Ballet Squid Chronicles: Two Tiny Classes

For what might be the first time in the history of ever, there were more people in Essentials than in Beginner/Intermediate class today.

Essentials was lovely, except for the part where I randomly clicked into doing some combination from another class that begins just like one of Margie’s but then changes halfway through and everyone followed me. I guess I should be flattered that apparently the whole class was following me, even though I led them all astray!

Margie led a lovely class as always and gave us a nice fondue combo that we haven’t done before.

There were only four of us in the Beginner/Intermediate class, and Claire worked us all like a bunch of cheap carthorses (I mean that in the best possible way, of course). I was having issues with my coupé balance today, and she gave me epic corrections which I hope I will be able to apply reliably.

In short, I am still letting my shoulders get too far back during coupé balances at the barre. I need to make some space at home for barre stuff. Right now, where there’s room for a chair or something like that, there’s carpet. Work on our mini-studio is stalled right now.

Going across the floor, we did a nice combination with a fouetté. Very cool stuff. Also lots of turns. Some of my pirouettes were nice today.

Having missed an entire freaking week (because math, then knee problem) I was completely whipped by the end of the second class. My bigger jumps were crap. Tony’s looked amazing, though.

My knee felt fine all day today, so I’m hoping a week off the bike and out of the studio has sorted it. This is a recurring problem, though, so sooner or later I need to get it checked out.

For what it’s worth, mood-wise, I definitely felt the lack of ballet — enough, in fact, that I am pretty sure I should probably try to get to class and just take it easy on the left side if my knee starts being stupid again. It was not a pretty week either for Denis or for me.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I expect to be pretty swamped this coming week, but I’ll try to keep on top of posting.

We’re Asking The Wrong Question

Okay, so I’m totally being held hostage by math right now. I am skipping YET ANOTHER ballet class so I can try to actually make a solid grade on my math exam — I want to go in knowing I am 100% on top of this material. This is First World Problems to the max: I have really never had to study before. So, yeah. I apologize to my best friend, Robert, for all those times I was like, “Who needs to study? Screw that! Let’s go run around outside until three in the morning!”

Exam is Wednesday, so on Wednesday night I will be back on the marley dipping (rather than shaking) my tailfeathers like it ain’t no thang. Probably also mixing my metaphors like a grand champion on fire, or whatevs.

Anyway: I am forever reading about ballet (who woulda thunk?!). And I am forever running across articles that read like this:

ZOMG Everyone is afraid that ballet dudes are gay and feminine and stuff! But don’t worry! We are the manliest.

Okay, so they’re usually at least a bit more reasoned than that. But, to be honest, it still ruffles my (tail?) feathers just a little.

Here’s why: sure, a lot of ballet dudes aren’t gay. (Apparently, about half of us? Has anyone done an actual scientific study, here?) On the other hand, a lot of us are gay. (Again, about half of us? Has anyone done an actual scientific study, here?)

And instead of saying, “Yeah, half of us are gay. So?”, we’re terrified of Looking Gay to the Not-Gay Universe. We hold up straight male dancers as shining examples and tuck gay male dancers back into the shadows.

For the record, I will straight-up concur (you know, assuming a gay ballet dude even can straight-up concur?) with the notion that manly ballet dudes are, in fact, the manliest. Seriously. I have done one sport that offered an equivalent degree of physical intensity, and that was Muay freaking Thai, people. You know, pretty much like ballet, only you get to kick people in the face. With your shins (they mostly discourage that in ballet; it puts runs in your tights, which seriously ticks off the costume department and/or whoever pays for your ballet kit).

Ballet dudes are hardmen (so are ballet chicks: if I had to choose between a back-alley brawl with a footballer and a back-alley brawl with a ballet lady, I’d go with the footballer). In fact, ballet dancers are so freaking hard that people have to pretty much chain us to things to make us stop dancing when we’re injured (so we won’t permanently damage ourselves) or ill (so, presumably, we won’t A) go all Closing Scene From Black Swan halfway through class or B) infect the entire ballet universe).

In short, the only thing as determined as an injured ballet dancer is an angry rhino(1).

Seriously, don’t mess with injured dancers.

