Tag Archives: i’m a slow learner

(results not typical)

Alternate title: Progress in mirror is farther/closer than it appears (like those warnings on car mirrors, but more lame)

This is a post that I’ve been sitting on the fence about writing for a while now, a couple months at least. The reason for the delay is mostly because I was so ridiculously busy, and I didn’t want to just write whatever I could slap together in spare moments and have it be misconstrued. Also, I wanted more time to think about it, to possibly pull myself out of whatever dark mood I may have been in that would have me thinking those things – if after giving it time I still had something to say then maybe there was something to it. Or, as always, perhaps I’m just weird.

Anyway. Ramble start:

Whenever a classmate in class compliments me, or asks me to help them with their ballet after class, whatever they’re struggling on (port de bras, ballet walks, balancing, etc.), something I always do is mention how long it took me to “unlock” said skill.  Why? Because it’s the truth.

I don’t know what it has to do with exactly, perhaps my childhood and how I was never good at anything athletic or physical. I just feel a need to acknowledge how much work – how much sweat and tears  – went into it, above all feel the need to clarify that I am not “good”, that I instead worked so extremely hard for however far I’ve gotten.  As a child I was told I had flat feet, as a child I would fall over if I tried to run quickly (I found out recently this was possibly because of my hyperextension and locking my knees), my posture was terrible (my mom would call me “the vulture” as I sat in my characteristic pose, hunched over a book), I was extremely inflexible and clumsy, all that stuff I always write about. But people in class, they don’t know all this – all they see is that they are brand-new beginners and I seem to know what I’m doing.

So, I tell them. And – this part’s really hard for me to explain, without this turning into a novel – I honestly believed that I was telling them for their own benefit as much as for mine. For me, it’s an opportunity to set the record straight, for them, a way of lowering the pressure on them – like, ‘of course you can’t do it yet, it takes this long!’ (no, I did not say that part out loud). You see, I have this annoying urge to be helpful. Whenever I see an underdog, I root for them. It’s just my nature – perhaps because I’ve grown to identify with the underdog, not with the “winner”. I’m the kind of person who has screwed myself over to help someone else out – whether this is a quality or a character flaw is still to be determined or debated. But, what I’m trying to illustrate is that I want nothing but the best for my fellow dance students, want them to meet goals as I have, and if there’s an opportunity to help out after class or something, I’m all over it. (And no, I’m not annoying and go up to people unsolicited and start offering my opinion or anything like that.)

Then one day, as I explained to a classmate how to pas de bourre (and, what helped me, and how long it took to get, and how she’s already so much better at ballet than when I’d only been ballet-ing for three months like her) in the locker room after class, I had a thought: what if I’m not helping them out by telling them all it took, what if, if anything, I’d been hindering their progress?

This thought didn’t come completely out of nowhere. The night before, I’d watched a video on youtube about a late starter who had started ballet at 17, having never danced before, and was now in a pre-professional school two years later, and planning to audition for a company in another two. Not only that, she didn’t even take a class more than twice a week for about the first year.So here I am telling brand -new beginners that it took me two years to have a stable-ish balance on releve on two feet, and still can’t pirouette on most days, so ‘don’t worry about it, it takes time’. For those classmates who are still young enough to have a career as a dancer, am I better off keeping my progress – or lack of – to myself?

From reading the comments, people were saying that that young lady’s story is “inspiring”. Maybe it’s because I can’t relate but … I just can’t relate – I mean it’s cool and that’s great for her and all that, but I can’t say I feel inspired. When I was a very discouraged brand-new beginner, stories about people starting from “zero” (which now I know really meant that they had done a different style of dance, or at least musical theater in childhood, or color guard during high school – basically, it wasn’t from couch-potatoland, it was from something athletic) and making it to a career – which apparently my regular school has had a few off  – were not inspirational; instead they made me wonder what was wrong with me. But then, even if I had started a decade earlier, I wonder if I would have improved faster. Probably not, given how I was in even worse shape then, but if I knew then everything I now know… well, I do wonder at what could’ve been…

Anyway, I feel a little guilty for not being inspired by the story, like I’m being an immature envious little brat, which I probably am.  I hate it when I have irrational feelings like that about ballet progress, but as much as I try to talk rationality into myself sometimes the class environment brings out competitiveness – and insecurities.  I will continue to work on it.

In the meantime, perhaps I should keep my stories of slow progress to myself? I fluctuate between ‘ yes, stop for the common good!’ and ‘no! I have a right to share my side of it, and besides, they did ask me for help’, tell myself that I’ll just keep the explaination factual, but before I know it I managed to have a conversation with some one – not just someone, but several people (which is a feat for me in of itself) – and it came up how long I’ve been dancing and all that. And the whole time I’m like ‘oh my gosh – people actually want to talk to me! It’s so bizzare and I feel somewhat guilty for almost enjoying it, thinking ‘if this is how things had been a couple decades ago or more perhaps I wouldn’t have this fear of people and terrible anxiety and self-doubt. Maybe that’s what they mean in all those ads for ballet for children about developing confidence!’ and then I have to stop that train of thought because, honestly, unless there’s a time machine available to me there is absolutely nothing I can do about the past, so I may as well not waste more time dwelling on it.

At least I’m dancing now – at last – and at a skill level that I don’t mind most days (the exception would be on audition days). I dance and I’m happy, inspired by the music.

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. 

