Hmm

I’m curious about a thing.

Every time I walk into a brick-and-mortar dance shop, people assume I’m a professional(1). Occasionally, this even lands me a Professional Dancer Discount (not gonna argue with that).

  1. A professional dancer, that is. Not, like, a sex worker or a hit man (though, let’s be honest: those both seem like career paths for which years of ballet training might be a reasonable form of preparation).

This makes me curious. Is it because I’m an adult buying dance stuff for myself (as opposed to buying dance stuff for a child). Is it because I’m a guy? Is there possibly some other reason?

Adult dance peeps: does this happen to you? If so, any thoughts about why?

Ballet Homework! 

BW continues to be amazing, as always. 

Tonight became Turns Class. This resulted in Turns Homework, as follows:

  1. Passé Pulses*: plié & spring into your highest passé whilst shooting arrows of intention from your supporting leg right through the center of the earth and out the other side. Then use the turnouts and the other muscles of the upper leg to pulse the passé just a little higher and back several times without changing anything else.
  2. All The Singles: prepare fifth (to get your turnouts in the game), tendu à la 2nd, rond into a Goldilocks fourth (not too big, not too small), and then: turn, land fourth, plié eight times. Then do the other side. You can do these at the end of class; it takes about a minute.
  3. I Am An Aeroplane**: place your arms à la 2nd and set your feet in a small 2nd (parallel is fine). Keeping everything engaged through the core, rotate back and forth until you want to die. 

*I think this one might be specific to fairly advanced students with a sound passé. You really want to do it at your maximum turnout or you’re going to wind up working the wrong muscles, which isn’t going to help anyone.

**I feel like this one needs video. This is not the aerobics version in which you twist at the waist. It is exactly the opposite of of that. Your whole body moves together. The whole point is that everything remains engaged.

I have, of course, taken the liberty of giving these creative names and memorable descriptions. All three are suitable for use in the kitchen, which is, as all dancers know, where we do our Turns Homework.

The goal, of course, is to prevent handbasketry.

Still pretty much my favorite graphic. I think I’m going to get this printed on a t-shirt.

The Best Five Words Any Dancer Can Hear

…Besides, of course, “You’re hired, here’s your contract.”

Modern went well today. It was just me, and we worked a lot on release and … hm, what I’ll call the redistribution of tension.

My ability as concerns modern in general and release technique in particular varies drastically depending on various things.

I am, after all, Central Casting Troubled Ballet Boy, which means I am also Uptight Ballet Boy.

When I haven’t been doing modern class regularly in a while, I have to completely re-learn how to relax and release and let my head have weight and stuff like that. My first few classes usually leave me convinced that I dance like a poorly-maintained robot. It takes a little while to learn to feel my body again.

Once I figure all that out, though, things start to get considerably better.

Today was one of those revelatory classes. Parts of my body remembered how to modern, and I continued working on applying the general lessons I’m working on right now.

Anyway, at the end of class, LT said The Five Greatest Words to me:

You’re such a hard worker.

If there’s one thing dancers seem universally to respect, it’s a solid work ethic.

It makes sense: dance is work.

We go to class and we work. We go to rehearsal and we work. We get out there on stage and we work. We stand in our kitchens working on our balances and our turns. Even if our sleep, we dream about dancing, and our brains work overtime.

As dancers, everything we do is work, and no matter how talented you are, your talent will get you nowhere if you don’t show up and put in the work.

So when someone tells me I’m a hard worker, it means a lot to me—especially since, as a kid, I was The Talented One That Doesn’t Realize He Has To Work, and part of me feels like the rest of my life is basically a chance to atone for being that jerk.

In other news, I’m starting to “get” the choreography for the showcase piece. LT explained the concept today, and that actually really helped—a light went on in my mind. I’d been thinking of it as sort of a jungle cat kind of feeling, but that wasn’t working. In fact, it’s more like searching for something in a swirling fog.

Thus far, this has been a good week for me, dance-wise, except for the part where I hit myself in the face with a girl (yeah, that happened) but I didn’t drop her, so it’s all good?

