Category Archives: uggghhh…technique

Technical Notes: Cambré Derrière

Yesterday, I posted this picture of my “Itty Bitty[1] Cambré Committee” cambré derrière:

img_20171009_193603-1476583910.jpg

Now with 110% more Hair Floop

I shot it in our bathroom, and I wasn’t exactly attempting excellent technique[2], but I figured I’d go ahead and make an example of myself anyway.

  1. My usual cambré derrière is pretty deep—like, shoulderblades-parallel-to-floor deep, basically. This is, more techically, a really bad high release. My modern teacher would poke me in the ribs.
  2. To wit: it’s surprisingly hard, actually, to hold the mobi in one hand and execute  cambré derrière with the other arm en bas, or wherever the hell my arm actually was (maybe I left it in the other room?). I should at least have gone for what BG calls the “Margot Fonteyn,” with the free arm in a nice, languid romantic fourth.

You can’t see much of my back, here, but I can tell you based on the fact that my ribs aren’t locked down that I’m doin’ it rong.

rainbowdash-doin-it-wrong

Listen to Rainbow Dash. She knows what she’s talking about. (PS: I am now going to use this as a featured image for the rest of my Technical Notes series :D)

That said, I’m not going to focus on my back (in no small part because so little of it is visible): instead, I’m going to focus on One Weird Trick… erm, I mean, one key point about cambré back that I’m demonstrating all the way wrong, here, and that’s this:

Avoid The Dreaded Noodle Neck =:O

When you first start learning cambré back (formally: cambré derrière), your teacher will almost certainly tell you to bring your working arm to fifty-third … I mean third … I mean fifth … ah, feck it, en haut and to turn your face towards its elbow before you begin to bend your back.

This is not solely because it looks cool, though it does. In fact, turning the head towards the working arm serves a practical purpose—it’s mostly a preventive measure.

What, then, does it prevent?

Glad you asked. What it prevents, my gentle reader, is the dreaded Noodle Neck.

cambre-back-wrong-annotated

Just Can’t Even

“Noodle neck” may or may not be a technical term I laboriously translated from the Russian (шея лапшой … okay, okay, so I just ran “noodle” and “neck” through Google Translate and swapped the order because Assumptions About Grammar). Regardless, it’s a kind of “indicator species” fault that suggests a whole litany of problems further down the chain.

Simply put, it refers to the habit of letting one’s neck arch (or “crunch”) when performing the cambré back.

As you can now easily see thanks to my use of Ultra-Modern Technology[3], in the photograph above, my neck is definitely arched (Even though my head is turned! I’m talented, y’all.).

  1. AKA MSPain(t)

Instead of continuing to pull up through the crown of my head, I’m flopping languidly about like the heroine of some outdated romance novel, presumably waiting for the nobell laird to decide he’s had enough of murdering the MacAuleys and come ravage me instead. Or, um. Something like that.

Not to say languidity doesn’t have a place in the art of ballet. It totally does. If you’re not sure, the next time the Bolshoi does La Dame aux Camélias in its HD broadcast series, you should really go see it. The Bolshoi really knows how to get its languid on, and there’s a lot of opportunity for “languiding” (as a friend of mine from CirqueLouis calls it) in that particular ballet.

However! In cambré derrière, one must languid judiciously. It’s poor form to let the head dangle, and besides, it usually means you’re not really engaged all the way down (QV my embarassingly-splayed ribs).

Noodle Neck is also often a sign that one is attempting to initiate or artificially deepen one’s cambré by crunching the neck rather than lifting up through the full range of motion—which, in my experience, usually results from not actually knowing how to execute cambré derrière in the first place.

If you’re wondering what cambré derrière should actually look like, here:

cambre-back

Via Google; source sadly unidentified. Also, I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not the only one who makes that exact face during cambré derrière at the barre.

There may be some small measure of Noodle Neck happening, there, but overall it’s quite a good cambré derrière.

You’ll notice that our intrepid danseur‘s ribs aren’t sticking out like jocks at a fandom convention, and that you can draw a smooth arc from his hip through the top of his head with no precipitous drop-off near the top. There is no “crunching” at any point along the way—speaking of which, a “crunch” most often shows up in the lower back or the neck (or, distressingly, both at the same time). I, on the other hand, like to crunch at the point right where the ribs end, because I’m special.

