Thursday, January 30, 2014

A combination to work on

Chassé, pas de bourrée, glissade, jump!

This is the combination we ended this evening's Advanced Beginner class with tonight. Back and forth, across the floor. Everyone else seems to know it, so I need to practice it until it becomes rote.

I've been feeling a bit shaky all day today, and really didn't have the energy for class. I went mainly because I'd gone back for my dance bag after forgetting it this morning, which set the plan for the day. Even barre tired me more than usual. I bailed on (only) one combination that was simply too long and too fast for me to pick up, but stood in the back and tried to pick it up as the others did it. Someday I'll get this stuff.

Time to catch a quick dinner and get home; I have to be at work extra early tomorrow for a conference call with some Swedes and some Finns.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Identification, please!

For some reason my calf muscles have been hurting ever since class Sunday. Not in the usual places, though. This time it's at the very top end of the muscles, below the knee but definitely in the calf muscles. I've been trying to get higher up on demi-pointe, and I suspect this is an area that hasn't gotten as much work before. But I wasn't expecting it to ache so much for so long.

Figuring I needed some stretching, and hoping to get back into my old routine, I went to the Beginner 2 (or 2.75) class last night. I got there early enough to do some stretching before class, and I was surprised how tight my calf muscles still were. This class is quite active, even compared to my Advanced Beginner class, and by the end of barre a lot of the spot soreness was gone. Or else the rest had started to ache enough that the difference wasn't quite as pronounced.

I think I did pretty well. I didn't find the adagio combinations terribly difficult to remember, and I had time to work on some of the finer details rather than just trying to remember what comes next. The first allegro combinations also weren't bad, though I sometimes forget the port de bras in favor of the footwork. When the instructor demonstrated the last combination I was tired and having trouble concentrating, and I just couldn't remember the sequence. I followed each group intently, hoping to jump in at the end, but though it didn't seem all that complicated it was too long to remember and I sat it out.

Every so often through class the instructor would jokingly suggest we all just stop now and go out for tacos. "Taco Tuesday!" she'd exclaim. After class I found that a small group was indeed going out for tacos, so I invited myself along. None of us actually had tacos, but it was fun to be out and socialize. However, there was a moment that highlighted the difference between the others and myself: when we ordered drinks everyone got carded, including the instructor who is quite young-looking, but I believe she's in her early 40s. Everyone, that is, except me. Looking around at the group I had a momentary thought that one might mistake us for a family. A strange thought, but I could think of worse families.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Never give up! Never surrender!

It's a hokey quote from a hokey movie (Galaxy Quest) about a fictitious TV show. But sometimes it seems appropriate on many levels. Including as a parody.

I haven't been to a class since last Sunday due to a combination of work, weather, and social activities. I need to add back at least one evening (Tuesday or Thursday) to my schedule so I can rebuild my endurance. I got dinged during the allegro segment of the Beginner II class for my "unorganized" execution of a piece of a sequence, and rightly so. My brain momentarily dropped offline, and I kinda walked through that part. The combination this was part of is not that complex, long, or physically demanding, and I shouldn't get so tired so easily.

This also shows how having high expectations for yourself is a double-edged blade. Both I and the instructor believe I'm capable of doing better, and I don't get let off easy when I screw up. But at the same time, I wouldn't want to be let off easy — if I wanted that I wouldn't go to a school with quality teachers and high standards, and I certainly wouldn't be pushing myself into classes like Advanced Beginner.

But enough of the self-flagellation! There's lots of good mixed in with the bad. In B2 we expanded on a combination we've been working on for a while. Going to the right, it starts with the right foot in tendu devant, two step-over piqué turns, tombé, pas de bourrée, pirouette en dehor from fourth, détourné, and repeat as space permits. Or something like that; it all runs together this late in the evening. The first time we did this combination a few weeks ago I had significant difficulty controlling the piqué turns. I'd end up falling out of them in a random direction. Today my control is definitely improved, as is my spotting. Other than the momentary brain fart mentioned above, in which I did the turn on the wrong foot, then walked through the following steps, I felt pretty good about the improvements.

That turned out to be important, because Advanced Beginner included a similar combination. Similar in that it started with the B2 combination but then continued with a two piqué turns en dedans and ended with a pirouette en dedans in the other direction, all done at a faster pace.

