Today, for the first time in my life, Mr D called me up to demonstrate a combination in company class. I managed not to hose it up, even! (Thank goodness.) But that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway, I meant to post more notes last week, but got distracted, so here are some from the 10th and from the 14th:
My turns in 2nd can be … Erm. A little wild? My spot, for some reason, likes to wander when I’m doing these.
I’ll spot front, then off to the left corner, then back (BACK! As in, I somehow spot THE BACK WALL 😶), then who even knows where, then nowhere, then front again.
Turns in 2nd give you all the chances to spot the wrong things.
I think, honestly, it’s that I’m nervous about turns in second, and I’m usually busy concentrating on keeping my free leg engaged in a position that A] is a valid second and B] is possible to hold while turning.
(Clause B], btw, is the drawback to having crazy flexible hips. They don’t lock neatly into place; instead, you have to work your butt off to hold them steady.)
Anyway, the drawing on the bottom reiterates a point I’ve been working on FOREVER.
When it comes to turns, your body is one piece. If the linkage between hips and shoulders is anything but solid, you’ll have to work harder, and your outcome won’t be what it could be.
The shoulder and hip have to travel together … And that means the rest of each side does, too.
Okay, so “Soft and quick” was actually a correction for petit allegro … I think.
It definitely wasn’t for the Grand pirouette, which is what we were doing when I observed that Mr D’s demonstration of using the standing side of the body was, in short, kind of like the way you throw a solid punch.
I mean, he actually literally did an air-punch with that arm. (It looked hella metal, tbh.)
The power in a solid punch doesn’t just come from the arm. It’s the whole side of the body in one chain. The hip is heavily involved.
In Muay Thai, we learned to bring the hip as part of the strike. I say “strike” because the idea was critical to powering kicks as well: it’s a little different for striking with the leg (which is to say, the shin and the top of the foot) than with the fist, but the end result is the same: the entire side is engaged and acts as one unit.
I suspect that many of us don’t think about that with turns: or, rather, we don’t think about the standing side.
We should. It really significantly improves the quality of our turns, even if we don’t immediately see an increase in quantity.
If we’re already thinking about the free-side hip and shoulder coming around, thinking about the standing side as well should help us initiate the diagonal, contralateral activation pattern in the core that keeps body and soul … or, well, shoulder and hip … together.
Though you may have already guessed that I added it as an afterthought, the “…but gently” is also important. Since we’re not trying to knock anyone out in a ballet—or, not literally, anyway—there is such a thing as too much force.
Too much force can knock you off your leg or simply make it hard to stop turning at the right moment (and while facing the correct direction … just refusing to turn your neck again because you have to move on to the next step doesn’t actually kill your turn’s momentum very effectively).
Likewise, you need a kind of sustained explosion. You can’t just go, “BOOM!” and let the body take care of things.
Instead, you need something more like one of those really long rolls of distant thunder: maybe not L O U D, but strong the whole time. Steady.
Like, as Mr D said today (assuming I even heard this right) drinking a McDonald’s shake.
That’s probably a whole separate post, though.
In case you’re wondering about the bracketed note at the top (“[Listen with the ears … Keep the eyes tracking]”), it’s specific to a thing I noticed during a waltz combination. Mr D was giving me some corrections, and I totally fell apart.
This led to a lovely flash of insight in which I realized that when I’m trying to listen to something while dancing, I turn (or try not to turn!) my head in ways that wreak havoc upon my aplomb and last waste to my spot (and with it, my turns).
I have trouble processing language anyway, so I tend to stiffen up when I’m trying to listen to spoken words. I also kind of back-burner my vision when I’m listening to speech—it just takes a lot of clock cycles, so to speak. (Anyone who’s ever tried to speak to me when the TV is on or when I’m engaged in a visual task will know exactly what I mean.)
I’ve known both these things for most of my life, and yet I never realized how very specifically they apply to ballet classes until yesterday.
One last thing: in case you think my handwriting is usually as nice as it seems in my notes at the top of the second image, check out the bottom.
The notes at the top were written at a very leisurely speed. The ones at the bottom were my rather frantic attempt to record some of Oberon’s stage business.
Sadly, they’re actually fairly legible compared to my everyday handwriting … Basically, if I have to write quickly (which is to say, at a normal note-taking rate), it’s not going to be legible.
Ah, well. You can’t have everything, and if I’m forced to choose between legible handwriting and better turns, I’ll take the turns.
