Friday Morning Fumbling

I had many troubles with the sleepings last night, as is probably evidenced by my falling back onto something resembling a combination of dogespeak and lolspeak.

As a result, today, I arrived on the scene mentally jumbled, then proceeded to try to lead pliés.

Oy vey.

You guys.

I have been doing pliés since I was six. You would think I would have this down. Likewise, I’ve designed (edit: and led) plié exercises for beginning dancers before. Whole barres, in fact.

It’s not hard. In fact, it’s so easy that the proverbial cave man could do it, providing that his musculoskeletal system allows for an appropriate degree of turnout (otherwise, he should modify accordingly).

Usually, you can do something like two demis, one grand in 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th, then stick cambres and things between them if the music allows. At the end, you either take a sus-sous and possibly detourné or maybe you don’t, depending on your class. Maybe you just take a sus-sous and balance. Maybe you just finish en bas.

Anyway, coming up with an opening plié combination is normally the easiest thing in the world.

But, OTOH, it really helps if you listen to the music first and work your way through. Which I totally failed to do.

So there we are doing the pliés I’ve just given, and I’m going, “Oh, crap, I should’ve included cambres in here, there’s totally time,” and kicking myself and screwing up the port de bras. That I’ve just given.


Anyway, later in class it got better, as my brain finally decided that it could come on line and work a little. I had an easier time asplaining the chassée-sauté combination that we did going across, and even convinced the class to relax and play around a little.

Semi-Pro Tip: when doing a simple chassée-step-sauté combination, invoke the Party Scene from Nutcracker; it makes everyone giddy (unless they hate the Nutcracker, in which cause … I dunno, there are good party scenes in basically all of Petipa’s ballets; just pick one). Likewise, to encourage freedom in the arms, ask your dancers to imagine themselves in big floofy skirts that they can wave around with their hands — grown-ups think this is funny, which makes them laugh, which helps in and of itself, but they’re often willing to step right into the Big Floofy Skirt role. (YMMV with guys; I didn’t have any guys today, but I’m certainly not afraid to don my Big Imaginary Floofy Skirt.)

I was, however, an overall terrible example much of the time, because sleep deprivation had left me a tad wobbly and was also making it hard to keep my head in the game.

Seriously, when we had some time to practice turns at liberty, I did two stellar singles from fifth, then somehow got distracted by my own reflection and pretty much fell over. I mean, not all the way, but you know how it is.


Anyway, next week, I will come prepared with a plié exercise in addition to all the fancy tendus I keep thinking about, and then I will maybe introduce them to basic mazurka step, which I think they’d enjoy.

And, also, I will listen all the way through the music while class is getting itself set up, so I know what I’m working with (though if it’s the same music, I know what we’re doing now).

And, with any luck, I will be less sleep deprived, so things will hang together (like my head and eyes and arms, for example; so many times my head was just like, “Oh, we were doing rond de jambe now? I was, you know, thinking about Swan Lake, and also about bagels.”

So there you have it. Failing to plan is planning to create a deeply inadequate plié combination.

Remember that.

À bientôt, mes amis.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2016/04/01, in balllet, class notes, teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Now I too am thinking about lightly feathered bagels in floofy skirts dancing on from the wings in rows to the obvious bit of music…

  2. Checking in from tanztheater this morning!

    The Place, the place: home of the Richard Alston company, the London Contemporary school, and a few other gangs. As usual in London, it’s actually a bit of a rabbit warren of a building. Obviously got a chunk of money in the late 90s, but not much since, so it feels kind of worn and rather like a school the Blair government refurbished that’s not had maintenance since the crash. As a bloke you change where the company does – they all have lockers with their names, and a giant gold eagle for principals [I made that up], but there’s nowhere for *your* stuff, and the showers are cold.

    The studio, though, number 8, was huge, daylit from above, with a shiny marley floor, a whole wall of mirrors, and a bunch of sound gear. I got in early to do an unusually thorough Cunningham stretch set. About the tenth student in was someone I take class with. Tenth student? Yes. They just kept coming. In the end we were 21 students, so the floor that looked like the deck of an aircraft carrier to begin with ended up being pretty tight. There were so many students the boss, Adrian Look, was seriously convinced they’d overbooked and two classes had shown up. But no.

    Odd detail: I had the impression there were more men than usual. In fact there were three – the same proportion, 1 in 7, as at home. Pre-class was interesting – a weird combination of bunheads getting on the barre, Cunninghamites doing obsessive back stretches, odd people doing floor stuff I don’t recognise.

