Tag Archives: confidence

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.

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Down And Up

This week I’ve been feeling down – perhaps burned out or maybe just down, it’s sometimes hard for me to tell. The weather’s turned chilly and wet again, bringing with it soreness and aches. It’s one of the surest signs for me that I am getting older, when I see my decade-younger dance classmates happily skipping through the rain, not bothered by the cold and I can’t (after last year’s slip and fall in the rain, I treat the rain with respect!). One one level I don’t care; I’m doing quite well for my age (and – perhaps more importantly – for myself; certainly a decade ago I wasn’t able to do the things I can do now with my body). For a long time I was worried that I had to keep my age a secret, that if the teachers found out they would think I was a liability risk (most of my classmates at my regular school are in their late teens to very early twenties). Now I start to see the occasional older student, even much older than I, and it’s somewhat reassuring (however, these older students are usually not adult ballet beginners, but returners, and more advanced than me). But then, they usually don’t participate in the recitals and stuff, so I go back to feeling like I need to “fit in” (or at least not stand out from, too much) the younger students. Though I do have the energy to keep up (especially since it appears at a younger age one doesn’t place such a high priority on health and taking care of their body – I know I didn’t at their age…) for the dancing aspect of it, it’s exhausting in the more human interaction aspect of it (some of them act like immature brats, and it takes all of me to just metaphorically close my ears and let stuff go).

Still… things have been bothering me, so if you’ll excuse me I’m just going to whine, rant and speculate for a bit before going into abbreviated class notes.

After Beginner class, a few different more-beginner classmates have approached me to chat (thankfully, due to my introversion and anxiety, one at a time), asking me questions about ballet. Sometimes it’s clarification, like ‘how do you do pas de bourre?’ or ‘how does that center combination go again?’, stuff like that. I’m always happy to answer any questions, and the fact that they are comfortable approaching me with their questions (there’s at least three or four more advanced students than me in the class) makes me feel good. I wish when I had first been starting off there had been someone that I could have approached with questions (yes, I’m aware there’s a teacher, but when you’re too intimidated to ask the teacher, then what? Besides, F Teacher has said numerous times during class that more beginners should observe the more advanced students and ask them questions if they need to.)

I know this is a tricky subject to get into, so I’ll tread lightly, but I think it has to do with feeling comfortable with people that you can relate to. While I mostly fixate on the fact that I’m different because I’m an adult beginner, and I’m rather top heavy, those are not the only things that set me apart from the other more-advanced (or, less-beginner, I don’t know which would be the proper term) dancers in class: I’m also a woman of color and I don’t come from a priviledged background and prior to staring ballet I did not have dance training (because, trust me, starting ballet from scratch is so much more challenging than if you already have a sense of balance).  The girls that tend to approach me perhaps see me as more relatable or less intimidating? We do plenty of bonding over stories of wanting to try dance as a child and not being able to due to finances or cultural factors. I’m happy for them that they are going for their dreams now as a (young) adult, but I do feel the slightest amount of sadness over all the years I wasted doing absolutely nothing once I’d hit adulthood. Oh well, can’t do anything about that, so look forward and keep going…

Anyway, during these conversations the subject of pointe comes up. I’m completely honest with them, telling them that I did not start ballet to get to pointe, that it wasn’t something that I set as a goal. In fact, I tell them that when I started (and realized just how much I sucked at ballet) my goals were as simple as plie and tendu in center without fallling over. They usually reply with something about how I’m decent at ballet now (they say “good”, but let’s face it, I’m not good, it’s just that they’re looking at it through beginner’s eyes), and is it a goal for me now? That’s when I bring up that no, it’s not, I can’t afford it. They don’t seem to understand that it’s more than just the one-time purchase of a pair of very expensive shoes; it would involve trying different pairs until finding one that hopefully feels like I can dance in them, and all the padding and accessories to actually make it possible as I think I suffer from the dreaded longer-second-toe-than-big-toe issue. If it’s enjoyable to someone to go shopping I can see how this may sound fun, but since shopping is something that I absolutely cannot stand doing, I think I would be miserable.  I’m happy to just dance in my flat slippers.

