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Thursday Class: You Know What They Say About A Guy With Big Knees(1)… 

I’m sure the I’ve mentioned my gigantor knees before.

They are at once the scourge of my balletic existence and evidence of my best asset as a dancer. I’ve got huge knees because I’ve got huge thighs, and I’ve got huge thighs because I can fly (or, well, I can fly because I’ve got huge thighs, but it sounded better the other way). 

Anyway, in his ongoing and exhaustive tune-up of my technique, Company B took me to task about sus-sous last night. I’ve been working on approaching it differently, but I still hadn’t really been getting my feet tight. I still kind of thought I couldn’t — and then CoB called me out on it, and suddenly my legs figured out how to do it(2). 

It’s amazing what being in a tiny class with an instructor who you admire rather ardently can do for you (true story, though: he keeps having to correct my port de bras avant at barre because I keep looking at the wall instead of turning my head towards the outside outside arm — I get kinda shy around him sometimes).

After class, I took a moment to ask him about my issues with maintaining my turnout. I showed him where it is (basically a legit 180 in first with a solid knees-over-toes plié; he remarked, “That’s really good!”) and explained the difficulty I’ve been having — I tend to lose it in fifth because my knees get in the way(3). 

Be asked me to show show him my fifth, then asked if I could bring my front foot back (to nestle fully against the back foot) if I plié-ed. It took me a minute to figure out what he was asking, but I  was in fact quite able to do so. Once stretched, though, I felt like I using a ton of muscle just to stay there once I pulled my legs up straight.

Turns out he has the same problem: big knees, muscular thighs (unsurprisingly, we’re both jumpers). He suggested that I soften my knees just a hair in fifth (and leave them that way) and noted that he can’t get his quite straight in a tight fifth, either.

So, basically, it’s not a question of strength or inadequate turnout; it’s just the cost of being a dancer with really well-developed thighs. I’ll take that.

I’ll take that.

He also suggested that I really focus on getting a tight sus-sous position in my tours and that I play around with when to change my feet. Right now, I think I’m changing at the end, which is what works for CoB — but, honestly, I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’ve never thought about it before; it didn’t occur to me to do so.

Truth be told, I have had almost no instruction in tours. I figured out how to do them as a little kid and then it was, like, since I knew how how to do them well enough, nobody felt it necessary to explain them to me until recently (Jake in Lexington and now CoB). I should probably mention that to CoB. 

My first teacher was quite good, but a discrete men’s class wasn’t an option; there weren’t enough boys in the school. The same challenge persists in my current dance life. Basically, I’ve more or or less acquired most of the bits of proper men’s technique that I have by a process involving observation, reading, and osmosis. Excepting variations in Lexington, I have literally never been in a proper men’s class in ballet (except once, but accident, on a day when no ladies turned up).

My turns were mostly good last night, as they often are in CoB’s class. I should keep that in mind, because it’s direct evidence of the fact that the difficulty I have with inconsistent turns is mostly a question of psychology. CoB is an exceptionally good instructor for me in part because he relaxes me. Since I tend to attack life with the intensity dialed up to 11 all the time, this is a Very Good Thing. 

Anyway, for some reason, I dreamed about tour-jetés all night, which is weird, since I didn’t do any yesterday. 

  1. Neither do I, but what they should say is is that he should soften his knees in fifth.
  2. EF produced a a similar change in my attitude arrière a couple weeks ago: I was like, “Welp, guess this is about right,” and he was like, “I KNOW YOU CAN GET THAT KNEE HIGHER SO GET IT HIGHER” and I was like, O____O’ *cranks working leg into impossibly-high attitude*
  3. Isn’t there a song about this? Oh, wait, no — it’s words, not knees. Right. 

Turn, Turn … Er, Ah, Oh Yes, Turn

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 😉

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