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.