Tag Archives: ballet stretches

Thursday Class: Hot

We had no class on Tuesday – though I did enjoy a nice practice session at home – so Thursday was my first class in a week.

The weather got hot (finally – it was feeling more like fall than late May), making it harder to stay cool, especially towards the latter part of class.  This may have been the first time ever in ballet class when I’ve actually found myself sweating.  Out of breath, sure, has happened many times (especially back before I started running), totally sore, also yes, but never actual sweat. Of course, I was wearing my little sweater (they call them warm ups for a reason…) but I’ve just gotten so comfortable taking class with it on that I can’t imagine doing it without. So yeah…

We did a new combination with our rond de jambes: 4 rond de jambes en dehors, then brush the foot through  first to the front en cloche, then back, then front, hold, close, 4 rond de jambes en dedans, brush foot through en cloche, then end with foot behind and balance in 3rd arabesque. It was a nice combination, a bit challenging on moving the leg en cloche in correct timing. Actually, the timing of the rond de jambes was a little faster than usual, which also added to the challenege. The balancing part was ok, I balanced better on my second side (right leg), which was a little different than what I’m used to. In general my balancing was strong this class. It’s so unpredictable – going into class I never can guess ahead of time if it will be a good balancing day.

We did frappes on croix, then soutenu and other side.  It was a little tricky, closing from a frappe right to a releve sous-sus for the soutenu and then on the other side having the foot flexed and ready to frappe.  Also, it was 4 frappes in each direction, so there was the whole don’t-swich-the-first-one thing to think about.  It was fun though, I like doing stuff that is somewhat tricky so I can pat myself on the back that I can even do it at all. I remember my attemps at doing frappes my first semester – horrible!

Around the time we put the barres away for center, several dancers who sometimes take the next class (Intermediate) came it and began to warm themselves up in the back.  I have a strong suspicion these dancers are either pros or ex-pros, and I think one of the guys is en pointe.  Anyway, our first center combination was our 4 quarter pirouettes, 2 half pirouettes, and 2 full.  We start facing the front, quarter turn to the side, then quarter turn to the back, and I see one of the possibly pro dancers doing some ridiculously flexible stretch on the floor with his legs up by his ears (and he was wearing a sweater tied around his waist, with the arms placed strategically on the area where his dance belt is/would be. And then I noticed the other pro male dancer was sporting the same look. Is this a thing? For extra coverage while stretching? I though dance belts were designed with modesty in mind? Does the fact that I even noticed make me out to be a total perv? Not that it was distracting in the least… LOL).  We quarter turn twice more, and now we do our half turn to the back.  This time he’s in a completely different, also ridiculously flexible stretch, this one involving sort-of circling his legs out along the floor and bringing them back up rapidly.  By the time we’re on our second full pirouette – well, my attemps at a full pirouette – he’s down in completely perfect splits.  It was just like ‘Wow!’ because we have some people in class who are somewhat flexible, and even I myself sometimes get considered a flexible individual (especially by non-dancers, LOL) but these dancers (and this guy in particular) are just on another level.  It amazes me. I mean, I’ve watched youtube videos of pros taking class – actually, I love watching pros taking class videos – but seeing it right in front if you just makes it so real.  It was so intimidating fumbling through the pirouettes (and the rest of class) knowing they were there. It’s not like they were watching us or anything, they were mostly focused on their warm-up, but I still get embarassed. The whole concept of “That girl sucks at ballet – why does she even bother?” combined with my special brand of anxiety over being observed.  I guess I still feel so out-of-place at ballet class, unless everyone is on a very beginner level.  I don’t have much confidence in my dancing abilities, though I still have fun with it and continue to try.

