Tag Archives: improving at ballet

Week 3: Ambivalent

To be completely honest, this past week didn’t have the same yay-everything-is-awesome-in-ballet-land feeling that the previous couple weeks had. That’s ok, plateaus are to be expected; perhaps they will help me appreciate the times of great improvement even more. But that’s not it, not really… I mean, I did improve at some things this week, after all, but… I don’t know… I feel somewhat unsatisfied, I guess, for lack of a better word (I’m sure there’s a word for what I’m feeling, I just don’t happen to know it, haha). I’m sure this is just a low mood, so I’m working my way through it regardless.

Actually, just writing that down helped me better articulate what I’m feeling (which I will now share, uncensored): I’m frustrated. Frustrated because I’m aware that I hold myself back; frustrated because I have low expectations for myself, because then – if I keep my goals low – I won’t have to face much disappointment (and won’t grow as much either, on the downside); frustrated because though I’m willing to work hard and put in time and effort, I hate pain and discomfort and am not willing to do things that will result in these, or similar, feelings; frustrated because even though I know that these thoughts are erroneous and counterproductive, I can’t seem to stop thinking them, wondering what was I thinking, why do I bother, why try if I know I’m going to fail, if I’m always  going to lose, simply because that’s what I’m used to, been used to all my life, and it’s too late to change the script now. (or IS it?…)

Yeah, some dark, low thoughts indeed… but I’m not going to lie – sometimes not everything is happy and cheerful. Sigh. We’ll get through this as we always do.

It’s kind of dumb, but I think part of the reason I’m in this mood is because the room I use to practice at my school was not available this past week, so I didn’t get to do any extracurricular dancing. Some of the happiest times I have involve just me and my headphones, working my way though a variation or crafting my own choreographies. I mean, the creative process for me begins at home, and I do walk through different segments of my dances at my home studio space, but even though it’s great for marking the choreography and nitpicking details, there’s no room to actually dance full out, using all of the space. I think I need my actual dancing time to calm my inner turmoil. It doesn’t  help that the weather’s been sucking, making it impossible to go for a long relaxing walk, or work in my garden.

Anyway.

This week I continue to wear the pointe shoes at barre. That fondue up to sous-sus from last week seemed much less scary. I don’t remember if I’d specified, but that was from a fondue devant, the kind where the supporting leg is bent and the working leg is off the floor out to the front. This week I added in a sous-sus from a fondue derriere and it was much less scary. Don’t know if it’s because I’m getting used to it or because it’s easier less difficult from this position. There was also a single leg rise up from either arabesque or a degage devant position (it was after our rond de jambe combination, so from arabesque after going en dehors, and from the devant position after going en dedans) and I was too scared to rise up to pointe, instead just going up to demi-point. So then I tried it with both hands on the barre and it still felt like a bit much. I do think I’m strong enough, but I’m pretty terrified.

The first time I took class during the week went along as normal, with me switching out to slippers after barre. But then Teacher said how about we left our pointe shoes on for center and do the center combinations near the barre, so we can use it to assist with the more difficult parts. These difficult parts turned out to be a pique sous-sus (in the combination it was a soutenu, but she said to substitute it with a pique sous-sus), and a chasse to releve (on pointe) arabesque then pas de bourre. The first day attempting this I was able to do it all to the right side, but to the left I was too scared to do the chasse to releve arabesque, only rising to demi. The next day I pulled on my (metaphorical) big girl panties and made myself do it.

Then the class did chaines across the floor and Teacher had us do them on pointe at the wall barre. It was scary at first, then awkward, then just slightly uncomfortable in that pressure-on-the-toes way. I also did some chaines off the barre while wearing the pointe shoes but just going up to demi pointe (I guess my shoes are broken in enough to do this now, but I do wonder if doing stuff in demi point  in them will break them down faster?). When the class worked on pique turns across the floor I did pique passe releves along the wall barre. Once again, to the right side it felt much more secure than to the left (like a crazy discrepancy – to the right it felt like I’ve been doing this forever, to the left I was terrified). It’s funny, up until very recently I would have said that without a shadow of a doubt my left foot is stronger, after all I balance much better on it on flat and demi point with soft shoes, do better promenades on it and everything. And my right foot was the one I messed up in a car accident years ago (though the left ankle was the one I sprained when I very gracefully fell down the stairs) But pointe work has shown that it is actually my right side which is much stronger, weird.

