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.