When we did chaines from corner to corner I went in the last group.  It was not the wisest decision. First of all, there was only 2 of us (which in itself is not a problem, in IC we even went completely alone), but the other girl is really new (first semester) so, understandably, she turns really slow.  When we got to the other side we were supposed to finish by chasse-ing and then balancing in 3rd arabesque.  It’s usually no big deal, just a quick balance and then get out of the middle of the floor and get in line for the other side. The problem was that I had to hold my balance for much longer, since I finished crossing the floor much quicker and had to stay while the other girl finished and Teacher corrected her on her turns and chasse and arabesque. Holding the balance for longer, especially after all those turns (especially to the left) was certainly a challenge.

During our 4 balancés, tombe, pas de bourre, then other side combination, Teacher corrected me on my turnout. I tend to lose some of my turnout while moving, especially moving quickly.  It’s so hard to apply a correction when you’re in the middle of motion!

Jumps were definitely better today. During the 16 sautes and then 16 changements, Teacher told us “Much better on the timing!”, and being honest, it was usually me who was screwing up the group’s timing.  I’ve gotten much better at not speeding up towards the end, and actually staying on the same timing as everyone else.  I was trying to focus my attention more on making sure my feet were landing in the correct position and pointing in the air, not just jumping for the sake of jumping.  Like, being really deliberate in telling my body what I wanted it to do.  When we did 3 echappes, pas de chat, pas de bourree Teacher actually complimented me on my jumps, and I was looking in the mirror and the jump did look really powerful. Possibly the best echappe I’ve ever done!

Left class feeling pleased with my improvements (though frustrated by the areas that show no improvement). Feeling sad over the (rapidly) approaching break for the summer though. Teacher mentioned that there will be a session of IC taught over the summer, but it won’t be taught by her so I don’t know if I’m up for it.  I really dislike this aspect about me, but if I can’t feel at least comewhat comfortable it’s hard for me to relax enough to concentrate on what I’m doing.  If I don’t feel comfortable with the teacher I don’t know if I will just make a great big mess of things.  On the other hand, it is  almost daily and affordable ballet classes. Arg, what to do?!

Tuesday Class: Definitely A Better Day

Had another fun class, feeling much better from last week 🙂

It was one of those I-love-ballet-class days…

Tendu combination was complex enough to make it more interesting than usual with slow tendus with lots of articulation, tendus at different speeds, and using arms for tendus en croix. Can’t remember exactly how it went, but it may have been the slow tendus en croix, then quick tendus en croix with arms with some plies in there.  During it I kept up really well, and I was glad, though I wish I could remember exactly how it goes so I could practice it at home.

Rond de jambe combination included a passe releve balance on flat after 3 en dehors a terre and 1 en l’air, and then a passe releve (attempt at) balance after the same number en dedans.  From there we were to bring our foot down into sous-sus, then cambre front and back.  I love this kind of stuff, since this is the kind of stuff I practice at home. It’s great to actually get to do stuff like this in class and get corrected on possible ways I’m doing it wrong and stuff.  Ok, that and I love having an enormous mirror to watch  myself sort of doing ballet in right in front of me.  If I had mirrors like that at home I’d be so motivated to practice every single day even more than now. Anyway, it was a nice combination.

During the barre stretch and foot in hand stretch part of class I didn’t have to worry that I was showing off by keeping my leg up, as there was this really advanced male dancer took class with us, and there his is one barre over with his foot up over his head. It was pretty cool to watch him do barre though, so flexible and graceful.

We used arms for our grand battements en croix, which made it funner – and of course, more challenging.  Muscle memory is nice to have though, and using arms is something I’ve gotten used to by now.  When demonstrating, Teacher told us where the leg goes relative to the arm when doing grand battement a la second, and I think she said behind but now I’m not  so sure and I wish I’d written it down faster.  Behind is  where I do them to anyway, but it’s nice to know if you’re doing it right.  Some teacher had said it didn’t matter whether it went behind or in front, and that had seemed odd. Like, rarely in ballet is something just left up to where ever the dancer feels like it, I had thought, but maybe I’m wrong…

During pirouettes, Teacher identified the reason for my crappy pirouettes (though ok quarter and half pirouettes): I was not spotting at the end.  She said I start out spotting ok, but then lose it – which was news to me, as I didn’t even realize I’d been managing to spot at all.  Spotting almost makes sense when doing across the floor turns, like chaines or piques, but for stationary turns I just can’t seem to get the hang of how to spot. Does this mean that when doing across the floor turns I wasn’t really spotting? Was I just pretending to spot?  So confusing, though I’m sure I’ll have fun figuring it out.

