Tag Archives: balancing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First my coupe derriere en pointe

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Left foot

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Right

A Picture is worth 1000 corrections…

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

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

Week 3: Ambivalent

To be completely honest, this past week didn’t have the same yay-everything-is-awesome-in-ballet-land feeling that the previous couple weeks had. That’s ok, plateaus are to be expected; perhaps they will help me appreciate the times of great improvement even more. But that’s not it, not really… I mean, I did improve at some things this week, after all, but… I don’t know… I feel somewhat unsatisfied, I guess, for lack of a better word (I’m sure there’s a word for what I’m feeling, I just don’t happen to know it, haha). I’m sure this is just a low mood, so I’m working my way through it regardless.

Actually, just writing that down helped me better articulate what I’m feeling (which I will now share, uncensored): I’m frustrated. Frustrated because I’m aware that I hold myself back; frustrated because I have low expectations for myself, because then – if I keep my goals low – I won’t have to face much disappointment (and won’t grow as much either, on the downside); frustrated because though I’m willing to work hard and put in time and effort, I hate pain and discomfort and am not willing to do things that will result in these, or similar, feelings; frustrated because even though I know that these thoughts are erroneous and counterproductive, I can’t seem to stop thinking them, wondering what was I thinking, why do I bother, why try if I know I’m going to fail, if I’m always  going to lose, simply because that’s what I’m used to, been used to all my life, and it’s too late to change the script now. (or IS it?…)

Yeah, some dark, low thoughts indeed… but I’m not going to lie – sometimes not everything is happy and cheerful. Sigh. We’ll get through this as we always do.

It’s kind of dumb, but I think part of the reason I’m in this mood is because the room I use to practice at my school was not available this past week, so I didn’t get to do any extracurricular dancing. Some of the happiest times I have involve just me and my headphones, working my way though a variation or crafting my own choreographies. I mean, the creative process for me begins at home, and I do walk through different segments of my dances at my home studio space, but even though it’s great for marking the choreography and nitpicking details, there’s no room to actually dance full out, using all of the space. I think I need my actual dancing time to calm my inner turmoil. It doesn’t  help that the weather’s been sucking, making it impossible to go for a long relaxing walk, or work in my garden.

Anyway.

This week I continue to wear the pointe shoes at barre. That fondue up to sous-sus from last week seemed much less scary. I don’t remember if I’d specified, but that was from a fondue devant, the kind where the supporting leg is bent and the working leg is off the floor out to the front. This week I added in a sous-sus from a fondue derriere and it was much less scary. Don’t know if it’s because I’m getting used to it or because it’s easier less difficult from this position. There was also a single leg rise up from either arabesque or a degage devant position (it was after our rond de jambe combination, so from arabesque after going en dehors, and from the devant position after going en dedans) and I was too scared to rise up to pointe, instead just going up to demi-point. So then I tried it with both hands on the barre and it still felt like a bit much. I do think I’m strong enough, but I’m pretty terrified.

The first time I took class during the week went along as normal, with me switching out to slippers after barre. But then Teacher said how about we left our pointe shoes on for center and do the center combinations near the barre, so we can use it to assist with the more difficult parts. These difficult parts turned out to be a pique sous-sus (in the combination it was a soutenu, but she said to substitute it with a pique sous-sus), and a chasse to releve (on pointe) arabesque then pas de bourre. The first day attempting this I was able to do it all to the right side, but to the left I was too scared to do the chasse to releve arabesque, only rising to demi. The next day I pulled on my (metaphorical) big girl panties and made myself do it.

Then the class did chaines across the floor and Teacher had us do them on pointe at the wall barre. It was scary at first, then awkward, then just slightly uncomfortable in that pressure-on-the-toes way. I also did some chaines off the barre while wearing the pointe shoes but just going up to demi pointe (I guess my shoes are broken in enough to do this now, but I do wonder if doing stuff in demi point  in them will break them down faster?). When the class worked on pique turns across the floor I did pique passe releves along the wall barre. Once again, to the right side it felt much more secure than to the left (like a crazy discrepancy – to the right it felt like I’ve been doing this forever, to the left I was terrified). It’s funny, up until very recently I would have said that without a shadow of a doubt my left foot is stronger, after all I balance much better on it on flat and demi point with soft shoes, do better promenades on it and everything. And my right foot was the one I messed up in a car accident years ago (though the left ankle was the one I sprained when I very gracefully fell down the stairs) But pointe work has shown that it is actually my right side which is much stronger, weird.

