Category Archives: balllet
I took my first company class on Tuesday and dove into my first ballet company rehearsal on Wednesday. Our AD (who I quite like) has been putting me to work learning basically everything and dancing in two of the pieces for our season-opener.
Our company now comprises four boys and more than four girls … I keep meaning to count them but I keep forgetting ^-^’ All of them have more experience than I do, but that’s okay. I’m working my booty off catching up, and the challenge is good for me.
Surprisingly, I find it comfortable to be the least experienced dancer in this context. I’m used to being at the top of the class and having to set an example. It’s nice to be able to relax, acknowledge my weaknesses, and just learn like crazy. I don’t have to try to be the best dancer in the room: I already know I’m not the best dancer in the room. I just have to try everything and work like crazy. Those are things I know how to do.
The “trying everything” bit has led to some surprises. I have done at least one double tour on purpose this week. I realized part of my problem is that I wasn’t really snapping my legs in tiiiiiiight. I think I wrote about this once before: to make a double tour work, you really have to turn yourself into a pencil, and do it FAST.
There have, of course, been plenty of non-surprises. When I get tired, I still get swaybacked, and I still let my ribs splay. I’m working on it. When I don’t get in my own way, I’ve got a lot of jump. I have nice feet. I have a habit of throwing my head back in my turns. When I’m unsure, I pull back into myself; I can get very internal. Sometimes I run myself over in grand allegro.
The cool part is that I feel like I now have the opportunity to work on all of those things. I’ve had great classes for the past few years, don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t be doing this right now if I hadn’t. What I haven’t had is class at this level every single day, five days a week, or the opportunity to take what I’ve been working on in class and immediately apply it in rehearsal.
Unsurprisingly, I like the work. Although I don’t really know anyone very well yet, there’s a kind of peace in being a dancer among dancers. We’re all movers, artists, and obsessed people with intense work ethics. If it’s close to lunch and the AD says, “Let’s run it again!” you might hear a little grumbling, but then everyone runs the piece like it’s the first thing we’ve done today.
I like the structure. I like knowing that I fit somewhere in the company. I don’t in the least mind that, for the moment, my particular spot is “The New Boy.” Being the New Boy means I can only get better (or fail to make an effort and bomb completely, but that’s not my style).
It means the world to me that our AD has taken me on as kind of a protegé. I am grateful for the body that I have, which is well-made for ballet, and especially for my feet, which are apparently all that and a bag of chips (they’re the thing that basically every ballet teacher I’ve ever had has mentioned most specifically). At this point it’s up to me to make the most of what I’ve been given, and to live up to the faith Mr. D has placed in me.
And to learn the slave variation from Le Corsaire and nail down an overhead press lift o.O’
Tomorrow’s my first company class at Actual Ballet Company™.
- I’m not trying to protect my privacy or be dodgy about where I’m dancing; I’m just trying not to vex the demiurges or whosoever into yanking this gig out from under me 😛 Don’t worry, though, even if I never remember to actually put it in writing, if you’re curious, you’ll be able to figure it out from contextual clues soon enough ^-^’
When I returned to the studio what, four and a half years ago?, dancing for an Actual Ballet Company™ was my top-tier goal: the one that I wanted so much I could taste it, but also knew better than to speak out loud (those demiurges again).
I don’t think it would’ve ended my world if I hadn’t made it to that goal. I mean, to be honest, in life, we make a lot of Big Goals™ that we never reach, and that’s okay. Along the way, sometimes our Life Kayaks™ (I’m Really Into The Trademark Sign Today™ you guys) find their way into different waters, and that’s cool. Sometimes the best place to be is the place you never expected or planned to go.
Anyway, I’m still feeling a little Mind-Bottled™ about the fact that, Holy Hecking Heck, I’m actually dancing for an Actual Ballet Company™ this year—though not to the degree that I felt when the AD first sorta casually asked me if I’d like to.
- Our AD has this way of making you feel like you’re doing him a huge favor—like, “Hey, would you be interested? We’re going to need a lot of boys for Sleeping Beauty,” and “Hey, would you be willing to be Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker?” Interested and willing barely begin to cover it ^-^ ^-^ ^-^
- You can sum up my feelings under the header, “OMG OMG OMG SQUEEEEE!”
