A Short Update

Surprise, surprise – I actually felt up to writing here again! I’ve been well, at least physically, but you know what?  Things have definitely been worse before, and I will get through this.  While i still feel conflicted and restricted about what I can discuss publicly here, I figured there was no harm in reflecting on things I’ve been improving on…

In no particular order of importance:

— My promenades have really improved. I can actually do some pretty good promenades, both en dehors and en dedans to both sides, even after a slow adagio combination when the legs are sooo tired.  Even more impressive (to me), once,  when I realized I was promenade-ing the wrong direction I was able to fix it and start going the opposite way without losing my balance.  I’ve also gotten much better at weight shifts; we did this combination in center in Intermediate that went something like 3 tendus front, then cloche front, back into a fondue with the foot off the floor, then a pas de bourre ( i think? Or maybe a pique sous-sus, or was that the other combination…?) then reverse, but I was just thinking how before there was no way I could have even balanced during it, and now I’m able to focus on arms and epaulement. Yay!

– I’m beyond consistenly getting around on my pirouettes both en dehors and en dedans, sometimes cleaner than others but in general end with the correct leg in front, foot goes to retire correctly in the front, stuff like that. However…

– spotting; once it was identified that the problem was that I was looking through the thing i was supposedly spotting, instead of at it, that explained a lot, one of my teachers in particular makes sure that I look directly at her, makes sure im not cheating and just doing the head spot motion.  It helps, a lot. In beginning class we’ve been doing lots of chaines, and working on spotting as well.

– I got a correction to keep my chin down on releve arabesque, like at the end of chaines. It’s something I need to work on, to make sure I’m really puling up and notjust lifting my chin. I also confirmed that the rond de jambes en l’air are quick out, slow in.

As for pointe, I’ve been on my own a lot lately.  As you may know (or if you didn’t I guess now you will, haha) my school doesn’t have a pointe class, so I have to wear them during a regular class. At this moment it’s mostly just barre in Intermediate class. We’ve been doing more difficult things, like passe releve with one hand at the barre; pas de cheval a la second closing to sous-sus; balancé away from the barre and pique arabesque back to the barre. While these are all things I practice on my own at my home barre, the challenge in class is that the tempo is quicker (it *is* Intermediate class after all…).

However, I’ve also started going to Teacher’s Beginner class, during which I do pointe for the whole class (I’m also taking 2 other beginner classes without pointe shoes). We do lots of echappes without the barre and I’ve been attempting the chaines en pointe in center. We had a combination with a chasse to releve arabesque and I did it en pointe (but I can’t figure out how to come down for  the pas de bourre, bcause I keep doing a faille instead of a controlled plie down…). I’ve also been working on my pique soutenus and arabesques, in order to keep my leg nice and straight -no bent knees!

 

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The Last Few Weeks…

It’s been a hectic last couple of weeks, but I’ve been continuing to take class and dance it up. since I haven’t been very good about taking notes immediatly after class, I’ll just write about whatever things seem especially memorable…

I’ve been wearing my pointe shoes for barre in Intermediate class and it’s been going pretty well for the most part – the combinations are fun but nothing too crazy. There was a combination that ended with 2 pas de cheval a la seconde. The seccond time thru closing up to sous-sus instead of fifth, required that extra push to pointe. 2 combinations involved a quick passe releve, one with a port de bras. I was nervous, but I pulled it off. I’d realized when I asked if I could wear the shoes that some of the combinatons involved passe releve with one hand on the barre, and that motivated me to get over my fear of trying it. I worked  up to it at home by doing something like sous-sus, sous-sus, passe releve, repeat to both sides while facing the barre, then immediately did the same thing with one hand on the barre before I could wimp out. I found it to be much less scary on my right foot (what else is new?) but I was able to do both sides. As of the time of me writing this, I have been able to go up to passe releve en pointe without the barre to both sides, but it’s still not something I would say I’m comfortable with…like it requires a lot of mental preparation and me going ‘ok, here i go’ to myself and taking in a big breath and all that. I keep telling myself that when I first started pointe work this is how I felt about going up to sous-sus with no barre, and that helps. It also helps to just be patient – I mean, I’ve only been en pointe for about 2 and a half months…

Center continues to be super fun – 2 balancés, waltz turn, (tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette) x3, chasse thru into chaines and finish in fourth lunge with nice arms. I love this combination, especially because ever since I went en pointe I’ve completely gotten over my fears of pirouettes in slippers. Like using the amount of force needed to get up and around is no longer terrifying, it no longer sets off warning signs in my brain screaming ‘what are you thinking?! You trying to go flying across the room?’. The thing is, it’s been a long time since I’ve had the capabilities of doing (at least single) pirouttes, but the fear because of those early, out-of-control attempts had held me back for so long… now I feel I’m past that.

