Monthly Archives: December 2012

What’s your favorite ballet?

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I have to admit, when I first returned to ballet, my love was purely on what went on in class.

I had no interest in performing. And while I loved watching ballets, it wasn’t really on my “to do list” a whole lot.

Being talked into doing The Nutcracker a couple of years after my return to class led to me getting bit by the performance bug. Being cast as Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet (the picture is from one of our rehearsals) led to me becoming a huge fan of ballet watching, period.

I have to credit Mr. O, our artistic director, for opening my eyes to what’s out there in the ballet world. Our company has done a variety of ballets since he arrived. And I’ve been thrilled to be part of some of them.

Nutcracker will always have a special place in my heart. It’s a classic, it’s magical. I love to perform in it. Performance week is my favorite week of the year.

But, believe it our not, it’s not my favorite ballet.

Romeo and Juliet is much more of a compelling, emotional ballet. It also has a special place in my heart because my first non-Nutcracker role was Friar Lawrence. And to be quite honest, it’s still probably the biggest role I’ve performed, even though it was a character, non-dancing role.

As a story ballet, it still ranks No. 1 in my book.

Dracula is probably the most intense ballet I’ve ever been in and love it, to. And the Firebird has a bit of a creepy, but fun monsters scene. And Stravinsky gives it an interesting feel with his music.

Although Romeo and Juliet is my No. 1 story ballet, I like the dancing better in Swan Lake. The cygnets, Black Swan CODA, Dying Swan, I don’t know if any other story ballet beats it for dancing intensity. And depending on your seating, the patters on stage will blow you away.

I’ve found that I like varied tastes when it comes to watching ballet. I like the classics. Paquita ranks up there with Romeo and Juliet. But I love contemporary pieces like Dracula and the pieces I saw Dance Theater of Harlem perform a couple of years ago.

And as much as I love the story ballets, my favorite ballets are the ones where dancing takes center stage. My favorite would have to be “Who Cares,” a George Balanchine piece to Gershwin. Pure, fun dancing. And love the “Man I Love” pas de deux.

One of the things I love about it? It’s not all tutus, tiaras and white tights.

It’s real, it’s cool. And I think it’s a piece that appeals to people who might be chased away by the stereotype of what they think ballet is really like.

 

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Polina Semionova in rehearsal

I’m a huge Polina fan.


Should boys be taught ballet differently than girls? Um, yeah …

I posted this a while back on my site on tumbler, but I also thought I’d post it here.

I have to admit it, I had a love-hate relationship DDN (dance.net).

It is one of the most active dance sites for an old dance geek like me.

One of its charms is that it attracts an eclectic mix to the ballet board. You’ve got those who danced professionally. You’ve got recreational dancers. You’ve got those who’ve danced maybe a couple of years and suddenly they’re an expert. You’ve got people who over-exaggerate their experience and knowledge and lambast everyone else. You have fetish people, too. 

A woman who is a teacher (at least it was implied she taught) asked about the differences of teaching boys and girls on the site, or more exact what steps should one be taught.

Maybe she used a poor choice of words. She was criticized for asking if there were different steps boys should be taught.

It amazed me. It floored me.

The vast majority of steps in ballet are done by both genders. But there are steps boys should be taught, such as tours en’ lair. I don’t think it’s a tragedy that a boy isn’t encouraged to go en pointe or do bourees (I’m not opposed to a boy doing that if he wants to, don’t get me wrong).

But I do think there are times when boys should be taught to dance differently than girls. I’ll be honest, I think there is a reason why ballet doesn’t retain a whole lot of boys who try classes then they are young, and why you can’t get some in the door who might otherwise be interested.

The perception is sometimes reality in a lot of cases.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being the only boy in a class with girls and a woman teacher. That was my reality the first few years I took ballet and strongly took a position that a boy didn’t really need a man teacher or be in a class with other boys to flourish.

And don’t get me wrong. I am forever grateful for what my women teachers have taught me. My base, my technique owe a lot to what I learned under them. And my female peers forever encouraged me, and the love I have for dance comes to a degree from their enthusiasm.

But my perspective changed when I started taking class from a male teacher and found myself in a class with other male dancers.

Part of what you learn in ballet comes from the steps you learn from the teacher. Part of what you learn comes from what you see from your classmates.

