Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Getting Better All the Time

As I started writing this post, that Beatles song jumped into my head as the perfect title. And it's true for me. I went to my regular Beginner II class this morning. There were some moments where I was out of breath, but nothing really horrible. Only a slight cough during the first part of barre as my respirations got really deep, and no comments about quarantining the classroom this time! I may have reached the point where it's mostly lack of recent exercise and not so much the bronchitis that I'm dealing with.

For the most part, this class isn't all that technically challenging. It's trying to do each step well that I'm working on. The exception is a turns combination that this instructor introduced a few weeks ago. It's one of her favorites to help work the kinks out of pirouettes. Starting in something of a lunge, bring the back foot up and pirouette en dedans to a tombe with the working foot forward in the reverse of the previous lunge. Then bring the new back foot to pirouette en dehor to tombe reversing the lunge again. Thus all the turns are in the same direction but they alternate en dedans and en dehor. For those of us who are used to ending en dehor turns with the working foot in the rear it's a challenge, but it does highlight any tendency to lean back during the turns. Even some others who are very good with turns have trouble with this exercise.

But at least I'm complaining about things I need to learn and improve, and not about being unable to breathe! Now to work my way back up to 4 classes a week.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

One Step at a Time

I made it to the Advanced Beginner class this evening. Barre wasn't too bad, and I had little difficulty with the technical bits of the exercises, but it left me feeling tired. Not out-of-breath tired — that was between exercises — but out-of-energy tired. The start of center wasn't technically difficult, but my balance was off. When we started a turns combination I didn't have any trouble knowing what to do but I just couldn't muster the energy to get through it safely. I wobbled off to the side part way through, and then decided to declare victory and go home.

Still, this is a serious improvement on how I felt last week, and I'm looking forward to class Sunday. Tomorrow I have tickets to see TWB's Nutcracker!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Merry!

Best wishes for whatever you may be celebrating, may have celebrated recently, or will be celebrating soon: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Winter Solstice, or the ritual consumption of the host of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I wish you and yours a safe holiday season. RAmen!

For myself, this is a time to look back at the year coming to a close. It was just over a year ago that I started attending the ballet school I now consider "home". I think I've learned more in the last 12 months than I did in the previous 20. Last year I was taking Beginner I. In March I started taking Beginner II, though I later learned that that class might be better called Beginner 2.75. In September I bought the semester package and ramped-up the number of classes I'd been taking. By November I was taking 6-8 hours of classes a week, including two Advanced Beginner classes. Wow.

Then came bronchitis. No classes at all for two weeks. Half of one class the third week, and just barely making it through one class last week. I am so glad I don't depend on dancing (or other physically demanding activity) for my livelihood. My muscles aren't happy with my inactivity either: my calf muscles have been in knots since Sunday evening and my quads aren't much happier.

I'm considering attempting the Advanced Beginner class tomorrow evening. I'd prefer a less technically challenging class, but those don't take place until the weekend. AB barre isn't much harder, physically, than Beginner II. Being on the semester plan removes the expense from the equation, so even if I bail during center I've still gotten the benefit of barre.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

100 Relevés!

I'm sitting outside a studio where they're having a small kids' Nutcracker party. They're playing some sort of bingo game, and the teacher told them that if they called "Nutcracker!" (instead of "Bingo!") and didn't have all the right markers they'd have to do 100 relevés. Only in a ballet school would that have meaning, let alone sound like a punishment. One that was never invoked while I was there, I might add.

I went to the Beginner II class this morning. The first half of barre was like respiratory therapy for me, with lots of deep breathing accompanied by sporadic coughing fits that noticeably improved my ability to breathe. It also elicited a comment from the instructor that they were going to have to quarantine the room. But I made it through barre feeling better than last week.

Center was more of a challenge, and I took some of the easier options we were offered. I skipped most of the turns, and I'd have to rate my performance in the jumps combination as listless. I got the steps and I worked to emphasize the pliés as she wanted, but the jumps themselves had no spring to them. The end of class came none too soon for me, but my recovery time between combinations is definitely improving. I'm hoping that I'll be back to normal by early January.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Back to class! (sort of)

Yesterday I started feeling a lot more energetic. Climbing stairs was a bit taxing, but not horrible like it'd been. So I made plans to go to class today. I even packed my bag ahead of time to make sure I wouldn't be rushed and would have time to stretch before class.

This morning felt more like a repeat of Friday. I almost changed my mind about class, but I stuck to my pre-class routine. A hot shower helped loosen up my chest. I promised myself that I'd only mentally commit myself to barre; center would be a bonus if I felt up to it, but gave myself permission to bail if I really wasn't up to finishing even barre. I guess I'm a little scared that if I let myself get out of the habit I'll lose the drive to go entirely.

Walking to the school from parking was a bit tiring, but not terrible. I don't lack for energy, I lack the respiratory reserves to maintain oxygen saturation when challenged. In simpler terms, I get out of breath quickly, even though the rest of my body is capable and willing. I arrived about a half hour before class and started a nice, slow warm-up. The instructor wandered down the hall as I was doing this, and I explained about having been sick and that I might bail out between barre and center. She said she was glad to see me back and wished me continued improvement.

Barre started well. I've lost none of my flexibility or strength. My balance was just a bit off, but nothing really outside of my normal range. The student standing at the barre next to me looked to be in far worse shape, and I could hear the congestion in her lungs as she breathed from several feet away. The barre routines were mostly the old familiar ones that normally present little challenge for me. Technically I did OK, and even scored a couple of compliments, but by the end of each combination I was out of breath and needed the time during the explanation of the next to recover. Not the greatest sign, but I made it through the whole thing.

During the break before center I caught my breath and decided I felt good enough to try center. Again the first combination was familiar and I felt I did pretty well. One of the things this instructor pointed out to us a few weeks ago was that it's critically important to keep the standing leg straight during turns, and by paying attention to this I even executed a couple of pretty nice pirouettes, though my spotting is still lacking. By the time we'd marked it and done the whole routine once, though, I felt pretty winded. I sat out the next pass through, and when they got ready for the third and I still felt out of it I realized I was done. I waved to the instructor, collected my bag, and headed for the dressing room.

I accomplished what I set out to do — barre — and a little bit more. I'm OK with that. And I'll ease myself back into my old routine as my condition improves.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A funny doctor story

I'm skipping class tonight too. This would have been the Advanced Beginner class, and I'm not anywhere close to having the energy for that. Instead I'm going to see "Hunger Games: Catching Fire". The hike in from my car to the theater was tiring enough. Sunday is looking iffy.

Now on to the funny doctor story!

Earlier this week I visited my regular doctor to get a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia. He and I always sit and chat socially after the medical stuff is done, and this visit was no different. On a previous visit he mentioned that I'm the only man he knows who takes ballet classes. He seems quite fascinated by this. As I was leaving this visit he walked me out to the reception desk, and as I put on my coat he said to the receptionist in an excited tone, "Does this guy look like a ballet dancer? He is! Really!" She answered, "no." I really wasn't expecting this, so I said, "No, I'm not skinny. But I'm not a pro either." And made my exit, stage left.

Weird, eh?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

No class tonight, for several reasons

For one, the school is closed because of the successive waves of snow and ice we've had over the last couple of days. But I wouldn't go even if they were open.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pneumonia, anyone?

It became clear last night that I wasn't going to make it to class today. There's no way I was going to make it through even the 90 minutes of the Beginner II class when climbing one flight of stairs left me wheezing and panting.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Signs I should skip class

Woke up at 3am this morning feeling chilled. The room temp was normal, but I threw a second blanket on the bed and went back to sleep. Woke up an hour later still cold and with my legs a bit achy; added the heavy comforter from the closet to the pile and snuggled under it. Woke up again around 5am still cold, but this time my chest felt heavily congested and every joint ached.

Damn it, I got a flu shot already this year!

Looking back I can see that I had a few signs as far back as Tuesday evening. I felt a bit congested before class, but blamed it on the spate of poor air quality we've had the last couple of days. After class I was more achy than usual, but I blamed that on not having had class with this instructor in a while. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

So here it is, early afternoon, and I'm stable at 101F. The aches have receded to a merely uncomfortable background buzz. Felt good enough to raid my stocks of no-prep canned goods for lunch and get some fluids in me. Caught up on some shows I'd recorded on my DVR. Now I'm gonna see what trouble I can get into online for a bit, then go back to bed. I'm hoping I'll recover fast enough to make my regular Sunday classes.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Strategy rethink

Went to my Tuesday evening "Beginner II" class this evening, after having skipped it several weeks in a row. I put quotes around that because it's very close to the Advanced Beginner class I took Sunday afternoon. I think the combinations were a little easier and a hair slower, but not by much. It was a small class, with only 11 students in attendance.

Two of the girls came over from the local university, where they've been taking ballet. More than once I heard them exclaim that they felt totally lost. We all reassured them that they should just do what they could and not worry about it. Afterward the instructor suggested they come to tomorrow night's or Sunday afternoon's Beginner I class until they felt more comfortable. As I've said before, this place's kids program has turned out a shocking number of pro dancers, and most of the adult classes are taught by retired principal and soloist pros. But we have fun too.

