Tag Archives: Learning curve

(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.

Random Monday Ramblings

Normally, I’d have had class this morning – being a monday – and I’d be writing a class recap of sorts. But today class was cancelled (luckily, Teacher was considerate and let us know ahead of time – I’d been hella pissed if I got up at the crack of dawn and drove in traffic for no-class), so instead I will ramble on about tangentially ballet related subjects.

First off, remember my post a few weeks ago about Sanrio cuteness and Ballerina Bear? Well, it just so happened that the movie theater that Boyfriend  and I went to to see Manon last week is annexed to a mall and, like most malls I’ve visited in my life, they had a Sanrio store.  It had been years, literally, since I’d been to either a mall or Sanrio store, so of course I had to visit. Purely for the sake of research, of course.

It was cuteness overload!  Remember I mentioned that as a kid I loved novelty erasers? Check these out!

Novelty erasers in the shape of sushi! Managing to be both adorable and delicious looking!

Novelty erasers in the shape of sushi! Managing to be both adorable and delicious looking!

I was so glad that I had purposely not brought much cash with me.  These are adorable, but as a completely non-functional item that would just serve to clutter out apartment, it was not a wise purchase.  By now I’m learning that part of maturity is recognizing the difference between needs and wants. Still, can’t wait to have a child to enjoy cutesy erasers with!

Showing more of the assortment of cute erasers.

Showing more of the assortment of cute erasers.

Continuing to explore the Sanrio store I found a pink Hello Kitty tennis ball. It was more “hot pink” than “ballet  pink”, or else it would have had “rub sore feet on me” written all over it. Unfortunately, for whatever reason (probably absentmindedness) I didn’t get a close-up picture, though I swear I thought I had.

You're just gonna have to take my word for it that the pink tennis ball is (hidden) on the other side of what looks like pink volleyballs.

You’re just gonna have to take my word for it that the pink tennis ball is (hidden) on the other side of what looks like pink volleyballs.

And no, no sign of Ballerina Bear merchandise anywhere. There were plenty of new characters that were unfamiliar to me, however, as well as some crossover characters.  Apparently now Sanrio has a deal with Street Fighter.

Street Fighter, Sanrio Style

Street Fighter, Sanrio Style

All in all, they had Hello Kitty everything, except for the two possible things that would have actually gotten me to open my wallet. Any guesses what those things would be?

A Hello Kitty leotard or Hello Kitty ballet slippers. Actually Hello Kitty tights would have been fine as well. I guess they didn’t have any of the three things that may have pried cash away from my hands.

Now that the lightehearted topic’s been rambled about…

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the whole Keeping Things in Perspective thing.  Mostly as it applies to ballet and my (slow) progress.

As much as I hate to admit it – even to myself – sometimes I turn into the green-eyed monster when other’s learning curves increase more exponentially than mine.  It really gets me down, especially because I know rationally that feeling that way accomplishes nothing. Absolutely nothing. The time spent throwing myself a pity party can be better spent practicing or working out to increase my strength.

Especially when I really keep it in perspective, and realize that I have already come so far.

Prior to me starting ballet, I had terrible posture.  I’m not talking terrible for a dancer, I mean terrible period.  As in, while standing, I always rested back on my hyperextended knees, locking them back, while simultaneously tucking my pelvis in and under, sticking out my stomach, curving my upper back forward, hunching my shoulders and hanging down my head.  Pretty much every posture “Don’t” out there.  It’s a wonder I hadn’t developed long-term health problems.

I don't have before whole-body pics -  can you blame me? - but I do have these crudely-drawn stick figures that sort of show what I'm talking about

I don’t have before whole-body pics – can you blame me? – but I do have these crudely-drawn stick figures that sort of show what I’m talking about

And for the longest time – the first 27 or so years of my life – I had no idea that I was doing anything wrong.  This was just the posture that I had adopted back when I was an obese child, and as I grew older I just assumed that was the shape of my body.  I had no idea that any of this was malleable, just figured I’d been cursed with bad genes.

It wasn’t until after I lost my excess weight that I realized that I could make the effort to stand up straight; I could stop tucking in my pelvis excessively; I could stop hunching my shoulders.  It took a lot of getting used to – muscle memory going back decades is harder to undo – but by the time I started ballet I had generic mediocre posture as opposed to horrible.  If anything, by that point I had been doing the opposite of tucking in my pelvis and was mildly sway-backing, but the rest – the locked knees, the hunched shoulders, the head lifting – it was all good.

When I keep it in perspective – when I remember that I went from being a fully grown adult who was in terrible shape and had a 70-year-old’s posture to how I’m doing today, rather than from an agile athletic teenager to a still-agile 20 year old taking ballet – I feel so much better.  Almost like I can accomplish anything!

