Obligatory Gratitude Post, 2018 😀
It’s Thanksgiving (Almost)!
That time of year when Americans come together to do battle with the groaning board, avoid discussing politics, and … oh yeah … give thanks.
I mean, it’s right there in the name!
And even though today was a Bad Ballet Day, I have a lot to be grateful for this year.
I’m not going to enumerate all the things. That would take forevvvverrrr. Instead, I’m going to focus on the weirdest thing I’m grateful for. So here it is:
I’m grateful for being totally out of my depth.
Struggle Is How We Grow
When we’re out of our depth, we struggle.
In the moment, that sometimes feels awful. In fact, it frequently feels awful. Especially when you’ve taken a huge leap from being a big fish in a small pond to being the smallest (and most incompetent) fish in a big pond.
And yet, in this context, struggle means opportunity. When you’re at the bottom of the climb, there’s nowhere to go but up. The challenge is figuring out how to do that.
It’s too facile to say that struggle means growth. Sometimes, struggle means that either someone or something is impeding your progress (you might even be impeding it yourself).
But I think it’s pretty fair to say that growth means struggle. Not all of the time, but at least some of the time.
We grow stronger physically by making a zillion infinitesimal tears in our muscles. We grow stronger emotionally by making a zillion infinitesimal tears in our hearts.
We improve our skills not by working on the things we’ve already mastered (though that’s important, too), but by cracking away at the things we haven’t mastered yet.
Struggle and Arise
Our roughest spots are where we can improve the most (and, sometimes, the fastest). It just so happens that working on them is often frustrating AF.
So the next time I’m in the studio feeling frustrated and like I should just pack it in and consider a career in, like, anything other than dance, I will try to remind myself that I’m frustrated because I’m struggling, and I’m struggling because I’m growing and learning.
And I’ll try to be grateful for the struggle, because it means I’ve been granted an amazing opportunity.
I’m learning how to be a dancer at a new level. Mr D chose to roll the dice on me, and I’m immensely grateful for that, and for all the guidance of my many teachers and friends who helped me reach this point.
I mean chaînés, of course. Everyone loves chaînés sooooooooo much, amirite?! They are The Actual Best!
- At least I assume that’s why everyone goes, “uuugghhhhhh, whyyyyyyy” when it’s time for chaînés. Because that’s the sound of joy … right?
I’ve spent the past year or two trying to make peace with chaînés. It has, in fact, largely worked. Two things—learning that dudes usually don’t piqué into chaînés and that it’s fine to do your chaînés in fifth—led to some dramatic improvements.
However, somewhere along the line, I started losing all my momentum going into any run of chaînés.
Not cranking the turnout-brakes (read: that thing you do to halt your momentum if you have to finish a soutenu turn in sous-sus) helped, as in it prevented me from actually grinding to a halt after one turn, but it didn’t solve the problem entirely.
Today, though, Killer B fixed the remaining bit of the problem: she said, “You can piqué or chassée into your chaînés, whichever works better for you … but right now you’re tombé-ing in, and it’s killing your momentum.”
So I tried the chassée–chaîné approach, and HOLY CRAP GUYS IT WORKED. Made my chaînés about twice as fast, in fact. (Which is good, because sometimes they were embarrassingly slow.)
AHHHHHH!!!! You guys, how did I go so wrong?!
Like, I remember BW giving me a lesson on chaînés as pertains to Men’s Technique, and that he taught me to not piqué into them … but at some point I decided explicitly that tombé was the One True Way.
(Evidently it is a correct approach, but not one that works particularly well for me: I tend to tombé into a deep demi-plié way over my front leg as if preparing for a sauté arabesque or something. Ultimately, that means that my momentum can go straight up or back the way it came, but not really forward except through pas de bourrée … I guess it would be useful if I needed to change directions straight into a series of chaînés, though.)
The waltz combination today was:
chaîné-chaîné-petit developpé to pas de bourrée
turn en dehors
turn en dehors (land 5th, right foot front, or coupé through)
petit developpé to pas de bourrée
rotation (fouetté à terre)
turn en dedans
I’m trying to figure out if I’m leaving out some waltz turns somewhere, or if they were in something else and I’m conflating my memories.
- very possible; this morning was a horrible slog through the swamps of badness: the struggle was all the way real.