After having several days with outside temperatures in the 20s to low 30s and snow the day before Thanksgiving, temps are headed for the mid 60s later this week. So after several very chilly classes, this evening's class was quite warm. The thermostat on the wall was set for 72, but the actual temp was a balmy 78 and humid. Humid like a locker room. Oh well -- they're saying it'll be back in the 30s next week with a chance of snow.

My strategy had been to drop the Saturday classes in favor of a Tuesday / Thursday / Sunday (x2) schedule. Having gotten back into this instructor's classes I'm again tempted to make time for her Saturday morning class too.

Who needs a life outside ballet?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Changing perceptions

My ballet school was closed Thursday for the US Thanksgiving holiday and I opted out of classes Saturday, so today were my first classes since Tuesday afternoon. Strangely, that now sounds like I've been slacking off, but it was my norm six months ago.

First was the Beginner II class. I left home late so I ended up walking in as the instructor was explaining the first barre exercise. There were more students than we've had recently, and I'm guessing that all the Turkey Day feasting has prompted some folk to come out and burn off some calories. It still feels chilly in the studios, and I made a mental note that I need a sweater or sweatshirt that is lighter than the one I've been using, because I end up too warm with it on and too cold with it off. I was smart enough to wear my WearMoi tights instead of shorts, which I think helps keep my lower legs and ankles warm.

One of the things I really like about this Beginner II class is that it's challenging enough to really hold my attention without being so difficult that I don't have time to work on the finer details. The break seems to have helped my turns (or they cleaned the floors!), but I've lost a bit of the fluidity through the combination we've been working on. I earned a couple of compliments this class, which left me feeling pretty good.

Next came the Advanced Beginner class. I had a couple of hiccups during barre, but no more than anyone else. I'm really working on getting my working leg straight during tendus derièrre, which is one of this instructor's hot buttons; I've heard it said she has X-ray vision for her ability to spot bent legs even through loose-fitting sweatpants.

In the center we're working on several combinations. One goes something like this: during the introductory chords of music, piqué to sous-sus with the right foot front. On the beat, plié in fifth into a pirouette en dehor, chassé to fourth, pause a beat, pirouette en dehor ending with the right foot degagé devant, tombé, pas de bourrée to fourth, pause, another pirouette en dehor to fourth, pirouette en dedans to fifth, piqué with the back (left) foot to sous-sus, and repeat to the other side. I was having trouble with the timing until I realized that because the working foot in the two pirouette en dehor doesn't come around to the back the turn can be a lot slower (or a perfect setup for a double, which I was tempted to attempt but didn't). A few weeks ago I was stuck just getting out of the initial turn from fifth and into the next step, but now I'm working on getting the timing on the two turns from fourth to work out.

Another combination I really wanted to describe has almost completely escaped my mind. I can only remember the first couple of steps and a few in the middle. A memory like a steel... Ooh! Donuts! I really wanted to remember it here because I got a compliment from the instructor on it, which is a first for me in this class. I'll start a new posting and save what I remember as a draft; maybe I can reconstruct it later.

I still bailed out of one of the combinations. I understand the "vocabulary" but can't execute the steps as fast as required yet. Or I can execute them, but not while also keeping track of what comes next. But that's getting better. And while I'm definitely challenged by the AB class, the B2 class seems to be getting easier and easier. And that's why I keep this journal: to remind myself that I am making progress.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Successes and Failures

I'm off work this week, and as I did last year I used this opportunity to take some classes I normally can't get to. I had a conflict for the Floor Barre® class yesterday, but I did get to today's Beginner II and Advanced Beginner classes. These are taught by the same instructor who teaches the Sunday and Thursday evening classes, so I figured I wouldn't have any trouble with them. Well, no more trouble than normal.

The Beginner II class was mostly the same as Sunday morning's class, which is what I expected. We're starting to get more emphasis on port de bras during barre. I didn't realize that they also have en dehor and en dedans movements, though it's kinda obvious once you think about it. Unfortunately, adding this to simple leg movements like tendu en crois makes me screw up either the arm or leg movements, whichever I'm not concentrating on. So much complexity to what seems so simple from the comfy seats in the theater. I'm starting to get the hang of pirouettes en dehor from fifth. That's not to say they're pretty, but I'm more on balance and get around further.

We did a combination in the center I want to record: glissade, petit jeté, coupé, chassé, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemblé, échappé, hold until the start of the next measure and repeat. I want to preserve this because I made it all the way through it twice to the right, and one and a half times to the left with confidence. I blame my screw-up at the end going left to the compliment our instructor offered, which distracted me badly. Apparently I haven't quite reached the point of being able to handle a distraction yet. If someone had said a year ago I'd be doing this combination at the speed we're doing it, I'd have laughed.

After the 15 minute break between classes I moved on to the Advanced Beginner class. Although the two classrooms are next to each other and have the same thermostat settings, this one was much colder. I've been wearing mid-thigh length shorts to class, but I may switch to tights to keep my legs warmer and maybe invest in a pair of knit warmers.

We've started to do yet another variation on the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise at the barre. This one has the outside leg doing nothing but degagé a la seconde on the odd counts, and the inside leg doing degagé devant or derrière as appropriate. This one is easier for me to follow, and it certainly gives practice with weight shifts (something this instructor is noted for).

In center I was doing pretty well until the last 10 minutes of class. Apparently we were running late, and the instructor decided to merge the last two jump combinations she had planned. As she walked us through the combination I followed for about the first quarter of it, then realized this was just something I wasn't going to get. When she then demonstrated the timing I gave her a little salute and moved to the back corner of the studio to watch. It was quite impressive, but nothing I could have done even half of. Someday, maybe, but not today.

As I watched the rest of the class I became aware of an ache in my right foot. It felt like I had a fold in my sock under the 4th or 5th metatarsal, but when I took my shoe off there wasn't anything there. My best guess is that it's the edge of the suede pad under the front of my foot. This encouraged me to bail on the last combination too as a precaution. Even now, 8 hours and a soak in the tub later, it's still sore. Maybe it's time to finish sewing the elastics in my backup pair of slippers so I can switch between classes.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Suddenly winter

Earlier this week it was in the 60s. This morning the thermometer outside my window read 23F (-5C). The low tonight is supposed to hit 19F (-7C), and with the wind chill it'll feel like 8F (-13C). The thermostats in the studios read 73F, but nearer the windows it was chilly and the hallways felt downright cold. Especially if you're only wearing shorts and a thin shirt. One of the women wore three layers of socks, two layers of leg warmers, two pullovers, and knit mittens through barre. Brrrr.

It's been a while since I've been in one of the Tuesday evening or Saturday morning classes due to other commitments. This morning one of the students who takes those classes and the Sunday AM B2 class came up to me to tell me that my absence has been noticed and commented upon. My plan has been go back to the Tuesday PM class after the holiday, but I don't think I can afford to spend a big chunk of both Saturday and Sunday in dance classes. At least not until I hit the lottery.

Today's instructor made a point of separating learning the "vocabulary" of ballet from executing the combinations. I feel like more of the steps are becoming familiar enough that I can execute them without conscious thought, leaving me more brainwidth to think about linking steps and combinations. In this morning's B2 class I realized that one of my problems is I'd come to think of a combination as a set of phrases, and I'd always stumble at the transition from one phrase to the next. Thinking about it as a continuous sentence let me get through the entire thing without the hiccup.

This helped a little bit in this afternoon's AB class, but I'm still struggling to keep up with the music. It's less desperate flailing and more a flow now, but it's still a struggle. I managed to do one combination reasonably decently, only to screw up the next. But it'll come with time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Arf. Arf. Woof.

The plan for yesterday was to skip class and be very productive around the house. Instead, I woke up with a nasty case of allergies and spent the day in a Benadryl-induced haze, accomplished little more than sleeping, eating, watching DVDs, and creating a mountain of used tissues.

This morning I wasn't sure I'd be clear enough to go to class. The shower helped clear a bunch of it out of my lungs, so I got dressed and drove to class. I was tentative about the AB class when I checked in, promising to let them know if I decided to bail. Having pre-paid for the entire four-month semester makes it easy for me to leave that decision late. Warming up before class was uncomfortable in ways I can't attribute to skipping class Saturday.

The B2 class was interesting. Taking the AB class has given me an increased sense of confidence in my Sunday B2 class. I'm still learning things in B2, though. For example, I didn't realize that pirouette en dehor from fifth turns toward the front foot, not the back. I'm still having trouble with those, but I guess it'll come with practice. By the time we moved to the center I was feeling good enough to try attacking the combinations. We spent quite a bit of time on spotting. I guess our instructor has decided that my ego can survive being picked on (she's right), because she used me as her example. At one point I was standing alone in front of the class attempting turn after turn with her yelling, "Look at Reece! See Reece in the mirror! Now turn, and look for Reece!" Kinda like a dog trainer. But it did help.

After B2 finished I changed my shirt, refilled my water bottle, and found a spot at the front-most portable barre. No trouble seeing the instructor from this vantage point! I did try to avoid obstructing those behind me. The barre combinations were more fun than those in B2, as the complexity and the tempo encouraged more of a flow than individual actions.

