About Me

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I have caught a cold, probably from swimming in the freezing cold pools at the health club and not drying out. So I drank some mangosteen juice and stopped at an Indian restaurant for some garlic naan bread. But I did go to dance class, and then I went to see my friend perform in the afternoon.
The dance class was with Madame Lipinski, who is a great technician and has performed extensively, and really seen it all. Well, she has taken to correcting me and so I like and don't like this at the same time. I aim to please and it's hard to be torn apart, but I know it's for my own good. This morning she corrected my posture, telling me to lean into the barre a bit more so my weight would really be on the supporting side; then she came by and realigned my torso. It felt like I was really doing nothing and I think I am straining so hard to be straight that I'm not letting my carriage relax and hang down properly. Let your back relax, keep your hip down, don't shift sideways. Less is more, as they say...and later, when I went to church and tried to sing with my cold, I noticed that if I just relaxed my throat, it sounded much better than pushing it out...
Well, I tried to do the combinations accurately and there were several professional dancers in class who picked up the combinations automatically...when I watched the advanced class later, the teacher even commented about muscle memory. I don't have to think about reading the paper and chewing my gum at the same time, he said. Yes, if you keep repeating things over and over eventually they will become automatic. So, today I really focused on dancing the combinations and not mentally taking every step apart. I commented to a girl yesterday that, to me, technique is taking apart every movement, like teaching someone from outer space how to walk like a human...pick up one foot, transfer the weight to the standing leg, bend the knee and step forward...hmm, sounds like developpes!
Also, the teacher yesterday at Joffrey Academy "thinks" in phrases, not steps, so, we all know tendu en croix, we all know fondu, etc. We all know ronde jambe. Once the movements are learned, they are movement patterns in the brain, as another teacher said. Yes, it's all true. The center was very charming, and it is nice to have a female teacher who understands how a female needs to look feminine and pretty.
I saw my friend perform and watched her co-dancer/students in her choreography piece and I was very impressed by their technical skills and, most important, how they applied these skills to really moving with passion. It was a very good show and it reminded me of my high school days and being young and carefree, not to mention the fact that the school in which they performed was along the road back to my childhood home. A step back in time...

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Friday...

The sauna has fried my brain. I have now reached a nirvana of sorts; that is, since we think, we forgot we have bodies! I went swimming after Pilates, which felt strange, because my core was moving independently in the water. I felt like a fish, no arms, no legs, just core -- this makes sense because we are in a ball shape when born and then telescope out. As the English poet Wordsworth believed, babies are the closest we get to nature, after we grow, we have lost contact with the physical world and our dysfunctional brains take over. Just the fact that I am writing this proves my point. I said to a girl last night before ballet class, reading and thinking makes you smarter but it doesn't make you a better dancer -- only dancing and more dancing does this. So, I should just go with it. Moving is such a great feeling and, as I told a lady in Pilate class, I don't care if they laugh at me when my posture is straight and controlled. Why is the world so against expression and physicality?
More physicality...ballet class! My favorite way of being physical and, it's true also, that mentally you can know ballet terminology but your body, having muscle memory, learns things outside of the realm of the mind, in terms of tactile movement. Here I go again. I know I like to write down combinations I did in class to reinforce them in my mind, but I am not doing my body full justice. How to communicate physical sensation? That will be my next challenge:
1. Tendu front, demi-plie, tendu side, side, tendu back, demi-plie, tendu side, side. Two tendus front, tendus side 1st 5th, 5th 1st, 5th 5th 5th, pas de cheval en croise.
2. Degage fondu front, fondu side, degage 5th, degage en croise, balancoire, passe to arabesque.
3. Ronde jambe fondu front to back, 4x ronde jambe, fondu around, 4x ronde jambe with port de bras, fondu developpe efface, fondu developpe croise back.
4. Frappes en croix, frappes efface, derrierre, side, beats.
5. Ronde jambe en l'air, coupe coupe, beats.
6. Grand battement front, side, back, swing to front, back, side, efface...
1. Tendu croise front, side with plies, side side arabesque pas de bourre, tendu croise front plie, side, pas de bourre pirouettes, detourne, pirouettes en dedans.
2. Pirouettes en dehors, rotation, pirouettes en dedans, arabesque pas de bourre, pirouettes attitude, extend to arabesque.
3. Balance, balance, releve developpe ecarte, balance front, balance side, chasse pas de bourre pirouettes.
4. Jumps: echappe 2x, changements, changements, echappes.
5. Glissade, jete, temps leve glissade jete, assemble assemble, jete, glissade jete, glissade brises.
6. Temps leve arabesque, chasse, arabesque other way, tour jete, arabesque, temps leve passe, swing to arabesque pas de bourre, grand jete.
The class was tricky but productive. I messed up a lot of combinations but learned in the process that I need to be more accurate and more confident in my execution, not just follow the crowd. I also need to work on doing things that are physically uncomfortable because, as another teacher said, you have to find a way to make it work. Same thing the Pilates teacher said to me about my back. It's not going to feel right but try to do it anyway because eventually it will get better.
After class I curtsied to the teacher and said I need a notebook, but the pianist and another girl who I thought was amazing said I looked okay in class. I thought for sure was a professional, but she said she's just a student. I told her she should be a dancer. Then I walked home in the cold winter night...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday Eve