I remember being the only guy in class with a female teacher one day when we were being taught to run. I hated it. I thought, “I’m a guy, am I supposed to move like that?”

The teacher, to her credit, did her best to teach me “male steps” and demonstrate male movements, and in hindsight, I thought she did well.

But you glean so much more if you are a guy from a good male teacher and from peers in class. You learn a lot more about movement, how a male dancer is supposed to move.

And I’m not talking Nureyev, stately prince type of movement. I’m talking every day, move as you’re supposed to move, movement.

As much as I love my female peers and try to emulate some of the things they do, men don’t move quite the same as women.

And even in steps we both do, we do them differently at times. Men are supposed to jump higher. We’re supposed to do more pirouettes. We don’t flitter. There is a gracefulness a male dancer should have, but it’s much different than that of a woman.

I don’t think you get a full picture of that when you’re the only boy in a class full of girls and a woman teacher.

I’m not saying every boy should all of the sudden seek out a male teacher and join a class with there are other boys. I do think that’s a good idea if the option is available without abandoning the classes they already take. I still feel one great woman teacher is better than a mediocre male teacher.

But I do think boys who are in the all-girl environment should be encouraged to take master classes with male teachers and participate in intensives where they’re not the only boy. It’s in those environments when steps and variations male dancers perform are truly worked on and not somewhat ignored.

And it’s in those environments where you see just how male dancers are supposed to move.

But that’s just my opinion.

What’s yours?


Hi, I’m Scott and I’m addicted to ballet

No, I don’t need a sponsor like those at an AA meeting.

I just need 90 minutes in a studio. I need about half of that time for barre work. I need the plies, the degages, the frappes, the fondues, the developpes and grande battements. I need the stretching.

I need the rest of that time for centre work: adagio, petite allegro and grande allegro. I need to work on cleaning up and multiplying my pirouettes. I need to work on spotting for all turns, including pique turns, chaines, arabesque and attitude turns. My jetes, glissades and sissones need cleaning up.

I need to leap across the room doing tour jetes.

My body needs to dance because I am so out of shape. My mind needs it to release the stress. My soul needs it for so many reasons, emotional and spiritual

It is not exercise for me, even though I so need to get into shape. Ballet, to me, is my art. It is, as I am an addict, a lifestyle.

Unlike other addictions, it is not something I want to put away. Unlike smoking, drinking and overeating, it actually builds up both the body and soul when done within reasonable moderation.

On Jan. 7th, when I return to class, I expect to be humbled and sore from such a long layoff. I expect to be out of breath long before we’re done, paying the price for not being able to dance for so long.

And I will love every minute of it.


Reminds me of how much I miss partnering class


The dreaded holiday break from ballet

A few minutes past 11:30 this morning, the holiday break away from ballet (and dance in general) began. I was hoping there would be classes during the break. There are, but they are afternoon classes on days I have to work after New Year’s.

Some how, I’ve got to figure out a way to stay in dance shape. Today’s class was the fifth ballet class this week (the most I’ve had in a while, thank you college break!). A little sluggish, but I still enjoyed it. It was the same way in hip-hop. I know I can to better,

I’ll return to ballet on Jan. 7, and even if I find ways to work out, I’m sure I’ll pay the price, especially considering its company class.

I do want to return to class with a renewed sense of purpose. It’s sometimes harder for me to be focused the last part of the year. The first half, well there is gearing up for Nutcracker.

The second half? A little tougher. I want to be in the spring production, but that’s iffy. We’ve got our school sketch dance in hip-hop, which will start working on when we get back. There is usually a student showcase, and that is what my main target is.

I’m kicking around three ideas. The No. 1 would be another pas de deaux with a fellow adult student who is also a teacher. Did a pas with her two years ago, my first! It was fun, but I felt I could do a lot better.

The second and third ideas go hand-in-hand. I’d like to do a solo, a male variation, if the pas does not work out. I’m leaning, and really want it to be ballet. But I am tossing around the idea of a hip-hop combination.

Those are my targets. But there are a few other goals. I want breakthroughs with my pirouettes. I want to continue to improve with petite allegro. My glissades, jetes, sissonnes, inside turns, arabesque, attitude turns, all need to be better. I want crisper technique.