We did the full pirouettes from 4th instead of fifth, which used to feel easier in the past. By now we’ve done so many from fifth that they’re both feeling around the same difficulty. I haven’t practiced my passe releves from 4th in a while, now that I think about it…

Ballet running practice was next.This time we ran with our arms in third, which is a million times less awkward for me than with arms in second for obvious reasons.  I’m pretty sure that did not have any effect on my ballet running though, as it remains terrible. It looks so pretty when done right, and there’s a couple classmates who’ve really got it down.  This one lady in particular is so entertaining to watch do pretty much anything (I’ve mentioned her before as the lady with the perfect attitude derriere), but especially her running and grand jetes. She is amazing.

Sautes went much better than last class. I caught myself starting to speed up the tempo, and forced myself to slow it down.  Working on taking each individual jump at at time, just focusing on pointing those feet, landing with the feet in something at least resembling the position they’re supposed to be in. All this stuff that i could be focusing on, instead of just getting high off the floor as many times as quick as possible.  If I keep it up I’m sure my body will eventually figure out what we’re doing here…

On another, sort-of-related  note, I’ve been working more on my toes, trying to activate all the muscles that spread the toes out, or stretch them out.  I’ve been thinking of taking before nd after pictures of what happens, to see if there’s any improvement.  Maybe see if any improvement in my ablity to stretch out my toes results in an improvement in my dancing. So we’ll see if I get around to that anytime soon…

Back To Double Dose of Ballet

See Tights

See Tights Run

Run Tights, Run!

My new tights have a run already. What the hell!

My new tights have a run already. What the hell!

Just trying to find humor in the fact that after wearing them only, like, 3 times my new favorite tights have a run in them already, as I discovered when it was time to get dressed.

wednesday morning class

The new port de bra for our demi plies at the barre is still unfamiliar and awkward for me.  It’s almost feeling like the patting-your-head-while-rubbing-your-stomach feeling.  We start with arm out in second and it doesn’t come in until we are at the bottom of the plie, then low fifth when we go up.  On the next plie it goes to middle fifth on the bottom, and opens to second when we come up.  The time coordination is the part that gets me, I keep wanting to bring in the arm prematurely and then I’m ahead of the count.  Will excessively work on it at home for sure.

On our tendus we did a lot of slow foot articulation stuff.  Tendu-ing out to second, flexing the toes and then the foot, then pointing the ankle (but not the toes), and finally the toes.  While the ankle flexing part is not a problem, my toes didn’t want to cooperate on the toe flexing.

We did releves sous-sus and then brought one foot up to coupe.  Strengthwise it was ok, didn’t feel like much of an effort. Then Teacher said to let go of the barre and try to balance as long as possible.  I let go and promply started to fall forward, reminding me of a felled tree – someone yell “Timber!”.

The expected learning curve scares me.  Things that are introduced in class one week – no pressure, most people mess up – are then expected to be drastically improved several weeks later.  That is not my learning curve; it took me about 6 months to be able to pull off any two-footed releve balance at all, for however short a time.  Even now I still struggle with my balance on two-footed releves at times (though magically it always works out at home, when I’m alone).

It sucks, because most teachers approach it from the premise of “if you’re not balancing it’s because you tend to fall backwards.”  I tend to fall forward (because of the chest, weight distribution), so when I releve I make sure to not go up too quickly, that way my momentum won’t push me over, while at the same time making sure to  not fall back.   It gets desperately discouraging at times, especially seeing how other, much newer, people don’t have trouble with the balancing part.  But then I see pictures of full-term pregnant women balancing either on releve or en pointe and I’m like ‘no, there’s a way. I just have to get even stronger.”

