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Evil Swans. Double Stags. Rowdy Drunks? Oh, wait, no–it’s just Acro 2!
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.
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.
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.
This gallery contains 3 photos.
Evil Swans. Double Stags. Rowdy Drunks? Oh, wait, no–it’s just Acro 2!
This morning, I opted just to do barre. My foot is finally actually healing now that I’m being extremely conservative with it, and since I have two classes tomorrow, then classes and rehearsals Friday through Sunday, I figured it would be a good idea to take it easy today.
Anyway, that was probably for the best. My brain was not on its A-game today. I managed to get almost every combination wrong in new and different ways … especially our fondu, which was supposed to go like this:
balloné, balloné, jeté front front front, balloné, balloné, jete side side side, balloné, balloné, jeté back back back, fondu passé developpé, fondu passé developpé, fondu passé developpé, retiré, fondu attitude, grand rond, fondu attitude
… and then reverse all that shizzle, or something along those lines.
…but quickly turned into this:
balloné, balloné, jeté side, wait, what?! balloné, balloné, jete … side for realz, I think??? balloné, balloné, jete … what the **** am I doing with my inside leg right now??? fondu all the unfoldy legs at the wrong time all the way around, retiré, arabesque, fondu attitude side, what the actual heck am I even doing right now??????!!!!, fondu developpé and HOOOOOLD.
Barring the moments in BW’s class when I sometimes fail to actually intake the beginning of some combination because I’m busy thinking about some fine point of technique and then have nobody to follow, it has been a while since my brain so thoroughly failed at the barre.
I actually asked between sides which way we were supposed to jeté first, and then proceeded to do a completely different set of wrong things on the second side.
Sadly, I had no problem remembering the adagio and terre-a-terre, even though I didn’t do them (I was stretching and watching BG dance, since he took class with us today).
I don’t know what my problem was, and I don’t think I want to know.
Tomorrow will be better. Until then, here’s a picture of my cat being extra derpy:
I know I said I was probably going to do Mam-Luft’s intensive again, but it turns out I’m not.
Instead, I’m taking a four-day ballet masterclass taught by BW right here at home. Huzzah!
I’m pretty excited about that (in case you weren’t sure what I meant by “Huzzah!”). They decided to individually evaluate students for eligibility and sent me an invitation, so w00t. Makes me feel fairly decent about myself, which is good, because yesterday after class I was like I CANNOT REMEMBER COMBINATIONS AND MY FOOT HURTS.
I went to the doc today for Regularly Scheduled Maintenance and discovered that A) they can now submit my prescription for Adderall electronically, B) …but I have to pee in a cup from time to time (which was only a problem because I was kinda dehydrated, but I juuuuust managed a sufficient sample) because Regulations, and C) my foot looks normal on X-rays, so it’s just soft tissue BS sorting itself out at this point.
As such, though it made me sad, I didn’t jump in BW’s class tonight (nor did anyone else, since I was All By My-seeeee-eee-eeeelf again). We opted instead for another stretch-n-kvetch, in which we discussed the assertion (made by neither of us) that dancers shouldn’t stretch, to which I responded that A] some dancers shouldn’t stretch some things (hip ligaments, kids), B] but we should stretch the other things, and C] if stretching wasn’t good, cats wouldn’t do it, because let’s be real, cats only do things that are really worth doing.
House cats, anyway. The ones that don’t have to worry about hunting and whatevs. The ones that are given their due as, at very least, minor deities, &c.
We also did lots of fondu-y things, as ever, and at center a nice adagio that began with a backwards pas de basque (or, more formally, pas de basque en arrière).
This has been a week of combinations with interesting beginnings. We did one yesterday that began waltz turn and waltz turn, devloppé croissé avant, tombé… It was starting right into the waltz turns that was the interesting bit. We don’t do that very often (more often, one encounters balancé, balancé, waltz turn and waltz turn and…).
Personally, I quite like pas de basque en arrière as a way to launch a combination. It’s at once a bit diffident (since, by the very nature of the step, you’re kind of bowing to the audience and backing away from them) but also a bit impressive, as it’s one of those steps that looks like it should probably be difficult (and, of course, you get a nice allongé effacé moment).
BW says I am making good progress, which makes me very happy. I actually felt like a more effective dancer today, particularly at the barre, where I was much more able to notice when my shoulders were being dumb and (literally) put them back in their place.
The interesting thing about not being able to jump is that it forces me to buckle down and work harder in the other parts of class (…imagine that ._.).
Revelations at the barre today: I can now feel when I’m temps-liéing into too wide a fourth. I also figured out what it does that makes life so terrifically difficult (beyond just having to tap basically All The Mana to get back up on your leg to do turns): it turns off your turnouts (and all the other stuff that holds you together as a ballet person).
