Tag Archives: home studio

Break, Return, Comparing Videos, And A Ballet Movie

Here’s a fun fact: I haven’t taken an actual ballet class going on two weeks. Most of this is owing to the fact that my school – and possibly every school in the surrounding area – is on break until next year. But you know me; I’ve never let that stop me, and school breaks are usually a time to work on my own on the things that are too fast-paced during class (like double frappes, coordinating quick legs with slow arms, and all those other things which make no sense at first in normal-time). But for most of this break, I’ve been resting up, taking it easy. By the end of this past session my body was in serious need of some recovery time. My logical-practical side said to rest, my artistic-illogical side wanted to ballet some more. Being a baby about pain – or the possibility of pain – logic won out, for a bit…

Today, though, I took myself back to the barre. Just my home barre, with Kathryn Morgan’s Easy Ballet Barre on youtube, but it felt so good to dance again. I had to follow it up with the Easy Center video. Depending on how I’m feeling tomorrow will decide if I stay with the Easy videos for the next week or so or go straight into the Classic barre and other more intermediate-level barre and center videos. Even though I’ve been keeping up my strength by doing pilates, my overall stamina has already taken a dip. I’d hate to see how fast it all goes away if I did nothing at all. Same for my flexibility – I felt so stiff, even though I have been still doing some form of stretching, like the aforementioned pilates and the very occasional yoga (don’t get me started on my guilt for pretty much abandoning yoga again…).

I just can’t get over how wonderful it felt to just dance though! And since I hadn’t worked on these particular combinations since the last time I was on break almost 5 months ago, I was surprised to see that they remained in muscle memory, but not only that, I’ve improved since then.  My home studio/kitchen’s crappy floor, however, has not improved. I’d love to have a place to regularly practice when the school’s practice room is unavailable or on breaks, but for now I’ll just be glad that I at least have the practice space I do have.

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Something cool that came out of the end of the session was some informal performance opportunities. What I especially like about informal performances is the chance to get a video to show my non-dancer friends and family (who will then be totally impressed by the simple fact that this grown up got through an entire dance routine without falling on her derriere and know nothing of techinique), as well as for me to scrutinize. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend seemed captivated by the video, saying I was “very graceful” (!) so perhaps this means my dancing’s ok? My family will be rather amused when they watch it.

I think that video is one of the most useful tools available to gage my progress as a dancer. The obvious reason would be that it provides an objective “memory” of where my dancing skill was around that time. Take for instance, around two years ago; I thought I was getting much better at ballet because I was past the falling over at every instant phase, but I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Now, watching the videos from back then it’s so easy for me to see what was wrong (where to begin!), but at the same time so hard to describe. And very hard to teach, since verbally I mostly respond to anatomical corrections, and there’s more to it than that. I think in the end, the learning method that worked for me was to watch the advanced people, and get the nerve to copy them without being told.

I watch the videos ot only to see the numerous mistakes made, but also  the things I did right. And I guess what it comes down to is, which stick out more to me – will I focus on the failures or successes? While that may feel like a rhetorical question, it is one I ask myself often. It may seem like I don’t have very many successes – at this point in my ballet story I barely have a single pirouette (on a good day), and my technique, once we speed it up, is at times quite sloppy – but I’ll consider the fact that I’m still dancing a success. I love dancing so much, and for the first few years of dancing it definitely didn’t love me back. Perhaps it still doesn’t, but by now I don’t care because I have enough love for both of us… or something like that.

Having new videos made me decide to go back and review all my past videos of performances or rehearsals, to compare as much as to reminisce. It’s been such a fun journey! From back when I knew what I wanted to dance but there was no way I could physically pull it off to now when I still know what I want to do, even if I still can’t do it. But there’s also so much that I can do, and my ballet vocabulary has grown so much.

When I first started ballet, my expectations for myself were low. I mean, I couldn’t hold my balance, so there was no need for far off goals when something simple would be a challenging goal in itself. I dreamed of the day when I’d been able to do more steps without falling over, but I also dreamed of the day when I would feel comfortable in class. I didn’t know which of these things would come first, but there was nothing to do but continue to practice. That continues to be my strategy – just practice. I’m not delusional enough to think that I have “talent” (not sure I even believe in the concept of talent, just a premature maturity/ intelligence, and a physical facility) but I know that I do believe in repetition and dedication, and the unexpected results.

