Category Archives: fitness

Cue Predictable Spasm Of Self-Doubt

Every time I’m forced to take a break of more than a couple of weeks from class, the re-entry period is an exercise in grinding self-doubt.

First, taking a break almost inevitably involves gaining a couple of pounds–generally a sum that the average person would barely notice, but which is all too visible when you return to the studio and are constantly surrounded once again by people with less than 10% body fat.

I may be all about body positivity, but I’m not very good at applying it to myself. I’m also entirely aware that I have somehow stumbled into working in a field in which the folks who decide who gets hired and who doesn’t tend to lean strongly towards lean bodies. Toss in the fact that, given my build, a little more size in the thighs interferes with my fifth position, and you’ve got a recipe for Dancer Meltdown in 3 … 2 … 1…

Worse, it always takes a few weeks to re-awaken and rebuild the muscles responsible for correct execution of classical technique–and even as people who don’t dance continue to harp on about my “natural” grace, I wind up feeling like a half-grown stirk in a dressage ring until things start working together again.

This week has been all about finding my core, not dancing like a swaybacked wildebeest, and remembering how the hell to do turns[1].

  1. Though, bizarrely, whilst I was not dancing, my chaînés improved dramatically–regarding which, WTactualF?

Predictably, the resultant emotional fallout has been a constant stream of thoughts like WHY DID I THINK I WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO AUDITION FOR THINGS?! and I’LL NEVER BE READY!

Me on Thursday, via Wikipedia, link to follow.

So that’s where I am right now. Off to my last week of sandbagging in Saturday beginner class, which I hope will leave me feeling like I can actually dance, and then Jack O’Lantern Spectacular,in which I’ll attempt not to dance like a swaybacked wildebeest before a captive audience of so freaking many.

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Poco à Poco

Bit by bit, I’m regaining range-of-motion and resuming my “Activities of Daily Living,” as they’re known to PhysioBots® from the future and their human counterparts.

This includes collecting small objects at a street festival whilst everyone else takes down the aerial rig and going to parties, not to mention catching up on the six million loads of laundry that are waiting for me because I was wary of schlepping large loads at first.

Anyway, it’s been surprising to observe my own healing process. Each day, I’m able to move my arms a little farther without yoinking anything, even though I’ve specifically been avoiding moving them beyond a pretty restricted zone. I can now get them into a languid “Romantic 4th,” basically, without irritating anything.

Practically speaking, that means I still can’t reach anything higher than the surface of the second shelf in the cabinet where the dishes live unless I stand on something, but at this time last week I was barely making it to the first shelf, so that’s good progress.

Also, it means I can at least put the plates away, though the soup mugs and pasta bowls will just have to wait a bit longer.

~

This weekend, I also realized how very strictly I avoided actually standing up straight outside of the ballet studio prior to my surgery.

Like most guys with moobs, I used to wander around with my shoulders sort-of rounded in on themselves. It makes you look like defensive and also makes you shorter.

It’s really still very weird for me to realize that when I actually stand up straight, I’m pretty much average in terms of height. Heretofore I guess I’ve known that rationally, but in a practical sense I still thought of myself as a little of the small side.

For what it’s worth, both D and I have found the results of my surgery a little unexpected. He mentioned last night that I look less different to him than he thought I would in some ways; more so in others—mostly that for whatever reason my whole body looks leaner and narrower. He’s not alone, either—other people also keep asking me,”Did you lose weight?”

I can only assume it’s something about the way I’m carrying myself…? Because, in fact, I’ve gained a little weight, as inevitably I do when I have to sit on my butt for a while.

For me, it’s more nuanced. I can’t say that I really expected to perceive my build as kind of rangy and muscular, nor to actually like that about myself.

Anyway, it’s weird. You would think that having this sort of thing done would just result in feeling like, “Okay, cool—that’s just me without moobs.” Maybe that’s been how it does work for some people. For me, though, it’s made me realize that I only ever looked at parts of my body before: I thought I looked at the whole, but now I think I really didn’t. I can’t really otherwise explain how surprising my body is to me when I look at myself in the mirror now.

~

Anyway, I’m back to slowly catching up on the laundry and the cleaning. I’m also counting calories and opting for a low-carb approach to food until I’m clear to Resume All The Things. That seems to be helping to keep my blood sugar levels a bit more steady, as it generally does.

