Friday, May 31, 2013

Review of "Dancing On My Grave"

I finished reading Gelsey Kirkland's first autobiography, Dancing On My Grave. I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it when I was younger, but I found it fascinating. Written at the end of a self-imposed two year hiatus from dance to break herself of a serious addiction to cocaine and Valium, the tone of the book is bitter, almost vicious at times. She is critical of almost everyone she mentions, and she doesn't spare herself. She comes across as very serious about her craft, to the point of being difficult to work with. Like many brilliant people, she exhibits some characteristics more recently attributed to autism, including the inability to understand social cues that everyone else seems to understand.

An amusing personal note: There was one point in the book where Kirkland talks about preparing for a performance at Goucher College near Baltimore. At the time, March, 1981, I lived quite near there and my then-girlfriend was taking classes with a nearby professional ballet company. I found myself thinking back 32 years, trying to remember if this was something we'd talked about attending. On the next page, however, Kirkland reveals that she blew off that performance due to her drug addiction. I guess we didn't miss a chance to see her after all.

The book ends on a hopeful note, though, with Kirkland and her newly wed husband and co-author, Greg Lawrence, kicking their drug addictions and looking forward to their future together.

Of course the story doesn't end here. Kirkland went on to write another autobiography, The Shape of Love, again with Lawrence as co-author. Published in 1990, it seems this book is not as popular as her first, as the library copy I have is almost pristine. I'll post a review of it when I finish it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Paging Dr. Morton

In 1927, Dr. Dudley Joy Morton described a syndrome where the first metatarsal is shorter than the second. Also known as a "Greek foot", the most obvious indication is that the second toe is longer than the first. Ballet dancers often hear the term "Morton's Toe" when they're fitted for pointe shoes, as it presents a problem distributing weight within the toe box.

It seems I have a slight case of this. Men rarely dance en pointe, but there are some other effects. One is that more of the weight is carried on the head of the second metatarsal rather than the first, which reduces lateral stability of the foot. This happens both flat and in demi-pointe.

Much like putting a shim under the leg of an unstable table, there are shoe inserts available that add a bit of thickness under the head of the first metatarsal (the "ball" of the foot). The suggestion I've received is to put a few layers of moleskin in my slippers at that point. I tried that last night, sticking one layer to my foot rather than the inside of the slipper. I'm not sure it made a difference, but my legs were already quite tired by the time class started. I did learn something about where the moleskin needs to be placed. I'll give it another try Saturday, with two layers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Has it really been six months?

Having taken Beginner 2 classes both Saturday and Sunday mornings, I decided to really go all out and take class both Tuesday evening and tonight. Why not? It's only time. And money. Well, ok, and ibuprofen.

Of course, tonight's class is a Beginner 1 class. There was a point in last night's B2 class that I volunteered to go across the floor in the back of the first group because "I don't know the sequence, so I might as well get it over with." Tonight I was again in the first group, but this time I was leading it. Six months ago I was struggling in this class — has it really been six months?

Still, the slower pace allowed me to learn things I wouldn't learn at the seemingly frenetic pace of the B2 class. I worked on the transition from fifth to coupé. For me, with only 45 degrees of turnout on either side, I have to pull my front foot inward several inches to bring my toes into contact with my ankle. I also have much better control of my balance on demi-point with my other foot in cou de pied than I do in retiré. I think it's that I'm fighting against my lack of flexibility and can't attain a stable position.

I do think I'm going to spend some quality time with my frozen "bag of peas" tonight before I go to bed.

A good balance evening

I think our instructor got so excited to see the Sunday B2 students struggling with her "easier" class that she's decided to ratchet up our not-so-easy class up another notch. The barre has started to include cloche and tendu movements in triplets; that is, where there are three movements in two beats. We've been doing plié/relevé exercises with one foot sur le cou de pied derriere for a while now, but it used to be four then change feet with a pas de bourrée. Tonight it was 8, repeated twice on each side. These don't really bother me, but others really seem to dislike them. After Sunday's experience of being able to keep up with double beats during frappé, I'm back to not having a chance of keeping up. And don't even ask me about petit battements.

I didn't flounder at everything. Some days I can't seem to balance to save my life. Today, balancing didn't seem to be much of a problem. I felt comfortable with about half of the center work, and by "comfortable" I mean "knew what I was doing and was working on making it good" rather than just hoping to remember the next step in time. After not doing the combination with the alternating piqué arabesques for a while, we did it again this evening. The first time through I did ok, but going to the left the second time my left foot was again in front of my right when it should have been behind. That was annoying, but three out of four ain't terrible.