A more obvious example of the same phenomenon involves doing grand plié in second until your butt drops below your knees. The rotators and … well, basically all the muscles that aren’t the quads … say, “Feck this noise, we’re outies,” and then it’s difficult to get back up, let alone anything useful. (Meanwhile, the quads be like “AIGHT WE GOT THIS BOYS! PULLLLLLLL!”)
Turns out that when your fourth is ridiculously big (because you are a travelly go-er who likes to absorb all the space), the same basic thing can happen.
…People who aren’t idiots. Specifically, I’m pretty sure Mikhail Baryshnikov wasn’t constantly unspooling his rotators.
Anyway, that’s what’s what for now.
During Masterclass Week, I plan to hit up my normal morning classes, unless my foot is like SCREW YOU NO. I’m hoping I’ll be back to normal by then, though. I plan to take a week or so to rest it after Orpheus.
Anyway, here’s my Updated Summer Plan:
BW said the Master Class will be “Hard, but good.” Which pretty much describes most classes with him, and is what I need anyway.
I’m not going to any intensives on other continents this summer because, in short, I’m not even sure right now that I’ll be able to afford the ones I’ve planned on this continent (for positive reasons, though, which I won’t be discussing in this particular post because #ToKnowToWillToDareToKeepSilent).
That said, in case you’re looking for dance intensives all over the planet, HERE THEY ARE. You can basically go anywhere and dance this summer (I know someone who’s going to the Canary Islands! #envy).
It would take me all week to check all of these out and write them up on my Intensives page, so I’ll just add the link later on and call it good.
BTW, I happened upon this link via Dancing Opportunities (@dancingopps) on the Tweeters, which which highly recommend following if you’re of dancing persuasion.
So there you have it. Intensives for everyone!!! Huzzah!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention from the word “Go” that the place where I take most of my classes is a lot better than many about making it clear that boys and men are welcome.
I take most of my classes at a pre-pro school attached to a company with a complement of fine danseurs, which certainly helps. Moreover, our website isn’t festooned with pink curlicues, the posted dress code explicitly includes male students, and a glance at the faculty roster reveals that both women and men are represented.
I’m luckier than many. In most ways, my school is getting it right—making it clear that there’s room at the barre for boys and men.
That said, even they miss something now and then.
Take, for example, the master-class series they’re doing this summer. The only specific skill prerequisite listed is, “At least one year en pointe,” though the course description goes on to note that classes will be taken on flat.
As a male student, it’s not clear to me at all whether this intended as a baseline to imply a certain prerequisite level of expertise or whether the series is even open to boys and men. The course description doesn’t specify.
If I was less pushy and obnoxious confident, I’d probably just hang back and grumble internally about feeling overlooked and about how annoying it is that the dance community spends so much time worrying about its dearth of male dancers, then fails to actually make it clear when we are and are not welcome.
Of course, I’m me, so I just shot a message to our administrator this morning to ask.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that every ballet school’s website should be wallpapered in blue and/or feature pictures of monster trucks (note to self: choreograph a story ballet based on the tragic life of a bush-league pro wrestler…). Rather, if we want guys in dance, we should double-check the language we use, just to make sure we’re not creating the appearance of gender-restricted spaces where no such restrictions exist.
We should make sure that dress codes address male and female students, or at least be phrased neutrally (“Students the Open Division should wear fitted athletic wear or dancewear of their choice, unless otherwise directed in course descriptions.”). Course descriptions should use pointe as a prerequisite only when it’s actually relevant to the course material (hard to do the hops on pointe bits of Giselle, for example, without prior pointe training!) or, at very least, include a phrase like, “…or equivalent experience in men’s technique.”
Explicit gender restrictions should be just that: explicit (“open to ladies at least 16 years of age by permission of instructor,” for example).
Plenty of guys do pointe (Hello, Trocks!), so pointe itself does not an explicit gender restriction make.
Women can do men’s technique, too, though since we don’t really have another name for the subset of ballet that comprises men’s technique, if ladies are welcome, it would help to say so explicitly in the class description. And though it may comprise Balletic Heresy to say so, I’m all for letting the girls play with the boys, at least in the adult open division. The key thing is just putting “men’s technique” on the Open Division schedule in the first place.
Basically, I suspect that implementing a men’s technique class—even one that’s open to anyone of any gender who wants to take it (assuming that they meet the skill prerequisites)—would be a good way to tell male students that we’re welcome and wanted.
The usual model seems to be to preemptively conclude, “We don’t have enough men in the program for a men’s class.”
While that’s probably true in many Open Division programs (and, sadly, in not a few pre-pro program), it’s also probably not going to change if we don’t try doing something a little daring and different.