Both BG and BW would, of course, yell at notre danseur mystérieux for letting his hips drift forward of his feet—but it’s better, in cambrés as a whole, to drift forward than backward.

Ultimately, although turning the head to look at the elbow is a useful shortcut when one is beginning to learn cambré derrière, only technique will prevent Noodle Neck.

What, then, is the technique in question?

Simple (HA! note that I did NOT say “easy”):

  • Lift
    THEN
  • Arc

You should not, at any point, cease to lift through the very tippity-top of your head (or, if you will, your “cheetah eyes“). Sure, if you’re flexible, you can do a full-on back bend just by flopping over backwards—but a floppy backbend is a recipe for injury in the long run. It also isn’t ballet.

“Lift,” by the way, is really shorthand for “Engage All The Things!”

Cambré derrière looks like it happens from the top of the head, but the engagement involved runs all the way down to the floor.

The action of lifting comes primarily from the muscles of the core. (Sadly, though mine continue to try, the eyebrows have little to do with it.) There is not, in fact, an invisible hook in the top of your head; rather, you’re technically pushing up rather than pulling up. It just looks and feels like pulling up. As such, I find it helpful to think in terms of lifting rather than pulling.

LWF describes the action of high-releases and cambrés derrières in terms of roller-coaster cars on a climb: the are lifted smoothly, each car drawing the next in its wake. All the cars remain connected, and they move together smoothly up the track.

You definitely do not want the lead car (that is, your head) to fall off the track. That’s a good way to get sued.

How, exactly, you wrangle all of this mentally in order to achieve the right process may vary—but I’ll be happy to blether on about the mental image that works for me (the one that I patently did not execute in the picture above):

  • Lift through the top of the skull whilst sending the weight down through the heels (or, if on demi-pointe, through the appropriate metatarsals and toes)
  • Lift the sternum (without letting the shoulders creep up)[4]
  • Keep lifting THROUGH THE CORE until there is nowhere to go but back
  1. Convincing the sternum to act independently of the shoulders is one of the most difficult challenges for many new dancers. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out an effective way to explain in words exactly how to achieve this feat of human dexterity.

Because the human body is shaped the way it is, if you try to lift UP as you send your weight down, you will eventually be forced to bend your back through a smooth curve.

It’s that or tear yourself into two pieces, which never actually happens in ballet classes. Or, well … hardly ever.

So, in review, here are some things to know about cambré derrière:

  • Connect from the top of the head right down to the flooor
  • Send the weight DOWN
  • Lift the spine UP starting from the top of the head (NOT the back of the head)
  • Allow the body to carry itself over an imaginary roller-coaster climb
  • If you notice a point where you’re “crunched” in your spine, it usually reflects a point at which you’re disengaged in your core

One last note: a really deep cambré derrière demands both flexibility and strength. If you’re bendy by nature, but not particularly strong, do not be surprised if your cambré derrière is quite shallow at first.

This doesn’t mean you’ve lost your flexibility; just that you have a good teacher who allows you to take your cambré derrière only as far as you can support it correctly.

Don’t despair. Depth will come with time, as you develop the strength to support your inborn suppleness.

If, on the other hand, you’re strong but stiff, you will probably develop greater flexibility over time, but you probably won’t be surprised if your initial cambré derrière is nothing to write home about.

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Chaines: Bring The Party (Side)

At Suspend, where I train in aerials, there’s a cute shorthand for differentiating one’s dominant side from one’s non-dominant side: we call the dominant (usually right) side the “business side” and the non-dominant (usually left) side the “party side.”

This means that if, for example, you start an exercise on your dominant side, when your instructor says, “…And, now let’s do the party side!” you’ll know what to do regardless of which side is which for you (or, if you’re a giant mess of cross-dominant feels like me, you’ll just do whichever one you didn’t already do).

I mention all this largely to apologize for the fact that I’m about to lamely use the same terminology to mean “something completely different,” as it were, all apologies to Cirque Volant du Monty Python.

and-now-for-something-completely-different-1

Shamelessly stolen via Teh G00gs.