Besides, she’s solid Cirque stock and not the kind of person to be phased by such things. We were doing that one lift that literally nobody I know can think of what it’s called right now where you scoop your partner up as if in a basket and toss her (or him) up onto one shoulder in a front balance. Every time everyone tries to think of what the feck it’s called, we just wind up going, “Well, it’s not fish dive…”

Essentially, it’s this:

front-balance-lift

Ganked via Googles.

…Only, in this instance, with fewer tutus and sleevy things and more grunting and sweat.

I didn’t give it enough oomph on the first go, so the second time I way overdid it and basically flipped my partner into my own face instead of rolling her up to my shoulder. Heh.

On the upside, our partner acro instructor said, “On the upside, that means you can definitely do this!”

Lastly, in other, other news, there’s a four-day Easter ballet intensive (for adults) at Holistic Ballet in London. I’ll add it to my 2017 intensives list. It’s all about La Bayadere, and it looks like there’s two levels; the beginner group will be learning the entrance from “the Kingdom of the Shades,” and the other group will be learning Gamzatti’s Act II variation.

It doesn’t look like there’s a variation planned for guys (though I wouldn’t object to learning either of the above, to be honest).

Honestly, I think the entrance from “Kingdom of the Shades” is one of the best possible pieces of choreography to learn as a beginner, since it can be learned and executed well and then continually refined. The ladies at Lexington Ballet’s intensive did it last year, and it was so lovely, even without the ramps.

Anyway, I must now run away and go dig through AS’s costume closet, then go collect BB for class tonight.

Ah! There You Are!

The turnouts seem to be slowly returning to life.

Class today was incrementally better. I was able to feel the turnout muscles without training my entire mind upon them like the Eye of Sauron hunting the One Ring.

sauron-turnouts.png

As a giant nerd … erm, I mean, as a serious ballet student, I felt that this point required illustration (stolen from Independent.co.uk via Teh Googs). Also, it really bothers me that I didn’t quite manage to center my caption :/

The result of this was that I actually got a compliment on my passé in Killer Class. It came attached to a minor correction for the placement of my arm, but it still totally counts, mmmkay? (The funny part is that I think I got the same correction from BW last week. Derp!)

arm-at-passe-barre

This is approximate, of course, but you know … close enough.

 

I also tried to apply the principle I’ve been exploring in modern class—for me, stretch isn’t a good indicator of placement. This did much for the appearance of my adagio and for the effectiveness of my turns.

Right after terre-a-terre, though, I inhaled a roving dust bunny, which proceeded to stick to my uvula and cause me to cough my brains out :/ Stupid dust bunny. Stupid uvula.

I used about 6,000,000 tissues while Killer B gave us the combination for the warm-up jumps, but still managed to recover in time to do them.

We then did a tiny petit allegro that went:

sisson simple avant
petit assemblé
sisson simple arrière
petit assemblé
changement (x4 I think?)
echappé
entrechat quatre
entrechat quatre

Or something along those lines I may have the number of changements and echappés wrong. Regardless, it ended with a pair of entrechats quatre.

My beats were still mostly messy, which is annoying. They’ll get better as I regain all the strengths.

Grand allegro, on the other hand, was less than optimal, because I kept forgetting that there was supposed to be an assemblé after a glissade, and thus getting off the music and being like, WTF, OH NO, INCOMING, ABORT ABORT!!!

…Because, of course, this was a combination that changed directions in the middle, so if you were ahead (or behind), things were going to get weird in your little individual flock.

On the balance, though, class was pretty good, and definitely indicates that I’m on my way back.

In other news, my Dance Team small group is gamely doing some hard stuff, and also my quads are currently on fire, which indicates that I’m still using them too much (read: not yet using the turnouts enough).

Anyway, time to go dangle from the ceiling, after which I am probably going to borrow a corner of the floor during Open Fly and video what the choreography for the small group’s dance is supposed to look like.