I suspect that Field of Dreams might have a thing or two to teach us, here: put together a class that teaches men’s technique, put on the calendar, and you might get mostly ladies going, “Hell, yeah! I’ve always wanted to learn double tours!” (which, IMO, could be great) but you might just succeed in bringing in the guys.
For what it’s worth, there’s a lesson here for guys, as well.
It can be hard to overcome even unintentional verbal barrier in a place where an invisible-but-real social barrier already exists. It takes uncommon courage and the support of understanding friends and family to step beyond those invisible barriers.
The thing is, hosts of brave women still find themselves climbing over invisible barriers every day—and not just in the STEM fields, where their historical and current contributions are routinely overlooked.
In the arts, we still tend to picture everyone from choreographers, conductors, and composers to painters, poets, and playwrights as men (usually, if we’re frank, white men).
We guys can learn a thing or two from our experiences as the cherished-yet-overlooked red-headed stepchildren of the dance community: what it’s like, for example, not to be the default gender, and what it’s like to have to plead a case for greater inclusion before the powers that be.
We can learn that just using a blanket statement isn’t always enough: that we can and should look a little deeper if we want to help create real change.
Edited for clarity, autocorrupt, and that weird thing where SwiftKey decides to delete entire words.
Class was mostly okay this morning. The brain was a tad slow getting started, but once it got up to speed it basically did its job.
My arms, on the other hand (no pun intended, but jeez), were just … Argh. You know that one correction I get all the time about arabesques?
The one where everyone be like: ASHER YOUR ARM IS BEHIND YOUR SHOULDER WTF
And I’m like: Is this better? ____0____
And they be like: NO THAT’S EXACTLY SAME
… So, yeah.
No wonder tours lent were so freaking hard today
Skipped jumps, but then realized I’m up to jumping every other day now, which is good progress.
I started a post about last night’s class, well, last night, and then I got too tired to finish it, so it’s currently a draft on my tablet and I don’t feel like going to get my tablet.
Last night turned into another Private Men’s Technique Class, during which I summarily discovered that one does not, in fact, have to do grand allegro to be completely exhausted at the end of Men’s Tech. BW’s gloriously murderous barre is quite demanding enough to do the job.
In a nutshell, classical men’s technique is essentially about two things: power and endurance. It can be summed up via the famous equation:
…What do you mean that isn’t a famous equation?
Power allows you to do the grand allegro pyrotechnics that pretty much define the vast majority of men’s variations in the classical repertoire. Your grand jeté entrelacé isn’t going to look anywhere near as impressive if it doesn’t get off the ground, and as for double tours, you can’t even do them if you don’t basically launch yourself into space. You won’t have time. Disaster (or at least an ungraceful exit) will ensue.
Endurance allows you to get though demanding variations without A) dying or B) flopping around like a distressed fish wrapped in a damp rag (you guys, this is NOT a valid way even to do fish jump). It allows you to still
not drop lift your partner in the next bit of the grand pas de deux and to not collapse under your combined weight.
Power requires strength. BG mentioned to us today that we’re sort of designed around gravity, so even though the idea in classical ballet is to look like you’re defying gravity, you do it by employing gravity. Still, if you’re going to launch yourself off the floor, you need power to do it.
Your plié is all about giving yourself to gravity; loading the springs. Your launch is all about pushing down through the floor, right to the center of the earth, fir(ing) all of your guns at once (to) explode into spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace.
Endurance requires … erm … endurance. Right. Just pretend I wrote something more intelligent than “x = x.” Move along. Nothing to see here.
What I mean, really, by “endurance requires endurance” is that endurance itself is a pretty complex entity.
First, there’s cardiovascular endurance: no point in being strong enough to do all the things in the Slave variation (or Albrecht’s, or Bluebird, or…) if your heart literally explodes halfway through, or if you can’t get through it without puking because you can’t breathe.
Next, there’s muscular endurance, which I’m sure has some fancy technical name that I can’t recall right now. Basically, that’s the kind of endurance that surrounds the question, “How many times can you launch and catch your own weight (multiplied, as needed, by whatever forces apply at various points) before you have to lie down for a while?”
This is the kind of endurance that you can think of in terms of “reps to exhaustion” or “reps to failure.”
This second kind of endurance depends quite a bit on power: like, really, you need to be flat-out strong enough that the variation you’re doing doesn’t lead to failure—indeed, you may very well need to be strong enough to manage it in the context of an entire ballet.
This is, in a way, kind of like riding a mountain stage in the Tour de France. Mountains have this annoying way of being multiple kilometers in height, and involving multiple climbs, and you don’t get to stop at the top of a given climb.
The race keeps going, and so do you, until you get to the end of the stage (or until you spectacularly crash your bike and are summarily scraped into the team car). Until you get to the end of the stage, you have to keep stomping those pedals, or at any rate turning the cranks.
