Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Deep End of the Pool

I may have used that title before.

But that’s how I feel in my Monday night class a lot. In our school, it’s Ballet V-VI (company level).

It’s not the only company level class I take. I also take a company level class on Saturday morning. And the open-advance class I take on Wednesday is pretty much company level, since the majority of students in the class are company kids who home school, along with our school’s young professional male dancer fresh out of college.

I take an open-intermediate class on Monday mornings, but the makeup is pretty much the same as Wednesday, with the addition of a couple of other adults.

I don’t struggle nearly as much in those classes because I’m used to Mr. and Mrs. O. I used to their terminology. And the steps and combinations both give from week-to-week are pretty consistent. They may vary it up sometimes. But at my very worst in their classes, I can still pretty much do more than 80 percent of the steps and combinations.

I’m still learning in Dawn C.’s class on Monday nights. Her adagios are longer and more complicated, Her arms are different. Her terminology is different (oh, you mean a tour jete or balance’ turn … if you catch my drift). And the combinations include a little more variety of steps … for example, for grande allegro last night, we started with a developpe’ on releve, then ton be pas de bouree glissade ¬†assemble’ right, then left, pique chasse tour jete, saute chasse, saute chasse, saute chasse, step, step saute chat … and that’s a combination I actually got right.

For much of the class, my mind was spinning, trying to master steps and combinations I don’t usually do. It felt like being thrown into the deep end of the pool.

The biggest problem with that? The shallow end is like the kidding pool. The open classes that Mr. O doesn’t teach are mainly adult beginner classes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with those classes. That was the level I returned to dance to, and that was my home for three years.

But then I moved on to a level that no longer exists at our school: adult intermediate.

And you end up with two choices: Go back to beginner classes … or plunge into the deep end of the pool.

And plunging into the deep end really has improved my dancing.

I used to feel overwhelmed in Mr. and Mrs. Os classes. But I found I progressed more in one year in those upper levels than I did in the three years in beginner classes.

Don’t get me wrong. You learn your fundamentals in a beginner class. You build your base.

But really, you learn steps broken down. You learn steps bigger than they’re really performed.

At least that was the case for me. There is a thing called range of motion I learned from Mrs. O. Movements you learned big in a beginner class, you have to shorten to keep up with the tempo in a more advanced class (as in glissades in a petite allegro combination). You learn how steps you’ve learned in a beginner class are put together in a combination.

For that reason, I actually appreciate Dawn C.’s class. I learn more my trying to do rather than just watch, And you really don’t have an opportunity to sit out. She groups us in lines, and she moves the lines forward, so everyone experiences the front.

It is my greatest challenge, I do confess.


On the Nutcracker front, rehearsals are getting more intense.

We went over Act II full out for the first time on Saturday, and it was a mess. Act I on the other hand, seems to improve every time we rehearse.

We just broke for Thanksgiving, but when we return on Sunday at noon, it’s the mother of all rehearsals. We’re rehearsing both acts, which means four hours in the studio, with each cast getting a run through. I’m not double-casted in two of my roles, so it’ll be a long, tiring day for me.

We’re less than two weeks from being in the theater and the start of production week. We’ve got a lot of work to do … especially when you consider ticket sales are way up from this time a year ago.

We’ve got to put on a good show.

From Carmen

Just something beautiful to share. Love Alessandra Ferri.

Dancing on tired legs

If my legs could talk, they’d tell me to take the elevator tomorrow when I go to my second floor college class in the morning.

They are sore … the good sore … and with good reason.

Three classes, two long Nutcracker rehearsals, all since Saturday morning.

Saturday, we worked on Act II finale waltz (which was fairly easy). But Sunday was the bear, Act I complete. I rehearsed my role as party dad (really easy). But the guest artist from the Rock School who is performing soldier doll and lead Russian has not arrived yet.

So I performed soldier doll twice. My timing is much better, but note to self: where warmups and tights next time because doing pirouettes in blue jeans is a killer. And do plies, stretch and warm up next time. Lesson learned.

And I did the dreaded Nutcracker bed (under a bed, in a harness, pulling a 50-75 pound Clara) twice during battle scene run throughs.

And then, I went to two ballet classes today. Pretty crazy, right?

They were both fun and challenging. Mr. O stayed in stamina building mode. Combinations were fairly simple. And, despite the tired legs, I was pretty consistent with my pirouettes. They’re getting there.

