Tag Archives: pilates

Like A Flashback

Once again, what a week (and I say that in both the positive and negative aspects).

Ballet’s been going well. In the first few weeks of the sessions I do a lot of remembering at what level I was at in the beginning of the past sessions and assessing my progress as I remember doing that same step back then. In Beginner class we’re doing stuff like basic weight shifting tendu combinations in center (just a la seconde) and chasses across the floor. The memory of not being able to even tendu in center without falling over is still with me, although it does feel more distant every day. I do feel like I’m trying to hold on to it though – I mean, compared to where I was when I started, my progress has been nothing short of amazing for me. If I were to lose that memory of where I was where I began, somehow the accomplishment seems less impressive to myself. When F Teacher demonstrates the chasses, for example, and she tells the class “Then you’ll be able to take the back foot en l’air,  then go up on releve, then jump it” (with a little demonstration as she says it), I almost feel like I’m transported back in time three years ago. I remember thinking ‘Yeah, right. Like I’m ever going to be able to do that – I keep falling over even with both feet flat on the floor’. But, what do you know, with enough time and practice I could! So even if I’m a crappy dancer by anyone else’s standards, I continue to impress myself. That makes me happy.

The more challenging Intermediate classes have been fun as well. So much more fun than last year! I still definitely struggle with remembering long combinations, especially the second side (and it does seem like in the moment all my own advice about remembering different phrases completely flies out of my head. I got to learn to notice the patterns!), but I feel like I’m able to jump back into it with less of a delay than before. Still not at the level needed to make it actually look like beautiful dancing beyond the first phrase, but at least I can start off and finish it in a somewhat presentable manner. Petit allegro, of course, is not even close to looking how it should, but my speed has increased enough so that I’m keeping up the tempo. I’m not trying any beated jumps yet though, just working on making my changements look nice first. Luckily, Teacher gives us the option of going at a slower or faster tempo (I usually attempt both) and of adding the beats or not.

I seem to have figured out the glissade forward (as opposed to a la second. The kind found in saute arabesque, saute coupe, tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, grand jete) which was really giving me a hard time several months back.   We worked on pique arabesques, which are so much harder for me than to chasse atabesque  onto releve, and I’ve been working on getting over my fear of stepping up onto releve. I guess it happens all the time when doing chaines or pique turns, but for whatever reason I find it scarier to just pique arabesque. Even harder adding that plie while coming down off the one foot releve, and holding the balance. But by the end of my second Intermediate class of the week I was able to do a few, even on my bad balancing side.

My single pirouettes en dehors have been ok this week (well, at my regular school – at NS for whatever reason my body just did not want to cooperate this week and I did not do any full pirouettes at all), not good just ok. I’m getting around all the way pretty often, but I haven’t been attempting any more doubles. Perhaps it was a fluke, perhaps not, but either way I’ve just been focusing on getting singles with correct technique and most importantly for me, getting rid of the anxiety surrounding doing pirouettes.

All that being said, I did not end the week having a very good opinion about myself as it relates to movement (not specifically dance). As part of a certification program I’m doing, I have to take these exceptionally challenging Pilates classes on top of what I usually take. Oh man, it was awful!

During (and after) taking it, I felt the closest I had felt in a very long time to when I first started ballet – like I was old, weak, clumsy and uncoordinated (not the agile, in tune with her body person I’ve started to become since starting ballet) . I honestly wanted to cry several times, but I held it in, forcing myself to think about later on that night when I could allow myself some private time with my feelings. As it happens with me, when I repress sadness it turns into anger. So as the hour progressed I found myself angrier and angrier – and unfortunately a good deal of that anger was at myself, for thinking that a person’s body, mine, can really change. There were exercises that I couldn’t do at all no matter how hard I tried, and there were some that I could do, but worried that by doing them I was putting my body in an unsafe position. I was tempted to just leave after the mat portion, but went on to the Reformer part anyway – it was a terrible idea. I managed to get out of doing some of the exercises, but the ones I was made to do sucked. I worried that my hip flexors were going to be angry at me, or worse (due to my weird long leg-short torso ratio, my knees were somewhere around the back of my ears, while other’s knees were still out in front of them).

To make matters worse, the instructor said something along the lines of ‘some exercises aren’t for everybody. Some very inflexible people, or a pregnant woman, wouldn’t be able to do them.’ Ok, maybe I took it the wrong way, but hearing that just about destroyed my mood (I was the only one who couldn’t do that particular exercise (when she said it) in the whole room, and last time I checked I’m neither pregnant nor extremely inflexible (by this point in my 3 year stretching regimen)). It’s been days later and I’m still feeling extremely down on the whole thing. This is so how I felt when I first started ballet. The big difference is that although ballet was the hardest thing I’d ever attempted to do, I cared enough to get over the horrible inadequacy and just keep going (and nowadays I’m so glad I did). But I don’t have that same passion for Pilates – sure, it’s a great way to stay in shape and condition the body, but there’s no need for me to do the extremely challenging exercises at the harder end of the spectrum. To me this is a body conditioning method, and I wouldn’t want to risk not being able to dance by injuring myself while doing what to me is woking out.

