Tag Archives: beginning ballet

Random Ballet (Adult) Student Thoughts…

So, I was thinking about ballet (’cause it’s something I do fairly often throughout the day and all), and I was thinking of back when I was brand, brand new, when ballet was close to a total mystery to me. When so many of the things I’ve learned,that I sometimes take for granted, were not known to me. What a crazy time that was! LOL

I had a memory of doing barre with my right hand on the barre, except it was the first side and everyone else was facing the opposite way.  Quite simply, I didn’t know that we always start with the left hand at the barre, and though I’m sure that it was mentioned, amidst all the various facts and instructions we were given my brain was having trouble retaining it all. I remember a girl silently motioning me to turn around, which I quickly did, hoping to avoid drawing attention to myself. I realized with dismay that there was no one for me to follow (though at the time I didn’t think of it as following, but ‘who will I copy‘ lol), as that was why I had been facing the opposite way to begin with.  Obviously I didn’t know that it was a good idea to pick a spot at the barre where I could be behind someone on both sides.  At the time, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why no one ever wanted to share a barre on my side (answer: because I was definitely not the person to be following, as I didn’t know how to do any of the of the barre combinations, and they didn’t want to mess up as well by following me. wouldn’t have wanted to follow me. The first time a teacher ever told someone to follow me at barre I totally had an internal “Yay!” moment; like, finally, I’m not completely horrible at barre!).

In short, back then even barre was extremely intimidating.  Being a beginner is hard!

Then there was the issue of using the inside leg as the working leg. Much easier to balance while tenduing while using the inside leg, right? I have a very hazy memory of hearing someone get corrected on using the wrong leg and then applying the correction, gripping tightly on the barre to not fall over. And using the outside leg to stand on sure made holding a passe  balance on flat (well, not technically a balance, as I was still not letting go of the barre – at all) waaaaay less scary at the time…

These memories of my first couple months of ballet fill me with conflicting emotions. On the one hand I’m extremely happy, because I have improved so much from back then. I mean, I couldn’t even balance away from the barre on two feet it first position on flat! It makes me feel so hopeful, like if it was possible for me to improve this much, what else is possible, you know? And yes, I do feel somewhat proud of myself, if anything for sticking to something and working hard, and finding room for discipline in at least one area of my life.  Ballet will give you focus, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, I feel somewhat sad. No matter what, I will never be at that level of beginner again. Even if I were to take a long break, and my muscles were to lose their conditioning and my body were to lose it’s strength, I’ll still remember.  I’ll know that we start with the left hand at the barre, the outside leg is the working leg (unless we’re working both legs in the same combination, though that it not what I’m talking about), we turn toward the barre (again, unless it’s specified to do something else) as though it were our dance partner, and we put hair that’s long enough to be tied up in a bun to avoid whacking our face with it while spotting. I’ll take this knowledge, and much more, to any class that I were to take.  I can take a higher level class and feel somewhat like a beginner  again, as I fumble though combinations and at times use the wrong working leg or arms, but I’ll never again be a brand-new beginner. It’s a somewhat weird, sad thought.

Or perhaps I’m doing that over-thinking thing again…

But it is fun to think about ballet and reminisce on early ballet memories 🙂

And no, I never hit myself in the face with my hair in class, as I followed the dress code and bunned up. However, while practicing turns at home I found out first hand why a bun is fuctional!

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This Is Why I Do It, After All…

So, I’m home alone, sitting ummm, sprawled across my couch, procrastinating on starting my homework or beginning to fix dinner or doing something productive, listening to one of my classical music mixes from youtube on my ipod (hooked up to little speakers, not headphones), and suddenly, I just felt like dancing.

So I did. Nothing fancy, just some nice port de bras, some tendus, temps lie, rond de jambe, developpe, arabesque, releve balances with pretty arms, etc. type of stuff.  Just bits and pieces of different basic-beginner-level center combinations, really.  But I was feeling the music, so I’m going to go with it was dancing.

