Sunday, December 30, 2018

HOW many ballet schools?

This is being written on my phone. When I get to a real computer I'll translate initials in the first section to names and links.

I'm told the Berrend Dance Centre in Olney, Md., is moving to Derwood (the no-man's land between Rockville and Gaithersburg) early next year. That means there will be three schools with quality instructors in a fairly small radius (the others being MSD and MBT). Expand the radius a bit more and you pick up MYB and TSWB. Child, teen, or adult, there's no shortage of quality ballet instruction along I-270.

I wonder if I should post a map?

The holidays this year have screwed with my ballet class schedule. Both Christmas and New Year's fell on Tuesdays. Last weekend I went to class Sunday morning. This weekend I made the questionable choice of attending Saturday and Sunday morning classes. I'm wondering how hard it will be to get out of bed tomorrow.

I may have mentioned a month or two ago that a classmate had missed the last step on a flight of stairs and sprained her ankle badly. And by "badly" I mean unable to put any weight on it, needing crutches to get around at all, and even driving being impractical. This is bad for anyone, but for someone who dances ballet (and en pointe at that) it's worse. Not only does it affect simple things like being able to go grocery shopping, but the muscles, skills and balance you've spent years developing immediately start deteriorating.

Her physical therapists were telling her she might be able to get back to class in mid-January. She told me she expected to start back in the Beginner I classes for a bit to get her flexibility and strength back, which would be the safe, rational thing to do. So I was surprised to see her in the Beginner II class Saturday. So much for safe and rational, eh? But I know the frustration.

During class I really can't pay much attention to anything but what I'm doing and the space immediately around me, but from what I did see it looked like she was doing okay. Some of the exercises she took on demi-pointe, but a lot of the time she stood on that foot flat to keep the stress and strain down. Wisely she took her leave just before we got to jumps in centre. She's always been one of my favorites to watch during class and I hope she recovers well and completely.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

After three weeks...

I promised myself I'd work my way back up to three classes a week. Then I caught a nasty bug which kept me out of work for over a week, and out of class for three. Tuesday I finally got back to class.

I've learned that I really need to devote warm-up time to my hip flexors. Doing so dramatically increases my stability in turns, probably because I can stand more erect with more effort when I'm not fighting tight hip flexors. I managed to get to class about 15 minutes early, and after stretching I managed one decent double pirouette and several 1.5 turn pirouettes before class started.

Barre was fine and I didn't have any real trouble following even the tricksey little patterns our instructor had us do. On the other hand, I was more stiff than usual and my calf muscles felt really tight, and I felt more winded than usual. Centre was going fine until I started getting muscle spasms in my back, probably more from lack of exercise than anything else. I ended up bailing on the rest of the class.

Thursday morning my calf muscles felt really stiff so I didn't even pack my dance bag.

This morning I convinced myself that I really needed to go to class, but left so late that as I ran past the studio on my way to the dressing room they were already starting barre. So much for my pre-class warm-up! I'd dressed in my dance gear at home with jeans over my shorts for warmth and appearance, so all I needed to do in the dressing room was take off my coat, shoes, and jeans. Which is fortunate, as yet another father decided that the men's dressing room was the right place for his young daughter to change.

Remember my rant last month about this very problem? And how the desk unicorn... err... staffer had jumped up to make a sign? Here's a picture of the men's dressing room door. Note the prominent labeling "MEN'S DRESSING ROOM". As in, a place where men may be changing clothes. Note also the newer sign explicitly stating "do NOT change your daughters in the men's dressing room". Do people really not read?

Maybe there are just too many words for them to absorb. Maybe they should just mount this sign on the door?

There are a whole bunch of signs like this on Amazon and other sites. Apparently they're intended for "Man Caves". Wouldn't a men's dressing room be considered a "Man Cave"?

Anyway... I managed to scurry into class (remember... class?) about half-way through the first barre exercise. This instructor always gives the same first barre exercise, so it wasn't a problem to jump in. Overall class went pretty well. Some of my turns were pretty well executed (and some not, but I see improvement) and I felt like I remembered the sequences pretty well.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The staff are not idots. But the patrons are.

Thursday I was all set to go to class in the evening, but life intervened. I'm really trying to get back to a regular schedule for the winter, so I told myself I'd definitely go this weekend.