I also need to work on my confidence (hence the solo goals for the student choreography showcase). I depend a little too much on my neighbors.

I’ve also vowed to be a little less fat, old, slow, white guy in hip-hop, which is hard to do when you’re in a class with teenage company girls and one other much younger, talented guy.


http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/12/huntsville_ballet_company_cont.html

http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/12/huntsville_ballet_company_cont.html

Photo gallery from our Friday, Dec. 7, evening performance of The Nutcracker.


My profile from Adultballerinaproject.com, a real cool blog.

Adult Ballerina Project

This week’s profile is of Scott, who runs a blog called In The Wings as well as LoveBallet89. Make sure you check it out and look for guest posts from Scott on Adult Ballerina Project soon!

Adult Ballerina Project: When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

Scott: Hard to believe six years ago at the very ancient age of 39.

ABP: Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

S: I took lessons as a teenager and danced in college. Gave it up partially because I’d grown up, and part because of what people thought of me as a guy dancing. Regretted quitting.

ABP:  Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

S: Partly because I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle. My younger sister died of cancer. My father started having heart problems when he was in his younger 40s. I was standing…

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Huntsville Ballet Nutcracker

Huntsville Ballet Nutcracker

I’m the Chinese Lion during the Chinese dance in Act 2 from a couple of weeks ago.


Why I dance

From my original dance blog on Tumblr

Since this is the start of my dance blog, might as well start at the beginning. I stumbled into my first ballet class as a teenager in a very small room at the top of Fort Decatur, a former National Guard armory that’s now a parks and rec. facility.
I danced there and Kim’s School of Dance in Decatur for about a year-and-a-half before quitting when I got a part-time job. I took a couple of ballet and modern classes at as a student at the University of Alabama, but once I graduated, I figured my time in dance class was over.
Then I got the itch to try it again and tried a class at Huntsville Ballet School on a whim at 39. I thought I’d probably quit after a few weeks…
But I’ve now been at it for almost six years. I’ve posted the following on Facebook once before:

So why do I do it? Why do I have what would seem to be such an unusual passion?
I’ve been asked why on more than one occasion. And there is no simple answer.
Truth is there are probably a bunch reasons why people think I shouldn’t:
1. I’m too old. I thought that almost every time I walked into a partnering class last fall. I was about a quarter-century older than the next oldest person in there. The time to have been in the company, to really perform a starring role in a performance, to really progress as far as a I can as a dancer, those times have passed me by. I know that.
2. I’m not athletic or coordinated enough: I knew that the moment I walked in that first dance class as a teenager. I found that out playing football, baseball and basketball. Ballet is a lot more athletic than many people think. To even progress, I know I have to work twice as hard as people who perhaps have taken classes half as many years. To top it off, I’m flat-footed, overweight and at times too stiff.
3. It’s too hard: Most people have no clue how hard it is. Even the best dancers I know struggle at times. It reminds me a lot of the Christian life. It’s a pursuit of perfection that I don’t think anyone ever achieves.
4. People think I’m weird for doing this: I have to admit this is the one I fight most. The combination of being both a man and an adult come into play. When I took classes briefly as a teenager, I used to think would people think I’m gay, or sissy if they find out I’m doing it. It was one of the reasons I quit, although not the deciding factor. I do still wonder what some of my old sports writing buddies think.
I often wonder what people think when they see me at the school for class while they’re there waiting on their kids.

