Ballet Squid Chronicles: Leapy

I’m all kinds of tired right now, so probably going to keep this short.

Another mixed bag tonight.   My turnout muscles felt wimpy — I kept losing turnout in my supporting leg during one-foot balances en relève,  and I felt like I had to work harder than usual to keep my working leg turned out and my weight in the right place and stuff.  My arms and back were kind of all over da place.

Beyond that, though, barre went pretty well.  Adagio was sound  if not particularly beautiful and my promenade sucked much less.   In fact, one or twice it didn’t even really suck at all.

Petite allegro was also pretty much back to my normal standard.  My glissade – assemblé is now glissade and assembled, so then I screwed up the glissade –  jeté part.   Just kept changing feet where I shouldn’t have, though.  Nothing horrible.

Our choreographic bit was fine, except the one time I decided to pirouette the wrong way.   I also remembered how to do waltz turns.   Yaaaaaay!  So then I had to try do them well.  Not sure I’m there yet.

Big jumps were awesome as always.   Less high at times than they could be.   They were the last bit, and I was pretty tired.   Definitely a bit under the weather tonight.

Tonight’s main corrections were for my turnout and for not jumping as high as I could.

Everything is kind of starting to be there again.   Very much looking forward to class on Saturday.  Might even take an extra class on Friday.   We shall see!

Not Really About Ballet (or Bikes): A Weighty Matter

Everyone in the United States now lives in a place where being bigger than the “norm” is the norm.

Yet we still also live in a place where fat people (as a non-fat person, am I allowed to use that phrase?) are treated as a minority — and an unwelcome one, at that. 

In her amazing blog,  Dances with Fat, dancer/Health At Any Size maven/size activist extraordinaire Ragen Chastain recently wrote about how, structurally, our culture still behaves as if fat people don’t exist (for what it’s worth, at least hospitals, medical offices, and movie theaters in this area seem to be “getting it” to some extent, but our cultural prejudice against fat is still rife).  

She wrote about how we often, as designers of environment, sacrifice the safety and well-being of a whole group of people – moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends; real people – and how we feel like it’s okay to do so, because we feel like, you know, they could choose to lose weight.

We could figure out how to make seat belts and bus seats (and other things) that work for bigger people, but we don’t because, in short, we don’t like them.   We don’t like them even when, in the immortal words of Pogo, “… they is us.”

I think this is wrong.   I think it’s as wrong as choosing not to work on a cure for lung cancer because could choose not to smoke and we don’t like smokers.  Our Puritan heritage makes us think that by making better seatbelts or whatever we’d be enabling people, but even that thought reflects an inherent prejudice.  Regardless of how we feel about the question of size, big people are here, and they deserve to be safe and happy just like smaller people.

Yet, as cyclist and especially as a ballet dancer, I move in two worlds wherein body size is a constant undercurrent.  Even as I talk about Health At Every Size and size acceptance (and the fact that I find people of many different sizes valid, and worthy, and attractive), I am focused on reshaping my own body in pursuit of an aesthetic that I believe will improve my performance as a dancer … and I’ve probably been only too willing to accept praise for the results of my efforts, when in fact effort is only part of the picture.

I know that it’s a bit hypocritical to be like, “You’re fine at your size, but I’m too big for me even though I’m actually kind of small, relative to the current average.”  I get that I’m allowed to have my own aesthetic, but at the end of the day that aesthetic is definitely one that is linked, for a lot of people, to some pretty unhappy stuff. 

Choosing to become slimmer is, to an extent, very much like choosing to straighten your hair if you’re black or “act straight”  (for whatever that means) if you’re gay: you might just be doing it because you like the way it looks on you, but it’s impossible to fully decouple the act from its cultural implications.

Choosing to pursue the classical ballet aesthetic or a bike racer’s lean physique, meanwhile, takes that to a whole new level — both in cycling and in dance one encounters a fair bit of elitism, and body-type elitism is definitely part of the picture. Bigger dancers tend to feel like they’re not as good (in a basic-worth sense) than leaner dancers — indeed, would-be-dancers sometimes shy away from their dreams because they feel like they’re “too big” even as they admire lean and graceful professionals.

Likewise, I am definitely aware that there is more at play here than just my effort – genetics have a hand in it, as does the fact that I was flat-out skinny for much of my life – so I’m not going to go back to thinking everyone can lose weight as easily as I have if they just try harder.  But other people might not be aware of that, and might either use my “success” in reshaping my body to shame fat people or might look at me and say “He can do it, so why can’t I?   What’s wrong with me?”

