About Me

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

Well, I am going for a swim at the gym before they close early today.  It's a warm, rainy day in Chicago and I am all wet from walking in the rain already.  I came from ballet class with a better sense of form from taking class with the artistic director at Joffrey Academy all week.  After being in such a class, going back to a normal technique class is just not the same, but I will try to remember the passion and why I dance.

So, during class, I concentrated on becoming loose and extending myself, which I learned from the artistic director at Joffrey Academy.  You never want to pinch your movements, he said, showing how to extend the arm or move through the space you have.  So, working this way, I found it harder to control my appendages, namely, my feet, because I was thinking more of pulling myself out of my body.  So now my body feels great and I don't feel pinched in the waistline like I normally do.  Mostly, I need to find a more natural turnout and then the pinch would really disappear...

So we did a classical barre and the teacher commented on the same thing I was thinking, to find your stance and move naturally to a balance.  No force.  Force, yes, but there is a balance...hard to explain.  The hardest thing for me is to find balance in a pose where you must let go of the barre, such as doing frappes on demi-toe without holding on.  I find my middle moving more than my legs, it seems.  Part of it is fear, too, and lack of trust, as the teacher said.  All the teachers always say you can really do these things...

1. Plies in 1st, port de bras front and back; plies in 2nd, port de bras side; plies in 4th, port de bras side and back; plies in 5th, port de bras back.
2. Tendus front through foot, strike heel to ground; en croix.
3. Tendus to 5th with demi-plies en croix.
4. Ronde jambes with fondu attitudes extend.
5. Fondus en croix with developpe seconde to ronde jambes en l'air.
6. The infamous frappes!
7. Tendus and degages en croix; face center and pique arabesque and hold!
8. Barre stretches croise, seconde, arabesque, penche down and grab opposite foot to attitude stretch.
9. Developpes with grand ronde jambe to arabesque; also developpe seconde and cambre to barre, fouette attitude, extend to arabesque while letting go of barre.
10. Grand battements -- think of using just your foot, not the leg, for a lighter effect.

Since it has stopped raining, I will walk to the gym, although it is nice and cozy here in the bookstore cafe with my skinny caramel latte and peanut butter Cliff Bar and a book on stretching I am browsing...

The gym was pretty deserted, so I had a good swim and now I am home, just relaxing and thinking ballerina dreams...The Real Black Swan

1. Tendu croise, seconde, efface, seconde; developpe croise, seconde, fouette to ecarte, promenade arabesque, penche, releve faille, pas de bourre en tournant, pirouettes.
2. Pirouettes in 5th 3x, end in developpe a la seconde; repeat sides.
3. Glissade jete pas de chat pas de bourre, temps de cuisse, beats.
4. Releve attitude, chasse tour jete, tour fouette, jete developpe seconde, contretemps pique arabesque tour jete, chasse pas de bourre grand jete.

I feel restless when I am still; that is why I need and love to dance, because it is a way to occupy my time and use myself with abandon.  As the teacher said today, there are not many times in life where you can feel yourself moving in time and experiencing the moment fully.  Yes, it is like an addiction, but, since my resolution is to be real from now on, I must go on to other things.  As another dear teacher said who is no longer with us, what you learn in life will be applied to your dancing.  I believe every artist needs to be well rounded, as did Diaghilev, who made his dancers look at paintings and art.  Also, they say a great blues singer must experience pain in order to feel a song, or, as a French friend said, life is suffering and pain, not always a happy face.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Eve

I attended the last class with the artistic director at Joffrey Academy.  We were in Studio A upstairs again, where the Joffrey dancers take class and there was actually a dancer from the Joffrey Ballet in our class today.  I saw him in the elevator and didn't realize he would be in class; then, when I walked into the room, looking for a spot at barre, there was an empty space behind him, so I boldly went there.  He asked me if I wanted him to pull out a barre and I said that maybe I could learn something by standing behind him.  I found a foot stretching slab of wood on the floor and, sticking my toes into the strap, tried to stretch my entire leg taut, remarking to him that, this was as far as my foot would go.  But, after doing my elastic band stretches, I tried the stretcher again and somehow my arch popped up more.  I am inventive that way in class...

The teacher walked in and started to show the first combination, which we always did facing the barre.  I have taken to marking the combinations with him, moving when he does, to feel the movements.  It is one thing to know the movements and another thing to do them well and so I always try to imitate dancers who are more experienced and trained than I am.  So we did tendu side, plie touch working heel to ground,  tendus to the side, then tendus en croix bringing foot in a wrap to 5th.  Then we started class...

I noticed how the Joffrey dancer would often let go of the barre and move his arms with the leg movements.  Of course, he made no mistakes following the teacher at barre, or in center as I saw later.  And, he was bold and really moved, not a shrinking violet like me.  That's part of my problem, like the problem the dancer in Black Swan has, being more confident -- the director character in the movie told her to stop being so cowardly.  Insecure or not, you become what you do, I think.

Well, the class was the usual, with plies, tendus, ronde jambes, etc.  There was one nice combination where we did 3 degages front, 3 side, then bring inside leg in front and start from back.  Also, we did a temps lie movement in fondus.  Fondu front, step, temps lie, fondu back, temps lie, double fondu side, ronde jambes en l'air, passe to attitude, plie around and extend leg to fondu arabesque, then balance in passe.  We did en cloche legs with pique front, side, front, then to back, then fondu developpe into passe into fondu developpe the other way, developpe ecarte and flic foot derrierre and balance on demi toe.  We did plie push arch of foot, tendus side, same with inside leg, to plie and repeat.  We did beats with fondu to efface, to efface derrierre, to side, then demi toe and beat around the ankle.  Finally, there were grand battements:  face efface at barre, tendu, degage, battement, repeat efface derrierre in arabesques, then side battements.  We also did a combination with tendus to plie to detourne, then tendu inside leg back, soutenu, etc.

I went dutifully to drink some water and returned and the teacher promptly began showing the first center combination.  It was similar to what we had previously done in that it started with fondu croise, rotate to step derrierre with opposite arm, then back to front with developpe a la seconde, fouette to arabesque, promenade dehors in arabesque to fondu croise front, 2 glissades to renverse pas de bourre en tournant, pirouettes.  Then we did a similar tendu center combination:  tendus croise front 3x, back 3x, degages to side in 1st position, pas de bourre over and under with picked up feet which the director likes to do, into pirouettes.  We also did another pirouette combination where the teacher said to lean backwards as we developped into efface on demi toe and then did tombe pas de bourre into pirouettes en dehors.

We did a combination where we went to 5th position sou sou and then developped the leg to seconde while on demi toe into tombe pas de bourre pirouettes en dedans.  The teacher emphasized that when we do movements like this from fondu to developpe to move the head into the movement in order to keep a better balance.  There is a lot of torso movement like this in this teacher's class and the Joffrey dancer I saw today also said that this teacher does this all the time.  I think it's a nice feeling moving the body this way, instead of just feeling like your center is a dead fish.  The center is your core, but it is an interesting concept to move your core as well as your head and arms and not just the legs.  The legs do the work, but the rest of the body is important, too, in terms of muscular sensations.

I thought, watching these dancers who really moved in class so that it was hard for me to find my space in which to move, I will never really be a true dancer like this because I enjoy using muscular concepts too much.  I will always think of ballet as athletic, not just being in pretty poses and so I struggle to look feminine in dance class.  I was never the girly girl, but there is a place for dancers like me, too.  Why not?  I just need to be bold enough to stand by my convictions.  One thing I learned in class today, I can't stop myself to scrutinize my looks.  I need to feel freedom or I will cramp up and retreat into myself...

Well, it is almost time for restorative yoga class at the gym.  I missed going to the gym yesterday and today I was not quite as strong in class, but more of that later...

Restorative yoga was just what I needed.  We laid our heads on blocks and also placed yoga blocks under our middle back, to open our chest.  Then we did the standard yoga poses, downward dog, cobra, forward bends, but mostly we just relaxed into the yoga blocks.  Then I went for a brief swim -- I just had to -- emerged, and still wet, towel over my head, went to Pilates, which was difficult for me because there were a lot of positions where the legs were in 45 degree angles from the floor and it felt hard on my hip flexors.  Afterwards I asked the teacher if more reformer work would open up these deep areas, since on the reformer you have the machine as a brace.  It is interesting how machines can help you, I thought, after my experience with yoga today.  All the standard Pilates exercises done, I went home and almost fell asleep watching television with my kitten.

But the program was too interesting, so I ate a chocolate nut protein bar, something new I found at Trader Joe's today, because nuts are good for the brain and help you think, so I was jolted into a state of half-sleep to watch a BBC program about the history of Paris.  The hostess was a kind of intellectual student type of person, just the kind of person I like.  She spoke about the royals and how chocolate and cafes and fashion came into existence centuries ago when foreigners would travel to Paris for these things.  I learned that Marie Antionette was the first super model and her pictures illustrated the current fashion vogue.

Also, we visited with her the Bastille and all the famous historic places, including a Paris bar that had an actual guillotine, a small but deadly device.  Then she spoke of the old French intellectuals like Robespierre and the Rein of Terror and we saw the coffins with the remains of Louis XIV and other kings.  Then she spoke of the original Bohemians, thinkers who would get together in cafes and discuss culture and art and we visited the first cafe that existed in Paris.  This cafe culture was later adopted by the Paris students and we saw the Sorbonne and heard some students talking in French about philosophy.  I thought, I would love to be there in a cafe right now.  I love cafes and drinking coffee and thinking about intellectual things.

