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Wednesday Class: Lift from Beneath

Today during fondus at the barre, I had an illuminating experience.

I’m much better now at remembering to lift my legs into développé (or straight extension) from behind and beneath, but for some reason on the first développé (in this case, développé avant) my quads decided that they wanted a turn.

The result was a développé that required immense effort and stopped at 90 degrees.

Fortunately, there were multiple développés to each direction in this exercise, and I caught it and fixed it on the next pass.

What a revelation! The next développé was both easier and higher.

(Now, if I can just convince my feet to point reliably when my quads are relaxed 😛 Of late, they tend towards a kind of lazy point — and there is no excuse for that, I have good feet and should, in the grand tradition of ballet, show them off.)

I don’t know that I’ve ever managed this particular self-correction as consciously or effectively as I did today. It was exciting; a real “Eureka!” moment. I guess it made the difference between knowing rationally and really knowing.

Petit allegro, meanwhile, continued to be a disaster — this time because my legs didn’t want to temp de cuisse in the right directions. They kept trying to sproing the wrong way.

Ah, well — that’s ballet for you. It’s like bike touring: you get to the top of the hill only to see that beyond it is … another giant hill.

Anyway. Moar stuff to practice at home.

On the other hand, I got the Sissone combination with arms this time (thanks in no small part to the girl in front of me; thanks, random girl I’ve never met before — she carried her arms with such clarity that I sort of suddenly realized what I was doing wrong with mine :P).

Grand allegro was mostly good, except the part in which I subbed pas de chat for saut de chat on the first side. That’s just my brain for you. I was able to correct it on going left.

The former AD has been observing our class lately and today I felt that I acquitted myself acceptably well.

I’m used to seeing him now; the first couple of times I noticed that he’d appeared at our window I got flustered. At this point, though, he’s seen me dance basically as badly as I’m able to, so now things can only improve.

Also, I only knocked myself off my leg once in adagio today, and that’s because I had the counts wrong on the développé before the penché and thus was late rushed it. Lesson learned: don’t rush into penché.

So that’s it for now. Tomorrow I’m doing an extra class with Company B, so I shall attempt to report back on that.

Monday Madness

I didn’t do Modern T’s class this morning because I had a scheduling conflict, so I went to M. BeastMode’s evening class today.

We were all just coming back from Spring Break, so M. BeastMode went easy-ish on us (which meant class was pretty relaxed, for me; M. BeastMode’s class at its hardest is still only about half as physically grueling as Ms. B’s Killer Class).

Barre was great. Everything went beautifully at barre. I worked on the let it happen principle, and suddenly my fondues, developpés, and grand battements were beautiful, high (or, as required, low and elastic), and really effortless.

Ditto turns, as a general rule. Fine and effortless, mostly. Turns from fifth are back; turns from fourth are trending towards reliable doubles again.

We did a quarter turn-half turn-full turn combo that was perfectly intuitive as long as you didn’t think, but went straight to Helena Handbasket (good ol’ Ms. Handbasket, heh) if you second-guessed yourself or started thinking. Mostly, though, I acquitted myself beautifully doing turns.

Ditto across the floor, at first. We did a cool combination that I am now nearly unable to remember, but it was set to a tango, and the goal was to focus on economy of movement. Since this is a thing I’m working on anyway, that was great.

Then we did another thing across-the-floor, and it just … I don’t know. There was a renversé. I love renversé, and I can do it quite well, and did beautiful renversés while marking the combination … and then, for some reason, when actually dancing it, my body kept insisting that the step in question should be fouetté, even though there was no fouetté in the combination.

Bleh.

I didn’t work that part out until after class, though. I just knew that something cray kept happening to my beautiful renversé moment.

This is what happens when I don’t go first and don’t mark all the way through the combo while the first group (or, in this case, groups) are going because I’m afraid of kicking somebody or getting in the way.

So, um, yeah. I shall work on that. It is getting a heck of a lot easier to pick up combinations, though (honestly, picking up almost any ballet combo seems like a breeze after a complex modern combo — not because modern is harder, but because ballet is my “first language”).