This morning I was kind of ambivalent about going to class. Eventually I convinced myself to get ready and made it to the studio with enough time for a brief warmup. Barre was good, though it seemed a bit more challenging than usual. One of our regular classmates who takes barre on pointe came in just before we started, and I honestly think this instructor tailors her class based on who shows up; for example. a student on pointe pretty well guarantees more releves.

I didn't get as much sleep last night as I would have liked, and I burned a lot of energy during barre. Normally I recover during the break before centre, but today I was still feeling very tired when class started again. I walked through the explanation of the first combination with everyone else, and while it absorbed the sequence pretty well I just didn't feel up to continuing. I grabbed my bag, nodded to the instructor, and took an early exit.

Normally I'd consider this a partial waste of time, but not today. It was an unusually long barre and I felt like I got a good workout. I just felt like I'd run out of energy, and if I'd forced myself to continue I doubt I would have been very stable.

Maybe I'll go again tomorrow morning.

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled blog entry for a rant...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A Double Pirouette! And Tours!

Recently I've been having trouble with turns, which I've been blaming on the humidity making the floor sticky. Now that we've entered heating season the floors are dry and no longer sticky. Today after barre I seemed to be doing piroouettes pretty well and I decided to try a double. It worked! This is the first time in years. I'm pretty happy about that.

Last Tuesday evening we had six or seven students. Tonight we had 15 or 16, including three other men. Something about Halloween, I guess. Speaking of which, the two front desk staffers were dressed as a unicorn and a llama.

Our instructor decided for some reason that we should do tours. We've never done tours in the 5(?) years I've been in her classes. I tried these a couple of times during the Adult Weekend Workshop a few years back and every time I ended up flat on my back. And I mean that literally. This is one of the reasons I knew I was leaning back during turns and I've tried to train myself out of that. Since everyone else was going to do tours I figured I might as well try, and while they weren't pretty I didn't fall. So that's two good things tonight.

The sad news is one of my favorite classmates, one who usually takes class in pointe shoes, missed the last step of the stairs she was going down last week and sprained her foot. Nothing is broken, but even now she can barely put weight on it and still can't walk. Nothing is broken, though, and her doctor thinks it should heal just fine in time. She's understandably very unhappy about it and will be out of class for several weeks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Dancing ballet is like a drug addiction

Someone asked me today why I was walking slowly and rather deliberately. I explained that I'd gone back to class after a few weeks away. Like a drug addiction, staying at your usual dose is fine, and while taking too much is bad, quitting and restarting is worse.

Okay, so it's an imperfect analogy, but it's the one that came to mind.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ditching my Capezio Hanami slippers

When I first became involved in ballet, back in the mid 1980s, Capezio was the brand name I knew best. My first shoes, tights, and dance belt were all Capezio. Now I almost feel like the name Capezio is a code for "stay away from these".

I loved my Capezio 4945 tights. They were soft and stretchy and comfortable. Poof! Gone, replaced by the inferior MT-11. I asked the owner of my favorite dancewear store if she knew where I could find some, and she told me that if she could get them she'd "buy a thousand of them". The Capezio website now shows "Ultra Soft" footed tights (10361M), but I have two pairs each of M. Stevens and Wear Moi tights and am not inclined to buy more for a while.

I tried and fell in love with the Capezio CA222 leggings. They were officially a women's style but they fit me quite well. Again, soft and stretchy and comfortable. Poof! Gone. So far gone that this blog is now Google's top hit when searching for them.

I started with Capezio Cobra shoes. Their failing was inconsistent sizing. Eventually the Cobra was replaced with the Capezio Romeo, which was an improvement in my view. Last November, when my big toe started protruding through my most recent pair of Romeos, I went to my local dance store to by replacements. They told me they didn't stock the Romeo anymore, and Capezio's replacement was the Hanami. In case you're wondering, "Hanami" is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. At first I thought the Hanami was an improvement over the Romeo. The fabric is very stretchy compared to my Romeos, which makes it conform to the foot really well, and the absence of a drawstring avoids having a knot digging into my instep. However I've become increasingly disenchanted with my canvas Hanami slippers.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Summer of Susan

I've been busy on Saturday mornings recently, meaning I've been missing the weekend Beginner 2 class I usually take. While I like that class, it's a bit of a challenge because of the complexity of the sequences this instructor likes to use late in the class. While they're really not that complex on their own, my IQ diminishes as I get tired and by the end of class I'm just too stupid to retain them. After I've rested I often mentally kick myself for not being able to deal with them, but at the time I just don't have the brain power to deal.

