Category Archives: modern dance

Mini-Review: Dance Paws and Capezio Ultra Soft Tights

I’m gonna do a 2-in-1, because if I wait to write these mini-reviews separately it probably won’t get done…

Anyways.

Dance Paws, in the package

Dance Paws, in the package

First up, Dance Paws. These are my first pair of Modern dance “shoes”, or as it says in the package “protection for the bare foot”. While I made it through a year of beginner modern without anything like this, I did notice toward the end of my second session that there was just no way for me to turn more than a half turn in my bare feet since my feet stick to the floor. I tend to have very ‘gummy’ skin, and even if I build up a callus it almost immediately peels off before it gets thick enough. (And I’ve seen, backstage, the aftermath of someone’s callus cracking  *insert horrified face*). As I tend to be resistant of buying new stuff unless I absoutely need it (‘need’ being subjective, since obviously I’m not going to be eating them or living in them…), I made it through the modern classes just doing half turns and dealing with it. But for our performances there was going to be quite a bit of barefoot turning, and the least fun place for a meniscus tear would be on stage in the theater in front of everybody, so off to the dance store I went. I filed it under the ‘cheaper than knee surgery’ category…

That said, these are not cheap! Although they utilize much less material than ballet slippers, they cost over twice as much. Craziness! Especially because they look really simple, like the kind of thing anyone with a sewing machine can whip up in a half-hour, tops. Just a little bit of meshy material, elastic, and a suede (or imitation suede) sole.

Top view, bottom view

Top view, bottom view

Did they work? Yes, much better than I expected. I tried them on in the dance store, but it’s not the same. I tried balancing up on releve a few times, but you can’t really dance around at the store. And since it was cold in our rehearsal room, too cold for me to go barefoot, I didn’t get to  actually start dancing in these until our last dress rehersal already at the theater (which was surprisingly warmer than the studio). And once we started, I didn’t notice them at all. Since I find split-sole ballet slippers to be uncomfortable, I’d been worried that these would feel the same way, but they don’t, they’re much more comfortable. The sole doesn’t get in my way for balancing at all, my turns went well, everything was fine. So yes I would recommend these, though I don’t know how the other brands of modern shoes out on the market compare. (Since trying them on entails sticking your bare toes through the little toe holes, i don’t know if these are a case of you-try-it-you-buy-it. Seems pretty unsanitary otherwise…)

***

Capezio Ultra Soft tights

Capezio Ultra Soft tights

Next up, Capezio Ultra Soft tights. These were a recommendation from one of you readers about a year ago, when I asked about tights that were more durable and didn’t run after one wear (like those awful Theatrical brand tights…). Of the ones recommended, these were the only ones I found at the local dance store so I picked them up back then, but I’d been waiting until I needed a new pair (like a performance) to finally wear them.

In short, I love them! Right out of the package they felt much thicker than pretty much every other brand of tights I’ve tried (that would include Bloch, Theatricals, Body Wrappers, Natalie Dancewear). They fit pretty snug, and I got the size L/XL, so that’s one potential downside (not for me personally – a snug fit makes me feel like a superhero!). While being snug as far as the circumference of the legs (and I’ve posted my leg measurements before in my knee pad post – my legs are not on the larger side at all compared to regular people, apparantly huge in dancer terms), there is plenty of room as far as length, so perhaps sizing is based more on length? I was just glad I followed the height-weight chart in the back and didn’t try to squeeze into the S/M. I got the footed tights, but it’s possible the different styles have  different fit, so if i ever try out one of the other styles I’ll have to remember to update this.

As for the color, these are really pink. I know all pink tights start out life as the pinkest they’ll ever be, and gradually begin the process towards gray, but these did seem even more pink than my last new pair of pink tights (Theatricals). It’s a nice pink though, just a little startling at first.

Don’t believe me? Here’s some photographic evidence:

Clockwise from R: Capezio pink tights (new), Theatricals pink tights (new-ish, Theatrical and BodyWrappers Tights (very used)

Clockwise from R: Capezio pink tights (new), Theatricals pink tights (new-ish, Theatrical and BodyWrappers Tights (very used), feline friend

The Theatrical tights in the center are a pair that I had been saving since our performance last June and barely started wearing recently, so the color has not faded yet. I included the very used tights in the picture to show how grayish the pink tights get after lots of wears and washes. As youu can see, the pink of the Capezio tights is much more vibrant. If the color lasts through washes then these will be the perfect tights! However, I’m planning on putting them away for a  while and just wearing my older tights to class in the meantime in case I need new-looking tights for another performance.