So I’ll probably just leave, because that’s so much easier for me than talking to the instructor. I keep trying to ask myself if it is that I genuinely worry that I may hurt myself, or that my pride is extremely wounded for not being able to keep up. Perhaps it’s both.

So This Is What Extreme Soreness Feels Like…

My thighs are screaming! It’s a good feeling though, the right kind of soreness, definitely not pain or anything bad. It just feels like I had a few (too many) good classes.

Yesterday I took class at my regular school, and also at New Studio,  and today once again at my regular school. This in itself possibly wouldn’t have been so soreness-inducing except that in between classes I decided to go by the Pilates studio at school and get on the Reformer for some very intensive Full Body Integration exercises. I think the exercise called ‘side-splits’ is what completely destroyed my adductors.

Yesterday’s class was also very focused on identifying our turnout muscles, and foot articulation. It was definitely one of those classes where even though it’s just beginner level technique it leaves me feeling more sore than doing quicker or more complex stuff. We also worked on chaines again, and R Teacher noticed that towards the end of my turns, when I start getting tired, I do this thing where I’m not picking up my second foot, kind of doing a full revolution on one foot instead of a half turn. It’s sort of hard to explain what I mean, but once she pointed it out to me I understood why after a certain number of turns I start going a bit crooked. It’s something I will be working on now.

I was already sore before even going to NS, but since the crowd that showed up to take class was at a more intermediate level, class was pretty fast paced. We did echappe releves at barre (it went something like echappe to fourth, echappe to second, echappe to fourth, sous-sus, each with a pause on releve, then really quick echappes without resting in between – I’m sure I looked ridiculous during these), as well as these super fast tendus. Center was fun, with a tendu en croix combination, as well as a developpe combination with promenades. Even though I was very sore and tired, I felt pulled up and balanced. I’m hoping this means my body is getting stronger or has more endurance.

Across the floor was (tombe, pas de bourre, chasse, pirouette en dehors) x3, then contretemps, tombe, pas de bourre, glissade, grand jete. To the right side it went ok, but to the left I got confused and ended up on the wrong leg, with a pirouette en dedans by accident. It was fun though, and I really needed it after such a technique focused class earlier.

My other class at my regular school went well. F Teacher asked me to demonstrate to the class how to degage, and I was so nervous! But at the same time happy, because she wouldn’t have asked me to demonstrate if she didn’t think I could do it right.  Also, to my surprise, she said “Good!” to me when we did our saute combination (4 in first, 4 in second, 4 changements, 2 echappes, repeat), which feels like such an accomplishment after how long I’ve struggled with sautes. So yay, a good start of the week so far.

Now, off to roll out my soreness…

Ballet Class Vs Modern Class – Which Is More Difficult…

… for the very beginner (like, starting from zero), recreational adult dancer/dance student?

This is a question that’s been going through my mind quite a bit recently.  And, since when I signed up for modern dance class I did a lot of internet searching and didn’t find too much info on the subject (to be fair, my internet search skills are sadly underdeveloped. Every cool thing I’ve ever found is because I stumbled across it!), I decided to add on my 2 cents.

My first introduction to modern dance was through one of the performances at my school, back when I was a complete ballet newbie.  At the time, I didn’t know much about modern – or ballet, for that matter – and while I realized ballet’s difficulty through all the struggles that I was facing, modern to me looked just plain hard!  How do they go from flying in the air to throwing themselves on the ground?! I wondered. All that floorwork, rolls, the occassional flip! Just watching it made my back ache…

Anyway, since I had my hands – and feet – full with ballet, I focused exclusively on ballet for the first 2 1/2 years or so. But then, a little over a month ago, I began my first session of modern dance.  While the first few weeks of lessons were mostly focused on stretching, finding our body’s center and alignment, and some conditioning (I’ve written a bit about my modern classes here in the blog), in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen modern class get increasingly intense. And we’re barely about a third into the session…

So, what exactly do I mean by “more intense”? Well, we started doing footwork, similar to what I’ve done in ballet. Stretching the foot through a forced arch position (demi-point, pushing the arch up while keeping the toes on the floor), pushing it off the floor into a full point a few inches off the ground, at different tempos – first slowly to help us maintain our balance, then quickly.  Releves in parallel, first and second, with balancing.

