Thursday, December 10, 2015

So I went back...

I didn't go this past weekend, but I did go to the Beginner II class Tuesday night, after an absence of about six weeks (not counting the two classes I took elsewhere). I wanted to get there early enough for a good warm-up, but a wreck on the highway slowed me down and I only had about 10 minutes to change at get ready. Apparently my absence has been noted, as I did get a "Welcome Back!" from the instructor.

I didn't do too badly in class. I had a minor goof during barre, but the bigger concern was the cramping in my upper calf muscles. By the end of barre even holding tendu would cause the beginning of a spasm. On the other hand, my balance didn't seem to have fared too badly. Even later I felt in control during turns. Perhaps the less-forgiving, slippery floors of the other studios taught me something about where my weight is ending up.

My energy was holding up pretty well through the first 75 minutes of class. If it had ended then I'd have been fine, but this is a 90 minute class and I was pretty well burned out by the end. The instructor made a general comment that it didn't seem like we were putting energy into it, and in my case it was a choice between one energetic run-through or getting to the end of class with some measure of control.

The next morning I woke up hurting pretty badly. The worst was the underside of my right foot just in front of my heel, which felt like the joints had frozen up. My glutes (aka "turn-out muscles") hurt almost as much, and when I got to thinking about it my calf muscles were joining the chorus. With a little help I've managed to get all of these to quiet down, and none seem to suggest any injury (just lack of recent use).

Saturday, December 5, 2015

My problem with the Nutcracker

I went to see The Washington Ballet's Nutcracker last night. And I discovered I have a problem with it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Burned out

For months I've been fighting the feeling like I'm beating my head against the wall. Yes, I can see slow, steady improvement, but to what end?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Going "old school"

I was working at home today and really didn't feel like driving 40 minutes each way to class. So I decided to check out my old ballet studio, the one I started at back in the spring of 2011. It's about 5 minutes from my house, or 10 if I hit all the lights. Most of the folk I knew there were gone, save one woman who helps teach kids classes during the day and still takes the adult ballet class.

This was the first time I'd been on a wood floor in close to three years, and I'd forgotten how slippery it is. I dampened the suede pads of my shoes just a bit to make them stick better and that seemed to be all I needed. Clearly my balance has improved (let's hope so!).

I'm used to 90 minute classes, and this one was only scheduled for 50 minutes. The barre combinations were incredibly simple compared to what I'm used to, and my tendus and dégagés were snappy and in sync with the music and I didn't screw up the patterns. On the other hand, trying to stand on one foot on demi-pointe for 4+ minutes straight while doing tendus and frappés with the other is more than I can do. I also attempted the first barre stretches I've done in years, and I think I managed to avoid tearing anything.

The problem with such a short class is that a nice, 35 minute barre warm-up leaves only 15 minutes for anything else. We did all of three exercises in the center. The first was like a series of half chaînés crossed with pliés in second; easier to do than to explain. The second was grand battement devant across the floor. The third was the same as the second except that it went front, side, back with little turns between so the leg continued in the same direction as the body rotated.

And that was about it.

I guess I got some exercise, and it was kinda fun to not be struggling to remember a long combination. But I don't think it'll become a regular thing.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Paying for it now

Despite realizing that I really need to make at least two classes a week, and three would be better, I haven't been able to do it. Some I blame on work, some on other commitments, and occasionally just because I didn't feel like going. But oh, am I paying for it now.

Last night I got schooled in the proper motion of the foot in a tendu. I don't have great arches to begin with, and even less flexibility in my ankles. But I tried. I really did. And I think the instructor understands my limitations. But I really worked at it.

When I got home last night I crawled into bed, wrote up last night's post on my laptop, rolled over and passed out. I even forgot to plug in my phone to charge. This morning when I woke up the first thing through my mind was, "Oh bloody hell, my FEET HURT!!" Not in a way that suggests I've injured something. But the medial longitudinal arches of both feet hurt.
And they still hurt. I guess I really was working my feet last night. I'm glad I don't spend my work days on my feet. Now I'm gonna scare up some ibuprofen.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

World Ballet Day

Today is World Ballet Day. Professional ballet companies around the world have been presenting performances on the 'net, starting just west of the International Date Line and moving west as the Earth rotates. In DC, the Kennedy Center had this showing on a big screen, and I heard rumors of free ballet classes. Of course, some of us had to work.

My contribution was to attend the Advanced Beginner class this evening. As I entered the facility I came upon a volunteer selling 50/50 raffle tickets to benefit the school. As I filled out a ticket, the volunteer attempted to be polite by asking if I had a child in the school. "No," I said. "I don't have kids." She looked perplexed by this, perhaps confused by the bag slung over my shoulder with the school logo on it. Come on, people! Adults take ballet classes. Even men.

In this class I often take a position at the end of the front-most portable barre, mostly to make it easier to see the instructor's demonstrations. Today that spot was already occupied, and I ended up front and center. This brought me a significant amount of attention from the instructor regarding everything from the level of my hips to the height of my demi-pointe to the order in which the parts of my feet touch or leave the floor during a tendu or degage. This attention is not exactly unwelcome, as I am actually there to learn and improve as much as I am there to get exercise. I'd like to think it means she thinks am, or am capable of, improving, and am thus worth the effort.

Again, it's hard to tell whether this class was easier than some others due to the mix of students who chanced to brave the rain this evening, but I didn't feel quite as lost as some other times. During one sequence in center I sat out the first run though while I slowly figured out what others had picked up immediately, but I joined in for the second run through, and had it mostly figured out for the third. I guess I've moved from being totally lost to merely being slow on the uptake. That'll have to do for the moment.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cutting Class

After getting to class Saturday and Tuesday evening, I was all set to go to class this evening. Enroute, though, my stomach started feeling unsettled, and by the time I got parked and to the door it was definitely upset. So instead I'm having a light dinner and will go home shortly.