And, just for fun, a ballet slipper comparison picture, featuring another feline friend.

image

When they said “clean the floor with your shoes” for tendus they weren’t kidding…

There was just no way I could get those shoes clean without accidentally scraping pieces off them!

Is It ‘Cause Of The Turnout?

Because I just don’t get it! Having tried out more styles of dance now, I still can’t understand why practically every dancer I personally know claims that out of all the dance forms ballet is the most difficult. I mean, do they mean ‘difficult to do well’? To make it look like it’s supposed to? For people who are naturals at dancing to pick up? Or to do at all (as in, without resulting in bodily injury…)?

(Notice that by no means am I saying that ballet is anything short of extremely difficult. I’m saying that I don’t see how every other genre of dance is presumed to be less difficult or less taxing on the body.)

Well, regardless, I’m not seeing/feeling it…

Recently I auditioned for my school’s next production (multi genre, some ballet pieces). Even though I was only interested in ballet as far as performing, I let some of my classmates talk me into the idea of staying for the whole thing. ‘It’ll be fun!’ they said. ‘It’ll look more ‘professional’ I thought, letting my age show (haha).

The audition started with ballet (luckily, though I didn’t know it yet). We were given a simple, beginner-2-ish level combination (something like ballet walk, pique arabesque, faille, pas de bourre, pas de chat, soutenu, glissade, sous-sus, bourre, soutenu, chasse to arabesque finish), the kind of thing I could sort of do sloppily a year ago, almost do two years ago, and didn’t dream of doing three years ago. The nervousness I’d felt over the audition sort of melted away, and I found myself able to remember the combination pretty well. We went over it a few times as a large group, then split off to do it in groups. We didn’t even have to do the left side  which made this easier than the audition i did last year.

Regardless, many of the auditioning dancers were grumbling. I heard mutterings of ‘This is so hard!’ and ‘I don’t get this’. I assume they were there to audition for one of the other genres?

Anyway, the next lady comes out to give us the combination for the Modern part, and I guess I should have taken the fact that she was wearing knee pads as a sign. She has us start kneeling and I’d say 75% of the choreography involved either kneeling, scooting around on our knees, or rolling on to the shoulders on the floor. Not only that, it was really hard for me to remember the choreography, with the steps being unfamiliar and yes, I did end up reverting to freaking out over why I can’t do the combination instead of focusing on remembering. Around this time I started considering the possibility of sneaking out the back door quietly…

And it’s not that I dislike Modern. I took Modern last year for two sessions, but to be fair I specifically chose to take M Teacher, who only does about maybe 15% floorwork at most (not counting warm up/conditioning). This style of Modern was different. It wasincredibly hard on my body, and I found it difficult to pick up steps/moves (are they called steps when you’re only the floor and there’s no literal stepping going on?) because they seemed to blend into each other, like the roll on the floor that becomes a different kind of roll but at some point the legs swithched so you can use the back leg to push off, and roll some more, andI get lost. Oh, and there was no tempo given – we were supposed to go at our own speed while this recording of static and spoken word played.

After this was what I presume was jazz. The first half of the combination – the part when we were upright – was really quick, but after we’d gone over it a few times I found it really fun. But it was too good to be true, because  then came extremely quick floorwork. It was even worse than the Modern. There was this fall onto the side that looked terrifying, then some rolling on the floor and jump back up only to fall to the floor again, several times. Everyone seemed to not be struggling though, like during the ballet portion. I was starting to feel inadequate, like when I was new, like an impostor dancer, Also, everything hurt. I ended up sitting out the last time we went over it.  Couldn’t wait to get home and collapse in the couch and ice whatever needed to be iced – which at that point was looking like a full ice bath. I wondered if my dismal performance in the other genres had affected my audition for the ballet parts . Hoped that it hadn’t all been for nothing – because I’d have to disagree with the classmate that said It’d be fun… (Yes, I did get into the ballet portion. However, it’s contemporary ballet, so still out of my comfort zone. I’m keeping an optimistic attitude about it…)

