Category Archives: technical notes

Finally, a Mostly-Good Class

mostly-dead

From The Princess Bride, via blatant heckin bamboozlery.

First of all: THANK FREAKING G-D. I have broken my week-long streak of disastrous classes, FINALLY.

Today in BW’s class, I was not a giant freaking disaster area.

I did not feel weak.

I did not forget every single combination (in fact, I managed to remember all but one of them, though for some bizarre reason I kept doing inside-out turns on one of them).

I did not feel horribly nervous or completely unworthy of BW’s tutelage and as such didn’t spend have the class talking, though I did ask several clarifying questions (another really nice thing about private class).

My legs didn’t fall off and my foot didn’t start screaming at me.

…Which is good, because it was, once again, the All Asher, All The Time show.

When you’re having a terrible week day, nothing will make you feel worse than a private class.

When you’re having a fairly decent day … erm … well, you’ll probably come out of your private class feeling fairly decent.

Today definitely fell into that zone: I can tell I’m making progress, but the goalposts keep moving, so I keep thinking I’m so bad at this one thing, but I also think, I’m way better at this other thing.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve got 100% of my strength back, but I’m also not sure that’s accurate. Were it accurate, I think the 8-8-4-4-2-2 grand battement would’ve killed me.

In case you’re wondering, that particular grand battement is fairly hard, but still not as hard as Rayevsky’s which, if I remember correctly, went: 8 front, 8 back-inside, 8 side, 8 back, 8-front inside, 8 side, EFFING DETOURNE, straight into the other freaking side. Honestly, I feel like I’m probably missing something in there. Regardless, it’s clear that Mr. R wants his dancers strong—and he teaches with enough precision to warrant it.

In the hands of an ineffective teacher, that combination could easily become a turnout-destroying exercise in futility, but Mr. R is one of those teachers who have 27 pairs of X-ray vision-equipped eyes arrayed all over their heads so they can call you out on failing to engage one wee finger of your deep rotators even when they’re looking at someone at the far end of the barre.

Edit: I suspect invisible eyestalks may be involved.

BW also teaches with that kind of precision. I am still totally in awe of the moment when he shot me exactly the right correction with his back to me and no mirror for guidance.

Anyway, I think I’m in that in-between zone: kind of between levels. I’m working on sustaining higher extensions and so forth, and that requires a greater degree of strength in the supporting leg. I’m working on cleaner, sharper, turns with higher turn counts[1], which requires a better spot and more accurate placement[2].

  1. …Though, today I was just having a remedial “don’t turn the wrong freaking way” kind of day. There were singles and doubles and one triple, and that was fine, since we were aiming for precision.
  2. …And a steady supporting leg, which in my case also comes down to strength—or, more accurately, the balance of strength, as do extensions. BW noted that, for me, the challenge is balancing the extreme mobility of my hips and the natural strength of my quads by strengthening the rotators and other muscles that oppose the quads. Basically, I need to work on my butt. Even more. And not ever do anything extra with my quads, period, end of story. He might not have actually said that second bit, but it’s kind of implied?

We also managed to get our petit and medium-ish allegro on, though we skipped entrechats this week. BW was pleased with my changements, which we’ve been modifying to improve my tours[3].

  1. This works because ballet is systematic and sequential: sus-sous balance begets soutenu turn and soubresaut, which in turn begets changement. Soutenu turn and changement together, combined with a strong plié, beget tours and then double tours (or, if you’re me, 1.5 tours >.<).

BW has a way of saying to me, when we are in the midst of Accidentally Private Men’s Class,We do this this way…” and then explaining some subtle point of men’s technique and what makes that subtle point important.

A solid double-tour requires that one’s legs squeeze together and stay there through the change of feet and through the rest of the jump, essentially because physics.

If you ever had the opportunity to play on one of those rotating tire swings as a kid, you probably remember that you could make it spin faster by tucking yourself into a ball or slower by stretching out and leaning outwards.