After, I ordered most of the remaining parts for our trapeze costumes (which should double for ballet stuff, later; it looks like things might be shaping up in terms of getting an adult students’ performing group together, but more on that later, as I don’t want to screw it up by speaking too soon).

Likewise, it would seem that I now have a choral performance iron in the fire for next year, which is great — not something that will require a year-long commitment, but something I’ll enjoy immensely.

So that was Monday. I’m super tired, so I’m off to bed.

G’night, everybody.

Ballet Lessons: Get Out Of Your Own Way

Little by little, piece by piece, Ms. B of Hard Mode Ballet Class is making a dancer out of me.

Not just a guy who knows how to execute a bunch of ballet steps, but a dancer — someone who executes a bunch of ballet steps with élan; who uses his head and his eyes and his port de bras; who relates to the music intelligently and expressively; who doesn’t grip with his neck, for frack’s sake.

In order to do that, one must learn one’s own body in depth: how to feel the minute muscles in the hip socket; how to knit the ribs together without collapsing; how to open the collarbones without throwing the shoulders back behind the hips.

One must also learn how to get out of one’s own way.

There’s a magical thing that happens when you learn how to get out of your own way: suddenly, things get easier.

In order to execute a high, smooth grand rond-de-jambe, you must know where to place your pelvis so you don’t block either your extension or your turnout. The first time you find that balance (perhaps after having had it and then lost it), it’s like magic.

Curiously, some dancers naturally find it early in their training only to lose it again as they begin to work more consciously on turnout, placement, and extension.

That’s pretty much what happened to me: I started really thinking about pelvic placement about a year ago — and at first I over-corrected, as is my wont. As I began to work into more advanced classes and to work towards higher extensions, I found myself inexplicably blocked at times: and then Ms. B got around to sorting my pelvis, and it turned out that I was basically getting in my own way.

Once I let my pelvis find its own neutral spot and stopped thinking so hard — once I got out of my own way — my extensions got better, my turnout got better, and I could start really thinking about other stuff.

Ironically, the whole source of the problem with extensions and turnout resulted from a conscious effort to place my pelvis so I could … like … better access turnout and alignment.

I think this makes a good allegory.

Often, in life, we get so concerned about being correct that, in fact, we over-correct. We try really hard to do things just right, and we find ourselves stumbling into unexpected road-blocks; tangled in the intricacies of the details.

In short, we get in our own way.

Sometimes, the best answer is to stop thinking, stop concentrating so hard on being correct, and get out of our own way. (This is, I am almost certain, a corollary to the rule, “Don’t make it happen — let it happen.”)

So there you have it. If you’re having difficulty in your dancing or in your life, maybe try loosening the reins and getting out of your own way. It might just help!

So that’s my Ballet Lesson for today.

~~

In other news, I apologize for my recent absence. I’ve had a sinus infection, and the first really noticeable symptom (besides, randomly, pain in my teeth) was a wicked fatigue that seemed to come from nowhere. I haven’t been posting because, in short, I’ve had nothing to post. I’ve basically been asleep, for the most part, for the past week.

I did do part of class (and part of juggling class) on Saturday, but I was actually too tired to write about it afterwards, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know. If I’m too tired to write, I’m probably too darn tired to do just about anything.

Monday Class: In Developpe-ment?

Okay, that was bad, I admit it. Couldn’t think of anything else.

I felt a bit stiff this morning. I may have overdone it yesterday with caffeine, rum, and sugar, while under-doing it with, like, actual food and calories, heh. Today, I made roasted chicken legs* and vegetables for dinner, so that’s a step in the right direction.

*…As I said to my friend Robert, “…Cut from the bodies of bros who skipped leg day. THIS IS WHY YOU NEVER SKIP LEG DAY.”

Fortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, in ballet, every day is leg day.