The program concluded with the modernization of Paris and the struggles of the poor, who live in tenements on the outskirts where there have been riots because these people feel slighted by the other well-to-do Parisians.  The hostess said Parisians will continue to be rebellious and avant-garde because that is what makes Paris stay vital and new.  It was nice to see camera views of Paris throughout, and I almost felt like I was there vicariously.  I love to watch programs like this that entertain and educate at the same time.

I know I am still being a thinker and not facing reality.  I want what she said in French in the show about having your butter and bread, to have my cake and eat it, too.  It is hard to stay real and still be imaginative, but it will come...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday - Let yourself go

Today I went to see the Black Swan movie with my sister.  It's her birthday and I bought her a bouquet of lavender roses and had it gift-wrapped nicely.  We stopped to eat and then saw the movie about the toll obsession can take.  At the end, my sister said, you can't let obsession do that.  I admire my sister because she has a lot of self-control, whereas I tend to be more emotional.

I could identify with this movie and the character.  While it is good to immerse yourself in something you love, you must also face reality.  I am not going to give this movie away, like I did the last movie I described, because it is so popular.  You will have to see it yourself; but, I can say that this dancer paid a high price for perfection.  The director of her company kept saying to let go of the technique and stop pretending, something I hear a lot, too!

After taking another ballet class at Joffrey Academy this morning, you would think I would want to think of something else, but my sister wanted to see the movie and she asked me questions, like, when the dancer put her feet in the rosin box, what's that -- or, when she was banging up her pointe shoes, what's she doing.  Technically, the dancing was okay, but I would rather see Makarova dancing this role, not an actress, although the acting was impressive and I really believed the character.

So, you wonder, why do I take class and work out when I should be thinking about more practical things?  Well, since I lost my job of 13 years and, although I have a job of sorts, it's hard to find better work, I feel that now is my time.  Like in the movie, now is my time...although my resolution for New Year will be to be more realistic and after watching this movie, I saw what can happen if you're not realistic about your goals.

So, this morning in class, we started with slow tendus and cou de pieds facing barre, then onto plies, cambres, ronde jambes, beats, developpes, battements, balances and the artistic director, who has been teaching this class all week, even approached me at barre and corrected me today, telling me to keep my heels forward and stop looking at the floor.  I thought it was nice that he was considering me as someone worthy of improvement in this class of want-to-be dancers.

In center we did a variation on our usual adagio and it was not as straightforward and so it's hard to describe.  It was something like tendu fondu forward, detourne, step arabesque and passe through to developpe efface, then developpe a la seconde and then rotate to arabesque, promenade, step to turns en dedans, chasse pose foward.  It is still hard for me to understand these torso changes in this class, especially when we got to the last combination.

This was pique arabesque, fouette, fouette again, developpe croise to grand jete.  Straightforward enough, but I remarked to another girl that I had forgotten the mechanics of fouette, because my torso was not turning the same way as the other dancers.  Also, when the teacher said, let's move and we did temps leve arabesque, faille, detourne, temps leve arabesque to other side, I struggled with directions again...something to work on as usual, my movement quality.  I am great at static poses but lose it when I have to cover the floor.

So, tomorrow I will go back again for the last class with this great teacher and try to understand how to use my torso.  It will probably be the last time he will be my teacher so the expense will be worth it.  Moving the torso is very important and since I know I cannot give up ballet, it will improve my dancing, as will the gym classes I am taking.  The gym is always a place I can relax and experiment with what I am learning from dance.  It is the space I go to as a non-dancer, although dancing will always be special to me...

Watching the movie, I thought the artistic director in it resembled my current teacher, a sure sign I have been taking this class too long, although I love dancing for people like this who want to draw out what is inside of you.  You are your worst enemy, forget the technique, too stiff, let it go, do it again...yes!!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sleepy Tuesday...

I woke up late so I missed taking class with Mike but then I found out he wasn't teaching anyway and so I headed to Joffrey Academy.  I'm glad I saved my money for this class.  We were so packed in our usual studio that Alexei, the artistic director, led us upstairs to the more spacious studios used by the Joffrey Ballet.  We were in a huge room with a plaque with Gerald Arpino's name on it.  He was the co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet and later became artistic director when Robert Joffrey died.

We started class facing the barre as usual, doing slow tendus and releves and port de bras.  Then we did the customary class, starting with demi-plies and grand plies in all positions.  Then we did tendus with plies en croix in all positions, followed by degages and then ronde jambes with developpe passe extensions.  Throughout, I tried to listen to the artistic director's corrections more than I had in previous classes.  He stressed how to hold the arms and head, inclining the head along the arms.  Also, he said to open the back and not tilt the pelvis back.  Significantly, today he stressed that the body weight should always be centered and not to sway away from this vertical balance and stance.  The arms and legs will move, he indicated, but it is always within the body's center of weight.

We continued barre with fondus and developpes and extensions.  The teacher mentioned that the ballonne poses we did should have the incline of the body and holding the arms in second position.  We did not do frappes today but we did beats around the ankles and then a balance.  We did a lot of steps in cou de pied today and this was carried into center.  Often, a teacher will give barre combintions that have a reference to the center's activities of the day.  We completed barre with grand battements:  tendu, degage, grand battements, en croix and then the teacher told us to stretch.

I hastily put my dance bag into a corner while he demonstrated the first center exercise, which was the same as the previous class adagio step:  tendu fondu croise, head under 5th position arm, temps leve to tendu fondu croise derrierre; close 5th position, lift other leg to arabesque and bring through passe into developpe efface; 5th position, developpe ecarte, passe, attitude promenade with one hand on hip.  Here the teacher said to keep the shoulders down so you feel the balance of the stance.  Then, coupe renverse, pas de bourre en tournant, glissades with character arms, to pirouette(s).

Next combination was tendus croise front and back, with pirouettes from 5th position, dehors and dedans.  We then did a combination with attitude turns:  pique arabesque, faille, step attitude turn en dehors, land in 4th, pique arabesque, soutenu, pirouettes.

After this were jumps:  jumps in 1st position, echappes, jump twice in 2nd position with trois beats to end.  We did the tricky combination with brises again:  changements, brises vole with assembles instead of the chasses forward and back which confused me last time!  So we proceeded to the Polonaise in A flat echappes with sissonnes followed by saute ronde jambes en l'air, glissade derrierre coupe back, assemble devant.

Then was the grand allegro:  pique arabesque coupe passe chasse grand jete, pique arabesque fouette, fouette again, pique arabesque, chasse pas de bourre glissade grand jete, contretemps pique arabesque step, balance with leg in cou de pied, one hand on hip again, other arm 5th position en haute.  We ended class with a cool reverence:  demi-plie sweep arms behind back a la dying swan, swoop arms up through 5th position, swoop down, step, courtsey.  Everyone bowed to the teacher.  I will take this class again tomorrow!

So I went home, made a sandwich and then went to my favorite bookstore, where I found a Latin calendar at half price.  Felix annus novus!  I love Latin...then I went to yoga class.  We did sun salutations:  raise arms overhead, dive down to touch floor, get to downward facing dog, down to cobra, bring right leg forward into lunge, bring other leg to meet, stand up; repeat.  Oh, first we did breathing exercises where you blow in and out while closing your nostril with your fingers.  So we proceeded to triangle pose:  stand sideways, bring right foot parallel and left foot at angle but keeping hips square, bend down to bring chest over front leg.  Then triangle:  lean into hip, bring hand down to floor, other hand raised overhead.  Then we sat and, crossed legged, we stretched chest down to floor.  Then into corpse pose...then to Pilates, after soaking in the steam room and whirlpool, and running laps in the pool.

In the pool, I tried to do the combinations I had learned in ballet class:  pique arabesque, faille, developpe seconde, passe to fondu efface, promenade attitude (that was fun) but I had to quit to get to Pilates class.  Pilates was hard!  Placing the magic circle between our knees, we pressed our legs in and out while in a bridge pose.  We did the side leg series while holding onto the magic circle, trying to bring the leg up and then swinging it over to touch the floor.  While in plank position, we brought knee to chest, also, we slid back and forth in plank.  Then, standing, we placed the magic circle between our ankles and, lifting the right foot and balancing on the left, we squeezed the magic circle; then we circled our right foot forward and squeezed it, then we swung the leg behind us and squeezed the circle, all the time balancing and not moving on the supporting side.  I did it!  Then we placed the magic circle on our waist and squeezed the arm into it, then behind our heads, then behind us, squeezing the magic circle.  Then we balanced on our toes and class was over.  I'm wasted, I remarked to a guy in class...

On the way home, I stopped at the bookstore to finish reading the article in Psychology Today magazine about beauty.  Beauty is equated with being a better person, somehow.  Beautiful people are more successful.  However, it should be kept in proportion so that it is not beautiful to look painted or resort to plastic surgery when obsessing over how we look.  The article concluded, beauty comes from within, yes, but don't forget the lipstick, girls.  Yes, I thought, striving for beauty is a good thing, as long as it is pursued in a healthy fashion.  Time for bed after a chocolate protein bar.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday and Christmas lingers...

