About Me

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Can't sleep so I'm sitting here thinking about the day.  Life is good when you can do what you like but for me,  I need to be strong enough to do what I like in the face of adversity.  Someone at the gym yesterday said that you have to be mean to get what you want.  Yoga will teach you that it's all okay and to let it go.  I believe that, like John Lennon said, "I just had to let it go...", like in the Rambo film.  So, today, breezy, carefree Saturday, I will just let it go..

With this in mind, my performance in class this afternoon at Lou Conte Studio was much improved because I did not let every little thing get to me.  There was a quite prominent Chicago choreographer in my class this afternoon, as well as two dancers I knew from Ruth Page School.  I knew the teacher myself, having taken classes with her at Ruth Page, where she was a long-time student and professional dancer, being a soloist in the Nutcracker performances there.

Her classes are very lyrical and stretchy.  We started barre with demi-plies and plies, with traditional port de bras.  She demonstrated everything and I was happy to mark the movements with her, trying to imitate her expertise and experience.  We also did developpes in different directions and penches, and triple frappes -- it was hard to articulate them to the side!

Then in center we did some very pretty moves.  The first combination was comprised of tendus croise devant and derrierre, tendus seconde moving forward, pas de basque, swivel turns and then pirouettes en dehors, rotation to pirouettes en dedans.

Then we did a "travelling adagio."  It was developpe croise devant, releve, balance en tournant, developpe ecarte releve balance en tournant arabesque fondu promenade, releve, balance en tournant, chainnes to chasse pas de bourre, finish 5th position.  She reminded everyone to travel on a diagonal because it is good to know which direction you are moving in.

Then we jumped:  1st position sautes with releve balance, second position the same, echappes, to warm up.  Then we did quatres with royales and finally, a confusing series where we started with glissade jete, coupe ballonne pas de bourre, glissades and assembles.  Honestly, there were so many jumps, I can't really remember them precisely, which is precisely what is wrong with my petit allegro -- I have difficulty remembering the steps!  For instance, glissade jete, coupe ballonne pas de bourre, glissade assemble devant, glissade pas de chat pas de bourre, pas de chat pas de bourre, sissonnes, I think!  Well, the teacher said if we get lost to keep jumping, so I did and then she said, there, you were right on the beat.  If approached that way, at least you are trying and sometimes the steps will fall into place eventually...

Grand allegro was pique turns with coupe jetes across the floor and then class ended.  I remarked to the teacher that today my left back almost felt like it was opening up, describing it like a curled up paper plate edge, which she thought was a good picture.  So then I stretched across a massage table, did my theraband exercises, and headed for the gym, but the gym was already closed early...have to remember to get there early tomorrow for my swim.  I'm so glad I had a good class, after the one on Friday.  Now I feel happy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Thanksgiving was too good and I slept too long.  Then I went outside and everyone was shopping.  Finally I am headed to the gym.  Since I slept so late, I don't know if I will dance today.  So I must rush to the gym before they close and dance underwater.... 

There is a class tonight at Joffrey Academy!

...well, despite all the holiday cheer, class was pretty depressing.  My body and mind just didn't work and everything fell apart.  Still, when you have a bad class, you learn a lot, which was the salvaging grace here.  It was a pretty usual barre, tendus in all directions, ronde jambs a terre and en l'air; extensions, port de bras; passe attitude balances, grand battements, frappes -- which I am really bad at.  My feet did look better today, though, for some reason.  I think it must be the theraband stretches.

Another thing, I have developed a bad rash on my right shoulder and don't know what's wrong with me.  A nurse who attended class thinks it is a food allergy and that doesn't surprise me, because of all the rich food yesterday at Thanksgiving dinner, which is quite a departure from my spartan diet.  Later I told the teacher and she said, you don't have to live like that.  I guess I'll always be a party pooper, but all those sauces are not for me, unfortunately.