- I even hosed up a simple sissone combination at the end of class, though at least I made it to the end of class without actually dissolving into a gibbering zombie. I almost checked out after the warm-up jumps, but I didn’t, because some part of my acknowledges that I work in dance now, which means there will be days that I have to get out there onstage even though I just can’t even.
Regardless, the chassée–chaîné approach is a freaking lifesaver.
I was going to drop a YouTube video that shows this in here, but my exhaustive* one-minute long search hasn’t found one, so it’ll have to wait.
*yeah, okay, totally not exhaustive
Anyway, there’s today’s gem from class.
Guys: if an approach via tombé is sending your chaînés to an early grave (get it? tomb … é … early grave … harhar), try chassée instead.
Class was decent today.
My allergies were, as they have been, off the chain—but that’s par for the course, and no small part of the reason that I bother working on my cardio. The more fit my cardiovascular system is, the less it hates me when I can barely inhale because my nose and the back of my throat are full of goop but I dance anyway.
It wasn’t flat-out the best class I’ve had recently (that was Sunday, I think), but I still feel like every single day I make progress, which is something. Even last Thursday, when my allergies were so bad I thought my head would explode and I had to beg off of grand allegro (to my great and undying humiliation), I made progress.
After class, I reviewed Siegfried’s variation. I had meant to just mark it, but instead after the first phrase I found myself running it: contretemps-tombé-pas de bourrée-glissade-saut de chat, repeat. I was watching my port de bras and my turnout in the mirror and heading back to “stage left” suddenly I noticed that I was, as the song goes, “Way up in the middle of the air,” without actually trying, in this surprisingly nice saut de chat.
- The song in question being “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel,” a folk song which I’d never heard until I met my last roommate, who used to sing it: Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up, way up, Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air.
Anyway, that saut de chat startled the heck out of me and I landed like a mammoth, but it’s really good to feel like I’ve regained the best of my “Terpsichorean powers,” so to speak.
- Why, yes, of course I’m referencing T.S. Elliot. Also, the musical Cats.
On the other hand, I don’t recommend landing like a mammoth even on good floors. I went back to marking, though with a little more vigor than your usual mark.
I also realized that I tend to fail to bring my second leg to the party when I do assemblés in the context of petit allegro.
I mean, it’s not that it doesn’t get there. It’s that I fail to really actively transport it. Like the first leg gets on the train, but the second one has to walk to the party.
I had somehow failed to notice that … no doubt in part because when I do grand allegro assemblés—especially porté—I really snap that puppy right the heck up there. But, in case you were wondering, petit allegro is not, in fact, “grand allegro, only smaller,” no matter what its name might imply. It requires its own approach (they do it like nobody’s business in Copenhagen).
But, anyway, I haven’t been really pushing the second foot through the plié and snapping it up there, and Killer B schooled me over it this morning.
So Killer B’s advice is to think of glissade-assemblé as a compound word; a hyphenated phrase like tombé-pas de bourée, (or, if you’re a guy, tombé-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné). You have to really push the trailing leg through the bottom of the plié that’s sort of the hyphen so the momentum doesn’t get lost.
- When you lose the momentum, you wind up with two separate words, one of them mumbled: “Glissade. Assemblah.”
So I tried it, and wouldn’t you know, it worked like a charm.
So that’s today’s bit of technical advice. Since glissade-assemblé is a petit-allegro stock phrase, think of it with a hyphen and pushpushpush the second leg through the plié in the middle, so when it leaves the ground again all the momentum is there.
And use your plié. And use your plié. And use your plié.
Which, coincidentally, will also stop you landing your saut de chat like a mammoth, which you will appreciate when you’re seventy and haven’t yet had to put in new knees, or so I’ve heard.
On Monday I found myself reading some old posts in the bath (because reading in the bath is what I would do basically 90% of the time that I’m not dancing, if I had my way … well, that and swimming in the ocean).
It was surprising to look back on where I was only three and a half years ago: to realize that, really, I had no idea I’d be doing what I’m doing now—or maybe just a glimmer of the idea; something that felt like the vaguest of pipe dreams, I suppose.
It was weird to read the words, “If I ever get a chance to perform,” or however I phrased it. At the time, it seemed like gift one distantly hopes to receive: perhaps if I’m really good, someone will give me–no, not a pony, but maybe a hobby horse?