Ever since I started ballet I’ve been obsessed with dancing (duh), but I mean to my own creations. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve know existing ballet choreographies are beautiful and all that (and I mean no disrespect whatsoever to all the amazing choreographers out there), but sometimes I’ll hear a song and I just want to dance to it. But, like, ballet-dance, as I am a horrible non-ballet dancer.  And some of these songs are not even traditional ballet music, necessarily, but I’ll just get the little video playing in my head and I’m like ‘I want to make that dance exist! (And then probably put it on youtube, as I know my chances of performing and it being my own choreography are probably slim-to-none (and I’ll definitely take performing someone else’s choreography.))’

So, yeah, dancing.

It felt incredible, unbelievable almost.  Two years ago, even one year ago, I couldn’t do that.  Sure, by last year I knew enough to attempt it, but now I can almost believe that it’s dancing instead of just going through the motions. Like, it’s starting to look like I know what I’m doing, like I didn’t just forget my arm and leave it hanging out the side or something or forget to point my feet.  And I’m beginning to take not tipping over while on two feet flat for granted (even weight shifts), though this time last year it was still hit or miss. By now, even my one foot flat balances are pretty reliable – even including all those little adjustments the feet make to find the balance (it’s like my feet are now alive!) Sometimes when I see the lines of the muscle definition on my legs I think ‘Yeah, they’re definitely becoming dancer’s legs…’

Anyway, the point of all this is I was excited about it and wanted to share…

(Oh, and for the record, I probably would not have attempted this if my body hadn’t already been at least a little warmed up. One time I was trying to show a friend my passe releve and I hadn’t done ballet all day that day and when I went up it just felt Not Good (thankfully it felt better by the next day). I learned my lesson about always warming up before doing anything more complicated than some plies.)

Reminiscences: My First Ballet Final

This past semester term of ballet class ended rather unclimatically, as we didn’t have a final dance performance exam.  It made me realize that I like having a performance. In fact, you could almost say that I was looking forward to having a performance, and though this was a great ballet semester overall I miss that aspect of the past semesters I’ve taken.

I didn’t always feel that way, of course…

When I signed up to take ballet, almost two years ago, I had no idea what the class would entail.  Yeah, I figured we’d be stretching and there’d probably be classical music on, but besides that, nothing. And without further research on the matter I walked into my first class without that characteristic anxiety that appears whenever I’m about to do something horribly unfamiliar.  It was just a class at community college, just like the other classes I take and have taken; no big deal.

We were handed the course syllabus. The first thing that jumped out at me was LEOTARD. What was this about a leotard ? Couldn’t we move just as comfortably and ballet just as well in yoga pants and a top, or for those of us who started out uncomfortably self-conscious, sweats and a baggy T-shirt? Surely there could be some leeway…? (Later I would find out the answer is a solid “NO”.  Every one of my teachers at community college ballet has expressed the need to have the class be visibly identifiable as a ballet class, so (pink, preferably, or black) tights and a (solid-colored, and in Strict Teacher’s case, black) leotard it is.)

Anyway, the point of that tangent is that the initial shock of the how-do-I-hide-my-body situation overpowered my brain functions so much at that moment that I didn’t catch the other fine print.  The part about how the final exam for the class was a live solo performance. In front of the whole class. And it was mandatory (as in, even if you had a perfect grade in the class, if you miss the final it’s an automatic failing grade).

I could have dropped out as soon as I found out (at home later that day while going over the syllabus), but I didn’t want to make a habit of signing up for things and not following through. So I decided to stick with it, found my local dance store, bought the leotard and tights, and decided to not think about the final exam. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there…

And as you know if you’ve read though this blog, or at least my The Learning Curve page, I had a horribly awkward time attempting to ballet that first semester. I sucked, but I stuck with it because I started love it, to be obsessed with it.

Our midterm exam came and went.  We did a barre routine in front of First Teacher, about 10 of us at a time. By this point I was about 9 or 10 weeks into the class, so it was ok. Not good, but not exceptionally bad either in a I-just-made-a-complete-fool-of-myself way. We also did center. We had an tendu combination that by now would be a piece of cake (but back then I couldn’t even remember what came next), a combination involving developpe devant (during which I continually tipped over the whole time), and several across the floor combinations that I think I just made up as we went along. Not good.