I am a winter baby and I feel that, when subjected to extreme condition, I truly find myself.  Now, stretching after a Pilates class followed by a swim, I feel so...human.  As I stretched in the steam room, mimmicking curling like a ball a la Pilates, I thought, this is how embryos start, how humans are formed.  They are curled into this round shape.  Ballet is full of round shapes.  It is this stiff computer position that modern man has assumed that is the root of all physical problems...

The Pilates teacher today said that proper posture is the key and this creates less tension to the joints.  To the muscles, too, I feel.  I spoke to the teacher after class about my tight left shoulder and she gave me some exercises to do:  take a yoga strap and hold it with your hands behind your back and do a backbend, starting with the head, not the lower back.  Like a back dive, I remarked.  Also, back against a wall with arms bend overhead, begin to "walk" down the wall with your hands.  See how far your back will bend.  Also, hold your elbows behind your back and move the shoulders out as far as they will go.  I said it's all stress and she said it is the stress we put on ourselves.  Still, it is a strong person who can resist the goings of the world and be so disciplined.  Funny, but in a ballet class last week, when everyone followed a barre combination and consequently everyone did it wrong, the teacher said, you are all afraid to trust yourselves...

Wrapped in a ball shape, curl your abdomen into yourself and feel how stretched and less tense your back becomes.  There are shapes your body needs to make, not just walk like a robot....well, yoga class later will be my chance to make more healthy shapes.  I will forego ballet today because my budget will not allow.  Thank goodness you go to the gym, the Pilates teacher said.  Maybe I will try a barre by myself today, which I have done during past Christmases, when ballet classes were not to be found.

The day has merged into night.  Last night I stayed up late to watch Jane Eyre on PBS TV, but could not manage to see the end.  It is a masterpiece book about a governess and her employer who become drawn to each other, even though she is not of his society.  Well, tonight, I am at the bookstore now, waiting for yoga class, reading magazines.  There is an interesting article in the winter 2010 Dance International about Degas.

Degas lived in the Montmartre district of Paris surrounded by artists such as Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh.  He was close friends with Manet.  What a place to be!  The area itself was a mix of the rich and the poor and a not-so-nice place to be, but the art world flourished.  Degas was interested in capturing movement on canvas, "a snapshot of a moment in time," the article, Ballet and Brushstrokes, goes on to say...in the article, Degas is quoted as saying, "People call me the painter of dancers, but I really wish to capture movement itself."  How interesting that I have been thinking about the same thing today, movement...the last paragraph was especially intriguing:
"Degas saw the ballet dancer in all her working glory, not the glamour of make-believe.  He gained an appreciation for ballet as a career, which required years of endless practice and dedication, much like his work as an artist.  Having devoted more than half his oeuvre to ballet, Degas reveals the hidden life of a dancer in 19th-century Paris.  Each painting is a portrait, an artist's memory frozen in time."
Well, it's almost time to try to do my own barre before yoga...plie, tendu, degage, ronde jambe, fondu, frappe, battements.  Then maybe some turns and jumps...hmmm...interesting article about beauty in Psychology Today magazine.  If people think the quest for intelligence is admirable, why don't they feel the same way about the quest for beauty?  I have been in the bookstore too long!

Now I am home after taking another Pilates class and then the yoga class with Noah right after.  On the way home, I felt like a different person, actually enjoying the cold winter air.  I feel more powerful than I did last winter.  I am watching a fascinating program about the pianist Glenn Gould and how he was so artistic but lonely.  I can imagine how, after giving everything to music, life would seem empty as a result.  "My favorite motto has been that behind every silver lining is a cloud."

Yet he found joy in clowning around, like singing a German art song to elephants at a zoo.  He wanted to live on a farm with a soprano he had met and raise puppies.  He many films of himself dressed in outrageous clothes, portraying outrageous characters, like sitting on an empty beach dressed in an overcoat, hat, gloves, glasses, and just sitting there.  He died, finally, at the age of 50 after having many strokes.  He lived for his art.

I enjoy so much reading about artists, especially when I can get glimpses into their character.  Artists are my superheroes, bigger than life.  I wish they would be appreciated more for all they do for the betterment of all; they are so often underrated.  In the show, I learned that Mr. Gould's approach to the classics was to bring them out of their jaded existence by rendering new interpretations.  He absorbed music internally so much that he gave it new life.  I love art and always will.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day)

St. Stephen is the patron saint of the Republic of Serbia.  It is also known as Boxing Day, when the poorer classes would get gifts in common boxes.  So, with all the trappings of Christmas, I am reminded to be humble and devoted to the true symbolism of this wonderful holiday.

I attended ballet class at Joffrey Academy again, a master class taught by the artistic director.  Actually, while stopping for coffee nearby, I saw him walk by through the window.  Even in ordinary clothes, he looked commanding.  So I walked out, drawn to the piper, on to class...

Many of the movements were the same as last week and now I am getting used to this style of dance where there is epaulment and pure structure.  We started class facing the barre, tendu front, turn leg in and out, demi-plie; repeat en croix.  Then port de bras sideways, and, holding the barre, cambres back.  Now when I see myself cambre back in the mirror, I see that the arch of the spine begins in the mid-back, as another one of my teachers stresses; otherwise, the shoulders and head look awkward.

We did plies at barre with sweeping arm movements; look under the arm, arabesque arm, with lots of balances.  I liked one combination where, after tendus, you degage the leg forward and then envelope it back around the ankle of the supporting foot.  The teacher stood by the pianist and I noticed his stance, and the way he held the barre -- it all seemed so natural.  Even his turnout looked natural, something I still struggle with.  How to look natural while working the turnout.  You don't want to look stiff or mechanical. Ballet should flow as graciously as this teacher's arm movements.

I marked the combinations and paid attention to detail, as I was in my now usual spot at the front of the barre, away from the mirrors I do not like to look into.  Sometimes I feel I am too "sporty" in class -- I often stop to stretch my hip or shoulders, etc., instead of looking "classical" like the other students who obediently stand and watch the combinations and do not mark.  At Christmas supper, my sister remarked that I was so rebellious when I was young, never wanting to conform but doing things my way.  Maybe I need to be more complaint -- for instance, in one combination where we did an attitude type of movement en croix, I marked it and felt the movements but, when it came to repeat the combination, I did not know their sequence!  As they say, a dancer must do what he is told.

It's just that the movements of ballet all feel so special to me that I must feel them in my bones and not just spit them out like a computer.  Well, we continued with fondus, and after this combination, the teacher said to make sure to plie with both legs, and I thought, if I have a class with him again, I will pay more attention to these corrections, too, and not just digress into my head...but dance stimulates the brain, too...

So we did ronde jambes and frappes and, oh, when we tried frappes on demi-toe, I actually could let go of the barre and balance while doing frappes -- something Thursday's teacher always likes to do.  I just felt light in my torso and somehow the balance just happens.  We did developpes, and I still struggle with developpe arabesque, because my back is too tight.

In center, I noticed this, too, during the last combination where we did a pique arabesque after jumping around.  I saw in the mirror that my supporting leg was bent, but only on the left side, my weak side.  I remarked about this to another student I knew and she said she has noticed a lot of dancers are having trouble with their left sides lately.  I said it was because it is not our dominant side and when you get into a hard class, if you lack strength, you will collapse on your weak side.  Something I have learned from physical therapy.

The center was the best ever, maybe because I am getting used to the style of the class.  We started with step fondu tendu back, temps leve forward, developpe first arabesque, passe working leg to efface, developpe leg seconde into attitude, place one arm on supporting hip and promenade around; balance, balance, renverse to fourth position, pirouettes.  The teacher said to really turn the torso in renverse.  I followed him as he did it; he does everything so well with his supple, well-trained body.  Once again, it is truly a joy to attend a class taught by a true master.  This teacher has such a wonderful movement quality, I thought.

We did the usual tendus croise, ecarte, arabesque, fondu efface, soutenu to fourth position, pirouettes.  My pirouettes are getting more solid now that I have attended master classes where the stances are really analyzed and broken down.  Even though I am not the most accomplished dancer and sometimes look very awkward in class, I really benefit from these master lessons.

We did not do very much adagio in this class and proceeded soon to jumping.  We warmed up with jumps in 1st position, echappes, and second position.  Then we did brises with chasses forward and back and this simple chasse threw me off.  I think I need to really work on my movement quality.  This teacher's approach is playful, like children just move and follow each other.  I really enjoy a class where you can just come and dance and have fun like this.

Then we did echappes to sissonne ouverte, to sou sous on both sides.  Finally, we did pique arabesque, coupe, chasse pas de bourre grand jete; pique arabesque, chasse to tour jete; pique arabesque, faille, step, developpe croise, chasse pas de bourre, grand jete to pique second arabesque.  Lots of arabesques in this class!

Then I went dutifully to the gym for my swim, after stopping to buy some fruit and muffins (whole grain with blueberry and raspberry filling), and a protein wafer bar, in case I get hungry later.  The swim was good; I met a man I knew who loves to swim, an adult who was on his local swim team.  He was still swimming when I left the pool to go home.  Now I am home with my kitten, watching a documentary on baby horses who are trying to learn how to move...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day

So ends Christmas Day.  I went to the gym after getting coffee at Starbuck's, the only place open in my neighborhood.  At the gym, I went through my swim drill and then got home to get ready to meet with my family for Christmas supper.

