Forget The Moon, Memory’s A Harsh Mistress

Okay, confession taimz. 

In class on Thursday and Sunday, I caught my balancé in the mirror and thought, “Hey, that looks really nice!” And I gave myself a mental pat on the back[1].

  1. Don’t worry, my humility was immediately restored on Thursday when I couldn’t remember which was my left leg on the return trip and again on Sunday when I traveled too much, did too many loose-canon chaînes (which, for some reason, my legs insisted on doing in fifth), and lame-ducked myself right into a fecking doorframe.

This has been fairly consistent of late, at least when I remember to make note of which flavor of balancé I’m supposed to do. 

If, on the other hand, the choreography calls for leading off with arrière and instead you travel à gauche, your beautiful balancé will shortly turn into an awkward evasion[2] as you attempt not to crash into the poor soul who has rolled up to go behind you in your group.

  1. I, for one, favor the “jump straight up like you’ve just been stung” approach, particularly when you’re supposed to be channeling Balanchine. I feel it fits well with the glittering verticality of Mr. B’s style. For a more Russian approach, however, gracefully and dramatically collapsing to the ground might be a better fit: the Russian style places so much emphasis on expression and character, after all. Or I suppose one could simply try to remember the entire combination.  

    Either way, I’ve grown rather pleased with my balancés, and it seems that in the process I’ve forgotten what bastardy horrors they were to re-learn.

    Tonight, an old entry of Dorky’s reminded me of how gum-blisteringly weird balancés feel before you brute force  finagle your way into them, and how infuriating that can be given that they look like such a natural, breezy step. 

    Of course, I say all of this after first receiving the Secret Brute Force Balancé Hack from BG, and then being constantly corrected and guided and occasionally actually manhandled until my balancés, too, look springy, fluid, and effortless.

    Which, it turns out, more or less seems to sum up the way one learns ballet. Each step, each skill, is drilled into one’s bones by a process of repetition and refinement that begins with, “I’ll never find it! Never, never, never!” passes through the murky waters of, “I can do this, ish, but I suck at it,” to the Island of, “Hey, I don’t even really suck at this anymore!” and eventually to the distant port of, “I’m actually kinda good at this, though not as good as X Famous Dancer/Company Member /Turns Girl (to borrow someone from Yorksranter)/Adagio Wizard/Jumps Boy[3].”

    1. “Jumps Boy” is the role I’m growing into in my own cohort of Ballet Nerds. It sounds better than “Impulsive Grand Allegro Fanatic.” 

    And in time, you lose the savor of those early days of struggle. 

    And then Memory comes along and slaps you with a dead salmon and says, “Oh, you’re not so great! Here, have an outtakes reel of everything horrible you’ve ever done with balancés!” 

    And for a minute, you stand there gobsmacked, because Memory really is a first-rate b*tch sometimes. 

    And then you realize that the very fact that you can even be horrified at how very, very bad you were at balancés means that you’ve come far enough to know how very bad you were, which is at once terrifying (“One year from now, I am going to cringe so hard about literally everything I think I know how to do right now o____O'”) and edifying (“But you guys! Look how much LESS BAD I am now than I was one year ago!”).

    Oy, vey. Last year, amirite? 😂😂😂 (Not actually a balancé.)


    So there it is. Pretty much the whole reason that ballet is Not For Everyone (even though, in a greater sense, it is for everyone): you need a strong stomach for your own shortcomings; an ability to say, “Well feck this right out the window; it is literally the most unreasonable thing,” after class on Tuesday, then show up anyway on Wednesday, because somebody has to show the newcomers how it’s (not) done. 

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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 2017/05/29, in balllet, it is a silly place, life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

    1. Ah, I remember practicing the balancés on the train plattform back then. Thanks for the link. I find it fascinating how one just keeps getting better and better in ballet without ever really being able to say one is really good at it! You know you’re getting better, but you aspire to reach Famous Dancer level of skill. I know I’m getting better, but I aspire to reach your level of skill (haha not gonna happen). I wonder if Famous Dancers themselves think they’re really good at ballet?