And then the final exam was mentioned, ending my quiet denial.  It now became the thing that loomed in the (increasingly shorter) distance.  We were given the criteria: it was to be a piece at least a minute long, choreographed by us; we were to include certain  components (adagio, any form of tendus, a traveling step (like waltz, balancé), and either turns or jumps (but I’m sure it didn’t hurt to do both)); other than that it was open.

First Teacher said “Some of you are jazz dancers; others of you are tap dancers or modern. “Best Dancer” is a ballet dancer. So do what ever style of dance you’re most familiar with, I just want to see some of the elements of ballet in there.” Which was great for my classmates with non-ballet dance experience; as for me, since I had no  dance experience whatsoever, what was I to do? Well, why not start at what had me in that predicament in the first place – ballet.

I set out to choreograph what was possibly the clumsiest minute and fifteen second attempt at ballet  ever publicly performed.  Since I would have over a month to perfect it if I started right away, I immediately began thinking of possible combinations.  Thinking up combinations was not the hard part; the hard part was thinking up combinations that I could realistically perform in about 5-weeks time without falling on my face, behind, or any other body part.

For my music I picked the  Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven – beautiful, hauntingly melodic, and most importantly, slow.  As I  sat back and closed my eyes and listened, dancing images filled my mind and as such my choreography came to exist.  Boyfriend recorded one of my “rehearsals” and I watch it from time to time – watched it before writing this, actually – and although I had clearly not grasped the concept of pointed feet and rounded elbows yet, it’s a decent effort. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m proud of myself for pulling it off; never before has I taken something that I saw in my mind and made it real.

As the final exam date approached, I practiced my routine obsessively, hoping to have it firmly entrenched in my muscle memory.  To put my trust in my conscious memory alone was too risky, the possibility of it blanking out in panic too high.  Before the last date to drop I lied to myself that I could still drop the class, knowing deep down that I wouldn’t.  After the drop date has passed I could not continue the lie anymore; it was real, it was going to happen.

The day came.  I awoke earlier that usual – though nervousness had prevented me from sleeping well anyway – hoping to have time to warm up beforehand.  It has slipped my mind that since my last name is towards the latter half of the alphabet my turn would probably not come up until much later, possibly rendering all past warming up useless.  Getting into my leotard and tights, I tried to ignore the butterflies in the stomach, the loud pounding of my heart. The drive to school was much too quick.  In the parking lot, I forced myself to have breakfast all the while fearing that I would throw up.  I attempted to calm myself with deep breaths, and waited until it was time to go in.

The first sight that greeted me as I entered the dance studio was Best Dancer wearing an elaborate – and gorgeous – white pancake tutu and tiara.  Holy crap! First Teacher had said that we were welcome to wear a costume but that just took it to another level.  A terrifying though crossed my mind ‘I hope I don’t have to go up immediately after her!’. My next though reminded me that her last name was nowhere near mine, and with a sigh of relief I headed towards a far corner and began stretching.

A few minutes later First Teacher appeared.  She announced that we had about 10 minutes left to warm up, then we would begin. “What order are we going in?” someone called out.  “Any order you like,” she replied.

With every performance the fluttering in my stomach increased.  Some students performed modern pieces, going from being down on the floor to up in the air with an ease that amazed me.  Others, jazz or hip hop, with some occasional ballet moves thrown in.  But what intimidated me the most was the confort with which these students – these dancers – moved their bodies.  I did not yet know how to be comfortable in my body, and I still saw myself as an outsider. I was not a dancer, I was an impostor.

Best Dancer performed her piece, a reworked version of a variation from one of the Tchaikovski ballets (I’m not trying to get too specific here…). It was perfectly executed gorgeousness,  the kind of dancing that can only come with over a decade and a half of training.  Upon finishing, she immediately began to apologize for her (invisible to us) mistakes.  First Teacher nodded approvingly, telling us “Dancers that have been training for a long time always apologize for their mistakes.”

