Ballet Squid Chronicles: Sisson Double

Tonight, among other things, we did sissons (on purpose, even!) and also the sisson doublé variant.  It took me a zillion tries to get sisson doublé to make sense, and then it did.  The change-o-leg in the air was what was getting me.

Like, sissons are basically jumps from two legs to one, but normally you sproing and land without changing legs or directions. Sisson doublé does both (the turn takes place in the air, which looks cool), but is still a jump form two legs to one. I like the way it lands in attitude.   And how I don’t fall over*. Yay!

This was most gratifying, after doing renversé something remotely like right a few times and very, very wrong a whole bunch of times and not doing pirouttes-from-fourth-to-coupé right, like, ever at all.   Frustrating.  My pirouettes just sucked tonight (my sous-tenu turns were fine).

I wasn’t feeling too hot at the beginning of class (digestive issues, fleh) but actually felt better by the end of barre.  Thus, the beginning of barre was uninspired, but the end was mostly okay.

Adagio was mostly pretty, except for the moments when I got distracted by the mirror.   Um, yeah.  Maybe I should wear a blindfold for adagio?

The little jumps were lovely and easy by the time we got to them.  I even counted to four correctly.  Huzzah!  I am so ready for my maths exam next week!   Bring on the Counting Numbers Less Than Or Equal To Four!

Across the floor, all my glissade-pas de chats looked pretty good (I’m, even the ones that were supposed to be glissade-saut de chats, because I can’t hear very well, because allergies).   Apparently, according to the Powers That Be, pas de chat doesn’t really fly in men’s technique too often.   Too bad, because I really kind of love pas we chat.   It can look joyful, athletic, floaty – whatever.   It’s a nice step, and I have always thought so, so there.

In other news, it’s been a while since I mucked around in MSpain and made a silly drawing, so here you go — from Act II of Zombie Giselle:

Presumably, by this point, Hilarion's braingz have already been eated.

Your call as to whether the ninja is after GiZombie or Albrecht, here. Presumably, by this point, Hilarion’s braingz have already been eated. Also, needs moar scenery.

I feel like someday I should post a real drawing, and I’m sure I will have plenty of time, um, next year. After I graduate. Before grad school.

So, there you have it, folks. GiZombie: Scene from Act II.

Finally, I actually managed to complete everything on my to-do list today for the first time in Untold Days. So go me! (And, yes, I totally pad my to-do list by including things like ballet class, so I can feel like I’m accomplishing stuff.)

So that’s it. Good night, all!

*Today I did a tour en l’air to see if I still could. I didn’t fall over, but I did over-rotate and almost turned my ankle. So that was dumb.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: A Case of the Wilis*

    *You know it’s gonna be bad when I lead off with the bad puns.

    This morning, we just did Ballet Essentials. We didn’t have time to do both classes and still eat before today’s ballet (this was a shame, because Margie was teaching the Beginner class, and it’s a rare treat to get to do Beginner class with Margie).

    Margie gave us some long and interesting combinations at the barre, which I enjoyed, and we did grand battement and beats while lying on the floor (we also did grand battement at the barre). I had forgotten about things like doing beats while lying on the floor — we used to do that as a conditioning exercise when I was a kid. I might add that into my daily conditioning rotation, because I’d like to get beaten jumps nailed down again (beyond the cabriole, which I seem to have down). We also did piqué turns, which I enjoy immensely.

    After, we grabbed lunch, then headed over to the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts to see Giselle.

    I enjoyed the production, which I feel was quite well done, especially considering that we’re a small company in a part of the country that doesn’t really know from ballet, so we’re always working with limited resources.

    The copious Ballet Mime was handled well and seemed less silly than it often does (I am forever reminded of Adult Beginner’s hilarious Giselle review and find myself giggling about “eggbeater above the head” — though now I can’t find the original post o_O). The ensemble and corps numbers in the first act were a particular treat (but, frankly, I’m a sucker for good ensemble or corps action), as were some of Albrecht’s 2nd-act solos.

    Update: I was confused about which of AB’s posts had the “eggbeater-above-the-head” reference. You can find it here

    Giselle’s infamous hops-en-pointe — which can either be pretty impressive or pretty much “WTF?” — came off quite nicely. Denis was inspired to ask questions about pointe technique (he noticed that nobody else en pointe ever seemed to “move around on one foot,” and after a while I figured out what he meant).

