This gallery contains 3 photos.
Evil Swans. Double Stags. Rowdy Drunks? Oh, wait, no–it’s just Acro 2!
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 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.
Sometimes, in the process of navigating your life, you look up and realize you’ve passed a bunch of waypoints without even really noticing.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: I realized that I needed to update my dance resumé, which pretty much made me laugh out loud, because I’ve come a really long way in less than one year, and I totally failed to notice.
In short: this year, my life has suddenly taken off.
Or … well. It feels sudden, but when I think about it, it really isn’t.
(moar behind the cut; it’s long)
The Time of the Allergies(1) is upon us again, and D had a coughing fit at 6 AM that woke me up.
Since then, I’ve actually managed to put dishes away, wash last night’s remaining dishes, put those away, make waffles (because either someone in the neighborhood was making them or I was totally hallucinating the scent of waffles, and I just couldn’t stand it anymore), eat a waffle, feed D a waffle, clean up after the waffles, and run a couple of loads of laundry.
I also failed at making tea, however: boiled the water, then forgot to actually make the tea for two hours, so had to start over. Anyway, I have tea now.
Fortunately, D picked up some allergy meds for me, so I’m breathing through my nose pretty decently at the moment. #smallvictories
Anyway, ballet-wise, I feel pretty on top of my choreography, including the Partner All The Girls! bits (actually, those are the easy bits; I really basically just stand there, look pretty, and put my hands where they need to be). However, we still have the last 23 seconds to learn, so I’m going to rehearsal tomorrow instead of going to see Wendy Whelan’s “Some of a Thousand Words.”
Funny thing is that it really wasn’t a question (because apparently my #priorities are properly aligned, or something). If we’d finished the dance last night, I might have gone to the performance instead, but I really actually want to go to rehearsal.
Fortunately, D isn’t offended that I’m opting out on my birthday present, and in fact agrees with me that going to rehearsal is the right choice. He is going to give our tickets to someone who wants to go and doesn’t have tix, which is a nice thing as well. So instead of seeing Whelan’s show for my birthday, I get the pleasure of giving someone else the chance and still getting to go to rehearsal 😀
In other news, I still have no idea what I’m wearing in the show, besides white socks and white shoes. I keep forgetting to ask, and people keep asking me, and I keep having to say, “Um, actually, I have no idea.”
BG described the tights I’ll be wearing as “awesome,” so of course I’m picturing something like this:
…But I suspect that reality will be somewhat less ornate, since all the girls are wearing pastel leos and white romantic tutus, and not so much with the bling.
In other news, today is perfect soup weather, but I forgot to buy soup, so #firstworldproblems etc. I could make soup, though, if I get desperate.
Here’s what I wore last night, anyway:
I was use-testing the socks, which are new. BG and I agreed that we kind of liked the blue tights (which are brighter in real life) with the socks, but also that they would clash with the rest of the performance.
The shirt, OTOH, is just the same shirt I wear every damn day.
Today was the third straight day that I woke up at 7, did a few things, decided to read for a few, and promptly zonked out for two hours. Considering that I can usually only nap if I’ve been awake for two days straight that’s bizarre enough.
However, today’s nap featured a dream in which BG offered the following advice for creating dances:
I wish I could remember more of it.
It was all so sincere! BG in the dream was totally offering this in the vein of choreographic mentorship, as if these were basic questions central to the art of choreography that any budding choreographer might encounter.
…And yet, at the same time, it was all so bizarre(1).
All of this suggests that my unconscious mind is, at present, deeply concerned with matters of choreography and cleanliness (which, yes, but I didn’t need weird choreographic cleaning advice from a dream to figure that out).
So, in short, remember:
Never leave rotting fruit on top of the piano unless you’re using it as part of the choreography. And even then, only bananas.
(In case you’re wondering, though, my cat sounds like he’s full of doves, not bees, so I assume he’s potentially less explosive.)
When I was fourteen, I read Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story for the first time. His potent image of all later loves as an elaboration on the theme of the first love; a “crab canon,” stuck with me—not so much because I agreed with it (I knew enough to know that I didn’t know anything about it), but because the language was so powerfully evocative.
Anyway, I still don’t know if I agree with White’s narrator about the nature of first love (honestly, it’s been a while since I last read A Boy’s Own Story; I’m due for a re-read). I can, however, say that it’s a pretty good description of ballet.