Anyway, I’ve encountered an interesting thing about reaching big goals—and of course it’s one of those things that everybody knows, but that isn’t, like, Really Real™ to you until you experience it for yourself.
When you reach a Big Goal, it’s not all like, “…And they lived happily ever after.”
It’s more like a turning point in the adventure: you reach the top of the mountain you’ve been climbing since like Chapter 2, and you stand up there, and you look out, and it’s like, “Wow, there’s the whole adventure laid out in front of me,” but in this awesome way, and you start planning out the path; setting the next goals.
Or it’s like you’ve made it to the port, and you’ve boarded the ship that’s going to take you on the next leg of the adventure.
And instead of feeling exhausting, it’s really, really exciting. Thrilling, even.
Considering that my prior experience with setting goals has often been very much like showing up at the Innevitable Inn™ where you’re supposed to meet your fellow adventurers, then promptly falling off a bar stool, hitting your head on the way to the floor, and waking up three days later still at the inn but with no money, no tools of your chosen trade, and considerably fewer HP than you had to begin with … yeah. For me, this is kind of huge?
And what’s funny is that it’s automatic. Maybe this is part of not fighting up stream so much.
There was no moment of, “Cool, I have reached the screen that says ~FIN~!” followed by the inevitable realization that you don’t even get to take a breath before it’s on to Dances With ADHD 2: The Adventure Continues.
It was really more like, “Awesome. What’s next? And how do I keep from getting scurvy while we’re sailing?”
Not to say that I haven’t taken a moment to savor the sweetness of something actually turning out more or less exactly as I’d hoped, or that that little frisson of excitement doesn’t just bubble its way up from time to time. But I’m not living in the future, either.
The present moment is the best moment, because it’s the only moment in which you can live.
Likewise, I realize that all plans are highly conditional. Sure, right now, I think I know where I’m going. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a kraken just outside the harbor ready to grapple with my poor little ship. I mean, actually, there almost certainly is going to be some kind of problem, because, hello. Life.
But that’s okay. Just because you might encounter a Bugblatter Beast around the next corner, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals or make plans. It just means you shouldn’t get too attached to them (though, yes, I will probably be bitterly disappointed if all this somehow falls through).
So, anyway. That’s where I am. The view form here is pretty great, you guys. New horizons opening up and all that.
I can’t wait to get started.
Today, L’Ancien gave us a manège, beginning with:
“That corner (downstage left) is the lonelinest corner. Dancers avoid that corner … make sure you travel through that corner.”
Then four of us stood at the points inside the circle (or well, technically the oval) whilst the other for manèged their way around via piqué turn, piqué turn, tombé-coupé-jeté en tournant, tombé-coupé-jeté en tournant, jeté en tournant, jeté en tournant, jeté en tournant.
After the first run, L’Ancien did not actually lay himself down upon the floor in the depths of his despair, but he probably wanted to, especially where I was concerned. There was a lot of WTF in my run, and I knew that, and I hadn’t figured out how to fix it by the time I made it around the Loneliest Corner and back to where I began.
Basically, it started well (I can do nice piqué turns in my sleep, at this point), but fell apart during the tombé-coupé-jeté. In short, I knew I needed to collect all 18 of my feet together, then stab the coupé foot into the ground and brush the other foot to launch the jeté. Only I couldn’t seem to get all those freaking feet together at the right moment, so I kept doing … ergh, I don’t even know what, but it was wrong. At least it turned in the air, I guess?
- Okay, so technically only two, but if you’ve ever had a bad run of tombé-coupé-jeté en manège, you know what I mean.
What I had done wrong—what everyone, apparently, had done wrong—was that in addition to wearing red shorts (after having been informed that L’Ancien is NOT fond of fire engine red, which I remembered halfway through barre, to my great chagrin), I was attempting to tombé-coupé-jeté from second.
Like, that is to say, instead of chassée-ing through the face the direction of travel, I was … erm … sort of chassée-ing à côte and then … I just … don’t even know what. But it was wrong.
Basically, the result was that instead of coupé-ing to the back of the inside leg as I turned, I was … just flailing the outside leg around like an idiot … and then attempting to reel it in and somehow jeté from, like, the world’s worst fourth position.
The entire correction was this:
“Face the direction you are traveling. And also use your eyes.”
- L’Ancien is almost certainly VERY TIRED of telling me to use my eyes.