More students performed.  I took a moment between performances to get some fresh air outside, a few more deep breaths, and decided it was now or never.  After the next person finished, I handed my ipod to            the girl working the stereo system. My head felt like it was filled with air or cotton or something, my heart pounding loudly in my ears, but at the same time it felt so far away.

I walked out into the center of the studio, as the others had done before me.  I introduced myself, introduced my piece.  Then the music started, and the movements that I had practiced so many times came back to me, from the first opening port de bras through my shakily balanced developpes, tendus, temps lie, my far-from-perfect chaînes and pas de bourree and so on.  It went as well as it could’ve, given my experience at the time. I didn’t fall over, or trip over my feet.  I forgot there was an audience and it felt so good! After finishing I fought the urge to immediately run back to my seat and waited.

“Were you nervous?” asked First Teacher.

“Yeah, umm, this is my first time ever taking this class, any dance class, and dancing in front of an audience.”

“You look so somber. Such a somber piece of music. Very good.” That’s me, the somber one.

As I returned to my seat, a couple of girls that had seemed friendly towards me throughout the semester, fellow beginners like me, smiled and said “Good job!”.  I smiled, feeling both shy and pleased at the same time.

The pressure of performing off, I was able to sit back and enjoy the remaining performances.  I almost wished I had gone sooner so I could have been able to enjoy more of them, rather about worrying about my own upcoming time in the spotlight.

The crazy thing is that as soon as it was over I wished that something like this would come up again.  My final exam for my other ballet semesters have been different, from the dance we all did for Strict Teacher’s class, to my nonexistent dance final for my latest semester.  I would really love the opportunity to have a self-choreographed final at some point again though…

Oh yeah, and I got an “A”!

My Weekly Class Update

I had class today (this summer schedule has me mostly classless and on my own). Unlike the last 2 times that I’ve previously been to this studio, a month ago before I sprained my ankle and last week, we had a full class. Or at least as full as it’s I’ve seen it. There were more than double the number of students today as I’d seen before (5 the first few times, 13 today). There were 3 guys, 2 I’ve never seen before and the same guy from my last two classes there. By process of elimination – or subtraction, whichever way of viewing it that works – that must mean there were 10 of us ladies.

The skill levels ranged from “This is my first time ever. I’ve never done this before,” – two students – to a girl that had the most awesome port de bras so she has clearly been doing this a while. The way she moved her arms and head was like “Wow! How did she do that?!” It was so intimidating because it would just happen that her barre placement was right in front of me – you know, which becomes so I’m directly in front when we turn around ( to do the left side which also just happens to be the recovering foot!) and there’s also no mirror on that side, which also doesn’t help. When we went across the floor her group was also directly in front of mine but her groupmate (partner?) was a beginner so it wasn’t as intimidating, lol.

Since the combinations at this place are starting to become familiar, barre went a lot more smoothly. I hate it when I technically know how to do the move – correctly even – but I mess up by not remembering something, like whether to close in the fron or the back from a tendu a la seconde (to the side for anyone who might not know). On the one hand I’ll feel like “Oh cool, I’m getting the hang of how it goes,” as far as keeping my legs straight or articulating my feet, pointing my feet. But as long as I mess up combinations because of little mistakes like that, or messing up on the timing, I’ll feel like I’m doing some complicated stretches not quite dancing. Of course, everything the best student did looked like dancing, lol.
Since we had the two brand new students (and quite a few that were not brand new but not much more than a few months), we did a LOT of very sloooow tendues. It was a nice warm up and my ankle did not give me any trouble. I finally was able to put my finger on why I kept messing up on the tendus to the side : I’m used to doing 3 counts ( so close back, close front, close back), but in this class we also do 4 counts (close front, close back, close front, close back). I kept wanting to switch legs on the first count out of force of habit the last two times that I’ve had class there but today I was able to keep that in order.

The level of today’s class did feel way easier than the last times though. We did plies and grand plies, tendus in different tempos and counts, tendu degage, ronde de jambe, grand battement. No developpes or frappes like the last times. The teacher spent more time than usual explaining things and possibly conducted class in a slightly more “official” way – at least by my perceptions. It was still fun and laid back, just somehow like a “light” version of the classes I take at community college.