Then we worked on pirouettes, and since I still had my pointe shoes on I attempted to do some on demi point (because there was no way I was going to try a pirouette en pointe at this, umm, point in time. Perhaps I should have been working on just rising up to pointe in passe at the wall barre at this time). To my surprise, I found that pirouettes on demi point feel much more stable for me in pointe shoes than flat slippers. Not only that, balancing on demi point in general felt more stable with the pointe shoes. I guess I’ve officially decided that once these shoes die I will deshank them and wear them to class sometimes instead of my soft slippers.

Then it was time for sautes and petit allegro (chagement x2, echappe, glissade, assemble, pas de chat, coupe, pas de bourre, other side) which meant it was time to take off the pointes. I mean, I think Teacher would have let me leave them on, but I think I have some sort of mental block at the idea of doing the whole class en pointe (even though, who are we kidding, I was either using the barre to help me or only going up to demi, so it’s not like I was really doing the class en pointe, just merely wearing pointe shoes…).

But we all gotta start somewhere, right? To be honest, I never thought I would be doing this much with the pointe shoes already by this point in time (I would have been content with just doing eleves, releves, and sous-sus at the barre for the next six months or so – there’s those low expectations I mentioned earlier…). It’s been exactly one month to the day since I first slipped the shoes on. I remember on the way home from the dance store, Husband asked me if I thought it was going to be like starting from scratch as a brand-new beginner again and I said ‘Maybe, but I hope not. But if it is, it’s ok.’  Well, one month into it, I’d say that it’s not like starting from scratch, but at the same time I can see how my fears of trying new things rear their ugly heads. For example, even though I’ve been practicing it with just one finger from each hand resting lightly on the barre (so not much support), I get quite scared of springing up to sous-sus or releve in 1st with no hands. I feel like I need to go through the motions of it thousands of times on my own before I can do it confidently in class in front of everyone. In class there’s not enough time to repetitively work on the same thing, so this is something I need to put some time into on my own.

On the positive side, I did meet my goal of doing a half soutenu on pointe with no hands this week, I even did some away from the barre after working on springing up to sous-sus with no barre. I did not meet my goal of bringing my feet up to coupe with no barre, but I did let go of the barre while up in retire on pointe, so maybe we can consider that goal halfway met? I continue working on my bourres with no barre while doing port de bras. I know for an upcoming goal I would like to do echappes with no barre, but I don’t believe I’m ready yet. Perhaps then for now my goal for the week will be to improve on that chasse up to releve arabesque, and springing up to pointe on one foot.

As far as non-pointe work, this week I really concentrated on working on glissade assemble. To the right I’m not bad at this sequence, but to the left it feels sloppy. So after class I went over it repeatedly, both sides just back and forth, and I’m feeling much more confident about it. We worked on chasse, saute arabesque across the floor and I got a correction on not losing my turnout, so I will be paying more attention to that. Also, after class I worked on these pas de bourres that we would do in Int/Adv class last session, the kind where you plie your supporting leg and the working leg kind of degages out a la seconde, then it comes in to sous-sus (the pas de bourre part), and the other leg then degages out to seconde as your supporting leg plies. I think F Teacher called them pas de bourre en dessus and en desous. Anyway, ever since I slowed the steps down I feel like I’ve been improving on them, because at the speed we would do them in Int/Adv class I was mostly just flailing around and trying to not fall behind (thankfully, not trying to not fall, period). I guess I should just be grateful for that.

