Monthly Archives: October 2016

Keep Your Head Up!

‘Keep your head up! Look up!’ Is one of the most common group corrections I hear called out during class. Apparently, this is something that many people struggle with, and i can completely relate. When I was new(er) – I mean, this went on until I’d been ballet-ing for over two years – this was something that I really struggled with. If looking up and keeping my head up and shoulders back were something I struggled with in regular life, how was this supposed to change (for the better) when I was wearing awkward clothing and constantly losing my balance?! Simply put, I couldn’t.

What changed? You know that expression about faking it ’till you make it? Let’s just say I’m still faking it, but hey, it works! I do got to say that this is easier said than done…and I definitely wasn’t able to pull it off until I felt more sure of my balance. But I think I finally have this looking up thing somewhat under control. Now if only I could improve on that external focus thing I keep hearing about…

This past week all my classes were pretty challenging, each in a different, appropriate-for-that-level way.

In Int/Adv, we did several long combinations, one of which I  remember enough to share here: Walk slow 3 steps, releve walk faster, run, pique sous-sus, developpe croisse devant, developped a la second, chasse to arabesque, pormenade in aattitude, allonge, sous-sus, tombe, pas de bourre, releve in 4th balance, pirouette en dehors, pivot to prep for pirouette en dedans, soutenu, pique arabesque, walk, pique arabesque, run off.

We also did sissone while changing facings, faille, assemble which is so fun and I remember a little over a year ago just freezing up and not being able to do these in center when it was my turn  (instead I did some weird cross between a glissade and looking like I was falling down), so it’s a definite sign of improvement. I still get confused about the sissone arms though (which way do the arms open?  Better clarify that with a teacher, and write it down so I can remember…), but the jump itself is not too bad.

In Intemediate class we did an adagio: pique sous-sus, developpe devant croisse, pique sous-sus (change facing) developpe a la seconde, pique sous-sus en arriere (change facing) developpe derriere, promenade in attitude, allonge, pas de bourre, soutenu in place. Soutenus in place are finally making sense to me!

We worked on our facings and I realied that tendu efface devant is to devant while facing en face is what ecarte derriere is to a la seconde and  croisse devant is devant as ecarte devant is to a la seconde. (Hope I explained it right) I’d had an idea about this, but having the knowledge has made my facings more precise.

I worked on my beated jumps at the barre for a bit, and could really see some improvement in the mirror. I’m hoping if I keep uo the practice at bar it will translate to center.

In Beginner, we jumped, a lot. Previous to this we had been mostly working on barre work and ballet walks and tendus, so the change to sautes, balances, and tombe, pas de bourre was nice. For sautes, we did this exercise when you saute landing count 1, then hold plie for 2-4, then saute twice on 1 and 2, hold plie 3-4, etc. all the way to 4 sautes then repeat.  Of course, my calves were absolutely dying the whole weekend…

 

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The Silent Treatment…

As a brand new dancer, I didn’t quite know what to make of being ignored in class. I remember, several months into it, thinking that it may mean that I was doing everything right at the barre – which sounds  really ridiculous, I know, but I had zero experience with ballet class culture, or ettiquette outside of that class. As time passed, since I did not get any personalized attention, or corrections, it was up to me to take initiative and apply the corrections that I heard others be given. Of course, at that level of experience it was hit or miss; a correction such as ‘arm at the barre in front of you, never behind’ is obviously easier to apply than ‘pull up on your standing leg! Reach energy past your fingers!’.

Eventually though, I started to get the feeling that if the teacher doesn’t correct you it might be a very subtle way of telling you that you aren’t good enough, and even with correction you still won’t be. I mean, before, when I couldn’t tell a point from a sickle I could lie to myself that I wasn’t getting corrected because I was doing it right, but once my ballet-vision was honed enough that I could see mistakes, it was obvious that wasn’t the case. For the record, I don’t consider it ignoring if I notice the teacher only gives general group corrections, but when it’s a teacher that is very hands-on I wonder if I’m giving off a ‘don’t approach me’ vibe, or if they feel that I’m not teachable. Or worse, not worth their time.

Since my second teacher did not offer me personalized corrections much either – though she did correct my sickled foot in coupe, and I’m grateful for that – I did start feeling apprehensinve about getting the same treatment from any future teacher I ever tried. My third teacher was the general-group-correction type, but then I met Teacher, who was super specific with her personal – and physical – corrections and got me whipped into shape in no time (it was during my time taking classes with her that what I was doing began to vaguely resemble ballet instead of some strange exercises in arm and leg coordination).