But then, I read a stupid article that states how it’s not ballet without pointe, and how it’s every beginner ballet student’s goal to get en pointe, or else why are you even bothering. So I think, ‘good point, why do I even bother?’ It upset me enough to think ‘maybe I shouldn’t be doing ballet then – perhaps I should do modern, or jazz, or something! After all, according to know-it-alls (who perhaps are technically correct, but still) it’s not really ballet that I’m doing anyway.’ So then I started to feel even more down. I like to measure my successes (is that even a word?) by how far I’ve come from where I started, but it’s only when other people’s expectations get in the way that I feel that in effect I have accomplished nothing. I love to dance, both alone in my kitchen and during class. Can’t imagine giving up this joy that movement gives me, but perhaps I need a little break sometimes in order to miss it.

Then, last night I had a dream that I was in class with one of my teachers (who’s opinion I really respect) and she said something like ‘don’t go en pointe with your feet’ or something like that. I guess I certainly have been fixating on the subject recently…

In an unrelated – yet still ballet-related, somehow – issue, I still have lack of confidence issues. When the more beginner group finishes their center combination and the more advanced-beginners have to run out to center to do theirs, I shy away from the front row. If I may be completely honest, it’s because I worry that even if I can do the combination correctly, the fact that I don’t have this certain attitude (the mental kind, not the position) gives it away that I don’t belong there in front. But, here’s the paradoxical part (and I hope this makes sense), part of the reason I like ballet class is because it’s the only time that I am comfortable looking a certain way, like the way you almost look down your nose at your hand when in arabesque, for example. In ballet class I’m able to … I don’t know how to put it… I guess, carry myself in a way that would just be unimaginable for me in the real world, in a very snobby-looking way or something similar. I am one of the most humble, down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet, so it’s a complete change of character, like acting. I am able to do this once the music starts and I “get into character”, but before that I’m just me, and the contrasts between the two must be quite apparent. As “me” I can’t be in the front, but as the ballet-version of me I could… I realize this all makes me sound like a complete weirdo, but whatever.

I guess just be glad you don’t have annoying thoughts like this getting in the way of your life?

In Beginner class, at barre we did plies, tendus, and degages one after another, going from side to side with soutenus without resting at all in between. I like it, it really gets me warmed up. When there’s too long of a pause between the barre exercises I think it doesn’t get me warmed up quick enough, and trying to ballet while not warmed up feels very sluggish to me, like my legs are heavy (not that I attempt to ballet without being warmed up often or anything, but I’ve noticed during my own practice sessions that when I first start barre I feel almost too lazy to move much, but by degages I’m feeling like ‘yes! let’s do this!’).

Center combinations in Beginner class: 2 demi-plies, 1 grand plie, developpe devant, a la second, derriere, balance right and left, 2 pas de bourres, other side.  More basic option was just 2 demi plies, developpe devant and a la seconde, 2 pas de bourres. I remember struggling with that one when I first started –  I just couldn’t balance on one leg no matter what! It would be like, pick up foot and attempt to coupe, and I would tip over. Then  I would try again and again and would not be able to get it up to retire in order to developpe without falling over and having to bring my foot down, and by this point the group had moved on to the second  developpe and it was so embarassing because I was the only one who couldn’t do it at all. The darkest times in my personal ballet history…

In both Beginner and Intermediate we worked on turns across the floor. In Beginner it was chaines (with hands on shoulders for the more beginner students), just chaines for the more beginners, and chaines for five counts, chasse to arabesque, tendu close, prepare, and repeat all the way across for the slightly less beginner students. In Intermediate we did 3 pique turns, 1 soutenu, chasse into chaines for the remaining counts, repeat. The tempo was really fast, but I think I’ve improved a little since last time we did this. My transitions from pique turns to soutenus to chaines especially seem smoother. I still have the problem of losing my spot when I get too close to the thing I was spotting.

