Category Archives: fun with ballet

Coming Up With A Title Is The Hardest Part…

Since the last time I wrote on here I’ve had a few really enjoyable classes…

In intermediate, we did this really fun center adagio: developpe croisse devant, cloche  thru to arabesque, go into attitude and promenade with the working leg going into retire by the time the turn is done, and from there developpe out again in ecarte line, bring the foot down into a pique pas de bourre, developpe same working leg in ecarte line, balancé  onto that leg, soutenu, now facing other side, chasse to a fourth position lunge, port de bras/cambre front and back, tendu close, other side. It was so pretty!

We also did tendus to work on our facings: croisse devant, en face, efface devant, close, hold; ecarte derriere, a la seconde en face, ecarte devant, close, hold; efface derriere, en face derriere, croisse derriere, close hold. The confusing part was when we got to derriere, because I wasn’t sure to which side I was supposed to angle my body next, and I ended up doing croisse when it was supposed to be efface. I got it by the last time we did the combination, but it was something I think i should practice more. We do a very similar combination in one of my beginning classes, but in Intermediate it’s about twice as fast – no time to think, just do – which really tries that muscle memory.

In Beginning, we had as center combination of  tombe pas de bourre to both sides, then this new one (to me): tombe backwards, then pas de bourre by closing in front instead of back. It felt weird to tombe backwards, as I’d actually never done that before, but I was so grateful for my improved balance that made it actually do-able and fun.

Also in Beginning we did lots of piques to prepare for pique turns, first at the barre, then in center on flat, then on releve and finally adding the turn. While I enjoyed myself, I was thinking that I would’ve hated to have been an actual, brand -new, several-weeks-into-ballet kind of beginner (like some of my classmates in that class are), which kind of confirms to me that the learning curve expected in these classes is more than I could do with the fitness level – or more like lack of fitness – I had going into ballet. So many of them have a dance, cheer, gymnastics, or sports background  that it is perhaps expected to have such a background, but those of use that didn’t start off with one can really struggle at first. At first, being the operative words – sometimes I feel like my initial struggles did serve to motivate me into working harder, and if so then it was a blessing in disguise.

Speaking of pique turns, I  did my first pique turn en pointe, then I did a few more, but not in a row. What happened was that I started to muscle-memory my way into the second turn, then my brain caught up and I realized what I was doing and when it came time to pique into the turn I just when to demi pointe. I’m annoyed because I think I could have done it, but I wimped out. But at the same time I love it that I actually did a pique turn en pointe! And I piqued onto a straight leg, which I know because an advanced dancer classmate was scutinizing my every move – she even insisted I do it with correct arms instead of just doing nothing with my arms. So far it’s only been to the right, but in general with every thing en pointe for me the left side lags behing the right by about 2 to 3 weeks, like once I become comfortable with something to the right it takes on average for my left to catch up.

I also started working on balancés and pas de basques on pointe. I’m pleased about this because they feel so dance-y and I can start to feel like I know enough steps to put together a dance. Exciting times in my ballet journey!

Since we had break from my regular school, I had the opportunity to go on down to New Studio and take a class there. It was great; the people who showed up that day have been going there for several months so we got a nicely challenging class. Short barre, then right into an adagio in center: developpe croisse devant, close, developpe ecarte, close, developpe to arabesque, rond de jambe the leg back to the front keeping it up the whole time, tendu down to fourth, pirouette en dedans (my fav!). Not only did my adagio-loving self love the combination, but the teacher mentioned that she finds en dedans easier and I was like ‘Yes! Someone understands!’ Haha.

We also did a lot of across the floor. Tombe, pas de bourre, chasse to arabesque, pirouette en dehors, pirouette en dedans, repeat, first at a slower tempo, then in double time. Then lots of waltzing and this really cool combination in which we did a saute arabesque and landed into a balance en tournant, then repeated, all the way around. We went in a circle around the room for this one and it was so awesome, like we were a corps de ballet gliding across a stage. Good times.

