Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Four and Fourteen

The studio where I usually take class Wednesday nights is closed for the holidays, so I went to the studio where I usually take class Sunday. (Confused yet?)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Now I wanna perform!

Just got back from the MYB production of The Nutcracker. It was spectacular! I caught a technical error here and there, but only because I could recognize the steps and know what they are supposed to look like. The only thing that looked a little "dance school-ish" were one group of little kids who did well enough but clearly weren't of the same caliber as the older dancers. Maybe a professional company would have used more technically challenging choreography, but I was absolutely thrilled by this performance.

This afternoon's performance was sold out (500+ seats), but I think there are still tickets available for tomorrow afternoon and evening. Of course, this presumes you're somewhere in the MD/DC/VA area already...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A one and a two and a...

I have tickets to My Fair Lady tomorrow, which means I'm going to miss my regular Wednesday evening class. Since classes are sparse for the next couple weeks due to the holidays, I decided to take one tonight at the studio where I normally go Sunday. The only problem is that instead of Beginner I, tonight's class is Beginner II. The published class description is almost the same, except the latter is for students who already have some experience with ballet. Ok, I have some previous experience, so why not?

I arrived early enough to change and stretch before class. The first half of class was barre, and I did pretty well. The sequences were more complex than I'm used to, but I feel that I fit in with the rest of the class well enough. I even got some compliments from the instructor.

Once we moved to the center, well, nicht sehr gut. I'm not sure why, but I just couldn't balance on one foot. We did a couple of steps I hadn't encountered before, which means I have to learn it twice: once right and once left. I guess some people can translate from side to side, but I have trouble with it. Combinations were longer, with less explanation, with the instructor observing rather than leading.

Towards the end of class things got better. My balance improved; not perfect, but not wobbling nearly as badly. I could get part way through the combinations, and each run-through improved over the one before, though I never got all the way through. I found it both challenging and frustrating.

At least I know the difference between Beginner I and Beginner II now!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Not quite as I planned it

Thinking I was late for class, I hurriedly wrapped up work and rushed out to my car. I made good time, despite a pedestrian clad in all matte black walking out into the intersection as I was making a turn (yeah, she had right-of-way, but dressing like a Ninja makes you damned hard to see). Walking into class the instructor said, "My! You're here early! I have a private lesson now, do you just want to hang around for the hour?" Huh? An hour?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Let's not forget the boys

You can't do the Nutcracker without boys, and this production has some good ones. I'm guessing these have been at it since they were quite young, because I'd guess the oldest might be 17 and the youngest might be 15, but they do some amazing moves. What looks like a changement with two (or is it three) beats. Cabriole with height, crispness, and extension. Triple pirouettes. And they make it look easy.

I guess you could make do without boys. You could dress up some girls in boys' costumes, but how many girls learn to do lifts and such? And how many girls want to go on stage dressed as a boy? I'm guessing it doesn't really fit the mental image of how they would want to be seen.

I met the Sugarplum Fairy!

After class yesterday I hung around to watch the kids practice for the Nutcracker. Performances start this coming weekend, and those with lead roles were getting fitted with their tutus and dancing in them for the first time this year. I was chatting with one of the girls and asked what role she had, and she said, "I'm the Sugarplum Fairy". That was fun.

I have tickets to see them perform later this month. It'll be a special thrill to see these kids dance, having met some of them beforehand.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review of M. Stevens dance tights

I've taken a few classes wearing my new pair of M. Stevens "Milliskin" dance tights, enough to form an opinion.

There are things I like and things I don't. The Milliskins have an sort-of plastic-y feel compared to the silky texture of the Capezio 5945s, but aren't as rough as the MT-11s. The Milliskins have the seam on the inside of the leg rather than down the back; this seam runs under the heel and up the outside of the leg to about ankle height. The negative to this is the seam runs crosswise under the heel, but this avoids one running lengthwise under the entire foot and allows a nice fit around the ankle. Also avoided is the several seams under the forefoot, which makes them more comfortable when standing in demi-pointe.

Of course, the biggest positive about the Milliskins is that they're available, unlike the now-discontinued 5945s.

Many thanks to Jeff Tabaco for the recommendation. I value those who take the time to read my ramblings here and provide me with their thoughts, whether posted here or given privately.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Yup, too small

Had my first class with my new Romeo slippers. Compared to my black Cobras, the Romeos are a joy to turn on. A nice, wide, flat sole to balance on and none of the stickiness. But they're too damn small even with thinner crew socks. I think I'm going to go up a full size, to 10.5M, but I'll hunt around locally a bit more for a pair before buying online.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Motivation

For the last few weeks, after Sunday class my friend and I have wandered down the hall and spent a few minutes peeking through the door while the school prepares for next month's performances of The Nutcracker. She watches with unabashed joy. I, on the other hand, feel pleasure tinged with sadness and regret. See, there's a part of me that wishes I could be in there preparing for a performance.

What would have happened if I'd started ballet back in the mid-1960s, before I was old enough to learn that "boys don't dance, and especially not ballet"? What if I'd taken it more seriously when I did start class in the mid-1980s, and not dropped it a few years later? I highly doubt I would have gone on to a professional career in the former case, and definitely not in the latter, but neither I wouldn't be struggling to learn the basics in my 50s.

So what's the point of struggling through classes now? I'm pretty sure I could manage to have a full life if I never master a pirouette en dehors. And even if I do, will it take me somewhere?

If I wanted to sing on stage I could join a local choir. If I wanted to act I could try out for an amateur theatre company. There are plenty of options for either. But ballet? I know some of the larger schools put on performances, but they all seem to be pre-pro students. Or little kids providing their parents with a lifetime of embarrassing stories to tell. I've never heard of an amateur ballet company for adults. Is there such a thing? Is it even practical?

I don't even feel that driven to dance on stage, but it seems like there should be some purpose to all the work. Something I could achieve that's more than just moving up from the beginner to the intermediate class. Maybe the Royal Academy of Dance approach, with their multitude of levels and exams, isn't as dumb as I thought.


And just to lighten the tone of this posting...

In looking for information on the RAD program structure, I followed a link that listed RAD-registered teachers and studios in the USA. One school's website struck me as rather odd. I'm guessing that someone started with a template of some sort and only partly converted it. Otherwise the following "testimonials" make no sense:
"Having been out of the workforce 20 years raising my children, Twinbrook School of Ballet gave me the education to re-enter the job market.  Thanks to Twinbrook School of Ballet, I landed a job on my second interview. My new employer was very impressed with my diploma from Twinbrook School of Ballet."
"Computer technology had passed me by. Thanks to Twinbrook School of Ballet I am now certified in the latest program languages, and got a nice promotion at work."
I can learn the latest programming languages while taking ballet? Who knew? But how does the "Biochemistry 101" class they offer fit into the RAD curriculum?

Ok, I take it back. It still makes no sense. But is sure is funny!

The good and the bad

I got the elastics sewn on my new slippers last night, and I woke up in plenty of time to make it to this morning's Floor Barre class. With the young-uns off for the week it was quieter than I've seen it before. Rather than having to thread my way though knots of students clogging the hallways I was able to walk straight into the empty studio 15 minutes early and warm up.

Testing out my new Romeo slippers I was delighted to find that the larger suede forefoot pad does feel more stable, and turning is easier than before. Attempting a couple turns from seconde I was able to get all of them three quarters around, and a few all the way around, without feeling like I was sticking. Yet I didn't feel like I was going to slip at all. I'd be jumping up and down with excitement except for one thing: with socks on they're just a bit too short. Not as tight as the white Cobras, but tighter than the black Cobras. I'm guessing it's because these are 9.5M rather than 9.5W, and the extra width was being stretched into extra length.