Anyway, as you all know by now, I have what one might call a chequered past with regard to chaîné turns. I have been known to refer to them as “hell turns,” “devil turns,” and “Can’t we just leave that part out?”

In short, I used to hate chaîné turns avec le feu de mille soleils(1).

  1. That’s “with the fire of a thousand suns,” for those playing along in only one language, or at any rate in a pastiche of languages that doesn’t include French.

Then I learned, or possibly re-learned, to approach them from tombé and began to make peace with them (the fact that BW makes me do roughly a billion chaînés every class probably doesn’t hurt, either: that’s what happens when you have 90 minutes and only one student).

I’ve spent the last several months tweaking things: bringing the chest forward, doing away with the swayback bit, actually spotting at the same rate I’m turning, etc. All of this has greatly improved my relationship with the much-hated chaîné.

On this past Friday, BG added a really sound correction (given to the entire class) to the mix—one very similar, in fact, to that which Killer B gave me on my grand assemblé en tournant. BG said, in essence,

Don’t let the second side trail behind. Snap it around. Think about actively bringing the opposite shoulder and hip around.

It turns out that this helps immensely—but, as with almost everything in ballet, it requires that you’ve first laid down the groundwork.

In this case, the groundwork is cross-lateral activation. If you’ve got decent pirouettes and piqué turns, chances are good that you have the groundwork in place.

It just so happens, though, that we tend to forget to use it when doing chaînés, probably because we’re too busy grumbling to ourselves about how horrible they are.

Anyway, when you consciously think about bringing the trailing shoulder and hip along with you, which you do by activating the muscles that connect diagonally across your body, not only do you prevent the annoying swayback effect, but you also get faster turns with less effort.

So, really, while the term “chaîné” refers to the fact that you’re chaining together a series of turns, you can also think about it as if you’re chaining the trailing side of your body to the leading side, or perhaps better, activating the chains of muscles that connect across your body, as you turn.

I was actually quite surprised at how immediate and clear a difference this made for me: it got me a “Good, Asher!” from BG, which is always welcome (and, for once, did not immediately cause me to forget how to walk, let alone dance).

So, basically, if you think of your business side as the side that’s leading, make sure you intentionally bring the party side along with it: because all business and no party makes Jack terrible at chaînés. Or something like that.

One more semi-pro tip: I find it helpful to imagine that something is pushing my trailing side around from behind. For whatever reason, this helps me keep shoulders and hips (and, presumably, body and soul) together.

So, there you have it. My current bit of helpful advice for chaînés, which (as it turns out) are not beyond help after all.

I may not be quite as ridiculously fast at them as Rudolf Nureyev was, but dangit, I’m improving. So there.

~

PS: I am likely to be more or less incognito for a week or so. I have a Big Thing Happening, and I’m keeping my hecking mouth shut about it until it’s done, and might just kind of keep my big hecking mouth shut period for a bit and take a break from the written variety of Social Meteors.

This Mammoth Moment

Class was decent today.

My allergies were, as they have been, off the chain—but that’s par for the course, and no small part of the reason that I bother working on my cardio. The more fit my cardiovascular system is, the less it hates me when I can barely inhale because my nose and the back of my throat are full of goop but I dance anyway.

It wasn’t flat-out the best class I’ve had recently (that was Sunday, I think), but I still feel like every single day I make progress, which is something. Even last Thursday, when my allergies were so bad I thought my head would explode and I had to beg off of grand allegro (to my great and undying humiliation), I made progress.

After class, I reviewed Siegfried’s variation. I had meant to just mark it, but instead after the first phrase I found myself running it: contretemps-tombé-pas de bourrée-glissade-saut de chat, repeat. I was watching my port de bras and my turnout in the mirror and heading back to “stage left” suddenly I noticed that I was, as the song[1] goes, “Way up in the middle of the air,” without actually trying, in this surprisingly nice saut de chat.

  1. The song in question being “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel,” a folk song which I’d never heard until I met my last roommate, who used to sing it: Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up, way up, Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air.