I’ve been thinking for a while about trying to make a habit of posting my class notes.
Sometimes they’re silly, and often they’re impossible to read, but I try to write down my corrections and other points that seem really helpful.
In that vein, here’s today’s:
A transcription (which I probably won’t include every time):
- Engage! (Those arrows are pointing at the muscles to either side of the rectus abdominis. My friend SF pointed out that it looks like they’re pointing to the kidneys 🤣)
- It frees up your hips 😶
- Like, really frees them. 😲
- Relax, it’s just turns 😑
- Pull (and push) towards your standing leg!
- That way, if you tip over, you can correct
- Your free foot has to PUSH OFF so you’re centered on your standing leg
On that last note: you would think I knew that already!
And, I mean, I do. I did. I have. And yet!
I just realized I haven’t really been actively using the soon-to-be free foot as much as I should when initiating turns, so I’m not always pushing myself onto my standing leg as effectively as I could.
My focus at the moment is staying on my leg (or legs, as applicable) and really using the floor.
And also not allowing my arms to do ridiculous BS like they did today during our medium allegro, because ffs, arms 😑
Okay, so my turns are often, erm, not horrible these days (probably because my AD is relentless in his quest to make us do six billion turns per class) … And yet I’m still entirely capable of making a complete hash of them from time to time.
In the interest of full disclosure, clarity, and the greater good, then, here’s a spectacular example caught on video in the wild today and translated into handy screenshots. (I am NOT posting the video. I don’t want to scar you guys for life.)
We’re not even going to talk about my arms. They’d just doing it for the attention, and we cannot reward their egregious behavior by acknowledging it. I haven’t been this disappointed since … Well, tbh, 2016, but … you know.
Okay, I will say one thing about my arms. See that first photo? Balanchine prep up top; Cecchetti downstairs. No wonder this turn failed. It was the balletic equivalent of a mullet … replete with hamberder hands.
I’m going to cry.
This turn was not assisted by the fact that there’s a divot in the subfloor under my standing foot, but honestly that excuses nothing. Without said divot, it still would’ve been a fugly turn. You could take it to a salon and give it hours and hours of mud wraps and so forth, and it wouldn’t do any good. Lipstick on a pig*.
*I mean … some members of the porcine family are quite handsome. But lipstick? They don’t really, like, have lips.
Here’s a less bad example, just so I can feel better about life
The gesture leg is attached. The supporting leg is … well, sort-of turned out. My core, like, exists. The balance is fairly straight up and down. And in the video it’s evident that I spotted this turn like a boss.
That last one was of the “effortless double” species. The MOST important factor, for me, is simply keeping my coreengaged. This prevents Slinky Back (would that it could prevent Nickleback), which in turn basically prevents EVERYTHING ELSE THAT IS WRONG WITH THE FIRST TURN.
So engage those core muscles, kids!
…And remember: only YOU can prevent
Wednesday evening, Señor BeastMode gave us a really useful note for improving our turns.
It goes like this:
Before your free foot (the one that gets pulled up to passé) leaves the ground, rotate the heel forward. (This works from 5th as well, but I thought that would make a very cluttered diagram.)
That’s all. Simples! Basic ballet technique, amirite?
…Only, it would seem that I wasn’t really doing it before—because as soon as I added that in consciously, my en dehors turn improved shockingly. It wasn’t bad before, really, but this detail makes for reliable, clean, controlled turns.
Also makes en dedans, already my stronger turn, even nicer.
In the diagram, I’ve drawn both rotation arrows for clarity, but you probably won’t have to think about the supporting leg (that’s the front leg, except when you’re turning from 2nd and everything gets kind of ambiguous). If you don’t keep rotating the front leg, you’ll wind up with some kind of crazy jazz turn.
If you do have to actively think about rotation of the front leg, think about rotating both heels forward as you launch.
In short, this approach makes you skip the weird bit where the free leg doesn’t have clear instructions beyond “open the knee; passé” and can become wibbly as it leaves the ground. It also forces you to actively engage all the turnout muscles.
This approach worked well enough that BW was actually impressed with my turns last night. Coincidentally, it also helps with passé balances that don’t turn, even from fifth.
Next up: brisées demystified, if not quite rendered
easy-brisée easy-brizayzay easy-breezy.
Like, seriously, after a lifetime of being horribly confused about brisées, I can now do them devant & derrière, closing to 5th or to coupé, thanks to BW’s explanation (and to the fact that he made us do literally a million … okay, literally at least 36 brizayzays at each of our most recent classes).