Across the floor we’ve been doing (sissone, assemble)x2, saute arabesque, faille, glissade, pas de chat. Other times we do (glissade, assemble)x3, soutenu, repeat, then other side. Both are fun; the assembles are really coming along even on the left side.

In int/adv, barre combinations were mostly crazy fast, but I think it’s not impossible for my current level, just will take more work and focus. I did  catch myself unconciously falling into the incorrect tempo by going along with the classmate in front of me. Once I noticed I was able to stop it and keep from getting distracted.

The thing I’ve noticed I struggle with a lot at barre is the little rond de jambes en l’air, the kind where your leg is out to a la seconde and then you make an oval (but we’ll call it a “rond” anyway)  with your lower leg in the air. I feel like mine look really ugly… our teacher in intermediate was saying to move it out quick and slowly in – or was that out slow and quickly in? Ok looks like I’m going to have to ask her again and maybe write it down immediately this time…

Center in int/adv class is more complex with direction changes, and sometimes faster or changing tempos, but I’m getting better at remembering the combinations in general. Like I mentioned a few weeks before, a thing I struggle with is those little subtle pauses, knowing where they are and where they aren’t. When we’re there in a group doing the combination it can get a little confusing because I don’t know if others aren’t doing anything yet because it’s one of the pauses or because they have forgotten what comes next – you know, that awkward pause when you don’t know which step comes next and you’re waiting for someone else to do something? So when I do the next thing I don’t know if I’m getting ahead or it’s just right…and it can be a little frustrating. Well, whatever – ok, so I’m not a ‘real’ dancer because I can’t just ‘feel the music’, I guess (in some people’s opinion) – so what! I do the best I can, put a lot of time and effort into practicing, I enjoy taking videos of me dancing (ha, am I even allowed to call it that?), and it makes me happy… to me THAT’s real.

We did these pirouettes from second, don’t know if they’re pirouettes a la seconde, but the way they go is we tendu out to second and then do a regular pirouette from there instead of fourth or fifth (not a pirouette with our leg held out to second). I was surprised to see that they were not particularly more difficult, but then it helps that on my own I’ve been practicing going up to releve retire balance from second position (isn’t that cool when I’m able to predict what skills I should be working on ahead of time?)  The most complex part of class was when we had to reverse this combination including tendus, grand battement and chasse then pirouettes and pas de basque. The regular way had grand battements devant and we traveled to the front and did a pirouette en dehors, the reverse had grand battements derriere and traveling backwards with pirouette en dedans. The first time I attempted it I was a little lost, but I managed to figure it out to the right side.

Now, time for some real talk…where to begin…? I’d like to say that I am strongly contemplating letting this blog go. There’s a few reasons why, and I guess I should eleborate (in case anyone’s still reading, if not then at least for myself).

I often worry that the anonimity of this blog has been compromised. While I never posted any face pictures, or my location or what I think are identifying details, I think it’s only a matter of time before someone discovers you, and this makes me feel like I can’t express myself to the fullest. I know there’s this idea that one shouldn’t complain, but sometimes I feel like complaining, darnit! I’m not looking for ‘real’-life drama, so often times I just don’t say what I got to say, but then what’s the point of having a blog?! I have a bad tendency towards people-pleasing and avoiding confrontations, and this leads to me often feeling silenced (not to mention heavily taken advantage of). Yes, what I have to say is often unconventional and unpopular (if not straight-out bizarre to some); yes, some feelings may get hurt – but what about my feelings (they’re in there, I promise, underneath my stoic facade), don’t I have a right to express them in my corner of the web? Aren’t they just as important as everyone/anyone else’s?