That pretty well summarizes the difference between B2 and AB: no new steps, but much longer, more complex combinations, executed faster.

To my surprise, I didn't have a horrible time with this combination. I started out dreading it, because I hadn't done a regular piqué turn in months. I think I may have lagged behind the music at points, but I knew the steps and had brain bandwidth to think about the next step a little bit before starting it. That tells me that a lot of this is moving from conscious thought to "muscle memory".

I did bail on one combination entirely because I just couldn't wrap my head around it, though I walked through it several times in the back of the studio as the others took their turns. I could have attempted it — no one in this class would dare criticize another student who had trouble with a combination — but at that point I just needed a break. I jumped back in for the next combination and did better than I thought I would.

Which brings me back to the hokey saying in the title. Never give up. Never surrender. And I'll add: take the risk. It's worth it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Beware the Diva Chair!

Work prevented me from getting to class Thursday evening, which might not have been a bad thing given the sporadic muscle spasms I was still having. This morning's Beginner 2 class was huge, and with 21 students there were three of us at each of the portable barres and no room at the barres around the walls. I felt good, with just a few occasions during center when I needed to stop and catch my breath. I walked out feeling ready to tackle the Advanced Beginner class that followed.

Like most instructors of drop-in classes, this one varies the difficulty level of the class depending on who shows up. In today's Advanced Beginner class we had the (mis-)fortune to have several of the girls from the school's company, plus a couple of guys who are either young pros or soon will be. That meant the center combinations were fast and complex, with lots of weight changes. Most of those who are regulars in this class adapted pretty well and probably enjoyed the challenge, but for the last 15 minutes I felt way over my head. It's a serious roller coaster ride going from feeling like I was hot stuff to flailing in the span of 90 minutes.

Looking back, with an hour's distance and food in my belly, I didn't do too badly. I didn't have any problems with barre other than some more spasms in serratus anterior. In center I did my first real double pirouette en dehor from fourth. It wasn't pretty but I was doing worse singles six months ago, and I just wanted to see if I could do it. None of the combinations are drastically out of my reach. I know all the steps; I just can't keep ahead of a sequence that long and that complex yet. But there will be a time when I can.

What about the odd post title? A previous class apparently contaminated a spot in the center with something slippery, so the instructor wiped up what she could and put the high swivel chair kept in each studio for instructors' use over the slippery spot and announced that we needed to "dance around the prima diva". Eventually that got shortened to "beware the diva chair!" Who said we don't have fun in class?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ok, yes, I'm competitive

A friend of mine invited me to join her for a class at one of the places I took class in the fall of 2012. Being a total sucker for an invitation from a pretty girl I said yes. It's interesting comparing this class with the ones I've been taking.

The biggest difference is that this school has one level of adult beginner class, versus the three levels at my current school. This means that this beginner class has folk who really are starting from scratch up through folk who have been taking classes for several years. Barre is much slower paced, as the instructor runs around providing a lot of individualized instruction. Fortunately the classes are smaller than I'm used to (this one had 14 students). I got a suggestion to open my stance wider when doing grand pliés in second. I barely broke a sweat in barre tonight, compared to last night's barre that left me (and my handy hand towel) dripping.

Center work was fairly easy. I didn't have trouble catching my breath until after an allegro sequence which, because of the small number of students, ran pretty much continuously for four repetitions. When we finished I was surprised to realize we'd done no turns other than soutenu at the barre. In fact, the thing I struggled with most was muscle spasms in my sides (mostly serratus anterior, I believe, in case you're keeping score). I'm not sure if I'm dehydrated or if it's the back-to-back classes that I'm definitely not used to.

I guess I've come to accept that I really am competitive. I want to succeed, and to me, succeeding means improving. I want to get better and I'm not satisfied staying in one place. There are a couple of students in this class I remember from a year or so ago, and I don't see that they've progressed since then. I felt like I was pretty much at the top end of this class, along with one or maybe two of the others, and I started wondering whether I'd fit into this school's intermediate class. My friend seems a bit frustrated that she's not improving as she'd like, and I think it may be because she's taking classes that are not really challenging her. That's not to say that there isn't anything to be learned at this level, but I think you progress faster when you're challenged enough to be out of your comfort zone. Maybe I'll try to nudge her out of her nest. :-)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Annual Ballet Class

I went to the Beginner 2 class this evening. The last time I attended this class was the day before I got sick just after Turkey Day. When the instructor noticed me in the hallway before class her comment was a surprised, "Is that Reece? Come for your annual ballet class?" Yeah, it's been a while.