I was tempted to bail before we started center work, but I decided to try it anyway. One of the combinations seemed very complex when explained, but when we marked it it seemed to flow fairly naturally. The first time through I noted the places I'd goofed on and was looking forward to fixing them on the second pass. But halfway through my second pass the instructor decided to "help" me spot by shouting "Look at Reece! Find Reece!" at me again. From her tone it's completely clear that she was trying to be encouraging, but without context and with my focus on anticipating the next step it just was totally distracting and I didn't realize what she wanted until I was off the floor. Everything went (gently) downhill from there. The highlights being that I still think I have one of the best tour jetés in the class, and one combination ended with the four of us in my group achieving a synchronized grand jeté.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Faster than a speeding bullet!

I went to my second Advanced Beginner class this evening. Traffic was a mess, again, requiring an hour to travel what is usually a half-hour trip on the weekends. This is why I try to leave 75 minutes before class: instead of being late I was changed and started warming up with 5 minutes to spare.

Barre was OK, and I only had trouble with one combination. It's one where the outside foot does dégagés en croix while the inside foot does a single dégagé at a regularly irregular timing. Sometime between now and Sunday I'll have to figure out how that works. I did make one mistake in energy conservation, though. We were given the option of doing some parts on demi-pointe or on flat and I did a bunch of it on demi-pointe. That might not have been the smartest idea, as it took a bit out of me later. Oh, and I still hate petit battements.

In the center the combinations weren't all that long or that complex. But oh are they fast! I'm having trouble remembering what comes next in time, and not getting the transitions and weight shifts done. Because the combinations are short we do get to repeat them several times, and I feel like I'm getting more and more of the sequence every time through. The instructor is being quite encouraging though, saying she does lots of the same combinations and that in a couple of months I'll either be quite annoyed at the repetition or have quit in frustration, with the former being preferred. Ok, that's fair.

One thing we did that I greatly enjoyed was a tour jeté. I sorta remember these from my first ballet lessons back in the 1980s. Back then we were dancing on smooth wood floors and I was only taking one class a week, so on occasion I'd have trouble getting my foot underneath me for the landing and would face-plant rather ungracefully. With better flexibility and a comparatively sticky Marley floor, that's less of a concern. This combination ends with a piqué arabesque, followed by a turn, a couple of linking steps the other direction and the tour jeté. I don't know if I did the linking steps she called for because after the arabesque the ancient muscle memory sorta took over and I did whatever it was we used to do in preparation, kicked that leg up high, turned in the air, and stuck the landing. It was either so wrong the instructor decided I was still figuring it out, or right enough to not warrant a correction. It felt right to me, and given that it's been almost 30 years since I've done one that felt very satisfying.

I'm probably going to take Saturday off, so my next classes with be the 3-hour B2/AB combination Sunday.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Risen from the Dead

Reports of my death by ballet were somewhat exaggerated. In fact I felt pretty damned good afterward, given that I'd just been in ballet classes for 3 hours straight. Changing in the dressing room afterward, one of the older men from the class said "Oh, I'm going to feel this in the morning." I thought, "Why? That wasn't that bad." But this morning I had to agree with him. The upper part of my left calf muscle was really tight most of the morning (and it's still stiff), and it took some gentle stretching before I could flex my right foot enough to go down the stairs. But I used to feel far worse after a single 90 minute class, so I'll call that progress. Of a sort.

I think the difference in my pirouettes from morning to afternoon is due to the starting position: in the morning we started from fifth, which I haven't done much of, while in the afternoon we started from fourth. One mystery no longer mysterious. I think I'm starting to see results from the stretch classes too. Grand battements to the front put my foot at or above barre level (roughly horizontal), and while I don't get as high to the rear it's a lot higher than it used to be. My position in attitude is also looking better. My turnout in grand plié a la seconde still leaves a lot to be desired but may be a bit better.

At the Advanced Beginner level I'm starting to see students showing real skill. One of the women has extension and control worthy of a pro. Another took class en pointe. I'm back to being on the bottom rung of the ladder, but instead of feeling out-classed I just feel challenged in a good way. I even got words of encouragement from fellow students when I looked doubtful. Now if I could just figure out how to get to all the classes I want to take without abandoning my already-meager social life...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Death by Ballet

Having carefully cornered myself mentally into attending the Advanced Beginner class this afternoon, I made preparations. I packed an extra shirt and hand towel for the class, along with an extra pair of socks and tights just in case. Walking up to the check-in counter I announced my intention to take both the Beginner 2 class at 11 and the Advanced Beginner class at 12:30. That earned me a double-take from the clerk.

In the Beginner 2 class I felt pretty stable. A couple of minor hiccups at the barre but nothing significant. In the center I felt pretty good, though I couldn't do a pirouette in any direction with any grace. Starting a combination of piqué turns across the floor I somehow got nominated to be the lead-off dancer and did pretty well. I was a bit conservative with my energy and finished class feeling like I had enough left for at least barre in the AB class.

There isn't but a few minutes gap between the B2 and Advanced Beginner classes. I ducked into the men's changing room, toweled off and changed shirts before heading into the new classroom. I found a spot at the barre near the back next to the guy I mentioned in my last post. The combinations were unfamiliar, made more difficult by the students standing between me and the instructor who completely blocked my view much of the time. I must find a way to get a better spot. But none of the combinations were that difficult. When I screwed up it was because I'd mis-remembered the sequence not because it was too difficult, even the double frappés. Except, of course, for the petit battements: I have the worst trouble with them.

I expected the center work to be horrible. It wasn't. Some of the combinations were unexpectedly familiar, and my ability to turn pirouettes was restored as if by magic. Not that I was doing triples like some of the girls did, but my singles weren't bad and I didn't feel rushed or off-balance. It wasn't until the last 15 minutes of the 90 minute class that things started falling apart, and even then it was the speed of execution combined with my unfamiliarity that caused the trouble. At the end I walked out feeling better than I do after many of my Tuesday/Saturday B2 classes.

So this weekend I've taken 4.5 hours of ballet classes and a 75 minute stretch class. That's a new record for me.

Now I have a time management problem. Which classes to I take from which instructor on which days?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Irrational Envy

Is that redundant? You can be irrational without being envious, but isn't envy always irrational?

But this isn't a blog about language, it's about dance. And about people who dance. The other character in this story is a young (late 20s?), tall, thin, adult student in some of my classes. He dances as if he's been doing it for years, though when I asked him several months ago he said he'd been taking classes for less than a year. Since then he's moved up to the Advanced Beginner level and seems to be doing well there.

Sunday a friend and I went to see TWB's production of Giselle. During a scenes where the hunting party arrives, two beautifully sleek dogs are led on stage for a few minutes. This seemed to be a big hit with the younger members of the audience, based on the comments I heard from those near me. Of course they were led off again before the dancing started again.

During the break in Tuesday evening's class I overheard a discussion of this performance and wandered over to join. It seems the man leading one of these dogs was the student I mentioned above. He made it sound like it was no big deal — it was a non-dancing role as an extra and he was on stage very briefly — but we all offered honest congratulations anyway.

And my congratulations were honest. I'm very happy for him. But at the same time I have this twinge of envy. Absolutely irrational, but present nonetheless. I like to think I'm progressing. Improving. And I am. I can see it in the mirror. But there's this little part of me that asks, why is he so good with so little apparent effort? Why don't I have a family friend call up and ask if I'd like a walk-on role in his professional ballet company's show?

What follows is a cascade of what-ifs: What if I'd taken classes at this school in my 20s (something I'd considered) rather than a community center? What if I'd stuck with it instead of dropping out when my commute changed? When will my improving skill intersect with the inevitable limits imposed by age and health?

Like I said, irrational.

I almost went to the Advanced Beginner class last night. I had my bag in the car, but I had to work late instead. I'm considering staying for the AB class Sunday after the B2 class that morning. At least for barre. Right.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I'm confused

Just got home from the Washington Ballet's production of Giselle. I really enjoyed it. We had great seats, center orchestra just a tiny bit stage left of center, far enough back so that our eye level was above the stage by a couple of feet but not so far back that I felt distant from the stage. Such a sad story, though. And why did Albrecht get to live while both Giselle and Hilarion end up dead? I guess royalty has its privileges.

I am confused about what it is about six clean piqué turns performed by a professional dancer that drives the audience to applaud and shout "Brava!", yet a developpé that starts from a sous sus en pointe and slowly develops to a very high extension with no support and nary a waiver is met with silence. Yeah, the turns are flashy. Maybe it's just that I can do six piqué turns, but can't hold a simple retiré balance for half that long even without the weight shifts.

I saw one slip in the entire performance, by the Wili Queen, and she recovered very well. I'm not sure anyone else even noticed it.

There was one moment where the Wilis exit stage right in groups of four that reminded me of my classes where we dance across the studio in groups of four. I don't know that I'd look good in a romantic tutu though.


I got two of 'em today. One at the barre and one in the center. Color me bouncy.