Secondy, I wonder that I’ve outgrown this blog? I started this blog as a lonely young woman who was frustrated with just how difficult everything-ballet was; how I couldn’t tendu without falling over half the time, how I’d fall over in grand plies, how I couldn’t balance in releve for longer than a millisecond (and kept falling forward, though I noticed that everyone always assumed that if you fall out of balances you fall back), how I was just so freaking slow to learn anything, the ‘distracting’ bouncing chest (which I will forever be convinced is a problem, even at the amateur level – like why can’t I also wear cute colorful things to class occasionally like everybody else without having to worry that my body will be offending someone’s sensibilities?)  etc. None of the blogs that I came across back then were relatable to my experiences (as a “true” beginner who didn’t take a single ballet class as a child or teen; who had no prior sports/fitness background; who didn’t have the luxury of taking classes with only people in the same age group or shopping around for different schools; who didn’t have a career, or a long list of accomplishments that I could use to console myself with due to my ballet failures [I think to date my main accomplishment has been that I’m still alive, that I survived my abusive and traumatic childhood, and the aftermath, the mess that was the first few years of adulthood, and I’m still here]), so I decided to start my own since I was attempting to track my progress anyway. Many of the comments and emails I have received over the last several years – it’s almost been three years since I started this blog, wow – were from others out there who could relate to my struggles, some of you wrote about how my blog helped you, or made you feel better. And now, well, I don’t feel like that person. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many things that I struggle with, in ballet and in life, but it’s not the same. When I write about how I’m doing well, and progressing en pointe, and taking really challenging classes…I almost feel guilty… like I’m forgetting where I came from… but if I keep dwelling on where I came from and keep reminding myself, then I feel I don’t get to really focus on where I am and where I’m going…

When I first started this blog, I needed this outlet to discuss ballet so I wouldn’t bore and frustrate my now-Husband, but now, I actually know people in ‘real’ life to talk ballet with. At some point last year I realized I wasn’t writing as much because I was actually talking and interacting with people before, during, and after class. While I am still very, very much a shy introverted person, in Beginner classes people actually want to talk to me! This is new, uncharted territory for me, and I’m still adjusting, but I want to enjoy this… which brings me to…

I feel that ballet has given me so much… this has been the first time in my life that I’ve actually progressed at something, that I’ve done something that didn’t come naturally to me and it’s shown me that…I can learn things. I know, sounds rather strange to be saying at my age that I barely discovered that I can learn things, but it’s true. I was raised with the mindset that some people are good at things – or they’re not – and there’s nothing that can be done about it. And for the longest time I believed it – that some are naturally smart, or flexible, or beautiful, or strong, etc. While I now know that this is not completely true (to say the least), it’s one thing to just ‘know’ and another to actually experience it… and I feel that thanks to ballet I have experienced this. I know that if I work really hard and give it my effort – if I really want it – things can be different. This has inspired me to work on other things, in other areas, when before I would have just given up and let things be, just have thought ‘well, it’s because that’s how that person is…’ but now I’m like ‘no, I want to learn to do that too!’. So yes, I do have ballet to thank for that…I don’t know if I would call it confidence, per se, but it is a feeling that I didn’t really know before. So even though in ballet class I’ve had some unpleasant experiences, and met some unpleasant people – though I’ve met plenty of amazing, friendly, and supportive people as well – it’s been a learning experience in so many ways and for that I’m truly thankful.

By this point I realize that I’m rambling…perhaps because there’s things I want to say but can’t (refer to 4 paragraphs ago, re: anonymity or the lack of)…I’m not saying that I’ll never post again, but maybe I’m taking a break? Giving it some space…we’ll see what the future holds.

First Week, Long Weekend

Week one of a brand new regular-length session… classes no longer over two hours long, but the upside is I’ll be taking a whole bunch of classes – 2 Beginner, 2 Intermediate, 2 Int/Adv (yes, I went back…I must like it…) every week, with the option to occasionally drop in to Beginning Modern as well (if I’m not too sore and am able to get up at the break of dawn). Due  to the holiday, this coming week I’ll be missing a couple classes (but I got to sleep in, yay).