I’m not responsible, at the end of the day, for the meanings and feelings other people connect with my actions.  I can’t control that.

What I can control, though, is how I act – – not just what I do, but how I do it.

So here’s what I’m wondering: what is the best way for me to be an ally, here?  Obviously, inclusiveness and advocacy are important — but what else can I do to let the world know that even though I’m small, I think big people are great, and deserve a fair shake?

From the outside, do my words and actions look like those of an ally?   Or am I getting it wrong?

The time the I spent being overweight definitely opened my eyes.   For example: I learned that if you walk into a new doctor’s office and tell them that you’ve been skinny for most of your life and now you aren’t and that you’re concerned about that (that is, worried that maybe there’s an underlying health thing happening), they are very likely to assume that you’re either lying or hyperbolizing about the “always been skinny” part.  There is a moral judgment that people make about fatness — they assume that you’re lazy and undisciplined* and always have been, and that there’s something morally wrong with that, and with you.

That said, there’s a lot I haven’t experienced, and we are the worst arbiters of our own behaviors and prejudices.   So, basically, I guess what I’m saying is this: if there’s something about me that reflects an underlying prejudice that maybe I could work on, feel free to tell me, and if there’s a way you feel like I could be  a better ally definitely let me  know. 

Especially welcome would be any thoughts on how to make sure I’m supportive of dancers if all sizes — because dance is definitely a world unto itself, and one in which the norm is still very much lean.

What prompted this post, in fact, was the thought (which I mentioned on tumblr) that I’m “starting to look like a dancer again” – a perfect example of the kind of thinking that relegates anyone who doesn’t fit a certain aesthetic to the “non-dancer” category, which could definitely make folks feel unwelcome and unwanted and unseen.

Those folks should be welcome.  All of them being something unique to the studio, and some of them are great dancers very much deserving of the opportunity to perform**.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep examining my own behavior, because at the end of the day, it’s up to me to not be a jerk, and to learn to see how my words and actions might be jerky and unhelpful.

So that’s it for now.   I know this is long and it all makes at least some sense!

*As a cyclist and a dancer, I find it a bit surreal that the average person in this country might assume, for example,  that either Ernest Gagnon or Ragen Chastain is lazy or undisciplined. 
We Americans imagine ourselves to be disciplined people, but observation has led me to conclude that we really mostly aren’t. 

For what it’s worth, though, laziness is a valuable evolutionary strategy, and I contend that discipline, per se, doesn’t exist – only motivation exists.

**I’m going to go out on a limb here, though, and say that I think we probably shouldn’t crack down on artistic directors and choreographers who tend to select dancers that fit the current dominant aesthetic.   Artists choose whatever media suit their particular creations,  ADs and choreographers included (that doesn’t mean they should be jackwagons about it, if course).

Instead, we can support both the more traditional modality and innovative ADs and choreographers who work with an array of body sizes and types.  After all, we didn’t clamor for the end of oil paint when acrylics and other new media were on the rise – we just made room for the new media, which bring their own merits (and that didn’t happen overnight, either).

I think there’s a place in the world for the current classical ballet aesthetic, but also for other dance “media,” if you will.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Monday Class, In Which I Am Less Squidly Than Usual

This evening, our friend J. came along to try Ballet Essentials. She was one of three (three!) brand new dances today, so Ms. Margie dialed the pace of the class way down. For them, this meant a good foundational class; for me, it meant an opportunity to really focus on the details and on being lyrical and expressive and Letting It Happen.

The awesome part is that I was able to identify a couple of things I’ve been doing wrong.

I should note that, because puberty came very late for me, I am dancing in a very different body than I was when last I did ballet (though not all that different from when last I did modern dance). I’m broader in the shoulders, I carry more muscle all around, and the proportions of my body are just altogether different. I’m also chubbier, but that’s the result of illness-related weight-gain, which I’m now close to finished undoing.

Cycling has also really screwed up my muscle balance — or, well, that isn’t cycling’s fault, really. It’s mine, for not running or something to counter-balance the bike-engine muscles. I kept being like, “Oh, they’re fine.” Boy, was I in denial!