It was the best supper.  We had cornbread, roast lamb, baked sweet potatoes, mashed shredded potatoes and fruit and cookies for dessert, with fresh coffee.  The lamb was the best and I had mine rare, the way I like my meat.  Then we all went to see a movie, "The Fighter."

The movie is about two brothers and how the oldest brother knocked out Sugar Ray but was too old to continue boxing and had developed a bad back.  He taught his younger brother how to fight and his family, which included his mother and 7 daughters, were his managers.  His mother was a shrewd, manipulating businesswoman who was not afraid of anybody.  In comparison, her husband was kind of wimpy.

So the younger brother was knocked up pretty badly in a fight his mother had arranged and, while recovering, dated a bartender who had gone to college, and his sisters thought she was conceited.  The older brother kept getting into trouble and was a crack user.  When he ran out of money to buy drugs, he swindled other people with the help of his girlfriend and when the police caught up with him, he was beat down and, on the way to getting arrested, his younger brother tried to defend him and the police beat him up and broke his hand.

While his hand healed, he went back to his girlfriend, who convinced him to leave his family and get a new manager.  But his mother knew this manager was using her son and, sure enough, during a fight, the younger brother took his older brother's advice to aim for the body, and consequently won the fight.  After this, and after his brother got out of jail, his family got together again and even accepted his girlfriend, the older brother gave up drugs, and the kid was on a role, becoming the new champion of the world.

During this famous fight, the kid was dragging and about to surrender but his older brother, who was coaching him in the ring, gave him a pep talk that now was his time and to give it everything he had learned and trained for.  The kid came around and beat his opponent.  So, as my sister asked, what is the moral of the story?  Never give up, stay sharp mentally, life is a fight and the best fighter wins?  To me, it meant having the courage to do what is inside of you already.  Use your gut, I guess.

Christmas may be over, but the magic stays, I hope...oh, and I'm sorry I gave away the plot!  But it's a good movie, anyway, with good music and good shots of some rough neighborhoods that remind me of places I have known.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Well, I didn't go dancing today -- going to church for Christmas Eve gave such joy.  To see the children all dressed up.  There was a mother there who came in rather late and couldn't find a seat, so she sat on the floor with her daughter.  The cathedral mass is all music and sung responses; I did okay except during Silent Night, which was so quiet and high and my voice cracked, but I'm out of practice.  There were some familiar faces in the choir from my past.  Even though I went to the afternoon vigil, the church was packed.  The Midnight Mass at Holy Name Cathedral is always telecast on WGN, so I will watch it tonight.  The weather is rather nasty and the church is a distance away.  I remember many times when I was in choir, singing with a camera stuck in my face!

But before church, I dutifully went swimming at the gym -- the gym was deserted.  I guess everybody was Christmas shopping.  I have to go now and wrap the presents I bought for my family, since I am seeing them tomorrow.  The pool was cold but I ran some laps and walked sideways and soon I was warm and swimming with the men, who were doing multiple laps.  Then I went to church and now I'm home, waiting for Santa Claus.  Does he arrive at midnight?  If I see him, I'll take a picture for you...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday at the hospital

So today I had a doctor's appointment after waiting almost a month and I will have another one next month, for a physical.  I'm trying to make the most of my insurance money and, since I'm exercising so much, I am curious as to the state of my health.  As they say, do not exercise unless advised by your physician...

I put on the baby blue hospital gown and stared at myself in the mirror while waiting for the doctor.  There is something nice about looking at yourself clinically like this, seeing all your flaws that you try to hide, and you shouldn't.  You should face your flaws, ugly or not, because they are a part of you.  Well, the doctor said I was fine, no worries.  Good, because there is nothing worse than being sick and helpless.  I am thankful that my health has always been relatively good.

Then I walked home and got on the bus for ballet class.  Everything was so busy today, since Christmas starts tomorrow.  I got to the studio an hour early, not wanting to take the chance to take a later bus and be in the rush hour traffic.  So, once settled, I read my emails and answered some phone calls in the dressing room, since the studio room was full of parents working on their MACs while their children were attending class.  No room for me there, either, I thought.  Besides, it was nice to stretch out on the dressing room floor and be alone with my thoughts.

Class was taught by a sub, a regular teacher at this studio that I had not seen in a while because of scheduling conflicts, so I was happy to take her class again.  She is trained in the feldenkrais method and makes you aware of relaxing the muscles and not forcing movements.  She told us to stand in a wide second position and we began the class with plies. She walked around the room to see how everyone was standing and walked past me several times during class, as she had not seen me for a while.  She told us to hold our knees back, and to keep our hips square and not do everything with our dominant side.

We did tendus, degages, ronde jambes, with port de bras.  Then we did her dreaded frappe combination, which was doing frappes on flat, and then, letting go of the barre, doing the same frappes on demi-toe.  I cannot master this but, from all my Pilates training, I can see that this is only possible by holding the core, which is what the teacher said also.  Still, I cannot move my working leg while standing on a supporting leg that is in demi-toe.  My feet are just not strong enough, so I tried letting go of the barre and doing the exercise this way, while letting go of the barre.  Then I tried it on demi-toe but while holding the barre lightly, which is how the barre should always be held, and not gripped, because this does nothing to train your muscles.

I noticed my weaknesses.  Also, another exercise this teacher does is, after a barre combination, to face away from the barre and pique into arabesque and balance.  I cannot do this either, because my back is not flexible enough to form the correct arch in my body.  Therefore, I cannot balance well in arabesque.  I watched a young pretty girl stretching her back before class, doing the Pilates chest raises, and noticed how far she could lift her chest off the floor, effortlessly and with suppleness.  The young children can do this so well.

It is sad that we lose our mobility of our bodies as we age, becoming stiff and awkward.  It shouldn't be so, and part of it is that, as adults, we are stressed by the cares of the world.  A cab driver once told me, the children live like princes.  No worries.  It's sad that life can get us down like this, making our bodies twist painfully.  Sometimes I think we think about everything else in the world and ignore the source, ourselves.  Like the fable about the goose that laid the golden egg...it's not being selfish, it's just being kind to the beautiful life God has given us.

Well, I digress...exercise will make me reflect on all sorts of things.  It actually helps me think and even though sometimes I don't feel like it, it always makes me feel better.  So, back to class...after barre, we did tendus with developpes and the teacher remarked that the ecarte position is not to move back but to move our working side forward.  There is a lot to work on in the working side, which is often ignored.  It is the base from which we elongate into the other movements.

We worked on pirouettes from 5th position, or tour de finis.  The teacher said, stop, you are all looking awful!  She said, plie and turn and when you land, go through 5th position sou sou instead of crashing down and eventually your turns will look better because they are under control.  I also experimented with my arms, moving my shoulders more into the turns.  I have been noticing in my classes that the coordination of the arms and legs is really important, and the regular teacher of this class said this to us the last time he taught -- coordination is everything.

Then we did a nice flowing combination:  balance, balance, really moving the body at angles, releve attitude turn to pose; chasse pas de bourre, pirouettes and repeat to the other side.  Then we did another nice combination:  balance, balance, developpe temps leve to chasse pas de bourre grand jete; contretemps pique arabesque to grand fouette to chainnes, ending in chasse pas de bourre grand jete.  The teacher told us to bring our arms more forward; everybody want to hold their arms behind their bodies.  Also, she told us to put our arms behind our back and run toward her as fast as we could, leading with the chest.  This is how you should move across the floor, she said, with your heart.  Without the heart, there is no dance, she said.

We jumped, starting with 15 changements and the teacher said here to rebound off the floor, which is what the regular teacher told me to think of while jumping.  It's called jumping, this teacher said.  Then we did glissade jete, coupe, ballonne, pas de bourre en tournant step jete entrelace to brises.  The grand allegro was chasse pas de bourre, developpe croise en avant, glissade pas de bourre grand jete, pique arabesque, contretemps pique fouette, step tendu, chainnes to pas de bourre grand jete.  We ended class with a reverence:  step, beat ankles, cambre to pointed foot, repeat other side and then the teacher wished us all a Merry Christmas.

After changing, I walked around the studio, not wanting to leave for Christmas break, watching the other dancers in class.  I was drawn to some dancers doing Irish dancing and watched them for quite a while.  They were being coached by a woman wearing black leggings and a sweat shirt and all the dancers were young teenagers.  There was only one boy.  I was amazed at their footwork...some wore tap shoes and some wore aerobic shoes.  I watched the boy tapping and the way he was dancing through every piece of his feet with such clarity and articulation.  The girls were all very athletic, wearing shorts with bare legs, dancing forward through a kind of 5th position and doing what would be tours and then continuing forward.  The coach said while doing the tours to keep their feet in a 1st position with their legs tight together.  All the girls had well defined calf muscles and were all lean and muscular and toned.  Later I found out they were from the Irish Trinity Dancers!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


So, I slept a little late and got up and magically got to the Joffrey Academy for another class with Alexei Kremnev, Academy Artistic Director.  He will also be teaching class on Sunday at 11:30 am.  I will be eating Subway sandwiches for a while to afford this.  He is a very charming man and great teacher.  He kept saying in class that everyone needed to have more energy and after class he showed some Academy students a drill for this:  run forward for 7 counts, run backwards for 7 counts; run forward for 4 counts, run backward for 4 counts; then forward and back for 2 counts each, then run forward for 7 counts to finish.  The point is to get yourself into the movement and not drag behind.  It is like football, he said, you must get the ball and run with it.

