After a really quite good class tonight, I asked BW for some input on ballet goals.
After we tossed a few ideas back and forth (yes, the coordination/port de bras/artistry/épaulement idea got the nod), as we were looking for at least one really concrete thing, he said, “Balances—how long can you hold your passé balance?”
And I said, “Heh, erm, well … probably not as long as I should be able to…”
And he said, “Well … how about holding your passé balance with no hands on the barre for 8 seconds by the end of the year?”
And I agreed that that’s a good goal, especially since I can already do exactly that inconsistently. The idea is to be able to do it consistently … which will, in turn, help with, erm, turns (spotspotspotspotspotspot!!!).
This led to BW saying, “You should definitely be able to get there. You have the body for it.”
Which was awfully nice. It is really rather lovely to have the right kind of body for anything in the universe of classical ballet, in particular balances, since they’re so essentially to basically everything else.
In other news, tonight’s class was the first one since I came back that really felt good all the way through … Except maybe the part where I did second arabesque at barre with my supporting foot on an unused facial tissue that had escaped from my reserve … BW was like, “ASHER TURN OUT YOUR SUPPORTING LEG MORE HEEL FORWARD” and I was mentally like I’M TRYING BUT OMG IT’S SO SLIPPERY … but OTOH I actually did manage to turn that leg out, tissue or no tissue.
Everything was working together, coordination was coming along nicely, and I was finally able to detect the existence of those little muscles under my butt that make everything work like “Boom-ba-doomboom-boom-ba-doomboom…” um, sorry, wrong musical thought.
I’m nailing nice floaty doubles on the regular both directions at this point, and surprising triples out of the bush, so triples and quads will be back soon enough.
To be honest, even chaînés felt good tonight, and my piqués felt boss, though I got excited and got ahead of the music and had to reel them in. BW likes to run us through an exercise that’s just four piqués and four counts of chaînés on repeat, which is nice.
It’s simple, but allows you to focus on the most awkward thing in the entire canon of classical ballet, AKA chaînés. There’s a reason that you begin learning chaînés in your very first class and keep working on the for the rest of your dog-forsaken life.
I got the facings right on the tendu-et-turns thing every single time, too, which made me feel amazing, and my assemblés actually assembled, and I mostly managed to keep my chest and shoulders open. It also changed directions with a glissade, which makes me indescribably happy. I love following any kind of turn with a glissade, and this exercise ended with: single en dehors, soutenu turn, glissade.
I realized during today’s simple-but-hard (because only in ballet…) fondu that I’ve been releasing my shoulderblade at certain points in my port de bras. That might not sound like a big deal, but it’s shorthand for saying that I’m disengaging my lats and traps, thus closing off my own lines. Derp. Predictably, I do it because it feels like doing something, when in fact what I should be doing really doesn’t feel like doing anything. Which, because I am flexible, is basically how many things feel.
Lastly, I’ve got my really nice sauté arabesque back. For a while I kept sort of running over myself: then I figured out (thanks to a brief word with BG that was actually about cabriole, but the principle is the same) that I was trying to land my sauté arabesque by bringing my leading leg back under myself instead of letting my body follow its momentum.
This, in turn, led to doing this screwy thing in which I feel for the floor with my foot and halfway release my turnout. Blargh.
Needless to say, once I focused on letting the leg go where it was going, instead of trying to reel it back in, things got about a thousand percent better.
I’m trying to retain the lovely feeling of dancing that I caught in Killer Class yesterday. Thus far, I think I’m succeeding. Every time my brain starts to go THIS IS HARD AND MY BUTT HURTS, I go, “But we’re dancing!” (or should it be, “Butt, we’re dancing!”) and it makes me smile and I relax a little, which helps get my shoulders back out of my ears.
So that was class tonight, along with the first of my concrete ballet goaaaaaaaaallllllllls for 2018.
At Suspend, where I train in aerials, there’s a cute shorthand for differentiating one’s dominant side from one’s non-dominant side: we call the dominant (usually right) side the “business side” and the non-dominant (usually left) side the “party side.”
This means that if, for example, you start an exercise on your dominant side, when your instructor says, “…And, now let’s do the party side!” you’ll know what to do regardless of which side is which for you (or, if you’re a giant mess of cross-dominant feels like me, you’ll just do whichever one you didn’t already do).
I mention all this largely to apologize for the fact that I’m about to lamely use the same terminology to mean “something completely different,” as it were, all apologies to Cirque Volant du Monty Python.
Anyway, as you all know by now, I have what one might call a chequered past with regard to chaîné turns. I have been known to refer to them as “hell turns,” “devil turns,” and “Can’t we just leave that part out?”
In short, I used to hate chaîné turns avec le feu de mille soleils(1).
- That’s “with the fire of a thousand suns,” for those playing along in only one language, or at any rate in a pastiche of languages that doesn’t include French.
Then I learned, or possibly re-learned, to approach them from tombé and began to make peace with them (the fact that BW makes me do roughly a billion chaînés every class probably doesn’t hurt, either: that’s what happens when you have 90 minutes and only one student).
I’ve spent the last several months tweaking things: bringing the chest forward, doing away with the swayback bit, actually spotting at the same rate I’m turning, etc. All of this has greatly improved my relationship with the much-hated chaîné.
On this past Friday, BG added a really sound correction (given to the entire class) to the mix—one very similar, in fact, to that which Killer B gave me on my grand assemblé en tournant. BG said, in essence,
Don’t let the second side trail behind. Snap it around. Think about actively bringing the opposite shoulder and hip around.
It turns out that this helps immensely—but, as with almost everything in ballet, it requires that you’ve first laid down the groundwork.
In this case, the groundwork is cross-lateral activation. If you’ve got decent pirouettes and piqué turns, chances are good that you have the groundwork in place.
It just so happens, though, that we tend to forget to use it when doing chaînés, probably because we’re too busy grumbling to ourselves about how horrible they are.
Anyway, when you consciously think about bringing the trailing shoulder and hip along with you, which you do by activating the muscles that connect diagonally across your body, not only do you prevent the annoying swayback effect, but you also get faster turns with less effort.
So, really, while the term “chaîné” refers to the fact that you’re chaining together a series of turns, you can also think about it as if you’re chaining the trailing side of your body to the leading side, or perhaps better, activating the chains of muscles that connect across your body, as you turn.
I was actually quite surprised at how immediate and clear a difference this made for me: it got me a “Good, Asher!” from BG, which is always welcome (and, for once, did not immediately cause me to forget how to walk, let alone dance).
So, basically, if you think of your business side as the side that’s leading, make sure you intentionally bring the party side along with it: because all business and no party makes Jack terrible at chaînés. Or something like that.
One more semi-pro tip: I find it helpful to imagine that something is pushing my trailing side around from behind. For whatever reason, this helps me keep shoulders and hips (and, presumably, body and soul) together.
So, there you have it. My current bit of helpful advice for chaînés, which (as it turns out) are not beyond help after all.
I may not be quite as ridiculously fast at them as Rudolf Nureyev was, but dangit, I’m improving. So there.
PS: I am likely to be more or less incognito for a week or so. I have a Big Thing Happening, and I’m keeping my hecking mouth shut about it until it’s done, and might just kind of keep my big hecking mouth shut period for a bit and take a break from the written variety of Social Meteors.