Danseur Ignoble: My Ideal Home

Last night, I couldn’t sleep, so I did some plies and tendus and practiced a couple of combinations from Saturday (isn’t that what everyone does 2 AM?).

This was frustrating, because they were very travel-y combinations, and I quickly found that I had to practice them in the round, because there is not a single room in my house that will let me squeeze in more than two sets of sauté arabesque – chasse gallop, or so much as one really all-out tour jete (I can squeeze a conservative tour jete into the diagonal of the living room, if I first move our collection of giant ottomans).

So I would B-plus in mid-kitchen and complete a given run in either the living room (going right) or the dining room (going left), carefully negotiating all the obstacles en route while wondering whether Denis would mind if I sold three-quarters of our furniture.

I rather suspect that he might.

Anyway, I have come to the conclusion that the obvious solution is to sell our house and move into a converted barn or warehouse wherein I can install a spring floor and not really bother with interior walls.   We can put the bedroom in what used to be the hay loft, or that stereopticon-type room from which the supervisors watch what’s going on in the warehouse.

We could also empty our basement and hire a bunch of guys with jackhammers to dig the floor two (or, ideally, four) feet deeper, but that sounds expensive and like it’s certain to lead to floods and other disasters.  It would, however, prevent me from cracking my arms on the ceiling when practicing jumps.

Am I alone in fantasizing about moving into the gymnasium of a disused high school, a converted barn, a refitted warehouse — or, better yet, a house with a proper ballroom (and, ideally, not much else, because who has  time for all that when there’s somewhere to dance?)?

These all seem like very reasonable ideas when I’m trying to dance at home.

Danseur Ignoble: That Feel When You Figure Out That You’ve Leveled Up

…Not to say, that at a really good school, you’re ever making a mistake by stepping back a level or two. You can use those classes to perfect your technique.

But it’s really cool to do Beginner Class and realize, Hey, I really actually do belong in Intermediate Class, even when you’re returning after an injury. That’s pretty cool.

I think when I first started doing Intermediate Class, I was reaching more than I’m reaching now: realistically, I was a fairly strong advanced beginner, maybe, and I think the stretch was good for me. I feel like I’m pretty squarely in the Intermediate camp at this point (part of which is being able to figure out what I’m doing wrong, where, and why, and to correct it myself).

There’s been a part of me that has been iffy about my decision to jump right back into Intermediate class. Yesterday I stayed home to do a whole boatload of work that needed doing, so today I did Beginner Class at noon (for the past few weeks, I’ve been doing Intermediate Class and Essentials).

I felt very on top of it — confident and effective, with a few minor exceptions: some of my allegro and adagio were less than awesome, but they were less than awesome in that “I am reconditioning after an injury and haven’t done this since February” kind of way, not in an “Erhmagerd, I don’t know these steps!” kind of way or an “Abort! Abort! We’re going down!” kind of way.

My petit allegro is still slow, but I’m okay with that right now. Speed will come back. My ballet homework now involves doing tendus, degages, and frappes in the water while I’m Florida. Slice, slice, slicing away in the pool, in the ocean, wherever. And then doing flips because they’re fun, per Claire’s orders :D

I feel like I should probably download the Rocky Theme Song so I can create my own Getting Stronger montage which, I guess, should logically end with a sequence of Petit Allegro That Doesn’t Suck?

Also, my flexibility was 100% there. Full splits both sides, no sweat; pancake to center. Nice to have that back; my right thigh has been tight for the past few weeks. I’ve been stretching after riding the bike (and while riding the bike, which I’m sure looks very bizarre to everyone who does not ride bikes and/or dance).

This coming week, however, I’ll basically just be doing Brienne’s Wednesday class and possibly Margie’s Friday class (depends on what Denis wants me to do), and then we’ll be heading off to Florida. We don’t have class on Monday because of Memorial Day (which I somehow thought was next week; I am eternally so confused about time).

In other news, Amazon Music’s Show Tunes channel is faaaabulooooous!

That’s it for now. Off to level up in doing the finances…

Living the Dream, Dance Camp for Adult Dancers


The 109th Bead posted a couple of great interviews with staff and a student from Sun King Dance Camp. If you’ve been thinking about going, read on for a taste of the experience!

