Erm, so, apparently the FSB school year is over! And I missed the memo! (*sarcasm* OMG, can you believe it?! I, of all people, lost track of the calendar! THAT NEVER HAPPENS! */sarcasm*)
Like, seriously, a part of my lesson planning process for my 3-4 Year Olds class, I choose a class theme for each week, and I post the week’s theme with a related printable coloring page to FSB’s facebook page … and I popped it up there for this week and then an hour later our school admin called me up like, “Guess what! We’re on break!” XD
Anyway, I’m sort of vaguely staggered that I have now made it through an entire academic year of teaching.
Sometimes I feel like I’m really getting the hang of it, while other times I feel like I’m still just desperately treading water. Still, there’s nothing like an arbitrary temporal marker to awaken one to the fact that, somehow, one is actually Doing The Thing.
So I’ve now officially been a ballet teacher (OMGWTFBBQ) for a year and a ballet dancer (in a company) for two years.
Watching video of myself from this morning’s Zoom class, I can see that I’ve come a long way as a dancer in the past two years. This morning I was tired and groggy and … stiff might not be the right word, in that my body wasn’t stiff, but my movement quality was stiff AF? Like, I can see that my brain is kind of running in slow motion, ticking off individual steps and kind of grinding gears between them, so The. Phrasing. Is. A. Bit. Staccato.
- Video is a phenomenal self-teaching tool, and I keep meaning to write a post about it ^-^’
…And yet watching myself I can still see that this person here, for all his faults, kind of knows what he’s doing. Mostly.
Two years is as long as I’ve ever held any continuous job (or, well–just over two years, really)–but back then I didn’t see the job that I had as a career path. It was a thing I was doing to make money while I figured out what I actually wanted to do with my life ^-^’
Now I’m getting paid a lot less, but working to build a career, which isn’t a thing I ever envisioned doing until I came back to ballet, and even then it took quite a while before I felt like I had a snowball’s chance. Full disclosure: sometimes I still don’t feel like I’ve got a snowball’s chance. Like, part of me is like, “Okay, dude, keep your head down so The Powers That Be don’t notice that you’re Doing The Thing.”
Imposter syndrome still makes appearances, of course, and every time I refer to myself as a professional dancer, there’s a part of my brain that winces and goes, “SHUT UP YOU IDIOT DON’T JINX IT.” (That part of my brain apparently doesn’t do commas.)
Imposter syndrome notwithstanding, though, I feel like I’ve found a place in the world in which I actually fit.
Ultimately, I do rather think that’s the only way to become a dancer. It’s too hard otherwise. Either there’s something within you that drives you to dance, no matter how wildly impractical it seems, or there’s not (and that’s okay: like, I’m not driven to be a chef or an investigative journalist, but I love the work they do, and I’m so glad they do it).
I’m not saying that if you don’t dance professionally, you’re not a dancer. training, talent, and physical aptitude alone aren’t enough to make that happen–there’s a lot of chance involved; being in the right place at the right time, basically.
Like, I just happened to wander across Mr D’s radar at a time when he needed guys for The Sleeping Beauty, and then the person who was going to be Drosselmeyer had to back out, and since I was going to be there anyway, Mr D figured he’d just put me in all the things. Likewise, I happened to have met Dot at LexBallet’s SI (and again at PlayThink), and she mentioned to me that Gale Force Dance was holding an audition, which ultimately led both to dancing with GFD and teaching at FSB.
Not everyone stumbles upon circumstances like these. But if you can’t imagine living without dancing, if the studio is where you feel most at home, if you do everything in your power to find a way to dance as much as you can (even if that means you don’t get to dance very much), you have the heart and soul of a dancer.
Next year is still up in the air, a bit: we don’t know yet when, or even if, theater venues will reopen, or what that re-opening will look like. We have no way to know what the changes in question will do to ballet company budgets, or to arts funding (public and private) in general. I don’t think we even know what the rehearsal process will be.
For now, though, I’m just happy to have made it through a year of teaching.
I’ve concluded that adapting to a new job–especially one in a new field–is always a bit of a baptism by fire.
Whether or not you’ve completed formal coursework in teaching, it’s impossible to know before you begin what your students will be like, how they’ll respond to your personality, and so forth. You also don’t know how you’ll operate as a teacher.
Likewise, you learn to be in a ballet company by being in ballet company (this is one of the reasons that Youth Ensemble, Studio Company, and Second Company programs are so valuable).
Nobody can ever say for sure what the future will bring, but generally speaking accumulated experience makes it easier to do whatever thing you’re doing.
