Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perception versus Reality

There are times I feel like I'm going backward. I'm not, but it feels that way. Part of it is that as I learn more about how this is supposed to be done, I become more aware of what I'm doing wrong. Or what I know I should be doing, but my body doesn't want to cooperate. I should celebrate those things I can do, and not worry about the things I can't do yet. It shouldn't bother me, but it does. Probably too much time spent looking at pictures of professional dancers doing everything perfectly.

The other adagio we've been practicing goes something like this:
  1. Start upstage left facing upstage right, croisé derrière right.
  2. Four ballet walking steps, right foot first, on the diagonal toward downstage right.
  3. Sweep right foot through to effacé derrière left.
  4. Lift left leg to first arabesque for two counts.
  5. Demi-plié with the right supporting leg, then pop up to arabesque en demi-pointe for two counts.
  6. Land back in effacé derrière left, slide left leg through to croisé derrière right.
  7. Shift the weight back to croisé devant left.
  8. Bring left foot back while pivoting to face upstage left, croisé derrière left.
  9. Repeat to the other side.
Many thanks to my friend Jill, who helped me learn left from right (I was describing which foot carried the weight, while proper usage describes the working foot). This description is still probably badly butchered, but unless my instructor discovers this blog I won't know if it's close to what she's trying to teach. And I'd just as soon not have her reading over my shoulder!

The sequence is kinda fun to do. We did it several time tonight, after practicing the other one. It's almost like dancing! ;-) I usually can do the arabesque including the "bounce" up to demi-pointe, though my landing isn't as pretty as it could be and I sometimes forget what comes next at that point.

Miscellaneous stuff:
  • I incorrectly described the barre exercise that I thought was contributing to my soreness. It's a plié in first, rise to demi-pointe while still in the plié, rise from the plié while still on demi-pointe, and finally lower the heels. All while (trying to) maintain turn-out. I can feel the stretch in the calf muscles in that last step.
  • I found the tag for the tights I really like. They are indeed Capezio 5945s. The size M are a bit tight, so I'm going to get some size L. They're no longer made, so I may buy several. I wonder what their shelf life is?
  • The Capezio MT-11s are holding up ok, unlike the MT-10s. According to the sizing chart I'm right on the cusp between L and XL; these are size L and they're just a bit on the short side, so if I get more I'll get XL.
  • I think I'm going to have to get myself a portable barre for home. I need to practice.
Next class isn't for 5 days. One of the women was joking about asking for a Saturday morning class. I wonder how serious she is, and if it's practical. Would this teacher really want to see us that often?

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    I must be doing something right

    'Cuz I'm sore. Still sore is more accurate. My calf muscles are being the most vocal, but my hamstrings and quads are singing harmony. Stretching the calves with bent knee is just a normal stretch, but doing it with straight knees really burns.

    I suspect it's all the relevé work, especially the one where we grande plié in second, relevé, rise from the plié on demi-pointe, and finally lower back to second slowly over a two-beat count. I'm sure there's a better way to describe this, but it's the best I can do at the moment. The result is to work the muscles that are used to hold demi-pointe, which I'm sure will be important later. But right now it just makes it uncomfortable to walk.

    Recently I picked up a copy of Classical Ballet Technique by Gretchen Ward Warren. I still haven't had time to study it, other than to look up specific movements we're doing in class, but I hope to make time for that soon. The first chapter does a great job covering the stuff every class I've taken skipped right over, like proper body position in each of the five classic positions, proper weight distribution, arm positions, and common mistakes in each. I'm deliberately skipping most of chapter 2, which discusses the ideal body structure for a classical ballet dancer. As Popeye would say, "I yam what I yam", and I'm not going to stop going to class even if I'd be an ideal model for many of the "not recommended" photos.

    Adult Non-Mutant Ninja Dancers

    For the last few classes I've eagerly awaited the return of our youngest classmate. Every time she came to class she was dressed in a pink leo & tights with pink slippers. She hasn't shown up for a while, and in the interim everyone has switched to black. I've been amusing myself with thoughts on her reaction to suddenly being the only pink in a room full of Ninja black. Tonight she showed up, wearing black leggings and new white slippers. I think someone must have warned her. Rats.