If you’ve done dance trapeze, lyra, rope, or any of the other free-spinning aerial circus apparatus that allow it, you also know that you can create insanely fast spin by making yourself into a vertical line that runs right up and down the vertical axis of the spin.

The same principle applies to tours: the closer everything stays to the vertical axis, the faster you can turn.

You can’t have your calves flapping around when you have to rotate twice around your own vertical axis before you land (facing the correct direction). That means you have to snap-squeeze your legs right the heck in from the tips of your toes to the tops of your thighs[4].

  1. …So if you’re a dude and you’re going to work on double tours, wear your best dance belt (and a smile, I guess?).

To build this habit, you do a billion changements in which you do not snap the legs out and bring them back (as pretty as that is), but instead sort of pivot them around each-other as you would in the midst of a soutenu turn[5].

  1. This is moderately counter-intuitive, because in a soutenu turn it doesn’t feel like that’s happening … but it is.

Anyway, that’s about all the braining I can manage tonight.

The funny part is that I remembered our medium-ish allegro combination, but still proceeded to do it wrong because my brain would not engage. It ended with assemblé back no change, assemblé changé. That assemblé back no change tripped me up soooo many times, because (like every dancer on earth) I do assemblé changé a lot more often.

In the end, though, I ran it until I got it right, which is another nice perk of flying solo in class. If you need to get a thing down, you can drill it ’til ya kill it.

Anyway, I’m taking an extra class tomorrow in honor of BG’s birthday, and then the usual assortment of weekend shenanigans, and then it’s onto my self-imposed Dancer’s Hell Week; my wee Choose Your Own Intensive.

You guys, I cannot believe it’s June already!!!!!!!

Thursday Class: Wait, Which Left Hand Again? 

Class today started out with a heaping plate of WTF.  

BW gave me the first combination facing the barre. I had the counts alllllllll wrong and couldn’t figure out where my body was relative to my legs (you guys: WHAT EVEN IS THAT?!). 

Then he gave me the second combination. Not only did I hose up the counts, but I forgot the middle of the thing and started on wrong side. Which I figured out when I went to do the combination left and then realized, “Frack, I just did this side!” 

Fortunately, it was not all downhill from there. I mean, I felt weak as hell for some reason[1], but mostly didn’t completely screw things up, though it took a while to convince my knees that, yes, they needed to be all the way straight.   

  1. Read: probably A) that I hadn’t eaten enough and B) my allergies are on Security Alert Hot Pink OMG OMG Definitely Panic, which led to asthma acting up, which led to me taking my inhaler, which jacks my heart rate up through the roof, which obliterates my recovery capacity.

Anyway, things eventually got better, and we did a stretch/fondu/extension exercise that is both pretty hard and a good measure of progress. Last time we did it, I had to content myself with extensions at 90 degrees front and side. I could get them up there flexibility-wise, but I couldn’t hold them any higher. This time, I found I had gained several degrees of sustainable extension and the ability to actually make my rotators operate whilst holding my legs up there (which, really, means I’ve figured out how to turn off my big, stupid quads). 

BW also gave me a nice adage that involved slow half-fouettés followed by half-promenades into pdb-to 4th to en dedans turns, then reversing. That proved to be a nice little brain teaser and a nice piece of choreography. It’s also a great way to figure out if your butt has decided to take its lunch break without clocking out, so to speak: if your rotators and your butt check out, your supporting leg is gonna have a bad time with that transition from the fouetté lent going one direction into the promenade going the other way.  

The highlight of the class, though, was a, little break we took to hone my waltz turns. I’ve never really been clear on what my head is supposed to do, which coincidentally turned out to be exactly what BW wanted address.