***

There is something else that happened that made me happy, but I feel weird just saying it, so first some background: I am extremely socially awkward and have anxiety over it. Like, you wouldn’t believe how socially awkward I am, and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. You know those situations when two people find themselves in the same place, in each other’s way, and there’s this hesitation/pause, kind of like you’re deciding who gets to go first, and then ultimately you always let the other person go out of awkwardness? Yea, that’s me, pretty much every moment that I come across anybody… (Strangely enough, I don’t have this issue while driving, go figure)

I think I wrote on here over a year ago about how one of the most challenging aspects of ballet is when we come out to center and we have to line up and I struggle with that because I don’t know where to put myself – like I start going for one particular spot but then I think someone else wants that spot and my first reflex is to let them have it, to avoid a “confrontation” (put in quotes because while the intelligent/logical side of my brain knows it’s not, the traumatized/scared side of me thinks it is, and self-preservation, and yea…). Well, now it’s been years of training in ballet – 4 years to be exact – and I still have this issue; I’ll “back down” to people who are brand new beginners. It’s not that I don’t want to be in the front – let’s be honest, I do – or that I don’t know the combination and need someone to follow, because by now I’ve actually gotten decent at memorizing combinations, especially beginner level ones; it’s that I’m terrified of the potential drama, and I feel guilty, like I’m taking someone’s spot. One of my teacher’s said something along the lines of ‘with ballet, you have to stake your territory’ and I felt so depressed because if that’s the case, well, I’m kinda screwed…

Anyway, in one of the last classes I took, we were lining up to do pique turns across the floor. I was ready for the more,ummm, assertive, I guess, people to crowd the front as usual, but then one of my classmates said to me “You should go first – you’re more advanced.”  !!! I can’t even describe how pleased I was! This probably makes me sound like a weirdo (but let’s face it, if you’re still reading you probably already knew that about me) but I felt so validated – like someone has noticed my hard work.  I mean, in a different class I took recently, someone crowded me out of the front and they didn’t even know which leg to start on (and I’m not saying any of this to be mean), and this makes me feel like I’m not taken seriously as a dancer. Like no matter how much I advance I’ll always be the person that gets pushed around… and, being honest, I feel that it has to do with the fact that I don’t *look* like a ballet dancer. So this little moment was very refreshing and still brings a smile to my face,

A Pointe-less Class, Great Week, And Some Firsts

Though by no means pointless… I don’t think I’ve ever taken a pointless ballet class…always learn something new…

This past week was a little different. To start off, the night before the first class of the week after I finished resewing my ribbons on my pointe shoes, I somehow I misplaced one of my toe pads. I then searched everywhere, literally everywhere, for them, because I knew I hadn’t been outside so they had to be somewhere, but they were nowhere to be found. After combing the area repeatedly I finally resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to be able to do any pointe work the next day. Though I was disappointed, I wondered how it would feel, as it would be my first class in over a month  that I didn’t wear the pointe shoes for at least barre.

It felt…hmm how to explain…not easier, but ‘why is this not more uncomfortable?’ I guess. Like when we did an eleve in all the positions during the plies combination, I pressed up to releve and then felt ‘is that it?’, like I knew that I could press up even higher. Springing up into sous-sus to soutenu for the second side didn’t have that extra challenge that I’ve grown to like. However, when we held a balance in retire on releve, I let go of the barre and actually balanced for a good 10 seconds! I think all my attempts at balancing on one leg en pointe (I always at least attempt it) have been helping. For comparison, last fall I was a little unconfident about letting go of the barre on one-legged releve balances, though I could balance in passe releve in center.

Afterwards, I went by the dance store expecting to get the Ouch Pouch to replace my lost one, and instead got shoes (I wrote about this a couple days ago) when I found my missing pouch.  I figured I’d just saved $20, so I could apply that towards the cost of the shoes…Anyway, the rest of my classes this week were with my new shoes.

First off, these shoes feel completely different. And by different, I mean much better. From the beginning I noticed that it was much less pressure when up on only one foot en pointe. But once I used them in class I immediately noticed that I was able to balance so much easier in first and second (I usually don’t have a problem balancing in sous-sus). Though barre went well, my first day wearing these shoes I only kept  them on for barre. Since when I wear pointe shoes for center I’ve been doing one-leg rises on demi point, I didn’t think these shoes were ready.