This week all my classes went pretty well. Intermediate was super fun! Int/Adv was more difficult (and also fun) but it didn’t feel as overwhelming as last fall. I think I’ve gotten better at remembering  the combinations in center! Perhaps because I’m not busy thinking about how I’m probably going to screw up… yea it’s gotten to the stage where I’m not constantly worried about screwing up.  We did a center combination with tendus and grand battements that changed facings and included both pirouettes en dehors and en dedans and I got through it without forgetting what was going to happen next. While I didn’t find myself worried about what the next step was, my weak point appears to be the timing. Like sometimes I forget a pause, or pause where there  was none. I need to work on that – while I’ve gotten better at timing and musicality in Beginner level combinations, when the combinations are of a higher level I mess up. This is probably one of those things that will get better with time (and practice) so I’m not stressing about it, just noting it for a later-date comparison. In Beginning class we did strengthening stuff, worked on port de bras, and  plie and tendu combination. We’ll be doing more in upcoming clases.

I didn’t wear the pointe shoes for any of my classes this week (but I asked to start wearing them this coming week, not for Int/Adv, obviously), but I still got some practice time to go over the things I’d learned. I managed to do passe releve with only one hand on the barre. I only did it a couple of times, but the knowledge that it’s possible will stay with me, and help me get over my fear of doing it. I’ve also gotten much more comfortable with pique arabesque in center, even getting some couple-seconds long balances in there. I figured out the problem with my chaines en pointe – the first half is fine, when I’m turning in the direction I’m looking, but the second half, when I’m turning “backwards” scares me so I don’t use enough force to not pick up momentum. But if I do use more force, I go right into the next turn. So I guess when you’re en pointe there’s no slow chaines, just regular speed? Anyway, I’ve done about 2 full ones before I scare myself and stop. I’m also doing soutenus, not the pique kind (yet) but the kind where I sous-sus and then turn in place, I guess that describes it…? I’m still having fun, and not feeling frustrated. Of course, that may have to do with not having the comparison that class can become. I’m ok with the rate of my progress, but if I see that my rate is much slower that everyone else’s I start feeling down. Ugh, you’d think that I’d be used to it by now… but oh well, all I can do is continue to work at it (both my pointe work and at not minding when all others zoom past me on the learning curve). It’s a process.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First my coupe derriere en pointe

image

Left foot

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Right

A Picture is worth 1000 corrections…

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

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

Pointe Shoes Adventures

Like the title says, this is about my pointe shoes…just stuff  I haven’t had the chance to write about.

Ever since I got my shoes, let’s just say I’ve become friends with a needle and thread. After initially sewing them, and wearing them once (this was before the school session started and I was just doing eleves in first and fifth at the home barre), I realized my left one had to be resewn. The ribbon was just not where I needed it to be to help mold the shoes to my not-so-high arches when up on pointe. That time it took as long as the first time, since I was still getting the hang of it. Since then, though I’ve gotten much better – and quicker – at it. Or perhaps the time just appears to be going by quicker…

Then couple weeks ago, I resewed the ribbons my left shoe. A few days before, when I was putting on the shoes at home, one of my kitties decided to paw at my ribbons, so they had a little scratch that I was hoping wouldn’t turn into a hole or tear. Since the other ribbon had a scratch too, I switched out both ribbons on the shoe. Now that I wasn’t being impatient to put the shoes on I found the process somewhat enjoyable. I’m glad I’ve come around to liking it because I’ve found myself doing a lot of ribbon sewing since then…

My first pair of shoes (Bloch Balance European) seem to be done. My feet, especially my smaller right foot was feeling like it was sinking in too far andnot being supported. That’s when I discovered that I do need something between my big toe and rest of the foot, at least on my right foot. While I have a space between my big toe and second toe on both feet (due to my stupid flip flop habit a decade ago), my right foot feels, and behaves, completely different from my left. After putting together some common sense with good old youtube research, I realized that I was at risk of developing a bunion, and needed something for my toe gap (it being close to midnite whe I figured it out, and no chance of going to any dance store before my next class, I improvised… and used some disposable earplugs, which were the only thing available that seemed like the right size to do the job). While that helped, I still was feeling like the shoes could at any time cross the line from broken-in comfortable to unwearable.

So I got another pair of the same exact shoes because, well, up until they’d started to increasingly put pressure on my toes they’d been good, so it seemed like a good reason. Unfortunately, even though I made sure to get the exact same model, size, width, they shoes felt completely different. At the store I was able to slowly roll up to pointe very easily, which should have made me think something was up. I don’t know if this is a dumb (or simply unasked – believe me, I typed it in to my search engine of choice and nothing came up) question but I wonder, do pointe shoes become somewhat “broken in” by being tried on constantly in the store? Well, anyway, the store only carries one pair of each size in stock at any given moment, and I wanted to have a pair of back up shoes ready to go in case my first pair failed at a time when we couldn’t get to the store. So I got them and hoped that they would, in time, feel like my first pair.