So here’s a brief description of the technical bit, via the mental visualizations I used to keep it sorted:

  • First you lift your gaze to the Wilis on the far corner of the stage. 
  • Then, as you make the first half-turn, you sweep your gaze to the Wilis on the opposite corner of the stage (that is, the one where you’re starting out). 
  • As you make the second half-turn, you briefly make eye contact with the audience, then lift your gaze back to the Wilis awaiting you in the far corner. 
  • Repeat until you run out of waltz turns, room, or hit points*, whichever comes first. (*Because Albrecht’s Variation is basically a Ballet Boss Battle.) 

If you’re wondering why this is all about Wilis, it’s because last year, when we were learning Albrecht’s Variation, we had all forgotten that it was from Act II’s scene where the Wilis are dancing Albrecht to death, and we were like, “What’s with all the gesturing to the sides of the stage? Where even is Giselle? Is this Giselle over here? Or is this Giselle over here?” 

And then we went and watched videos and we were like, “…Oh.” Because, like, all that romantic gesturing is basically like, “Please! I’m too handsome to die this way!”   

So now it’s always Wilis, Wilis everywhere when I’m trying to figure out where to point my limpid gaze. 

Or, well, Wilis, Audience, Wilis, moar Wilis (because you have to populate the back of the stage with somebody).

Honestly, whilst your mileage may vary like a mothertrucker, this visualization works like crazy for me.

And, also honestly? I don’t want to know what that says about me o_O 

Where’s Your Head At, Redux

Where-My-Head-At-Again-2017-05-24

I need to do class with blinders on, you guys.

So I got to do grand allegro today for the first actually third (but who’s counting? #dancermath) time in aaaaaages, and it was awesome (in the sense that it was hella fun, not so much in the sense that it was like, “YES, PARIS OPERA BALLET HERE I COME!!!!!!”).

The combination was simple so we could do it ziggy-zaggy-wise and get in a few reps per side:

sauté arabesque
failli
glissade
assemblé porté[1]
piqué arabesque

failli


Glissade
chassée[2]

grand assemblé en tournant

  1. AKA not actually my favoritest jump because it’s not super exciting, but I’m actually pretty awesome at it? So it’s one of my favorite jumps.
  2. Wow, did I ever write out incorrectly earlier

On the other hand, if you take a look at the screenshot above (from BG’s video), you’ll notice that I am

LOOKING

AT

THE

MIRROR

}:|

>.<

}:O

Also that apparently I am preparing to catch a baseball with my left hand, but meh. That’s no biggie. Better that than the eternal Don Quixote Hand of Doom.

This is actually one of the General Ballet Things I’m working on right now: using my eyes.

First, of course, there’s the performative aspect—you can’t dance the whole ballet with your face frozen en face, or staring at the neck of the dancer in front of you, or whatevs. The audience wants to see your face, amirite?

Second, though, and rather more importantly, there’s a rule in cycling that kind of applies to ballet, too:

The bike goes where your eyes go.

Only, like, in ballet, it’s your body and your balance and stuff instead of a bike.

Like, if you’re doing adagio, and your eyes are pointing the wrong way, it can throw your balance offfffff.

We talked about this with turns, too: apparently, once we’re done looling for spit (if you remember that post, kudos :D), some of us (AHEM: me, but also other people) glance down as we finish our turns and cheat ourselves out of extra rotations.

Legitimately, I got a triple out of this fix today, though my turns working left are still pretty awful.

Anyway, evidently I need to do this in jumps, too, instead of staring at the mirror. Yegads, if ever there was anyone who needed a studio with a curtain over the mirror, I AM THAT PERSON.

Oh, and here’s an annotated version of the screencap so it’s clear exactly what one should and should not do:

Where-My-Head-At-Again-2017-05-24-with-commentary

E, in front of me, is Doin’ It Rite. I am Doin’ It Wrong. But I OTOH dat booty tho? #danseurbooty

Anyway, there you have it.

Oh, also, TIL that this shirt totally does not stay put when you do grand assemblé en tournant. It corkscrews around you and rides up to, like, mid-chest level, then falls back down. Pretty funny stuff, particularly given that I had NO IDEA that was happening.