Amazingly, y’all, this SOLVED. THE. PROBLEM.
Tombé-coupé-jeté (and/or chassée-coupé-jeté) is one of my favorite steps, but one that I’ve struggled with ( nobody really diagnosed my previous problem—that I was doing some kind of crazy sissone instead of an actual jeté—until I finally asked David Reuille what I was doing wrong, LOL).
It has been really hard for me en manège, which is unfortunate because t-j-c-en-m is in almost every men’s variation ever.
Today, the second run wasn’t exactly spectacular, but it was technically sound … like, “Oh! There are my feet, right where they need to be, doing what they’re supposed to do!”
It wasn’t super high, and it probably wasn’t beautiful, but it was at least acceptable.
So! To sum up my thoughts on tombé-coupé-jeté en tournant:
- FACE THE WAY YOU ARE GOING.
- This is almost always something you should just do anyway, unless you’re doing Balanchine. For some reason, B-Technique is all about making you do piqué turns (and every bleeding thing else) en face. WTF, Mr. B?
- The basic process of the step is:
- Tombé onto the inside foot
- Coupé the outside foot to the BACK of the inside ankle to initiate the turn
- STAB dat coupé foot right into the floor as you
- BRUSH the jeté foot straight the heck out
- DO NOT ROND THIS LEG
- I MEAN IT
- DO NOT ROND
- DON’T DO IT
- YOU DO NOT NEED TO ROND THIS LEG
- If you’re doing the rest of it right, the momentum you’ve established will turn you in the direction of travel; if you rond the leg, you’re probably going to find yourself with your back to the audience
- That will be embarassing and make your ballet mistress very sad
- You don’t want to make your ballet mistress sad, do you?
- Don’t stress out. This step is complicated, yes: but like many things in ballet, once you figure it out it’s kind of easier than it looks. I mean, perfecting it is still hard, of course, because ballet. Oy.
Anyway, there have been times in my life that I’ve managed to mash my way through t-c-j, but it’s only now that I feel like I understand what the hecking heck I’m actually trying to accomplish.
- Of note: if you read that post, you’ll notice it explicitly states that you can tombé to second to add extra power to your jump. You can, BUT! BUT! BUT! YOU MUST STILL pivot through to face the direction of travel before you do the rest, unless you’re traveling on a straight-line diagonal (that is, NOT en manège).
Anyway, by the end of class, I actually felt like I knew how to do tombé-coupé-jeté.
Which is good, because on Tuesday I start company class at an Actual Ballet Company, where it seems I will actually be dancing this season, and it’s not terribly unlikely that I’m going to need it.
You know that thing where you’re facing what’s probably going to be a pretty big change in your routines and you know you should probably get a bunch of stuff done before said Pretty Big Change hits but you keep looking at all the things that need to be done and going ACK NO HOW?
That’s where I am right now, even though I know that I know better.
…By which I mean, the whole Do Two Things thing would really help right now, but it seems like I keep Doing the same Two Things (cooking, dishes) over and over again and not really being up for much more (possibly because things have been stressful and I’m not sleeping well).
To clarify: the Pretty Big Change should be a good thing. I don’t want to talk about it much because I don’t want to tempt fate (and also because I don’t want to have to be like, “Yeah, you know the Big Thing I announced? Well, um, that fell through.”).
lt will also hurl a wrecking ball through the comfortable schedule that has slowly evolved over the past few years and force me to try to be a little better at adulting (or possibly just accept a lower standard, ugh).
So I’m feeling a little up-in-the-air; a little stressed out; a little stuck.
None of which prevents me from being sort of electrically alive with hope that the Big New Thing will actually come to pass; that it won’t turn out that I show up on Day One and get sent home immediately.
Of course, I am terrified of hope, and being electrically alive with anything feels a lot like anxiety, so … yeah.
If the Big New Thing works out, it will be like when you’re playing a puzzle game and you’ve had this one row jamming up the works and you finally get the piece that lets you clear it and then you can put everything else in place. (Edit: I mean in terms of being able to plan. Right now, I feel like I can’t schedule ANYTHING, which is wrecking my head a little now that it’s within my Golden Retriever Time Zone of two weeks.)