***

Browsing Netflix , I came across a newish dance movie High Strung, another of those ballet/hip-hop fusion movies, this one with the added twist of an amazing violinist on the run from the law. Since I’m always on the look out for a new dance flick, I settled in to watch and it was very entertaining and action-packed.

I found the main character, Ruby, relateable in her struggles with picking up Contemporary (not-so-relateable in that she’s an amazing dancer who can also whack her head with her leg like it’s nothing). There was the stereotypical mean bunhead character, and the dancer who has so much “talent” but can’t be bothered to go to class and would rather stay out all night (ugh, I hate this concept in movies! I feel like it promotes the idea of someone putting in no effort and still coming out on top). Pretty standard dance movie/ tv series, except for the addition of the violinist who plays for tips by the subway tracks and hangs out with a hip hop crew. The dance and music sequences were great, including several battle scenes, both dance battles and violin playing battles. Writing about it is making me want to go watch it again!

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Developing That Developpé, A Trick For Balancing, And An Amazing Find

If there was something that I surely got out of my last class this week, it was this group correction from F Teacher: when doing a developpe, after the part when the foot is in retire, bring up the thigh first before the extension (once again, I’m doing a horrible job of describing it, but all I know is that since I started applying this correction my extension – in all directions but especially devant and a la seconde – got much higher). While it makes perfect sense, I had not actually been doing this before. Lift and extend works much better than extend and (try to) lift and the leg feels much lighter. I think NS Teacher had mentioned this before during her class, but it had been during center and I had been focusing too hard for the correction to make it to long term memory. But now it’s definitely stuck in there.

Also, she told us to make sure our weight is not over the heels of our feet, throwing off our alignment (while doing developpes this was said, but F Teacher is constantly reminding us to shift our weight). A suggestion was made that it should feel like we’re going up on releve, except we’re still on flat. While developpes on releve are no problem for me strength-wise (at the barre, and once  I did one one on releve in center at NS), I did notice that after she mentioned this and I started to actively shift my weight forward when doing them on flat. It appears I need to work on doing this all the time as well, and this may have to do with why my alignment is a little wacky on one-footed releve.

R Teacher mentioned to me that I’m not using my core to the fullest, and this may be what is throwing off my balance on pirouettes. Since I did feel that I was using my core somewhat, at first I wasn’t understanding what she meant. It took a practice session with me constantly checking on my side alignment to really understand, and she was spot-on – I appear to be engaging my lats more than my deep lower abdominals, giving me the appearance of my weight being back just a bit. This is something I will be working on during class now that I know what to look out for. This is the part where a beginner class will make you so sore from having every muscle in the body engaged and pulled up.

Speaking of which, something I’ve been doing to help me improve my balance further, especially with little tiny weight shifts and adjustments, is standing on my roller at home. First I would practice doing this up against the wall with my fingertips lightly resting on it, then when that seemed easy  I moved away from the wall and started working on it there. At this point I’m working on doing port de bras while balancing up on the roller. I do think this has helped me with holding long balances because I must be pulled up as much as possible to not lose my balance and fall off.

In center, we did pique sous-sus as preparation for soutenu turns across the floor. My pique sous-sus derriere (en arriere? I don’t know, other than ballet-french, I know absolutely no French) was the most precarious, but I think it may have been because I wasn’t feeling ultra confident about that one. When we did them a la seconde across the floor (like if we were going to turn,  but without the turn) it felt a bit odd because we were closing to the back, so we could do the next pique sous-sus, and if we were turning we would have closed to the front. I adapted quicker than my usual slowness though.

We did chasses across the floor as well, both to arabesque pose and into saute arabesque. So fun! Also these little leaps, not quite grand jetes but like a prance, like we’re skimming across the floor (not emboites).

For sautes we devided up into the men and ladies, for different tempos. (since we actually have like 6 guys during this session) The girl’s tempo was quick, but I think I’ve improved since last summer at keeping up with it. The guys’ tempo was slower, to allow more time for powerful jumps. After each group did the combination twice (sautes in first and second, changements, echappes), we all did the slower tempo. My legs were already tired, but I still enjoyed the slower tempo jumps, as I do seem to prefer jumping up as high as possible rather than staying as low to the ground as I can and still point my feet. I also noticed that my changements are getting more powerful, and I’m starting to see that ‘sous-sus in the air’ as F Teacher puts it.

While out for a neighborhood walk, we saw that one of the neighbors had thrown out a mirror (it had a sign that said ‘Free’ on it. In its previous life, I think it was a closet door.). Boyfriend returned in a car, picked it up, put it on the wall, and now my home barre has a (much larger) mirror to go with it! Oh my gosh, it makes home practice even more fun!