I mentioned last time, I’ve also been taking a hip hop class. That, too, is incredibly difficult. If I had started off there instead of ballet I know I would have had a hard time. I mean I get it that the vibe is about a million times more relaxed than in ballet class, but the dancing itself is not easy. H Teacher is very specific about the placement and movement quality, and there’s so many things to think about at once, much like in ballet. At this point I’m mostly still focusing on getting the feet where they need to be, and occasionally the arms – usually a count or two behind. On some days I’m undoubtedly the worst dancer in there, but I still manage to have fun. This may have to do with the laidback vibe or maybe it’s because I don’t love it like I do ballet. Who knows?

As far as ballet, I’ve been taking Int/Adv class with F Teacher, Beginner with G Teacher, and Intermediate with A Teacher, Int/Adv class is predictably very challenging. We do some center combinations in two group, one more advanced, one more do-able. I’m doing so much better as far as remembering combinations, but my petit allegro is nowhere near allegro enough for the faster group. In Beginner class we’re mostly working up a sweat with the super slow tendus, working on technique. Intermediate class is fun because it’s at that  level that fits in between a beginner class and intermediate that I’ve taken before (though the barre work is considerably quicker and more complex than center).

I haven’t been writing on here much lately. I could say “I’ve been dancing all the time I could be writing” – and it’d be somewhat true, I’m dancing up to 6 hours some days – but that’s not it, not the whole truth at least. Part of it is that I feel I have to censor myself, or that I can’t give out details at times because I may be identified. And also, I’ve realized that some of the difficulties I’ve been facing would apply regardless of what activity I’m doing, as long as it’s not a solitary one. Rather than writing about ballet class I feel like I would have been just writing about my inadequate social development, anxiety, unrelatable worries,, and issues – and by ‘writing’ I mean whining, just whining and whining without ever doing anything about it. That ties back into the feeling like I have to censor myself part…like it’s ok to admit to the internet that just how much I sucked at ballet, but it’s not ok to admit that I think I suck at being a person…and how much…

Well, that’s a rather low note to end this on, but I’m starting to ramble and I’m tired. But yeah, I’ll write some more when I can do “cheerful” a little better.

🙂

 

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. 

Down And Up

This week I’ve been feeling down – perhaps burned out or maybe just down, it’s sometimes hard for me to tell. The weather’s turned chilly and wet again, bringing with it soreness and aches. It’s one of the surest signs for me that I am getting older, when I see my decade-younger dance classmates happily skipping through the rain, not bothered by the cold and I can’t (after last year’s slip and fall in the rain, I treat the rain with respect!). One one level I don’t care; I’m doing quite well for my age (and – perhaps more importantly – for myself; certainly a decade ago I wasn’t able to do the things I can do now with my body). For a long time I was worried that I had to keep my age a secret, that if the teachers found out they would think I was a liability risk (most of my classmates at my regular school are in their late teens to very early twenties). Now I start to see the occasional older student, even much older than I, and it’s somewhat reassuring (however, these older students are usually not adult ballet beginners, but returners, and more advanced than me). But then, they usually don’t participate in the recitals and stuff, so I go back to feeling like I need to “fit in” (or at least not stand out from, too much) the younger students. Though I do have the energy to keep up (especially since it appears at a younger age one doesn’t place such a high priority on health and taking care of their body – I know I didn’t at their age…) for the dancing aspect of it, it’s exhausting in the more human interaction aspect of it (some of them act like immature brats, and it takes all of me to just metaphorically close my ears and let stuff go).

Still… things have been bothering me, so if you’ll excuse me I’m just going to whine, rant and speculate for a bit before going into abbreviated class notes.

