Monthly Archives: May 2016

Overcorrecting, Bad Habits, The Fear, And Some Improvements

Last class I took, Teacher corrected me on my foot alignment. What was unusual about this correction was that she said I was supinating my foot, whereas not too long ago my problem was pronating and not lifting my arch. Apparently I’ve been overcorrecting – since I knew that my problem was pronating, I worked on it to the point that it was too far to the other side.

But it did make me think that I tend to do that – overcorrecting – a lot. Other specific examples I can think of is raising my chin too far in arabesque arm and head position, or slightly tilting my head if I’m just supposed to turn it (like spotting). Luckily, Teacher gives great corrections during class and always catches me. But no sooner do I fix a bad habit that I seem to get a new one. Sometimes I don’t feel very body aware at all (though much better than the pre-ballet days, so I suppose do have some body awareness. Even though at times it seems like none).

As I’ve already mentioned before, I think, whenever it’s a completely new move to me I am absolutely terrible at it. Even if it’s something I already know, the slightest deviation from how it’s originally done will throw me off, like if I have trouble recognizing the pattern. It seems I can only do steps that I’ve learned how to do, and without already knowing it, I’m  lost. This is especially apparent in Modern or Intermediate  ballet class, when we do things that we didn’t do last session. Suddenly, I feel as lost as any brand new beginner. Due to my habit of learning choreography by watching the same small segment of a video over and over until I can mimic it, I seem to be having an even more difficult time learning choreography on the spot and in person. In class I almost feel like yelling “pause!” and hitting the imaginary pause button to sit on the side-line and observe many times until I can actually figure ot what I’m telling my body to do. I’ve stared, perplexed, at a series of movements, thinking ‘what just happened? What did she do?!’ And then I work on seeing what each individual part did, the legs, the torso, the arms, the head, before I can make sense of it as a whole. I wonder if a lot of actual adult beginners struggle with this much more than adult returner beginners who danced for several to many years as children? At a recent class I took I was working over the step very slowly until it made sense to me and noticed that other classmates were intently following along with me, and that happnes a bit now that I think about it, so maybe.

A big part of it, why it’s so difficult to learn new things (I’m specifically thinking center and grand allegro type stuff here) is that I’m scared. If you’re used to being extemely uncoordinated, awkward, and unathletic for almost three decades, the fear of failing at something that will result in load of pain – or worse, injury – is there, you know. I do tend to err on the side of caution, one of the reasons why my sautes were absolutely terrible for so long – I was afraid to really jump and push against the floor because I feared I didn’t have the strength to land safely. Especially since my balance back then was so bad that I would travel farther horizontally than vertically while trying to jump… If sautes alone were the scale we use to rate progress, I’ve improved so much. Under Teacher’s watchful eye I even managed some changements without losing my turnout. I noticed in class this week that I’m starting to not fear sissones, but I know I need to find a good compromise between being not being afraid of landing weird again and playing it extra safe. Same goes for tour jete – I haven’t actually hurt myself by doing or attempting to do one, but I can definitely see that my fear of doing so holds me back.

To end on a good note though – and to me it is a really good note, because this has not been easy for me – Teacher corrected me on my alignment when balancing in retire at the barre, and it made all the difference. She said to shift my shoulders (and weight) forward, which has always seemed counterproductive to me because my umm, weight, is in front and I always feel like I have to compensate by being more back. But I did it anyway and it seems I’m finally strong enough in the core because I balanced up there for, like, forever. I had my seond arm off the barre and perfectly placed the whole time and everything, as stable as if I’d had both feet on the floor. I started counting one-one thousand, two- one thousand, etc, and I made it all the way to 15-one thousand before my calf finally got tired and I brought the working leg down to sous-sus. I’ve never held a balance one one leg without the barre long enough for my leg to get tired, so I was super excited. I wasn’t able to do it on my right foot, but still, yay! It’s possible – even with my off center of gravity, it’s possible!