I think I’ll end this post now, before it becomes a novel…

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2016 – My Year In Review

Wow, what a year! Perhaps not the best ever for me, but it’s up there. Definitely the best since I started ballet, thought there were some rough patches. Contrasts – it wouldn’t be good without the bad, beauty without the  beast the ugly. But altogether, I am content, I am happy.

Looking back over my last two Year Review posts (something about the end of the year puts me in a reminiscing kind of mood), I almost feel like I have nothing new to say.  In 2014 I started ballet-blogging, and even though I’d been doing ballet for  a year then, it was around then when it had started to make sense, rather than just being repetition for strength building sake. 2015 was the year that I went from 2 – maybe, rarely, 3 – classes a week to 5 or 6 and showed much improvement. It was also my first time perfoming, my first year having lots of fun dancing instead of just trying to stay on my feet. Compared to that, it seems like now it’s just more of the same.

Wait, I did just get those pointe shoes last week…like I said, it’s like I almost don’t have anything new to say…(oh my gosh, I love my new shoes so much!!!)…let’s see what this year will hold, but I will say that the last couple of weeks have been fun.

Anyway, this year I did two different “official” shows with my school, as well as more than a handful (seven, to be exact) of performances for the class (which don’t count as a show to me, but they’re an excellent opportunity to get a video). Of those, 4 were choreographed by me, of the others 2 were based on existing choreographies on youtube and one was a collaboration.

I started hip hop dance, and discovered that I am absolutely terrible at it. As terrible as when I started ballet (except that at least I’m not falling over constantly), and while it was awkward, I had lots of fun. Still dreaming about making that fusion choreography – maybe this next year (ok, perhaps that’s too ambitious, even for me, but hey, sometimes you really do got to dream big and be surprised.)

In ballet class, I continued to work on my technique, as well as my artistry (oh gosh, that almost sounds so pompous… like I’m taking myself too seriously… next I’ll be saying I’m an artist). While I’ve learned to keep my head up, I continue to struggle with what my teachers call my “external focus” – apparently I have a tendency to go into my own head instead of focusing on something there in the room. This will be something that I will continue to work on this coming year. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but I have a feeling that my troubles with spotting are related to this, so if I ever want to have any hope of multiple turns (and not just by using excessive force) I better get on that.

Speaking of multiple turns, this year I did my first double pirouette n dehors. Sadly, although I did more than one that day, it was an isolated incident. Refer to spotting issue mentioned above…

I have steadily been improving though. My balances on releve on one foot have gotten longer and more frequent, My jumps off one leg have become  more powerful. I keep up more and more in petit allegro (until we get to those sissones en croix, then I lose it). And the promenade in attitude with allonge up to releve – possibly the step I struggled with the most last year – finally became a reality (in fact, developpe devant, cloche to attitude derriere, promenade in attitude, allonge in releve has become one of my go-to sequences.

On the not-so-improved side of things, my beated jumps still don’t have much of a beat to them. And then, there was that time when I quit ballet for a couple weeks last spring – that was definitely the low point of the year for me.

My skill level has gotten to the point that I can pinpoint what I’m doing wrong, and how to fix it (at least in theory; whether I can actually fix it in practice with my current strength level is another story). But I keep working on it – like I’ve said before, I believe in practice, repetition, and muscle memory. Just to clarify though, I don’t simply practice for the sake of improving, but because dancing (paricularly ballet, since I am a mess in all other styles of dance I’ve tried) makes me feel so alive. Why wouldn’t I want to do it all the time? As someone who’s not, who never has been a “talented” person in life, I feel like there’s finally something that I can be proud of, something that I’ve poured my effort, my heart, my soul into and gotten results. Sure, I’m not “good” compared  to a pro, (or a pre-pro)  but I’m good for myself, and that’s enough for me.

On the not-dance-but-still-movement side of things, this year I became a certified Pilates instructor. While my passion remains ballet, pilates has been such a huge help in this process; without pilates I would never have come this far. So I hope to share some of my enthusiasm for both of these things in the coming year.