After Beginner class, a few different more-beginner classmates have approached me to chat (thankfully, due to my introversion and anxiety, one at a time), asking me questions about ballet. Sometimes it’s clarification, like ‘how do you do pas de bourre?’ or ‘how does that center combination go again?’, stuff like that. I’m always happy to answer any questions, and the fact that they are comfortable approaching me with their questions (there’s at least three or four more advanced students than me in the class) makes me feel good. I wish when I had first been starting off there had been someone that I could have approached with questions (yes, I’m aware there’s a teacher, but when you’re too intimidated to ask the teacher, then what? Besides, F Teacher has said numerous times during class that more beginners should observe the more advanced students and ask them questions if they need to.)

I know this is a tricky subject to get into, so I’ll tread lightly, but I think it has to do with feeling comfortable with people that you can relate to. While I mostly fixate on the fact that I’m different because I’m an adult beginner, and I’m rather top heavy, those are not the only things that set me apart from the other more-advanced (or, less-beginner, I don’t know which would be the proper term) dancers in class: I’m also a woman of color and I don’t come from a priviledged background and prior to staring ballet I did not have dance training (because, trust me, starting ballet from scratch is so much more challenging than if you already have a sense of balance).  The girls that tend to approach me perhaps see me as more relatable or less intimidating? We do plenty of bonding over stories of wanting to try dance as a child and not being able to due to finances or cultural factors. I’m happy for them that they are going for their dreams now as a (young) adult, but I do feel the slightest amount of sadness over all the years I wasted doing absolutely nothing once I’d hit adulthood. Oh well, can’t do anything about that, so look forward and keep going…

Anyway, during these conversations the subject of pointe comes up. I’m completely honest with them, telling them that I did not start ballet to get to pointe, that it wasn’t something that I set as a goal. In fact, I tell them that when I started (and realized just how much I sucked at ballet) my goals were as simple as plie and tendu in center without fallling over. They usually reply with something about how I’m decent at ballet now (they say “good”, but let’s face it, I’m not good, it’s just that they’re looking at it through beginner’s eyes), and is it a goal for me now? That’s when I bring up that no, it’s not, I can’t afford it. They don’t seem to understand that it’s more than just the one-time purchase of a pair of very expensive shoes; it would involve trying different pairs until finding one that hopefully feels like I can dance in them, and all the padding and accessories to actually make it possible as I think I suffer from the dreaded longer-second-toe-than-big-toe issue. If it’s enjoyable to someone to go shopping I can see how this may sound fun, but since shopping is something that I absolutely cannot stand doing, I think I would be miserable.  I’m happy to just dance in my flat slippers.

But then, I read a stupid article that states how it’s not ballet without pointe, and how it’s every beginner ballet student’s goal to get en pointe, or else why are you even bothering. So I think, ‘good point, why do I even bother?’ It upset me enough to think ‘maybe I shouldn’t be doing ballet then – perhaps I should do modern, or jazz, or something! After all, according to know-it-alls (who perhaps are technically correct, but still) it’s not really ballet that I’m doing anyway.’ So then I started to feel even more down. I like to measure my successes (is that even a word?) by how far I’ve come from where I started, but it’s only when other people’s expectations get in the way that I feel that in effect I have accomplished nothing. I love to dance, both alone in my kitchen and during class. Can’t imagine giving up this joy that movement gives me, but perhaps I need a little break sometimes in order to miss it.

Then, last night I had a dream that I was in class with one of my teachers (who’s opinion I really respect) and she said something like ‘don’t go en pointe with your feet’ or something like that. I guess I certainly have been fixating on the subject recently…

In an unrelated – yet still ballet-related, somehow – issue, I still have lack of confidence issues. When the more beginner group finishes their center combination and the more advanced-beginners have to run out to center to do theirs, I shy away from the front row. If I may be completely honest, it’s because I worry that even if I can do the combination correctly, the fact that I don’t have this certain attitude (the mental kind, not the position) gives it away that I don’t belong there in front. But, here’s the paradoxical part (and I hope this makes sense), part of the reason I like ballet class is because it’s the only time that I am comfortable looking a certain way, like the way you almost look down your nose at your hand when in arabesque, for example. In ballet class I’m able to … I don’t know how to put it… I guess, carry myself in a way that would just be unimaginable for me in the real world, in a very snobby-looking way or something similar. I am one of the most humble, down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet, so it’s a complete change of character, like acting. I am able to do this once the music starts and I “get into character”, but before that I’m just me, and the contrasts between the two must be quite apparent. As “me” I can’t be in the front, but as the ballet-version of me I could… I realize this all makes me sound like a complete weirdo, but whatever.

