Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A new exercise

I can only imagine the frustration an instructor must feel when teaching a class of rank beginners. She asks for passé and gets some sort of yoga pose. What to do? The answer is to channel it in a productive direction.

"Everyone sit on the floor. Extend your legs in front of you. Sit up straight, bend your knees, turn your legs out and put the soles of your feet together. Now straighten one leg. Using your hands, lift the heel of the other foot so your toes are touching your shin just below the knee. This is passé. Lower the heel so it rests on your shin; this is what you're doing. Now lift your heel away from the floor again. Feel the different muscles it uses? See if you can do it without using your hands."

All this time I'm thinking, "That's easy for you to say! You probably have been dancing ballet since you got out of diapers, have 180 degrees of turnout, and are seriously flexible. I'm none of the above." But I can feel a little bit more rotation than before, and it is a different set of muscles. Muscles that are so unused to being activated that they spasm in sympathy with the knot in my calf that's been threatening to cramp.

All in all, a learning experience.

Later, after we put the portable barres away, we did more balance work. Standing with our hands on our hips, we did a mix of tendus and dégagés. I don't know why, but putting my hands on my hips makes me feel totally off-balance. Then we moved on to pliés, both demi and grande, and relevés in first. She announced that she was quite pleased with how we were doing that, so we would make it harder by doing it in fifth. If this had been a traffic stop, the next step would have been a breathalyzer test.

She did allow as how everyone had trouble with this, which is why you never saw it on stage. Somehow that didn't quite make me feel all better, though.

I guess I could practice...  Naah.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Warm and Sticky

That's the weather outside --  96F and high humidity --  but it also applies to my dance gear. Apparently when I came home from class Tuesday I neglected to separate my soaking-wet T-shirt from my slippers. I had clean everything else, but both pairs of slippers were damp. Yuck.

The up-side to this was that I discovered that it's true that dampening the suede pads will increase your traction on a slippery floor. I guess my previous attempts at dampening them was too superficial, because I definitely did NOT slip this evening.

Finding new places to be sore

If I complained that the new studio's beginner class was too easy, I withdraw the complaint. It has evolved into quite a challenge. We don't do anything at the barre that I haven't done before, but there's much greater focus on form and position. At certain points the instructor will walk around the room to get a close look at each student, and is not shy about helping us find the proper position by gently twisting a leg or nudging a hip. She showed me that I could get a bit more turnout in dégagé al la seconde, though I haven't figured out which muscles to engage to do it on my own. She also wanted my hip lower when I had my leg up on the barre, but while I agree it's a little bit cocked that's a no-go at this point.

The real challenge came after we put the barres away. We did a slow series of tendus, and then a slow series of tendus and dégagés, all while standing with our hands on our hips. All I can say is that I'm not the only one who found this difficult. On the other hand, while I sometimes teetered badly I didn't fall over or have to swing my arms wildly. Oddly, when she made it "more difficult" by adding arm movements to second, first, and then fifth, I found my balance to be much better. Maybe I'm using my arms for balance more than I thought? Just in case anyone thought they were doing well, we finished with a relevé on one foot with the other in passé, which everyone had trouble with.

Other than being hot and sweaty afterward, I thought it was a really good class. By the next evening, though, I was sore in some completely new places. Most notable was the very top of my calf muscles, just behind and below the knees. I honestly didn't realize you could be sore there. I'm also sore at the joint of my thighs and buttocks, which I recognize as "turnout muscles", as well as lesser and more familiar aches in the lower calf muscles.

Tonight I have class at my old studio. With any luck I'll actually be awake for it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sticky floors, sticky shoes

As I mentioned earlier, I ended up wearing my regular tights and T-shirt combo. I was going to wear the bike leggings instead, but I when I was getting dressed before leaving home I couldn't find them. Once at the studio I started out wearing my black slippers, and noticed once again how sticky the Marley floor felt. Since I'd brought my white slippers, I decided to see if they felt less sticky.

When I'd first started classes a year ago, I didn't realize that finding men's ballet slippers would be difficult. I'd only gotten the white pair because someone who had ordered them hadn't picked them up for several weeks, and the salesman declared them available for purchase. They ended up being a half size small, so they'd been replaced with the black slippers (bought online) fairly rapidly. Thus they have very little wear on them, and I haven't scuffed up the suede to increase my traction on slick wood floors like I have the black pair.