Now the chance to perform is something I pursue and lay hold of with both hands and create for myself. It’s something I am beginning not to feel weird about getting paid to do, like, “Maybe if I keep my head down they won’t notice that they’re paying me money for this.”
And yet I realize, still, that in a way the chance to live the life that I’m living right now is a gift—a gift, I suppose, I’ve worked hard to be worthy of, and will continue to work hard to be worthy of, but still one that depends upon the goodwill of so many people other than myself.
Friday, early, we leave for the Playa again.
This year, a group is staging The Rite of Spring. I’ve never seen it live, so I’m looking forward to that. Perhaps I can find other dancers and do class with them.
As for me and my camp, we’re doing Open Barre, with Mimosas, twice. Contact improv, twice. And all the other things that my camp does, but that’s what I’m in charge of. My gift to the Playa, along with whatever I wind up feeding people, as so often I do.
My feelings are mixed about going this year. I’m working, so that’s a challenge—learning the choreography at a distance will be interesting—and I’m afraid of coming back with a respiratory infection again. I’ll have to be careful this year.
But there are always things to be learned, and what was it I was saying about learning not to constantly try to control the outcomes?
So there it is. This is the outcome right now. I’m strung between two loyalties, but perhaps it’s okay. If things work out as I hope they will in the coming months, I most likely won’t be able to go to the Burn in 2018.
Because, as D told me so many times, there is something in the world for which I will sacrifice all other things—even Burning Man, as much as I love it.
When all this is over, the desert will be there still (unless we blow up the world before then, in which case it’s all a moot point anyway).
We spend all our lives
making monsters of ourselves:
the tender feet
hard-trained until they arch like dolphins’ backs,
their bones like bridges spanned
by calloused skin.
The knees’ inverted arc
sails bony ankles heavenward;
the thighs like steely hawsers
cast the whole ship off,
cast it heavenward–
the collarbones like ploughshares
carve the air.
Hard to explain this,
though G-d knows I’ve tried.
What makes us do
all that the unseen god requires of us?
The music speaks
and stirs the weary dead:
go wake the living in their stalls!
The royal box looms empty
lonesome in the night.
Lone and strong we leap
now miracles, now golems,
in the light.
–14 August, 2017
I should be mowing the lawn, really, but I want to try to sketch out some thoughts first.
Yesterday was a good day for me, body-image wise. Today hasn’t started out as one.
There’s no rhyme or reason to it, as far as I can tell. Sometimes it changes, for better or worse, in the middle of things. It shifts on the fly.
I should note that this is progress. It used to be all bad, all the time, no matter what.
Then, for a while, it got weird: like, sometimes I could look at my body and think, “Yes, this is a good and functional and rather nice-looking purpose-specific kind of body, but it doesn’t look like my body.”
- I don’t mean I think this on a rational level. I mean, really, on the level of instinctive identity perception, in the sense most disconnected from questions of philosophy, there’s just no there there. There’s no conscious analysis involved, just an unconscious, “Nope.”
How do I explain that concept? For me, I think part of it stems from some fundamental disconnect in the neural circuitry that drives identity-related connections. When I look in the mirror, I don’t feel any sense that I’m looking at myself, really.
I mean, rationally, I know that I am. But the circuit that says, “Ohai! That’s me!” doesn’t really seem to fire. (Sometimes this results in me staring into the mirror for a really long time, trying to figure things out.) I don’t know if this is anything at all like what many people experience, but a few conversations and a fair bit of reading have indicated to me that it’s kind of weird.
- Please note that “weird” is a word I use without any value judgment. I actually rather like it. To me, it just means “strange” or “unusual,” sometimes “uncanny,” but without the additional sense of “…and offensive or repugnant.”
If you’ve ever seen a recent picture of yourself in which you don’t actually recognize yourself until someone points out to you, “Hey, that’s you!”, that might be a similar phenomenon (though, really, I’m not sure).
Curiously, the effect is diminished in class when I observe myself in the mirror and correct myself accordingly.
Yup, it’s long, so here’s a more tag:
Read the rest of this entry
Our performance last night rocked the house. We legitimately got an ovation of stunning enthusiasm, which melted my heart and went on after the curtain came down and made us hug each-other as we scurried off the stage.
That was great.
