Tuesday, June 26, 2012

First Class at a New Studio

With my old studio dropping the Tuesday night ballet class for the summer, I decided to try a class at a new place. It's a 25 minute drive rather than 5, but it's against traffic. The facility is beautiful, with several classrooms, a small theater, and real changing rooms with lockers. Unsure how long it'd take and how much paperwork there might be, I got there 45 minutes early. The paperwork was a simple one-page form.

The lady at the front desk pointed out that they have ballet Tuesday and Thursday evenings, but the schedule she was pointing to said the Thursday evening class was an Advanced Ballet class. I said something about hoping to move up to the Intermediate Ballet class some day, and she kind of seemed embarrassed. Honestly, I don't look like someone who is taking an advanced ballet class.

I wandered around for a while to get the feel of the place, then headed for the locker room to change.

The floor in the classroom is some sort of synthetic (Marley?) that feels almost sticky without actually being sticky. No worries about sliding across this floor by accident! I'm pretty sure it's a sprung floor, as it feels resilient under the feet. One wall is all mirrors, and a wall perpendicular to that has the classic double barre mounted to it. The portable barres are all galvanized pipe construction and non-adjustable.

It turned out that I wasn't the only man in the class. The other guy remarked that it'd been a long time since there'd been another man, and trying to be friendly I commented that it'd been years for me. I think he misunderstood me, responding as if it'd been a long time since I'd taken a dance class, when it's only been 5 days. He tried to reassure me that there were plenty of people just starting out, and I wouldn't be left behind.

Nope. More like the other way around.

The regularly scheduled instructor is away this month, so we had a substitute: the artistic director for the school. He's a retired 20-year veteran of the Washington Ballet, so he knows a few things about the subject. He's amazing to watch.

I'm glad I took time to warm up and stretch on my own before class, because we did very little. OTOH, the class is an intro class, so just the normal class work is about my normal warm-up pace. That's not to say I didn't learn anything. I did. But it was more of detail rather than basics. He wanted coupés and tendus executed sharply, and fondus and développés executed softly. Attention to detail for those ready to handle it, and encouragement to those who needed it.

I could barely cover a smile when one of the women asked how to do a rapid tendu sequence "when there isn't time." His response started with, "make time", and then he explained. My smile was because I've asked that very same question, and if I can do it I know she can learn to.

The hour was over before I wanted it to be. I hung around to talk with him a moment, and asked how difficult the intermediate class was. I think he misunderstood my question because he answered, "there are some pros in the class" and he pointed out a couple of people who dance professionally. I wasn't sure how to take that. What I was feeling for, but didn't ask, was whether I could keep up with the intermediate class. Was he implying that I wasn't ready to take the intermediate class, or trying to assure me that it would be a good class? A little confused, and having paid for only the one class, I asked if I could sit in the back and watch, which he invited me to do. I went and changed, then found a comfortable spot on a pile of Pilates mats next to one of the other beginner students.

At first, my feeling was, "I can do this!" They didn't do anything I haven't done. That feeling lasted about 20 minutes. The pace kept picking up and the combinations became more intricate until a fair number of people were struggling to keep pace. It would have been a real challenge for me, but I don't think I would have been totally lost. I was mostly watching the good students with whom I would not compare favorably, but I did note that there were a few who were frequently a beat behind or doing the wrong step and they stuck with it. So maybe I could pull it off.

I ended up leaving about 40 minutes into the 90 minute class because I kept wanting to join in. I have the feeling I'm at that uncomfortable point where I'm at the head of their beginner class and the tail of their intermediate class. Oh well.

Next week I believe the regular teacher will be back. I don't think there's any sort of planned progression from class to class in the summer, especially with the change in instructor. I'm definitely going to go to the beginner class, and will try to talk with the instructor beforehand and tell her that I'd like to take the intermediate class too. Then she can let me know between classes if it's ok.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dwindling interest

Not mine, my fellow students'. Once again, I was the only one to show up last night. I know why some of them didn't show up: one is a once-a-week who came Tuesday, another is sick. But this time last year we were worried about having to pull out the old rickety barre for lack of space at the new one. I'm guessing, without any basis, that most wanted to try ballet again after taking classes as a child, and having done so have lost interest again.

Me, I'm looking forward to starting at a new studio Tuesday evenings. They have beginner ballet at the same time as my current class, and an intermediate class (if I get that far) immediately afterward. Most, if not all, of the instructors at the new place have professional performance experience, which will be a change. I do better when challenged. And I'll still take the Thursday class at the old place.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capezio does it again

They've apparently dropped the 5945 tights I like. So tonight I'll buy a few more pair, if I can find them on the 'net, and then go looking for another brand for when these wear out.

What brand and model tights do the men out there like?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sometimes bad is good

In my last post I mentioned that I'd considered sitting in on a class at another studio, but they'd moved their adult beginner classes from Wednesday evenings to Tuesdays. Well, at this evening's class I learned that my regular studio is dropping the Tuesday evening adult ballet class for the summer due to low attendance.

Coincidence? Or is someone reading my blog?

Honestly, I suspect it's that they've started a Thursday evening tap class right after the ballet class, and some folk take both. But it leaves Tuesday evenings open for other activities.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

While the cat's away...

Our regular teacher, Catelyn, took a well-earned holiday this week, leaving the adult ballet class in the hands of a substitute teacher, Candice.