    Class itself was good. The instructor has said that she intends to keep to one lesson plan per month, allowing us to practice a fairly consistent routine with small additions along the way. As we're approaching the end of the month, it'll be interesting to see what she comes up with for next month.

    They still have not replaced the rickety portable barre, though the owner appears to be actively researching a replacement now. By my count we have six students, and the only reason we aren't fighting over barre space is that we've yet to have all six show up at the same time. The current one will fit four comfortably, three on one side and one on the other, but with five the short side is crowded and we have to work to avoid kicking the legs of the thing. More on this later.

    We didn't introduce anything new at the barre, and I've discovered that my balance has improved enough that I can do the fondue/développé/attitude/arabesque sequence with minimal use of the barre. I discovered this because I got tired of kicking the damned thing and stepped away a bit. I'm still a little wobbly, but not falling-over wobbly.

    Moving on to the center we continued the adagio we've been developing. It's just two tendus en croisé forward and two back, one tendu to each side de face leading into a pas de bourrée derrière, finishing with a détourné. And repeat going the other direction. At least that's the best I can piece together from my references. I think the instructor called the turn a soutenu, but the action matches the description of a détourné better. We've also started to do a sequence with some pas marché ending in a tendu to the rear, lifting to arabesque and tour de promenade. I can't quite explain all the steps in that one as I'm still figuring it out.

    Note that we seem to have given up on pirouettes for the moment. I'm happy with that, as I'm still working on being able to relevé to retiré (someone please correct my mangled French!) without falling over. I can do it better on my left leg than my right -- I'm having a problem with the outer side of my right calf not wanting to stretch enough to let me get the right weight distribution. Once I can do that and hold it, pirouettes should come naturally.

    We finished with a series of six changements and a retiré, just to make sure we were thoroughly exhausted. I don't know about anyone else, but I was. I went bicycling this weekend and wasn't half as tired after only an hour.

    After class one of the students waited to talk with me (I'd ducked into the bathroom to change out of my tights and was the last one out). She seems to want to elect me spokesman for the class to complain about the crappy portable barre, among other things. Not quite sure how I got elected, other than I'm not exactly shy about expressing my opinions and offering suggestions. The conversation went on for quite a while, as if she had pent-up frustration and just needed someone to listen to her. If others feel as strongly as this woman does, I picture us presenting a list of demands like the Magna Carta to King John. Ok, maybe not like that, but you get the idea.

    During this same conversation she mentioned that she'd also received a card in the mail from our instructor. I'm glad I'm not the only one. I'm a bit of a forceful personality, and I don't want to be perceived as dominating the class.

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    After a good night's sleep...

    Class ended at 8:30. Got home from dinner around 10, crawled into bed... and then it was morning. I guess I should catch up here.

    One of the reasons I went back to dance was that I spend far too much of my life sitting behind a desk. One of the ways I try to address this is to visit a massage therapist periodically. Thursday morning's appointment was scheduled before we started having class Thursday nights, and I hadn't thought to reschedule it. My therapist knows I've started ballet again and this time she spent a good bit of time on my hip flexors, trying to get the muscles and fascia to release so I can get a better range of movement. As usual I left the appointment rather spacy.

    I figured by class time all would be back to normal. Uh huh. When I started getting odd muscle spasms while putting on my tights I knew this was going to be interesting. Normally I'm very focused during class, but last night I was off in la-la land. I feel like I ought to apologize to the teacher before Tuesday night's class starts. As best I recall we did pretty much the same stuff as Tuesday. It seems I had a choice between turn-out or balance, but had trouble trying manage both at the same time. I'm pretty sure I got physical benefit from the class, but mentally I'm not so sure. The best I can say is I think I've pretty much shaken off the remnants of my cold.

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Note to self

    Do not schedule PT the morning of ballet class. The body rebels and refuses to cooperate. And eventually the body will win.