Then class really picked up.  Tendus in all directions, beginning with multiple times in each direction and progressing to one in each direction en croix, at different tempos. Degages, also following the same pattern. Plies in both first and second position, as well as parallel (6th), with coordinating arms. This move that resembles a forward bend, but with a completely flat back (Modern Teacher calls them “flatbacks”). Grand plies in first and second. The arch stretch in which you plie then bring up your arches so that you’re on releve while plie-ing. The reverse of it, going up in releve and then plie-ing from there. Even longer balances in releve. Grand battements. Sautes. And did I mention that all of this is done without a barre?!

In other words, we’re doing the same kinds of steps that are done in a beginner ballet class, but without the support (both physical and psychological, LOL) of a barre! The “center” portion of class that so many beginners dread is basically the whole class (except for the conditioning portion of class – if you’re planning on starting modern for the first time I strongly suggest you make friends with push ups and sit ups if you haven’t already).

Then there’s going across the floor. We do walks at all tempos, chasses,  and jumps, sometimes coordinating the movements with our upper body. While it’s not ballet, in my opinion it’s no easy task for a very beginner dancer. We’ve also started working on a combination, which ties together many of the steps and concepts we have been working on over the past month. Since the movements don’t all have names (at least as far as I know), it’s hard for me to describe it. I will say that at some point we go from being bent over in a plie to launching ourselves forward onto our arms – I guess that’s what all the push ups were for. I’ll also say that if it wasn’t for all the strengthening that I’ve done because of ballet I would be having a very hard time in this class.

It was also in modern dance class that I discovered that it’s better (for me) to go across the floor in one of the first groups, by the way. If you go in the last group you have to go across the floor while everyone that already went is there on the opposite side staring at you. Awkward…

So, would I consider, as a beginner-beginner, modern class to be more difficult than ballet? YES!!! Looking around the room, it’s almost obvious who has had previous dance training and who hasn’t.  Since my classmates for the most part are pretty young (18 to early 20’s, I’d guess) and in shape, they are doing an excellent job keeping up. I’m keeping up as well, but I know it’s only because of all the ballet and pilates I’ve been doing. During those very early days of dance training, I desperately needed the barre to help me balance in plies, tendus, releves, etc. The second we stepped out to center it was a non-stop struggle to hold my balance and do anything!  However, you do get to be barefoot, and I remember in those early days how I though I felt more stable barefoot than in my ballet slippers. So that’s a small consolation.

In no way am I trying to discourage anyone from doing modern dance, or even starting off their adult dance hobby doing modern dance (not that my opinion is that important or anything).  But in my experience it’s a better idea to start off with ballet – the foundation of dance – and go from there. And, above all, stay safe and have fun 🙂

A Taste of My Impossible…

…or at least my not yet.

As someone who struggles with doing “basic” ballet jumps like sautes (on a bad day) and changements (on the regular) correctly, the idea of actually doing beated jumps doesn’t often cross my mind.  I mean, I do think about how awesome it would be, but not actually about doing them. It’s something that’s far off in the horizon, if I even get there at all…

In Pilates class, lately Teacher has had us working on the jumpboards on the Reformer (ok, so a jumpboard is this thick, padded wooden slab that fastens to the Reformer (which is this wooden, medieval torture device looking Pilates apparatus that you lay on, that provides resistance in the form of springs) so that you “jump”, but horizontally), doing horizontal sautes, changements and soubresauts. I’ve been working on my heel’s tendency to lift off when landing, pointing my feet, not losing my turnout, the usual stuff.  Making sure your feet are perfectly pointed is so much easier when you’re not struggling against gravity – and worrying that gravity will win!

After going though these jumps – and lots of them – Teacher suggested that we do beated jumps.  And honestly, I was like “What?!”, as I’ve never tried to do beated jumps upright – I know my limits.  So I tried it (first were entrechats with the front leg beating behind and then closing front again), and to my immense surprise, I was doing it!  It was so surreal! I stared at my legs and feet in the mirrors the whole time, as it was that unbelievable that  was actually doing beated jumps. I needed the visual confirmation as I often do.

The first time was a few weeks ago, but let me tell you, the novelty has not worn off. Today in addition to entrechats I tried royales (front leg beats front again without switching), once again remaining fixated on my reflection.  These were a little harder, but I was actually doing it!

Anyway, I don’t even know what the point of this post is. I guess I’m just excited about getting to get a glimpse of something that I may never get to otherwise.  I love seeing my perfectly pointed feet outstretched, seeing them almost flutter in the air.  At some point Teacher said “This is what I want to see in ballet class!”.  I think I replied something like “I’m trying, but it’s so much harder standing up!”

Pilates has done so much for my dancing.  Besides ballet, it is definitely one of my favorite physical activities!

Here’s a video so you can get a better idea of what I’m talking about, if you’re curious. The jumping starts at around the 4:30 mark.