So, after class, while some girls were trying this, I started to do fast glissades in the back of the studio, back and forth.  It is harder turned out, I commented.  But, as for class, Alexei walked in with a shocked look on his face because the room was packed.  I found my old spot by the door again.  I could not see myself during barre but maybe that was a good thing, because I focused more on the work at hand and not my appearance.  This is the whole point of his class, I thought; he concentrates on the physicality of the movements and not necessarily on how you look, because while you are learning you cannot aspire to looking perfect.  More important to learn the movements and they will look better once practiced.

We started class facing the barre, doing tendu front, rotate leg in and out; tendu side, turn leg in and out; ronde jambe to back, demi-plie into first position.  Also, cambre sideways and back.  Then we started class with tendus and demi-plies, with port de bras.  The barre was much like the one on Monday, with epaulment and moving the head.  For grand plies, we were to move our working arm into elonge position, something which really made me feel the depth of the plie.  Also, we did battements en cloche, with elonge arms.   We practiced developpes efface, croise back, to passe with ronde jambes en l'air.  We did beats and then tried balancing in a la seconde.  We also extended our inside leg to attitude and tried arabesque elonge letting go of the barre.  I always feel I cannot control my left arm and so when I let go to balance in passe, my left shoulder and side cave in -- it is part of my scoliosis problem.

Barre is something I do well, probably because I hold the barre for support.  Without the barre, in center, I feel naked and listless; but this teacher corrected many other students for the same thing when their middles swayed while moving through steps.  Holding the middle is not easy; it requires strength and discipline.  At center we did the same opening combination:  fondu tendu croise front, swing body around to croise derrierre; from 5th position developpe to 4th arabesque, developpe a la seconde, flic back, attitude promenade to passe, plie attitude turn, chasse forward, glissade to other side -- a slight variation on the Monday adagio, with a turn thrown in.  The movement patterns of this teacher are strange to me, almost jazzy, how they switch sides as in epaulment.

After this, we did the other combination:  tendus 2x front croise, changing ecarte, 3x degages to arabesque, swing leg forward to soutenu turn; detourne to 4th position, pirouettes.  I like the change of directions of this combination and the different angles of this teacher's combinations.  They make you feel very centered and help you learn the different directions of the body.  Then we proceeded to another short, tricky allegro dance which flowed across the room.  It began with pique arabesque, chasse forward, glissade grand jete, pique arabesque, fouette, chasse, fouette, point tendu croise, glissade grand jete, contretemps chasse step grand jete.  Before this, we also did pique arabesque with glissade jete en tournant to pique croise to chainnes to posse elonge arms.

Jumps were big also.  We started with jumps in 1st, 2nd, 5th with glissades jete en tournant, sissonne back to point tendu to chasse pas de bourre glissade assemble.  We did assemble soubresaut to both sides  with the same types of jetes.  Then we did echappe to second position, sissonne attitude on both sides, jump with double ronde jambe chasse coupe back to assemble into 5th position.  A lot to remember and a lot to do well in a short time.  I will have to return to this page and do some editing.  If only it were that easy to correct my dancing...

Well, then I went to the gym and swam and then took a yoga class followed by a Pilates class.  The Pilates teacher was a sub and I really liked some of her move.  We started the session by lying on our backs with our knees turned over to either side, arms in a "T" -- then we took either arm and crossed it over to our legs (spinal twist) and then brought our arm back.  Simple but effective.  We did the abdominal series and the side series and, using the magic circle and rising up into a bridge, we squeezed the magic circle, which was between our inner thighs.  We did pushups and I could almost do them, since we had done so many planks and downward dogs in yoga.  We ended Pilates by rising to our toes and stretching our arms over our shoulders.  I remarked to the teacher after class that, while I could rise up, it was difficult to control coming down.  I told her I was a ballet student and asked her about this and it is, really, because you need to maintain the vertical alignment throughout and not bend in the torso and give in to gravity.  Another nice thing about this class was how it was stressed to use the core when making leg circles.  Another new move was sitting in yoga position and doing twists to the side with our arms in "T" formation.

The yoga class, which was taught by the Pilates sub from the Halsted gym who is really a yoga teacher, ha, was very Pilates-like.  We did the locust pose, where you lie on your stomach with your arms clasped behind your back and then pick up your chest and legs, stretching your arms up at the same time.  The teacher said to press the shoulder blades together and pull up the sacral area and with these corrections I was able to rise into a higher position.  We also did one-legged planks, where you raise one leg back high and then go down into plank position.  We also did the triangle pose and the teacher corrected my stance, telling me not to let my left derrierre hang out.  Also, sitting on yoga blocks, we put our feet together, letting our knees go out and down.  I was trying hard to touch the floor but the secret is to rotate the inner thighs.  The teacher said one reason why people can't sit on their feet with knees bent is because the thigh muscles are weak.  I discovered this myself when I tried bringing my foot to parallel passe underwater and noticing how much I had to contract my thigh.  The same would apply to passe position in dance.

Underwater, I tried the ballet runs from morning class.  I ran forward for 7 counts, back, etc., and thought, this is a great exercise for stamina.  Also, the ballet teacher showed us how he jumped from side to side; I didn't try this in the pool but I always walk sideways across the lanes, something I learned from physical therapy when I hurt my leg last year.  I had been attacked by a large dog who bit my thigh and decided to see the doctor, who prescribed physical therapy, which I love.  There were all sorts of leg exercises, leg lifts up, sidways, and back, and pushing my legs against a board on a fitness machine.  Hardest was walking sideways with elastic wrapped around my ankles.  After a while, my outer thighs were burning.

I really enjoy working out at the gym.  I never thought I would, but it is a great way to feel better about yourself and get strong.  Also, the atmosphere is good, with other people working out.  I especially like the attitude of the men in the weight room.  They are all very serious about working with weights and will often watch me to make sure that I stand up straight.  Being a tomboy, I always enjoy working out with men and it is truly beautiful to see a man who is physically fit; also, to see a man who can dance with control and sensitivity.  Fitness is really not just for girls who want to keep their figures.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday at the Ballet

Today I took a break from my routine to see a Nutcracker performance.  I went to the matinee and there were lots of children everywhere.  All the dancers were beautiful and the children danced so well!  I love the Nutcracker Ballet, the Tchaikovsky music, the divertissements, the pas de deux of the Snow King and Nutcracker Prince.  The Snow King looked regal as he supported his partner, stage snow falling like confetti everywhere.  The Sugarplum Princess was so sweet, and I was impressed by her dainty footwork.  Also impressive in this production was the party scene, with all the social dances so beautifully recreated.

Afterwards I was able to get backstage to see some of the dancers.  I met a girl I knew from class, talking with her friends, still in her stage makeup.  I always love to see the backstage activity of dancers and how they prepare for their art.  They all looked so calm; I was more nervous being backstage and they had just danced an entire ballet!

So, not wanting to go home because this would be the last day my favorite pool would be open, I took the bus straight to the gym.  The pool will be closed for two weeks for maintenance so I had one last swim and then, hair still damp, headed for a Pilates class.  The Pilates class was just what I needed today, since I missed my ballet class.  But, as a dancer told me, it's good to cross train.

As I walked in a few minutes late, the teacher said to inhale and exhale...then we did the 100 with arms and then we used the magic circle to stretch our hamstrings and later drew circles in the air with our legs and did all the other customary movements, including the side series.  Now I am home, thinking of the ballet and how much fun it was to go out and see the performance on a dreary winter day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lunar Monday

Sitting at Belmont Subway listening to Christmas music -- there was also Christmas piano music in ballet class, taught by Alexei -- advanced class.  Hard but good.  I really admired his stance as he showed the combinations.  He looked so refined and dignified, as did the Academy students in the class, mostly teens.  Compared to them, I looked like a peasant, although when I left the studio, the receptionist said I looked fine.  I told her I want a video of myself dancing someday, because I always worry what I look like -- everybody says I don't look all that bad, but, compared to these young dancers, I feel ungraceful.  Still, I think, it's what you are used to, and if I went to this class regularly, my mannerisms would change.  If only it wasn't the money and all the cares of the world, I would just keep doing all these things I like and being with people I like.

Anyway, most dancers I have met have the same problems and it is not an easy life, but dancers are the most real people I know, most of them, anyway.  There will always be those who will be your rivals for whatever reason, but I was never the jealous type and, in fact, love it when someone does something well, because it advances things for everyone.  So, I marked the barre since I had the misfortune of standing at the front of the barre.  I am always good at barre, except this teacher demanded more clarity and nuance.  It is nice to dance like this, I thought.  He also stopped several girls and told them to engage their middles and not be so gangly.  Also, to move the head and arms.  Epaulment.

Center was faster than most I have had.  That is, you were expected to learn the combination and perform it, kind of like the classes I had attended in London at Pineapple Studio in Covent Garden.  There were a couple of allegro movements that eluded me, such as chasse forward, chasse back, chasse sideways pas de bourre; alternating to, finally, rotation to arabesque temps leve -- to fast music!  Also, we did echappe in second to attitude assemble alternating to coupe double ronde jambe en l'air.  I think the other students were used to this teacher's style, because everyone caught on.  Really simple movements are the hardest to do well, I thought.

