Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Out with the old, In with the new

Tonight was the first class with the new instructor. I have tons of work (the kind I get paid to do) to do tonight, so this will be comparatively brief, but I want to get some of this out while it's fresh.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Well, that's the word that one of my classmates used when our instructor announced that someone else would be teaching our class starting next week, and she would only be a substitute teacher. Apparently she has schedule conflicts for the summer that are prohibitive.

Let's say I'm less than thrilled. Regardless of what faults she may have, our present instructor has listened to us when we had concerns, has encouraged us, and really made us feel welcome and wanted. Those are big slippers to fill.

The studio's director says they have a "highly qualified" teacher ready to start next week, but declined to mention a name. We're still dealing with the same old rickety barre; several people in the class made... ummm... "negative comments" about it this evening, though not directly to the studio director. Even if it were stable, though, it's no longer big enough for the class size; there was yet another student this evening I hadn't seen before, and she's not a newbie.

I hate to end on a down note, because class was pretty good tonight. But I'm feeling cranky.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A different perspective

I got to class about 10 minutes late last night. I was involved with work stuff and didn't break loose from that until too late to get changed and over there on time. They'd already started barre work when I arrived, so I scooted in, apologized, and sat down in the "social corner" to strip off my jeans and put on my slippers.

Thus it was that I got a chance to see what our class looks like at the barre from a new perspective. I have to say they looked good. I can understand why we've had people express interest in joining us, but wanted to "take a beginner class first." Admittedly, of the two students at the barre, one clearly has had previous experience, and the other almost always makes both classes every week. Any experienced ballet dancer would immediately recognize that we are beginners, but to someone who hasn't danced, or hasn't danced in a long time, the mistake is forgivable.

I've read that George Balanchine believed that the tendu is the most important movement in ballet. I don't know enough to have an opinion, but we do seem to spend a lot of time working on them. One of the barre exercises we're now doing goes this way, starting in fifth: cou-de-pied, tendu, drag the foot inward to fifth over two counts, tendu, cou-de-pied, place the toes and roll down to fifth over two counts. Repeat en croix. Then eight tendus to the side, demi-plié, sous-sus, turn, down, and repeat on the other side.

Wow... if you're not a dancer I'm sure that sounds really advanced. It's not. Worse, just because you have it down on one side doesn't mean that it'll work on the other side. The left brain may know how to make the right side do it, while the right brain says "huh? Cou-de-what?" And then there's stepping down with the front foot and realizing that, with only 90º of turnout, placing the toes for a tight fifth results in stepping on the toes of the supporting foot. Very graceful, especially if that stepped-on foot needs to move next.

I've confirmed that I've finally figured out balancé. As best I can figure, I was waiting for the beat of the music before starting the movement, when it needs to start a half-beat sooner. This made the rest of the sequence rushed, and feel awkward. I still don't feel like it looks good, but I don't feel out of step anymore.

Before Tuesday's class, by popular demand, our instructor played a YouTube clip of her 15 minutes of dancing fame. It seems she's a devoted Bono fan, and she showed up for a U2 concert wearing a belly dancer's outfit and carrying a sign that read, "Belly Dancer For Hire — 1 Night Only! (costume included)." Bono picked her out of the crowd and pulled her up on stage to dance. Having revealed this aspect of her private life, the occasional U2 song has joined the usual mix of Tchaikovsky and other ballet classics. As I've said, it's a fun class.

Speaking of Tuesday, we got a new student. I was the last to arrive before class, and when I walked in she looked at me like I'd just walked into the women's locker room. Everyone else just said "Hi!" and turned back to watch the U2 video. I guess men in ballet classes are still such a rarity that women are shocked when a man walks in. As the newbie in the class she spent the rest of the evening trying to learn where to put her feet, hands and weight (with plenty of gentle coaching from the instructor), so I suspect I faded from her thoughts. Still, I wonder whether my presence will factor into decisions to attend or not. Not that I'm going to let it keep me from going!

