Everything Crammed Into One Post

The past several days have been busy-in-excess-of-my-usual-policy, so here’s a quick recap:

Thursday, I took the road test for a driver’s license, passed it with flying colors, went home for a couple hours, went to bell choir practice, then went to another awesome session of Acro-Balancing in which we all more or less failed to actually nail a five-person fan, but had a great time trying.

Friday, I drove out and picked up my friend Robert, who is staying with us as part of his relocating-to-Louisville process. We did some kind of class on Friday evening, but I can’t honestly remember what it was :P

Saturday, Advanced Class went reasonably well, though my turns weren’t great for reasons I don’t quite comprehend (probably, though, I was just tired). Juggling class also went well, as did … um … whatever we did after that, which might have been one or another form of conditioning?

Sunday, I didn’t get to do any cirque stuff because I played bells, and that was excellent. We did really well, and we played Holst’s Thaxted and two other pieces, including a really cool modern arrangement for choir, organ, and bells of a 15th-century piece. I love the music of that period, so that was a blast.

Monday morning, I continued to suck at turns because I continued to be tired. Barre was excellent, though. Monday evening, we did Fitness & Flexibility and Silks 1, during which Denis and I both shot a little bit of video with my phone.

Once my phone stops being a jerk and refusing to upload, I’ll post said video here. Mine is extremely short, unfortunately, and I didn’t think to ask Denis to shoot the lovely roll-ups that I did. I have less than a minute of spinning mermaid-into-tuck, and it’s rather nice (though, being me, I get hung up on the fact that my side plank was a wee bit saggy).

To top things off, I executed an absolutely beautiful pirouette while talking with my silks teacher about why a certain roll-up move we were doing felt so natural and intuitive to me. Why couldn’t I have had beautiful turns in ballet class???!!!!!

It’s really interesting how some things on silks are intuitive for dancers and some aren’t. The arabesque on silks is, in fact, counter-intuitive from a ballet perspective — you use an entirely different bodily process to achieve the same end result, so it’s the thing I struggle with the most (which makes everyone else in class feel better, since some of the things that are hard for everyone else are really easy for me).

So that’s where I’ve been the past few days. Moving Robert in has involved the usual array of setup, shopping, and so forth, which has eaten up a fair bit of time.
Things are more or less back to normal now, though.

Tomorrow is my birthday, so I think I’m going to drop by our local dancewear store and treat myself to some new shoes, complete with a proper fitting. It would be awesome to have a nice pair of shoes that don’t roll off the backs of my feet at the worst possible moment (currently, my super cheap eBay shoes don’t roll off, but they’re also not going to hold up forever).

Video to follow!

Brraaaiiinnnzzzzz

Wednesday Class: Musicality Day

En manège:
Temps levée arabesque
Balancé turn
Temps levée arabesque
Balancé turn
Pique turn
Pique turn
Temps levée arabesque
Balancé turn
Temps levée arabesque
Balancé turn
Chaînes x4
Temps levée arabesque
Balancé turn
Temps levée arabesque
Balancé turn
Those coupé half-turns whose name escapes me
Temps levée arabesque
Run away so second group can go, but make sure you’re spaced so you can re-enter on the next pass

Petit Allegro:
Glissade (no change)
Jeté
Glissade (no change)
Jeté
Glissade (no change)
Jeté
Pas de bourré
Entrechat quatre
Other side

Other Petit Allegro:
Sissone simple avant
Sissone simple arrière
Tombe
Coupe
Glissade
Assemblé (battu if you like)
Other side

I didn’t do as well with choreography today as I expected to — I attribute this to Denis’ nightbear.
Yes, that’s -bear rather than -mare. He dreamed a giant bear was hovering inches from his face and woke with a loud shout. That cost me two hours of sleep, and I was slow getting started this morning and didn’t eat or drink enough before class. The end result was weak petit allegro (edit: because I ran out of steam; and I should say “weaker-than-usual;” my petit allegro has only recently started being reliable in Wednesday and Saturday class again).

On the other hand, Ms. B gave me a ton of really good direction at barre — she’s really working on making an expressive dancer out of me, and it’s working far better than I had expected.

Addendum: there was this really awesome moment during one of the exercises when she was correcting my port de bras and epaulement and said something like, “Open that chest — really show that you’re strong — proud!” and I responded by channeling the frack out of my inner Ballet Prince, to which she said, “Yes!”

In ballet class, “Yes!” can mean so, so much.

She also gave me a modification on our centre adagio – my knee wasn’t hurting, but I didn’t want to push it, so she suggested that I substitute a penché in place of a promenade on that side.