Even those of us who are little androgynous gay dudes, like me (or, to be fair, tall androgynous gay dudes, like David Freaking Hallberg, Prince of the Universe), are pretty freaking manly even within the bounds of the limited, Western-culture specific definition of the term. We may not sport hulking muscles, but we are freaking strong (and unlike some dudes with hulking muscles, we can generally put our arms down and go through doors without turning sideways).

Like, we push through all kinds of pain on a regular basis — oh, and we have to do it while looking relaxed, or even smiling, and while tossing around full-growned wimmins like they don’t weigh a thing(2). We know how to fail, and fail, and fail, and keep on comin’. And also we have thighs like steel-belted radials. Seriously.

Like, we have the confidence and je ne sais quois to step into our dance belts(3), step out in our tights, look out at the world, and say, “How you like them apples?”

If courage is the yardstick by which manliness is measured, every male ballet dancer in the world (even those of us who aren’t professionals) pretty much wins right there. Sometimes, perhaps counter-intuitively, true manliness means being willing to step outside the “rules” by which men are bound in our culture. It means having the fortitude to say, “Who cares? Imma do me.”

However, at the end of the day, the whole matter of manliness strikes me as a distraction (an important one, I guess, but a distraction, nonetheless). The question I keep hoping to hear someone ask is: “So, yeah, ballet is one of the traditional bastions of the gay male universe. So what? Who cares?”

The thing is, every time we harp on about how manly ballet is, and how it’s a perfectly acceptable occupation or hobby for straight dudes, and how dancing isn’t “feminizing” at all, we’re sort of overlooking a problematical cultural assumption. We’re overlooking the fact that what we’re doing is reinforcing the idea that there’s only one acceptable way to be masculine; that feminine guys are not okay; that women (and other feminine beings) are lesser people.

Instead of saying, “Yeah, there’s room in ballet for masculine guys and not-so-masculine guys, and that’s fine,” we’re forever trying to sweep the association between gayness and ballet-ness under the rug.

I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there who would argue that, right now, that’s kind of what it takes to get straight guys to consider trying ballet (which everyone wants, because everyone wants more guys of any orientation; no argument with that part, here).

I would argue that kowtowing to that paradigm isn’t going to make meaningful change. Yeah, we’ll see a few more straight guys in the studio if we work to convince people that ballet as Acceptably Manly — but I think what’s really going to raise the numbers is the burgeoning acceptance that there’s more than one way to be manly; that you can’t catch The Gay in the locker room; and that even if you could (and you can’t!!! And we don’t want you to!!!), nobody would care.

So there you have it. Generally, ballet asks us to be pretty freaking masculine on stage (in fact, I sometimes find myself mystified by the weird cultural disconnect between American society, which totally fails to grasp that classical ballet dudes can be masculine, and the gender roles in classical ballet, which are about as rigid as they come) — but what’s so wrong with guys who aren’t?

Nothing. That’s what.

One last bit: if you’re a straight guy, and you’re considering taking up ballet, but you’re afraid you’ll be the only straight dude in your class, or your school, or whatever, remember this: regardless of ridiculous pr0n tropes, most gay dudes have no interest in trying to convert you.

Especially not in ballet class, during which nobody has time to think about anything but ballet in the first place. Seriously, if you can think about anything else during class, you’re either some kind of Zen-Master Level Dancer or you or your teacher are doin’ it wrong (or, you know, taking an easy day, I guess).

Meanwhile, the ballet studio is full of intelligent, super-fit women who (if they’re anything like the women in the cycling world) would love to be able to share their passion with the man in their life (assuming, you know, they’re even into men). And some of them are even single.

Okay, and one more last thing: I do appreciate the efforts of people who point out that ballet isn’t emasculate, or whatever, and that ballet dudes are manly. I do appreciate those efforts. I just think we’ve reached a point, as a culture, at which we can start expanding the conversation a bit.

Anyway, one of these days, I’ll get around to writing a serious, well-reasoned, well-researched article about all this stuff. For now, this is just a catch-all for some thoughts that have been kicking around in my head for a while. So that’s it.

G’night, everybody. Back to the maths.