I can’t remember the center combination from Intermediate, but I remember it involved a lot of direction changes, like facing the left in croise and then chasse towards the right, or somehow changing facing to developpe devant to the left croise when we had been facing right. There were promenades in arabesque in there as well, and I actually got around in all of them without falling off balance – this is a first. For a while now I’d had a feeling that I can physically do it, I was just not focusing and really pulling  up, so this confirms it. After the promenade came a pas de bourre and pirouette en dehors from fifth, which I fell out of to the right, but completed to the left.

In Intermediate, we worked on sissones, sissone oueverte to be more specific, and that sucked. The combination was sissone ferme, pause in plie, 2 sissone fermes in quick succession, sissone oueverte, hold balance, sissone ouevert to the other direction, reverse.  I actually like sissone ferme (the regular kind that seem to start and end in fifth plie, even though I realize that if correctly done you land on one foot. But my brain is tricked by the optical illusion that it’s less force on my body for whatever reason so yeah…), especially a la second. To the front and especially to the back they’re still a big challenge for me – to the front my body keeps wanting to do a saute arabesque, and to the back it’s just as complete mess. But still, I enjoy them.

The other kind, the open kind, not so much. It was landing one of these that I hurt myself about six months ago, and I certaily didn’t want to repeat that.  So I approached the exercise rather cautiously, just marking until the last possible second, and closing them a bit sooner than what would be considered technically correct. Of course, that just got me plenty of individual correction from Teacher, as she thought I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do… not what I had intended – so many sissones! One of the more advanced girls who went in the group before mine kept staring at me while I was attempting to sissone correctly and it was so annoying. So I raised my hand and asked Teacher if our back leg was supposed to be bent or straight (advanced girl was bending hers) and she said ‘straight’ – probably passive-agressive of me, but this girl always looks at me like I’m stupid because I don’t have the decade or more of training that she has.

Anyway, I managed to finish out class without getting hurt this time. I don’t know if I’m actually stronger now than I was a few months ago, so I’ll continue to approach these sissones cautiously. A part of the problem is that when I do big jumps I tend to jump really big, and it’s the landing that gets me. Since I didn’t have much experience with jumping at all until I started ballet, it can be difficult for me to jump smaller (this especially gets me in trouble during petite allegro, because I want to make each jump super high and I’m instead supposed to do little quick ones. I prefer the slower tempo that the men use when they do their jumps). If I try to do a little jump I feel like I’m not using enough force to leave the ground and point my feet. Definitely something I need to work on. I think all the little prances and small jumps we do in Modern have definitely been helping in this aspect.

Since I’ve noticed that one of the issues I have is that I tend to lose my turnout when moving quickly, I’m commiting to working more on my turnout muscles. I think the key is to get to the point where I can feel when I’m engaging them, and then I’ll be able to know when I’m not. Hard to explain, but all I know is that at some point I could barely feel my lats, so it was hard for me to engage them. But ever since I began to work on strengthening them (mostly through Pilates), I’m able to feel them so clearly, and this has helped me so much with holding my balance. So I hope to get that way  with my rotator muscles. For now I’m going to do the side-lying rotating opening exercises every day (clams, with the feet on the floor, then the feet in the air, then the legs tied together with a theraband) and see how it’s going at the end of the month (I figured the start of a month would be a good time to set a workout goal).

 

Wednesday: A Full Moon And A Full House

Well, at least a full ballet studio…

You know how last week I said that Evening Studio was about as full as it could get (and right now I wish this browser would let me do that “embedding a link” feature, ’cause it sure would come in lovely right now…)? Apparently I lied – today was packed! We have these little portable barres that usually hold a person per side (on super slow days, a person per barre and we walk over to the other side to do the other side. So not Traditional Ballet Class probably, but whatever, it’s nice to have the mirror for both sides.) and the studio fits about 6 of these without it becoming likely that someone will grand battement their neighbor in the face (or butt, I mean, you’d need really high extension to reach a fellow adult’s face, right?).  Today all barres were full and then people kept coming! A few of the ladies volunteered to use the rail holding the barres together or other miscellaneous fixtures, and we were on our way.