And,well… I really hesitate to discuss this publically… but lately in one of my classes I think I’m being ignored. And honestly, I don’t know how to feel about it. Is it that anything that could be corrected (Faster! Higher! Hold your balance longer!) is something that is beyond my physical ability, as judged my the teacher? Should I trust the teacher that if she sees anything that is within my control to fix that she will tell me? But it’s hard to just trust the teacher when you feel that they might look right past you, and therefore your mistakes might just be invisible…

I’ve read articles before about what to do if you would like the teacher to pay you more attention, but those articles are mostly geared towards teens and pre-pro kids. I feel awkward asking this particular teacher to pay me more attention, because while I don’t like it, I understand that I am not a high-priority student for her. There’s no possibility of me having a career as a dancer, and it’s not her responsibility to satisfy people’s hobby aspirations. But (and I feel like there’s no way to say this without sounding at least a little mean, but I’m trying not to/it’s not my intention) there’s other people in there who also don’t have a possibility of a career and it seems like they get a little more attention? So I start to think it means there’s something wrong with me…

This also brings up the question, what IS the limiting factor when determining who can possibly have a dance career, however short-lived, local/regional, or unpaid (which, as unpaid, would not technically count as a career, per se, but I basically mean dancing with a company, I guess, even if it was not the way the person earns a living). Is it strictly based on age? I know some dancers continue to dance well into middle age, but they did not start as adults so that’s a different story.

Well, anyway, before I go on more tangents, I’d just like to say that when I get corrected often it helps me see how I still have so far to go, while still believing that it’s possible, that the teacher believes I can do it, that I WILL do it. And I do think that just as I am aware of how far I’ve come, raising the expectations will keep me working harder and that’s something I want. But what am I to do, but keep working, working, working, and be grateful for all those teachers that do think I’m worth their time…

A Rough Start And A Great Ending

At the start of the week, I was feeling rather silly about being in the Int/Adv class. Feeling like what am I doing in that class when my skill level is clearly not up to par. I’m not the most beginner person there, but a commenter here once said something wise (and I may be paraphrasing a little, too tired to to look it up, sorry): just because you’re the worst one does not make you a worse dancer [than you already are], and just because you’re the best one [in a particular class] does not make you a better dancer. Horrible paraphrasing job there, but hopefully you get what I mean. Anyway being objective, and looking at where my level  is now, I feel like I don’t belong there…

I have no intention of dropping out of it though – as long as I don’t get all introspective and think about how much my dancing sucks in the scheme of things, I have an amazing time in that class (and it’s not like there’s much spare time for thinking during class anyway…). But now that I am feeling introspective (and rather melancholy – I am probably not a fun person be around right now… ), I can’t help thinking that I have no business there, with the real dancers, the ones that actually have a future in dance, the ones who are not done with their youth and well on the way to middle age.

(I feel I should clarify that these classes are not through an adult recreational program, and there’s dancers training there who are really good, and past alumni have made it to big companies and all that. So I do feel like I’m wasting their class time or taking up space, or something. Taking these classes with the older teens/young adults is a double-edged sword; while there’s no way I would be able to afford such an intense dance course load otherwise, sometimes it just feels like a lot of pressure. And inadequacy. And this strange feeling of not belonging. Not that I feel particularly at home or like I “fit in” when I take a recreational class with only “real” adults… maybe the problem is me…) Hello, tangent!

At barre I don’t feel like i get in the way – though when I mess up obviously (like, wrong foot tendued in  wrong direction) I start to worry that I’ll draw attention to myself.  But in the center, like when doing turns across the floor, it’s pretty bad. I force myself to go faster, but my technique suffers, I feel. And I don’t want to go slow and hold up the better dancers who, for whatever reason, were not in the front of the line/group. Which may not be my fault, that the better people didn’t go forward, but I don’t want to get yelled at about it for not filling in the gap, so yeah…

Well, that was kind of a pointless ramble, but I feel better having written about it. That said, the rest of my week was actually pretty awesome. The pace in Beginner class really picked up this past week, in the form or us doing the barre one exercise after another with hardly a pause (we have a set barre for the session so G Teacher doesn’t have to give us the combination in theory) and I love it. Intermediate class, while more challenging than Beginner (obviously…) still does not fill me with the intimidation that I feel in Int/Adv. It could be because Int. class happens to be a very small class, and I don’t feel like I’m in the way. But I’d be lying if I said that the people there didn’t make a difference. The crowd in Int/Adv is more,well, advanced, and while they’re lovely to watch while in the other group waiting your turn, dancing with them is intimidating. It Int class it feels friendly and with less pressure.

As far as hip hop, there may be some hope yet? For our latest combination, instead of only working on it for a week we’ve been working on it for the past two weeks, and I’m actually remembering it now. At least as far as getting the feet and arms roughly where they should be, moving in the correct direction. H Teacher worked with me a little bit during class individually, so I think maybe I’ve made that jump between Incurable Klutz and just plain bad, and he thinks that some help will make a difference. For what it’s worth, it did.