    More after dinner.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Didja get the license plate number of that truck?

    Remember that bout with allergies last Wednesday? It wasn't. It was a head cold. I seem to have missed out on the hot and cold running fever that some of my friends had, but I didn't miss out on the stuffy head, chest congestion, and lack of energy. I basically spent the time between my class last Thursday and class tonight in bed, with brief forays when I felt up to it.

    Tonight, though, I was feeling better and wanted to see if I could make it to class. On the whole I think I did ok, though I skipped a couple of the relevés and did them flat-footed. Barre work was pretty much the same as before, though some of the combinations were a bit more complex. In the center we built on what we'd done last week, adding soutenu turns; these I can do better than pirouette turns, as it's less of a challenge to my balance. We also added glissade, which I sort-of remember, but looks awful in the mirror.

    At least I didn't feel totally exhausted at the end of class, like I did Thursday, only mostly exhausted. And I only hoarked up a few hairballs during class.

    Oh... almost forgot. The size Large MT-11s didn't rip or run, but they did try to creep. They'll either have to stretch out a bit or they'll have a short life span from me trying to keep their crotch somewhere in the vicinity of mine.

    Men's dance tights

    This weekend I bought some Capezio MT-11 tights. Getting ready for class this evening I pulled them out, thinking they're the same as the ones I've been wearing. They're not. They're far better than the MT-10 tights which ripped the first time I put them on, but they're not the same.

    The tag in the tights is next to useless, giving brand, size and care but not model number. The only bit of packaging left over was a tag with the trademark Meryl on it, so I went hunting. I think I found them: Capezio 5945. Finally! Except... Capezio has discontinued style 5945. I can still find them in left-over stock, but it's still a bummer. I think I finally understand what women feel like when they find a bra that's comfortable only to discover that it's been discontinued.

    I'm going to class tonight in the MT-11s to see how they hold up. I may have to get XL in the MT-11, even though I'm wearing a Medium in the old tights. I'll let ya know!

    Edit: The Capezio website now lists style 5945 tights. At the time this posting was originally written, the only style of men's tights that appeared on the Capezio website were style MT-11. I have not purchased any new 5945 tights yet.

    'nother edit: As described here I purchased two pair of Capezio 5945 tights in size L. They're great: soft and comfortable. All of the MT-11s are now stuffed in a drawer "for emergency use only".

    Yet another update (20-Jun-2012): The 5945s have disappeared from the Capezio website again, and most of the on-line shops I looked at either say they're out of stock or don't list them at all. I guess they're really gone now. 

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    I'm a Dance Fashion Maven!

    Yay, Blogger is back up! Let's see what I remember about last night's class.

    Wednesday I was hit hard by all the tree sex going on outside, and even Thursday afternoon I had a stuffy head, was coughing up lots of... well, you get the idea. I wasn't sure I'd be up to class at all, but since I was one of the major agitators for a second night of class I felt I was obligated to try. Only one other student was able to make it, so I think it was a good thing I went.

    But back to the beginning. I decided to wear my brand new MT10 tights to class, rather than the 5945s I'd worn for every class up to now. The MT10s are a size large, per the package sizing chart, while the 5945s are mediums as recommended by the Artistic Dance Fashions staffer. I'd worn dance tights once a week for several years waybackwhen, and know how to put them on. Once I got the MT10s on I noticed they had an interesting zig-zag section on either side of the back seam in the back of the calf area, probably to allow extra room there. I hadn't seen that before, so I sat down and crossed my legs with my right ankle atop my left knee to get a better look. This contracted my right hamstring, and as I looked down the tights split from knee to crotch with a slow ripping sound. Short useful life my ass! I hadn't even gotten one wearing out of them! Maybe my tights from waybackwhen weren't MT10s after all. Fortunately I'd allowed myself plenty of time, so I shucked off the ruined MT10s and put on my 5945s. I see another trip to ADF in my future; even if I could save a buck or two buying them mailorder, a shop with expert staff needs support.