Originally posted on THE 109th BEAD:

Ever thought about going to dance camp? It does sound like great fun for us grown ups to be able to take a week and live the dream. Although I haven’t had the ability to do so myself, I had the fantastic opportunity to talk with the folks from Sun King Dance Camp and ask them a few questions about the hows and whys of dance camp for grown ups. This is the first installation of that interview. I hope this provides you all with some wonderful information and maybe a little bit of inspiration.

I also have the great privilege to personally know a few dancers who have attended Sun King Dance Camp. Below the Sun King interview is a featurette on an adult dancer who has attended camp. This week I get to feature my good friend Lisa Gallo. I’ve been really fortunate to train along side Lisa…

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Quickie: Rube Goldberg, I Choose You!

Someday I really will get around to writing about why I’ve taken the particular approach I have to medication (the short version: hypothesis about neurology; side effects; ballet). The long and short of it is that the meds-for-ADHD-first approach seems to work for me so far (caveat: this would not be a good plan for a lot of people with bipolar disorder), though I’m going to have to monitor things more carefully through the sun-drenched months when mania is more likely.

Right now, though, I’m trying to figure out the remaining problem with my Adderall: that I have to remember to take it in the morning, like, before I have taken it. You know. The medication that helps me remember to do things? >.<

I could establish, like, a morning routine; a set of habits that sort of automatically execute every morning — but who wants to do that? Habits are boring and take time to establish. I want instant results without effort*.

I think, instead, I’m going to build a giant Rube Goldberg machine that first drops an Adderall tablet into my mouth, then shoves me out of bed. Because that totally makes more sense than just building boring old habits, right?

Yeah, okay. Maybe I’ll try the whole “habits” thing first.

PS: things are slowly getting sorted in terms of Major Life Stressors. I’m hanging in there through the Power of Ballet.

*Yes, I’m making fun of myself, here.

Danseur Ignoble: A Bad Dream And A Good Class

This morning, after staying up way too late yet again because apparently I’m too dumb to realize that starting to read a new novel at 11:00 PM is a terrible idea, I had a terrible dream.

I was in Brienne’s class. We were at the barre, doing one of her wicked fondue-and-developpe combinations. Every time I would try to developpe, I would either fail to get my leg (which weighed a million pounds) above about 60 degrees or, even worse, I would, but would instantly fall over backwards!

Fortunately, things went better in actual class. I felt more together today. I’m starting to get a little speed back at the barre — it hadn’t occurred to me that some of my Petit Largo Allegro problem is a returning-to-training-post-injury thing (more on that below).

Tendus and degages went well, even with lots of weight transfers (ye gods how weight transfers vexed me when I first started dancing again; now, it’s basically just like, “Oh, no biggie, inside leg taimz…”); rond-de-jambes (with attendant merciless fondu) went much better than last week. Not back up to my usual standard yet, but they’re getting there.

Our grand battement combination was far less sadistic this week and involved frappes, of which I shall be doing many in coming days (again, see below). For some reason, my brain held on to that particular combination like a seive ._. I got most of it, but for some reason couldn’t seem to remember that there was a little frappe-en-crois in the middle.

Apparently, my body has finally gotten the memo that, yes, I am going to make it do this stuff every Wednesday (and soon on Monday and Friday as well — we’ll see how the leg fares; I might do Tawnee’s class this Friday). My core was not awesome, but it was not non-existent, either. I’m working on it.

I also remembered (though not always at the right moment) how to developpe correctly. No more construction-crane technique: it turns out that the method I sussed out some while back while mucking about in the fridge (because, yes, I am that ballet student who is like BALLET ALL THE THINGS!) is exactly what Brienne describes.

In short, engage the core (imagine it, if it helps, pulling your body towards the working leg) and the muscles beneath the calf and buttocks; that way you’re not trying to haul forty pounds (or more*) of leg up by your quads and hip flexors alone.

*Apparently, the average human leg weighs about 40 pounds. I suspect many of us who dance have above-average legs, and those of us who both dance and ride bikes? Let’s call our legs “superior;” that might make us feel better about our difficulties in finding trousers.

