Tag Archives: modern dance

Towards The End Of Summer

 

It’s over – summer session, that is. Classes are on break until the end of the month. And now that I’ve had some time to process everything a little more, I’m ready to talk about my summer.

Our little summer performance has come and gone, my group choreographic debut. Such a mixture of feelings! In a way it’s sad, knowing that we will never dance this dance again. I mean the choreography can be recreated, but it wouldn’t be the same people, so it wouldn’t be the same – what each of them brings to the table. If I’m honest, i have gotten attached to every dance I’ve performed, but this time’s different – when it’s something you’ve created, it’s yours, you’ve brought it forth from where it existed in a realm of possibilities and made it happen. During each of the performances I saw people recording during it, and that makes me happy – i feel like this way my work lives on.
In general, the audience response was positive- i mean, if anyone thought it sucked they either kept it to themselves, or I didn’t hear of it. On the other hand, lots of people told me they enjoyed it. They can’t all be lying to me, right?
I didn’t know what kind of response it would receive. I mean, I loved it, the entire process from when it was one of infinite possibilities in my mind, as it began to tak shape. I didn’t know (or care, if i must be honest) if the audience would “get it”. There’s different levels of understanding and I don’t thing art requires to be understood to be appreciated…yes, i think i just referred to myself as an artist, no offense meant to those true artists, if there is such a thing… I’ve come a long way… but my point is that I created the piece that I felt I must create, not a piece meant to be a crowd pleaser. That it be enjoyed is a bonus, and it pleases me, but it wasn’t the point.
The process, as I metioned in a previous post, was stressful as can be. I would plan out the details for my next rehearsal at home (I’m a big time planner, definitely), videotaped the end of every rehearsal so there was no confusion about what we got done, and took copious amounts of notes. I worked my butt off, but it was all a pleasure, because I was committed to getting this to work. I was desperately hoping that my organization, planning and just pure effort would make up for all my shortcomings. The finished product – and the recordings that I have seen of it – make me so proud. I’m not one of those obnoxiously self-assured people, quite the opposite, so I have no way of knowing if I did a good job. But I really like the outcome, that’s enough for now. And this has been the most fun I’ve had performing, ever.

But the shortcomings were there. I learned so much throughout this entire process. For someone who usually hates working in a group, I had my work cut out for me. Yes, I confess at some point I found myself searching online for information about how to be a leader, and especially, how to lead more “dominant” people (for the record, the closest I found to useful information was to give them a task or responsibility). Despite having a carefully thought out plan of what we’re doing, there were some moments when I felt so incredibly overwhelmed. Having a plan and getting people to follow it are not the same thing, I soon learned. I also quickly figured out that being a leader is hard work! There are sometimes difficult decisions that you have to make, or decisions that are easy to make, but hard to inform the person that they affect. In my dance piece I had different parts for different dancers, depending on their skill level (I had everything from brand new beginners, to people who have danced for years, just not ballet, to some ballet experience), and one of the most difficult parts was dealing with people that ummm, overestimate their dancing ability. People that have the confidence, but not the moves – so awkward to tell them that they aren’t getting to dance a certain paet, and dealing with the reactions… I’m a people pleaser, unfortunately, and giving people news they don’t want to hear is very difficult for me. It’s something I struggle with still.
But in the end we did it! And honestly, I would do it again – am I a glutton for punishment, or do I just require tasks that force me to focus and step out of my comfort zone in order to grow? Don’t know, but I know that I feel like I’ve learned a lot, not just about what it takes to put on a show successfully but also about interpersonal interaction and human nature. I value all my lessons.
***
The summer modern session ended as well, and I had a great time throughout. I am so much more comfortable with floor work than ever before. One of the other pieces that I performed in in the show had lots of floor work including falling down from standing or jumps and I was able to do it all (with the help of my trusty knee pads!) and live to do it again the next day. In the modern classes I took a couple years ago (wow – has it really been that long?!) we did more warming up and less across the floor or combinations, but in this summer’s class we got to everything. So sad that this teacher is not going to be teaching modern at my school this fall.
I’m feeling a bit out of practice with ballet. While all the rehearsals and modern classes were going on, I was not able to keep up my ballet practice – I was lucky if I go to do ballet twice a week or so. And during the last show someone landed on my foot, so I’ve been taking it easy for the past week. But today I pulled up Kathryn Morgan’s Advanced Barre on youtube and gave it a try. It was so fun to attempt that level again! Not that I was anywhere close to mastering it, but it felt so good to try. The improvement from the first time trying the new combinations to the second time was actually really encouraging!
But this reminds me, I don’t know which classes to sign up for come fall. I mean, I almost feel like I would like to take the int/adv class again… I’ve taken it before, I was strong enough to be in it last year in the Fall, but I discontinued last Spring. Instead I took beginner class en pointe. While beginner class en pointe was really fun, I don’t know if I was feeling challenged enough. Int/adv is a good challenge, but if I may be honest, I really don’t like some of the people in the class – mean-spirited, stuck-up people – especially when contrasted with the fun atmosphere in the beginner class. The unpleasant people really make the class not fun, especially because I would like to attempt the more difficult options for the combinations (you gotta start somewhere…) but I feel like they are judging me, or staring me down. In short, I don’t feel welcome. And no, it’s not in my head that some of these people don’t like me – one of them was involved in this past show, and as part of the pre-performance we usually all have a group warm up. One of the exercises we did for warm up was walk around and when the music stopped we were supposed to partner with the person nearest us and stretch together, then repeat. Well, at one of the times when the music stopped, this person was right in front of me, closest to me, and she turned around and walked away trying to find someone else (there wasn’t, every one else had paired up). I mention this not to get sympathy but to show that there are some mean-spirited brats out there masquerading as “adults”; often times people like to believe the best in others (“maybe she didn’t see you…” but I was right there) , and I just wanted to prove that this is not in my head or a product of my anxiety. But anyway, haven’t decided yet which class to take – I guess I have a few weeks to figure it out. Also have a about a month to figure out if I will audition for the next show. A lot can happen in a month…