Ballet is just beginning to really overcome the imbalance in question. In short, my pushing-down muscles are great, but my pulling-up muscles are weak as all heck; no matter what anyone tells you, you really can’t get that much power on the upstroke using clipless pedals. Likewise, the muscles on the fronts of my calves are hypertrophic as heck because I ankle like crazy when I climb. This is great for explosive power (so not a bad thing for big leaps), but has to be balanced for controlled relevés.

For what it’s worth, things are shaping up. My thighs look so different than they did six months ago!

This (and, I’m sure, the inevitable process of just forgetting how things are done) has resulted in a few interesting faults in my technique.

For example, I think I’ve mentioned that my frappé looks crappé. (You see what I did th— oh, you’d rather I didn’t anymore? Got it.) Today I realized that the whole problem is simple: I’m overcompensating for muscle imbalances in my legs, and thus instead of bringing my working leg to coupé, I’m kind of bringing it to coupé-and-a-half. This means that instead of hinging from the knee to strike the ground, I have to activate my thigh.

I never noticed this before because we haven’t done frappé slowly at the barre until tonight. Tonight, I stared at myself in the mirror and went, “Oh. Wow. Okay.” And then I fixed it, and voilà! Frappé the way it’s supposed to be! (I was sad that we ran out of time and didn’t get to do Mazurka tonight. I was excited about seeing how it rolls now that my frappé is fixed.)

Your arms totally look graceful, though, BalletSquidDude.

Your arms totally look graceful, though, BalletSquidDude.

Likewise, I worked on the whole back issue. My balances were better (though we only did two-foot balances and coupé and passé on a flat foot — no one-foot demi-pointe balances). I did get a firm correction* once about my shoulders — as usual, I thought they were down, but they weren’t as down as they could be. Ms. Margie told us to take a look at our posture in the mirror so we know what it looks like when it’s right; I realized I have a whole lot of neck when my shoulders are really down ;)

I think my back will probably continue to be a bit of a challenge, but it’s getting better.

My body seems to be really into feeling its turnout this week. The whole “let it happen” thing is awesome that way (though some of it’s also that my “turnout” muscles are now sufficiently strong and active that I can feel and use them pretty effectively). I worked a lot on not gripping, just letting my turnout do its thing, and correcting whenever felt it not doing its thing.

After frappé, we did ballonné at the bar. I love the way ballonné feels, whether at the bar or otherwise, so that was fun. It looked pretty good, as well, with the turnout working. Present the foot, indeed!

During our stretch, I got very close to a full split on the left (which has always been my better side for splits). I think I actually could have gone all the way down (we’re talking a centimeter or two, here), but I hadn’t expected that and kind of freaked out! The right was pretty deep, too, but still about four centimeters or so off the ground.

I used to have hyper-splits both ways, so I expect to recover at least a full split. Also, splits are so much more comfortable when you do them turned out and don’t slide down on the bony-ass instep of your foot.

At center, we practiced port des bras, so I worked on making mine smooth, elastic, and pretty (because, seriously, I still do Port De Bro sometimes). We also did a little adagio combination, just chassé-pas de bourrée, chassé-pas de bourrée until we ran out of music, so I got lots of time to Let It Happen and make it pretty and use my arms and my head and épaulement and stuff. At times, it even looked like ballet ._.

Going across the floor, Margie tapped me to demonstrate the forward-traveling chassé, which felt pretty great.

I think J. did pretty well for her first class, though I really didn’t get to see much of her. She was behind me the whole time we were doing barre (Essentials is a small class, so we go two to a portable barre and switch sides of the barre instead of turning; this lets everybody use the mirrors all the time). When I did get a look at her (going across the floor, for example), she looked like she was getting the basic concepts, and the rest will come with time and experience.

So that’s it for tonight. I didn’t stay for the beginner/intermediate class because we had plans to do dinner with J. after class, but I did get to wave to Tawnee and Brienne as we were departing from the parking lot, at least. I’ll do Tawnee’s class on Wednesday, which will be my first Wednesday class in two weeks, since I didn’t make it last week due to the Great Bus SNAFU of 2014. I’m looking forward to it.

Good night, everybody!

*Perversely, one feels happy about firm corrections in ballet. They generally mean that your teacher knows you can do better, and knows that you know, and also knows that you can handle it.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: The Philip Glass Project — Possibilities

So I’ve been listening to lots of Glass, and I’m feeling like his short piece “The Poet Acts” (from the soundtrack for the film, The Hours) and his longer piece “The Light” are going to work brilliantly.