Because I was the only guy in class and standing in the center of the group, I think it looked rather cool; rather intentional.

The challenges are timing my penché so I arrived back at the vertex just as the ladies completed their promenade and keeping the penché fluid and lyrical (which is harder when you’re tired, evidently!). It was cool; I enjoyed having the opportunity to think about timing and musicality that way.

I think my penché was a tad stiff on the first run, but it came together beautifully on the second.

This week I’m working on keeping my core together while maintaining a fluid, expressive relaxation in my upper body. These are the details that I both enjoy immensely and find quite challenging.

Anyway, I’ve almost reached the grocery store, so I’d better close. We have something at Suspend tonight, but I didn’t recall precisely what.

À bientôt, mes amis!

Quickie: On Having A Passion

Bipolar On Fire recently wrote a beautiful post called “Before I Die,” inspired by that thing that has been happening where people write the things they want to do before they die on the sides of buildings or what have you.

I used to have a really hard time with that sort of thing because there were so many things that seemed like The Most Important Thing.

This was, in fact, the great stumbling block in my life in general. Everything seemed so hugely, staggeringly important that it was almost impossible to do anything.

…And then I started dancing again, and everything became so much easier.

Usually people figure out that they want dance to drive their lives when they’re in, like, high school … or even before that.

I didn’t have that experience (because reasons; Serious Things Got In The Way, etc) then, but that doesn’t mean that having it now is in some way invalid.

…And it makes prioritizing the list of things to do Before I Die so much easier. Um, not that I’m planning on dying any time soon.

I’m not sure I’m ready to post that list yet: you know, that whole To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent thing. I am afraid of jinxing myself, and maybe a little bit afraid that people will be like, “You can’t do that,” even though, frankly, it’s not up to them.

The funny thing is, to an extent, the list of things I want to do before I die, but that are going to take a while (hello, choreographing an entire 3-act ballet!) are some of the things that help me hold on when dying starts to look like a good idea.

Yeah, there’s a part of me that’s like, “FFS, how have you not done ANY OF THESE THINGS yet? You, sir, provide an example towards which the failures of the future might someday hope to strive.”

And then another part is like, “Hey, wait! We have actually done this thing over here, and this other thing, and we think this third thing might actually be a worthwhile contribution to the world. And that seems like a good reason to stick around.”

It doesn’t always make a huge difference, but sometimes that modicum of snuff* positivity can be most efficacious.

*Three cheers if you catch this reference. Also, I just want to be dainty.

Maybe, since I seem to be doing this thing this year where I am learning to be brave in new ways, I will try to, like, actually post my own list of things I mean to do before I die.

Some of them don’t even revolve directly around ballet (shocking, I know).

So, in short, having a passion can make a huge difference in prioritizing all those things that seem so critically important; all those things that you have to do Before You Die.

Okay, enough of this for tonight. I’m going to bed, so tomorrow I can get up and dance.

Progress (and a Wee Little Song)

At the beginning of January, we started cirque training.

You’ve seen pictures of that progress, so I won’t bore you with réitération…

 

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Oh, okay. Just one little picture, if you insist.

 

Instead, I have a few thoughts about fitness.

Given that, physically, I am not always the best at starting healthy, I was concerned that I’d struggle with the new schedule.

The first two weeks, I found myself complaining more than usual. One day, though, I realized I was kvetching to Ms. B or Ms. T — both of whom teach five or six days per week and perform — about my two measly classes the previous day having left me a bit tired. Kvetching to someone who spends way, way, way more time busting her butt than I do (and does it on pointe).

That stopped me in my own tracks. In addition to training and working as a Dance-Movement Therapist, my long-term goals include performing, as much and as frequently as possible. I am doing as little physical activity right now as I’m likely to be doing for the next goodness knows how many years.

Anyway, I decided that I wasn’t going to whinge about it anymore*. The tiredness was part of the process of adaptation, and I knew that it would pass.

*It’s fair, of course, to give a heads-up when you come to class already cooked so your instructor can tell you to back off if you look like you’re going to hurt yourself.

The cool part — the Progress part — is that it has begun to pass.

The human body is an amazing thing.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt dead on Wednesday morning after one Intro Aerials class (or whatever it is we were doing on Tuesday evening).