I guess just be glad you don’t have annoying thoughts like this getting in the way of your life?

In Beginner class, at barre we did plies, tendus, and degages one after another, going from side to side with soutenus without resting at all in between. I like it, it really gets me warmed up. When there’s too long of a pause between the barre exercises I think it doesn’t get me warmed up quick enough, and trying to ballet while not warmed up feels very sluggish to me, like my legs are heavy (not that I attempt to ballet without being warmed up often or anything, but I’ve noticed during my own practice sessions that when I first start barre I feel almost too lazy to move much, but by degages I’m feeling like ‘yes! let’s do this!’).

Center combinations in Beginner class: 2 demi-plies, 1 grand plie, developpe devant, a la second, derriere, balance right and left, 2 pas de bourres, other side.  More basic option was just 2 demi plies, developpe devant and a la seconde, 2 pas de bourres. I remember struggling with that one when I first started –  I just couldn’t balance on one leg no matter what! It would be like, pick up foot and attempt to coupe, and I would tip over. Then  I would try again and again and would not be able to get it up to retire in order to developpe without falling over and having to bring my foot down, and by this point the group had moved on to the second  developpe and it was so embarassing because I was the only one who couldn’t do it at all. The darkest times in my personal ballet history…

In both Beginner and Intermediate we worked on turns across the floor. In Beginner it was chaines (with hands on shoulders for the more beginner students), just chaines for the more beginners, and chaines for five counts, chasse to arabesque, tendu close, prepare, and repeat all the way across for the slightly less beginner students. In Intermediate we did 3 pique turns, 1 soutenu, chasse into chaines for the remaining counts, repeat. The tempo was really fast, but I think I’ve improved a little since last time we did this. My transitions from pique turns to soutenus to chaines especially seem smoother. I still have the problem of losing my spot when I get too close to the thing I was spotting.

I can’t remember the center combination from Intermediate, but I remember it involved a lot of direction changes, like facing the left in croise and then chasse towards the right, or somehow changing facing to developpe devant to the left croise when we had been facing right. There were promenades in arabesque in there as well, and I actually got around in all of them without falling off balance – this is a first. For a while now I’d had a feeling that I can physically do it, I was just not focusing and really pulling  up, so this confirms it. After the promenade came a pas de bourre and pirouette en dehors from fifth, which I fell out of to the right, but completed to the left.

In Intermediate, we worked on sissones, sissone oueverte to be more specific, and that sucked. The combination was sissone ferme, pause in plie, 2 sissone fermes in quick succession, sissone oueverte, hold balance, sissone ouevert to the other direction, reverse.  I actually like sissone ferme (the regular kind that seem to start and end in fifth plie, even though I realize that if correctly done you land on one foot. But my brain is tricked by the optical illusion that it’s less force on my body for whatever reason so yeah…), especially a la second. To the front and especially to the back they’re still a big challenge for me – to the front my body keeps wanting to do a saute arabesque, and to the back it’s just as complete mess. But still, I enjoy them.

The other kind, the open kind, not so much. It was landing one of these that I hurt myself about six months ago, and I certaily didn’t want to repeat that.  So I approached the exercise rather cautiously, just marking until the last possible second, and closing them a bit sooner than what would be considered technically correct. Of course, that just got me plenty of individual correction from Teacher, as she thought I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do… not what I had intended – so many sissones! One of the more advanced girls who went in the group before mine kept staring at me while I was attempting to sissone correctly and it was so annoying. So I raised my hand and asked Teacher if our back leg was supposed to be bent or straight (advanced girl was bending hers) and she said ‘straight’ – probably passive-agressive of me, but this girl always looks at me like I’m stupid because I don’t have the decade or more of training that she has.

