Ballet Squid Chronicles: Monday Class with Brian!
Claire is away on a secret mission (to know, to will, to dare, to not blab your favourite teachers’ ambitions all over the place!) elsewhere this week, so Brian (AKA Professional Dance Guy) taught class tonight, and it was a blast.
He gives a very good class — athletic but not exhausting, challenging but well within reach.
I mostly didn’t hose up his barre; I promenaded without any dramanade; I did some pretty-ish turns (and some turrible ones); I didn’t forget any combinations going across the floor (though I did count wrong a couple of times; how hard is it to count to 16? Seriously!).
Many of today’s improvements were the direct result of the sole me-specific correction of the day. Brian was walking around correcting people who were getting slouchy at the barre, and suddenly he walked up to me, grabbed me by the waist, and pronounced “Not you, too!”
It was definitely more a command than a comment: but up til that moment I thought I was pulled up. (To be fair, I started out pretty well, but then apparently I got sloppy without noticing it.)
Oddly enough, it turns out that feeling pulled up isn’t the same thing as being pulled up. And, strangely enough, being really pulled up makes you dance more gracefully… and makes your turns better, and makes your dramanades turn back into promenades.
This was especially important because we did our promenades en dehors, which is harder than doing them en dedans (though we were doing them at passé, which is easier than doing the Swan-Lake-arabesque-extended-cut promenades no matter which way you turn).
Apparently I feed off physical corrections: every few minutes I would feel Brian’s hands on my waist again, like a mental-physical reminder: Are you pulled up? Oh, yeah? Really?
My calf got a bit sore by the end of class, so my final petite allegro combination looked a little lame (literally), but other than that I felt pretty good about myself today. I’m starting to make progress again.
I’m also doing all my physical therapy exercises like a good boy and trying to eat enough food even though my appetite has kind of died again. I am not worrying about it now, though: it seems to do this from time to time, and I am still not at a point where it would be dangerous to shed some weight.
If I get there, then I’ll worry. Otherwise, I’ll just try to remember to eat enough even when I’m not feeling hungry. This is part of why I still track my diet religiously.
Okay, so that’s it for tonight. It’s nice to finish class feeling excited about making progress again!
Ballet Squid Chronicles: Back In My Element
I took Claire’s class this afternoon, and I’m starting to feel like I’ve got my legs under me again. Which is good, because at the beginning of class, I wasn’t so sure. For some reason, I kept dégage-ing when I was supposed to tendu and vice-versa. D’oh.
Claire also gave me some hands-on mid-torso corrections, getting the pelvis tucked back under while bringing the sternum forward. I was once again over-correcting for my tendency to hollow my lower back, throwing my shoulders back and compensating in the mid-torso. The core work this month has made it a little easier to keep my torso pulled together when I remember to do it. Now I just need to remember.
The hard part is knowing that what feels like a straight torso isn’t, in the same way that I had to re-train my proprioception with regard to my wrists and arms. (This is an interesting side-effect of that benign joint hypermobility thing; it makes your arabesque awesome, but your proprioception kind of wonky.)
Anyway, in today’s class I realized that if I rein in the size of my movements, I can get prettier technique out of myself. I guess I should know that by now.
Also, I need to get back to having confidence in myself as a dancer and
not thinking so much. I kept reminding myself to just dance, that the combinations would come, and when I did that successfully, things came off rather nicely.
In other news, I found a Pilates class I can probably work into my schedule, so I’m hoping to give that a try some time soon. I don’t want to add too much to the rotation until I’m really on top of things, though.
So that’s it for now. More to come.
Ballet Squid Chronicles: Friday Frustration
I did intermediate class today. Survived but was a total mess at Barre. At center, I did alright on some nifty choreography, and then we did little jumps with beats, which I totally killed. It was nice to be able to do something at least!
My lungs protested, though. I am definitely feeling the lack of class. Incentive to get on top of my maths, I guess.
Interestingly, our class was a little more diverse in terms of body types today than it usually is. That was cool. I hope everyone who was here today will keep coming!
Speaking of diversity, it seems that I missed Brian teaching Monday morning class. I couldn’t have done Monday AM class in the first place, but I wish I could have. I would’ve enjoyed seeing how he teaches.
It occurs to me that I have never yet taken a ballet class with a male teacher. It would be dishonest to say that I don’t wonder if taking class with a male teacher would feel different somehow.
Gentle readers, what do you think? Does it feel different to take class with a teacher of the same sex than it does to take class with one of the opposite sex? Or does taking class with a male teacher feel weird somehow because there are fewer male ballet teachers currently teaching? Or is it just, you know, still ballet?