It may be that Tuesday night's class was made easier to suit the skill level of the attending 7 students. Except for barre, which was not particularly strenuous but we bollixed up the combinations anyway, the class as a whole seemed easier to me.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Doubt and Reassurance

Thursday night's Advanced Beginner class left me questioning my motivations. Why do I go to classes that leave me feeling awkward and frustrated? The instructor has been giving me small compliments at the barre, and I can see tiny improvements here and there. I seem to be struggling less than some others. But in center I got put in a group with two other men who are semi-pro (I think). Just shy of 9pm, at the end of a long work day, I'm having trouble keeping the sequence straight and my assemblés are sloppy; they're springing high in the air and adding clean beats. So what's the point? I'm never going to be able to do anything with this.

Today (Saturday) I went to the Beginner II class. I haven't been to this class for a while, but the scheduling worked out better than catching a class tomorrow. This is the class I've called B2.75 because it's a lot harder than the Sunday B2 class, and not that much easier than the AB classes. Something weird happened at the end of center. The last combination seemed too complex for me to wrap my head around at first and I planned to sit it out. But as I watched the class mark it I realized that it wasn't really that hard. When it was time for my group to go the girls seemed very unsure and I kept running into them, so I moved to an open area and ignored them. I made a couple mistakes but on the whole it went quite well.

This still isn't going anywhere. But maybe that's not that bad.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Holiday break update

This weekend is the American Labor Day holiday, and the studio is closed. I also had to skip last Tuesday evening's Beginner II class due to the sunburn on my legs, but I did get to Thursday evening's Advanced Beginner class.

Even though the adult classes don't stop over the summer, Thursday's class felt a bit like the start of a new semester. I didn't really have trouble with any of the sequences until we got to the petit allégro portion. The sequence was easy but the pace was not; I just can't seem to move that quickly. Even when I don't get stuck between phrases I have trouble with changes of direction. This exercise involved sissonnes to the front, side, rear, side in rapid sequence. The four girls from the academy classes did it beautifully, some of the adults did it passibly, and I couldn't keep up with the music.

Is this sort of speed something you can gain with practice?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Working on my tan

I decided to take this morning off and went kayaking instead of going to class. The weather was gorgeous, but I stayed out longer than I expected and got a little sunburn. On the inside of my thighs only, if you can believe that. It doesn't show up really well in the photo, but there's a line down the middle of the lower part of my thigh, over the middle of my kneecap, and down the upper half of my shin; inside that line it's red and outside that line it's virgin white.

Right now it's stingy (and slathered in Aloe Vera gel) and I'm not looking forward to putting on pants in the morning. But when I go back to class I think I'll wear tights instead of shorts!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Shoulders over Hips

That seems to be the secret. Apparently I've been leaning back when balancing all this time, and no one corrected me until I asked for help a few weeks ago. With a conscious effort to move my upper body forward I can balance with less effort than before, and some of my turns immediately improved (others I'm having to unlearn bad technique and relearn).

I'm at once relieved and annoyed. Shouldn't one of the five instructors I've taken classes with over the last four years have said something before now? Is it because it's not as obvious on an average adult as with a stick-figure pre-pro kid? Or do they assume most adults aren't looking to be taught and corrected? I suspect it's mostly the latter.

Thinking about it, students in adult classes seem to fall into a few categories. One is the accomplished, experienced dancer. At my school these are often retired pros or could have been pros. They want a good workout but rarely need instruction. A second group are those who are happy with the level they've achieved and either don't want or won't take correction. That leaves the third group who want to improve; sometimes we need instruction and sometimes we just need practice. It's a challenge to the instructor to give help to those who want and need it while still leading a class of 20-some students.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

This ain't cutting it

Two weeks ago I had to skip class to finish a project for work. Last weekend I was away on vacation. I thought about going Tuesday evening but I was fighting off some sort of allergy or cold thing and felt awful. I was all set to go Thursday evening, but left my dance bag at home. Yes, it's been that sort of month.

Which brings us to today. I was looking forward to a nice, measured, Beginner II class with our regular instructor. A chance to ease back into things. As I was walking away from the front desk after checking in (at which I was greeted by name, thanks!) I heard her call, "You know {Tuesday night instructor} is substituting today, right?" Well, no, I didn't know. Not that that would affect my attendance, but it did mean that nice and measured wasn't happening.

I made it through the 50 minutes of barre feeling pretty good, though a bit tired. But 15 minutes into center I started having real trouble wrapping my head around the sequence. Not that they were terribly complex, but the steps just wouldn't stick in my head. So I sat down and let my body recover. I got back up for the last two exercises, though I really wasn't all there yet.

Clearly I need to go back to my previous three class a week schedule, if only to maintain physical fitness. My technique isn't suffering too badly yet, but if I can't make it through the entire class it will. I guess the good news is the the studio is between my new job site and home, so I'm not going out of the way to get there.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Instructor Impersonation

For the two previous Sundays the Tuesday night instructor substituted for the regular instructor. The first Sunday I took the beginner 2 class with thought of also taking the advanced beginner afterward, but with her barre I was too exhausted. The second Sunday I took only the advanced beginner, and decided to leave half way through center because I was shaking with lack of energy.

One of these recent Tuesday evenings I asked her for help re my tendency to fall backward out of turns. We only had 7 students that night so not only did I get
suggestions before class, I got more feedback during class. I think it's helping.

Today the regular instructor returned. Much less intense and I thought about taking both classes but I managed to trip over my own foot during a glissade, of all things, and my foot and ankle are sore. Nothing serious I'm sure, but I decided to call it a day after the first class.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Falling backward

Work has been kicking my ass, the effect of which being that I've been getting to only one class a week. I'm not liking that.

