Ballet Squid Chronicles: Monday Class, In Which I Am Less Squidly Than Usual

This evening, our friend J. came along to try Ballet Essentials. She was one of three (three!) brand new dances today, so Ms. Margie dialed the pace of the class way down. For them, this meant a good foundational class; for me, it meant an opportunity to really focus on the details and on being lyrical and expressive and Letting It Happen.

The awesome part is that I was able to identify a couple of things I’ve been doing wrong.

I should note that, because puberty came very late for me, I am dancing in a very different body than I was when last I did ballet (though not all that different from when last I did modern dance). I’m broader in the shoulders, I carry more muscle all around, and the proportions of my body are just altogether different. I’m also chubbier, but that’s the result of illness-related weight-gain, which I’m now close to finished undoing.

Cycling has also really screwed up my muscle balance — or, well, that isn’t cycling’s fault, really. It’s mine, for not running or something to counter-balance the bike-engine muscles. I kept being like, “Oh, they’re fine.” Boy, was I in denial!

Ballet is just beginning to really overcome the imbalance in question. In short, my pushing-down muscles are great, but my pulling-up muscles are weak as all heck; no matter what anyone tells you, you really can’t get that much power on the upstroke using clipless pedals. Likewise, the muscles on the fronts of my calves are hypertrophic as heck because I ankle like crazy when I climb. This is great for explosive power (so not a bad thing for big leaps), but has to be balanced for controlled relevés.

For what it’s worth, things are shaping up. My thighs look so different than they did six months ago!

This (and, I’m sure, the inevitable process of just forgetting how things are done) has resulted in a few interesting faults in my technique.

For example, I think I’ve mentioned that my frappé looks crappé. (You see what I did th— oh, you’d rather I didn’t anymore? Got it.) Today I realized that the whole problem is simple: I’m overcompensating for muscle imbalances in my legs, and thus instead of bringing my working leg to coupé, I’m kind of bringing it to coupé-and-a-half. This means that instead of hinging from the knee to strike the ground, I have to activate my thigh.

I never noticed this before because we haven’t done frappé slowly at the barre until tonight. Tonight, I stared at myself in the mirror and went, “Oh. Wow. Okay.” And then I fixed it, and voilà! Frappé the way it’s supposed to be! (I was sad that we ran out of time and didn’t get to do Mazurka tonight. I was excited about seeing how it rolls now that my frappé is fixed.)

Your arms totally look graceful, though, BalletSquidDude.

Your arms totally look graceful, though, BalletSquidDude.

Likewise, I worked on the whole back issue. My balances were better (though we only did two-foot balances and coupé and passé on a flat foot — no one-foot demi-pointe balances). I did get a firm correction* once about my shoulders — as usual, I thought they were down, but they weren’t as down as they could be. Ms. Margie told us to take a look at our posture in the mirror so we know what it looks like when it’s right; I realized I have a whole lot of neck when my shoulders are really down 😉

I think my back will probably continue to be a bit of a challenge, but it’s getting better.

My body seems to be really into feeling its turnout this week. The whole “let it happen” thing is awesome that way (though some of it’s also that my “turnout” muscles are now sufficiently strong and active that I can feel and use them pretty effectively). I worked a lot on not gripping, just letting my turnout do its thing, and correcting whenever felt it not doing its thing.

After frappé, we did ballonné at the bar. I love the way ballonné feels, whether at the bar or otherwise, so that was fun. It looked pretty good, as well, with the turnout working. Present the foot, indeed!

During our stretch, I got very close to a full split on the left (which has always been my better side for splits). I think I actually could have gone all the way down (we’re talking a centimeter or two, here), but I hadn’t expected that and kind of freaked out! The right was pretty deep, too, but still about four centimeters or so off the ground.

I used to have hyper-splits both ways, so I expect to recover at least a full split. Also, splits are so much more comfortable when you do them turned out and don’t slide down on the bony-ass instep of your foot.