We were all together, the choreography worked, I hit the turns and the jumps, and the partnering bits were on point.
But the thing that made me proud of myself, be honest, is that I danced 3/4s of our piece in just one shoe and almost nobody noticed. One my friends who’s in theater noticed that I only had one shoe and thought it was intentional 😀
The shoe started peeling off almost immediately, and within the first minute was barely hanging on by the toe. It would definitely have come off in the next bit and potentially tripped someone, so I neatly flicked it into the wings on the upstage-right leg of a running figure eight and just went on without it.
Since it was the right shoe, this made The Apollo jump—which in this dance lifts off from and initially lands on the right foot—a bit alarming, because shiny tights are hella slippery. I did it anyway, a more cautiously than I wanted, but evidently it still looked good.
Anyway, all the girls were amazing, and I can’t wait to dance with them again.
I also can’t wait see the video. I’ve seen a 20-second pirate clip that looked pretty great!
That’s it for now. I had class and a 2 hour rehearsal today, so I’m ready for some R&R.
Tomorrow is a day off, and maybe even Tuesday 😉 We’ll see how it goes.
Coda: Apparently the faculty was very much impressed by how well we mastered quite a complicated dance in very little time.
I’m just exploding with joy it, still.
…The Apollo jump (which I had seen, but as far as know had never done) and the last remaining piece of our dance, which is mine alone and involves a turn in second and said Apollo jump.
That’s about all of it: we finish the Noodle Experiment, I back away from the girls and throw in a turn in second, then I pause for a second and when everyone else is essentially running upstage, I do the Apollo jump downstage, land it, collect myself, and run a few more steps to my place for the end of the dance.
We might change up the first partnering bit, though we might not. We’ll see. I like the change that T and BG worked out, but it’ll be a question of whether the remaining two girls from that group are okay with it.
I’m fine either way. They’re worried about kicking me.
I mentioned that if they kick me, it’s probably my fault. That’s kind of how partnering works for boys:
- If the girl kicks you, it’s your fault.
- If you kick the girl, it’s your fault.
- If the girl smacks you in the face, it’s your fault.
- If you smack yourself in the face with the girl, it’s still your fault.
- If you drop the girl, it is Definitely Your Fault (and you will never live it down).
FWIW, yes, this is intended to be funny but it’s also largely true. If you’re dancing the (traditionally) male role, part of your job is being in the right place at the right time and accounting for glitches, because the person dancing the other part has enough to worry about already. You adjust.
And if she stops dancing, turns around, and punches you squarely in the nose?
That is also Definitely Your Fault, unless it’s Because Ancient Aliens.
PS: I was wrestling with keeping my waterfowls in a linear array in the turn from second because ATTAAAAAAAACK!, and BG was like, “Keep your chest up and think of it like … a hammer throw, only your foot is the hammer.”
Bizarrely, this worked really hecking well.
Important note is that you still have to keep the working leg hella engaged, especially if you have sick mobility in your hips. If you think of a track & field person winding up for a hammer throw, though, they stay really tight basically the whole time.
I am having a terrible time focusing on Things That Aren’t Ballet today, so I’m taking a few minutes to write (what I hope is) a quick post about video.
Historically, I’ve only very rarely managed to snag video of myself dancing. The rehearsals for our upcoming performance have dramatically changed that, and they’ve made me think that it really wouldn’t kill me to spend a few bucks on a GoPro or something similar, because video is actually a really stellar learning tool for dancers.
Basically, video allows you to see what you habitually do wrong. If you, like many dancers, are naturally hypermobile and thus can’t always feel things accurately, seeing them can really help.
Watching all this video, I’ve noticed a couple of patterns of my own.
First, when I get tired, my arms just … ugh, I don’t even know what to say about them:
This is from the beginning of the Balanchine Noodle Experiment. My arms are just … what. I don’t even know. Like a straight line, but a lazy straight line, with no presence(1).
- It could be worse, but “could be worse” isn’t really what we’re striving towards in ballet, am I right?
Presence is really rather immensely important to this moment; so much so that BG gave me a specific note about it when we were first learning this bit.
Meanwhile, my hands, in an effort to not be like:
…have simply dripped off the ends of my wrists. Feh.
At least my shoulders are down?