Bizarrely enough, all of this adagio stuff went rather brilliantly at center. Brienne called us on the carpet about it: she was like, “I just saw you guys do all this stuff right, so now you’re going to do it right out here, and you’re going to be all pretty and musical.” (Okay, those weren’t her exact words.)

When we weren’t as pretty and musical as we could have been the first time we ran through our adagio combination, she gave us this hilarious demonstration of what not to do (seriously, it looked like she was trying to use semaphore to land two planes at the same time — one with her arms, one with her legs) and made us do it again. We did, and — lo and behold! — it was actually very nice.

My turns were also pretty stellar today until I got tired and kind of started to fall apart. Some while ago, I realized that when I don’t prepare well, I over-do it with the spring, and my supporting foot tries to leave the ground, and that is exactly what started happening when I got really tired.

It took me longer to reach that point, though, which is a very good sign (and at least in part the result of a more organized start this morning, which meant I didn’t completely cook my legs riding to the bus stop).

Petit allegro was … um … well … less bad. I was hitting more of the jumps, but still slow. More like Petit Largo, though maybe I’ve moved up a few beats-per-minute this week.

After class, I asked Brienne about what I should focus on to get speed back. Her answer? Do tons of tendus, degages, and frappes**.

Which, ultimately, is ballet in a nutshell, if you throw some plies in there. Which you should, or you will be very, very sore later.

This actually makes a great deal of sense to me. I have noticed that my tendus and degages have become super-precise over the past several weeks (during the Era of Margie’s Class Only), but I’ve lost speed. Now I can work on maintaining precision while increasing speed, and soon my legs will look better during quick work than they did before I blew up my calf.

So that’s what I’ll be working on for the time being: zillions of tendus, degages, and frappes every day to get my speed back.

That said, I’m done for today. I put in a bunch of miles on the bike (being mindful about spinning light gears and stretching adductors and rotators and stuff when I got home), and my thighs just can’t even right now.

The next thing I buy myself is going to be a foam roller, you guys. Seriously.


Incidentally, whenever I’m wrestling with petit allegro, I find myself thinking about A Ballet Education’s post on the topic, “Your Petit Allegro Is Awful…” and I strive not to be an example of awful petit allegro! Fortunately, the teaching staff at LBS focuses quite a lot on petit allegro and teaches technique that would make Mr. King (who writes ABE) proud.

Danseur Ignoble: Returning the Last Books

Yesterday, I went to Margie’s class, where we had 3 new dancers (one complete newbie, another with a dance-team background, and a third with extensive ballet experience who hadn’t danced in a long time. Margiesuggested that I do Tawnee’s class, but my calf is still regaining strength, so I opted for a “rehab” day.

l think intermediate-class-plus-bike-commuting probably calls for light exercise (maybe a walk?) on the following day to reduce soreness.  l should, come to think of it, treat myself like I’d treat a horse on the mend – follow  an over-fences or dressage day with light walk-trot hacking, probably on trails, possibly in-hand (that means leading, rather than riding, the horse). I probably wouldn’t turn me out in a field with my buddies yet on days off – too much risk of horseplay (they call it that for a reason) and re-injury.

So while I need the workout l get in Brienne’s class, I should be smarter about days off, so I won’t be sore as long.  l should also probably wear a compression sleeve.

After class I purchased the last of Denis’ anniversary gifts (the only one that cost more than $7) and returned ny last lUS library books – my first visit to campus as a graduate, but also final undergrad business. That felt weird.

Margie and Taunee keep gently nudging me towards Tawnee’s class, so it looks like
Essentials Forevar! plan night, in fact, not happen. I do think my calf could use another week or two, though.

That’s it for now.  It’s raining at last.

A Few Things I Try Not To Say To My Friend Who Has Cancer

There are a lot of things that people say all the time to people who are fighting life-threatening illnesses.

They’re how we express our empathy as fellow humans; how we try to express our solidarity, our support, our “being-there-for-you-ness.”

Most of them are great — but some of them, when I really think about it, seem a little problematic.

Not that I’m judging you if you use them: frankly, in the heat of the moment, we tend to say whatever we can, and it’s really hard to come up with something to say that’s supportive. Worse, a lot of the phrases in question are basically the major elements in our cultural tool-kit of go-to things to say to people when they’re struggling.