Since I stood at the head of the barre and could not follow, I messed up a lot of combinations.  At barre it is my habit now to think about how I am moving instead of thinking of the choreography of the steps.  But, that doesn't cut the mustard -- you still have to do the steps.  Ah, revelations!  So, now center is consistently better for me, however:  

From 5th position, developpe croise devant, plie, carry leg to second, passe, quarter turn to attitude, straighten leg to arabesque, step to 5th, fondu other leg ronde jambe around to second, fouette to arabesque, penche.  No problems here except straightening my leg into arabesque.

Balance, balance, pique developpe devant, pirouettes; balance, balance, soutenu, pirouettes en dedans.  Glide into the balances, the teacher said.

Tendu croise 2x front, 2x back, 4x side, then tendu seconde with promenade.  Turn from 5th, double turn from 5th to 4th, double turn into fouettes.  Not bad now that I am pushing off the floor with my whole foot; however, I still can't engage my supporting leg hamstring.

Quatre, quatre, royale on each side; jete temps leve, jete forward, gargouiliade. Jetes with echappe battus.

Grand Allegro
Chasse pas de bourre glissade grande jete, contretemps chasse pas de bourre jete, developpe ecarte, contretemps chasse pas de bourre assemble, pirouettes.

Reverence...then I talked to a visiting male student about being on your leg and he said he has the same problem.  He watched me turn and said, you are not going into the turn -- you hold back.  So I tried again, this time with more momentum.  He said you only have that split second to find it and then engage your buttocks.  Then we talked about balance and told him about an exercise another teacher has us do where we stand on one leg, close our eyes and count to 100.  We both laughed.  I saw the teacher leave and apologized for my lame dancing and she said, why?

So, I want to go back tomorrow.  At least I am persistent.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Late Wednesday

I slept a lot last night -- not used to working out like this.  But away I went to Pilates class again and arrived five minutes before class was to start!  So, we worked with the arms -- holding 2 lb. weights, we went through a series of arm toners, sitting on Swiss balls and trying not to fall off while moving our limbs.  First we just marched with our feet, keeping square.  Then, weights in hand, we lifted our arms up and out to the side; then up and forward; then, elbows at sides and arms making right angles, we pushed our elbows up and down, up and elbows touching, pulsing and holding at the end of 10 reps.  Then we pulled our chests out and moved our arms behind us, pulsing and holding; then, arms back, pressing our palms together; moving elbows up and down behind us.

Next were the planks on the Swiss ball and, in plank position, moving our knees toward the chest while on the Swiss ball, then flipping on our backs, lifting the hips up and down.  Then, standing, we bent our backs over the Swiss balls at a right angle and moved opposite legs sideways.

The next series of exercises were my favorites:  Swiss ball behind small of the back leaning against the wall we did squats while holding weights.  Then we stood and rose on the balls of our feet and did the same thing.  I could feel my hips crunching.  Lastly, we shrugged our shoulders, rolled up and down to the ground, and balanced on our toes.

On the way to coffee, I stopped at the nearby ballet school to ask about today's class -- most places are closed or have shorter hours today; that is why I opted to go to the gym early and I don't feel like walking around in the rain all day.  So, there is a class later which I will attend...the Pilates teacher wished us Happy Thanksgiving, saying there was no class on Friday, the day of recovery.

I danced again.  I went to intermediate class and I was the only adult except for another lady I have known from classes for years.  This teacher is strict but good and, since I have faults, I would rather be with the children and get corrected than be in an advanced class and get lost in the shuffle.

I stood at barre next to the young girls, wishing I had their youthful bodies.  Even so, I tried to stand up straight and noticed how much I always wanted to lean forward -- so I tried leaning back, a trick another teacher had told us.  It felt strange, but at least I looked straighter.  The barre went well except at the end when we did balances on demi-toe in passe and attitude and the teacher came up to me and said, "You're off your leg.  Do you see how much you are leaning.  Your hip is sticking up."  Then she poked the back of my standing leg, saying, "Get forward, you have to have something to counter the balance."

