Category Archives: home ballet practice

Super Short Update: Practicing & Pointe

As my regular school’s still on break until Monday, I continued to practice at home with the help of the friendly internet. For barre I alternated between Kathryn Morgan’s Barre For Balance And Core and Pointe Barre videos (not on pointe). For center, I did the Easy Center and Classic Center videos by Kathryn, as well as a new video I discovered, Strength Building Center Pointe Combos (also not on pointe) by Ballerinas By Night, which I like because it had lots of echappes and sous-sus. Also, since I’ve done some of these videos so many times that I have memorized the combinations, I like to use the music to make some of my own combinations up and do them.

As for pointe, I’d be lying if I said that I was able to stay away from them once  they were finally sewed correctly. So I’ve been doing some barre work, eleves and releves, and the exercises I’ve seen on videos (like rolling through the feet and tendu, point, and push over the box) and … well, I love it. I am so surprised because before I tried it I had no idea I’d feel this way. I discovered how to tape my toes to reduce the curling tendency of my longest, second toe and while I wouldn’t say it’s comfortable, it’s quite bearable. Of course, that’s on two feet – on just one it’s more difficult (obviously). Which reminds me, I should start doing 1 footed eleves with no barre (without the pointe shoes) for additional strength. Speaking of strength, ever since I started working with the shoes my demi-point balances feel so much stronger, like now I’m really  getting up over my first and second toes and my ankles are aligned better than before. It even looks like I can point my feet more!

While I’ve been having a blast with ballet by myself, I am missing the class environment. In particular I miss grand allegro-type combinations, since I don’t have that kind of room to work with at home. I found a playground to do a tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, grand jete and saute arabesque, saute coupe, but it’s just not the same…

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!

More Videos, More Classes, Still Not Remembering

This week I kept up the same routine of 3 classes at New Studio, supplementing with Kathryn Morgan youtube classes. This was my first week of summer vacation proper (last week was technically finals week, but I’d finished early), so I had more time to do even more video classes. I also found and did a few Pilates video classes, because unlike ballet which I just want to do every day – no excuses or motivation needed – I actually need that extra push to get off the couch and get my work out in. Don’t want to lose the strength I’ve gained, but even then I don’t feel so motivated, so I’m really glad to have discovered the world of youtube videos!

Classes at New Studio went well. I really like how NS Teacher gives plenty of hands on corrections, but at the same time there vibe feels laid back compared to my regular school. Even on the day when there was some way more advanced dancers there it still felt laid back. I also like how if there is a huge gap between the most advanced dancer there and the most beginner she’ll give us different levels of the same combination across the floor. This is a skill that I think it’d be nice if more teachers had, the ability to tailor the class to the different levels there (too many teachers seem to either cater to the most advanced or the most beginner, leaving us middle students either lost of unfulfilled).

Combinations I remember were across the floor temps leves (saute passe, saute arabesque)x3, chasse, tour jete, chasse, tour jete, pirouette en dehors, sous-sus, run off. Another one was start in B+, step out the back foot and then sous-sus and bourre towards the front foot, then turn while switching feet to repeat the whole thing. This was so fun because even though it was not a hard combination it felt so dance-y, especially when adding the port de bras and stuff. *Boyfriend just interrupted me to say “You were smiling while you were typing that”, LOL*

We did two saute combinations, one slow one fast. The slow one was a good tempo for me,  and really emphasized the plie portion. The fast one had entrechats in it, which I am horrible at, and I saw that my feet were getting not-so-pointed. I haven’t really had any improvements in my beated jumps over the past year actually (not that I had before that either). I don’t really know where to begin on that, I mean do I keep practicing them wrong just to built up strength (but risk building muscle memory of the wrong thing), or am I strong enough but it’s just something in my head (like the fear of landing wrong). It’s possible that I’m strong enough, because I’ve seen people that are weaker than me or get tired quicker be able to do them. I can do more sautes, correctly, than ever before, but when it comes time to add beats it just turns into flexed feet flopping around. Well, for starters I’ll work on my royalle, since that feels easier to me than entrechat.