Because if I had a time machine and I went back in time and showed 27 -year-old me pictures of me now, she probably wouldn’t believe it’s the same person. Or assume I’d made a deal with the devil.  And I wouldn’t blame her.

So now I go from feeling disappointed with my progress to thinking “I’m pretty badass!”

And just like that the Monday Blues leave me.

Celebrating being in my 30's and feeling better than I ever did in my teens or 20's.

Celebrating being in my 30’s and feeling better than I ever did in my teens or 20’s.

Back To Double Dose of Ballet

See Tights

See Tights Run

Run Tights, Run!

My new tights have a run already. What the hell!

My new tights have a run already. What the hell!

Just trying to find humor in the fact that after wearing them only, like, 3 times my new favorite tights have a run in them already, as I discovered when it was time to get dressed.

wednesday morning class

The new port de bra for our demi plies at the barre is still unfamiliar and awkward for me.  It’s almost feeling like the patting-your-head-while-rubbing-your-stomach feeling.  We start with arm out in second and it doesn’t come in until we are at the bottom of the plie, then low fifth when we go up.  On the next plie it goes to middle fifth on the bottom, and opens to second when we come up.  The time coordination is the part that gets me, I keep wanting to bring in the arm prematurely and then I’m ahead of the count.  Will excessively work on it at home for sure.

On our tendus we did a lot of slow foot articulation stuff.  Tendu-ing out to second, flexing the toes and then the foot, then pointing the ankle (but not the toes), and finally the toes.  While the ankle flexing part is not a problem, my toes didn’t want to cooperate on the toe flexing.

We did releves sous-sus and then brought one foot up to coupe.  Strengthwise it was ok, didn’t feel like much of an effort. Then Teacher said to let go of the barre and try to balance as long as possible.  I let go and promply started to fall forward, reminding me of a felled tree – someone yell “Timber!”.

The expected learning curve scares me.  Things that are introduced in class one week – no pressure, most people mess up – are then expected to be drastically improved several weeks later.  That is not my learning curve; it took me about 6 months to be able to pull off any two-footed releve balance at all, for however short a time.  Even now I still struggle with my balance on two-footed releves at times (though magically it always works out at home, when I’m alone).

It sucks, because most teachers approach it from the premise of “if you’re not balancing it’s because you tend to fall backwards.”  I tend to fall forward (because of the chest, weight distribution), so when I releve I make sure to not go up too quickly, that way my momentum won’t push me over, while at the same time making sure to  not fall back.   It gets desperately discouraging at times, especially seeing how other, much newer, people don’t have trouble with the balancing part.  But then I see pictures of full-term pregnant women balancing either on releve or en pointe and I’m like ‘no, there’s a way. I just have to get even stronger.”

We did a flexibility exercise with a partner, involving developpe-ing to the front and a la seconde, but the catch was that after you developpe your partner pushes your leg up, to the limit your flexibilty can stand. Then we had to use our strength to keep our leg that high and sloooowly – with control – bring it back down.  Imagine my surprise when my partner kept pushing my leg up and it was past my head and it still didn’t hurt! And I still remember when I couldn’t even touch my toes – an unflexible child can grow up to be a sort of flexible adult!  Once she let go I was able to keep it up there and lower it slowly with no problem.  Yay, maybe there is strength in me after all!

During sautes I did feel less out of breath and exhausted, though that’s probably mental because I don’t think my 2 days of (very little) jogging have made that much of a difference.  But I am interested to see how my endurance for jumps will improve after I’ve been jogging awhile.  My sautes were ok – feet somewhat pointed – but the changements and echappes not so much. However, looking on the positive side, I no longer step on myself when I do changements and after the changement and echappe combination I did end up with the correct foot in front.

Across the floor we did 4 chasses (the galloping kind), ballet run and jete.  On the right side it went ok, my jetes with the left leg in front could use some additional improvement.    But it was so much fun, sometimes big movements are just what I needed!

wednesday evening class

Double checked and made sure I had my wallet AND my shoes.

We had a small class today, all with some ballet experience, so as Evening Teacher says “We can do stuff that involves the brain more.”  It was a change of pace, and for the most part I kept up.

We did fondues, which I love.  We did the kind of fondues where the leg straightens so that the working foot is in the air, not the floor, which are even more fun. We also did the rond de jambes that are combined with a fondu, as well as plenty of rond de jambes en l’air.

Something I like about this class is that E. Teacher uses music that changes tempo midway. So we do stuff like 8 slow degages and then 6 in double time or two tendus and then a pique on the third.  It’s nice to mix it up a bit; I would say “keeps it interesting” but it’s already interesting.  Ummm, I guess it increases the interesting factor.

We did lots of frappes also, which was nice.  Such a weird motion at first – the flexed foot and all – but now that I got used to doing them they’re ok.