So, sending off the year – and looking forward to the new one – with a lovely picture taken by my little sis.

Ballet pose and a bright blue sky - my kind of day

Ballet pose and a bright blue sky – my kind of day

(I will choose to ignore that not-so-turned-out working leg and instead focus on my back, haha)

How’s This For A Funny Story

So, I drove myself to my regular school, with my black leotard pink tights “uniform” and plenty of time to spare, and I was so excited and happy that classes were starting up again and – surprise! – turns out I got the date wrong  and classes won’t resume for another week! Although I’d been looking forward to taking class in “uniform” again, I took myself to New Studio instead, where we had quite an challenging class.

My extension was back! After that last class the week before with the mediocre extensions, I was happy to have it back. Don’t know if it’s related, but I did give myself a nice long Pilates and Yoga session at home before class, which was out of the norm – and the day before the bad extension day I’d been cooped up in the car for hours, But yeah, in class I felt both well-stretched and strong.

A challenging extension combination we did was rond de jambes a terre, lift to rond de jambe en lair, from derriere position leg goes to passe, then developpe a la seconde (don’t remember the rest, i was too busy being happy my extension was back, it may have been the combination with a penchee, bring it up to attitude derriere and balance, or the one with failli, pas de bourre en tournant, other side ). then fondues to releve front, side back, bring leg to a la seconde, to retire and back out four counts up on releve the whole time, plie on supporting leg while keeping working leg en l’air, soutenu, other side. I really started to feel both my supporting and working leg by this point, for sure. And that was before the really slow fondues up to releve, with more of holding the leg out in extension while up on releve after doing at least 6 consecutive fondues per side.

Center was intense. We jumped a lot – 32 sloooow changements, with a sous-sus balance every eight counts, then sautes in first, second, echappes from fifth to fouth, second, and fouth, and changements, twice, at regular speed. 32 pas de chats, changing directions every fourth one, which is way harder than it looks, if for the slipping factor alone. We did a combination that included a jump called a gargouillade which appears to be (to my undeducated eyes), of course(a pas de chat while doing little rond de jambes in the air with both legs. Despite looking hard, it was actually really fun to do  attempt and I started running into the problem of … laughing. It reminded me of when I was a kid at school, someone else would do something funny (or dumb, probably, looking back) and I would get the giggle fits and not be able to quiet down long after then initial set off had happened, therefore getting in myself in trouble. This was reminding me off that because I just kept cracking up everytime we got to that point in the combination. It just looked hilarious in the mirror and it felt funny, and the whole time I was amused that I could even do a crappy attempt instead of just freezing up like I used to, or tripping over or something. I don’t think I’m much a fan of the step even while done correctly, after seeing it on youtube.

We also did tombe, pas de bourre, chasse, pirouette en dehors, en dedans, repeat. My pirouettes still remain my weakest point in center. While it does feel discouraging, at the same time I don’t mind because I know these things take time, sometimes lots of time. I mean, breaking it down to all the parts of a pirouette – I was too weak to even go up on releve on one leg at the barre until I’d been down ballet for maybe 8-9 months (and at the time still couldn’t balance on releve on two feet for any length of time ), and I’m pretty sure I wrote on here back sometime in late Fall 2014 about the first time I went up in passe releve in center, and barely about 3 months ago I had my first good barre releve retire balance (and I have not really been abl to replicate it), so yeah, these things take time. I am patient… it’s weird because I actually struggle with being patient quite a bit in other areas of life, but with ballet it feels different. Perhaps because I’ve improved so much at ballet in other areas that I know it’s at least possible to get better. I don’t think I expected to get “good” when I started, but I hoped to get to a level that I could participate in center without immediately losing my balance. At the time even that seemed unbelievable and far off, but I’ve gotten there at least. That helps me convince myself that some day when I least expect it pirouettes will become no big deal, but for now I just practice without expecting too much results.