Sissonne attitude, assemble back, assemble front, sissonne developpe seconde, assemble, emboites, temps leve arabesque faille assemble. I had to ask the teacher about the first sissonne because my legs were not looking like the other ones in class...
Pirouette from 5th position to 4th position, pirouette(s), pique 4th arabesque, promenade en dehors with arms elonge, pas de bourre en tournant, pique 1st arabesque, plie pas de bourre, pose...some more moves we did were developpe a la seconde, plie pas de bourre pirouettes en dedans. With such sweeping movements in class, it is hard to remember the combination exactly...but the teacher said to extend the lines and move.
After class a girl practiced her variations and I watched while I stretched. The teacher told the girl to eat her dinner because her body needed the food to recover, and then she did some impossible extensions, such as bending her chest so her back was up over her body while lying on her stomach. What a back arch, I thought...this would really impress my Pilates teacher!
I wore my new while leotard to class and felt like the White Swan. The barre was very soothing, with tendus and leg extensions and beats around the ankle, with passe attitude balances thrown in. I watched the teacher do the movements and noticed how much better they looked when he did them. Real dancers always have a way of moving and savoring these standard ballet positions so that they look really special.
I didn't go to any gym classes today because of a dental appointment, which I stoically got through with no shots! I remembered to take gentle breaths, as the dentist said so as not to fog up his mirror, and this helped me relax through the drilling. Then I went swimming, went home, got on the bus, went to class, got home, and will probably do the same thing tomorrow, or for as long as I can, because, despite not being able to do decent turns and, yes, falling today out of a pirouette, I love to dance.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