But there were lots of other movements where I look quite good, such as the adagio.  I like adagios and slow movements.  Also, there was a jump combination that I did quite well...lunch over, time to move on to the gym.  More later...

It was crowded at the gym...lots of people working off the Christmas food, a girl commented.  So, I shared a lane in the pool but the other woman left after a few minutes and then I did my regular routine and went home.  I had missed the bus because I didn't want to trip in the falling snow, so I just waited for the next bus, watching the snow fall and thinking...

So, I must write down my steps in class today so I can practice on my own tomorrow.  I don't think I will be taking class because I am going to see the Nutcracker.  Besides, I would like to try this teacher's class again on Wednesday, even though he is the director of the school and I don't know what he thinks of me; still, I liked the class:

1. Face barre, tendu front, plie, side, plie, ronde jambe side to back, plie; repeat with ronde jambe to front, etc.  Cambres back to right, then to left.
2. Plies at barre same way, with arms.  Tendu to seconde, to first, roll through feet.  Roll through coupe front, coupe back, using epaulment.
3. Ronde jambes -- plie fondu devant around to back, ronde jambe fondu through 1st position; developpes through passe, passe to attitude, balance and extend leg to arabesque.
4. Fondu front, extend to attitude; en croix; extend from attitude to full extension.
5. Frappes front, side, double front, double back, frappes in seconde; beats.
6. Developpe front, grand ronde jambe to back, passe to ronde jambes en l'air.
7. Grand battements 2 front, 2 side, 2 back, swing legs en cloche.

1. Adagio: developpe croise front, developpe croise back, developpe seconde, ronde jambes to 4th position, pirouettes.
2. Tendu 2x croise front; tendu 2x ecarte, tendu 2x derrierre, fondu efface, soutenu, plie croise 4th, pirouettes.
3. Fondu croise front, ronde jambe leg to back, saute basque to pirouettes, balance, balance, pique arabesque, grapevine step, temps lie away.
4. Jumps, jumps in 1st, 2nd, changements, quatres.
5. Grand allegro: Balance, balance, detourne, chasse pas de bourre, grand jete, coupe, step around to pose in arabesque, arms elonge.

I loved this class because it was so classical, with all the ballet steps one reads about in books and dreams of executing perfectly, while dancing sweepingly across the floor.  When I see the ballet tomorrow, I will be watching for these sweeping classical movements and imagining what it would be like to be doing this on stage, the audience applauding madly at my grace, charm, and expertise...in my dreams, I am a ballerina.  Good night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday - my slava day

Today I will go to church and remember my father, but this morning I went to dance class -- "this is church," a teacher said once.  My teacher has been so busy performing and I was so happy that he would be teaching because he is the best classical teacher -- so true to form, always.  He has corrected my form many times and I hope will continue to do so, since I am really the same way, I want to be true to form.  But it is difficult to be as sincere and giving as he is.  He is such a good model, I even learn just watching him.

Well, there were a lot of girls in class today for a Sunday and we proceeded to barre, warming up with tendu devant, demi-plie, tendu seconde, turn leg in and out, tendu slide leg derrierre, stretch.  Then we did tendu front, demi-plie, tendu side releve, tendu derrierre, releve, tendu side, balance in releve.  Next was two tendus front with demi-plie passes balance, two tendus side with demi-plie passe balance, etc.  I like the way this teacher makes us test our balance suddenly, because it really tells you if you are holding your body, from the beginning.

We did tendu plie, pas de chevals, tendu plie back, pas de chevals, tendus to the side, plie, passe balance.  We did degages en croix, 4x each direction; then, ronde jambes:  passe tendu fondu to back, passe, plie 5th position, ronde jambes, reverse.  I liked the batterie combination today, to Bach's Fugue No. 1 in C, I think it was.  I was trying to match Bach's rhythm to do beats, plie, beats, plie, beats on releve with balance a la second.  We did developpe to the side, ronde jambes en l'air, extend leg to arabesque, penche in arabesque on other side, come up with torso leading (very important).  We also did fondu passe to attitude balance, extend to arabesque -- I think this was after the ronde jambe combination.  I wish I could remember everything more precisely, but I am not that technically skilled and focused yet and still struggle to do what is required of me...

We paused and then resumed in center with pas de basque, head looking under arm, to pique balance in arabesque, promenade to third arabesque, pas de bourre en tournant, pique attitude, move attitude leg to seconde to devant and then swing back to arabesque, pas de bourre en tournant, sou sou passe leg; repeat to other side.  Lots of balances again, on demi-toe, which is the true test if you are holding your body.  Fabrice often stopped the combinations to tell us to hold our torsos and keep our shoulders and hips aligned and always came by me to tell me to straighten my leg.

Then we did some pirouettes:  glissades changing to tendu side to 5th, pirouette from 5th position to lunge, pique arabesque, fondu pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, swing leg to croise to pirouettes en dedans, detourne, pique turn en dehors.  We also did two tendus front, two back, four to the side to pirouettes.  Also, later we did developpe seconde, 3 little jetes to developpe other leg to passe to attitude turns.  The two teen girls next to me were movers and I have to always remember to position myself well in class, out of courtesy as safety.

Later, dancing with a little girl as we did chasse chainnes, chasse, chainnes, chasse, chainnes to inside pique turn, I found myself too close to her and the teacher said to move it.  Sometimes I wish I didn't do these careless types of things but I find myself so preoccupied with myself sometimes I forget I am in a class with others and, to be a great dancer as this teacher is, I need to learn this, to think about where I am.  Before this, we jumped with assembles, echappes, sissonnes to changements and quatre beats.  I tried to point my feet and it is getting better, but my left foot, the foot I injured, still hangs.  Use it or lose it, a teacher used to say.  In order to get stronger and prevent injury, I must engage myself better.

After class was over, the teacher told everybody to stay and stretch, and then he proceeded to give a private class to a little girl.  Lucky girl, I thought, she's in good hands.  I watched for a while, hoping to wave good-bye to the teacher to wish him happy hoidays, but he is always very focused in his teaching, which is how dancing should be, I thought.

Now, after eating a peanut butter sandwich on some very good bread which always tastes best after class, I am off to the gym for a swim, thinking of sugarplums but eating bread instead...

I don't want to leave the gym but I must get home and rest for class tomorrow at Joffrey Academy.  There are so few places to take class over the holidays.  I felt so aligned in the water today.  Maybe it was because I was so happy in ballet class today.  I don't know why, I just felt happy for some reason, which is unusual for me because I'm always so moody.  In the pool, I always warm up by walking forwaard and backward on my toes, then sideways, then I run back and forth and sideways.  Then I use the kickboard and just kick and next I lie on the kickboard and swim on my back, doing "swan arms."

Then I do some more kicks and then I walk foward doing developpes in parallel and then turned out.  Then I try "walking" by doing a developpe forward to passe to arabesque.  Arabesques underwater are really freaky because the water bends you way up high and you really feel it in your back where it should be.  That's what I like about the water.  A teacher said that it pushes on you in all directions.  There is no other feeling like it.  Oh, and after I do all this, I float on my back and swim with swan arms, without the kick board and sometimes I use the pool noodle the same way.  Then I lie on the paddle board once more and do the breast stroke.  Then I put the paddle board away and do the breast stroke, followed by the crawl, and then the back stroke.  Then I go in the whirlpool and then I wash my hair and stretch.  So relaxing...zzzz

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday - Next Week is Christmas

It was very cold last night so it was easy to get up and get to the neighborhood dance studio for combined level 11 am class.  Everybody is dancing in the Nutcracker and I hope all the dancers will be safe although some will invariably be injured.  I hope, like the Nutcracker, they will mend and become magical again.  Christmas is an exciting time but also very stressful, with all the rush of shopping, concerts, parties and matters of the year coming to an end.  So, if anybody needs me, I have doctors and nurses in my family...

Vanessa taught class -- she danced in Germany and we did a lot of fouettes in class, such as pique arabesque, chasse back, swing arabesque leg into fouette, coupe, pas de bourre pirouette.  That was part of a floor combination.  I am leaving the studio now because it will be closed soon.  More detail at the gym...oh, and one thing I don't want to forget -- Vanessa thinks part of my hip and back problem is that I'm not extending my leg into movements.  She told the class, don't be so much in your box.  We were doing pique turns across the floor and she said to move more but then I started jumping into my turns instead of extending my leg out.  I can see I will need to really work on my feet, like others have said, because if movements are done incorrect, they will only do damage.  Now for my swim...

Swim was wonderful.  I love the Lakeview Pool.  I saw a regional gym manager and told him so, and that I appreciated that the water was kept warm enough to swim on a cold day.  A lot of older people were in the pool today -- I don't usually go so early on Saturday as I am in dance classes, and they all watched me like I had lost my mind, ha, ha, but I am serious about my training!

