the teachers found out they would think I was a liability risk (most of my classmates at my regular school are in their late teens to very early twenties). Now I start to see the occasional older student, even much older than I, and it’s somewhat reassuring (however, these older students are usually not adult ballet beginners, but returners, and more advanced than me). But then, they usually don’t participate in the recitals and stuff, so I go back to feeling like I need to “fit in” (or at least not stand out from, too much) the younger students. Though I do have the energy to keep up (especially since it appears at a younger age one doesn’t place such a high priority on health and taking care of their body – I know I didn’t at their age…) for the dancing aspect of it, it’s exhausting in the more human interaction aspect of it (some of them act like immature brats, and it takes all of me to just metaphorically close my ears and let stuff go).

Still… things have been bothering me, so if you’ll excuse me I’m just going to whine, rant and speculate for a bit before going into abbreviated class notes.

After Beginner class, a few different more-beginner classmates have approached me to chat (thankfully, due to my introversion and anxiety, one at a time), asking me questions about ballet. Sometimes it’s clarification, like ‘how do you do pas de bourre?’ or ‘how does that center combination go again?’, stuff like that. I’m always happy to answer any questions, and the fact that they are comfortable approaching me with their questions (there’s at least three or four more advanced students than me in the class) makes me feel good. I wish when I had first been starting off there had been someone that I could have approached with questions (yes, I’m aware there’s a teacher, but when you’re too intimidated to ask the teacher, then what? Besides, F Teacher has said numerous times during class that more beginners should observe the more advanced students and ask them questions if they need to.)

I know this is a tricky subject to get into, so I’ll tread lightly, but I think it has to do with feeling comfortable with people that you can relate to. While I mostly fixate on the fact that I’m different because I’m an adult beginner, and I’m rather top heavy, those are not the only things that set me apart from the other more-advanced (or, less-beginner, I don’t know which would be the proper term) dancers in class: I’m also a woman of color and I don’t come from a priviledged background and prior to staring ballet I did not have dance training (because, trust me, starting ballet from scratch is so much more challenging than if you already have a sense of balance).  The girls that tend to approach me perhaps see me as more relatable or less intimidating? We do plenty of bonding over stories of wanting to try dance as a child and not being able to due to finances or cultural factors. I’m happy for them that they are going for their dreams now as a (young) adult, but I do feel the slightest amount of sadness over all the years I wasted doing absolutely nothing once I’d hit adulthood. Oh well, can’t do anything about that, so look forward and keep going…

Anyway, during these conversations the subject of pointe comes up. I’m completely honest with them, telling them that I did not start ballet to get to pointe, that it wasn’t something that I set as a goal. In fact, I tell them that when I started (and realized just how much I sucked at ballet) my goals were as simple as plie and tendu in center without fallling over. They usually reply with something about how I’m decent at ballet now (they say “good”, but let’s face it, I’m not good, it’s just that they’re looking at it through beginner’s eyes), and is it a goal for me now? That’s when I bring up that no, it’s not, I can’t afford it. They don’t seem to understand that it’s more than just the one-time purchase of a pair of very expensive shoes; it would involve trying different pairs until finding one that hopefully feels like I can dance in them, and all the padding and accessories to actually make it possible as I think I suffer from the dreaded longer-second-toe-than-big-toe issue. If it’s enjoyable to someone to go shopping I can see how this may sound fun, but since shopping is something that I absolutely cannot stand doing, I think I would be miserable.  I’m happy to just dance in my flat slippers.

But then, I read a stupid article that states how it’s not ballet without pointe, and how it’s every beginner ballet student’s goal to get en pointe, or else why are you even bothering. So I think, ‘good point, why do I even bother?’ It upset me enough to think ‘maybe I shouldn’t be doing ballet then – perhaps I should do modern, or jazz, or something! After all, according to know-it-alls (who perhaps are technically correct, but still) it’s not really ballet that I’m doing anyway.’ So then I started to feel even more down. I like to measure my successes (is that even a word?) by how far I’ve come from where I started, but it’s only when other people’s expectations get in the way that I feel that in effect I have accomplished nothing. I love to dance, both alone in my kitchen and during class. Can’t imagine giving up this joy that movement gives me, but perhaps I need a little break sometimes in order to miss it.

Then, last night I had a dream that I was in class with one of my teachers (who’s opinion I really respect) and she said something like ‘don’t go en pointe with your feet’ or something like that. I guess I certainly have been fixating on the subject recently…

In an unrelated – yet still ballet-related, somehow – issue, I still have lack of confidence issues. When the more beginner group finishes their center combination and the more advanced-beginners have to run out to center to do theirs, I shy away from the front row. If I may be completely honest, it’s because I worry that even if I can do the combination correctly, the fact that I don’t have this certain attitude (the mental kind, not the position) gives it away that I don’t belong there in front. But, here’s the paradoxical part (and I hope this makes sense), part of the reason I like ballet class is because it’s the only time that I am comfortable looking a certain way, like the way you almost look down your nose at your hand when in arabesque, for example. In ballet class I’m able to … I don’t know how to put it… I guess, carry myself in a way that would just be unimaginable for me in the real world, in a very snobby-looking way or something similar. I am one of the most humble, down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet, so it’s a complete change of character, like acting. I am able to do this once the music starts and I “get into character”, but before that I’m just me, and the contrasts between the two must be quite apparent. As “me” I can’t be in the front, but as the ballet-version of me I could… I realize this all makes me sound like a complete weirdo, but whatever.