I went back to advanced class today.
All things considered, it went reasonably well. Our AD Emeritus came just to watch, and—to my great amazement—this did not cause me to completely forget how to dance. I’m hoping that this means that this particular hex has worn off, or at least only takes effect when the current AD is present (I should specify: I mean the ballet’s AD, not Cirque’s AD, who doesn’t appear to have this effect on me).
Rather, it caused me to remember a correction he gave me ages ago and in an incredibly memorable way: specifically, to make sure the supporting leg is stable before you start waving the working leg around in the air.
This isn’t to say, however, that I didn’t make any really stupid mistakes. I did, in fact, make one.
And, in fact, I made it twice.
We had a lovely adagio that ended with what should have been an en dedans turn. As you probably know, I am in favor of en dedans turns: they’re easier for me because I err on the side of falling backwards, so the physics of the en dedans turn overcome that tendency.
However, immediately prior to executing said en dedans turn, we executed what you might call an en dehors tendu: opening from fifth front to a la seconde closing to fifth back. A balance at passé derrière followed, then the pirouette en dedans. The trick was to prepare the arms accordingly on completing the tendu. Sadly, I figured this out too late to save myself.
The first time, I managed to do it right by sheer main force on the first side, but didn’t correct in time on the second side, and the turn wound up being en dehors instead of en dedans.
The second time, I made an even worse mistake: I told myself:
It’s not en dehors!
This meant, of course, that my brain was full of en dedans, and accordingly I did the final turn the wrong way on both sides the second time.
Anyway, in short, this demonstrates one of the basic principles of learning: the human mind (and indeed, almost any kind of mind) works better if you give it a positive input than a negative one.
In other words, it’s more effective to say, “Do this!” than it is to say, “Don’t do that!”
And, as such, I completely screwed myself, and probably would have been fine if I’d just told myself, “Prepare arms for en dedans … Turn is en dedans.”
Given that my mind is very visual, it goes a step further: it’s stupid hard to execute the right thing while visualizing the wrong thing. That’s just not how we work.
Anyway, everything else—including petit allegro!—went fairly well. There were no moments of full-on Baby Giraffe Mode, and I was able to easily recover from picking up the first petit allegro combination incorrectly (thought started fifth with left foot front instead of right, which made the whole freaking thing not work right).
The combination, by the way, was simple but a little bit of a mind-bender, since it begins with échappé. It went:
jump to 5th*
jump to 5th*
*This could be accomplished via petit assemblé or petit assemblé battu changé.
I also didn’t die—not even a little. In terms of physical intensity, I would actually place this class third for this week–Killer B’s was the hardest, BW’s the second hardest, then this one, then JMH’s Monday class.
HD spent a lot of time working on me today, which is always reassuring. She also mentioned that she’s been following my adventures on Instagram, which I think is pretty cool 😀
Beyond that, for the first time in a while, all through class I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t hate what I saw. I’m assuming that’s more mental than physical, though I am starting to feel like I’m making it around the bend reconditioning-wise (especially given that I’m actually, like, enjoying petit allegro).
Next week, we may or may not have class, depending on how things roll for HD. She’s working on getting over a nasty cough and also Nutcrackering in addition to teaching our class. She’s currently the only person available to teach advanced class (everyone else is also Nutcrackering, some here and some elsewhere), and we would rather that she didn’t kill herself trying to do everything at once.
So I’m going to write a short one and just get it doon.
After last week, during which I lacked A) higher cognitive (and any executive) functions and B) the ability to actually execute a decent pirouette, I appear to be regaining my faculties.
The weekend was highly mediocre ballet-wise, with a really nice moments lightly sprinkled on a field of “meh,” “Wait, what’s the combination?” and just plain “WAT.” Highlights included half-awake me and pre-coffee BG attempting to follow each-other at the barre, with about the degree of success one might predict under the circumstances.
Last night I took class because, in short, I’m an addict. Even though I was late (and made friend L, who came with me, late) thanks to challenges resulting from last week’s brain fog(1), it wasn’t half bad. I managed some nice doubles and some intentional, if not awesome, triples.