Notes

  1. So, um? You guys? If you Google Angry Rhino, it turns out that apparently it means things, um, other than just “furious quadruped.” I had no freaking idea; there were definitely no questionable subtexts intended here. Sorry :(
  2. Okay, so I haven’t reached the level yet where they let you toss the girls around. BUT I WILL.
  3. Or, you know, alligator-wrestle our way into them, which totally NEVER happens to me. Or at least the dance belt never wins. Man, that elastic is freaking STRONG.

Another Reason to Watch Ballet

…As if Ballet Geeks needed more reasons.

This weekend, we caught Louisville Ballet’s “Studio Connections” performance. It was super cool for many reasons (not least that we got to sit with Claire and Tony :D). The whole idea was pretty cool: the performance took place in the big studio downtown (the one where company classes and rehearsals are held, as well as the advanced class that I aspire, someday, to join).

Padded bleachers were set up to give the audience somewhere to sit, and we got to watch the dancers “up close and personal.” (It was comforting to know that I’m not alone in sounding like a freight train when I dance while congested). For those of us in the audience who dance, this provided a really great opportunity to observe technique.

I was watching one of the guys when the solution to my waltz balancé problem suddenly materialized in a flash of light (or possibly a glint off a rhinestone; there were definitely some sparkly costumes).

It’s the same problem that was afflicting my arabesques, promenades, and penché — I’ve been dropping my chest for some reason.

When we got home, I tried a more vertically-oriented balancé, and — what do you know — it worked quite nicely (even strung together a little combo — balancé, balancé, pas de bourree, fifth; plie, turn (en de hors); plie, turn (en de hors). The second turn was impeded by the door to the dishwasher, which I’d forgotten to close. Such is Practice At Home.

Anyway, there you have it. I remember noting that Brian’s balancé looked rather different (and, of course, better) than what I was doing, and now I’ve figured out how and why. That feels pretty cool.

So watching ballet is most enjoyable, but it also makes us better dancers.

So, there you go: another excuse to cram all the ballet you can into your eyeballs. You can thank me later ;)

It’s Research Time!

I think I’ve mentioned this semester’s research project here once or twice. Well, it’s been approved by our Institutional Review Board, and it’s data collection time! If you’d like to participate, read on.

I’m conducting research into attitudes about body size and health at Indiana University Southeast and I’d like to invite those of you who are at least 18 years of age to participate.

My study has been approved by IUS’ Institutional Review Board and assigned protocol number 14.55. Below the cut, you’ll find a full description and a link to the survey, which should take around 10 minutes to complete and which is housed on the Qualtrics website.

Please feel free to forward this link to anyone who might find it interesting. Together, I hope we can learn a little more about how people feel about the relationship between body size and health.

Thanks!

Read the rest of this entry

Where Did It Go?

So, apparently, we’re now more than halfway through this term. Hooray!

We have our second math exam a week from now. As such, I’m taking a break from ballet class tonight to make sure I’m caught up and on top of the material, math-wise. I will hit up Friday class to make up for the gap, even though I think a Monday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule is more effective for my purposes than Wednesday-(long freaking gap)-Friday-Saturday.

I’ve decided to be okay with this particular concession. Maintaining a high GPA now will help me get where I want to go later.

So that’s it for now. Next week I should be back to my usual schedule.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Tuesday — Now With More Productivity!

Last night’s class was excellent!

I mostly maintained my waterfowls in a linear array throughout barre and even occasionally did Pretty Things With My Arms.

We were a smaller-than-normal class (possibly because of Dire Warnings of Weather-Related Doom — that, or maybe everyone else felt like last week’s class with the dancers from Paul Taylor was just too tough an act to follow), so I had my own private barre on the end, which meant I had to concentrate on actually knowing the combinations. I think that helped me keep myself together. Sometimes thinking too hard about technique is the best way to mess up; you can’t overthink your technique when you’re busy making sure you remember the combination. It seems to prevent the whole getting-in-your-own-way thing.

Not to say you shouldn’t think about technique at all, of course — the challenge seems to be finding that balance between thinking just enough (Toes back on close!) and too much (toestoestoestoestoestoestoestoestoestoes….)

I also worked on trying to keep my barre arm a bit further ahead than I have been. It continues to help with balances, though my balance overall was a wee bit off tonight for some reason (even at center). Coupé releve is still better than passé releve.