The next day, I decided to leave them on for center. We were working on a tendu combination using facings (since it is a Beginner class, we usually just face front, except for the more intermediate options for combinations). It was 2 tendus, 1 grand battement, first croisse, then ecarte, and efface derriere with port de bras in between, passe releve bringing the back leg to the front, tombe on front leg, pas de bourre, sous-sus. It was a nice combination and I was really excited because except for the passe releve I did the whole thing en pointe! Well the parts that involved rising, the pas de bourre and the sous-sus. Good thing I’ve been practicing my pas de bourre while facing the barre over and over and then stepping away from it a few inches because there’s no way I would have just one day decided that I was confident enough to try this in center without all that preparation.

We did a waltz-y combination: balancé x2, balancé en tournant x2 (this was a different balance en tournant than what I’ve done most commonly – in this one we turn  towards the direction we’re going and it takes 2 sets of three steps to complete the turn, I’m used to turning in the opposite direction of the direction we’re going and the turn taking 3 steps. And no, this was not traveling waltz en tournant, which we did do in a different combination), tombe, pas de bourre, piroutte en dehors, repeat starting to the other side.

The traveling waltz combination was 4 waltz en tournant, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, temps lie back to tendu, pirouette en dedans. It was really fun, because at this point I’m comfortable with waltz en tournant and that’s something that I wanted to get to, a medium-term goal you might say (the first time I ever tried an Intermediate class, one of the combinations had waltz en tournant, and as I fumbled and stumbled my way through I was just thinking ‘I want that!’ watching the more advanced dancers glide across the floor). Since I had my pointe shoes on, the pirouettes weren’t so great, since I only go up to demi pointe and was a little afraid of the amount of momentum I picked up.

Petit allegro was glissade, jete, pas de bourre, jete, ballote x2, pas de bourre, royalle, other side. This combination was pretty challenging for me, more so than the past few week’s combinations even though this one didn’t really change direction of travel. After the ballote I seemed to freeze for an instant before remembering the pas de bourre whereas last week’s transition to into saute arabesque seemed more fluid. I feel like I could really improve on this combination if we stuck to it for more time though. Unfortunately, since this was the last week of the session, we won’t…

We did emboites across the floor, first bringing our legs forward, then back. While my emboites to the front feel less weird, the ones to the back, just no…such an awkward movement! Well, at least it felt better than the last time I’d tried them. Then we did the forwards traveling ones and ended the last one in assemble. That was fun and the one that ended with the assemble to the right looked pretty good. To the left it looked funny…story of my ballet life LOL.

After this we did temps leve (saute arabesque), faille, pas de chat x2, and then this little skip (on the left leg if going to the right) with the other foot in coupe before repeating across the floor. I really enjoyed this combination once I got the pattern, but it frustrates me that my second leg in the pas de chat tends to lose its turnout. Then Teacher let us get in groups and make an across the floor combination with our group. We came up with saute arabesque, saute passe, saute arabesque, faille, pas de chat x2, glissade, assemble which was so fun (and of course I messed up the ending to the left).

Wrapping up the week (and session), we got the opportunity to do something I’d been  longing to try for a long time – partnering.  It’s a rare opportunity, but we actually had enough guys to attempt this (it wasn’t mandatory to participate). First we started by them hold us by the waist while standing behind us and shifting our weight forwards, backwards and to the sides. I don’t know about for my partners (I got to work with two guys!) but for me this took so much effort. Like I was engaging everything as hard as I could.  Then we faced our partners and they walked around us for a promenade. After this we first went up to passe releve to test out our balance and then we did pirouettes. With pirouettes it was tricky because our partner has to step back so we don’t knee them by accident, and then step closer to catch us for the balance at the end. With one of my partners it wasn’t really working out (he’s around my height when I’m standing completly flat, so don’t know if that was a factor), but with the other guy we got some good balances at the end of the pirouette. While it was fun, it was so hard though – I can only imagine how it’d be so tiring to do a whole pas de deux!