Class itself was good, in a masochistic sort of way. Because of the holiday tomorrow we had a substitute instructor, who turned out to be the same substitute instructor for my Wednesday night class at a different school. She usually teaches at yet another school in the city; yet more proof the world is a small place. She worked us hard, leaving me shaking from exertion at times, no mean feat given that I spent most of the time laying down. I think a lot of that effort went into fighting my own overly-tight hip flexors, quads and hamstrings. Gotta work on that!

After class I visited a new (to me) dancewear store near the school. They advertise carrying the Romeo slippers, and I was hoping they might have them in a larger size. They did have a 10M, but only in black. I tried them on just to check and they were definitely more comfortable, but might still be a bit snug. I asked about a 10.5M, but the next size they had was an 11.5M which was way too large. Before I buy yet another pair online I want to see if these stretch at all (they're canvas, not leather, so I'm not hopeful). I also want to try some thinner socks — these were crew socks with fairly thick padding. Fortunately these are $20 slippers, not $60 pointes!

Monday, November 19, 2012

New Capezio Romeo slippers


As I wrote in my posting Sticky floors, sticky shoes, I decided I needed a new pair of shoes for use on the Marley floors found in the more ballet-focused studios where I've started taking classes. I wanted to get a new pair of Capezio Cobras, just like the ones I had.

In the mean time, though, Capezio has discontinued the Cobras.

Is this starting to sound like one of those "hunting for the perfect pointe shoe" blog entries? Ladies, I empathize with you. I don't have nearly the same difficulties, but it's getting hard to find a local dancewear store that stocks gear for men. I could probably go to New York City and find them, but the cost of the trip will buy a lot of $20 mistakes.

Last week, with some trepidation, I ordered a pair of Capezio Romeo slippers, which appear to have replaced the Cobra. They showed up in the mail today. Here's a comparison of the two.

Floor Barre

A while ago I came across a mention of this thing called Floor Barre®. As it was described, it's kind of like barre exercises done while laying on the floor. It's someone's registered trademark, hence the ®, which means only certified instructors can teach it. I filed it away in my mental warehouse of useless trivia.

I'm off work this week, and two of the three classes I'd normally take are canceled due to the US Thanksgiving holiday. Looking at the class schedules at the various studios I discovered that one of them offers a Floor Barre class Monday and Wednesday this week. So rather than sleeping in this morning, I got up and went to class.

As it turns out, the class is exactly as advertised. The focus is on training the body to take on proper alignment while in a position where you're not fighting for balance, and mostly not fighting gravity, and a comfortably slow pace. I sort-of expected it to be hokey, but it's surprisingly good. The instructor was very good, and as the new (and only) guy I got my fair share of attention (if not more). This instructor is very hands-on, and not shy to encourage you to take the proper position by gently moving your foot, leg or arm.

There are a few mental challenges you might not expect, like how to do an échappé while laying on your side (why she didn't just say "move to seconde" I don't understand). A lesser problem was when she said "arms to third" — I'm still learning port de bras and third isn't an arm position I knew — but that was resolved easily enough.

The instructor and one of the regular students told me I did really well for a first time. I may try to get down here for the Wednesday class too. Shame it's only offered mid-day on weekdays at a location that's impractically far from work.

I'd catalog all the various new places I've discovered can ache after class except that I got Shanghaied  into a Stretch class that started shortly after Floor Barre finished. That created a whole new set of aches overlaid on the first, so it'd be hard to separate them.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SF Ballet's Romeo and Juliet

I went to see the San Francisco Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet yesterday with a friend from my Wednesday class. It was very moving. By that I mean it was as well acted as it was danced. During the climactic scene where Romeo drinks poison, I heard a young girl behind me say softly, "Oh no, don't!" By the time Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead and kills herself with a dagger, many people around me were crying quietly.

The effect was only slightly marred when, as Romeo tries to dance with the limp body of the dead sleeping Juliet, the thought briefly went through my head: "Zombie Juliet!" Hey, it's only been a couple of weeks since Halloween.

One of the things that really helped bring the ballet to life for me was a book I picked up on Amazon recently. It describes each scene of a ballet, kind of like the blurb in the Playbill, only in far greater detail. This substitutes for the dialog that would otherwise help you understand who is whom and what's going on. The book is 101 Stories of the Great Ballets: The scene-by-scene stories of the most popular ballets, old and new by a couple of ballet know-nothings named George Balanchine and Francis Mason. If you want to understand what Juliet and her nurse are doing while Juliet is looking in the mirror and the nurse cups and lifts Juliet's breasts (get your mind out of the gutter!), this is a book for you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dancing with the teacher

The instructor for this morning's class was in a better mood than last week. It could be that more people showed up for class (apparently there is a minimum number of students, and if attendance falls below a certain level the class gets canceled and the instructor loses money). It could be that she was feeling better physically, as I didn't hear any rasping when she breathed, though I still suspect she has asthma. Regardless of why, she was definitely better than last week.

She provided constructive criticism, and did it with a reassuring tone of voice. For example, while I was doing one combination across the floor I got through the first fine, then botched the second. In a light-hearted tone she commented, "You got it right the first time, then you tried to think about it!", which is pretty much on target. She still teased the one student she was really rude to last week, but it came across more as familiar teasing than nasty.

Several of the new students are really new. One woman has excellent turn-out, but said it's all from yoga (she's an yoga instructor) and this was only her fifth ballet lesson. Another new one was a guy I'd place in his late 20s (my friend thinks he's much younger) and it looks like he's also very new. Sometimes I feel really inept, but when I have true newbies to compare myself to I don't feel so bad.

We're doing this combo of two ballet steps and an odd dip/brush through/step. As she explains it, this is how a couple enters a ball, resplendent in their finery. She walked over to the huddle of students, picked me out and asked me to demonstrate with her. Starting on opposite feet, we alternately turned to or away from each other on each brush-step. It was kinda fun.

After class my friend and I hung around a little while watching the kids practice for the upcoming Nutcracker performances. It was fun to see, though watching a 15 year-old demonstrating mastery of steps that I can't even dream of attempting yet is a bit frustrating.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just like starting over

Wednesday evening we had a new instructor, who will be taking over our class likely for the rest of the calendar year. It seems our regular instructor has decided to put her health and the health of her baby ahead of teaching our class. The nerve of some people!

(For the humor-impaired, that's a joke.)

Since the new instructor hasn't taught our class before, she started over at the beginning so she can figure out where we are. I can always use some focus on the basics, so this doesn't bother me at all. This class we worked on posture and core muscles, doing tendus and pliés slowly so we could pay attention to these rather than keeping up with music. She even gave us homework!

Frankly, this was a bit of a relief. Noting it was chilly in the studio, the woman I was sharing a barre with said, "I don't start to sweat until we do jumps", and I replied, "I start sweating as soon as I hear 'passé relevé'". I understand it's important to develop strength, but I thought we were over-doing it a bit. This week I've developed a tightness in the back of my right knee that seems to be aggravated by things that put weight on that leg in demi-pointe. I'm tentatively blaming overstress from all the stuff on one leg. My normal attempts to stretch out that calf muscle just seem to make the tightness worse, so I scheduled a session with a massage therapist to see if he can loosen things up. I'm hoping I won't have to miss Sunday morning's class because of it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Overheard outside of class

I overheard the following exchange in the hallway outside of the classrooms after ballet class this morning:
Person 1: How was class?
Person 2: It was good.  Any time I walk out of class instead of being carried out is a good class.
I kid you not.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November already?

Still here, still going to class. The big storm gave us two days of heavy rain and some localized power outages (never more than 20 seconds in my neighborhood) but otherwise no real problems. I feel for those further north who caught to front side of the storm rather than the back.