- Dear Sunday-Evening-Just-Past Me:Where did you put my keys?! THIS IS NOT FUNNY 😦 😦 }:(
Today’s technique tidbit: take a second before launching your turns (with all guns blazing, if you’re anything like me) to feel a few things. Where are your trochanters in their hip sockets? Is the pelvis rotated or tilted? If so, can you adjust it? (Unless you’re in a ridiculously huge 4th,the core muscles can usually correct the pelvis.)
Obviously, this is easiest to do when the music is slow, so use your discretion, but it can be really helpful. More than once, I’ve caught myself preparing turns with one hip cocked, which isn’t what one might call a Best Practice.
Still couldn’t stop second-guessing myself during petit allegro, though, which resulted in a petit allegro that looked as if I’d been told, “Using the medium of ballet, interpret the behavior of a ball in one of those showy random-number generators they used to use in televised lottery drawings.”
What’s the rule, again?
“There’s no THINKing in BALlet!”
—Not Tom Hanks in A League Of Their Own, but close enough.
…So that was Monday, also known as Logical Friday The Second, because my schedule is FUBAR.
Oh, and I think I acquitted myself decently in our lone grand allegro, which is good, because I kept running over myself in a high-momentum tombé-pdb during Sunday’s.
Me: I keep adding an extra tombé-pas-de-bourée.
BG: Don’t do that—we don’t get paid by the step!
- Think about over-crossing the working leg in Arabesque
- At the barre, don’t let the working foot get lazy (also in Arabesque)
- Corrolary: if you have beautiful feet, use what G-d have ya
- Get your back up and keep it up, but don’t leave it behind when you failli
- Double turns: stop looking for your spot!*
So, in short, all the same things I mostly had sorted before the break.
*Except this. I only recently realized that I’m practicing “proactive spotting” rather then letting the spot happen naturally.
Also, petit allegro was a disaster today, but that was because my brain refused to absorb the combination.
1. I Dream Of Turning
Last night, I dreamt very vividly about successfully attempting quadruple turns. I should probably note, though, that the class in question took place in something like a a church fellowship hall, we had to clear up folding tables and chairs first, and I accidentally stole some girl’s water.
But still, I hope the turns part will be like the dreams in which I sorted out Albrecht’s variation.
2. Things I Don’t Like About My House
- Low ceilings. 8-foot ceilings are sub-optimal for dancers, chandeliers, heat distribution in punishing Southern summers, and ceiling fans.
- Lack of cross-ventilation. This house was built after WW II, and the floor plan seems to assume central air conditioning. It does not have central aircon, however, and thus is a boiling misery even on days when a little proper cross-ventilation could solve the problem.
- Too much clutter. I find it hard to clean around clutter. D won’t get rid of his stuff, so instead I’m getting rid of mine bit by bit.
- Too many small rooms. There’s no reason a house this size should have a separate dining room at the expense of counter- and cabinet-space in the kitchen (which it too small even for a rolling island). If I make one major change to this house, it will be to knock out a couple completely-extraneous walls (they don’t even have have electrical outlets, let alone ductwork or structural importance) to join the kitchen and dining room. This will allow for a much better kitchen while still preserving a reasonable dining area.
- The location. Our neighborhood is not walkable at all by most people’s standards. By mine, it is unpleasant to walk in. This is one thing about the house that I can’t change.
- Edit: Oh, yeah—left out the thing that inspired this post in the first place. I really profoundly dislike the fact that the front door opens right into the living room. Full disclosure: I grew up in a pretty big house with an actual foyer. This is the only place I’ve lived that had an entry directly into the living room. It feels weird and exposed. Maybe that could be changed along with the kitchen, if we stick around long enough. On the other hand, it’s probably not worth it.
3. Things I Do Like About My House
- It’s a house. At the end of the day, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
- The kitchen, though tiny and not terribly efficient, is rather private. I actually used to hate that; I would find myself washing up after dinner and bitterly resenting the fact that D was relaxing in the living room, watching TV. Then I thought the problem through and realized that I could listen to documentaries or podcasts while working. Now my kitchen is really a haven for me; a place where I can both be alone (which, as an introvert, I desperately need) and get things done (which makes me happy).
- The port de bras mirror in the bathroom. There’s a huge mirror, probably 5 feet wide by four feet high, that takes up an entire wall (from the edge of the linen cabinet to the side wall of the house). This mirror is where I practice port de bras. This and video are why my arms look less stupid than they used to.
- The colors. D is not afraid of color, and as such we do not live in a sea of beige. Truth be told, this was also a factor in his making it past the Just Friends stage. The fear of color says a great deal about a person. I’d rather live with someone who decorates boldly and badly than with a timid soul who is afraid to decorate at all. Fortunately, D does it boldly and well.