Most full-length classical ballets are only 2 to 3 hours long, and not a Tour-stage-esque 6 hours long (though nobody ever suggested a mere 6-hour cap to the Sun King). On the other hand, ballet never lets you sit in the peloton and just turn the cranks and recover. Not even when you’re in the corps.
Power alone will get you through a single run of a variation in isolation, but add the rest of a 2-hour ballet, and unless you have some serious endurance, you’re seriously fecked.
Last night was more about endurance than about power, though it was also about power, because holy fondu, Batman. Mostly, it was about the “reps to exhaustion” kind of endurance and the “attitude devant for a million counts” kind of endurance.
(It was also about TOES, because BW’s class is always about my toes.)
It was a “stretch your leg up to your ear, hold, fondu the supporting leg, hold, stretch, hold, drop your arm and see if you can maintain the extension for an additional million counts” kind of day(3).
My foot got achy before we made it to jumps, so we called it a night and did a stretch-n-kvetch session in which I learned that, like me, BW really can’t use cycling to cross-train for cardio. Like mine, his quads go crazy too easily.
I know I’ve said this before, but this is one of the reasons he’s such an effective teacher for me: we share some of the same Ballet Problems. One of them is being the elusive kind of unicorn that actually does pile on the muscle rather too easily.
Today, I managed to haul my hinder out of bed and make it to BG’s 10 AM class, where I found my body surprisingly willing to do things, possibly because last night we skipped jumps and stretched instead.
Because BW’s barre is usually even harder than Killer B’s barre, barre didn’t feel difficult(4). Last night we did circular port de bras in sus-sous, so when I opted to do a straight forward-then-back port de bras in sus-sous, it really didn’t feel like much of a challenge.
This time, possibly because I didn’t take modern class in the morning first, my foot agreed to make it through the little jumps to a very nice grand allegro. That makes twice in one week, which is great.
That said, I found myself overthinking one of the transitions and, as such, screwed things up completely going left.
I did it three times to the left, though, and eventually got it more or less sorted.
Regardless, it was very much a case of, “What do I do with all these legs? Aaaaaugh!”
In fact, though, I think the combination I liked best today was a weird little petit-allegro brain-teaser that went something like:
coupé to slidey thing avant
…and continued around the points of the compass counter-clockwise, though the slidey thing never traveled backwards (so I guess it skipped “south,” and just went “north-east-west-north”). The main challenge is remembering which way you did the slidey thing most recently, so you don’t do the slidey thing in the same direction twice and cause a traffic accident.
I’m sure there’s a name for the “slidey thing” somewhere in the great lexicon of ballet, as it’s a thing that occurs in choreography, but I don’t know what to call it, so my apologies there. It’s sort of a coupé-tombé to second or fourth with the trailing toe gliding across the floor. Hard to describe, easy to do(5), and really quite pretty.
Anyway, that was class today. Very-nice-but-perplexing grand allegro; unusual and satisfying petit allegro.
Oh, also, I keep forgetting to post this video. I think I keep looking a little lost (which is terrible, given that it’s my own freaking choreography >_<), but given that I had a fever, it could have been a lot worse.
Also, that weird sort of attitude balance near the end? That is HELLA HARD on crash mats, y'all.
I think I’ve figured out the source of my pervasive brain fog.
Spring is upon us, with all the flowers in bloom, and as such I’ve been taking loratadine for my allergies. I haven’t taken it in a long time, but if I remember correctly, it definitely made me feel foggy in the past (which, of course, is probably why I haven’t taken it in a long time >_<).
Anyway, I made it through Killer Class, but it took me until Grand Allegro to feel like I had any brain at all. During Grand Allegro, I managed to do Bournonville jetés without winding up on the wrong leg every damned time, so that was a big step (leap, actually … womp womp woooooommmmmmmmp) in the right direction.
I have to dash off for our Dance Team rehearsal, but figure I’d post this before I forget, because frankly right now I am forgetting ERRRTHANG.
No more Claritin for me.
You guys! We have graphics (stolen from the Facebook event) and everything!
…Here’s a plain text linky, too:
In other news, D and I started working on our PlayThink piece this weekend. I might have forgotten that he’s not accustomed to basing fish-hooks with danseurs who got dat grand allegro booty. I kept discombobulating him and, as such, he kept dropping me :O
Regardless, we got the first two verses sketched out. I just need to resurrect the ballet choreography from whatever room corner of my mental Dance Attic it’s crammed into.
I promise that this act is all kinds of silly and definitely not knock-you-on-the-head-political like “Fade to White.” Instead, it’s fun and light-hearted, and if you’re in the area you should to PlayThink and see it.
But mostly you should to PlayThink because it’s like everything you secretly hoped adulthood be like when you were 5, and that’s amazing.