Now, this is probably due to a larger sampling of people, but today’s classmates were friendlier! I’m not saying I met my new BFF (lol, apparently I’ve been texting my little sis too much) or anything today but a few people actually spoke to me.  There was also other people talking to each other.  It was different; nice, but different. I could get used to it…

Barre was more or less the same as last week. Nice and basic to work on technique fundamentals.  During grand battements, I was watching the mirror and kept alternating between being amused by my pointed feet (in second) and worrying about kicking the lady behind me’s foot when going to the back.

We ran out of time to do frappes, which probably made some students happy (and others, disappointed).  I don’t mind doing frappes, since I obsessively worked on them at home after being completely lost in class during first semester.  That said, it took about a year and a half for me to feel comfortable with them, that weird motion, the flexed foot. Besides, in this class we only do them out to second so they’re not that big of a deal.

Did not make it all the way around on my en dehors from fith pirouettes during the tendu-plie-passe releve combination. I’m going to blame it on the change in the combination (at least to the right; to the left it’s totally me). During the first few times through (the ones without the pirouette) E Teacher wanted us to not do the arms so as to not confuse the beginners. But for the pirouette, those of us who were going to attempt it were to do the arms.  My brain decided to have a mometary lapse and I couldn’t remember the arms – having done no arms on the rest of the combination – until a second too late. Which means then I was late, which means I (felt like I had to) rush on to the pirouette without really thinking about it.  So I kind of sucked. But at least I tried it, I guess.

Also, the pressure of not being all the way in the back: not conductive to stress-free pirouettes. But the back is so crowded that I did find myself inching forward, somewhat begrudgingly.  I think my ideal dance studio would have a room so big across that the students would still have room – and mirror space – even in the back!

During sautes, I was having fun. Too much fun, as by the end I wasn’t even on timing, just enjoying the jumping. Enjoying landing in a plie and just pushing back up. Even remembered to point my feet about halfway through.  Was really happy about that, as before I started working out I used to be too exhausted with just getting off the floor to even think about pointing my feet.

We practiced jetes, or more accurately, some kind of preparation for jetes. Just step with left foot, leap onto right foot, repeat. Arms in first arabesque. With so many of us crowded into the room we were going every four beats of music, which I had mistakenly thought meant every four jumps. So I was a bit late on it.  My partner and I were the thrid group from the front to go, so there weren’t that many examples to follow. Instead we were the ones being followed! So weird!

It get’s me thinking – I feel like it’s so much easier to improve physically at the moves -through lots of hard work, practice, patience – than it is to change the ideas in my head about my ballet-ing.  What I mean is, to myself I will always be a beginner, however much I improve.  No matter what, I doubt I’ll learn that dancer attitude (and no, I don’t mean the attitude involving the bent leg going into developpe) that so many of the more advanced students come with. That confidence.  While my confidence level is at an all-time high these days, I spent the vast majority of my life being a very unconfident person. Almost three decades of habit can’t get erased immediately (and if anyone says differently, I challenge them to show me how.) Besides, I tend to confuse confidence with arrogance, and I desperately try my hardest to be humble in other areas of my life, so to put the humility aside for a few hours a week is just a bit out of the old comfort zone.

I’ve been improving so steadily now, but I fear at some point this attitude problem won’t let itself be set aside for later.  Will it be like I hit a wall then, unable to get past it unless I tackle it head on? Or will I be able to “muscle through” it, improving my technique, getting stronger and stronger, while my attitude remains the same?

We will see how this all plays out…

On the way home there was this beautiful full moon, had to take a picture of it.

Except my camera on this iPad kind of sucks... Well, it was gorgeous in person

Except my camera on this iPad kind of sucks… Well, it was gorgeous in person

Oh, and I updated my Learning Curve page, on mostly what I’ve been up to the last couple months, if anyone wants to check it out (you’ll have to scroll down through the older stuff first, obviously, but I didn’t want to feel all “false advertising” and stuff, LOL.)

http://www.balletandorbust.wordpress.com/test/