The other classes I took were more on the basic beginner level, so mostly working on technique fo plies and tendues. I’m happy to notice that my grand plies, especially in first, have really been getting deeper. I wish I knew what exactly I did differently to improve or get stronger though, because it appears to be one of those things that did improve when I least expected. I was not happy to note that during grand plies in fourth I have a tendency to lean forward. Sometimes my torso just feels so heavy. Sigh.

Anyway, ballet classes at my regular school should return this week – this time for reals – and I think I’ll be doing Intermediate level as well as Beginner, so we’ll see how I hold up.

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.

Promenade Progress, Weird Coincidences, and Class Performance

After a slightly rough start it ended up being a great ballet week.

Possibly the biggest breakthough I had this week involved promenades. As you may remember, I’ve been complaining about falling out of promenades ever since … well, ever since I first attempted one – balancing issues, you know? In fact, when I made a ballet goals post abour six months ago, getting a clean promenade to both sides was in there (and most of the goals I wrote could be self-described as ‘unlikely’).

So, this past week NS Teacher gave us this combination: developpe devant, brush the leg through to arabesque, promenade in arabesque, penchee, promenade in attitude, allongee(sp?), other side. I was pretty nervous, but I told myself that I was going to really try it, not just give up on it about halfway through because I feel like I’m not going to be able to make it all the way around anyway. And. to my surprise, I did make it around, in both arabesque and attitude promenades and to both sides!

Then another day at another class at NS it got even more intense. We did this combination with sets of three petit battements while going down in plie (I guess fondue?) then petit battements up to retire as we straightened the supporting leg, extend leg a la seconde, fouette so the leg is in arabesque (no, not fouette en tournant, the turns from the Black Swan variation; just the facing change kind of fouette), promenade, faille through, pick up pas de bourre, repeat other side. Wow, this was a challenging combination! As NS Teacher first gave the combination I started feeling a little panicky, because, I mean, petit battements in center (!) and then following that up with promenades, that’s a lot of pulling up on that supporting leg. But I got through it again without losing my balance. I’m not saying I did the combnation perfectly or anything – I think my fouette resembled a partial rond de jambe en l’air more than anything – but still, I’m pleased with my progess on promenades.

In regular school we did a nice and long – yet slow and doable – waltz combination that was really fun because of how dance-y it felt. It was balancé right and left, then balancé front and back, this little turn that took six counts with a step that felt like half pas de bourre and half easy waltz step, then tombe, pas de bourre, pique sous-sus, soutenu, other side. One of the times we did the combination we forgot to stop after going through both sides twice and G Teacher let us keep going and the next thing we knew the music was over and we’d danced the whole thing! It was a lovely moment.

Then – coincidentally – both NS Teacher and G Teacher gave me corrections on “moving bigger”, on playing it less safe. With G Teacher it was at the barre when doing our chasse en avant and en arriere and with pique sous-sus, with NS Teacher it was also with pique sous-sus.  They both want to see me really travel, and gave me a literal little push to get me started in the right way. You know… for a while now I’ve found it a little odd when two or more teachers (especially at different schools) suddenly start giving me the same exact correction they hadn’t given me before. It’s like, do I pick up glaringly bad habits overnight that come to their attention the same day… or do ballet teachers talk amongst one another? I know that sounds unlikely (even though I do think the local ballet/dance community might be small enough that they all know each other, I think they probably have better things to do with their time than compare notes on individual students), but often times I’ll go to two different classes at different schools the same day and the two different teachers will either give out very similar exercises to the class, or have us work on the same exact things. And no, we don’t do the same things every day, or have time to do it all on the same day, which is why it seems even more coincidental. I’ve been noticing this for almost two years now, ever since I first ventured away from my main school to try out other classes. Is there like a place where teachers get their lesson plans (like, ‘this week we should work on glissades’, for example), or communicate with each other and that’s why they end up coordinating, or is it truly a coincidence?