And she's so right.  I was glad she corrected me because, afterwards, I felt so much more secure in the balances.  Now to have the discipline to continue in this track.  "Part of the reason you can't lift your leg in arabesque is because you're sticking out in the back," she said quite objectively.  Right again.  From Pilates I am learning that I must isolate my leg from the rest of my body.

After a critical barre, I looked much better in center, which is the reverse of how I used to be, that is, my barres were always perfect but my centers were too rigid.  Now that I have been picked apart, I am beginning to look more comfortable with my dancing skills.  We started with 2 tendus croise front, 2 croise derrierre, fondu croise releve efface, pas de bourre to 4th, pirouette en dehors.  Then we did the same beginning but releve efface, seconde, back, pas de bourre en tournant, pirouette en dedans.  The teacher said, "Dorothy, you're not forward enough on your leg.  She teaches that to pirouette, you must be really forward.  This is one method, and I have heard of others, where you should be equally balanced on both legs, but, as she said at barre, when in class, you must do what you are told.

Then we jumped:  4 changements, 2 royales, chasse coupe assemble, quatres.  She said to her young girls, say it, "chasse coupe assemble.  I wish I could have more pointed feet when I jump -- I still look like a duck.  The last combination, or grand allegro, was temp leve arabesque, chasse pas de bourre, glissade grand jete with back leg in attitude, arms forward (Dorothy!  Arms forward -- you must think!), coupe same in other direction, once more, with glissade assemble, and land the pose.  The teacher said at barre, when you dance, you want to finish, because this really excites the audience.  You must learn how to control your movements.

Then we curtsied to the teacher and I went away to stretch, watching the next class, the advanced dancers.  I watched one dancer who is also another one of my teachers at barre and noticed how her pointed feet went down into the floor and how she balanced on a high, high demi-toe, and mostly, how straight and turned out her plies were.  The teacher kept telling them, plie, plie.  I was amazed when she corrected this wonderful dancer at barre, finding fault with even the best dancer.  Everyone can get better.

It is still raining outside but I made the most of it and went back to the gym and swam for an hour, surprised at how strong and fast I churned up the water.  I had seen my teacher of the day earlier when I checked on the schedule of classes and overheard her talking to a dancer, when you're old, you can't eat so much anymore.  So, tomorrow, even though it is Thanksgiving, I will listen to the teacher.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Early Tuesday

Up early for class.  Lots of sunshine but cold.  What will today bring?  Hopefully I will get coffee somewhere...

No time for coffee.  I have to stop staying up so late and get up and smell the coffee!  I arrived in the cold studio and proceeded to work...use the arms, use the back, point the feet.  Today I had trouble straightening my legs and getting my hips warmed up but I felt more together after Pilates yesterday.  I had trouble doing the splits on such a cold day -- need hip wraps -- and leg over head was difficult, but I did it in degrees.  No point in stretching incorrectly and gripping everything to do it.

At center we did some nice combinations.  Mike always has such pretty combinations in class, but that is because he's a choreographer.  That's why I always enjoy the class, because I get to be creative, like he is.  We did chasse pas de bourres through 4th position, chasse pas de bourres through ecarte, rotation (which later became a pirouette), developpe croise pirouette dedans, pas de bourre en tournant, releve passe (which later became a pirouette through 5th position.

After that, we did balance balance, releve attitude turn, extend to arabesque, faille, detourne to sou sou, chainnes.  Mike told the class to go completely around before extending to arabesque and to use our shoulders.

We jumped:  temps leve, faille glissade assemble, faille assemble, across the floor and then the class ended too soon, and Mike wished everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  I want to take the class again -- I always feel more dancey after class, when I am all warmed up.  Like Birute, my teacher yesterday, said, you need to work.  I think if I focused more and took more chances, my danceability would improve.

Now to go and apply for a restaurant job, see my old friend I met in Pilates class over coffee, and maybe end the day at the gym.  One more day of class and then the feast comes.  My favorite food is the pumpkin pie.