I’m hoping…that maybe it’s something that I don’t have to just imagine…I know it’s a more complicated goal than my usual (because all my improving-at-ballet goals just involve me) but I would really love to dance a pas de deux. I’m often reluctant to publicly express goals that I feel are highly unlikely to come true, but what the heck…what do I got to lose, you know? Before I felt even dumber about it, because I wasn’t even sure if it was something I really wanted to do, and making sure that it wasn’t just the idea of it that I liked. Just like how the first time I tried on a pair of pointe shoes I realized that this was something I really wanted to do. So yea, I guess let’s see what happens? (Yes, I feel incredibly ridiculous right now…but to be fair, before the idea of me going en pointe would have seemed ridiculous, so who knows what’s possible)

Speaking of pointe, this week I unlocked a couple of acheivements (for the longest time, Husband was such a gamer that we still talk about things in this household in terms of ‘unlocking achievements’, ‘leveling up’ and ‘spending our XP/MP points’ on different things…umm yeah, anyways): besides the pas de bourre in center that I mentioned earlier, I also got over my fear of doing a pique (specifically arabesque, but once I got going I did some into a passe traveling a la seconde) in center. While I didn’t try it, I almost felt like I could have done a pique turn, I was stepping into the pique by doing the little rond de jambe that preceedes turns and everything. I don’t know whether all my practice at the barre has been paying off or is it that my feet work so much better with these shoes. Perhaps both? I will say that with these shoes I’m able to actualy feel how my feet are pointed in the shoes as I’m up en pointe and I love the feeling. I’d read before somewhere that one should use the least amount of padding as possible to really “feel the floor”. I wonder if that is a different way of explaining the feeling that is the differnce between these new shoes and my old ones (with the built in cushions)?

And finally, some pictures if you’ve made it this far.

First my coupe derriere en pointe

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Left foot

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Right

A Picture is worth 1000 corrections…

Note to self: lower side arm! (No I'm not holding on to anything, but the angle kind of sucks)

Note to self: lower side arm – a lot! (No I’m not holding on to anything, but the angle kind of sucks)

Back In Class In The New Year!

This week was my long awaited return to real ballet class, instead of the youtube video kind. I’d missed going to class so much! This session, my school’s only offering Beginner level, but since it’s the short session the classes are much longer (slightly over 2 hours!) and daily during the weekdays (unfortunately, due to other responsibilities, I’ll probably only be able to make it 3 times a week though). I haven’t taken a short session class with Teacher before, so it’ll be interesting to see how the difficulty level picks up as the session progresses.

Class went well the first day. Teacher sent me to the wall barre with the other intermediate (!) level people (I know, I almost can’t believe it myself) so that we could work with one hand on the barre while the newer people did the exercises facing the barre. We did plies, slow tendus, degages, releves, eleves and prances, and rond de jambe combinations at the barre. Then we stretched, swung our legs en ballancoire and got off the barre for center.

Being at the wall barre is a little strange still. We don’t get to see ourselves in the mirror, and there’s no barre to put away since it’s stationary. But the lack of mirror space might make it easier to not overuse the mirror, so I guess that’s the upside.

Center was fun. We did an adagio port de bras (port de bras right arm, left arm, plie, releve balance, temps lie a la second right, temps lie a la seconde left, grand plie, repeat other side), then lots of ballet walks across the floor, followed by a short combination (ballet walk x3, hold in arabesque, lift the leg off, plie on supporting leg, and pas de bourre, repeat other side). We then did chasse gallops across the floor and a saute combination (4 in first, 4 in second, 4 in first, 2 echappes). Teacher then gave the option of a faster tempo group, and doing changements instead of sautes in first. Class finished up with a lovely reverance.

So, afterwards I asked Teacher how she would feel about me taking barre in pointe shoes (it was a different teacher who’d told me I was ready for pointe, but I really trust Teacher’s opinion, and I’ve taken class with her so much over the last couple years that she knows my weaknesses and strengths, and she always pays attention to my alignment in class). She asked me if I’ve done pointe work and I told her that I’v mostly been doing eleves and releves at home with my home barre. She told me to bring my shoes the next day so she could look at them. I was so nervous the rest of the day! There was the problem of logistics – at home I like to wear my pointe shoes over my bare feet (with the ouch pouch) and for class I usually wear my footed tights. I decided to wear some footless leggins under my leotard and my pink tights on top, that way I could remove them if necessary.