I’d love to have one of these at home! In the meantime, so grateful to have access to this at all…

Fitness Goals Update 11

Whoa, it’s been a while since a Fitness Goals Update! No class today – ballet or otherwise (school holiday, Cesar Chavez day) – so I will be discussing Fitness, Pilates and how far I’ve come in the last 6 months or so.

As you may know – if you’ve read through the archives – I started working out last September after acknowledging that I was just not improving at certain things in ballet (like sautes, it’s always the sautes!) without some additional help.  After starting out with some general strengthening I moved on to jogging a couple of weeks later.  At my most active, around December and January, I was running 4 or 5 times a week.  Since mid-February though, my school schedule has completely destroyed my running schedule, and now I’m lucky to get to run Friday thru Sunday – though of course I took advantage of my day off today.

Anyway, as I’m not running as frequently as I was a couple months ago, I’m not too surprised that my running abilities have not improved since then – though when I first started I quickly improved from a 1 minute jog to my current level.  Still doing around 10 laps at the field (give or take 1 lap), or two miles on the treadmill. Occasionally I’ll use the elliptical after the treadmil just to get a more well-rounded workout, but in general I prefer running outdoors. Just wish I was disciplined enough to get up at the break of dawn to avoid running under the hot sun (with the added bonus of getting to run before it’s time for school).

Pilates has been going great. My whole body feels so much stronger and flexible since I started in the beginning of January (taking on average 2 hours of class Monday through Thursday, on my own on weekends).  While my workouts on my own did help, it wasn’t until starting Pilates that I gained a greater understanding of my body – actually, the body – and how the muscles work in harmony with each other for efficient, injury-free movement.  I’m actually quite passionate about Pilates now, and definitely want to work on bringing this amazing method of body conditioning to a broader audience (as there seems to be a belief that Pilates is unaffordable to most people).  My school offers a Pliates teaching certification program which I’m currently pursuing while deciding where I’m going with my other educational goals, so at some point in the future hopefully I will get to do some teaching.  As it is I’ve taught a few exercises and stretches to a couple of friends and they’ve said it’s helped them with their back pain and shoulder issues.

One of the Pilates classes I’m taking is focused specifically on dancers, and we do exercises that complement the moves that dancers do.  We did the funnest thing the other day: on the Reformers (the medival torture device looking thing) we put something called a Jumpboard (which is just a padded wooden board that fastens to the Reformer) and practiced our sautes.  It is such a weird feeling, jumping as high as you can while being horizontal, but a great way to practice the pointing of the feet. As the Pilates studio has mirrors all the way along the wall it is possible to see what we’re doing, and it was so cool seeing myself jump with perfect – though horizontal – form.  The pointed feet were not a problem, though when landing I did notice that my heels have a tendency to lift.  I actually think I need to talk to Teacher about this, as my heels tend to want to lift during regular sautes all the time. This combined with the fact that even my best grand plies do not go that far down make me think I may have Achilles tendons that are on the shorter side.

My abdomen area – the core – has gotten so strong.  One of my classmates poked me and then exclaimed “Wow, you’re buff!” LOL.  Sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever have a six-pack as the flabby loose skin from when I was more overweight remains around my lower abdomen.  Actually, on that note, I’ve gained weight since I started working out.  Not sure how much, since after I noticed the numbers on the scale climbing I stopped weighing myself – didn’t want to stress myself out. I’m sure some of the weight is muscle, but it’d be real optimistic if I said it all was.  Some days I’m ok with it – I actually have a butt now – and others I miss my smaller shape (and fitting into some of my tighter pants).  When I’d first started working out my appetite increased, but I figured you got to give the body fuel, you know? I’m not too worried, as I know how to lose weight quickly, but I don’t want to lose my muscle either.  Ideally I would like to get to the point where I don’t care how much I weigh as long as I have a healthy and fit body, but overcoming years of social conditioning is hard!

(Wearing a leotard in front of a large number of people does not help.  When  I’m totally thinking of overindulging I always have to remember the leotard.)

My arms and upper body strength have increased as well.  While I still can’t do any pull ups, my push ups and planks (called “Front Support” in Pilates) have improved so much. We do lots of exercises for the triceps, biceps, shoulder rotators, back extensors, and chest and the result has been that my arms finally look toned. All my life my arms have been one of my problem areas, so I’m glad to have found some exercises that work for me.

Overall, I’d say I’m in great shape though.  We’re learning new exercises in my Pilates classes all the time, so I can’t wait to see how I’m doing by the end of the semester. Now, has all this helped with my ballet technique? I would say yes, as you can never have enough leg strength. The stamina gained from all the running has helped me when doing countless sautes or petite allegro. My “turnout muscles are much stronger as well.  I can finally identify my lats and know if I’m engaging them for my port de bras. My calves are much stronger – and, incidentally, bigger – and I can do one-legged releves super easy (though balancing while up there is still hit or miss). We have done stuff for our balance (like standing on the foam rollers on both feet and then one at a time), but I still struggle with balance.  Perhaps I always will…

Physics, man. Blame it on physics!