As for my youtube video classes, this week I once again did the “Easy Ballet Barre” and “Easy Ballet Center” as well as the “Classic Ballet Barre, 2” and “Barre for Turnout” and “Barre for  Core and Balance”. The difficulty of all the barre videos except for “easy” is pretty tough, especially towards the end of the video, but I managed to pull through – with some modifications. Like the part where there’s was something like pas de cheval devant, releve on coupe, then two pas de chevals on releve with a mini rond de jambe en l’air, and repeat on croix, or something like that – I was all over the place. While the difficulty of the videos starts off similar to the Intermediate class I’d been going to, by the end I definitely think it’s at a much harder difficulty.  I am happy that I’m strong enough to be able to do combinations on releve at the barre, but my coordination does go down. Any frappes or rond de jambes while on releve are a complete mess.

As for center, I attempted the “Classic Center” video and, well… I guess it comfirms to me that I am still very much a beginner. Certainly makes my choice between Intermediate and Beginner at the same exact time slot a whole lot easier! I could do the first combination, but after that I was horribly lost. I switched to the “Easy Center” to finish my ballet session – love that video, by the way – but I did take some time later on to sit through the rest of the “Classic Center” class to see what the deal is. So, it seems like the first few combinations are definitely steps  I can do, I just can’t remember what comes next and then I’m behind and catching up sucks. The combinations feel so long! I know if I were to take a few hours and study the videos I’d be able to do the combinations correctly, but doing them immediately after being given them – like in a real class scenario – is currently impossible for me. I don’t think I’ve seen much improvement in this area over the past year either.

The thing I wish I knew the most is, is it because I’m a beginner and I’m still not familiar with ballet (at a little over three years of dancing), or is it because I’m not a child/teen? Like, is it because I’m an adult that I can’t remember a full sequence of steps, or it is just because I haven’t been doing it that long? Are beginner-children/teens better at memorizing combinations than beginner-adults?  By now I’ve proven -at least to myself – that I can take a combination or piece of choreography that’s several minutes long or more, study it at home on my own time for many obsessive hours, and be able to do it in class/rehearsal/ a show, but I am so slow at learning them in “real time”. While I feel like I shouldn’t care, like I should just be grateful that I’ve even gotten to perform at all, I am somewhat upset that my slowness at learning in person may be a big reason why I don’t get considered for longer parts.  If it’s just because I’m still a beginner then I can feel better that it may get better in the future, but if it is because I’m not super young – and I’m not getting any younger – then maybe it’s time to… one of two things: either learn to be grateful for at least getting to do the “beginner”parts, or stop having delusional dreams of performing. I worry that I sound whiny – I’m not whining, I just like to know where I stand, like to know the reasons for things and then see if there’s something I can do about it or not. To know that if I’m failing it is because of things out of my control, not my undedicated lack of trying, or msguided effort.

I also wonder, is learning choreography this way “cheating”? Am I screwing myself up more in the long run? I mean, I get the instant gratification of learning and performing a dance, but then I get even worse at remembering the combinations in class. Is the only way to get better at following along in class to stop doing it the slow, step-by-step video way? Even if that class-only learning style just doesn’t seem to work for me?

As you can see, I’m full of (possibly rhetorical?) questions today…

Classes, Video Classes, And WordPress Problems

My WordPress Reader has been down for a week now (previously when it was down it was only for a few hours, during busier times I guess, and the problem was solved by turning my tablet off and back on), and all my attemps at fixing it have been useless. Also, I can’t access my draft posts, or even my published posts unless I go to my site directly. Since WordPress’ customer service is practically nonexistent (I know about the help forum, but my questions never get answered), I have no idea what to do from this point. I know this is super off topic but, any one out there reading this who’s paying for the premium service (when you get your own url, like http://www.yourblog.com), does that get you a response with customer service or a more user-friendly interface? Although I’d rather save my money, it’s been getting so inconvenient to even write a post – not to mention read other’s posts, which I haven’t been able to access since the Reader went down – that I may consider it if it’s worth it. From the beginning I didn’t want to blog with blogger/blogspot because I’m kind of not a Google fan, but WordPress’ glitchiness is making me regret that.