Then we worked on pirouettes, and since I still had my pointe shoes on I attempted to do some on demi point (because there was no way I was going to try a pirouette en pointe at this, umm, point in time. Perhaps I should have been working on just rising up to pointe in passe at the wall barre at this time). To my surprise, I found that pirouettes on demi point feel much more stable for me in pointe shoes than flat slippers. Not only that, balancing on demi point in general felt more stable with the pointe shoes. I guess I’ve officially decided that once these shoes die I will deshank them and wear them to class sometimes instead of my soft slippers.

Then it was time for sautes and petit allegro (chagement x2, echappe, glissade, assemble, pas de chat, coupe, pas de bourre, other side) which meant it was time to take off the pointes. I mean, I think Teacher would have let me leave them on, but I think I have some sort of mental block at the idea of doing the whole class en pointe (even though, who are we kidding, I was either using the barre to help me or only going up to demi, so it’s not like I was really doing the class en pointe, just merely wearing pointe shoes…).

But we all gotta start somewhere, right? To be honest, I never thought I would be doing this much with the pointe shoes already by this point in time (I would have been content with just doing eleves, releves, and sous-sus at the barre for the next six months or so – there’s those low expectations I mentioned earlier…). It’s been exactly one month to the day since I first slipped the shoes on. I remember on the way home from the dance store, Husband asked me if I thought it was going to be like starting from scratch as a brand-new beginner again and I said ‘Maybe, but I hope not. But if it is, it’s ok.’  Well, one month into it, I’d say that it’s not like starting from scratch, but at the same time I can see how my fears of trying new things rear their ugly heads. For example, even though I’ve been practicing it with just one finger from each hand resting lightly on the barre (so not much support), I get quite scared of springing up to sous-sus or releve in 1st with no hands. I feel like I need to go through the motions of it thousands of times on my own before I can do it confidently in class in front of everyone. In class there’s not enough time to repetitively work on the same thing, so this is something I need to put some time into on my own.

On the positive side, I did meet my goal of doing a half soutenu on pointe with no hands this week, I even did some away from the barre after working on springing up to sous-sus with no barre. I did not meet my goal of bringing my feet up to coupe with no barre, but I did let go of the barre while up in retire on pointe, so maybe we can consider that goal halfway met? I continue working on my bourres with no barre while doing port de bras. I know for an upcoming goal I would like to do echappes with no barre, but I don’t believe I’m ready yet. Perhaps then for now my goal for the week will be to improve on that chasse up to releve arabesque, and springing up to pointe on one foot.

As far as non-pointe work, this week I really concentrated on working on glissade assemble. To the right I’m not bad at this sequence, but to the left it feels sloppy. So after class I went over it repeatedly, both sides just back and forth, and I’m feeling much more confident about it. We worked on chasse, saute arabesque across the floor and I got a correction on not losing my turnout, so I will be paying more attention to that. Also, after class I worked on these pas de bourres that we would do in Int/Adv class last session, the kind where you plie your supporting leg and the working leg kind of degages out a la seconde, then it comes in to sous-sus (the pas de bourre part), and the other leg then degages out to seconde as your supporting leg plies. I think F Teacher called them pas de bourre en dessus and en desous. Anyway, ever since I slowed the steps down I feel like I’ve been improving on them, because at the speed we would do them in Int/Adv class I was mostly just flailing around and trying to not fall behind (thankfully, not trying to not fall, period). I guess I should just be grateful for that.