I’ve been working on my arms a lot this week since the correction last week, and hopefully the fact that the teacher didn’t correct me today means it’s worked – at least a little. Of course, compared to the best student’s port de bras my arms looked so stiff and lifeless – though curved!

In center, I decided to go for it and not sit out on the jumps. We did sautes and chagements and my ankle did fine. We also did this thing that I’ll describe as a “fondue-walk”, because we basically walked while fondue-ing. I did ok, but I’m sure after practicing this at home I’ll have it down better.

Today I didn’t really get many corrections – of course not because I was doing everything right but because the teacher had her hands (or her eyes) full with the newer students. I did remember that my ballet teachers in the past said to apply others’ corrections because chances are they apply to us also, so I did that. Mostly the arms, and just making sure to keep the core tight, legs straight. It’s always good to be reminded of the basics, the foundation is very important.

The Long-Awaited Return to Class

Since my morning walks have been nice and pain free – and it finally stopped hurting when I point my foot all the way – I went to class today! It was so much fun!

This is the class that I’ve only been to once before 3 weeks ago. I had been hoping that I would be able to go in today, but at the same time I was not trying to get my hopes up prematurely. If I would have had to wait until next week I would have been okay with that as well. But my ankle has been feeling better every day and I have been keeping up my strenght with  floor barre at home, so I figured it was okay to go to class today.

I really like this class because it is just so laid back compared to the usual class I take at the community college. Last time (the only time) that I took this class there was a lady who sat out on the jumps due to an injury, so I knew that it would be ok with the teacher if I sat out on jumps today. The community college ballet class is a bit more fast paced and the teachers expect us to perform at 100 percent – well at 100 percent for us – every time. I know that at my current recovery level I would not have been ready for that class. Good thing there are still a few weeks until the start of the semester!

Once again there were five of us students. With the exception of the only male student, all the students from this week were different than the students from a few weeks ago. That made it waaayyyy less intimidating than it could’ve been, because I feel so weird walking into something where everyone knows each other. Ahhh, the unfortunate flare-ups of my anxiety.

We started out with plies and grand plies facing the barre. I had done a few plies here at home the last couple days, so I was used to the feeling, but I had not done a grand plie since before I fell so I was a teeny bit worried. But it went fine, no pain, not even the slight feeling of a stretch. So far so good!

We then did tendues. Luckily, since the level of a couple of my new classmates today was basic beginner we went nice and slow. We did super slow tendues, focusing on articulation of the different parts of the feet. I was pleased that I had not lost any strength on my good foot and my injured side was doing ok. Not the best pointing that I’ve been capable of pre-injury but not bad.

I got a correction on my arms. Arms do not come easy to me! I think this might be because when I was first starting out I put all my focus on the legs and feet. Or it could be that my upper body strength is not up to par. Regardless, arms are something I really need to work on.

We then did a barre combination with developpes and ronde de jambes as well as kinda complicated pas de bras. It may have been the same combination we did the first day I tried out that class, because my body seemed to be getting it a lot faster today. We also did frappes, which are ok for me; they’re not my favorite move but I don’t struggle with them like I did back when I first started.

I was pleased that I was able to hold balances ok, even on releve. First we balanced in passe but flat and then we balanced in releve with arms up in high fifth. I did not attempt to balance on one leg today. I just didn’t think I was up to it yet.

All those days without stretching also seemed to have had a small effect on my flexibility. When we did grand battements I was still doing pretty good devant, and even better a la seconde, but my grand battement derriere sucked! Prior to my little two week break I could have sworn I was able to kick my leg up higher.

I sat out the jumps, but I did participate a little bit in center. I mostly wanted to reassure myself that I hadn’t lost my ability to do anything without holding on to the barre. It was a similar center combination to the one from a few weeks ago, involving tendu a la seconde, back to fifth, and passe releve, pirouette optional. I actually did a pirouette! That was kind of crazy!

Overall, a great class day!