Anyway, that saut de chat startled the heck out of me and I landed like a mammoth, but it’s really good to feel like I’ve regained the best of my “Terpsichorean powers[2],” so to speak.

  1. Why, yes, of course I’m referencing T.S. Elliot. Also, the musical Cats.

On the other hand, I don’t recommend landing like a mammoth even on good floors. I went back to marking, though with a little more vigor than your usual mark.

I also realized that I tend to fail to bring my second leg to the party when I do assemblés in the context of petit allegro.

I mean, it’s not that it doesn’t get there. It’s that I fail to really actively transport it. Like the first leg gets on the train, but the second one has to walk to the party.

I had somehow failed to notice that … no doubt in part because when I do grand allegro assemblés—especially porté—I really snap that puppy right the heck up there. But, in case you were wondering, petit allegro is not, in fact, grand allegro, only smaller,” no matter what its name might imply. It requires its own approach (they do it like nobody’s business in Copenhagen).

But, anyway, I haven’t been really pushing the second foot through the plié and snapping it up there, and Killer B schooled me over it this morning.

So Killer B’s advice is to think of glissade-assemblé as a compound word; a hyphenated phrase like tombé-pas de bourée, (or, if you’re a guy, tombé-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné). You have to really push the trailing leg through the bottom of the plié that’s sort of the hyphen so the momentum doesn’t get lost[3].

  1. When you lose the momentum, you wind up with two separate words, one of them mumbled: “Glissade. Assemblah.”

So I tried it, and wouldn’t you know, it worked like a charm.

So that’s today’s bit of technical advice. Since glissade-assemblé is a petit-allegro stock phrase, think of it with a hyphen and pushpushpush the second leg through the plié in the middle, so when it leaves the ground again all the momentum is there.

And use your plié. And use your plié. And use your plié.

Which, coincidentally, will also stop you landing your saut de chat like a mammoth, which you will appreciate when you’re seventy and haven’t yet had to put in new knees, or so I’ve heard.

~

On Monday I found myself reading some old posts in the bath (because reading in the bath is what I would do basically 90% of the time that I’m not dancing, if I had my way … well, that and swimming in the ocean).

It was surprising to look back on where I was only three and a half years ago: to realize that, really, I had no idea I’d be doing what I’m doing now—or maybe just a glimmer of the idea; something that felt like the vaguest of pipe dreams, I suppose.

It was weird to read the words, “If I ever get a chance to perform,” or however I phrased it. At the time, it seemed like gift one distantly hopes to receive: perhaps if I’m really good, someone will give me–no, not a pony, but maybe a hobby horse?

Now the chance to perform is something I pursue and lay hold of with both hands and create for myself. It’s something I am beginning not to feel weird about getting paid to do, like, “Maybe if I keep my head down they won’t notice that they’re paying me money for this.”

And yet I realize, still, that in a way the chance to live the life that I’m living right now is a gift—a gift, I suppose, I’ve worked hard to be worthy of, and will continue to work hard to be worthy of, but still one that depends upon the goodwill of so many people other than myself.

~

Friday, early, we leave for the Playa again.

This year, a group is staging The Rite of Spring. I’ve never seen it live, so I’m looking forward to that. Perhaps I can find other dancers and do class with them.

As for me and my camp, we’re doing Open Barre, with Mimosas, twice. Contact improv, twice. And all the other things that my camp does, but that’s what I’m in charge of. My gift to the Playa, along with whatever I wind up feeding people, as so often I do.

My feelings are mixed about going this year. I’m working, so that’s a challenge—learning the choreography at a distance will be interesting—and I’m afraid of coming back with a respiratory infection again. I’ll have to be careful this year.

But there are always things to be learned, and what was it I was saying about learning not to constantly try to control the outcomes?

So there it is. This is the outcome right now. I’m strung between two loyalties, but perhaps it’s okay. If things work out as I hope they will in the coming months, I most likely won’t be able to go to the Burn in 2018.

Because, as D told me so many times, there is something in the world for which I will sacrifice all other things—even Burning Man, as much as I love it.

When all this is over, the desert will be there still (unless we blow up the world before then, in which case it’s all a moot point anyway).