I might stick with it once I’m back in action, but I might not. I’ve made a pact with myself: I’m not going to get hung up on any specific approach to eating, period. My normal schedule burns a lot of calories and makes it quite difficult to eat enough, let alone to eat enough whilst also largely eschewing an entire nutrient category.

On the other hand, the inability to lazily wrap everything in a a tortilla does mean I’m eating even more veggies than usual, since cabbage rolls (and shredded cabbage in place of noodles) are basically the order of the day right now.

Speaking of which, I should go assemble some kind of … brunch, I guess, since it’s 11:30 and I still haven’t eaten anything.

Topless Boys Live*!

*For values of “live” meaning I was alive when I posted this 😛
No actual live footage implied or guaranteed 😉

…I mean, not that I’m back in Modern class yet. Modern is probably going to have to wait ’til the 6-week mark, since it usually involves getting into and out of the floor and using your arms and so forth.

It’s not like ballet, in which you can say, “I’m just gonna do the gentle stuff today, and I’m going to keep my arms in 2nd.”

But, anyway, I realized that I haven’t posted updated pix in a couple of days, so here:

wp-image--1080185012

Super Hipster Filtered Edition[1]

  1. Honestly, forget my chest, check out dat shoulder
wp-image-1548271711

Uncropped Smoldering Ocular Seduction Edition[2]

  1. D keeps giggling at me about acting like a 14-year-old. He may be on to something, but I maintain that I’m acting like a 16-year-old. 14-year-olds have nothing to flex. Like OMG EVRYBODY KNOWS THAT.

So, as you can see, things are healing up quite nicely.

As you can also see, I’m standing on top of the toilet, and I didn’t really bother to put anything away before I shot these. Which, in fact, maybe does imply that I’m acting like I’m 14, because NO IMPULSE CONTROL.

As you can also, also see, I have indeed been mostly sitting on my butt and eating for the past couple of weeks. And I was too lazy to take my shirt all the way off, but I kind of like it?

Anyway, peeled the tape off a bit today and noticed that my suture lines look quite good. The left one is really, really nice; there are spots where there’s no scar at all right now. I put the tape back after because I’m not taking it off ’til Wednesday, because that’s when my surgeon said it would be okay.

The right incision is a little redder, probably because I sleep on the right side of the bed so I wind up using my right hand to reach for stuff on the nightstand, which is problematic because the nightstand is roughly 6″ lower than the bed and beyond the range I can reach without extending my arm just above shoulder level while lying down (the first five nights I didn’t have that problem because we weren’t home yet; then for a couple I was really careful … now I’m kind of over that, since it doesn’t feel like I’m tugging or injuring anything).

Anyway, the lines on both sides are very crisp and clean; totally acceptable in terms of my long-term goals.

The little red spot inferior/lateral to my nipple (which is actually the left one, because I still haven’t remembered to un-mirror my phone’s camera and didn’t think to flip these before I uploaded them, feh) is a bug bite. Turns out that’s why I’m so itchy, at least on that side. On the other side it’s because I keep forgetting to snip off the loose end of the tape, so maybe I should do that now?

There, done.

Also turns out that when you wander around in a nice, airy tank top, the mosquitoes take advantage of those arm holes :/

I had really pretty much forgotten about that.

Also, in the Uncropped Smoldering Ocular Seduction Edition, my feet look like chimpanzee feet. From time to time, I’ll notice that happening, and occasionally it leads to a brief episode of cognitive dissonance in which a part of my brain goes, “MY FEET ARE HANDS: REPEAT MY FEET ARE HANDS OMG =:O”

OTOH, in part of my line of work (aerials, specifically) good toe separation is an asset. Of course, I make up for that by having weirdly tapered duck feet with a whole lot of sweep from second toe to least toe.

Guess you can’t have it all (my hands are sweepy, too).

In other news, today I took the Subaru to the tire shop to get its leaky tire fixed. It turns out that the tire was screwed—literally: as in, it had picked up a screw.

Anyway, they were able to fix it, so now the car is happy again and D is happy again and I was already happy, so…um. Everybody’s basically pretty happy.