- The world’s most efficient furnace. Seriously, the thing is dedicated and does its job insanely well. Our electric bill can be rather high in the summer, but it’s balanced by the ridiculously low gas bill in the winter.
- The mid-century main floor bathroom. For a long time, I thought I wanted to completely redo the main floor bath. The downstairs bath (technically a 3/4 bath, as it has a stand-up shower of the variety in which one whacks one’s elbows whilst shampooing one’s hair) is beautiful and modern, and I thought I wanted the main-floor bath to be beautiful and modern as well. However, as it stands, it has rather a charming mid-century modern feel that could be fully realized by replacing a few broken floor tiles, removing a seriously hideous set of shower doors, and repainting the walls. I haven’t decided whether to replace the shower doors with something period-appropriate or something more up-to-date, but unobtrusive.
- The window above the kitchen sink. US homes built before the 1970s almost always feature a window right above the kitchen sink. For some reason, newer homes often lack this feature. Few things say, “Homemakers don’t matter,” quite as effectively as staring at a blank, depressing wall whilst doing the washing-up. Fortunately, my house does not suffer from this.
So that’s today’s unusually-pedestrian post.
*Yeah, it’s a pun, and a bad one.
I can’t sleep, so I might as well write, eh?
Mostly good barre today (or, well, yesterday). No scary turns-at-the-kneewhacker; got my RdJ en l’air back, extensions were okay-to-good. The adjusted passé/retiré is becoming automatic.
That said, the frappé was delightfully wicked: facing the barre (universal ballet code for This will either be a piece of cake or hell on wheels), singles (from flexed) en croix on flat, repeat in a sustained fondu, spring straight up to doubles en relèvé, petit battement at maximum speed for a billion (okay, actually sixteen) counts, straight into the reverse, repeat twice as fast, plié, brush out while remaining in plié, close back, other side. Doesn’t sound too hard, but it’s that “repeat twice as fast” that gets you. It adds up.
Also, my petit battement is currently way(1) better on the right than on the left. Feh.
- Or, well — the difference at double-time is definitely enough that I notice it, which is too much.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. BW either wants us strong or dead. I’m guessing strong; he’s a sweet guy.
Also a fondu-adagio thing with all the attitudes and demi-ronds en l’air and the holding the extension à la la seconde until the legs became impervious to pain, plié — inside passé balance for eight, plié — outside passé balance forever, sus-sous, détournée, other side. This was lovely and light and painless except for that à la seconde. At one point BW shouted, “Fight for it!” and I kid you not, that gave me a second wind. Because I adore BW as ridiculously as I adore Ms. Killer B of Wednesday Class fame. Basically, if he told me to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge…
Also, at one point he touched my foot, and part of me is like I will never wash those shoes again but, to be honest? They’re kinda grungy, and they’re white, soooooooo… .
Anyway, at center we did a tendu (or dégage, or grand battement) combination that was all about body facings and épaulement and little faillis and turns from fifth. I did grand battements and doubles on the repeat, since my body finally decided to get with the program and face the right way.and my arms Asiago sorted themselves.
We then did a really nice (and simple) terre-a-terre with back-to-back turns from fourth:
chassée – pas de Bourée – fifth
chassée to fourth
Sweep through to soutenu turn from croisée to opposite croisée
sus-sous balance with port de bras
Going right, I felt good and managed two easy doubles in the first three turns, so I aimed for a triple on the third.
Turns out that you can, in fact, force a triple through sheer stubbornness, even if if you haven’t got the momentum for it, if you’re willing willing to let it be an ugly triple.
It was totally, “Around, aROUND, gorammit WE … ARE … MAKING … IT … AROUND AGAIN IFITKILLSME!”
But it was still a triple.
I made up for for it by almost careening into the mirror doing
hell turns chaînes on the left. Apparently, my ear isn’t quite up for those yet, no matter how hard I spot.
Also, I travel like a mofo. I managed to eat up the whole floor doing 2 piqué turns, 2 soutenu turns, 2 piqué turns, 4 chaînes. There was a lot of ATTAAAAAAACK! involved. I get a little excited about piqué turns sometimes. I’m even worse about tombé-piqués/lame ducks, though. Frealz.
So that was Thursday. Today it’s all about scraping the paint, then painting the paint.