Weekly Ballet Post, 4/9/18

Ballet has been very good for discovering just how my body works … and doesn’t. Minute differences in strength & flexibility between my left and right sides are amplified a hundredfold when I have to hoist one leg in the air while standing on the toes of the other.

Current tally:

Foot & ankle – left is stronger and more flexible (no surprise given bunion) … much nicer pointing and winging on the left foot
Leg – right is stronger, can raise it higher, better control
Hip – right has more turnout and strength and thus stability UNLESS the ankle/foot weakness interfere (so, when on demipointe)

Anything above the waist: haven’t stress tested yet!

Have embarked on grimly determined strength training of ankles/feet/hip on the right side. A good passé rélevé is my quarry and I will pursue relentlessly.


Weekly Ballet Post, 3/29/18

I had three weeks off dance recently. The first two were due to work. The third week there were time issues, but as I found out this week they closed because of snow anyway. It’s warming up now but class was relatively deserted last night so I got a bit more attention than usual. Some very helpful corrections on frappés!

I dutifully worked out as much as I could in the last weeks, although I confess I was (and am) getting tired of my Pilates workout. It was sure effective though. I did a new barre for kicks last week and felt my turnout muscles were way stronger than before. Last night in class I was able to hold my turnout better than any previous weeks.

Relentless rélevés have helped with demipointe a lot. Ironically, I irritated a callus right on top of the bunion pretty badly so I didn’t do great on my right foot in class. Maybe I should ice & ibuprofen before class …

Finally, I’m trying to find technique shoes that are better for bunions. Taping gets me pretty far but it’s not enough. Finding the perfect shoe is a personal saga for all dancers, but I saw one ballet dancer on YouTube whom I follow and who has bunions mention that she was wearing Body Wrapper TotalStretch shoes in one of her videos, so I ordered two pairs today. My local dance store doesn’t carry that brand so I’ve resorted to buy-and-try-and-hopefully-keep-one. Fingers (toes?) crossed.


Doggy dress lessons learned

The dress is a hit with Bean, but the fit has minor issues. That’s okay, this dress was meant as a prototype. She can still wear it fine, but it’s not as polished as it could be, even within the limitations of my skill.

– Neck binding stands up too much, so the shoulders do not lie flat. Next time finish by folding under (remember to add allowance!) and topstitching before joining shoulder seams. As a bonus, I won’t have to iron self bias tape!

– Do a better job with skirt gathering. Do not skimp! Use the double thread method next time. (I used a single thread this time.)

– Sleeves too narrow for a woven. They cannot be cuffed or rolled up for messy projects! I will probably just cut and re-finish the sleeves to make them short or cap sleeves once Bean approaches 3T size. But for the next dress, make the sleeves a consistent width throughout. These were tapered.


New dress for my Bean

I had a day off recently and I blew it on sewing a new dress for my Bean <3

A child's dress in a red fabric with a printed dog pattern (front side)

A child's dress in a red fabric with a printed dog pattern (back side)

I used the free Bell Sleeve Dress pattern in size 3T and made a number of modifications. The fabric (woven cotton print) is about a year old, from Jo-Ann Fabrics.

The pattern was designed for knits, and my kid is a small 2yo. To be safe, I added enough width in the bodice to match a store-bought 2T dresses. I wanted a fuller skirt (plus I had made the body wider) so I eyeballed it—I think it came out to maybe 1.5 times as wide as the bodice. I did not use the bell cuffs, just the straight parts. Since this is a woven, I needed to add a back closure to allow her head to go through, so I added a back seam and a tie closure. The tie, which also acted as neck binding, was self bias tape that I made by hand (it was okay but I am never doing it again, I’m buying a bias tape maker asap). Since I forgot to remove the back seam allowance from the front, I converted the extra width into a tuck detail; you can see the pattern is discontinuous in a very narrow slice of the chest. That’s the tuck.

I had cut the fabric quite a while ago, I would say that took about an hour. Sewing took about 6 hours with a lot of interruptions, and a whole hour of that was hand sewing the tie, which was really narrow and I didn’t think I could pull that off on a machine. Maybe if I had an edgestitch foot … anyway. Bean has yet to try it on.

After adjusting the pattern based on how it actually fits, I plan to lengthen the bodice and learn to line a dress so I can make her more cool weather dresses. I plan to imitate Jenny Gordy’s patterns for her daughter, here and here, but I will probably throw in a few mods of my own. (She is the coolest, okay. I love her patterns, her taste, her expert designer’s eye … ahh, she’s amazing.)


Friday Favorites, 3/9/18

Hungry Demigods” by Andrea Tang, published in Gignotosaurus.

Plot: Isabel Chang is a kitchen witch who runs a Pâtisserie in Montreal. One day, she is asked to help Elias, a young man with an immortality curse of Chinese origin, break his curse.