The next day, I took my shoes. I was worried that Teacher would have an issue with the ribbon color not matching the shoe perfectly (she was ok with it), but she just had me put the shoes on and roll up to pointe. She said I was getting over the box (yay!) and then when I took them off she told me about how she would sew the ribbons on her pointe shoes and how to flatten the box a little to make it more comfortable. Ok maybe that happened before I put the shoes on, I don’t remember as I was so nervous and excited at the same time. She said I could start that same day, so I ran off to the changing room to peel off the footed tights and tape my second toe before class started.

When I took my place at the barre, I brought along my slippers and a pair of socks in case I didn’t make it through the whole barre on pointe (spoiler alert: I made it!). Teacher had said I could do barre facing the barre if I wanted but I ended up doing the plies, tendus, degages and rond de jambe combinations with one hand on the barre (well, to be completely accurate, I attempt to do them with my hand slightly off the barre for the added challenge except for the actual rise on pointe in which I rest my hand lightly on it). I faced the barre, as did the whole class, for the releve combination (releves, eleves, prances, forced arch stretch, hold balance with no hands in releve in both parallel and first) and was able to get a nice balance up there for both parallel and first. In between combinations I worked on rolling up to pointe and slowly rolling back down, and afterwards, in that little time-space between barre and center I did some bourres at the barre before changing into my slippers for center. Even though I can hold my balance up on pointe on two feet without holding the barre, I’m still not brave enough to bourre without the barre. Maybe by next week…or is that too optimistic?

I really enjoyed taking the barre on pointe though. I especially liked the feeling of resistance when doing the slow tendu combination (tendu to demi pointe, full point, demi point, close, plie, x3 en croix) and having to work through the shoes. And my feet feel so much stronger already (I think I said that in a recent post, but even more now). I was working on my balances on releve on demi point at home, and I noticed that I can get up now even higher and feel almost like I’m suspended in the air. It was a strange but awesome feeling. Basically, I was up on releve and then I was thinking about how if I had my pointe shoes on I would have to press over the box, so I went up on releve even higher, almost forward – as if to press over the imaginary box – and at first my weight almost pitched forward too far (sigh, top heaviness) but I stabilized with my core  and suddenly, all those correctons about having your weight forward made perfect sense and I was just balanced perfectly. So then of course that’s all I wanted to do for the next five minutes or so…

Ok, I’m not even going to downplay it – it was an amazing ballet week! I am so happy, and so grateful for everything; to my Husband for being extra  supportive and giving me this final push to just get the shoes already and follow through on this, to Teacher giving this opportunity to do pointe work in her class (my school doesn’t have a dedicated pointe class, so any pointe work is at each individual teacher’s discretion). And yes, even grateful to my friend who let me try on her shoes and opened up the possibilities.

(As much as I want to just end on a good note, there is something somewhat ballet-related that is upsetting me but I’m not ready to write about it in detail yet. I don’t see the point of whining about how different people have different strengths and how there’s some things I just can’t do (maybe at the moment, maybe ever) if I’m doing nothing about it – and no, it’s not a particular step or anything that might just take more time and practice (so mysterious, lol). As it relates to a goal of mine, I feel I need to do a lot of soul-searching and realize if I really want to do this (and everything it entails – the good, the bad, the ugly… or if it’s just the idea of it that I want. Perhaps I’ll go into this in depth in a later post, if I don’t feel too ridiculous about it…) In the meantime, I cheered myself up by beginning to  work on two variations that I hope to perform at the end of the spring session.

An Unintended Consequence…

of going en pointe is that my mom umm…likes me a little bit more.

Ok, sounded mega-pathetic. Let me backtrack – my mother was blessed with not one but two daughters who, to her chagrin, just could not care less for “girly” (ugh, hate using that word – it’s as if to say that me not having an affinity towards certain things makes me less of a girl, or now, woman) things such as shoes, clothes or style. Even though my mom tried getting me into uncomfortable “cute” shoes and unpractical “fashionable” clothes, I much rather have comfortable sneakers, skater shoes, or running shoes (or my regrettable flip-flop days long past…) and a T-shirt, jeans or leggins. Unfortunately, in her quest to make me more “feminine” (once again, ugh for stereotypes…) she never enrolled me in ballet, but that’s another story…

Anyway, when I showed my parents a short video of me doing eleves, releves and echappes en pointe at the barre, my mom said something like ‘you’ve been wanting those shoes for a long time, haven’t you?’. And she looked…proud. Not because of my moves, but because I admitted to wanting the shoes. Weird, but I’ll take it.