Today's class was taught by the instructor who usually teaches the Tuesday and Saturday classes. Her barre is usually more strenuous, with longer and more complex combinations. Not what I was hoping for, as it was more tiring than I wanted, but I still like her.

The big problem I'm wrestling with is not falling backward out of turns. If I keep my arms in first I'm mostly but not quite stable, but in fifth I find myself leaning backward. One of the corrections given to another student is to not bring the arms too far back, but that only alleviates part of the problem. And the problem is definitely worse when I'm tired.

Anyone recognize this, and want to offer suggestions?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A shout-out to a friend

Four years ago I decided to take up ballet as a hobby. My instructor for the first few months was Jessica Lindenfelser. When I started I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be taken seriously, that other students would think I was there to cruise for dates or ogle the pretty girls. But I was welcomed by both Jessica and the other students.

That's not to say there haven't been a couple of moments. One day I walked into the studio a few minutes late and found everyone huddled over something in the corner. One of the students was new, and when she saw me walk in she gave me a look that suggested she thought I'd just walked into a women's dressing room, only to be surprised when Jessica and the other students greeted me warmly. It's a fond memory I go back to when I feel like an outsider.

Jessica and her husband are true U2 fanatics, and they attend just about every U2 concert they can get to. She said Bono has a fondness for belly dancers, and wrote the song "Mysterious Ways" about them. Knowing this, Jessica had gone to a concert some years before dressed in a belly dancer costume and was holding a sign that read something like "Belly Dancer available, one night only!" Bono saw her in the crowd and when "Mysterious Ways" came up on the playlist he looked for her again but couldn't find her. When he spotted her again a few songs later he called her on stage for whatever song was next in the playlist. What my classmates were doing was watching a video someone had taken of Jessica dancing on stage with the band.

It's been years since I moved on to other studios, but I still follow Jessica's adventures via social media. This afternoon she posted a link to a video taken at a U2 concert in Toronto last night. One of the band members spotted her in the crowd and recognized her. In the video you can clearly see him tell Bono about her, and Bono comes over to the edge of the stage to see for himself. "I know you!" he says before having the burly security people extract her from the crowd and bring her up on stage. Again. This time for "Mysterious Ways", as it should have been the first time.

The video is a bit over 12 minutes long, and is well worth watching. If you have a decent network connection and a larger screen, crank up the video resolution.

Congratulations, Jessica!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A decent double, finally

After having been too busy/lazy to get to class for over a week, I finally went tonight. Despite the uncomfortably warm (to me) temp and high humidity in the studio, the floor wasn't sticky at all. My turns seemed to be working quite well, and I was having to stop the turn deliberately rather than fall out of it. At one point I thought to myself, "Self, if you hadn't stopped that turn you'd have gone around twice." So the next time I let it go, and executed a pretty decent double pirouette en dehor.

Except for spotting, which I noticed I really didn't do. So when we moved to pirouette practice, I gave up on doubles and tried to concentrate on spotting. And in doing so I found myself falling over rather than turning cleanly. Clearly I'm doing something wrong; I just need to figure out what.

But I did a decent double! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Words to ponder

I happened across a video on YouTube today entitled A Day in the Life of a Ballerina. It's well shot, well produced, and not terribly exciting. But the dancer makes a statement I thought worth sharing (emphasis mine):
"I've done all of the steps a million times. I'm completely ready to do it. This person picked me out of this company of people. I'm realizing that I will actually get closer to the performances that I want to give by letting go of trying to be perfect."
 The first three sentences really don't apply to me. I'm still learning the steps, and sometimes I have to re-learn steps I haven't done in a while. I'm not ready to perform, and I got picked by having paid to be there. But the last sentence is so true for me. I have an internal drive for perfection, and I chose ballet in part because there is, at any given moment, one right way to do something. But in dance you can't obsess over each step and still get the combination to work. You can't worry about how the imperfection in the last step because the next is coming right now.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The One with the Fake Monica

My GF and I have been watching the TV show "Friends" for the first time. We just watched the episode entitled "The One with the Fake Monica". In this episode, Monica takes a tap class. She there only to figure out who has stolen her identity, but the instructor insists she has to either participate in the class or leave. Of course, she has no clue what she's doing. Hilarity ensues. Eventually the impostor is caught and Monica can go back to her normal life.

Why am I mentioning this? Because at the end of the episode we're back in the tap class with Monica standing in the doorway looking unsure, clearly out of her safe zone. The instructor tells her "In or out!" and she steps forward and joins the class. When the instructor says "You don't know what you're doing!" (something a good instructor wouldn't say), she replies with something like, "But I'm here."

Sometimes it's necessary to get outside your comfort zone. And sometimes it's the being there that's important, not the result.

After a week break to recover from the Adult Weekend Workshop, I went back to class today. I decided to go with the Beginner II class rather than Advanced beginner so I could focus more on technique than complex sequences. Which was probably a good idea, since I'm apparently still sore in places (mainly my lower calf muscles). The bruises on my big toes are as dark as they've ever been, but they don't hurt like they did earlier this week.

My turns are getting better. At the AWW I pulled off my first decent double pirouette in 18 months, though it was in practice before class rather than in class, of course! Today the instructor pointed out that many of us were pulling our arms in rather than keeping an open first, and fixing that also helped. I'm thinking maybe I gained more than aches and pains over those three days.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Injured in the line of duty

Three days later most of my aches have dissipated except for my feet. Especially my big toes, which are still very sensitive to touch. This morning I realized that the odd shadows on either side of the nail I'd noticed were actually bruises—here's the worse of the two:

And that's after wearing soft slippers (one pair canvas, the other leather) with socks.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It's OVER!!

The short version is that I got talked into doing the variation piece anyway. I didn't fall. I didn't do anything embarrassing. But am I ever sore!