Likewise at ballet class -- the adults don't quite understand me either.  In fact, a girl I once worked with used to tease me and say, I thought ballet was for kids.  Well, I guess I'm just a kid at heart.  In class, we had a nice barre with lots of tendus and ronde jambes and port de bras.  I felt really stretched out and warm for center.  Center was hard!  Lot of fouettes, as I mentioned before, and a complicated jump combination:  temp de cuisse, faille pas de bourre, faille pas de bourre, sissonne back, sissonnes side, sissonne arabesque ouverte pas de bourre to pirouettes, land 4th position, echappes through 4th, rotation, assemble, quatres.  Whew!  The adagio was nice:  grand plie in second position, port de bras inclined to raise leg a la seconde, fouette to arabesque to promenade in arabesque to third arabesque, pas de bourre, chasse grand port de bras, pirouettes en dedans, pas de bourre en tournant to pirouettes dehors to pirouettes tour de finne.  Lots of steps to remember, but despite this it was a flowy class and then everyone did a reverence to the teacher and the pianist and the teacher wished us all a Merry Christmas, since the school is now closed until January.

So now I'm home reading my new book about ballet history.  I saw some dancers in the school lobby on the way and told them about my new book, a little boring sometimes, but just the thing to read in the cold winter days to come...

Friday, December 17, 2010

It doesn't feel like Friday...

Such a busy day!  I went to the professional ballet class near my apartment and didn't do too badly; I concentrated on form.  After my earlier experience in this class and a swollen ankle as a result, I have been more mindful of my feet.  Sometimes I feel that the others snub me because I'm not professional like they are, but I danced well today because it's Christmas and when there was a gap in the first line center, I stood there, next to the class ballerina, muttering under my breath, I don't care.

Like a teacher once said in class there, it doesn't impress me if you can, say, do the splits and so on.  So, at barre, we warmed up facing the barre, doing tendus out to the ball of the foot, then placing our whole foot down, and sliding it into first position, with a demi-plie -- en croix.  Then we balanced in first position toward the barre.

Similarly, now in traditional barre position, we did slow tendus to 5th, 1st, then in normal time -- en croix -- with port de bras forward, back, sideways and around.  Whew -- what else is left?  Then we did fondus developpe, plie, ronde jambe leg to next position, etc.  I tried to engage my glutes when my leg was behind me, in order to keep a neutral pelvis, something I am learning from Pilates.

We did frappes with flexed feet, frappes with pointed feet, and then frappes with wrapped feet.  Everyone thinks the wrapped foot position is hard but to me it feels good and I can do it well because I have enough turnout...we stretched our legs against the barre with demi-plies and also did a barre exercise where we did a port de bras ecarte and then plied into second position, shifted our weight forward to stand on one leg and then did a little promenade to the other side.  Grand battements were one slow, two fast, in all positions.

Then we did a slow adagio movement:  developpe a la seconde, promenade in second position, passe to attitude, promenade in attitude, straightening into third arabesque, pas de bourre en tournant to pirouettes to pose with third position attitude arms.  Next were tendus front, back, side, pas de basque, pirouettes en dedans to fourth position to pirouettes en dehors.  The teacher said, just as in barre when we slid our feet into first position, the movements of tendu must end in correct positions with the quadriceps touching, otherwise there is no use of the inside legs.  Later, after class, when I practice pique turns, I could see that I was not using my inside leg to rotate around myself and the movement looked weak...

So, we worked on jumps, warming up with jumps to 1st, 2nd, changements, echappes with changements, sissonnes simple sideways and back and forth.  Then we did brises, jete, pas de chat, beats in cinque, brises vole with pas de chats.  I still can't beat my legs together all the way in brises.  The grand allegro was temps leve in attitude to grand jete, moving across the floor, then forward, then across the other way to pique arabesque assemble en tournant, chasse coupe arabesque, fouette attitude alternating to chasse pas de bourre glissade grand jete.

The teacher told me that I wasn't spotting and so after the class reverence (1st position, cambre forward, back, tendu fondu port de bras) I thanked him for his comment, remarking that I was so busy holding everything that I also held my neck too tightly.  Then I stretched, listening to the other dancers talking about their dance engagements, avoiding me because I wasn't a dancer like they all were.  Oh, well, some dancers can be catty like this -- it's part of the competitive life of dance, I guess...

So I went to the gym and swam in the warmed water, dried off, and rushed to Pilates at the Halsted gym.  I was torn between taking a Pilate class or a yoga class and, since I had taken a morning ballet class, there weren't many more options at night.  It turned out that the Pilates class was taught by a yoga teacher, and we did some yoga stretches at the end and, lying on our stomach with arms stretching back, we lifted our chest and legs off the floor.  I still can't do pushups, which were after this...but class started with the abdominal series and alternating our legs and making circles in the air.  Challenging for me tonight were the leg kicks forward and back while lying on our sides without movement in the torso; it is so easy to warp the body, but I really checked myself in the mirror.  The last thing we did were heel lifts and I kept "dancing" and the teacher said after class that I needed to engage my glutes.

I also remembered from yesterday's class, while standing sideways by the mirror, how far my pelvis needed to come forward and not to "sit," or as my other teacher told me specifically, Dorothy, you can still hold your middle.  Everyone left the mirrored room which had ballet barres built into the walls and I felt like dancing but I opted to roll on the black roller instead, noticing how, when lifting my legs, I wasn't keeping my back on the floor.  Press that belly button down, the teacher had said.  It was good to stretch out my IT band against the roller.

So, end of day, at the bookstore reading a new book on ballet history that has finally arrived here...

Thursday, December 16, 2010


So here I am at home, wanting to sag in front of the TV but after Wednesday's class, I find myself lifting out of my hips and sucking in my stomach.  Wow!  I must get some sleep, though, because there will be Thursday yoga and then a swim in the heated pool, hooray!

So now I am awake and must rush to yoga because the teacher is strict.  My dance teacher will be performing today in the Nutcracker and my heart and spirit will be with him as I work out.  I have seen him dance and plan to see his show next week and he is wonderful...

Barely arrived for yoga -- missed both buses.  Well, it was great to get into the triangle and reverse triangle poses, not to mention extended leg tree pose, cobra, and shoulder stand.  The teacher showed the tricky shoulder stand flipping over into cobra with a flick of the head and I asked him if this was wise for people with limited neck flexibility and he said he cracked his neck learning this and you need to first have the stability in shoulder and neck area.  Like anything else, don't try it until you are ready, he said.

Watching the gym TV, ABC News was broadcasting a bit of news about the Joffrey Ballet and how every year a disabled child was chosen to be in the party scene, something which Gerald Arpino created when he was impressed with a disabled child auditioning for the show.  Ashley Wheater said that the child is chosen on his/her ability to understand the role.  There were scenes of the party scene, too, with all the Joffrey dancers.  After missing my buses, it was nice to be here at the right time to see this -- what a treat!

Got my swim in just before the children came.  Swimming always makes me happy.  I like the freedom of moving in the water...grapevine step, pique arabesque balance, emboites to pirouettes en dedans.  Pas de basques with arms, releve arabesque turn balance, chainnes, tombe pas de bourre pirouette en dehors.  Changements, glissade assembles.  Emboites, chainnes, emboites, tombe coupe jete.

Grand allegro:  balances back, tour jete, step fouette balance en tournant, chainnes.  I stood at barre next to a neurologist and we discussed nerve patterns -- it was the adult class with lots of professional people who like ballet.  I think they like the structure of it.  There was one professional dancer in class but some of the others danced better than he did.  The barre was very structured and good, with just about everything:  plies, passe balances, attitude to arabesque, frappes, developpes, and after class I stayed and watched the advanced pointe class.

The pointe teacher was very thorough in teaching technique, saying things like, move your body around in a turn, don't leave your arm back, keep it in second position; dance on the points of your feet, not off the point, push up to turn, don't turn in your back leg when turning; push with the back leg to turn, all of which are easy to say but so hard to do.  The teacher laughed as her students did glissades on pointe, saying they seem so easy but are so hard to do.

It was snowing briefly this afternoon and it gets dark so suddenly now.  It's hard to believe that Christmas is a week from Saturday.  Hopefully I can keep dancing through the holidays and have a happy new year, despite the economy and trying to get by.  I think, though, as the cycles of nature continue, so does life and we all need to live as best we can and not let our worries get the best of us. After all, worrying never solved anything.  So, tomorrow I will dance again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This morning I left the warmth of my cozy apartment for the cold gym.  Into group Pilates class I went.  This Wednesday class is really crowded.  We work with Swiss balls and weights and I really enjoy the arm exercises.  Sitting on the Swiss ball, we use free weights and first move our straight arms up and down sideways.  Then, elbows bent and arms at sides, we move our bent arms forward and back, up and down over our heads, and sitting forward a bit, we swing our arms backwards and pulse.  I could feel my heartbeat rise.

After this, we walked over the balls into a plank position and did pushups and crawled on top of the balls into a crouch position.  We also bent over the balls and lifted alternate legs sideways without moving anything else.  This was hardest.  After this, I went home and fed my fish, Claude.  I went back to the gym after lunch for a swim but, as the water was cold and I had to get to ballet class, I walked through the water sideways, back and forth, and did little developpes. Now to ballet...

Wow!  Ballet was the best ever.  I think all the Pilates, yoga and swimming has straightened me out.  After class I was even able to rise from a cross-legged position without using my arms.  This is accomplished by pushing into the floor, a Pilates teacher said.

The whole focus to me was my feet.  Since my foot was black and blue from twisting it yesterday, I was very careful not to sickle.  The teacher examined my foot and said discoloration is not good.  I knew he would give me good advice, like he always does.  It is such a pleasure to have a great dancer as a teacher -- they don't come into your life every day.  Also, at barre the teacher said, use the front of your leg, the inside...that is how I was able to push from the floor better.