Tuesday, one of our newer students showed up, full of excitement and energy. The class was a bit more organized than usual, as Candice brought a written lesson plan in her notebook. The routines were different, of course, but they flowed nicely. Catelyn spends most of her time working with young children, and she tries not to single out anyone for criticism. Candice had a nice mix of correction and compliment, a bit more appropriate for an adult class.

I enjoyed the class, though somehow I always seemed to be in front of the other student, blocking her view of the mirror. She's petite and I'm not, and I'd rather have let her be in front, but she always lined up behind me when going across the floor.

Thursday turned into a private lesson, as no one else attended. I know that summer is a difficult time for those with children, and one of our Thursday regulars just adopted a child last month. But at one point we were running out of barre space, and now three is a big class.

It was a good class, and I felt like I was getting the hang of the sequences of steps she wanted. She introduced waltz turns, which felt somewhat familiar, and the fouette turn, which I definitely remember.

It may sound like I'm down on Catelyn. That's not true. She's a great teacher with boundless energy. I've seen her with kids and she's amazing. However, her focus in dance is not ballet. And I think I'd benefit from a teacher who was a bit more demanding; trust me, a het guy taking ballet is not looking for coddling.

I did do another net search for adult ballet classes in my area. There's one I thought I might drop in on, but wouldn't you know that they've just ended their Wednesday evening classes, and the classes starting up now are Tuesday evenings. I may yet take a peek, but I wanted to see how Candice worked out this week.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The oddball things people believe

People are willing to believe all sorts of crazy things that just don't pass the "smell test". Here's one such.

I posted a picture of the Sansha "Futura" pointe shoes I mentioned in my last update to another forum. For reference, here's the photo:

I received the following response:

True toe shoes like they wear in ballet have a smaller toe area and they have no real support. Most pro ballet people have their toenails removed to decrease foot pain. Your ankles and tendons have to be very strong.
They are not designed for walking.
Well. Gee. Where do I start?

It's not like I have no previous exposure to ballet. I've never been en pointe myself, but one of my college girlfriends took classes with the Baltimore Ballet and I learned a lot from her. While I was taking ballet in the 1980s I was recruited by my teacher to help with the girls' pointe class that took place immediately before our adult class. This gave the girls a chance to do some basic partner moves, including turns, lifts and jumps. Some of the girls were a delight to dance with, while others... well... it was a lot like weight lifting at the gym, except you had to watch your feet (and other body parts) more carefully lest you get stepped on or kicked. Those pointe shoes are hard!

I'm friends with one or two professional ballet dancers. None of them ever mentioned having their toenails removed. None ever mentioned it as a common practice. In fact, none of them ever mentioned anything about it. The only mention of toenails has been when one got bruised, or maybe came off due to an injury. But maybe others know something I don't.

I do agree with the part about "your ankles and tendons have to be very strong", hence my concern for the other student. She says she can still get up on pointe wearing her old shoes, but somehow I suspect that means for a moment, while holding on to something for stability. Not taking a class.

Comments? I know you folk are reading; I look at the stats. You don't have to be an authority; you just have to have an opinion.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Modern focus

One of the other students brought a box to class last night. It contained a pair of Sansha pointe shoes -- the "Futura" model. I'd never seen pointe shoes that laced up like sneakers before! She said she bought them because she thought they would "give more support" during class. Oh, and they were "so cute", which is probably the primary reason she got them. She bought them on the Internet, and they didn't fit, so it'll be a few weeks before they reappear, if they do.

Note that this is NOT a pointe class. It's not even an advanced class. It's an open adult ballet class where people attend as time permits. I'm about the only one who shows up twice a week most of the time, and there are a handful of others who show up regularly once a week. Apparently this student had some pointe training years ago (like more than 30 years ago, if I remember her previous comments) but somehow I don't think that makes wearing pointe shoes in class a good idea.

But that's not really the pointe of this posting (pun intended).

I've done some reading on pointe work, and was surprised that our teacher didn't try to dissuade the student from trying to wear pointe shoes to class. Now, I knew her focus was on Modern and other styles of dance, but I'd assumed that a woman couldn't graduate from a university with a degree in dance without having at least some training in pointe work. Foolish me. Apparently this is a requirement for most university dance programs, and is often a prerequisite for admission, but not the one our teacher attended. So while she's had training in ballet, she's never been on pointe. Has no experience with pointe classes, or pointe shoe fitting, or practical knowledge of the physical requirements to be able to do pointe work safely.

Ok, I've never been on pointe either. I'm a guy, and for the most part pointe work is a girl thing. Even if I wanted to, I don't have the flexibility in my feet to be able to do it -- I'm just getting to where demi-pointe isn't a struggle (and damn proud of it). Also, I weigh almost twice what the average girl on pointe weighs. But I've read about it, and listened to people who know -- really know -- talk about it. And I'm worried that a student who has difficulty doing an elevé on one foot at the barre really doesn't have the strength to do much of anything safely in pointe shoes. And it concerns me that the teacher doesn't seem worried too.

Next week our regular teacher has the week off, and her friend I mentioned recently will be substituting. She's much more into ballet, and I have little doubt that she's done a good bit of pointe work. She'd probably have valuable input, but I doubt the subject will come up.

Comments? Opinions?