The Wednesday night regular instructor came back after missing only one week. She really loves teaching and said she really missed teaching while she was sick. This week she showed up using a cane due to a bone inflammation, and she's spending most of the class sitting in a chair up front animatedly gesturing with the cane like an oversized conductor's baton. She joked that she was going Russian on us and would beat students who weren't keeping up, then hurriedly reassured everyone that she really was only joking. Even with her sitting up front her enthusiasm makes it a fun class.

I've started finding ways to stretch during normal, everyday activities. For example, laying in bed with my laptop computer on my chest (what a friend calls "Belly TV") I can bend my knees, put the soles of my feet together, and let gravity work on my turnout.

A friend is taking classes on the weekends at yet another school, and I'm going to join her tomorrow. I've now been exposed to enough different styles that I'm noticing the difference. The teacher I started with in May '11 at the "old" place was ABT, while the current teacher is Cecchetti, and my current teacher at the "new" place is RAD trained. Kind of interesting.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Happy 100!

This is posting number 100, and I thought I'd take a moment to celebrate! It's been a year and a half since I started back with ballet, and I'm still having fun with it.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my ramblings here. This blog is mostly for my own enjoyment and I've done very little to promote it, yet I've accumulated well over 4 thousand views. I give special thanks to those who have offered their thoughts.

Yesterday I went to the Maryland Rennaissance Festival. As part of my costume I wore a pair of Capezio MT-11 tights, which had been languishing in the back corner of a drawer. And back to languishing they will go! Damn Capezio for dropping the 5945s.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Woe is Me!

Arriving this evening for class, I was informed that our regular instructor was out sick. Unfortunately, "sick" wasn't a euphemism for a happy baby event, and she stayed at home to avoid the chance of sharing whatever she has with others. Instead, the artistic director for the school would be teaching her class.

Yeah. The same artistic director who is a 20-year veteran of a major ballet company. Who was a principal dancer for Suzanne Farrell. Who still teaches ballet technique at a nearby university. That guy. Oh, woe is me!

The odd thing is that while he is more demanding of technique, his class is physically less demanding than our regular instructor's. Much less time spent standing on demi-pointe, although we did a bit of that. The result is that while I worked harder mentally, I didn't work as hard physically.

After the day I've had, that might well have been exactly what I needed.

No class tomorrow night at the old place, so I'll have to do stretches on my own.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Getting serious

I'm slowly coming to the realization that I need to get serious about working out between classes, or else drop the Wednesday night class.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Assumptions

I find it amusing that stores assume that anyone purchasing dance supplies is female, even one purchasing men's tights and slippers. Discount Dance Supply just sent me an ad inviting me to "Find Your Perfect Pair" of Pointe Shoes!

It so happens that I am looking for new shoes — slippers, that is — but they're out of stock of almost everything in my size. Same with tights. Back Bay Dancewear has everything I'm looking for listed in stock, for a lower price. Tough choice there!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Passé Relevé THIS!

There's a big difference between the teaching styles of the "old" and "new" studios. At the "old" studio there is only one level of ballet. What is taught is what is needed for use in something "dancey" (my words).

The "new" studio offers other styles of dance, but the focus is ballet. There are several levels of adult class, including pointe, and the more advanced classes sometime include minor pro dancers who are looking to keep fit during breaks in their jobs. The skills that are taught at the beginner level are those that are needed to advance to the intermediate level.

Here's a clear example of the difference. In the "old" studio, we learn relevé, which is to rise to demi-pointe. We also learn passé, where we balance on one foot while bringing the other up to where the toe sorta points at the knee. Once in a while we'll do passé relevé, where we do both at once. At the "new" studio, passé relevé is an every class thing, in sequences of 4 or 8 at a time, with a clean beat when changing from front to back each time.

Same thing with degagé, which literally means to disengage, or a tendu where the foot leaves the floor and the leg ends up at a 45 degree angle. It never occurred to me that you could do degagé from relevé, much less do it in the beginner class. But we do.

How about going from fifth to second to passé relevé, with a full turn en dehors every four? If I'm not mistaken, that's a pirouette. And these in combinations of 4 or 8 on each side.

They swear this is the beginner class.

I've read that some people don't look on dancers as athletes. Those people have never taken a ballet class.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Right or Wrong?

After my two-week break from ballet, one class has left me aching in what I'm identifying as my "turn-out muscles" in my butt. It hurts a little to sit, and more to walk.

Does this mean I'm:
    A) Doing it RIGHT?
or
    B) Doing it WRONG?

Make your vote count!

Full of Twitch

Last night's class was a mixed bag. I felt pretty good at the beginning, but I felt sloppy: tendus weren't precise or quick, even for my beginner definitions of precise and quick. Balance was ok, but flexibility is out the window again. I got the floor combos well enough, but ran out of steam by the end of class.

I'm blaming it on recovery from the flu and two weeks off.

This morning my legs are full of twitch. Is that a sign that I stretched a bit too hard, or just lack of recent use? I think I'm going to try running through the barre warm-up exercises to see if that will calm them down.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No class this Wednesday either

It's Yom Kippur, and the studio is closed. Who knew? I don't really keep track any of the religious holidays, so this caught me by surprise. I don't know if it would have been a good idea to go if there was class (I'm recovering but still tired), but I'm dreading the aftermath of yet another two-week break.

I hope I can get to class Thursday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not gonna make it to class this week

Last week was fun. I was a only a little sore after class Wednesday, and it didn't get any worse after class Thursday. I was really looking forward to class this week, but I seem to be coming down with a cold or something. I'm fixing to go home from work early today, and if I'm not up to sitting an a chair banging on a keyboard I really have no place in a dance studio.

Unfortunately, I don't think there will be a class tomorrow night, even should I be feeling up to it. Maybe I'll be recovered enough to sneak in the mid-day class Friday, but that's iffy in more ways than one.

Friday, September 7, 2012

No walker, but maybe a cane?

After a good night's sleep I woke up feeling pretty good. That is, until I tried to walk. Standing was fine, but stepping forward pulled on my calf muscles which did not want to stretch in the least. Normally that feeling goes away after a few minutes, but not this time, and I was still sore as I hobbled into work.

I work sitting down most of the time, but I get up and move around enough to notice just how sore and tight my calves felt. About mid-day I took some ibuprofen, as much for the anti-inflammatory effect as to dampen the ache. One or the other helped, and I felt stiff but not prohibitively so when I got to my class at the old studio.

The studio director really isn't a ballet type, but she oohed and aahed politely over Merrill Ashley's book and pointe shoes. Candace, though, is a ballet type, and she lit up like a birthday candle when she saw them. She commented, "oh, look... she burned the satin off the toes for better traction." I said I thought she'd cut the satin, as it's a very clean edge, and she said, "You start by burning it so that it doesn't fray, then you trim it to be neat." I'll take her word for it for now, and I'll look more closely this weekend. Maybe I'll get some high-res photos of the tips and someone who knows more than I do can comment. Hint... hint...

Then we started barre work. For some reason I was the only regular to show up. A new student showed up; yet another who took ballet from age 3 to early teens, and hasn't had a class in 20-mumble years. Candace's barre routine is different from Caitlin's, and we devoted a good bit of time to stretching (I'd explained my situation, so that may have had something to do with it). We didn't do anything strenuous, and it was a good class. As much as I like Caitlin as a person, I prefer Candace when it comes to ballet. It's a shame the class she'll be teaching regularly is late morning Fridays.

Leaving class I was still sore, but not any worse than earlier. This morning, though, was rough. It's felt like I have two big knots where the upper and lower calf muscles join, though it's not particularly hard to the touch. Sitting and standing it's just a mild annoyance, but walking is hard and stairs are a strain. I don't have anything particularly energetic planned for this weekend, and I'm hoping I can stretch things out a bit. Maybe I'll make an effort to get to yoga Monday evening.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The start of the fall semester

Last night I started back to class at the new studio. It's amazing what you can forget in two weeks.

