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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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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.

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.

Advanced Class: Don’t Leave Your Body Behind

Today’s class was pretty good.

EF taught, which meant long and complicated combinations at barre, some of which were VERY fast.

After we had all sort of traded a moue of despair after flailing our way through something that I’ll call a degagé combination (with the understanding that it was SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT), he pointed out to us that we shouldn’t feel disheartened and give up mid-combo if we’re not fast enough yet.

Even if we flail through and don’t quite make it, even if the combination is so freaking fast that 75% of the advanced class can’t actually get their feet either to point fully or to relax fully, by trying, we’re developing the strength and the speed that will eventually allow us to execute these insanely-fast combinations correctly.

riddikulus

Us at barre today(1, by PhantomMoon, via Pinterest).

I was awfully glad to hear that, because that’s exactly what I keep telling myself: even if you’re just flailing away like a wind-sock, keep going, because it is through flailing that we reach transcendence.

Or something like that.

Even if you’re just flailing away like a wind-sock, keep going, because it is through flailing that we reach transcendence.

Or something like that.

(I felt like that could use some fancy formatting.)

This is how EF teachers, and one of the reasons that I lurve his classes(2). As I have probably mentioned before, he teaches to the most advanced dancer in the room (in this case: a home-town boy on a brief vacation from American freaking Ballet Theater, apparently) and allows everyone else to rise to that level.

Curiously, it generally works.

Anyway, adagio went well, once I stopped being a spaz and forgetting to actually use the muscles that make my supporting leg, like, support me (yeah, totally fumbled in a tour lent today … but I jumped right back into it and fixed it on the second side).

Turns and terre-a-terre also went well: we got music from Swan Lake today, and my insides went SQUEEE! because I ❤ Swan Lake so hard. My outside, on the other hand, went, “I’m not sure I have this! I’m still not sure I have this! Oh, wait — I’ve got this!”

 

Basically, I was having some trouble remembering where this one failli went, and also trouble remembering that my new dancing policy is supposed to be:

Look like you know what you’re doing.

…Even when you don’t.

Which, this week, has been frequently.

Anyway. Petit allegro was a moderate disaster, but only because for some reason on the first pass my brain couldn’t contain the combination, and on the second pass my body kept executing the incorrect version.

It began:

assemblé
jeté
assemblé
jeté

and then made with the glissades, but I somehow thought it began with glissade – jeté and thus kept doing it backwards and getting horribly lost.

EF tried to sort me, but my legs refused to comply until the very. last. repeat. Thus, I wound up working it alone, as everyone packed up.

EF called me over and gave me a note on my brush-jumps (the ones like jeté, assemblé, and so forth). I’ve been leaving my body behind, which has been forcing me to make extra weight-changes in petit allegro and putting me behind the count.

Evidently, my jumps aren’t actually slow anymore (EF said they’re actually quicker than a lot of my classmates’); it’s the extra weight-changes doing me in at this point.

So in addition to continuing to work on solidifying my supporting leg, this week I’ll be concentrating on bringing my body with me when I jump (something I need to think about in general, really; I do this on grand jeté and saut de chat as well).

Anyway, he spent several minutes working with me in on this, and (of course) I thanked him profusely. He takes a lot of time with me: fixing my arm at barre (which needs doing with alarming frequency; it’s better than it was, but it still likes to drift too far back and lose its shape and so forth), tweaking my jumps and turns, and so forth. I really appreciate that, as a great deal of the ground I’ve gained has been the direct result of these fine-point corrections from my instructors.

It’s also nice to know that I’m not invisible in a gigantic advanced class — there were a billion of us today (even adagio required two groups).

After, I went to juggling class, in which I managed a new-record-for-me 27 cascades, then worked my choreography a bit in Open Fly. I think I’ve solved the last of the timing problems (added a sissone to arabesque; not 100% sure it works with the music).

And now I’m at home, writing this, contemplating lunch, and preparing to undertake a cleaning binge as a way to keep myself from just obsessing about tomorrow’s audition.


Notes, References, and Asides

  1. Sadly, I can’t find a proper source for this; if it’s from etsy, I want one! OMG I FOUND IT!
  2. Sadly, after next Saturday, we won’t have him again for a while, because the regular season and so forth take off again next week, and he has So Many Responsibilities.

Danseur Ignoble: A Bad Dream And A Good Class

This morning, after staying up way too late yet again because apparently I’m too dumb to realize that starting to read a new novel at 11:00 PM is a terrible idea, I had a terrible dream.