Another cool thing I learned this week was that pivot thing, the one between finishing a pirouette en dehors in fifth and switching facings for the pirouette en dedans that we always do in Intermediate. Since previously I hadn’t taken a class where it was actually taught  (instead of it just being expected that you know it), I’d always just kind of struggled to follow along. But this week I had a crummy week so I  treated myself to a basic beginner class at Adults Only studio, and it was taught. Instead of from a pirouette we did a passe on flat, then arabesque with right leg in back (like if we had just landed a pirouette en dehors to the right), then then pivot to the other side. Ok, I admit the first few times I was as lost as anyone, but then A Teacher mentioned that the arm that was out to the side when we were in arabesque was the one that comes up, and suddenly it makes sense. I practiced it about a thousand times since then and now I feel totally comfortable with that move to both sides. So yes, it definitely pays off to take a class with a different teacher occasionally, and for this beginner, especially a more basic beginner level class. Great way to fill in the gaps in my training.

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A Ballet Bird

Super random, but this bird does a “ballerina-like” dance (according to Wikipedia), forming what looks suspiciously like a tutu from its feathers, and that’s really cool.

It’s a six-plumed bird of paradise, or a parotia. Here are some pictures I took (of the tv screen, lol):

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Or just watch the video (I first watched it on the show Planet Earth.)

The whole time I was thinking ‘Someone’s got to choreograph a ballet about this! Instead of Swan Lake it’s Parotia Forest!’

 

This Week Was Fun

It was a good ballet class week, although I’ve been incredibly sore. I did four ballet classes total, 2 beginning and 2 intermediate (six hours total), plus lots of rehearsing, and 3 hours of beginning Modern. Perhaps because we’re nearing the end of our sessions, both Beginner and Intermediate – and Modern, too, actually – have been picking up in difficulty. I always love these last few weeks, and wish they could last longer.

In Intermediate, we’ve been doing our tendus derriere at the barre slightly different sometimes, with our arm out to second and us looking out the side sort of under the arm, instead of the usual an arabesque arm. I like it, it’s a completely different dynamic, and a new way to work on epaulement. Also in Intermediate, we’ve been doing our tombe, pas de bourree in combinations with a different port de bras – just when I was starting to feel that I was proficient in the original port de bras. The new one has us bringing the arm opposite of the direction we’re traveling up into high fifth (I think it’s similar to the efface line in tendus), instead of the arm in the direction we’re going coming up though middle and out and then the next arm through middle and out.

In barre, also in Intermediate, we did the circular cambre (grand port de bras?) up on sous-sus, which I’d never done before. Surprisingly, it was no more difficult -perhaps even less – than the cambre forward on releve which we’ve been doing for a while. I’ve also been letting go of the barre more and more for our one-legged releve balances. Something that really helped me was when Teacher noticed that I would slightly lean towards the barre (or towards my supporting leg) when trying to hold the balance, and she told me to really pull up and push against the floor, keeping my ribs and shoulders in line with the lower body. The first time she told me I was thinking ‘what?!how?!’ but I think I made sense of it now.

Another thing Teacher worked with me on was my ridiculous excuse for a grand plie. As I may have mentioned before, I have a very shallow grand plie, in pretty much any position. She said that it’s not a tendon tightness issue, because my demi plies are actually quite deep and if it was tendon related that wouldn’t be. So she had me grand plie facing the barre so I could see myself from the side on the mirror, and I start going down until the point I’m used to and she urges me to go deeper. The front of my thighs start burning and I struggle to keep my torso up perfectly upright, but I can’t hold it for more than a couple seconds at most – probably less. She asks if it hurts and I say no, it’s not pain, it just feels weak, like I won’t be able to get back up. She mentions that I started to stick out my pelvis, and if I were to tuck my pelvis into neutral I would be able to access my rotator muscles better. Which I know, as she has already shown me this before, when we were working on developes a la second and she’d had me tuck in my pelvis at which point she’d lifted my leg up higher than before. It’s a little frustrating – I realize that in ballet (and in Pilates too, she’s always getting on me for the same correction there as well) I need to keep my pelvis neutral for a functional reason, but in my every day life I have a tendency to stick it out. This makes the changes harder to stick in muscle memory, but (and I realize this will sound super superficial…) when outside of class I plan on continuing to stick in out, I just feel it makes my body look much better; when I tuck it in my butt looks terrible and my lower stomach pooches out more than ever. So looks like I got myself a dilemmna…