This was the first week of classes for the studio for all levels and age groups, and it was night-and-day different from the summer. Rather than walking in to an almost empty building, there were four full classes in progress with parents milling around in the open lobby. The change of classes was accompanied by the sounds I remember from grade school, with kids moving in clumps and chattering away. Rumor is that a nearby dance school imploded, and this place has been inundated with refugees.

But on with the adult beginner class...

The teacher, Joy, was well-known to some of the students, and she knew some of them by name. As this was the first class of the semester, she said she wants to figure out what people know and don't know, so she'd put together little combinations and see who recognized names and who could execute the steps. Joy is also hugely pregnant, which made for some interesting teaching techniques. She'd find a student she knew by name and ask her to demonstrate a step. This mostly happened with jumps, which she said she simply could not do.

Speaking of jumps, we did quite a few, mixed in with other steps. And relevés. The rond de jambes were interleaved with passé relevés, which I'm not sure I like: switching back and forth prevented me form focusing on either technique. It also left me aching, but that's my own fault for not keeping up during the two-week break.

The end of the class was a simple sequence starting in first en face, then tendu a la seconde with arms in high fifth, pivot on the standing foot to tendu derrière, then lift to first arabesque and hold. And hold. And try not to fall over. Damn... how did my balance get so bad so quickly? At least by the time we switched sides I felt a bit more stable, more of that "hanging by a string" feeling.

Tonight I have class at the old place. I decided to play show-and-tell with Merrill Ashley's book and pointes. Caitlin won't be there tonight, which I'm a bit disappointed about, but Candice is subbing and she might even be more appreciative of these things.

We'll see if I need a walker to get out of bed in the morning.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My first pair of pointe shoes

A conversation...

A big moment in every dancer's life is their first pair of pointe shoes. And I got my first pair of pointe shoes today!

What? Pointe shoes? You? Didn't you say you're a guy?

Last I checked... hmm... yup, still a guy. Tights for class not withstanding.

But guys don't dance pointe; that's a girl thing.

Not entirely true. The Russians think it's good training, especially for partnering. And then there are the Trocaderos.

But you were all worried about that student... and you have no training!

Training? What are you talking about? I don't need training! Not for this...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Two weeks off

I only had one class this week, as the new studio is closed until after Labor Day. I'm kicking myself for not stretching as much as I should have, but it's the next couple of weeks that will be the challenge. See, our instructor at the old studio is taking next week off, and I have tickets to the theatre the week after. Thus the next time I have ballet will be the first week of September, when I'll probably have three classes: Wednesday evening at the new studio, Thursday evening at the old studio, and Friday mid-day at the old studio with their new instructor. I doubt I'll be able to get to the Friday class on a regular basis, but I want to welcome the new instructor by showing up for her first class.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Another milestone

Pardon me for being excited, but I've reached another milestone: I've worn a hole in the toe of my slipper!

Ok, it's a tiny hole in one of the pleats. I only noticed it because the white lining is showing through the black outer. But it's clearly from wear and not a cut or tear. I wore a similar hole in my slipper waybackwhen, but that took four years. And, yes, I was excited about that too.

I tried wearing an Under Armour "heatgear" shirt tonight, as suggested by Jeff in his comment on a previous posting. It's less absorbent than a cotton T-shirt, but it "breathes" better which makes it more comfortable. It's also longer and much stretchier, so I don't feel the need to yank my shirt down after every movement. Thanks for the great suggestion, Jeff!

Tonight we did the usual pliés, tendus, and rond-de-jambes, with lots of focus on position and form. We did a sequence of fifth position - coupé devant - passé devant - passé derriere - coupé derriere - fifth, and then reverse, which built on the work we did last week. Then the instructor introduced us to attitude. The phrase "copping an attitude" has new meaning now. Those suckers hurt! But I've come to believe that, in ballet, if it doesn't hurt you're doing it wrong. Or not trying hard enough.

I didn't get much feedback from the instructor tonight. She did correct my arm position in a plié while I had my foot on the barre, so I'm hoping that's a sign that I'm headed in the right direction.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dancing for Balanchine

I received my autographed, first-edition copy of Merrill Ashley's Dancing for Balanchine in the mail. For a used, 28 year-old book, it's in great shape. Only paid $20 for it too, which is good because I bought it to read and not admire on a shelf. I think Amazon's customer classification software is horribly confused by me. At least Netflix has stopped recommending Lesbian themed movies. :-) But I digress.

I haven't had a chance to read much of the book yet, but it appears to be an odd mix of autobiography and technical reference of Balanchine style. Perhaps, for her, the two are inseparable, so the combination makes sense. After all, she is Balanchine's creation, and according to the book he often taught dancers how to perform certain steps by telling them, "Watch Merrill." However, this mix means I can't read it like I would a regular biography. Nor can I treat it like a pure reference like Gretchen Ward Warren's Classical Ballet Technique. I'll have to digest it in pieces. No doubt I'll have more to say about the book in this blog as I get deeper into it.

Another reason for taking the book in pieces is the same reason I essentially skipped Chapter 2 of GWW. There's only so much I can handle of a world-class ballerina at the peak of her abilities demonstrating in text and photos how wrong it is for the working foot to turn from its perfectly parallel position as it moves outward from fifth in a tendu. She may have a perfect 180 degrees of turnout, but I have half that. Yes, there is a lesson I can learn -- that I should maintain whatever turnout I do have as the working foot moves forward -- but sometimes it's hard to see that for the frustration my perfectionist streak feels. Ah, well... little steps.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Scheduling confusion

For most of the last year I've been taking class twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. When the old place dropped their Tuesday class, I was able to take class Tuesdays at the new place. It's been a nice routine.

No more.

Next week is the last Tuesday night at the new place, then they close down until after Labor Day (first Monday in September for non-US folk). The fall schedule hasn't been posted yet, but the rumor is that the beginner class will resume on Wednesday evening, as it was before the summer. The intermediate class will still be Tuesday evenings, but I'm not ready for that yet.

What about the old place? They're continuing the Thursday evening class, but the other class will be mid-day Friday. Even if I could make that (and I can't on a regular basis with my current work assignment), I still end up with class on consecutive days and a long gap between.

I'll probably end up taking class Wed and Thu, because I want to continue at both studios. Maybe I'll go back to the yoga class I used to take Monday evenings to try and even out the week. If I feel insufficiently abused I could take a "stretch" class Saturday mornings.

Someone suggested another studio that has classes Monday evenings, but it'd be quite a drive in heavy rush-hour traffic on a two-lane road. I'm guessing it'd be 45-60 minutes, and maybe longer. I might give it a try to experience the Vaganova style they teach (both my current schools are ABT flavor) though I'm not sure I'm advanced enough to really notice the difference.

Regardless, I'm thinking it's time to make a permanent space for the barre I bought some months back. I think I know enough now to be able to practice without developing any really bad habits.

Small achievements

Last night I decided to push myself a bit harder. I tried to focus more during the barre routine, tried to keep my heels down longer going down in grande plié and down earlier on the way back up, stretched a bit farther than I might have otherwise. I figured I might as well, as I was still fricking sore from Tuesday night. And it seems to have worked well.

One of the things we've been doing recently at the end of the stretches is a one-footed relevé with the other foot on the barre, held for an eternity. One of my problems has been that with the barre down where I've had it, it's below my hip in relevé and my leg slides off. When it came time to plunk my leg up last night I adjusted the barre about 1.5" higher. That made the stretches more of a challenge, but also kept my leg from sliding off. With less to struggle with I was able to stay balanced in relevé, hands in 5th, for the entire time. On both sides, even! And I could have stayed longer. I even managed to find just a little bit more extension so I could get my foot down more or less gracefully (ok, less) without having to use my hands or twist sideways.