On the other hand, The Lady of the Camélias was stunning. Not only very fine dancing, but very fine acting, particularly by Svetlana Zakharova, who absolutely embodied the principal female role, Marguerite. Anna Tikhomirova brought humor and aching pathos to Marguerite’s mirror image, the legendary Manon Lescaut, who appears both in the ballet-within-the-ballet and also in Marguerite’s inner visions.

Andrei Merkuriev portrayed Monsieur Duval, father of the lovelorn leading man, Armand, with a moving gravity worth noting.

As so often happens, watching great dancing instilled in me a renewed sense of both why I dance and what ballet should do — lessons I hope will stick with me while I’m recording my audition video this week!

I walked away from The Lady of the Camélias remembering that I need to return to what might really be the first principle of free movement in ballet:

Don’t make it happen —
Let it happen.

…Which I largely succeeded in doing during barre, but not so much at center.

Class started out strong, but Tawnee (subbing for Brian, who’s dancing in various places over the next few weeks) worked us quite hard, particularly in the fondues. I acquitted myself quite nicely throughout the barre, up to and perhaps especially the fondues, but my legs were pretty cooked by the time we got to center.

That said, my développé at barre was about as good as it has ever been today — a partial compensation, I guess, for the fact that my turns were horrible, horrible, horrible! Except for the last one, which was … eh. Decent, I guess?

I’ve noticed that, when I’m tired, I resort to trying to make things happen, and I get really tense. You definitely can’t do adagio well when you’re tense. Or, well — I can’t.

So, basically, if the motto of every ballet teacher ever is, “Make it look effortless!”, at center, I more or less did the opposite … at least until we got to jumps. We only did little jumps (we ran out of time), but those always go well for me, and they use different muscles than developpé.

I should probably add that, fatigue notwithstanding, this class was fantastic — very reminiscent of Brienne’s killer classes, though with a slightly calmer energy. I think it’s a question of personality: I wouldn’t say that Tawnee’s more laid-back than Brienne, just that her intensity is more … internal? Both run a tight ship (which is incredibly important on Monday morning!) and issue solid, intelligible, helpful corrections.

Tonight I’ll be rolling out … um, basically every muscle in my body, probably … and then taking some naproxen before bed. I already gave myself a good soak in the tub, but I might take another one. I’ve been working on really nailing down port de bras, and I’m feeling it in the muscles of my upper back — the middle and lower parts of the trapezius especially, but also the little muscles whose names I forget that keep the scapulae (the shoulderblades) pulled in against your back.

Incidentally, if you’re doing port de bras without your shoulder blades sticking out, you’re probably also not letting your chest collapse inwards and your shoulders round and creep up, so that’s something worth thinking about.

In order to achieve really free, graceful port de bras, you really have to hold it all together and use the big muscles in the center of your back** to suspend your arms … which, when you’re paying attention to using them right, can get surprisingly heavy over the course of a class even if they’re not very big.

**This is why dancers tend to have beautiful backs.

Tomorrow B. and I will rehearse my piece and finalize some choreography. I haven’t even marked this dance with a second person, let alone run it, so there will probably be some things that need to be ironed out. Thursday, we’ll be able to record, and then I can finally finish my Columbia application 😀

I think it’ll be awesome dancing with B., because we have very similar personalities and we kind of feed off each-other’s energy in a really cool way. (Denis and N., B.’s husband, were cracking up about this at dessert after the ballet yesterday; B. and I kept going on and on and on and on about dance, and of course waving our hands about like madpersons (there is nothing, I’m sure, quite like being crammed into a tiny booth with two dancers madly walking through sweeping adagios with their hands), and evidently this was highly amusing.)

Erm. What else?

Flexibility-wise, the left split is back to being super easy; the right is still a little tight, but I’m at least getting down to the floor reliably again. I feel like I should probably focus quite a bit on flexibility this week, since I’ll be dancing every day through Thursday, and the weather is going to be grey, damp, and chilly — a perfect recipe for stiff muscles.

Okay. That’s it for now. I’ve got a little more laundry to fold, and then I’m going to roll my legs and go the heck to bed.

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