Tag Archives: choreographing

Just Hiding Behind Beautiful Movements

There was something F Teacher said the last time I saw her that has stuck with me. It was our end-of-session class performance day (not to be confused with The Show of my previous post) and as the different students presented their short dance pieces, she gave constructive criticism as each finished.

I’m paraphrasing somewhat (if I can’t remember a few steps in center combination you think I’m going to remember a whole motivational speech?!), but she said something along the lines of “when you’re a beginner at dance, you have to give more of yourself to make your performance interesting, or fun, because the techinique’s not there, and there’s only you. But as you get more advanced, and you have more technique, and there’s more things you can do, you run the risk of being able to hide. You just hide behind the beautiful movements and don’t reveal any of yourself at all, and that’s not as entertaining.” (Remember I’m paraphrasing; the original quote, complete with her method of delivery, was about a million times more awesome)

Reason that this stuck with me is because… I think she’s right. At least in my case, but who’s to say that it doesn’t apply to others as well. Now it’s time for my long-winded explanation of why…

By this point in my dancing experience, I’ve mostly done ballet with a little bit of modern thrown in the mix. I wrote a post last year before comparing the difficulties of the two, but that post just dealt with the physical difficulty, actually doing the steps (and balancing without falling over). Taking the physical difficulty out of the equation – assuming we’re strong enough to do both equally well – I still believe that modern is much more difficult for me than ballet.

Reason is, in ballet it seems to me that there is the correct way or the wrong way, and all that’s left for me to do is to work towards the correct way. In modern, it seems there are so many different ways that are all technically correct, and it’s up to me to choose which (and I am one indecisive person). Those times when M Teacher would leave it completely open for us to decide what to do, they were very challenging for me. In ballet class, if the teacher says walk, you know it’s a ballet walk. In modern class, M Teacher could say to walk and it can mean a number of things – walk facing front or back, leading with your shoulders or pelvis, level up high or down low – you decide. In ballet, the port de bras is more or less codified unless the choreographer says other wise, but modern is so open. There were many times during modern when M Teacher would tell us to walk around while moving our arms and I seriously couldn’t think of anything to do with them besides swan arms. In short, I think during modern class I mostly do ballet with bad technique (because we’re not corrected on technical stuff as much).

Getting back to discussing performances, back when I first started dancing I wanted badly to choreograph. I would listen to music and imagine what I would dance to it, if only I was able to. And now, I have improved to the point that it is feasible that I could hear a piece of music and choreograph a short dance to it. This is something I enjoy extremely, something I find quite exhilirating.

But still – I guess I’m never satisfied? – I worry that the dances I make are boring. Perhaps all I am doing is going through the movements, never really revealing myself in the process (or maybe I am revealing myself, and the truth is that I am a bore, a coward, or both). I often feel guilty of the fact that I enjoy watching beautiful dancing. Not necessarily expressive dancing, or dancing that tugs at my heartstrings and elicits an emotional response – though I do find enjoyment in that too (provided I can actualy understand it) – but just beautiful movements, connected still shots of beautiful poses, as beautiful music plays.

Is the fact that I like my art “pretty” rather than expressive a character flaw? This is one of those times when I wish I could be as self-assured as others make themselves out to be, just “I like what I like, whatever”, but I’m not. I grew up feeling like my opinion was never valid, and the feelings of invalidation and self-doubt are still there – I fear they’ll always be there. Often I feel like I’m missing something, like others can see things that I don’t, understand things I can’t. All I want to do is make pretty art that is beautiful to look at – is that so wrong?

(not wrong, just boring)

Does it make me simple-minded to find it NOT boring to look at beautiful things without searching for a deeper meaning? Boyfriend says that perhaps it’s because I barely discovered dance as an adult and all my modern-loving classmates have danced since they were kids, so by now they’re over the concept of just making pretty movements, whereas all I ever wanted was to be able to move gracefully and I’m still stuck on that phase of my development. His explaination makes sense… somewhat. Another part of it, still having to do with having found dance as an adult, is that to me dance is my (only) form of escapism – I dance to forget the troubles, and the ugliness, and the sometimes horrible truths of my existence. I dance to feel happy, to feel free. So when I dance, I like to create beauty, just simple, uncomplicated beauty.  There’s enough ugliness being created out there, no need for me to add more to it (or so I feel) .

Of course, things could change as I get more experienced in dance – and life. Perhaps I’ll look back on this post in the future and be like “What were you thinking?!”, and feel so much superior to my in-the-past version of me. Stranger things have happened.

Anyway.

We ran out of time and I didn’t get to dance for the class, which was a relief as I was worried about the constructive criticism (because not only do I fear that my choreographies are boring, but I know my technique is not all the way there yet either). But I did get a video of me dancing my piece that I had prepared, and that makes me happy. I’m still contemplating making a youtube account to post some of my dances, but making no promises.