I’m envisioning a pas de quatre for “The Poet Acts,” with no hierarchical distinctions, just a lot of fluidly-interchanging parts. I suppose if there were any hierarchical distinctions, it might not properly be a pas de quatre.

For “The Light” I’m envisioning something with a larger corps (recruiting and setting the piece on more than 10 dancers might be pretty much impossible; I’m not that organized and, you know, Burning Man, so it’s not like I can suck up everybody’s entire week, unless they really want to spend a week the desert trying to make ballet happen as much as I do) and maybe a couple of featured dancers who emerge from and are absorbed back into the corps at various points.

“The Light” is much longer than “The Poet Acts,” and there’s a lot of opportunity in there to play with lines, circles, and lifts. What I’m envisioning for the principals regardless of gender is something more like what Bourne does with the Swan and the Prince in his version of Swan Lake: less traditional; almost more catch-and-release than lift-and-support (or, heaven forbid, lift-and-separate, which is what happens when your lifts go badly, from what I’ve heard).

There’s also a lot of opportunity in “The Light” to make use of groups of dancers doing different, even opposing things.

I can’t help but notice how the percussive instruments in “The Light” actually remind me of Tchaikovsky in the context of ballet. There are brilliant little cues built in to the music. That’s one of the thing I really enjoy about watching the Tchaikovsky ballets — Tchaikovsky tucked these beautiful little cues in all over the place that are profoundly useful both for dancers and for the audience.

The funny thing is, this doesn’t seem like it should be much more daunting from a choreographic perspective than Copland, and I’ve seen Copland ballets (including Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring”).

So I think it will work, if I can give myself a crash course in creating and setting choreography on dancers.

I’ve got a year. How hard can it be*?

*Yes,  that’s supposed to be ironic, there.  Don’t worry; I’m not that manic.  Yet.

Ballet Squid Quickie: Two Things Forgot To Mention

So last night I mentioned to our friend Kelly that I was planning on choreographing a sort of post-post-modern story ballet, if you will (actually, I’m not sure it’s post-post-modern at all in the technical sense; it might not even be modern — but here on the Innertubes we play fast and loose with our English all the time), to some of Erik Satie’s piano works and that I was planning on possibly putting up a small ad-hoc performance together at Burning Man next year.

Kelly immediately said, “Meh! It’s already been done. Now, if you can choreograph something to Philip Glass, I’ll be impressed!

I replied, “I could do that! I love Philip Glass!”

And Kelly said, “Ha! If your dancers can count!”

And thus was the choreographic gauntlet cast. So I guess I’ll be selecting something from Mr. Glass’s oeuvre (but NOT the whole of Koyaanisqatsi!) and trying to whip up some kind of little ballet for it next summer. The idea is to do some collaborative choreography, spend a little time rehearsing it, and throw out a little performance.

I might still see about doing selected bits from Simon Crane (that’s the working title of my Satie ballet, which is not, coincidentally, about a stunt man — though that, too, might make a cool idea around which to build a ballet). Maybe just a few pieces that give shape to the story. We’ll see.

Sorry I’m so chatty today. Just trying to put all this stuff down so I’ll remember it, and also in order to force myself to do it.

In other news, I find WordPress’s simplified post editor very annoying, and am irked by the fact that the “New Post” feature now defaults to it unless you go to Dashboard>Posts>New Post. Most irritating.

That’s all, really, I promise. I’ll shut up now.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Saturday Class Notes – It Came From Studio 5

We went out last night, so I did this morning’s beginner class, and I did it on about 5 hours of sleep (not quite a record, but still enough to throw me off my game a wee bit).

I was not, however, the most sleep-deprived member of the class.  The same guy by whom I was so immensely intimidated a few classes ago — who is, in fact, a professional dancer — came to do barre with us this morning, and he hadn’t left his other job* ’til 4 AM.

He joined me at the end of the barre nearest the door.  It turns out he’s actually a rather nice person and not, in fact, at all intimidating.  As such, I decided to try to learn from him, though since we were across a portable barre, this time I just listened to his breathing and tried to emulate it.

Class was a mixed bag today.

There were moments at the barre during which I was really feeling and using the music.  There were other moments when I was all, “Frappé?  Whaddaya think this is, a Starbucks?” or “Port de bro?  Je ne comprends ce que vous dites. Je n’ai pas un frère.”

