Today my ear was screwy and my brain didn’t want to work — so of course today our AD dropped by to watch my class while I was screwing up the most basic combination ever. #FML
Ballet, like opera, is wonderful because it is monstrous, the hyper-development of skills nobody needs, a twisting of human bodies and souls into impossible positions, the purchase of light with blood.
—Irina Dumitrescu | Longreads | February 2017
Yes, this: especially, “…the purchase of light with blood.”
You can read Dumitrescu’s entire piece about coming to ballet as an adult beginner here:
Swan, Late @ Longreads.
For what it’s worth, this is one of the things that appeals to me about dance and especially ballet: my body is strange, but in the studio is strangeness is an asset. Ballet takes all the elements of potential immanent in this body and makes from them something beautiful not in spite of, but because of, its strangeness.
PS: Modern went well today, even though I came into it sleep-deprived as all hell. Notes later, maybe.
Fifth in a series of posts on the details of technique that focuses primarily on steps and aspects of dance that I’m struggling with. Take it with a grain of salt.
I find it helpful to write things out in an effort to get a grip on them. These aren’t so much instructions (though if they work for you, awesome!) as observations.
Today, in HD’s advanced class, we were given the option to do the frappé at the barre on flat or rélevé as we saw fit.
Since I’m trying to see my way back to being fit, I chose to do the whole combination on rélevé.
Frappré en rélevé has been a bit of a white whale for me for a while. I tend to knock myself off my leg. Today, HD fixed that for me.
The source of the problem it seems, is that en rélevé, I tend to snap! my leg out from the knee.
Not only is this bad for your knees, but it has a way of making your turnout muscles say, “Aw, hell naw!” and let go. Hence, the knocking-one’s-self-off-of-one’s-leg part.
HD caught this and told me to squeeze the working leg out, as if against the resistance of a Theraband (or, in my mind, a giant vat of chocolate pudding … I went to class without breakfast this morning).
On the second side, I tried it, et voilà!
Much better frappés en rélevé.
So that’s today’s snack-size serving of technical notes: yes, frappé should be quick and sharp, but it’s still a squeeze and not a snap!
That’s it for today. Problems to solve in the world, etc. (Dancer problems, but still…)
Since Ms B got married and there are no longer two BWs among my ballet teachers, I shall henceforth refer to Company B simply as BW (because I’m lazy and it’s easier).
Anyway, class with BW was, as always, good. I didn’t dance as well as I usually do, but everyone has those days. Only three of us again, so once again there was much drilling down deep in the technique. There was also more than the usual array of conversation; we were all tired and disorganized (I arrived earliest, only 5 minutes before class time; BW arrived just after, and everyone else was late).
My turnout took a while to turn on — back to Trap 3 last night meant back to Single Knee Hangs (with ronds-de-jambe), and those make the turnouts tight. (I’m going to have to contemplate that, as I plan to use SNH w/ RDJ to open a trap performance on Saturday.) Not that it was non-existent; it just wasn’t up to the standard of Wednesday’s class.
On the other hand, my grand rond got its stuff together after a fashion. Coming from behind, I was rotating the turnouts later than necessary and thus losing much of the quality of the movement. BW laid on hands and fixed me: he proved to me that I can rotate my hip much further in arabesque than even I thought possible, which made for one high extension coming à la seconde. Like, BW even commented on it to B: “See how high that is?”
I appreciate the fact that my teachers aren’t afraid I’m the least to touch me.
Going terre-à-terre, though, my brain was absolutely determined to leave our the waltz turns. This kept making me end up facing the wrong corner. This may have been fatigue (I’m sleeping better, but still not really well, as you might gather from the fact that I’m posting at 2 AM), or it may have been a lack of Adderall. I forgot my second dose until it was legitimately too late to take take it. Ironically, I was so busy cleaning… Anyway.
I discovered that I haven’t lost my attitude balance, and that I can pretty reliably élevé into it now. After class, BW worked on my arms, which are slowly becoming graceful. Minor miracle, there, all things considered.
So that’s about it.
Trap performance on Saturday should be interesting. I’m resetting some existing choreography to Billy Joel’s “You’re The Only One Who Knows.” Here’s hoping I get through without bursting into tears. Seriously, that’s why I’m not even thinking about using “Leningrad.”
Also, a picture from Burning Man, below the fold since it’s mildly NSFW:
I’m sure the I’ve mentioned my gigantor knees before.
They are at once the scourge of my balletic existence and evidence of my best asset as a dancer. I’ve got huge knees because I’ve got huge thighs, and I’ve got huge thighs because I can fly (or, well, I can fly because I’ve got huge thighs, but it sounded better the other way).