That is one of the things I love about ballet. Different schools and teachers bring different elements to the table, but in the end, ballet is ballet is ballet.
Ha, just realized I left out the frustration part. I am way frustrated by not getting to class as often. I feel like I’m losing ground. I’m trying not to ler it get to me, but you know how it is. You love what you love, and when you feel like you’re slipping at the thing you love doing… Yeah. Frustration.
Ballet Squid Chronicles: Tuesday — Now With More Productivity!
Last night’s class was excellent!
I mostly maintained my waterfowls in a linear array throughout barre and even occasionally did Pretty Things With My Arms.
We were a smaller-than-normal class (possibly because of Dire Warnings of Weather-Related Doom — that, or maybe everyone else felt like last week’s class with the dancers from Paul Taylor was just too tough an act to follow), so I had my own private barre on the end, which meant I had to concentrate on actually knowing the combinations. I think that helped me keep myself together. Sometimes thinking too hard about technique is the best way to mess up; you can’t overthink your technique when you’re busy making sure you remember the combination. It seems to prevent the whole getting-in-your-own-way thing.
Not to say you shouldn’t think about technique at all, of course — the challenge seems to be finding that balance between thinking just enough (Toes back on close!) and too much (toestoestoestoestoestoestoestoestoestoes….)
I also worked on trying to keep my barre arm a bit further ahead than I have been. It continues to help with balances, though my balance overall was a wee bit off tonight for some reason (even at center). Coupé releve is still better than passé releve.
Meanwhile, the girl next to me, whose name I still haven’t caught (and who is amazing — people constantly ask her if she’s a professional dancer) popped up into a nice passé releve and just hung out there for, like, a minute. I’m pretty sure she could, like, knit some legwarmers while balancing at passé releve (in which case she’d be better than I am at both ballet and knitting; I can make scarves, but that’s it).
At center we did pretty adagio with More Graceful Arm Stuff, and I wasn’t terrible at that bit. Claire sorted my arabesque — she noted that I don’t need to drop my body forward to get my leg up there; I have the strength and flexibility to get the leg up and carry the upper body. Gave it a go and turned out an arabesque that received applause, so I guess it was pretty 😉
My waltz-balancé thing still looks a bit goofy, though. I think mostly my arms just aren’t sure how to get where to be when they need to be there. Looks like a job for Practice At Home!
Going across the floor I managed a double pirouette (because, as she so often does, Claire told us, “Do it again, and this time bring something new into it!”). It sort of went down like this: first turn completed in what felt like a Time Pocket (you know, that thing where time suddenly stretches out and becomes much longer than it usually is?), I thought, “I guess I could go for another,” spotted again, et voila! Double pirouette.
Once again, not the prettiest double pirouette ever, but still a double, and better than my last one. Claire saw it and I got a shoutout (the good kind) for that 😀
I’ve also discovered that I can do that cool thing where you land your pirouettes on one knee. It looks really cool, and evidently requires a fair amount of strength? If so, go bicycles! Now, if I could only remember the extra plié in the combiation…
Our petit allegro was fun; Claire threw in some tours at the end of a glissade-assemble-changement-changement-glissade-assemble-changement-changement-sisson-sisson combination, and I did them without too much terrible ridiculousness. A couple were actually, you know, good, except for the part where I sounded like an elephant on the landing (which totally made me think of my first ballet teacher shouting, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are not a herd of elephants!” as we did sautés).
Perhaps predictably, it went better when I didn’t think too much.
Little by little I look more and more like a dancer — I mean, more graceful and more intentional and less disastrous and squidly. Obviously, I’m not perfect yet (Who is? David Hallberg, maybe, but I bet he’d claim he isn’t, even if the rest of us know better!) or anywhere close to it. But, as I so often do on Monday nights, I feel like it’s coming along.
So there we go. This week I am going to focus on arms, balances, and not letting my upper body fall forward during grand battement and arabesques. Oh, and tons of stretching, because my legs have been way tight lately.
This morning I’m up and about and getting things done, which feels nice (I’m on the second load of laundry and have prepped a batch of bread dough). I’ve learned not to go, “Yeeeeeaahh! Now I’m going to live like a real grown-up from now on!” whenever this happens — instead, I accept it for what it is; a nice boost to my available time.
While my mood has been more stable for the past few months than — well, possibly ever in my entire life, really — I try not to take it for granted. There are definitely harder and easier days, and it still requires a lot of active management. I’m trying to learn to be grateful for days like today — easy days on which I wake up ready to roll — and not get ticked off at myself about the hard days.
