Monthly Archives: February 2014

When I dance, I am free

A simple combination during rehearsal Monday night for our school sketch rehearsal reminded me of why I love dance so much.

It’s that moment when you lose yourself in the music and feel like your soaring.

The combination was a grande allegro combination, the type I could do all night.

Pique, chasse’ tour jete, step, grande jete, step, grande jete, change direction and repeat, pas de bouree, glissade, Russian pas de chat on the left, then repeat on the right.

Physically, it felt amazing. Mentally even more so.

I have to admit the past two years of going to school along with working has been mentally taxing. It’s cut down on my dancing, I’ve gone from dancing four and five days a week to three (and this week, two).

My day seems out of sync when I’m not dancing. It’s harder to shake the “blah” kind of day that goes along with going to school all morning, and then spending eight hours in an office cubicle.

Ballet is my escape.

And as much as I love barre, the classes that free me the most are the ones where you come away from the barre and really move, and really dance.

Having not danced since Monday and waiting for Saturday’s class and rehearsal has reminded me how much I need dance mentally.

One of these things is not like the other ones …

If you are old enough, you might remember the song and game from the children’s show Sesame Street.

The game, of course, is to pick out the thing from the group that “doesn’t belong.”

In you’re a male or adult ballet dancer, there are times when you’ve probably felt that way.

As a teenager, I was the only boy in ballet and jazz classes, and for ballet and modern classes in college.

And for about three years into my adult ballet journey, I was the only man in ballet classes with women around my own age.

In those cases, it really ended up not being a big deal. And a confession, I found being the only boy in class actually kind of fun for the most part.

In the last four years or so, I’ve found myself in mixed classes with teenagers and other guys. No problem there, my perspective about classes and what I enjoy about classes has changed with it.

The notion of being one of the few adults in a class full of teenagers has been no big deal.

This year, though, has brought a different challenge thanks to a university schedule that I’ve had to dance around.

In every one of my classes the last few years, there’s either been another adult or two in class, or another guy, or two.

Except for the Monday night class I’m now taking. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m an adult male dancer in a class with 10 to 15 teenage girls. It hasn’t been that awkward in the sense that I’ve been in classes before, or performances with all of them.

But this is the only class I have that is in the school show (recital). The rest of my classes, the one with the adults and other guys, aren’t in the show.

Performing in regular ballets has never been a big deal. There are other adults in Cinderella, just as there have been in the other story ballets I’ve been in.

I am looking forward to our recital dance at the end of May, don’t get me wrong. It will be the most challenging ballet dance that I’ve ever been in. I am for that reason probably more excited about being in this dance than being in Cinderella (and I’m really excited about being in Cinderella).

But there is one memory that I will not forget. A couple of years ago, I took a hip-hop class, and was in the dance during the school show.

A friend of mine, a younger fellow male dancer, taught the class. And up until the last few weeks leading up to the show, it appeared he would be in the dance with us, but then he changed his mind.

It wasn’t that huge of a deal at the time. There was another adult in the class, his 19-year-old girlfriend who looked a little bit older than 19.

I remembered the strange looks I got when we were going over the choreography in the hallway.

I must be crazy for doing this, I thought.

I didn’t think about it on stage. The dance was a lot of fun.

But I can’t help but remember that incident as we prepare for our dance in a few months. What will people think when the see a man my age take the stage with the girls?

I’ll be honest, this dance means a lot to me.

It’s my chance to prove to myself … and maybe to others I can really dance.

But I can’t help think there will be people in the audience thinking …

“One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

Requiem of a Dream

That is the song we are doing our school show (recital) dance to.

Dawn C. revealed that to us tonight, as well as additional steps for the dance. The song is from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

For the most part. I thought I did OK.

As far as classes go as a whole, I had my best Monday night class of the year.

I’m beginning to get used to the combinations and the terminology.