Now maybe I've just sent the experienced dancers rolling in laughter. As long as it's a sympathetic laugh I'm right there with you. But, damn it, after nearly falling on my face Tuesday I needed a few wins.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A new exercise

I can only imagine the frustration an instructor must feel when teaching a class of rank beginners. She asks for passé and gets some sort of yoga pose. What to do? The answer is to channel it in a productive direction.

"Everyone sit on the floor. Extend your legs in front of you. Sit up straight, bend your knees, turn your legs out and put the soles of your feet together. Now straighten one leg. Using your hands, lift the heel of the other foot so your toes are touching your shin just below the knee. This is passé. Lower the heel so it rests on your shin; this is what you're doing. Now lift your heel away from the floor again. Feel the different muscles it uses? See if you can do it without using your hands."

All this time I'm thinking, "That's easy for you to say! You probably have been dancing ballet since you got out of diapers, have 180 degrees of turnout, and are seriously flexible. I'm none of the above." But I can feel a little bit more rotation than before, and it is a different set of muscles. Muscles that are so unused to being activated that they spasm in sympathy with the knot in my calf that's been threatening to cramp.

All in all, a learning experience.

Later, after we put the portable barres away, we did more balance work. Standing with our hands on our hips, we did a mix of tendus and dégagés. I don't know why, but putting my hands on my hips makes me feel totally off-balance. Then we moved on to pliés, both demi and grande, and relevés in first. She announced that she was quite pleased with how we were doing that, so we would make it harder by doing it in fifth. If this had been a traffic stop, the next step would have been a breathalyzer test.

She did allow as how everyone had trouble with this, which is why you never saw it on stage. Somehow that didn't quite make me feel all better, though.

I guess I could practice...  Naah.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Warm and Sticky

That's the weather outside --  96F and high humidity --  but it also applies to my dance gear. Apparently when I came home from class Tuesday I neglected to separate my soaking-wet T-shirt from my slippers. I had clean everything else, but both pairs of slippers were damp. Yuck.

The up-side to this was that I discovered that it's true that dampening the suede pads will increase your traction on a slippery floor. I guess my previous attempts at dampening them was too superficial, because I definitely did NOT slip this evening.

Finding new places to be sore

If I complained that the new studio's beginner class was too easy, I withdraw the complaint. It has evolved into quite a challenge. We don't do anything at the barre that I haven't done before, but there's much greater focus on form and position. At certain points the instructor will walk around the room to get a close look at each student, and is not shy about helping us find the proper position by gently twisting a leg or nudging a hip. She showed me that I could get a bit more turnout in dégagé al la seconde, though I haven't figured out which muscles to engage to do it on my own. She also wanted my hip lower when I had my leg up on the barre, but while I agree it's a little bit cocked that's a no-go at this point.

The real challenge came after we put the barres away. We did a slow series of tendus, and then a slow series of tendus and dégagés, all while standing with our hands on our hips. All I can say is that I'm not the only one who found this difficult. On the other hand, while I sometimes teetered badly I didn't fall over or have to swing my arms wildly. Oddly, when she made it "more difficult" by adding arm movements to second, first, and then fifth, I found my balance to be much better. Maybe I'm using my arms for balance more than I thought? Just in case anyone thought they were doing well, we finished with a relevé on one foot with the other in passé, which everyone had trouble with.

Other than being hot and sweaty afterward, I thought it was a really good class. By the next evening, though, I was sore in some completely new places. Most notable was the very top of my calf muscles, just behind and below the knees. I honestly didn't realize you could be sore there. I'm also sore at the joint of my thighs and buttocks, which I recognize as "turnout muscles", as well as lesser and more familiar aches in the lower calf muscles.

Tonight I have class at my old studio. With any luck I'll actually be awake for it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sticky floors, sticky shoes

As I mentioned earlier, I ended up wearing my regular tights and T-shirt combo. I was going to wear the bike leggings instead, but I when I was getting dressed before leaving home I couldn't find them. Once at the studio I started out wearing my black slippers, and noticed once again how sticky the Marley floor felt. Since I'd brought my white slippers, I decided to see if they felt less sticky.

When I'd first started classes a year ago, I didn't realize that finding men's ballet slippers would be difficult. I'd only gotten the white pair because someone who had ordered them hadn't picked them up for several weeks, and the salesman declared them available for purchase. They ended up being a half size small, so they'd been replaced with the black slippers (bought online) fairly rapidly. Thus they have very little wear on them, and I haven't scuffed up the suede to increase my traction on slick wood floors like I have the black pair.

I've never been good with fashion rules, and I've been known to cajole female friends into going with me when I'm forced to buy clothing to avoid fashion faux pas.  When I bought the white pair, a saleswoman had commented (with a tone of distain, I might note) that they really didn't go with black tights. My response at the time was, "I'll worry about that after I decide to continue with classes". But when looking for a class I'd noticed that some schools had a dress code for males that includes black tights and white slippers worn with white socks. I'd tried this combination on at home, so I knew that it'd be a bit snug but not overly tight -- tolerable for an experiment.

The experiment proved my hypothesis: the white slippers felt much less sticky on the Marley floor than the black slippers. I may have to get another pair of slippers -- of the right size -- to wear at the new studio.

Jet-lagged... without the jet

I'm teaching a class in Europe this week. Only problem is that while the class is in Europe, I'm still in the US. See, it's an on-line class. Which means I have to wake up at 2am, when it's pitch black, to be ready to teach at 9am their time. We break for lunch about the time my cat normally demands to be fed. When class is over for the day it's about noon, which makes it hard to get back to sleep. Toss in a ballet class in the evening, and you have time-zone confusion.

I did make it to class last night, and I'm glad I did. We've moved on from trivially simple things to doing harder work. Things that require real balance, like doing tendus with hands on your hips. And being off-balance from the weird sleep schedule didn't help.

Nor did the temperature in the studio. I ended up wearing a T-shirt and tights this time, and I ended up dripping. Don't believe me? Here's photo of my T-shirt taken after class.

It should be a nice, uniform grey color. The collar is wet enough to wring out, and the back and the front are nearly so. And that was only an hour class. I know I'm out of shape, but I gotta find some lighter-weight dance gear.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ballet in Japan

Last December I found myself in Japan. While wandering the streets of Kyoto, wishing I could read the signs, I saw a few that I could recognize.


Yes, they have ballet classes in Japan! This is the Mori Keiju Ballet Studio・BAP. There's a website and a Facebook page. Have I mentioned yet that I can't read Japanese?


It seems Japanese girls put on their pointe shoes one foot at a time, just like everyone else. I can't swear to it, though.

The thought crossed my mind to go in, but images from the movie "Lost in Translation", where the Japanese director of a commercial goes on and on in Japanese while Bill Murray's character sits there uncomprehending, also crossed my mind.  After about 10 seconds contemplating I moved on without even checking their schedule. Anyone who drops in on a ballet class where he or she doesn't speak the local language gets a tip of my hat.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Not how I planned it

I decided to experiment with different attire for class this evening. I dug out a pair of bicycling leggings I hoped would be cooler than my dance tights. These come to mid-calf, so I matched my white slippers with a pair of thin white socks. Rounding it out was a t-shirt with no silkscreening. Rather than empty my dance bag of my regular gear I just added to it. This, I felt, would offer the option of changing my mind. Thus I had just about two of everything stuffed in my bag.

I find it useful to visualize activities before doing them, so about 5 minutes out from the studio I began to picture the class, starting with my arrival. As I mentally ran through changing I had a sudden image of one of my two dance belts sitting by the sink to be washed, followed by the horrific image of the other hanging up in my laundry room after being washed this weekend.