    I got to class on time, and we started with our usual barre exercise routine. After one of the tendus to second I found myself too far from the barre to reach, but finished the sequence hands-off including the relevé. I was very happy with that. The variation in routine at the end was after completing the last fondu derrière we did another one transitioning to attitude. That had muscles and ligaments in all sorts of strange places protesting. As we held the position I worked to get my hips level, my upper body square, my legs turned out and my foot pointed. Forget waterboarding, this is torture. Self-imposed torture, even. Ok, so I'm an inflexible, out of shape, newbie. Sue me.

    After a few stretches we went on to center work. I remember last night having lots to say about this, but thanks to Blogger being offline it's all faded into a painful haze. We did spend a fair bit of time working on a more complex adagio and I'm slowly getting the hang of this stuff. I still can't pirouette. I did figure out a bit of the physics and the spotting, but I could only get 3/4ths around to the right and maybe half way around to the left before falling over. Part of my problem is that my balance isn't yet to the point that I can relevé and immediatly be on balance, and part was that by that point I was rapidly running out of steam. We did some changements to make sure we were thoroughly exhausted, and that was the end of the class.

    After class I received confirmation of something I'd speculated about in earlier postings. The topic of class attire came up, and the other student admitted, "After you started showing up in tights, I had to." So there you have it, I'm a "dance fashion maven" now, in the words of a friend.

    Edit: The tights I'd been wearing were Capezio 5945, not MT11, so I've corrected this posting.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Fourth class

    Just got home from my fourth class. I arrived about a minute late, but this time the excuse is worth sharing.

    As I've mentioned I have two pairs of slippers, one white and one black. I'd left both pairs sitting on the end of the bed, ready for me to grab before heading out the door. But when I went to get them there was only one "pair": one white slipper and one black slipper. I have enough issues without going to class dressed like a court jester! Eventually I discovered the other "pair" wrapped inside something that had also been on the bed. Mystery solved, I scurried out.

    There were three of us in class tonight. As foretold, the woman who had previously worn a jogging suit was now dressed in tights, leotard and gauzy skirt, all black. The instructor had also realized the impracticality of trying to demonstrate while wearing a long, opaque skirt and was wearing a gauzy skirt that allowed us to see her position and movements. I'm not sure what it is with women and gauzy skirts, because they really don't hide anything. Is it a self-image thing? Anyway, we're starting to look like a real ballet class, rather than a bunch of cruise ship escapees looking for a shuffleboard court.

    At the barre we did the usual pliés, tendus, rond de jambes, battement tendus, frappés and grand battements. Instead of the développés we did last week, we did fondues. Moving to the center we had a few minutes to do personal stretches while the instructor got her music set up, then we did a simple adagio. Each of us had questions about various parts, so we did this four or five times. Although the instructor apologized for taking so much time with it, we all said we were happier having spent the time to feel more confident with it. We then finished with allégro steps: assemblé, changement, soubresaut, and échappé from fifth. At which point we ran out of both time and energy.

    One amusing note: while fiddling with her iPod for the proper music the instructor started playing the song Maniac from the movie Flashdance. It really didn't fit with the step we were trying to practice, but everyone laughed and the other students thought it'd be fun to dance to. The instructor has offered (or threatened?) to choreograph a ballet class to modern music. I think I'm scared.

    I'm feeling more comfortable with movement, though my turnout really sucks. I'm also spending too much time looking down, following the instructor or other students, so I'm trying to look up more. I expect this will help with my balance too. I still feel like I don't know where my arms are supposed to go, though that's improving slowly and my questions have led to the instructor coaching on this more. This is good.

    Writing this journal seems to help me maintain continuity from class to class, and hunting for words in my ballet dictionary is really broadening my vocabulary. More and more I understand what the instructor is asking for from her description even before she demonstrates, although reading various ballet forum questions require even more references to the dictionary. I wonder if there's a Ballet French spell-checker for Firefox?

    Now I have one day to recover, because we're also starting classes Thursday nights too!