More Dance-y Fun, And Some Challenges

It was a very dance-y week, with four ballet classes, two modern classes, a rehearsal, and lots of practicing. If I include all the time spent practicing, I think I danced something like fifteen hours! My body held up pretty well, even though the weather remained gloomy and wet. Perhaps because the temperature hasn’t dropped as much it didn’t affect me as much.

Beginner ballet classes this week were more focused on working on the fundamentals, with the entire class doing the same exact combinations regardless of level.

On the one hand it’s easier, because the at the barre there’s much less port de bras, and in center the steps are beginner level (for example, waltz is not en tournant, and passe in on flat). On the other hand it’s harder because it’s so slow and everything has to be just so… precise. And as a not-completely beginner in the class, I feel an expectation to do it correctly. Also, since I’ve been doing the slightly more challenging version of every combination, I’ve commited those to memory, not these. This is only relevant to the fact that we’re going to be tested on these combinations sometime in the near future, and we’re expected to do it without F Teacher calling out the steps.

We’re told that preparing for exams is like an audition, and that she will treat is as such so that we can be prepared for that. I temember my first time taking ballet, I used to think how unlikely (and, given my skill level at the time, ridiculous) the idea of me ever being at an audition was, but here we are, 3 years later and I’ve actually auditioned – and performed in – performances for my school, so yeah, you never know where life will take you…

I also had my midterm exam for Modern, a performance, in small groups, before the class of a combination we’ve been working on for a few weeks.  I hadn’t done a class performance since the end of my last ballet session a few months ago and I’ve come to realize that I really love performing. That feeling – the racing heart rate, am-I-about-to-pass-out? rush right before the music starts as we wait there before our audience – I think I love it. As an introvert with some kind of social anxiety, who can be terrified of interaction unless it’s people I’m comfortable with, and gets really uncomfortable in crowded or group/social situations, I feel this is my only release, my only time to have attention focused on me and me actually enjoy it. Or something. I worry that it’s just a cover up for underlying problems that I should be working on (my anxiety issues, shyness, social awkwardness, overcoming the childhood truamas that actually contributed to these issues…), but for now I’m just going to dance and see where this goes. Anyway, performing’s such a thrill, and I’m glad that there’s at least a couple more class perfomance opportunities coming up in the nearish future.

The combination itself for the Modern class exam was not challenging, especially since it’s the same exact combination we did last session 6 months ago or so. The parts that are the hardest for me involve the contraction movements, since they’re still somewhat new to me, but I’ve improved much since last session. There’s this part where we do a jump (like a saute arabesque, but with less technique) and land in a way that we drop to the floor and roll over sideways, and it’s much less scary this time around. Floor work is something that still continues to intimidate me a little, but since it’s my second time taking Modern it feels a lot less foreign. I’m still glad that my first dance experience was with ballet, because it provided such a solid foundation for Modern, as opposed to the other way around. And,o of course, there’s the whole being able to rely on the barre at least a little thing; I definitely couldn’t have done Modern back when I first started dancing.

This week, Intermediate ballet class was just plain hard. I don’t know if Teacher turned up the intensity level or if it was just me, but I found myself struggling more than usual (for that level class).  To start with, Teacher was using the CD that F Teacher always uses, and that was thowing me off quite a bit. Especially when the piece we always use in Beginner to do 8-8-4-4-2-2-1-1-1-1 degages was being used for this complex-ish tendu combination, something like 3 devant with outside leg, 1 derriere with inside leg, 3 a la seconde with outside leg, 1 devant with inside leg, 3 derriere with outside leg, 1 devant with inside leg, 3 a la seconde with outside leg, en croix with outside leg, reverse, soutenu for other side (I may be missing a section in there, it’s not like I had the combination perfectly figured out). A lot of our barre combiations include switching the working leg from the outside to the inside leg in different patterns, and I usually am able to get it by the time we do the end of the first side (we usually mark the barre combinations before doing them, at least halfway). But the music was really really throwing me off.

During frappes (3 single frappes devant, beated frappe derriere, 3 derriere,  1 beated devant, 6 super quick beated frappes a la second in this weird pattern that I haven’t quite figured out, temps lie away from barre a la seconde, pique onto retire on releve back at the barre, and once again I’m possibly missing something in there) I slammed my toe into the ground. That kind of sucked, but it didn’t get in the way of m finishing out class. I think I’ve improved on the pique onto releve retire since last time we did that at the barre (because for whatever reason it feels scarier at the barre than center).

Center was where the challenge really was though. The first combination was ok, just 2 tendus and a grand battement in the usual croisse devant, ecarte, derriere pattern, then brush the working leg forward and pas de basque, chasse, pirouette en dehors, other side. The hardest part was the piroeutte en dehors (more on my pirouette woes in a bit), but other than that the combination felt quite do-able. The pas de basques that Teacher has us do are different from the ones we do with F Teacher; Teacher’s are like rond de jambe-glissade-chasse (I’m really breaking it down here, but the moves just flow together) and F Teacher’s are like rond de jambe, coupe the other foot behind that one, then step it through in front of the other one. I like doing both kinds, but I think both versions of the step have a completely different energy quality to them from each other.

