About Me

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday at Ballet School

"It's not your back, it's how you think," the teacher said when I stuck my hips back in plie.  She then illustrated how I looked to her and it looked ugly.  She was bent over her waistline, like someone with a disease...she poked me several times and said, "ah," when I felt the correction.  She is a hard teacher but I would rather have a class with her and get better than just mess around.  I heard her talking to a girl's mother about how the advanced dancers call themselves advanced but she remarked that they don't realize what a hard business it [dancing] is and if they don't shape up, they will be sorry.  She also corrected my legs, saying to pull up my thighs and then I will have a hope of having my legs straight, including my knees.  After manipulating me like this, I could see that it felt more like I was moving from my ab area and my legs started up a lot higher, like from the tops of my hips, instead of just at my leotard line; it was like my glutes were then part of my leg.  Needless to say, I actually looked prettier in center and could actually stand up.  Of course, it didn't improve the execution of my steps, but I just looked a lot nicer and my movements had a sort of, well, eloquence.

Now I am waiting for pointe and will try to remember all my corrections...almost time for pointe, listening to my teacher leading a character rehearsal -- "someone turned the wrong way, you can't do that...

So after class I asked my pointe teacher, Miss Patti, if my plies were okay and she said "not too bad."  She told me to stop thinking so much about turning out sideways and instead, think of going up and down.  She showed me her back and said, just tuck your tailbone down. We did the usual barre exercises and then some freestyle exercises along the barre and by that time my toes were ready to rest.  In order to get pain-free, this type of thing needs to be done on a regular basis.  I told the teacher my birthday is tomorrow and said I should probably get some new pointe shoes for myself.  My old ones are now antiques...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday and more...

So now I am recovering after a day of Pilates, swimming, and ballet class. The more I do, the more I want to do. I feel strong and ready to tackle the world. Everybody was complaining about the cold today but I think that when you are really fit, it doesn't bother you. I remember as a kid I wondered how the neighborhood guys would play hockey for hours -- I used to watch them through the window across the street in the park, wearing t-shirts in the -10 degrees cold. They would always shoo me away when I put on my figure skates and went across the street, wearing my skate guards, to try some figure skating. But it was okay, because I learned a lot from them, too.

I am really learning to like Pilates. Today I had class with my favorite teacher who works a lot with going through the parts of the body -- keep the shoulders pressed down, tuck the hips up...in bridge pose, she tells us to lower and lift the hips, the lift and lower, to get those little nuances of movement. This really burns up my glutes and then I can almost feel my thighs working. Surprisingly, my thighs are my weakest muscles, and they are such a big muscle. The teacher said in class today that if you have tight hamstrings, you probably have a weak back, and she is so right about how one thing affects something else. Today we did a new move, to sit halfway down in a "C" curve and then rotate our torso to each direction while slicing our arm through space, kind of like the swim arms I was taught by a guy at the gym who used to shake his head whenever he watched my stroke.

Then I swam. I was the only one in the pool, but the water was pretty warm so even though it was cold, swimming was good. I rushed home and the bus was there to take me to ballet class. My favorite classical teacher was teaching tonight and the class was packed, even on such a cold night. There was one young girl there from a local dance company wearing a beautiful purple leotard (by Repetto, I asked her) who really stood out in class. She had control and looked lovely. I talked to her after class about how I always feel inferior because I can never compete with someone who has studied since childhood and she told me that there is always something to learn and I said she was right, I can get better for myself and I don't have to necessarily compete. Good dancers can be the nicest people and I love talking to them about what they love and what I love, too.

Barre was solid and structured; we did grand plies with balances and port de bras, then tendus with plies and port de bras, then tendus en croix with passes and attitudes, then developpes a la seconde moving to arabesque (a really back cruncher, and the teacher used the girl in the purple leotard to show where the muscles in the mid-back should be held to achieve the proper arabesque line), and penches, balancoires and ronde jambes. The teacher said throughout to keep the hips square and not tilt the body. I watched my supporting side in the window to see if my legs were straight and I noticed how my left leg always wanted to bend in weird places. When I tried to straighten it, my left hip would compensate by going back. There is something pinching my leg in the back hip area that is preventing me from pulling my leg out; however, in center when I practiced pirouettes, I noticed how if I really just stood on my leg and moved my torso (like the oblique stretches in Pilates), I felt more secure.