Long story short… they didn’t. I wore them around at home, hoping to mold the box to my feet like with the first pair, but it didn’t seem to be working. But when I did eleves and releves the shank just seemed so flexible. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wan’t for the box being so uncomfortable. I started to worry…it had seemed too good to be true that I would find the perfect shoe on my first try and things would be so simple. I was also worrying because…this feels like confession time, but the reason my first shoes were so comfortable was because that model comes with a built in cushion, which combined with the Ouch Pouch really took the edge off things (ok, honestly, I’ve been feeling like such a cheater…). But, the downside is I was afraid I was now stuck to that particular model because of the stupid cushion. Except that the box of this model, even at the narrowest width, was starting to feel like it might be too roomy for my foot, like I needed a lower profile, and so, if I flattened the box it would be too wide . How stressful! What to do…

Well, through a small series of coincidences I wound up at the dance store again, and decided since I’m there I may as well try out some shoes (so strange, I usually hate trying stuff on, but for some reason with pointe shoes it’s different. Perhaps it’s the utilitarian factor?). I started with the same model I have, because the girl suggested that maybe I’d just gotten an off pair. Hmm, well I was not convinced, because the pair I tried on seemed ok, but it was just too easy to roll up, and I didn’t want to deal with that issue again. I asked for something with a lower profile and she gave me a couple different models of Russian Pointe shoes to try (I think Rubin and Alekssandra?). They were not very comfortable on my feet once en pointe (not to mention pricy), and I was starting to think that I’d just had beginner’s luck when I found my first pair. Or perhaps they’d been completely unsuitable from the beginning, but maybe I’d just wanted it to work out so badly that it did?

Then, my friend suggested I try on her shoe model (Grishko 2007), and figuring I had nothing to lose by this point, I did. Oh my gosh, as soon as I went up en pointe with them (not rolling up, because the shank was much stiffer, and the heel kept sliding off, but just stepping to pointe at the barre), they just felt so comfortable. I even experimented just being up on one leg, and still, no pain (which made me realize how unsuitable my first “fitting” [I mostly fit myself] had been, since I’d been scared to stand on one foot en pointe – perhaps rightly – but I hadn’t been able to gage how much pressure there’d be on my toe while on one leg. Since my first pair were getting more painful by the day, I decided to get the shoes. When I got home, I looked up these shoes in the pointe shoes database at PointePerfect (which is an amazingly useful tool) and saw that these are low profile shoes designed to reduce the pressure on the big toe joint. Perfect!

More sewing. First I unsewed my second pair of Bloch Balance Europeans, so I could reuse my ribbons. I managed to get the ribbons placed correctly on the first try, but ended up adding a second piece of elastic to keep the heels from sliding off. But my work was rewarded once I put the shoes on and did some barre work. I was feeling really secure in these shoes, like I could hold balances for longer, even on one leg. Even though the platform is narrower, I just find these shoes easier to work with. Then again, they are still really new, so we’ll see.

I feel pretty bad about the pair of shoes that didn’t really work out. The box appears to still be far from broken in, but at the same time I don’t feel supported. I suppose I will still use then for basic barre work at home, but there’s also the possibility that i could use these as the pair that I turn into soft pointe shoes. I know the box isn’t comfortable now, but if I knew I wasn’t going to be going up en pointe in them I could soften it up more.

And now, some pictures. I’m too lazy to take some of me wearing them while doing anything remotely cool right now, but yeah…

My pointe shoes

My pointe shoes

From right to left, my first pair of Bloch European Balance, second pair, and Grishko 2007

From right to left, my first pair of Bloch European Balance, Grishko 2007, and second pair of Blochs. Notice how the platform on the Grishko is much narrower

Why do cats like pointe shoes so much?!

