Today I Learned #1: What is UP, You Guys?!
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.
Technical Notes: Biiiiig Bada Beats
Tonight JMH gave us a really useful note about beats, especially the ones that don’t change the legs:
Beat on the way up, not on the way down.
This reminded me instantly of the weird sissone-thing at the beginning of Albrecht’s variation, in which you essentially launch as if you’re going to soubresaut yourself into orbit, then open in mid-air (I’ll see if I can find video of this in the morning; there are other versions that use a sissone failli or something battu or whatevs—men’s variations are really, erm, variable).
Anyway, running the combination, this made all the beats (which were legion) feel so, so much better*.
*When I was doing the right combination, anyway. We did one that went, echappé 4th, jump – beat; echappé 2nd jump – beat, and so on all the way round, and I kept reverting to a combination BW gave us this summer that went echappé 4th, jump – beat – 2nd; jump – beat – 4th; etc all the way round, which was both wrong and harder than what we were supposed to do. I also “opted” to put fecking extra entrechats and royales into an exercise designed to leave room to rest.
Regardless, this will also help with cabrioles—you want to beat the bottom leg against the top and throw the top leg higher, which is easier if you’re beating on the way up in the the first place. Also helps prevented bad landings.
In other news, I hate royales, and today we were required to do them A LOT, and I eventually found myself doing what one might call “velociroyales,” with my arms in full-on Jurassic Park mode.
To my defense, I was having a rough time in the breathing department, and pretty much had a choice between using my arms and using my legs—so what begin as a acceptable first position collapsed into despair.
And this is what happens when your asthma acts up during class, but you hit that inhaler and keep going anyway. Specifically, you get through class, but sometimes you look really dumb for entire combinations at a time.
I also ruined my really nice grand allegro by making Effort Face the whole time 😛 In my case, this seems to involve leaving my mouth open, then tucking my lips behind my teeth. In case you’re wondering, it looks exactly as balletic as it sounds >—<
I didn’t do going left (that I know of…), but only the entrelacé and the last leap (I chose pas de chat Italien going left, of course; on the right, I threw a beautiful, lofty regular pas de chat with my face like this: :||) were anything to write home about on that run.
The combination in question, by the way way, went:
sauté arabesque, failli, assemblé, sissone failli, assemblé, sissone failli, assemblé
piqué arabesque, chassé, jeté entrelacé, tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, leap of your choice
…So not hard at all, but lovely, unless you ruin it by making Broken Robot Face.
Ballet Squid Chronicles: Cabriole
I took Margie’s class today, due to the calf thing (which is now almost entirely better).
1. I’m still throwing my shoulders back in my turns (this was a self-correction that Margie seconded :D)
2. I flex my shoulders back too much when my arms are in second.
Edit: OMG, you guys, I just totally figured this out!
When I bring my sternum up and forward, I’m throwing my shoulders back, as if they can’t move independently of one-another.
In fact, they can: there is no bony connection whatsoever between the shoulders and the ribcage (creepy, amirite?) — just the cartilaginous one where the sternum and clavicles (collarbones) connect.
So it is, in fact, possible to move the sternum up and forward without moving the shoulders back — basically, if you think about keeping the shoulders down and moving the sternum up and forwards (as if someone has a hook through the front of your shirt!), it’s easier to do this without throwing the shoulders further back and thus hosing up all your turns.
Like, I go to allongé, basically, as my default second. This is what felt so different in Brian’s class (he made us do almost the entire barre with arms at second, and he made m do my second right).
This is another artefact of that benign hypermobile joint thingy. So having retrained my proprioception in my wrists and elbows, I now need to retrain it in my arms so second feels like second, instead of second allongé feeling like second. Normal second feels like I’m curled in on myself, but it looks really good and keeps my balance forward.
I came up with an analogy that works for me regarding développée avant from fondu — it’s like you’re using the inside of your heel to hand someone an egg.
If you turn in at all, you drop the egg, so you have to keep rotating the leg as it rises. For me, this forces a smooth, graceful extension.
I also did cabrioles while we did sauté arabesque, chassée across the floor, because why not? Margie mentioned it, so I whipped them out.
I didn’t do them on the right (supporting) leg, though — the calf is mostly healed, but I didn’t want to push it. As I got tired, my sautés on that side turned into sissones. I got called out on that, too 😉
Margie reminded me that I should be beating the bottom leg and letting the top one sort of rise off of it; did my next set with that in mind, and it worked like magic.
It’s one of those technique things I know but don’t think of. I tend to do some kind of crazy diagonal soubresaut thing instead.
So there you have it. Friday class with cabrioles. I’m looking forward to tomorrow ^-^