I guess just be glad you don’t have annoying thoughts like this getting in the way of your life?

In Beginner class, at barre we did plies, tendus, and degages one after another, going from side to side with soutenus without resting at all in between. I like it, it really gets me warmed up. When there’s too long of a pause between the barre exercises I think it doesn’t get me warmed up quick enough, and trying to ballet while not warmed up feels very sluggish to me, like my legs are heavy (not that I attempt to ballet without being warmed up often or anything, but I’ve noticed during my own practice sessions that when I first start barre I feel almost too lazy to move much, but by degages I’m feeling like ‘yes! let’s do this!’).

Center combinations in Beginner class: 2 demi-plies, 1 grand plie, developpe devant, a la second, derriere, balance right and left, 2 pas de bourres, other side.  More basic option was just 2 demi plies, developpe devant and a la seconde, 2 pas de bourres. I remember struggling with that one when I first started –  I just couldn’t balance on one leg no matter what! It would be like, pick up foot and attempt to coupe, and I would tip over. Then  I would try again and again and would not be able to get it up to retire in order to developpe without falling over and having to bring my foot down, and by this point the group had moved on to the second  developpe and it was so embarassing because I was the only one who couldn’t do it at all. The darkest times in my personal ballet history…

In both Beginner and Intermediate we worked on turns across the floor. In Beginner it was chaines (with hands on shoulders for the more beginner students), just chaines for the more beginners, and chaines for five counts, chasse to arabesque, tendu close, prepare, and repeat all the way across for the slightly less beginner students. In Intermediate we did 3 pique turns, 1 soutenu, chasse into chaines for the remaining counts, repeat. The tempo was really fast, but I think I’ve improved a little since last time we did this. My transitions from pique turns to soutenus to chaines especially seem smoother. I still have the problem of losing my spot when I get too close to the thing I was spotting.

I can’t remember the center combination from Intermediate, but I remember it involved a lot of direction changes, like facing the left in croise and then chasse towards the right, or somehow changing facing to developpe devant to the left croise when we had been facing right. There were promenades in arabesque in there as well, and I actually got around in all of them without falling off balance – this is a first. For a while now I’d had a feeling that I can physically do it, I was just not focusing and really pulling  up, so this confirms it. After the promenade came a pas de bourre and pirouette en dehors from fifth, which I fell out of to the right, but completed to the left.

In Intermediate, we worked on sissones, sissone oueverte to be more specific, and that sucked. The combination was sissone ferme, pause in plie, 2 sissone fermes in quick succession, sissone oueverte, hold balance, sissone ouevert to the other direction, reverse.  I actually like sissone ferme (the regular kind that seem to start and end in fifth plie, even though I realize that if correctly done you land on one foot. But my brain is tricked by the optical illusion that it’s less force on my body for whatever reason so yeah…), especially a la second. To the front and especially to the back they’re still a big challenge for me – to the front my body keeps wanting to do a saute arabesque, and to the back it’s just as complete mess. But still, I enjoy them.

The other kind, the open kind, not so much. It was landing one of these that I hurt myself about six months ago, and I certaily didn’t want to repeat that.  So I approached the exercise rather cautiously, just marking until the last possible second, and closing them a bit sooner than what would be considered technically correct. Of course, that just got me plenty of individual correction from Teacher, as she thought I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do… not what I had intended – so many sissones! One of the more advanced girls who went in the group before mine kept staring at me while I was attempting to sissone correctly and it was so annoying. So I raised my hand and asked Teacher if our back leg was supposed to be bent or straight (advanced girl was bending hers) and she said ‘straight’ – probably passive-agressive of me, but this girl always looks at me like I’m stupid because I don’t have the decade or more of training that she has.

Anyway, I managed to finish out class without getting hurt this time. I don’t know if I’m actually stronger now than I was a few months ago, so I’ll continue to approach these sissones cautiously. A part of the problem is that when I do big jumps I tend to jump really big, and it’s the landing that gets me. Since I didn’t have much experience with jumping at all until I started ballet, it can be difficult for me to jump smaller (this especially gets me in trouble during petite allegro, because I want to make each jump super high and I’m instead supposed to do little quick ones. I prefer the slower tempo that the men use when they do their jumps). If I try to do a little jump I feel like I’m not using enough force to leave the ground and point my feet. Definitely something I need to work on. I think all the little prances and small jumps we do in Modern have definitely been helping in this aspect.

Since I’ve noticed that one of the issues I have is that I tend to lose my turnout when moving quickly, I’m commiting to working more on my turnout muscles. I think the key is to get to the point where I can feel when I’m engaging them, and then I’ll be able to know when I’m not. Hard to explain, but all I know is that at some point I could barely feel my lats, so it was hard for me to engage them. But ever since I began to work on strengthening them (mostly through Pilates), I’m able to feel them so clearly, and this has helped me so much with holding my balance. So I hope to get that way  with my rotator muscles. For now I’m going to do the side-lying rotating opening exercises every day (clams, with the feet on the floor, then the feet in the air, then the legs tied together with a theraband) and see how it’s going at the end of the month (I figured the start of a month would be a good time to set a workout goal).