Anyway, I managed to finish out class without getting hurt this time. I don’t know if I’m actually stronger now than I was a few months ago, so I’ll continue to approach these sissones cautiously. A part of the problem is that when I do big jumps I tend to jump really big, and it’s the landing that gets me. Since I didn’t have much experience with jumping at all until I started ballet, it can be difficult for me to jump smaller (this especially gets me in trouble during petite allegro, because I want to make each jump super high and I’m instead supposed to do little quick ones. I prefer the slower tempo that the men use when they do their jumps). If I try to do a little jump I feel like I’m not using enough force to leave the ground and point my feet. Definitely something I need to work on. I think all the little prances and small jumps we do in Modern have definitely been helping in this aspect.

Since I’ve noticed that one of the issues I have is that I tend to lose my turnout when moving quickly, I’m commiting to working more on my turnout muscles. I think the key is to get to the point where I can feel when I’m engaging them, and then I’ll be able to know when I’m not. Hard to explain, but all I know is that at some point I could barely feel my lats, so it was hard for me to engage them. But ever since I began to work on strengthening them (mostly through Pilates), I’m able to feel them so clearly, and this has helped me so much with holding my balance. So I hope to get that way  with my rotator muscles. For now I’m going to do the side-lying rotating opening exercises every day (clams, with the feet on the floor, then the feet in the air, then the legs tied together with a theraband) and see how it’s going at the end of the month (I figured the start of a month would be a good time to set a workout goal).

 

As If Pirouettes Weren’t Hard Enough…

Pirouettes (en dehors) during ballet are still somewhat of a struggle for me on most days. The getting all the way around part, specifically, because for whatever reason half pirouettes are no big deal. It’s the actual turning part, not the balance (ok, I could use some more balance – it certainly wouldn’t hurt…).

But then, in Modern class, M Teacher introduced pirouette preparations last week: just tendu out to second, then close in plie in fourth position to the back, and then spring up to passe (first in flat, then passe releve), while coordinating the arms. The kind of thing I couldn’t do back when I started this blog for sure, but by now has become no big deal – even the releve part. I though ‘cool, now I get more practice on my passe releve in center, yay!’

Then she said to add the turn. The big deal is that in Modern we are barefoot – no ballet slippers, no socks, nothing. So, if I have trouble getting around all the way while wearing footwear, you can imagine how difficult it is with sticky feet grabbing on to the marley. At first I thought, ‘maybe I should really focus on spotting’. So I did for the next turn, and still I can feel the pad of my foot getting stuck while the rest of my body continued on with momentum. Umm, I don’t want to risk twisting an ankle or injuring my supporting knee. So I pulled my legwarmers down a little so they would cover the ball of my foot and did a whole pirouette – yay, the problem’s not me, it’s my sticky foot. Then I got paranoid M Teacher would get upset that I was “cheating”. I pulled the leg warmers back to normal and struggled through a couple more turns.

No idea what I’m going to do about this… as I already mentioned, I don’t want to risk hurting myself. When a fellow classmate asked “What do we do about our feet sticking?”, M Teacher said something along the lines of “Get some dirt on your feet!”. Uh, ok, I guess? Except my feet already come out of this class plenty dirty, so no idea what else to do.

I guess the good news in all of this is that at least regular pirouettes (with slippers on) in comparison should be a piece of cake. Mmm, cake – gotta go check on the oven…

Once You’ve Been Sprung You Don’t Want To Go Back

And other ramdom thoughts from my ballet week.

Recently, I had the opportunity – the priviledge – of dancing on a sprung floor studio for the first (and so far, only) time. It was amazing – I felt like I could jump all day. The landing is so much more cushioned and smooth. Then, I returned to reality my regular studios. Anyone who gets to work on a sprung  floor on a regular basis – I hope you realize how lucky you are. But then, I get to dance at all, so I should consider myself lucky as well. (And I do)

This week, there was a sub at NS, and it was a cool experience, as it often is taking class with someone who is not one of my regular teachers (if anything, I seem to get different – and extremely helpful -corrections when taking class with a new teacher.) One thing I really liked was that for the balance in releve retire at the barre, she had us just rest the hand lightly on the barre, the only use one finger to rest on the barre. I find this so much less abrupt to switch to no hands than to just take the hand off, espccially since I’m still working on my balance and confidence. That one finger does so much for my confidence, but at the same time I’m having to work much harder to pull up than if I had my whole hand on the barre. This sub in particular is really big on pushing us to go for a deeper plie, which is something that I need. I also like this intense stretch we do at the wall barre: from the croise leg at the barre stretch, she has us twist back with our leg still at the barre and grab the barre behind us with the opposite hand. I’m not good at describing it but it looks so hard to so that I felt a sense of accomplishment just for being able to get into it, like my flexibility’s come such a long way.