    I’m not sure whether or not it was intentional, but in this production, Albrecht came across less as a roving Count Jackwagon than as a nobleman torn between love and duty. Likewise, his fiancée didn’t come across as a jealous biznatch or appear to blame Giselle for Albrecht’s waywardness (thank you, Louisville Ballet!). It’s a shame there wasn’t more opportunity to develop that particular angle, which seemed a little more nuanced than the usual “Smarmy McDickface & Wig-Snatching Harpy” angle.

    Giselle, meanwhile, came across as … well, Giselle — a sparkling young girl who just wants to dance, even though her Mom doesn’t want her to because she doesn’t want her daughter to keel over dead from a heart attack (this, by the way, is the only bit of Ballet Mime that really fails to work — I don’t know about you, but when I picture miming, “No, you’ll die of a heart attack!” I don’t really picture a karate chop to the torso).

    In the second act, the Wilis did a lot of Graceful Zombie Arms, which made both Denis and me comment on how someone needs to do an updated version of Giselle that cashes in on the current zombie craze, because that would frankly be awesome (Mr. Bourne? Are you out there? We have a ballet for you…). Hilarion (danced by Eduard Forehand, who did not get to dance nearly enough) did an excellent job looking frightened, tired, and finally exhausted when the Wilis were dancing him to death, and our Myrtha was gracefully imperious in a way that worked pretty darned well.

    Speaking of Myrtha, some unintentional mirth occurred when Something From Above broke loose and floated to the stage in the midst of one of the big first act scenes with Everybody Including Half The Opera Company (comments on the wandering noblemen from Denis and Kelly went like this — Denis: “See? Fat guys can do ballet!” Kelly: “Look, they borrowed half the Opera company!”**)

    The dancers handled it with grace and professionalism (by, of course, ignoring it completely and continuing as if it wasn’t totally in the middle of the floor and in everyone’s way). Eventually a guy with a big robe managed to spirit said Unintentional Prop off the stage. Fortunately, whatever it was didn’t appear to be heavy or sharp and nobody was injured. This makes two out of two recent dance productions that involved Stuff Raining Down From Above (at U of L’s Dance Theater performance in Iroquois Park, a light in the rigging exploded and dropped what appeared to be a very large filament).

    Likewise, there was a brief issue with the music (unfortunately, recorded music is the order of the day in Loutown, at the moment) — a spot where the speed of playback wavered briefly. Fortunately, this happened while no one was dancing, but it grated on my musical ear a bit. I’m not sure it was widely noticed.

    The lighting design was the production’s most significant weakness. The set-pieces and backdrops were quite nice, but a great deal more could have been done with lighting both to enhance the spookiness of the Wilis and also to drive home the whole point that it’s the arrival of the dawn that breaks their power. Denis suggested that the lighting issues, however, may have derived form the failure of whatever failed up in the rafters.

    One last bit! Apparently, there was some confusion getting my subscription set up, but the folks at Will Call handled it very gracefully and gave us really great seats for this show. This is one of the perks of subscribing to a small company — the subscriber base isn’t huge, so every subscriber is treated really well.

    Next on the roster for the season is The Nutcracker. I believe PDG is dancing in that (along with ever other professional- and semi-professional dancer in the Greater Louisville Area, from what I’ve seen :D), so I’m particularly looking forward to that. Claire is in Giselle, but I don’t know if she was in this cast (if she was, I couldn’t pick her out) and/or if she’s still sick. Likewise, I’m hoping to see PDG2 and Brienne in some shows.

    While it’s unfortunate that our company can’t really support too many professional performers on a full-time basis, it’s also kind of cool to take classes from (and sometimes with!) dancers who we get to see on the stage.

    Anyway, I need to go do my math homework, so that’s it for now. More to come (if nothing else, Monday class notes).

    **They couldn’t hear each-other, so I had to convey comments from one to the other. Also, I am very much of the opinion that fat guys (and gals) can indeed do ballet!

Moving Forward Using All My Breath…

Okay, so I said radio silence through Saturday was probable, but I’m up and running earlier than is usual for a Thursday, so I have time for a quick entry.

Every now and then, I reach a turning point in my life. I think we all do — the proverbial fork in the road.

In truth, I think we usually reach them months, sometimes even years, before we acknowledge them.

I’m not sure when exactly I reached mine, but at some point I did. At some point, a while ago, I chose a path.

I wrote once about my decision not to branch off my ballet-related ramblings into a separate blog. I still have no intention of doing that. What I do intend to do is re-structure this blog.