We did a flexibility exercise with a partner, involving developpe-ing to the front and a la seconde, but the catch was that after you developpe your partner pushes your leg up, to the limit your flexibilty can stand. Then we had to use our strength to keep our leg that high and sloooowly – with control – bring it back down.  Imagine my surprise when my partner kept pushing my leg up and it was past my head and it still didn’t hurt! And I still remember when I couldn’t even touch my toes – an unflexible child can grow up to be a sort of flexible adult!  Once she let go I was able to keep it up there and lower it slowly with no problem.  Yay, maybe there is strength in me after all!

During sautes I did feel less out of breath and exhausted, though that’s probably mental because I don’t think my 2 days of (very little) jogging have made that much of a difference.  But I am interested to see how my endurance for jumps will improve after I’ve been jogging awhile.  My sautes were ok – feet somewhat pointed – but the changements and echappes not so much. However, looking on the positive side, I no longer step on myself when I do changements and after the changement and echappe combination I did end up with the correct foot in front.

Across the floor we did 4 chasses (the galloping kind), ballet run and jete.  On the right side it went ok, my jetes with the left leg in front could use some additional improvement.    But it was so much fun, sometimes big movements are just what I needed!

wednesday evening class

Double checked and made sure I had my wallet AND my shoes.

We had a small class today, all with some ballet experience, so as Evening Teacher says “We can do stuff that involves the brain more.”  It was a change of pace, and for the most part I kept up.

We did fondues, which I love.  We did the kind of fondues where the leg straightens so that the working foot is in the air, not the floor, which are even more fun. We also did the rond de jambes that are combined with a fondu, as well as plenty of rond de jambes en l’air.

Something I like about this class is that E. Teacher uses music that changes tempo midway. So we do stuff like 8 slow degages and then 6 in double time or two tendus and then a pique on the third.  It’s nice to mix it up a bit; I would say “keeps it interesting” but it’s already interesting.  Ummm, I guess it increases the interesting factor.

We did lots of frappes also, which was nice.  Such a weird motion at first – the flexed foot and all – but now that I got used to doing them they’re ok.

During our grand battements en croix we did something different: after front, side, back, on the next side one we were to turn in to the barre with both our supporting and working legs bent and then straighten the working leg back out, then tondu it in releve sous-sus, soutenu, and other side.  The “turning into the barre with bent legs” move looks super intimidating but E. Teacher broke it down enough to make it possible.  I love the “no pressure” vibe in this class, as I’ve said before.

My only problem at barre was that E. Teacher wanted us to take a long balance in passe releve, which I can only hold for about two seconds (on left working leg) and not at all on the right leg.  So I alternated between holding passe releve with one hand at the barre or balancing with no hands on flat passe.

We did changements, echappes, and some kind of jump to fourth position that I’d never done before.  This was probably part of the whole “engaging our brain” thing. Unfortunately, my brain was occupied with trying to jump period, so I probably looked like I was doing lopsided jumping jacks or something.

During center, there was all this balancing in passe releve and then pirouette craziness that I pretty much messed up on.  Since barre went so well I took it all in stride.  So I can’t balance at all, no big deal, I can fondu! Or something like that…

At least I’m feeling cheerful tonight though.  I was feeling a little upset after morning class (re: my lack of balance) if the truth must be told, sometimes my flatlined learning curve just really gets me down.  Makes me feel like my efforts are hopeless, like I’ll never be decent at ballet. Such a sad thought…

Wednesday Morning Class, and How My Absentmindedness Strikes Again

Second Ballet class of the semester, rounding out the end of Week 1.

