About Me

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Attended a special IDES meeting and then the train took me to early class at Lou Conte.  I wore my pointe shoes at barre again and when it was time for pirouettes, I just grabbed the barre and went around, like they teach us in pointe class.  I noticed how caved in my left leg was and every time I went around, I would lean toward the left.  Not so with my good right leg.  I tried to use my feet, too, like the teacher said yesterday, to push from the ball of the foot and point my toes.  It really does make a difference, especially in center.

So, after basic barre, we did the preliminary tendus with pirouettes.  I had taken off my pointe shoes, since I did not have the energy to push anymore and after sitting all morning, my hips were quite stiff.  The class was fun because there were so many people in it, all adults and trying to learn how to make ballet steps.  Now to see if I can get to the pointe shoe painting party downtown...

I arrived at the boutique just in time to decorate a shoe and now it is in my collection.  Size 39 but narrow -- I will try to see if it will fit.  I also tried on a flesh leotard that was on sale for 40% off the regular price of $49 -- yes, and I saw one leotard inspired by the Black Swan movie that was $68!  Although the flesh leotard was nice enough, I just thought to myself that I would have to lose 10 pounds and be really solid to wear it, ha, ha.  Spring is making me think of fashion, though, and I browsed through the new issue of French Vogue at the Europa bookstore after I went to church and the priest talked about St. Valentine...

Basic Dance Moves of the Day:
1. Tendus with pas de chevals and piques; degages, at barre.
2. Plies with port de bras.
3. Developpes en croix.
4. Ronde jambes with passe balance, turn from 5th.
5. Grand battements 2 slow, 3 fast.
6. Tendus croise in center with pirouettes.
7. Adagio: developpe croise devant and derrierre, a la seconde to tendu chasse pas de bourre pirouette en dedans.
8. Jumps 1st, 2nd, echappe releve with beats.
9. Glissade jete, jete, assemble, sissonne arabesque, sissonne avant and back.

No gym today and I miss my swim.  Breathing is just not the same when I don't swim.  Tonight in church there was a cantor(esse?) and when I sang the refrains, I found the breath coming from deep inside me -- it feels so good to be able to breathe like this...then I bought some strawberries, my favorite fruit, and went home.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday night

I got up late today but got to the gym in time for Pilates with a great teacher who always makes me feel so aligned.  We started on our backs, knees bent and feet on floor, moving the arms overhead and down to sides.  Then we lifted our heads and shoulders up from our mats a few times before finally doing the Pilates 100 series.  Then we did the oblique crunches with alternating knees and doing scissor movements with straight legs.  Then we used the magic circle to stretch our hamstrings by placing the foot inside the circle and stretching the leg as far as it would go, also pointing and flexing the feet.  After this, we held the circle in one hand and stretched our entire leg away and toward our centers.  We lay on our stomach, hands crossed over the forehead and lifted our torso up as far as we could, repeating this with hands at sides.  Then we lifted both arms and legs and did the swim and also did the swan.  On our sides, we moved alternate legs forward and back, up and down, and made leg circles, both large and small; also, we swung the legs and tapped our foot forward and then tapped it back a few times.  Up on all four, we lifted alternate legs to work the glutes, and then pushed the knee toward the chest and swung it out.  We proceeded to pushups and then, my favorite, placing the magic circle inside the ankles while standing up, we lifted one foot off the floor and squeezed it against the other leg.  We rolled up and down, stood up and did Pilates releves.

After this, I soaked in the steam room before heading to the pool to do my usual routine laps, walks, even trying the tricky jump combination from yesterday's ballet class underwater.  It's fun to do ballet steps underwater -- I often do grande ronde jambes and developpes through passe and try to do arabesques and walking on demi-toe.  Then I went to the whirlpool and sauna and felt great, so light on my feet and yet strong.  Pilates and swimming continue to get easier after these daily drills and I feel more power in my body.

I ended the day with ballet class at the Joffrey Academy, with a guest teacher from the company.  He explained that his style was more contemporary and encouraged us to really move and not dance like we were in the 18th century.  We started with plies with arms going in and up, trying to move the arms from the elbows and use the fingers like a Balanchine dancer, letting all the fingers be seen.  The teacher walked past me while I was doing plies and said, good, good, although later he came by as we did degages and took my foot and said, try to do them from the ball of the foot going out.  I asked him about this after class, how to articulate the feet better and he said it was really mental, to know what you are required to do and do it.  I told him my worst foot exercise was frappes and really trying to articulate the feet, like other dancers I see in class.  It's not just holding the leg muscles like my other teachers say, but there is a separate movement in the foot and ankle that I need to master...