    Ok, this is just weird

    I was going through some mail I received late last week but hadn't had a chance to read, and found a card from my ballet instructor. By card I mean a greeting card, with a hand-written message inside saying how happy she is to have me in her class. She also says she's looking forward to making the class better with my help.

    This last is probably a reference to a suggestion I made after the last class. The instructor is eager and knows her ballet, but seems new to teaching. We do only a couple of repetitions of a step before moving on to the next, and often I'm barely getting the feel for one step before we're off to the next. I told her that my preference would be to spend more time practicing fewer steps so I'd have a chance to get them right before moving on, rather than cramming a bunch of steps into the class and never really figuring out how any of them are done. Of course, I'm but one of (usually) five students, and I told her I didn't know how the others would feel.

    I'm tickled that she'd take the time to send me a card, and write such encouraging words. But somehow I find it a little awkward too. I don't feel like I'm doing the "fabulous job" she says I am; I do ok at the barre, but once we move to the center I feel like an off-balance clod. I guess I don't take compliments well.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Rotate your stock much?

    Mid-week I decided that if I was going to take two dance classes a week I should have at least two pair of tights. I was driving by a dancewear store rather closer to home (Repeat Performance) and stopped in to check out the place and pick up a second pair. And promptly mis-laid them. I found them again this afternoon and while washing them (along with my first pair) I noticed that they felt significantly different. The packaging indicates these are Capezio MT10, rather than the MT11 5945 style I've been wearing for the last month.

    I don't know much about dancewear yet, so I did some digging. The MT10 seems to have been around forever; as best I can tell from the rather dilapidated tag, the tights I wore waybackwhen were MT10s. What's the difference? The MT10 is 100% nylon, while the MT11 is 92% nylon and 8% spandex. The MT10s have a rather rough feel and look matte compared to the MT11s which feel softer and have a bit of a shine to them. A search of forum postings show the MT10 has a reputation among dancers for rather poor comfort and useful life compared to some other brands. Although it's relatively new, the MT11 seems to be getting more favorable reviews.

    Oh... and Capezio stopped making the MT10 style in favor of the MT11 about two years ago.

    I really can't bitch too much about a brick-and-mortar store stocking out-of-date styles. Between the comparative rarity of male dancers and the ease of ordering off the 'net, I'm sure they don't sell that many men's tights. Still, it's points in favor of Artistic Dance Fashions that the guy helping me commented that I'd like these (the MT11 5945s) much better. That'll teach me to remember to ask "better than what?"

    Speaking about styles being around forever... Capezio advertises three styles of male dance belts on their website: the N5930, N5933, and the N26. My current one is (I know you're just itching to know!) a N5930. One of the two I wore waybackwhen was a style 26. It seems things change slowly in the dance world. Given that the half-life of knowledge in my career field is about 5 years, having something in my life that changes slowly is a comfort.

    I should note that I'm not particularly attached to the Capezio brand. They just seem to be the brand the stores I've shopped in carry. And unlike a pro dancer I don't live in these things so they tend to last, which doesn't give much cause for experimentation.

    Edit: Seems like lots of people are interested in men's dance tights, as I'm getting a lot of search hits on this posting. If you continue to read this blog you'll find that when I bought some MT11 tights I realized the style I had been wearing were Capezio style 5945, not MT11. Thus I've edited where necessary. Sorry if the edit makes it harder to read.

    What is a female dance belt?

    When I started looking for a place to train one of the things I was looking for was a slow, comfortable pace with low expectations. I wanted a place where an out-of-shape man who has spent decades sitting behind a desk could ease into a more active lifestyle. For that purpose, the place I chose is nearly ideal. It's so close to home I can be there in 5 minutes in the worst of traffic. The classes are loosely structured, and the teacher happy to adjust to the desires of the students. If I keep at this for long, though, this isn't going to be what I need. It may be the end of the summer, or the end of the year, or a year from now, but eventually if I haven't totally lost interest in dance I'll be looking for a place that has higher expectations and more experienced instructors.