PS: My mood is a little better today. Still feeling like AAAACK PEOPLE RUNNNN but class has this nice cushioning effect.

~

PS: I just noticed at E and I were all matchy-matchy-ish, which is hilarious because we were a pair for basically all of the across-the-floor stuff today 😀 Funny when it works out like that!

Everything’s Relative (Especially Time)

This week, the days seem unbelievably long. I just basically seem to have SO FREAKING MUCH TIME (First World Problems again).

It just occurred to me that there’s a reason for that: last week, there was an awful lot of running off to rehearsal and class and that TV news thing; this week, there’s … well, there’s class?

Class and housework. Some technologizing in the margins.

I’m fine with that. I’m really not complaining. It’s actually pretty nice—it’s just weird and surprising how spacious this week feels after last week’s compressed, frenetic schedule.

You would think I’d have figured it out by now; that I’d have been around this block enough times to be able to predict that, hey, this week is way less busy than last week so it’s going to feel luxuriously slow, but nope. I haven’t figured that out yet, apparently.

My brain is on a break, or I’d try to draw some really intelligent correlation between this kind of experiential relativity and Einstein’s relativity. Like, I feel the germ of an idea kicking around in there, but I can’t quite seem to get hold of it.

Anyway, this morning I did barre and adagio, then made my excuses (foot, as usual >.<). Killer B gave me a correction that made my arms look awesome: keep the shape of the arm as is, but imagine that you’re pressing the whole thing down against something.

Curiously, what this accomplishes is not arms that collapse, but arms that look strong and shoulders that stay open and down and back and all that good stuff (read: all the other stuff BW regularly reminds me to do ^-^).

Basically, it’s like when you’re a little kid in those swimmy things[1] (they still make them—who knew?!) that go on your arms, and you’re using your lats to push them down against the water so they push you up. Maybe normal people don’t do that, but during my Swimmies-wearing phase, I totally did (in my defense, I was 2.5-3 years old) because I liked being able to go Boing!Boing!Boing! in the water, usually whilst my grandparents’ German Shepherd/Alsatian[2] looked on with a heckin concern.

  1. We also had those floaty swimsuit things that make you look like some kind of undernourished koopa: basically, an aquatic romper with what was essentially a couple of small kickboards—one in front and one in back, if memory serves—sewn between two layers of lycra. Mine was initially too big and would ride up and bonk me in the chin and chafe my armpits. By the time I was the right size, I already knew how to swim well enough not to need it.
  2. For those in the US who are not dog nerds who spent too much of their formative years reading dog books from the UK, German Shepherd = Alsatian.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of pictures taken (JUST NOW!!!) with D’s late-90s-era webcam (seriously, this thing is geriatric in tech years, though it still does the job) that more or less illustrate the point:

In case you’re wondering, this is my office/guest room, where I’m in the midst of catching up on the laundry after last week’s scheduling madness.

The really interesting thing is that I didn’t actually change the angle of my arm between the first and second shot in any of the sets: engaging my lats moved my entire shoulder joint.

That said, I don’t think pix 5 and 6 are great illustrations of anything except the fact that engaging your lats makes your neck look longer.

Picture 7, meanwhile, is just silliness for its own sake.

I’ll have to try to get better pictures of this effect next time I’m in the studio. It was hard to get enough of my body in the frame and still be able to click the mouse (I appreciate voice-activation so much more right now, you guys). I would’ve done better just to use my phone and email the pix to myself, but that seemed like too much work.

One of these days, I’ll try to see if I can get D to take a picture of what this looks like from the back, because I really feel it right below the margins of my scapulae/shoulder-blades/wing-bones, and I suspect that it’s probably quite visible.

I am not, however, very good at taking pictures of my own back.

Advanced Class: Wear Your Giant Hat 

I’ve been busy cleaning and organizing today, but I finally have time to write up a useful note from this morning’s class. 