Still, it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to, but I’m guessing that’s something that will take time. A friend told me to imagine I’m dancing alone in my room, but when I dance alone at home I want to do ballet. So that did make me question whether or not I actually want to dance hip hop. If I do, and hope to actually show improvement, I’m guessing I need to put in some outside of class time. As it is, I don’t practice hip hop on my own time, but I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt to at least go over the combination in my head.

Another cool thing that happened this week was that through my school I got a free ticket to go watch a live performance of the ballet! It was a small touring company doing a full-length performance of Sleeping Beauty and I had so much fun. I couldn’t get over how sparkly the tutus were in real life. This was my second time watching a ballet live that is not the Nutracker. There aren’t too many opportunities to watch ballet live out where I live without having to drive out to the Big City, so even without the added bonus of the free ticket it was still a rare treat, a wonderful night.

Last night, I had a ballet dream. In my dream, I was in a full time ballet program, like the residential kind (I think I’ve been watching too much Dance Academy…), and I remember I was so thrilled because I could do every combination in class. So yeah, a peek into my subconcious – and impossible – wishes.

Like A Ballet Brainteaser

Now that we’re about a third of the way through the session,the difficulty has really picked up in Int/Adv and Intermediate. Well, I guess in Beginner too – I always get extremely sweaty in that class, working on technique at this excrutiatingly slow speed. And by now I feel that whatever strength I lost in the inter-session period I have regained (I want to say ‘and then some!’)

In Int/Adv though, the tempo is usually rather quick, both in barre and center. Lately, F Teacher has had us do diferent variations on the 8-8-4-4-2-2-1-1-1-1 theme. One of them was still facing the barre, but  afterwards we did three quick degages in first, followed by flexing the foot and quickly beating/closing fifth in front, back and front, then temps lie and then the other side. Yeah, so I may have been  a bit lost on that one, hoping we’ll repeat it in another class…

The other version we did was not facing the barre, and it was 8 degages devant, taking the full 8 counts for the arm to arrive in high fifth, then 8 degages a la second with the arm taking 8 counts to get there, 8 derriere with the arm slowly going to arabesque, then a la seconde, and then repeat the whole thing with 4 degages, then 2, then 1, then soutenu for the other side. The first time F Teacher had us try it, it was so fast that most of us were all over the place. So then she picked us a slower piece of music, and it started to become do-able but still really hard.

Another brainteaser-ish aspect is changing facings at the barre. For example, after our four on dehors rond de jambes (with port de bras so the arm takes the four rond de jambe’s worth of  time to make the transistion through all the positions), with each rond de jambe we pivot, so that at the end of the first one we’re facing away from the barre, then after the second on we’re facing the opposite side, after the third we’re facing the barre, and by the time we close the fourth one we’re facing the way we were. These are challenging not only because of the changing facings/instability aspect, but also timing it so that we’re facing the next direction as the rond de jambe closes. And, of course, going the right way since we do these en dedans as well, with the pivots taking us the opposite direction… I mean, it took me about a year and a half to realize that the slow port de bras follows the same direction as the quick rond de jambes, so yeah… (at my most paranoid times, I imagine some of those quick-natural-dancer-people coming across my blog by coincidence, and reading confessions like these while snickering at my slowness and seeming ineptitude…)

Center has also been getting progressively more difficult (but so much fun; I hate to sound like I’m bragging or gloating, but center – even center in a difficult class – has stopped being the time of class to dread, quite the opposite), with combinations including several direction changes of travel, a quicker tempo overall (both during the combinations themselves, amd also the way we very quickly switch groups from one to the next – picture those company class videos on youtube, that quick) and a variety of turns in even the first combination. Here’s an example of one such combination: 2 tendus croisse devant, 1 tendu efface devant, 1 tendu ecarte, fouette to arabesque, chasse to arabesque, coupe back foot, then bring it up to attitude and promenade to other side, allonge, sous-sus, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, pivot, pirouette en dedans, repeat with degages instead of tendus, and attitude pirouette for pirouette en dedans, other side.

Waltz combinations are a little trickier. They usually start with waltz en tournant and balancés, then F Teacher changes it up every class. One time it was a series of pique arabesques in a circle, followed by pique turns and a series of chaines. To the right we marked it as a class several times before breaking into groups of three, to the left we didn’t mark. It started out alright, but once we got into the pique arabesques it seemed we each went a different way and chaos occured.

We also do piroeutte drills, including one when we’re supposed to do pirouettes continuously/consecutively while the music plays (supposed to prepare us for fouette en tournant, I believe F Teacher said). These are hard but they take out some of my overthinking associated with pirouettes, at least some of the time. They’re from fith, which besides being more difficult, helps me to work on bringing my retire foot to the front of my knee (lately I’ve noticed that on pirouettes from fourth sometimes I get lazy about bringing my foot all the way to the front instead of (incorrectly) in the back).