So, I got to my favorite Pilates class today where we use weights and Swiss balls. I must say that today I looked much better and a young girl said I was really good at Pilates! Ha, if she only knew I'm such a beginner.
We started by sitting straight up on the Swiss balls and using the weights for arm exercises and some of them really make you burn, like the shoulder series where you bring your straight arms out in front of you and then bend your forearms in at right angles and then finally pulse up and down in this right angle position. "Breathe through it," the Pilates instructor said.
We start with arms at sides holding weights and then moving straight arms sideways and up. Then we do the right angle series and also, bent at a diagonal from the hip while sitting on the Swiss ball, move the arms backwards, pump to the shoulders, and squeeze our arms behind us. I could definitely feel a tightness in the triceps. Then, lying down on the Swiss ball with head and shoulders touching the ball, torso flat, glutes engaged, move the arms up to the ceiling and open sideways while holding the weights of your choice. Then move alternate arms sideways.
After this, we stretched over the ball and then walked out into plank position and practiced bending the knees into the chest while on top of the ball. Then, the harder one, in pike position and moving back and forth; then pushups, all while keeping the back straight.
Then we put away the props and lay on the floor, curling up, moving straight legs in scissors movements, and stretching in straddle. That's it, all done, feel like a million! The pain is worth the result. I feel so much more powerful, yet light at the same time. Great!
Then I had a sandwich and went for a swim, sharing a lane with a really good female swimmer and trying to stay in my place and now I am waiting for ballet class with a great teacher. I wonder what he has in store today...
Fast class tonight. The teacher said it's better to move and not be so tense with the muscles. Also, he reminded me that, when turning, the movement in the torso is sideways, not up and down with the shoulders. I think I do dip and this is a good point. When I tried it, though, I was amazed at how off my leg I was. No hamstring strength. I watched another girl pivot effortlessly around her hip socket. Must work on this...
My Russian friend came! She said she had two pulled hamstrings. After class, the teacher said not to stretch but to strengthen the hamstring. I watched as he coached her how to do this while I stretched my quad against my shoulder with my theraband, noticing how tight my shoulder was, something I noticed in Pilates this morning. Also, during barre, I noticed how I want to hunch up my shoulder and then I get a pain in my neck. The teacher said this, too, looking at me...don't hunch up your shoulders.
I asked my friend how she liked class and she said it was challenging but she didn't get a lot of it. It was a really fast class, and this is supposed to be a beginner class! Well, barre started with the usual grand plies and releves facing the barre, grand plies with port de bras, and then tendu 1st plie, releve, 2 tendus side, releve, tendu 1st derrierre releve, 2 tendus side releve. Then we did 2 tendus front, 3 side, 2 back and one side (to confuse you), followed by degages.
After Pilates, I realized that I don't pull my legs all the way into tight 5th position because I am compromising my hip joint and not feeling the crease. Indeed, this teacher always says to only use the legs. We did fondu ronde jambs with one off the floor, port de bras forward, passe to attitude and balance, extend leg and swing to front to other side, letting go of the barre. There were beats with frappes and developpes in seconde in demi toe to penche down. The teacher said to envelope the arm and not just move it up and down for better movement. We did grande battements en croix and I had to adjust in second position so as not to get too close to the girl at the other barre. There were a lot of people in the dance studio today, trying to keep warm in the cold.
My friend remarked how cold the studio was but once we started, I felt warm and took off my tee shirt and shorty shorts, just wearing my leotard and tights. My arms looked stronger and more elongated after using weights, and tonight I almost felt my back stay strong against my legs, although when I let go of the barre I could see that I still could not turn out and resist one leg movement without moving the standing leg, because I didn't have the strength to isolate my joints. At least it's getting better now, and, more important, I am aware of it and understand how to fix it.
I still struggle with looking graceful in class. I fidget too much, and look like a jock instead of a ballerina. I have to stop doing this and just do the class -- as one teacher said, it's dance, it's not the gym! But, like in the Black Swan movie, I just want to be perfect...
So in center we did tendu front, back, side, side, plie pirouette from 5th to 4th, double pirouettes. We also did tendus side with chasse pas de bourre pirouettes and tendu fondu forward grand port de bras. The teacher said to feel the movement going sideways, not just up and down, and to envelope the arms for more movement. Also, when bending sideways, really to make the arc, as he showed us, kind of like holding something, like a big barrel. After the port de bras we did arabesque promenade en dehors, plie pas de bourre en tournant.
We moved on into jumps: 16 changements, two changements with two echappes 3x, and then echappe to 4th and pirouette, then 2 changements and two assembles and the same pirouettes. The teacher said to move the leg out in echappes because there is not enough time to move up and down without moving out first. This makes for tighter, smaller jumps. Whew...then sissonnes through 1st arabesque and then sideways. Really push with both legs, the teacher said.
That was it. We stretched and then as we left the room, I lingered to watch the teacher coaching a very young girl in a variation. She held a tambourine and started to do high kicks, and even kicked her leg back to touch the tambourine she was holding. She was making good sounds with the tambourine as she kept doing releves and, bringing the working knee in, extending it to a high developpe to kick the tambourine. She also moved around the floor with quite nice epaulment and I thought she presented herself quite well. Proud dancer!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snowy Tuesday