If it doesn’t, I suppose I’ll be a little bit devastated, but the worst thing that will come out of it is more time to work on Antiphon projects and the assurance that I’ll be able to continue with what I’m doing now, including the lovely classses with L’Ancien that now take place twice each week, for the foreseeable future.
Historically, the week before any major change is always kind of a giant kettle of stress, and I know that about myself: I dislike imminent changes; I’d rather just get things over with. So I’m trying also to give myself a little bit of grace and not be such a jerk to myself right now. But, of course, being stressed out makes both those goals a little harder to achieve, so … yeah.
Just breathe; just be here now. I’ll be better once I’m in class tonight and the only thing I can think about is dancing (especially since it’s Musical Theater tonight and that requires ALL OF MY MENTAL RESOURCES, you guys).
I’ve been working now for more than a year (granted, that’s really not very long).
I probably imagined that I’d be used to it by now: that, perhaps, the first time that work felt like, you know, work, I’d sort of wake up and go, “Oh, yeah, I’m a professional dancer, this is my job now, no big deal” on a kind of visceral level.
Turns out, that’s not the case. It’s no longer terribly surprising on a rational level, and the Impostor Syndrome has slackened its grip a bit, but every time something happens that makes me realize that I’m doing this amazing thing I feel this little kind of giddy rush.
It’s like when you pick up some random thing at a thrift store, and you google it because it’s interesting, and you realize that it’s actually kind of a rare and unique treasure. It’s like, “I have this amazing thing, and nobody realizes it’s this amazing thing!”
Also a bit like, “Wow, I’ve been given this amazing gift … do They realize that They’ve given me this amazing gift?”
I could ask my friends who’ve been doing this much longer than I have, I suppose … but I also suppose that every answer would be different, because every journey is different.
I hope I never stop at least occasionally being surprised and delighted that, yo, the Universe seems to have decided on a whim that I should be a dancer, and people seem to agree with the Universe, including people who seem to want to pay people to be dancers.
Anyway, there you have it.
The Americana show went well, by the way. Better than I expected: the floor proved to be incredibly grippy … like, seriously, I think it’s surfaced in some Super High-Friction Space Age Polymer … but the costumes for the piece before ours had glitter tutus, and the tiny bits of glitter greatly reduced the friction, making turns and so forth far easier. My piqué turns in the manège at the end could’ve been better (for some reason, I didn’t crank my turnout … eh), but overall the effect of the piece was really exactly what I’d hoped for … and, of course, both Kathy and Christina are fantastic to work with and perfect partners.
For what it’s worth, that’s a terrible title for this post. I’m currently struggling to figure out how to do exactly that, because my schedule will be shifting rather dramatically in about three weeks, Because Reasons (which I’ll discuss further in about four weeks, or something like that: to know, to will, to dare, to restrain oneself to “vaguebooking” for the time being :P).
There are people who will tell you that in their years of training and performing, they never once took a rest day. Because I am
a giant chicken bad at dealing with conflict attempting to learn to be a receptive listener, I always restrain myself from immediately asking, “Okay, so how long did it take you to seriously injure yourself or come down with a stress-induced illness?”
But I’ll admit that I think it.
The human body didn’t evolve to work as relentlessly as dancers work. To train in dance is to tax your body to a degree that’s probably best described as “really rather ludicrous.” To do so without adequate rest is, as far as I’m concerned, not a very good idea. I’m not an expert in much of anything, but I’m pretty sure that my opinion is consistent with those of experts in fields like exercise physiology, the neuroscience of learning, and so forth.
As much as I love L’Ancien’s class, and as important as it is to my training, I took this morning off. I took this morning off because Friday has historically been my day off, but obviously couldn’t be this week, and I can’t take tomorrow off (tech rehearsal), and days off are actually pretty important.
As much as I hated missing L’Ancien’s instruction (and all the stories that he tells along the way), it was worth it to me to give my brain and body a day to recoup their resources. Besides, L’Ancien is teaching on Wednesdays now, so I’m not missing all of his classes for the week.
The weird part is that there was a time in my life that I couldn’t imagine living with a schedule in which my minimum two days off per week weren’t back-to-back, let alone living with only one day off per week. But I love what I’m doing now, so now I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum: if I don’t dance for a couple of days in a row, things feel weird.
