Saturday, October 18, 2014

Men's Master Class

Ballet is one of the few activities I can think of where men are a true minority. Others I could think of would be nursing and traditionally "home oriented" activities like sewing or knitting. I don't know about others' experiences, but it's quite common for me to be the only man in a class of 15-25 women, and the most man-heavy class I've been in had three or four other men in it.

In class Wednesday, one of the women handed out glossy cards advertising Ballet San Jose's "Master Class" series for the 2014-2015 season. One of them is a men's only class, taught by former ABT star José Manuel Carreño, now the artistic director of BSJ. I've only had a male ballet teacher once, when the director of ADI substituted for an instructor on vacation, and I think there is a lot I could learn from one. Of course, the problem is that the class is being held in San Francisco, 2500 miles from where I live near Washington, DC. Ever the optimist, I emailed my boss to see if it's likely that I'll have a need to be out on the left coast around that time, and he said yes, he'd pencil me in! The only hitch in the plan is that I may not know until 2 weeks before the class whether I'll actually be out here. The registrar at BSJ was kind enough to accommodate that, saying we could confirm or cancel my registration then.

Last night I checked the card to verify pricing. I knew the class he's teaching this month was $100, and was surprised to note that the men's class was only $50. After spending a lifetime seeing advertisements for various "Ladies' Nights" where women get discounts, this is quite the reversal. For once, being a man is getting me a discount!

Ballet San Jose, October edition

I found myself in San Jose, California, again this week. I've gotten used to adding ballet gear to my business-casual work attire when I pack, and had classes with Ballet San Jose on my schedule for Wednesday and Friday evenings. I've taken enough classes here — this week makes six, I think — that I'm starting to recognize the regulars. The instructor greeted me with, "Oh! You're back!" so clearly she recognizes me. Of course, being a male in an adult ballet class already makes me fairly unusual.

Wednesday morning I put my dance gear in a backpack, and ended up leaving it in my hotel room. Fortunately I was able to get to the hotel in time to change and drive downtown in time for class. The classes this summer were in the large dance studio on the second floor, but this one was in a much smaller studio on the third floor. The instructor handled the difference in size quite well. Apparently the adult drop-in classes are often relegated to this room.

Class was pretty good. The instructor seems to have given up on the torture of a hundred relevés, and we only did a reasonable number of them. Oddly, my turns seemed way off balance, and I felt a bit shaky. I had trouble completing a single full-turn pirouette from fifth. I'm guessing I hadn't managed to rehydrate myself from Monday's 6-hour flight, because I woke up around midnight with nasty cramps in my adductors and quads despite having gone out of my way after dinner to pick up some Gatorade.

Thursday my legs were sore all day, most like from the cramps and not directly from the class. It didn't interfere with work to any great extent, though.

This evening (Friday) I remembered to bring my backpack with fresh dance gear. i got to the school early enough to change and do some simple stretching. Class was held in the first floor studio, which I hadn't seen before. It's a bit like being in a basement, with lots of pounding and rattling noises from the dancers in the classroom above. We had lots of newbies, so we did barre facing the barres and mirrors. I really think I prefer the barre to one side, though.

I'm guessing my stretching before class helped (along with proper hydration) because everything seemed to work better. i could get my pirouettes all the way around, though I know I've done better. In center, we did a series of piqué turns at what felt like an excruciatingly slow pace. Doing them so slowly was hard, but it did give me time to think about the suggestions our instructor gave me. I also found myself able to rotate almost slowly enough to match the tempo of the music, and hold the position until coming down with deliberate intent rather than falling out of it. If I could get my head to rotate further when spotting, I'd be pretty happy with things.

I have to say I've been fortunate to train mostly in studios with well-maintained, sprung floors with nice marley on top. The floors in this place are uneven and the seams between the synthetic overlay are covered in duck tape, and I'm gathering this is pretty common as no one really complains about them.

I expect to be back here for a week next month, and again in January. I thought about getting a 10-class "card", which would save $2/class, but the "card" is only good for 3 months and that's probably not worth it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I NEEDED that class!

