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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).

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As Yet Untitled

We spend all our lives
making monsters of ourselves:
the tender feet
hard-trained until they arch like dolphins’ backs,
their bones like bridges spanned
by calloused skin.
The knees’ inverted arc
sails bony ankles heavenward;
the thighs like steely hawsers
cast the whole ship off,
cast it heavenward–
the collarbones like ploughshares
carve the air.

Hard to explain this,
though G-d knows I’ve tried.
What makes us do
all that the unseen god requires of us?
The music speaks
and stirs the weary dead:
go wake the living in their stalls!
The royal box looms empty
lonesome in the night.
Lone and strong we leap
now miracles, now golems,
in the light.

–14 August, 2017

Body of Work

I should be mowing the lawn, really, but I want to try to sketch out some thoughts first.

Yesterday was a good day for me, body-image wise. Today hasn’t started out as one.

There’s no rhyme or reason to it, as far as I can tell. Sometimes it changes, for better or worse, in the middle of things. It shifts on the fly.

I should note that this is progress. It used to be all bad, all the time, no matter what.

Then, for a while, it got weird: like, sometimes I could look at my body and think, “Yes, this is a good and functional and rather nice-looking purpose-specific kind of body, but it doesn’t look like my body.[1]”

  1. I don’t mean I think this on a rational level. I mean, really, on the level of instinctive identity perception, in the sense most disconnected from questions of philosophy, there’s just no there there. There’s no conscious analysis involved, just an unconscious, “Nope.”

How do I explain that concept? For me, I think part of it stems from some fundamental disconnect in the neural circuitry that drives identity-related connections. When I look in the mirror, I don’t feel any sense that I’m looking at myself, really.

I mean, rationally, I know that I am. But the circuit that says, “Ohai! That’s me!” doesn’t really seem to fire. (Sometimes this results in me staring into the mirror for a really long time, trying to figure things out.) I don’t know if this is anything at all like what many people experience, but a few conversations and a fair bit of reading have indicated to me that it’s kind of weird[2].

  1. Please note that “weird” is a word I use without any value judgment. I actually rather like it. To me, it just means “strange” or “unusual,” sometimes “uncanny,” but without the additional sense of “…and offensive or repugnant.”

If you’ve ever seen a recent picture of yourself in which you don’t actually recognize yourself until someone points out to you, “Hey, that’s you!”, that might be a similar phenomenon (though, really, I’m not sure).

Curiously, the effect is diminished in class when I observe myself in the mirror and correct myself accordingly.

Yup, it’s long, so here’s a more tag:
Read the rest of this entry

Professionalism: Evidently, I Haz It? 

Our performance last night rocked the house. We legitimately got an ovation of stunning enthusiasm, which melted my heart and went on after the curtain came down and made us hug each-other as we scurried off the stage. 

That was great. 

We were all together, the choreography worked, I hit the turns and the jumps, and the partnering bits were on point. 

But the thing that made me proud of myself, be honest, is that I danced 3/4s of our piece in just one shoe  and almost nobody noticed.  One my friends who’s in theater noticed that I only had one shoe and thought it was intentional 😀  

The shoe started peeling off almost immediately, and within the first minute was barely hanging on by the toe. It would definitely have come off in the next bit and potentially tripped someone, so I neatly flicked it into the wings on the upstage-right leg of a running figure eight and just went on without it. 
Since it was the right shoe, this made The Apollo jump—which in this dance lifts off from and initially lands on the right foot—a bit alarming, because shiny tights are hella slippery. I did it anyway, a more cautiously than I wanted, but evidently it still looked good. 

Anyway, all the girls were amazing, and I can’t wait to dance with them again. 

I also can’t wait see the video. I’ve seen a 20-second pirate clip that looked pretty great!  

That’s it for now. I had class and a 2 hour rehearsal today, so I’m ready for some R&R. 

Tomorrow is a day off, and maybe even Tuesday 😉 We’ll see how it goes. 

Coda: Apparently the faculty was very much impressed by how well we mastered quite a complicated dance in very little time. 

I’m just exploding with joy it, still.    

  

Today I Learned… 

…The Apollo jump (which I had seen, but as far as know had never done) and the last remaining piece of our dance, which is mine alone and involves a turn in second and said Apollo jump.

That’s about all of it: we finish the Noodle Experiment, I back away from the girls and throw in a turn in second, then I pause for a second and when everyone else is essentially running upstage, I do the Apollo jump downstage, land it, collect myself, and run a few more steps to my place for the end of the dance. 