The snow came and ended my long walks. Now the streets are slippery and wet and require careful footing. Dance class with Mike this morning was fun as always and today I finally got the flow of some combinations we had been doing for a while. Of course, they were not technically perfect as I like my dancing to be, but a Russian dancer I met once said that the flow is more important. You can have flawless technique but if you don't know how to move, you will always look amateurish.
I hope I didn't knock anybody over but the movement overtook me today: tendu croise 2x with moving arms; coupe tendu elonge, tendu efface, tendus in 5th to other side; repeat; then reverse, tendus 2x back, coupe, tendu efface, croise, tendus back in 5th; repeat other side.
Waltz in line 2x, inside pique turn to swivel around to arabesque pique, windmill arms, arabesque pique other side with same arms, detourne, chasse forward, pirouette en dehors, arms out a la Bourneville.
Beats trois, coupe assemble, changement, glissade jetes on both sides, glissade pas de chat to tendu fondu efface coupe assemble, changements; repeat other side; then reverse.
Temps leve arabesque glissade assemble, faille assemble 2x, chasse pas de bourre glissade grand jete. Then cool down with stretch legs, hands on floor.
That was center. As I remember from learning songs in church choir, too bad I can't yet see the simplicity of these movements. I tend to make too much of everything, as my pointe teacher says. She always says, it's just a tendu, it's just a pirouette. Big deal -- so dance, already! I have to get over my fear of being more physical someday. That is what drew me to dance classes in the first place and I have always admired those who become absorbed in the movement, like the girl's rival in the Black Swan movie. The director in the movie pointed out, she is really doing it, it's not fake...
The barre was Mike's usual, with rolling our heads, rolling our arms away from the barre, rolling down and stretching our calves, bending opposite knees; tendu, ball, point, en croix after his plies to Chopin's music with sweeping torso and arms. Then degages in fifth to pas de bourre into the other side; then ronde jambes with pas de bourres away from the barre, with penches. We stretched on the barre and grabbed the opposite side in seconde and stretched forever and then stretched in splits and tried to do backbends in splits, too. Then we did frappes with quivers and high developpes. And in grand battements, he always lets us do what we like for the first 4 beats. Mike's classes have always been creative and experimental like this.
Then I went swimming after a big salad (and a yummy French toast flavor muffin) with the children and the swim instructor said hi, me being a permanent fixture of sorts. I did swan arms in the water as well as developpes and runs back and forth and sideways, my usual aerobic warmup before the 6 laps of crawl stroke, followed by back stroke and breast stroke. Today I attempted the butterfly stroke and it wasn't too bad, because all my dancing, yoga and Pilates is making me supple enough to extend my body more in the water. Movement is everything, and it was easy after being energized by morning ballet class.
Then I went to the bookstore cafe and had a latte and protein bar (white chocolate chip flavor) and headed for Pilates class, which was my best ever. I could even do the marches while my back was in bridge pose. I always try this in the pool, hanging onto the sides. We started with pressing our spine to the floor and releasing, then with bent legs up as if sitting, pulsing the arms, then knee-to-chest movements with oblique crunches, leg circles with pointed feet, hamstring stretches, and squeezing our thighs together with the magic circle between our legs. We also held the magic circle between our hands and rolled up and down and bent sideways while our back was at a 45 degree angle from the floor.
A new move I learned tonight was tough. Sitting in a modified split with knees bent, we had to raise our knees off the floor with our entire side and then move the leg back and forth and pulse up and down. The teacher said this works the obliques, which are a weakness of mine. This will be a good one for better attitudes in dance class, I thought, if I could control my side which always pinches because of weak obliques.
So now I am home stretching with my kitten. He is pleased with me, I thought, acknowledging my new flexibility. Not bad, he thinks!