The regular Sunday morning instructor, Julie, keeps her Beginner 2 class at an easier level and reserves the more complicated sequences for her Advanced Beginner classes. This gives me a chance to focus on details rather than struggling to remember sequences. So there is something to be said about taking the Sunday class rather than Saturday.

Except this summer, which has been designated "The Summer of Susan".

I'm not sure why, but it seems like Susan is teaching all the classes. I sign in for a class and the desk clerk says, "Susan is substituting". There's no escaping her. Maybe she's been cloned. Or been given a Time Turner.

It may be that Julie wanted time off. Or Susan is feeling the pinch of having to buy a car on short notice after a tree fell on her (parked) car after a heavy rain. I can't imagine what this must be doing to her social life.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Adult Repertoire Class at MYB

I spotted this announcement at the Maryland Youth Ballet this weekend:

This is pretty close to what I've been asking for: a chance for adults to be involved in more than just random technique classes. It's not intended to lead to performances, but it's just shy of that.

From my perspective, the only problem is that it's for Intermediate and up. I haven't taken even Advanced Beginner in several years. I spoke with Jeff, who will be leading the class, and he encouraged me to observe the first class or two. Now I have some thinking to do.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

I took my car to a mechanic, and...

Ever take your car to a mechanic because it's making an annoying noise, only to find it won't make the noise when the mechanic is listening? I just had the dance equivalent happen.

But first I'm going to whine about aches and pains for a few paragraphs.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Instructor improvement

I didn't get to class at all last week. I was busy all weekend, but told myself I'd get to class Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Tuesday evening we had such violent storms that the power went out, a rare occurrence in my neighborhood, and I chose to stay indoors. Later I found out that the storm was so localized that the studio 20 miles away didn't even get rain. I was still planning on attending Thursday when I received an email saying that studio would be closed. Bummer. This weekend I again had other commitments.

So I was determined to go this Tuesday evening, and I did. Unusually congested traffic ate up all my warm-up time, and I didn't get into the classroom until half way through the instructions for the first exercise. Our regular instructor was out and another was substituting.

I've taken classes from this substitute instructor before, and had not been impressed. Not that her class was horrible, but it wasn't something I'd look forward to. Since I don't think I could explain what I didn't like about her previous classes I don't know how to explain how this one was different, but it was much better. She had the exercises planned and written out. They were a bit of a mental challenge, but not impossibly difficult and they seemed to be designed with a purpose. I also liked the way she gave feedback on the problems she observed. Overall I was quite impressed with her improvement as an instructor, and I complimented her after class.

As for myself, having been out of the studio for far a couple of weeks I found myself fighting cramps in my calf muscles and feet. In fact, I'm still quite sore two days later. I managed to get through most of the class, skipping the jumps and petit allegro, but rejoining for grand allegro. There were three other men in the class, and quite by accident three of us ended up doing grand allegro together. I wish I had the ability to watch in the mirror while doing the exercise because I'd really love to have been able to see it.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Generational divides

The instructor for my Thursday evening ballet class has found new recorded music. Most of the recorded music used in ballet classes is nondescript, sometimes taken from famous ballets. This, though, is a collection of modern, popular music played on a piano without vocals. It's become something of a game to see who can name the original artist and the title.

For example, last night we heard "Material Girl" by Madonna and "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon, among others. I can name most of them, though if the combination we're doing requires focus I'm less likely to be able to recognize the music.

The funny thing is to watch the older students react to familiar music while the younger ones show no signs of recognition. For example, a week or two ago we heard the title track from the movie "Fame" by Irene Cara. The instructor said this music was significant to her because it led her to pursue dance as a career. Not only did the younger folk not recognize the music, but they had never heard of it or the movie it came from. Not totally surprising, given that many of them were born a dozen years or more after the movie's release.

This weekend my other regular instructor got into the act. She was providing feedback on some centre combination we were doing when she announced, "You have to stick your landings. Just like Nadia Comaneci!" The younger folk showed no recognition of this name. Not terribly surprising, given that Nadia was an outstanding gymnast in the 1976 Summer Olympics. I remember the '76 Olympics -- I tried speedskating for a brief period as a result -- but I was 15 at the time. Nadia retired from competition before many of these students were born.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Flattery will get you... everywhere?