I don't remember what I was doing at the barre, but in the center we were doing a simple combination at a rather fast speed (fast for us, at least). Starting from fifth effacé: glissade, jeté, coupé with a turn to the corner, tombé, pas de bourrée turning back to fifth effacé and repeat. The first pass through wasn't great, and our instructor suggested avoiding a pause after the jeté, "bouncing" straight into the coupé instead. Somehow I ended up in the front of our group of three, and with nothing to distract me I just launched into it. With the bounce the timing worked so much better, and I found myself keeping to the beat with no difficulty. It felt like dancing rather than a a gym exercise, which is still a rare feeling. About half way across the floor the instructor called my name in delight and said something like "that's wonderful!" Wow! That was going to the right, my strong side. Going left it wasn't quite as good, but still OK.

We did another simple combination, this one with turns: starting in "B+" the back foot comes forward into tombé, pas de bourrée, chassé to tendu derrière, plié in fourth, pirouette en dehor to fifth, chassé to tendu derrière, plié to fourth, pirouette en dehor to a lunge, and repeat. Trying again to heed all the advice on turns I focused more on position than rotation, and was excited when the turn seemed to happen as if by magic. In fact, I was kicking myself for not attempting a double on the last turn of the series to the right. To the left, though, my right leg was uncooperative and I barely made it around with an extra little hop even on my best attempt. Still, I think the form was better and the rotation will come when my leg is happier.

After class I had a chat with one of the other regulars about compliments. She admitted she's one of the "zombie dancers", as our instructor calls them, who is so totally focused internally that she appears to be staring blankly into space. She was on the last repetition of one of the combos when the instructor called her name and said "that's good!" Hearing her name, through, broke her concentration and caused an immediate screw-up. She said she never understands anything an instructor says while she's dancing, be it compliment or correction. While I sympathize with her, I'm glad that I don't have quite that much difficulty with it.

I have tickets to see the Washington Ballet's production of Giselle tonight. I'm going to go dig up my copy of "101 Greatest Ballets" and read up on it first.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


I found myself in a strange position in class today. That of being one of a few who did the center combos right while many others struggled. Not perfect, but not feeling confused about what we were doing. I like this feeling.

A bunch of things I've been told repeatedly about pirouettes are beginning to stick. Today's comment was, "On a single turn, it's all about balance, not rotation. The turn is almost an afterthought." Coupling this with the "lock your supporting leg straight" comment from last class has resulted in what feels like a big step forward. I'm didn't always get all the way around, especially to the left (en dehor), but it was much cleaner and far more on balance. I'm quite tickled. If only these had sunk in earlier...

The combo with the emboîtés made another appearance. I don't know if I'm doing them quite right, but they're fun. Our instructor referred to them as a sort of piqué, but I still think they're better described as chaînés. The timing was faster today, and the first time through I heard a call "Musicality, dancers!" from the instructor. The second time through was better, and I'm sorta OK with the way the third turned out. Meaning I know there's lots of room for improvement, but it's good enough for today.

Then came the Stretch class. A group led by this instructor is apparently headed for China, and a professional videography team was recording her classes. By request of the students we didn't do "frog", it being considered unattractive. Regardless I wobbled out of class feeling unsteady. I'd had a bit of trouble with my hip flexors and quads during the ballet class, and the stretch class exacerbated the problem. Still, I'm seeing benefits that make it worth taking.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sickled Feet, a Halloween Treat

This evening's class started off silly, due to the presence of one of our sillier students. So when our instructor said something about not wanting to see any sickled feet, I remarked that "sickled feet" sounded like a Halloween delicacy.

Ok, so you really needed to be there.

We had a couple of new students. In this case I think "couple" describes them appropriately. My guess is she's had a fair bit of ballet training, as she fit right into our class, and I overheard him say that he's had experience with jazz and tap but it didn't look like he'd done ballet before.

In the center we did a mix of old and new combinations. I'm really starting to get the hang of some of the older ones. After jumps we learned a new one: from fifth croisé, three chassés, the third blending into an assemblé with a turn to the other corner, echappé to second effacé then to fifth croisé, and two changements. Repeat as space permits. At first I had a lot of fun with this one: it has a bouncy flow, and it's short enough that I could remember it easily. After several repetitions, though, I got tired and started flubbing steps.

One correction we got was that we weren't straightening our supporting legs enough during turns. To see what she was talking about I tried a couple of piqué turns where I focused primarily on keeping my standing foot as stiff and straight as I could, with the rest of my body as upright on top of it as I could. And what do you know, I pivoted around the ball of my foot like I was on a turntable. I tried it again and got the same results. Turning the other way on the other foot was better than usual, though not as clean. If that's all I got out of this class, I'd call it a success.

With only three minutes left in the class I thought we'd do reverence, but no, she wanted to do yet another combination. It was a simple mix of sauté arabesques and "hops", but I was too brain dead by then for it to register. I botched that combination but good every time I tried it, and I'd be hard pressed to describe it now.

After class I asked what the step we'd done Saturday morning was. The instructor said it was an "emboîté", which is French for "boxed in". I had to search through GWW for it because I couldn't approximate the spelling well enough to find it online. I'd originally written that it was a half-turn piqué, but later started thinking it resembled chaînés more. I think the proper term would be tours chaînés emboîtés. It's a series of quick half-turns on demi-pointe with a distinctive pricking movement of the feet, which is why I thought it was a piqué. Here's a link to an absolutely horrible video that shows the step nicely (combined with some pirouettes).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Playing Hooky

I skipped class this morning. Why? The regular instructor went out of town to see a favorite former student perform. Although the substitute instructor is one of my favorites, I'm using this opportunity to catch up on all the stuff I should have been doing around the house instead of spending huge chunks of my weekend days in dance classes.

I really need to win the lottery so I can give up this "work" stuff.

Yesterday morning's ballet class was pretty good. No scary voices appearing from behind me and no corrections by name (not that the latter is bad). But when the instructor reminded the class about droopy arms — which I'm sure included me — I immediately corrected and smiled like I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar, and our instructor laughed. I don't know if there's a cause/effect relationship there, but it felt like it.

I managed to hold retiré relevé for several measures without touching the barre. I'm not consistent at it yet, but it's another small step forward. The big difference seems to be the strength I'm developing in my toes, which lets me shift my weight a fraction forward and minimizes the amount of movement of the rest of my body necessary to maintain balance.

In the center we did a new adagio combination, and I felt like I did a pretty good job with it. That's always satisfying. We also did another new combination of turns: two piqué tours followed by four chaînés emboîté tours, then three balancés (forward, back, side) and a step to the other side to tendu in preparation for the next combination. Most of us hadn't done chaînés emboîté tours before (I'd never heard the term) so we practiced them a bit. Fun, and not as hard as I expected. I need to improve my spotting, though.

Suspecting we'd see that challenging allegro combination afterward, I put a minimum amount of effort into the jumps. Sure enough, that's what came next. I'm still having trouble with the ballonné: it starts with the weight on the front foot, and it's hard for me to get my weight onto the back foot fast enough to release the front. I think if we did it at about 3/4 speed I could do it OK. I guess the speed with come with practice.

Stretch class yesterday afternoon was good, but this morning I'm definitely feeling the after-effects. My hip flexors are quite sore, attesting more to the stretching they got rather than the work they did in yesterday morning's ballet class. I'm really convinced this is a case of the pain being worth the gain. I'm really wishing I'd kept up with this in the '80s, and wasn't fighting 30 years of sitting at a desk.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Glimmers of flexibility

I've just done something I haven't done in decades: touch the floor with my fingers while in a forward bend. In a tight fifth, no less! I can almost do it in fourth too.

This might not be anything for you flexy-bendy people (the woman next to me at the barre dragged the back of her hand on the floor with a flourish at the same time), but for me this is a big improvement. The last time I remember having my head so close to my knees was in high school, and I spent 3 days flat on my back and 6 months recovering (trampoline accident).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A frustrating combination

Another wreck on the Interstates turned my 30 minute drive into a 55 minute slog, but I'd left early enough to arrive with 10 minutes to spare. That gave me just enough time to change and limber up just a little.

Barre went well, and I picked up even the new combinations quickly. I was surprised to discover that in fourth I can almost touch the floor, which is unusual for me. We did one combination that ended with a piqué straight to arabesque, hold for a beat, then roll down to a plié. I didn't have much trouble with that, and was hoping it boded well for center.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

An unexpected vote of confidence

One of the other students in my Sunday Beginner II class isn't like the rest of us. She's been dancing for years and takes class in pointe shoes. For several weeks she's been at the barre next to mine, so half the time I can observe her technique as we work through the barre exercises.

This morning before class we chatted briefly. Trying to understand why someone with her experience would be in our Beginner II class, I asked her if she also took the Advanced Beginner class that followed. She answered that she did. And then out of nowhere she said, "You could take that class too." That is not something I was expecting.

If I was given to paranoia I'd suspect there is a conspiracy developing to get me to take the Advanced Beginner class. Naah...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's good I'm not paranoid

Today I was at my traditional spot at the barre, at the opposite end from where the instructor demonstrates. As we progress through each exercise the instructor circles the edge of the class so she can see everyone. She'd already offered one correction to me by name as she passed me, and as she continued past and behind me I lost sight of her. Focused as I was on the exercise, I assumed she'd continued up the side of the room behind me. So I was startled to hear her offer another correction to me from right behind me. That would normally exceed my quota of personal attention for the day, but then came a third.