During our grand battements en croix we did something different: after front, side, back, on the next side one we were to turn in to the barre with both our supporting and working legs bent and then straighten the working leg back out, then tondu it in releve sous-sus, soutenu, and other side.  The “turning into the barre with bent legs” move looks super intimidating but E. Teacher broke it down enough to make it possible.  I love the “no pressure” vibe in this class, as I’ve said before.

My only problem at barre was that E. Teacher wanted us to take a long balance in passe releve, which I can only hold for about two seconds (on left working leg) and not at all on the right leg.  So I alternated between holding passe releve with one hand at the barre or balancing with no hands on flat passe.

We did changements, echappes, and some kind of jump to fourth position that I’d never done before.  This was probably part of the whole “engaging our brain” thing. Unfortunately, my brain was occupied with trying to jump period, so I probably looked like I was doing lopsided jumping jacks or something.

During center, there was all this balancing in passe releve and then pirouette craziness that I pretty much messed up on.  Since barre went so well I took it all in stride.  So I can’t balance at all, no big deal, I can fondu! Or something like that…

At least I’m feeling cheerful tonight though.  I was feeling a little upset after morning class (re: my lack of balance) if the truth must be told, sometimes my flatlined learning curve just really gets me down.  Makes me feel like my efforts are hopeless, like I’ll never be decent at ballet. Such a sad thought…

Monday Class: Yay, Chaines!

We’re in the middle of a heat wave with triple-digit high temperatures, so while I’m really growing to hate my alarm clock I’m glad class is nice and early before it starts getting super-hot.

Today’s barre was more of the usual – plies, tendus, degage, ronde de jambe, pique’s, coupes and passe. A lot of balancing in different poses as well as doing the whole tendu and degage exercises without the barre.  My balances at the barre were a little better today, which surprised me a bit because I wasn’t really feeling at 100%. I wish I had time to do an extensive warm-up before class but that would require waking up even earlier and I just can’t get myself to do that. Yet.

The center combination involved the chasses that we did last week, as well as balancing on releve while moving the arms, balancing on one leg while plieing (is that technically a fondue?), and a new way of doing pas de bouree that I wasn’t used to.  Back when I learned how to pas de bouree it involved coupe-ing the back foot, but today’s method didn’t, so I kept messing up and coupe-ing my back foot out of reflex.  The new way of doing the pas de bourres is technically easier, but the way I learned it previously seems to be embedded in my muscle memory.

As promised – or as it appeared to some students, as we were forewarned – last wednesday, today we worked on chaines.  Chaines turns are one of those ballet things that look so beautiful and ballet-ish, but regardless of how it looks, they way it feels while doing them is even more awesome!   Chaines were the first ballet turn I was ever introduced to in class, before  trying any pirouettes, pique turns, or even a demi-detourne at the barre. Of course, just like every other move I was taught the first semester of taking ballet, back then my chaines were horrible – spotting, balancing, and not crashing into the student next to me was a bit too much multitasking for a ballet newbie (or at least this ballet newbie).  Since then, I’ve incorporated chaines into almost every practice session at home, and they’ve really come around (accidental pun?).  Space limitations in my apartment limit me to only 4 or 5 chaines in a row before I have to stop and switch, so with the exception of a few times at Costco chaines-ing down the whole empty aisle – which doesn’t count. I mean, I was wearing tennis shoes! – the most I’ve ever done in a row before today was probably 4 or 5.

Today teacher had us line up against the studio wall.  She said first the “beginner”students would try (keep in mind this is a beginner level ballet class overall), then those of us who had some experience would go.  You have no idea how tempted I was to line myself up with the “beginner” students! But then they started to do their turns as teacher instructed them and yeah, it would have been a bit too basic for me.  I remember when I first started practicing chaines at home it was how I would do it, practicing my spotting while only turning my body around halfway, hands on the shoulders, feet on flat.  Back then anytime I tried to either have my arms in front of me or go up on releve I would lose my balance.  It took me about a year to be able to actually do them sort-of correctly, if a litttle bit on the slow side.

This video was my “teacher” when I was first starting to learn chaines. It breaks it down, sort of what the more “beginner” students were doing today. Sorry for the video’s  longish intro…

But it was so weird though! I’ve noticed that I tend to shy away from including myself with the more advanced students in both of my classes.  Like when teacher gives the option of more “beginner” students doing the barre without the arms and more “advanced” students with the arms, I feel comfortable doing the arms because a) I’ve been practicing with arms at home so if anything it feels a little bit more “normal” and b) at the barre I feel like I can hide.  But in center, I feel so exposed! I’m terrified that my crappy balance makes me look like it’s my first time taking ballet, no matter how much I show improvement in other areas.  So it did take a bit of courage to line up with the more “advanced” students.