Except the cat, probably, because his food bowl and my lap are too far apart, but he’ll just have to tug on his big-boy trousers and cope.

Lesson Learned

Tonight, BG posted a bit of video from one of last week’s classes to our community group on the Facebag. 

It’s a simple Sissone combination, the kind you do to build endurance:

Sissone fermé x3, sissone ouvert landing in 1st arabesque, pdb, changement X2, back and forth until you either drop dead or run out of music.    

Watching it was illustrative: at the beginning, I’m carrying my arms, my eyes are up, my jumps are high and elastic, and I return to an acceptable fifth. I can tell I’m a bit tired by the pacing of the jumps, but overall the effect is decent. 

By the end, I look like I’m flapping my arms in an effort to fly away, my face is frozen in a thousand-yard stare, and my working leg has given up on the whole concept of fifth position. 

Oops? 

So I guess the emphasis on endurance will continue. 

I’ve felt better the past few classes, though. It’ll come.           

The Illusion of Effortlessness is Just That: an Illusion

Apparently ballet-as-fitness is a thing right now, but some who’ve tried it find that it’s “slower-paced” and possibly not as demanding a workout as their fitness level requires. 

To them, I say, “Come try Killer Class, and if you live, we’ll talk it over.” 

So, here’s the thing: the ballet classes to which good ballet schools steer true beginners are, out of  necessity, introductory classes. 

And, under the right teachers, introductory classes aren’t designed as exercise classes(1).

  1. I’m not commenting on “fitness barre” here—I haven’t tried it. The closest I’ve come was a class at the Joffrey which was labeled “Keep-Fit Ballet” that turned out, in fact, to be essentially Killer Class crammed into one hour.

A good introductory ballet class is designed to teach you how to use your body in a way that is fundamentally different from anything you’re likely to have done with it thus far (unless you’ve had good instruction in ballet in the past).

It’s designed to incrementally strengthen and stretch muscles that likely haven’t been doing much for a while.

It’s designed to impart the basics of sound technique so that when you level up, you’ll be able to learn harder, faster-paced stuff without compromising your technique and injuring yourself.

As such, the pace will by necessity be slow. It’s hard to learn sound technique when your brain is actively on fire and your body is sounding its air-raid sirens.

If you’re pretty fit, you’ll probably make it through barre (or even an entire class) in Intro to Ballet without so much as breaking a sweat.

If you’re using good technique, you almost certainly won’t “feel the burn” in the muscles where you, as a person with fitness experience, expect to feel it(2).

  1. Pro tip: if your quads are on fire after a développé-heavy Adagio, you’re doing it wrong. If they’re on fire after a long fondu or little jumps, you’re probably okay as long as your deep rotators are also ready to rise up and last waste to their oppressors.

If you stick around long enough to nail down the basics and get green-lighted for Beginner and then Intermediate class, though, you’ll discover that ballet is not by any means all gentle repetition and slow stretchy stuff.

If you stick around long enough, you’ll discover that a good class at an intermediate or advanced level can leave a flotilla of professional ballet dancers—arguably the fittest humans going—drenched in sweat.

See, ballet is all about the illusion of effortlessness—and the only way to achieve that illusion is through sound technique harnessed by a body trained in a highly-specific way. You must do a million tendus because those tendus evolve into dégagés, which evolve into grand battements, which evolve into grand jetés. 

(So, basically, ballet is like Pokémon for the human body?) 

In short, some of the most crucial muscles in ballet are ones that the average fitness buff probably doesn’t even know about, and that even the most skilled athletes in other disciplines(3) rarely think about at all.

  1. Notable exceptions: really good huntseat and dressage riders use the deep rotators constantly, which is unsurprising given that a good basic “seat” is essentially a modified plié; figure skaters also use their deep rotators in a very ballet-like way at times. For cross-country skiing, the ol’ turnouts are good for herringbone climbs; downhill, they come in handy in for stem turns and when you eff things up and need to get yourself out of a bind, but not necessarily out of your bindings.

As such, the physical training part of ballet can feel very unlike other forms of exercise, especially when you first begin. The focus isn’t on Mad Gainz; it’s on itty-bitty incremental gainz. 