With a sinking feeling I dumped my dance bag on the seat next to me (distracted driving, anyone?) and pawed through the pile. Two pair of slippers, a pair of socks, leggings, tights, t-shirt... and no dance belt. Now, I don't want to brag, but when I tried on the leggings this morning it was obvious that I'd need to wear a dance belt under it, and the tights would be as bad if not worse. Nor would the thin underpants I was wearing do much to help -- the temps have been near 100F (about 38C) and I was dressed for comfort.

Thinking quickly, I remembered there being a dance store not far away. I headed there happy that I had a half hour before class. I would miss my extended warmup, but I might be able to avoid being late. Arriving at the store I ran to the door, only to discover they'd closed promptly at 6:00, and it was 6:09. Lacking time to go anywhere else and make it back for class I admitted defeat and went home.

*Le Sigh*

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Past-tense Oops

It seems that there was class Thursday a week ago. The instructor was caught in traffic, and arrived about the same time I gave up and left. Oh well.

Consolidating class to one day a week has helped get everyone there at the same time. This week there were five students at the barre, including one new woman. I got the impression that she has previous dance experience, but probably not ballet.

I'm debating changing my class attire for the rest of the summer. While the Thursday night class is generally is cool enough, the Tuesday night classes at the new studio are held in a very large room that seems overly warm to me. As in "wring out my dripping T-shirt" warm. I may switch from tights to something shorter and cooler.

I might also try wearing my white slippers instead of the black ones. The old studio's floor is wood and is fairly slick; probably great if you're learning ballroom, but not great for ballet. I've done a bit of scuffing of the suede pads on the black slippers to increase their hold on the floor, but the new studio has Marley floors. Instead of being worried about slipping, I'm finding it hard to slide my foot in a tendu let alone pivot on a weight-bearing foot. The white slippers have very little wear on them, so maybe they'll slide a bit more easily. It's a cheap thing to test.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Balanchine Ballerinas

Pointe shoes have a limited life. Once they're "dead" they get trashed, unless you're famous. If you're famous you sign your pointes and they end up in display cases like these:


Sorry for the poor photo quality -- I was shooting through glass with my mobile phone using only ambient light. Click on any of the pics to see bigger versions.

Here are some closer looks:

From left to right, the autographs are from Merrill Ashley, Patricia McBride, and Suzanne Farrell. All "Balanchine Ballerinas", as one website puts it.

Note to Self: OW!

Not stretching does NOT mean avoiding the pain in my hamstrings and hip flexors. It just means it huts a LOT more in class.

Otherwise class was good. I got what I choose to interpret as subtle encouragement to continue attending the Intermediate class, which I will do (starting next week -- I have conflicts tonight).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A rare Thursday evening off

I'd debated skipping class this evening to baby my sore calf muscles, but convinced myself that the stretching would do me good. The decision was taken out of my hands when I found that the studio is closed for the holiday week.

I'm a little disappointed but I can't say I'm that upset about it.

A quote. A thought.

"Ballet classes are not intended to be fun. They're hard work. The fun comes outside of class."

So sayeth the instructor of my Tuesday night class (paraphrased, as I'm notoriously poor at remembering direct quotes). And she's right. If I wanted to spend my evening having fun it wouldn't be sweating in a bare dance studio with a former pro picking on my every mistake. I want to walk out knowing that I'm getting a little bit better every class, if only a tiny bit.

Why bring this up on a Thursday afternoon? Because I'm still a bit sore from Tuesday's class, and I was just reminded of that while walking down the hallway. Not "ZOMG I'll never walk again" sore; I never felt like that even yesterday. But sore enough to know that I got a good, hard workout.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Survived!

I really wanted to show my best for the new instructor this evening. Alas, it was not to be.

I've been working with a new client for the last couple of weeks, and the office ergonomics (or lack thereof) are wreaking hell with my upper back and neck. I had an appointment with my massage therapist and the chiro she works with booked, but the power outages forced me to reschedule to yesterday morning. It really helped the neck and back, but the rest of me feels like I've been beaten with a baseball bat. I didn't realize the knots in my legs had gotten so bad.

I knew things weren't going to be great when I started getting cramps in both calf muscles while I was warming up before class. Things got better during class, but my normally good balance wasn't there.

At the barre the instructor really works the basics, which is something I need. I don't feel that attending the beginner classes will be a waste of time by any means.

In the center we did simple tendus and dégagés, and I had a bitch of a time with my balance. It was really frustrating: here I'd asked to take the intermediate class too, and I could barely keep my balance. But I'm stubborn.

When class was over I thought about skipping out, but decided to try at least part of the intermediate class. Much to my relief, the barre routine started with what I've been doing for most of a year, which was a huge boost to my confidence. With that I started doing much better. I have to imagine that the instructor was confused where the teetering guy from earlier went. I feel like I was doing as well as those immediately around me, though there were others who were clearly far better.

Eventually, though, the combinations became faster and more complex, and I began falling behind. I'd foolishly positioned myself at the end of the barre, and when doing the second side there was no one I could follow if I forgot the pattern. I tried switching with the woman next to me, only to find she was having trouble too.

Finally, 40 minutes in to the 90 minute class, we started with stretches that would have put me in the hospital. I took that as my cue and retreated, signaling my thanks to the instructor before leaving.

In summary, I had 100 minutes of class and learned that I do indeed straddle the two classes. If the teacher will permit, I'll probably continue to take the full beginner class and the first half of the intermediate class, staying until I feel like I'm over my head. Maybe by the fall semester I'll be able to manage the whole intermediate class.

Anticipation

Tonight will be my second class at the new studio, and probably the first class with the regular instructor. Last week established that I can keep up with their beginner class, but somehow I'm still nervous about it. I'm still toying with trying the intermediate class that follows right after, but a pro dancer friend of mine made the excellent observation that trying to do back-to-back classes may be overdoing it, especially since the second class is 90 minutes. A compromise may be to start the intermediate class and drop out if I feel overworked.

More reason to talk with the instructor.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

First Class at a New Studio

With my old studio dropping the Tuesday night ballet class for the summer, I decided to try a class at a new place. It's a 25 minute drive rather than 5, but it's against traffic. The facility is beautiful, with several classrooms, a small theater, and real changing rooms with lockers. Unsure how long it'd take and how much paperwork there might be, I got there 45 minutes early. The paperwork was a simple one-page form.

The lady at the front desk pointed out that they have ballet Tuesday and Thursday evenings, but the schedule she was pointing to said the Thursday evening class was an Advanced Ballet class. I said something about hoping to move up to the Intermediate Ballet class some day, and she kind of seemed embarrassed. Honestly, I don't look like someone who is taking an advanced ballet class.

I wandered around for a while to get the feel of the place, then headed for the locker room to change.

The floor in the classroom is some sort of synthetic (Marley?) that feels almost sticky without actually being sticky. No worries about sliding across this floor by accident! I'm pretty sure it's a sprung floor, as it feels resilient under the feet. One wall is all mirrors, and a wall perpendicular to that has the classic double barre mounted to it. The portable barres are all galvanized pipe construction and non-adjustable.

It turned out that I wasn't the only man in the class. The other guy remarked that it'd been a long time since there'd been another man, and trying to be friendly I commented that it'd been years for me. I think he misunderstood me, responding as if it'd been a long time since I'd taken a dance class, when it's only been 5 days. He tried to reassure me that there were plenty of people just starting out, and I wouldn't be left behind.

Nope. More like the other way around.

The regularly scheduled instructor is away this month, so we had a substitute: the artistic director for the school. He's a retired 20-year veteran of the Washington Ballet, so he knows a few things about the subject. He's amazing to watch.

I'm glad I took time to warm up and stretch on my own before class, because we did very little. OTOH, the class is an intro class, so just the normal class work is about my normal warm-up pace. That's not to say I didn't learn anything. I did. But it was more of detail rather than basics. He wanted coupés and tendus executed sharply, and fondus and développés executed softly. Attention to detail for those ready to handle it, and encouragement to those who needed it.

