Weekly Ballet Post, 11/17/17

I did some center practice at home this past week and it helped quite a bit in class. For once, I had a fairly good adagio. Unfortunately I must have been the limiting factor in the class or something because the teacher said “you’re all so good today! so as a treat …” and a harder combination came rolling out. With turns. I decided to just go with it, which was not actually too horrible, but I really need to start practicing turning. Unfortunately pirouettes are something where you really need a Dancing Surface, or the traction will not be right. My place has some hardwood but it is grooved, not smooth, so that’s not really an option. We’ll see. Meanwhile I can still practice chainés.

(The other thing that was really hard for me was remembering where to place the foot once it comes down … because if you get it wrong, then you can’t take the next step! Very important! Must watch more center/turn practice on YouTube.)

The Pilates & other targeted workouts are also helping my strength very nicely, so I will continue that this week. Yesterday was brutal at work so I gave myself the night off, but it’s back to the usual today.

Next week the beginner class is cancelled for Thanksgiving, but there is a beginners II class on Tuesday that the teacher “strongly” encouraged us all to go to. Sure, why not, it’s time to limit a different class. Ha ha ha.

Extra practice this week on: jeté, glissade assemblé

Weekly Ballet Post, 11/10/17

This week I had a useful realization. This was entirely thanks to watching the Royal Ballet’s practices. In particular, the upper bodies of the dancers barely moved while they did tendus (and other, more complicated moves). Whereas I always feel quite unstable while doing tendus, like my weight is constantly shifting. Which by the way it isn’t supposed to; the way it was told to me was “you always need to be ready to rise on the supporting leg.” So you are supposed to be extremely stable! And I thought, how do they do that …

So, I did some tendus very slowly to analyze my movements, and realized that I was rocking up and down because I was always shifting my body and weight towards my working foot. After that realization I worked on pulling myself up as high as possible all throughout. The key to that was finding that I always got “taller” when I closed from the tendu (so both feet back in starting position) because I was back to being completely vertical. So I would do a bad tendu, but close in the right position, and I would work on holding that position all throughout the next tendus, and those would be correct. That made a huge difference. It also made the standing leg a lot more stable because it’s always engaged instead of just waiting there.

Here’s to more realizations. Off to watch videos again. XD

Weekly Ballet Post, 11/2/17

Do the boring but useful thing: that is is the lesson of the week. Home barre routines are fun but I am starting to fear forming bad habits in the absence of instruction. Also, bookshelves are not very good barres and that cannot possibly be helping my technique/habits.

That said I have been improving. A metric: I could hold a passé relevé for a few seconds this week, which is (sad to say) superior to previous weeks.

And I can work on things slowly at home, when I know what to do. I’ve started to sickle during developpés for some reason. So I’ve done many, many, MANY slow developpés focusing on letting the heel lead. Feeling the muscles so I know which ones need to be engaging. It’s starting to come together. Same with tendus, although I am having trouble with the moment when the working foot slides in/out of first.

For the moment I will restrict home practice to pliés, tendus, developpés, passé/relevé, and the daily élevés. To work my cerebellum (I once again bombed center this week) I will practice learning choreography (I especially need to memorize the damn body facings …) by marking but not full on dancing. Again, boring, but the right neurons ought to fire, over and over again. Without the risk of forming bad habits when no one is around to correct me. Similarly, I will watch more company practices (Royal Ballet has a great one). Watching how they hold themselves, especially the core/upper body, has been extremely educational.

And for the muscles: continued workouts. Remembering to stretch afterwards.

Okay, it’s not all boring. I bought a new-to-me leotard in BRIGHT GREEN! I am leaning way in to this wearing garish colors to class thing. Who cares if I look like I’m five, I certainly dance like I am. And if it makes me stand out in a crowd of sensible blacks and primary colors … so much the better, in a large group class. Ha.

Packing for the studio

Clockwise starting at upper left: Danskin leotard, Mirelle skirt, spare pair of Bloch leather shoes, Capezio transition tights, working pair of So Danca canvas shoes.

(The bag is holding the less crucial and/or photogenic items: spare leos, spare tights, spare skirts, water bottle, light reading material, knitting WIP, and mass transit card.)

Couldn’t attend class this week, sad but しょうがない so I practice as much as I can.

Weekly Ballet Post, 10/19/17

I’ve been doing some workouts in addition to barre practice at home, and I would like to think that’s why I did better at things like attitude and passé this week. I did not try any center work at home (logistics are difficult) which is probably why I totally sucked at center this week. At least I am consistent.

Goals for this upcoming week of home practice:

– 2x back workouts
– 2x core workouts
– 3 home barres (any level)

– 1x spotting practice coupled with chainé turn practice, sigh but I want to start getting better at turns

– Every day:
– 4x passé passing front/back on flat, 4x on demipointe
– 8x passé HOLD on each leg (4x on flat, 4x on demipointe)
– 24x elevé on each leg
– Stretches (all splits, the two hip stretches)

Weekly Ballet Post, 10/12/17

Went back to Hardcore Studio this week, after a week off. During the week I tried to work a bit at home, practicing various basics: brushing with the tendu, not letting the knee fall during a developpé, passés up and down (4x flat, 4x in relevé), and 24 daily elevés on each leg. Not sure which of those was the hardest …

But the best prep I actually did was a lot of practicing how to turn at the barre. Most combinations are done first on the right or left, and then switch to the other side. If you are at the barre, this generally means you need to turn 180 degrees so that you can switch hands (and feet). This is not done casually. No. It is accomplished by some variation on:

1) Rise into sous sus
2) Turn 180 degrees on the working leg (defined as the leg away from the barre) towards the barre
3) Come back down on working leg while simultaneously placing the other leg in front of working leg; now it is the new working leg

I’m not sure if that made sense in writing. It certainly did not in speaking, which is why I spent so much time staring at YouTube and tied my ankles into knots at home trying to practice.