Running on Empty

If I didn't have such a visible role in the repertory piece I'd go home now. I have no energy left and I'm sore in so many places. I sat out most of the last 15 minutes of Technique because I couldn't wrap my head around the combination, only to realize with a few minutes left that it really was fairly simple and I had little trouble executing it.

We didn't have Floor Barre this morning, so not as much warmup before Technique. The next two classes, Variations and Repertory, are switched today, allowing me to put off until last my decision on dancing the variation. It really isn't that complicated, but I'm not sure I want to attempt it anyway. Then we get a 30 minute break before launching into the recital. I may need a wheelchair to get back to my car.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A quart low

I seem to have survived the second day of the Adult Weekend Workshop. Technique class was a bit harder, with both a faster tempo and more complicated combinations. In Variations I managed to fall again while attempting a tour -- but this time I rolled down instead of slamming into the ground which hurt less. Repertory class added even more to the stuff we learned yesterday, but it seems to be shaping up quite nicely. Tomorrow we do it all again, with a recital (I won't call it a "performance") at the end of the day. I may skip the Variations segment, but I'm good with the Repertory.

That doesn't mean I don't hurt. My feet feel like they're swollen and they throb even when I'm not moving, and little motions (like driving) make it worse. My back is stiff more-or-less evenly from side to side below my shoulder blades. And don't even get me started on my legs.

There was a big discussion between the other two guys and the instructor on recital attire. When they seemed to reach a decision point the instructor turned to me and asked, "Do you own a white leotard?" I do, and apparently that settled it: white leo, black tights and shoes. Somehow the girls got to go with all black. Sometimes life isn't fair.The crazy thing is I'll probably sign up to do it again next year.

Oh! I almost forgot! I seem to have lost two pounds between yesterday morning and this morning. Since I don't believe I've lost that much fat in only one day, it has to be water, despite pouring it down my throat seemingly at every available moment. And since water weighs about 8 lbs per gallon, that's a quart.

Friday, June 12, 2015

There I was, flat on my back...

While this could refer to Floor Barre, it actually refers to what happens when you stick a lower group student into the upper variations group just to keep all three men together. I attempted a turn I shouldn't have tried, slipped on landing and slammed onto my back. Thanks to the efforts of my GF, the trigger point therapist (and a couple ibuprofen) the growing stiffness in my back where I landed seems to have diminished.

Aside from that I don't have too many complaints. Day One has been fun and it looks like I'm going to get to do some very simple partner work after all. Now let's see how I feel in the morning.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Death by Ballet

The Adult Weekend Workshop starts tomorrow at 9:30am with Floor Barre. I took this class once a few years ago. I hurt for days afterward. Following that are technique, variations, and repertory classes, for a total of 5 hours each day.

Somehow I thought this sounded like fun. What have I gotten myself into?

Thinking rationally, I've done back-to-back 90 minute classes in the past and felt okay afterward. But I haven't done anything like that twice in one day. I think I'm going to pack several changes of gear. And clean towels. And Gatorade. And a BIG bottle of ibuprofen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Back at it, but still jet-lagged

I've always said that flying west is easier to adjust to than flying east, because you just sleep later and later each day. Somehow that's not working this time.

I acclimatized to the east-bound time shift surprisingly easily this time, and settled into a routine of waking up around 6am British Summer Time (BST), which is about when I'd been getting to sleep (1am EDT). Of course, this meant going to sleep around 10pm, but that suited me just fine and I got all the sleep I needed. The first night after returning home I was up fairly late, and woke up around 4am EDT. Progress!

Well, not really. Last night I was exhausted, and fell asleep around 8pm EDT. Waking up at 2am, I got up for a few minutes before going back to sleep until 4am. Giving up I started my work day. I really wanted to get to my regular ballet class tonight at 7:15, but the idea of trying to stay awake, let alone comprehend a dance combination, until 9pm seemed improbable. And the drive home afterward would be down right dangerous. Instead, I showed up for the noon class.

I've never taken this class, although it's the same level with the same instructor as my Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon classes. But the makeup of the students is a wee bit different. How different? I shared the barre with a woman who I believe is a professional dancer with a ballet company in Europe. I recognized several others as graduates of this school's pre-pro program who (I believe) are now working their way through college.

All is not doom and gloom, though. I fit comfortably near, but not at, the bottom of the skill levels. I thought I acquitted myself pretty well, having not danced in two weeks, until the last combination. And that I gave up on merely because I couldn't hold the lengthy sequence in my head, not because it was technically out of reach.

I have less than two weeks before the three-day Adult Weekend Workshop, and my schedule for this coming weekend isn't going to allow time for classes. I'm hoping the classes I can get to will knock enough rust off before then.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Harry Potter Studios

This one has NOTHING to do with ballet.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Well, maybe not

Wednesday evening I came to the conclusion that whatever was bothering me wasn't going to go away by Thursday evening, so I emailed my regrets to the studio owner. I feel bad because she and I exchanged several email and I basically promised to show up, and I had to cancel. But I had an obligation to folk at work and I really want to be healthy for next week.

Thursday afternoon I was told that due to the extremely early spring (or mild winter, take your pick) here in the UK the pollen levels have soared to record levels, and the government health people say that 100 to 150 thousand people will suffer from hay fever this year who have never experienced it before. That seems to include me. Too late to change my mind about class, and I really didn't want to sneeze my way through it anyway.

I'd been taking Claritin (spelled Clarityn over here) since Monday, but I've always found that it's better at preventing a reaction than responding to one. Yesterday I resolved to find some Zyrtec, which works better for me when dealing with strong reactions. Unfortunately you have to get it from a pharmacy here, even though it's available without a prescription. And all the pharmacies near me opened at 9am and closed at 6pm, which is impractical when you have to be in front of a class from 9 to 5:30.