I decided to not ruin her moment, not clear it up that to me they are tools, not fashion accessories. I mean, I’m happy – let the lady be happy, too.

(For the record, for the most part my family is super supportive of my dancing ever since they realized that ballet isn’t Just A Phase, about …maybe a year and a half ago…)

 

2016 – My Year In Review

Wow, what a year! Perhaps not the best ever for me, but it’s up there. Definitely the best since I started ballet, thought there were some rough patches. Contrasts – it wouldn’t be good without the bad, beauty without the  beast the ugly. But altogether, I am content, I am happy.

Looking back over my last two Year Review posts (something about the end of the year puts me in a reminiscing kind of mood), I almost feel like I have nothing new to say.  In 2014 I started ballet-blogging, and even though I’d been doing ballet for  a year then, it was around then when it had started to make sense, rather than just being repetition for strength building sake. 2015 was the year that I went from 2 – maybe, rarely, 3 – classes a week to 5 or 6 and showed much improvement. It was also my first time perfoming, my first year having lots of fun dancing instead of just trying to stay on my feet. Compared to that, it seems like now it’s just more of the same.

Wait, I did just get those pointe shoes last week…like I said, it’s like I almost don’t have anything new to say…(oh my gosh, I love my new shoes so much!!!)…let’s see what this year will hold, but I will say that the last couple of weeks have been fun.

Anyway, this year I did two different “official” shows with my school, as well as more than a handful (seven, to be exact) of performances for the class (which don’t count as a show to me, but they’re an excellent opportunity to get a video). Of those, 4 were choreographed by me, of the others 2 were based on existing choreographies on youtube and one was a collaboration.

I started hip hop dance, and discovered that I am absolutely terrible at it. As terrible as when I started ballet (except that at least I’m not falling over constantly), and while it was awkward, I had lots of fun. Still dreaming about making that fusion choreography – maybe this next year (ok, perhaps that’s too ambitious, even for me, but hey, sometimes you really do got to dream big and be surprised.)

In ballet class, I continued to work on my technique, as well as my artistry (oh gosh, that almost sounds so pompous… like I’m taking myself too seriously… next I’ll be saying I’m an artist). While I’ve learned to keep my head up, I continue to struggle with what my teachers call my “external focus” – apparently I have a tendency to go into my own head instead of focusing on something there in the room. This will be something that I will continue to work on this coming year. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but I have a feeling that my troubles with spotting are related to this, so if I ever want to have any hope of multiple turns (and not just by using excessive force) I better get on that.

Speaking of multiple turns, this year I did my first double pirouette n dehors. Sadly, although I did more than one that day, it was an isolated incident. Refer to spotting issue mentioned above…

I have steadily been improving though. My balances on releve on one foot have gotten longer and more frequent, My jumps off one leg have become  more powerful. I keep up more and more in petit allegro (until we get to those sissones en croix, then I lose it). And the promenade in attitude with allonge up to releve – possibly the step I struggled with the most last year – finally became a reality (in fact, developpe devant, cloche to attitude derriere, promenade in attitude, allonge in releve has become one of my go-to sequences.

On the not-so-improved side of things, my beated jumps still don’t have much of a beat to them. And then, there was that time when I quit ballet for a couple weeks last spring – that was definitely the low point of the year for me.

My skill level has gotten to the point that I can pinpoint what I’m doing wrong, and how to fix it (at least in theory; whether I can actually fix it in practice with my current strength level is another story). But I keep working on it – like I’ve said before, I believe in practice, repetition, and muscle memory. Just to clarify though, I don’t simply practice for the sake of improving, but because dancing (paricularly ballet, since I am a mess in all other styles of dance I’ve tried) makes me feel so alive. Why wouldn’t I want to do it all the time? As someone who’s not, who never has been a “talented” person in life, I feel like there’s finally something that I can be proud of, something that I’ve poured my effort, my heart, my soul into and gotten results. Sure, I’m not “good” compared  to a pro, (or a pre-pro)  but I’m good for myself, and that’s enough for me.