Still, the one day off is critical. When I get to the end of my six days—especially if they’ve been six long and demanding days—it feels good to loaf in bed and read for a while, and then have time to work around the house and do some further loafing in the bath. My legs inevitably appreciate the break, especially when there’s been a lot of jumping and not so much adagio.
It’s tempting, when you’re trying to make progress in an art form that speaks to your soul, to charge ahead on full steam. It’s also a recipe for over-training, which leads to physical and mental burnout, and undercuts the progress one hopes to make.
As dancers, we are driven people. Beyond a certain level, dance demands a kind of religious devotion; a vocation. It demands discipline (read: motivation + drive), and it demands disciplines.
For people working under religious vocations, the disciplines are things like prayer (or meditation), fasting, waking up before dawn, silent contemplation, and so forth. Different paths offer different disciplines, but the goal is the same: the Disciplines might not necessarily be what anyone particularly wants to do all the time, but they’re essential tools in the life of a contemplative or any other religious person.
For dancers, the Disciplines are things like class (as some of my friends and I call it, “The Liturgy of the Barre”), Pilates, stretching, suffering on the rack … I mean, the foam roller, actually bothering to eat like fueling your body matters (it does), and rest.
Like religious disciplines, all these things can be beautiful and rewarding in their own right, but that doesn’t mean we’re always in the mood. We do them whether or not we feel like it, because that’s the only way to move forward.
It may seem strange to think of rest as a discipline. Yet, in a culture (the modern Western world) that seems almost suicidally devoted to the philosophy of Get Up And Go, and in a subculture (dancer culture) in which hard work is the sole port of entry, it has to be.
To undertake a discipline is usually to add in something you don’t want to do or give up something you do want to do, because it will help you achieve something you want even more.
- This is why motivation is critical: I don’t believe in discipline in the way a certain subset of life-coachy types does. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: discipline is just motivation in action. You have to be more motivated to do the “disciplined” thing than to do whatever else you might do … even though the “disciplined” thing might not seem as rewarding in the immediate moment. If you’re not, you’re simply not going to do it. So “discipline” isn’t some magic gift; it’s a question of figuring out A] what really motivates you and B] how to harness that motivation to achieve your goals. Likewise, motivation isn’t quite as simple as we like to think it is: we’re often really bad at identifying the things that actually motivate us, and much better at identifying the things we think should motivate us. We come up with the wrong answer to the question, “How do I get myself to do this?” and then wonder why we fail.
Rest then, for dancers, is very much a Discipline. We don’t want to take a day off when we could be taking a class that we love. We don’t want to go to bed at 10 PM because we have to get up at 6 to drive across the state for a 9 AM class (egads: I loved David Reuille’s class SO MUCH, but I am also SO GLAD that I don’t have to be in Lexington by 8:45 any time soon). We don’t want to skip going out with our friends.
But we do (the last of the three is often the easiest for me, possibly because almost all my friends are dancers and I know I’m going to see them in class anyway). We do it because it’s good for us as dancers. It helps us achieve our goals.
We do it also, perhaps, because we know that there will be weeks when we don’t get a rest day.
I’m not sure that it’s at all possible to bank rest (there’s some argument in favor of recouping lost sleep, but I don’t think rest is quite the same), but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.
This is one of the worst-organized posts I’ve written in a long time, but what I’m trying to say is this: there will be people in your life as a dancer who will sneer at you when you tell them that rest is important to you.
Ignore them. They’re wrong.
Even Nureyev, whose capacity for work remains legendary, valued rest above almost all else. He was aware that if you were going to spend ten hours in the studio transforming yourself in to a genius of the artform, you also needed to sleep for roughly ten hours.
Rest isn’t laziness (not that laziness is inherently bad, either: “laziness” is another word for “maximal efficiency,” there’s much to be learned from the self-professed laziness of bike racers, who do everything to maximize their efficiency both on the bike and off).
Rest is a Discipline.
Rest is saying, “No,” so that later you’re able to say “Yes.”
If there’s one thing I think most of us can do as dancers to improve our ability to learn and grow and perform, it’s learning to see rest as sacred.
To see rest as sacred is to vigilantly guard the time we set aside for it, to refuse to be dissuaded from resting, and (when necessary) to preach the gospel of rest as an aid to work.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some serious resting to do, and the bathtub is calling my name.