The center combinations were flowing and graceful and I thought, at some point I am going to have to stop being so shy in center and let it go. A dancer a long time ago said I was so good at barre but I lose it in center, and this is why. I just like to hide at barre but if I truly love my craft, I am going to have to change. As my pointe teacher always says, and I want to take pointe class tomorrow, it's not a big deal and dancers have been doing these things for years and I am just making too much out of it, so, as they say, just do it...

1. Pas de bourres, tendus front and back; tendu front, pirouette(s) from 5th to 4th pirouettes.
2. Tendu croise derrierre, pas de basque; pirouette dehors, rotation, pirouette dedans, detourne, chainnes, inside pique turn.  The teacher said here to spot, spot, spot...and after I looked at where I was going, my turns were much easier.  Like a cat, he said, you throw it out the window and it will turn its head and land on its feet.

...Then the teacher explained his theory of turning, that all the Russian and French and other techniques set  you up to try to rotate in these impossible positions and they say to use the arms but the arms will throw you off, too.  He said that the whole thing is gravity and if you plie and push, you will turn, like a corkscrew (another Pilates term, I thought as I listened intently, something I need to do more of, too!).  Also, do not use the arms, use the shoulders.  Notice how the shoulders are aligned nicely over the hips, he said, commenting that if he used the force of his arms, he would fall down to the ground for sure.  

I stood there and listened, thinking, this is really what Pilates teaches, too, to be square and feel the internal muscles working inside to pull you together.  It's scientific, the dance teacher said.  After seeing him turn, I am thinking that his method is the one, and since I have been studying with him, my turns are so much more secure.  I was never good at turning, but at least now it works.  I think, again, my problem is to just let it go.  I notice how the other girls just relax more when they dance...

3. Jumps: 16 changements; 2 changements with two echappes, echappe to 4th, pirouettes.
4. Changements with sissonnes a la seconde, soubresaut, changement.
5. Echappe glissade assemble, chasse assemble, step assemble; echappe 4th pirouettes.
6. Grand allegro: Tendu croise, glissade jete, glissade jete, pique arabesque, tour jete to arabesque fondu,  temps lie arabesque to other side, step croise tendu, chainnes to pique arabesque, or do another inside turn if you are secure, the teacher said.  The girl in the purple leotard was amazing here.  Such clarity...
7. Menage:  Pique turns, soutenus; chainnes, inside pique turn.

End of class, everyone curtsied to the teacher and then, when he held the door for us to go downstairs, I stepped on his foot.  I will just have to become more graceful if it kills me, I thought, and then I took the subway home, running into another girl from class who happens to live in my neighborhood.  More dancing tomorrow, but now I am going to read, since I can't figure out how to set up my digital box.  Well, TV is such a waste of time, but I find that turning it on makes me feel less alone and I like to watch the actors, too.  Oh, well, I have too many books to read...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday at the Dance Studio

I am back in the swing of things today -- and swing I did. I seemed to chop through barre at a very vigorous pace -- sometimes a day of rest is good, because you tend to just get into a boring routine. How to keep your dancing alive, I thought...
There were two men in class today, two good dancers, instead of just the girls. It gives the class a good edge, I think, and I like to play off of their strength. There I was, down to my deep pink leotard and pink tights, doing promenades and developpes and, yes, even pretty good pirouettes. Today, I felt pretty in pink, ha, ha...details later, because I must get to the gym...
I had a great Pilates class at the gym and then I lay in the sauna for about 15 minutes before going out into the cold night, which felt warmer after the sauna. The Pilates teacher walked in and asked if anyone was new to Pilates and no one answered and so she said, "Oh, so you're all pros." Everyone laughed, but not for long, as we did the grueling Pilates exercises, like stretch your legs up to the ceiling and then slowly lower -- about 12 times -- the teacher said, you only have 2 more, when things got rough. We also did leg lifts while in the bridge pose and hovered our leg a few inches off the ground -- ouch -- but I could feel my torso get straighter and tighter.
We did big leg circles, developpes, and bringing both legs off the floor while lying sideways -- painful! These things always catch you right in the mid-abs and make you feel like someone is tearing you apart, but they are so effective in getting to the nits in the back. When I walked over to the sauna, I saw a girl with tan lines and a really toned body, rare at the gym, where everyone is struggling to stay in shape. This girl was in top shape and I asked her what did she do and she told me she knew a swim coach -- that will be tomorrow, I hope...swimming...
But as for class, it was F-U-N. For adagio we did step side, working leg in front attitude, swing leg to arabesque, promenade, faille, detourne, pirouettes pas de bourre to inside pirouettes, chainnes to step pose. For jumps we did echappe chug jete in attitude, glissade jete, glissade assemble, with epaulment. Then we ended center with balance, balance, step developpe ecarte ronde jambe glissade assemble, chasse pas de bourre grand jete...or something like that. It was so much fun, I can't remember, really, and that is one way to know that you are having fun, when you can't remember what you did.
The barre was fast and cardio, with lots of tendus and degages, which I like, because it gets your legs moving. While at the studio, the Russian pianist Nadia and I stopped to see a girl practicing variations for the upcoming YAGP competitions this weekend. She was beautiful, wearing a white tutu with bodice, practicing a Paquita variation with double attitude and triple pirouette turns. Then she switched to a burgundy tutu and I remarked to another girl that her torso and arms were beautiful and the girl said, yes, but she needs stronger legs. I thought, yes, she needed to turn out her legs and really arch her feet...but she sparkled, nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday and class was cancelled