Back to Class: The Perversity of Petit Allegro

I took class on Monday and found that, although my feet and Achilles’ tendons were still a little tight, I was mostly functional. I even got some nice turns in.

As such, I hit the studio again tonight (didn’t make morning class because D’s truck overheated, so he needed my car, and I was too late to catch the bus) feeling fairly confident about things.

My confidence was, in fact, well-placed. Class was good, all things considered—I’m still a tad wheezy, but with adequate oceans of medication that stayed under control.

Anyway, tonight’s class was essentially built around petit allegro—not that we didn’t do anything else, because we absolutely did, but the ultimate goal was to improve our petit allegro by improving our use of pliés.

When we finally did get around to petit allegro, BG gave us a very, very helpful note: if the music is fast, focus on getting down into the floor with the pliés.

It’s counter-intuitive as all heck, but it works a treat. I am one of those people who can milk a fair bit of elevation out of a jump by brushing hard and really springing through the feet, so I don’t always use my deepest demi-plié in preparation.

This is not at all helpful in fast petit allegro combinations—it just takes too freaking long, especially when you factor in hyperextended knees and really flexible feet.

Turns out that if I get deep into my demi-plié, I can actually get there faster. I suppose it comes down to employing the entire bottom of the foot—I suspect that when I’m struggling with petit allegro, my heels are probably just skimming the ground when they should be doing some actual work.

Anyway, this feels revelatory, as things do of late. I’m going to have to practice the hell out of it in order to overcome a lifetime of attempting to do petit allegro the way I do grand battement.

Anyway, that’s it for now. In short: never be afraid to get down when it’s time to boogie.

LexBallet Intensive 2017: Days 2 & 3

Tuesday, after a fairly hard conditioning class and a not-difficult-but-demanding technique class, we began learning variations.

Wednesday, after a very restorative conditioning class and a lovely technique class, we continued with them. 

The girls are doing the Swans’ entrance scene. There are only four of them, so they have a lot of ground to cover, but they already looked pretty great at Tuesday night’s brief “show ‘n’ tell” session.

Meanwhile, my variation (one of the many versions of Seigfried’s) is a challenge in the small studio even though there’s only one of me—it’s packed with big leapy bits, all of which seem to land me precariously close to the walls when I do them full-speed. Thus, I wind up doing a lot of marking and semi-marking. There seem to be a lot of walls in that studio.

Still, I was quite happy with the sauté arabesque-balancé-tombé coupé jeté sequence last night (it varies from the video we’re using as a model, which involves a bunch of revoltades, which I still am not sure how to do on purpose). Also feeling better about Bournonville jeté, although I still tend to jump through my arms. We worked on that a lot last night.

I couldn’t remember about 20 seconds of the version that C taught me (which doesn’t have tours in it), and since I was working with J last night, we subbed in some tours just because. They feel a lot better this year—I’m figuring out how to use a relaxed plié in grand allegro instead of hanging onto tension, which makes a huge difference.

To be honest, though, just having another year under my belt also makes a huge difference. I don’t have to think about choreography anywhere near as much: I’m better at remembering chains of steps, instead of individual steps. That makes a huge difference.

Likewise, even though we don’t get to do grand allegro anywhere near as often as I would like at home (especially since BW is in Europe for the summer), there are a lot more steps I can do without having to think about them at this point.

The most invaluable corrections this far have been as follows:

  • In saut de chat, focus on travel rather than on elevation (the elevation takes care of itself)
  • In Bournonville jeté, imagine leaping over a hurdle. This imparts the graceful ballon that makes it such a nice leap.
  • Also in Bournonville jeté, think about reaching forward with the arms, then opening them. This both looks better and prevents me from hyperextending my back and shoulders, which screws up the momentum of the jump and looks weird (though probably okay in modern contexts?).

The central thing I’m taking away from this intensive is that I need to focus on one idea:

FORWARD.

I used to ride a horse with whom the same basic principle applied. You had to ride him forward, or he would just slope lazily around and pretend he didn’t know from dressage.

