Tuesday, April 30, 2013

She Lives!

When I finished changing for class this evening I walked out to the hall where I always stretch out and there was our instructor, alive and mostly healthy. Seems she was struck by some sort of short but nasty illness and spent most of the weekend recovering. She said she still felt a little bit off this evening, but was much improved. I'm quite relieved.

Today was an "off" day for me. The list of my screw-ups in class is long and undistinguished. Yet there are some things I can see are improving. I managed regular and step-over piqué turns pretty well, though not with the grace that some others in the class have. Spotting is becoming a habit rather than something I think about. Saturday we did chaînés turns and I did them reasonably well. I have a long way to go before I stop embarrassing myself, but there is movement in the right direction.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is this Friday the 13th or something?

Last night I got ready to sew the elastics on my black slippers and discovered they're too small. I even tried them on in the store before I bought them to avoid this very problem! Frustrated, I rolled over and went to sleep.

Early this morning pulled out my new white Romeos. I removed the black thread from the sewing needle and rethreaded it with white to start on those elastics. I'd finished sewing one of the four ends and just started a second when the needle broke. I didn't think I was pushing that hard on it but I guess I was. I'm sure I have other needles in the house but who knows where. The sewing goods store opened at 9am, so I made plans to wear the old black slippers one last time. I packed my dance bag with a change of clothing, tossed in my two pair of unsewn shoes, and headed out. On the way I picked up a package of new needles and arrived for class about 45 minutes early.

Good thing too, because I discovered my old black slippers were NOT in the bag. Nor were my old too-small white slippers. Only the two pairs of new, unsewn slippers. I found a chair in the hallway, threaded a new needle with fresh white thread and got to work on the white Romeos. I finished with about 15 minutes to spare and spent the remaining time trying to stretch out. But that's not the end of the craziness.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Time to make the donuts...

The holes in my black slippers have gotten a wee bit larger. The small hole on the left slipper has become two medium holes, and the two medium holes on the right slipper have become one big one and a third medium hole:

I'd worn tiny holes in the pleats in my slippers way back in the '80s, but even after 3 (or was it 4) years they never got this big. I blame it on the somewhat stickier Marley surface, and that I never really learned how to turn back then.

The real problem now is that when I turn I can feel it twisting the skin on my big toes, and it hurts enough to throw me off. Something must be done!

A couple of months ago I bought a new pair of black Capezio Cobras to serve as replacements for these. Somehow, in all this time, though, I haven't gotten around to sewing the elastics on. I once wrote something sappy about how I felt a bond with decades of tradition while sewing elastics; what the hell was I thinking? This is the fourth pair I've had to sew since I started two years ago, and I have yet another pair of white Romeos waiting for the same treatment. The good news is that I managed to make it to the sewing goods store this evening before they closed and found myself a proper thimble to make the job it easier.

In closing... For those who are too young to remember the Dunkin Donuts commercial from which I've taken the title of this entry, here's a link to one of them on YouTube. Get my point? I'm not talking about donuts either.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wild Hair

In colloquial American English, a "wild hair" is defined by the Urban Dictionary as a "Sudden decision that is not expected."

This afternoon at work, after successfully wrestling a particularly gnarly problem into submission, I suddenly wanted to be doing something that did not bear the slightest resemblance to work. Dance class fit the bill perfectly. I hadn't been to my Thursday class since February (has it really been that long?) and this would give me a chance to catch up socially too. I went home, changed into clean gear, and arrived for class about 10 minutes early. Things did not go quite as expected after that.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Frozen Peas

Some people cook frozen peas. As the boyfriend of a dancer when I was in college, they had a different purpose. The phrase, "Get the frozen peas, would you hon?" meant my girlfriend was hurting and wanted to ice a muscle or joint. See, frozen peas conform to irregular shapes like ice cubes won't. The come in a convenient bag and don't get wet as they warm up. They're cheap, and in dire straits you could eat them.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

This does get easier, doesn't it?

Still brain-dead from class, but a quick note now. Toward the end of center work the instructor started explaining a combination. When she paused I thought "ok, I may be able to do that." Then she went on. And on. By the time she was done my brain said, "no way in hell!" I had no idea what we were doing. Even after marking it I was just going to sit it out. But I got stuck in the third of three groups and had some more time to watch and follow along. And it didn't seem like that long a combination. So I tried it.

I think if I'd just done the coupé instead of piqués, and passé relevé instead of pirouettes I could have gotten through it ok. This was a stated option, but I'm a stubborn bastard and just bobbled through the turns anyway. What I noticed, though, was that by the end of several repetitions the problem was NOT remembering the sequence as I expected, it was just the execution of the turns. Done more slowly I think I could have gotten the whole thing. That I did NOT expect.

So yes, it does get easier, if you keep plugging away at it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review of the Capezio CA222 leggings

The weather here turned hot the last couple of weeks, so I've been looking to find some cooler dance gear. My first stops took me to sporting goods and athletic apparel stores near home, where I found everything emblazoned with wild colors and bold logos. They'd be great if I was going bicycling or working out at the gym, but not really appropriate for a dance studio where I don't want my clothing to be a distraction.