As you may know, I’m not great at detecting where in space my arms are. Today, I apparently kept throwing them behind my head in turns. HD caught it and gave me a visual demo, and—I suppose because I live in Louisville and Big Hats are a thing on Derby Day—I immediately exclaimed, “Oh, so if I just pretend I’m wearing a giant hat—!” 

And it was all like:

Tombé, pdb, other tombé, pdb, piqué soutenu, tombé pdb-chasée, 4th, HAT!, really clean single, pdb under to 4th, HAT!, really clean single en dedans…

You guys, the hilarious thing is that IT ACTUALLY WORKED. 

I imagined a big, giant, frilly, yellow wide-brimmed ladies’ hat (Why yellow? Who knows?), and of a sudden my arms were like, “Cool, we’ve got this!”

Visualization is a powerful tool … and apparently in my case, the more ridiculous, the better. 

Wednesday Class: Add X

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you do algebra, even though I love algebra.

I’m talking about a different kind of “adding X.” Specifically, adding X-rolls—the modern dance kind—to improve your ballet.

Today, BG substituted for Killer B because it’s Spring Break. The unofficial topic-of-the-day was using contralateral diagonal connections to drive movement in ballet: like, thinking of your tendu front on the right beginning, more or less, from your left shoulder.

If you’re familiar with X-rolls in modern dance, this will feel very familiar.

If you’re not, here’s a nice little introduction:

Really, contralateral connectivity should feel familiar to everyone in ballet, since it’s basically just a different way of explaining ballet technique … but since nobody ever said to to me in quite that way before, I never made the (AHEM) connection, so I never really thought about it before.

X-rolls and their relatives are great for learning to feel connections between, say, the right toes and the left fingertips via the core and limbs.

When I thought about it that way at center, my tendus and turns suddenly looked lovely: present (if that makes sense), intentional, and clean. Also, my arms were far less inclined to be lazy and/or stupid.

The difference was subtle: my tendus don’t normally look bad. They just looked better. More alive. My turns, meanwhile, are usually a mixed bag: sometimes they’re beautiful; sometimes they’re just giant whirling handbaskets of WTF. Thinking about this kind of diagonal engagement made them reliably look (and feel) nice.

I’m going to have to keep working on this. I suspect that it is, for me, one of those “version update” things: an element that will move my technique from Ballet 2.0 to Ballet 3.0, or whatever I’m on now (honestly, I really wish I’d thought of this metaphor right at the start, so I could use it more effectively >.<).

I’ll also have to bring this with me to BW’s class next week (we don’t have class this week because of Spring Break).

Last week, he analyzed my turns via an exercise that went: tendu, fourth, plié, double from fourth, finish to lunge in fourth, rélèvéplié, double from fourth, finish to lunge in fourth, rélèvéplié, double from fourth, finish to lunge in fourth, rélèvéplié, and so on and so fourth forth and sorted some of the other stupid things I do when doing turns from fourth.

Stupid things like finishing in a freaking enormous lunge(1), then not bothering to pull it in a little before launching the next turn, so I’m basically forcing myself to either jump into my turn or, like, climb into my turn.

  1. My fourth likes to be a borderline lunge all the time, if it can get away with it. I have heard the phrase, “Maybe a slightly smaller fourth,” sooooooo many times…

The purpose of the rélèvé was, of course, to force me to pull myself back in. A couple of times, I just did this crazy lunge-en-rélèvé instead. What even is that?

I’m afraid that this is really why my demi-pointe is crazy strong(2). I am constantly doing insane things with it. If I stop doing them, I hope my feet won’t be like, “Oh, cool, we can relax now.”