The start of my work out adventure: http://www.balletandorbust.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/as-strong-as-the-weakest-limb-i-mean-link/

All other fitness-related posts that followed are under the category “fitness for ballet”, for easy viewing, if interested…

Schedule Changes

Tomorrow is the start of Spring semester at my community college.

Ballet-wise, I will be taking beginning level class and staying on to intermediate, twice a week. Each class is an hour and a half so yes, that’s 3 straight hours of ballet twice a week. At least there’s a 10 minute break between during which I’ll probably be found frantically trying to stuff something that’s both nutritious and calorie-dense in my mouth. Class will be on evenings, rounding out the end of an already busy school day.

It looks like I will be temporarily giving up Wednesday class at Evening Studio, unless I finish up early. But I’m not scheduled to be out (assuming it takes the entire lab period) until around the time (ballet) class ends, though school and Evening Studio are only minutes away from each other. Out of all my possible schedule combinations before I signed up for classes this schedule was the best one I could figure out, so I did realize at the time that I would most likely have to choose between class at Evening Studio and fitting in all the other classes I’m taking.

I managed to work around my schedule so I can once again have a daily Pilates class – start my day off with Pilates class, actually.  By the time this semester is over I will have been doing Pilates for about six months, and the structure that attending a class provides versus doing it at home alone is really beneficial to me.  By then the exercises will be embedded in my muscle memory for sure. My college also offers a certification program to teach Pilates, and since I’m doing the classes anyway, I figure “why not?”. This semester I’ll be taking a class that focuses on mat work and another one that’s specifically for dancers. So, if nothing else my ballet skills may improve due to the additional core work.

And then, academic-wise, I’m going into some uncharted territory. The thing about community college is that the pros of affordable tuition and small (at least compared to when I attended University a decade ago) class sizes are offset by the cons of too-long waiting lists for classes due to overcrowding and budget cuts.  I started going here three years ago, and it was really difficult for a few semesters to even get classes that were not electives (but at the same time this is a good thing, as it’s how I found ballet). But now that I’ve been there for a few semesters, I’m finally getting a sign up date that actually gets me into classes that I planned on taking when I decided to go back (provided there’s no scheduling conflicts).  And I’ve got to be honest, part of me’s been glad that there’s been this delay, because I could just put it off, wonder at what could have been, whether I can do it or not. But I’ve decided, it’s now or never, so I’m jumping in headfirst.

I am so excited/nervous/anxious/happy – I think I can say without it being an exaggerated statement that I’ve been waiting years for this. And as much as a ballet has become an increasingly bigger – and important – part of my life, I have to keep in persepective that it is not the reason I went back to school. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I was 10 or 12 years younger I would  try to pursue it more seriously that just a very dedicated recreational student (and yes, I may – and probably am – be deluding myself here, but seeing as I’m not 10-12 years younger, it doesn’t really matter now, does it?).  But at my (still relatively young, but not to begin a professional career performing in dance) age  I need to remember what else is important to me, how it even came to be that I found myself back in school which allowed me to even discover for myself something as amazing as ballet.

Anyway, I think my point is that I’ll be putting in lots of homework and study time, as this semester will be a determining factor for me, academic-wise.  What this means is that while I’ll try to update the blog after every class (and write the occasional ramble about ballet-related stuff), both the fact that class will let out pretty late and my homework load may make that difficult. As I am obsessed with recording my ballet progress (or lack of, lol), I will be updating as best as I can, even if it’s short and grammatically incorrect. Or maybe I’m totally fearing the worst, I have better study habits than I give myself credit for, and my classes will be a breeze…

We will find out together, won’t we?

Oh, and except for ballet class. Ballet is NEVER a breeze.

Fitness Goals And Pilates Update

At this point, 6 weeks into my daily Pilates course, Pilates is just about the only exercise I’m doing, not counting cardio and, of course, ballet.  But ballet is more for fun than for exercise so it doesn’t count…

I’m still loving my Pilates class. It’s gotten progressively harder, and there’s been so times when my muscles have been aching like never before. Some of those abs sequences, having the muscles tensed for minutes at a time – my core feels worked out like never before.  And then, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, here come the exercises for the sides (obliques). There’s been so many times when I’m thinking ‘Lady, you’re killing us!’. In a good way, of course. In general my abdomen area feels so much stronger than before, even when I was doing the ab wheel exercises at home.

Thanks to my habit of laying sprawled on the couch  on my right side, causing the muscles to be stretched unevenly, my left side is stronger. I have noticed this during any  of the oblique-targeting exercises, as one side is much easier to do. Since noticing and making sense of it, I have started alternating the side I’m sprawled on. As a whole, I tend to pay much closer attention to my body’s alignment and all the asymmetries that need fixing, as well as to what my habits are doing to my posture.