Today class wrapped up in mid afternoon, and I drove off to score some good drugs. I found a great parking space (tough in small towns where the roads are narrow) and went in to consult with a pharmacist. My plan was to get some Benadryl (diphenhydramine) as a backup, but they only sell it as a sleep aid here. Instead I left with my Zyrtec and some nasal spray I'm told will also help a lot. The Zyrtec has already helped quite a bit, and should get better after I take my second one tomorrow morning.

I thought about going back to CSB Monday evening, but it's a Bank Holiday here Monday, and the school will be closed. Oh well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sometimes I hate being right

Yup, I was right, I'm sick. Not in the head either, though that hurts too. I wrote the previous post on the train out of central London to the suburb where I'm staying, and as I walked off the train I suddenly felt badly chilled. Checking my temperature I found it was 100.6F (38.1C), and eventually climbed to 101.2F (38.4C) before I got to sleep.

Fortunately my temp moderated enough by morning so that I could make the meetings I came here to attend (what, you thought I flew across the Atlantic to take a ballet class?), but it's still fluctuating and I have a congestion and a cough.

I was hoping to take another class Thursday at a studio in the suburbs but I'm just not up to it. Right now I'm just hoping I don't lose my voice this week, and recover enough by the weekend to enjoy some days off.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Central School of Ballet

I spent this afternoon sightseeing in London. I've been feeling like I might be coming down with a cold, so although I had my dance gear in my backpack I really didn't expect to feel like going. Standing in line to see Churchill's War Room I noticed that many people around me were also sneezing and sniffling and wiping their eyes. There was so much pollen in the air you could see it, like little dust clouds. Inside the museum, which is all air conditioned I felt better, so I Hunt d down a Chemist's (pharmacy for US readers) and bought some Clarityn. That and more food (and lots of herbal tea) has fixed many of my issues. So about 90 minutes before class I headed into the Underground for the short trip to Waterloo.

Only to find my day pass had ceased to work. It took about 45 minutes for the three people in line to understand how an Oyster card works. No problem, I think, the bus will only take 17 minutes. Except it took forever to find the fricking bus stop, and then the bus took a diversion (detour) through the worst of London rush hour traffic. I managed to walk in to the door all of 2 minutes before class start, and I still had to change.

Paid my £9, climbed one set of stairs to the changing room and hurriedly changed. Ran back down those stairs, down the hall past the front door, down another flight of stairs, and into a concrete block basement room where the class had already started. Music was blaring from an amplified iPhone, but the floor was nicely laid Marley.

I found a spot at a rickety portable barre (barely) and tried to blend in. This class is called "beginner improvers" and is supposed to be for those who have grown out of the "beginner" class but aren't ready yet for the more advanced classes. My schedule really didn't allow for any other class, but it seemed like it'd be a good fit. In many ways it was. Some steps they're just learning, like pas de bourrée, while others they clearly have been working on like pirouettes. Other than having balance and flexibility problems from the lack of warmup, my biggest problem was remembering the sequence of steps.

The instructor, a man, was wearing a shirt that had his full name written on it in sequins and a hat that had his full name on the back and his initials on the front. Clearly he's shy and not given to self-promotion. He has a good rapport with the class, and knew many of them by name. I didn't get any direct comments bad or good, but a a newcomer in a class with well over 30 students in a relatively small classroom I would expect them only if I did something seriously bad.

I'm on my way to my hotel now where I'm going to take a long soak in the tub. Cuz I'm sore!

Friday, May 15, 2015

ALICE (in Wonderland)

For anyone fool enough to use this blog to decide whether to see The Washington Ballet for this weekend's performance of "ALICE (in Wonderland)", definitely go. I saw it Sunday and it was spectacular.

Having learned most of what I know about Lewis Carroll's work from small excerpts (and Grace Slick) I missed some of the references. Fortunately my well-read gf helped fill in the gaps. The hedgehog croquet was well played, made incredibly cute by the efforts of children no doubt recruited from the TWB school. And the March Hare made my nose twitch. It was seriously fun for the adults as well as the smattering of children in the audience.

If only that had been the last TWB show of the season for me.

Continuity and Endurance

One of the things I've consistently had trouble with is moving from one phrase to another smoothly. We learn a sequence in phrases, then try to execute it as a long sequence. I often get stuck at the end of a phrase and find myself behind at the start of the next. Talking to other students I see this is a common problem.

Recently, though, I've had more success in transforming the phrases into unbroken sequences. The first time this happened we were doing a petite allegro broken into three-count phrases but danced to 4-count music. Normally this works out badly for me, but on this occasion last week it just all flowed together.

Tuesday I was one of the first into the classroom, and decided to try some pirouettes. Not only did they work nicely, I was tempted to try some doubles (but didn't). Yet later, when we got to turning combinations after barre and some other exercises, I had difficulty controlling them. I think the difference is in how tired I am, rather than specific technique.

Lastly, during grand allegro I found myself alone on the floor. We were supposed to be going in groups of two and maybe three, but my fellow students had clumped together for (self-protection of their egos?) and left me by myself. It was a simple combination of sauté arabesque derrieres, chassés and pas de bourrées, though one of them was backward (upstage leg raised) into which I hadn't quite figured out the transition, and ending in what I think was supposed to be a little assemblé tournaunt. I decided to just put on a show, and though I stutter-stepped through the confusing transition I finished with the highest tour jeté I could muster while landing in fifth. I either did really well or blew it really badly, as the other students were pretty much silent, but I didn't get any specific corrections from the instructor. Maybe white men can't jump, but we jump better than most women.


I went to see the final production of The Washington Ballet's season, Tour de Force. Between work and other stuff I'm feeling a bit stressed, and discovering that rather than my normal 6th row seats I was in the second to last row didn't help. Perhaps I was not in the best frame of mind at the beginning. But then neither were the dancers on stage at first.