When I started out here, I was a first-year psychology student, fresh back in school, and still working at a job I hated (actually, this blog goes back to before I even returned to school, but that’s another story). My primary obsession, at the time, was cycling. My primary goal in life was to be a homemaker. I didn’t really have any central focus, though I thought I did. Ballet was a blip on the radar — something I missed fiercely every time I watched anyone dance, but similarly something I guess I could only imagine doing in a far-away Somedayland beyond the margins of imagining.

Obviously, a lot has changed.

First off, while taking care of my home and husband remains an important priority (the cat won’t feed himself — oh, wait, yes he will, if I leave the Food Closet open…), “homemaker” is no longer my primary career goal. Early in our relationship, Denis predicted that this day would come. Because I am stubborn and kind of an ass like that, his prediction made it much harder for me to admit it.

Yet here we are: I no longer think of myself as someone whose primary career goal is “homemaker,” although I still think that’s an important job. It just so happens that I’m not very good at it, in part because I am constantly doing other things that have coalesced into an entirely different, nascent career path.

Four years ago, I thought of myself as a kind of apprentice homemaker. Now I think of myself as a dance/movement therapist in the making, a hopeful choreographer, a researcher, and perhaps someday a neuroscientist.

Four years ago, I was also in denial about my bipolar disorder. Obviously, that’s changed (and it’s changed in part because dancing has made it feel survivable).

Even one year ago, I had bike-racing goals. They were nebulous, but they existed. I don’t anymore. Bike racing and ballet are, to an extent, mutually exclusive. They are antagonistic activities. Training to race tightens all the muscles that ballet needs loosened; ballet, meanwhile — well, ballet might build a better randonneur, actually, but racing demands a high degree of specialization. So I don’t plan to race for the time being. Maybe someday; maybe not.

One can choose either to be a bike racer who dances in a casual, recreational kind of way, or a dancer who rides in a casual, recreational/transportational kind of way. While not that long ago I wouldn’t have been willing to admit it, I have, in fact, made a choice, and the choice I’ve made is to be a dancer.

I’ll undoubtedly still knock out occasional centuries though, and I’d still like to roll a 200k, just to know that I can. But my life with the bike will no longer be about being stronger, faster, harder.

Cycling for transport remains a major component in my life. I don’t see that changing. Likewise, I expect to continue to care about and advocate for forms of transport beyond the private motor vehicle.

The upshot of all this is that I’ve decided to restructure this blog — in effect, to start over fresh, redesign my system of categories (which is, right now, so complicated it isn’t even funny), and let it reflect the direction my life is taking now.

I’m also going to shelve the vast majority of my older posts. Not that I think history is unimportant (that’s why I don’t plan to delete them); it’s just going to take me a dog’s age if I try to go back and re-organize everything. I feel like I’m at a point in my life at which I want to wipe the board clean so I can start working the next problem.

So there you have it. I’ll be tinkering with things for the next couple of days, and I hope that I won’t break anything too badly. This feels like a cleanup project of such epic proportions that, admittedly, a part of me wants to say, “Screw it,” burn my digital house down, and just start over. I’m choosing (with great effort :P) not to do that, but I can’t promise I won’t completely hose things up by mistake and have to start over anyway.

Regardless, going forward, I’m going to let this blog take the direction it’s been taking anyway. I guess it will mostly be about ballet. There will also be bits of research, occasional reviews and travel-related entries, some stuff about cycling, excursions into the realms of bipolar disorder and ADHD, and possibly some other ramblings. I shall re-structure my categories accordingly. Oh, and as always, there will be recipes. I’ll resurrect the old ones as I have time.

In the end, this blog reflects my own journey — the process of becoming myself. I suppose its history is as complicated as that process is. I hope you will forgive me my grand and sweeping changes.

So that’s it. To borrow the words of the great Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long time comin’, but I know a change gonna come.”

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Advanced Topics in Counting to Four

Class was decent tonight.   Or, rather, class was great, and I was decent.  My balances and développés are coming along.

Sometimes my core fell apart at the barre (usually when I was really concentrating on using my feet).   Sometimes my arms got confused doing pirouettes.  Sometimes I did nice pirouettes.   This is becoming a pattern.

My petit allegro is getting better, provided I count correctly (see below).   Tawnee likes to give us combinations that end with assemblé, assemblé, assemblé, assemblé.  Those can get interesting.   I have to look at pictures in my mind what that should look like before we do it again.

I rather fell apart doing little jumps.  I blame math class.   Clearly, I used up all my numerical faculties this morning in precalc.  I could do the jumps, obviously, but apparently I couldn’t count to four at the same time.   This was worse than usual.  Counting is hard for squids, you guys.