At one point, after totally leaving out a part of a combination, I mumbled after turning, “And maybe I can get the combination right this time.”  Professional Dance Guy grinned and said something like, “Don’t worry about it. Just hold your head up and look like you know what you’re doing.  That’s what I do.”

So I did, because, you know. When Professional Dance Guy says it works for him…

Oddly enough, it did work.

I did much better remembering the combo**. It was a tendu-degagé-degagé-pique, and I was sort of automagically doing degagé-degagé-degagé-pique.

I still hosed up all my frappés on the next combo, but my grand battement — seriously, I didn’t know I could get my leg that high yet (until a few years ago, I could still pretty much swing it up and whack myself in the face; I’m getting back there).  Apparently I work well under pressure.

I think the highlight, though (besides grand battement) came in the form of 16 bars of free practice that Claire gave us to work on “whatever, as long as it’s ballet-related,” during which my entire barre decided through telepathy that we were going to swing the bejeebers out of our legs in sync.  We looked like a trireme going to war or something (though, had we actually been a watercraft, we would simply have found ourselves sitting in place, since there were four of us on the barre with two facing each way).

The “everyone at my barre doing a kind of whippy attitude en cloche” moment was pretty fun, too.  I think that may have evolved out of an effort to not kick the stuffing out of each-other while rowing our imaginary trireme, though.  The class was packed, so even angling would’ve potentially meant kicking someone .. and nobody kicks like a dancer***.

There were moments at centre, working turns, during which I was look, “Oh, look, if I pull my core together and really focus on nailing my passé, suddenly I can do this nice, controlled pirouette en dedans.”  There were other times that I was like, “Don’t look.   Just … don’t.  It’s better that way.” At any rate, my pique turns were good.  Again, I focused on opening the knee at passé.  I rediscovered my turnout a while ago; now I’m learning how to use it again. You know, to do other things than get my feet out of the way when I’m coming up the stairs or opening our pull-out freezer drawer and whatever.

Going across the floor, I messed up the first combination, then nailed it (it was very, very simple: just, “Sauté arabesque! Sauté pique!” lather, rinse, repeat — but because it was simple we were supposed to be musical and expressive and pay attention to our arms and stuff). I messed up the second one, then kinda got it, too. After that, I somehow memorized the third one (pique arabesque, faillé, pas de chat, pas de chat, tombe pas de bourée, glissade, whatever big jump you like) in the wrong sequence.

In short, I put the tombé where the faillé should have been, resulting in … well, it was just bad, okay? You can get from tombé to pas de chat, of course, but it’s harder and doesn’t look as nice.

So I ran the last combo the wrong way like four times, struggling to get from Point A to Point B, before I finally realized I was doing something completely different around the second step than everyone else, and that I should probably ask Claire to go over the combo again. Problem solved … ish. By then I was sufficiently confused (and tired) that my final two runs were sloppy and kind of awful, but at least less awful than they had been. I guess that’s something?  I’ll work on that combination at home this week (no tour jeté, so I can probably clear the floor downstairs and run it without whacking my arms on the ceiling).

If all else fails, I will disassemble the coffee table and mark it in the living room. Seriously. I have been thinking about removing the coffee table anyway (I hate it; it’s made of four huge effing pillars and a giant piece of beveled plate glass, weighs about four million tons, and is a giant pain in the neck to vacuum around — and it also encourages Denis to accumulate snow-drifts of papers in the middle of the living room, AHEM).

The real low point of today’s class, tough, was the little jumps. You know — the ones I’m good at, the ones I love doing, the ones I could do all day?

Yeah, I totally hosed those up as hard as I could. I didn’t actually know that I was capable of screwing them up that badly. We were doing a jump-jump-relevé combo, and mine turned into … something else. Something … horrible.

No one could say what it was or how it came to be.  All they knew... ...was that it was bad.

No one could say what it was or how it came to be. All they knew…
…was that it was bad.

The ultimate problem was simply coordination. I was feeling a bit cooked, and my feet and legs just didn’t want to hear about sauté-sauté-releve. So instead it was all, sauté-sauté-bounce on releve and scare the crap out of poor Clare. By the time I got them fixed, we had moved on.

Also my adagio was rather awful. I’m not sure I even want to talk about it. It stated out beautifully, and then … I don’t know what happened. It fell apart. I fell apart. And then there was the promenade. At least one promenade was passably okay, which is enormous progress from the “Holy crap, I have completely forgotten how to do this!” moment I had when I first did Claire’s class a few months ago. My promenade still sort of resembles the flailings of a wounded moose, but, you know. Before it was even wrose, so I guess that’s progress!