Dawn C’s classes continue to be the hardest for me, in part because we do combinations I’m still not as familiar with. I’m working on those pique-arabesque turns. Eventually, they’ll come.

Love her therapeutic barre at the beginning of class. For tired legs, it’s what the doctor ordered.

She also had us do a grande allegro combination that really rocked (chasse pas de bouree’ assemble’ right, chasse three times, assemble left, chasse tour jete’ three times). I think that was my best combination of the night.

I really am beginning to appreciate the way she teaches. She is more formal, more strict. And she will call the entire class out if we’re not performing the combination correctly,

My tired legs will now get somewhat of a break.

There is no class tomorrow. I’ve got Mr. O’s open advanced class on Wednesday, then no dancing until Mrs. O’s Saturday morning class, which will be followed by Act II complete rehearsal. It will be my first rehearsal to dance Chinese full out.

We’ll rehearse Act I again on Sunday, followed by two classes on Monday again.

If tradition holds, we’ll break for Thanksgiving the rest of the week before returning for an intense rehearsal on Sunday.

Tech week is rapidly approaching.

First party scene rehearsal = chaos

I think the more than 10,000 people who will see us perform the Nutcracker in about a month would totally be surprised if they saw our first party scene rehearsal each year.

Our first rehearsal with all of the parts (children, parents, maids, Drosselmeyer and the Stahlbaums, but no dolls) was yesterday, and boy, it was a doozy.

It always looks messy the first time we run it, and this year, moreso.

There aren’t as many “party parent” veterans this year, so everything had to be completely broken down and run through quite a few times, and that’s just with one cast. Because they’ve redone some of the costumes (which have to be shared when it’s double-casted), there was a quite a bit of shuffling around with which party parents go with which children.

For the rookies, it was a crash course. And it will continue to be so for the next couple of weeks. One huge difference this year? With the exception of a teacher who also dances with the company, and one other lady, the vast majority of the party moms are either company members or senior students at the school instead of recreational adult dancers or mothers of dancers.

The reason? New fancy dresses were designed this year, and the girls fit them. The party scene for them is actually somewhat new, although some of them danced roles as children or danced as dolls,

There are about three or four of us party dads who were basically the only veterans, and even we were moved from roles we’ve been doing for years.

It was a painstakingly slow rehearsal of which only one cast got to rehearse. Next Sunday, we’re going to have to try to get the other half of the cast done, along with adding the battle scene.

It’ll be fun. I’ll be rehearsing all three of my parts this weekend, with Chinese on Saturday and both my parts in the party scene and battle scene on Sunday (before going to my final Sunday work day). I’ll be sweaty and sore when it’s over, especially when you consider I also have company class on Saturday.

On a humorous note, I believe I have now covered just about every age group imaginable when it comes to party wives I’ve performed with. Three of my first four years as a party dad, my
wives” were my age. The lone exception was a modern-salsa dancer/teacher in her mid 20s.

My last two years, my “wives” have been older than me, in their upper 50s-60s (and three of the most amazing recreational dancers you’d want to meet).

This year, my two rotating wives (I’ll also rotate with another party dad) are … 18!

Fortunately for me, I take classes with both (and performed in quite a few shows with one of them). They are both good natured girls.

Class-wise, because of the holiday, I didn’t get to dance today. I may take a makeup class in company class tomorrow.

That’s after coming off one of my better weeks of classes.

Saturday, my turns weren’t there like I’d prefer, but I was able to do some tricky petite and grande allegro combinations.

And I seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough with a step I’d convinced myself I’d never be able to do: Ton be couple jete’ (sort of a leap coming out of a turn).

“You’ve got the steps, you just need to work on the timing,” Mrs. O told me Saturday.

From her, that’s praise.

And speaking to timing, I did perform soldier doll during party scene rehearsal. I did the steps of the dance OK, but somehow managed to get ahead of the music (don’t know if I started too early, or rushed it like I do when I get nervous).

If I’m asked to do it again this week, I’m confident I’ll do a much better job with the music.

Ending class to applause

Improvise. Do your own thing.

That was what Mr. O wanted us to do for the final combination from the diagonal.

I’ve never been one to fully be able to do that until today’s. I was at the end of the line.

I chose to do a ton be pas de bouree assemble’ front tour en’lair combination that ends with a pirouette following the third tour.

Mr. O praised my attempt to land my double pirouette at the end of the combination on the right side.