That said, going across the floor, I thought my big jumps looked pretty good.   They get rather better when we’re instructed to travel – then I remember to use my plié and my working leg automagically kicks itself higher.  Amazing.

I’m still all about saying “Damn the torpedoes!” and going in the first group. Sometimes I don’t have the combination down perfectly (“Oh!   There’s another sauté arabesque!  Who knew?!”), but I strap on my imaginary super-cape and go like I have it down cold. 

In the process, I’ve found that if you don’t stop to look sheepish when you forget a step, you will generally remember the next step and you can just roll on.   I should have already figured this out by now (it’s, like, the first rule of all performing arts: if you make a mistake, just keep going like nothing happened).

I guess the goal is to improve incrementally every day, and I think I might actually be succeeding.  Taking class three days per week really helps.  I am very much looking forward to next semester, when I hope to up the ante to five days per week (I’m guessing one will have to be a conditioning class or plays or something, since there are no ballet classes Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday*).

So that’s all for tonight’s class.   I have an ocean of homework and housework and finances for the next two days, so radio silence will likely follow until Saturday, when we will be doing class and then going to see Giselle.  I’ve heard our new AD is pretty creative, so I’m looking forward to that.

*Except company class?

The Glass Project: Part II

I’ve been thinking about how to implement my collaborative choreography project thing.

I’ve chosen the music (both pieces by Philip Glass: “The Poet Acts” and “The Light”*) — because even a collaborative project has to start somewhere.

Initially, I thought, “Eh, what the heck, I’ll just come up with some stuff over the next few months, recruit some dancers when I get there, and wing it from there.”

…And while this is very much typical of my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style of doing, um, basically everything, there are some major logistical problems, here.

First, while I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of teaching a few basic steps to some total n00bs game enough to step onto my little stage, I would like to collect at least a few people who know from ballet.

I would also like some of them to be better dancers than I am.

As much as it would be awesome to think that I’ll be ready for prime time by August of 2015, I can identify at least 1 week I will totally not be able to dance, plus another 3 – 4 during which I’ll be partly incapacitated. Thus, while I expect to have my waterfowls in a much closer semblance of a linear array than at present, I also don’t expect to magically transform into David Hallberg — or even Eduard Forehand, PDG, or PDG2 by then (though miracles have occurred).

With 50,000+ people in attendance at Burning Man in any given year, the odds are good that at least a few people will be attending who know their turnout from their detourné. Thus, trying to get in touch with a few of them a few months before the gates open (even though whether or not one gets tickets can be a bit of a crapshoot) sounds like a better idea than spending the first day back Home cruising the desert for would-be dancers.

Fortunately, through the Power of the Internet, it should be possible to do this thing.

Second, That Thing In The Desert is only a week long, and as I may have mentioned before, it seems unlikely that tons of people are going to want to spend a week playing Let’s Pretend We’re At Summer Intensive between (or, worse, during) dust storms. Sure, that sounds like my idea of a good time, but we have probably established by now that I’m not exactly normal (to be fair, neither is anyone else who goes to TTITD).

Thus, it’ll be good if most of us walk on with some sense of what we want to do — a few combinations strung together, or whatever.

I’m not yet entirely decided on how to do that part.

Do I say, “Come with with x number of measures, and we’ll fit them in somewhere?” Or do I say, “Come up however much stuff you want, and we’ll throw it all at the wall and see what sticks?”

Or do I say: “Here’s a theme: redemption. Bring something with you that you feel evokes that idea.**”

Third, I’m going to have to consider logistics. Maybe someone else will have a stage we can borrow; maybe somehow my camp will manage to make one happen. Even then, a proper spring floor with a nice surface is deeply and abidingly unlikely (that stuff’s expensive, y’all, and the Desert eats everything).

As such, I probably want to come up with choreography that can be performed pretty much literally anywhere. So while I may have visions of grand jetes en tournant, in reality we might need to eschew really big leaps in favor of not destroying everyone’s joints and so forth.

Fourth and last (for now) — I realize that this is going to be a real test for me.

I am not a collaborator by nature. I’m a control freak. Like most artistic people, I very easily become entrained in the wake of my own vision, and that can make it hard to work with other people.

On the other hand, dance is by its very nature a communal art form. Dancers are constantly collaborating, whether we realize it or not. Every time Brienne gives us some horrible fondu combination designed to cull the weak from the herd or some beautiful adagio designed to make us all look like we just arrived straight from The School of the Celestial Ballet or whatever, and we take it and make it our own.