We might change up the first partnering bit, though we might not. We’ll see. I like the change that T and BG worked out, but it’ll be a question of whether the remaining two girls from that group are okay with it.

I’m fine either way. They’re worried about kicking me. 

I mentioned that if they kick me, it’s probably my fault. That’s kind of how partnering works for boys:

  • If the girl kicks you, it’s your fault. 
  • If you kick the girl, it’s your fault. 
  • If the girl smacks you in the face, it’s your fault. 
  • If you smack yourself in the face with the girl, it’s still your fault. 
  • If you drop the girl, it is Definitely Your Fault (and you will never live it down). 

FWIW, yes, this is intended to be funny but it’s also largely true. If you’re dancing the (traditionally) male role, part of your job is being in the right place at the right time and accounting for glitches, because the person dancing the other part has enough to worry about already. You adjust. 

And if she stops dancing, turns around, and punches you squarely in the nose? 

That is also Definitely Your Fault, unless it’s Because Ancient Aliens. 

~

PS: I was wrestling with keeping my waterfowls in a linear array in the turn from second because ATTAAAAAAAACK!, and BG was like, “Keep your chest up and think of it like … a hammer throw, only your foot is the hammer.”

Bizarrely, this worked really hecking well. 

Important note is that you still have to keep the working leg hella engaged, especially if you have sick mobility in your hips. If you think of a track & field person winding up for a hammer throw, though, they stay really tight basically the whole time. 

Roll The Tape

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

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

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

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

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

apollo-with-arm-problems

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

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

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

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

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

DON QUIXOTE!

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

At least my shoulders are down?

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

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

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

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

\_____O_____/*  

*proportionally speaking, my hands are not this big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flight

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

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

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

TIL 

…That a straight hour of partnering work can be pretty heavy on the arms even if there isn’t a single lift. 

Especially 4-on-1 partnering, when you’re the 1.

Update: TI Also Learned that when I post at midnight, I don’t proof-read very well! 

Callbacks ‘n’ Sech

Today was a long day: class at 10:30 (with a smidgen of rehearsal afterwards); teaching at 1 PM; suspended meditation at 2; callback at 3:30 (ended a little past 6:30).

Class was … erm. Like, barre was great? And the rest of it was … yeaaah. Erm. I had issues. On the other hand, I did manage one not-very-good triple, and except for the points at which I actually screwed up, things looked okay.

All three members of my Ballet Girl Posse were in class, and two of them stayed after, so we ran through our choreography … and I actually learned all their names. YAY! So at least I’ve accomplished something today. BG was still around, so he ran us through our bit a couple of times, and we decided that we like fourth arabesque better for my bit of the first partnering piece (a series of supported fouettés).

I begged off the last ten minutes of the modern dance portion of the apprentice-teaching class because my legs were a bit angry at me and I was going to need them for the audition. I used the time to foam-roll the crap out of them.

During meditation, I fell asleep. Given that I am the world’s worst napper (seriously, I can normally only nap when I’ve been awake for at least 48 hours straight), that’s saying something. Evidently, I was pretty tired.

The callback turned out to be the highlight of the day. It was more like a dance-and-theater workshop than an audition—we did some partnering stuff, then learned a dance and performed it in groups, then played theater games and ran some sides. Honestly, it was a hell of a lot of fun with a great group of people (both judges and fellow auditionees), and if every audition was that much fun, I’d audition for everything.

It turns out that I know the guy who’s directing the production. I met him at a party (which happened to be at his house) and felt instantly very, very comfortable with him, which speaks very highly of him. Also: proof that my world is incredibly tiny, heh.

We’ll hear back in a week or so about roles and such. Fortunately, I have too much going on to have much time to chew my nails about it, though I don’t have class with BW on Thursday this week.

Regardless, BW gave me homework—jumping rope to improve my cardio as well as the usual Turns Homework and … erm. I’m supposed to be doing something else, too, I think? Fehhhhcccckkkk. I can’t remember. It’s in my notes somewhere.

Anyway. I will miss BW’s class this week, but I suspect my body will welcome the extra rest. The fitness is returning, but my body hates me so much right now.

The Purchase of Light with Blood 

​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. 

On Technique: Frappe, Elevated

Fifth in a series of posts on the details of technique that focuses primarily on steps and aspects of dance that I’m struggling with. Take it with a grain of salt.

I find it helpful to write things out in an effort to get a grip on them. These aren’t so much instructions (though if they work for you, awesome!) as observations.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much better frappés en rélevé.

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

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

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