Anyway, in his ongoing and exhaustive tune-up of my technique, Company B took me to task about sus-sous last night. I’ve been working on approaching it differently, but I still hadn’t really been getting my feet tight. I still kind of thought I couldn’t — and then CoB called me out on it, and suddenly my legs figured out how to do it(2).
It’s amazing what being in a tiny class with an instructor who you admire rather ardently can do for you (true story, though: he keeps having to correct my port de bras avant at barre because I keep looking at the wall instead of turning my head towards the outside outside arm — I get kinda shy around him sometimes).
After class, I took a moment to ask him about my issues with maintaining my turnout. I showed him where it is (basically a legit 180 in first with a solid knees-over-toes plié; he remarked, “That’s really good!”) and explained the difficulty I’ve been having — I tend to lose it in fifth because my knees get in the way(3).
Be asked me to show show him my fifth, then asked if I could bring my front foot back (to nestle fully against the back foot) if I plié-ed. It took me a minute to figure out what he was asking, but I was in fact quite able to do so. Once stretched, though, I felt like I using a ton of muscle just to stay there once I pulled my legs up straight.
Turns out he has the same problem: big knees, muscular thighs (unsurprisingly, we’re both jumpers). He suggested that I soften my knees just a hair in fifth (and leave them that way) and noted that he can’t get his quite straight in a tight fifth, either.
So, basically, it’s not a question of strength or inadequate turnout; it’s just the cost of being a dancer with really well-developed thighs. I’ll take that.
I’ll take that.
He also suggested that I really focus on getting a tight sus-sous position in my tours and that I play around with when to change my feet. Right now, I think I’m changing at the end, which is what works for CoB — but, honestly, I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’ve never thought about it before; it didn’t occur to me to do so.
Truth be told, I have had almost no instruction in tours. I figured out how to do them as a little kid and then it was, like, since I knew how how to do them well enough, nobody felt it necessary to explain them to me until recently (Jake in Lexington and now CoB). I should probably mention that to CoB.
My first teacher was quite good, but a discrete men’s class wasn’t an option; there weren’t enough boys in the school. The same challenge persists in my current dance life. Basically, I’ve more or or less acquired most of the bits of proper men’s technique that I have by a process involving observation, reading, and osmosis. Excepting variations in Lexington, I have literally never been in a proper men’s class in ballet (except once, but accident, on a day when no ladies turned up).
My turns were mostly good last night, as they often are in CoB’s class. I should keep that in mind, because it’s direct evidence of the fact that the difficulty I have with inconsistent turns is mostly a question of psychology. CoB is an exceptionally good instructor for me in part because he relaxes me. Since I tend to attack life with the intensity dialed up to 11 all the time, this is a Very Good Thing.
Anyway, for some reason, I dreamed about tour-jetés all night, which is weird, since I didn’t do any yesterday.
- Neither do I, but what they should say is is that he should soften his knees in fifth.
- EF produced a a similar change in my attitude arrière a couple weeks ago: I was like, “Welp, guess this is about right,” and he was like, “I KNOW YOU CAN GET THAT KNEE HIGHER SO GET IT HIGHER” and I was like, O____O’ *cranks working leg into impossibly-high attitude*
- Isn’t there a song about this? Oh, wait, no — it’s words, not knees. Right.
I hope I wasn’t a disappointment to l’ancien directeur-artistique today!
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about and applying his note about my supporting leg, and it’s coming along.
That said, I had absolutely no brain this morning, and was having trouble remembering combinations, and instead of just being like, “Meh, whatevs, I’ll do the part I do remember and maybe I’ll catch up,” I got rattled.
So there’s that.
In other news, I went to Ye Olde Local Dance Shoppe today in search of MOAR LEGWARMERS (and maybe some suspendery-tights) and, while I didn’t find any of those, I did come home with a new dance belt.
It’s a WearMoi, and apparently they’ve recently redesigned them. It’s really similar in conception and execution to the BodyWrappers M006/M007 (though it splits the difference in terms of waistband-width, coming in at 3″ instead of 2″ or 4″).
Thus far, it seems pretty legit. It’s going to Trapeze 3 tonight, which is a pretty good trial if you ask me (not quite as good as Lyra or Albrecht’s variation, but still pretty good).
Update: I forgot we had lyra class tonight. The WM belt performed admirably in trap 3 (AKA advanced adventures in knot-tying) and in lyra!
Lyra is a heartless breaker of the dreams of dance belts, so this is no small matter.
That’s it for now.
Further update to follow. Full initial review pending a good dance class (maybe Company B tomorrow?).
*Insofar as I am capable of ever being serious about anything, ever, because I am a focused person, a dedicated person, an all-of-that-kind-of-stuff person, but serious? I’m not sure that’s the best descriptor, really, where I’m concerned.
I am thinking about injuries, and my history of accumulating them, and being like, “Ha! Ohai! I haz hurted myself again,” and then basically making jokes about it because that’s way easier than actually admitting that I’m hella pissed at myself.