(For the record, at my wise old age I personally believe there’s no such thing as coincidences… feel free to think I’m weird – if you didn’t already – all you want…)

This other really fun combination we did was two sissones ferme (left and right), passe releve and bring it to fourth in back, pirouette en dehors, repeat to other side. The hardest part was the pirouette, of course, but I kept up to tempo and found it enjoyable. This combination was during a class that had mostly more advanced students (I think two of them are teachers as well) and I was one of the beginners, so it was nice to keep up. And only once did I accidentaly do a glissade instead of a sissone.

The other exciting thing was that we did our small in-class performance! This one wasn’t in the real theater with real costumes and everything, just in the studio for the rest of the class, but I managed to get a video (the main downside of performing in the real theater is that there is No Filming Allowed). I did the Spanish dance from Coppelia, which was short and relatively straightforward, but very fast. When I have a choice in th matter I tend to gravitate towards slower, more adagio-like choreographies, so this was out of the comfort zone and Iiked it.  First I marked it at home to commit it to memory, then I worked on getting it up to tempo in a practice room at school. The most challenging aspect for me was the quick balancés, because the floor’s so slippery and when you’re moving that fast and the floor feels slippery it can get scary. So while practicing I made sure to keep the soles of my slippers damp (by stepping on a moist paper towel, which I save and reuse for next time) to provide more traction and that helped with the fear or slipping.

Unfortunately, when it came time to perform it instead of rehearsing, I didn’t remoisten my shoes, and of course I remembered when I was already starting the dance. It was just like a repeat of the show a couple of months ago in which I forgot part of my costume backstage and realized as soon as I stepped onstage! Luckily, I get through it, and I didn’t slip, or lose my balance, or freeze up, or any of those things that can happene while performing. I’ve watched the video a bunch of times, and besides this part where I’m carrying my arms a bit too behind in second, I’m satisfied with my perfromance. I’m not saying it’s great, but for someone who started ballet (for the first and only time)  when they were almost 30 and has only been dancing for as long as I have, I’m impressed. It’s ok to be impressed with youself, I think…

The rest of my classmates also performed their dances, and they were quite impressive too. I especially enjoyed watching the Bluebird variation, the Lilac Fairy (both from Sleeping Beauty), and Basilio’s variation from the grand pas of Don Quixote. There were also a few original short choreographies from the more beginner dancers, which were quite good. I know they don’t believe me, but I always tell my newer classmates how their dancing is really coming along. Peer support, I believe in it.

 

Several Things I’ve Noticed, And Looking Back

As my summer ballet session nears its end, this week I noticed a few things. Definite signs of progress, I’d say.

The first has to do with my balance. It was possibly there already, but during this week was the first time that I’ve felt like I didn’t have to stop and make any tiny little adjustments in order to keep my balance while doing our center tendu combination. We do two croisse devant, two en face devant, two efface devant, one ecarte, then the same with the other leg, then reversing it. Tempo’s pretty quick, so if that time to adjust was actually needed it would put me behind the music. I don’t even remember really how I came to trust myself that I could do it, that I didn’t need to take that millisecond to make sure I was really on my leg.  Perhaps all the no-hands-at-the-barre stuff G Teacher’s been having me do has helped me?

The second thing is glissades. Not just a la seconde, but also en avant and en arriere. I struggled with glissades for a long time, at first not making them look pretty but just doing them at all without losing my balance and coming close to falling. While I’ve had my glissades a la seconde for at least a year now, the ones front and back – especially back – have been slow to progress. Even though I felt like I had the coordination for them finally, it was the balance that would get me. Maybe this still falls into the first category then, since it’s mostly a balance thing. Well, either way, this week I was doing glissades in all directions and it was going just fine, only took me three and a half years to get to this point…

The last thing is my jumps. Anyone who’s been reading my ballet struggles for a while now will remember just how much jumping has been an uphill battle. First, my legs were to weak to even help me clear the floor, then I could clear the floor but my feet were too weak/I was too scared to point my feet, then I’d start speeding up the tempo because I (subconciously) just wanted to get it over with and I’d forget to breathe. And of course all the alignment adjustments needed, not losing my turnout, etc. Finally, I noticed this week that everything is lining up; I’m able to remember to breathe during my jumps, which keeps me from feeling panicky out of breath during them, which keeps me on tempo. And, when we’re finally done, I discovered that I’d  enjoyed it quite a bit, that my legs felt happy (I realize that sounds a little silly, but I don’t care) . It’s no longer the thing that causes me much apprehension – that special spot is now exclusively saved for pirouettes.