On the not-dance-but-still-movement side of things, this year I became a certified Pilates instructor. While my passion remains ballet, pilates has been such a huge help in this process; without pilates I would never have come this far. So I hope to share some of my enthusiasm for both of these things in the coming year.

So, sending off the year – and looking forward to the new one – with a lovely picture taken by my little sis.

Ballet pose and a bright blue sky - my kind of day

Ballet pose and a bright blue sky – my kind of day

(I will choose to ignore that not-so-turned-out working leg and instead focus on my back, haha)

Finding A Balance…

To change one’s mind is to grow – I heard that once, and hope that to “grow” implies to change towards the better…not talking about negative growth, or worse, some kind of exponential decay…

I consider myself a complicated person, and what makes me tick is complex. Things such as following tradition blindly, because it’s “the next step”, because everyone’s doing it – or wants to do it – or “because it’s pretty” alone are not what makes me spring into action at my wise(r) (not-so)-old age. In  fact, sometimes these things have the effect of creating  resistance, as I instinctivly clutch to my individuality  – sometimes to my detriment. I wonder, what would have motivated me? Perhaps If somone would have told me that it feels like you’re about to levitate, just take off in flight.

What on earth am I blabbing about? Well, um… I guess what I’m trying to say is… I sort of went en pointe.

I know, I know,, I said I was not going to go for it, and I sincerely meant it. I could have listed off any number of reasons why not: it was not even one of my goals when I started ballet; I’m not a pre-professional student; they’re so expensive (especially if I went to the dance store everyone recommends); it’s an ongoing commitment; it’s a pretty big risk considering I may not even be able to get up on pointe physically; my second toe is my longest, and tends to curl; if I fail (meaning not able to even go up) it’ll be so wasteful (both money and a sad pair of usused shoes sitting there); the list went on and on. I told myself that since it wasn’t like it had been a life long aspiration, I just wouldn’t bother with it… but I’m not gonna lie, the curiosity remained. (For the record, I was okayed for pointe by a teacher over a year ago, and I’ve been taking classes at the same frequency or more since then, so no worries about not being physically ready.)

But then, a friend let me try on her used shoes. The curiosity had been gnawing at me for some time by this point, and there was no way I was going to pass that chance up! So I slid them on, faced the wall, got into first position, and pushed up into a releve… and kept pushing… higher and higher. I didn’t get over the box, I don’t think, but that feeling of being suspended up higher than ever before as I pushed, I coudn’t stop thinking about it. I obsessed over the next time I would get to try her shoes, decided that next time – hopefully there would be a next time! – I would go for a balance. The first time I had been so excited that I forgot to even try for a balance.

Waiting was agony. I continued to replay the feeling in my head. My resolve to not go for my very own pair weakened. I realized that if I’m just going to be obsessing over it in my head without giving it a chance, well, that was just going to set me up to be miserable and bitter.  Obsessing over whether I should or not and the implications was turning into one huge waste of energy! Something I struggle with immensely in life is moderation, and not knowing when to stop – it can manifest as either perfectionism or an addictive personality. It can be such a problem that I often err on the side of abstaining (‘perfect abstinence is easier than perfect moderation’, a quote that I wouldn’t say I live by, but refer to often – it’s saved my life. Without it, I would not have ever even found dance. I remember life before and it was a dark place of hopeless despair) to simplify things. But I have to understand that if I do this once, my head – or reality – will not implode. If I make this somewhat selfish decision (selfish because there are other financial obligations that we have, and I can’t put this one into the category of “needs”) my life will not turn into a rampant orgy of mindless consumerism. If I decide to go for this, it will be a true test of my commitment to…everything. (Don’t expect this to make sense to anyone, lol. Why can’t a purchase of shoes just be a purchase of shoes?! yeah, yeah…)

I figured out ways to tell myself that it will be ok. I’ll try to get cheap (relatively speaking) shoes, I’ll be extra careful during the fitting to make sure I’m getting a pair that I can tolerate (I realize trying them on and doing a few releves may not compare to using them regularly – or it might since I’m planning on sticking to barrework for now, and for a while) and not let the salesperson bully me into the wrong pair. I’ll take good care of them, let them dry out between uses. I’ll go at my own pace, not have any unrealistic goals or expectations. I did some research, much that I still remembered from back before I’d decided this wasn’t even an option.