Anyway, that’s it for now. SI next week, then who knows what will happen.
Keep dancing, friends.
- …you’re trying to figure out where to cram in a side-side-side gig so you can make some extra money this summer so you don’t have to worry as much about expenses during the main season >.<
- …you realize that you’re performing at a gig you couldn’t currently afford to attend
- you look at your summer rehearsal and performance schedule and realize that you have officially broken your summer break o.O’
- …you discover that inflatable bathtubs exist ❤
- …you realize that, although you don’t think of yourself as an ambitious person, you actually do have some pretty lofty goals that you want to achieve in your lifetime … they’re just not necessarily ones that chime with conventional ideas about “success”
Last week, DS and I put the final touches on our piece for PlayThink’s mainstage show, Gale Force rehearsals began, and I discovered that I do really freaking good turns if I don’t have contacts or glasses on (weird, right?).
My hypothesis about the turns thing is that being unable to see anything clearly prevents the following:
- Spotting too high … which I STILL do all too often
- Hyper-focusing on my spot spot. I didn’t realize I might be doing this until I paused to analyze the feeling of those really, really nice and effortless doubles (and one effortless triple) I tossed out there the other day. I think I get so fixated on the idea of ACTUALLY LOOKING AT AN ACTUAL THING IN THE ACTUAL WORLD that my neck stiffens up in an effort to fix my focus. A stiff neck doesn’t help your turns, guys.
I also finally started listening to Hallberg’s A Body of Work, which I bought on Audible before the season ended and have been putting off because … well, reasons, I guess. I don’t know precisely what those reasons are, though I could probably figure it out if I sat down with my inner being and had a good conversation.
I know part of it was just the sheer dread of having to hear The David Hallberg talking about his amazing successes as a dancer during a time when I was feeling like literally the worst dancer alive.
It turns out, though, that Hallberg is as engaging and humble as an author as he is lyrical and princely as a danseur. So it turns out that in addition to being a fabulous dancer he might ALSO be a fabulous human being. He certainly comes across as thoughtful and very, very human in his writing.
Curiously, many of his struggles are #relatableAF in fact. I found it immensely edifying to hear about his difficulties with his early efforts at partnering, you guys.
Speaking of edifying, I also got an offer for a full scholarship to a summer intensive in Europe, though sadly it coincides with tech and theater week for GFD’s show, so I can’t go. But it was really cool, anyway.
This summer I’m focusing on partnering, tuning up my turns, and NOT DOING DUMB THINGS WITH MY HANDS.
As you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, I’m also working on #BalletFitness … specifically:
- whittling down my thighs so I don’t have to fight with them in 5th position ;D
WRT that last one: I don’t mean spot-reducing; I mean focusing on using the right muscles so my stupid quads will chillax and get out da darned way, while focusing on eating good food so I don’t either gain a lot of weight or constantly feel puny and starved.
I’d like to reiterate, once again, that for me, the size of my thighs is a functional thing. There are people who are much softer and curvier than I am who can dance really well with much bigger thighs because their pelvises are arranged in a way that allows them to access a tight 5th position at their size (which might, for some of them, be harder at a samller size).
Over the past year or two, I’ve realized that I not only have hyuuge quads, but I also have very little clearance because of the way my pelvis and my humeri come together. This means that regardless of my apparently awesome capability for rotation in the hip joint, my 5th position is prone to difficulty because my big, stupid legs are in the big, stupid way.
I mean. They’re not really stupid legs. They’re good legs, Brent. They’re powerful legs. They make it easy for me to jump high and lift people (and yes, in case you’re wondering, you legs and core really do most of that work almost all the time).
But they are big, and they’re set close together, and those factors conspire to place them right in each-other’s way if I’m not vigilant about working in such a way that A) my quads don’t go, “COOL WE GOT THIS BRUH” and inflate to the size of intercontinental ballistic missiles* and B) there’s not much extra “fluff” to get in the way. “Fluff” is probably better than muscles, since it’s squishier, but there’s just no freaking room.
*intercontiental balletic missiles???
So basically I’m in the midst of this crazy transition during which I continue to be sort of flabbergasted by the fact that I am apparently doing this dancer thing now, but also not entirely flabbergasted in the same way I used to be. I don’t know exactly how to describe That Feeling When, so I’ll leave you instead with this lovely picture of ya boiii Mercutius T. Furbelow expressing his sentiments about the arrival of summer weather here in the 502:And this update on the status of my surgical scars (or relative lack thereof):
I’m still playing it safe with my foot, which means still no jumping in BW’s class last night—but I think that’s actually turning into rather a good thing.
