Friday Class: Moar Bolshoi; Less Balanchine
This morning’s class resulted in a deeply satisfying ballet conversation.
I received a specific note on my grand jeté — it basically went, “Everyone else: try for more up. Asher — you’ve got plenty of up, but there’s a little hitch at the top. Try to travel more.”
As is my habit, I summed this up — out loud, of course, because I’m a kinaesthetic learner, so the doing part of saying something helps — in an aphorism I’d be likely to remember:
Oh! More Bolshoi; less Balanchine. I keep putting too much Balanchine* into it.
One of my classmates, who teaches in Georgetown and makes quite a long trek several times a week, happened to be standing next to me and heard me and said, “Well, you’ve got the Bolshoi body.”
And my insides went:
Fortunately, my brain was working and I had the good grace to say, “Oh, thank you! I’ve been working on it!”
She then commented specifically on my “powerhouse” legs, and I said, “Yeah, I always felt weird about them until I saw a picture of Nijinksy, and then I was like, ‘Oh, well … okay.'”
Her reply? “And Nureyev!” (followed by some more specific details that were lost in the haze of being compared to Nureyev, because seriously, how often does that happen in the life of any danseur ignoble?).
And my insides went:
And then, apparently because I was in a good mood, I did the grand jetés beautifully on the repeat, and proceeded to do beautiful pas des chats Italiens (if you’re wondering what these look like, here’s a good video; maybe I should get Denis to record mine) and very serviceable grand assemblés en tournant after class, apparently just because I could?
This all came on the heels of a class that started out as a disaster (I just could. not. fall asleep last night, and then when I finally did [at 4 freaking 30 AM] I had this cinematically intense dream about being part of a resistance force attempting to throw off the shackles of a seriously oppressive, repressive totalitarian regime … basically, like the Death Eaters meet Sauron meet the Empire). Everything was going badly because I was feeling bad; accordingly, I felt worse and did worse.
Then, in the middle of barre, we all cracked up about something, and I realized that it wasn’t just me — we were all a mess; none of us could count or tendu or remember a combination to save our lives (even the phenomenal Ms. J was having trouble remembering her own combinations!).
Suddenly, the mood of the whole class lifted, and then we all did better, which basically says everything about how powerful our minds are.
By the time we got to rond-de-jambes, I actually garnered a “good!” (which is saying something, Ms. J is probably the single pickiest instructor on staff — which is, of course, why we love her. Also because she is really good at sorting out things like heads: apparently, today, I more rolling my eyes towards my hand than turning my head, heh).
I have done better adagio, better turns, and better terre-a-terre than I did today (and my petit allegro was summarily terrible), but it was still pretty good, and I managed to remember that ballet is all about moving the goal post — a year ago, I would’ve sacrificed a black goat at midnight to be able to do terre-a-terre like I did today. And I definitely wouldn’t have had beats — even lame ones — on just under four hours of sleep.
As far as I’m concerned, any day that includes good grand allegro, really good pas de chats Italiens, serviceable grand assemblés en tournant, and being compared to Nureyev (if only for my enormous thighs :P) is a damned fine day. I’ll take it.
This is probably something worth commenting on in the vein of body positivity.
I still struggle with my own body image sometimes. Not as much as I used to (which is to say: the struggle is no longer constant), but there’s a part of my brain that really believes that my body should basically be one of David Hallberg-ian dimensions.
Being compared to Nureyev cast things in a different light.
I still, somehow, think of my body as a big, square block. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a big, square block — I actually happen to find the big, square block body type very attractive.
It’s just that my brain is weird and experiences this tension between two parts of itself: one part that’s still going, “WTF, we cannot stop being an ectomorphic stick figure, that does not compute!” and another part that’s going, “Yeah, but we’re a big square block, have you looked in the mirror lately?”
And then I see pictures like the ones from last night and realize that both those parts are cray, and then someone compares me to Nureyev and I think, “Huh. It would be totally cool to reach a point at which I’d be okay with being built like Nureyev; in fact, it would be crazy not to be okay with that.”
Likewise, part of me has historically been kind of weirded out by the fact that my upper body is really pretty far out on the ectomorph end of the scale, while my lower body is squarely, solidly (heh, see what I did there … o_o) in mesomorph territory. I could skip leg day for months on end and my legs would still be huge. It’s genetic; I got ’em from my Mom.
But Nureyev was built like that, too: slender above the navel, leonine below, all of it graceful.
I get that the weirdness in my brain that led me to starve myself when I was already below 120 pounds (even when I was 14 and weighed 84 pounds at 5’4″) might never figure this out.
But I’m learning to let the other parts of my brain speak.
The parts that think Nureyev was beautiful, and would be totally okay with that kind of build.
The parts that understand that my greatest asset as a dancer — the ability to leap like a gazelle with a cheetah on its tail — owes in no small part to the unusual combination of sylph-like upper half with heroic lower half.
The parts that understand that it’s these legs that can garner enough air to make a plain pas de chat look like it hangs suspended for seconds at a time (even though that’s totally not what’s actually happening); that it’s these legs that let me do pas de chats Italiens like they’re no big deal (regarding which: they’re apparently kinda hard?).
I say all this not to brag, but to try to convince myself: maybe this body is, in fact, kind of awesome in its own way. Maybe I can learn to feel that.
Now I’m going to eat some food and consider attempting to nap before maybe dragging my husband out to watch a movie about animated fish.
*If you’re wondering about this analogy: Balanchine’s style is characterized by a really strong emphasis on the vertical, while the Bolshoi’s dancers tend to be more fluid, lyrical, and lateral. Not that the guys at the Bolshoi don’t launch themselves into space during big leaps; they totally do — there’s just more traveling going on at any given time than would be typical in Balanchine.
Because of this, I try to channel the New York City Ballet for turns; the Bolshoi/Mariinsky/Vaganova universe for leaps. For jumps like pas de chat, I just try to channel Ben, who is my favorite of LBS’ male dancers.
As for Sissones … for some reason, my Sissones are so bad right now. I don’t have time to channel anyone; I’m too busy trying not to die.