And got praise twice, first with a pas de bouree, brisem brise combination during petite allegro. First time I believe I’ve ever gotten praise for any combination involving a brise.

Also got praise during a pique turn-chaine turn combination.

It was a fun class. The combinations were a bit simple for Monday night, but I am not complaining.

We concluded it with a fun chasse’ tour tour jete, pas de bouree turn, repeat chasse tour jete from the other side combination that I figured out early.

And this week appears to be a light one on the Cinderella rehearsal front. Act 2 scenes are taking priority, and so far, I’m only in Act 1.

With the work and school load this week, I’m cool with the lighter load.

Just ballet class today

Sometimes you get the ballet class you really need.

That was the case for me today.

I hadn’t danced since Monday, so I was looking forward to a kick in the pants type of class.

It turned out to be a little different.

Mrs. O gives you really two types of classes. Some days she really pushes you. On others, she really teaches you.

Today was more of a teaching class, and the theme was her specialty, body alignment.

She was a more hands on today than I’ve seen in a while. I think everyone of us got some form of individual correction, and there were about 20 of us today.

She gave us a killer barre stretch today to reinforce what she was teaching.

Her combinations were a bit simple today. I was a little sloppy and my turns weren’t there (I blame the layoff on that), but I could do every step and combination thrown at us today. Of all the teachers I have, she is the one who shows and explains steps the clearest. It is why I think her class is my favorite … and unlike today … she doesn’t really give us easy combinations.

And more often than not, she is the one who gives us the funnest grande allegro combinations. Today’s was fairly easy: Saute (fi-e) glissade, assemble, pique, chasse,  tour jete, saute (fi-e), glissade, saute chat, step, saute chat, step, saute chat.

Even on a relaxed day like today, she always pushes us to go a little higher on our jumps.

Today was a no-pressure day. There were no rehearsals to follow class. Mr. O doesn’t get back from Texas until tomorrow.

I’m sure the rehearsals and the intensity will return this week, but the schedule hasn’t been posted yet.

While I love to be pushed, today was just a really enjoy ballet kind of day.

An unexpected snow break

A snowfall in Alabama is like an unexpected holiday.

People around here go a little crazy when it happens … well … because sometimes we go years without seeing more than flurries (unless you count ballerinas at the end of Act I of Nutcracker).

We had an a threat earlier this year that ended up canceling classes, but it never came.

That wasn’t the case this week.

I was already expecting a lighter dance week. Mr. O is in San Antonio helping a professional company with their production of The Firebird. I skipped Saturday morning’s class because of a cold, but went to Cinderella rehearsal later in the day.

That was our last one with Mr. O out of town.

Still, I expected to at least get three or four classes in this week.

Turns out Monday night’s class was the only one until at least tomorrow or Saturday.

I’m still finding my way in that class. We went steps for the variation we’re going to perform in the school show at the end of the year. Oh boy, are they a challenge.

I still struggled with other combinations we did in class, but got praise for how I did during the adagio combination, which is not that easy (we’re on one foot it seems through about 90 percent of the combination).

And I finally figured out a challenging step that has been driving me crazy most of the school year … after we finished the combination.

I’ll admit, I’ve gone through a depressed “am I really going to achieve my goals?” period the last few days leading up to the class, and was looking forward to today’s class.

Then, the snow came.

It has snowed off and one between Tuesday morning and early this morning.

We ended up with about 7 inches of snow, which for the South is like getting a foot. Everything shuts down, except for my job. We could have had a little more, but the temperature went above freezing for a few hours yesterday, and snow turned to rain right in the middle before changing back into heavier snowfall.

At least with college classes canceled, I’ve gotten to sleep in before work.

But with the snow, there has been ballet, and I really miss class.

I could go to the open class tomorrow that is really slow and only adults (I’m actually in the middle age-wise).

Or, I can sleep in and go full force in the Saturday morning class with the company crew, which is my favorite class.Image



Ballet catching on with boys

Glad to see a breakthrough. And I think attitudes are changing. But still a long way to go in the U.S.