I could barely cover a smile when one of the women asked how to do a rapid tendu sequence "when there isn't time." His response started with, "make time", and then he explained. My smile was because I've asked that very same question, and if I can do it I know she can learn to.

The hour was over before I wanted it to be. I hung around to talk with him a moment, and asked how difficult the intermediate class was. I think he misunderstood my question because he answered, "there are some pros in the class" and he pointed out a couple of people who dance professionally. I wasn't sure how to take that. What I was feeling for, but didn't ask, was whether I could keep up with the intermediate class. Was he implying that I wasn't ready to take the intermediate class, or trying to assure me that it would be a good class? A little confused, and having paid for only the one class, I asked if I could sit in the back and watch, which he invited me to do. I went and changed, then found a comfortable spot on a pile of Pilates mats next to one of the other beginner students.

At first, my feeling was, "I can do this!" They didn't do anything I haven't done. That feeling lasted about 20 minutes. The pace kept picking up and the combinations became more intricate until a fair number of people were struggling to keep pace. It would have been a real challenge for me, but I don't think I would have been totally lost. I was mostly watching the good students with whom I would not compare favorably, but I did note that there were a few who were frequently a beat behind or doing the wrong step and they stuck with it. So maybe I could pull it off.

I ended up leaving about 40 minutes into the 90 minute class because I kept wanting to join in. I have the feeling I'm at that uncomfortable point where I'm at the head of their beginner class and the tail of their intermediate class. Oh well.

Next week I believe the regular teacher will be back. I don't think there's any sort of planned progression from class to class in the summer, especially with the change in instructor. I'm definitely going to go to the beginner class, and will try to talk with the instructor beforehand and tell her that I'd like to take the intermediate class too. Then she can let me know between classes if it's ok.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dwindling interest

Not mine, my fellow students'. Once again, I was the only one to show up last night. I know why some of them didn't show up: one is a once-a-week who came Tuesday, another is sick. But this time last year we were worried about having to pull out the old rickety barre for lack of space at the new one. I'm guessing, without any basis, that most wanted to try ballet again after taking classes as a child, and having done so have lost interest again.

Me, I'm looking forward to starting at a new studio Tuesday evenings. They have beginner ballet at the same time as my current class, and an intermediate class (if I get that far) immediately afterward. Most, if not all, of the instructors at the new place have professional performance experience, which will be a change. I do better when challenged. And I'll still take the Thursday class at the old place.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capezio does it again

They've apparently dropped the 5945 tights I like. So tonight I'll buy a few more pair, if I can find them on the 'net, and then go looking for another brand for when these wear out.

What brand and model tights do the men out there like?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sometimes bad is good

In my last post I mentioned that I'd considered sitting in on a class at another studio, but they'd moved their adult beginner classes from Wednesday evenings to Tuesdays. Well, at this evening's class I learned that my regular studio is dropping the Tuesday evening adult ballet class for the summer due to low attendance.

Coincidence? Or is someone reading my blog?

Honestly, I suspect it's that they've started a Thursday evening tap class right after the ballet class, and some folk take both. But it leaves Tuesday evenings open for other activities.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

While the cat's away...

Our regular teacher, Catelyn, took a well-earned holiday this week, leaving the adult ballet class in the hands of a substitute teacher, Candice.

Tuesday, one of our newer students showed up, full of excitement and energy. The class was a bit more organized than usual, as Candice brought a written lesson plan in her notebook. The routines were different, of course, but they flowed nicely. Catelyn spends most of her time working with young children, and she tries not to single out anyone for criticism. Candice had a nice mix of correction and compliment, a bit more appropriate for an adult class.

I enjoyed the class, though somehow I always seemed to be in front of the other student, blocking her view of the mirror. She's petite and I'm not, and I'd rather have let her be in front, but she always lined up behind me when going across the floor.

Thursday turned into a private lesson, as no one else attended. I know that summer is a difficult time for those with children, and one of our Thursday regulars just adopted a child last month. But at one point we were running out of barre space, and now three is a big class.

It was a good class, and I felt like I was getting the hang of the sequences of steps she wanted. She introduced waltz turns, which felt somewhat familiar, and the fouette turn, which I definitely remember.

It may sound like I'm down on Catelyn. That's not true. She's a great teacher with boundless energy. I've seen her with kids and she's amazing. However, her focus in dance is not ballet. And I think I'd benefit from a teacher who was a bit more demanding; trust me, a het guy taking ballet is not looking for coddling.

I did do another net search for adult ballet classes in my area. There's one I thought I might drop in on, but wouldn't you know that they've just ended their Wednesday evening classes, and the classes starting up now are Tuesday evenings. I may yet take a peek, but I wanted to see how Candice worked out this week.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The oddball things people believe

People are willing to believe all sorts of crazy things that just don't pass the "smell test". Here's one such.

I posted a picture of the Sansha "Futura" pointe shoes I mentioned in my last update to another forum. For reference, here's the photo:


I received the following response:

True toe shoes like they wear in ballet have a smaller toe area and they have no real support. Most pro ballet people have their toenails removed to decrease foot pain. Your ankles and tendons have to be very strong.
They are not designed for walking.
Well. Gee. Where do I start?

It's not like I have no previous exposure to ballet. I've never been en pointe myself, but one of my college girlfriends took classes with the Baltimore Ballet and I learned a lot from her. While I was taking ballet in the 1980s I was recruited by my teacher to help with the girls' pointe class that took place immediately before our adult class. This gave the girls a chance to do some basic partner moves, including turns, lifts and jumps. Some of the girls were a delight to dance with, while others... well... it was a lot like weight lifting at the gym, except you had to watch your feet (and other body parts) more carefully lest you get stepped on or kicked. Those pointe shoes are hard!

I'm friends with one or two professional ballet dancers. None of them ever mentioned having their toenails removed. None ever mentioned it as a common practice. In fact, none of them ever mentioned anything about it. The only mention of toenails has been when one got bruised, or maybe came off due to an injury. But maybe others know something I don't.

I do agree with the part about "your ankles and tendons have to be very strong", hence my concern for the other student. She says she can still get up on pointe wearing her old shoes, but somehow I suspect that means for a moment, while holding on to something for stability. Not taking a class.

Comments? I know you folk are reading; I look at the stats. You don't have to be an authority; you just have to have an opinion.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Modern focus

One of the other students brought a box to class last night. It contained a pair of Sansha pointe shoes -- the "Futura" model. I'd never seen pointe shoes that laced up like sneakers before! She said she bought them because she thought they would "give more support" during class. Oh, and they were "so cute", which is probably the primary reason she got them. She bought them on the Internet, and they didn't fit, so it'll be a few weeks before they reappear, if they do.

Note that this is NOT a pointe class. It's not even an advanced class. It's an open adult ballet class where people attend as time permits. I'm about the only one who shows up twice a week most of the time, and there are a handful of others who show up regularly once a week. Apparently this student had some pointe training years ago (like more than 30 years ago, if I remember her previous comments) but somehow I don't think that makes wearing pointe shoes in class a good idea.

But that's not really the pointe of this posting (pun intended).

I've done some reading on pointe work, and was surprised that our teacher didn't try to dissuade the student from trying to wear pointe shoes to class. Now, I knew her focus was on Modern and other styles of dance, but I'd assumed that a woman couldn't graduate from a university with a degree in dance without having at least some training in pointe work. Foolish me. Apparently this is a requirement for most university dance programs, and is often a prerequisite for admission, but not the one our teacher attended. So while she's had training in ballet, she's never been on pointe. Has no experience with pointe classes, or pointe shoe fitting, or practical knowledge of the physical requirements to be able to do pointe work safely.

