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.

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