“If you ended the pirouette down on your knee, that would look really cool,” he told me.

Challenge accepted.

I ended the combination down on my knee on the left side.

My majority company dancing classmates applauded.

It was a really cool feeling.

It was once again a really good class. The petite allegro combinations were a bit tricky, but I was able to do them even though I was a bit sloppy.

But my turns continue to be pretty solid. I did quite a few clean doubles today. Maybe I’m breaking through.

Making my day even better? Mr. O asked me if I wanted to be in a piece he is putting together in January (it will be a country music-ballet piece, not a fan of country, but I so want to be in the piece).

Oh yeah, I’m doing soldier doll in Nutcracker party scene rehearsal on Sunday (in the absence of the guest artist performing it). Wish me luck. The steps seem reasonably doable. I’ve just got to be on time with the music.

That moment when you’ve done the perfect double pirouette …

That you completely forgot the next step in the combination.

Yup, that happened to me today.

Best turning class I’ve had in a while. My turns were spot on that I kept forgetting which direction we were supposed to be doing balances’.

It was a ton be pas de bouree piroutte, ton be pas de bouree piroutee (other direction), four balances backwards alternating direction each direction. The music was the right speed for me, which helped me be spot on doing my turns.

Mr. O’s theme of the day was stamina because Nutcracker if fast approaching. We did a lot of jumps and a grande allegro combination that totally kicked my tail: Saute turn, saute turn, saute turn, pique, chasse, tour jete, pique, chasse, tour jete, pique walk around in half circle, ton be pas de bouree glissade saute chas, ton be pas de bouree pas de chat (change direction) to be pas de bouree glissade assemble’, changement, piroutte finish.

Yes, I did the combination correctly. Three times in each direction.

And lived to tell about it.

Nutcracker back in the day

A clip from the second Nutcracker I was in. It was our artistic director’s first year, and we’ve come A LONG WAY since then. This clip does not include much dancing, but I’m the guy in the gray jacket with the party wife in red.

The song that gives me butterflies

I was standing in the hallway waiting for class when I heard it coming from a rehearsal.

The Arabian song from Nutcracker. And it’s weird, I felt the butterflies.

Is it strange a song that triggers the emotions when I’m about to go on stage triggers almost the same response a little more than a month from when we perform?

Why does the Arabian music do that for me? It’s simple, I’m in the Chinese dance, which comes after Arabian in order. No other song does that two me even though I’m on stage two other times.

The role of party dad is almost too easy, so the overture at the beginning doesn’t quite make the nerves go. At least in our version of The Nutcracker, party parents are in the background. If we (as in party parents) mess up, no ¬†really notices unless you knock over the tree. The focus is on the kids, Fritz and Clara (or Marie, depending on the version), the dolls and Drosselmeyer (misspelled?).

My other part, I’m under the bed during the battle scene transporting a sleeping Clara all over the stage. No one knows it’s me. Most people think it’s either moving by remote control, or by some other tech form of magic instead of me giving it the “Fred Flintstone” driving treatment.

But when I come on stage for Chinese, it’s a complete different story. I know that for roughly a minute, I am the center of attention, in front of 2,000-3,000 people for seven shows.

That’s why the nerves hit when Arabian plays. That’s why it gives me butterflies every time I hear it.

The weird thing? Once the Chinese music comes on, once I’m on stage, the nerves go away. It’s just one amazing, fun, adrenaline rush.

Can’t believe we’re about a month-and-a-half away.

As for class today, it was really fun.

Mrs. O was serious about driving home points about shaping our feet and using proper body alignment.

She gave us a couple of tricky combinations: Inside turn from second, chasse, pirouette, ton be pas de bouree, repeat in the other direction … and for petite allegro: Glissade, soubre saute (misspelled?), assemble’ right, assemble’ left, glissade assemble’ (right or left depending on the direction we’re going) and for grande allegro: Sissone, sissone, sissone pas de boure’, glissade assemble. (Please forgive my misspelling of ballet steps)

They were tough. But Mrs. O explains steps so well, I was able to do the combinations, although they were a little sloppy. But for the most part, I kept up with the company kids.

I appreciate classes like that.

As I walked out, I looked at the open beginner class were they were doing slow steps.

Don’t get me wrong. Those classes have their place.

And that’s where I started.

But I like classes where I get to move. I like classes where I get to work on tricky combinations and get a sense of accomplishment when I’m able to do them.