Ok, I've never been on pointe either. I'm a guy, and for the most part pointe work is a girl thing. Even if I wanted to, I don't have the flexibility in my feet to be able to do it -- I'm just getting to where demi-pointe isn't a struggle (and damn proud of it). Also, I weigh almost twice what the average girl on pointe weighs. But I've read about it, and listened to people who know -- really know -- talk about it. And I'm worried that a student who has difficulty doing an elevé on one foot at the barre really doesn't have the strength to do much of anything safely in pointe shoes. And it concerns me that the teacher doesn't seem worried too.

Next week our regular teacher has the week off, and her friend I mentioned recently will be substituting. She's much more into ballet, and I have little doubt that she's done a good bit of pointe work. She'd probably have valuable input, but I doubt the subject will come up.

Comments? Opinions?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Changes afoot

No, that's not a pun.

As I said in the last entry, I've been pretty good about making it to class twice a week. A week ago Thursday I had a private lesson by virtue of no one else showing up. Although I enjoy the social interaction with my classmates, it's fun having a private lesson because the teacher gives me direct feedback without any of that "let's not call out someone for their mistakes" filtering. And I get to work on what I'm having trouble with without having to worry about disrupting the class for others.

This week Tuesday Catelyn, our regular teacher, had the day off to recover from the school show she ran over the weekend. Substituting for her was a friend who has also recently graduated from college with a degree in dance. She'd taught a class for us some weeks ago, and I liked her. The only thing I don't like about her is that she hasn't quite gotten the concept that we're out-of-shape adults, not college-age dance majors. She's not stupid about it, but I was quite sore afterward. The next morning my calf muscles were still aching, which went on all afternoon, evening, and night. 200mg of Ibuprofen every 12 hours dampened the ache, but didn't make it go away.

Thursday I was still sore, which didn't bode well for class Thursday evening. Catelyn gets such a kick out of seeing her students sweating and sore, and she was positively gleaming in class. The stretching at the barre helped loosen my muscles a bit, though I think things are still a bit inflamed as it felt like I had a fold of cloth or something caught in the hollow behind the knees when I bent my legs.

So what's this about changes? Rumor is that we'll be seeing a lot more of the substitute instructor in the months ahead. As much fun as Catelyn is, I favor the change. Catelyn prefers modern dance, and I think she feels constrained by ballet's rigid forms. My impression is that the new teacher likes ballet a lot more.

Oh... one more thing. We're doing a series of steps that included a pas-de-Chat. Catelyn said something like, "I think some of you have a lot more plie than you're doing -- it'll give you more height." So we all practiced a couple of times without the music. Apparently white men CAN jump, as I got enough altitude to elicit bitchy comments like "why can't I jump like that?" Catelyn's reply was "That's why we all hate men -- they can jump like that and women can't." Heh.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oh, wow! It's been a while!

Sorry, I got involved in life stuff and forgot about keeping up this blog. But that doesn't mean I haven't been dancing!

Still going to class, twice a week most of the time. I looked at the calendar and realized it's been a whole year since I started back (and more now). Where has the time gone? I think I must have overslept and missed most of April.

I'm going to keep this short, but I have one thing I'll crow about. We've always included stretching at the barre with one foot up, which is one of my least favorite things to do. If the groans and swearing is any indication, I'm not the only one who feels that way. To this our teacher recently added a rise to demi-pointe and balance. When we started this I could hold it for about two seconds before having to come back down, often due to cramping in the calf muscle. Last night I was able to hold it while on my left foot for the 10-20 seconds of the exercise, and for much of it while on my right. Woot!

One of the reasons, I suspect, is that I'm finally getting enough flexibility in my ankles so that I'm (almost) able to get my foot in line with the rest of my leg, and I can feel a lessening of the strain off the calf muscles. I can definitely feel it in our plié/relevé routine -- there's a point in the rise when the effort level drops. I'm not there yet, but it's the first really notable sign of improvement in that area. And it's been a long time coming.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pink Overload

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I'd acquired a barre. This afternoon I got the first e-mailing from the manufacturer, advertising their "New Special Edition Complete Ballerina Package."

Now, I will admit that women (and girls) far outnumber men (and boys) in ballet classes. But this thing is Pink Overload. It's a barre with all the tubes painted pink, a pink ballet tutu, and a personalized carry bag embroidered in pink.

I think my eyes are bleeding.

Oh, and the image they included in the ad has a big black dot on it like you'd see on a censored porno ad, though what you'd censor at the outer edge of a frilly tutu I don't even what to think about. The website has a larger version of the same photo, sans censor dot, so it couldn't have been too bad.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Back after a week off

I missed class all last week due to travel. The hotel I stayed in, a Hyatt House facility, was great. It's set up for longer-term stays, with a kitchenette, and a goodly expanse of wooden floor. If I'd moved the couch and desk a bit it might have made a nice practice floor. But like most of these trips, I came back after dinner and crawled into bed at shockingly early hours. I did a little stretching now and then, but all thought of practicing the new steps we've been learning evaporated.

So last night I went back to class. I did take about 15 minutes before leaving for class to do some basic stretches, but nothing extensive. Class itself went pretty well, and although I initially forgot that we'd even learned new steps in the petite allegro we've been working on before I left, I remembered them pretty quickly.

Early this morning, though, I woke up feeling tight in my left inner thigh. The cat was howling for more food, so I decided to get out of bed. Bad idea. Within seconds the tightness progressed to a full-fledged, nausea-inducing cramp. For the next 5 or so minutes I tried to figure out how to relieve the cramp, without making it worse instead. Eventually it subsided enough to hobble downstairs, feed the cat to shut it up (priorities, you know), extract a bottle of Gatorade from the 'fridge and swallow some mineral supplements I thought might help. Then I limped back upstairs and eased back into bed.

My usual standard for when I need to resort to Gatorade is that when it tastes good I need it, because the rest of the time the taste isn't very good. But the low-sugar G2 stuff I had is just vile regardless. Of course, that's why it's still in the 'fridge. But still, what's the point of something that tastes so bad you can't drink it?


When I woke up at a more normal hour I discovered that I'm sore in both inner thighs. There are still occasion twinges, but none have approached a cramp. I didn't think I was dehydrated, but I'm going to see how much water I can get into myself today. After all, I have class tomorrow night!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Don't Judge Me By My Tights

I came across an article entitled "Don't Judge Me By My Tights" this evening. It's a commentary on the challenges a male dancer faces in current American society. I thought it well worth passing along.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Washing dancewear?

Ok, I'll admit ignorance of the finer details of washing dancewear. What's the best way to clean stuff like microfiber tights really well, but not damage them? At around $30 each I don't want to be tossing them in the laundry when they say "hand wash".

What's your technique?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ow. Just effin ow.

A couple weeks ago I checked with dance studio regarding the resumption of classes after the holidays, and was told they started Jan 10th. With my new barre assembled I figured I'd spend a bit of the five days remaining doing gentle stretches in preparation.

This morning I got an email asking who was showing up for class tonight. Huh? Apparently our instructor decided not to take this week off after all. Dummy me, too stupid to stick to the original plan, grabbed my dance gear and went to class.

Ow. Effin' Ow.

My balance was definitely off, but got better as class progressed. I've lost some stretch in my calves, making plies uncomfortable. I've lost a lot of stretch in my hamstrings. Ow. And in my hip flexors. Ow ow.

I'm not looking forward to getting out of bed tomorrow morning. But I'm back in class!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Received the new barre today

My barre arrived from Vita Vibe. The name of the company makes me think of something that would be sold only late night on some obscure TV channel, but the product appears to be well engineered. It was well packed, with everything nicely padded without a lot of waste. Once I had it unpacked, setup took all of 5 minutes.