I'm still hoping for a decent barre. This one is free-standing, and supports two wooden barres, one longer than the other. It also in bad enough shape that it's not stable, and is so light that if anyone pulls against it, it slides across the floor.  We've been "lucky" that we've never had more than five students show up at once, as that's about the most that can use it. Even then, rond de jambe can require some creative arrangement to avoid kicking the barre's supporting legs. Reportedly there's one on order, but I'll believe it when I'm using it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Strange search criteria

I've been toying with posting some of the search criteria used to find my blog. Yesterday the blog Rori roars did this, and that's pushed me over the edge.

I get some ordinary, sensible search hits:
  • "my first ballet class" -- Always a good one. Everyone has to be new at some point.
  • "boys dance belt" -- a popular topic among young male dancers and their parents, as is the next one...
  • "wearing a dance belt" -- I really don't see why people get hyper about this topic. It's not uncomfortable, unless it's the wrong size or you pull it up too tightly and abrade your coccyx (tailbone). Yet some guys act like it's a castration conspiracy.
Then there are the amusing ones:
  • "adult ninja tights" -- Probably a hit on my posting Adult Non-Mutant Ninja Dancers.  A bit amusing to think somewhere out there there's a half-naked ninja desperately searching the web for tights. Yeah.
  • "dance shoes with student hill" -- This one had me confused for quite a while, then I realized that "hill" is probably a misspelling of "heel".
  • "the impracticality of trying" -- I've given up trying to figure out how this one found my blog because of its impracticality.
And then there's this gem:
  • "boys taking ballet as a female" -- I'm all for the freedom to express yourself, but I have enough trouble already with new female students looking at me like I'm using the women's locker room. Besides, the biggest difference I've noticed short of pointe work is the color of the clothing and whether the tights go under your top (female) or over (male).

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Going Out of Business sale

Artistic Dance Fashions, my preferred dancewear store, has been in business for over 55 years. After June 15th, they will be no more. Gone. I'm happy for the owner, as she's retiring and this is a long-planned shutdown. At the same time I'm sad for the loss to the community.

Here's a link to an article in the Washington Post about this: Clicky

Everything is on sale, at least what is left. I just picked up two packages of tights for $10/ea (a good price online is ~$20/ea). While I waited I watched girls get getting the Cinderella treatment with brand-name pointe shoes for $10/pair. One girl walked out with two pair: one that fit her perfectly, and one pair the next size up.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The start of a new month

Our instructor previously mentioned that she planned to teach a particular lesson for a month, giving us the opportunity to develop skills. I started in late April and don't recall a distinct change at the beginning of May, but that might have been because things were too new for me to notice. It's June (yesterday was close enough), and we started a new lesson. The sequences I'd started to get good at are out the window, and we're on to new and more challenging stuff. Well, maybe not more challenging, but certainly different.

Years ago a friend gave me a four-CD set of ABBA songs. One of the four disks contains rarities and tracks recorded in languages other than English. I've had some instruction in Spanish and French and songs sung in those languages sounded familiar, even if my vocabulary was lacking, but the Swedish tracks sounded like little more than melodic gibberish. Shortly after returning from a half year living in Stockholm I heard one of the Swedish tracks again and was struck by the realization that what had been gibberish now was words and phrases. Intellectually this wasn't a surprise, not after a five-week language immersion class, but the visceral reaction was stronger than I expected.

Thinking about last night's class afterward, I had much the same visceral reaction. I'm starting to see purpose in certain exercises we're starting. Our instructor may have structured last month's lessons with the same sort of planning, but I didn't see it. I can definitely see it this month, and I'm attributing that difference to my "learning the language". At the barre we're doing some sequences that appear to be focused on ankle and foot flexibility and strength. Others seem to work the hips. We've incorporated more torso stretching into the pliés, and there's a bit more attention on arm positioning.

In the center we start learning some new stuff, and picked up some old. Everyone asked lots of questions, and rather than trying to push on with the lesson plan the instructor tried her best to answer every question. We working with with balancé again, which is one of those steps that I've done before but never felt right. After asking several questions and alternating between watching and doing, I discovered a transition I think I've been doing wrong, a brushing motion rather than a lurch, and suddenly it felt more "right" than it ever had before. Tomorrow night I'll see if it "sticks". We started working with waltz turns, which I think just need repetition.

Unlike previous classes I didn't find myself exhausted afterward. I'd like to think this is an indication of improving physical fitness, but it's probably because we spent more time marking the steps than practicing them.