This class also got me thinking: good teacher will find a way to challenge everyone – even the girl that is showing off that she knows what she’s doing (and insisting on multiple pirouettes when everyone else is struggling with singles, yet she’s late on the count every single time (reminded me of that scene in CenterStage when one of the characters – I think her name was Anna? – kept trying to squeeze in an extra revolution, and the teacher called her out on it)). I tend to get intimidated when there’s a more experienced dancer – and I know I’m not the only one, but when the teacher corrects them too instead of just heaping praise upon them it makes the class atmosphere so much less intimidating. Or maybe it’s just me..

Speaking of showing off, I still struggle with the whole idea of me being one of the more advanced dancers in a particular class. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m taking a beginner Modern class. M Teacher has us do almost the same exact exercises she had us do the last session, so they’re familiar to my body. I’m at the point where I’m focusing more on making them look as they should rather than just holding my balance. During warm-up, as we all stay in place, I’m able to stay more or less inconspicous. But when we go across the floor, there’s nowhere to hide (as we all know). My classmates are visibly struggling with the across the floor combinations and I feel really guilty going through them seemingly effortlessly. I mean, they can’t know the huge amounts of effort it took me to get to this point just from looking at me. It’s so awkward when we line up to go across the floor and even though I didn’t set out to be in the front they just line up behind me anyway, placing me in front by default. Then we went across in partners and there was an odd number of people so I ended up going by myself. It was a somewhat challenging (for beginner level) combination, including balances on one leg, this weird plie/lunge/glide walk, direction changes and quick turns. I didn’t feel shy or awkward about dancing, or going alone, but about being able to do it. I suppose I’m just a weirdo, because I fully realize that the exact opposite (being the only one who cannot do it) is a place I don’t want to be as well.

There’s a girl who starts randomly dancing around (not doing the steps M Teacher set out, just kind of shimmying around), and I find myself feeling irritated, so maybe I’m just projecting.

On the happier side of things… fun combination of the week: balancé, balancé, soutenu, developpe devant croise, tendu close, brush back to arabesque, plie and hold balance (I could have sworn a promenade would follow, but not this time), close to pas de bourre, pirouette from fifth en dehors(that I kept accidentally taking en dedans because that seemed more natural in a hurry), land in fourth, pirouette from fourth, other side. This was in Intermediate class. Pirouettes from fifth continue to be my weakness, but from fourth I’m starting to feel more comfortable.

I continue to work  on straightening my knee. A big part of it was just needed the reality to sink in. Now that I’m super aware of the issue I’m making sure to really feel like I’m pushing the floor away every time.

In Beginner class our combination was port de bras with plies fo four counts, developpe devant, developpe a la seconde, close back in coupe, pas de bourre x2, passe releve balance, other side. We also worked on our chaines across the floor and lots of jumping. The easier combination was 4 sautes in first, in second, 4 changements, and 2 echappes – standard jumping combination. The more challenging one was the same except instead of the 2 echappes at the end there were 3 jumps where we jump in second, beat the legs, and land in second again, followed by one jump from second, with a beat and landing in fifth, then reverse the whole thing to the other side. I remember last summer I definitely couldn’t do those jump-from-second-and-beat jumps – I think I was too weak to attempt them – but I tried them and they could have been worse. My comfort level for beats is increasing, as well as my leg strength. And at least I no longer flex my feet while attempting to beat.

Sometimes, Teacher will switch up the music she plays for class and she will ask the class if they know which ballet the piece is from. This week, I must have been feeling bolder than my usual self, because I actually spoke up and named quite a few of them. Then one of my classmates made a comment about it and I felt like a total nerd. I don’t get it though – why take ballet (as an adult) if one is not enthusiastic about it? I couldn’t imagine devoting so much time to a hobby if I didn’t feel very interested in it (and as such, spend countless hours watching it on youtube). But I guess we’re all different and it is not my place to understand…