I've been feeling increasingly stressed and edgy for the last week or so. Work is unsettled, and I've needed to put in a good bit of overtime. Social commitments have interfered with getting to class, and I've been feeling stiff and sore. I really wasn't looking forward to class last night, but I went as a matter of habit.

And I'm so glad I did!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Still going... and going... and going...

I'm up to my neck in work, and updating this blog keeps falling off the list of things I have time to do. But I'm still getting to two classes a week, most weeks. It's a lot more fun than going to a gym, so I make time for it.

Today in my Beginner 2 class several things happened that hadn't happened before. During barre we did one sequence which ended with a sous-sus, passe retire on demi-pointe with a pause at the highest point, and back to sous-sus with the working foot on the other side. Going to sous-sus I had both arms in high fifth, and decided to try keeping them there. And it worked! I was stable all the way through raising my working foot, the pause, and lowering my foot, all without reaching for the barre. I wish I could say I did this on both sides (I can't) but it was something of a thrill.

In centre we were doing pique turns at (for me) an excruciatingly slow speed. The first time across the room I was having trouble matching pace with the music, and our instructor made a general comment that we should treat each turn independently rather than as a series. The second time across I did just that, and found I was able to hold the demi-pointe balance after each turn before deliberately stepping down for the next. This is a new experience for me. Maybe there is benefit to these slowly-paced turns that I hadn't considered before.

My spotting is also improving. I don't have the rotational flexibility to be able to track a spot far enough that I can flip my head around and immediately see it (and the need for glasses doesn't help) but its becoming more instinctive to look for the spot as I turn. Hypothetically this should help avoid getting dizzy.

Unfortunately, one of my other new experiences was a serious bout of motion sickness after all the turns. So much so that I had to sit down in a corner for the last few minutes of class. I've been dizzy in class on many occasions, but I don't think I've ever felt sick to my stomach. Bleagh.

Still, I decided to challenge myself by taking the Advanced Beginner class immediately following B2. Fortunately I'd stuffed a second shirt in my bag so I didn't have to do barre in a dripping-wet shirt. I didn't have much trouble with barre, aside from one sequence that confused many of the regulars. One of the sequences went from degage a la seconde on demi-pointe to a fondue derrierre, to attitude derrierre on demi-pointe, through enveloppe to a tendu avant with a demi-plie. We did this sequence a couple of times on both sides, and once I did the whole thing without touching the barre. This is starting to feel like dancing! Woo woot!

Friday, August 15, 2014

A hurting puppy

Here I am in San Jose again, recovering from another beginner-level class at Ballet San Jose. Kudos to the instructor for remembering me from the two classes I took from her two months ago!

I managed to get to class a half hour early, giving myself time to stretch beforehand. Unexpectedly we scored a live pianist for the evening, which was nice.

Barre was a faster pace than I'm used to, but I didn't find any of the patterns terribly difficult. Releves, though... I just can't do as many as the instructor expects. I made it through two of the three sets in parallel, then had to stop. I was counting myself lucky until she started again in first. I'm just going to have to learn to quit earlier and not try to keep up with this crazy woman.

Center started with a lot of balancing on one leg. Developpe en croix followed by a rond-de-jambe en l'air, all while standing on one foot. Mostly stable with occasional falling over. I think I'm clenching my standing foot, because it started hurting about half way through.

The turns across the floor were pretty simple: two regular pique turns, a step-over pique turn closing to fifth, and tendu to prepare for the next set. I acquitted myself pretty well, though the floor was seriously sticky. The music was a bit slower than I'd have preferred, but a bit too fast for me to feel comfortable attempting to do it double-speed as a few of the better students did.

Jumps were nothing exciting, though by then I was tired and ready to be done.

As I was leaving, the instructor told me she thought I'd done quite well. It's good to hear that on occasion. I told her I'd try to make it to Friday night's class.

I don't know if I'm going to keep that promise, though. Not quote re-hydrated from the 5+ hour flight out here, I had a bout of nasty cramps in my quads early this morning. I've been drinking water like mad ever since, hoping to avoid a repeat, but my calf muscles are still badly knotted from all the releves. Tomorrow I may go in search of some Gatorade. If I do make it to class tomorrow, I'm definitely going to skip some of those releves. Otherwise they'll have to wheel me onto the airplane Saturday.