Everything looked better.  My glissades sparkled  because I landed with my ankles bent and turned out.  My releves looked more feminine and graceful because I was being more forward into the front of my foot, like a Pilates teacher told me.  Even my passes looked prettier after what another teacher said about keeping the heel forward with the toe pointed.  "See how Dorothy sickles," she remarked to the other girls in my Monday class.  I used to be upset when people criticized me like this but now I require this type of critique and I hope I am becoming more graceful mentally as well and acknowledging other's opinions graciously.

The class was very basic and we slowly worked through plies with arms and tendus en croix and ronde jambes in a slow rhythm, stopping in every position, front, side and back; and then up to speed.  I noticed how if I just tried dragging my foot through first position, eventually my leg turned out better and my foot was allowed the space in the movement to point.  Standing at a side bar, my right side was aligned whereas on my left side I have the bad habit of bending my knee when my leg moves out.  There is an exercise for this:  after class, I pressed my thigh down into the floor to straighten the back of my leg.

Also, after class a new student said that sickling is caused by bad hip placement and I said, yes, this is what a teacher had said, that the hip bones must be forward, but not tucked, just forward.  She always says this to me when I get into pirouette stance, that I am leaning backwards.  Also, today's teacher also has said many times to me that I do this.

So I am on the right track now, I think.  In a way, when I look at myself in the mirror, I almost look too good and then I get embarrassed; however, I know that I have pudgy sides and I could stand to be firmer.  Sometimes we reject brilliance, I think, because we feel we are unworthy of being better than the norm.  But why not?  Why not hold my middle, my other teacher said.  You can still hold your middle, she said.  Even though I am older now, why not?  Why can't older be just as beautiful as youth?

Well, I digress into vanity.  So, to continue with barre, we did frappes very meticulously, flexing and pointing the feet.  We did them also on demi-toe and I tried to stand very tall and high in my arches, and really push my knees back, as another teacher said, something which is not easy in frappes.  But, if the knees are not pushed back, there is too much pressure on the joints and the inner thighs don't engage.  Lastly, we did grand battements, which I tried to do keeping my hips down and squeezing my buttocks in back battements, which is where the movement should come from, as I noticed when I got on a machine at the gym where you push a bar back with your foot to extend your entire leg...

The center felt really good tonight.  We did tendus to the side, which, suprisingly, I did without bending my knees because I was using the insides of my ankles. Then we did grand plies and I was able to sink down with this proper alignment.  I also tried not to lean back, which the teacher said is usually what happens when doing this.  In my case, I also want to lean forward with my chest, but I have been trying to stand with my chest forward, as a favorite teacher of mine always told me to do.

Everything clicked tonight.  We went up to sou-sou and then passe balance, where I kept my heel forward on my knee.  I really saw this clearly at barre -- I need to stand sideways more often...  Then we tried this with pirouettes.  I tried to spot and be natural, even though I was holding my body very tightly. When we did pas de bourres, I opened my arms wide to the side and held them high, something I felt today while working with weight in Pilates.  No droopy arms!  I stood aside to practice pirouettes with my arms plastered against my sides and when my sides moved with me, I found I could turn effortlessly. I often like to experiment with movements like this, but I have to remind myself to pay attention to class, too.

Then we jumped:  demi-plie, glissade, demi-plie, assemble.  Changements with echappes.  I remembered  how this teacher said to rebound and it was much easier to point my feet, something I struggle with when jumping.  After class we talked about the Black Swan movie and the teacher said that the star looked very professional except when she was in a lift and didn't point her foot -- amateurish, and something a professional would never do!  I think I must see this movie; the dancer in it was obsessed with perfection.  I think I am guilty of this sometimes, too.  We stretched and I walked through the dark, snowy night to my cozy apartment.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sleepy Tuesday

The alarm didn't go off in time for me to get to early class, so I went to professional class near my home instead.  The professional dancers are fun to watch but I am still too much into technique to really dance like they do.  I think they laugh at me sometimes because I try to analyze everything, but that's how I am, I guess.  Still, I am getting better, although I don't like to sacrifice technique for an effect.  If my technique were a little more secure, maybe I could let it go, but when I almost twisted my ankle doing brises with hops on one leg going into brise vole, I told the teacher after class that my ankle wasn't rotating so I felt it twist and she said maybe it was a hip problem.  So I tried a pirouette and really tried to move from the hips and it was so much better.

Class was traditional barre with some fouettes thrown in and then the center was very abandoned...tendus to second, developpe croise fondu to arabesque, releve, faille, cambre pas de bourre en tournant, pirouettes.  Then there were lots of jumps, my downfall today because now my ankle has swollen and I just put my ice pack on it.  I think I will take it easy for a while.  I went on an errand and stopped at the fitness store to buy some protein bars and talked to the guy behind the counter about sports and professionals and he said to me that bad form always leads to injuries so I am rethinking about how to approach my technique.  I said to him that this also brings down the level of dance, when it is done carelessly.  At any rate, it's nice meeting sports-minded people like this to share my thoughts.  I still wish I could work at the gym or some similar place instead of just working out...

After taking care of some nasty business of where I will live next year, I went to a much-needed restorative yoga class.  Yoga is so relaxing, and then I worked on some gym machines for a while -- I wonder if this aggravated my ankle condition, but dancers never want to quit.  So tomorrow I will swim, always good for injured bodies.  Like Michael Phelps said, I feel at home in the water...  So, I kind of had a bad day, but I am always happy when the sun shines.  All I need are the elements...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday, Monday...

I said I wouldn't write every day but I love it, writing, that is.  I awoke to the sound of the telephone, asking if someone could view my apartment, so, once up, I got to the gym in time for Pilates.  Very traditional class, with ab work, roll ups, side kicks, chest lifts, but I couldn't do the pushups.  Every time I go I learn where my weaknesses are and, as I said to the teacher after class, going daily has been good maintenance.

I stopped for a sandwich at subway, the daily special with lots of spinach and guacomole, briefly cleaned up my apartment and left for the stairwell with my kitten, where I sat reading a magazine, waiting for the showing to be over so I could go back and get ready for ballet.  It was nice spending quality time with Tiger, my kitten and he seemed to like just sitting with me.

So I packed up my ballet clothes and stopped for a coffee at the bookstore and then went to intermediate ballet with the teenage girls.  I was the only adult today but I thought, in order to get better, I need to develop a tougher skin and not care that they thought I was weird for taking ballet as an adult.  Since when did artists conform to standards anyway?  So I stood at barre, scrutinizing myself, and the teacher didn't really correct me that much today, except for saying that I was off my leg, but after watching yesterday's teacher correct a young girl for this, I knew how to correct myself.  Today's teacher also corrected a student for constantly raising her hip, but I knew what she meant from watching yesterday's children's class.

The teacher remarked at barre that, if you train correctly, you will be able to dance effortlessly, making the point that the pianist there could play the piano without looking at the keys, once she trained herself.  So, we proceeded to center, where we did a pirouette combination:  tendus to the side, tendu front, pirouette from 5th, tendu ecarte to second, pirouette to 5th, tendu croise, double pirouette to end.  I tested my stance, noticing that what this teacher had constantly told me about being forward on the supporting leg was true -- my hip was too creased and I was therefore off my leg, as she keeps saying.  She said to the others, you will have to work harder and listen to me!  Lazy, lazy.

Then the teacher went into jumps, 1st, 5th, seconde to warm up, then a combination:  degages second, echappe trois beats, saute de basque, chasse coupe assemble.  She told me to move my body into the turn and as I was about to assemble, to straighten up -- I was still going forward into the assemble and that was not necessary.  Then she briefly described coupe turns, which I imagine she had been working on with her students, and, as I was not a class regular, I watched the others and tried to follow.

We did coupe turn temps lie, same with other leg, glissade pas de bourre saute de chat; then we repeated with glissade grand jete.  Then I stretched while listening to the pop music of the jazz class starting, and now I am ready to tackle yoga at the gym...

Impossible Noah's yoga class.  He was wondering why people kept leaving after he did the plow and then inverted his back in bridge pose so that his hands and feet touched.  There is one girl who could actually do a walkover from the camel pose; me, I just tried to do the best backbend I could and this girl said you can always modify poses.  She is a devotee and it's true, you can't expect to be perfect when you are there with people who have studied for years.  It was a fun class, though, because it was so physical and extreme but in a good way.  I like the pose where you are in a straddle and then hold your arms behind your back and raise your arms overhead as you try to reach your head to the ground between your feet and ultimately swing your arms around your head to the other side.  It's possible, Noah said.  Also nice is the pose where you are in warrior one, straighten your legs, place your arms behind your back in fists and then bend down over your leg.  Nice hamstring stretches here and good for stretching the lower back, as is downward facing dog.  Supple from ballet class, yoga was fun.

Now I'm home.  It was nice to just stay in my neighborhood and not have to get on buses.  I also enjoyed the coffee in my neighborhood bookstore while getting free Wi-fi.  A man next to me had something up on his screen and I asked if he was writing a short story.  He was, to take a break from his novel.  It turned out he lived in New York and when I asked him how he liked it, he said it was like Chicago on steroids.  I like writing, too, and I like the feeling of just being able to walk everywhere and stay near home on such a cold, snowy day.  New York is nice to visit, but he said it was too dirty and not as liveable...