BW and I talked about this last night (while I walked in circles with my hands on my head, attempting to catch my breath, after the second round of the second petit allegro). As dancers, everything we do do is essentially an elaboration on one of a handful of basic themes.
I look at my ballet notes from a year ago, and sometimes they literally say exactly the same thing I wrote down the day before yesterday. The literal content doesn’t necessarily change much, but the meaning changes immensely.
Something you’ve been working on for a year can feel like a revelation when your brain suddenly fires up a proliferation of shiny, new synapses in just the right pattern. So you write it down—lift and rotate from under the hip—only to realize later that you had already written it down a million classes ago.
But back then, it didn’t bear the same freight. You hadn’t yet learned to feel the individual muscles of your deep rotators. You didn’t yet know how to isolate and activate your adductors to the same extent you can now. Rond de jambe en l’air meant, simultaneously, exactly what it means now and something completely different.
Which is to say that the goal never changes. The goal, always, is the perfect execution of technique; mastery coupled with musicality, with expression.
The image in your head remains the same, but your sense of how to achieve it evolves.
What was conscious a year ago is automatic now, 15o or so classes (and countless repetitions) down the line. What is conscious today, presumably, will be automatic a year (200 classes or more, because you take class more often now) from now.
I find myself returning to the idea that the bodies of dancers are supremely educated bodies: just as years of (good) academic schooling hones our abilities to analyze and reason and helps us learn to activate the fibers of our minds in powerful and subtle ways, years in the studio help us find muscles most people never notice and use them to create beauty.
Dancer’s bodies (and minds) become fluent in movement the way the minds of mathematicians are fluent in math. Just like mathematicians, we achieve our fluency through repetition; through exercises that awaken capacities latent within us until, suddenly, we achieve new understanding.
So we continue: nearly three years (and G-d alone knows how many tendus and pliés and ronds des jambes) into this adventure in rediscovery, I continue to discover anew the things that I thought I already understood.
This might be the most powerful ballet lesson of all: we never achieve perfection. The goalposts will always recede.
No matter how much we have learned, there’s still learning to be done. Ballet forces us to be honest and keeps us humble (well, sort of). When I’m 80, and I’ve done more tendus than there are particles of dust in the desert of the Great Basin, I still won’t know everything. I still won’t be perfect.
That’s a powerful thought for someone who is, by nature, a bit of an overconfident know-it-all and a relentless perfectionist.
Lastly: right now, this body of mine is still gaining ground. Ballet tells me that. I am stronger and fitter and faster and more flexible than I was a year ago.
Someday that will change. Ballet forces us to acknowledge that reality, too, and either to evolve with it or run from it.
I’m a jumper. For me, the ability to simply get off the ground is a G-d-given gift (though also the reason it’s bleeding hard to find trousers that fit). Age can be hard on jumpers: a day will come for every one of us in which we begin to feel our power slipping away.
I hope that day is still far off for me—but also that when it comes I’ll accept the lesson that comes with it: that there are subtler arts that age invites us to master; that the power and brilliance of youth are not the only or even the greatest power and brilliance.
These, too, are variations on a theme: one has little choice in the matter of aging (in short: we can age or we can die), but one can choose how to execute the movement that is age.
I hope that when I’m older, instead of being consumed by mourning for the loss of this power, this particular gift of flight, I’ll be able to be glad that I had it once and content to explore other, subtler gifts.
Either way, my ballet notes will probably still read, “Lift and rotate from under the hip*.”
*Or, if I’m really honest, “Litt und ritoti frim uder tte hip”
Ballet, like opera, is wonderful because it is monstrous, the hyper-development of skills nobody needs, a twisting of human bodies and souls into impossible positions, the purchase of light with blood.
—Irina Dumitrescu | Longreads | February 2017
Yes, this: especially, “…the purchase of light with blood.”
You can read Dumitrescu’s entire piece about coming to ballet as an adult beginner here:
Swan, Late @ Longreads.
For what it’s worth, this is one of the things that appeals to me about dance and especially ballet: my body is strange, but in the studio is strangeness is an asset. Ballet takes all the elements of potential immanent in this body and makes from them something beautiful not in spite of, but because of, its strangeness.
PS: Modern went well today, even though I came into it sleep-deprived as all hell. Notes later, maybe.