But, like, I am.
Pissed at myself, that is (for my Brits: I don’t mean I’m drunk at myself, I mean I’m mad at myself … this time … which you probably already knew from context because you’re smart, but somehow my inner Smart-Alec just wouldn’t let me not say it).
Or, well, I was.
And then I realized that I’m looking at this incorrectly.
I have a habit of injuring myself mildly, which just happens in Teh Ballets and in life at large sometimes, because humans can be careful but can’t be perfect.
Injuring myself mildly from time to time wouldn’t be a big deal in and of itself.
The problem is that I also then have a problem of doing things that exacerbate minor injuries and turn them into major ones, like I did this week.
I’ve been mad at myself because I was like, “That’s just careless.”
Except, it’s not. Carelessness isn’t the problem.
The problem is that I don’t perceive pain normally and I’m stupidly hypermobile (okay, and my drive to do things like dance and aerials often exceeds my limited supply of common sense).
So, basically, parts of me don’t start hurting when they should, then stop hurting before they should. The level of pain I experience does not accurately reflect the severity of any given injury, nor do they reflect how much it has healed.
Theoretically, the deep muscle in my “thut” (that’s thigh-butt; you can thank my aerials instructors for that one!) that I could barely use yesterday should be causing a shedload of pain today, but it actually doesn’t hurt at all**.
**Maybe it would if I tried to do the things I’m not supposed to do. Maybe it wouldn’t. I don’t plan to find out the hard way. At any rate, it should at least be sore.
Note to self: THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT EVERYTHING IS FINE.
Likewise, parts of me stretch in ways that increase the likelihood of injury under certain circumstances. This is partly due to associated abnormalities in proprioception and pain perception (see above) and partly due to the fact that greater flexibility often correlates with reduced strength.
Not that I’m not strong; I’m just not necessarily strong in the places that will prevent me from doing things like yoinking the crap out of my turnout muscles.
I haven’t been treating this seriously. I’ve been too busy being delighted about the things that my abnormal pain perception and hypermobility let me do to be willing to countenance the fact that they also predispose me to injuries that I could better avoid if I was, basically, less weird.
As they say: “You take the good with the bad.” And I’ve been trying only to take the good, without accounting for the bad.
This past week, I turned a minor strain into a major one and bought myself several days off dancing and a term of about six weeks to full recovery (with appropriate management).
I wasn’t being careless. Things just didn’t hurt, so I carried on as usual. My leg was a little stiff and sore in the morning, but felt okay enough by the time class rolled around, and really quite okay indeed by the time trapeze class rolled around — so I proceeded with business as usual.
This is the same approach that bought me a layoff of a couple of months last year, followed by a long reconditioning period.
Obviously, a rate of one serious injury per year is quite a bit higher than is really sustainable.
So, in additional to healing, I plan to spend the next several weeks learning how to prevent injuries to my specific body. Clearly, this will mean developing both better awareness of what’s going on in my body and a greater willingness to turn to my live-in Physio (AKA my husband, Denis) when I think I have a minor injury and follow his advice.
And, of course, because I like to write about everything (if nothing else, it serves as a kind of external backup drive), I’ll probably be writing about this process here.
So there you have it. Some insights about injuries that I don’t think I really had before.
Also a terrifying picture of my butt. Holy chromoly. Who stuffed ‘roid-raging weasels down my tights?!
But first, a few thoughts on teaching.
I gave our Sunday class an exercise with temps-lie (in open fourth) today, and they rocked it out.
There are a billion reasons to love and to use temps-lie — it’s great for teaching how to transfer balance, it helps students figure out how to use their feet, it feels dance-y, etc, etc. Today, though, I discovered one that I’d never thought of: it helps you spot students who are struggling with turnout.
Temps-lie in fourth with turnout is an unusual motor pattern.
In parallel, it’s actually a pretty common kind of movement — you’ve probably done something similar balancing yourself on a moving bus, train, or boat, for example, or reaching for something on a high shelf.
In second, even with turnout, it’s still not terribly unfamiliar.
The combination of turnout and open fourth, however, can make for a really challenging kind of movement. Suddenly, a student faces the potentially brand-new problem of shifting weight through their center of mass while continuing to rotate the hips open.
Students who are still developing the ability to maintain turnout from the rotators and intrinsic muscles at the tops of their legs tend to start to turn in, particularly on the leg that’s passing the weight along — that is, in temps-lié avant, the back leg may tend to turn in as the body is carried over the front leg, for example.
Those who are doing a little better but still not quite on top of the turnout problem will tend to roll the arches of their feet as their knees travel out of alignment. Their thighs may not appear to turn in much, but the rolling arches are a dead giveaway. (The turnout issue becomes more readily apparent when you look at these students from the side.)