Still, I think it might be useful if I write about what I try not to say and why. Of course, feel free to disagree with me (or agree with me, that’s cool, too!) in the comments.

Here we go:

What I Try Not To Say:
I know you’re going to beat this!

Why I Try Not To Say It:
In short, I don’t know that.

A couple years back, a long-time friend of Denis’ was diagnosed with what looked, at first, like a pretty uncomplicated lung cancer. His prognosis was very good. After the usual course of radiation and chemo, he went in for surgery to remove the tumors … and that’s where everything fell apart.

It turned out that his body was riddled with cancerous tumors; tumors that hadn’t shown up on the various imaging studies that had been done up to that point. The tumors in question happened to be of the same density as the organs they had invaded. They were stealth tumors.

Those stealth tumors killed Denis’ friend.

With cancer, as with so many things, nothing is certain — and if I tell someone I know they’re going to beat it, and they discover that, actually, they aren’t, it can leave them feeling like they’re letting me down. They don’t need that.

I never want my friend who has cancer to feel like he’s letting me down. He’s not. He didn’t ask for cancer, and even if he had some kind of habit (like smoking) that amounts to asking for it … well, people do stupid things all the time. That doesn’t mean they deserve cancer. Cancer sucks.

What I Try Not To Say:
Stay strong!

Why I Try Not To Say It:
It’s okay to be weak. Sometimes, it’s even necessary.

I’ve noticed that the hardest thing for people who are seriously ill to do is to just put everything down for a little while and take a breather.

People who are seriously ill often feel like they owe it to everyone around them to hold it together.

I’m not advocating turning into a navel-gazing blubfest — though I’d actually say that it’s fine and healthy to do that at times! — but when you’re battling cancer, or heart disease, or severe major depression, or whatever, you’ve already got a lot on your plate.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is the sort of thing we perceive as weak.

Sometimes, you need to stop being responsible for a while and literally lie down in bed so your body and/or your mind can do their thing and try to heal as best they can.

Sometimes, it’s even good for the people around you to step up and take over some of the stuff you would normally do. It lets them feel like they’re doing something to help, even though they can’t wave their magic wands and make your cancer go away.

We live in a culture that devalues weakness. What we don’t always realize that it’s when others are weak that we have an opportunity to lift them up — and any good personal trainer can tell you that lifting makes you stronger.

So by lifting others in their times of weakness, we strengthen ourselves: so we should try to be less afraid of others’ weakness … and less afraid of our own. When we let someone lift us up, we’re doing them a favor, too.

What I Try Not To Say:
Everything’s going to be okay!

Why I Try Not To Say It:
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

It could be that everything will turn out fine, and that the experience of living with and/or through cancer becomes a kind of emotional touchstone.

It could be that everything won’t turn out fine. A struggle with cancer, even when cancer loses, can leave scars and tear families apart. A struggle with cancer that ends in death is hard for everyone who loves the person who dies, and while some of those people will come out just fine, others might not. We don’t really understand a lot about the underpinnings of human resilience, yet.

So maybe everything will be okay, and maybe it won’t — and, either way, I want my friend who has cancer to know that I’m going to be there. That I’m not going to judge him or anyone else if everything doesn’t turn out just fine. That I’m going to love him either way as a brother-of-the-road, a fellow fitness fanatic, another human being, and a general all-around funny and awesome guy who was dealt a crappy hand.

I’m sure there are other problematic phrases out there in our cultural lexicon. I can’t seem to think of them right now.

Sometimes, though, when I need to find something to say to someone who’s hurting, I find one of these phrases slipping from my tongue (or my fingertips).

In the end, that’s okay, too: once again, as humans, we make mistakes and we do stupid things.

So, yeah. If you’re that guy from time to time who says stuff like this, don’t be too hard on yourself.

And if you’re that guy who has cancer, don’t be too hard on yourself.

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

And that, in fact, might be something worth saying to your friend who has cancer.

“We’re here. We’re in this with you. Together.”

Danseur Ignoble: Huge Wednesday Class!