Following the dress code

One of the perks of being an adult dancer is that ballet schools and studios don’t require a dress code.

My school isn’t any different.

You’re allowed to dance in the clothes you feel the most comfortable in.

I’ve always worn dancer attire for the most part. The times when I haven’t worn tights, I’ve had teachers who have voiced some displeasure or joked with me about not being able to see the line.

I’ve always worn a variety of sports-related long, loose fitting shirts to go along with the tights (and a dance belt), and the last few years, a pair of warmup pants that usually come off toward the latter part of barre.

The only time I was required to follow a dress code was in a college ballet class. The two places I danced as a teenager were so happy to have a boy in class, they didn’t enforce a dress code on me.

The non-adult students at our school are required to follow a dress code (leotard colors are different for girls depending on the level, but company its black with pink tights, for boys, it’s white T-shirt (or leo under tights) and black tights.

Evidently, some of the kids had gotten a little lax about following the code. Mrs. O sent out a letter last week informing students they must follow the dress code in all non-open classes with the exception of the Saturday morning company class I’m in.

How does this involve me? If you follow my blog, you know I’m in two company classes in addition to the open classes I take. The Saturday class, I guess, is our version of casual Fridays, so it’s pretty much dress as usual.

Monday night’s class? Dress code is in place with the company girls I’m in class with.

As the only adult and the only male dancer in class, I felt an obligation to comply with the dress code even though it’s not required for me to do so.

So I brought out the white T-shirt to go along with the black tights, the first time I’ve done so since my college days.

For some reason, it seemed a good fit for the class. My Monday class is the most formal I take.

Oh yeah, and the rule requires no warmup pants in class. I (along with a few of the girls) wore them when I came into the room. But they came off when class began.

If you follow my blog, you also know this is the class that is my most challenging. But tonight was probably my best in the class all year.

One of the challenges for me is that Dawn C. uses different terminology for steps and combinations than my other teachers. But I’m beginning to pick that up. She uses a different phrase for tour jete that I can’t possibly spell. And I found out that the double A (or double assemble’) turns were actually chaines.

Hence a better class.

My en buate (I know that’s spelled wrong), saute basque turns and brises are beginning to come around.

And we had a really cool grande allegro combination (Pique, chasse, tour jete, chasse, fouette, chasse (in other direction), assemble’, prepare, three saute basque turns, step grande jete. It was fun. Just wished I could have jumped a little higher, but I was too busy analyzing the combination, making sure I was turning the right way.

It was a good way to end a stressful day. And it was finally good to see some progress in the class.

So you’re an adult who wants to take ballet?

I had dinner with a friend the other night who mentioned she might want to take ballet, but really didn’t know where to begin.

And truly, finding out how to begin, I think, might be the hardest part.

Step 1: Find a class.

It’s not as easy as one might think. It often depends on where you live, and how far you are willing to drive to take class. If you live in a big metropolitan area, you may have plenty of options. If you live in a rural area in a region of the U.S. like the South, maybe not.

The first thing I would do would be to check online. If a school in your area has a website, then the second part is really easy: Send them an email asking about adult ballet classes.

As hard as it is to believe in the 21st century, some schools in my area don’t have websites. If that is the case for you, go to the phone book, get up enough courage to call about classes. But don’t be fooled. Just because a school advertises that it offers instruction for adults, that’s not always the case.

What kind of school to look for? I’d look to see if there are any pre-pro schools with a performing company in the area before I would try the “Little Miss Susie” type of studios. Pre-pro school schools tend to be more adult-friendly (and more open to male students), have better trained faculty and usually offer more adult or open classes (as in open to all, you might get a mixture of ages). And pre-pro schools usually give you the option of paying by the class if you want to just try it out (some have been known to allow free try out classes).

That doesn’t mean “Little Miss Susie” studios should be ruled out, especially if you don’t have a pre-pro school around. You can probably get a good idea about their attitudes about adult students from the phone call or email.