If you said, “By winding up my arms and then flinging them,” erm … really, that’s an entirely different post. I mean, I’m not sure how to break this to you, but, like…
…I mean, that might be a thing in some kinds of modern, but really, you don’t need to do that in ballet, and your teacher will yell at you a lot less if you stop.
Moving right along!
If you answered, “By turning,” you’re probably someone like me, who is much better at doing physical things than at thinking about physical things (and, like me, you might be prone to the Centipede’s Dilemma). I mean … like, to be entirely honest, if you’d asked me a while back how I power my turns, I would’ve A] done some kind of turn in an attempt to figure it out, then B] shrugged and said, “Honestly, I have no idea.”
I have since had the opportunity to discuss this in class several times, and have realized that there are several factors involved, one of which is my shoulder and back.
- Which is to say, been forced on pain of receiving The Look…
I mean, think about it. How do you a fouetté? You basically flip your back around. First it’s on one side; then it’s on the other side. Your legs just, like, basically stay where they are, though the free leg has to turn over. Neato!
- Not the en tournant/Black Swan kind. Just the, “Your toe is a key; stick it in the lock and turn it without actually doing a flip” kind.
- Sauté fouetté uses the same mechanics, btw. Ideally, your free leg should maintain a steady altitude, which looks pretty dazzling when done correctly.
The video above isn’t the best possible example, since you don’t even remotely need to be on pointe to do this and the mechanics allow you to start from a static balance (which would make for a much clearer video), but it gets the basic point across. TBH, though, I searched for like 30 whole seconds and all the other videos I turned up were for fouetté en tournant.
Obviously, it’s a given that flipping your back around is going to happen in any turn.
The funny thing, though, is that many of us never really bother to think about it. We get as far as holding our bodies together and then just … let physics take care of things, I guess?
Anyway, Mr. Reuille pointed out today (or was it yesterday?) that you have to bring your back around, and more the point, you have to imagine bringing it around faster for every single rotation within any given turn. So if you’re doing a triple, you’re not thinking, “One … two … three…” so much as, “One … two,three!”
In ballet turns, the back, shoulder, and hip travel together. (This isn’t always the case in modern turns, precisely—if you’re turning and spiraling at the same time, for example, the principle continues to operate along similar lines, but it feels very different.)
They carry the momentum of the turn—if you think about it, there’s a whole lot of mass there.
In an en dehors turn, the inside of the standing leg actively resists that momentum: otherwise, the free knee will happily collapse in towards the center, and you’ll wind up with one of those parallel jazz turns.
Which … I mean. They’re great, but they’re not ballet.
In an en dedans turn, the inside of the standing leg goes with the momentum, so the free leg resists against it. This is, I realize, another reason I’m better at en dedans turns than en dehors turns. The adduction is not so strong with this one. I’m working on it, okay?
Anyway, in either case, if you think about bringing the shoulder-hip complex around ahead of your spot, you might find that you get more and better turns.
Predictably, I do this well at some times and horribly, terribly, or not at all at other times. This is another part of the reason that my turns are so bleeding inconsistent.
- …Combined with my bizarre back-leaning posture, wacko spot, and apparently counter-evolutionary preference for falling backwards rather than forwards … is this possibly a People Who Wear Glasses Thing, or is this just me???
At any rate, I ended class only owing Mr. Reuille 5 push-ups (for hopping out of a turn), which he kindly did not collect, and in the midst of receiving a correction did a very nice fouetté from first arabesque to attitude devant that resulted in a dead stable balance. And that owed largely to just bringing my ding-dang-darn back around faster.
So, like, there’s hope for even the worst parts of my ballet technique, I guess.
Anyway, if you’re having issues with turns that wobble or wander or just don’t have enough moxie, and you’re not sure where to find more chutzpah (did you know that chutzpah can be translated as “audacity?”), maybe you could try starting with this thing and see if it helps. Assuming, of course, that A] you’re snapping your free leg to a turned-out passé and B] you’re not leaning back like certain idiots who write blogs about ballet on the innertubes.
Merde, and let me know if it works out.
And I don’t mean like, “Hey guys, what’s up?”
I mean, like, seriously—what even is “UP,” anyway?!
This week I’m attending Lexington Ballet’s masterclass with David Reuille of Apex Contemporary Dance Theater, which involves getting up at the mostly-unheard of hour of 6 AM, driving to LexBallet, actually functioning before 10 AM, and apparently learning all kinds of stuff.
