Break, Return, Comparing Videos, And A Ballet Movie

Here’s a fun fact: I haven’t taken an actual ballet class going on two weeks. Most of this is owing to the fact that my school – and possibly every school in the surrounding area – is on break until next year. But you know me; I’ve never let that stop me, and school breaks are usually a time to work on my own on the things that are too fast-paced during class (like double frappes, coordinating quick legs with slow arms, and all those other things which make no sense at first in normal-time). But for most of this break, I’ve been resting up, taking it easy. By the end of this past session my body was in serious need of some recovery time. My logical-practical side said to rest, my artistic-illogical side wanted to ballet some more. Being a baby about pain – or the possibility of pain – logic won out, for a bit…

Today, though, I took myself back to the barre. Just my home barre, with Kathryn Morgan’s Easy Ballet Barre on youtube, but it felt so good to dance again. I had to follow it up with the Easy Center video. Depending on how I’m feeling tomorrow will decide if I stay with the Easy videos for the next week or so or go straight into the Classic barre and other more intermediate-level barre and center videos. Even though I’ve been keeping up my strength by doing pilates, my overall stamina has already taken a dip. I’d hate to see how fast it all goes away if I did nothing at all. Same for my flexibility – I felt so stiff, even though I have been still doing some form of stretching, like the aforementioned pilates and the very occasional yoga (don’t get me started on my guilt for pretty much abandoning yoga again…).

I just can’t get over how wonderful it felt to just dance though! And since I hadn’t worked on these particular combinations since the last time I was on break almost 5 months ago, I was surprised to see that they remained in muscle memory, but not only that, I’ve improved since then.  My home studio/kitchen’s crappy floor, however, has not improved. I’d love to have a place to regularly practice when the school’s practice room is unavailable or on breaks, but for now I’ll just be glad that I at least have the practice space I do have.

***

Something cool that came out of the end of the session was some informal performance opportunities. What I especially like about informal performances is the chance to get a video to show my non-dancer friends and family (who will then be totally impressed by the simple fact that this grown up got through an entire dance routine without falling on her derriere and know nothing of techinique), as well as for me to scrutinize. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend seemed captivated by the video, saying I was “very graceful” (!) so perhaps this means my dancing’s ok? My family will be rather amused when they watch it.

I think that video is one of the most useful tools available to gage my progress as a dancer. The obvious reason would be that it provides an objective “memory” of where my dancing skill was around that time. Take for instance, around two years ago; I thought I was getting much better at ballet because I was past the falling over at every instant phase, but I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Now, watching the videos from back then it’s so easy for me to see what was wrong (where to begin!), but at the same time so hard to describe. And very hard to teach, since verbally I mostly respond to anatomical corrections, and there’s more to it than that. I think in the end, the learning method that worked for me was to watch the advanced people, and get the nerve to copy them without being told.

I watch the videos ot only to see the numerous mistakes made, but also  the things I did right. And I guess what it comes down to is, which stick out more to me – will I focus on the failures or successes? While that may feel like a rhetorical question, it is one I ask myself often. It may seem like I don’t have very many successes – at this point in my ballet story I barely have a single pirouette (on a good day), and my technique, once we speed it up, is at times quite sloppy – but I’ll consider the fact that I’m still dancing a success. I love dancing so much, and for the first few years of dancing it definitely didn’t love me back. Perhaps it still doesn’t, but by now I don’t care because I have enough love for both of us… or something like that.

Having new videos made me decide to go back and review all my past videos of performances or rehearsals, to compare as much as to reminisce. It’s been such a fun journey! From back when I knew what I wanted to dance but there was no way I could physically pull it off to now when I still know what I want to do, even if I still can’t do it. But there’s also so much that I can do, and my ballet vocabulary has grown so much.