      • Yes! (And you’re welcome!) I wonder about this, too. Like, interviews suggest that David Hallberg knows that he’s an amazing dancer…but one wonders if he looks in the mirror on the daily and thinks, “Well, my octuple tour* sucks, and also these tights make me look like an overwrought jack rabbit…”

        Also, it’s funny (and comforting) how evidently almost all dancers everywhere find themselves practicing steps in random places, because apparently when the Muse** strikes, she strikes hard. I do know one dancer who’s philosophically opposed to practicing dance technique in public places, but he’s one of those people who do not understand the joy of the shopping cart-assisted double cabriole and who insist that doing piqué turns down the pasta aisle is some kind of insult to the artform.

        *Not an actual thing, as far as I know. Please, G-d, do not let these be a thing.
        **I like to imagine that compulsive practice has its very own muse, presumably someone like Competencia, Terpsichore’s less-gifted but nevertheless highly-determined sister. We just never hear about her because even the Greeks got tired of her interrupting their visits to sacred groves and what have you, like:

        GANYMEDE: Can’t it wait? I’m sort of busy being abducted by this giant Eagle right now?
        COMPETENCIA: Your arms are free; work on your port de bras.
        GANYMEDE: But—
        COMPETENCIA: PORT DE BRAS.

        • Now this is a muse I would listen to! (Because she’d make me and that’s a good thing.) She’d be on par with Link’s stupid fairy and ye olde Microsoft office paperclip assistant! If augmented reality ever becomes ubiquitous, someone will have to design an app with a pointe shoe that tells you to stand up properly and engage your turnout muscles and practice port de bras. The level of snark would be adjustable, for example “remember to sit up straight” vs. “my dear, stop trying to make forward cambré a thing, you’re making a fool of myself. now go do tendus in a corner!”
          I think no level of success makes you immune to some degree of impostor syndrome. If really good dancers were easily convinced that they were indeed really good, maybe they would have stopped practicing and learning so much before they ever became really good.
          And here’s my favourite anecdote about impostor syndrome, ever: http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/160603396711/hi-i-read-that-youve-dealt-with-with-impostor

    2. Is this the place to report a really satisfying Sunday class? Hope so…I think I did that whole barre adage with the lunges and 6th ports and whatnot right all the way through for the first time? And we did a shitload of piqué turns?

      Also, this: http://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/276340/5-Research-Insights-on-Technique-Proficiency-for-Busy-Dance-Teachers

      out of the five articles, I’m keeping 1), 2), and 4).

      1) apparently everyone pliés a bit at the top of a grande battement. also more turnout isn’t always better for your jumps.
      2) co-ordinating the prep arm and the push off in the Balanchine turn is even more important than your teacher already says it is
      4) moving from the core and staying upright are as good advice as your teacher already says; that said, it’s impossible not to cock your hip to dev higher (as David King says IIRC); also, following nice jumps-related exercise:

      “A simple way to strengthen the hamstrings is to have a dancer move from a parallel
      tendu back to parallel attitude, flexing the knee against
      gravity or a mild resistance”

      • Oooh, these are great! I am forced to admit that the entirety of the past 2 weeks have been one ongoing confirmation of Point the 2nd, here, too.

        And, yes, totally the place to report an excellent Sunday class! Though, really, maybe there should be a Page for that, instead of the boring calendar page I just added.

        Hurrah on that barre adage–that sounds like one of those long, fearsome ones, so doing it 100% right is brilliant!

        Meanwhile, there must be some kind of world-wide pique turn epidemic right now. I feel like every class it’s like, “And now for even more pique turns!”

        Not that I should complain, because six months ago I literally hated pique turns, and now they’re just like, “Meh, whatever.” Usually.

      • Oh, also: yasss on the cocking-the-hip-for-higher-developpes. I have been robbing myself of prettier ecartes, especially, by refusing to cock any hip ever.

        BW finally broke me of that on Thursday (it wasn’t as violent as it sounds, heh). If you’re willing to cock your hip a wee bit, you can make better use of your weight, since extensions ultimately become counter-balances against yourself at some point.

        So all my sitting on my high horse about not being willing to cock my hip EVER has been a giant episode in shooting myself in the foot.

        Being a little flexible about it even made modern class better this AM.

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