One of the adagio sequences we've been working on goes something like this: From croisé in fifth, développé devant, slow rond de jambe en l'air with arms to first arabesque, close derrière. Now effacé in fifth, développé devant, another slow rond de jambe en l'air with arms to second arabesque, promenade upstage 3/4 around, demi-plié and hold for a beat, rise to demi-pointe and pas de bourrée. Now croisé in fifth to the other corner, développé to écarté devant en l'air, close to fifth derrière. Now éffacé in fifth, développé to écarté derrière en l'air, close to fifth derrière. Chassé en avant, rock back a bit to a demi-plié fourth with the weight remaining on the front foot, pirouette en dehor, closing to fifth derrière. Repeat to the other side.

Got all that? The scary thing, to me anyway, is that I DO have that. I can be a bit unsteady, and by the time I get to the pirouette my legs are sometimes too unsteady to do the turn cleanly, but I know the sequence and on good days like today I can do better than many in the class. I'm not one of those who do double or even triple pirouettes for a bit of a challenge, but I don't look like a clueless dork either.

During the jumps section we did a new combination of four changements, a little hop leading into a chassé, assemblé, and an échappé. Then repeat. I got it the first time, receiving an attaboy.

My right hip flexors got really tight during the barre and into the start of the center work. Then, for no apparent reason, it relaxed. Brains aren't designed to notice the absence of something, so I don't know exactly when it relaxed, maybe during the adagio I described above, but I am SO glad it did.

Ok, enough random babble for one night.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reverse Substitution

In class yesterday, Saturday, our instructor mentioned that she was substituting for another instructor's Beginner 2 and Advanced Beginner classes today. She invited everyone to come Sunday as well. In response to a question, she commented that Sunday's B2 class would be a slightly easier than her own B2 class, while the AB class would be a bit harder. This supported my own conclusion that her B1 class was more of a B1.5, and her B2 is more like B2.5. Of course I had to test my hypothesis.

Today's class was, in fact, a little easier than yesterday's. The initial barre work skipped our usual stretches in 4th. The frappés were a little slower, giving me time enough to complete the double beats rather than cheating the last one. In the center, the combinations were a little less complex. The promenade was a short 1/4 turn rather than a 3/4 turn the long way around. All of the pirouettes were en dehor rather than a mix. Having gotten used to her regular class I still felt challenged but without feeling on the edge of flailing. One of the women who also takes the Saturday class echoed the sentiment. Those who are used to the regular Sunday class offered the names of their next of kin.

In the dressing room I met a dancer from out of town who had decided to drop in on today's B2 class. He, too, has been dancing for about two years, so he makes a good point of comparison. He liked the barre, but said "the center work just killed me." Maybe RAD has a point with their standardized classes and tests. Maybe.

Oh! I almost forgot. We did the sequence I described last post. I could make the steps a lot cleaner, but otherwise I do have this combination figured out. Happy happy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

By Jove, I think I've got it!

At the tail end of class this evening we did what I thought was going to be the combination I wrote about recently. It wasn't. Instead, it went this way: piqué arabesque, glissade, jeté, coupé, piqué arabesque, glissade, assemblé. As part of the assemblé there is a quarter turn, so you're now oriented properly to repeat the combination in the other direction. This is a bouncy sequence, with lots of travel and the chance to grab some serious altitude as part of the assemblé.

After stumbling through the other combination we'd done, this one seemed like something I could figure out quickly. The sticky parts turned out to be moving from the coupé or assemblé to the piqué arabesque, which I got the instructor to help me with after class, but if we ignore my missteps at those points I felt like I had a good grasp of the sequence. And after watching some of my classmates do really nice double pirouettes earlier, getting high on the assemblé was really fun. Even better is that since this was the last thing we did before reverance, I walked out feeling really good.

I may also have figured out why my legs have been hurting so much recently. If I'm right it has little to do with ballet, so there's no need for me to take a break from classes. I'll know for sure in a couple of weeks. With the worry that I might be suffering some sort of cumulative injury somewhat alleviated, I might drop in on the class tomorrow evening to work on form at the slower Beginner I pace.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

An "Ah-Ha" moment

I got stuck in traffic on the way to class this morning. Some minor accident, already cleared to the shoulder, but four lanes of highway traffic crept by at a snail's pace so people could look. The teacher greeted me with a smile, but I missed the first stretches -- which I need.