(Still, I feel like I need to say “please don’t judge” lol)

(Also, a few months ago I read an article online entitled “Long Legs Suck For Squatting” and it explained how people with shorter legs are able to squat deeper without having to bring their torso forward, while those who are long-legged have difficulty. It was about regular gym squats, not plies, so perhaps it’s irrelevant but it made me feel better – it’s not my fault, it’s the leg length! Also, and I feel this part gets really underestimated, my chest is heavy! Even sitting up straight is more difficult for me, I’m always amazed that I can plie with a straight back at all.)

Our center combinations in Intermediate were really fast, and on the left side I felt lost. One combination was (saute arbesque, faille, glissade, assemble)x2, (glissade, jete)x2, pas de chat x4, pas de bourre, other side. I would start  out ok on the saute arabesque, then get lost and pick it up somewhere around the pas de chats. We did the mazurka-balancé-pirouette combination from last week as well, and I was still feeling lost. Teacher divided us up, so intead of going with the other beginners I had to go with the more advanced students, which highlighted even more how lost I was. It wasn’t that the individual steps were too difficult, just the speed which leaves no room for thinking about what I’m doing next. I’m not discouraged, that’s what’s important.

Beginner class was lots of fun though. We continued with the slightly more complex barre combinations, switching working leg and using port de bras, balancing on releve for a long time. I love this part! (as I’ve already mentioned)

Center was even more fun. We did a temps lie combination: temps lie devant from croisse and then derriere (while switching the port de bras), face front and temps lie a la seconde and close, tendu derriere, chasse devant, passe releve, other side. What was  even more fun is that we went from one side to the other more than once without stopping. Felt a little bad for the true beginners though, as they looked quite lost.

Across the floor we did 2 waltz turns, 2 balancés, tombe, pas de bourre, chasse to fourth, releve in fourth, then either pirouette en dehors from fourth or passe (or passe releve, all depending on level) balance. Not only did I manage to do some pirouettes, I did them to my weaker side (the one I usually don’t get around on), so I was really excited. The way it happened was just casual, like ‘ok, I’m going to do a pirouette, no one’s watching’ and I did it. Then I did it again! So of course I attempted them when we actually did the combination and it went well.

I’m sure more happened during this ballet week, but I’ve been so incredibly busy rehearsing for the upcoming show and all that (not to mention regular school work and house chores) that I haven’t been taking good notes…

 

My First Ballet Skirt

One of the most remarkable things about my ballet journey has been that I’ve met such an amazingly diverse group of people. We may not have anything else in common, but ballet is the common link that holds us together. Making friends is not easy for me (bad social skills and anxiety related) as I’ve mentioned once or a hundred times, so having the icebreaker of ballet has really helped me so far as interpersonal communication is concerned.

That said, there are drawbacks. For a person as annoyingly suggestible or impressionable (or whatever the word-which-I-don’t-know-and-am-to-lazy-to-scour-a-thesaurus-for) as me, it can mean that I often come close to feeling like I’m losing myself – those things that set me apart, that make me me.  Sometimes it’s seemingly easier to go with the group – even if it’s against your own beliefs – and then beat myself up about it afterwards, in solitude. I’ve always had an exceptionally hard time standing up for myself, and I find it really hard to say “no” to people, especially if I feel that my saying “no” will upset them (and then they won’t like me, and I’m already weird enough as it is that I don’t need to give even more reasons. Yes, I’m aware that made me sound like I’m in grade school, but if you can’t be honest on your own blog, where can you?…). Often, I put other’s interests before my own, and then end up feeling emotionally drained.

But – and this is a big but(t) (haha) – I’ve promised myself that I will work on it. And I have, little baby steps at a time. So what does this have to do with a ballet skirt? Plenty, as far as baby steps go.