Midsummer

 

This summer i find myself in a unique situation: my school is having a break as far as ballet, but they’re offering modern dance. So rather than just dancing on my own, I’m taking classes, just not ballet. As a result, I’m a bit concerned about losing my technique.
The past two years we had a summer ballet session, four times a week, and I had such a great time. Three years ago there was no ballet, but i didnt take any classes in other dance styles. This year, I’m in modern three days a week ( would have been four, but one of the days interferes with my work schedule, so three it is) for a little over two hours per day. Im doing ballet through New Studio, but only two classes a week, an hour each.

What this results in is more hours per week doing modern than ballet, even if i practice at home, which I’m having trouble doing more than twice or maybe three times a week, both due to time management with work and just sheer soreness. Oh, I didn’t mention that in addition to the six hours a week or modern class i also have about six more hours a week for rehearsals? More modern…
Don’t get me wrong – I find modern class to be lots of fun, and I’m so glad my school at least is offering some form of dance over the summer. It’s just that some things in modern are so different from ballet class that I worry about my muscles picking up some habits that will be the opposite of what we want in ballet. There’s this move we do on the floor laying on our back. We have our knees bent with the feet on the floor, then we let the knees drop to one side and the leg that is now on top swings free. And if you do it correctly your foot completely sickles the whole time, because you’re supposed to trace your toe along the floor not your ankle…it bothers me a little honestly. Alignment is not focused on as much as in ballet, so I have to check myself especially when it comes to not tilting my pelvis anteriorly while standing. I’ve been corrected to flex my foot. My partner in one exercise told me to tilt my upper body forward while doing an arabesque even though I didn’t need to (which kind of annoyed me), just because the teacher said we could. Which reminds me, there is a huge interacting-with-people component here compared to what I’m used to in ballet… and at times that’s just awkward. I understand that I may be a bit antisocial and not like human interaction as much as the next person, but it’s not just talking, but full on body contact – in ballet the most contact was partner stretches at the barre.
On the other hand, I love the warm up exercises, and the teacher plays some really cool music throughout class. We go across the floor a lot and that’s really fun. And while alignment and technique are not focused on, some of those exercises can really try your balance. Stuff like kicking the leg out (I’d call it a grand battement) then bending the knee to make passe (like a turned in enveloppe) while coordinating arm movements. I’ll save the part about how this class would have been impossible back when I first started dance due to my lack of balance…
Only a few weeks left of this class, then a short break before the fall classes begin. Don’t know yet what my schedule is for the fall, or if I will continue with modern. My work schedule so far has worked out that I will only have to miss one of the evening ballet classes and none of the morning ones, but if any changes occur it wouldn’t be the case. And I definitely want to take some cross training Pilates classes as well. But at the same time I dont want to overschedule myself and feel like I’m rushing from one class to work, back to class, run home to cook, back to work, etc… I feel like with my current schedule I’m not getting enough time to just relax, didn’t realize at the time what a big commitment it would be to do this summer modern session, and partucipate in the show, and choreograph.