I was in Brienne’s class. We were at the barre, doing one of her wicked fondue-and-developpe combinations. Every time I would try to developpe, I would either fail to get my leg (which weighed a million pounds) above about 60 degrees or, even worse, I would, but would instantly fall over backwards!

Fortunately, things went better in actual class. I felt more together today. I’m starting to get a little speed back at the barre — it hadn’t occurred to me that some of my Petit Largo Allegro problem is a returning-to-training-post-injury thing (more on that below).

Tendus and degages went well, even with lots of weight transfers (ye gods how weight transfers vexed me when I first started dancing again; now, it’s basically just like, “Oh, no biggie, inside leg taimz…”); rond-de-jambes (with attendant merciless fondu) went much better than last week. Not back up to my usual standard yet, but they’re getting there.

Our grand battement combination was far less sadistic this week and involved frappes, of which I shall be doing many in coming days (again, see below). For some reason, my brain held on to that particular combination like a seive ._. I got most of it, but for some reason couldn’t seem to remember that there was a little frappe-en-crois in the middle.

Apparently, my body has finally gotten the memo that, yes, I am going to make it do this stuff every Wednesday (and soon on Monday and Friday as well — we’ll see how the leg fares; I might do Tawnee’s class this Friday). My core was not awesome, but it was not non-existent, either. I’m working on it.

I also remembered (though not always at the right moment) how to developpe correctly. No more construction-crane technique: it turns out that the method I sussed out some while back while mucking about in the fridge (because, yes, I am that ballet student who is like BALLET ALL THE THINGS!) is exactly what Brienne describes.

In short, engage the core (imagine it, if it helps, pulling your body towards the working leg) and the muscles beneath the calf and buttocks; that way you’re not trying to haul forty pounds (or more*) of leg up by your quads and hip flexors alone.

*Apparently, the average human leg weighs about 40 pounds. I suspect many of us who dance have above-average legs, and those of us who both dance and ride bikes? Let’s call our legs “superior;” that might make us feel better about our difficulties in finding trousers.

Bizarrely enough, all of this adagio stuff went rather brilliantly at center. Brienne called us on the carpet about it: she was like, “I just saw you guys do all this stuff right, so now you’re going to do it right out here, and you’re going to be all pretty and musical.” (Okay, those weren’t her exact words.)

When we weren’t as pretty and musical as we could have been the first time we ran through our adagio combination, she gave us this hilarious demonstration of what not to do (seriously, it looked like she was trying to use semaphore to land two planes at the same time — one with her arms, one with her legs) and made us do it again. We did, and — lo and behold! — it was actually very nice.

My turns were also pretty stellar today until I got tired and kind of started to fall apart. Some while ago, I realized that when I don’t prepare well, I over-do it with the spring, and my supporting foot tries to leave the ground, and that is exactly what started happening when I got really tired.

It took me longer to reach that point, though, which is a very good sign (and at least in part the result of a more organized start this morning, which meant I didn’t completely cook my legs riding to the bus stop).

Petit allegro was … um … well … less bad. I was hitting more of the jumps, but still slow. More like Petit Largo, though maybe I’ve moved up a few beats-per-minute this week.

After class, I asked Brienne about what I should focus on to get speed back. Her answer? Do tons of tendus, degages, and frappes**.

Which, ultimately, is ballet in a nutshell, if you throw some plies in there. Which you should, or you will be very, very sore later.

This actually makes a great deal of sense to me. I have noticed that my tendus and degages have become super-precise over the past several weeks (during the Era of Margie’s Class Only), but I’ve lost speed. Now I can work on maintaining precision while increasing speed, and soon my legs will look better during quick work than they did before I blew up my calf.

So that’s what I’ll be working on for the time being: zillions of tendus, degages, and frappes every day to get my speed back.

That said, I’m done for today. I put in a bunch of miles on the bike (being mindful about spinning light gears and stretching adductors and rotators and stuff when I got home), and my thighs just can’t even right now.

The next thing I buy myself is going to be a foam roller, you guys. Seriously.

~fin~

Incidentally, whenever I’m wrestling with petit allegro, I find myself thinking about A Ballet Education’s post on the topic, “Your Petit Allegro Is Awful…” and I strive not to be an example of awful petit allegro! Fortunately, the teaching staff at LBS focuses quite a lot on petit allegro and teaches technique that would make Mr. King (who writes ABE) proud.
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