Yesterday, I did a pretty zippy ballet class (sans grand allegro, admittedly, but I’m pretty sure “16 kajillion royales” is about an equivalent rate of effort) and a tough conditioning class. Today, I woke up ready to rock. Tonight, we’ve got another conditioning class (fitness & flexibility) and Open Fly, and I feel entirely confident that, while I may feel a little tired and whingy when I get up tomorrow morning, by the time I get to Ms. B’s killer class, I’ll be fine.

There’s some things worth noting here.

First, my body was never willing to step up to meet this kind of workload on the bike. I got sick a lot more when I was riding more. The weak link was always my respiratory system — the constant exposure to cold air or bad air quality wasn’t something this particular body was going to adapt to**.

**Oh no, a danging participle — someone get this sentence a dance belt!

Second, I’m still working on learning to respect injuries.

I think I mentioned whacking the medial epicondyle of my left knee — an injury which sounds like it barely bears mentioning (in its lesser forms, it does barely bear mentioning).

The thing is, I whacked it really, really hard, which led to all kinds of swelling and stuff, which can precipitate further injury if not dealt with carefully (especially in a knee joint; especially, especially in a hypermobile knee joint). I took it easy on the jumps and turns, took a couple days off, wore a brace, iced the bejeezus out of the knee … and, miraculously (ha), it’s pretty much fine at this point.

If I hadn’t respected that injury, I’d still be wrestling it — so that’s a good lesson, there.

Third, I’m learning to work a little differently when I’m tired.

Yes, pushing through fatigue is a necessary skill for any athlete or dancer — but that doesn’t mean you should do it all the time. Sometimes it’s better to back off, take the non-relevé option, work at 45 degrees, mark the grand allegro, and not get hurt.

It’s like that old song — you’ve gotta know when to tendu, know when to fondu, know when to grand jeté, know when to mark.

Or something like that.

So that, too, is progress, especially for anyone who comes from a competitive gymnastics background (in which the basic ethos about injury is, “If your body part is still attached, you can and will keep going”).

So there we have it. My fitness is progressing nicely, as evidenced by a reduction in overall tiredness.

I’ve also noticed improvements in performance, including ballet improvements that stem from cirque training: today I was doing what I’d like to describe as a “meditation on balancé,” which is to say a combination that goes:

balancé
balancé
balancé
balancé
tombé
pas de bourrée
gliassade
assemblé

…repeat on other side ad nauseam.

It turns out that all the core work is good for those balancés. They’re prettier if you don’t get all sway-backed.

Remember: we’re going for Swan Lake, not Geriatric Dairy Cow Lake. Not that Geriatric Dairy Cow Lake would be a bad show, necessarily, but I’m pretty sure that the technique involved is squarely in the purview of modern dance ;)

That’s it for now. Off to round up all the dance belts, get changed, find a food, and go kill myself at circus school some more.

À bientôt, mes amis!

You got to know when to tendu,
Know when to fondu,
Know when to grand jeté,
And know when to run.

You never run the combo
When you’re nursin’ a hurt tendon—
There’ll be time enough for dancin’
When the healin’s done…

…With apologies (and a tip of the imaginary hat) to Mr. Kenny Rogers, from whose ouevre someone should definitely create an epic ballet about life in the American West (but probably not me, because I have enough on my plate, what with Simon Crane and school and all that other stuff I seem to be doing all the time).

 

Monday Class: We Got The Beats (Again)

Here’s a little petit allegro combination:
A
[Brush (back foot) to coté
Sous-sus
Brush plié second
Entrachat trois]
Repeat A two more times
Sisson simple
Chassé
Assemblée

Other side.

This was the final combination today— we didn’t do grand allegro because we ran out of time.

For some reason, I had difficulty getting the changes on this (I kept changing the back foot instead of the front), but once attained it was really nice. Very dance-y.

Prior to that we did royales; like a zillion of them, to make them very clean.

Across-the-floor went:
Pique fouetté
Balancé
Pique fouetté
Balancé turn
Pas de bourré-fifth
Chassé fourth
Double turn
Detourné
Plié fourth
Attitude turn to arabesque
Run away*!

*The studio isn’t big enough to do this twice through with any conviction.

I loved this one, once I stopped thinking and just danced.

Pirouette combinations involved a Vaganova thing with turns from second and a brute-force thing with eight repetitions of [plié, turn from fifth].

I managed to do half the turns the wrong way because for some reason I was convinced they were supposed to be en dedans. My brain loves en dedans.

Barre was strange (in a good way), interesting, and full of brain-teasers. Mr. Beastie was very much on form today (in the sense that his combinations were excellent; physically, he’s recovering from a wee hernia).

Both my turnout and my core are holding together better, which makes for better extensions, though my legs were tight today.