We did a lot of sweeping gestures, like temps leve ronde jambes and then a rotation to the other side, doing the same.  The teacher had worked on William Forsythe dances and said that this particular choreographer would draw this step in shape in the shape of an ellipse and that is the way your body should feel.  He also said to involve the whole body in movements, especially the eyes, and not just to look down at the feet and not be involved totally.  The whole barre was flowy like this and I really felt loose and warmed up and comfortable at halfway point...

We started center with tendus, really moving the arms through traditional positions, and then getting into pirouettes.  We did an adagio where we did developpes to pique arabesque to promenade in attitude to grand plie.  I tried to lead the movement of the promenade with my head and outside arm, something another teacher had said, which seems to help the balance.  We also did balances with sweeping arms into attitude turns, inside turns, and chainnes.  The jump combination, although tricky, was easy compared to yesterday:  glissade jete, coupe drag foot, step on it, jete coupe assemble, sissonne, quatre beat.  Sometimes when I got off tempo I dragged the wrong way and so practiced this several times to get the flow of it.  I even ended up doing a solo, since when I marked, I was the only one continuing and the pianist kept playing for me!  I liked this jazzy step which made me feel like a show dancer...

Then we ended with a grand allegro which consisted of grand jetes and tour jetes to chasses.  We ended class with reverence, bowing to the teacher, the pianist, standing in B plus position while the "curtain" went down, then bowing to the balcony, and to the other side of the audience.  I walked home in the freezing cold night, as I had walked to class, thinking that all this walking is a good workout, too.  Now I feel like Wonder Woman...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thursday afternoon

I just finished an energizing swim.  I hadn't swum in 2 days due to the cold weather and it felt reassuring to know that I could still churn vigorously through the water.  Now I am ready for more laps...

And, I went to ballet class this morning with the professionals.  It was nice to see familiar faces and everybody was kind of surprised to see me since I am not a regular in this class.  I thought of what the yoga teacher said about experiencing the movements and so I began to actually move through space with my torso and, surprisingly, I had even better balance after taking chances with my body.  The only problem I had was the step attitude en dehors turns extending into fondu arabesque...

Dance moves today:
1. Press foot, foot, 1st, 1st, fondu soutenu to seconde, tendus.
2. Double fondus en croix to developpes, fondu passe arabesque.
3. Frappes with small ronde jambes en l'air.
4. Grande battements with balancoire.
5. Chasse tendu front, tendu back, pas de basque, developpe front to arabesque, promenade, pirouettes en dedans, detourne, pirouettes en dehors.
6. Pique, pique, soutenus, chainnes.
7. Glissade assemble assemble assemble, reverse assembles, glissade with brises.
8. Plie releve developpe, chasse pas de bourre grand jete, glissade assemble, soutenu passes with pirouettes.

So, now I am done!  Still thinking about the whole idea of ballet and turning into ethereal creatures.  Darwin believed in the survival of the fittest, but are the fittest necessarily the strongest?  Perhaps physically, but mentally we are not there yet.  I know I am not supposed to think, but I can't help thinking about it all...I mean, all those science fiction movies about the frail future beings who exist in glass bubbles, like Michael Rennie from "The Day the Earth Stood Still," superior mentally but requiring a robot to do his brute work.  And then the gods of ancient Greece, like Apollo, who had it all...

So where are we going?  I would like to believe in a future of art and artists and that is why, even though others may prefer to have their nose to the grindstone, I continue to dance, and think, too!

Then I went to my favorite teacher's class tonight and, as usual, lost it at the end of class when we did:  pas de bourre plie coupe assemble, contretemps developpe pique arabesque assemble, bourres developpe a la seconde, coupe jete assemble, changements at a fast tempo.  Just did not get the mechanics of where to place my feet.  Petit allegro eludes me that way sometimes and I am thinking there must be a rule, such as change feet, like when you are walking, duh...