Still Staying Positive

It was another good week, ballet-wise. I mean, it definitely had its moments…

At barre during Intermediate Class (as well as during open level class at New Studio), I mostly felt like I was keeping up, not making too many huge errors (though I do need my posture adjusted now and then). I’m continuing to work on letting go of the barre for my passe releve balance and get both arms in middle fifth. We did echappe releves without hand on the barre and I noticed that my balance has gotten way better. I think all that bare-less warm up work during modern class has helped with this. I’ve also not been getting corrected on not crossing my fifth position enough, so hopefully that means I’ve been doing it better. While barre went well, center in Intermediate class has been on the challeging side.

This week we worked on a new center combination, lots of tendus, changing the angle/facing and 2 pas de bourres between each set of tendus. and unfortunately I forgot the rest, but there was at least one pirouette en dehors involved. This may have been the time when Teacher asked us for a double. While I cannot do a double yet (obviously!), I’ve noticied that when teachers ask for a double I somehow end up getting all the way around on my single – yay!

Another day we did this somewhat difficult adagio: developpe devant croisse, close and brush back to arabesque, pas de bourre, chasse into fourth position, lunge, from lunge go into attitude derriere and promenade, to developpe a la seconde, close, pirouette en dedans, soutenu, pique sous-sus, other side. The biggest challenges for me here were remembering what step comes next (obviously), and the promenade. While promenades in attitude derriere are easier for me that in arabesque, it was the transition that was getting me, the super quick weight shift. We did something similar in class at New Studio when we weight shifted from plie in fourth to a passe releve balance, but for whatever reason the lunge to attitude weight shift seemed more unstable. I caught a glimpse of my positioning in the mirror and it was so ugly!

We did a drill for pirouettes, lots and lots of pirouettes (en dehors)! On pirouettes I’ve been working on making sure to bring the passe foot in front of my knee, as opposed to behind like a pique turn (which just feels so much easier to me). For whatever reason, my body was cooperating this week, and I did several decent single pirouettes en dehors from fourth, to the left. To the right I think maybe I did one or two that were ok, so for now the left is my stronger turning side. At least for pirouettes – when we did pique turns across the floor, I noticed my left side is definitely not my best. Pirouettes from fifth were harder, but then too the ones to the left were stronger. It’s so weird though, because for the longest time my passe releve was much stronger and stable onto my left leg (so this would help for pirouettes en dehors to the right), and now my better pirouettes are on my right leg, when going left. After class I had a little talk with Teacher regarding the uneveness of my pirouetting ability. Since it’s not my weaker balancing leg that is the problem we figure it’s my core, so she suggested doing additional core work to strengthen my weaker side.

One of the days we did a slightly slower petit allegro that I somewhat kept up with. It was sautes in first, changements, echappe, pas de bourre (right), echappe, pas de bourre (left), temps leve, soubresaut, other side. Then we did it at a faster tempo, and it was challenging but I didn’t feel completely lost. To be fair, there were no assembles involved, so that’s probably why it went ok for me…

The second time I did Intermediate Class we had a different petit allegro: (glissade, assemble) x3, glissade jete, and ballote for the rest of the counts. Yeah, me doing ballote looked completely ridiculous. I’m probably going to do lots of youtubing to see what it’s supposed to look like. In class at New Studio we did a petit allegro that included jumps from second to fourth and back to second then fourth.  I guess like echappes but closing in fourth instead of fith. It was pretty difficult getting the coordination of that right. Combinations at New Studio are usually really pretty, and we do pretty port de bras and lots of bourres – and for whatever reason, my promenades tend to work out better during that class. I like the layout of the studio as well – while it’s much smaller than the studio where I take Intermediate class, New Studio has a mirror that runs lengthwise so everyone gets an opportunity to see themselves. At Intermediate Class it can be so hard to find a good spot that’s not right in the front. And, unless Teacher asks us to switch lines, I feel awkward going in the front, especially when I keep forgetting the combination.

So, in the middle of all those ungraceful movements – fun, still, but definitely ungraceful –  there are the things I’ve actually improved at. The all-the-way-around pirouettes are a big one.  For the first time, I’m feeling confident about my pirouettes en dehors, at least to the left. And not just from fourth, but also from fifth which I used to be complete inept at. Also, I didn’t even realize when I managed to be able to do changements without stepping on myself at all during the whole set, or be in correct timing.  I was also thinking about how at some point I also got comfortable using the head at barre. In center not so much yet – I’m still focusing on what step comes next – but it’s getting there. And my timing during sautes has gotten so much better – it’s been a little while now since I’ve been corrected on being out of time, not pointing my feet, jumping too quickly, or going up when everyone else in the group is coming down. I’m especially glad to see improvement in that area, because jumping’s been one of my bigest dance weaknesses the whole time I’ve been balleting, from my unpointed feet to my horrible timing, and feeling out of breath. I feel like I tried everything (and I mean everything – theraband foot strengthening exercises, lots and lots of releves, running in order to increase stamina) in order to improve at jumps. In the end, I think what worked was doing lots of slow sautes in all the positions with correct form at home that I’ve been doing at home. I try to do those any day I don’t take class, to not feel out of shape the next time I take class and we have to do 48 sautes or something.

My biggest challenge is how slow I am at picking up new things. Once I get the basic idea my obsessive part of my personality will work to get it right, but the initial understanding is so hard to come by. The ability to see movements and mimic them is not something that I have, at least naturally. But by now I’ve taken so many movement classes (ballet, pilates, modern) that I feel I somewhat have a good understanding of my body and what it can do, and which muscles do what actions which result in what. The visual part though… I don’t know, I’d hypothesize that it has to do with different learning styles and I’ve just never been a visual learner. I’m not much of a visual person naturally, but I think ballet has helped me so much in that respect, like now I notice a lot more details that I used to. So, even though my lack of this ability makes ballet harder, doing ballet actually makes me better at more than just ballet.