Anyway, back to talking about ballet…

Over the past week I took several classes at New Studio, as well as some youtube Kathryn Morgan classes on days without class. Since classes at New Studio are much shorter than classes at my regular school (1 hour vs 1 hour and a half) I’m considering doing the “Easy Barre” video on class days as well, if I have time. One of the things about NS is that it’s open level, so the difficulty of class changes depending on who shows  up. So it can be a super-easy-mostly-barre kind of class or an extremely difficult class with petit and grand allegro and lots of long combinations in center. And there’s no way of knowing which it’ll be until we’re about 10 minutes into the class (I really don’t want to play ‘spot the beginner, spot the ex-pro’ beforehand).

This past week it was 2 mostly easy classes and 1 that was a great fit for my current level (in other words, we didn’t have the day when the difficulty gets pushed up extremely). As fas as center goes, the most challenging things we did was a quick combination with balancés (one right, one left), two soutenus right, contretemps, tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, assemble, repeat to other side and a straighforward – if long – saute combination (8 in first, 2 in second, 4 echappes, and 4 changements, repeat). Both combinations went well; I was especially happy to see that me feet stayed pointed thoughout the whole saute combination, and that even though the other combination was fast I managed to stay on it.

We did a lot of work at the barre, working on our plies and turnout. Since I’m one of those dancers that believes in always reviewing the basics no matter what, no complaints here. Actually, I think if I regularly only took an Intermediate level class with no basics thrown in there I think it’d be a disaster for me  – it appears I haven’t been doing ballet long enough to have everything so engraved in muscle memory that if hold up even at high speeds.

Which brings us to the youtube video classes… One day I did the “Classic Ballet Barre 2” video, and while I was fine for the first four or five combinations, by the end I was lost. Which gives me two options of where to go from here: I can either do the same video daily until I memorize it (both in my muscles and brain), but not really feel like I’m at that level because if I was in class and these combinations were thrown at me I’d be lost; or I can do the “Easy Ballet Barre” and just modify it to make it more challenging if needed, like adding arms, or maybe do it in double time (this is that gap between beginner and intermediate that I was whining about in a recent post, popping up again). To be honest, the second option was the one I took last time I gave myself class, but I do think I’ll try both, sort of how I’ve been taking both levels at school. As far as center, I’m still doing the “Easy Center” video, especially because she gives several options for increasing difficulty, and the level reminds me of the end-of-session time in Beginner class with the harder combinations. Perhaps I’ll attempt the “Classic Center” video sometimes soon again and see if it makes more sense to me than the last time I tried it around a year ago.

Ok, more whining about the in-between-beginner-and-intermediate gap: I found out recently that my regular school is going to be having the Beginner class at the same exact time as Intermediate, on purpose (supposedly to keep student dancers in the appropriate level, without the possibility of the time conflict excuse). I think this is a terrible idea! Perhaps I’m being selfish, but I think this does not help the in-between-levels dancer at all. Originally I’d been planning on taking both classes, as I did this past session. But if they’re at the same time I have to choose, and that’s a hard choice. I did ask ‘Have you considered offering a Beginner 2 or Advanced Beginner class?’ and the answer was ‘That would be Intermediate’, which may be true on paper but in actuality is nowhere close – there’s a mile of difference between the end of Beginner and start of Intermediate, as I’ve complained about a million times on here.

Luckily, I still have a couple months to think it over and decide (this is for Fall session, Summer session this year will be just Beginner).

Somewhat related to what I was just saying, in class recently NS Teacher refered to me as an Intermediate dancer and I was so pleased (though I don’t believe her – I mean, clearly I’m not at that level yet – I just think it was relative to the newer people that were there). But still, somewhat encouraging!