I would think you'd want to start such a collection of performances with something strong to set the tone. The pair of dancers I saw were energetic, but at times were as stable as I was in Tuesday night's class. Which is to say not very. The woman obviously bailed out of several turns early, though she did it with control. At another point she was supposed to take a dramatic attitude derierre pose with arms in high fifth, but she held on to her partner's hand for a long time and had to grab it for balance several times. I'll be the first to admit that I have trouble holding that pose too, and on demi-pointe rather than full pointe, but I'm not a pro. Still, there were no falls or anything hugely embarrassing.

As the night went on the performances got better. It ended with Balanchine's Serenade, which makes interesting patterns but lacks drama. And men.

Speaking of which, can't classical ballet find more roles for men than as a prop for the women, with occasional bursts of leaps and turns? What about nuance?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Adult Partner Classes?

After class last night I asked the instructor if this school ever offered adult partner classes. See, back in the mid 80s I got to work with the girls' pointe class so they'd have an opportunity to see what it was like to do lifts and turns with a partner. I have fond memories of this and think it'd be fun to learn.

This instructor used to manage the place and still has a lot of influence. Her response was an emphatic "NOOOOooo!" She explained that they don't teach partnering to the kids until they're quite advanced, and the two things she would never offer to adults is partnering and pointe. (Those who have already learned pointe elsewhere may be permitted to wear them in class and get advice, but it's not taught.)

Frankly I'm disappointed. I'll be the first to admit that I have a long way to go to come close to any of the academy-track kids, but I think it's silly to limit the adults that way. It's not like we're going to damage our dance careers by learning it prematurely.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack in Swan Lake

Sometimes being a subscriber has serious benefits. Like having my usual seats for The Washington Ballet's production of Swan Lake, starring ABT's Misty Copeland and TWB's Brooklyn Mack. Usual seats meaning centered in the lower orchestra section, about 6 rows back from the pit. Only two of the five performances featured this pairing, and both sold out quickly. I'd heard that some tickets were released for sale earlier this week for $300 a seat. Wow.

And "wow!" is the proper description of these two performers. The dancing was stunning and the acting heartbreaking (Swan Lake is a tragedy, after all). Both are at once athletic and graceful, never allowing the technical overshadow the storyline. Even when taking bows after crowd-pleasing segments, they remained in character: Misty's Odette being clearly a bit shy when acknowledging applause while Odile eagerly ate it up and wanted more.

Kudos must be given to the staging and choreography. This is a re-creation of the pre-Soviet version. I was most impressed with this version and I hope it becomes more popular.

I've also been told this is the first time two black dancers have performed Odette/Odile and Siegfried opposite each other. Okay, I guess that's important in some way, and I guess that might have been part of the reason these shows sold out. For myself, I'm just thrilled that I got to see two dancers of stellar capabilities perform together.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Stage performers are notoriously superstitious. Never wish one "Good luck!", for that will surely invite disaster. Thus the phrase, "Break a leg!"

Before class Thursday I asked the instructor for information on the Adult Weekend Workshop. She seemed pleased that I'd signed up for it, and sought to reassure me by saying, "All you have to do us stay healthy and you'll do fine."

At the end of class I opted out of the last exercise because my right shin felt tight. By the time I got home my ankle was sore too. I took some ibuprofen and didn't give it much thought. Friday it seemed stiffer than usual but no worse. I was rudely awakened this morning by the sound of my neighbor's storm door banging in the wind, and when I got up I found my ankle very stiff and achy. So much for class this weekend.

I'm not one for superstition, but apparently I'm jinxed.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Goals and incentives

I commented to a friend the other day that I didn't understand how people could take the same level ballet class year after year and be happy with it. Not to say they're wrong, mind you, but I just don't understand it. I have trouble enough convincing myself to go to class some days knowing there's no specific goal other than just getting better. Better for what?

So I set myself goals. When I first came to this school I was taking their Beginner I class, and it was a challenge. Chatting with the instructor I commented that my goal was to get out of her class. Not because it was her class, because she's a fine instructor, but to move up a level. Part of this is because the influx of new students into the Beginner I class caused the complexity level of the class to vary significantly from class to class, but also because I needed to have a reason for being there. Similarly, I wanted to move into the Advanced Beginner class so I could take classes Thursday nights too, and that's the only class I could hope to take that night.

Of course there are other benefits. While I consider myself somewhat out of shape, being almost 25 lbs above my doctor's recommendation, I was recently reminded that I'm not doing too terribly. I met a friend for dinner the other night and he suggested walking the 20 minutes to the restaurant. I was fine with that, though his initial pace seemed faster than I would have set. Yet part way into the walk he had to slow down, while I was still quite happy. So there's some cardiovascular benefits accruing. But when I'm one of those "What's the use?" moods, somehow that doesn't seem to justify the time.

Sunday morning, after my regular Beginner II class, one of the guys in the dressing room asked me if I'd signed up for the Adult Weekend Workshop in June. I'd seen it on the calendar, but didn't know anything about it. It's a three day workshop (Fri-Sat-Sun) running 9:30am to 4:00pm, approximating life in a ballet company. Each day starts with a typical ballet class, but after the break you learn steps and choreography that lead to a mini-performance Sunday afternoon for friends and family. It's split into two tiers, one for the students taking Intermediate and Advanced classes, and one for those taking Beginner II and Advanced Beginner. Minimum registration is 15 and maximum is 25.