    With that in mind I've continued to browse for other nearby schools. Some of the most prestigious in the area are too far for my level of interest: 40 minutes without traffic and an hour-plus to attend an early-evening class. Others omit any mention of males of any age as students. Last night I happened to be looking at a school I'd dropped from consideration earlier. They're a lot closer than I'd originally thought they were. They've been in business for over 20 years. The majority of their faculty teach ballet exclusively, and quite a few have professional experience. Their policy on attire is a bit picky -- you can tell what level classes a girl is taking by the color and style of her leotard -- but right after the section on girls' attire is the section on boys' attire. I consider that a plus.

    Now to the substance of my query. Amongst the attire required for girls is a dance belt, which the school sells for $10. Huh? Web searches come up blank.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Dancing on the floor

    Now this is something I could get into: Zena Rommett Floor-Barre® (PDF) It's an exercise done while lying on the floor. Ideal for the dancer who's recovering from a long night partying with friends!

    Ok, pardon the snark. It just struck me as funny.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    New shoes and the third class

    This past Saturday my new black slippers arrived in the mail. Like the "old" white pair they're Capezio Cobras (style 2031).  I wasn't expecting them for several more days, and hadn't set aside time in my busy weekend for sewing elastics. Late Monday night, however, I decided I really wanted to wear the new shoes to class, so I stayed up late and got the job done. Tuesday after work I rushed home, changed into a T-shirt, dance belt and tights, then pulled on a pair of regular pants and shoes for the short drive to the studio. I got there a bit late, quickly shed my pants and shoes, pulled on my new black slippers and tried to get in at least a couple stretches before class.

    Note to self: preparation time is essential. I'd gone a bit easier on my calves during Monday's yoga class so I wasn't hurting like last week, but I didn't feel centered. I had more freedom of movement than last week, and could stay on demi-pointe with less effort, but my sense of balance was off. I didn't have a death-grip on the barre like I needed during the first class, but I was far more unsteady than at the beginning of the second class.

    We had five students in this week's class; three I recognized from my first class, while the fourth may or may not have been the same. The younger woman who wore a leotard and tights to my first class was wearing much the same, as was the woman I didn't recognize. The woman who wore sweats to class 1 and 2 had switched to tights. As I've mentioned I switched as well. That left the woman wearing a loose jogging suit. When we assembled at the barre she looked around at the rest of the class and said quietly, "I'm going to have to get some tights." This brought a smile to my face.

    We did basic barre work: pliés, relevés, rond de jambes, and added développés. I can get reasonable elevation (by my standards) of my leg to the front and rear, but to the side all my hip flexors protest. I'm going to have to come up with some sort of regular stretching and exercise to work on this.

    Out in the center of the floor we added a couple of new things. Pas de chat is one I remember from waybackwhen, and I enjoyed that. Then we tried pirouette en dehours, which I did not enjoy; my balance was way off, and I've forgotten what it is that drives the turn.

    Overall I'm really glad I went back to ballet, though only time will tell if I keep at it. Thus far I'm pretty much winded by the end of the class, though I'm hoping that will improve as time goes on. Next week we'll be adding a second class Thursday nights, so that should help.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Second class

    After a week off for spring break I went to my second ballet class. Only one other student showed up; it was almost like having a private lesson. This time I decided to wear the traditional garb of dance belt, tights, slippers and a T-shirt. The teacher clearly approved. I have to admit that the snarky comment from the dancewear store about white shoes with black tights was right -- the contrast was painfully harsh.

    I'd tried to do some stretches over the break, though it's hard to tell how useful that was. I had a yoga class the night before and I'd put some extra effort into it, but found that my legs were almost immediately sore. I found I was having trouble staying on demi-pointe, with my right ankle especially wanting to roll off to the outside. I just couldn't seem to get my foot into a position where my weight was centered. Every time we did a sous-sus I'd come down into fifth with my front heel on top of the big toe of my back foot. Not pleasant.

    Still, I enjoyed the class. I got an odd compliment from the other student: when we were at the barre the first time we turned so she was facing me she commented, "Oh good! Now I can follow you."

