Monthly Archives: September 2013

What a difference a week makes

This time last week, I was beating myself up from a rough Saturday morning class dubbed “Simple Saturday.”

This past week, I think I’ve gone back to why I fell in love with ballet in the first place.

A ballet class is my place to de-stress, especially with college projects due this week, problems with a computer system going haywire and a son who may miss a paycheck if the idiots in Congress can’t keep the government from shutting down.

This Saturday’s class was the grand escape from all of that. Mrs. O taught a more laid-back class than Mr. O did last week. The combinations weren’t simple, but they weren’t as mind blowing either.

The petite allegro combination of glissade, assemble’ over, glissade assemble’ under, glissade assemble’ over, sissone, changement, changement (repeat in other direction) was doable to the point I had complete control with how my feet were shaped.

The grande allegro that included fouette and tour jete’ jumps were exhilarating enough that I kept wanting to do them over and over.

My turns were still a mess, but getting ever so close to being more consistent. But I’ve noticed a pattern. Sometimes I seem to lose energy with my pirouettes as the class wears on, yet I always have energy to do grande allegro. I wonder if anyone else has that problem.

Most of my classes this past week were good. And Saturday’s 90 minutes went by too quickly.

I decided yesterday not to compare myself to the company lovelies and just relax and have fun.

And that’s what I did.

Now it’s time to get to work on a massive college project and a mid-term exam.

Once again doing my signature Nutcracker role!

The Act II cast list was posted today.

I don’t know why I get nervous like this, but our artistic director, Mr. O. once said not to take any part for granted. And I don’t.

I was pretty sure I was going to be cast as the lion in the Chinese dance. I’ve done it the last four years. I have it down. And I could do the math. There aren’t enough older male dancers at the school or in the company for someone else to do the role.

But still, it always feels good to see your name listed.

I’ll be a party dad in Act I, but that’s a volunteer role, and the way our party scene is, not really a dancing role. It’s fun, but Chinese Lion is my dancing role.

The Chinese dance is short, roughly a minute. But when I’m out there, I know thousands of eyes are on me. And during our two packed out morning school shows, it’s one of the most popular roles.

Now, if we can just fast forward to production week. Nothing like it in the world. We’ll be doing seven shows in four days (Dec. 12-15), performing for an average of 10,000 people. It’s my favorite week of the year, the one week where this old recreational dancer lives the role of a professional dancer.

And I’m pretty sure I won’t be limited to party dad and Chinese lion. I’ve done the bed boy “role” (under the bed pushing it during the battle scene) the last three years. Mr. O hasn’t asked yet, but it’s kind of hard for me to see anyone else having to learn what is a grueling job. But I don’t mind. I pretty much have that “role” down, too.

As for class today? Mr. O said I shouldn’t beat myself up after Saturday’s less than glowing performance. And he’s right. I ended up bouncing back in his class this morning, which was a fun, yet physically demanding class. My turns were again better.

We did a fun grande allegro: Saute right, saute left, saute right, pas de chat, saute chat in a circle. We reversed it. It was the funnest part of the class, but I was a bit gassed after a cardio portion of jumps.

I ended up demonstrated during jumps: four changements, a jump to second and a pas de bouree right and left two times. It was simple. But I kept with the music.

Monday is my two-class day.

I had Dawn C’s class tonight. Hardest, longest adagio I believe I’ve ever done. The class overall was tough. But that’s because she has us do steps and combinations that Mr. O, Mrs. O and Susan K. normally don’t have us do.

I stumbled around in her class quite a bit, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I know I’ll get better once I get used to how she teaches class.

Not so “Simple Saturday”

Mr. O labeled today’s class “Simple Saturday.”

He was subbing for Mrs. O, who was working on rehearsal schedules.

His barre was reasonably simple.

Once we came to center, not so much.

Confident was how I entered class this morning. Humiliated, frustrated. That’s how I left it.

It started with the unraveling with of a good turn week. Wednesday was my best turn day in a while, and maybe class overall. I did multiple double pirouettes, and got praise from Mr. O for doing so.

I did a perfect double pirouette in practice, when no one was watching.

We had a pirouette competition (first one in a while).

We zipped through singles like it was nobody’s business. Then went to doubles with everybody watching.

Epic fail.

Then we came to a combination where we did two pique turns, soutenu (misspelled?) turn grande jete combination in a horseshoe. The leap just wasn’t happening coming out of the turn. I gave up a couple of times when we were doing to combination. And quit is usually not in my vocabulary.

Then came my usually trusty favorite part of class: grande allegro.

Only this combination completely slew me: Saute turn, saute turn, saute fi-e (misspelled?), glissade, assemble’, run around, ton be pas de bouree, glissade saute chat (repeat. zigzagging twice in each direction), then turn around and do the same combination facing opposite direction (if you were in back facing the mirror, suddenly you’re in front facing the back wall, not a good thing for me).

I did OK facing the mirror while in back. That was not the case facing the wall.

The class ended with a reverence (which I thankfully got).

I went to the only empty studio, and practiced as many pirouettes as I could muster.

A double is something that should be second-nature. Some of the company kids in class do them and make them look effort-less.

I did a couple of doubles I know I could live with. But did not reach the point where I could do it all of the time.

I’ll be honest, there was a split-second among my frustration where I felt I totally sucked as a dancer, and maybe I should give up.

But then I remembered that I was addicted to ballet … it’s my crack cocaine.

I can’t give it up.

I can’t just sit and watch.

I must do it.

The Road Not Taken

We have an assignment in my web design class to create a poem page based on our favorite poem.

It did not take me long to come up with my poem. “The Road Not Taken” seems to be a constant theme in my life. So many of the roads in my life have been the roads less traveled, most of my choice, but others not so much.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Robert Frost’s poem is my love for ballet, and that very first ballet class I took as a teenager.