I've been getting to at least one class a week, most often two, over the last month. Last weekend I had other commitments Saturday morning so I went to the Sunday Beginner 2 class instead. This is the true Beginner 2 class, rather than the Saturday Beginner 2.75 class I usually attend. The result is that the sequences are short and relatively easy to remember, which allows me to focus on technique.

Sometimes I have my...differences...with this instructor. Last weekend she directed what I consider a rather obnoxious comment toward me, though I'll write it off as a rather poor attempt at humor and not anything malicious. Fortunately I'm not in this class because of her charming wit or personality, but rather because she's quite an excellent ballet instructor and that forgives many sins.

Case in point. She made an observation to another student regarding how the working leg and foot should be placed for a pirouette. I always listen to her comments, regardless of whether they're directed to me or not, and I tried to apply the comment to my own technique. It made an immediate improvement in my turns en dehor.

On the other hand, she never believes that my legs are actually straight when they are. Bent legs when they're supposed to be straight are a big deal to her, and she can spot bent knees through skirts and sweatpants. She came over and tickled the back of my knee -- not poked, not prodded, just lightly tickled -- saying I needed to make sure it was straight. My knees don't get any straighter than they were at that moment, and the tights I was wearing hid nothing. But it's better than being ignored.

This morning it was pouring rain (again), and many students were still trickling in when it was time for class to start. She was explaining to another very new student that this class was much simpler than some of the other Beginner 2 classes, though some of the students took both this and the Advanced Beginner class that followed so she shouldn't judge herself in comparison with others. I commented on the pirouette advice that I'd found so helpful last week. She seemed very pleased by this.

Later, during barre, she took a position at the barre I was using, facing me, and gave suggestions on my pliés. At first I thought she was speaking to the woman on the other side of the barre, but then I realized she was speaking to me. I have to admit that because of this I really have no idea what correction she was trying to make, but I'm happy she did it anyway. It's been my observation that students in her class fall into one of two categories: those who are likely to benefit from receiving corrections and those who probably will not. Understandably it's those in the first group who get most of her attention.

As I look back on this morning's class, it occurs to me that the only turns we did were the detournés at the barre as we switched sides. No pirouettes, no waltz turns, nothing. Very unusual, even for this class. I recall hearing her tell one of the newbies that she had planned a different class, but the presence of several new and inexperienced students caused her to revise her plan. I guess that's why.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The stigma of being a boy in ballet

Pointe Magazine has posted a blog article about an upcoming feature-length documentary called Danseur that addresses the stigma of being a boy in ballet.

From the Pointe article:
The documentary is the brainchild of director Scott Gormley. "I have a son who is a dancer, so I watched what he went through," he told Pointe last week. "I thought, is this typical?" After doing some research and talking to other parents and dancers, he realized that cruel and relentless teasing, along with social isolation and disapproval from peers and adults, was all too common. "It just felt like a message that had to be broadcast. My goal with the film is to educate people about the subject and hopefully start some conversations about what young men face when they choose to dance."
There's no date for a theatrical release yet. If I hear of one I'll mention it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Paying for it

Tuesday evening before class I was chatting with our instructor. I mentioned that it'd been a week since I'd been in class, and I'd probably end up paying for my sporadic attendance. She disagreed. I have a suspicion that she thought I was saying that'd she'd make me pay, but that's not what I meant at all.

Yesterday my calf muscles were a little bit sore but not horrible. I started thinking I would escape relatively unscathed. But when I got out of bed this morning I could barely get my feet flat on the floor, and going down the stairs was almost comical. I really should know better by now.

The question of the day is now whether I should go to class this evening. On the plus side it'll definitely help stretch things back out, but will that make the aches go away faster or prolong them?

Tune in tomorrow for an update!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Aaaah... CHOO!

A week ago Thursday I went back to class, being careful not to overdo the arching of my back. Everything seemed fine, and I participated in all activities. I had a wee bit of trouble translating the grand allegro from one side to the other, but that's nothing new.