    What I didn't enjoy was getting up the next morning. My calf muscles were very tight, and it took a few minutes to limber them up enough to be able to stand flat-footed. For the rest of the day, and for two more days, if I sat for more than about an hour standing up happened over the protests of my calves. I guess I over-did the stretching, eh?

    I also came to the conclusion that my slippers were just a hair too short for me. The suede pad under my heel wasn't quite far enough back, and the back of the heel didn't come up as high as it was designed to. I ordered a new pair through a half size larger, this time in black rather than white.

    My first ballet class in 25 years

    The day I'd selected for my first class in 25 years was rapidly approaching, and I hadn't sewed the elastics into my slippers yet. I asked a dancer friend of mine for advice on where to attach the free ends, and got busy with a needle and thread. I'm not much for "woo woo" spirituality, but doing this felt a bit like some time-honored ritual. Ever the perfectionist, I didn't clip the excess elastic so I'd be able to redo the stitching if I needed to make them longer.

    Then, suddenly, it was time for class. I was told class attire was casual and comfortable, as this is intended to more of a "fun" class than something leading to performance. Feeling a bit self-conscious I decided to forgo the dance belt and tights, instead wearing the shorts I usually wear to yoga classes. I was the first student to arrive. This turned out to be a "large" class at five students. Not surprisingly I was the only male. Three of the women appeared to be in their 40's, all wearing sweatpants or the like. One was younger, I'd guess in her early 30's, and she wore more traditional attire: pink tights, pink leotard, and a short gauzy skirt. The instructor was a woman in her late 30's with a lot of enthusiasm.

    Barre work was like riding a bicycle. A bicycle with flat tires and a rusted chain. I surprised myself by remembering the basic positions, and remembering the motions of the simple steps we practiced if not their names. Still, it was like walking in a familiar place though a dense fog. The younger woman in the tights and leotard clearly knew what she was doing, and things were much easier when we were turned so I could follow her.

    Then we moved to the floor for some stretches. I do love it so when the instructor says something like, "Sit on the floor, legs in together in front, then fold forward with your arms forward until your hands reach your toes." Yeah. Right. The last time my body was in that position was during a mishap on the trampoline in 1976, and I spent three days laying on the floor on my back with my legs propped up while my back muscles started to heal. In the words of one of the women in my yoga class, "it's a female thing." Still, I need to work on flexibility.

    Moving on to some simple combinations in the center the rust got thicker. The names the instructor said had a vague familiarity to them, but the motions felt unfamiliar. I'd never really been good at things like balancé (yeah, simple, I know), being much better at jumps. Part of it is probably that I don't remember ever properly learning arm positions. I've often said that the more mature you become the more you become aware of what you don't know.

    After class I was tired but at the same time exhilarated. I grabbed something for dinner, went home, and tried to relax. "Tried" being the operative word. My leg muscles, unused to this sort of activity, twitched sporadically for several hours, and hurt for a couple of days. Fortunately the following week was spring break for the local school system, and class was canceled so families could vacation.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    New-found inspiration

    So here I am, 50. I feel creaky. I spend my days sitting behind a desk, and standing too long makes my back hurt. I've tried getting into yoga, but although it helps it isn't something I look forward to eagerly.

    One day a few weeks ago, for no reason I can easily explain, I had the urge to dig up my old ballet gear. I found some old tights, my dance belts, and even my leg warmers. Handling them resulted in a cloud of fine powder, as the elastic had long since dried to brittleness, but it brought back fond memories. Could I really go back to taking ballet classes? Would it be as much fun as I remembered?

    I hunted around on the web (how did I ever find anything before the Internet?) and found several potential classes. I selected one at a small storefront very near to my house on the basis of their inviting tone, small class size, and schedule compatibility. Having gone that far I needed new gear. I fretted over not being able to find my old slippers, and having noted sizes and such I went off to Artistic Dance Fashions, the same dancewear store I'd been to back in '84. It has a long history and is very popular with dancers in this area. This turned out to be both good and bad: good in that the man who helped me was a dancer himself, and very knowledgeable about men's dancewear; bad in that a group of new students from a local dance academy had recently stripped them of much of their stock of men's slippers. Finally they located a pair that seemed to fit, courtesy of someone who had placed two pair on reserve then failed to pick them up for several weeks. I did get a rather icy stare from one of the women in the shop when she observed that I really should have black shoes if I was going to wear black tights. I laughed and replied, "First let me survive a couple of classes, then I'll worry about being color-coordinated!"