We listen to the music (which someone else probably wrote) and run through the combination (which Brienne invented), but we interpret it through the lens of our own being. And if we are fortunate we do so without kicking the person behind us (which I totally did in class today; sorry, girl behind me — I hope that weird little high-five between the edge of my foot and your hand didn’t hurt).

I am (amazingly enough) actually reading Ballet Technique for the Male Dancer, and Tarasov stresses over again that dancers shouldn’t just copy steps. He explains it better than I do, and it’s nearly 3 AM (yaaaay, isnomnia!), so I will have to dig up a solid quote later.

But, anyway where dance is concerned, I am already collaborating, just as I have collaborated as a musician with other musicians as a member of an orchestra, a string quartet, or a choir. I think I am mature enough now to come into this thing with a good basic mini-ballet set to go, but also ready to accept and interpolate the ideas and idioms of others.

So there we have it. A thought overflow holding tank for the Glass Project (which now needs a name, I suppose).

Having recorded all of this, perhaps now I’ll be able to sleep.

That’s it for now.

Be bold, my friends.

*I will say that even this isn’t set in stone. “The Poet Acts” is pretty much a given, but “The Light,” which is much longer, may or may not make the final cut on the Playa. I have other pieces in the queue for which I’m constructing choreographic skeletons, just in case.
**And try not to make it too hard, because there’s no guaranteeing we won’t get 15 game noobs and 3 people who at least know how to tendu.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: A Mixed Bag of Combos?

Class was interesting today. Claire called in sick, so we had two teachers — Margie for the first half of barre, then Brienne for the rest of everything.

I employed Claire’s suggestion about keeping my fingers in my eyes (okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it goes!)…

So many fingers.  So few eyes.

So many fingers. So few eyes.

…which made my balances a bazillion times better and let me focus on today’s challenge — preventing the Fail Chain and keeping my turnout, well, turned out.

At the start of our fondus, Brienne handed us a deeply-useful bit of advice: if thinking of bringing the heel forward is making stuff not work, try imaginging that you’re bringing your calf forward (I assume this means the back of the calf).

It’s a brilliant trick. Simply put, you can’t bring the back of your calf forward without opening your hip (and, where appropriate, your knee). Somehow, this little mental-imagery thing makes it way easier to find and activate the muscles that wrap around the back of the thigh and make your turnout go — which, in turn, makes your extensions about a bazillion times easier.

Also makes your balance in passé much prettier — I actually got a “Nice, Asher!” on one of these today … a non-ironic one, even :D

Other things I learned tonight: PDG’s name is, in fact, Brian. He wasn’t in class tonight, but PDG2 (whose name is Connor) was, and wow, was he lovely to watch.

I (stupidly?) decided to stand on the same end of the room as PDG2 during barre (and, frankly, just about everything else) in hopes, perhaps, that some of his loveliness would rub off on me. At times, it worked, or maybe I’m just improving. At other times, it was more like, “Yeah, here’s a foil for my badness.”

I also decided to go ahead with my bold, bad self in the first group on every freaking thing — in part because I realized that we comprised an odd number, so then I could run around, hit the end of the line again, and practice all the combos cross the floor twice! Bwahaha.

That said, my jumps kind of sucked. Which is weird, because usually I’m all about the jumping, and I didn’t feel like my legs were particularly cooked. In fact, I specifically chose not to go home between school and class in order to spare my legs. I think the problem was actually in my brain; today was one of those distracted days.

Anyway, some of today’s combinations were good (the adagio was pretty, even); some of them were, well, meh. There were good moments (Pirouettes from fourth! I love them!) and there were terrible moments (Recite this in waltz time: Sauté arabesque! Sauté passé! Crap, what comes next? I have no clue!)

The weird part about that last one — I actually did know the combination (the next part was tombe – pas de bourrée – glissade – assemblé), but as soon as I would light out on the first sauté, my mind would go completely blank. It so happens that I can Sauté arabesque! Sauté passé! all day on autopilot, so I kept getting that bit down, and then the rest … ehhhhhhhh.

So that was my class today. I decided that it’s better to screw up boldly and confidently at the head of the line than to screw up mousily and quietly in the back.

For what it’s worth, at some point, the secret to all forms of dance is being able to fake it when you totally forget what you’re doing. You put on your biggest, most confident face (I would say “smile,” but what if you’re Von Rothbart, and you’re supposed to be getting your butt kicked by angry swans?).