In the center we were doing a simple combination. Sauté arabesque right, sauté arabesque left, step, step, saut de chat, step, something like a jeté with a quarter turn to the left, and repeat in the other direction. No problem, right? No such luck. My first sauté was fine, but when I went to do the second something went wrong and it was all downhill from there. We'd done a variation of this sequence before, and I'd had a similar problem but couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong.

Today I figured it out. We've also done a different sequence where the sauté arabesque was followed by something like a passé sauté, and I was doing some sort of weird mix. This put my working foot in front of me rather than behind. Oops. This revelation came to me half way through the exercise, and I sort-of managed to do it right once. The frustrating thing is that it's taken me so long to figure it out.

I had an appointment with my massage therapist scheduled for 90 minutes after class. The plan was to eat lunch in the gap, but I wasn't hungry. Instead, I stopped at a drug store to buy a cold pack so I could ice down my aching hip flexors and quads on the drive over. That helped, and I'm hoping I can break the cycle of tightness in my legs without having to take an extended break from class.

I loaned my massage therapist my copy of Classical Ballet Technique so he could see what sort of stuff I was doing. His verdict is that ballet is designed to torture and maim dancers' bodies. But he didn't try to talk me out of going to class. I think he may see me as a stable revenue stream. :-)

On that note, here's a picture I find quite apropos:

Thursday, May 9, 2013


A friend of mine has gotten deeply into CrossFit training. Her vocabulary is filled with CF jargon like "WOD" and "box". Her involvement is now so deep that it almost seems like she's been sucked into a cult.

I'm somewhat cult-phobic. I dumped a seemingly promising relationship with a woman whose educational activities turned out to be deep involvement with "Landmark Education", a relabeling of the old "est" group that uses cult-like tactics in their "training". When I see someone suddenly restructuring his or her life around some new-found cure for what ails ya, I turn skeptical eye on their activities. In the case of CrossFit I see little more than the usual Super High Intensity Training fad that will harmlessly fade into the next cure-all exercise craze.

My skeptic's eye is not blind to my own deepening involvement in similar behaviors, though. I, too, have begun to use strange jargon like plié, penché, and changement. I'm also rearranging schedules to make time for classes attended by other devotees. I'm reading books written by luminary figures whose names are famous within the cult, but barely recognized by outsiders.

Cult? Am I saying ballet is a cult? No, of course not. But like CrossFit, it does seem to be addictive. But we'd be the best looking cult on the block!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sebacean heat delirium

It was hot tonight. Really hot and stuffy. I think I'm suffering from Sebacean heat delirium. With apologies to Aeryn, "I can't hold a penché. I can't hold a plié." The 'Scapers out there will understand.

Sometimes, usually late in class and more commonly on Tuesday evenings than Saturday mornings, my mind ceases to absorb simple steps and timing. Steps that I know how to do get screwed up when I try to do them. It's very frustrating because in this state I can SEE what to do, I can THINK of what to do, but what I can't seem to actually DO them.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Well, that was fun!

And if you believe that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

You'll only want to read the rest of this post if you care to read about aches and pains. Kinda like the conversation in a retirement home. You've been warned.

16% Book Review

I'm only 45 pages into Gelsey Kirkland's autobiography, but I'm liking this book more than I thought I would. Although her enmity for Balanchine and what his system did to her is palpable, she spares no one else either. Not even herself. This is not a book about hate and bitterness, though; it's about introspection and honest analysis. Definitely not the usual self-justification you find in many celebrity autobiographies.

I don't think I'll have any problem finishing it well before the library wants it back.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You Deserve Respect

The fortune cookie I got with lunch today reads, "You deserve respect and will get it."

Every so often I walk out of class and think, what's the point? I'm never going to use these skills for anything. No one in his right mind will pay me to dance. No one's life will be saved because I'm learning to do a clean piqué turn (unlike a previous hobby as an EMT). The answer, of course, is because I enjoy the learning and the doing. It's the journey that matters, not the destination.

On a whim I checked out Gelsey Kirkland's autobiography, Dancing On My Grave, from the local library. I'm only 17 pages in, but she has an interesting writing style. It's also somewhat interesting to note which passages others have seen fit to mark, though this is why I prefer my books new or digital. I'm debating whether erasing the pencil marks would cause more damage than benefit.