My next stop was a well-stocked store near the studio. After explaining what I wanted, the clerk pulled out one or two items for me to look at, then went in search of the store's owner for more ideas. One of the items was footless tights by Eurotard; I liked the texture of these better than the M. Stevens Milliskin tights I've been wearing, but I was looking for something shorter.

The other item was the Capezio CA222 capri-length leggings. Again longer than I was hoping for, but since the clerk was still in the back searching I decided to try them on. They fit pretty well, and felt surprisingly breathable given that they Polyester/Spandex blend.

Now, as you might note from the photo to the left, these are more-or-less made for women. But, as the clerk remarked upon her return, "there just isn't that much dancewear made for men these days." You noticed that too, eh?

So why not? I handed over my card (credit, not guy) and prayed to the FSM that these would be cooler than my tights.

Tuesday evening was my first opportunity to try them in class, and I wore them again Wednesday evening. They're comfortable and do seem cooler than the tights. I bought a size Large, and the waist comes up where I'd want it to and the bottom of the legs come to just below my knees. If I kneel on one knee to stretch, they stay in place over my kneecap without bunching up behind the knee, but they're not baggy over the knee when standing. The only thing that suggests that they're cut for a woman rather than a man is that they appear to be cut to lay a bit flatter in the front of the crotch, which sometimes shows up as a couple of odd wrinkles. These might even go away as the spandex stretches a bit over time. So I'm pretty happy with them.

Do I get any odd looks? You know, I have no idea. It's not exactly a typically male style, but neither are tights. There's a certain segment of the class that acts as if a man, a straight man, no less, in their ballet class is an invasion of their women-only space. They might object, but I've learned to completely shut them out and don't even notice them anymore. Fortunately that segment is small, especially once they realize that I'm there to learn ballet and not to gawk. I've been at this studio long enough now that I'm getting to know people, and they greet me with smiles. Even if there's a glare off my pasty-white shins.

Edited to add:

I've been wearing these almost exclusively for the last couple of months. They feel cooler than the tights, and are a lot faster to put on when I'm in a hurry. However, they are more prone to picking up a musty odor than any of my other dance gear. I'm guessing that's because they're thicker, and therefore dry more slowly. Check out The Return of the Musty Odor for all the details!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A twofer

Last night I went to the Beginner II class. I did OK, but the instructor keeps changing up the sequences which keeps things mentally challenging. By the end of class I'm mental Jello and the various sequences run together. A case in point: I stayed a bit late to practice the last sequence, and found myself confused as to which way the turn went. When I asked I got the most baffled expression out of the instructor, as she pointed out that there wasn't a turn in that sequence. Oh. Right.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wooden floors

A year or so ago I wrote a post wondering if my instability was due to the slippery wooden floor or my technique. I think I have an answer now.

Some months ago I had all the carpets in my house ripped out and replaced with hardwood (downstairs) and laminate (upstairs) as an allergy abatement measure. I've done barre work on it but hadn't tried anything more challenging. While doing some tidying-up I was suddenly struck by the urge to try a pirouette. And did a full turn (wearing socks) with no problem. Maybe it was a fluke? I'd been having trouble doing decent turns in class recently, so I tried another. The second was even better.

Now I'm going to have to rearrange things to open some clear floor space so I can try some of the sequences from class.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Today my problem was with attitude. And I don't mean the one with the raised, bent leg.

Some days are good, where my brain is in sync with my body, combinations flow, and everything clicks. Today wasn't one of those. One problem was not being able to see the instructor. She chose to demonstrate from the far corner, and the woman nearest her stood perfectly positioned to block my line of sight. She often took this moment to take a sip of water, an action which moved her even closer to the instructor and blocked all attempts to move to where I could see. The next problem was that my mental grousing about this distracted me from listening to the the instructor's explanation, so I found myself figuring out big chunks of the barre exercises by watching others in class.

By the time we got to center work, I'd already developed what could be politely called a "bad attitude." By the end of class I really didn't feel like I belonged. It'll pass.

The sequence I really want to learn shouldn't be hard, but there are a number of weight shifts I need to master. It goes something like this, starting facing downstage left, in fifth, effacé: glissade to the right, jeté, coupé with the right foot, then a coupé with the left foot. Then it gets fuzzy. There's a very brief demi-plié in fifth into a ballonné dessous with the right foot (ends with the right foot in coupé derrière). Again a very brief demi-plié into some sort of a jump forward with the left foot leading, landing as in an assemblé.

Like I said, some parts are still fuzzy in my head, and the weight shifts rapidly back and forth. I'm sure that's the point, but at my skill level it also makes it difficult. I guess I'll have to actually practice.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Are we human, or are we dancer?

The song "Human" by The Killers (YouTube link) just came up on the little Internet music station I listen to. According to Wikipedia, the lyric "Are we human, or are we dancer?" was "inspired by a disparaging comment made by Hunter S. Thompson, where he stated America was raising 'a generation of dancers'." Regardless of that background, the tune is catchy and I've always liked it.

But the lyric brings to mind an entirely unrelated question: at what point do you consider yourself a dancer?