Likewise, the dancer’s long, lean physique isn’t achieved in one hour a week (as a matter of fact, the standard ballet class is 1.5 to 2 hours long by itself), or even in one hour a day. 

Professional ballet dancers look the the way they do because they spend five to eight hours (or more) each day dancing—taking class, learning choreography, rehearsing, learning more choreography—and they cross-train via conditioning classes, cardio, and good old-fashioned lifting. 

To give you an idea, with a heart-rate monitor keeping tabs, I burned nearly seven thousand calories on my most recent five-hours-of-class day. That’s counting class and everything else, not class alone, but still! 

Presumably, this is why I came back from my summer intensives rather spectacularly lean and ripped: I was putting in the equivalent of a century on the bike every single day. I could not physically eat as much as I was burning. I didn’t have time. 

Simply put, it’s really hard to shove 6,000+ calories into your face on a schedule that involves eight hours a day of dance. There just isn’t enough time in the day. As such, professional dancers tend to be lean—but do remember that ADs tend to select lean dancers, and that not all dancers are, in fact, Balachinian in proportion.

Likewise, dont forget that professional dancers largely also cross-train for cardio (though some companies and schools of thought still discourage it): six hours of class may turn you into a beast, but it is unlikely to prepare you for the two or four or six minutes of non-stop redlining you’re going to do on stage (seriously, this was one of the astounding things about LINES—long-ass demanding variations in which nobody died). 

Dancing a demanding variation is like making the insane choice(4) to big-ring sprint up a long, steep climb to catch the breakaway group. Only, like you can’t even decide halfway through the sprunt that it’s a terrible idea, pop it down a couple of gears, and let your buddies in the flailing group catch your wheel.

  1. I feel particularly qualified to make this comparison. Insane climbing sprints are kind of my thing on the bike. Albrecht’s variation is pretty much like sprinting up the categorizable climb nearest to my house, including the fact that there’s a little extra “gotcha!” sprunt right when you think you’re in the clear. 

You have to keep the hammer down and gogogo, or the whole audience and the whole company and the whole dance world will be like, “WTF?” (More importantly, you have to do this because you’re a dancer and, when you’re dancing, it doesn’t occur to you to do otherwise.)

So dancers cross-train for cardio (and strength!) in addition to all that fecking about(5) in tights. 

  1. “Feck” is a long-standing favorite quasi-curse of mine; more so now that I know its canonical meanings include “throw/toss”—which is often an appropriate description of what we’re doing in class, really (jeté also means” thrown/tossed!”). 

This doesn’t mean that the workload of ballet is too light to qualify as exercise—rather, it means that class occupies an unusual hinterland between body-weight strength training and high-intensity interval training. Bike racers who specialize in sprinting also cross-train for cardio: to a dancer, bouncing on a trampoline might be the equivalent of a bike sprint specialist(6) logging her base miles.

  1. Autocorrupt suggested “bike sprint socialist,” which is now totally the new name of my imaginary band.

Anyway, to sum this all up: if you’re pretty fit, it’s reasonably likely likely that an Introductory-level ballet class probably won’t “feel” like a workout. 

Don’t be too quick to dismiss ballet as “too easy,” though—that’s like deciding after jogging a 3k that marathons aren’t hard. 

Modern M….uesday

Modern class began at my primary studio today.

I think I might have mentioned that the instructor dances in Modern T’s company? Anyway, she does, and it turns out that I actually know her(1). We were like, “Oh! It’s you!”

  1. This is no longer surprising; the dance world is ridiculously tiny and intimate: it’s like 2.23 degrees of separation up in here. If that. It was extra-unsurprising this time, since I knew that the instructor was part of Moving Collective, but still neat.

Anyway, I was not just the Onliest Boy, but the Onliest Student—another Ambush Private Class! 😀

This was great for me, of course. We took it slowly today, and this and the student:teacher ratio of 1:1 gave LF a chance to really drill in and sort some of the details of my modern technique.

Like, for example, I have apparently never had the faintest idea how to release my neck. I never realized that. Sometimes it would happen on its own, and I would think, “Oh, modern feels good today!” without really understanding why.

Most of the time, though, my neck just didn’t release—and I didn’t know it wasn’t releasing. Then, in floor work, either my neck was always straining away, refusing to cooperate with the process, or I just shoved my head down onto (2) the floor rather than letting my neck melt.