This sounded like fun (for some definition of "fun"), so I signed up. I'm a little bit nervous about it, but it's a goal. A reason to not skip classes. A purpose behind working to improve and not just go through the motions.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

TWB Open Rehearsal of Swan Lake

Monday evening I attended what was billed as an "open rehearsal" for The Washington Ballet's new production of Swan Lake. Here's the description of the origins of this production provided by TWB:
Guest choreographer Kirk Peterson is working with The Washington Ballet to stage his recreation of the original Swan Lake based on the 1895 version next month. "For more than a hundred years, choreographers and dancers all over the world have been changing and altering certain bits of the ballet and so I've been on a three decade quest—a sort of archeological dig—to try and find the original missing parts of this beautiful masterpiece that have been lost," says Peterson.
I was hoping to get a behind the scenes look at how professional dancers learn their parts, but that was a silly thought. That's not the sort of thing that would appeal to the average ballet subscriber, most of whom arrived at the rehearsal studio dressed far better than I in my "business casual" attire of dockers and polo shirt. What we got instead was a run-through of acts 3 and 4 from a most unique, close-up perspective.

As a subscriber I have tickets to this production, which is already sold out. Current schedule has Misty Copeland dancing the dual role of Odette/Odile the night I'll be there, which should be a treat.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Bastards canceled my class!

As those who read this blog already know, I've been planning for months to attend Ballet San Jose's Men's Master Class scheduled for this coming Sunday. My boss even arranged my work schedule so I'd have good reason to be out there the week afterward. A couple weeks ago I called to confirm the class, and again last week, each time leaving a message asking them to call to confirm.

Well, they finally called, and it wasn't to confirm. No, they're having financial problems and they've canceled the class. Perhaps they waited until the last minute in hopes they'd get the enrollment numbers they needed; I didn't ask. All I know is that I have a big gap in my schedule that I'd rather be spending at home.

And a big hole in my stomach.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Another Snow Day

Normally I'm quite relaxed about snow days. Here on the Mid Atlantic coast, snow generally doesn't stick around long, and I can usually work at home. There's a large grocery store within walking distance, and several more within a couple of miles. When I do have to go out I drive a Subaru with all-wheel drive, and have decades of experience driving in snow.

This winter, though, is driving me batty. I'm enrolled in Ballet San Jose's Men's Master Class in San Francisco on the 15th. I missed several classes in a row in December due to illness, and several more scattered over the last couple months due to weather. Today everything is closed due to heavy snowfall.

That's not to say I haven't been getting to classes, despite my lousy blogging habits. I've made it to a couple Thursday night Advanced Beginner classes, and I've lost that hesitant feeling I wrote about before. Some of the folk from my Beginner II classes have started showing up in my Advanced Beginner classes too. It makes me feel better to have others of about the same skill level in the class, and not just folk who are clearly better than me.

With any luck I'll get to a class either this weekend or Monday evening. I expect I'll be too busy preparing for my trip to get to class Tuesday evening. I might make it to a class Friday night in San Jose. We'll see.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm ready for SPRING already!

Between the weather, some personal stuff, and the WEATHER, it's been more than a week and a half since my last class. And I'm feeling it for sure. Especially in the hip flexors. And it's only a month before the Men's Master Class in San Fran. So far to go and so little time.

Tonight there were no professionals and no pre-pros in my Advanced Beginner class. The exercises actually felt do-able. My balance was way off, but my lame-duck piqué turns were good enough that I could focus on foot placement and spotting. My pirouettes en dehor were ok, but en dedans they were crappy. We had a couple of tour jetés in the last combination, which were fun — I like catching a little air.

I am so totally ready for warmer weather. The forecast for tonight says it might get down to -5F (-20.5C), with the wind making it feel like it's -20F (-29C). That'd set a new all-time record low for this date. Maybe the bears have it right: I want to hibernate until Spring!

Monday, February 9, 2015

A peek In The Wings

I just got home from one of The Washington Ballet's In The Wings presentations. These are hour-long discussions of up-coming ballets featuring TWB's Artistic Director Septime Webre and others. Tonight's topic was Sleepy Hollow, a telling of Washington Irving's classic story of a headless horseman chasing Ichabod Crane through the woods late one night. Joining Webre tonight was Composer Matthew Pierce, Trainee Ballet Master Luis Torres, who also dances the part of Ichabod Crane, and a friend of Webre's whose name I missed, but is a retired professor of history and helped inspire the selection of the subject.

The presentation started with Webre's description of the sequence of events that led to the creation of Sleepy Hollow, which led into an overview of the historical context of Washington Irving's stories. We learned how the score was developed, and were treated to bits and pieces played by Pierce on the violin he uses for much of his composing, one his mother bought for him decades ago when he was first mastering the instrument. The presentation wrapped up with some insight from Torres into how the choreography developed. Finally, Webre outlined the hectic schedule for opening week, starting next Monday, including the revelation that the female lead dancer broke her ankle doing laundry Friday, and is being replaced with a principal from American Ballet Theater who just started rehearsals this week! Ain't live theater a trip!

Walking into the facility I was reminded again that The Washington Ballet was started and continues as a school, as I had to worm my way through younger students who had just finished classes and were waiting to be picked up and older students who were getting ready for evening classes. Other than being dressed a bit differently, it wasn't a lot different from many other evenings. I recognized an instructor who teaches at both schools and nodded to him, receiving that odd acknowledgment you get when the other person thinks you look a bit familiar but otherwise can't place you. On the way out I bumped into a pianist who plays at both schools, as several do. At the end of our time, Webre shooed us out exclaiming, "There's a class in this room in 3 minutes, so we have to get out!" Checking the schedule I noted with a laugh that the class coming in was their Adult Beginner class. Maybe I should have stayed!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My Turner is Broken

I got to my Beginner II class a bit later than usual this morning, and a newbie had camped out in my usual spot. An entire portable barre in the front row was open so I stood there instead. No big deal, until one of my classmates says loudly, "Hey Reece! Someone is in your spot!" The woman standing there gets all embarrassed and says, "Is this your spot? I didn't know! I'll move." Hilarity ensues. In the end I insisted she stay in "my" spot.