Why do cats like pointe shoes so much?! Could it be the string…

 

Better Pirouettes And Turns; A Good Week

The things that sticks out as the most memorable about this week is pirouettes – for whatever reason, they were much better than usual (the usual, for me, when it comes to pirouttes, is downright crappy with the rare exception). Now, me being the way I am, I want to know exactly why is it that they have been getting better. One thing I figured is that before I wasn’t getting my weight up and forward enough. While I heard that correction many times, it was something I couldn’t really do – or was scared to. But as I think I mentioned before, working with pointe shoes takes away some of the fear of doing stuff in slippers. Since a releve en pointe requires a certain amount of force to get up there, I think I’ve gotten more comfortable with using more force, which gets me up over my leg. Anyway, I was practicing after class and I kept landing clean pirouettes over and over. I was feeling incredulous, like do-I-pinch-myself-to-check-if-I’m-awake kind of feeling, so I would attempt another one, and land it, and keep repeating. Even better, I was able to do it to both sides reliably.

To me this is important to me because for too long pirouettes have been the thing that frustrate me because by this point I should be able to do them (by “should” I mean, not trying to put undue pressure on, but when I look at what different levels should be able to do, like on the Sun King Dance website – not that I have the remote chance of going – I noticed that compared to where I am in terms of technique or other steps I am behind in pirouettes. I think the problem began back years ago when a teacher asked me to do them in center when I didn’t even have a passe releve balance or strong core – I was not ready, I was terrified, and the initial failure – and almost fall – stuck with me. Because for at least the past year I ‘ve been able to do pirouettes when I least expect it, but when the pressure’s on I screw up. So hopefully now that I’ve seen with my own eyes that it’s possible for me to do more than one clean piroeutte at a time (and even hold a balance after) it will help. And then I can focus on multiples!

This week our petit allegro was (glissade, assemble)x3, entrechat x2, ballote 4 counts, temps leve (saute arabesque), faille, pas de chat, pas de bourre, other side. Last time I did ballote I felt so ridiculous, but this time it felt so much better. I was still doing it wrong the first couple of days, until realized that the leg that is kicked out is not in tendu but actually off the floor, but in general I felt way stronger than last time (which was probably close to a year ago). There was the two beated jumps right after the other, and even though I wouldn’t say I did them well i do think I getting more comfortable with them.

While practicing, I noticed that soutenus and pique turns (with slippers, of course) feel more controlled, and I’m able to turn faster without losing my balance or that certain “rhythm” that happens once I start doing the turns. A correction I’ve gotten quite often is to turn out my passe leg more during pique turns,and I feel that now that I feel more stable in my balance I can better focus on that.

As far as pointe, I’m still staying at the barre and facing it for one-legged rises. I do feel increasingly comfortable with two-legged rises off the barre though. This week Teacher worked with me and was correcting me on releve from first, telling me that I need to feel like my feet scoot in a little when I go up so that my releve position en pointe won’t be too wide. She said this will help with my passe releve. At first I was not really able to put into practice what she was telling me (instead I used excessive force and jumped up), but then suddenly I felt it, that little scoot. It’s sort of how the feet come in together to go up to sous-sus, but less distance.

Teacher also told me when doing a pique (I was facing the barre and pique-ing onto my front leg with the back leg going to coupe) to get up there quicker and to bring my back leg in quicker as well. I’m still working on that…

I also worked on pas de bourre on pointe at the barre. I was hoping that this would help get me over my apprehension of stepping up on pointe. Once I felt like I had the feel of it down I gradually reduced my hold on the barre until it was just a finger from each hand resting on it, then I brought my arms out to second while continuing to pas de bourre. This was so cool, and brought back my memories of when I was still new at ballet and I wished I could pas de bourre without the barre without falling over immediately. I didn’t try it complely in center, just facing the barre with my arms out but it was still nice to get to do this.

As I mentioned last post, this week I attempted to begin chaines en pointe without the barre. It was not exactly a success – after about two half turns (or one chaines turn) I would start to lose my balance and resort to doing little steps to stay up (bad habit!). So apparently I’m not ready for that yet…

Overall, it was a good week. One more week left in the short session (I’m gonna miss it! We have a real cool group of people this time around), then a new schedule and some new classes. I got to have a cool conversation with some classmates, talking about ballet and my learning curve, and giving them lots of encouragement to continue (if they want to). One of them said something like “Wow, you started ballet four years ago and you’re already  en pointe!” and that was pretty cool because I’m used to hearing about adults going en pointe after much less time (because there’s no issue of the foot bones still being soft I guess? And most people, even adults [if the internet is representative of ‘real’ life] tend to not be as unbalanced and weak as I was when they first start ballet) and people harrasing me  about why am I not en pointe yet. So it was nice to hear something different.