Don't take me wrong; I'm not the least bit feeling picked on. I appreciate the corrections. I'm just not used to having people appear behind me without my noticing that they're there first.

This class seems to be ramping up in complexity. I seem to be OK with the exercises, except today I had real trouble balancing on my right leg.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shanghai Ballet's "La Sylphide"

Last night a friend of mine and I went to see the Shanghai Ballet's performance of "La Sylphide". For those who are not balettomanes, this is one of the oldest ballets, first staged in 1832. That version's choreography is lost to history, but the Danish version from 1836 is still performed today.

Compared to some ballets I've seen, this one seemed rather simple. Very few lifts (I remember ONE). That's not to say it was bad by any means, and there were some really nice individual performances. Some of the combinations performed by the corps were simple enough, though, that I could see us doing them in our Beginner II class. I kept finding myself distracted from the beauty of the ballet by trying to figure out each of the steps. Developpé devant, tendu, close fifth. Repeat once. Developpé derièrre to attitude with a demi-plié, close fifth. Repeat the sequence.

Some of that is useful to me, though. We've done some sequences of steps that seemed to me to be clumsy, as if taken from a vaudeville comedy song-and-dance routine. Seeing a similar sequence (in this case, a series of coupés) performed by professionals made me think, "So that's what that's supposed to look like!" I work from mental images of how something should look, so seeing it done properly as part of a longer combination helps me know how the step should be done.

Oh! I forgot to mention: it was fun! Sometimes details like that get lost in my analytical approach to this blog. But my friend and I enjoyed the performance.

Ran outta gas

Tuesday evening started well. A little bit better in balance, barre combinations that I could follow. At the break after barre I asked the instructor if she remembered why she'd called my name the week before, but she didn't have any recollection. She offered a guess that I might have been on the wrong foot, or been facing the wrong way. I was in the front row and unable to see the mirror at that point so it's possible, but mentally reviewing the event I don't think either guess is the case. So it will forever remain a mystery.

Center work was OK but I didn't have much energy. About half way through we started jumps — earlier than usual — and we did a lot of them. By the time we re-did the assemblé combination I had no spring left and I kinda sluffed through it. That killed that opportunity to see if we could reconstruct the problem from last week.

By midnight my legs were aching and twitching some. I blame the second set of sautés, which were done at such a fast pace I think I was thumping down rather than rolling down. I took some ibuprofen before going to bed, but woke up twice during the night with leg aches. Fortunately I had a previously scheduled appointment with a massage therapist Wednesday evening. That helped a lot, but my feet are still sore today (Friday).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Idiotic Drivers

Normally it takes me about 25-30 minutes to drive to class, and I try to arrive at the front desk 10-15 minutes early to allow time to check in, change, and warm up a bit. This morning the GPS displayed an estimated time enroute of 55 minutes due to multiple wrecks, which meant I'd miss the first 20 minutes of class. Bleagh.

I gave thought to skipping the class, but I really like this instructor, and her classes are definitely structured to build from one class to the next. Between the traffic reports on the radio and the GPS, I plotted out an alternate route, bailing off the Interstates onto city streets before the point where the backups began. I managed to walk into class within the 10 minute "grace period" and only missed the first set of pliés and relevés.

I may not have been sore last night, but I was when I woke up this morning. Oddly this didn't mean stiff, just sore. I think it's residual from the Stretch class.

One combination we did was a sequence of three piqué turns, a linking step (which escapes me), chassé en avant to fourth, pirouette en dedans, detouré, chassé derrière to tendu devant, and repeat. Doing this sequence to the right I was reminded how long it's been since I really practiced simple turns like piqué and chaînés, but I did OK. To the left, though, I got seriously dizzy. Unpleasant  and frustrating. The second time through was worse, even though I tried to spot better. Oh well, something else to add to my already-huge list of things to work on.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I'm Toasted

Tuesday night we started doing a combination involving a sequence of assemblés: two devant, two derrière with the other foot, two a la seconde, finishing with tombé, pas de bourrée to change direction. My leg strength is pretty good, so jumps like assemblés are kinda fun. I sometimes have trouble remembering long sequences without doing it several times, but this was a short sequence. With all that in my favor it shouldn't be much of a surprise that I'd do well with this sequence. And everything was going well until the last pair of assemblés derrière when the instructor called out my name in a shocked tone that I'd expect if I'd pinched her butt. It stopped me dead in my tracks. The only thing I can think of is that she was surprised to see me doing so well. If it was something else I don't know what it could be, and she never explained why she called my name.

This morning didn't start well. The allergy meds I took left me feeling wired and shaky. I also felt stiff even after my 15 minute pre-class warmup (it turned cold and rainy here this week). There were several new faces, and the room was moderately crowded. The frappé combination was three frappés on the beat followed by a double piqué. Normally I don't have too much trouble with double piqués, but today I couldn't do even a single in any direction with any speed. Weird. My balance was pretty good, but with any serious effort my muscles trembled visibly. Might have been the meds.

What is it with doing steps backward? We've been doing this in the Sunday class, and today we had a backward pas de bourrée. I can do them frontward (back-side-front) with almost no thought but the backwards (front-side-back) ones are baffling. I'm going to have to practice them on my own.

I picked up the center combinations pretty well, which was good because I got stuck in the front row. Not voluntarily, but when your classmates are all fighting to be in the back the only place left is in the front. We didn't repeat the assemblé combination from Tuesday; instead, we did glissade, assemblé (over), assemblé (under), assemblé (over), and repeat. Wow, was that fun! My biggest problem was not running over the others in my 4-dancer group as we crossed the floor. We also repeated the sequence of four quick passé relevés followed by tendu, chassé to fourth, and a pirouette en dedans. This is starting to feel easier, and the result is my pirouettes are more erect and balanced (at least until I get tired, when they fall apart again). We do this facing the mirror, and I find it weird watching myself. Not the least of which is because in my head I'm still in my 20s, but the body I see in the mirror is a lot older than that.

After class I had a half hour break, then a 75 minute "Stretch" class. Although I can't say I enjoy the Stretch classes, I think they're helping. By the end of the day today, though, I felt wiped out. I grabbed some lunch, drove home, and crawled into bed for a couple of hours.

Monday, October 7, 2013

200th Post!

Two years and five months after starting this blog, this is my 200th post. Wow!

Even more amazing is that, not only am I still taking ballet classes, I'm taking three a week from some amazing instructors and still enthusiastic about it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ibuprofen on the rocks

This morning's class was a killer. I whine and moan here semi-seriously, but I was hearing groans and muttering from my classmates from about half way through barre onward. We may need to stage an intervention and substitute decaf for our instructor's regular morning coffee.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Reflections on the TWB Open House

I've been reflecting on the conversations I had at The Washington Ballet's Open House yesterday.

One of the questions I asked was whether there was a lot of competition between dancers in the company.  One responded that there was a fair bit between the women, but not as much between the men even though there were more male dancers in the company. Perhaps that's because there so many more women wanting to become professional dancers. I don't know.

I also had an interesting conversation with a woman who was one of the students in the classes I took at another school. They have only three levels of adult classes: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. She found the beginner class to be a bit too basic for her tastes, but the intermediate class was far too hard. She seemingly has accepted that she'll be in the beginner class as long as she takes classes at that school, and that it's just the way things are.

My reaction is far different. I would push myself into the intermediate class anyway and learn whatever bits and pieces I could until I could handle the whole class. In fact, I took their intermediate class once about a year ago to see just how much harder it was (barre was OK, but I sat out after the first half of center work). The only reason I'm not pushing myself into my current school's advanced beginner class is that I feel like there's so much to learn in my current classes.

Perhaps that's what the student meant last week when she said I was competitive. If so, then guilty as charged. I just don't want my fellow students to feel like I'm in competition with them.

Another thing I noticed during the Open House was what I focused on during the Giselle excerpt. When I watch ballet I've usually paid the most attention to the women. There are several reasons for this. One is that I'm wired to prefer the female form. Another is that most ballets give the women the best and most challenging parts, and I love to watch their pointe work.

The Giselle excerpt had some great dancing by some really talented women, and I really enjoyed their dancing. The more I learn the more readily I can identify the steps and challenges, and the more I appreciate how hard it is to make it look effortless. But when the men danced, I watched their technique. Where are their feet placed. Where is the weight distributed across their toes. How did they move to make their dancing powerful. I don't think I'd ever really paid attention to those details before.

One of the things I sometimes find myself doing during turns is allowing my weight to shift to the outside of my foot. Watching a woman do a turn wearing pointe shoes tells me nothing about how her weight is distributed, but I noticed that some of the men do the same thing at times. I'm not sure if that would be considered an error in technique or not, but it's reassuring that I'm not the only one who does it.

I was also reassured by the sight of one of the male dancers standing in the corner on demi-pointe practicing petit battments. Oh, how I hate those things!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Zombie Apocalypse Vampires

Also known as the "Wilis" from Giselle, according to the Washington Ballet's Artistic Director Septime Webre. That's how he described them to the young audience at today's open house. How better to help a group of 21st century kids relate to a 19th century ballet classic?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Not So Settled

You know that confident conviction that I was going to claw my way into the Advanced Beginner class? It lasted all of two days.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What does "competitive" mean?