Some pictures of my home-studio-in-progress. Barre is still holding up nicely six months later.

 

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The mirror and barre

 

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With my old mirror next to it in comparison – quite a size upgrade

 

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And I can put the barre lengthwise if I want to get a front view instead

A Barre!

Phase 1 of my home studio!

Over the weekend, Boyfriend and I built me a ballet barre! Well, it was more like Boyfriend built it, but it was my idea, and I helped.  I did such useful things as find the instructions online and hold on to the freshly-cemented pieces while they were fitted in with the other freshly-cemented pieces. Oh, and I tested it out!

For the longest time now I’d been wanting a ballet barre to practice with.  I’ll just say right now that practicing with a barre is so much more fun than using a countertop or the wall (which is what I’d been using for the past 2.5 years)!  Like, every single time I pass by it I can’t resist doing a whole bunch of plies and releves, or port de bras. I’m as excited as a kid with a new toy!

At home we took some rough measurements (I wanted the low barre to be at a good height for me to get my leg on to stretch, and the high barre to be a comfortable height for placing my hand without my shoulder riding up), and then headed to the hardware store.  We’d already decided that we were going to make the whole thing out of PVC pipes, to keep it lightweight, portable and – most importantly – affordable. So, we get down to the hardware store, and I’m so excited, probably the most excited I’ve ever been at a hardward store.  Though I’m sure the day we go get my mirrors I’ll be real excited too.  The hardware store has nice floors to practice turns on, by the way, and I couldn’t resist doing a bunch of pique turns and soutenus. Fun!

The barre-making supplies... and my nosy little cat

The barre-making supplies… and my nosy little cat

We added up the measurements, and decided we needed to get 2 10ft long 1 1/4 pvc pipes. It just added up to 20 ft perfectly. We needed to get it cut though, so we asked the guy working there if he could cut it for us, since the store had already confirmed that they do offer the service of cutting. He gave us such a hard time! He asked us “What are you trying to make?” (Boyfriend hates it when they ask that, lol), and Boyfriend’s like “It’s called a ‘barre’.” and the guy looked lost, so he showed him a picture.  The guy’s then asks “What are you going to hang from that?” and Boyfriend’s answers “Legs!”. I couldn’t help butting in and saying “No! If you’re hanging off the barre you’re doing it wrong! Go back and try something easier and build more strength first!” LOL. Anyway, Boyfriend just told the guy he was going to mark off the different sections at the various measured lengths, and then the guy could cut it. So without any further delays we bought or cut lengths of PVC pipe, the elbow and t-shape connectors and a small bottle of cement glue. Total came out to the very reasonable price of $30 and change – a fraction of what some pre-made barres online are going for.

At this point I think we hadn't glued it together yet...

At this point I think we hadn’t glued it together yet…

Putting it together for a test fit went smoothly.  Then we put it together with the cement glue. The fumes were so strong, even with two fans going at the same time. The instructions had said to do this in a well-ventilated area and he was not kidding!  I think if we hadn’t had the windows open and the fans running we would have started hallucinating little ballet dancing hippos or something…

Anyway, I couldn’t wait to try out the barre the second it was assembled, but Boyfriend suggested that I wait until the glue had time to dry. It was one of those delayed gratification things…

The finished product... and my horribly inadequate mirror until we get the home studio all set up

The finished product… and my horribly inadequate mirror until we get the home studio all set up

But that was then! Been using it intermittently throughout the days since.  I’ve only had one full-length practice session with it (I don’t like to go all out on the same days I have class), but as I mentioned earlier, I’ve done countless plies, releves, stretches and port de bras. So far it’s been working out great! Boyfriend mentioned wanting to add some non-slip thingies to the bottom of the feet to keep it in place, but so far it’s definitely not the flimsiest barre I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

Some pics! Don’t mind my crappy turnout and unpointed feet…

The bottom barre did come out a good leg-up-on-the-bare-stretching height

The bottom barre did come out a good leg-up-on-the-bare-stretching height… though apparently I forgot to point my foot

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And the high barre for a good releve stretch!

And the high barre for a good releve stretch!