Meanwhile, the girl next to me, whose name I still haven’t caught (and who is amazing — people constantly ask her if she’s a professional dancer) popped up into a nice passé releve and just hung out there for, like, a minute. I’m pretty sure she could, like, knit some legwarmers while balancing at passé releve (in which case she’d be better than I am at both ballet and knitting; I can make scarves, but that’s it).

At center we did pretty adagio with More Graceful Arm Stuff, and I wasn’t terrible at that bit. Claire sorted my arabesque — she noted that I don’t need to drop my body forward to get my leg up there; I have the strength and flexibility to get the leg up and carry the upper body. Gave it a go and turned out an arabesque that received applause, so I guess it was pretty ;)

My waltz-balancé thing still looks a bit goofy, though. I think mostly my arms just aren’t sure how to get where to be when they need to be there. Looks like a job for Practice At Home!

Going across the floor I managed a double pirouette (because, as she so often does, Claire told us, “Do it again, and this time bring something new into it!”). It sort of went down like this: first turn completed in what felt like a Time Pocket (you know, that thing where time suddenly stretches out and becomes much longer than it usually is?), I thought, “I guess I could go for another,” spotted again, et voila! Double pirouette.

Once again, not the prettiest double pirouette ever, but still a double, and better than my last one. Claire saw it and I got a shoutout (the good kind) for that :D

I’ve also discovered that I can do that cool thing where you land your pirouettes on one knee. It looks really cool, and evidently requires a fair amount of strength? If so, go bicycles! Now, if I could only remember the extra plié in the combiation…

Our petit allegro was fun; Claire threw in some tours at the end of a glissade-assemble-changement-changement-glissade-assemble-changement-changement-sisson-sisson combination, and I did them without too much terrible ridiculousness. A couple were actually, you know, good, except for the part where I sounded like an elephant on the landing (which totally made me think of my first ballet teacher shouting, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are not a herd of elephants!” as we did sautés).

Perhaps predictably, it went better when I didn’t think too much.

Little by little I look more and more like a dancer — I mean, more graceful and more intentional and less disastrous and squidly. Obviously, I’m not perfect yet (Who is? David Hallberg, maybe, but I bet he’d claim he isn’t, even if the rest of us know better!) or anywhere close to it. But, as I so often do on Monday nights, I feel like it’s coming along.

So there we go. This week I am going to focus on arms, balances, and not letting my upper body fall forward during grand battement and arabesques. Oh, and tons of stretching, because my legs have been way tight lately.

This morning I’m up and about and getting things done, which feels nice (I’m on the second load of laundry and have prepped a batch of bread dough). I’ve learned not to go, “Yeeeeeaahh! Now I’m going to live like a real grown-up from now on!” whenever this happens — instead, I accept it for what it is; a nice boost to my available time.

While my mood has been more stable for the past few months than — well, possibly ever in my entire life, really — I try not to take it for granted. There are definitely harder and easier days, and it still requires a lot of active management. I’m trying to learn to be grateful for days like today — easy days on which I wake up ready to roll — and not get ticked off at myself about the hard days.

Ballet makes an enormous difference in my life. At this point, it makes my schedule significantly more demanding, but also seems to make me more capable of handling the demands of my schedule. Ballet has become an organizing principle, so to speak; class, in and of itself, has become an organizing element.

Right now, I’m feeling more capable than usual. I’m trying to keep in mind that there might be moments in my life during which I’ll be less capable than I am right now, and that it’s okay if that happens. I’m learning to live life on my own terms — which includes accepting the terms imposed by my own neurology.

Anyway, I’ve put about half an hour into this post, and I hear my dryer buzzing, so back to being productive!

Zombies at Bikes ‘n’ Brews!

Denis suggested turning on the flash.  Maybe not such a great idea :D

Zombies at Bikes ‘n’ Brews!  (Denis suggested turning on the flash. Maybe not such a great idea :D)

Oh, and here are some ballet-themed zombie usses, just for kicks, courtesy of the inimitable Dave Crowell.

Oh, and here are some ballet-themed zombie usses, just for kicks, courtesy of the inimitable Dave Crowell.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Long Freaking Day

Headed out at 9:30 this morning to get the bus up to 11:00 class.

