First Class with L’Ancien; A Few Words About Grieving

First, my apologies for being way behind in on blorg in general and on my Leibster post specifically. This week has been less hectic than last week, but still pretty hectic, and when I’ve been home, I’ve been burying myself in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods[1], Two Dots, and Dots & Co[2]. Some of this has been a function of trying to wrap my head around the fact that an old friend of mine died recently. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but we kept in touch, and it’s a weird thing.

  1. …Another book I waited way too long to read because soooo many people were like YOU HAVE TO READ THIS! which always makes me go nooooooooooo lalalala I can’t hearrrrrr you until finally I read whatever THIS! is and it turns out that I’ve been an idiot about it for ten years or what have you.
  2. Addictive phone games.

Then, grief is always weird. I have done enough of it that I’ve learned to expect it to be different every time, which is about the only thing you can expect, except for the basic elements of grieving (which will show up entirely on their own schedule).

Too often we’re taught to think of the “stages of grief” as a process of passing through discrete checkpoints on a one-way path. Anyone who has ever experienced actual grief (which, in time, will ultimately be everyone) will be comforted to know that Ross and Kessler never intended their “stages of grief” framework to be understood this way. They’re not unidirectional; heck, they’re not even necessarily discrete: rather than a one-way train track with stops at Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, they’re more like a transdimensional TARDIS trip in which one might simultaneously visit, for example, Denial and Anger whilst shuttling back and forth between bargaining and depression, or what have you.

In short, it’s bigger on the inside; also, confusing and muddled. On the upside, if you miss your stop at Anger and don’t get your ticket stamped, you don’t have to ride back to the contrôle in the fog at four AM with a stiff rear derailleur and … I have now completely jumped ship into randonneuring analogies. Then, anyone who has ever logged so much as a single populaire understands that cycling can, at times, be remarkably like grief. Only you burn off all the extra food you shove in your mouth rather faster.

I suppose the same can be said for ballet: in fact, the learning of ballet involves the same sort of transdimensional weirdness, wherein you might simultaneously be good and horrible at ronds de jambe[3].

    1. …Which, as L’Ancien confirmed this morning, much to my smug satisfaction, are the most important thing we do at the barre. Probably, though, it’s not just because I like them the most[4].
    2. This is relatively new. It used to be that grand battement was my favorite part of barre—not because it’s last, but because you get to show off how well you can kick yourself in the face, and I’m strong, flexible, and a giant show-off by nature.


Class this morning was much like that: at one point, I was thinking so hard about what I was doing with my hands, eyes, arms, and weight that I forgot to change my facing … which was the first step in the exercise o_______o (The worst part is that I did this on both sides.)

But, ultimately, it was so profoundly good-bad because L’Ancien, as he shall heretofore be known, is a phenomenal teacher (you guys, he might even be a better teacher than BW o.o’).

He is, in fact, not terrifying, even when he’s horribly disappointed, because he approaches his moments of disappointment with humor.

Also, he doesn’t let us get away with all of the bad habits we normally engage in just because We’re Grown Folk Now, like noodling (even if it’s in an effort to better understand a correction) or not being already prepared on the and or not actually finishing the exercise with the music (WE HAD A REAL PIANIST, YOU GUYS!).

In fact, at one point, L’Ancien asked our pianist, J, to play the final chord again and just sit on the pedal and made us get back into a lovely fifth, stand, and wait ’til J took the pedal off.

That was instructive. I’ve realized, lately, that I have rather a bad habit of “clocking out” at the end of an exercise: I hit a nice fifth (or first, depending), hold it for a heartbeat or two, and then let everything fall apart. That doesn’t fly, does it? You’re supposed to let the music tell you when you’re done, not just go, “Meh, I’m good,” and break for coffee.

So I concentrated on not doing that, until I got too busy concentrating on other things. I hope I didn’t revert to clocking out, but who knows? I had hands and eyes and fingers and a neck to worry about, and that’s just the beginning. Except, of course, the goal really was to not worry about things—more to find the way to do them without thinking about them.

Which is, of course, how it ought to be done.

L’Ancien also called me out on my habit of starting class with my eyeline somewhere around, oh, my navel. I don’t know when or why I developed this habit, but at the beginning of class, especially when facing the barre, I tend to look at my feet.

As the song says, “Your feet are going to be on the ground.” You don’t really need to look at them to figure out what they’re doing (though sometimes I have trouble feeling what’s going on in my hips, since my body is crazy). If you do look at your feet, it will make your whole body sort of curl up like you’re a salad shrimp, and you’re basically gonna have a bad day (or your teacher is going to come over and physically grab hold of your head and fix it).


This is really more a bar exercise than a barre exercise, tbh. (Via Pexels.)

So, L’Ancien is very into the physical corrections, which is great by me, as I find them extremely memorable. He fixed both my foot and my head on the first side of the very first exercise, and we continued from there.

We also had a lovely chat after class when I stopped to thank him for teaching; this one specifically about my head and how I might fix it. Among other points, he mentioned (justly) that he thinks it’s a question largely of where I rest my eyes—something I’ve noticed in my quest to improve my balances.

He also pointed out that I have very square shoulders, which is interesting. Like, it’s something I’m aware of, but I don’t think I’ve literally ever thought about it in a ballet context before. Rather, I’ve thought about not letting my shoulders creep into my ears, or collapse in on themselves, or do that weird thing where they get behind my body in bizarre ways—but never, really, “I have very square shoulders; what does this mean for me as a ballet dancer?”

But, obviously, this is not something you think about in the studio. Rather, it’s something to know about yourself, when you sort of visualize your body, so that you can use your body to its best advantage.

Anyway, this is long enough, and I have to dash off to a trapeze class.


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 2018/01/20, in balllet, class notes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m very sorry for your loss. But I’m glad you’re reading American Gods – it really is good. Its spin-off, Anansi Boys, is also great. You’re just like the SO in this way. The more I recommend a book to him, the less likely he is to read it. I have to leave it at “This book is kinda good, you might like it” to achieve the desired effect.
    L’Ancien sounds awesome in every sense of the word!

    • Ha, funny! That’s pretty much what works best with me, too. I’ll add Anansi Boys to my reading queue! I just plowed though The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, which was beautiful, and started rereading Neverwhere. I always forget how good Gaiman is!
      L’Ancien is amazing. I keep thinking about things he said on Saturday morning, which is definitely a sign of a good teacher (and/or that I’m going mad :D).
      Also, thank you 🙂 I’ve discovered though this process that D is really amazing at talking to people who are grieving about their grief. It’s interesting what we discover about our loved ones in difficult times. That has really felt like a gift from the universe.

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