  1. Okay, not really. What makes my demi-pointe strong is a combination of mobility and, like, actual strength. My ankles and feet are incredibly mobile, which makes it possible to get up into a super-high demi-point. The downside, of course, is that I never, ever, ever get away with half-assing my demi-point(3), even when everyone else in class does.
  2. This also goes for just straight up pointing my toes. Amongst the many reverse-printed t-shirts I need to make, there is definitely going to be one that just says TOES! I can’t get away with half-assing that, either. My point is fierce, and every single one of my teachers knows that and corrects accordingly. There are days that counts for Thursday class basically go, “And one and TOES and three and TOES and five and TOES…”(4)
  3. Come to think of it, I am officially setting a goal for myself: get through one entire class without half-assing my toe-point so BW does not develop nightmares about desperately shouting “TOES!” into a cold and uncaring universe.

This week, then, is all about the x-connection, overhead pull-downs to get the lats back in order (because my right shoulder has been all creepin’ on my ear when working left at barre lately), keeping the sternum up and the transversus abdominis engaged, and … hell, I don’t even know. That’s enough to worry about for one week.

I realized today that some of the things I’ve been working on with BW are quickly becoming habits. I think that’s the upside of doing class several times per week. I don’t have time to forget the important corrections from the previous class, and each class involves practicing them countless times.

That means—whether for better or for worse—that habits build quickly.

So there we go. For better ballet, add X.

Roll The Tape

I am having a terrible time focusing on Things That Aren’t Ballet today, so I’m taking a few minutes to write (what I hope is) a quick post about video.

Historically, I’ve only very rarely managed to snag video of myself dancing. The rehearsals for our upcoming performance have dramatically changed that, and they’ve made me think that it really wouldn’t kill me to spend a few bucks on a GoPro or something similar, because video is actually a really stellar learning tool for dancers.

Basically, video allows you to see what you habitually do wrong. If you, like many dancers, are naturally hypermobile and thus can’t always feel things accurately, seeing them can really help.

Watching all this video, I’ve noticed a couple of patterns of my own.

First, when I get tired, my arms just … ugh, I don’t even know what to say about them:

apollo-with-arm-problems

It’s worse than that. They’re dead, Jim.

This is from the beginning of the Balanchine Noodle Experiment. My arms are just … what. I don’t even know. Like a straight line, but a lazy straight line, with no presence(1).

  1. It could be worse, but “could be worse” isn’t really what we’re striving towards in ballet, am I right?

Presence is really rather immensely important to this moment; so much so that BG gave me a specific note about it when we were first learning this bit.

Meanwhile, my hands, in an effort to not be like:

DON QUIXOTE!

…have simply dripped off the ends of my wrists. Feh.

At least my shoulders are down?

The other thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve developed a habit of dancing swaybacked. I don’t really have a good screenshot of this, though you can kind of detect it in the shot above. Check out the front line of my body: it’s a perfect curve, like a segment of a circle, because I’m standing with my pelvis tilted too far forward.

I could probably get a decent screenshot if I was a more patient human being. I’m not.

Anyway. I actually know why I’m doing that—it’s an over-correction from a different problem, in addition to being an occupational hazard of being a hypermobile dancer.

Point is, I can’t feel it, so—just as with my wrists forever being like…

\_____O_____/*  

*proportionally speaking, my hands are not this big

…until I saw a picture and realized that they were doing that—being able to see it really helps.

When I consciously correct for the swayback thing, my turns are about 1,000,000 times better (which suggests that I’m using pretty small units of measurement to grade my turns, to be honest :P).

When I don’t, the middle of my body gets up over my leg(2), but the part from roughly the shoulder-blades (or, on really bad days, the navel) on up stays behind the axis.

  1. Every time I hear or write this phrase, the little earworm that lives in my auditory cortex goes, “GET UP OVER THAT LEG … AND TURN ‘TIL YA FEEL BETTER!” and then that plays on repeat for like an hour

Likewise, it sometimes causes a wiggly hip thing that I find completely revolting.