Monday, January 10, 2011


"You have beautiful legs," the ballet teacher said. Try to pull up more, just pull up the thighs, it's not a big movement. Up and in. Ballet class with the young girls was fun. The teacher told the girls to learn to use arms correctly. She scooped up her arm and then brought it down over her head, saying, it's natural, isn't it? She corrected the girls, saying, you girls are all standing crooked. When we did fondu attitude into ronde jambe en l'air, she walked up to one tall, gawky girl and said that both legs extend at the same time, so that the working leg helps straighten the other leg, like a rubber band effect, I thought. Also, she said, don't take all day going through the movements. She is quite a stickler for tempo and I remember how she used to tell me to move it. Surprisingly, all she said was to pull up my legs. "Good, Dorothy," she kept saying.
One thing I remember from the serious look on a student at the Joffrey Academy was, even though people laugh and grin in class, class is not funny. Good dancing is not funny. So I carried this attitude into class today. In center, the teacher said to the girls to do a pas de bourre like a dancer, not just fall all over. It's true, it's good to be a little more serious. It always makes you look more gracefully, too, rather than standing there and grinning.
So in class we did tendus with plies into 1st and 5th -- the teacher put her hand between my legs and said, "you're not using your muscles. It's true. She's always so correct, being taught by Russians. We did frappes with fondus and ronde jambes with extensions. We did a leg stretch at barre and then battements and soon it was time for center. The center was very graceful and ladylike, with tendus to sou sou and pas de cheval into second position, to passe, to pirouettes. We worked on jumps, warming up with jumps in 1st and 5th, changements, echappes to 4th and then echappe releve to end. Then we did the adagio: 3 pique turns, chasse pas de bourre grand jete. A basic, effective class with lots of corrections.
Earlier in the day I attended a Pilates class and the teacher there focused on the back muscles, saying to really feel the back while we held the magic circle between our hands. We used the magic circle between the legs, too, for bridges, moving the hips up and down, and squeezing the magic circle. The girl next to me was grunting, although I was the one having pains while she did strong planks and I could not budge my back off the floor. Think about the execution, the teacher said, so even though I can't do planks from a straight position, just making the effort makes a difference, so that at ballet, when turning, I was able to be straight by engaging my core.
Then after ballet was Noah's impossible yoga class: he helped a couple of very flexible girls do the position where you are in a camel and then you bring your head down to the floor and eventually lie on your back with your knees bent under you. He helped them come back up by lifting them from the back and I thought, next he will say that it is possible to just come up by yourself. His classes start out with simple poses but then become impossible near the end. One older lady just sat there and watched the end. But, tired as I was, it's good to bend and I'm sure my body will thank me in the end, like still having beautiful legs...

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I am starting to go to church more often. Tonight they were giving away the poinsettias so now I have a new plant. The service was full of good music and I sang everything. "And my heart is full of joy," loud and clear. Nobody sings in church anymore...
Well, back to today. It was warm, 32 degrees, and so I walked around after morning ballet class, stopping at my favorite frozen yogurt place. I actually walked so much that I got home too late for the gym, since I didn't want to miss church. So, I went to the bookstore cafe to warm up and check my emails and then headed for the gym after church. I was able to get in some laps using the noodle, since I didn't want to get my hair wet and then go outside. It's not summer, when I can just breeze outside. Mostly I had a workout walking all day, getting some new wool socks and lounging cold weather clothing and a new swim cap. So it was kind of shopping day.
But ballet today energized me so much that I was able to do all of the above. I was happy, too, because I took pointe class yesterday and that always makes me feel like a ballerina...
1. Face barre and do demi-plies, releves and grand plies.
2. Grand plies with port de bras forward and back at barre.
3. Tendus with demi-plies. Tendu front, back with inside leg, side, passe balances.
4. Fast side degages.
5. Ronde jambes with fondus, developpe front and extend to back, penche, balance in arabesque.
6. Frappes with balance a la seconde.
7. Sou sou coupe balance, 5th, passe balance, attitude balance, let go of barre and extend to arabesque, swing leg forward.
8. Swing legs at barre, balance passe.
9. Developpe seconde, to arabesque, balance.
10. Grand battements en croix.
1. Tendus back a la seconde, tombe pas de bourre to each side, sou sou, passe balance.
2. Grand plie, developpe a la seconde, ronde jambe en l'air to arabesque.
3. Pirouette from 5th position to 4th, pirouettes.
4. Chasse pas de bourre, pirouette en dehors, rotation to pirouettes en dedans, end with pirouettes en dehors.
5. Changements, echappes to 4th, pirouettes.
6. Glissade assemble, assemble, changements to assemble.
7. Sissonnes in arabesque, in seconde, sissonnes in arabesque, seconde.
Class was simple but hard. The teacher said to push the floor when doing pirouettes. Stretch the knees, point the toes, hold the back, use the shoulders and arms, spot the head. All the basics. Stretching in-between and after class. Then I lingered a while and watched the teacher giving a private class to a young boy. His mother said he was taking dance classes and a hip-hop teacher said he should take ballet because he had the right body, and she was happy to find a male teacher for her boy. I heard the teacher telling him to jump a lot and practice turns, because that's what male dancers have to do. I continued to stretch and, as always, found it difficult to leave the magical place of the ballet studio. I love ballet class!