There are various labels I unabashedly assign to myself: male, over the hill, etc. But "dancer"? The instructor for my Tuesday/Wednesday/Saturday classes opens class by saying, "Good evening, dancers!" In one respect, it's pleasing to be called a dancer. But as I struggle to master a step that half the class (not to mention most of students in the school) can do without thinking about it, claiming that label seems a bit presumptuous.

Or is it? I'm starting my third year of classes. I've promoted myself from the Beginner I to the Beginner II classes, and am holding my own there. And I can see a time coming when I'll move up again. Maybe it's not as presumptuous as it used to be.

I'm curious, so I'll put it out for comment. Do you feel comfortable calling yourself a dancer, and if so, was there some point or skill level you reached that made it seem "right"?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How do you eat an elephant?

Raise your hand if you've already heard this one: "One bite at a time."

Saturday's Beginner II class ended with a long sequence that had several steps in the middle that I just didn't catch. I had the beginning down, but I just couldn't seem to get my weight on the correct foot, and it's damned tough to move the foot you're standing on.

Tuesday evenings are usually date nights, but my girlfriend isn't feeling well so I had the opportunity to catch the Beginner II class this evening for another try at that combo. This time I got farther: the problem sequence starts with a glissade followed by a jeté, and I was finding myself with my weight on the foot that needed to move in the jeté. With that problem addressed, the next two steps (both coupés) came fairly easily. I'm still stuck on the next step, which somehow goes from the second coupé to a little plié and immediately to a dégagé with what had been the standing leg. I can sort-of picture it in my head but my feet don't follow. Then there are two more steps I haven't figured out yet ending in an assemblé, and from there to the end I've got it.

Unlike the Beginner I classes and the Saturday Beginner II class, which consistently have 20 to 26 students, this evening we had 14. That in itself was a bit of a relief. They've also turned on the A/C to cope with the unseasonably warm temps (it was 82F outside when I arrived this evening), and while some of the women were commenting on how cool it was in the classroom, I found it refreshing. I don't think anyone was complaining about being cold by the end of class, though.

So I'm definitely out of my comfort zone again, and fighting to catch up with those at the top of the class. As I said, one bite at a time.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nope, you're stuck with me!

This was my exclamation leaving class just now, after the teacher tried to offer some reassurance that I wasn't failing miserably. Yes, a non-sequitur, but after that class it felt appropriate.

What the hell is a "sous du chat" anyway, and how do you spell it?

More this evening — now I'm off to see the cherry blossoms around the tidal basin.

It's late evening and I'm back. The step is "saut de chat". I'd described it to a friend as "a little grand jeté with a developpé", and according to the 'net that's exactly what it is. It's supposed to be easier that a real grand jeté but you couldn't prove it by me.

We didn't get even half way through the 90 minute class before most of the students were groaning. I think the teacher is trying to kill us. Everyone had trouble at some point or another. Some groaned at the repeated single-footed fondu - relevé exercise, while others had trouble keeping up with the fast footwork. I keep finding myself with my weight on the foot that needs to move. But mostly my problem is that the combinations are so fast and unfamiliar I can't keep my brain ahead of my feet. Yet. I still don't feel totally lost, just way behind. I'm hoping that in some months to a year I'll look back on this posting and laugh at how simple the combinations were.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


The verb, not the exclamation.

In January I noted with some excitement that I'd worn tiny holes in the toe pleats of my slippers. After almost two years of classes that felt like a badge of honor. Unfortunately I didn't listen to the old adage "A stitch in time saves nine" and the once tiny hole has grown.

I guess I'm putting a lot of weight on my big toes in my turns, and the Marley floors are putting stress on the fabric.

The slippers are otherwise in good shape, so I may try to darn the hole to get some more life out of them. I could also swap them on my feet, but I'll have to see how that feels. I have another pair of identical slippers that I bought a couple of months ago as backups, and I guess it's time to sew the elastics on them.

Speaking of turns, last night it was pirouette en dehor to the LEFT that were stronger and more stable. More of an "up, turn, down" sensation that I associate with a clean turn. Perhaps it's that the walk-through of all the sequences in class are done on the right, making that side a bit more tired?

This little piggy

Not sure what I did in class last night, but I hurt the little toe on my right foot and it still hurts this morning. No visible injury, but if it's still hurting by Saturday morning I'm gonna be really annoyed cuz I'm really looking forward to taking the Beginner II class again. Even last night's class, which really ought to be called Beginner 1.5, seemed slow.

On the other hand, my balance wasn't as good as it was on Saturday. I wonder if that's a pattern: more stable in the AM and less stable in the PM? I'll try and keep track.

One of the barre exercises we did last night was fondu - développé - relevé, repeated en crois several times. This promised to be hard on the calf muscles, but it turned out not to be that hard when we did it. At least not to me. By the end of the sequence my calf muscles felt tired trying to hold releve, and I couldn't get as high as I did at the beginning, but it didn't hurt like I thought it would. And later on, when we did the "aerobic" part at the end (changements, échappé, and a chasse - arabesque sequence) they didn't feel overworked.