The other hard bit about this turn is you don’t want to start either too close or too far from the barre; otherwise once you finish the turn you will either end up squeezed into the barre or so far away that your arm can’t reach. So you have to place the working foot correctly at the start. Here’s where it came in handy to learn that in sous sus, 1) the toes of both feet are supposed to be aligned (this is a very popular pose for pointe photos, especially from the side) 2) when you rise into sous sus from fifth or whatever, you don’t shift both feet towards the middle; you pull the working foot to line up with the standing foot. Consequently your working leg will be at the same distance from the barre as your standing leg, thus ensuring that once you’ve turned around, you will remain at your ideal distance (assuming that you were at a good distance before the sous sus). Clever, that one. Anyway, this sounds like a very small matter, but I assure you that with the amount of turning there was in class, I felt much less awkward compared to last time when I had zero idea what to do. It also helped with other small turns; having the muscle memory to pivot and close in fifth without thinking too hard is very handy. Unfortunately this bit me somewhat when we did a combination with a passe relevé closing in the back. I think out of eight times, I closed in the front seven times.

Now back to staring at videos trying to learn assemblé, which was whipped out last night and I had never heard of it before. I was able to stay late and get some tips but for sheer patience, nothing beats YouTube for a teacher.

I still have no idea what a “perris” lilac is

So my leo collection is nowhere near epic, but I have definitely expanded from the single black short sleeve Capezio leo that I’d started out with.

In particular, I have (with some embarrassment but obviously not enough to stop me) longed after the leo/skirt outfit worn by certain years/classes of Vaganova swans-in-training. It took me a stupidly long time and much failed googling before realizing they were probably wearing Grishko, which is the Russian ballet brand. Well, Grishko dancewear is not easily if at all available in the states (although their pointe shoes appear to be readily available). P.S. you can find some creepy yet hilariously awful photoshopping if you trudge through their English website in desperation like I did.

An aside: this obsession set in just before Worldcon, so I had the genius thought “Finland is close to Russia, maybe in Helsinki …” and so I spent my first sleep-deprived day pounding some pavement at dancewear stores instead of, you know, going to the con. Anyway it was a bust. I should’ve gone to some panels …

But I was undeterred! And after weeks of googling for various combinations of “cornflower” “periwinkle” “[insert other blue-purple shades here]” “leotard” and “skirt” I hit lookalike paydirt. I am now the proud owner of a Dansko leotard in perris lilac and a Mirella skirt in periwinkle.

Having obtained my objective, the real question is, how shameless do I have to be to go to class dressed like that?! Answer: I have less ballet budget then shame, so I’m not letting these acquisitions go to waste. Do svidanya, see you in the studio.

(Where was the class post last week? Out sick, like myself. Hopefully I will be able to attend a class tomorrow night.)

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 …

Ballet Shoes

Probably the biggest new happiness multiplier in recent memory: I (re)started taking ballet at local studio. Although I am a complete beginner, I grew up on a steady diet of ballet books at varying qualities. I don’t remember when I first saw the photos but I remember being completely entranced by the unparalleled beauty of the form. Lessons were not possible, so I read books, which is always the next best thing. I read all the Noel Streatfeild books, random teen serials where no book is complete without someone bursting into tears mid-dress rehearsal, and of course I read Jill Krementz’s “A Very Young Dancer” so many times that it’s burned into my mind. I also read all kinds of books about technique, and pored over photographs of classical ballets. Thanks, well-stocked childhood library!

One of the really flattering things that a teacher said at my very first lesson was “I can’t believe you’ve never taken ballet before.” And no matter how failhard I am at every lesson, I definitely laid up that comment to live by whenever I feel discouraged (the adagios in center practice, they slay me). And I do fail pretty hard, even for a beginner. My hips are stiff, I can barely follow simple choreography, and my placement is a mess. But I flatter myself that I have been mentally dancing for a very long time. So even when my feet are not right, I do know exactly what I am supposed to have done, and that sometimes–somehow–just a bit–shines through the mess of bad posture and worse turnout.

The other thing I love about ballet is that … I am a fairly competitive and perfectionist person in most areas of my life, but dancing shuts down that part of my brain. That makes it freeing and meditative–I suspect that ballet is to me as yoga is to a lot of people. If my steps are not perfect, that’s just my version of it and it’s as valid as anyone else’s, and I am shockingly content with that.

Which is the complete opposite of how I feel about writing! I submit my stories for publication, and I love it when people read and hopefully enjoy my stories. Part of me feels that a story is not real until it is shared–that it’s just a hallucination in my brain until someone else confirms that they heard those voices too.

In ballet, I do not feel that way. I am overjoyed just to be in the studio. I could do endless tendus alone save for the accompanying music on my phone. I feel absolutely no need to be on a stage.

I wonder if I would be a better writer, if I also felt that way about my writing?

Anyway, this was a rambling post. If you want to read a serious post about taking ballet as an adult, I wholeheartedly recommend the excellent essay “Swan, Late: The unexpected joys of adult beginner ballet.”