I can’t really remember what the lure was that had me wanting to try a class. I saw “Children of Theatre Street” when I was about 10, and an ABC Afternoon Special called a “Special Gift” when I was in middle, and it struck a chord with me.

I don’t remember what was harder, telling your parents you wanted to take ballet, or actually scraping enough courage to walk into a ballet studio for the first time. But I do remember hearing from my father that ballet “was for girls,” and in Alabama back in those days it was true (and for the most part, still).

The road was full of boys on the way to football, or baseball. And for the record, I traveled both of those roads. I love both sports, although I was lousy at baseball.

The road on the way to a ballet class, or just about any dance class, for that matter, was pretty much empty for me. 

My heart was pounding that day I walked into that class on the top floor of Fort Decatur, a former National Guard Armory that was converted into a recreational center as a 16-year-old. And the class was a recreation sponsored one (which they no longer have), taught by a young teacher who was still dancing in the company I now perform with on occasion.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this … What have I done … I don’t belong here … what if someone I know finds out I’m doing this,” were the thoughts running through my head when I saw my classmates … leotard clad teenage and preteen girls. There were about 10 of them.

I think they were as shocked as I was that I was there. 

Madame Sherrie, our teacher, gave about a five minute speech about the fact that boys and men belong in ballet, and that ballet, in her opinion was not complete without them.

It made me feel a lot better. And I think it made the girls feel better, too. To their credit, they made me feel welcome. And one remains a friend. She now sits on one of the local school boards.

Yeah, I took a little ridicule going down that road not taken. It wasn’t easy.

It introduced me to things that most boys in the South never experience, ballet shoes, tights, unitards, jazz class and dance recitals.

It also introduced me to a lot of fun that I would not have experienced had I not taken that road. One cannot put into words how it feels when you are caught up in a dance, or how it feels like flying when you’re sailing through a tour jete during a grande allegro.

It was a lot of fun I missed out on when I gave dance up after college.

I’m so glad I rediscovered that less traveled road later in life as an adult … and let’s face it, it’s still a road usually not taken if you’re an adult, male or female.

But like Frost says in his poem, taking that road not taken has made a huge difference in my life.

If you do a clean double pirouette and the teacher doesn’t see … did it really happen?

Well, yeah, it did. Right at the end of a complicated combination.

But Mr. O didn’t see it in class this morning. Couldn’t quite do one meeting his satisfaction, but my turns were better overall in both classes today (I did a few more clean doubles in Dawn C.’s class).

And both classes seemed to be pretty good classes otherwise, even if Mr. O made his a little more cardio. It kicked all of our butts.

The highlights? I think I did a credible job beating my jetes (jete batus maybe?) and stayed on the music and went in the right direction every time. And brises’ were OK, although I noticed my feet doing a little floppy thing every now and then. But Brises’ were once things I could not do, so I’m not complaining.

Dawn C.’s class continues to be a challenge, but I’m making progress. It’s a little more formal. And she uses different terminology than Mr. & Mrs. O and Susan K. She mentioned doing something in a combination and I’m thinking, what? Turns out it another term for tour jete. When the first line did it, I’m thinking “oh yeah, I’ve done that.”

We are doing some stuff I haven’t done before in her class, but I thought I did a credible job. Never knew there was a ron de jambre en’lair jump before, but we did it tonight. And I did OK. We also did a combination where we did a brise’ front with one leg, and then brise’ back with the other. Again, I was able to do it.

Got a little anxious tonight when I saw a partial cast list for Nutcracker posted. It was Act I. I’m already a party dad in that one (it’s a volunteer role). Still waiting on Act II to see if I’m doing Chinese again. I’m expecting to, but I don’t take anything for granted until I see my name posted.


Sluggish Saturday

I left last Saturday’s class thinking I was on the verge of a pirouette breakthrough.

The breakthrough didn’t happen at all this week.

So I thought, maybe today.

Only I felt a little weighty in class today. And it really didn’t help my cause that Mrs. O gave us a much different class than we normally have. The “safe” combinations that we usually do, the kind I use to build confidence, weren’t there.

We tried things today in class I’ve never seen before such as a pique kick-right, pique kick-left, tonbe inside turn, outside turn combination. Where did that come from. She even used “think Rockettes” as an example for the kicks, but still remember your ballet technique … oy!

Amazingly, I think my inside turns were about the best thing I did during that combination.

And we did a pirouette from fifth drill, where we did them over and over. Pirouettes from fifth aren’t my favorite. I tried to concentrate on the basics and SPOT, but I was forcing my spot and the music was moving faster that I could think and prepare. It was a mess.

When you are the only “adult recreational dancer” in class with company kids, you come to expect classes like that from-time-to-time.

The silver lining from today’s class? There wasn’t a thing in class that we did that I couldn’t do, albeit yet sloppy. And many of the company kids were struggling like I was.

I just want a class where I’m spot (pun may or may not be intended) on. And one where the majority of my pirouettes are clean and multiple.

My spotting is a mystery …

The reason it’s a mystery isn’t because I can’t spot, it’s because I can spot in ballet when I do certain things such as chaine turns and pique turns, but struggle when I do other things like pirouttes and tours en’lair.

My first year back as an adult dancer, I mastered spotting because of a green shirt that hung in the line of sight in the lobby in the direction I was doing chaine turns. That’s where my head would go when going right (and to the fire alarm when going left).

When I do pique turns, I pick that one spot and aim for it. That’s where I had.

But for some reason, I can’t seem to whip my head around for pirouettes and tours en’lair. It’s the reason I can’t do triples when I pirouette and doubles doing tours. How to change it, I still struggle to figure out.

Sometimes, I try to force things when I try to spot and it totally messes me up.