Anyway, regular work on my core should help correct for this, and I’ve rather committed myself to Pilates on Sunday afternoons (though one class per week probably won’t cut it, so I need to make myself do it at home, too).

The other nice thing about video is that it lets you see the things you’re actually doing well. The rep group is, as a whole, on top of the beautiful lines. I jump well (but, like, I kind of knew that?). When I nail an arabesque, I nail it.

flight

An itty-bitty upstage saute arabesque. Still a little swaybacked (and my shoulders have crept up a bit, which also happens when I’m tired), but the lines are decent.

So, basically, the whole point is that video is great for sorting out some of the details you never notice when you’re in class or in rehearsal because you’re too busy, you know, dancing.

I hope if the rest of the group should stumble upon my blog, they won’t mind that I’ve stuck a couple of screenshots up here. I’m guessing they probably won’t, since you can’t tell who anyone is, including me 😛

Tours De Farce

Modern was rather great today. I figured out how to do it without annoying my foot. I’ve discovered that the only thing that makes it hurt is putting even a little pressure directly on the outside of the joint, which happens with alarming frequency in modern dance. I simply faked my way through anything that involved that (safety releases, etc) and things went fine.

I’m still fairly terrible at remembering modern combinations, but that’s nothing new. It is slowly improving.

BW’s class tonight, meanwhile, was quite good once my body decided to wake up and participate. I think it was feeling sluggish because I’d just subjected it to a rehearsal followed by no stretching and a 20-minute drive. I suppose it was within its rights to feel grumpy about that.

Anyway, we did all the jumps today: so much petit allegro, followed by one grand allegro exercise.

One of the petit allegro exercises involved temps de cuisse, which I’ve been erroneously calling temps de puisse ever since I for some reason decided it was, in fact, power-step and not thigh-step. But I was right the first time, which is funny for the very specific reason that I initially thought it was really neat that the step was named after a piece of armor, then disappointed that it wasn’t … but I was wrong, and it really is named after the piece of armor!

…Which is pretty cool, though POWER STEP!!!!!111oneoneone1one1onewon is also a pretty cool name for anything in ballet.

Anyway, turns out temps de cuisse is supposed to be done upstage to effacé. Also turns out that when you do it that way rather than trying to do it en face, it’s a hell of a lot easier.

Temps-de-Cuisse-01

Temps-de-Cuisse-02

Oh, and remember that you “BOING!” upstage to efface, which I completely failed to indicate here because laziness.

The weirdest bit is that I remember looking this up, but maybe that happened in a very vivid dream, and I can file it away with BW’s choreographic advice about rotting fruit?

This is the most important thing I’ve ever learned about ballet, and in fact about dance in general: with few exceptions, things are largely easier when you do them correctly.

In fact, I would almost go so far as to say that this is pretty legit advice for life in general.

I don’t actually remember the rest of that combination at the moment, though I know involved entrechats, because I had done fugly entrechats in the second petit allegro exercise and was startled that they miraculously just plain worked in this one (probably because I was busy thinking about temps de cuisse instead).

Anyway, for grand allegro, BW gave me the choice of various species of jetés across the floor or tours. I said, “Tours, because I never get to do them in any other class,” which met with approval 🙂

Anyway, BW gave me a little combination that went something like:

tombé
pas de bou-chasséi(1)
plié fifth(2)
tour

  1. This is that kind of hybrid step in which you begin to pas de bourré, but instead of simply going back-side-front to fifth, you go back-side-front straight to fourth through a kind of flying chassé.
  2. In this case, you’re practically doing a petit assemblé that lands fifth. It spring-loads the legs. Oy vey, does it ever.

I tried this a couple of times and alarmed myself by doing 1.5 tours instead of proper singles … and then I ran the combination again, got off a nice single, and promptly fell the feck over. Like three times.

BW said he’d had the same experience, and once in fact left class in tears because he couldn’t stop falling over. He also pointed out that falling over means you’re trying really freaking hard. Which, in fact, was true.