  1. Note that I wrote onto and not into, here. To get into the floor, you really have to release. You have to feel gravity working on your body.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m your stereotypical flexible-but-very-tense Ballet Boy (another way in which I am, ridiculously and laughably, Central Casting Ballet Boy). I think this is one of the reasons that modern is so good for my ballet technique: it helps me relax and soften my upper body, which not only makes my dancing look better, but actually makes my dancing better.

Classical ballet technique—especially the Russian approach, perhaps—demands lightness and freedom in the upper body. In my experience, the funny thing is that once your upper body figures out “light and free” (while remaining engaged and disciplined), the lower body part actually gets easier.

like-a-duck

The essence of classical ballet technique, via Pintrest

The hard part for me, though, is keeping the upper body light and free, instead of tight and bound(3). This is where modern comes in.

  1. Okay, so really, keeping any part of my body light and free, instead of tight and bound, is hard for me. Remind me to get back into meditation practice…

Floor work doesn’t, well, work if you’re tight and bound. Release technique doesn’t work if you don’t know how to release. When I’m not doing modern class on a regular basis, I forget how to relax and release.

This is the second time in my life I’ve had a private modern class, if I remember correctly. I feel like it was exactly the right way to jump (or, more accurately, ooze :D) back into Modern. It helped me figure out where some of my weak points in modern are (not just the “can’t relax” thing, but also the thing where I’m afraid of falling over sideways).

We touched on quite a few other things, many of which fit neatly into the “move like a human” concept that Monika discusses over at The Dance Training Project.

So I feel like I learned a lot today, and also like my body is coming back online.

That’s a good feeling. As dancers, we live in our bodies so much, and when we feel separated from them, it’s really uncomfortable—or, well, that’s my experience.

My fitness is starting to return, which is great.

Anyway, LT is a fantastic teacher, and she comes up with really amazing analogies that do a fantastic job conveying concepts central to modern technique and, really, to just moving effectively as a human being (which we Central Casting Ballet Weirdos don’t always do very well). She also described my legs as a long and powerful, which never hurts 😀

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m really looking forward to Thursday’s class … and, of course, to Killer Class tomorrow!

Progress

Legs aren’t feeling too bad this morning, and I woke up feeling refreshed after 8 hours of pretty sound sleep.

Bonus: was sufficiently tired last night that falling asleep was not a problem.

New modern class today. I’m looking forward to it! 

&*@# Detraining

So there is a phenomenon that is called detraining.

It’s what happens when first you train your body—whether through the conscientious application of strength and aerobic workouts or as a byproduct of being the kind of wacko who spends all his time in ballet class—and then find yourself forced to sit on your duff for a while.

In case you’re wondering, the better part of 7 weeks (roughly a month of illness followed by about three weeks on break) will do ya just fine.

So, as of yesterday, my schedule is back in full swing now (well, except for the fact that we’re having a snow day today). Wednesday began with Killer Class (not as killerific as usual, but even a mild Killer Class is still pretty killtastic). Next came two hours of attempting to teach some pretty athletic choreography to some Dance Team kids, then a quick break to stuff a burrito in my face. I got to the aerials studio early, so I spent roughly 30 minutes of dancing because there was music and I couldn’t sit still. Then came Trapeze 3 (during which I admitted to myself and to everyone else that I am hella weak right now), chased with a nice shot of Acro 2 (during which I attempted to both base and fly everything).

Today, perhaps unsurprisingly, significant portions of my body feel rather like they might be full of the kind of fine grit one sees on sandpaper. I suppose I should be grateful that it hasn’t reached the “My Body Is A Bag of Ground Glass” point on the DOMS scale, though (also, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to, so hallelujah to that).

Anyway, this sucks (#FirstWorldProblems, I know), and I’m feeling whiny (because we dancers are super tough until we aren’t), so you get to read about it.

That said, it’s good to be back, so to speak.

~

In other news, Killer Class got a new boy. He’s quite good and actually very nice, so of course I immediately did not think to ask him if he, for example, has a name.