There were a jillion of us today, and Brienne made us all really focus on our turnout, which is always good, because of course all dancers always and everywhere — or at least all ballet dancers always and everywhere — can never stop working on turnout.

My barre was decent most of the way through, though my developpés were, well, low (~90 degrees ._.) and slow.  Need to start working those at home again.  Our grand battement combination was borderline sadistic and made me keenly aware of how much fitness I need to build still.   On the other hand, at one point, we did an attitude derriere balance that was just like, “Ohai! Look, Mom, no hands!”

But the secret is that attitude derriere is a pretty easy balance if your back is strong and flexible.  Everything is nicely cantilevered.  So, boom, beautiful attitude balance with arms in fifth, like it ain’t no thang.  Aaaaaaaand …  freeze.

I should really be doing Brian’s class on Monday as well, to keep things consistent, but I can’t until I get a job, which I won’t be able to do til I get back from Florida.  I don’t want to drop Margie’s Friday class because I feel like it really helps with my musicality and stuff.  So, for the time being, I suppose I’ll have to do something else on Monday to work on ballet fitness.

At center, I didn’t bungle the adagio too badly (ha) and managed to do the medium allegro decently.  Our traveling combination with turns was actually the highlight of the class for me, though (surprisingly: usually I’m all about the jumps).  

As for petit allegro …  oy, vey.  I need to work on speed.   Height and ballon I’ve got by nature, but at the expense of speed.  I do fine (I have learned to moderate my vertical jumps by doing them lower) until we start throwing in glissades, at which point I get behind if the music is really quick.  My glissades tend to be huge and floaty.   That’s awesome if there’s time in the music, but dancers need quick glissades, too.  The quick glissade is a skill I have to practice frequently, and one I lose if I don’t.

So this week I’ll be doing petit allegro, lightly and quickly, at home.  I would do well to practice it when my legs are already tired, since doing light, quick petite allegro while tired is pretty much a given in ballet.  I’m also going to work on grand assemblé with a beat, because beats are awesome and look cool.  I suppose I should also work on a small, quick assemble.

To an extent, I’m fighting cycling muscles again.   I did too much gear-mashing the past two weeks or so, which overdevelops the quads (and other muscles the we use in ballet to launch big, powerful jumps).   This does two things: first, it just makes one’s legs freaking heavy, which means one is then consigned to a heavier lifting workout throughout class. 

Second, if the opposing muscles are insufficiently developed, it’s harder for them do their job in développé and so forth — basically, any movement that requires them to overcome the huge “launch muscles” that provide for explosive jumps (both in the ballet studio and on the bike).

Thus, one finds one’s self attempting to construction-crane into extension with the quads instead of pushing from beneath, which makes one’s turnout fall apart and prevents one reaching maximum extension.  Also leads to clenching, gripping, and the making of terrible faces.  So just don’t do it, because your face could freeze like that (and so could your butt, which might be even worse: you would have to dance like that FOREVER).


Do not make this face. Don't do it. It's not worth the risk!

Body mechanics, y’all.

I need to ride more slowly in lighter gears and do exercises at home that balance out the launch groups.

Which I practiced on today’s ride home.


Anyway, I started this post at lunch, and here it is, nearly bedtime.  Not that I’ve been writing all day; I just keep coming back and thinking, “Meh, this doesn’t seem done,” and then failing to come up with anything else. I’m sure at one point I had some other things I meant to write about, but I don’t remember them.

So, there you have it.

People with big legs: any suggestions for taming the quick petite allegro?  (Besides, “Practice, practice, practice,” which is probably, to be fair, a huge part of it.)

Honors Convocation

My chemistry prof from a couple of semesters back, Dr.  Wainge, won the Distinguished Professor award.

In his beautiful speech (which, like everything else, was really hard to understand because of echo from the speakers), he recounted how after finishing his BS degree he had to wait four years, teaching science in high school, before he could start his PhD program in Physical Chemistry …  because, at the time, in Cameroon, there was no such program.

I don’t know if that’s what made him such a great Chem teacher (you guys, I got an A+ in his class with no prior chemistry classes and I did not burn down the Physical Sciences building during lab!).  It probably helps, at very least.