“Hungry Demigods” is a delightful story about family and food. (Against every stereotype, I don’t seek to read about these topics. Ever. A good friend linked me the story. Thanks, Tari!) But what was more, I deeply resonated with the Chinese magic elements and how they were used in this story–I don’t want to spoil them for you, because coming upon those elements so unexpectedly left me shrieking a little with joy! I feel it is the lit equivalent of amazing fusion cuisine (if you will), using and updating some of my very favorite concepts from Chinese folklore/mythology.

This story … I felt a bit like Elias biting into one of Isabel’s buns: “I’d forgotten how food could taste, after you haven’t eaten in ages. It’s like color returning to the world.”

Don’t get me wrong–I fully understand that not everything is for everyone. But when I do manage to stumble upon a story for me … there’s nothing like it.

You may notice I haven’t recced a whole lot of Chinese/East Asian diaspora stories. That’s because when I click on a story and realize that it’s about my ethnicity/culture, sometimes I will back-button. Even if the author’s name suggests they are writing from their lived experience as a part of said ethnicity/culture. Sometimes I run away ever faster—because 1) at least if someone is writing from a place of ignorance, it’s easier to shrug off if I don’t like it. 2) I feel like a traitor if I end up disliking something by a fellow Chinese/East Asian diaspora writer … and I have felt like a traitor many times. I know that’s irrational, but you try reasoning with feelings. Then one day I realized that my fear came from “the danger of a single story” (TED talk by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie). I had personally been burned by the prevalence of certain pieces of Chinese-American literature in the popular consciousness that I felt did not speak to my experience, but that due to the single-story effect, became what others thought of me*. Of course that was and is not the fault of the author or the literature, it’s the fault of the publishing environment. But it still hurt. I’m not going to apologize for protecting myself. But I do find that lately, I am able to explore more. To see what my fellow people are doing. Even to dip my own toe into telling my stories, which I had not really felt like doing in the past. That’s a story for another post. In any case, I’ve been grateful for the slow yet steady increase in Chinese/East Asian diaspora writers being published, along with stories about their cultures (not that they have to be, obviously, I’d be a hypocrite if I said so).

As usual, a review says more about the reader than the story! Which you should read. “Hungry Demigods” by Andrea Tang!

* Chinese stories from China, translated into English, do not meet my mental barriers in this regard. The original intended audience is different, so it doesn’t trip my wires.


Weekly Ballet Post, 3/1/2018

This week while in class the teacher told me to pull my abs back more (not to suck in the tummy, but rather to scoop it back and also straighten the lower back) and when I did that, something happened: instant engagement of abs/back and my hips. It was the first time I was ever really able to feel myself turning out from the back of my legs in class. Massively improved my ability to stay turned out, and I did some pretty okay side dégagés. However, it felt pretty bad. Like my muscles were clenching my hip bones and grinding the socket à la mortar and pestle. Not healthy. When I tried to back off on the clenching feeling, the turnout muscles went dead and I lost my placement again.

Consulted some fora today and discovered that if I simultaneously ‘scoop the abs’ and ‘lift up and out of the hips’ I can reach the happy medium where my muscles remain engaged but are not clenching.

I haven’t been doing at home barres lately—conditioning via Pilates and back/leg exercises seems to be doing me much more good—but I may have to do a few this weekend just to attempt to bank some muscle memory.


Weekly Ballet Post, 2/23/18

Bunion taping & splinting & massage & exercises seems to be working! In conjunction with regular ankle exercises and Pilates, I have finally become capable of holding a (brief) passé rélevé on both sides! Better on the left, due to right bunion being more severe, but I am pleased with my progress. I’m also getting better at holding turnout in the center–there’s no humiliation like losing all your turnout just from tendus.

I bought a new leotard and skirt to celebrate my progress (okay, and also to get through a hectic and stressful February)! Hoping to get better at ballet selfies sometime as well so I can post more to IG. I have found the amazing, supportive, gorgeous #adultballet community that exists there and hope to join the conversation in the future. Oh well–the longer it takes for my photography to level up, the more time my ballet has to level up. It’s no shame to jump in after I have that 90 degree arabesque, right? Ahaha.


Weekly Ballet Post, 2/3/2018

One difficulty of practicing ballet at home has been the lack of that sweet, sweet studio mirror. However, it turns out that a video camera (the kind for Skyping) mounted to a decently sized TV monitor (we don’t have cable) doesn’t serve too badly. The Photobooth app in iOS lets you use it as a real mirror/selfie view (as opposed to the camera view, which is what Quicktime gives you) as well as record. Since at home I use a stepladder whereas in class I use a center barre, this has shown me that my left side is weaker than my right—so, I tilt and sink into the barre when I’m holding with my left arm. I am able to stay square on my right. Something to work on.

I’ve also been doing ankle/calf strength training in the form of single leg rises, and I have noticed that the moderate bunion on my right foot is holding me back from good form (the bad joint is in line with the ankle, which makes it difficult to maintain a straight line through the ankle). Which means it will also hold me back from my current holy grail, the passé rélevé aka rétiré. Aside from the joint pain, the bunion weakens the muscles so staying up in demipointe (and going up/down) is difficult. I have done some research and have prescribed myself a regiment of spacers, KT tape, and strengthening the abductor hallucis (the muscle that lets you move the big toe outwards). It’s had a little effect so I will persevere.