But, I must say that I felt almost on my legs while doing pirouettes and other moves and if I could just focus and spot a little, they might actually look pretty.  There was one pretty dancer in class, a professional, who always did all the combinations nicely, not perfectly, but doing the class as a working dancer.  A teacher of mine always used to say that class is for working on your dancing, it is not a performance that should look perfect.  Still, after the yoga class yesterday, I felt freer in class, which is what I need to continue to do.  I told the teacher about what the yoga teacher said about feeling the energy, and he commented that he could not feel any energy anymore, ha, ha.  His class  is hard, but always fun, and very, very good technically as well, and you really feel like you are dancing, too.  The best!

Some dance moves tonight:
1. Slow battements en croix, balance in arabesque and come in to passe.
2. Frappes en croix, on demi-toe doubles, beats.
3. Developpe a la seconde, tombe pas de bourre arabesque to barre, balance in attitude; pique arabesque balance to other side, fouette.
4. 3x degages en croix, passe balance, pirouettes.
5. Ronde jambes with grand ronde jambe.
6. Tendu croise front, back, side, side, plie seconde, passe balance, repeat to other side; tendus again with pirouettes.
7. Plie seconde, port de bras with right arm in, around, up and chasse to arabesque balance, plie pas de bourre, pirouettes.
8. Chasse pas de bourre 2x grand jete, pique arabesque, tour jete, chasse arabesque, step pose, pique turns to pique turn en dehors.
9. Developpe a la seconde, ronde jambes, plie pas de bourre, chasse arabesque, attitude turn, present arms.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday morning

Well, I had a dental appointment this morning in the South Loop and so I decided to take advantage of the free day at the Field Museum, my favorite museum in the Museum Campus.  Here I am sitting, eating apples that the dentist always has in his office, looking at the skeleton of Sue, the resident dinosaur.  I don't know if I'll have a chance to work out today and it will be interesting to see if anyone will show up at ballet class today.  But, I am having fun walking in the snow, in this quieter neighborhood in the city.  Oh, and I also bought a plush brown wool stuffed bird for my new puppy!

The ballet class was cancelled, as I expected, so I went to the gym for Pilates followed by yoga -- too cold to swim.  It felt good to move and stretch after a long day outside.  The Pilates class was very flowy, and we did arm circles, leg circles, oblique rollups, bridges with the magic circle, and, lying on our sides, we moved the knees from side to side...we did the swan, flutters, leg kicks, nothing really difficult, but it all felt good and afterwards I stretched while watching a sort of Latin dance class next door, where the movement was all about hip swivels...

It was basic yoga, and the teacher explained all the basic positions, too.  The class had a good flow and I could really feel the kinks moving out of my body.  We did a kind of unorthodox triangle, where we started in a straddle and just moved our arms sideways to the floor, which he said is the beginnings of the triangle pose.  We also did squats and lunges, which are difficult when you have tight hip flexors like me.

Afterwards I chatted with this new teacher, asking him how I could do better lunges, and he told me something I have heard often, that I think too much instead of experiencing things.  He said I should practice a deep lunge and instead of complaining that I can't do it, to just let the feelings happen and then maybe I would even like feeling awkward, because nothing is perfect anyway.  He also suggested a Feldenkrais class I could try, taught by his friend, that I might like, since I think so much about how I do things and maybe the Feldenkrais would put it all together for me.

He has also studied dance, as many trainers I meet have, and talked about energy and how to experience movement instead of just making shapes or posing.  That is why, although you may not have the textbook warrior stance, you can still be functional within your frame.  It is better than forcing yourself into a shape you will never achieve.  I agreed that the textbook positions are like the scales of music.  They are the base but how you interpret the base is what makes you the "artist."

I feel restless that I did not dance today, though, but I still could go down to the basement gym and do barre.  After all, it is up to me to experience the energy, not just go somewhere and follow along.  It is great to learn things, but there is also coming a time for me to make fresh tracks in the snow...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday morning...

This blog is getting to be like the daily news...so, I took my friend's advice and ignored the people in class who laugh at my efforts to be a dancer.  I mean, I pay for class, so I might as well work on myself, right.  In center, though, where I like to hide in back, there are a few encouraging dancers who always step back and force me to stand in front, even though they are far superior to me.  I also tried to make it a point today to "ace" the combinations, after yesterday's teacher made the comment about adults not being able to think.