Today’s corrections & insights from ballet:
- I don’t actually know where the back edge of my foot is … or at least I didn’t until this morning. WTF, you guys.
- When you go up & back to do cambré, ACTUALLY GO UP FIRST, duh (Mr. Reuille definitely did NOT put it quite that way, he was just like, “Oh, go UP first!” and he guided me up and over … totally different)
- DON’T HOP OUT OF YOUR FRICKIN’ TURNS (once again, Mr. Reuille didn’t put it that way): see L’Ancien on The Standing Leg
- Keep the pelvis neutral (that one was for errbody)
- Saut de basque: brush to second while facing the back corner (this might not make sense by itself)
- Emboité en tournant: UP on the coupé (again, might not make sense by itself)
…And from Modern:
- There actually is a method to what you do with your arms in modern (again, a general but very relevant correction)
- Difference between a contraction and an overcurve: shoulders go forward only in overcurve; in a contraction, they might move down, but they remain placed over the hips (again, general, but relevant)
- Figure 4 turn: my arms always want to go the wrong way (this wasn’t a correction I got, just something I noticed)
- Compass turn: don’t secabesque too far back (this one was specific to me; I’m not sure I applied it very well in the combination)
None of these points are entirely new, but the first one totally boggled me. Like, I thought I was going up and back, but in fact I was just going, like, back and back. Sometimes a small physical correction asplains things better than all the words in the world.
How long have I been doing this, like, back and back instead of up and back thing?
Oh, probably my entire life.
Oddly, this is probably one of the very, very few places in which gymnastics technique can improve ballet technique. To execute a good backbend from a standing start, you actually do have to reach up and then back. If you’re doing a backbend, you’ll probably do this automatically, because if you try to just flop over backwards, it generally doesn’t end well.
Apparently, though, even though I historically had one heck of a nice backbend (though I haven’t tried it by itself in ages), I never thought to bring that quality of upness into my cambré.
I suspect that’s a function of thinking about the end point rather than the beginning.
We often screw up attitude this way as well. We tend to think of bringing the foot to attitude, which makes the whole thing come out wonky. We lose our turnout in an effort to put a foot somewhere in space. If we just think about keeping the leg exactly as it is when à le coup de pied or sur le coup de pied (or, in shorthand, “in coupé”), then rotate and lift from the TOP of the leg (THE TOP, you guys—like, the hip, supported by the core), we get a nice attitude with turnout intact.
Anyway, so all of this has led me to the realization that I still don’t entirely know where up is. I mean, I do: obviously, it’s UP. It’s just like … um. I know more or less where Poughkeepsie is, but if I took it upon myself to drive there, I’d need a little guidance.
I also learned that my brain still doesn’t want to learn combinations (or anything else) before 10:30 AM.
Too bad, brain: you’re just going to have to get used to it.
Anyway, today wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had in terms of actually being able to dance. I particularly failed at sissones, not because I couldn’t sissone, but because I got the combination backwards and then worried about it so hard that it just got worse and worse. So much for, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”
OTOH, I got a “Nice!” on my cabriole, but also the correction to strike sooner. Seems reasonable; I think my life would be easier if I didn’t wait like ten minutes to strike the bottom leg against the top leg.
Anyway, here’s hoping that I’ll be less confused tomorrow. I will DEFINITELY NOT stick myself on the world’s most awkward little speck of barre, where there’s both a bend in the barre as it follows the shape of the wall and also a whole bunch of taped seams in the marley. I will stand somewhere else entirely, because I will plan ahead and then not feel like I can’t move because class has already started.
The past few weeks have been crazy and demanding and rewarding and annoying and full of challenges and problems and triumphs and complete, abysmal failures … but overall more triumphs than failures.
Last weekend, we were in Cleveland, where I took a masterclass with Hubbard Street Dance. The weekend before that was HappyBirthday. The weekend before that, I was up to my neck in rehearsals.
This week, I had two rehearsals and only two ballet classes prior to today’s. Last night I made my debut as an actor-who-gets-to-talk in the third chapter of Fabled Fragments. There was also quite a bit of physical theater, made significantly more challenging by the fact that I hadn’t had a chance to rehearse with the acres of voluminous fabric that I had to wrestle on stage.
