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.