There was one outstanding dancer today, outstanding to me because she can see behind the combinations to find the true movement patterns; for example, in center we did chasse pas de bourre, coupe, pique arabesque promenade, step developpe a la seconde, tombe pas de bourre, faille, faille, faille, with "windmill" arms, and she questioned which arm goes up with the developpe leg, something I discovered the importance of when I could not get the arms going the right way!  I thought, okay, it's like the backstroke, and I finally did it right.  Gym pays off, and that is where I am headed, to yoga class.

Stretching after class, one dancer commented he would try yoga after his career was over to get himself aligned and I said, you can do yoga incorrectly, too.  In many ways, classical ballet is the best exercise for alignment and it keeps you fit, too.  I would not be able to swim or take yoga or Pilates as well as I do if I had not studied dance.  Now that I am older, I supplement my dancing with these exercises because, as one dancer I met said, you have to work on yourself when you are older so you can still dance.

I wore my pointe shoes at barre, the same ones I have had for the past two years.  They are my "magic" shoes, I said to a young pretty dancer.  They will not die, although I need to buy a new pair soon.  I always feel more pulled up with pointe shoes on and after watching the dancers yesterday, I see that pointe is really using your body and then displaying the feet even more.  My line is always more circular, too, and I move better with pointe shoes on, although I cannot stand up except at barre, I said to the young girl who dances the whole class with pointe shoes.  I asked when she started on pointe, and she told me, 12 or 13.  That's about the right age.  I tried to remember what my friend told me about dancing being natural and how children are born dancing as babies and just enjoyed the movements while wearing my pointe shoes.

My turns are improving and when we did pique soutenu, chainnes across the floor, I was able to keep up with the fast music.  After class, I asked the teacher how I was doing.  Report card time, I said.  What do I need to work on?  He said that everything is okay and to just be consistent.

After my swim with the noisy children, I could not get to yoga class on time, so I opted for a fitcore class instead.  Heavy metal!  We did so many crunches, my stomach is now permanently crunched.  Crunches with kness twisted to one side felt really good on my sore sides.  This is where my pain is, on my pinched sides.  We did planks and side planks, too.  I couldn't do these and when I asked the teacher after class, she said start with the knees bent until the obliques get stronger to have the whole body move in one piece.  To move in one piece is now my goal...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday morning

Pilates class with an old dance buddy turned Pilates instructor.  Not exactly your traditional Pilates class, but with some dance moves thrown in.  As I entered the studio everyone was already doing head circles, tilting the head in different directions, shrugging the shoulders, shoulder circles.  Then we lay down and started the Pilates 100s, the obliques, climbing the legs, leg circles, and just basic crunches.  I noticed in the mirror how my back was too rounded, including my head...

We did side series leg lifts, circles, and beating the feet together.  Then we stretched in straddle, rolling up slowly, stretching forward with one leg in "passe" position over the other; then a small releve, moving down to the floor slowly and with control, something we did in ballet class yesterday, not plopping down.  Just before I hit the floor I could feel my thighs working, or perhaps not working, as it was not nice and smooth.

Then the girl I had been talking to before class who was a dancer showed me some shoulder cuff related reformer moves.  Sitting in yoga position on the padded seat, I took a side strap and put it over my hand and proceeded to pull the strap into my chest and away, with elbows in.  It felt good to be able to feel my sides move and I discussed with this teacher how I need to open up my body more in order to achieve more movement.  Movement, I truly believe, is the key.  Then with my legs in front of me, the straps draped over my arms like "evening gloves," the teacher said, with elbows bent and my arms forming a box in front of my face, I moved the straps in and out and could really feel my "wings."

Now I will go to ballet class today and remember to open my back and arms!  It's not just all legs and torso is so important because, as the reformer teacher said, this will open up the whole body and improve the posture...

Then I went for a swim and hurried home to get ready for ballet class with a really strict teacher who told the adults in her class that they weren't concentrating on the combinations and that, as adults, they should know better.  Then she turned to one of her regular teen students and said, you're not using your muscles at all.  She told me not to dance with bent legs, but besides that, she didn't really correct me.  It was a nice class and I was happy that she thought I did okay.  I walked home, opting not to go to yoga tonight. It is so nice to walk home after ballet class because everything seems prettier.  The snow, the night sky, the houses, it is so sweet after class.

1.  Stretches pulling out from the barre, bend down with flat back, roll up; then roll down and come up with flat back.  Degage forward, pull away from the barre, with straight back leg.  Stretch torso sideways, arm moving along barre, really close to barre.
2. Plies with port de bras.  Tendus forward, back, sideways, fondu battement front to seconde to passe down; ronde jambes with penches.
3. Frappes en croix, side.  Fondus with developpes, stretch leg forward and to side.
4. Leg stretches on the barre.
5. Grand battements with passes en croix.