That said, the reasons I dance far outweigh any of those things.
1. I love it: Sure I could list more politically correct reasons first. I blame Sherrie Seibert, Vicki Butler, Phil Otto and a whole bunch of other teachers that I’ve had for making me love it so much. I loved it from the moment I walked into Sherrie’s class as a teenager (and had she not moved away after that first year, I might have stuck with it).
My favorite part of class, even though I love it all, is when we’re doing a combination where I really feel like I’m dancing. It could be something “dancy” with balances’, pirouettes and balance’ turns. It could be something really energetic like we do in grande allegro like a tour jete, pas de bouree, glissade sau de chat combination.
2. I love the challenge: I mentioned before how hard it is. There are times when I struggle and get frustrated. There are things I’ve been working on for a greater part of five years that I still haven’t quite grasped. But every once in a while I finally put something together that I thought I couldn’t ever do just a few months earlier…like the Phil Otto slide steps or combinations with glissades, assembles and jetes. To finally get something down that I didn’t think I could is one of the things that keeps me coming back for more. As does the challenge of wanting to finally do those things I’ve been working on for so long…like a double pirouette, which I’m beginning to do with more frequency.
3. The athleticism is amazing: Double tours, multiple pirouettes, fouettes, amazing leaps. I see people like the young stars in the Huntsville Ballet Company do things those things in class.  I’ve seen Phil show why he was an amazing dancer and I shake my head and wish I could do what they do. Much of it is beyond my range because of age and ability…but still…
4. I love the beauty and the grace: Is it OK for a guy to say that? There is a spiritual quality in dance you can’t find on the golf course, the softball diamond or the football field. There are people in class and on stage that you can’t take your eyes off like Susan Kelly because its so incredibly amazing. And Susan’s my age, and still performing at a very high level.
5. Health reasons: I used to list this one first because maybe it explains why a middle-aged guy is in a dance class. It’s still a very important reason. My father had a massive heart attack at 41. I was doing double pirouettes at 44. He died at 63 of heart problems and had serious dementia. I’d very much like to live to be 64. Ballet is not a weight loss activity, but still, I’m more than 40 pounds lighter than I was when I started more than five years ago. Maybe its because of stretching, maybe its because of an improved posture, or the fact that I am a little lighter that my back has not gone out in more than six years. It used to go out about twice a year.
It also works the mind unlike any other physical activity I’ve ever done. You’ve not only got to try to do the steps, you’ve got to remember their order and how to do them. It is as much a brain teaser as it is physically taxing.
6. I love to perform: This one is scary. When I first started taking classes, I never, ever had any desire to perform. I had to be talked into it the first time I was a party parent in the Nutcracker a few years ago. And that first rehearsal, I was thinking my God, why am I doing this? Of the party parents, I was one of only two who weren’t former company members or hadn’t been taking classes for years (that scenario was reversed a couple of years ago…lol) and we had a complicated (for me) dance to do. The butterflies still attack me right when we go on stage, but it is an amazing feeling, one I imagine a football player must feel when he walks out on the turf at Bryant-Denny Stadium. I know I’ll only be able to do minor parts, but it is really cool to perform. I’ve also been Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, and a priest in both Firebird and Dracula. And then there’s Nutcracker, where I’ve played the role of a parent in the party scene the front end of the Chinese Lion in the Chinese dance and been the bed mover in the battle scene.
7. I feel closer to God when I dance: Maybe this one should be No. 1. It is a form of worship for me. When I feel I’ve done reasonably well, somehow I think it pleases Him. When I mess up and look bad (which is often), I think maybe I make Him laugh. If you see my Facebook post and it says I’m worshipping God and knocking over furniture, that’s what I’m doing. You’d be amazed how many worship songs you can do a simple adagio too…or pas de bouree pirouette or balance’ combinations to.
8. I dance with some really inspiring people: I’ve already mentioned Susan. There’s a 60-ish woman named Claudia who really defies age with what she does. The same can be said with a group of ladies around my age I’ve danced with most of the four years. They dance beautifully. They are also among the most encouraging people I’ve ever met both in and out of a dance class. There are also the kids I’ve either been in class with or performed with. They’re amazing dancers and their dedication exceeds most of the athletes their age that I covered as a sportswriter. On top of that, they’re also good kids.

I’m beginning to get beyond what people think. That’s why I post on Facebook about it, why I write about it in my blog. I reminded of a dancer from the Bible who didn’t care what people thought. I’m reminded of King David dancing as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem. It embarrassed his wife (his clothes falling off may also have had something to do with it). He didn’t care. He slew giants and led men into battle. But he was also a dancer, musician and song writer…an artsy warrior.

I’m also reminded of one of my favorite movies, a sports one called “The Rookie”. It starred Dennis Quaid in a true story about a pitcher by the name of Jim Morris, who in his late ’30s was pursuing a Major League Baseball dream at an age when most professional baseball players have retired (sounds familiar…lol).
In the movie he tells a young rising star..”we get to play baseball today!”

And that’s how I feel whenever I enter  a dance class….”We get to dance today!”