I have already noticed my ankles getting stronger in general, so I’m very pleased with my strength training overall.

Other discoveries: my abs are okay. My back is WEAK. I’ve been doing more back exercises lately.

When doing home barres this week I will focus on shoulder alignment and working from the back of the legs. Having located the turnout muscles, it’s really time to focus on them, if only to spare my knees.

Haven’t been able to do barres for a while thanks to work and petri dish, but I hope to get back into it today! Gotta keep those muscles warm for class next week!


Weekly Ballet Post, 1/18/2018

Went back to ballet class last night! I haven’t had the chance to attend in a while for various reasons but I have been doing my best to work out in the meanwhile. It has helped a lot. My technique hasn’t reeeeally improved, but I now have more strength to hold the correct positions, which is the foundation on which good technique is built.

Anyway, today I thought I’d link some YouTube resources that I’ve been relying on in the meantime. I obviously do not do all or any of these in a given day, but I generally attempt one long workout in the morning (after toddler drop off, before work) and a shorter one before bed.

Literally everything here has a video autoplay warning if that wasn’t clear XD

Longer Workouts

Easy ballet barre – I do this one whenever I have the energy/time. I don’t do the grand battements at the end btw. Also, I have done this often enough that I no longer need the explanation of all the combinations, so I use the intro-less version.

Turnout barre – I don’t have much turnout but I can’t even access what I have*, so I’m trying to strengthen those deep hip flexors. This barre targets those muscles and is, accordingly, more challenging. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten through a complete set, but then I haven’t tried it in a while.

Easy center practice – I don’t do the turns (I do a passé instead of a pirouette) but the rest is really great for training my brain in learning choreography. I would say this is not as “easy” as the “easy barre” though. Also effacé derriere omggggggg.

Basic Pilates for dancers – nice and basic, after the core workout there is a side leg series for developpés etc.

Total Pilates – It hits just about every muscle so sometimes I consider it allllll the workouts rolled into one. Planks suck though.

Shorter Workouts

Leg stability & strength workout – murders your calves (and ankles) but really great. I could see in the studio mirror how my relevés have gotten higher since I started doing these regularly. My favorite of the bunch since they are so quick and easy yet have a great impact.

Quick back workout for higher arabesques – I’m going to look for something more strenuous, but this is a great basic workout.**

More intense back workout – see above.

Theraband foot workout – marked as something to do before class, but IMO a good exercise to do whenever I’m bored and can take off my shoes (and have access to a Theraband) … I now have a theraband stashed in my desk drawer. The joys of an office of one’s own.

I’ve also got a few personal exercises/stretches that I feel help me the most:

– Deep hip flexor workout (not clamshells – the kind you do by rolling a leg on the floor inwards)
– Stretching hip flexors
– Stretching quads/hamstrings in the elusive hope of splits
– Stretching inner thighs up against a wall for second splits

All stretches are done AFTER working out, because they reduce muscle strength!

* The teacher used me to do a demo this week and somehow wrangled my left leg nice and open (from the hip!***) and uhhh desperately hoping I can reenact the experience.

** My biggest frustration right now is extension in back arabesques. I have the flexibility to at least hit 90 degrees (either in a grand battement or in a static stretch) but in a developpé or enveloppé I can MAYBE reach 45. And my back hurts the next day.

*** I finally shed my skirt during class because I am aware that seeing the hips is important. I got some really useful corrections this class, and plus it was really helpful to see my alignment in the mirror.


Friday Favorites, 1/5/18

The first Friday Favorite of 2018 is Saga (Book One), by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. A shoutout to E for gifting me volume one for Christmas. I mainlined it in one day and it made me squee and laugh and cry. The worldbuilding is incredibly vast, the characters are all so real even if they only appear for a panel, and I’m just in such awe of the authors’ imagination.

And of course, it’s all about parenthood.

I had always thought that becoming a parent wouldn’t change my tastes in reading or writing. For instance, an unflattering confession: I loathed kidfic before I gave birth. Well, I was wrong … I loathe it even more now. Before it was merely insipid. Now it’s insipid and inaccurate. And don’t get me started on pregnancy fic. (And both these experiences are life-endingly fraught enough that I can’t just let it go when things are inaccurate, the way I can let LOLTASTAIC SCIENCE go.)

But Saga is the real deal done so right that I was thrown back to week three, living on three cans of coca-cola and three hours of sleep a day while quietly wishing for death. Those days were frankly dark but I’m remembering this in the best way, I swear. And let me just say that I, too, would have accepted a disemboweled ghost as a night nurse during week four AKA The First Fucking Growth Spurt.

And that’s how it is for the mom, too, when she is running through a very large and exciting universe with her family by her side!

Before having a kid, I would probably have rolled my eyes a little.

Now … now, reading this, I want to try to make the world a better place for my child. My world has no wings or horns or intergalactic travel, but we fight the same battles. I can do this. Hey, I’m no longer breastfeeding, what excuses have I got?

P.S. I just bought Book Two!