1. Start with left foot in 5th position, tendu on right side, then plie pas de bourre with left leg to chasse pirouettes.
2. Adagio: Developpe a la seconde to faille to developpe fouette third arabesque.
3. Allegro: Pas de basques with arms, pique turns ending in fondu forward, pas de bourre pirouettes en dedans, character click.
4. Chasse pas de bourre grand jete.

It was a well rounded intermediate class and lots of emphasis on correct execution.  We spent lots of time mastering the fouette into arabesque and then rushed through the jumping before it was time for the next group to enter the studio.  I watched the other ballet class that was starting across the hall and marvelled at how easily the teen girls where able to tendu and balance on pointe.  I must try this class in the future but I am happy taking the intermediate class with a teacher who is really helping me with my technique.  All of these teen girls attend class every day and have much more experience and I must be patient and learn better basics like they all had to.

I spoke with a friend later about why it is so hard for adults to feel confident in class and she said to stop thinking.  I agree.  Children don't think and it is easy for them to balance and not worry about posture.  It is when they start to think that they forget how to play.  It is easy for them to hold a balance in arabesque or passe and do turns, like it was normal and everyone can do it.  Perhaps we are all born with these abilities and then thwart ourselves, unfortunately...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday...

The streets are deserted because everyone is watching the game.  I returned from the gym after my swim and made some popcorn to watch the game.  I am still thinking of ballet class, however, because that is my favorite sport.  I go to the gym but now I am trying to streamline my training to adapt to ballet.  Ballet is the challenge and something I want to master if it's the last thing I do and since I lost my job last year I feel that this is my time.  It has been a rocky year, trying to be in class and working out and I'm not used to trying to stay in shape.  It is hard work!  I always admired dancers and how they could dance on low incomes and still manage to stay in shape.  It is tough mentally, too, when your budget is uncertain and the stress can get to you and then you get depressed and it reflects on your body.  I don't know how dancers do it.  Sometimes I think I would have liked to be a dancer but since I started late, all I can do is make a hobby of it.  Still, dancing has always identified me as a person and I have stuck with it all these years because it is the only thing I know where I can express myself, my thoughts and my feelings.  For me it is almost more mental than physical, but I know I must master the physical part if I am to succeed in conveying my deepest feelings as a person.

The Sunday class was small and I really tried to focus on the combinations and do them accurately.  Sometimes I get so involved in the mechanics of movements that I forget what I am doing and it is rude and disruptive to the class to not pay attention and go and do your own thing.  I remember a dancer and teacher who used to be in a class of mine and I always overheard the other dancers commenting on how he would stand at barre and modify the movements to satisfy himself and he didn't really participate in the class.  The teacher there would remark that if we wanted to do whatever we felt like, we should rent a studio and do our own class.  Of course, at the gym, you can do what you want, so I need to be more mindful of this, or my teachers will soon lose their patience with me.  It is also difficult because as an adult you are more independent; whereas, as a child, you are used to being disciplined and listening to others.

End of confession.  Class consisted of the usual plies at barre, then the usual traditional plies, tendus, degages, ronde jambe, developpes, passe and attitude balances, arabesque balances, grand battements.  Then in center we did several moves that I found enjoyable.  The whole class today seemed geared around the core and holding the middle, the back, and finding stability, also pointing the feet, especially in jumps, because it looks so much better and I'm sure it is physically a more effective way to jump as well.
1. Pas de basque assemble, changements, sissonne arabesque, sissonne side with pirouette en dehors, leg in back.  This type of pirouette seemed easier than the traditional one, because I think with the leg in back, I could feel my knees, something the teacher always says to me, straighten your knees.
2. Pique first arabesque balance, plie, pas de bourre, grand ronde jambe, pas de bourre, attitude turn en dehors.
3. Developpe a la seconde, plie pas de bourre, pirouettes, rotation, pirouettes en dedans.
4. Sixteen changements with assembles sideways; echappes.

After class I lingered like I always do, watching the others, chatting, watching a young boy taking a private class where he jumped on one foot over some free weights placed strategically on the floor by the teacher.  I always feel that dance class is home to me and never want to leave...