I think I’ll end this post now, before it becomes a novel…

Back In Class In The New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Ramblings

A variety of topics…

Lately  I’ve been continuing to focus on finding and exploring that balance between dance and life, between dreaming about ballet and focusing on the bigger picture. Since my last post I have confirmed that I love dancing, having spent a good amount of time dancing by myself, working on my own choreographies, and just enjoying myself. My foot has finally been feeling back to normal, so I was able to do more actual dancing during class instead of just marking anything harder than tendus and adagio in center. I even started jumping again, in the studio with the sprung floor.

I thought I’d write about something that I have been puzzling over for a bit this past week. After rehearsals, one of my teachers said to me that I need to have more confidence, that I need to “be proud of it” (exact words), if that makes sense. I explained that if I’m worried about losing my balance while doing that particular step, then I’m not feeling very confident, and thus, not feeling very proud. I also made sure to mention that while doing steps that I’m more familiar with I have become more confident as time goes by. He replied something about how the confidence should come first, not be a result of the familiarity with the step. Whaaaa…?

This is a rather odd concept to me, but appears to be an extension of the Fake It Till U Make It sentiment I briefly touched upon on a previous post. Let’s just say I struggle with this concept immensely (although I have managed some basic levels of “faking”confidence, such as holding my head up high and keeping my shoulders up and back, all thanks to pilates). When it’s codified ballet steps, especially beginner level steps, it’s no problem by this point. I may be terrified on the inside, or having a bad anxiety day, or something, but I’ll still hold my posture and not give into my tendency to shrink. But when it’s new-to-me steps, especially more contemporary stuff that really tries my balance in new (and terrifying) ways, I guess my inner lack of confidence bubbles to the surface…

What will I do about this? The obvious answer to me is to practice the troublesome steps more, since I did make the commitment to do the school performance (and then once this commitment is past I will cut down a little on my dance classes and practices – or not. Like I said before, I’m still trying to figure it out, so I will go by what feels right and always be mindful of my motivations). Do I believe in this teacher’s approach – confidence before familiarity? Honestly, no, not at this time. Perhaps when I’ve been dancing for longer – and the memories of falling over in center have been forgotten – then it will be a different story. As it is, I don’t know if those memories will be forgotten – I didn’t start out at a comparable level to my classmates in Beginner ballet class, but as the worst dancer in the room, not just lacking technical skill but also balance and coordination. It’s not hard for me to remember what a mess I was, actually, because my dancing in ballet class back then was worse than my current ability – or lack thereof – at hip hop dance class. So I have a nice reminder twice a week that the only way I improve at dance is if I really work hard.

This ties in to something else I wanted to discuss: there are few things I find as aggravating as someone presuming to know more about me than me (meaning where I came from/where I started from, how incredibly difficult even simple things were).  And it can be very frustrating – not to mention annoying – when I’m struggling with something and feel that I’m not allowed to express this. Many  of the people I’m around in dance classes subscribe to the idea that “you can do anything!” and that if you don’t believe this you’re “being negative”. Perhaps it started out with good intentions – I mean I really want to believe it started with good intentions – but I feel it ends up veering into blaming people for not trying hard enough, for “not wanting it enough”. Clearly anyone can see that with our different bodies, strengths and weaknesses, different steps or moves may prove to be more difficult to some of us? I mean, if the average ballet student in my class back when I first started in Beginner was able to hold a releve balance on two feet (if only for a few seconds) during their first class, but it took me over a year to do this, then obviously we did not start from the same place. It would be ridiculous for me to expect the same progress in the same amount of time, but I feel like it is a very unpopular thing to admit. It seems to me that “you’re being negative” is code for “you’re saying things that contradict my world view, and I chose to take it personal”. Or perhaps that’s why I’m not “confident” , because I don’t expect the unlikely outcome to magically occur without putting in the work … and the time. How does saying “I CAN do this!” and then falling out of it make me more “positive” than admitting “I can’t do this YET?”. (Or maybe I’m showing my age again, since it seems to be mostly the young’uns that feel this way…)

At this point I’d like to interrrupt this admittedly whiny post by saying that despite all my grievances things have actually been going well in life. I have made a friend! I’ve mentioned before how difficult it is for me to make friends, so that explains what a big deal this is. Previously I’d made a couple of ballet friends, who I enjoy talking with about ballet-related things before and after class, but it was still somehow superficial – if specialized- small-talk. But with this new friend (who has been an acquaintance for about a year, but we’ve been interacting more lately) who is also a dancer, but more into Modern than ballet, I’ve been having real conversations – sharing hopes, ideas, dreams, fears, beliefs. Conversations with substance, getting deep, which as an introvert I crave and enjoy immensely.