Then you do something, and you sell it so well that everyone in the audience believes that you’re doing it right, and everyone else in your line (or in the entire corps, or whatever, depending on the scale of the piece, eh?) is doing it wrong.

Oh, and you don’t stand next to someone who’s better at faking it than you, or it won’t work.

So that’s it for tonight.

Be good, and if you can’t be good, be bold!

The Giver — Surprisingly Good

I have to admit, I didn’t expect much of this film.

I first read Lowry’s classic novel in grade school; it has remained an enduring favorite ever since. Given that the trailers clearly revealed major changes to the main characters (fast-forwarding them from twelve to eighteen years of age) and what I assumed to be a predictable teen-romance angle, I expected to be disappointed.

Perhaps because of that, I walked away from the film surprisingly impressed.

Yes, the teen-romance angle was there — but it was handled and employed with significantly more delicacy and grace than is typical. Likewise, the up-aging of the characters was managed without significant damage to their roles in the story or their personalities.

I’m guessing that both of these were marketability decisions — it’s much harder to sell a film about pre-teens than it is to sell one about teenagers. Unfortunately, films about pre-teens, even if exceptionally good ones, are generally marketable to a narrow audience — pre-teens themselves, their parents, and a few people who are willing roll the dice on movies in general. Add the complexity of workin with a mostly-underage cast and their parents, and one can see why a production team might make such a decision.

Meanwhile, movies about teenagers, especially teenagers in the young-adult bracket, are marketable to just about everyone. Teenagers (and many pre-teens) usually don’t want to watch movies about pre-teens, whereas pre-teens are generally pretty happy to watch movies about teenagers, as are teenagers themselves and many adults. And teens (especially 18-year-olds) can be played by people in the 18-and-up bracket, who aren’t subject to all the complicated regulations that pertain to child actors (and who might not come with overwrought parents or guardians in tow).

As such, I’m willing to forgive what initially looked like a story-destroying concession to the almighty dollar*.

Both the up-aging and the romance angle manage not to destroy the story. The romance between main characters Jonas and Fiona is gently done and manages not to become Jonas’ prime mover in his ultimate decision, which means that the decision in question retains its power. Not to say that love is ever a bad reason to do anything — but sometimes there are greater kinds of love than the romantic love for another individual.

And while the Hollywood retelling does occasionally veer towards the black-and-white (no pun intended) morality common to its kind, much of the subtlety and nuance remain untouched.

In short, the power and impact of Lowry’s message come through loud and clear — or, well, subtle and clear, because the message of The Giver was never a knock-you-on-the-head message. Rather, it comes through in all its colors, bright and muted alike.

The film is compelling and surprisingly well-done. There are a few weak moments, but the acting is good and the script is far better than expected.

If you’re on the fence, give it a try. I did (grudgingly!), and I don’t regret it.

Maybe you won’t, either.

*Had the up-aging bit actually ruined the story, I would definite not have forgiven it. Just sayin’.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: More Brilliant Thoughts from Claire

I get great corrections from all of the teachers at LBS, don’t get me wrong — but something about the specific corrections I get from Claire just works for me. It’s like she instinctively knows how I think or something.

Today’s highlights:

1. You should always be able to see your fingertips.
I put my arms in all kinds of interesting places. The idea that my fingertips should almost never leave my field of vision keeps them where they should be. Much of the time, they hang out in the periphery, but they should still be visible*.

Like many flexible people, I have less-than-perfect proprioception (the “Spidey sense” that lets you know where parts of your body are without looking), so using a visual cue makes a huge difference. Eventually, I won’t need the visual cue — through repetition, my body will train my brain to place its arms correctly without the visual reference.

Anyway, sighting the fingertips fixes your placement so you don’t throw your weight backwards (which is still a problem for me at times). This, in turn, improves balances, turns, and just about everything else. Some of my pirouettes from fourth were pretty nice today.

For what it’s worth, I think the arms look nicer this way as well. One suddenly looks less like a crash-landing stork and more like a gliding swan.

"Ciconia maguari IMG 8588 Palmitos Park gran canaria" by Bjoertvedt - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Don’t be this guy.

2. Don’t hop out of turns. Ever.
This correction was issued to the whole class, but I’m pretty sure I did this at least once today — you’re turning, and something in you panics, and instead of letting the momentum of your turn do its thang, you hop out (and then you curse yourself because Professional Dance Guy is doing a triple).

It looks awkward. More crash landing. It also pretty much eliminates any hope you have of gracefully moving into whatever the next step in the combination might be.

