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


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.