Among many other things, I’ve discussed ballet with her, and since she’s not completely passionate about ballet I’m able to hear a more levelheaded – and openminded – point of view than I sometimes get from my ballet friends.  She’s actually the first person (besides Boyfriend) with whom I’ve discussed in depth my choice to not pursue going en pointe as a goal. This is something else that I’ve felt that I can’t talk about with anyone – even on here, sadly, although this should be a safe place for me to express my ideas – because it’s so different from everyone else’s point (obviously, no pun intended) of view, and I’m really bad at making controversial statements. But going over it with my friend has helped me feel more secure in my decision – since I’m not pursuing a professional dance career, there is nothing wrong with me enjoying ballet in flat slippers. For a while now, I’ve had this worry that since my goal is not to get en pointe then I can’t refer to what I’m doing as “ballet” (not that everyone who does ballet recreationally IS en pointe, of course, but from the ladies who are not all I ever hear is that it is their dream and number one goal. For full disclosure, I feel I have to admit that one of my goals – which I can check off – has been to be strong enough to be allowed to do it, even if I choose not to). Perhaps instead of “ballet” I should refer to it as “flat-llet”?

Then again, I’m a big fan of ‘never say never’, so I’m not saying it will never happen. I’m just saying that with the way things currently are it is not my goal. Who knows what the future holds?

Some Classes, And Thoughts On Childhood vs Adulthood

This past week I continued my schedule from the week before, three classes at New Studio and then youtube classes for the other days. Mostly I’ve been concerned with not losing the strength that I gained during summer session – cutting back on class hours will do that to me. Luckily, fall session at my regular school will resume next week, so it’ll be a full ballet schedule again.

At home, I’ve been mostly working on a better, more controlled passe releve, hoping that it will traslate to better pirouettes. It appears to have worked! I’ve been doing the combinations in Kathryn Morgan’s youtube videos Easy Ballet Center and Classic Ballet Center, but during the pirouettes I just go up into passe releve instead (the floor at home is pretty terrible for turning). So then, when I was in class at NS and we went across the floor (tombe, pas de bourre, chasse, pirouette en dehors, repeat), I was actually getting all the way around on my pirouettes, even to my harder side (right). I got to be honest, I was surprised to be getting around consistently! This must mean that it’s been working though, so I will continue on with the video practice.

I had committed that I would be doing the Classic Barre this week, but then I found a newer video class called Pointe Barre. After giving it a quick view, I noticed that the combinations seem faster and more involved, so I just had to try it. It was a bit more challenging that the Classic Barre video, but I was able to keep up (except for the frappes on releve, but I just did them twice through in flat). I’ve actually gotten better at customizing the difficulty so that I can get through all the exercises, and even start to memorize them. However, I don’t know if I should be working on the same barre video to focus on technique, or if I should switch up the barre videos so I’m forced to learn to remember combinations faster.

My timing was a little bit better during class, not like how I kept starting too soon in all the combinations last week. So perhaps last week I was just having on off week after all. During sautes I got a little bit ahead of myself, but once I realized it I was able to settle back down to the correct speed. I’ve gotten so much better at remembering to breathe during my jumps instead of holding my breath, and as a result I feel like I can jump for longer and longer.