New Class, Soreness, And More Crappy Pirouettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Dance-y Fun, And Some Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing That Developpé, A Trick For Balancing, And An Amazing Find

If there was something that I surely got out of my last class this week, it was this group correction from F Teacher: when doing a developpe, after the part when the foot is in retire, bring up the thigh first before the extension (once again, I’m doing a horrible job of describing it, but all I know is that since I started applying this correction my extension – in all directions but especially devant and a la seconde – got much higher). While it makes perfect sense, I had not actually been doing this before. Lift and extend works much better than extend and (try to) lift and the leg feels much lighter. I think NS Teacher had mentioned this before during her class, but it had been during center and I had been focusing too hard for the correction to make it to long term memory. But now it’s definitely stuck in there.

Also, she told us to make sure our weight is not over the heels of our feet, throwing off our alignment (while doing developpes this was said, but F Teacher is constantly reminding us to shift our weight). A suggestion was made that it should feel like we’re going up on releve, except we’re still on flat. While developpes on releve are no problem for me strength-wise (at the barre, and once  I did one one on releve in center at NS), I did notice that after she mentioned this and I started to actively shift my weight forward when doing them on flat. It appears I need to work on doing this all the time as well, and this may have to do with why my alignment is a little wacky on one-footed releve.

R Teacher mentioned to me that I’m not using my core to the fullest, and this may be what is throwing off my balance on pirouettes. Since I did feel that I was using my core somewhat, at first I wasn’t understanding what she meant. It took a practice session with me constantly checking on my side alignment to really understand, and she was spot-on – I appear to be engaging my lats more than my deep lower abdominals, giving me the appearance of my weight being back just a bit. This is something I will be working on during class now that I know what to look out for. This is the part where a beginner class will make you so sore from having every muscle in the body engaged and pulled up.

Speaking of which, something I’ve been doing to help me improve my balance further, especially with little tiny weight shifts and adjustments, is standing on my roller at home. First I would practice doing this up against the wall with my fingertips lightly resting on it, then when that seemed easy  I moved away from the wall and started working on it there. At this point I’m working on doing port de bras while balancing up on the roller. I do think this has helped me with holding long balances because I must be pulled up as much as possible to not lose my balance and fall off.

In center, we did pique sous-sus as preparation for soutenu turns across the floor. My pique sous-sus derriere (en arriere? I don’t know, other than ballet-french, I know absolutely no French) was the most precarious, but I think it may have been because I wasn’t feeling ultra confident about that one. When we did them a la seconde across the floor (like if we were going to turn,  but without the turn) it felt a bit odd because we were closing to the back, so we could do the next pique sous-sus, and if we were turning we would have closed to the front. I adapted quicker than my usual slowness though.

We did chasses across the floor as well, both to arabesque pose and into saute arabesque. So fun! Also these little leaps, not quite grand jetes but like a prance, like we’re skimming across the floor (not emboites).

For sautes we devided up into the men and ladies, for different tempos. (since we actually have like 6 guys during this session) The girl’s tempo was quick, but I think I’ve improved since last summer at keeping up with it. The guys’ tempo was slower, to allow more time for powerful jumps. After each group did the combination twice (sautes in first and second, changements, echappes), we all did the slower tempo. My legs were already tired, but I still enjoyed the slower tempo jumps, as I do seem to prefer jumping up as high as possible rather than staying as low to the ground as I can and still point my feet. I also noticed that my changements are getting more powerful, and I’m starting to see that ‘sous-sus in the air’ as F Teacher puts it.

While out for a neighborhood walk, we saw that one of the neighbors had thrown out a mirror (it had a sign that said ‘Free’ on it. In its previous life, I think it was a closet door.). Boyfriend returned in a car, picked it up, put it on the wall, and now my home barre has a (much larger) mirror to go with it! Oh my gosh, it makes home practice even more fun!

Some pictures of my home-studio-in-progress. Barre is still holding up nicely six months later.

 

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The mirror and barre

 

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With my old mirror next to it in comparison – quite a size upgrade

 

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And I can put the barre lengthwise if I want to get a front view instead