Step 2: Find the right level of class

Your choices might be limited, depending on the school. But if they offer a strictly beginning class and you’ve never danced before, start there. In a perfect world, you should start at the beginning of the school year. But that shouldn’t stop you if you’re itching to start classes now. The school where I take classes accepts new adult students year-round in the open classes. But if you start mid-year, you may find yourself trying to catch up to where the rest of the class is now.

Step 3: Find the right clothes for you

I know some adults who have this “romanticized” version of what they think ballet class is like, and go all out to find clothes that “fit the code.” I also know people who are scared to death of taking a class because of the dress code.

My advice to the first group? Don’t go all out on dance attire until you know for sure ballet is indeed for you. Dance clothes can be a little expensive. I’ve seen people dressed like proper ballerinas who are gone by the third or fourth class of the year, never to be seen again.

If you’re in the second group, guess what? You’re in luck! Most schools that have adult or open classes do not have a dress code for adult dancers. You can come and dance in clothes that allow you to move comfortably. They allow clothes that fit your comfort zone and are forgiving to non-perfect bodies.

Most adult dancers I know where close to dancer attire, but warm up pants, yoga pants, tank top, loose fitting T-shirts and baggy shorts are perfectly acceptable at the school where I take class.

Step 4: Throw out any preconceived notions of what you think class is going to be like

If you never taken ballet before, there’s a chance it may not be what you thought.

A strictly beginner class, for example, may be really slow to you, depending on the teacher. Or, it may be a lot more advanced. I’ve been in classes advertised as beginner-intermediate that leaned more toward the intermediate side that it chased away a lot of the new people in class. And I’ve been in classes where the opposite was true.

Step 5: Be patient, don’t judge yourself by how others do

This is especially true if you end up in a class where there is a mixed, or if it moves at a faster pace. Chances are, even in a beginning class, you’re going to be in a class with people who have danced before. They’re good to follow and learn from, but not to judge yourself against.

We all learn at our own pace. Some people pick things up really quickly and look graceful and beautiful. The rest of us have to work really hard at it. If you take a class that isn’t really a beginner class, chances are it’s going to be really overwhelming. There’s a lot to observe, the positions, the steps, arm movements, head movements.

Don’t be afraid to jump in and look foolish. I’ve found that I’m the type who learns as much by trying a difficult step or combination and analyzing as I go rather that purely sitting back and watching. That may not be the case with you … but I can tell you, things that overwhelmed me a couple of years ago, I really enjoy doing now.

Ballet is hard to do. Even the better dancers are still chasing perfection.

But the more I’ve learned in ballet, the more funner it becomes.

In a strictly beginner class, chances are you’re not immediately going to be dancing across the room. But if you stick with it, you will reach that point, and that’s my favorite part of class.

Why do they quit dancing?

I have to admit I find myself a little bit envious of the company kids I’m performing with in Cinderella.

I enjoy watching them perform steps and combinations I wish I could halfway do. They have really cool dancing parts and I always crave to do more.

Of course, there is always the reality that reminds me that I’m not one of the kids, but an adult. I’ve got physical challenges that come with aging. I can’t jump as high as I want. I can’t move as quick. I have coordination issues that were there even when I was young to do what they do. And I have this thing called work that limits the time I would probably need to rehearse for more difficult parts I dream about.

I have been really blessed since Phil and Rachel Otto arrived in Huntsville. When we take the stage for Cinderella, I’ll be performing in my sixth ballet. There aren’t many “adult recreational dancers” who can say that. And I’ve had some really cool parts, Friar Lawrence, Chinese Lion and the guy who died twice in Billy the Kid (and actually was in a dance at the beginning).

The Ottos have truly inspired me, and I’m grateful for every role they have given me.

And while I crave at times to do more than I should, I’ve also feel a little bit sad for those company kids I sometimes envy, but really admire.