The highlight of last night was when I came in way too hot on the first tombé-coupé and instead of the standard jeté, it turned into something spinny and impressive whose name I don’t know. It’s definitely a thing—I’ve seen it in other variations—I’m just not sure which thing. I’ll have to see if I can find it in Tarasov when I get home. 

Anyway, J said, “Ooh, that was fancy!” Sadly, since I’m not actually sure how to do that particular thing on purpose, I’ll just have to file it away for now (with revoltades) and save it for some future date.

Last year, I think I was a bit wary of speed and power. I was forever doing Albrecht’s variation as if I had a check-rein on: behind the motion, without abandon. I was too busy thinking about the steps and trying to be precise, and I was definitely a little afraid of running myself over.

This year, I feel like I’ve made friends with speed and power, and when I get out of my own way, I can harness them. Confidence goes a long way!

In other news, my adductors are pretty sore, which is okay, since they’re one of the bits that need to be stronger. My beats look better for it, though in class yesterday I kept doing jeté battu on the wrong foot (wtf?) and decided to just do plain jeté like everyone else. I should try breaking out the entrechats sixes today. Quatres were nice yesterday.

Anyway, I should go do my laundry. I’m not going to walk down there this time; it’s 3 miles round-trip.

Tonight we polish up the variations; tomorrow we get to show them off.

Sissones, Petit Allegro Style

As you may know, petit allegro is not my forté.

As such, I ask all kinds of super-technical questions, like:

PLZ HALP.
HOW DO POTEET ALLERGO ZIZZONES LESS BAD?

Fortunately, LAA’s class is small enough that she’s had a chance to really analyze my (admittedly-wack) petit allegro calzone zizzone technique, and last night she gave me two incredibly helpful bits of advice:

  • Tone down the UP!!!!
    • In comparison with barre exercises, think of it as a jeté (accent in, if it helps you keep the adductors fully engaged) rather than as grand battement.
  • Add some side (that is, lateral travel).

So let’s revisit a screencap of me doing pantones sissones:

sissones-01

I’m the one with no feet on the ground.

This is me landing a pannetone sissone[1]. Technically, this was a medium allegro combination, but it was still wildly unnecessary for me to put that much elevation into that jump (and every single other jump in that combination).

  1. If you need a quick refresher, a sissone is a jump from two legs to one leg. A pannetone is a delicious sweet bread (not sweetbread, that’s something else) from Milan.

You can see that my working leg is up there (and turned out and pointed and effing winged, holy hell).

What you can’t see is that I did this entire sissone with very little lateral travel relative to the height of the jump.

You can probably calculate the apex height of the jump with some degree of accuracy. That should give you an idea of why I’m always and forever behind when tasked with sissones in settings other than grand allegro (ideally at “men’s tempo,” which tends to be slow in order to allow for lots of elevation and ballon).

I’ve probably been doing petit allegro sissones this way for quite a while: I think, “Make it smaller,” and respond by making it not go anywhere but UP.

Technically speaking, sissones aren’t really traveling jumps (which is to say that they’re not leaps, basically). Laterally speaking, you shouldn’t go very far in a sissone—but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go anywhere at all.

If you tone down your elevation and allow for a little lateral travel, your petit allegro sissone tends to become the light, lovely little spring that it’s supposed to be, and you don’t get behind the music and find yourself receiving epic side-eye from the poor schmuck attempting to dance next to you.

When I approach them this way, I can make my petit allegro sissones small and light enough to practice them in my kitchen without fear of whacking my feet or shins on things (my kitchen is tiny; the struggle is real). Coincidentally, that also means they’re quick enough to use in those horrible, fast petit allegro combinations universally despised[2] by those of us who are built for grand allegro.

  1. Or at least despaired over…

One more thing: if your hips are ridiculously flexible like mine are, you’ll also want to think about opening  the working leg straight to the side or even a little ahead.

The flexibility of my hips lets me put my legs kind a quite far back in a turned-out second, which can make closing back to 5th to prepare for the next jump really slow and do weird things to the path of the sissone, which should be diagonal.

Coincidentally, I have to think about the same thing when doing grand pirouettes: keep the working leg engaged a few degrees forward of dead-to-the-side, or things become unwieldy because physics.

Temps-Lié: Some Thoughts

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!

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