I would like to say that I’ll continue to write down the combinations like this, but I can’t always recall them this well.

So that was class. An excellent Monday. I hate my arms less and less each week; little by little, I look less like a big ropy cephalopod and more like a danseur.

Cirque du So Far, So Good

Today was Shiny Tights Day … At least, it was for me.

image

Candlestick in a straddle with no feets. No big deal.

image

Just, like, hanging out with our instructor, Ms. C(1).  (There were two Cs today.)

image

A little Archer’s Pose (this was actually part of the dismount).

image

“Squatty hip lean,” and probably the nicest picture of me going. Also, I haz a pasty. Wow.

image

Finally flying Denis in foot-bird!

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The highlight of acro-balancing, in which we built a mighty wall of tabletops.

I. DID. A. TRIPLE.

OMG OMG OMG.

You guys!.

It wasn’t the world’s best triple, but it…

was…

a triple!

Yasssssss!

If nothing else had gone right in class today (which, btw, almost everything went very well), I could still basically die happy right now.

Also, JP taught, and we got to do brisées, of which I did some correctly.

That’s all for now.

À bientôt.

Dance Cognition: Echo Without* Delay

*Or Almost Without…

I bought a book, The Neurocognition of Dance, of which I’ve read only dribs and drabs, and which I’ve lent to my friend B. (not Ms. B or Mr. B — Blogging-By-Initials gets confusing sometimes), and I’m burningly curious right now about whether any of the chapters within touch on this. I’ll have to find out when she’s done with it.

Anyway!

As dancers, we learn to mirror or echo the actions of other dancers extremely well.

When we’re learning a combination, we mimic right along as it’s handed out — abetted, no doubt, by whatever formal vocabulary of movement (and its associated shorthand) is appropriate to the context, but in a way that’s still rather remarkable for its almost complete lack of delay.

I’m sure that there is a delay — some fraction of a second that passes between the action of instructor or repetiteur or choreographer or group leader or what-have-you and its echo by the rest of the dancers.

It must be eerie to watch this as it happens: to someone on the outside — especially, perhaps, to an observer who is not a dancer — it must look for all the world as if the congregation of dancers, rapt in its attention, is a kind of hive-mind.

In a way, maybe it is.

There is an element of “mind-reading,” of highly-educated guessing, involved in this process. I say that because once in a while we get it wrong: what looks like it will be tendu turns out to be jeté (a distinction so slight, when indicated with hand gestures, as to be essentially invisible to the untrained eye), or the anticipated turn is sublimated into a kind of caesura followed by a contretemps. Sometimes, this happens, and someone, unconscious of his own voice, says, “Oh!” even as he adapts on the fly; even as he continues to absorb the combination by that strange combination of habit and apparent clairvoyance.

But mostly, eerily, uncannily, we get it right.

At barre, we stand there in our array, watching with the unblinking eyes of gun dog or panther, flapping our hands or our feet in synchrony with the hands and/or feet of our leader.

Mostly, the human eye does not perceive any delay.

 

I found myself thinking about this yesterday while we were all absorbing one of Ms. B’s long and complex barre combinations. There was a moment during which I was participating in this process and glanced back to make sure that I wasn’t blocking the view of anyone on the wall barre behind me (I was on a wobbly center barre) and noticed that we were all like live wires of attention, all in perfect sync, and that we all appeared to be silently performing some kind of well-rehearsed ritual or carrying out a program.

Only we weren’t. We were learning a new combination, one made up of elements we all knew, but combined in a novel way.

Very cool stuff, there.

Once again, I have more thoughts, but I’m tired. I woke up this morning (morning? I mean afternoon, feh) after another thirteen-hour sleepathon with a sinus headache, a sore throat, and a general feeling of mild malaise, so I decided to give myself a day off. Rest day FTW! Tomorrow, we have a conditioning class in the morning, then I’m going to a semiotics workshop in the afternoon, which should be awesome.

I’ll try to assemble my More Coherent Thoughts on all this soon.

For now, though, I’m going to take a bath, finish reading the article for tomorrow’s workshop, and then go to bed.

À bientôt, mes amis!

Hard, But Not So Hard

This describes both class and life, today.

After the second or third class in a row thinking, “Ms. B. didn’t work us too hard today,” I’ve realized it’s not her — it’s me. The extra work at Suspend, the extra challenge of Advanced Class: these things are paying off. I no longer want to die halfway through barre, and I was even together enough to catch the medium and grand allegro combinations today. In the past, I’ve often not really been firing on all 3.5 cylinders by the last combination or two.