And then, completely unrelated, a beginner girl asked me to be her ballet teacher for privates! I am beyond flattered (and of course I said yes) because secretly I’d been wondering about the possibility of getting to teach ballet as well as pilates some day. I tend to think it’s unlikely, that I won’t be taken serious because my body doesn’t meet the (current) ballet ideal, (let’s be honest – at worse I’ve imagined being laughed right out of the studio) but this cheered me up so much. I felt…accepted.

Conquering The Fear… Sort Of

I think I can tentatively say that this past week was much better…

After last week’s (admittedly whiny) post, I gathered myself together, took myself to my home barre and decided to face some of my fears head on. I mean, there’s things that are not in my control but the least I can do is practice, right? As I’d mentioned, I was afraid of being completely off the barre for pointe work, specifically quick   releves and echappes to second. So, after a warm up barre in slippers I put on my pointe shoes and started to go through my eleves, releves and echappes at the barre, at first with my hands resting on it, then with just a finger resting on it. Then I forced myself to step back from the barre, gave myself a little pep talk, and before I could wimp out, quickly sprung up in sous-sus, followed my my first echappes completely off the barre! Even though I pulled it off, once I stopped to rest I had to give myself another pep talk before doing it again. So it’s still not something that I felt confident about, but at least I knew it was possible? I didn’t know it yet at the time, but good thing I forced myself to take this next step because during our last class of the week, Teacher asked us to step away from the barre for our echappes combination and for once I didn’t feel that deer-in-headlights feeling when she has us do something new while I’m wearing pointe shoes.

This week we continued with similar barre combinations from the last few weeks, except adding on longer balances in sous-sus, coupe, retire and attitude on releve (which meant all the way on pointe for me). And yes, I even let go of the barre a little bit while up on one foot but no super long balances or anything yet. After our frappes combination we did petit battements on releve. I do think my eyes got wide when I realized what we were going to be doing, but once doing it I found that for me they are much more difficult on demi pointe. Teacher’s always mentioning how it is much less stressful on the body to be in a higher releve than a lower one, and I think the same thing goes for being en pointe instead of in demi pointe. I mean, yea, my big toe was hurting, but my calves were not even feeling it compared to all the times I’ve done this on releve in soft shoes.

By now I feel more comfortable leaving on the pointe shoes for center. Of course, I’m still doing passe releve facing the barre, still scared to do it with one hand at barre (and of course in center). However, I’m not longer using the death grip at the barre when doing 1 foot passe releves or the chasses to releve arabesque (side note: why do the chasses to releve arabesque feel much less terrifying than the passe releves? I mean, they’re both a rise up on one foot from two). I’m feeling patient with myself, I mean back when I first started ballet I practiced passe releve facing the wall every day for about six months before I attempted it with only one hand on it, both for lack of strength and fear reasons. So why should I assume that my progress en pointe should be any faster?

Since there’s a mixture of levels in the class, when the newer beginners work on tendu, close, passe releve in center I do that combination near the barre (so I can use the barre for the passe releve part), and then when we do the more beg-int combination I come out to center and do the single leg rises or pirouettes on demi, two leg rises en pointe. This week we did tombe (in efface line) pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, pivot, pirouette en dedans, soutenu, chasse into chaines. I substituted the soutenu with sous-sus en pointe, because even though I can do the half-soutenu to switch sides at the barre (detourne?) with no hands, I still haven’t figured out how to do the full revolution soutenu while en pointe. I asked Teacher about this last class, and she said that the hardest part is the sous-sus, so if I’ve got that part I’m good to go, so we’ll see how it goes next time I practice. For now, it’s like half soutenu and half bourre turn…

I  continued with the chaines en pointe along the barre. They’re starting to feel much less scary, thankfully. I was thinking about how when I first started learning chaines, I would put my hands on my shoulders and just slowly do half turn and pause , gradually speeding it up as I improved. It suddenly struck me that if I can hold a balance in first position up en pointe then I should be able to slowly start working on chaines off the barre, using a similar approach. I don’t want to feel like I’ve become too dependent on the barre after all.

