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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.


Halfway Decent

Everything was reasonably functional this morning, which was good, because Advanced Class began with four of us and two had to leave after barre. The remaining pair of us got quite a workout.

JB was like, “I always end up with two students,” and I said, “It’s a sign. You should be teaching pas de deux class.”

Sadly, we did not get Pas De Deux 101 (or even 095: Remedial Pas De Deux–Topics In Not Dropping The Girl And Not Kicking The Boy In The Hereditary Storehouse[1]).

  1. True story, which I’ve probably already told: when we were rehearsing Vivaldi Variations, two of the three girls in the Sirens group were convinced that they were going to kick me in the, erm, shenanigans. In case you’re wondering, the best way to guarantee that you’re going to kick the boy in the Hereditary Storehouse while doing assisted fouettés is to be afraid that you’re going to and thus stare directly at his No Fly Zone. The foot goes where the eyes go.

Instead, we got a demanding class that was entirely about weight transfers.

Most of it was good. Since I know I can do quadruple turns, I’ve been dialing back the quantity factor in order to improve quality. As such, turns and terre-a-terre went quite well, except when I got a bit too excited about a developpé à la seconde balance from sus-sous and knocked myself off my leg.

During petit allegro, for some reason I could do royales during the mark but not during the actual run. WTF even is that?

I still hate royales, but that probably means I should work on nothing else until I nail them down.

At least now I’m able to do them in such a way that they don’t look like a complete afterthought: JB does them really cleanly, and I finally got my head around the idea that a royale isn’t so much a lame, beaten changement for people who can’t do entrechat six as it is a showy little flutter: you beat out-in (front)-out-in (back).

I think that in the past I’ve always beaten the first stroke of my royale to the front instead of to the side, which makes it both nearly invisible (en fact, in fact, it can be completely invisible) and probably not actually a royaleit occurs to me that, basically, only cabrioles and assemblés battus do that.

Our grand allegro went something like:

sissone faillie (passing through a clean first!!![2])
fourth arabesque à terre
sus-sous pivot
[something else might have been here?]
coupé-chassé-rond de jambe (en relevé)
chassé (backwards)
tombé-“pas de bouchassé”-brush-grand assemblé
pique third arabesque
tour jeté
tour jeté
some other kind of chassé-developpé sequence
repeat on other side

  1. At first I kept doing some weird kind of cloche thing, which made it difficult to get to the arabesque à terre efficiently.

It was a really cool combination. My tour jetés were kinda lame (like, BW would’ve made me go back and do them again, and HIGHER, and SHARPER), because I was pretty cooked by then, but I’m still so happy to be jumping again that it didn’t really matter that much[3].

  1. …Even though the part of me that likes to impress my teachers with my prowess as a jumper was really annoyed.

I think, though, that as much as I’m happy to be jumping again, my favorite combination today was a waltzy thing in which we changed facings via passé from fifth to a lunge in fourth three times in a row.

It was really quite pretty, and I think I managed to do it without getting the arms backwards at all … which, honestly, is one of those awkward ballet things. Internally, I’m half like, “YESSSSS! NO BACKWARDS ARMS!” and half like, “WTF are you doing still getting your arms backwards, you jackwagon? Aren’t you past that yet?[4]”

  1. The answer, of course, is, “Mostly.” It still happens on occasion, at apparently random intervals, and thus I live in fear of doing some or another combination otherwise beautifully, but with the arms entirely backwards. What even is that.

We also did a nifty center tendu in which we paddled ourselves around the eight points of the stage using ronds de jambe à terre. It felt, I don’t know, contemplative might be the right word. It reminded me of doing fancy paddling tricks in a canoe.

I want to say that was the same combination in which we ended with a tour lent en dedans at passé through to attitude derièrre. When I picked that one up, I initially thought that the tour lent was supposed to be en dehors, which in turn made me wonder what we’d done to make JB hate us so much 😉

It was hella awkward with the tour lent going the wrong way, since the transition into attitude derièrre happened during the turn, which meant that if you did the turn backwards, you had to work twice as hard to keep everything together (because momentum, and turnouts, and physics, and stuff).

Anyway, it’s all improving bit by bit. There are days that I suddenly really feel that I’m a better dancer than I used to be—like, I feel it in my bones, with a kind of immanent certainty.

Today wasn’t one of those days, but it was the kind of day on which I can see that I’m making incremental gains. I think the difference is that sometimes everything just comes together, and I dance well enough that I feel legitimately gifted, whilst on other occasions I just feel, you know, serviceable.

But, honestly, my goal is to be a serviceable danseur. There’s much to be said for being serviceable: it bears with it the notions of reliability and competence. Yes, when you’re having one of those “gifted” days, your teacher or AD or whatever tends to take notice: but over the long run it’s important to be serviceable, reliable, and competent.

Speaking of which, my sissones did not suck today. So there’s definitely that.

In other news, after listening through a couple more times, I’ve decided to stop banging my head against the impossibly huge wall of Late Romantic Era music and just leave the score for Simon Crane as it is for now. If it proves impossible to actually set “Isle of the Dead” effectively, I’ll sort it out later.

For now, I just need to keep listening to it and working the story into it.

In semi-related news, I have a playlist on Amazon Music called “choreography,” and I have no memory of adding half the things that are on there. On the other hand, one of those things is the first movement[5] of Beethoven’s “Waldstein,” which I suspect might be as fun to choreograph as it is to listen to and to play[6, 7].

  1. Which is in fact probably shorthand for having, at some point, decided that it would be fun to choreograph the whole thing.
  2. Which, you guys: if you know how to play the piano passably well, go get yourself a copy of the music for the Waldstein—Sonata No. 21 in C Major—and give it a whirl.
  3. Seriously, the first movement at least isn’t terribly hard. I figured a lot of it out by ear in high school before I ever clapped eyes on the music. I do have a very good ear, but honestly it’s pretty friendly.


One more class (maybe two, if get antsy I take class Monday morning before I leave) and one Pilates session before Lexington. I’m trying to be chill, but honestly I’m so excited I feel like I might explode.

Oh, and while we’re on it, here, this is finally up on YouTube thanks to CM:

I’m vaguely iffy about posting this at this point, because I feel like I’ve come a long way since then 😛 But there it is, finally. 11 girls and me in BG’s “Vivaldi Variations.” I’m still pretty pleased with how well it came together, given our broad array of experience levels and our abbreviated rehearsal schedule.

Feel free to laugh at all my weird attempts to compensate for the fact that I’m scared out of my mind of wiping out due to the whole Shoe Incident. Also, there should totally be a drinking game that goes with this; something like, “Put the video on repeat and drink 5 shots if you actually spot the shoe” (you can, in fact, see it—and once seen it’s hard to un-see); “Take 1 shot every time Asher drops his arms;” etc. Edit: Oh, yeah, and “Take 1 shot every time Asher lets his turnout go,” though you probably won’t make it to the end of the first repeat if you use that one.

That Just Happened

Scene from advanced class.

We’re preparing for terre-a-terre. JP counts us up and says, “There’s, what, nine of you? So maybe five and four.”

We start arranging ourselves.

From somewhere in the pack, a timid voice pipes up, “Um, there’s ten of us.”

JP pauses for a sec, then says, “Nine, ten, whatever. I can only count to eight, anyway.”

PS: notes forthcoming, but life craziness had intervened. They're on my tablet.

Also, Swan Lake was awesome. Awful lot of, "OMG, that's my teacher!" (Or classmate. Or friend. Or all three.)

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