Tomorrow I have to call UPS and hound them about the location of a pair of ballet shoes that I ordered, since they were supposedly delivered to my mailbox on Tuesday. Since there has been no sign of ballet shoes in my mailbox, or indeed of a UPS truck, I’m guessing they may have been delivered to the wrong address.

Needless to say, I’m feeling a little peeved, as the new shoes are Blochs, and I was eager to try them out and see whether I like them at least as much as my favorite Sanshas (assuming, of course, that I’ve ordered the correct size).

I may just go buy a pair at the brick-n-mortar shop, as I need to pick up another dance belt anyway, and also I have no patience. But either way I am going to hound UPS about my shoes.

Doin’ Me A Heckin’ Tired

Slept 4 hours last night because I don’t even know why. Total robot-mode in modern this morning, mainly because my brain was so slow to play back the combinations that I kept pausing.

OTOH, some nice suspensions happened.

Had a great number of opportunities to think about a recent revelation, which is this: because I don’t feel stretch until I am in ridiculously extreme positions, I can’t use stretch as a barometer for placement. So I’m working on training myself to feel just the right engagement instead. 

For all I know, every dancer worth his or her electrolyte tablets probably does this already—but for me it’s new; an extension of of the work I’ve been doing on balances.

Learned today what a good high release feels like. First off, it feels like almost nothing. By the time you really feel it, you’ve gone too far. So you kind of more want to feel the contraction below, and then just lift your sternum straight up (what feels like) just a little.

Knowing how things feel when they’re right is essential to dance (hearkens back to the “snapshot” exercise I came up with last year, come to think of it).

Of course, half of dance is learning what things should feel like, and the other half is learning to feel your body (and the other, other half is learning to feel the music). 

In other news, we’re learning choreography for Spring Showcase. Got an email yesterday about that. Looks like it might actually happen!

Killer Class, Dance Team, Trapeze 3, and Acro tomorrow..

I’m starting to feel stronger and more fit, though. 

Knockin’, Rehearsal #2

Set two more segments of the dance tonight and ironed out half the costuming issue. 

I say “set,” but they’re really only half-set, as we didn’t run them with music (we were all too tired to screw around with all that). I did set them with the music in my head, though.

I have another phrase in my head, but I don’t feel like I’m quite hitting what I’m trying to say, so I’m going to sit on that one this week.

This piece is very adagio and really quite serious, which means we need to approach it a little carefully to prevent accidental silliness. 

Screenshot from

From last Monday. Prolly the only preview for a while. This is how people attitude when they’re half asleep (seriously, I think my eyes are literally closed!), which is what happens when the only feasible slot for rehearsals is at 9:30 PM on Monday  😉

^This is actually right at the beginning of this dance. Which is good, because this movement begins on one knee and one foot and involves pressing sloooooowly up into attitude without falling on each-other. The supporting leg basically does all the work getting you from “on bended knee” up to attitude (and then you arabesque, and then you penché, and then you failli…). In short: engage all the things.

Definitely the kind of thing you want at the beginning rather than the end (not that I’m any nicer at all to us about the end). 

It’s a screenshot from a video, btw, hence the slightly pixelated image quality. 

The Morning … Erm, Evening After

Yesterday, BW said something like, “Just wait, you’ll hate me tomorrow,” when we were all gushing about how much we love his class.

Happy to report that my legs (and arms—even he said, at one point, “Wow, all this port de bras is really tiring!”) are doing fine today. Backs of the calves are a little tight, but that’s what I get for neither properly stretching nor thoroughly foam-rolling them.

Tonight we begin integrating the partner work in Knockin’ (which, you guys, really needs a better working title). We’ll see how things feel after that 😛

Last night, as I was attempting to fall asleep, my brain conveniently remembered that we have an audition coming up for which we need to whack together 3 minutes of trapeze or lyra work. It proceeded to keep me awake for two hours choreographing :/

Have I mentioned that I really wish my Muse would at very least move to this time zone? I don’t mind if she chooses not to live in KY, but FFS, could she maybe try living in New York instead of San Francisco or Seoul?

OTOH, feeling better about the audition now. More worried about the dance part thanks to the fact that I’m sometimes memory-challenged when it comes to remembering modern dance combinations.