We were in Studio 4, which has super-slippery floors.  Barre went well, pirouettes went well, little jumps went well, my pique turns were mostly solid if a bit wild.  I was once again in class without breakfast, which may have had a bit to do with it.   At least I didn’t have a Unisom hangover this time!

I experimented with barre-hand positioning, and I did find that if I place my barre hand a little further ahead of my body, it irons out my balances at the barre.  Hung out in coupe relève for what felt like forever on the right and for a pretty decent stretch on the left.

This weekend’s opera was the Met’s Live in HD broadcast of Verdi’s Macbeth.  Stellar performance; agility and precision all around on the part of the singers, with particularly inspired work from Netrebko and Lućic (sp)?  

Pretty cool set and costume designs, too — the witches’ coven was comprised entirely of 1940s housewife types (and their similarly-attired young daughters).   Very cool stuff.

After dinner and ice cream with Denis and Kelly, I came home and did homework.   Tomorrow we have CycLOUvia (I’ll link in the morning if I remember) and more homework, then it’s class and more class and more homework…

Next weekend will be horribly busy again, with both an opera and Louisville Ballet’s Studio Connections performance (and Saturday class).   Woot!

Right now, though, I’m going to bed.

G’night everybody!

Ballet Squid Chronicles: In Which Everyone Has a Terrible Class

I try not to make excuses, but I think maybe I need some today.

So here’s the litany:
I had an asthma attack last night.

For the first time in months!  So if course I spent half an hour in denial, hacking my lungs out, which was pretty exhausting.   Then, of course, I used my inhaler, and because albuterol is a powerful stimulant and I was already sleep deprived, I took a sleeping pill. 

Predictably, I then overslept, so I made it to the bus stop by the skin of my teeth without having eaten breakfast (and still groggy).

Today in class I felt like I could neither learn combinations nor execute anything correctly.   I was a mess at barre (seriously, we did turns at the barre and I cracked not one, but *both* knees!) and literally did not make it all the way through even one combination correctly at center. 

Or, wait – I did the first set of little jumps right.  So there’s that?

On top of not being able to think, my legs felt super-tight.   This is what happens when I miss Wednesday class and then have to haul bacon to the bus stop on the bike.

The thing I did do right was persist.   I wasn’t injured and I was still learning, so I kept going.   Even though I didn’t know the combinations.   Even though my balance and coordination were, um, less than perfect.

Once in a while I did something nice.   Sometimes I did things that were wrong (that is, not in the combo), but which still looked nice.   Sometimes I just a hot mess — and that’s fine.

For what it’s worth, I wasn’t the only one having a bad day.   At least three of us (Bonnie, Brian, and I) missed breakfast and were not especially sharp, mentally speaking.  Another lady (whose name I didn’t catch) hadn’t been in class in a while.  The one remaining member of the class (didn’t catch her name, either) seemed to be doing well, at least!

For what it’s worth, I know my standard of badness, so to speak, has improved.   When I first came back to class, a bad class was one in which I could barely manage to balance in a 45-degree extension without trembling and wobbling.  A couple of months ago, a bad class was one in which I did Every.  Single.  Turn.  the wrong way.

In this class I found and held 90—degree extensions without really trying or even realizing it.  I would glance at the mirror (in hopes of confirming that I was doing the same thing as everyone else) and be like, “Ohai!   Look at that!”

I turned the wrong way exactly once, and that was because I got ahead of the combo mentally.   It had turns both en de dans and en de hors and a change of direction. 

I also slipped coming out of a turn and made it look good by dropping into a nice kneeling lunge.  Cool stuff.

So there’s that, too.

Perhaps just as importantly, I now feel comfortable enough with my fellow dancers to (GASP!) talk to them before and after class.  

Even Brian (aka PDG) has somehow evolved, in my mind, into an actual human being and not an Intimidating Ballet Demigod.

It helps that he’s humble and funny and so forth.  And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he struggles with his arms as well (Brian!   Of the Beautiful Arms!  Struggles with his arms!).

So there you have it.   Friday class.   Kind of a disaster, but a good disaster nonetheless.

Essentials tomorrow, then opera.

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