Once again we started out with some stretching.  Class meets for an hour and a half, twice a week, so there’s plenty of time for some warm-up stretches before we go to the barres.  I LOVE how this semester’s teacher lets us get out mats to do our stretching on.  last semester’s teacher made us stretch on the bare studio floor and it hurt like hell, especially on the pelvis and tailbone when we would lay down to stretch our hamstrings and work our cores.  I guess she was trying to build character, LOL.

Anyway, we started out today with some theraband stretches on the mats, working on strengthening our feet and ankles: slowly pointing our feet as we worked through demi point to fully pointed, tying our legs together at the ankles and trying to separate our feet from each other,  crossing our legs at our ankles and once again trying to separate them from each other.  Then we lay back and stretched our hamstring by pulling our straight leg back toward our shoulder with the theraband.  We also did this stretch where we lay face down and brought our feet together with our knees out to the side, kind of like a frog.  My body didn’t really like this stretch very much; looks like it’s something to I need to work on.

Then it was barre time! We did a LOT of plies, releves, and tendus.  The teacher was focusing attention on making sure that our feet weren’t sickling when we did any of those.  We did our tendus really slow at first, working through the foot in demi point before fully pointing.  I’ve done those before but they have a tendency to throw me off – I get over-eager and point all the way sometimes.  I surprised myself by actually remembering the combination after she had only said it once, which was unusual ( though I hope it keeps up).  

There were some challenges though.  Teacher asked us to take our hands off the barre and balance in releve, which I was managing ok (actually, better than ok) when we put our arms in middle fifth, especially thanks to the  correction I received two weeks ago at the other studio regarding arm placement.  Going right from holding the barre to high fifth, not so well, unfortunately. I had to put my hand down to keep from going forward at least twice.  I think I may not have been engaging my core to its fullest potential because I feel like I’ve totally been able to balance better before.

Another challenging moment was when Teacher asked us to step back from the barre and do the tendu degage combination without the barre.  My initial reaction – which I did not show, thank God – was panic. It’s not that I can’t do tendu degage without the barre – I can – just that I’ve only done it bar-less at home and after a LOT of warm up.  It went better than I expected (or hoped), so I guess around this time my abs were finally getting the message that they needed to wake up and work. 

We put the barres  away and went to center.  Teacher said we could use this as an opportunity to have a drink of water.  Unfortunately I did, and by the time I had drank a few sips from my bottle everyone else had taken up most of the room near the front. The reason it mattered was that the teacher would be leading us through our first center combination and I didn’t get to actually see what the teacher was doing, due to a very tall guy standing right in front of where I was.  Note to self: prioritize getting a spot over a drink unless I’m super dehydrated.

The center combination involved grand plies, so it was almost (another)  moment of panic.  I honestly can’t remember exactly how the combination went (brain started to get tired?), but I remember it involved tendus to the side, plie and shift weight to other foot, feet back together, grand plie, tendu devant, shift weight to forward foot, arabesque, feet together, repeat other side.  All with a really pretty port de bras that (due to the unfortunate placing of the tall gentleman) I wasn’t really doing right. I felt like I was a beat behind on everything.

For our across the floor work (if that is what it’s called) we did this step I learned last semester.  I can describe it as a fondue, releve, releve, while walking.  I remember when I first encountered it last semester I was having so much trouble with the coordination of it – I can sometimes be a slow learner – but lots of practicing at home helped.  We added arms to it and it felt so pretty!

So that was about it for Wednesday morning class.  Since it is Wednesday, it means there’s also class at the studio downtown.  And since I have a high tolerance for ballet, I’ll probably find myself there in a few hours unless some  unforseen circumstances  were to occur, like last week’s flashflood thunderstorm.