I've never been good with fashion rules, and I've been known to cajole female friends into going with me when I'm forced to buy clothing to avoid fashion faux pas.  When I bought the white pair, a saleswoman had commented (with a tone of distain, I might note) that they really didn't go with black tights. My response at the time was, "I'll worry about that after I decide to continue with classes". But when looking for a class I'd noticed that some schools had a dress code for males that includes black tights and white slippers worn with white socks. I'd tried this combination on at home, so I knew that it'd be a bit snug but not overly tight -- tolerable for an experiment.

The experiment proved my hypothesis: the white slippers felt much less sticky on the Marley floor than the black slippers. I may have to get another pair of slippers -- of the right size -- to wear at the new studio.

Jet-lagged... without the jet

I'm teaching a class in Europe this week. Only problem is that while the class is in Europe, I'm still in the US. See, it's an on-line class. Which means I have to wake up at 2am, when it's pitch black, to be ready to teach at 9am their time. We break for lunch about the time my cat normally demands to be fed. When class is over for the day it's about noon, which makes it hard to get back to sleep. Toss in a ballet class in the evening, and you have time-zone confusion.

I did make it to class last night, and I'm glad I did. We've moved on from trivially simple things to doing harder work. Things that require real balance, like doing tendus with hands on your hips. And being off-balance from the weird sleep schedule didn't help.

Nor did the temperature in the studio. I ended up wearing a T-shirt and tights this time, and I ended up dripping. Don't believe me? Here's photo of my T-shirt taken after class.

It should be a nice, uniform grey color. The collar is wet enough to wring out, and the back and the front are nearly so. And that was only an hour class. I know I'm out of shape, but I gotta find some lighter-weight dance gear.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ballet in Japan

Last December I found myself in Japan. While wandering the streets of Kyoto, wishing I could read the signs, I saw a few that I could recognize.

Yes, they have ballet classes in Japan! This is the Mori Keiju Ballet Studio・BAP. There's a website and a Facebook page. Have I mentioned yet that I can't read Japanese?

It seems Japanese girls put on their pointe shoes one foot at a time, just like everyone else. I can't swear to it, though.

The thought crossed my mind to go in, but images from the movie "Lost in Translation", where the Japanese director of a commercial goes on and on in Japanese while Bill Murray's character sits there uncomprehending, also crossed my mind.  After about 10 seconds contemplating I moved on without even checking their schedule. Anyone who drops in on a ballet class where he or she doesn't speak the local language gets a tip of my hat.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Not how I planned it

I decided to experiment with different attire for class this evening. I dug out a pair of bicycling leggings I hoped would be cooler than my dance tights. These come to mid-calf, so I matched my white slippers with a pair of thin white socks. Rounding it out was a t-shirt with no silkscreening. Rather than empty my dance bag of my regular gear I just added to it. This, I felt, would offer the option of changing my mind. Thus I had just about two of everything stuffed in my bag.

I find it useful to visualize activities before doing them, so about 5 minutes out from the studio I began to picture the class, starting with my arrival. As I mentally ran through changing I had a sudden image of one of my two dance belts sitting by the sink to be washed, followed by the horrific image of the other hanging up in my laundry room after being washed this weekend.

With a sinking feeling I dumped my dance bag on the seat next to me (distracted driving, anyone?) and pawed through the pile. Two pair of slippers, a pair of socks, leggings, tights, t-shirt... and no dance belt. Now, I don't want to brag, but when I tried on the leggings this morning it was obvious that I'd need to wear a dance belt under it, and the tights would be as bad if not worse. Nor would the thin underpants I was wearing do much to help -- the temps have been near 100F (about 38C) and I was dressed for comfort.

Thinking quickly, I remembered there being a dance store not far away. I headed there happy that I had a half hour before class. I would miss my extended warmup, but I might be able to avoid being late. Arriving at the store I ran to the door, only to discover they'd closed promptly at 6:00, and it was 6:09. Lacking time to go anywhere else and make it back for class I admitted defeat and went home.

*Le Sigh*

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Past-tense Oops

It seems that there was class Thursday a week ago. The instructor was caught in traffic, and arrived about the same time I gave up and left. Oh well.

Consolidating class to one day a week has helped get everyone there at the same time. This week there were five students at the barre, including one new woman. I got the impression that she has previous dance experience, but probably not ballet.

I'm debating changing my class attire for the rest of the summer. While the Thursday night class is generally is cool enough, the Tuesday night classes at the new studio are held in a very large room that seems overly warm to me. As in "wring out my dripping T-shirt" warm. I may switch from tights to something shorter and cooler.