And then, something else, something I almost feel like I’m not supposed to/allowed to say… I feel like it’s as though i’m saying ‘why does everyone say the sky is blue?; it looks green to me’… but since it’s my blog I’ll say it anyway, even though it is not the experience for the majority of people (and besides, if you want the majority opinion, there’s plenty of other places to get it) – it drives me absolutely nuts when other adults keep going on and on about how easy everything is when you’re little. Or how flexible you are as a child and how it all goes away. Not that you can’t have that opinion; your opinion can be whatever you want. But I can’t stand it if someone whom I barely know (new classmate) starts going on and on to me about how this would be so easy if we were children, and don’t I remember how easy everything was back then, how can I not remember? And it’s like no, I can’t remember because it was NOT easier for me to do physical/kinesthetic things as a child. It just wasn’t my experience. And flexibility? Back then I couldn’t even reach my  knees, much less touch my toes, and my extensions would have been nonexistent – all my flexibility came as an adult (though my hands and locked knees do indicate possible hypermobility, even then). But for whatever reason people always seem to look put out when I express my truth, and it’s not that I’m trying to be deliberately contradictory, but if it just wasn’t my experience for things to go a certain way why should I lie about it? Am I supposed to lie about it, in order for them to have the piece of mind, to keep believing that their truth is the only one? Is this one of the reasons why I can’t even have simple small talk conversations with most people, because I refuse to give them the answer that they expect (if it’s not true to me), so they move on to those who will just echo their sentiments?

But if I may be honest, even though I may sound irritated or angry in my little rant, I’m actually lonely.  It can be very alienating not having anyone to relate to. I mean, sometimes they all start having a group conversation about how great things were when they were little girls and I just feel so lost, so unrelateable, like there’s something wrong with me. I often feel like no one can relate – I know what it feels like to be an adult who can do somewhat awesome things, but I don’t know what it feels to be a child who could. And since it’s presumed to be easier to do things as a child – no one expects a grown up to be able to jump and skip and dance and cartwheel – there’s this feeling of failure that I carry around with me, like I was an inadequate child, like if we were living in caveman times I would have been left by the group to die as the weakest link (I know that sounds so dramatic, but I think about stuff like that…).

Anyway, I’m trying to find something constructive in all of this….Yes, I may have been a disappointment as a child, but at least now I’m not full of excuses? Or at least since I don’t have those memories of the happiest childhood ever, it makes it so my adulthood is really fun in comparison? I feel like if I was more motivated, and social, I could turn this around and have it be somehow inspirational, to not let your past define your future. But I’m not really that motivated (except to practice ballet!) – or social – so it will be up to someone else, if there even is anyone else like me out there. There probably is… they’re just not coming to my local classes, or writing about it on the internet (yet – if you’re different that the “norm”, please share your story; we need it).

(p.s. yes, I know that it’s easier to recover from things like falls as a child, and that bone remodeling rate or cell growth slows down when one is older, and these things may apply to everyone, even me. But I’m not really talking about the physiology of it, so much as the mental/cognitive aspect of it. Even though I had healthy bones as a kid, and if I scraped my knee it would scab quickly, that doesn’t mean that I could do all the things that other children could do. I just couldn’t do it. And the whole thing about kids being fearless? Uh-uh, not this child.)

Summer Session Summary

Alternate title: What I Did On My Summer Vacation (ahhh, memories)

Even though I didn’t have much time to write about it while it was going on but a weekly little summary, my ballet summer session was pretty awesome. I learned so much and I really feel that my dancing has really progressed. It was Beginner level, but I do feel that I needed to fill up gaps in my technique in order to be better prepared for Intermediate, should I decide to take it again (and who are we kidding – I probably will).

Here’s probably the most important thing I learned: When you actually use your technique to the fullest – believe it or not – it gets easier (there is a catch though – you have to actually have enough strength in  your muscles to begin with to be able to physically do it. Back when I started, I was so weak that I couldn’t physically do a lot of things that feel like second nature now). If I’m actually holding my turnout and pulling up and not tilting my pelvis (and staying untilted at the pelvis has a huge impact on turnout) I have an extremely higher likelyhood of not losing my balance. My problems with balancing before were partly (at least – I’d say mostly, but there is that little issue of my weight distribution and center of gravity) caused by the fact that I kept losing my turnout and not pulling up. Of course, back then I wasn’t strong enough to even stand up completely straight, let along pull up, so yeah…