I told her I'd been sick and was still(!!) recovering and might have to bail early. I was hoping I wouldn't have to, but then again this is the class others have referred to as "Beginner 2.75". She said this would be a relaxed class, but the pace she set started me coughing and panting after the very first barre exercise. The coughing subsided and the panting didn't get worse so I stuck it out through the whole barre session. Center seemed easier and I did okay until about 75 minutes in when the allegro combinations wiped out my energy reserves. I sat out parts of the remaining 15 minutes but stayed through reverance.

One satisfying thing I noticed is that my pirouettes are definitely better than they were early this fall. Turning en dehor from fourth I'm getting up and stable, and finishing the turn when I want rather than falling out of it. I even had time to notice the position of the toe of my raised foot, which I've honestly never had time or stability to observe before. I did get told that I'm still putting too much effort into the turn, but that's something I can dial back and that observation came attached to a compliment. I'll take it! Turning en dedans feels like it requires way too much energy, but I'm completing the turn and not falling out of it.

I feel exhausted, but I also feel like I took another step toward getting back to normal. Or whatever passes for "normal" for a man on the verge of turning 53.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

I don't make new Year's resolutions. But lots of people do, and quite a few of them seem to resolve to come to ballet classes. I thought last week's classes were heavily attended, but this week is worse (or is it better?) I walked into class a couple minutes late and I couldn't see any open spots at the barre. The instructor pointed out one right in front of her, but even that was a bit snug. We had to be careful during grand battements not to kick each other. I think I counted 21 students.

I did well enough, I guess. I didn't have the O2 reserves I did last week and I had some related lapses in attention, but my balance was good and my posture is still improving in tiny increments. The adagio combination felt pretty good. The allegro combination (glissade, jeté, pas de bourrée, glissade, jeté, assemblé, assemblé) wouldn't have been hard if my endurance had been better. We worked on "lame duck" piqué turns, and from the instructor's comments I expect we'll be doing a lot of them. I need work on spotting and turns in general. If I can just shake this bronchitis I'll be reasonably happy with my progress.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Power of a Threat

My bronchitis just wouldn't let go. The day after New Year's found me wheezing pretty badly, worse than the previous weekend, so I scheduled an appointment with my asthma doc for Monday. Saturday morning I found the energy to shovel the snow that fell early Friday morning, but I was wondering if I'd feel good enough to go to class this morning.

This morning I woke up feeling better than I have in weeks. Beginner 2 went so well I decided to take barre in Advanced Beginner too. It was fun to get more of a mental challenge than I've had recently. By the end of barre I still wasn't out of breath, though i could tell by the trembling in my muscles that I'd run out of endurance. Apparently I didn't look bad because I got some light-hearted teasing from some of the other students for bailing, but the instructor cut them off by saying, "He's already had one full class today!" I think 2 hours and 20 minutes is enough to walk out with my head held high.

I can only attribute my sudden recovery to the same magic that makes a balky car run just fine the day you take it to a mechanic. It's the threat of actually doing something about the problem that causes it to disappear. I just hope it doesn't come back later next week!

Edited to add: Oh holy crap, it's been too long since I had a workout like that, and I think I just failed the "ease back into the routine" thing. Even the instructor was having to pull back on the reins a bit: when she demoed an adagio combination she said "brush to arabesque" but kept her foot on the ground. I assumed that was just to make the demo easier until she called out "To tendu, Reece; we don't lift it until the next exercise." Oops. Color me eager.

Within an hour after class my ankles and what I'll politely refer to as my turn-out muscles started aching. Now, five hours later, I'm getting twitches and threats of cramps in a variety of leg muscles. I just took some calcium/magnesium tablets and drank about a liter of water, and now I'm going to grab my frozen "bag of peas" to see if I can avoid waking up to screaming cramps tonight. Wish me luck.