As for choreographing, it’s been fun, but at the same time so stressful! I’m not used to managing a group of people, and I’m probably about as opposite of a people person as you can get. I fake it really well at work, but let’s face it, interpersonal skills are not one of my strong points. So I find myself with a dozen young dancers and aspiring dancers, and I’m just the idea person but I have to get them to listen to me, and do what I say, and give some effort… the effort part being the most important, the willingness to try. I know that it takes me a long time to get things sometimes, so I try to be patient with people who are a little slow – I know that sometimes slow and steady wins the race. But what I just dont know how to deal with is people who just won’t even try, if you ask them to do a step they say “i’ve never done that” and just stand there instead of “ok i’ll try it”…it can be frustrating. By now I’m kind of just in this weird state of acceptance about it, like it’ll work out the way it works out… i dont want to put too much pressure on myself. It’s been an educational experience for sure. Don’t know yet if I am interested in choreographing again, for a group – for myself it is practically inevitable that I will. But this group thing, it can be stressful… I definitely need to work on my communication skills, it’s hard when I know what I want my dancers to do but I’m unable to communicate with them. Also difficult for me is being able to tell people things they don’t want to hear, and the thought of having to remove some dancers from certain parts (re:lack of trying) fills me with anxiety. I suppose in the end we will see what wins out, my desire to choreograph or my desire to close to my comfort zone.

Mini-Review: Bunheads Gel Knee Pads

Making modern and contemporary possible for the aging dancer! Kidding… but some truth to it…

Bunheads Gel Knee Pads

Bunheads Gel Knee Pads

For the most part, when I think of kneepads I think of those big bulky white ones that we wore in junior high p.e. when playing volleyball. So when a dance classmate mentioned wearing kneepads during modern (and feeling much more confident about floorwork with them), I did get sad – and feel positively geriatric. But then I saw a different classmate wearing some that looked much more streamlined, and hope grew.

I searched online and apparently the item I was looking for was the Bunheads Gel Knee Pads. After calling my local discount dance store and finding out they don’t carry them (or any style of knee pad, which was surprising given how huge the store is), I called the local not-so-discounted dance store which did. Said not-so-discounted shop is actually quite close to home, so off I went.

The store carried two styles of knee pad, a bulkier type for around 10 bucks, and the Bunheads Gel Knee Pads for around $40. Yes, $40 for some knee pads! So about as much as my three favorite leotards and leg warmers put together. But…cheaper than a knee replacement, so I paid up, grumbling on the inside.

The view from inside

The actual knee pad part

I feel like I have to justify why I picked these out instead of the bulky ones for 1/4 of the price. Well, as the back of the package boasts, these are ‘the first gel knee pads made specifically for dancers’ and are supposedly able to be hidden underneath tights on stage, as well as don’t slip around or roll up. And while I’d have to say that they are visible under tights (I haven’t tried wearing two pairs of tights, but I may do that for the show) – picture below –  I wouldn’t  say they’re distracting. It doesn’t look like, hey that girl’s ready to go to the volleyball game right class! or anything like that. If I wear black leggings – well any actual leggings that are opaque, not tights – they are invisible. I’ll see if I get around to taking another picture to put up.