Ballet makes an enormous difference in my life. At this point, it makes my schedule significantly more demanding, but also seems to make me more capable of handling the demands of my schedule. Ballet has become an organizing principle, so to speak; class, in and of itself, has become an organizing element.
Right now, I’m feeling more capable than usual. I’m trying to keep in mind that there might be moments in my life during which I’ll be less capable than I am right now, and that it’s okay if that happens. I’m learning to live life on my own terms — which includes accepting the terms imposed by my own neurology.
Anyway, I’ve put about half an hour into this post, and I hear my dryer buzzing, so back to being productive!
Ballet Squid Chronicles: Long Freaking Day
Headed out at 9:30 this morning to get the bus up to 11:00 class.
We were in Studio 4, which has super-slippery floors. Barre went well, pirouettes went well, little jumps went well, my pique turns were mostly solid if a bit wild. I was once again in class without breakfast, which may have had a bit to do with it. At least I didn’t have a Unisom hangover this time!
I experimented with barre-hand positioning, and I did find that if I place my barre hand a little further ahead of my body, it irons out my balances at the barre. Hung out in coupe relève for what felt like forever on the right and for a pretty decent stretch on the left.
This weekend’s opera was the Met’s Live in HD broadcast of Verdi’s Macbeth. Stellar performance; agility and precision all around on the part of the singers, with particularly inspired work from Netrebko and Lućic (sp)?
Pretty cool set and costume designs, too — the witches’ coven was comprised entirely of 1940s housewife types (and their similarly-attired young daughters). Very cool stuff.
After dinner and ice cream with Denis and Kelly, I came home and did homework. Tomorrow we have CycLOUvia (I’ll link in the morning if I remember) and more homework, then it’s class and more class and more homework…
Next weekend will be horribly busy again, with both an opera and Louisville Ballet’s Studio Connections performance (and Saturday class). Woot!
Right now, though, I’m going to bed.
Brief Monday Class Notes
We had a lovely class last night. Margie and I are both trying to convince Denis to try the advanced beginner class, and since there were no other students, Margie taught an advanced beginner class for us. I think Denis did well and I felt pretty great at the barre, though I was having some trouble remembering combinations for some reason.
At centre we did sautes and changements. Mine were pretty, but I sounded like an elephant, which is not usual.
We also worked on Polonnaise and mazurka. For some reason, my legs didn’t want to Polonnaise right. I got it sorted in a parking lot on the way home while refueling the truck. Life is funny that way.
Saturday is open house, so I am going to see what’s on the menu class-wise. Classes are free on open house days, so I plan to cram in as much as I can. Likewise, I hope to snag a Wednesday class this week, as I keep meaning to and my mood issues keep derailing my plans.
Guess that’s it for now. Charming illustrations to follow, maybe.
Various Thoughts About Chicago, and a little On Ballet!
I am fond of Louisville. There’s a fair bit to like about it, excepting its landlocked location in this oft-sweltering cauldron of concentrated air quality problems known as the Ohio Valley. It’s too far from the ocean, but it’s got friendly people and great cycling and a nice ballet company with a good school and some of the most beautiful domestic architecture around. Where parks are concerned, it has few, if any, rivals in the United States.
Seriously. Name another US city this size with nineteen graceful parks bearing the unmistakable stamp of Frederick Law Olmstead’s trail-blazing vision; with this much space set aside to be green and a little wild sometimes and beautiful so the people who live here can get away from the bustle of urban life for a bit any time they so please. I have lived in quiet rural and suburban places and in busy urban places and I have concluded that it’s best to be able to experience both; one makes you appreciate the other more. Here, you can do that without leaving town.
I say this because I don’t want you to think I’m dissing the city where I live. There’s a lot to like, even love, about Louisville.
The thing is, I think I like Chicago even more.
I suppose Chicago has some unfair advantages.
First, Chicago has trains. I love trains. I love trains for themselves, for the feeling of riding them, and for what they mean. In Louisville, people like me, who don’t drive, can escape from the city by riding bicycles or getting on the bus and then riding bicycles or walking. In Chicago, it is possible to get on a train and go. It’s easier. You can take your not-so-athletic friends along. You can even get a ticket on the South Shore Line and ride all the way to Michigan (the first time I visited Chicago, it was by South Shore Line from Michigan City, Indiana, which is practically in Michigan).