6 hours later…

Ok, I had every intention of taking my second ballet class today at the other studio.  I got ready at home, double checked that I had my shoes, cell phone, water bottle, small snack to have in the car before going in (an apple and the rest of this morning’s sliced plantain that I didn’t finish).  I get there, look for parking, take several minutes actually parking (I’m not exactly the best at parking, especially if it involves backing into the spot), and have my snack.  Right before I’m about to leave the car, I go through my stuff and what did I forget this time, but my wallet! Seriously?! So obviously since I didn’t have my admission fee on me (which was in my wallet, on the couch, at home), I couldn’t attend class. 

Not wanting to give up too easily, I did dig through my center console and under the seats just in case I got lucky, but I only came up with a couple dollars in coins.  Which is kind of funny…

Well, at least I had a good morning class.  Evening class is only for an hour anyway.

Thoughts on flexibility

I was in grade school the first time I realized just how inflexible my body was .  We were doing some kind of fitness testing at school that involved, among other things that I have long forgotten, testing us on our flexibility and if we could do a pull up.  Most of us kids could not do the pull up but I was horrified to realize that I was in the minority in that I could not touch my toes.  In fact, I could barely reach my ankles, and that was by cheating by bending my knees.

I remember I would sit on the floor at home, trying in vain to force my legs into a butterfly stretch (I think that’s what it’s called.  The one where you put your feet together and open your legs out to the side, trying to get your knees to touch the floor.)  My knees didn’t make it within 6 inches from the floor.

Time passed, puberty, junior high and high school happened and I lost interest in increasing my flexibily.  I think I had just accepted that some people just aren’t flexible.

When I first started ballet, I had been doing yoga for a short while.  I began to see small improvements in my flexibility, but nothing extreme.  I wasn’t putting my foot behind my head or anything.  But at least I had gained the ability to touch my toes without bending my knees.  And one day as I was sitting on the floor, without thinking I put my legs in the butterfly stretch.  All the way down.  At first I was kind of in shock and I kept looking down to make sure.  I took my hands and put them under my knees to make sure. But it was true, something that I had tried so hard for and had seemed out of reach just happened when I least expected it.

My first ballet teacher was very big on stretching.  We would do several stretches with our leg up on the barre. With our leg in front, making sure to keep our hips square to the barre.  With our leg out in second we would stretch our upper body both towards our foot on the barre  and then away from our foot.  We would put our leg in attitude on the barre and then turn around and have it on the barre in attitude derriere.  After all of these barre leg stretches we would then get on the floor and try to stretch into the splits.

At first, my body was not having it.  The barre hurt my ankle and it was hard to do the stretches.  But as time went on, I noticed that it was easier an easier to stretch, especially since I would practice the stretches at home as well as in class.  The splits continued to elude me, however, but since I was preoccupied with the other aspects of ballet like balancing and remembering the combinations I didn’t give it too much thought or importance.

The next ballet teacher I had did not have us do that many stretches in class, though we did do some challenging ones like putting our bent leg on the barre, plie-ing and  and bending towards it.  I still continued doing the stretches the previous teacher had taught us at home, but I didn’t keep trying to get into the splits.  I think I had kind of  given up on it but I was excited with my improvements in other areas.

So imagine my surprise one day when I was showing a classmate how far down I could go and found myself all the way down.  Just as it had previously happened with the butterfly stretch, I was in shock.  I was actually doing the splits! I couldn’t believe it.

At this point in my life I am the most flexible I have ever been and it feels great.  I have heard it been said by various people that flexibility is lost as you age, that you are the most flexible as a child.  While that may be the majority, it doesn’t have to be an absolute rule.  There are exceptions and that is something I find extremely uplifting.  There is hope. It is not too late.

Another thing that I find curious is that I was able to do both of these things after I had given up on them, yet when I was trying my hardest it just wouldn’t happen.  It does make me wonder if I am limiting myself or if I am my own worst enemy.

An even weirder thing a friend once said to me was that you can’t have body flexibility unless your mind is also flexible.  She said you must show that you are flexible about life before your body will respond with flexible joints.  I’m not going to say that she is necessarily correct, but it is a pretty big coincidence…