Now he is cursed to be New Boy forever, which could be problematic, because yesterday we automatically turned into Team Ballet Boys and if we continue to be Team Ballet Boys, we should probably know each-others’ names at least.

All told, I have few complaints about yesterday’s Killer Class. It wasn’t a great class for me, but the way in which it wasn’t great was very much the way one expects when one hasn’t been in class in ages and ages and ages. I felt weak, but it wasn’t like I had forgotten how to dance. I just wasn’t strong enough to do things as well as I usually do.

Turns went well, though. We used them both in our adage and, of couse, for terra-a-terre. My doubles not only have not abandoned me, but are much better now that I’m not A) flinging the baby or B) leaving my hips behind(1).

  1. My new rule for turns and partnering: during turns and lifts, I pretend that my torso is basically a block of wood from the bottom half of the ribs down; that way I don’t bend in places where I shouldn’t. It’s a mental visualization thing that keeps me from detaching at the navel(2).
  2. I mean, not literally detaching at the navel. That would be, erm, messy.

Now I just need to stop anticipating the spot. I’ve realized that one of my problems, turns-wise, is that I don’t leave my head behind until it needs to turn and then whip it around, I do this crazy thing where I’m somehow starting off that way, but then whipping my head around early so it’s actually ahead (no pun intended :{) of the rest of the turn. WTF, head?

Anyway, terre-a-terre was basically, “Turns, followed by turns, followed by even more turns.” (Though, in fact, it began with B+, step right, developpé avantdeveloppé avant. There was also a piqué arabesque in there somewhere.) So that was nice.

New Boy and I started out as two thirds of the first group, then ran back around to repeat the first side. No one followed us back around, so we wound up at the back of the line on the second side, and then the class sorted itself into Team Professionals (Dancers & Doctors), Team Tall Girls en Pointe, and Team Ballet Boys.

Also, I remembered both my Garmin Vivofit and my heart rate monitor strap yesterday. The hilarious outcome of this breakthrough in planning was that I noticed, to my great puzzlement, that my heart rate was significantly higher during adagio than during either terre-a-terre or jumps.

Then I realized that ultimately boiled down to one thing:

you guys, it really helps to breathe.

Break (Almost) Week; Reflections on Renversés and Choreography as a Process

Saturday, I spent four hours teaching, several more hours scraping paint, and two hours composing choreography before we went to a party that was actually very fun. Sunday, after acro and Acro Brunch, I spent an hour running choreography, then another hour teaching, and then untold æons (with, so really an hour and change, maybe two) standing on a ladder and painting the house while my hands froze in a chill wind in spite of my gloves(1).

  1. Note to self: wear winter cycling gloves next time. They’re wind-resistant.

As such, I opted to stay in this morning, do housework, and take evening class instead) even though I should really get back to doing Modern Mondays). 

The piece I was working on Saturday evening and a Sunday is essentially a 5-minute long comedic story ballet set to the 2nd movement (adagio cantabile) of Beethoven’s Pathétique. I programmed in a few renversés, and I realized while I worked the piece that not so long ago I wouldn’t have even thought of them. They just wouldn’t have occurred to me. 

BW and JP have really tuned up our renversés this semester, and as such they seem perfectly natural now. I put them in more or less by instinct where the music calls for them and the movement leads to them.

This is, in fact, true of a lot of movements in the classical vocabulary. Many things feel perfectly natural now that wouldn’t have a year ago. 

I think I’ve discussed my tendency to get get to the studio and instantly forget every step I’ve ever learned, then devolve upon programming a bunch of piqué turns and ronds-de-jambe (sometimes while thinking, “How do I get to the jumps?! Ack!”).  I also used to open every adagio piece with essentially the same sequence of développés and adagio turns that open Simon Crane.

Somewhere along the line, that seems to have changed.

This surprised me. Ballet is funny like that. It creeps up on you, and one day you discover that you are far more fluent in its language than you thought.

As a caveat, I must admit that I don’t know if it works this way for people who are genuinely new to dance. I think it might take a little longer in the situation, possibly. For me, the vocabulary was there but largely dormant; I could picture a dance, but when I tried to essentially run dance.exe to execute the dance, it was as if I couldn’t access the necessary files and code.