    Several things have changed in the last 25 years. The first is sizing. Yes, I've changed shape too, but a dance belt that was once called a "Large" is now labeled "XL". Thanks a lot, Capezio, my ego really needed that! Another thing is the advent of criss-cross elastics on shoes -- I had to hunt this down on the 'net. Are split-sole shoes something new? I mean new in the last quarter century. Sheesh.

    Ancient History

    No, that's not a self-description. It's just the content of this posting.

    When I was very young, maybe about 5 years old, I told my parents I wanted to take ballet classes. I don't know why, but I was very serious. I was told I was too young, and if I was still interested when I was older then I could. A few years later my mom got application forms for me to take a class, but by then I'd realized that it "wasn't cool" for a boy to dance. It was the 1960s, and attitudes were different back then.

    For the first couple of years of the '80s I dated a girl who was very into ballet. She took classes on a regular basis, even if it meant cutting into her food budget. Spending time with me often meant spending time in the university computer lab where I was lab monitor, and she took to bringing her ballet gear so she could practice if she got bored. I remember looking out over the lab more than once to finding her leading a group of computer science students through ballet exercises as they waited for computer time. I have fond memories of my time with her, but I was never moved to take classes myself.

    In the mid '80s I found myself with a new job in a new town, knowing almost no one. Recalling fond times with my dancer girlfriend and looking for social activities I very nearly enrolled in a rather formal dance academy, but instead signed up for classes at a local community center. Like everyone I started with the basics: first, second fourth and fifth positions (my instructor considered third to be a "half-assed fifth" and never used it). I struggled with "Ballet French", learning the sounds of the words and associating them with actions. I struggled to gain a modicum of the flexibility that the women in the class took for granted, and found joy in jumps that these same women couldn't match. But most of all it was fun. It took my mind off everything else for an hour or so.

    After a couple of years the instructor asked me and a guy who had recently joined our class to come an hour early and work with the girls' pointe class. The girls were young teens of varying skill level. Some showed real skill, while others barely clomped through class sounding like they wore horses' hooves. Our job was to carry a girl through a jump and set her down gently. Those with skill leaped into the air, requiring just a bit of an assist to reach full arm extension and then cushion the descent. Others could barely clear the floor on their own, and were lifted through brute strength to mid-chest before being lowered to a noisy thunk of a landing, hopefully clear of our toes.

    Somewhere along the way I stopped going to class; I don't remember exactly why. It may have been buying a house that made going to class inconvenient, or it may have been the job on the other side of the city that had me getting home after class was over. For whatever reason I moved on.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    My Version of a Mid-life Crisis

    Turning 40 didn't seem like a big deal to me. Things continued pretty much as they had. Turning 50, on the other hand, has been surprisingly rough. I figure I've earned myself a mid-life crisis. But what to do about it?

    To properly celebrate a mid-life crisis one must attempt to recapture one's youth. Some men buy fancy sports cars, but I've never cared that much for cars other than as transportation. Learn to fly? Did that almost 20 years ago. Trade the wife in on a younger model? I'm not married.

    No, I've decided to return to something I enjoyed at half my present age: ballet.

    Twenty five years ago I danced ballet. Performances were never part of the plan, but I enjoyed the exercise and discipline of weekly classes. Clearing my mind of everything else and focusing on the placement of a foot, the turn of a leg, port de bras. Flying through a crisply-executed Fouetté. These things I've missed.

    I'm older now. I've spent decades sitting behind a desk. I need bifocals. My hair has gray in it. These things I cannot change. But you're never too old to dance, if you're willing to work at it. And it's my mid-life crisis, damn it!