Weekly Ballet Post, 9/28/17

I wasn’t able to make it to my regular studio this week, but I was able to arrange a consolation prize: there is a farther away studio that holds adult beginner classes on Wednesday nights. I had the suspicion (quickly confirmed) that they were a more hardcore studio, so I was pretty curious to try it out.

It was much more hardcore, complete with a live pianist, what riches! And it was wonderful. The class was pretty large—16 people, when I’m used to under 10—and it was a notch above the beginner class I had been attending. I wasn’t too surprised by this because I knew this studio offered an “adult fundamentals” class. The “beginner” class assumed a lot of knowledge. Fortunately I knew almost everything, if not from my class then from YouTube. The only things I missed were the turns, and if I had had the time/confidence I think I could have stayed after class to ask questions. Two other girls (whom I observed in class as being REALLY GOOD) were doing just that.

The class was 1.5 hours, and I’m used to 1 hour, but at least everyone was flagging in the last half hour. Which was of course when center practice is. LBR I started flagging in the second half of the barre, and of course combinations are most complex near the end. Life is cruel like that. Stress testing was interesting, however, personally speaking. I could tell that things were easier on my right side, whether it was balancing on the right foot or doing fancy combinations with the right working leg. And there was much balancing. So … much … passé. And arabesque. And attitude, which is more accurately ‘assitude’ when I do it. And then it was demi-pointe. So … much … sous sus. Shockingly, I stayed up most of the time, and even managed a few balanced moments on demi-pointe in passé. I think it was partly that I had no time to think, hey I can’t do that, but instead just shrugged and went with it. Kathryn Morgan, my lady and savior of ballet, once said in an interview on getting through performances that she aims to get completely exhausted ASAP, and as soon as that happens, the rest is easy. I didn’t believe her at the time but now I see what she means. If your muscles know the steps, then you’re too tired to think about how you can’t do this or that, and you just do.

The class was faster paced so I didn’t have a lot of time to slow down and contemplate technique. For instance, when we were in the center, it wasn’t until the fourth repeat of a combination that I remembered: draw the toes up the leg in a passé. And my feet fell out of turnout because my muscles aren’t strong enough to maintain the rotation. Of course that kind of thing needs to get baked in to the cerebellum, but these moments are what do the baking, I figure. In addition, in such a large class we also got almost no individual attention, but the teacher did correct my arm placement on the barre (way too far back for good balance in attitude!) and at one point turned my leg out more during a dégagé to the side.

Lastly, the studio is clever: your second class is free, good for 60 days. I’m definitely going back. I’m seriously trying to figure out whether I can arrange to make this my new weekly class. It’s more expensive than the other area studios, and more of a PITA to get to (bike ride to metro for a ride with a transfer!) but it’s also obviously better. Of course if I had the time I would probably do as many others and take both classes: slower one for refining technique, faster one for learning new techniques. Shhhhh. I can dream.

Weekly Ballet Post, 9/21/17

Nothing teaches you the existence of muscles that you didn’t know existed like a nice slow dégagé to the side … except maybe ronde de jambe en l’air. It kind of feels like gravity is wrenching your hip out of its socket.

Other discovery: one major reason that turning is hard is because no matter how good your spotting is, your damn body has to support the spot. If your body can’t maintain a vertical line and keep your eyes at the same level in all three axes, you’re sunk. This discovery brought to you by trying to do chainé turns quickly, which required going on demipointe, which I was not terribly stable on.

And in the annals of “skills I have but did not find them as helpful as I had hoped,” an interesting divide was visible in this week’s class. The teacher doesn’t always follow the musical pattern during combinations, which drives me batty. Why are you doing four count combinations on music with 3/4 time? Unless you are combining three beats into one. Anyway, at one point she said to do eight jumps, but the music was in 6/8, so a couple of us just … kept going … because the measure wasn’t over! (And sometimes the teacher totally goes off the beat, and then I just can’t follow at all, because the movements and the music don’t mesh in my head, and it all gets tossed out of short term memory.)