It was cancelled because I was the only one there. So I said goodbye to the teacher, who also showed up, after chatting for a while. It's nice to chat with the teachers sometimes, because what they do is always so interesting to me. That is why I always linger after classes and come early -- I like just being there.
Waste of time for both of us! It was just as well for me -- I still have my cold and I wisely did not swim yesterday or today, either. No gym today either because of dental appointment, but I did a lot of walking -- went to the planetarium and had fun looking at all the pictures of outer space and stars. I love museums and maybe tomorrow I will go to the Art Institute after dance class. The planetarium was free today and the Art Institute is free all month.
I am also getting a new puppy soon and I have been thinking about accommodations for him. Today I stopped by a pet store on the way to the planetarium and got a baby blue stuffed chicken plush toy I could not resist. What I really need is a good crate, perhaps a soft one that I can use when driving, because I would like to take my puppy out to my old dog's favorite dog park in the forest preserve so he can run safely. I hope someday to move out of the city -- it will be tough to travel to dance classes but I really love the outdoors and animals better...it is all so much more peaceful.
When I got home, the TV didn't work and now I have to figure out how to attach the new digital box but I don't care. I am always happy just reading my collection of books and letting my mind wander. So I am going to read that new dance book now...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Slushy rain ice storm today did not make leaving home pleasant but I found myself heading for an early class and, once there, I forgot everything, including the weather. I was on top of things until I lost it at the end with a simple jump combination: temps leve chasse pas de bourre glissade over glissade under, sissonnes to the side, echappe pas de bourre to the other side. I was jumping one way and the rest of the class was going the other way. The simplest things are always the hardest.
The adagio was nice: waltz in line, pique arabesque faille, rotation to walk forward to grand port de bras. Then we did a developpe combination with arabesque promenade to pirouettes. The barre was the nice solid standard of this class, with rolling through the foot tendus and sweeping ronde jambes and stretches -- this barre is always so relaxing and makes me feel all loose and stretched out.
It was hard to leave and go outside but I finally arrived at the gym, grabbing a roast beef and cheddar cheese sandwich and a side of spinach, kale, and cooked greens topped with mashed sweet potatoes; and then practically fell asleep in the steam room after eating this while watching the overhead TV. Then I swam with the children, who were learning how to float sideways and put their heads in the water to blow bubbles. I felt strong in the water and almost didn't want to stop.
Then I got to the other gym near home for a Pilates class with a wonderful teacher who announced it was her last day teaching. Her classes are always about extension and flexibility, like using the magic circle to stretch our hamstrings, legs in the air, and doing the swan movements and side kicks; not like some other Pilates classes that are not as streamlining.
Walking home, the weather felt less nasty -- it felt much like January when I was a kid, walking around the neighborhood, making tracks in the snow, and feeling the cold air on my cheeks...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rainy Monday