The store carried two sizes: S/M and L/XL. I got the L/XL and the first time wearing them they felt uncomfortably tight (after several wears they feel much more comfy). I was anticipating this, since some dance stuff tends to run small, which is why I didn’t even bother with the S/M. My legs are rather thin by “normal” standards, but by “dancer” standards they’re XL apparently. Measurements are 14″/35.5 cm circumference around knee, 16″/41 cm around the top of the knee pad band, for comparison. For length, I’m 16″/41cm from hip/greater trochanter to knee, 15.75″/40 cm from knee to ankle/malleolus. (The store had great customer service, as the shopkeeper let me take them out of the package before purchase so I could see what I was getting into. But if you have to buy online, just know they run SMALL)

So, do they work? Yes! I’m able to get on my knees and not be screaming in pain, both then and there and after. At first I doubted them and their effectiveness, and still played it really careful (and besides, this just takes care of my knees and there’s no padding to protect other delicates like my tailbone), but soon as I was feeling completely unhindered. My worries that I wouldn’t be able to continue doing anything that involved any floorwork at all melted away. I only wish I had discovered this product sooner (and, of course, if the price tag was slashed by at least half…).

Here are some truly awful pictures that show how the knee pads look once worn:

image

Under ballet pink tights

Under ballet pink tights

I assure you they look much less lumpy from farther away.

Just Hiding Behind Beautiful Movements

There was something F Teacher said the last time I saw her that has stuck with me. It was our end-of-session class performance day (not to be confused with The Show of my previous post) and as the different students presented their short dance pieces, she gave constructive criticism as each finished.

I’m paraphrasing somewhat (if I can’t remember a few steps in center combination you think I’m going to remember a whole motivational speech?!), but she said something along the lines of “when you’re a beginner at dance, you have to give more of yourself to make your performance interesting, or fun, because the techinique’s not there, and there’s only you. But as you get more advanced, and you have more technique, and there’s more things you can do, you run the risk of being able to hide. You just hide behind the beautiful movements and don’t reveal any of yourself at all, and that’s not as entertaining.” (Remember I’m paraphrasing; the original quote, complete with her method of delivery, was about a million times more awesome)

Reason that this stuck with me is because… I think she’s right. At least in my case, but who’s to say that it doesn’t apply to others as well. Now it’s time for my long-winded explanation of why…

By this point in my dancing experience, I’ve mostly done ballet with a little bit of modern thrown in the mix. I wrote a post last year before comparing the difficulties of the two, but that post just dealt with the physical difficulty, actually doing the steps (and balancing without falling over). Taking the physical difficulty out of the equation – assuming we’re strong enough to do both equally well – I still believe that modern is much more difficult for me than ballet.

Reason is, in ballet it seems to me that there is the correct way or the wrong way, and all that’s left for me to do is to work towards the correct way. In modern, it seems there are so many different ways that are all technically correct, and it’s up to me to choose which (and I am one indecisive person). Those times when M Teacher would leave it completely open for us to decide what to do, they were very challenging for me. In ballet class, if the teacher says walk, you know it’s a ballet walk. In modern class, M Teacher could say to walk and it can mean a number of things – walk facing front or back, leading with your shoulders or pelvis, level up high or down low – you decide. In ballet, the port de bras is more or less codified unless the choreographer says other wise, but modern is so open. There were many times during modern when M Teacher would tell us to walk around while moving our arms and I seriously couldn’t think of anything to do with them besides swan arms. In short, I think during modern class I mostly do ballet with bad technique (because we’re not corrected on technical stuff as much).

Getting back to discussing performances, back when I first started dancing I wanted badly to choreograph. I would listen to music and imagine what I would dance to it, if only I was able to. And now, I have improved to the point that it is feasible that I could hear a piece of music and choreograph a short dance to it. This is something I enjoy extremely, something I find quite exhilirating.

But still – I guess I’m never satisfied? – I worry that the dances I make are boring. Perhaps all I am doing is going through the movements, never really revealing myself in the process (or maybe I am revealing myself, and the truth is that I am a bore, a coward, or both). I often feel guilty of the fact that I enjoy watching beautiful dancing. Not necessarily expressive dancing, or dancing that tugs at my heartstrings and elicits an emotional response – though I do find enjoyment in that too (provided I can actualy understand it) – but just beautiful movements, connected still shots of beautiful poses, as beautiful music plays.