Taking class again for the better part of three years has apparently done a great deal of hard disk repair, kicking out the bad sectors and improving the connections between the good ones. The dynamic link libraries are once again accessible; the modules of code that create renversés  and cabrioles are no longer in the land of File Not Found (double cabs continue to elude me: goal one for 2017, I guess; double tours are probably goal two). 

When I go to create a piece that’s floating around in my head, I rarely lose the piece anymore. The vision and the finished dance usually match pretty well. I still mostly work phrase by phrase — visualizing, iterating, visualizing, iterating, then moving to the next phrase when the current one one seems solid, then eventually stringing them together into parts and finally stringing the parts together into a dance — but that may simply be my work style.

It also really helps to be able to remember the names of things. Makes writing them down much easier. The downside, though, is that I can now stay up till 1:30 AM listening to music and writing out choreography, knowing that in the morning it will still make sense. Or maybe that’s another upside, because it’s not like choreography didn’t keep me awake before. It just rarely turned out to be particularly intelligible in the cold light of day(2).

  1. Seriously, while working with BB, I have actually said things like: Why did I just write “effacé” there?! Éffacé what?! How? What does that mean? …Did I even mean éffacé? … Wait, I don’t think I meant éffacé.

So I’m pleased to say that this current piece, which I’ll be performing on 9th December if I can convince a couple of people to join me (there’s a second, far less technical dancing part and one brief non-dancing part), is not just a sequence of RDJs and random turns (it has arabesques, penchés, faillis, renversés, double turns, sautés arabesques, tours lent, and some other stuff, not to mention a grand allegro chase scene in the middle). Progress!

In other news, this week will largely be a break week, which means I’ll have time to catch up on household minutiae and start rehearsing “Work Song,” possibly, if everyone is available. After tonight, both dance team and ballet are off until next week. This will be a good week for reconditioning. You guys, I am weak. Between vacation and being sick, I have lost a lot of strength and stamina. 

So it’s back to eating for performance (with, of course, occasional digressions into the realm of pure pleasure) and training for … Erm,  also for performance.

And housework, because adulting never ends. 
Edit: PS – Señor BeastMode would probably like me to remind you that:

Renversé is not a turn.

Friday Class: Moar Bolshoi; Less Balanchine

This morning’s class resulted in a deeply satisfying ballet conversation.

I received a specific note on my grand jeté — it basically went, “Everyone else: try for more up. Asher — you’ve got plenty of up, but there’s a little hitch at the top. Try to travel more.”

As is my habit, I summed this up — out loud, of course, because I’m a kinaesthetic learner, so the doing part of saying something helps — in an aphorism I’d be likely to remember:

Oh! More Bolshoi; less Balanchine. I keep putting too much Balanchine* into it.

One of my classmates, who teaches in Georgetown and makes quite a long trek several times a week, happened to be standing next to me and heard me and said, “Well, you’ve got the Bolshoi body.”

And my insides went:

happy-seal

Shamelessly ganked from memegenerator.net, of course.

Fortunately, my brain was working and I had the good grace to say, “Oh, thank you! I’ve been working on it!”

She then commented specifically on my “powerhouse” legs, and I said, “Yeah, I always felt weird about them until I saw a picture of Nijinksy, and then I was like, ‘Oh, well … okay.'”

Her reply? “And Nureyev!” (followed by some more specific details that were lost in the haze of being compared to Nureyev, because seriously, how often does that happen in the life of any danseur ignoble?).

And my insides went:

o-HAPPY-DOG-DAY-OF-HAPPINESS-facebook

Shamelessly stolen from the internet at large.

And then, apparently because I was in a good mood, I did the grand jetés beautifully on the repeat, and proceeded to do beautiful pas des chats Italiens (if you’re wondering what these look like, here’s a good video; maybe I should get Denis to record mine) and very serviceable grand assemblés en tournant after class, apparently just because I could?

This all came on the heels of a class that started out as a disaster (I just could. not. fall asleep last night, and then when I finally did [at 4 freaking 30 AM] I had this cinematically intense dream about being part of a resistance force attempting to throw off the shackles of a seriously oppressive, repressive totalitarian regime … basically, like the Death Eaters meet Sauron meet the Empire). Everything was going badly because I was feeling bad; accordingly, I felt worse and did worse.