The other bit where classical piano training made dance hard for me at first is that in ballet, steps are often syncopated. Hence the joke that “and” is a number. At first I was really annoyed by this and thought it was irrational, then realized I was the irrational one. This happens because these movements are usually in two parts: you do the step, then you pull back into the starting position. So if you are doing four tendus in a 4/4 measure, you should extend on 0.5, then close on 1. So that you can extend on 1.5, and be closed again on 2. Etc., with the goal of finishing on the last beat. And if you are doing the steps slower, then you are effectively working in 2/4, and you’re still moving on the off-beat. It was a revelation. (I suppose those who did marching band would have understood immediately!)

Unbelievably, however, the best skill I brought to ballet was something I learned from doing junior high musicals. Now I was too terrible to get a real part—four failed tryouts ha ha ha are testament to this fact—but the chorus line (essentially) was come one come all. The pas de bourrée (youtube link)—a really common step in Broadway-ish dancing—was drilled into our skulls and feet. So thanks, Mrs. Hoffenberg. You might have taught me the most out of anyone else in that school, in the end. (Teach the arts in public school! /soapbox)

Speaking of classes, I have now used up the 10-lesson card that I purchased at my current studio. I love my teacher but it is a long drive (now that I’ve moved) and conflicts with another need for the car this school semester. There’s a studio closer to me that I can bike to and gives beginner class on the same night. Am contemplating trying it out next week, although it makes me sad. We shall see. Worst case, I can go back in January.

Weekly Ballet Post, 9/14/17

Had an exhausting introduction to piqué this week. We didn’t do the turn, just the step. Thank God (Terpischore?). There’s nothing like a basic exercise that is REALLY HARD to remind you of how inadequate your legs* are. I got myself through by reminding myself to pull up from the hips, and pretending that I looked Damn Good.

And I could deceive myself thus because there was no time to check in the mirror. A ballet studio is the one place where an entire wall covered in mirrors is not vanity, it is the opposite. It shows not only the inadequacy of my technique, it reveals the difference between what I feel my body is doing, and what I can see it to be doing. Mind you, I know I’m doing everything imperfectly, but the disparity between “bad” and “worse” is enormous. The really cruel irony is that I can’t actually take that much time in the mirror anyways as long as I’m doing something—the amount of concentration it takes to check my form interferes with, you know, counting to eight. Or remembering the combination. Or keeping my form. The mirror works better if I’m already standing still while being instructed, trying to carve a form into muscle memory so that it can then be done again, sight unseen.

* Hips remain the worst. I feel like the pregnancy actually messed with my hip sockets (not medically impossible) and that I had more turnout before it happened. Still, after a lot of sulky reading, it was nice to discover that almost nobody had perfect turnout. Even at Vaganova, which rumor says chooses its entering students 99% based on proximity to the Ideal Ballet Skeleton (talent is an afterthought**; five hours of dancing six days a week will train that into you) you still see via YouTube that most of them aren’t doing 180.

** I feel like writers can also learn from this XD In fact the lesson is an optimistic one! Turnout is restricted by the genetics of one’s hip socket. Last I heard, there are many ways to get words down on a page/computer screen.

Weekly Ballet Post, 9/8/17

First day of school was this week, and that applies to dance students too. I’d been too busy moving into my new place to do any real practice between lessons (also there was no free space to dance on) other than a few floor barre/core exercises that I did in bed. Still, the muscles more or less remembered what they were supposed to do, except for tendu in back, which always ends up going out to the back and side. Turnout breaks my proprioception somewhat, but hopefully that, like the ability to spin, can get slowly trained in. On that note I was hoping for just one class without spins, but no, we practiced spotting and chainé turns.

As ever I had trouble with passé relevé but was lucky enough to find a great demo from Ballet In Form. The tip about the toes drawing lines is fantastic and has really helped. I’m not on pointe, but having enough trouble with the demi-pointe as it is. That said the issue is honestly that my calf muscles aren’t strong enough to support anything on one leg in demi-pointe–but while I slowly train them with daily elevés (on both legs & one at a time), I’m also practicing finding my center with passé while standing flat. Someone had a tip about doing so while facing a wall, forcing you to reflexively turn out. So far so good. Now I just need to clear enough space to actually do a full barre at home again …