How did it go? Teacher corrected me to take smaller steps, keeping my feet closer together.  This is something I need to work on, I had noticed even at home that I need to do that, perhaps even fitting an extra turn into my living room. The studio is huge though, so I think I was getting psyched out, like “I have to cross this enormous room while turning?!” so I was subconsiously trying to compensate by taking bigger steps.  I didn’t count how many turns it takes to cross the studio – all my brain power was being taken up – but I knew it was more in a row that I’ve previously done.

Spotting gets harder the more turns I do! The first few turns I’m spotting and everything is going fine and then I’ve noticed that if I lose focus I can’t seem to get my spotting back. It doesn’t help that the more flustered I get the more I can’t focus. Sometimes I really wish I could do private lessons, as it appears a big part of it is just my “stage fright” otherwise known as the fear of making a total laughingstock out of myself.

Then came sautes.  Honestly, by this point I was too tired to see if my feet were pointed with every jump, and I didn’t have a clear view of my feet in the mirror anyway.

Overall though, today wasn’t horribly discouraging or anything.  Just need to practice, practice, practice!

Frustrations and the opportunity for gratitude

I’ve read before in more than one place that there are good ballet days and bad ballet days. Ain’t that the truth! Some days I finish up practice feeling so light and agile, like a superhero. Other days, I feel clumsy, sluggish and slow like Im on some planet with twice the amount of gravity. Those are the not so good days which I’ve noticed by now will inevitably happen, especially whenever I start feeling like I’m actually improving.
I’ve known for a while now that the learning curve for ballet, at least as far as my body is concerned, does not shoot up in an exponential manner. It doesn’t even increase at a steady rate rate much as a y=x linear function. Instead, it appears to resemble a sinusoidal curve, with it’s ups and downs. And yes, whenever I’m having a bad ballet day I inevitably bring up math, if anything to remind myself thst I’m good at something.
But yes, the learning curve goes up and down. One day I’m pleased to see that I can bring my leg up in extension a little bit higher. The next day it seems like I actually lost some of my turnout. One day I notice that my port de bras is actually looking somewhat like it’s suposed to and the next day I can’t balance indefinately in releve with arms in fifth.
But above all, the most discouraging thing for me if when I see my body in profile while doing ballet. Because then I start thinking “What’s the point? I won’t be able to get the lines that I’m supposed to get anyway and it’s not going to look the way it’s supposed to, so what’s the point?” And then I start getting a bit down on myself, at least until those feelings fade and are replaced by others.
Because then I’m overcome with gratitude. I am grateful that I even have the opportunity to learn ballet because late is definitely better than never. I am grateful that even though shopping around for a ballet teacher who will be sympathetic to my unique circumstances is not an option, at least I have so many resources available to me, such as the internet and youtube videos. I am grateful that I have delicious and nutritious food in my fridge and plate which give me the energy, both physical and mental, to attempt to do ballet. I am grateful that we live in an apartment with wooden floor and a large living room and this made it possible to set up a nice home practice area. I am grateful that I have my health and that my body is, while it may not be suited for ballet, in the best shape it’s ever been.

And in the face of all this gratitude, how can I possibly feel upset?

The Learning Curve

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the learning curve for ballet, at least as far as it applied to me, was sloooooow. At times it didn’t even curve but just flatlined.  Still, I was motivated and pushed on through.

When I first started, I hardly had any turnout to speak of.  When I would plie I would check to make sure my knees were somewhere over my toes, but at first my body wasn’t having it.  I would just do plies in first and second positions, as I realized anything more than that was just too ambitious for me at the time.

I would also practice this thing which I’m not sure what it’s called because the teacher would say the name in French, but it involved bending forward while keeping your legs tightly together and straight (Edit: it was a cambre forward, or port de corps).  My first time attempting it, my legs were neither together nor straight but seeing the people in the class who could actually do the move, and how beautiful it looked, made me determined to practice it at home until I got it right.   Good thing I wasn’t holding my breath on that because it would be months of practice before I could even get my legs to stay straight and together,  much later until I actually kept my back straight and touched the floor.

And then there were tendues which, as long as I had the barre for support, were actually possible.  I’m not saying I did them well, but at least what I was doing could sort of resemble what I was trying to do.  I still did not have the strength to actually point my foot though I didn’t even realize it at the time.  In fact, it wasn’t until the first time that I really pointed my foot that I realized that I had never truly done it all the way before.  But as we stood there at the barre tendu-ing it felt like we were actually dancing!

Overall, I wasn’t completely discouraged, though at times a bit frustrated.  I had noticed by this time that I seemed to have a very difficult time balancing.  The second I took my hand of the barre I would lose my balance.  I wish I could say that I didn’t let this bug me, but I would be lying.  It did totally start wearing on me, affecting my self-image and making me think  that I completely sucked.  Which is not true, we just all have different strngths and weaknesses, though it’s hard to think about it rationally when upset.

And all this  before the dreaded center part, which is another post since I have no idea what word length is allowed on here…