Worse, as Claire pointed out, every time you hop out of a turn, you’re training your brain and body that it’s okay to hop out of turns. So just don’t. Fall over instead, if you must.

But, in fact, once I relaxed and just let my turns go, I found I was suddenly landing them rather nicely.

In general, class was good. I felt a tad fumbly and awkward at times in Margie’s class (too much thinking, maybe?), but mostly felt good in Claire’s.

PDG (whose name I really seriously don’t know — like, maybe it’s Tommy? Maybe it’s Brian? Maybe I’m just guessing, and I should, you know, ask?**) shared a barre with me again. It was just the two of us, all by ourselves, on our own barre on the end. Apparently, nobody wanted boy cooties. I totally cribbed off his breathing, since this week has been all about everyone telling us to breathe into our pliés and stuff.

The cool part is that it’s really hard to overthink your dancing when you’re conscious about your breathing. I guess that makes sense, though — when you learn Zen meditation, you begin by following the breath.

Claire also sorted another problem specific to balances that’s been plaguing me at the barre but not at center: I kept losing turnout on my supporting leg, and couldn’t figure out why.

Turns out (no pun intended) that I was leaving the shoulder on the same side behind my center of balance, so then my hips would rotate in an effort to correct, and instead of bringing the shoulder forward and the hips back, I would attempt to do … who knows what? All I know is that the end result was a half-baked turnout and shoulders at an obtuse angle to the barre.

By bringing the shoulder into alignment, one prevents the whole chain of failure. The hips stay where they’re supposed to stay and everything else remains appropriately perpendicular to the barre.

Now if I can just get the whole chain to hang together when moving from attitude devant (which I do quite easily en relevé) to passé (wherein I fall apart again), I’ll be quite happy.

We did lovely little sous-sus turns across the floor in Margie’s class; in Claire’s, we did all kinds of stuff. Like glissade – jeté then two sautés on one foot, change direction, lather rinse repeat, followed by glissade – assemblé – soubresaut – soubresaut. I thought my soubresauts were rather nice today. My one-footed sautés started out high and pointed and all that good stuff, but around the fourth repetition or so I got tired and they stayed pointed but lost most of their height. Oh, well.

My favorite combination today was cabriole-sauté passé-cabriole-sauté passé-glissade-failli-pas de chat. But I think I’ve left out something in the middle, perhaps? It sounds like I’m missing a couple of beats in there somewhere. We couldn’t do anything much longer because we were in the small studio and there were something like thirteen or fourteen of us, all long-leggedy leapers.

Anyway. I enjoyed that one simply because it was pretty. We went in groups of three, in lines, and because we all had the combination cold Claire asked us to focus on staying together. The effect was quite nice.

After class, one of the newer students said to me, “You’re so good! I have to get like you!” So I was totally flattered (especially since I spent the whole class thinking the same thing about PDG and a fellow student who I’ll call Claire the Second).

Oh, and the Shoes

The new shoes worked nicely.

Perhaps because of the construction of the shoe or perhaps because I’ve placed the elastics correctly this time (maybe both?), I found the support through the arch quite nice. My ankles felt quite stable today (sometimes they want to supinate en relevé). Some of this is probably a question of improving technique and increasing strength, but I suspect the shoes do help.

The bottoms of the Pro1Cs feel seamless, which makes rather a difference. I’m not sure how exactly Sansha accomplishes this effect, since the sole pads are quite stiff — but one does not at any point feel as if one is standing on an earbud wire or something (which was definitely a problem with my other shoes at times — not the Romeos, but the little inexpensive eBay shoes).

A word of caution: if you do buy yourself a pair of Sansha Pro 1Cs, be aware that the sole pads (both fore and aft) will be slippery at first. Mine had mostly sorted themselves by the end of today’s second class; they’re still a little slick, but not too badly. At the beginning of the first class, I felt like I was trying to dance on ice. IIRC, this was also the case with Capezio’s Romeos.

So there you have it. Still no pictures, because I was starving by the time Claire’s class ended and didn’t think of it.

Here's one of the Pro1cs, anyway.  The little seam right under the arch seems to enhance the support of the shoe.

Here’s one of the Pro1cs, anyway. The little seam right under the arch seems to enhance the support of the shoe.

Soon! I look so different than I did six months ago. I am trending towards being rather lean and defined. That’s a surprise. Prior to gaining a bunch of weight, I was more or less skinny (except my legs, which have never been skinny). I had some definition because I had so little body fat, but now when I look at myself I get a sense of working musculature instead of just twink-tastic scrawniness. Not that I minded being scrawny, but, there you have it. I think I rather like being built like a dancer.