So not my best class ever today — but everyone has bad days (probably even Claire and Professional Dance Guy), and I did get a really nice compliment afterwards. One of my fellow students said, “You have really beautiful feet. I wish I had feet like yours.” (I thanked her profusely, of course.)

So that about made my week. The rest of this week’s classes could suck (WHICH THEY WON’T, ahem), and I would still be able to say, “Yeah, but at least I have beautiful feet.”

This week’s imaginary t-shirt slogan?


*Louisville unfortunately doesn’t really have a large enough arts-funding base to keep its professional musicians and dancers fed and housed without second jobs.
**Didn’t we just talk about this last post? Not thinking so hard? Letting it happen? Etc? Sheesh.
***True story: I used to do Muay Thai for a while. I loved it; in some ways it was very much like ballet — you know, if you were actually allowed to kick your partner in the face in ballet. One time I had been having kind of a slow day warming up at the heavy bag, but finally woke up by the time we got to partner kicking drills. I threw a high kick that whizzed past my partner’s ear. He was taller than I was. Our trainer looked and me all bug-eyed and said, “Jeez, where was that high kick on the bag?” In the end, I had the best high kick in class, and there was one reason for that: grand battement. That was some consolation, because I largely sucked at all the boxing parts of kickboxing.

Ballet Lessons: Don’t Make It Happen. Let It Happen.

I danced as a kid, and I loved dancing.

If I think back, part of what I loved so much about it was the sense of freedom. My childhood ballet teacher was really good at teaching sound technique without turning her students into a herd of little automatons. She guided and shaped us while keeping our innate freedom and joy in movement intact*.

As a kid, I had absolutely no sense of limitation (this was probably both my greatest personal gift and my greatest personal curse!). It never occurred to me to question whether I’d be able to execute any given step — I just did it, and it just happened. It didn’t occur to me that pirouettes or tour jetés “should” be hard for a little kid. They were just variations on the stuff that I did in gymnastics or when I was playing.

In short, though I probably couldn’t have verbalized it back then, I felt like all these movements were already in there, and all I had to do was let them out**.

In other words, I didn’t make them happen. I let them happen.

On what is probably the best ballet forum I’ve ever seen, Ballet Talk for Dancers, a recent thread discussed the question of sweat (yes, sweat: if you dance, you know these feels, too!).

One respondent dispensed a bit of wisdom she’d heard from presenters at a workshop for ballet teachers:

in classical ballet, dancers shouldn’t so much make their bodies execute movements as let their bodies execute the movements.

A light clicked on in my head. Of course! This is what I’ve been doing so very, very wrongly since I returned to the studio back in March. I’ve been trying to make things happen. In those rare moments that dancing has felt like it used to, it’s because I’ve switched from making it happen to letting it happen.

When you switch from making it happen to letting it happen, all the tension that can plague serious ballet students — especially serious adult students — drops away. Suddenly, you can move freely. You can interpret. You can smile. You can glissade-assemblé without making faces.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising.

Deep in the roots of Zen practice — indeed, in Buddhism itself — is the idea that control is an illusion. The harder we grasp at it, the more difficult life becomes.

The same idea crops up in other philosophies, as well — from the Twelve-Step movement’s “Let go and let G-d” to Christianity’s “Consider the lilies of the field” to the broader, new-wave “Go with the flow.”

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to do things — just that we should, perhaps, try to do them with less gnashing of teeth. As in those moments on the bike when a headwind or a hill appears: we can make ourselves ride it, tense and miserable, or we can accept that it’s part of the road we’re on, and let ourselves ride it.

With my bipolar disorder, I can either grit my teeth, resist my own nature, and make my life happen (with exhausting effort and the attending misery and crankiness), or I can accept that I am what I am and learn to work with it.

This does not, of course, mean just rolling over and quitting, any more than just “letting it happen” on the dance floor means not dancing. It means, instead, tapping into the strength and grace that are already there, planted within the depths of my being — and using what I have been given.

I hope this makes at least some kind of sense.

At least where my dancing’s concerned, this may be the single best piece of advice I’ve encountered as a returning adult student. After replying to the thread, I got up, went to the kitchen (where there’s exactly enough space for a small glissade-assemblé or a few chainés turns), took a deep breath, and let myself toss off a lovely little glissade.