But anyway, I’m much stronger now, so when I remember to fully use my technique – and I’m hoping that writing this down will serve as a reminder – it results in much better dancing. I think the promenades issue is a clear example of this. Back a few months ago, I would start feeling like I was going to tip over anyway, so might as well just let it go. But now I’ve realized that when I feel like I’m going to lose my balance is a great time to pull up even more, and not let my leg drop! Same with the turnout, if I feel like I’m off balance I need to check myself and see if I’m actually holding my turnout and not bending my knees when they should be straight. Also, another thing G Teacher would constantly remind me of was having the weight on the toes not the heels – he said if the weight is on the toes I would not wobble. I really took his advice while rehearsing my dance and it was true – the change was obvious and I feel like my dancing improved so much. I’d always heard that when you rest back on your heels you’re “heavier” and therefore slower, but it was one of those things that you have to be strong enough to be able to do it first.

Another thing that helped me extremely: The turnout exercise we did (super slow (16 count) rond de jambes en l’air with a flexed foot, from fifth,  four counts devant, four counts to a la seconde, four counts to derriere, four to close on right working leg en dehors, then left working leg en dehors, left working leg en dedans, right en dedans, and repeat the whole thing with supporting leg in plie) did much to help me with my balance and stability, but also with my confidence level. In the start of the session, I liked the execise because I could really see it helping with strengthening my supporting leg and my hip flexors and rotators of my working leg, so that was all good. But then G Teacher said he wanted me to do it with my hands off the barre. At first it was very wobbly, and I thought I would lose my balance, so I held my hands very near to the barre, just in case. But by the last two weeks of the session it was like ‘I’m going to do this!’, and I held my arms confidently in second the whole time… and I didn’t fall off balance. Not even when G Teacher would come around with corrections (usually involving turning out more my supporting leg while in plie). And every day, after completing the exercise successfully my confidence would grow. By the end of the session, if he had said ‘do it in center!’ I think I could have! (well, I have at home, but you know how it seems easier to do stuff when everybody’s not staring…at least for me…)

I will say that this exercise in particular – sans barre – has the power to wring sweat from my body more than any exercise I’ve ever done. By the end of it every time I was dripping and ready to remove the warm ups, looking like I just stepped out of a sauna. So this will be a good exercise to remember this winter when i need a way to raise up the old body temperature!

Something I really liked was that I got a lot of attention from the teacher (ok, that sounds horrible… let me try to explain). G Teacher was really generous with both corrections and praise. When I take a beginner level class, often times the teacher focuses more on students that are more beginner (and I can understand why, if they need the help more), and if I’m not really being watched, how will I know if I’m doing it correctly? G Teacher often said ‘Good!’ or ‘Nice!’, but he also pushed me harder and expected more from me. And, I’ve always been somewhat nerdy, so I kind of like that feeling when teachers expect more from you, i respond to it real well.

For example, the solo at the end of the session, when I first approached him I hadn’t expected that he would have me learn a real variation. I had just been checking what we were doing for the end of session so I could begin working on one of my own chorographies if I needed to (and hoping to avoid having to work in a group to create one, because that just does NOT work out for me, as I’ve found out). So I was surprised to be assigned a real choreography to learn, and I was pleased when I ran it by G Teacher and he said he was impressed (I’m trying not to think that he was impressed because he expected much less…). Also, and I think I mentioned this before, since it was a bit fast it took me stepping out of my comfort zone. While stepping out of my comfort zone scares me quite a bit, the anticipation of it, afterwards I do I feel… not just relieved, and not just somewhat incredulous, but like I’ve grown as a person (and not just as a dancer, but that too).

And, amidst the constant correction to stop tilting my pelvis (also known as sticking out my derriere), I finally asked the question I’d been dreading to ask – more like dreading to hear the answer I feared I already knew: In order to keep it from happening through muscle memory, does it mean I have to stand with my pelvis untilted even when I’m not in class or trying to stand in a balletic manner? G Teacher answered ‘yes’. Ok, so officially no more excuses – if I want to be able to access all of my turnout and maintain my stability while balancing and turning, no more tilting of the pelvis, even outside of class. Ugh, despite the fact that an untilted pelvis makes my butt look horrible and my tummy pooch (yes, even if I hold my core as tight as I can – I have stubborn flab and loose skin left over), I will have to sacrifice whatever vanity I have left for the sake of ballet. Seems like a fair trade…I guess… I hope…?