Saturday's class also went pretty well. I skipped the jump warmup, but otherwise did all the exercises. One of them has been giving me fits for weeks. It's another one of those twisty sequences that changes with every measure: 3 petite jetes, 1 glissade; 2 petite jetes, 1 glissade, 1 petite jete; 1 glissade, 1 assemble, 1 petite jete, 1 assemble; sous-sou. Repeat to the other side. Every class I've gotten further through the sequence before I screwed it up; this time I got through the whole sequence only a little bit behind the music, but screwed it up when we did it again. Oh well, little improvements are better than no improvements at all.

One of the announcements Susan made was that the woman who has run the Adult Weekend Workshop for the last few years is moving and won't be running it this year, and Susan has been asked to take it over. This is both interesting and scary. I haven't decided whether I'm going to sign up because it's interesting, or opt for personal preservation. There isn't a date set yet, but the last few years it's been in June.

Tuesday I was busy at work and skipped class, rationalizing that I'd be in class Thursday. Thursday I had every intention to go to class, and even had my dance bag in the car, but I got hit by allergies and was sneezing so badly that I reluctantly went home and dosed myself with Benadryl.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cambré -- pop!

means "arched" in French. "Pop" is the sound my back makes when I arch too much.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I hate this ballet. It makes me cry.

I just saw The Washington Ballet's performance of John Cranko's "Romeo and Juliet". Damned bastards made me cry. But I'll never admit it.

Of course I've read Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and seen it performed on stage. I saw the San Francisco Ballet's production in November of 2012. (How has it been FIVE years?) I hadn't seen Cranko's version though.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

It's all in the shoes

Hey! I made it through an entire class tonight!

Well, almost all of it, but I did stay through to the end. I couldn't figure out the sequence of steps in the next-to-last exercise, and I skipped the jump "warm-up". But I did mostly get the petite allegro sequence, unlike about half the class. If we'd done it a few more times I think I would have been able to do it at speed rather than lagging just slightly behind the music.

Three students were wearing pointe shoes during barre, and two of them did the entire class wearing them. This is is becoming pretty common, where before this past fall it would be a rarity to have anyone. But that's not the reason for the title of this post.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Improving, but not 100% yet

 I had this idea that after two weeks recovery time from a one week illness, I'd be back to normal. Apparently I'm wrong.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Caught you peeking

After being sick for a full week and spending a second recovering, I ventured forth to class yesterday morning.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Missing a bunch of classes

That sinus infection really packed a punch. After a full week in bed I went back to work Tuesday, but I've really been dragging.

I last went to ballet class Jan 20th and felt fine. Monday the 22nd I started feeling sick and missed class on the 23rd, in hopes that taking it easy would speed my recovery from what I thought was the flu. The antibiotics kicked in sometime early Monday morning and I haven't had a fever since, but I still have some minor lingering symptoms.

I'd kinda set my sights on class tonight. Last night I was so tired after work I decided that even attempting a class tonight would be a bad idea. I didn't even pack my dance bag this morning.

I'm hopeful that I can go to class Saturday, but I'll bail on that idea if I'm not really ready. There's always Sunday, or the following Tuesday. No point in setting my recovery back by overexerting myself.

But that doesn't make me happy.

Friday, January 26, 2018

When is it a "good" time to be sick?

Monday started like any other Monday. Well, except for the government shutdown. Rather than go into the office only to be sent to work offsite at noon, I chose to work from home from the outset. I hadn't felt all that great on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon I recognized that I'd caught some sort of bug.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Dancing my shoes off

In general I've really been liking my new slippers. Last night was an exception.

The weather here has been a bit strange, to put it mildly. We had record cold for a couple of weeks, but this week the temperatures started to rise. Last Sunday the low temp was +1F (-17C), while it's currently +68F (+20C). The forecast for us to go back to deep freeze this weekend, dropping to +14F (-10C) by Sunday morning.

With the rising temps has come rising humidity -- near 100% right now -- but the air handlers in the studios are set for winter operation, which means increasing the humidity rather than lowering it.. This has made the floors stickier than usual. During a turn the suede pad under my forefoot sticks to the floor, causing my shoe to twist. My old shoes did this somewhat too, but being non-stretchy the amount they can twist has been limited. These shoes, on the other hand, happily stretch enough to be a problem.

I still have my old Romeo slippers in my bag, and the hole in them isn't big enough to cause real problems. I'm thinking I may want to wear them tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Port de Paws

There was a moment last night when one of the students confused "pause" for "paws". As in hands. Hilarity ensued.