At center, we practiced port des bras, so I worked on making mine smooth, elastic, and pretty (because, seriously, I still do Port De Bro sometimes). We also did a little adagio combination, just chassé-pas de bourrée, chassé-pas de bourrée until we ran out of music, so I got lots of time to Let It Happen and make it pretty and use my arms and my head and épaulement and stuff. At times, it even looked like ballet ._.

Going across the floor, Margie tapped me to demonstrate the forward-traveling chassé, which felt pretty great.

I think J. did pretty well for her first class, though I really didn’t get to see much of her. She was behind me the whole time we were doing barre (Essentials is a small class, so we go two to a portable barre and switch sides of the barre instead of turning; this lets everybody use the mirrors all the time). When I did get a look at her (going across the floor, for example), she looked like she was getting the basic concepts, and the rest will come with time and experience.

So that’s it for tonight. I didn’t stay for the beginner/intermediate class because we had plans to do dinner with J. after class, but I did get to wave to Tawnee and Brienne as we were departing from the parking lot, at least. I’ll do Tawnee’s class on Wednesday, which will be my first Wednesday class in two weeks, since I didn’t make it last week due to the Great Bus SNAFU of 2014. I’m looking forward to it.

Good night, everybody!

Notes
*Perversely, one feels happy about firm corrections in ballet. They generally mean that your teacher knows you can do better, and knows that you know, and also knows that you can handle it.

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About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2014/08/18, in balllet, class notes. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I’ve thought before that my “frappe was crappe”,lol
    I think I like it when there’s brand-new-to-ballet people in class. It seems to result in the teacher breaking down moves and explaining it, whereas when we all seem to know the basics they kind of skim over it. I seem to always catch something that hadn’t made sense before, possibly because at the time I had been too focused on something even more basic, like (two-footed, flat) balance.
    Really basic balancing like two-footed releve or flat coupe or passe are really fun for me now that I can actually confidently do them. For my first few months taking ballet it just wasn’t happening and it wasn’t until about a year ago that I was able to do it on a good day. So even though it’s basic balances, I do wonder if other first-timers get at least a little intimidated.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one! Frappé is such an odd movement, especially with the flexed foot that just feels odd in ballet to begin with. We’ve done it both flexed and pointed (different teachers, different styles), and initially I felt like it was just easier pointed, but now I suspect that the difference was simply one of correct versus incorrect placement, since coupé with a pointed foot is so familiar it’s automatic.

      I have to admit, I enjoy the simple balances as well! It’s nice to feel that confident with something, for one thing 😀

      I think you’re very right about even basic balances (especially on one foot) being intimidating for first – timers. It’s easy to forget that static balancing on one fooy really unfamiliar for most humans.

      I was going to say “unnatural,” but actually I’m not sure that’s true – even as a little kid prior to the beginning of ballet training , if I had to stand still for any length of time, I would rest one foot more or less at passé (except with the sole against the medial surface of my knee) and switch from time to time.

      I’ve seen other people do that, so I’m guessing it’s natural but not something we do much in the Western world, where we sit a lot instead. That would make anther interesting study 🙂

      • I’m sure it’s a natural movement too, just one that gets “forgotten” in a sense because we don’t use it enough, like you said, due to our sedentary lifestyle. An interesting study indeed.
        I remember, about a year ago, stumbling across something online about ballet being the highest evolution of human movement – something about how animals technically walk on their “toes”. Wish I could find it again and give it a more thorough read through!

  2. You’re right! The idea of ballet as the highest evolution of human movement makes a lot of sense — it’s like an ongoing refinement of the capabilites of the human body; the development of grace, flexibility, coordination, and strength to their maximum capacities.

    The point about animals walking on their toes makes a lot of sense, too — so many animals that we think of as really graceful (horses, greyhounds, deer, gazelles, cats, to name a few) are digitigrades (meaning they walk on their toes). Horses walk basically walk on a single toenail on each leg, so I guess they’re always on pointe! Meanwhile, humans who have never worn padded shoes tend to run on the balls of their feet, and it’s both easier on the joints and (at least in my opinion) way more graceful.

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