Extra Class With BW

BW taught an extra class this morning. The student body comprised three girls and me, all fairly experienced dancers. He gave us the usual long, graceful barre, then really beautiful combinations when it came time to dance. I concentrated on working classical turns from fourth, having Balanchined the hell out of them all week.

Our terre-a-terre was the simple one we often do on Thursdays: piqué turn x2, soutenu turn x2, piqué turn x2, (tombé) chaîne x4.(1)

  1. Per BW: men’s technique generally calls for a tombé into chaîne turns. I probably mentioned it on Thursday. IMO, it is easy easier to do them this way, anyway. 

Not a difficult combination to remember, but one which can be refined indefinitely. It’s invaluable for learning to keep your body in one piece and also not to overdo the launch on the turns. My chaînes are growing less bad bit by bit thanks to this combination.

We were in the biggest studio today, and oddly enough I think that helped. My brain didn’t automatically think, CLEAR THE WHOLE LEVEL LEVEL IN ONE PASS—GO!!! 

Astoundingly, petit allegro also went pretty well (though my beats were sloppy). 

I’ve been wrestling with making my petit assemblé clean: my grand assemblé is usually good, but it’s definitely too big and high (and slow) for petit allegro. I couldn’t figure out why. BW suggested less brush. I tried it that way, then adjusted the snap of my inner thighs so the actual assemblé occurred at the apex and not just before landing.

Anyway, those adjustments worked. Now I’ll have to try to remember them next time I’m in class. 

I also finally got my jetés and coupé-jetés to lighten up, largely thanks to BW’s demo of the combination. I realized that I’ve been afraid if making them look too tap-dancy (not that there’s anything wrong with tap, of course; it’s just not what you’re going for in ballet class).

I’m not about to say that I found myself channeling Erik Bruhn today, but ultimately, my petit allegro sucked less than usual. 

Sadly, it doesn’t appear that BW win be teaching this class on the regular. On the other hand, it’s a chance to dance in the really, really huge studio, so I might add it into the rotation. Also, the floor in there is so nice.

My body is sorting itself. I found my deep rotators doing their job at several key moments in class today, which was nice. It’s feeling less like, “Egads, will I ever be able to dance again?!” and more like it’s supposed to feel. 

Spent the remainder of the early afternoon teaching turns and working on choreography. I’m at this point in the piece that really requires partnering, so we’ll work it tomorrow night. 

We Got a Lotta Class 

Discovered there’s a new class on Sundays at the Mothership. We’re off Monday for Dr. MLK Jr day, so I’m going. 

The line between dedication and masochism is kinda hazy, isn’t it? 

On Technique: Rond de Jambe en L’air, All Cocked Up

Fourth in a series of posts on the details of technique that focuses primarily on steps and aspects of dance that I’m struggling with. Take it with a grain of salt.

I find it helpful to write things out in an effort to get a grip on them. These aren’t so much instructions (though if they work for you, awesome!) as observations.


Today, during barre, I brought my leg to 90 degrees for a rond de jambe en l’air.

I kept it in the hip socket and began to trace an arc: avant, à côteand then TB called out a general correction about keeping the hips level, and suddenly I realized that I was the joker with his working hip cocked up into his ribcage like a total n00b.

No insult to total n00bs intended, by the way. You spend your first couple of years in the ballet studio basically being a total n00b, hanging in there by the skin of your teeth and learning to feel your body in ways you couldn’t before. Sometimes your working hip is going to go walkabout, and that’s just part of the learning process.

Everyone was a total hip-cocking n00b at one point, including BW and David Hallberg and Misty Copeland. Probably even Balanchine, though we can’t ask him since he’s conveniently no longer among us.

But, really, by the time you’ve stuck it out long enough that they don’t give you side-eye* when you walk into advanced class, that’s a thing you’ve (mostly) learned how to control.

moar-side-eye

*Like: Fa, a long long way to …go before you’re ready for this class, Buddy.

And, in fact, it’s something I’m usually pretty good at.

So what happened?