Then, in the middle of barre, we all cracked up about something, and I realized that it wasn’t just me — we were all a mess; none of us could count or tendu or remember a combination to save our lives (even the phenomenal Ms. J was having trouble remembering her own combinations!).

Suddenly, the mood of the whole class lifted, and then we all did better, which basically says everything about how powerful our minds are.

By the time we got to rond-de-jambes, I actually garnered a “good!” (which is saying something, Ms. J is probably the single pickiest instructor on staff — which is, of course, why we love her. Also because she is really good at sorting out things like heads: apparently, today, I more rolling my eyes towards my hand than turning my head, heh).

I have done better adagio, better turns, and better terre-a-terre than I did today (and my petit allegro was summarily terrible), but it was still pretty good, and I managed to remember that ballet is all about moving the goal post — a year ago, I would’ve sacrificed a black goat at midnight to be able to do terre-a-terre like I did today. And I definitely wouldn’t have had beats — even lame ones — on just under four hours of sleep.

As far as I’m concerned, any day that includes good grand allegro, really good pas de chats Italiens, serviceable grand assemblés en tournant, and being compared to Nureyev (if only for my enormous thighs :P) is a damned fine day. I’ll take it.

This is probably something worth commenting on in the vein of body positivity.

I still struggle with my own body image sometimes. Not as much as I used to (which is to say: the struggle is no longer constant), but there’s a part of my brain that really believes that my body should basically be one of David Hallberg-ian dimensions.

Being compared to Nureyev cast things in a different light.

I still, somehow, think of my body as a big, square block. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a big, square block — I actually happen to find the big, square block body type very attractive.

It’s just that my brain is weird and experiences this tension between two parts of itself: one part that’s still going, “WTF, we cannot stop being an ectomorphic stick figure, that does not compute!” and another part that’s going, “Yeah, but we’re a big square block, have you looked in the mirror lately?”

And then I see pictures like the ones from last night and realize that both those parts are cray, and then someone compares me to Nureyev and I think, “Huh. It would be totally cool to reach a point at which I’d be okay with being built like Nureyev; in fact, it would be crazy not to be okay with that.”

Likewise, part of me has historically been kind of weirded out by the fact that my upper body is really pretty far out on the ectomorph end of the scale, while my lower body is squarely, solidly (heh, see what I did there … o_o) in mesomorph territory. I could skip leg day for months on end and my legs would still be huge. It’s genetic; I got ’em from my Mom.

But Nureyev was built like that, too: slender above the navel, leonine below, all of it graceful.

I get that the weirdness in my brain that led me to starve myself when I was already below 120 pounds (even when I was 14 and weighed 84 pounds at 5’4″) might never figure this out.

But I’m learning to let the other parts of my brain speak.

The parts that think Nureyev was beautiful, and would be totally okay with that kind of build.

The parts that understand that my greatest asset as a dancer — the ability to leap like a gazelle with a cheetah on its tail — owes in no small part to the unusual combination of sylph-like upper half with heroic lower half.

The parts that understand that it’s these legs that can garner enough air to make a plain pas de chat look like it hangs suspended for seconds at a time (even though that’s totally not what’s actually happening); that it’s these legs that let me do pas de chats Italiens like they’re no big deal (regarding which: they’re apparently kinda hard?).

I say all this not to brag, but to try to convince myself: maybe this body is, in fact, kind of awesome in its own way. Maybe I can learn to feel that.

Now I’m going to eat some food and consider attempting to nap before maybe dragging my husband out to watch a movie about animated fish.

*If you’re wondering about this analogy: Balanchine’s style is characterized by a really strong emphasis on the vertical, while the Bolshoi’s dancers tend to be more fluid, lyrical, and lateral. Not that the guys at the Bolshoi don’t launch themselves into space during big leaps; they totally do — there’s just more traveling going on at any given time than would be typical in Balanchine.

Because of this, I try to channel the New York City Ballet for turns; the Bolshoi/Mariinsky/Vaganova universe for leaps. For jumps like pas de chat, I just try to channel Ben, who is my favorite of LBS’ male dancers.

As for Sissones … for some reason, my Sissones are so bad right now. I don’t have time to channel anyone; I’m too busy trying not to die.

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