The yoga teacher tonight said not to eat too much on Thanksgiving.  After I met my friend for coffee and shared a protein bar, she persuaded me to come to yoga class at the gym with her.  Great class -- I must continue.  I was able to crunch myself through it physically but it was great mentally.  I did not realize how tense I was today -- I was shaking for a while until I settled down.  Then I went to the sauna, too tired for my swim, but since I was there, I went to the Pilates class and then I walked home and did not even feel the cold, my core burning inside of me.  More tomorrow...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lazy Monday Continued...

After coffee, I went to Pilates class at the gym.  I have no core strength -- everyone can do push ups except me.  My extensions and flexibility are good but I need a stronger middle to lose my waistline pinch.  My achy back prevents me from doing better pirouettes and Christmas is next month.

It felt good to assume the Pilates neutral spine -- when I swam afterwards, I just glided through the water.  Alignment is so important.  Drying out now, ballet class later...

It was pouring rain but I went to class anyway and did I say lazy Monday?  There I was, stretching my feet with my new purple Bunheads theraband when the teacher walked by and said, "Dorothy, put your pointe shoes on, we're having a pointe class.  Okay, I thought, stuffing plastic bags around my toes because I didn't have anything else to numb the pain.  To think I almost left my pointe shoes at home, but a dear teacher once said that all dancers should have their pointe shoes in their bags just in case...

I started to do plies while everyone was getting ready.  These teenage girls are strong and no match for me, but at least I'll stick to basics and maybe I'll get by.  Well, we did plies, thank goodness; it was a regular barre, except everyone was wearing pointe shoes.  I felt my knee kind of buckle when she asked us to do releve attitudes, so I thought, okay, if I can't releve, at least take it easy and don't get excited.  This is not my time to break something.  Throughout barre, the teacher said that our backs must be straight, like if we had sticks in them, and to pull up our thighs really hard.

Imagine an orange, she said.  If you squeeze it from the bottom down, it gets wide in the middle, but if you take the same orange and squeeze it sideways, the fruit will gush out of the top.  Same with the legs -- if you sit into your legs, they will get fat, but if you squeeze and rotate them, they will be pencil-thin.  Interesting...well, nobody wants fat legs, do they?

Now we were in center and I thought, everybody will be doing pirouettes, oh dear.  I have watched this class before.  So, the teacher said, do a sou sou and hold it; do an echappe into 4th position and hold it and so on, no wobbling.  After the last echappe, we were to do pirouettes from 5th position.  I just marked at first, but then I tried it, remembering to push from the ground with my whole foot, like I was taught in my last class.  It wasn't easy, but I almost mustered up the strength to do it, and leaving my heel on the ground really helped with stability.

Then we did sissonne arabesques, pique attitude, passe, sissonne second arabesque, passe releve ecarte.  Jumps are hard, aren't they, she remarked.  Well, this wasn't too bad either, except I could have been more pulled up, but at least I did the exercise.  The teacher commented that this was very important, to do precisely what is required, because, come auditions, you will be eliminated -- they want to see who can pick up the choreography exactly as it is described.  Same at barre when we did emboites and some girls didn't move their heads sharply enough.  In Russia, the teacher said, you would do them all day until you did them right, and the teacher would come and hit you with a stick.  Out of 200 students, she said, how many do you think make it?  About 8, she said.

She said, do you know how to work in class?  Really working in class is applying all the concepts, pulled up legs, turned out plies, straight back, correct arms.  Work harder, she told us.  The last step was bourres across the floor, with sweeping arms.  Somehow it was hard to coordinate the arms and legs and she stopped us to tell us to watch her arms and do as she did.  And how does the bourre end?  In coupe, with your foot touching the ankle of the other leg.

Lazy Monday, indeed.  But, I love dancing on pointe, I really do, and I was happy to be given the opportunity, and teacher singled me out to be in the first group to do the bourres.  I think that pure and simple technique really helped me get through this class.  All the other girls were so much more advanced but I noticed how some of them didn't push from the floor, how some of them didn't use their arms, how they didn't turn out.  Sometimes, being advanced, you think you know it all.  I don't think you can ever take dancing for granted and there will always be someone who is better.