That said, my knee objected stridently to frappés (apparently, I lock my hyperextensions during frappé: oops). It also haaaaaaated promenade and did not love the slow attitude turn, but I endeavoured to execute our adage with all the aplomb I possess all the same. It was too nice not to.

The knee also still wasn’t so happy about some fast-traveling turns (right-working-leg en dedans from fourth, especially), which I find distracting enough that I hosed up the pirouette combination going left and made myself do it over. Twice.

Medium allegro was a brain-teaser:
Part A
little Sissone to coupé avant right
little tombe back to fifth, plié
coupé temps levée arrière left
assemblé-glissade-assemblé, maybe? (I don’t remember what exactly happened here, though I succeeded in doing it right at the time.)

…And then Part B:
sauté to first
plié
sauté in first
plié
sauté
sauté
sauté
plié
échappé
plié
sauté in second
changement
changement
changement
plié
soubresaut
plié
soubresaut
plié
soubresaut x3
…and then repeat Side A on the opposite leg.

Or, well, something very much like that. No difficult steps (at least, not now that my legs have remembered how to Sissone yet again), but a test of dexterity. The weight shifts constantly; the bit in the middle (and again at the
end) feels delightfully simple, but you must pay attention to your changes of foot, lest you start the second pass through Part A on the wrong leg. The tempo’s too fast for that, and next week, when we do it again, it will be twice as fast.

We didn’t do beaten jumps, but that’s fine. I did better beaten jumps on Monday than I’ve done in years: quick, crisp, and articulate.

Our grand allegro started out simply, but included a transitional mind-screw of epic proportions.

It went:
Temps levée arabesque
Temps levée passé
temps levée arabesque
Failli
Glissade
Assemblé
PAS DE CHAT FROM THE FRONT FOOT OMG!
directional change via pas de bourée
temps levée arabesque, etc.

First, my body really wanted to insert an extra temps levée passe.

Second, none of us — NONE! — could convince our legs while marking that it was okay to pas de chat from the front, even though that happens sometimes even in Real Ballet. If you do it from the back leg in this combination, you have to adjust a bunch of stuff on the fly. Some of us did succeed in nailing it on the first run, but by then least one of us (I mean, of course, your humble Danseur Ignoble) had discovered a creative way to screw things up anyway.

You see, I apparently blinked or was pouring water into my mouth or something and missed the part of the demo that made it perfectly clear to everyone else that the PDB was the directional change. Instead, I must have decided it was supposed to be Bizarro-World PDB (front-side-back) or something like that, since we were already doing Bizarro-World PDC.

I don’t know what I did while marking; I may have just left it out because how can you screw up pas de bourré, right?

But screw it up, I did: having decided that the directional change came after the PDB, I passed the cat (ha), then despaired over what to do with my legs and sort of faked my way into the next part. I can’t, at this point, really fathom what I must have been thinking, because once I realized my mistake it was so obvious.

I got it down on the second run, though my brain stubbornly tried to insert an extra temps levée passé on the left side, so once again I made myself do an extra repeat.

On the upside, my old difficulty in getting from temps levée arabesque through failli to glissade did not resurface, so there’s that, and once I had all the parts in place, the combination was buoyant and pretty and fun.

I wound up walking a lot after class, and by the time I got home I was cooked and my knee was sore, so I opted out of class at Suspend. Tomorrow, it’s once more unto the breach, etc., but tonight, the knee has earned a break*. I went straight to bed with an ice pack, a book (on my tablet), and my cat, who is now applying his vibrating massage feature to said knee.

*NOT THAT KIND OF BREAK, Knee, so don’t go getting any ideas!

There was more I wanted to write, but it turns out that I’m exhausted. I still haven’t been sleeping well: I got 13 hours on Monday night, but probably fewer than 5 hours last night. I kept waking up and lying there in that suspended-but-not-asleep state in which Bad Thoughts have me at their mercy. It’s not quite sleep paralysis, but it’s close; I can operate my body after a fashion, but can’t steer my brain at all. This morning, I never got back to sleep after Denis’ first alarm, and thus missed an hour of sleep that I could really have used by then.

Thus, I’m going to read for a bit longer, and maybe then I’ll sleep again (thanks to the power of Twilight, which makes reading on my tablet less wakefulness-inducing than reading a regular book by my bedside lamp).

I think I am going to survive this week. I think maybe I am learning to talk to people, though still not yet apparently before I find myself in a crisis. I’ll work on that next week, I guess.

À bientôt, mes amis.

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