Hands-on corrections can make a huge difference in both these situations: first, to indicate which muscles a student should activate to keep turnout going; second, to gently guide the movement of the knees so they track correctly.
Some students may initially feel like passing through temps-lié in fourth without rolling in at the knees is impossible, but it’s not (as long as they work within the purview of their natural turnout). Gentle hands-on guidance can usually solve that problem pretty quickly.
Some of our Sunday students are still finding their turnout, period, which is fine. Given that they’ve only been at this a few weeks, for the most part, I think they’re coming along rather swimmingly.
Next: Choreography Workshop #1
Today, most of us who have submitted acts for the Spring Showcase met to discuss our ideas, get a better sense of how getting-to-the-Showcase will proceed, and so forth. Denis brought his printed spreadsheets of our act, which more than one person found impressive. Heck, I’m still impressed.
After the group discussion, we broke out and worked on our pieces. This was the first time I got to try most of the sequenced choreography for my part.
I must say, I’m quite impressed with the work Denis has done: not only do the moves hang together well (there’s only one spot where the transition isn’t essentially automatic, and I worked out a graceful solution today), but there’s a natural coherence to everything. Incidentally, the moves also sync with the music really nicely, which is a bonus, since Denis’ only music-specific concern was trying not to make the whole thing too freaking long.
Evidently, I also look good doing my part of the act, which is nice. There was a conversation going on about my lines that culminated in someone asking me how long I’d been dancing. That was pretty cool 🙂
I ran through the core of my routine about a dozen times or so — enough to really make the choreography start to gel, since I probably won’t be at the aerials studio again until Tuesday.
All told, between dance and trapeze, I spent about two and a half hours doing physical stuff.
For some reason, I seem to be very hungry. Hmm. Wonder how that happened.
On Monday, M. BeastMode drilled us all about conservation of motion. Since I seriously need to work on that — I’m all about the attack, but sometimes at the expense of letting myself sort of fall apart — that was a very welcome topic.
Anyway, today, while catching up with the Tweeters after literally months of trying really hard not to look at Twitter ever because, seriously, it’s like being kidnapped by some secret spy agency; you go in and then you wake up and it’s three days later and you don’t know what happened and it feels like someone hit you in the head with a brick.
Okay, maybe minus the part about the brick, except when eyestrain occurs.
So today I saw this fantastic tiny video from Miami City Ballet, and I went, “HOLY CRAP. THIS IS IT.”
It’s in time-lapse, and that’s what makes it work. Here are these dancers, and their arms and legs are like all over the place, and their bodies DO. NOT. MOVE.
This, people, is how you use your core. This is conservation of motion. This is what will make your turns a thousand times better and your renversés and balances all Balan-shiny. This is what Ms. B picks on me about now that my pelvis seems to be more or less reliably sorted 😉
So, here you go. Watch (you may have to click through; I’ve never tried to embed a Twitter video before) and absorb, and then the next you’re in class, install and run this mental image. I am dead certain that this will help me, and pretty sure it will help almost anyone.
— Miami City Ballet (@MiamiCityBallet) April 15, 2016
First, the ballet:
Today, I finally got back to class. I was again assisting in Friday class, and we had one brand-new student. He let us know that he was uncomfortable with any kind of hands-on correction, so I spent much of the class contemplating best practices for verbally imparting elements of basic placement and so forth that are easiest to demonstrate by physically placing someone’s arms or what have you.
I’ll be thinking about this for quite a while, I suspect.
In other news, I’m building a PHP-driven contact form for Denis’ website, and being as my PHP skillz are more than tad rusty, I decided to play it safe and hunt up a tutorial (especially since I’ve never hand-coded PHP into a WordPress-driven site before).
I found a great one — it’s going gangbusters, thus far, so unless I hose something up (in which case I’ll just say, “Screw this,” and copy the code from the thoughtfully-provided repository ;)), I think it’ll work.
The best part is that it’s well-written: clear, concise, and direct.
Here’s a link, if you’re into this kind of stuff:
I initially started doing this the e my WP install is wonky and I can’t actually install plugins, but since I prefer actually doing many things by hand, this appeals to my crankety old-fashioned tastes.
I cut my teeth on old-skool HTML as a kid before WYSIWIG editors were really a thing (and definitely before good ones that didn’t produce code that looked like something a cat might disgorge after a hard night on the town), and developed my initial abilities the same way everyone did back then, through the magic of View Source. This fostered in me a deep appreciation for clean, well-commented code, and the tutorial above is a fantastic example of what that should look like.
laziness irony, of course, I am writing this entry in the WP’s “Visual” editor.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Oh, or, well — I have a research idea percolating for my ballet peeps, but I’ll get to that in another post. This is mostly a reminder to myself, so there we go. STICKY NOTE!!!!
À bientôt, mes amis!