Just before Sunday's class, a new student was looking for a place at the barres. She asked one of the other students, who replied, "You could stand at that barre, with Reece. He's competitive, but nice."


What does it mean to be "competitive" in a beginner ballet class? We aren't competing for limited slots in a class or company. We aren't ranked with respect to each other, other than some people are more willing to stand in front during center work.

Maybe some might say I "compete" with myself. I'm more likely to kick myself for not trying or quitting than for trying and failing. I try to do things as best as I can at that moment, and I want to improve over time. I do compare myself against others in the class, but that's because I have no other points of reference. But I don't see myself as being in competition with anyone.

Does this make me "competitive" enough for someone to mention to another student? There's plenty of barre space, and if I'm in front of someone I'll move to avoid blocking their view of themselves in the mirror.

What does the peanut gallery think? Anyone? Bueller?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

(Advanced) Ballet or Bust

The three-day break between Tuesday's and Saturday's B2 classes has bothered me for a while. The only other evening B2 class is Monday, and the Wednesday B1 class feels really slow to me. A Thursday evening class would be ideal, but the only class offered then is Advanced Beginner, taught by the same teacher as the Sunday morning and Monday evening B2 classes. With some hesitation I resolved this morning to ask this teacher if she thought I could handle her Thursday AB class.

Class went ok today. I feel comfortable with this Sunday AM B2 class. It's challenging enough that it demands focus, but the combinations are mostly simple enough that I have brain bandwidth to work on improving. The instructor is a former principal dancer with 20 years professional experience, and she's not hesitant to give individual feedback. At barre today, as we were about to do a circular port-de-bras in fifth, she stuck her fingers between my knees and said "Squeeze my fingers!" Stifling a laugh I tried and managed a bit better — limited turn-out means I don't have a very tight fifth — until I bent forward. I'm still not sure how to fix this problem, but oddly I feel pretty good about it: if she's correcting details like that it means I'm doing ok on more basic things. At the same time, the attention to detail appeals to the engineer side of my brain.

After class I asked the instructor about taking her Thursday night Advanced Beginner class. She said she said that was the easier of the two AB classes she taught, thought I could probably get though most it, and suggested it would be ok if I sat out those parts that I wasn't ready for. I thanked her, and started to say something about having been taking the Saturday AM B2 class for several months. She cut me off, exclaiming, "You've been taking her class? That's not a beginner class. I love her — I'm the one who hired her — but she doesn't know the meaning of the word 'Beginner'. You'll be fine in my Thursday night class." I guess that's settled.

I think I need a bumper sticker that reads "Ballet or Bust". But not in pink.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Splish Splash

I just took my first bath in months.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Holes in my brain

Tuesday night's class had about 15 people in it. None of the "star pupils" were in attendance so the combinations weren't all that difficult. I've had several classes in a row now where my balance was better than normal, but this night I struggled more than usual. That was really frustrating because I pretty much had the combinations down but I wobbled a lot doing them.

I'm not sure what the deal was with the pianist during barre. I'm sure they get bored playing the same music again and again, keeping a metronomic beat. But this night I had the worst time at the barre counting beats. Yes, I'm one of those, but if we're doing a circle stretch in eight counts, then knowing where I need to be in the sequence on, say, beat four, lets me end up at the right place on beat eight. But this night it seemed like every so often there'd be an extra or a missing beat in the music -- she'd reach the end of a phrase too soon, then a few phrases later there'd be an extra bit of music. I'm sure it'd be lovely if we were just sitting and listening, but when you're trying to follow a combination it's really disconcerting.

Eventually we got to the last combo of the class. This instructor always does jumps of some sort (changements and échappés this time) before one last allégro combination, I think to make sure we all are exhausted when we leave. The combination wasn't all that complex, something like this: sauté arabesque, faille, glissade, petite jeté, coupé, tombé, coupé, assemblé (over), coupé, assemblé (over). For some reason very few of us could figure out the transition after the jeté, including me. I could do what came before and what came after, but there was a blank spot in my brain at that point. Our instructor, who developed and teaches the most basic adult intro class the school offers and seems to have the patience of a saint, seemed annoyed and frustrated. I don't recall ever seeing that emotion from her before. We tried it again with the same results, then ran out of time.

As she called to the pianist for a quick reverance, one of the quieter students asked if we could stay after class a bit to figure it out. Her response was, "Don't worry, no one is leaving here tonight until they get it!" Her tone left doubt in my mind whether she meant that she was happy to stay until everyone figured it out, or if she intended to force people to stay.

With about half the class gone, the rest of us asked questions about that one stubborn spot. About 30 seconds in a light bulb went on in my head and it suddenly made sense. Others followed suit with varying numbers of trials and errors. I scurried out, changed clothes, and made my way home.

I didn't get to Wednesday's class because of work. I didn't win the $400M lottery either, so daytime classes are still impractical. Thus I had classes Sat/Sun/Tue, and then no classes for three days. I've tried to do some stretches in the interim, but I'm expecting Saturday to be uncomfortable.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Paper Chase

Friday evening I watched a favorite old movie: The Paper Chase. It's about first-year law students at Harvard and the stress they're under.

There's a bit of dialog that struck me as rather profound. I wish I'd written it down, but I didn't. Basically the main character, James Hart, is categorizing his fellow students into three groups. The first are those who volunteer to answer questions. They raise their hands in class, the offer opinions, and they get noticed. The second group doesn't raise their hands, but will gamely try if they're called upon. The third group cowers in fear of being called on, to the point of moving from their assigned seats to empty seats at the very back of the lecture hall. Hart brings this up because he's planning to make the move from the second group to the first.

What does this have to do with dance?

I've observed that the students in my dance classes also fall into the same three broad categories. There are those who are willing to lead, to stand in the front row, and who challenge the combinations. There are those who will stand in the front if they have to, but they don't want to be there. And there are those who fight to be in the back row even when the lines rotate.

Like Hart, I'm in the second group but try to be part of the first when I'm feeling confident.

In class today, the instructor pulled an evil trick on those in the back row. We were doing a combination in the center that moved forward. When the front row reached the mirror, instead of everyone moving back she had everyone turn around and face the back wall of the studio. Suddenly those who had been fighting to be in the back row were in the front row.

It'll be interesting to see if the back row folk try to find a new "safe space" in the middle now.

Ballet is my religion

Yesterday morning's class started with a discussion of religious observances, which was summed up by one student's exclamation that "Ballet is my religion!" After which we commenced with our observance of Barre.

Finally, a religion I get behind.

I finished class dripping as usual. I'm starting to see glimmers of consistency in my balance, which excites me greatly. Center work is still a challenge, but honestly, if it wasn't I'd be looking for a harder class. The allegro combination I thought I'd figured out last time got changed up, and as my group was going across the floor the instructor yelled to the pianist to speed it up. Nothing like having the music start going faster and faster while you're in the middle of a combination.

This time I was smart enough to bring a big fluffy towel and a change of shirt for the Stretch class. That teacher can be quite hands on. But she understands that not everyone is bendy-twisty, "and that's why you're here" she told me. True enough.

After lunch I was feeling abused enough to warrant a small ice cream. My weight has stabilized at about 190lbs, which isn't the 174 my doctor wants but it's 10 below where I was not long ago. What hasn't stabilized is my waist size: I need to punch some new holes in my belt. So imagine my shock when the scale read 195 lbs just before I went to bed! This morning, though — my regular time to check — it again read 190. Still, I guess I'll have to go back to paying more attention to my diet.

Had my second class with the other Beginner II teacher this morning. Her style is more formal than some of the other classes I've taken, but I think that's because she also teaches the kids. Her sense of humor is also more subtle but no less present. I feel more confident in her combinations, with my screw-ups being one-offs rather than falling behind and never catching up again. I got a couple of compliments on a few things. It's a good thing this class is a bit easier, though, because I'm still sore from yesterday's classes.

If ballet is my religion, can I deduct my costs and contributions on my taxes?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some good, some bad

Had a couple of things go right tonight. And a couple that didn't.

One of the center adagio combinations made sense almost immediately. Except for an occasional wobble I knew what I was doing and had time to think about the transitions from one position to the next. I was really happy about that; I don't recall ever feeling like I knew an entire sequence down cold before.

We also did an allegro that we'd done before. It's a really simple sequence of tombé, coupé, assemblé dessous (under), then repeat to the other side. The complexity is the very rapid weight shift during the coupé. Last time I just couldn't wrap my head around it, and spent some time between classes trying to get it to work. It'd started to feel ok, but I was far from confident in it until this evening when it started to feel more natural. Not graceful, mind you — my arms were all over the place — but the feet were in the right place.

Between the two successes, though, I managed to totally brain-fart on simple things like a waltz turn. I'd recover from that, only to forget the balancés that followed. It's amazing to me how I can go from feeling like I might be one of the better students in the class to feeling like a total klutz in the span of 10 minutes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Beginner two-and-three-quarters

With apologies to Harry Potter fans everywhere...

I did get to Wednesday evening's class. Half the number of students as the preceding evening, which allowed our instructor to provide more individual attention. That's a good thing.