    The class. This required a high tolerance for hippie bullshit – lots of talk about “zer energy” – but having made the effort to shut up, we got to dance. The description mentioned a “contemporary barre”, but we didn’t use one. Instead you do technique exercises while linking arms in a line (way to remind you to watch your balance…), and some odd-but-fun stuff like setting the whole class but two students to run around the studio flat, while the other two go in relévé and try to tag people who have to get up too, until the whole class is whirling around on demi.

    Getting more serious, we did quite a bit of technique stuff aimed around leading movements from the chest. If you’ve seen any Pina Bausch, think about it. This was weird, but an interesting “right, so that’s how they did it”. Also, deliberately falling over your toes (Look’s correction: keep your heels down, going up into relévé is stabilising, the point is to fall over and recover).

    From there we pushed straight into some quite complicated choreography, with a heavy emphasis on speed across the floor and drastic, dramatic movements. Also, a lot of jumps. (Look’s direction to the drummer – yes, a drummer – “Can we have somezing like…a storm?”)I was pretty pleased with my physical performance and my technique – this was listed as RAD level 1/2, I could feel it was a step up, but it wasn’t either that let me down. Look kept talking about emotional states, but to be honest I was very busy marking all the movements – my concentration started to go with about 15 minutes left, which is weird because that happens in hour-long classes about 45 mins in and this was 90 minutes – and by that time my key emotional state was “hungry”.

    Look also said at one point: “Don’t judge, but reflect”. I asked him later what the remark was in the original German – we had to discuss this, and he arrived at “Im Moment nichts bewerten, sondern reflektieren”. (Bewerten: to evaluate, rather than richten: to judge. Reflektieren is an odd verb to use in German, rather frenchified and in the literary style of the 1980s, rather than, say, nachdenken. But they’re the Germans.) “Don’t evaluate [or make value judgments] in the moment, but think on”.

    Anyway, the post-class dance high was truly epic. On to hard mode Cunningham tomorrow morning!

    • This sounds like a really interesting (and useful, and fun!) class … Funny that the distribution of men was exactly the same as in your regular classes.

      I love the energy of big classes — there’s something about having a large group that tends to produce really good classes. I think it also produces a constraint that can lead to engaged and creative teaching: like, working from the question, “How can we make combinations work in a room packed this tightly?” gets the creative juices flowing.

      And the tag improv just sounds really, really fun 😀

      I’m going to have to internalize Look’s correction about falling — I think that’ll be useful for Modern T’s class. We’ve been doing a lot of falling-and-recovering, and I always feel like I’m fighting really hard against the cumulative effect of years of ballet and gymnastics training. This makes me realize I’m probably approaching the problem from the wrong angle — trying to force myself to fall from relevé when what I’ve trained to do seen relevé is *balance.* Going to try this on Friday, assuming we use falls.

      Ditto leading movements from the chest — that’s useful also for ballet; in that context, just thinking about it that way would force one to maintain upper-body alignment.

      It’s interesting also that they used a drummer — I was reading a chapter on time in The Intimate Act of Choreography (great book even if you don’t have choreographic ambitions, btw), and the authors strongly recommend using a drummer for a number of the improvs. It sounds like a really good way to get a feeling for pulse without getting caught up in the other elements of the music. Now I really want to get an improv group together and try it!

      It’s really quite cool that you made it to the 75-minute mark before your concentration began to wane! (I can attest that an emotional state of “hungry” can wreak havoc on concentration.)

      Are your usual classes 60 minutes?

      Ours are nominally 75 minutes at LBS, but tend to run to 90 anyway. I think Modern T’s class is nominally 90, but sometimes that runs long, too. I’m always curious about how different schools and teachers decide how long to make classes (though 90 minutes is apparently the default for ballet).

      Thanks for the excellent write-up, by the way! Would you mind if I copy-pasta it and post it to as a guest post?

      • Yeah, the usual is 60 mins. I could get used to 90, I think, but the last 15 mins effect does make me think there’s a reason football (you know, that football, not the other football), both kinds of rugby, and field hockey all play 40 or 45 minute halves.

      • This is an interesting point, and one I’d never really thought about in those terms.

        I also wonder if it’s rather similar to that thing that happens with kids at the end of a school term, when they can smell freedom just ahead.

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