I’ve had a bad habit of doing itty-bitty little cautious tours, which probably have their place somewhere in the great universe of ballet, but honestly aren’t very interesting. I’ve decided that I’m going to launch all my jumps into space all the time (okay, okay, exept when we’re doing petit allegro), in the interest of actually A) being an interesting dancer and B) making the best possible use these giant slabs of ham with which the Universe has for some reason seem fit to favor me instead of normal human legs.

Anyway, after falling over backwards a few times, I decided to switch sides, and except for the part where my brain insisted the first time on doing the right-side variation anyway, the left side came off without any falling over. I then tried the right again, almost fell over but caught myself, and realized that a part of the problem was simply that I was instinctively trying to avoid putting my right foot down.

You can do tours to a single foot if you’re doing actually doing tour-to-the-knee, but you have to do it on purpose(1). Otherwise, you half-ass things and fall right the heck over.

  1. Even then, you do it by bringing the front leg to passé after lift-off, which neatly shoots it out the back because Physics, and then you land in an awesome-looking  lungy-kneely thing so you can look all romantic and impressive and princely.

So now I know two different ways to fall over doing tours.

A. Forget to change your feet.

The first thing you do in a tour (well, after lift-off) is change your feet. If I remember correctly, not everyone does it this way, but it’s the standard, and the guys who change the feet last are stylistic mavericks. Anyway, I once tried doing a tour without changing my feet just to see what would happen. I managed to stay upright, but just barely; if I’d put any real force into it, I would’ve been flat on my tuchas in a heartbeat.

B. Change your feet, but then fail to actually put the one that started in front down all the way.

In a tour, your feet act as a kind of braking system. You load up a metric shed-ton of momentum, and changing your feet and sticking both of them on the ground allows you to oppose that momentum in a meaningful way so you don’t fall on your butt and roll, which seems like it might actually be a valid way to end a tour if you’re dancing a role in which that’s how you die, but probably should otherwise be avoided.

how-not-to-land

Artist’s depiction of how not to land tours. Any resemblance to Kokopelli experiencing wind turbulence is entirely coincidental.

Anyway, the falling-over-backwards bit was pretty hilarious, mainly because it was a complete surprise Every. Single. Time … at least until I figured out why I was doing it.

By then, it was just after 8 PM anyway, and we’d been working for more than 90 minutes, so we called it a night.

Sadly, I won’t have class with BW next week because of rehearsal, but he is coming to see us dance that Saturday.

This Saturday is our final fitting, and I finally get to find out what I’m wearing in the performance other than white socks and white shoes (SPOILER ALERT: YES, there is a shirt).

Tomorrow, we have Awesome Acro Workshops, followed by a weekend of madness and final costume fittings and a rehearsal on Monday.

Next week, I am taking Tuesday OFFFFFF.

On Technique: Frappe, Elevated

Fifth 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, in HD’s advanced class, we were given the option to do the frappé at the barre on flat or rélevé as we saw fit.

Since I’m trying to see my way back to being fit, I chose to do the whole combination on rélevé

Frappré en rélevé has been a bit of a white whale for me for a while. I tend to knock myself off my leg. Today, HD fixed that for me.

The source of the problem it seems, is that en rélevé, I tend to snap! my leg out from the knee.

Not only is this bad for your knees, but it has a way of making your turnout muscles say, “Aw, hell naw!” and let go. Hence, the knocking-one’s-self-off-of-one’s-leg part.

HD caught this and told me to squeeze the working leg out, as if against the resistance of a Theraband (or, in my mind, a giant vat of chocolate pudding … I went to class without breakfast this morning).

On the second side, I tried it, et voilà! 

Much better frappés en rélevé.

So that’s today’s snack-size serving of technical notes: yes, frappé should be quick and sharp, but it’s still a squeeze and not a snap!

That’s it for today. Problems to solve in the world, etc. (Dancer problems, but still…)

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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