When I first started ballet, my expectations for myself were low. I mean, I couldn’t hold my balance, so there was no need for far off goals when something simple would be a challenging goal in itself. I dreamed of the day when I’d been able to do more steps without falling over, but I also dreamed of the day when I would feel comfortable in class. I didn’t know which of these things would come first, but there was nothing to do but continue to practice. That continues to be my strategy – just practice. I’m not delusional enough to think that I have “talent” (not sure I even believe in the concept of talent, just a premature maturity/ intelligence, and a physical facility) but I know that I do believe in repetition and dedication, and the unexpected results.

***

Browsing Netflix , I came across a newish dance movie High Strung, another of those ballet/hip-hop fusion movies, this one with the added twist of an amazing violinist on the run from the law. Since I’m always on the look out for a new dance flick, I settled in to watch and it was very entertaining and action-packed.

I found the main character, Ruby, relateable in her struggles with picking up Contemporary (not-so-relateable in that she’s an amazing dancer who can also whack her head with her leg like it’s nothing). There was the stereotypical mean bunhead character, and the dancer who has so much “talent” but can’t be bothered to go to class and would rather stay out all night (ugh, I hate this concept in movies! I feel like it promotes the idea of someone putting in no effort and still coming out on top). Pretty standard dance movie/ tv series, except for the addition of the violinist who plays for tips by the subway tracks and hangs out with a hip hop crew. The dance and music sequences were great, including several battle scenes, both dance battles and violin playing battles. Writing about it is making me want to go watch it again!

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2 thoughts on “Break, Return, Comparing Videos, And A Ballet Movie

  1. asher

    “…[I]n the end, the learning method that worked for me was to watch the advanced people, and get the nerve to copy them without being told.”

    This works really well for me, too. Sometimes it takes me several tries to figure out which body part has to move which way and when, but it gives me a mental video to use as a guide. The neat part is that, after learning this way, one finds that one can explain the “how” when someone else comes along and says, “How do you make your arms do that?”

    I’ve been contemplating the phenomenon where technique falls apart at speed because, as always, petit allegro is my nemesis. I always shoot for precision in my petit allegro, but that makes me slow. Sometimes I think I should learn to just sketch the movements at speed and then, over time, work on developing cleaner technique. It seems that other people do this, and kids do it a lot. Heck, I’m pretty sure that’s what I do with turns and grand allegro.

    You’ve perfectly described why video is so useful. I keep trying to explain it to people; from now on, I’m just going to direct them to this post. 😀

    Lastly, thank you for the reminder of Kathryn Morgan’s videos, and also I might have to check out +High Strung+! I’m with you on the “talented person who can’t be bothered” trope. I think it especially annoys me in dance movies because it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of dance as a skill set. I learned first-hand as a kid that dance is physical and that, after a certain point, if you don’t do the work, talent won’t save you. I think it particularly grinds my gears because it reflects the that vast cultural misunderstanding that allows people to think dancers are physically weak (though I suppose dance is doing is job when it looks so effortless that anyone could imagine that the girl holding an arabesque for 100 years and the boy who subsequently lifts her above his head are weak).

    Reply
    1. kit Post author

      I totally get what you’re saying about being able to explain the how, but I’ve found that other people I’ve explained it to weren’t really getting what I was trying to say. For me personally, in ballet there’s been So many moments when a teacher’s long time correction didn’t kick in until I experienced the feeling firsthand. The concept of ‘lifting up and out’ or ‘reaching energy ot through your fingers’ are a couple I can think of off the top of my head but I know there’s more.
      As for technique vs speed, I’ve found that I’m either ridiculously precise – and slow – or kind of messy. One of my ballet teachers recently said “when you speed it up, you can let go of technique a little bit”, and that has made me feel so much better about just going for it and hoping the technique will carry through in muscle memory.
      Haha, so true that the dancers are doing it right when they make it look so easy! But yes, the myth of the lazy-but-talented-dancer is so irritating. Since I didn’t dance as a kid I didn’t experience it in dance, but I did grow up with the construct that some people were just “talented” or “smart” and since I wasn’t talented/smart enough, why bother. While I don’t believe that anymore, so many missed opportunities…anyway, I wish the importance of hard work in the equation was celebrated – or at least acknowledged – more often.

      Reply

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