It felt really good. In fact, it felt a lot like dancing used to, before I started coming to it with an agenda and a sense of how I “should” go about it. In class, “letting” ballet happen made all the difference.

So perhaps in I’ll work on letting it happen instead of making it happen.

And perhaps I’ll try to apply that lesson to the rest of my life as well.

*Curiously, looking back, this may be one of the reasons that while some of us really thrived, a couple of students I knew left after a year or so. They were both heavier kids who had already learned to feel uncomfortable with their bodies; to be expected to move freely in a class environment where traditional body-conscious ballet kit was the uniform of the day might have been too much for them. That’s something I’ll need to keep in mind in my own future practice.

**This, by the way, is how good dressage training operates in the equestrian world: you’re never teaching a horse to do something unnatural; if you watch horses enough, you’ll see them execute all kinds of advanced dressage maneuvers, from canter pirouettes to glorious collected trots, as they go about their horsey lives (that is, when we’re not messing with them). As riders and trainers (and every ride is training), we don’t make these movements happen. We teach the horse to let them happen.

The “making it happen” approach pretty much reaches its zenith in the the peanut-roller style of “pleasure” horse (well … and in some subsets of park/saddleseat and gaited horses). You’ll rarely see a horse at liberty move that way. The same goes for poorly-trained saddleseat horses or hunters and even poorly-trained dressage horses: with a little experience, you can spot a horse that’s been forced into an unnatural frame.

Unfortunately, when every horse in the ring has been forced into an unnatural frame, the judges still have to pin the ribbons on someone, and in some parts of the country sound training is so rare that the show circuit unintentionally conspires to perpetuate really weird ideas of how hunters or “country pleasure” horses or dressage horses should move.

But, um. Enough horse-nerding for now.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: At Last!

No class today, because it’s Thursday, but this arrived:


A former library copy — in great shape, really.  I look forward to devouring it whole ;)

In other news, please note the strategically-placed due date stickers.

I think I’ll leave them on there, just for posterity’s sake.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: In Which Your Humble Ballet Squid Has No Class

So tonight I set out at 6 PM with the intention of catching the 6:26 Oak Street bus to get to class.

I hopped on my bike and hammered like a madman, made it to the requisite bus stop, and then waited … and waited … and waited.

Finally, the bus showed up about 13 minutes late. Then it transported me to not ballet school and the driver said, “Well, this is the last stop!”

Turns out I’d misread the bus schedule, so it was my mistake, obviously, but a very frustrating one.

So, there you have it. This is why your humble Ballet Squid has no class this evening.

The Most Interesting Ballet Squid in the World* says, "Keep It Classy."

The Most Interesting Ballet Squid in the World* says, “Keep It Classy.”

On the other hand (or tentacle, if we wish to belabor my favorite analogy), your humble Ballet Squid did burn something like 1200 extra calories riding around on the bike today, so your humble Ballet Squid might enjoy a humble dessert even though he didn’t make it to class!



So, um. That’s it for tonight. I’m still mad at myself, but at least now I’m mad at myself and eating dessert ^-^

*Since as far as I know I’m the only ballet squid at the moment, I feel it’s fair to say that I’m the most interesting ballet squid.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Monday Class Notes — Suddenly, We’re Dancing!

Today I did the Monday Double Header — Margie’s Ballet Essentials followed by Claire’s Beginner/Intermediate class.

Essentials was well populated, and we’ve gained couple of new students. We did a fairly low-intensity class (Margie was under the weather), so we got to focus on technique — which meant I got to focus on not focusing so darned hard!

My goal for the day was to practice the two big lessons from last week — Jim’s “Watch your mouth!” and the “Don’t make it happen, let it happen” philosophy from Ballet Talk for Dancers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this two-pronged attack on tension and over-focus works really well. “Watch your mouth” becomes shorthand for “Relax!” which leads naturally into letting it happen.

This let me move much, much more freely, though at times I still lost count during little jumps (in Margie’s class, this was because I was thinking about feet — specifically, observing how everyone’s feet looked — instead of just doing my thang; in Claire’s class, I’m guessing I was just having a tired moment and hadn’t yet caught my second wind).

Claire’s barre was lovely, and I got to share a bare with the wife of our friend Nicolas. Nicolas is one of the Saturday Ballet Essentials regulars.

