Thursday Class: Slow Burn
I’m still playing it safe with my foot, which means still no jumping in BW’s class last night—but I think that’s actually turning into rather a good thing.
No jumping means we have tons of time for everything else, and that we can work at a borderline-glacial pace.
As a kid, this would have driven me insane. That’s half the reason it’s so good for me now.
For much of my life, I tacitly equated “slow” with “boring,” though I didn’t admit it even to myself.
Like many with ADHD, I am best at remaining focused when I’m moving quickly.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing—it made me a good skiier; it still makes me a good cyclist. It serves me well in the midst of grand allegro. It might be related to my tendency to stay calm in acute crises. But it’s limited, and doesn’t cover so much of daily life.
- At least, the physically-actionable kind: I’m great when faced with a panicky horse or a bike crash, but when I locked my keys and my wallet in the car in Cincinnati with only 15% battery charge left on my phone, I rapidly descended into meltdown mode. Physical action couldn’t solve the problem at hand, and the only solution I could think of—calling D—wasn’t working. Cue utter panic.
This is one of the things medication improves. I may sweat even more than usual, but it’s worth it to be able to remain mentally engaged through a slow and repetitive exercise designed to tease out the deep and subtle essence of technique.
I suspect that BW is the kind of person who was born with that ability to reflect and synthesize. Nothing that I know about him suggests that he is, in any way, more than typically impulsive; if anything, I’d guess that he’s better at planning and implementing his plans than the average human being.
As a teacher, he’s a master of the slow burn: the exercise in which one folds and unfolds through slow tendus, fondus, ronds, and extensions, battling gravity and all the weirdness of the human body in order to maintain placement, aplomb, elan.
This doesn’t mean he doesn’t excel at the fast stuff as well. Last night’s class involved, among other things, a super-fast degagé-frappé that fried my brain even as it forced me to use the right muscles to close because there was literally no other possible way to make it happen. When we do petit allego, it’s light and quick, as it should be.
But I suspect that I learn the most when we’re working slowly. I come out of every single one of his classes with greater awareness of technique and of how my own body works in conjunction with technique. Nothing will make you more aware of the body mechanics required in attitude devant than finding it, then holding it for sixteen counts.
Last night’s class felt like a watershed, in a way: things that we’ve worked on for weeks suddenly made sense, physically and mentally, in new ways. It was like the day last year that I realized I had developed the ability to feel and activate my deep rotators with much greater precision.
As human beings, we can take many routes to learning. We can flail or inch towards transcendence. I suspect that ballet requires a bit of each. You can’t inch your way into grand allegro, for example: you just throw yourself at the target, dust yourself off, take your corrections, and adjust.
But in order to know how to adjust—in order to operate the minuscule muscles that control turnout and maintain the subtle adjustments that define placement as you soar like a lightning bolt—you must first have inched your way into the control room of your own body, taught it to do things, built those things into habits.
Last night, we worked slowly and with precision. There were no fireworks. No grand allegro. No triple turns.
Instead, there was what BW calls “medicine”—those dry, academic exercises that lie at the heart of sound classical technique—and one exercise with turns and balances, and at least one really impeccable single from fourth with a fast spot.
- Full disclosure: I love dry, academic ballet exercises. Not everybody does. To me, they feel like playing Tetris with my own body, and those moments when I suddenly “get” it really give me a charge. That said, Adderall makes me a lot better at doing them for an entire class.
At least, it felt really impeccable. Chances are that, one year from now, I’ll remember that turn and think, “Huh, that really wasn’t so great.”
The final combination was pure medicine: tendu side with arms in second, hold, petit rond, petit rond, petit rond, hold and carry the arms through first to third without changing anything else, tendu, close back, reverse, other side.
It sounds easy; if you brute-force your way through it with no attention paid to the finer points of technique, maybe it even is easy. But when you’re thinking about everything, when you’re keeping the placement of your head and body and legs and TOES absolutely precise as you try to move only your arms (without automatically doing a petit rond or bringing your leg in), suddenly it’s not so easy anymore.
It takes a lot of a thing I’m going to call “microtechnique;” a lot of management of the tiny muscles that control placement, the awareness of which is essential if you want to dance well and for a long time.
You’d better believe that I’ll be working that one in my kitchen pretty often from here on out.
And then we stretched, and that was it.
Slow and steady, as they say, wins the race.