For instructions, I searched “build your own ballet barre” and we mostly went off what I found at a blog called Leotards And The Buns In Them. If you’d like to make your own barre, you can find that here:

https://leotardsandthebunsinthem.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/build-a-barre/

I don’t recall him giving the exact measurements though. We used 4 1ft pieces for the legs (where we attached the feet), held together by a T connector. The T connectors are attached to a 2ft 9in section (on opposite sides of the barre), then to another T connector for the lower barre to come out of.  Between the low barre and the high barre we used a 6 in piece, which when added up to the extar length for the connectors gives about 8 in between top barre and high barre.  For the length of the barre we went with almost 5 ft, which seemed a good length to get to stretch on, while keeping the barre prtable. Like I mentioned earlier, it added up to 20 ft of PVC (2 10 ft pipes), and we used 6 elbow connectors and 4 T connectors.

If you’re feeling fancy and PVC alone just isn’t cutting it for you, I also found some instructions that include wood as well as PVC. It looks nice, but just too much effort (and probably cash, lol) 🙂

That Time Of Year

It’s that time of year again, when the days are at their shortest, when I find  that it’s freezing cold both indoors and out. When I begin my home ballet practice sessions in loose-fitting sweats, shedding layers as my body gradually warms up.  Funny how wintertime snuck up on me this year…

It’s been over two weeks since the last time I was in a ballet class(!), but strangely enough I don’t feel as though I’m struggling through ballet withdrawals as much as I did last summer.  But then again, it makes sense; while I haven’t attended class since two wednesdays ago (last wednesday was Christmas Eve and the wednesday before that Boyfriend and I were weighing out our options as far as moving, driving from one place to the next), unlike last summer – when my sprained ankle kept me on off my feet for a couple weeks – I have at least been getting my balleting on at home. And it really feels like it’s the only thing keeping me from going insane!

Mostly I’ve been working on what I’ve learned over the last semester, alternating between different barre combinations that Teacher introduced.   Especially the harder moves, the ones introduced toward the end of the semester.  I’ve continued to work on my fondue releve, working up to doing fondue releve en croix, rather than just (the last) one on releve after the rest on flat.  I feel so strong, so powerful, so ballerinaesque. I love it!

My balancing – something that seems to come so easy to some, though I really have to work on it – has improved so much.  And not just on two feet either; I’ve been finding myself holding a balance for more than a nanosecond (I’ve actually counted from 1 one thousand to 10 one thousand) on passe releve and not just on my stronger leg.  It’s such an exciting feeling and no one to share it with… except this blog.

My hard work is paying off, and I see little improvements every day. My developpe devant is higher than ever, my left working leg finally having caught up to my right. For months the left leg lagged behind and then suddenly there it was, at hip level. My flexibility has also increased, as I realized as I stretched toward my leg today. And I’m increasingly closer to completing a full revolution in my pirouettes. These are the moments when I wish that there was no break in my ballet training, no opportunity for me – or my muscles – to forget what I’ve learned, to accidentally pick up bad habits.  I use mirrors to practice, of course, but even a roomfull of mirrors is nothing compared to the watchful eye of an experienced teacher.  Unfortunately, other than my wednesday evening class there are no other options for now.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. There was  a possibility to take ballet at community college during the shortened 5 week session between Fall and Spring terms. Unfortunately, it is taught by Strict Teacher. In other words, it’s not really a possibility.  I’m not sure what is the reason I fell on Strict Teacher’s bad side – could be my age, my body type, my introverted nature – but going through a(nother) term of ballet with her would just be masochistic.  So as much as it pained me to not sign up – I’m talking 5 weeks of ballet, 4 days a week, 1.5 hours a day for $40 total – I didn’t.

Having something to look forward to (Spring term, taking both beginner and intermediate ballet with Teacher) makes it all better, of course. It seems so far away, and I don’t want to be the type of person that wastes away their present by counting down to a specific point in the future, but sometime the present sucks. Yeah, I said it.

That’s part of the reason I’m even writing all of this, I suppose: to remind myself, when I look back on this period of time in my life, that along with the despair there was plenty of joy and happiness mixed in there.  There has been joy, but most of it has been focused around ballet, the only activity that I have for myself. And of course I’ve been feeling grateful for my family’s support and the opportunity to spend a little bit more time with them around the holidays.  But I have spent many sleep-deprived nights, many tearful moments awake, so much hopelessness lately.  It seems I’m at a crossroads in my life and I don’t know which path to take…

We have yet to move. The neighbor from hell is still around, as the holidays have prolonged the legal process to get her out.  It’s not that I’ve been stubbornly clinging on to the place we live at, far from it.  We’ve searched and searched and come up empty.  Apparently any apartment complex that is not located in the worst parts of town requires 3 times the rent minimum income to qualify. We don’t.