For our upcoming show, we need to partially provide our own costumes (mostly consisting of a particular style or color of leotard, and I’m able to use ones I already have), except for the tutus which the school owns.  For one of the pieces, we need a skirt. Not actually having a ballet skirt previous to this, I started to stress about it. Some classmates began to discuss having custom skirts made just for the show, which I did not want to go for. The worst thing I could think of was spending all this money  and getting something new that I would only wear once and then relegate to the closet. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal to people – most people, perhaps – but it is to me, just one of my many “quirks”. Besides the ballet class budget is tight enough without factoring in any unnecessary expenses.

Inspiration struck. I  decided I would make the skirt, using my friend’s as a pattern. I hit the thrift store, and was fortunate to find what looked like a curtain, made of a similar sheer material as the skirt for about two bucks. Even though I have no sewing machine, I’m skilled (and patient, surprisingly) enough to be able to hand sew something together, especially when it’s a pretty straightforward project.

 

And it was fairly straighforward – I laid the curtain over the skirt, pinned it together around the perimeter, cut the curtain to shape, and sewed some black ribbon I had around the waist for the waistband. Easy, if not a bit time consuming.

 

To be fair, I’m not the best person at noticing details, but once it’s on I find it hard to tell the difference between the original version and mine (I actually can’t tell from the pictures which is which, though I do realize they look slightly different). My first handmade skirt ever – I’m pretty proud of myself. Also proud of myself for coming up with an outside-the-box solution and not letting myself get walked all over. I’d told myself I need to figure out better way of solving my problems (than giving in to pressure and then getting upset later) if I plan to continue ballet. (Not trying to sound like I’m picking on ballet, just that it’s the only activity I do that actually requires specialized clothing at times, so that tends to fuel my guilt. Long story, and beyond the scope of this blog…)

Anyway, yay, $2 ballet skirt!

Attitude Adjustment

So… it’s been a little while since the last time I posted on here…

Since last time, I quit ballet, sort of. Meaning I’d told myself I was quitting, and stopped going to class and everything. That lasted for… oh, about a week and a half, maybe two weeks. It was tough – everything reminded me of ballet. Listening to classical music was too much for me, since it made me want to get up and dance. I stopped coming by WordPress (though the thought of deleting the blog never crossed my mind, because I feel my story must be out there, so it can serve as… whatever people make of it, be it inspirational, a cautionary tale, or a mixture of both. Either way, it’s mine, unique to me), put my leotards away out of sight (a compromise from my original idea of giving them away). I was done, or so I thought. Then one day, even though I had initially told myself that I was done, I found myself at the barre at home. Who am I kidding – I can’t leave ballet now… or possibly ever. I need this, I need to dance.

How did this all come about? In short, I’d gotten really down on myself – about my slowness at learning, my inability to remember more than 8 counts (and I’m probably being optimistic there) of a combination unless I’ve practiced it literally thousands of time, how I get so flustered then and there in class/rehearsal in front of all the actual dancers (many much more experienced, and all most definitely younger than me), how I can’t even do that simple “it’s just a single” pirouette (and being called “negative” for stating the fact that I can’t), and yes, definitely not least in importance, my body issues (specifically the bouncing breasts, but I realize that my hormones felt out of whack there for a bit, as well as the fact that I may have been physically exhausted from all the extra rehearsing and practicing). I got to feeling that I was just making a complete fool of  myself, feeling like ‘what was I thinking? – I can’t dance’. I decided to drop out of our upcoming recital, because of the reasons listed above, convinced that someone like me – older, slower, less experienced, bouncier – had no business there.

At first, I felt like a weight had been lifted, and I tried to convince myself that I’d made the right choice. But it felt like something wasn’t right, like I couldn’t believe that it could be over. I was sad, really down – like the pressure I was feeling from ballet was too much,  but life just felt so empty without it. Although I tried to cheer myself up by immersing myself in my other hobbies and activities, my body wanted to move, to dance. I really couldn’t figure out what a solution would be. When I thought of ballet I wanted to cry.

Thankfully – and this is the super-abbreviated version – I got a push in the right direction to go speak with one of my teachers. It was the best thing I could’ve done, she was so incredibly supportive, and I found myself back in class (and rehearsal for the show). How I’d missed it!