Moreover, the trains form the core of a transit system that moves a lot of people. Here, people still mostly seem to regard public transit as a stopgap measure for people who can’t afford to drive — which is, quite frankly, a pretty backwards way of looking at things (this isn’t to say that it’s not getting better, but that’s still the prevailing sentiment). Chicagoans drive more than New Yorkers, but don’t seem to regard public transit as an embarrassment. They cram onto the trains and busses in their legions and go to work, to concerts, to clubs, to the ballet, to restaurants. Many of them don’t drive a whole lot or at all, and because of this Chicago is full of vibrant, walkable neighborhoods where there are people out getting dinner, retrieving groceries, going to bookstores, whatever. The trains, in their way, have helped keep the city operating on a human scale.
I grew up in a small town, but it was (and still is) a small town where you could walk to dinner, to the grocery store, to a good ice-cream place, and so forth. I loved that and had no idea how precious it was.
The thing I dislike about my current neighborhood is that it’s the kind of place the vast majority of people would consider unwalkable. Places you might want to go are a mile away or more. Sidewalks, where they’ve been included, are inadequate. There’s a big, beautiful park practically in my backyard — literally about a block over — but the neighborhood (built long after the park) is designed in such a way that you either have to travel two miles to get there or trespass on private property. Nobody thought to include, for example, a path. If you do choose to get to the park by cutting through people’s yards, you then have to either climb over or tunnel under a big fence, which is (of course) meant to prevent people from cutting through private yards going to and from the park.
It is this way because my current neighborhood was designed for people who drive cars, by people who regarded diving as the wave of the future; as a new convenience that would save us all so much time. They meant well, but these are the people you can thank the next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam, because these are the people who designed so much of America as we know it today. These were not, for the most part, the people who planned and designed the neighborhoods in Chicago.
Second, Chicago is several times the size of Louisville. A few years ago, even a year ago, I wouldn’t have identified that as an advantage. It’s still not something I would automatically point out as an advantage. Like, I enjoy New York and Washington, D.C., immensely, but I wouldn’t describe their sheer size as an advantage, necessarily. In Chicago, though, the scale of the city lets it breathe in a way which neither NY or DC can do, being situated where they are. Yes, downtown Chicago is dominated by giant buildings — but they stand far apart, across broad streets, and you don’t feel like you’re in a cramped, narrow canyon.
Chicago can do this because it’s in the big, flat heart of the Midwest on the shore of a lake so huge that people who know things about bodies of water classify it and its sisters as a series of freshwater inland seas. Perhaps because of the trains, though, Chicago doesn’t seem like a collection of unrelated cities jammed together. Different neighborhoods feel distinctly different, but they’re all connected by the same circulatory system; they’re all part of the same organism.
Third — well, did I mention the lake?
The city of Chicago is sliced up by rivers and canals flowing up towards the lake. Maybe that should be Lake, with a capital “L.”
I’m an ocean junkie. I grew up on the Sound and the Cape and the Atlantic. The first time I felt the thrill of real, mortal fear, it was in the waves of the Atlantic on the windward shore of Block Island. The first time I felt the unspeakable power of the numinous, it was watching the moon rise over the ocean from the peak of Mount Desert Island. My people have never lived far from the ocean. I joke that you’ll find members of my family everywhere, but in truth I don’t think very many of us can be found very far from the coast, or not for long. I miss the ocean keenly and powerfully, and that particular flavor of homesickness never seems to fade.
So the lake isn’t an ocean. But it’s still pretty good. It’s a proper inland sea — it’s Big Water. It has moods and waves and a bit of the terrifying power that makes the ocean so compelling. It has sandy beaches and a far, blank horizon. I can look at that horizon and feel something of the same thrill that I feel when I gaze out over the Atlantic.
So it seems inevitable that I, who so love trains and variety and, above all, Big Water, should like Chicago an awful lot. Don’t think I’m some kind of rosy-glassed pushover about it — I know it has its own problems; its own quirks I would probably come to resent if I lived there, the same way I resent the highways here that cut entire swathes of the city off from each-other and disrupt the flow of what could be a pretty cool urban lifescape, so to speak. Nonetheless, I really like Chicago. I think I could be really happy there.
Now for the ballet part. On Saturday, we got up and ate breakfast and made our way up to the Joffrey Tower for class. The Joffrey’s adult open division Ballet Basics class is 1.5 hours long. I wasn’t 100% sure Denis would make it all the way through. I didn’t know what to expect (one never knows what to expect when one starts a new class, though).
What we got as an awesome and really pretty enormous class. I think there were about sixteen of us; about half of us were men (our teacher, Lynne, exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, there are never this many men! We’re doing pas de deux today! …Just kidding.”). The barre work was athletic and demanding (for what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve ever done attitude en cloche at the barre before), which I definitely appreciated.