Of course, we could have someone cosign (and one of our good friends offerred). However, with a cosigner the deposit apparently goes up and we would owe twice the amount of rent at move-in. Ridiculous.

Last friday (a week ago) we thought that our luck had finally turned. An apartment complex in a decent neighborhood that did not require 3 times the rent.  We applied, of course, certain that we would get in.  The rent is cheaper than what we pay now and we have clean background checks, no prior evictions, bankrupcies, lawsuits, etc. What could go wrong?

Well, as it turns out,  a man in another state has been illegaly using my social security number for years (without my knowledge). And even though I have the card in my possesion, the manager still doubts that it’s my number, since our lawbreaking buddy in another state has been making himself so comfortable using my number.  One more apartment rejection.

(To make matters worse, we find this out during a shortened work week (due to the holidays). While I did immediately head down to my local social security office, and waited two hours to be helped, they found nothing wrong.  We returned to the prospective apartments the next day, and were finally given a printout with the offender’s name or alias that clearly shows my social security number. I’ll probably be spending my morning at the ssi office on monday – grrrrr)

So – short of a miracle – it looks like we’re stuck here, dealing with hateful glares, crowds of strange menacing-looking men loitering ourside, screaming profanity rants, public drug use.  We had to walk through a cloud of smoke to get to our apartment last wednesday, I’m not even exagerrating. Want to hear something even more interesting? When we were recording the neighbor’s rants (as instructed to do so by the manager) she spotted us in the window and had the nerve to call the police on us!  She claimed she  doesn’t feel “safe”. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up…

At least we had the opportunity to play the recordings for the police officer.  We were not cited (she was told it’s legal to film outside as long as the inside of someone else’s apt. doesn’t come out) but neither was she (even as she told the cop that she has the right to curse out on the sidewalk nonstop because she’s “a grown woman” and that if we wanted it quiet we could move to a house). Essentially the cop just laughed and shook his head, leaving all of us stuck in this hell-hole to deal with each other. Yes, this is the reality of life for some of us…

By now I guess it’s becoming apparent that I’m getting increasingly angry and bitter. Boyfriend and I have been arguing nonstop for the last two weeks, it seems. I remember as a young girl – back when I was first getting interested in boys and all that – hearing that most couples fight – or break up – over money, and thinking “How dumb! How can that be true?” Ha! I almost wish I could go back in time and show that young girl a picture of her future, give her the opportunity to make some different choices before it’s too late, before she finds herself stuck in horribly unpleasant circumstances with seemingly no way out.

Sorry to not end on a more positive note. I am exhausted.

Edit: They moved out on March 19! I wanted to throw a freakin’ party! It’s been so much more pleasant and quiet now…

More room to practice. So excited!

I try to be one of those people who always see the glass as half full (and for the most part I succeed ).  After a long and disappointing apartment search yesterday, the boyfriend and I resigned ourselves to staying put where we are.  So, we decided that the next best thing would be to give our current apartment a completely free makeover by rearranging our furniture.  After some mental puzzle-solving, I figured out a way to place stuff so that it gives us more open space in the living room.  And what this means for me is more room to practice ballet!

Our current apartment has wooden floors, so while it is not the same as the studio floor that I was used to during classes, it is a decent substitute.  Hey, it beats trying to tendu on carpet.  I am so excited because now I have a cleared off area of about 12ft by 9ft right in the middle of my living room to practice in.  For a short while I contemplated setting up a practice area in one of the bedrooms instead, by moving the furniture out to the living room, but ultimately I decided that I like being right in the middle of things, so the living room it is.  Even better, I have this enourmous mirror that we are going to set up against one of the walls.  Now I will actually be able to see my port de bras and when I move around I will still be able to see my form.   Prior to this I had been using a smallish  door sized mirror, so while it had helped me while I practiced barre stuff, once I started practicing center stuff it was of no help.

After moving around furniture for hours I was exhausted, but I just couldn’t resist having a practice session.  I find that I enjoy practicing so much more when I have a mirror to give me immediate feedback.  To be honest, I was kind of pleased with what I saw.  It actually almost looked like I was really doing ballet, rather than some stretching weirdness.  My pas de bourees in center are looking way better than the last time I attempted them without the barre.  My fondues are actually looking sort of graceful. I actually don’t lean back when I developpe!

I’d been bugging that I need more space to practice my dancing for a while, so I’m glad that we finally made it happen!  Now the next thing I have to work on is actually having a real barre…