Yes, I’d made the right decision, I can feel it. But still, this is…complicated. I don’t really discuss my conflicting thoughts regarding ballet on this blog  – I mean, I do to an extent, but not to the fullest that my racing thoughts go – but let’s just say that sometimes I have my doubts that I’m doing the right thing, and my logical brain asks me ‘why are you doing this? what is the point? all that work, all that effort, all that time, for what?’. So my brain-logic part says all  the reasons why ‘no’, but my feelings-heart says ‘yes’ (as ridiculously cliche as that sounds) and I’m going to go with my heart on this one – this is a first for me, so I hope I’m making the right choice.

Since then I’ve had a few classes back, and first of all, I think the break did me good because not only did I not really lose strength, if anything I felt stronger. My first balance on releve wobbled a little bit, but by the end of the first class back I felt I’d found my center again.

In Beginner class,  we began working at the barre in both legs (instead of just the outside leg being the outside leg), so it was just so incredibly fun, the mixture of alternating legs but not at the faster tempo that we do in intermediate class. For center, we did waltz step, balancés, and temps lies, all things I enjoy. It was a great return to ballet, I feel like I couldn’t have asked for a better returning class.

In Intermediate class, we’ve been working on a new step, the mazurka. It’s pretty challenging, and I still feel ridiculous while doing it, but I’ve already seen improvement since the first time Teacher gave it to us (at least with the legs, I’m nowhere close to being able to coordinate the arms). Then we did a combination with 4 mazurka steps, balancé to the front, balancé en tournant to the back, pique arabesque,  sous-sus, 3 pique turns, soutenu, chasse into chaines. The tempo was not too fast, so I had a lot of fun with this combination.

We also started working on tour jetes in Intermediate. I’ve done tour jete before, at New Studio, but there we hadn’t had the step broken down and really explained. Turns out that I’d been doing them completely wrong. Teacher gave me this exercise to help prepare for tour jete that’s really been helping: grand battement devant with the right leg, left leg in plie, bring the right leg back in as I rise to sous-sus, do a half-soutenu to face the other way, and bring the other leg up in arabesque. At first I did them super slow, just to get the coordination down, and then started working on making it more fluid. I still don’t have my tour jete, but thanks to this exercise I think once I do attempt it again my technique will be much cleaner.

Another thing Teacher worked on with me was the shape of my attitude derriere. Before I’d been told to arabesque and then bend the leg into attitude, and as a result my placement was often off. She instead had me go to passe, then rotate my hip back so that my leg was behind me, but trying to hold on to the same shape. I noticed the difference immediately.

So yeah, I’m back and let’s see where the ballet journey goes from here!

(I feel like I need to clarify some things: when I speak/write of me wanting to quit ballet because I’m too slow, forgetful, old, bouncy, etc., I speak about myself and my unique situation, and am in no way saying that any/every adult beginning dancer facing these issues should let these things get in their way. I’ve read so many blogs about adult beginners discussing feeling out of place in classes with more advanced dancers, feeling like there is something wrong with them, and the answer to everything always seems to be ‘you just need to find the right class for you! Ballet is for everybody!’ (I always imagine this being said in a nauseatingly high-pitched chirpy voice, but what do I know).

Well, this being my blog and my story, I feel the need to say that this is not an option for everybody. Some people are limited by their location or finances, and can’t just go around class-hopping (or school-hopping, or teacher-hopping) until finding the perfect opportunity or fit for them. So then we have the choice of will we push on and work harder so we can keep up and go on, or give up. I’ve chosen to push on and work harder, and it has been hard, so hard, but my love of ballet keeps me going. I realize I’m rambling, but I guess all I wanted to say was that just because I get discouraged sometimes doesn’t mean I’m saying that adult ballet must be discouraging, rather that being an adult learning with a bunch of teens who’ve been dancing for what seems like forever can at times be very discouraging. And, don’t get me wrong, my teachers are amazing and most days I love my school, but occasionally I can’t help wishing I could just learn with people my age or older, who face the same struggles or body/learning issues as me.

Anyway.)