The other thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve developed a habit of dancing swaybacked. I don’t really have a good screenshot of this, though you can kind of detect it in the shot above. Check out the front line of my body: it’s a perfect curve, like a segment of a circle, because I’m standing with my pelvis tilted too far forward.
I could probably get a decent screenshot if I was a more patient human being. I’m not.
Anyway. I actually know why I’m doing that—it’s an over-correction from a different problem, in addition to being an occupational hazard of being a hypermobile dancer.
Point is, I can’t feel it, so—just as with my wrists forever being like…
\_____O_____/* *proportionally speaking, my hands are not this big
…until I saw a picture and realized that they were doing that—being able to see it really helps.
When I consciously correct for the swayback thing, my turns are about 1,000,000 times better (which suggests that I’m using pretty small units of measurement to grade my turns, to be honest :P).
When I don’t, the middle of my body gets up over my leg(2), but the part from roughly the shoulder-blades (or, on really bad days, the navel) on up stays behind the axis.
- Every time I hear or write this phrase, the little earworm that lives in my auditory cortex goes, “GET UP OVER THAT LEG … AND TURN ‘TIL YA FEEL BETTER!” and then that plays on repeat for like an hour
Likewise, it sometimes causes a wiggly hip thing that I find completely revolting.
Anyway, regular work on my core should help correct for this, and I’ve rather committed myself to Pilates on Sunday afternoons (though one class per week probably won’t cut it, so I need to make myself do it at home, too).
The other nice thing about video is that it lets you see the things you’re actually doing well. The rep group is, as a whole, on top of the beautiful lines. I jump well (but, like, I kind of knew that?). When I nail an arabesque, I nail it.
So, basically, the whole point is that video is great for sorting out some of the details you never notice when you’re in class or in rehearsal because you’re too busy, you know, dancing.
I hope if the rest of the group should stumble upon my blog, they won’t mind that I’ve stuck a couple of screenshots up here. I’m guessing they probably won’t, since you can’t tell who anyone is, including me 😛
…That a straight hour of partnering work can be pretty heavy on the arms even if there isn’t a single lift.
Especially 4-on-1 partnering, when you’re the 1.
Update: TI Also Learned that when I post at midnight, I don’t proof-read very well!
Today was a long day: class at 10:30 (with a smidgen of rehearsal afterwards); teaching at 1 PM; suspended meditation at 2; callback at 3:30 (ended a little past 6:30).
Class was … erm. Like, barre was great? And the rest of it was … yeaaah. Erm. I had issues. On the other hand, I did manage one not-very-good triple, and except for the points at which I actually screwed up, things looked okay.
All three members of my Ballet Girl Posse were in class, and two of them stayed after, so we ran through our choreography … and I actually learned all their names. YAY! So at least I’ve accomplished something today. BG was still around, so he ran us through our bit a couple of times, and we decided that we like fourth arabesque better for my bit of the first partnering piece (a series of supported fouettés).
I begged off the last ten minutes of the modern dance portion of the apprentice-teaching class because my legs were a bit angry at me and I was going to need them for the audition. I used the time to foam-roll the crap out of them.
During meditation, I fell asleep. Given that I am the world’s worst napper (seriously, I can normally only nap when I’ve been awake for at least 48 hours straight), that’s saying something. Evidently, I was pretty tired.
The callback turned out to be the highlight of the day. It was more like a dance-and-theater workshop than an audition—we did some partnering stuff, then learned a dance and performed it in groups, then played theater games and ran some sides. Honestly, it was a hell of a lot of fun with a great group of people (both judges and fellow auditionees), and if every audition was that much fun, I’d audition for everything.
It turns out that I know the guy who’s directing the production. I met him at a party (which happened to be at his house) and felt instantly very, very comfortable with him, which speaks very highly of him. Also: proof that my world is incredibly tiny, heh.
We’ll hear back in a week or so about roles and such. Fortunately, I have too much going on to have much time to chew my nails about it, though I don’t have class with BW on Thursday this week.
Regardless, BW gave me homework—jumping rope to improve my cardio as well as the usual Turns Homework and … erm. I’m supposed to be doing something else, too, I think? Fehhhhcccckkkk. I can’t remember. It’s in my notes somewhere.
Anyway. I will miss BW’s class this week, but I suspect my body will welcome the extra rest. The fitness is returning, but my body hates me so much right now.