It’s so interesting how the body works and how if the different parts are not used efficiently it  will wear down, how our habits and posture shape our bodies.  I’ve pondered long about how my body got it’s (pre-ballet, and definitely pre-pilates) lack of shape, and have come to the conclusion that it was likely due to me doing any movement the easiest way possible (such as standing with my knees hyperextended rather than engaging my muscles or slouching when I should be standing straight, dragging my feet while walking). I was always uncoordinated growing up, and nobody ever taught me how to use my body otherwise. Does a child need to be taught  how to use their body? Many may not, may have their ease of mobility be naturally-occurring, but others, like me, do.  From the time I was a baby who learned to walk at a late age, to being the only kid in the preschool yard who couldn’t climb on the merry-go-round, to falling over while trying to sprint at age 8, physical activities have not been my strong point.

Before I would have thought that there was no fixing it, that I’m just naturally clumsy, but I don’t any more.  I simply just had no idea of my body’s range of motion, of what my body could actually do. Sometimes I feel like this is what Physical Education class is really supposed to be about, except just mindlessly walking laps in the hot sun and being a prime opportunity for school yard and locker room bullying.

Anyway, at least I’m learning now. You have no idea how grateful I feel…

And the whole “shoulders back” thing, that alone has helped my body so much.  My upper back and shoulder  soreness is gone, my all-over-back tightness greatly reduced. I would say it’s gone, but the other night I slept in the wrong position and felt super stiff. My arms are so much stronger and I can now push up into the backbridge position like it’s nothing. While up in the backbridge position I’ve been working on tapping my feet, lifting them up slightly, trying to get comfortable with the feeling of just being up there. My upper body strength has increased enough to make a walkover possible in the near future, if only I get over my fears.

As for cardio, I’ve hit a plateau. On days that I use the treadmill, I’ve slowly increased my speed until most recently been averaging  a little over 9 minutes a mile.  But I haven’t increased the total amount of time ran (around 20-25 minutes). It’s not that I’m completely exhausted so much as I get bored or start thinking about other things I need to take care of. I’ve been good about getting myself motivated to go out there and run; I don’t want to ruin it by putting increasingly higher expectations upon myself. Better to keep it fun!

I’ve still been doing the jumping jacks and squat jumps as well.  These have helped me so much with jumping in ballet class.  I can really tell the difference, and when before jumping felt like it took huge amounts of effort it now feels almost effortless.

I’m really glad I made the decision to begin working out (5 months ago) and especially take that Pilates class.  I’ve read somewhere out there on the internet that it’s not necessary to cross train with ballet.  I don’t know why people say this, or if that advice only applies to children and not to an adult’s body.  For over a year and a half I refused to work out to supplement my ballet, telling myself that I would get stronger just through ballet.  And this did work – to an extent.  My barre work improved, and the small muscles that help you hold your balance or fondu or point your foot did develop, enabling me to get better. But as for my jumps – I was getting nowhere! I did countless foot exercises with my theraband, thinking that weak feet were the problem (to why I couldn’t point my feet midair).  My feet got stronger, but still, my jumping sucked. It wasn’t until after doing cardio consistenly I started to notice results. Perhaps this is because I was extremely out of shape and didn’t know it.  Perhaps this doesn’t apply to anybody (or any body) else. But all I’m saying is, if your seem to hit a ballet plateau, and you don’t already, it may be beneficial to do some cardio. I wish someone had told me…

Pilates, Week 2: Reform Me!

As you can (possibly) tell by the title, during the (latter part of the) week we made it onto the Reformer during class. We’re still doing basic exercises on it, mostly working our legs, calves, ankles, arms, and of course, cores, but trust me, it is challenging!

Hopefully I’m not the only person ever who thought at first glance that the Reformer looks like a medieval torture device. I was thinking ‘Is that what they use to stretch out your limbs?’

(I love how the studio has pictures of Joseph Pilates doing incredibly hard-looking exercises on the Reformer on the walls; compared to that, what we’re doing at this point looks like a piece of cake.  Mmmmm, cake… I once got this cake that was made with ice cream and coconut and it was soooo good… wish I had some right now… if the place that makes it wasn’t clear across town and it wasn’t rush hour I’d probably try to go get one… Anyway.)

During the calf leg raises and “prances” exercises Pilates Teacher pointed out that my ankles were rolling in a little bit, which I guess would be like sickle-ing on releve.  She said we have some work ahead of us! However, I seem to be getting the hang of the core tightening and breathing, so it’s not all bad. We work on the Reformers in partners, kind of checking on each other’s alignment while P Teacher makes her way around the room.  Working with a partner is fun; being socially awkward, I like having an excuse to talk to someone sometimes.