Across the floor combination was pique arabesque, rise up on releve on the other foot with the other leg in attitude devant, pique arabsque, releve attitude, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dedans, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, attitude derriere pirouette, hold balance in attitude, plie, pas de bourre, other side. Ummm, yeah, I’m not there yet at this level, and was having trouble remembering the combination. I think if I had time to mark it – slowly- about 20 times I’d be able to get it, but obviously that doesn’t fly in a class environment. I kept getting confused on which leg was I supposed to pique arabesque or releve on attitude devant on (like, did the legs switch? was it always on the same leg?), then forgetting to tombe, pas de bourre after the pirouette en dedans. And holding the balance after the pirouette in attitude devant was not going to happen since I wasn’t even getting around all the way.  It was still a fun combination to attempt though.

Petit allegro was only in group, not a slower group and a faster group, and that reduced my chances of getting it remotely close to right. The combination was (glissade, assemble)x2, echappe, changement,  4 sissones ferme, alternating sides, pas de chat, pas de bourre, other side. I was getting confused from the beginning because I kept ending up with the wrong foot in front, and Teacher wanted to to do the arms for the sissones (which apparently open in the direction you’re traveling), which confused me further. Then we reversed the combination, and by this point my brain was just mush, so I just kind of clunked along one count late. Honestly, it’s much more fun for me when we can go in 2 groups at different tempos, because this way I feel like I’m not even learning, just struggling along. I should really just practice this combination at home, but center combinations change so often in Teacher’s class that there’s never a guarantee that if I memorize a combination it’ll help me the next class.

Speaking of practicing, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, as I have been getting access to a place to practice lately that’s larger than my little home kitchen studio. Mostly been working on choreography for our upcoming class shows, with different classmates. For one of the pieces we’re working on, my classmate insisted on adding a pirouette (en dehors, from fourth and not fifth thankfully) to the choreography that I had come up with. I explained that I don’t know if I’ll have a reliable pirouette by show time, and I could also have the alternate backup choreography ready to go, just in case. She said something like ‘it’s just a single pirouette, you’ll be fine by then, don’t be so negative’. I was somewhat annoyed, because I don’t like it much when my being realistic is mistaken for negativity. I don’t have a negative attitude – if I did, I doubt I would have ever gotten this far from where I started. But I’m also realistic in the amount of time it took me to improve, and how slow progress can be. She mentioned something about how she’s been dancing less time than me and has a clean pirouette which, if it was intended to motivate me, had the opposite effect – it was a reminder of how slow my learning curve is. I often feel that no one at my school can truly understand how difficult it has been for me to pick up ballet, what an uphill struggle it has been every step of the way. But I agreed to practice my pirouettes more, and I will (and have been since this happened). At least I get to do it to my stronger side, which I do get a clean single occasionally, something like one of of every 3 or 4 (which drops to one out of 10 when under stress…). The main problem, as I tried to explain to her, is that it’s not reliable when I’m going to be able to pull it off. But, I’m doing my part and practicing.

Either way, I love working on choreography so much. Repeating the same movements over and over enables me to achieve this level of comfort that I’m not able to when doing a combination that I’ve only done a couple times. It’s especially exciting when putting the little phrases of movement together and ending up with minutes worth of dancing. It feels so awesome for me, and it’s something I wanted to do since I first started, to be able to dance. 

Score So Far: Left-2, Right-0

Revolutions, that is…

But yes, today in class I did a double (en dehors, from fourth) pirouette to the left – two of them, in fact. I’d been noticing that I felt like I still had momentum when coming out of a single, so I figured ‘why not? just go for it!’. It worked – yay! Pirouettes to the right still limping along, of course.

Well, I guess that’s not exactly right – I did land one or two singles out of the dozens that I attempted to the right. When compared to my higher rate of full pirouettes to the left though, it leaves me feeling very lopsided. My balances still feel much more stable on my left foot, and my retire position is also much more turned out on my right side, so still no idea why I struggle with turns to this side so much.

I have been focusing on just going up and balancing and letting my spot and arms be the only things that provide the momentum for the turn, which did help me feel more stable. Perhaps I just need to practice more – R Teacher told us that improving at pirouettes is just a matter of practice, practice, practice. And I do tend to under-practice things that I suck at (like pirouettes to the right vs to the left)…

At least now when NS Teacher asks us to do ‘a double or triple’ I actually have a fighting chance to one side.

In other random ballet news, I’ve found out that it’s actually harder for me to choreograph a short piece now than when I was way much more beginner. It makes no sense: before I always though ‘when I get better I’ll be able to do cooler stuff, and maybe actually dance like I do in my head’, and now it’s all ‘no! sloppy, not good enough!’ even though it’s at a level that I thought was utterly impossible a couple of years ago.

Looks like it’s time to break out the recording of my first choreographic attempt for some perspective.

 

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”!