Today it was back to class with L’Ancien after almost a month. His advice to me today (besides not staring into the mirrror and second guessing-myself so freaking much: “You’ve done this a hundred thousand times; you’ve got a good brain…”) was simply to focus on the standing leg.
In the midst of all this, I encountered a kind of revelation: the height of one’s extensions depends a great deal more on the standing leg than on the free leg.
Chances are you know that already. But for the like five people out there in the world going lolwut?, here’s an explanation.
Señor BeastMode (who has also moved on … everything is changing, you guys! … but who has left us with an excellent teaching staff for the upcoming year) used to remind us that:
Proximal Stability equals distal mobility.
Wise words, those.
They’ve greatly improved a number of things about my technique, but somehow I hadn’t really applied that maxim to my extensions in adagio.
Was I afraid that if I thought about my standing leg too much, I’d lock myself down? Maybe, but probably not.
Instead, like most people, I was thinking entirely about my free leg.
Here’s the thing, though: the free leg can’t be free unless the standing leg is rooted and solid from the ground to the top of your head.
Because to give the free leg the full measure of its freedom, the standing leg must be completely secure. Otherwise, the free leg has nothing to “hang from,” as it were.
Think about it: if you imagine a tree with a wiggly spot in its trunk (and only three branches, one of which is significantly larger than the other two, because evidently it’s not much of a tree) … wait, there has to be a better analogy.
So! Disregarding the fact that the construction crane is A] in the Don’t column and B] illustrating an entirely different point, here, it actually makes an excellent illustration of a further point.
- …That is: when you developpé, you must first lift your kneecap as high as you can, then extend the free leg. You’re welcome.
A construction crane cannot do its job if its base and upright aren’t stable.
If it tried, the weight of its boom—that is, its “free leg,” if you will—would tip it right the heck over.
In fact, here’s what happens when you’re a boom crane and your standing leg isn’t secure:
…And while usually things aren’t quite that dramatic in the ballet studio (especially since we’re more likely to be wiggly in the hip than unbalanced at the foot and completely rigid the rest of the way up), the difference that a secure standing leg can make in the height of your developpé … is.
Dramatic, I mean.
If your standing leg is solid, with a secure hip (this is my personal bugbear, by the way: I have loosey-goosey hips, and I will likely be fixing them for the rest of my working life), then your free leg has a fixed point against which to pivot and your entire body as a counterweight.
If your standing-side hip (or something else in your standing leg) isn’t secure, the muscles in your free leg will clamp down in an effort to hold things together. By extension, your extension will be less … you know … extensive.
This remains true, by the way, even when you reach a point at which it’s permissible to slightly open the angle of the standing hip in an extension de côte. You still begin by lifting the knee against a stable hip and extending; only at the very end do you tilt the body—as one piece, moving only in the standing-side hip—to further open the angle between the standing and the free leg.
Just as an aside, this is one of the reasons that penché must begin with the leg, and not with the back. If you begin by letting the back droop forward, it ceases to be meaningfully connected to the free leg and can no longer operate as a counterbalance.
You know this, I know this, everybody knows this … but I still do it wrong at least 40% of the time, so I’m putting myself on notice.
Anyway, L’Ancien gave me some ballet homework: hop on the YouTubes and watch the men’s graduation class of the Bolshoi Academy, and pay attention to the stability of their working legs and the way they use their adductors.
I’m not sure this is the one he meant, but it’s still a pretty solid example of exactly what he’s talking about. LOOK AT THESE RONDS, mothertruckers:
…And then roll it back to the beginning and watch the whole thing. There’s an instructive moment in which the guy on the barre at audience right (that is, on YOUR right, as the viewer) commits exactly the same sin I tend to as they take attitude: he has to put his heel down, because his standing leg isn’t stable (BTW, he looks amazing anyway), while the other guys just float there on the world’s most solid demi-pointes because they’re jerks.
Erm, I mean, because their standing legs are stable.
Anyway, there you have it: you want higher extensions? Great.
FIRST, stabilize the heck out of your standing-side hip.
THEN work on improving your active flexibility so the muscles of your free leg can work appropriately against the rest of your body.
Don’t be like me and do it the other way around, or you will also be like me in having to think about your standing hip like crazy for the rest of your natural life.
The rest, as they say, is commentary. Go and learn.