Saturday morning's class again was crowded, though I didn't make a count. Challenging as usual, I walked out after class with my shirt absolutely dripping. My initial thought was to change and have lunch, as I had an appointment in the area a few hours later, but I decided to sample the "Stretch" class instead.

There's a half hour break between the two, and I ended up in a conversation with one of the regulars from the Saturday morning class. She's been taking this instructor's Beginner II class for quite some time, and it had been several years before she started feeling comfortable in it. When I said, "I usually describe it as 'Beginner two and a half'" she shook her head. She's taken the Advanced Beginner classes and said that about the only difference between the two is that in AB they expect you to get the combination from description, rather than from demonstration. "It's closer to 'two and three quarters'" she thought.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Old El Paso

Off and on for several weeks, our instructor has commented during evening classes that barre was so good we should quit and go have tacos and margaritas. She's done it often enough that it became a regular joke, and I started thinking I should stop at Taco Hell on my way to class.

Grocery shopping this weekend I spotted an item on sale:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

When all else fails, dance!

Last week my garbage disposal died. As best I can tell it's rusted solid, and nothing I tried would break it free. So this weekend I spent a few hours replacing the thing. Since I installed this one when the original one corroded through and fell off the sink in 2004, it wasn't a big challenge.

I didn't get to class Tuesday because of a work-related commitment. Since I was home earlier than usual I washed some laundry. I'd like to say I dried it too, but the dryer took that opportunity to die. I bought it new when I moved into the house waaay back in 1987, so you can't say I didn't get my money's worth out of it. Either it or the washer (of the same vintage) has taken to biting holes in my clothes of late, so I decided to replace the two as a pair. The new ones get delivered the middle of next week.

Maybe it's time to rent The Money Pit again. Or the original 1948 version of that movie, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Wednesday morning I visited my dentist to have him look at a rough spot on a tooth. I left several hours later with half my face numb and an appointment for the installation of a crown in two weeks. Have I mentioned how much I hate dentists? The only reason I don't go postal on the whole profession is that I fear being without them even more. Talk about love/hate relationships.

Having missed Tuesday's class, and with the school being closed this weekend for the Labor Day holiday, I decided I really needed to show up for the Wednesday evening class. Somehow all of this sharpened my concentration (or maybe it was the ibuprofen) because I think I was one of very few who got all the combinations at the barre. I screwed up once because I let myself get distracted by those I could see in the mirror, then realized my error and got back on track. I did pretty well in the center, though I still can't do full inside turns worth a damn. Ah, well... some day.

I got talking with one of the school regulars during one of the breaks and we got to talking about the course offerings. I inquired about the Advanced Beginner class, as I'd like to make my schedule Sat/Sun/Tue/Thu, and the only Thursday evening class is AB. She said it was a significant step up from B2, which is what I suspected. She then demonstrated the risks of succumbing to Ballet Addiction and suggested I could take classes Mon/Tue/Wed/Sat and twice on Sunday. I smiled politely and backed away slowly. You never know what an addict will do if you make sudden moves.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Committing to my addiction

The school where I take classes offers single class, 10 class, and unlimited/4-month pricing plans. The way it works out, if you're going to take classes regularly, but average 2 or fewer classes a week, the 10 class plan is cheapest; the break-even point for the unlimited/4-month plan is 2.54 classes a week over the ~17 week period. As readers may have noticed, I've been taking two classes a week for some time, which means I've been buying "cards" about every 5 weeks. The staff is very good at reminding you of how many classes you have left when that number gets to about 3 or fewer. This is important as they don't take credit cards and not everyone carries a check book regularly anymore.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

More Less is More

Last Tuesday I again skipped class, this time to see Pat Benatar in concert. The last time I'd seen her perform, as best I can tell, was 1986. She still rocks!

Ok, back to dance. Wednesday I again attended the Beginner I class, this time with a determination to make the most of it. I really tried to work on my pirouettes en dehor (we don't do them en dedans in Beginner I). I'm getting better, but am still a bit wobbly. More on that later. Most of the rest of class went well, until the last combination where I just couldn't get my head around the footwork.

This morning I went to my regular Beginner II class. The first sign that this would be a challenging class was when the instructor walked in carrying her Bubba mug of coffee, saying it was "one of those days". Full up it holds 34 oz (1 litre) of coffee, which is a lot of caffeine. Even 3/4ths full, as she indicated, it suggested that she was going to be more energetic that usual. Meaning we were going to be more energetic!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Review of Wear Moi men's tights

Last Saturday I decided to got for the classic tights and a T-shirt outfit. It'd been a while since I'd done a dancewear review, so I pulled out my Wear Moi "Solo" style tights to update my impressions.

I got these because I'd been whining to the owner of a local dance store (Footlights Dance & Theater Boutique) about how "plastic-y" the M. Stevens Milliskin tights felt in comparison with my Capezio 5945s. She said she'd recently decided to stock the Wear Moi brand, and would put aside some in my size when they came in. A few weeks later I got a phone call to tell me my order had come in -- how's that for customer service?

The first thing I noticed is that they don't feel plastic-y at all. They're more like a cotton T-shirt than the silky feel of the 5945s, but not scratchy like the MT-11s. They're plenty stretchy and don't sag or bag, but at the same time they don't feel constricting. I quite forgot I was wearing them, and they didn't need pulling up during class. I have only two slightly negative things to say about them: they're not as opaque as the other styles I've worn, and they're warmer than I'd like. Not clammy, as they breathe quite well, but warmer. I'm sure those who wear a sweater in the studio even in the summer will think that's just dandy, but I'm quite warm even before class begins and get hotter as I get more active.

On the whole I think I like them a bit more than the M. Stevens Milliskin style.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A better pace

Today's Beginner II class was comparatively sparsely attended. Rather than the normal 20-25 students we had 15, with none of the really exceptional folk. The result was a slower-paced class, with less complex combinations and more focus on getting them right.

The advice on turns continues to prove its worth, with my pirouettes en dehor working better than they ever have. My pique turns have also benefited, both en dedans and en dehor. However, this being the Beginner II class, we also did pirouettes en dedans, which I'm still finding to be a serious challenge. I thought I'd figured them out before, but that involved a lot more energy than they should, so I'm sort-of starting over with them. The instructor advised us that it's more important to get the motion right than to get a full turn; that if we only managed a quarter turn but did it with proper form she'd consider that a success, while a full turn with poor form was a failure.

Last Saturday, toward the end of class we were doing some rather complex combination, in groups of 5 or 6 at a time. I was standing in the front of our group, and I kept getting lost. As our group finished the instructor said, "If you don't know the combination, get in the back of the group."

For some reason, few people are willing to stand near the front of the room. Even if they're in the front row, they'll stand as far away from the mirror as possible. This means those in the second row are often crowded against the back wall with no room to move. This is why I often move to the front of our group: that's the only place I can go without standing on the heels of those in front.

Her comment wasn't addressed to me by name, but I felt like it was directed to me. So I replied, "But it's crowded in the back!" I think I got my point across, and I hope I didn't sound petulant.

With today's combinations being simple enough and slow enough I found I could pretty much keep up. Although there were moments where I was a fraction behind the music, there were also times when I could think ahead to the next step. This made me feel like I'm making progress. Maybe I won't need to be in the back much longer.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Less is More

In last Saturday's class our instructor made a comment that stuck with me: when it comes to pirouettes, less is more. You don't need to put much energy into a turn. The only thing the body needs to do is rise to the proper position, and the arms provide all the impetus needed to turn. I didn't get much chance put this into use that day, but it stuck in my head.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Return of the Musty Odor

For the last few months I've been wearing my Capezio CA222 leggings rather than tights. They feel cooler than the tights, and are a lot faster to put on. However, I've noticed that they're prone to picking up a slightly musty odor even right after they've been washed.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Not your classic ballet poses

I was chilling out after class and I noticed this picture on the wall. Look closely at the poses and the facial expressions. Not your typical formal picture.

Several of these dancers are now instructors at the school. I've taken a class from one of them.

Edited to use a larger, better snapshot of the picture.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Lyrical Evening

Tuesday evening the world conspired to prevent me from getting to class on time. First, I wanted to finish what I was working on before leaving, so I left my office a few minutes later than usual. Then I got caught in a discussion in the elevator lobby, which robbed a few more minutes. Still, I should have arrived with time to change and stretch briefly. The final straw was traffic: not only was the highway dead slow because of an emergency response on the shoulder (everyone has to stop to look!) but the exit I took to avoid that turned out to be blocked for a period due to construction. By the time I walked in the door I was already almost 10 minutes late. I changed quickly and found a place at the barre, but I'd missed most of the first set of warm-up stretches.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

It's National Dance Day!

Arriving home from class this afternoon I discovered that today is National Dance Day. Ok, if you say so -- I did my part!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Back to class

Still jet-lagged, I dragged myself to class Tuesday evening. I'd woken up at 3:30am local time, and by the start of class at 7:15pm my head was thick with fog. I arrived at the studio almost an hour before class, and mindful of my three weeks off I took special care to warm up slowly.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Taking a break from ballet

What? Taking a break from ballet? Why?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The End of an Era

A little over two years ago I went in search of a place to re-start my interest in ballet. I found this little studio not far from my home that had just started an adult ballet class in the evenings.