Approximately seven weeks of down-time, that’s what.

While I was busy being sick and then on break, my turnout muscles went, “Hallelujah! We don’t have to do all that work any more!” and got busy losing all the strength and refined control I’d just spent the past several months very consciously building(1).

  1. Muscles are great, but they lack foresight. Every time you take a break, they’re like, “Yeay, no more physical activity forever! Sedentary lifestyle, here we cooommmmme!!!!!” Basically, muscles are lazy little bastidges.

Now, this is a totally normal process.

It even kinda makes sense: conservation of resources, and all. If your body doesn’t have to keep a given set of muscles all super-toned and whatevs, of course it’s not going to waste resources trying to do so. Especially when the muscles in question are really only used that way by the 0.000012%(2) of the world’s population that’s insane enough to devote a jillion hours each week to ballet.

  1. Ignoble, D. (2017). Pure conjecture. Louisville, KY: Horse Hockey.
venn-diagram-of-ballet

This completely-scientific Venn diagram explains everything. There’s a pink pixel in there somewhere.

Likewise, when I raced bikes I learned that it’s good for serious athletes to take an off-season now and then. This doesn’t mean, necessarily, “sit on your butt and eat Cheetos for six months,” but if even Joe Friel says you can take a break now and then, get a little soft around the edges, that’s good enough for me.

However, seven weeks of essentially nothin’ isn’t precisely what the good Mr. Friel has in mind when he suggests taking an off-season, nor is it what your friendly local ballet master would, for example, recommend for dancers on the seasonal layoff after their Nuts are well and truly Cracked.

Anyway, it turns out that after slugging abed(3) for seven weeks, your highly-trained turnout muscles—the very muscles responsible for carrying your leg through rond de jambe en l’air at 90 degrees (or, really, any angle) without cocking a hip—aren’t quite prepared for their job.

  1. Or a-sofa, or what have you.

This is worth remembering.

Ballet technique is forged from an alloy of refined intellectual knowledge, rich connections in the somatosensory cortex and beyond, and pure raw strength.

Think of it like you might think of baking a cake: you need at bare minimum a given set of ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, fat, some kind of leavening agent. If one is missing, the end result might be edible, but it’s probably not going to be the cake you had in mind(4).

  1. If you haven’t encountered Cake Wrecks before, you’re welcome, and also I’m sorry. I’ll see you when you return to the surface.
this-is-not-the-cake

I have now strayed so far from the familiar waters of ballet culture that I am uncertain I shall ever find my way back.

In short, there might be days that your technique, for one reason or another, doesn’t come together.

If this happens to you, don’t panic. It will (almost certainly) come back soon enough.

Sometimes you need to rebuild strength; sometimes your brain is working so hard mastering a new skill that it can’t keep the existing ones performing as intended; sometimes you’re just tired and your brain and/or body go, “WHYYYYYYYY?”

Meanwhile, if you’re having trouble keeping your hips level, bear in mind that the same muscles that drive your turnout are essential to movements like rond de jambe en l’air, passé/retiréattitude, and so forth (really, they’re essential to everything in ballet).

Rather than simply thinking furiously to yourself, KEEP THE HIPS LEVEL, KEEP THE HIPS LEVEL, LEVEL, LLLLLEEEEVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!, if you’re struggling, consider concentrating on engaging the deep rotators to lift your working leg and move it through whatever radius is required(5). When you’re working on this, don’t worry about the height of your working leg: it’ll come.

  1. You can, in fact, experiment with this very movement while lying on the floor or whatever. Just, like, don’t try to go further than à la seconde.

If your deep rotators aren’t presently strong enough, the higher you carry your working leg, the greater the likelihood that the large anterior muscles of the leg (especially the quads) and core will take over, causing the hip to pop out of line.

Note, also, that even if your rotators are strong enough, if you extend your beyond your hip socket and allow the pelvis to creep forward on the working side, it will be hard to fully engage the rotators. That situation can also lead to a cocked hip.

So there you have it. And now I’m going to go soak myself in the bath and think about what to eat for dinner tonight.

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