We did these arm exercises on the Reformer that were sort of like cable pull downs, as well as arm circles and curls.  I walked out of class so incredibly sore after that!

During the first half of class we’ve still been doing mat work.  P Teacher has been gradually introducing new exercises to us as well as repeating the basic exercises daily.  I think by now I figured out that the last day of the week she works us out extra hard, giving us the weekend to recover.  We’ve been using this thing called a Magic Circle which looks kind of like a steering wheel but with padding on two opposing sides.  The Magic Circle goes between our knees (while our legs are up in the air in the “tabletop” position) and then we squeeze as we exhale to work out our adductors. Then we put it between our ankles and repeat (this is the part when audible groans of pain begin to ring through the studio) and this last time P Teacher had us lay down on our stomach and do it between the knees in this position as well. Ouchers. But my behind feels so nice and tight afterwards…

For the most part, I’ve been able to keep up in the mat work.  However, we did this exercise called a “roll up” that involved laying down face up and, well, rolling up; first the head, then shoulders, then vertebra by vertebra, until (hopefully) coming up to a seated position with the back straight, all without getting any help from our legs.  I wasn’t able to make it up to the seated position, only about halfway, and then I could feel my legs trying to get involved so I went back down. Oh well, I’m just a beginner – we’ll see in a bit as my core and back get stronger.

We also do stretches for our hip flexors and hamstrings, both on the mats and on the Reformer.  It’s probably too soon to make this claim, but I think my flexibility has increased more already.  I did read somewhere that flexibility is a combination of flexibility and strength, so if I’ve gotten stronger it would make sense that I’m more flexible, I guess. I did notice today during my home ballet practice session that my hips feel more “open”, especially my extra-tight left one.

Then there’s my shoulders. I’m still constantly monitoring them to make sure they are not forward, and if they are, I bring them back.  I’ve also begun to identify triggers, like driving, that cause me to bring my shoulders forward. But my upper back/shoulder pain (which I’ve suffered pretty much continuously for years) is practically gone, which feels really awesome.

Why did I not try out Pilates sooner?!

Fitness Goal Update 9

Still at it, doing my best to be in shape, 18 weeks later!


Running/ jogging about 5 times a week.

When the weather permits, I’m still running/jogging outdoors at the park.  I’ve been doing interval running – jogging part of it, sprinting (or as close as I get to sprinting, lol) the other parts – for anywhere from 16 to 22 minutes, depending on how I’m feeling. The other day (Sunday?) the park was kind of flooded so I ran uphill on my old walking route. It went pretty well, I wasn’t even more exhausted than usual or anything. Soon I will put my fitness to the test and try going for a run on this one very steep mountain with a paved road I know about.

Previously I’d been apprehensive about running on a surface harder than grass, sand, track, or treadmill, but I got myself a new pair of running shoes a couple weeks ago and ever since then it’s felt like I’m running on air. I was long overdue for a pair of running shoes…

My running shoes. Such an improvement over the shoes I had previously been running in!

My running shoes. Such an improvement over the shoes I had previously been running in!

On the days that are just too rainy to run outside I’ve been running on the treadmill at my apt’s gym.  I read that running with no incline on the treadmill is comparable to running downhill, so I always set the incline to 2 or so.  I’m going to start working up to a higher incline though. Right now, my mile time (on the treadmill, no idea about outdoors) is at around 9 minutes, which is better than my high school time but definitely nothing to boast about. Not that I’m a particularly boastful individual, or anything, but I do get a kick out of feeling younger than I did at half my age…

I’ve still been doing jumping jacks, immediately after my run, 100 of them. Then I’ve been doing squat jumps, but only about 20 before it feels like my legs are on fire, and “gallops”.


Ever since I started my Pilates class last week I haven’t been doing much strength training at home, just stretching (and doing a Pilates mini-session on weekends).  After my posture assessment during Pilates class I realized than I’ve probably been performing most of my strength  exercises in bad form, so I’m taking a short break on that so I can get my posture and alignment right (those darn shoulders!).  Honestly, just writing right now that I’m “taking a short break” made me feel so lazy! But 2 hours and 15 minutes of Pilates daily is enough (non-cardio) exercise, right?

My backbridge is still struggling along. On some days I feel like I can’t do that push that it takes to lift my head up off the ground, other days it seems effortless. No idea what it has to do with, or if it’s just a mental block still.  On the days that I do get myself into a backbridge, I’ve been practicing rocking back and forth on my hands and feet and tapping my feet. Still haven’t attempted to take a foot off the ground yet, but I am able to stay in the position for longer every time. And I do feel so much more flexible when I cambre back.

In other news, about a week ago I taught myself to do a cartwheel (with the help of youtube videos). It was the first (successful) cartwheel I’ve done in my life! Hooray!

