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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.

At the Joffrey: In Beginner Class, I Rethink Grand Jeté

The Joffrey’s 10 AM Saturday beginner class is taught by a gentleman, Ariel Cisneros, who may be the most effective instructor I’ve ever encountered for my particular body. In short, he immediately zeroed in on and fixed two holes in my body awareness; he also explains things in ways that automatically make sense to me.

Barre was lovely — not particularly difficult, but the combinations were unique. Mr. C used unique methods to focus us on using our feet and maintaining turnout. His methods very effectively complement those that Brian and Brienne have been using with me.

As Mr. C gave us the opening plié combination, I realized I was really, really going to have to pay attention: while there was nothing gimmicky about his combinations, they were unusual (in a good and effective way) and complex.

I really liked the fondu-et-rond de jambe combination we did, which approached Brienne’s fondu combinations in terms of complexity and physical demand, though it wasn’t as soul-crushingly long as hers can be.

At center, we did a lovely little bit of choreography with promenades, turns, and développés that went quite well indeed; I called on work we did in Brian’s Saturday class a while back to make the développés solid and pretty.

More importantly, perhaps, Mr. C gave me some very specific, apt notes of improving my turns.

Across the floor we did a really nice combination (edit: which evidently I forgot to finish writing about — the perils of small-screen blogging).

At the end, we did glissades and pas de chats, then grand jetés. For some reason (see below), my grand jetés were disastrously bad. I have sort of given myself a mental block about grand jeté of late, but after class I was able to figure out what the problem was.

I really wish I could do class with Mr. C every Saturday (heck, every single day would be better). I’ll have to bring the lessons I learned today back to the studio at home.

I came out of this class feeling, once again, like I have the makings of a good dancer, and like the problems in encountering can be solved.

Sometimes the perspective of an instructor who doesn’t see you three times a week can really help!

About grand jetés…

I pretty a cracking good grand jeté as a kid, and I’ve been despairing over it as a returning adult dancer.

I realized today that the problem lies in how I’m using my upper body.

Instead of keeping my upper body, well, up (and slightly back), I’ve evidently been trying to launch the jump with my shoulders.

You guys, WTF is that?

I don’t do that when doing tour jeté or saut de Basque because it wouldn’t work. I suspect, though, that’s because I like having teeth and don’t want to land on my face, which is probably what would happen. Instinctively, then, I avoid executing what would be a Very Bad Plan.

Anyway, jumping from the shoulders doesn’t leave any room for the front leg to go anywhere and makes it much harder for the rear leg to launch you up. At best, it launches you forwards; at worst, down.

So I will concentrate on retraining my grand jeté, along with everything else.

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