I'm not sure what I did, but I seem to have broken my turner. I could barely manage decent pirouettes en dehor from fourth, and en dedans just wasn't happening. This problem persisted through Advanced Beginner too, which I stayed for.

Speaking of which, I'm kinda thinking I need to drop out of the Beginner II class. Not because I've learned everything there is to learn there, but because three hours of ballet is a lot. I'm quite sore this afternoon. As my girlfriend jokingly said, "You let the ballerina beat up on you for three hours? You poor baby." I tell you, I get no respect.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


I missed Tuesday night's Beginner II due to other commitments, and took this opportunity to check out the Thursday night Advanced Beginner class. This was a class I was taking semi-regularly a year ago, but somehow I developed some apprehension about it. Unlike Sunday afternoon's class we had neither pre-pro nor professional dancers, and it felt a tiny bit easier. Or less unfamiliar.

My balance is getting pretty good. It's no longer unusual for me to be able to hold retiré on demi-pointe with both hands off the barre for a full measure of music, and sometimes longer. Not always, and not always at first, but not uncommon. I got a smile and a head nod of acknowledgement from the instructor tonight for that. Some of that is greater strength in my feet, but a lot of it is greater flexibility in my hips so I can hold a more erect posture with less internal stress. I credit my therapist for the latter.

Sunday I'd skipped the last exercise in the center because I just couldn't wrap my head around the entire sequence. I didn't feel all that confident with it tonight, but I got through it with only minor screw-ups, both left and right. Maybe it's time to make this a regular part of my schedule. Again. What a difference a year (and a good surgeon) can make.

One of the steps new to me this evening is "précipité". As you might expect, this is French for "precipitate", which tells me almost nothing except it usually is a lead-in to something else. I seemed to be the only one who didn't know this term, so the instructor briefly described it as "a couple of quick steps" that, in this case, lead to a piqué arabesque. I'm still looking for a better explanation.

In my search I came upon a new (to me) adult blog that I want to check out: "mercietchatons". She wrote on the same step on November 4th, 2012. Her explanation isn't any clearer, but the blog itself seems interesting.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ballet Double Header

I spent a week in the Frozen North (aka Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), during which I attended NO ballet classes. I did look, but when my initial searches came up empty I let it go. Turns out I wouldn't have had time or energy anyway. I did get to class this past Tuesday, which went well. Yesterday I had other stuff to do, so I went to class today.

Apparently I haven't been to a Sunday Beginner II class in a while, because when the instructor walked around greeting new students, she stopped in front of me and jokingly asked my name too. I swear it hasn't been that long!

I noted several interesting things during class. The first was that during the first barre exercise the instructor told one of the students that she wasn't ready for this class, and could stay and observe if she wanted but she really needed to be in the Beginner I class that followed. It was done encouragingly and semi-privately, but still... Ouch! I guess I've been taking Beginner II or higher for long enough that I don't really think of it as difficult anymore. That's not to say I don't have something to learn in every class, but it was eye-opening. I don't think I've ever seen a student bounced out of class before.

Another thing I noted is that more women are wearing pointe shoes for barre, and some in center, even though this school does not offer adult pointe classes. It's instructor's discretion whether to allow it, and another student in this class was asked to switch to soft slippers until the instructor got to know her better. Again, quietly done, but still an Ouch.

I've been thinking about going back to my old routine of 3-4 classes a week, and that would mean going to Advanced Beginner classes again. For some reason this idea seems a bit scary, especially since the Thursday evening class is reputed to be a bit harder than the Sunday afternoon class. I felt pretty good at the end of Beginner II, so I took a spot at the barre in Advanced Beginner. No, I didn't get kicked out. I made more mistakes and got more corrections in AB than in B2, but nothing embarrassing. And in what I suspect is intended as encouragement, the instructor mentioned to everyone that some of us in AB were taking their second class of the day. That wasn't necessary, but I think it's her way of telling me I should be in this class more often. Maybe she has a point.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dancing for Green Bay

Today I discovered our instructor is a Green Bay Packers fan. She told us that if we didn't get a certain sequence in the center right, the Packers will lose. I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to see how we did.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oh class, how I've missed thee

For the first time since the 22nd of last month, I managed to get to class. This was the "Level 1" class at the Raleigh School of Ballet, which presented not huge challenges but may have been just what I needed after almost a month off the floor. I came close to skipping it, as the siren call of my hotel bed was strong, but I'm glad I didn't.

I was a bit surprised to find that the instructor remembered me, given that I haven't been there but once before, and that was a couple months ago. Then again, male ballet students aren't exactly common in these parts. Yet there was another man in tonight's class! I'll admit to a twinge of competitiveness, and I think I may be a bit better. But both of us were pretty clearly near the top of the class tonight.

I was a bit hesitant to attempt even a simple pirouette en dehor tonight, not wanting to totally botch it from lack of practice. But when I tried it, it worked quite well in both directions. I even attempted a few fouette turns, and they worked better than I remember from class last month. Hmmm... Gonna have to ponder possible explanations for that sometime.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter weather freak-out

Last weekend, events conspired to keep me from class. So I promised myself I'd get to class tonight even though I'm 300 miles from home. What could go wrong?

One problem with traveling to areas where winter weather is uncommon is that they aren't prepared to handle it. With a forecast of the possibility of a bit of sleet and maybe freezing rain overnight, everything is shutting down. Including the ballet studio.

Maybe I'll do some stretching in my hotel room, cuz there ain't much else going on in this town tonight.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Not a whole lotta shaking going on

Right after my posting on Dec 24th I came down with whatever has been going around. I don't know if it was a cold or an attenuated version of the flu, but it knocked me on my ass through the weekend after New Year's. Yesterday morning, just as I was about to collect my dance gear in preparation for last night's class, I received notice that classes were canceled due to snow. Gimme a break!