This evening they held the last evening ballet class, or at least the last for a while. The instructor is moving out of the area, and the owner is going to fill the slot with some flavor of latin dance. Although I've moved on to more challenging classes elsewhere, I went back for old time's sake, to see some of my old friends, and to reminisce a bit. I'm glad I went.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Viva le Bubba!

Saturday morning our instructor showed up mug in hand. Or should I say "mug in two hands". The Bubba mug holds a litre of coffee, which isn't exactly light. By the end of class she still had about a half a mug left, and it was still hot enough to be tasty.

As one of the first to show up, I put out some of the portable barres. Not all of the six we usually put out, but four of them. Apparently many in class don't view it as their jobs to move the barres, so students crowded themselves onto the four I'd put out. I found that quite amusing. As an unintentional side-effect, that meant someone actually shared the barre I'd camped out on.

What is it with people who can't keep time with music? The student behind me was consistently ahead of the music, and got farther and farther ahead as an exercise progressed. In one way that was good for me, as it forced me to focus my attention on a random corner of the room so her unsynchronized movements didn't throw me off time as well. Then the pianist must have gotten bored, because she started playing music without a clear beat, which threw everyone off time.

Tuesday I got to class just as it was starting. Whoever put out the barres also only put out four, and they were rather crowded already. I pulled out one more to the far end of the front row and stood there. Aside from it being a bit more difficult to see the instructor demonstrating I don't much care, which keeps me clear of those fighting for the back of the room. As more people came in late, they crowded onto the back row rather than pull out the sixth. It's amazing the lengths people will go to to avoid doing something that draws attention to themselves.

Speaking of avoiding attention, I've noticed the same thing in our center work. If I don't know what I'm doing I prefer to have someone in front of me to follow, but what good is it when everyone is crowded in the back and NO ONE is in front? Why would you rather stand so close to me that I'm going to whack you during a turn than take a few steps toward the mirror? If EVERYONE takes a few steps forward, then NO ONE is any more in front of anyone else. This is how I end up standing in the front row so often -- I'm not one of those whose presence in a beginner class I question, but when there's so much empty space up there and none anywhere else I'm going to move up. Sheesh!

(Ok, this is definitely going to be classified as a rant.)

Aside from THAT, these were good classes. :-)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Worst. Barre. Ever.

At least that was out instructor's observation.

Not our performance, but the strenuousness of the workout. I think I spent half of the 40-some minutes on demi-pointe, most of that with one or the other foot off the ground. Développés in relevé. Attitude devant, attitude derièrre, rond de jambe en l'air, all on demi-pointe. You get the idea. No one complained — no one had the energy.

Then a very active center. I'm getting better at pirouettes en dehor, but en dedans I'm still not good at. We also did turns in attitude — a first for me — which seem easier than pirouettes for some reason.

This morning I woke up very early, aching in a half dozen spots. I feel like I've been beaten with a stick. Fortunately I have an appointment with my therapist in a few minutes. Maybe I'll feel better in an hour or so. Otherwise I'm going for the ibuprofen.

[Edited to add: My therapist worked her wonders, and I felt much better afterward. Enough so that I gave thought to going to the Beginner I class this evening, but I needed to make up time at work and didn't get there. Probably for the best anyway.]

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Was it something I said?

What is it with women in ballet classes?

Recently I've noticed that, with the exception of a couple of regulars, none of the women seem to be willing to share one of the portable barres with me. Last week, a woman picked up her stuff and moved to another barre already occupied by two other women when I went to stand at the other end of the barre she was going to use. This evening that spot was empty while some other barres had three people. It just seems silly to crowd the other barres when there's open space at the one I'm using.

It's not like I'm unwashed; Saturday I was no more than 90 minutes out of the shower and I always wash my dance gear between classes. At 5'10" I'm not so tall that I'm going to kick someone, and no one seems to have a problem standing at the barre that's end-to-end with mine. It's just sharing that piece of steel pipe that seems to freak them out.

I brought this up with a couple female (non-dancer) friends. Some have opined that many women have body image issues, and standing in front of a man wearing a leotard and tights upsets them. Others suggest that I'm intruding into "safe girl space" by even being in a ballet class. Dare I use the word misandry in this situation? It's not like I just wandered in off the street and started drooling. As much as I appreciate the female form, I'm far too busy trying to get my form to follow the steps to ogle theirs.

In better news, it seems they've made yet another effort to clean the floor of excess rosin. Tonight it squeaked rather than sounding like flypaper. Add a little dust for lubrication and it should be just about right.

We did the combination I described in a recent post. The instructor said its name again, but I didn't recognize it and soon was too busy trying to do it to remember the word she said. But after seeing it a second time I think I got the description correct. Quite a few of the other students had a real problem handling a sissonne that didn't change feet (i.e., the working foot both opens and closes in front). Most if not all of the examples I've seen in books or in videos change, so it seems likely they learned it that way. My problem, on the other hand, is that we did it at the very end again, right after jumps, and my energy level is at its lowest ebb then.

Oh, I almost forgot. Rheumatic Princess recently posted about having a moment when the stars align and suddenly you're totally balanced and can seemingly hold a position forever. I had one of those moments this evening: attitude derrière on demi-pointe, right arm high in fifth, and I suddenly felt balanced. Tentatively I let go of the barre entirely, then raised my left arm to match the right. Still balanced. It was the last position in the exercise, and I held it longer than I was supposed to -- until the music stopped -- then stretched to an arabesque and came down in a controlled plié. I was kinda in shock, and the instructor gave me a compliment. It was a wild feeling.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stalkers and lurkers and perverts, oh my!

This morning, while rushing to the dressing room to get ready for class, I ran into a guy in the hallway. He didn't have the look of a dancer, wearing shorts, running shoes, and a T-shirt stretched over a rather prominent belly. He looked vaguely familiar, but around this time there are usually throngs of parents waiting for their children to finish their earlier classes. You have to pass the front desk to get to the studios, so I put him out of my mind.

I didn't think much about him until later, when I noticed him lurking around the door to our classroom, moving around so he could watch. I think the youngest person in our class is mid-twenties, which sorta ruled out a parent trying to watch his child, and he didn't seem to be watching any one person. Also, he had the slightly skittish look of someone who really wanted to do something but was hesitant to do so, while also trying not to be obvious. He kept at it long after all the kids classes had let out and they and their parents were gone. Cue one small red flag.

When class was over I noticed he was still lurking. I got drawn into a discussion of the steps I described in my previous post with two other students and lost track of him. After changing I took a brief walk around to see what became of him. And found him -- at the barre in the Introduction to Ballet class. This is a 5-week, registration-required class (no drop-ins) for those with no knowledge of ballet. It's run by the same instructor as my Beginner II class, scheduled in the same studio immediately after. This is the second week of five, so I probably saw him at the end of last week's class.

I stood in the hallway outside the door to the studio for a few moments, watching. Undoubtedly the eagerness I read in his face was that of someone anticipating taking the first awkward steps toward joining the ranks of our class and those beyond. The hesitancy of someone who is just starting to learn the steps we're doing with such (apparent) speed and precision. Kinda like me watching the kids in the school company perform. "Someday that will be me."

I turned and walked away with a smile on my face.

One More Time?

The floor this morning was less sticky than Tuesday, though it's still stickier than anyone would have liked. We could do pirouettes without risking a knee, but my shoes still twisted on my feet uncomfortably. Attempting to plié into a lunge, the toe of by back foot touched the floor and instead of sliding it stuck there hard enough that my toenail was bent back. Ouch. No blood, though. By the end of class the toe pleats of my slippers were nearly black with rosin. I guess that's one way to clean the floor.

This class is starting to frustrate me. The instructor keeps introducing new steps, and it seems that just as I'm starting to figure it out we move on to the next combination. Today it was a combination step whose name I missed but goes something like this: from fifth, the back foot does a low coupé closing to fifth in front, then a sissonne fermée de côté closing in front. In the larger combination this step is executed once to each side, followed by two sissonne fermée en avant, a sissonne ouverte en avant to arabesque, demi-plié, and pas de bourrée. The whole combination is then repeated to the other side.

We were working in three groups of six. There's just enough room for each group to go right-left-right-left then clear out for the next group. We went around three times, and I felt like I was just getting the hang of it when we went on to the next thing. Now, I know there are others in this class who had this mastered by the second go-round, so it makes sense to stop when we did. But I wish we could have gone around just once more. Or have done everything just a bit slower so I had time for my thoughts to make it to my feet.

On the other hand, some of the folk from the Beginner I class I used to take have now joined our Beginner II class. I don't want to come across as mean, but they look so lost it makes me feel like maybe I'm not doing as badly as it sometimes feels. I assuage any guilty feelings by making supportive comments.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Hot and Sticky

I'm hot, but it's the floor that's sticky. The second year pointe class has been rehearsing in the studio just before the evening adult classes, and the floor is so sticky with rosin that walking in slippers sounds like each of us has double-sided tape stuck to our feet. And that's *after* they washed the floor late last night — I'm told last night's adult class opted not to attempt any turns, chassés, or other sliding movements. We did only a couple step-over piqué turns. Not really a great night by most measures.