I found that after exercising my brain trying to memorize long combinations at the barre, it was surprisingly easy to memorize the combinations when we worked in the center … though also surprisingly easy to get mesmerized while doing changements and forget to move on to the next sequence. This, however, is not a problem that is specific to ballet. When counting repetitions, I tend to forget to stop. The effect wears off once I know the pattern and stop counting (in this case, on the first repeat, when we reversed the direction of the combination).
Lynne did a brilliant job explaining how to stop your circular port de bras from looking like some kind of fit or an attempt to deflect a missile (though she didn’t put it quite that way). She also sorted our promenades, which I deeply appreciated, as I think promenades look a wee bit silly to begin with much of the time, and look even sillier when I’m sort of f(l)ailing my way through them. By which I mean that she sorted my promenade. Everyone else’s looked pretty okay. I feel like mine is uniformly terrible, though once in a while on Saturday I caught sight of myself in the mirror and realized I looked better than I expected to look.
We did a nice reverence, though I tangled my legs a couple of times.
So that was class at the Joffrey. It was excellent. I would say “Excellent, as expected,” but I didn’t know what to expect.
I’ve found that what people say is true: it’s good to take classes from different teachers, as long as they’re good teachers, because every teacher explains things a little differently, focuses on different refinements, and so forth. Just as Claire’s correction for my back has really helped me get my turns and stuff sorted, Lynne’s explanation of circular port de bras and a number of other things clarified stuff I’ve probably been doing wrong for a while now, if not since, like, first grade.
It’s weird how you can take this long, long journey of digression in your life, go wandering about in the wilderness, and then find your way back to the track you started out on, and realize it was the right one in the first place. I sort of stumbled out of ballet class in middle school — not because I didn’t love ballet, but because my life was pretty crushingly depressing and I stopped doing almost everything. In high school I did modern dance for a couple of years (as a non-major) at an arts magnet, and I loved it, but I lost the thread again after I graduated. Then for a few years I entered a kind of wilderness in my own life. I don’t quite understand why it took me so long to find this shimmering thread again.
I guess clarity just comes when it’s ready to come. We don’t have the privilege of divine insight, so we make mistakes and discard things we should keep and sometimes don’t get back to where we should be for a long, long time.
I feel like I’m finally returning to the self I was intended from the beginning to be: ballet, in a sense, is an expression of that. I suppose I had to learn how to identify and to be that self. I am sure there are still plenty of things I’m missing.
It is very much like re-learning ballet. You attempt some bit of technique you once had down cold years ago and it doesn’t come, and doesn’t come, though you can sort of see it, if you will, “as through a glass, darkly.”
Then, as if from nowhere, you hit it, and it’s like the fire of memory enlivens every nerve.
P.S. If you happen to be in Chicago and you’ve always wanted to dance, give the Joffrey’s adult open division a try. You won’t regret it.
P.P.S. Denis survived and then went on to also survive a walk and a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago and another walk (to the bus). He is coming to class this evening, the first time he has done a Saturday and a Monday class in the same week.
On Ballet! – Monday Class Notes
Last night we had an insane adventure while transporting a 32-foot ladder after class, so I didn’t get my notes posted. D’oh!
Anyway, it was an interesting class. Three guys and two ladies this time, in a reversal of the usual pattern, and we got our petit allegro on. I was about as graceful as a gator on rollerskates, at times, but you know. We all have our off days (especially after days off).
As always, there were some strengths and some (many) weaknesses:
I always think this looks pretty good, though.
This is really improving.
These felt good.
For some reason, I was a bit on the weakish side last night. While my arabesques held together, I really felt my effort. Likewise, I experienced trembling thigh muscles at a few points.
Seriously, arms, we’ve talked about this. (To be fair, they are improving. They were just a wee bit, um, enthusiastic: like, repeat to yourself, this is not modern dance ).
Oh, FFS, the combination:
While we were learning the combo for our petit allegro, I started too far over and ran into the window, so then I had to try to remember it without having properly marked it in the first place. I was fine up to the point where I ran out of room, but couldn’t remember the rest to save my life.
I am perpetually afraid of being that moron in class who takes forever to get the choreography straight anyway (I would love to see more about this study from Duke University in 2010), so this did not help my confidence. I hid on the back line doing the watch-n-pray the whole time.
At one point our teacher told us (me?) to stop thinking. I suspect that would help. Thinking only gets me in trouble.
As always, got some useful corrections (including the universal “stop being lazy and point that toe” tap while we were stretching at the barre). I felt almost ridiculously flexible. I didn’t want to stop when we were done, but I never do.
I want to stop when I fall down.
I guess that’s a good sign ^-^