Ever since I actually started feeling like I was dancing, instead of just trying to not make a complete fool of myself, I haven’t been super fixated on progress… but it’s still nice to take note of it, I think. The same way some people like to have a snapshot of a moment in a particularly nice day, something like that.

Anyway, this ballet week was pretty awesome. In my regular school classes (the summer session) we got to do quite a bit of across the floor work. We had a relatively long (by beginner class standards) adagio, that I struggled the first time with because of my memory (you’ll notice I didn’t say earlier that I’ve noticed any improvements in remembering combinations…), but by the second class session working on it I nailed it. It was all steps I could do (demi plies with port de bras, sous-sus balance, tombe, pas de bourre, ballet walks), but the length did intimidate me at first.

We also did more across the floor jumping, temps leves (saute arabesque, saute passe), and alternating chasses with saute arabesque.

At New Studio, I had a couple of fun classes as well. We did a fun adage-y combination with developpe devant, rond de jambe the leg to a la seconde, close back, developpe derriere, carry to second, close, changement to face other corner and repeat. I really enjoyed it because I felt so steady on my single leg balance.  I was glad we did this combination first, because the next few were quite fast and I felt like I was struggling to keep up with the tempo. One of the combinations was just glissade x2, assemble, passe releve, repeat, but it was just so quick that I felt I barely had time to fit it in there. Our other equally fast combination was 2 balances, balance en tournant, pirouette en dehors, pirouette en dedans. The en dehors pirouettes didn’t go so well (as usual). It frustrates me that even though I can do them to the left much better, since we start to the right, by the time we get to the left I already have this “I suck at pirouettes” mindset. Sigh.

On a more positive note, one of the combinations (can’t remember which) included that pivot thing from facing one way croisse to the other way efface, which I barely figured out a couple of months ago, and even though I haven’t been actively practicing it often I still remembered it!

Also, I was rereading over some of my old blog posts, and I happened upon the one from a year ago almost to the date. At the time I was concerned with being “in between”, not knowing if when a teacher says something is only for more advanced people if I should try it. Also, not feeling like I was capable of actually dancing when I just felt so silly and like i didn’t even belong there.  Now, it may be that I’m only taking Beginner and Open Level class right now (not the scary Intermediate, with people who’ve been dancing for decades and are Really Good), but I find that I’m not having any of those problems anymore. For the most part I feel confident that I should try the harder option, and I have no problems with really dancing instead of just trying to go through the motions. I guess I only mention this for the benefit of my one-year-ago self, but it gets better! So that means that even though I’m struggling with some things now (like those en dehors pirouettes!), I might in the future look back and wonder what the big deal was. The reminder of the change in perspective does much to cheer me up when I’m having a difficult day.

P.S. If you’re still reading, person who found me by searching, please DO wash your leotard! If you don’t, it’s apt to get stinky, and then you may try to belatedly solve the problem by spraying yourself all over with body spray immediately before class, and just, please don’t. I don’t need that fake fruity/flowery smell burning the insides of my nostrils as I breathe in deeply during and after a particularly strenuous combination!

Public Service Announcement time: Please don’t douse yourself in body spray or perfume before going to ballet class (or yoga or pilates) or any other activity that involves a small enclosed area with no windows! It’s not fair to your classmates. We all have a different opinion of what a pleasant smell is, and it’s not cool to force your version of it upon others.

 

(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.