So Boyfriend Husband said ‘let’s go get you those shoes right now’! And by total coincidence I ran across this coupon I had to a dance store, so that about settled it.  Once at the dance store, I headed over to the floor display of shoes, grabbed some that looked big enough, and was in the process of trying on the second option (the first was much too big, the profile was too high), when a salesperson came over. I explained that it was my first pair ever, and hopefully showed that I knew what I was doing by discussing things such as the profile of the shoe and width of the platform (research!). He brought out different pairs of shoes for me to try, and I went up to the little barre to try them out.

As it happened, the second shoe I tried (Freed, didn’t get the model) fit great, but since my feet are apparently almost a whole size in discrepancy from each other (of course something like this would happen, like it’s not bad enough my second toes are the longest) it would have meant buying two different pairs. I don’t know why my mismatched feet mattered so much with the Freeds compared to the other shoes I tried. All I know is that with these the larger pair fit my left foot perfectly, but was falling off my right, and the smaller pair fit my right, but I just could not get my left foot into it (it was a total cinderella stepsister moment). With the other pairs of shoes I tried, the difference between the feet felt more subtle,

Speaking of which, what else did I try? Immediately after the Freeds I tried this horrible pair with a narrowd platform that felt slippery like rollerskates (didn’t catch the name, just wanted them off!), then several models of Blochs (including the ones I ended up getting, the European Balance), and then, per my request, Gaynor-Mindens. When I first came to the decision of getting point shoes, I strongly considered GM’s because of the durability of the shank. However, I was skeptical from the beginning, because I know one of my favorite – and trusted – teachers is not in favor of beginners/first timers starting pointe in these shoes, and I’d heard that they sort of “prop” you up on pointe. Whether this is true or not I didn’t get to find out because as soon as attempted to put  on the first pair my feet were like ‘No! These are not the right shoes!’, it was that much of a reaction. So the guy brought me a second, slightly bigger pair so I could at least walk over to the barre and try them. So I did, but they were still really uncomfortable and they hurt. I mean, i realize this is not supposed to be comfortable, but since I knew how the other pairs of shoes felt I didn’t want to settle for more pain than necessary. So I got the Blochs, since getting two different sized pairs of Freeds to match the mismatched feet would have been unthinkable…now I’m wishing I wrote down the model in case – if these Blochs are worn until shoe-death, of course – I do stick with this long enough to feel like I’ll use both shoes of each pair. And sometimes the dance store runs buy-one-get-one-half-off sales…far off in the future, of course.

The shoes!

The shoes!

 

To keep costs down (yes, we got the Ouch Pouch – an additional $20), I decided I would reuse the elastics from an old pair of ballet slippers. Now, as for the ribbons, I kind of ran into a problem. We hit up the fabric store and not only is nylon thread extremely hard to find, but all the ribbons were the wrong color. So much selection, so many colors and not one of them was close to ballet pink. Don’t want to use the “c” word here, but it seems really odd to me that the only way to get ribbons that color is through a dance store (or online, but still, through a dance brand). Well, what am I going to do? Use what I found!

Sewing the ribbons was not fun. I don’t care how much the irritating lady in the video chirped on about it being a rite of passage, and blah blah, I just wanted to get them ready to wear. Still, it took m over two hours to get them sewed.

Pinki really wanted to help...

Pinki really wanted to help…

So that was my story of how I came to find myself on pointe. For what it’s worth, I will say that I don’t regret this. Just doing slow eleves in parallel and first at the barre is amusing me for now. As this is all uncharted territory, I don’t have any goals yet; I know it may be a very long time, if ever, before I can actually dance in them. It’s weird, but I don’t see it as the ‘next step’ in ballet so much as a different, but related, hobby. I’m still very enthusiastic about dancing on flat shoes, while at the same time I’m enjoying the feeling of just pressing up onto pointe. And holding yourself up there, every muscle engaged – it’s such a workout! At a minimum, I’ll get stronger and my releves on flat slippers should improve.

With a tube sock over the shoes to keep them clean

With a tube sock over the shoes to keep them clean

 

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!