I finished ballet class with Birute at Lou Conte Dance Studio and, well, compared to being criticized by Dolores Lipinski at the smaller studio in my neighborhood, taking a class with professionals in a big facility is not too good for me, being the purist I am. Still, it was fun.
Then I went to the gym and took the Pilates and yoga classes. Needless to say, I am slightly beat up now. Pilates was all about obliques today, lots of side stretches, planks, and magic circle squeezes. Even though it's tough, Pilates class relaxes me because I get to lie on the floor and really feel my alignment and use my muscles properly. Then yoga with Noah was nice because I got to stretch and my cobras looked really good because of all the swan moves and roll ups in Pilates. Noah came and adjusted my back during downward facing dog, squaring my hips and pushing against my lower back. So this is what it should feel like. When someone adjusts me, I always try to remember how it feels so I can retain the movement in my memory. It was challenging to do the balancing poses, too, and then binding the arms and bending down while bound.
Back to dance, initially my center turns were good because I concentrated on alignment but then my jumps were kind of sloppy because, for one thing, the teacher said I was not using the space around me in grand allegro: balance, balance, releve attitude turn glissade grand jete; pique tour jete, cabriole back, run around to other side. Petite allegro was quatres beats with echappe releves, glissade jete, ballonne pas de bourre pas de chat, brise pas de bourres with assembles. The barre was very therapeutic with endless developpes and tendus in different directions and I tried to do everything accurately in order to train my brain to dance with more precision, my new goal...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It doesn't feel like Sunday

Watching the Golden Globe Awards with all the actors is fun. I went to ballet class this morning and then kind of lingered, chatting, stretching, and watching a rehearsal. I never want to leave, and then I walked to the running store and bought some electrolyte candy and headed for the gym, stopping to buy a nourishing salad on the way. My cold is almost gone so I went to the club with the heated pool and was sure to dry out, in the rocking chair, eating the salad I had bought, which consisted of spinach, kale, Romaine, shredded beets, cilantro, parsley, garlic, some kind of Indian spinach gruel, Indian stew with carrots and potatoes, whitefish, pulled pork -- a little bit of everything from the Whole Foods salad bar. Lots of nutrients -- sometimes I splurge and indulge myself in some good food like this. I really love veggies!
Ballet class was very productive in that I tried to make my turns better by trying to spot and trying to hold my body straight, including my legs. I find that, after a turn, I want to collapse, so I thought of standing up even taller when doing the final plie. Also, the teacher said you have your form, your stance, and while you are turning this doesn't change. You cannot use your arms to hoist yourself around. You have to find the coordination of your shoulders and push your legs into the ground and spot your head and it will be natural.
Spotting is hard for me because when I think of holding my body, I think of holding my head, too, instead of moving it; also, the head is heavy and if moved incorrectly, will throw me off, or so I think. But spotting is part of turning. You cannot watch a ballet dancer turn without watching this movement of the head -- it is just incorrect. As much as I may not relish doing certain things and enjoy other movements better, such as jumping, to dance is to turn and so I must learn it. A dancer friend of mine once commented under his breath, it's like a job and you don't like to do certain things but they are part of the job and you must do them.
So, I experimented with things again, which I said I wouldn't do, because it looks weird and distracting to the others in class. I was in the corner practicing turns, like turning a 1/4 of the way and then trying to "flick my head around," as a teacher once told me. I noticed how, first of all, my head was tilting sideways instead of being straight, another thing which will disturb balance. Also, I realize now that although the hips are not supposed to move in classical ballet, as another Russian teacher said, you have to be loose enough in the hips to allow the movement, as another teacher said. At that point, I thought, I'm going to just do it over and over, which is really the only way, as this teacher said in another class.
Ballet is really very simple, just do what you are told, my pointe teacher says:
1. Plies facing barre with releves. (don't sit in the plies, knees out)
2. Tendu plie en croix.
3. Degages front, back, side.
4. Ronde jambes with fondus and balancoire.
5. Plie coupe balance; plie passe balance; plie passe attitude balance -- extend to arabesque, balance.
6. Frappes en croix, frappes to side with plies, balance to side on demi-toe.
7. Developpe front, developpe back, developpe side with ronde jambes en l'air.
8. Fondu attitude, ronde jambe leg to arabesque, penche, arabesque balance, passe balance.
9. Grand battements 2x front, 3x side, 2x back.
1. Alternate tendus side, tombe pas de bourre; tendu front, passe, pirouette from 5th position, pirouette from 4th position. (still falling all over my pirouettes)
2. Grand plie, developpe a la seconde, promenade in seconde, change to arabesque, plie pas de bourre, sou sou passe, pirouettes.
3. Tendus sideways with glissades, pique 4th arabesque, pas de bourre, pirouettes en dedans. (don't forget to try to spot -- hello)
4. 16 changements; 2 changements, 2 echappes, repeat, echappe to 4th, pirouettes.
5. Changements with assembles, pirouettes.
6. Sissonnes in arabesque, to side.
So, this class is hard because it exposes your weaknesses in terms of physicality, strength, nd execution. It is a good way to see where you're at and now I have my homework for the rest of the week...Thank you, teacher!