Editted to add: Can’t believe I forgot to mention this other thing, also falling under the category of confidence – going in the front row. I think during this session was the first time that I was completely ok with going up to the front row for center work without hesitating. Previously, it had been that I could do it, if the teacher told me to, but out of my own, no way. But something appears to have changed, because now I’m ok with it. I think part of it has to do with how my own classmates seemed to accept that I’m kind of an intermediate-beginner, so that helped to reinforce it to me that even though I’m the same person who couldn’t even balance on one leg long enough to lift the other foot of the floor for a milisecond, that has changed. Which sounds really bad, because I think it sounds like I’m saying that I can only define myself by how others see me? Which is not what I’m trying to say necessarily – I define myself, in my own company (which I love); in the company of others, especially others who I find intimidating, I tend to freeze up, and so their defining of me becomes the only one… perhaps that’s closer to it. I realize it might not make much sense to anyone reading, but these are some of my struggles, and not just in dance, but in life. But it does seem that through dance I’m tackling my issues, so that helps.  Anyway, I’m hoping some of this new confidence will stick around for a bit.

I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I can think of for now. Next up, my thoughts on my yoga summer session.

Some Parts Are Functional…

For years now, almost a decade, I’ve had some umm… toenail issues (I think I should just give out a TMI warning right now and get it over with!). The back story is that I used to live in flip flops and sandals, and I used to get pedicures at a local salon. One day I stubbed my big toe (easy to do since I literally lived in sandals) and my toenail cracked and broke in half. When I went into the salon for my next pedicure, the lady asked me if I “wanted her to fix it?”. Like an idiot – give me a break, I was young! –  I said ‘yes’ without asking her what it entailed, and to my horror, she applied a coat or two of acrylic to it. Not what I’d had in mind – what I’d had in mind, who knows – but I’ve always sucked at standing up for myself and I figured the damage was done so I  didn’t raise a fuss and went on with my life.

A few months later, I noticed that the nail that had been acrylic-ed had started to grow weird, both curved up and in (like, the ends were going ingrown, the middle was going up to the ceiling). I stopped going to the salon, and once the acrylic part grew out altogether it fell off. Unfortunately, my toenail was never the same. The curvedness remained, and it continued to grow away from the nail bed. Around this time is when I started wearing flip flops less anyway, so I didn’t pay much attention to the problem – out of sight, out of mind. It didn’t hurt or feel uncomfortable, so I just left it alone.

By the time I started dancing, my toenail had become rather deformed and thickened. It still didn’t hurt, so I continued on. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I researched a bit and realized that when my nail had originally cracked all those years ago and been covered with acrylic, I most likely caught a fungal infection – moisture and acrylic don’t mix! The thickening of my nail was a symptom, and if I hoped to treat it topically I would have to get past the hardened, thickened part to the nail bed where the infection originated from. Easier said than done…

But about two weeks ago, while trimming my toenails I was finally able to cut off the hardened part. The end result is that I now have hardly any big toe nail on that side (but now I can easily treat it with the topical anti-fungal ointment). In the meantime, while my nail grows back I am having more difficulty balancing on releve. It’s still possible to balance, but my foot feels less stable, sort of like that ‘brake’ that keeps me from going past is not there. I’ve heard/read that many dancers lose toenails completely when they are en pointe, so I figure dancing toenail-less – especially on flat – is not a huge catastrophy. But still, I’m hoping my nail will hurry up and get better and grow!

I already knew this in a factual, I-read-it-in-a-text-book kind of way, but I needed that hands on knowledge to really understand that our toenails are not just decorations for the feet, they are Functional!

Now I’m off to research if there are any specific ways of coping with dancing while missing a toenail…