No jumping means we have tons of time for everything else, and that we can work at a borderline-glacial pace.
As a kid, this would have driven me insane. That’s half the reason it’s so good for me now.
For much of my life, I tacitly equated “slow” with “boring,” though I didn’t admit it even to myself.
Like many with ADHD, I am best at remaining focused when I’m moving quickly.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing—it made me a good skiier; it still makes me a good cyclist. It serves me well in the midst of grand allegro. It might be related to my tendency to stay calm in acute crises. But it’s limited, and doesn’t cover so much of daily life.
- At least, the physically-actionable kind: I’m great when faced with a panicky horse or a bike crash, but when I locked my keys and my wallet in the car in Cincinnati with only 15% battery charge left on my phone, I rapidly descended into meltdown mode. Physical action couldn’t solve the problem at hand, and the only solution I could think of—calling D—wasn’t working. Cue utter panic.
This is one of the things medication improves. I may sweat even more than usual, but it’s worth it to be able to remain mentally engaged through a slow and repetitive exercise designed to tease out the deep and subtle essence of technique.
I suspect that BW is the kind of person who was born with that ability to reflect and synthesize. Nothing that I know about him suggests that he is, in any way, more than typically impulsive; if anything, I’d guess that he’s better at planning and implementing his plans than the average human being.
As a teacher, he’s a master of the slow burn: the exercise in which one folds and unfolds through slow tendus, fondus, ronds, and extensions, battling gravity and all the weirdness of the human body in order to maintain placement, aplomb, elan.
This doesn’t mean he doesn’t excel at the fast stuff as well. Last night’s class involved, among other things, a super-fast degagé-frappé that fried my brain even as it forced me to use the right muscles to close because there was literally no other possible way to make it happen. When we do petit allego, it’s light and quick, as it should be.
But I suspect that I learn the most when we’re working slowly. I come out of every single one of his classes with greater awareness of technique and of how my own body works in conjunction with technique. Nothing will make you more aware of the body mechanics required in attitude devant than finding it, then holding it for sixteen counts.
Last night’s class felt like a watershed, in a way: things that we’ve worked on for weeks suddenly made sense, physically and mentally, in new ways. It was like the day last year that I realized I had developed the ability to feel and activate my deep rotators with much greater precision.
As human beings, we can take many routes to learning. We can flail or inch towards transcendence. I suspect that ballet requires a bit of each. You can’t inch your way into grand allegro, for example: you just throw yourself at the target, dust yourself off, take your corrections, and adjust.
But in order to know how to adjust—in order to operate the minuscule muscles that control turnout and maintain the subtle adjustments that define placement as you soar like a lightning bolt—you must first have inched your way into the control room of your own body, taught it to do things, built those things into habits.
Last night, we worked slowly and with precision. There were no fireworks. No grand allegro. No triple turns.
Instead, there was what BW calls “medicine”—those dry, academic exercises that lie at the heart of sound classical technique—and one exercise with turns and balances, and at least one really impeccable single from fourth with a fast spot.
- Full disclosure: I love dry, academic ballet exercises. Not everybody does. To me, they feel like playing Tetris with my own body, and those moments when I suddenly “get” it really give me a charge. That said, Adderall makes me a lot better at doing them for an entire class.
At least, it felt really impeccable. Chances are that, one year from now, I’ll remember that turn and think, “Huh, that really wasn’t so great.”
The final combination was pure medicine: tendu side with arms in second, hold, petit rond, petit rond, petit rond, hold and carry the arms through first to third without changing anything else, tendu, close back, reverse, other side.
It sounds easy; if you brute-force your way through it with no attention paid to the finer points of technique, maybe it even is easy. But when you’re thinking about everything, when you’re keeping the placement of your head and body and legs and TOES absolutely precise as you try to move only your arms (without automatically doing a petit rond or bringing your leg in), suddenly it’s not so easy anymore.
It takes a lot of a thing I’m going to call “microtechnique;” a lot of management of the tiny muscles that control placement, the awareness of which is essential if you want to dance well and for a long time.
You’d better believe that I’ll be working that one in my kitchen pretty often from here on out.
And then we stretched, and that was it.
Slow and steady, as they say, wins the race.
So, I have discovered that, sans Adderall (which I neglected to take this morning), l I am not quite as good at picking up combinations, and less likely to fix myself on the second side.
We had a lovely terre-a-terre that began with two sets of waltz turns, and I kept skipping the second set, which then threw everything else off.
I feel that I should probably take my Adderall before I drive halfway across the state, perhaps. It might be helpful.