In Intermediate class, the combinations are less complex, but it does help bridge the gap between Beginner and Intermediate. We’ll do tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette, repeat, or balance, balance, tombe, pas de bourre, repeat. Also our passe releve, pirouette and promenade combination for strength. However, sometimes things get a little more dificult. Lately we’ve been working on fouette (not en tournant …yet… hopefully not for some time, I don’t think I’m ready yet…) across the floor. It goes something like, step, step, fouette saute, step, step, fouette saute, repeat, all the way across the floor. I’ve gotten over the fear factor, but my coordination is still off and I get confused which way I’m going.

Speaking of getting over the fear factor, I did some beated jumps! Mostly royalles, entrechats are still harder for me. I attempt them, but my feet end up not-so-pointed in there. F Teacher said we should have our  entrechats by this level, but I clearly don’t. I’m going for it more though, so I do feel like I’m (slowly) improving. As for the royalles, it’s much harder for me when the left leg is in front, so I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a strength discrepancy from left to right issue. Perhaps I need to work the left side more at the barre at home with some quick footwork exercises? I’ve been working on my left side as it is. Lately I’ve been taking a spot at the barre in class where I can see myself in the mirror for the second side (left), because I feel like if I have the mirror to answer to it makes me really work hard. There’s also the advantage that since we usually face the mirror when marking the combination, by being on that side I get to work that side just a little more. I can see how always marking on the same side can contribute to one side becoming much stronger than the other.

 

Mini-Review: Bunheads Gel Knee Pads

Making modern and contemporary possible for the aging dancer! Kidding… but some truth to it…

Bunheads Gel Knee Pads

Bunheads Gel Knee Pads

For the most part, when I think of kneepads I think of those big bulky white ones that we wore in junior high p.e. when playing volleyball. So when a dance classmate mentioned wearing kneepads during modern (and feeling much more confident about floorwork with them), I did get sad – and feel positively geriatric. But then I saw a different classmate wearing some that looked much more streamlined, and hope grew.

I searched online and apparently the item I was looking for was the Bunheads Gel Knee Pads. After calling my local discount dance store and finding out they don’t carry them (or any style of knee pad, which was surprising given how huge the store is), I called the local not-so-discounted dance store which did. Said not-so-discounted shop is actually quite close to home, so off I went.

The store carried two styles of knee pad, a bulkier type for around 10 bucks, and the Bunheads Gel Knee Pads for around $40. Yes, $40 for some knee pads! So about as much as my three favorite leotards and leg warmers put together. But…cheaper than a knee replacement, so I paid up, grumbling on the inside.

The view from inside

The actual knee pad part

I feel like I have to justify why I picked these out instead of the bulky ones for 1/4 of the price. Well, as the back of the package boasts, these are ‘the first gel knee pads made specifically for dancers’ and are supposedly able to be hidden underneath tights on stage, as well as don’t slip around or roll up. And while I’d have to say that they are visible under tights (I haven’t tried wearing two pairs of tights, but I may do that for the show) – picture below –  I wouldn’t  say they’re distracting. It doesn’t look like, hey that girl’s ready to go to the volleyball game right class! or anything like that. If I wear black leggings – well any actual leggings that are opaque, not tights – they are invisible. I’ll see if I get around to taking another picture to put up.

The store carried two sizes: S/M and L/XL. I got the L/XL and the first time wearing them they felt uncomfortably tight (after several wears they feel much more comfy). I was anticipating this, since some dance stuff tends to run small, which is why I didn’t even bother with the S/M. My legs are rather thin by “normal” standards, but by “dancer” standards they’re XL apparently. Measurements are 14″/35.5 cm circumference around knee, 16″/41 cm around the top of the knee pad band, for comparison. For length, I’m 16″/41cm from hip/greater trochanter to knee, 15.75″/40 cm from knee to ankle/malleolus. (The store had great customer service, as the shopkeeper let me take them out of the package before purchase so I could see what I was getting into. But if you have to buy online, just know they run SMALL)

So, do they work? Yes! I’m able to get on my knees and not be screaming in pain, both then and there and after. At first I doubted them and their effectiveness, and still played it really careful (and besides, this just takes care of my knees and there’s no padding to protect other delicates like my tailbone), but soon as I was feeling completely unhindered. My worries that I wouldn’t be able to continue doing anything that involved any floorwork at all melted away. I only wish I had discovered this product sooner (and, of course, if the price tag was slashed by at least half…).

Here are some truly awful pictures that show how the knee pads look once worn:

image

Under ballet pink tights

Under ballet pink tights

I assure you they look much less lumpy from farther away.