I might also try wearing my white slippers instead of the black ones. The old studio's floor is wood and is fairly slick; probably great if you're learning ballroom, but not great for ballet. I've done a bit of scuffing of the suede pads on the black slippers to increase their hold on the floor, but the new studio has Marley floors. Instead of being worried about slipping, I'm finding it hard to slide my foot in a tendu let alone pivot on a weight-bearing foot. The white slippers have very little wear on them, so maybe they'll slide a bit more easily. It's a cheap thing to test.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Balanchine Ballerinas

Pointe shoes have a limited life. Once they're "dead" they get trashed, unless you're famous. If you're famous you sign your pointes and they end up in display cases like these:

Sorry for the poor photo quality -- I was shooting through glass with my mobile phone using only ambient light. Click on any of the pics to see bigger versions.

Here are some closer looks:

From left to right, the autographs are from Merrill Ashley, Patricia McBride, and Suzanne Farrell. All "Balanchine Ballerinas", as one website puts it.

Note to Self: OW!

Not stretching does NOT mean avoiding the pain in my hamstrings and hip flexors. It just means it huts a LOT more in class.

Otherwise class was good. I got what I choose to interpret as subtle encouragement to continue attending the Intermediate class, which I will do (starting next week -- I have conflicts tonight).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A rare Thursday evening off

I'd debated skipping class this evening to baby my sore calf muscles, but convinced myself that the stretching would do me good. The decision was taken out of my hands when I found that the studio is closed for the holiday week.

I'm a little disappointed but I can't say I'm that upset about it.

A quote. A thought.

"Ballet classes are not intended to be fun. They're hard work. The fun comes outside of class."

So sayeth the instructor of my Tuesday night class (paraphrased, as I'm notoriously poor at remembering direct quotes). And she's right. If I wanted to spend my evening having fun it wouldn't be sweating in a bare dance studio with a former pro picking on my every mistake. I want to walk out knowing that I'm getting a little bit better every class, if only a tiny bit.

Why bring this up on a Thursday afternoon? Because I'm still a bit sore from Tuesday's class, and I was just reminded of that while walking down the hallway. Not "ZOMG I'll never walk again" sore; I never felt like that even yesterday. But sore enough to know that I got a good, hard workout.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Survived!

I really wanted to show my best for the new instructor this evening. Alas, it was not to be.

I've been working with a new client for the last couple of weeks, and the office ergonomics (or lack thereof) are wreaking hell with my upper back and neck. I had an appointment with my massage therapist and the chiro she works with booked, but the power outages forced me to reschedule to yesterday morning. It really helped the neck and back, but the rest of me feels like I've been beaten with a baseball bat. I didn't realize the knots in my legs had gotten so bad.

I knew things weren't going to be great when I started getting cramps in both calf muscles while I was warming up before class. Things got better during class, but my normally good balance wasn't there.

At the barre the instructor really works the basics, which is something I need. I don't feel that attending the beginner classes will be a waste of time by any means.

In the center we did simple tendus and dégagés, and I had a bitch of a time with my balance. It was really frustrating: here I'd asked to take the intermediate class too, and I could barely keep my balance. But I'm stubborn.

When class was over I thought about skipping out, but decided to try at least part of the intermediate class. Much to my relief, the barre routine started with what I've been doing for most of a year, which was a huge boost to my confidence. With that I started doing much better. I have to imagine that the instructor was confused where the teetering guy from earlier went. I feel like I was doing as well as those immediately around me, though there were others who were clearly far better.

Eventually, though, the combinations became faster and more complex, and I began falling behind. I'd foolishly positioned myself at the end of the barre, and when doing the second side there was no one I could follow if I forgot the pattern. I tried switching with the woman next to me, only to find she was having trouble too.

Finally, 40 minutes in to the 90 minute class, we started with stretches that would have put me in the hospital. I took that as my cue and retreated, signaling my thanks to the instructor before leaving.

In summary, I had 100 minutes of class and learned that I do indeed straddle the two classes. If the teacher will permit, I'll probably continue to take the full beginner class and the first half of the intermediate class, staying until I feel like I'm over my head. Maybe by the fall semester I'll be able to manage the whole intermediate class.


Tonight will be my second class at the new studio, and probably the first class with the regular instructor. Last week established that I can keep up with their beginner class, but somehow I'm still nervous about it. I'm still toying with trying the intermediate class that follows right after, but a pro dancer friend of mine made the excellent observation that trying to do back-to-back classes may be overdoing it, especially since the second class is 90 minutes. A compromise may be to start the intermediate class and drop out if I feel overworked.

More reason to talk with the instructor.