Nicolas’ wife (whose name, sadly, I cannot recall just now) is a very good dancer. She does the advanced class and the daytime intermediate classes as well; this is the first time I’ve done class with her. I found myself mostly able to remember the combinations (another thing I decided to work on today — no following!), so I watched the way her back and arms worked and tried to emulate it.

I think it actually made a big difference; my barre was much prettier than usual. It was definitely more “port des bras” and less “port de bro.”

(You guys, true story: I was totally going to put a picture of men doing port des bras badly, here, but now that I want one I can’t find one.)

Better still, Claire gave me another amazing correction. I’ve been overbalancing myself when in coupé and passé en relevé and I couldn’t figure out why. It turns out I was A) still hollowing my lower back and B) my head was tipping back beyond my center line. This threw the whole column off, causing me to be tippy.

Claire’s correction worked like a miracle cure. As before, it felt weird, but holy cow, guys! It worked!

Suddenly I was on my leg, balancing on a nice high demi-pointe in passé, and just, like, there. Wow.

I think the hollow back thing is also the source of my squidly-middly problem, because my grand battement in Margie’s class was questionable, but in Claire’s class I did it pretty well at the barre and then used it in a combination, without the barre! OMG grand battement without barre and without falling over, you guys!

And I did not even die (though I was so shocked that it worked that I proceeded to totally fumble a simple little arabesque immediately thereafter)!

And then, of course, I had to demonstrate how awesome I was by picking up the wrong freaking leg while doing turns.

Wait, let me back up.

So across-the-floor went really well at first. In my new “letting it happen” mode, I wasn’t freaking out about the combinations.

Instead, I walked through them (even when nobody else was), recited them to myself, marked them, and put myself in one of the first few groups* so I didn’t have time to A) stress out, B) forget the combo whilst waiting in the “wings,” or C) confuse myself by thinking too much (cue Jaws theme: How are we getting to piqué arabesque? What comes aftertombé-pas de bouree?? Do I even remember how to tombé??? And whatdo I do with my arms again?!).

Still, it was better than last time.

Still, it was better than last time.

So we did a couple of lovely runs on our first combination across the floor, and then we did … um … something with pirouettes from fourth en dedans.

And on the first pass, I did fine.

And then, on the second pass, Heaven help me, I did some horrible thing where I somehow picked up the wrong leg entirely and still attempted to turn en de dans. Claire called out, “The other leg!” and I said, “Oh, right!”

And then I did it wrong.


I have only two questions: Why me?  Why now???

I have only two questions: Why me? Why now???

But at least my piqué turns were okay, I guess?

I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who was DOIN’ IT RONG, though, because then we all got to practice pirouettes from fourth en dedans. Of course, it wasn’t until I got home that I mentally ran the audio description of the combo that I’d hosed up and realized that was exactly what it called for (so why did I do it right the first time and wrong the second time?!).

But, anyway, after that, we did some leapy stuff, and that was good.

Claire suggested that we end a run with either jete or saut de chat and I only heard the “…de chat” part, and while mentally sorting it out I said, “Oh, saut de chat, not pas de chat,” and then Claire said, “You can do pas de chat if you want.” So I did it that way once, then with grand jeté a couple of times.

The pas de chat version turned out to be fun. Especially since last week I couldn’t seem to wrap my brain and body around glissade, pas de chat, but this week, I let it happen, and there it was.

A couple of my classmates also tossed in pas de chat, which made me feel kind of great ^-^

In other news, Jim only had to call me out on making faces once! I did it a lot more than that one time, of course, but a lot less than I was before last week. So there we go. I am at least working on becoming a Smiling Squid instead of a squid who sucks his lips into his mouth and bites them while doing leaps. Because that just looks dumb, and it also makes you really tense.

So there it is. I discovered a couple of good ideas, and suddenly instead of struggling through the choreography at the end of class, I’m freaking well dancing! And looking decent enough at it that I no longer hope I won’t catch sight of myself in the mirror.

Okay, this is long enough, and I still have a couple other odds and ends to clear up before I can stuff some Triscuits in my face and go to bed (in that order). So, you know the drill. Sunny side up, leather side down.

Good night, everybody!

*Class was huge today, y’all. We used all the barres. We were also packed into the small studio. The group was so big that even though we angled ourselves at the barre, I still collided (lightly and briefly) with another dancer while doing grand battement. It was so big that someone who came in just after me paused and said, “Is this company class?”
…And, of course, even though I was pretty sure she was joking, the really nerdy part deep inside me went, “Yaaaaaay! We look like company class!”


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