Is the fact that I like my art “pretty” rather than expressive a character flaw? This is one of those times when I wish I could be as self-assured as others make themselves out to be, just “I like what I like, whatever”, but I’m not. I grew up feeling like my opinion was never valid, and the feelings of invalidation and self-doubt are still there – I fear they’ll always be there. Often I feel like I’m missing something, like others can see things that I don’t, understand things I can’t. All I want to do is make pretty art that is beautiful to look at – is that so wrong?

(not wrong, just boring)

Does it make me simple-minded to find it NOT boring to look at beautiful things without searching for a deeper meaning? Boyfriend says that perhaps it’s because I barely discovered dance as an adult and all my modern-loving classmates have danced since they were kids, so by now they’re over the concept of just making pretty movements, whereas all I ever wanted was to be able to move gracefully and I’m still stuck on that phase of my development. His explaination makes sense… somewhat. Another part of it, still having to do with having found dance as an adult, is that to me dance is my (only) form of escapism – I dance to forget the troubles, and the ugliness, and the sometimes horrible truths of my existence. I dance to feel happy, to feel free. So when I dance, I like to create beauty, just simple, uncomplicated beauty.  There’s enough ugliness being created out there, no need for me to add more to it (or so I feel) .

Of course, things could change as I get more experienced in dance – and life. Perhaps I’ll look back on this post in the future and be like “What were you thinking?!”, and feel so much superior to my in-the-past version of me. Stranger things have happened.

Anyway.

We ran out of time and I didn’t get to dance for the class, which was a relief as I was worried about the constructive criticism (because not only do I fear that my choreographies are boring, but I know my technique is not all the way there yet either). But I did get a video of me dancing my piece that I had prepared, and that makes me happy. I’m still contemplating making a youtube account to post some of my dances, but making no promises.

Forgetting Combinations and Intimidating Dancers

At class at New Studio there was a new group of dance students this week. It was intimidating because they all  looked  like dancers, the kind that know what they’re doing.  It was funny because once we went out to center the group of regulars (I guess I’m kind of a regular here now) kind of huddled together on one side and the new people stood together on the other side of the studio. NS Teacher made some kind of crack about it, something like “What, are we going to play dodgeball?” and that broke the ice a little.

After a short barre, center started off with an adagio, and I completely messed it up (so sad, I love adagio). It was developpe devant, brush back to arabesque (and here is where the messing up began. I thought we were supposed to switch arms when we brush back, but I guess not in this case), promenade, penchee, and pas de bourree with picked up feet, then other side.  My pas de bourree with feet picked up (not in coupe, but it looks like it’s higher, and the foot goes in the front) is something that I need to work on, so for now I just get confused.

There was a really fun combo that began with 2 sissones (one to the right and one to the left for the first side, opposite for the second side), then 3 changements, 4 changements turning one way, 4 changements turning back the other way, and a balance in sous-sus. I really liked this combination (and not just because we all did it together instead of in small groups).  With the exception of the arms (bringing them up from a low position to high fifth while doing the changement turns) it went ok.  My sissones have gotten better, wish I could say the same about my assembles!

Across the floor we did developpe devant of the upstage leg (which I think was supposed to be taken to releve, but I was kinda flustered and NS Teacher didn’t specify), tombe, pas de bourre, chasse, pirouette en dehors from a deep fourth position lunge, glissade, assemble, and ballet run away.  When NS Teacher first gave this combination I was so overwhelmed! Kind of feeling like ‘ok, after the developpe what happens?!’ But after the first groups went I started to get a better idea, and by the time it was my turn it wasn’t so bad. I mean, my assembles suck, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, but the rest of the combo was fun.  I hadn’t done a tombe from developpe devant before and it felt less scary than it had sounded.  I even got around in the pirouette.

I think the presence of all these new students made NS Teacher amp up the difficulty of our combinations. Though the new students looked intimidating at first glance, once we left the barre and went out to center it was evident who was an experienced dancer and who wasn’t. Ah, center, where no one can hide (including me)! As it turned out, with the exception of one lady they were not very experienced ballet dancers. That lady was really good though. She could do triple pirouettes effortlessly, one after another.  She would also ask the teacher about all the little details of how she wanted the combination done.  It was so intimidating! Like, here we are trying to remember the combination and not fall over and she’s asking these ultra specific questions.  It was hard not to think she was showing off, but I tried to stay positive.  I really hope I don’t come across like that when I take class with students who are more beginner level.