During pique passes at the barre (to prepare for pique turns), one of my classmates mentioned that I was making it harder on myself by traveling out too far. I told her that yea, it feels like I’m pole-vaulting, but if I don’t go out that far I feel like I will slide on the tip of my box instead of getting over it. I asked Teacher about it and she said to think of it as pushing off my second leg to get up there quicker and  to also think of pointing my toes more of my landing foot so I don’t feel like I have to launch myself out as far to get over the box. I will work on applying those corrections in the coming week.

This week, I actually kept the pointe shoes on for the jumps and petit allegro parts of class. I was surprised to find out that sautes and changements are not any more difficult while wearing pointe shoes. If anything, I was really liking seeing my pointed feet in the mirror. Petit allegro was glissade (right), jete, glissade (left), jete, pas de bourre (left), pas de chat (right), entrechat, royalle, other side. As I’ve mentioned many times, beated jumps are hard for me, but I think I’m starting to feel a little more confident about them. By that I mean that I’m actually attempting them mid-combination, as opposed to just taking the easier route (substituting changment for royalle or soubresaut for entrchat). One correction I got was to close my glissade a little quicker. I think I’m struggling with this because all the times I practiced glissades I would go really slow to really feel like I was pointing my second foot, and when I try to speed it up my second leg kind of drags behind a little. Doing glissade jete over and over quickly while wearing pointe shoes makes me feel like I’m tap dancing…

We  did temps leve (saute arabesque) chasse, temps leve, chasse, repeat all the way across the studio while alternating legs. Then we incorporated ballet run and grand jete into it. I took off my pointe shoes before that last part because I just wasn’t up to running and grand jete-ing while wearing the shiny, slippery shoes (though I did leave them on for one go across the floor of temps leves and chasses). However, one day when we had a slightly shorter class I technically kept the shoes on the entire class all the way through reverance (which, by the way, was lovely: cambre forward in croisse, come up and cambre back with the arm closest to the barre up, chasse backward to tendu devant, bend towards the pointed foot as you extend the arm the length of the leg, step forwards into B+ and curtsey, ronde de jambe the back leg around to do the same to the other side). I did feel like I’m getting over my mental block of keeping the shoes on for the whole class.

This week I also had the opportunity to do lots of practicing on my own – and with a ballet friend – at school. I worked on pique turns and chaines with my slippers on (since during class I’m usually working on the preparation to do these en pointe I don’t get to work on them on flat as much as I’d like). We also worked on pirouettes and stepover pique turns. I haven’t been doing pirouttes in my soft shoes lately because I’ve been wearing the pointe shoes (and turning in demi pointe), and that may have been a factor in my pirouettes suddenly coming out way better! As in, holding a balance after instead of falling out of them, actually attempting a double just by spotting without using extra force (I made it about 1 3/4), going from one side to the other consecutively. I don’t know if the improvement is from working with pointe shoes (even if on demi point) causing me to be more hyperaware of technique and that translates to stronger pirouettes, or getting over the fear of attempting pirouttes in flat shoes since they’re scarier – or supposed to be – in pointe shoes (even on demi point, just because of the satin being slippery) and I’ve in theory attempted them, so if anything I’m doing something that should be less difficult.

I ran through one of the variations I’m working on (a simplified version of Swanilda’s variation from the first act of Coppelia – when she’s trying to get the doll’s attention) a few times, as I’m trying to make sure my stamina’s up to par. In general, the variation’s going ok, but I’m still feeling a little clumsy on those pas de bourres en dessous and en dessus. Other than that I’m pleased that I have memorized it already, just need to clean it up, possibly speed up those turns…

After that, we put on some music and then just improvised and randomly danced around. It was so much fun! I love ballet improvising, and having a large space to play with. Confession: I couldn’t resist putting my pointe shoes back on and dancing around with them a little bit. I didn’t do anything crazy that I hadn’t done previously, and did lots of stuff on demi point (because all I’m doing en pointe in center is bourres, two-legged balances and echappes to second) but it was so surreal to look in the mirror and see that I was dancing in pointe shoes. I mean, seriously, when I got these I was already thinking that it was ok if I didn’t get to fully dance with them, I was just going to enjoy my eleves and feeling so lifted. And I had never really planned on going en pointe – honestly, when I decided to start ballet I didn’t even think of it as an option, I just wanted to do a beautiful barre routine with my slippers and call it a day. Dancing in the center, was still nowhere in sight for a long time. I’m so happy I didn’t quit back then, when everything about ballet seemed impossible.

(readers, sorry for the long post length… Just saw the word count and was like :0