That hit home for me during Nutcracker production week. I have been “crashing” company warmups for a few years in the performances that I’m in. And a couple of company girls who are seniors got really emotional during warmups with the realization that it was their final Nutcracker with Huntsville Ballet (at least for now).

I don’t know where their personal dance journeys will end. But I know for some of the company kids I dance with, that journey ends when they graduate from high school.

Unlike a lot of “adult recreational dancers,” ballet is not just a form of glorified exercise for me. It’s become somewhat of a passion for me that at times borderlines on obsession.

I love it. I can’t fully understand why people who love dance give it up once they become adults, especially if their dreams of a professional career doesn’t come to pass.

Very few golfers make the PGA tour, but people in their 70s fill up golf courses. Very few people make the major leagues in baseball, but yet recreational softball leagues are full of people older than me who are still swinging for the fences. High school band members end up in community orchestras.

Why is dance so different?

I’m blessed to be Facebook friends with a few former Huntsville Ballet dancers. One is about to graduate from nursing school.

Another is a valet in California with dreams of going to medical school. Another is a teacher who is about to go out of the country. Another has just started her college career.

All were beautiful dancers. All of them are amazingly bright young adults with bright futures in whatever they choose to do. But yet I’m sad for many of the ones I know who no longer dance on a regular basis.

I do understand the burnout factor. If I danced from the age of three through 18, I could see the need for a break. Or if the realities of not advancing further professionally makes you want to get away from the studio for a while. A good friend of mine in California has had that love-hate relationship with ballet.

I told him once I hoped the joy of dancing would return when he was not dancing professionally.

And I can also understand the injuries piling up fir a company kid or someone who has danced professionally. And I’ve been blessed not to have any nagging injuries (the one benefit of waiting until your late 30s to really get serious about dancing).

But still, I have to wonder, five to 10 years down the road, how many of those company kids that I was in rehearsal with tonight or in class with during the week will still be dancing.

As for me, I’ve come to realize when its come to ballet, or dance in general, I’m not normal.

It frustrates me at times when I struggle with things I believe I can do. But it brings me joy.

Five, 10 years down the line, I still see myself still being Don Quixote tilting at windmills when it comes to ballet, still chasing goals like doing double pirouettes on a consistent basis despite my inability to spot, or to be in a complicated choreographed dance despite my many spacial issues … or doing that elusive second pas de deux.

Ballet is my escape from the office cubicle and the college classroom, the dance studio, my refuge.

I love it.

And don’t intend to give it up until perhaps when I need a hip replacement.

That moment when you nail your music cues and your dance steps

It happened tonight during Cinderella rehearsal.

I pretty much figured out my music cues during rehearsals earlier in the week, but my dance steps and timing on a couple of my character duties had been a little hit and miss.

I was spot on tonight.

I really feel good about how I’m doing in my role. I probably haven’t been as much of a “Diva” as the hairdresser as I need to be in a comedic role. I’ve been perhaps playing it a little too straight (no pun intended), but Mr. O says he’s pleased with what I’ve done.

We’ve about have Act I put together. I’ve had rehearsal seven of the last 10 days, which is the most for me at the start of rehearsal. Usually it’s once a week until tech. But we’ve already put in a lot of work and the performances are still a way off, on April 12th.

Part of the reason things have been intense this early is that Mr. O is helping a professional company in Texas stage The Firebird in a couple of weeks, and he wanted to get enough put together before he left.

There is still Act II to put together, which I’m sure will take priority when he returns. I’m not scheduled to be in the second act, but things are really still fluid, so who knows?

Class-wise, I think I had one of my better ones tonight, It was not one of my regular classes, but since I took off work for rehearsal, I dropped in on the company class right before rehearsal.

My turns finally seem to be coming back. And I think my inside turns were much better. Petite allegro was a bit tricky, and my feet still look awful during brises, but for the most part, it was a good, solid, fun class.