After class the teacher was in the lobby and I said, thank goodness for Pilates class at the gym -- it really helped me get through pointe class.  Thinking about my structure saved me from twisting my ankle and let my body have the power to do the class.  Oh, we ended the class, actually, with 32 echappes into second position and it was so easy.  My legs felt so strong, I could have done more...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday and All's Well That Ends Well...

I woke up at 9:23 am and my class was at 10:30 am -- yikes!!  I stumbled into my shoes at the door and just missed the bus!  So I walked for about a mile until another bus came and arrived at my destination at 10:10 am, ran into the studio and rushed into class, my heartbeat still not settled.  In walks the teacher, oh, no!

Slapping my face a few times, I knew the class would not be good because I didn't have my usual morning coffee and warm-up, but this was my last class for a while with my favorite teacher, who dances with the Joffrey Ballet and will be performing in the Nutcracker.  Another dancer from the Joffrey was there, too, what a treat.  Someone at barre commented that they needed to stand where they could watch someone and I remarked, look at the teacher!

I notice his stance and mostly at how good his plies are, really deep, controlled and rotated.  I find it hard to control myself when I dance.  I noticed how the girl I was standing with was able to balance herself in passe and then attitude, something which eludes me.  I always feel that my back is like spaghetti and my arms are limp and then I sag and sit into my bones.  In fact, that is what the teacher corrected me for at barre as he passed by -- don't sit!

Say what they will about working the arms and being strong, there is nothing like plain and simple good technique -- no frills, just accuracy and application.  That is what I like about this class; there is no one quite like this teacher and I have told him so.  Not only as a teacher, but because he performs, I am learning this other dimension, which my other teachers are noticing.  Now I dance, finally!  I have given my body a heart...

Now for the face.  I watched the other Joffrey member's expressions.  I am always afraid to look at myself in the mirror; I can't stand to see the naked truth.  But, Cher on TV last night said the same thing, she hates to look at herself!  Dancing is human, I feel vulnerable.  How to overcome this, because I know I must...

Class was basic barre with lots of good stretches in between.  Center was:  four tendus, grand plie in 5th, developpe seconde, pas de bourre, pirouettes.  Then another pirouette combination.  I watched the Joffrey professional push from the floor and I was corrected me here, too, for lifting my heel from the floor before pushing with my foot...the connection between the knee and the ankle.  I thanked him later for this very valuable correction and later the dancer I watched emphasized how I should put my whole foot down and push.

For jumps, we did lots of assembles, sissonnes and beats.  I was a bit frazzled throughout and hope no one noticed, but rushing to this class was well worth it.  Wistfully I watched my teacher give a private lesson to a student who just turned 12, thinking it would be a good idea to save my money to have one really critical class to correct all my faults once and for all.

Then I walked endlessly on this beautiful, breezy afternoon and eventually got to the gym, swam, and now must end today's episode before they throw me out of my favorite bookstore.  Time, time is not my friend today...

Home and still reflecting...my back feels great and I feel so light...it is just the pure technique of today's class.  My Saturday teacher remarked, form is everything.  As she corrected me about having my hips forward, so does he today, demonstrating the wrong way to pirouette, falling back.  No, no.  I watched the private lesson briefly where he told his pupil to turn endless pirouettes, telling her, you're not tired, you're not tired and I began to see the form of a pirouette, as in a mantra.  Everyone says go up because it's true, a pirouette is a linear turn which happens in a specific form and if you think about going around you will look like an amoeba -- it is not hoisting yourself around with your hip, it is pushing into the floor.  Then he said to the young girl, see, your body will find a way to do it.  It's all mental that you can't.  Don't give up.

At the age of 12, I never knew what a pirouette was and this girl is lucky to have a teacher who is dedicated to seeing improvement.  At my age now, I will never be as limber, I just wish to end graciously and with respect for the art form that has given me so many years of pleasure.  I will miss this class even though it is tough, but I know performance is what it's all about, so *Happy Nutcracker to all, and to all a good night!
(*literary references coming from an English major, of course -- Shakespeare and Clement Clarke Moore)