Skipped all the jumps this morning in an effort to be tuned up but not tired this evening.
Somehow, I’m suddenly working for reliable triple turns.
Today’s were sketchy. Too much 1, 2 … and a half … 3. First two revolutions would be fine, but I’d lose my momentum in the third somehow. Once I wound up getting halfway through the third revolution and having to kind of do this embarrassing little hoppity-hop thing to get the rest of the way around. The next time I launched too hard from the foot, like I was trying to do a tour en l’air at passé. Oy vey.
I think the problem is one of confidence. I know I can do doubles, but I’m still not sure about my triples. I get anxious and lose focus, my spot slows down, and so … does … everything … else. Clearly, the answer is to go for quadruples — the best triple turns I’ve ever done were ones that wanted to be quads.
On the other hand, turns and terre-a-terre were otherwise good. Suddenly I have nice doubles from fifth, nice tombé-piques (I’m no longer trying to launch them into space), and arms that do things related to the combination and not just random crazy stuff. Also, my adagio glissades are da bomb.
I felt tired halfway through petit allegro, though the first combination went very well, and very much phoned it in throughout grand allegro. Some of my jumps were lovely, some were just plain wrong because I missed part of the combination (thought the second chain involved entrelacé and fouetté when really it was two fouettés; fixed that going left).
The linking steps were an unmitigated disaster (in short: I could only remember half of them), though I worked to make it look like I thought I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. There was a whole coupé-tombé-pas de bourré that I replaced with a chassé, which meant my saut de chat, though decent, was hella early. Frustrationne.
This, by the way, is my new ballet strategy: Don’t know the whole combination? Just pretend you do and really commit to whatever game version you invent.
I’m out of Adderall right now, and I feel it in advanced class. The combinations are long, and I tend to fail to keep my concentration engaged while receiving them. I would be like, watching watching watching huh, I wonder if I should take my legwarmers off, D’OH!, watching, watching…
That said, I’m doing surprisingly well remembering and executing adagio right now. Occasionally I find myself in a position that I can both execute and watch in the mirror, and it’s neat to watch my legs just unfurl themselves while my body stays still and upright.
My arms mostly seem to know what they’re doing now, as well, though once today they tried to do something weird (I caught them). My head is slowly getting with the program. There was less eye-rolling today.
Also held a right attitude balance arrière that blew my previous records out of the water.
Felt like I could’ve stayed up there forever. Came down in complete control — allongé, arabesque balance, close to sous-sus, plié. First time, probably, that I’ve chosen to come down from a balance because the class was getting ready to start the second side! (Usually I choose to come down when it starts to feel like things are thinking about falling apart.)
Left was nowhere near as good — too much thinking — though the exit was similarly controlled and graceful.
At barre, B commented on how far I’ve come since January and added, “One day I look up, and there’s this dancer in front of me.”
I suspect that has a lot to do with it, in a way — I think of myself as a dancer, and I think that shapes things. As dancers, we tend to embody our inner visions of ourselves. What we visualize, we do.
Of course, quite literally being stronger and fitter than I have ever been and just plain getting to class reliably make a huge difference, too.
As does finally being able, once again, to trust my body. It’s more and more like an exquisitely well-trained horse: horse people will understand the feeling of riding a horse that seems to read your mind; even to know what you want before you do.
It may seem strange to describe one’s body that way, but the sense of trust and unity and satisfaction is the same. I know where my arms are now in a way that I didn’t six months ago.
One more detail before lunch.
Looking at pictures of Nureyev (who apparently had ridiculous knees like mine) in fifth and sous-sus, I realized that I can probably nail mine tighter if I really max my turnout and pull my inner thighs tighter than I feel is physically possible.
This should help get my giant, bony knees out of the way. I’ve been kind of cheating lately, given that my turnout is really close to 180 in first at this point. I keep doing the thing where you plié and rotate your front knee back and heel forward simultaneously, but then having to reduce turnout a bit to get my knees in or out in tendus, etc, because they’re in each-other’s way.
If I engage my inner thighs more effectively, I think I should be able to pull the knees past each-other rather than against each-other. Heretofore, I haven’t been doing that because Male Dancer Reasons, but um, suffice it to say that there’s at least one painting of Nureyev in the nude, and he had bigger (ahem) reasons than mine, so to speak. In short, I should trust my dance belt to do its job.
So that’s it for today. Lunch, splits challenge, and then … Honestly, who knows?
Coincidentally, this should also help me make my petit allegro quicker, since I’ll have to work on making the same set of muscles stronger. It will also stop me getting yelled at about my lazy assemblé and soubresaut 😉