Anyway, homework beckons (though I think I’m going to take a bath first; my legs are seriously cooked), so I’ll close here.

It’s 4:00 — do you know where your fingertips are?

*The obvious exception is when you’re in allongée with your face turned towards the hand in front, and so forth. In that case, you probably won’t be able to see the fingers of hand that’s to the side.
**There’s a part of me which feels that sharing a barre with someone three or four times and still not knowing his name is kind of like waking up next to the dude you met at the bar last night and not knowing his name. Only, I’ve never done the latter. Still, it’s awkward. Like, “I should have asked this weeks and weeks ago, and now I’ve missed my chance” awkard.

Ballet Stuff: Sansha Pro1c

I ganked Denis’ Sanshas, which he doesn’t wear anymore, re-sewed the elastics, and wore them to class last night. The width proved suitable, which answered my remaining question about them (I know I like canvas shoes, people speak well of them, and they seem to wear well).

I’m glad it worked out as well as it did, because I had already ordered myself a pair — size 11N, which is basically a 41 narrow in European sizes. They arrived today. I’ve sewn in the elastics and they’re ready to go.

My balances seemed more stable last night — two-foot demi-pointe balances seemed pretty effortless. Part of me thinks, “It’s gotta be the shoes.”

Anyway, the new Sanshas are the right width (finally), which means they don’t roll off at the heel, and the right length, which means they fit well fore-to-aft without cranking the around-the-top elastics ridiculously tight.

I’ll try to give them a proper review (and some pictures?) after class on Saturdy. Unless I make it to Friday class, which is marginally possible.

Ballet Squid Chronicles: Combination

Piqué arabesque,

Lather, rinse, repeat.

When you do it right, it looks like dancing. For some reason it fell apart for everyone tonight going left (there were only three of us in class). I realize now that I kept leaving out the assemblé after the first faillé.

I’ve gotten past the thing last week where I kept getting tangled getting from piqué arabesque to glissade. That was the result of too much thinking.

Things are coming back faster now. There were a few nice pirouettes from fourth. Still a few, “Oh, crap! I’m turning the wrong way!” moments.

For some reason, instead of going en dehors, en dehors, en dehors, I found myself wanting to go en dehors, en dedans, en dehors. But the turns are coming, too.

My barre was kind of meh today — some okay bits, some not so okay bits. A couple of times, I totally lost my place — it was like my brain just opted to reboot mid-combo. On the other hand, a couple of my fondus felt beautiful. Were they? Who knows. But that’s how they felt.

I try to keep it in perspective: when I started dancing again back in March, I would’ve been delighted with today’s barre (especially the frappés, even though one of my “reboots” occurred during that combination). That’s the whole thing about ballet — you’re dissatisfied, so you work hard, and then you sort of “level up,” and you get that “Yes!” feeling.

Then you realize you can do it better; that whatever you’re doing, you can refine it.

I enjoy pursuits in which perfection is a goal, but is one that recedes forever into the distance. In ballet, in horseback riding, in cycling, in music, you can always improve. Even if you achieve technical perfection, there’s always room for more musicality, more expression, more subtlety, or more strength.

In other news, today I put on a shirt that’s been too tight for a long time — and suddenly it wasn’t too tight anymore. I might even be able to use it for ballet class.

I have trouble seeing changes in my body, but even I’m beginning to see what all this ballet is doing for me in that regard. Pretty cool stuff. Tonight I was messing around in the mirror at home after class, doing Pretty Things With My Arms, because as a squid those things are hard for me, yo. I transitioned from first-arabesque arms to élongé and caught sight of all these cool little muscles doing their thing in my shoulders and chest and went, “Wow, hey, that’s my body doing that!”

Pretty cool stuff. Denis always says I’m such a teenager when it comes to that. He’s right. I am discovering this body that, when I really was a teenager, was still this scary thing that kind of betrayed me during a time when bad stuff happened to me. I didn’t look at myself. I didn’t want to look at myself.

So now I’m discovering all of it; it’s all totally new, and it’s beautiful in a way. I still struggle to see my body as beautiful, but when I see it working; when I see it doing dancer-ly things; when I see the beautiful machine working the way it’s supposed to work — yeah, I kind of love it then.

One last bit to close. Tonight, when Tawnee arrived, she greeted us (all three of us, ha) with, “Hello, dancers!”

So there you have it. In case you were wondering: we are dancers.

And that’s pretty great.


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