Anyway, as he wound to a close he told us, mid-analogy: “… And when you see a detour, be patient and follow it, because it may be the safest way to get where you are going  — or you might even find an even better destination than the one you had in mind.”

So yeah, that.   And everything else he said.

Also, when I got up to collect my honor cord, I got a totally unexpected whoop from someone out there in the audience on the opposite side of the auditorium from my family.   So, pretty cool stuff, and many thanks to whoever that was.   If you’re reading this, please know that it was a giant ego boost!  ^—^

That’s it for now.   Lovely weekend with the family, great roving packs of Dawsons getting along beautifully with Mom and Ray.  Too much awesome food because, well, Louisville.

Commencement tomorrow: the great Reading of All the Names.

And then?

Who knows.   But wherever we go, we’ll go there dancing.

Danseur Ignoble: Milestones

Today, I did Margie’s class.  We began with the usual easy plies, combined tendus and degagees to save time, and then she changed it up and gave us a challenging fondu-et-rond de jambe combination and did our grand battement en releve.  The fondu-et-rond de jambe combination also involved circular port des bras, which is finally starting to look like ballet instead of like some kind of terrible spasm.

During our floor stretch I still couldn’t get the right-side split all the way down.  My right hamstring has been tight since I’ve been riding the bike a lot, and I think I just figured out why — as a long-time equestrian, I tend always to mount and dismount on the left, and as a result I also tend always to put the left foot down at stop signs, lights, and so forth — which means that the right leg does more than its fair share of the pushing-off-from-a-dead-stop work.

The left split, on the other hand, went right down, no sweat: boom, here I am on the floor.  So, of course, Margie wandered over and gave me additional stretches (and reminded me to square my hips) — flat back forward; cambre back.  I want to say I’ve probably done cambre back in a split before, but certainly not since I was, like, 13 or 14.

I also was able to pretty much pancake during center splits.  That’s another thing I probably haven’t done since middle school (or, at the latest, high school, during my Modern Dance phase).

We also did turns from fifth at the barre, and a few of mine came out rather nicely.

Going across the floor, we did a really-rather-wicked balance exercise — two different versions, really.

Version A was what one might describe as a pique-passe-fondu walk (and here’s the hard part) without putting the working foot down and with control on the supporting leg.  No hopping.  No schlumpnig.  Just one smooth motion: pique; working leg comes through passe towards tendu as the supporting leg melts into fondu.  Repeat on opposite leg; no step in between.  Easy enough on the flat foot; much harder on releve (we used coupe rather than passe en releve).

Version B, on the other hand, started with pique first arabesque, then came through attitude to passe to extend forward and provide the working leg for the next side (en releve the whole time, no steps between, no hopping, no schlumping).  I was able to do this really well maybe twice, when (surprise, surprise) I stopped thinking so hard about my supporting leg.

Apparently, there’s no crying in baseball, but there’s no thinking in ballet.

Needless to say, I shall be practicing this at home!  This is the first thing that’s caused me to say, “Wow, that’s hard” in the ballet studio.  Not to say things are never challenging — but this is the first time something has been sufficiently challenging to warrant mentioning.

After class, Denis took me to a nearby thrift store, where I actually found three really, really nice shirts in my size.  Huzzah!  It is not particularly easy to find a size small or 14 – 14.5 mens’ dress shirt at a thrift store in this part of the country, let alone three really sharp ones in excellent condition. 

I took a chance on one that I wasn’t sure about — a casual button-up with a large plaid pattern in mulberry, several browns, and a couple of other shades.  I tried it on in the changing room, and was really surprised to find that I really like how it looks. 

The others are both proper dress shirts, one in a crisp black poplin and the other in a French-blue stripe with French cuffs.  I’ll see about finding some inexpensive cufflinks that suit it (my current pairs are red and purple, neither of which would be a great match for most occasions, though the red ones could work for Independence Day or Bastille Day :D).  Come to think of it, silver (or stainless steel) would go nicely either either the blue shirt or the black one.


Okay.  That’s enough for now.  I have to go sort out some web stuff, do some homeowork for the MOOC I’m taking, and otherwise attempt to be a responsible adult.  Ha!

I’m working on it.


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