And I have ballet tomorrow! Yay!

Pilates And Me, End Of First Week

End of my first week of Pilates.

So far, I love Pilates class! Love, love love it!  I come out of there each day feeling nicely sore, though completely relaxed.  I think it’s all the deep breathing, only to exhale and squeeeeeze the belly button in as hard as possible.  Yes, simultaneously sore and relaxed and there’s even nice soft ambient music, sometimes classical, playing softly in the background. Feels like I’m at a spa or something – or how imagine a spa would feel…

I am so glad I went in. I’d signed up because last semester in ballet class Teacher had mentioned that Pilates is good for dancers (even us amateur dancers). So I’d signed up, but as the day came closer I started to get a bit anxious.  Just like ballet class almost two years ago, a new First. And I started to worry about some of the more practical details some of us girls worry about: what do I wear?

Surely I couldn’t show up in ballet attire (though if someone who is not terrified of attracting attention were to do that it would be awesome!)?  But would a baggy T-shirt be ok? I remembered this exercise class I tried attending once back the first time I went to college, back when I was very overweight, and being intimidated by a majority of the class being very slim and athlelic, some of them displaying a six-pack.  A leotard I can do, for the same reason I can’t do many workout wear tops: a leotard keeps the stomach covered (or at least any of the styles I buy, lol).

Well, I sucked it up, faced my fear and went in there.  My outfit was a compromise: a T-shirt on top, black yoga pants on the bottome.  I got there, saw that there was diversity in body types, and started to relax.

Pilates is very focused on the core, I find out. So far it feels good.  I’d been starting to worry that the AB-wheel exercises I’ve been doing at home may have been making my abs grow outward (however weird that sounds), so I like the focus in Pilates of squeezing them inward. Apparently it’s supposed to feel as though your core muscles make a muscle “girdle” for your spine and stuff. That’s pretty cool, and I can already start to feel it, especially in the sides (I guess obliques) area.  And we haven’t even done any reformer stuff yet, just mat work (which is really fun!).

But while the ab benefits are great, there’s been another unexpected (to me) benefit: shoulders.

My shoulders are a mess! I’d noticed within the last year – though the problem most definitely extends since my  early-to-mid-childhood, but at the time was obscured by all my extra padding – that from a front view  my shoulders sort-of curve inward in a  crescent-like line from shoulder to shoulder. Never been a part of my body that I  like, but figured I couldn’t do anything about it. I mean, I’ve tried to straighten my back out (when I remember – which is about 50% of the time – and I try especially during ballet class), but I’m not even talking about my back I’m talking about my shoulders. Which are easily 2 inches forward of where they should be pretty much all the time! And previously to taking this pilates class I had no idea that this was going on. It’s called a fatigue position or something which just sounds so unappealing, ugh.  Whenever teachers have said “Shoulders back!” I guess I hadn’t really understood what they meant. Kind of how for the first year or so I had really no idea what it meant to point  the foot (as opposed to just flexing the ankle)…

Anyway, the thing I’ve been finding the hardest so far is keeping my shoulders back.  It’s not in muscle memory yet, but I find myself so conscious of my shoulders as I go about normal activities throughout the day. Every time I remember I pull them straight back!

(While writing this blog post, I’ve already reminded myself four six at least 20 times. Once I remember, pulling them back feels so good…)

By now I discovered that this shoulder forward-hunching appears to be responsible for my constant tight, sore feeling on my upper back/shoulder area. I’d previously blamed this pain on my bra strap digging in, but now that I’ve been putting my shoulders back consciously the pain has been diminishing and I’m still being dug in to by the same strap. Also, having my shoulders forward appears to be the cause of this stubborn under arm/upper chest flabbiness that seemed to never go away.  If I can manage to remember to keep my shoulders back,I may even feel comfortable in a tank top soon (assuming the weather was warm, of course).

Check out the difference:

shoulders back!

shoulders back!

Shoulders curved

Shoulders curved forward

We’ve also been using balls! Both a small dodge-ball-looking ball to squeeze between our knees, and tennis balls to rub the feet. As I’ve previously mentioned, I looooove my tennis ball, rubbing my feet on it and also my back (coincidentally, at the spot where it hurts from hunching my shoulders forward). Oh, and also these really big balls – I think they’re used for ab work – to support the feet for some of the students without sufficient ab strength yet (luckily, all my past few months’ worth of exercise has keep me from falling in that category; so far I’ve been able to do all the exercises, but in my pre-exercise condition half a year ago I probably wouldn’t have. At least not the double- knee raises…).  But I’m glad to see that there’s modifications available to make it possible for all different kinds of people to try it.

I’m so glad I decided to try this class out. If you have not already done so, I recommend that everyone, regardless of current state of being in shape or not, try out Pilates.