As for class at regular school, we seem to be slowly picking up the difficulty level.  It’s not feeling completely discouraging and overwhelming, but I’m definitely being challenged.

Barre was not too bad – though it had it’s moments! There were lots of long balances on one leg on releve (which I didn’t let go of the barre for a long time, but it was still challenging on the strength-building aspect), as well as on 2 legs. We did echappe releves with no barre and those were rough.  It also was not a good frappe day.  I managed the singles ok, but the double frappes were all over the place.

In center, we did the standard tendu devant, tendu derriere in croisse, tendu a la seconde in ecarte type of combination.  The difference in this class’s combination was that after our tendus we did 2 grand battements in each direction, and after the last direction we did a passe releve balance, bring the leg down behind in fourth, shift weight to front leg and point back foot with arabesque arm, then pirouette en dehors from fourth.  Compared to my first attempts at this combination a few months ago it felt much smoother.  My transitions from tendu devant to tendu derriere, and to ecarte especially. Ecarte used to feel so unnatural to me, but it’s slowly but surely getting into my muscle memory. Not only that, I once again surprised myself by getting around in the pirouette, though to be fair it was from fourth.  As for the grande battements, when we were marking the combination I wasnt fully engaging my core and I almost went flying to the side. Once we did the combination “for reals” though it was much better.

We did across the floor waltz turns, pique arabesque, chasse into chaines.  I’ve been working on speeding up my waltz turns ever since I figured out the problem was that I was turning too soon in the sequence.  To the right it went ok, but to the left I pique arabesque’d onto the wrong foot and it was all confusion from that point on.

After our 16 sautes in first and second, we did a petite allegro combination. 2 changements 2 soubresauts, echappe, pas de bourree right, echappe, pas de bourre left, repeat the majority of the combination except the second time around do 3 entrechats instead of the second echappe and pas de bourre. I still can’t do entrechats, so I either jumped around, or forgot (not on purpose – I swear) and did the echappe pas de bourree. Then afterwards we were all practicing entrechats and I landed on my foot a little weird. Not enough to get injured, but enough to make me reconsider trying entrechats again without the barre until I get stronger. Oddly enough, I don’t feel too discouraged because I see that my sautes have come a long way but it took a lot of time. So I just have to force myself to be patient…

Actually, if there’s something that does make me feel discouraged, it’s my slowness at remembering brand new combinations. We had some choreography thrown at us – nothing too difficult (a few chasse gallops one direction then a grande battement  out of the back leg, chasse gallops the other direction and a kick out the other leg, then something like soutenu, ballet run, tombe, pas de bourre, pirouette from fourth) – and I totally blew it. I’m upset at myself because I know that it wasn’t that the steps are too difficult for me (except my hit-or-miss pirouettes), it was that I forgot what came next after the second set of chasses and kick. So I was trying to follow someone and then I was late on the timing. But since we didn’t have the combination ahead of time there was no way I was able to practice it on my own.  I’m feeling a little down about this, but I’m trying to tell myself that it’s for the best – I would have probably mssed up on the pirouettes anyway if I had to do this combination reliably  . ..

Modern dance class is still going well.  We’re still doing lots of stretching, and plies, and now we’re doing tondus. We’re doing them mostly in parallel, so it’s a different feeling from what I’m used to. We also do this thing where we point our foot really fast in the air (also in parallel).

Across the floor we’ve still been working on doing walks at different tempos, as well as this walk where we stay in plie, pushing off with our back foot.  Sort of like a turned in, badly done chasse. While all this stuff has felt really easy for me, I know that I have ballet to thank, both for the leg stregth and the body awareness. It’s also really hard for me to resist doing ballet arms or hands when we coordinate our arms with our movements. Ballet is just so much more beautiful to me (but so much harder, too).

I’ve been having fun though, except for all the core conditioning exercises we do. The floor hurts – though I do wonder if this is on purpose to prepare us. A lot of modern dance pieces I’ve seen at school do include a lot of work on the floor. I could do without any floorwork. I don’t mind doing core conditioning exercises al all, but couldn’t we use a gym mat?! But that’s not the majrity of class, so in general it’s still a fun class.