Category Archives: ballet

The fun, the challenge of teaching ballet

I know I don’t look like a ballet dancer.

I borrowed that line from my old artistic director who gave a presentation during intermission of our school-show performances of the Nutcracker.

I borrowed a few things from him and a few other teachers when I taught a few kids in the local university’s music outreach program this week.

I taught two music and movement classes with the director of the university’s music program.

It wasn’t your traditional 90-minute barre-centre class.

My part of the classes consisted of about 30 minutes each.

What can you do in 30 minutes?

I taught the positions of the feet, and of the arms. I also talked a little about ballet etiquette.

And then I showed them a few simple steps during Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling.

And let me tell you, making it up as you go along is probably not entirely the best method of teaching choreography. If I ever get a chance to do it again, I’ll do a much better job studying the music.

George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins I am not.

I threw in tendues, degages, glissades (simple, broken down) and simple jumps.

What can you teach when you are working with kids aged 3 to 11 (and most closer to 3 than 11)?

I now have a lot more appreciation of my former teachers. It was not easy. But it was fun.

And the kids were enthusiastic. That included some of the boys, a couple in particular who seemed to take an interest in what you were trying to teach.

I’m glad to see maybe we are advancing a little more when it comes to attitudes toward dance … ballet in particular.

The music director indicated she might invite me back.

I wouldn’t mind that at all.

And even though I’m about 70 miles away from legitimate adult classes, I’m considering plunging back in even though I’m now 52 years-old and have put on a few pounds.

I was recently diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic, and the doc says I need to exercise more.

Might as well do the form of exercise you enjoy the most.

teaching


Teach ballet? You must be joking

A few months ago, I judged an American Idol-like singing contest in the small New Mexico town where I now live.

I was one of three judges. The others were the music program director at the local university and a Grammy-winning Irish tenor.

I confessed that I had no singing ability whatsoever.

But I told the music program director that I had performance experience. I told her I once performed minor roles with a ballet company.

Famous last words, I guess.

A few weeks ago, she asked me to help her with a master class she teaches for outreach kids.

It’s a music and movement class.

She asked me if I would teach ballet steps to the kids to a Justin Timberlake song.

I told her I didn’t have any experience with choreography, but yeah, I would give it a try.

It’s now been broken up into two days. And college students will be participating.

“Everybody will be dancing,” she said.

The song: “I can’t stop this feeling.”

I told my old artistic director. I’m sure he got a good laugh out of it.

Fortunately for me, it’s only going to go about a half-hour each time.

We’ll go over the different positions.

And I’m sure the rest will involve plenty of tendues, degages, plies and maybe a few simple jumps thrown in.

Should be quite an experience.


The Only Boy in the Room

He felt the stares as he walked into the room.

This wasn’t the first time. He still felt a little nervous each time class was about to begin.

He observed the girls as they put on their shoes and checked their hair.

They were nice to him. He didn’t complain.

He took his place at the barre, hoping he didn’t seem like an intruder in their space.

He was new at this studio, but not new to ballet.

But still, he didn’t quite feel at home.

He knew he wasn’t one of them. He wondered what they thought.

He’d heard snickers before when he had the audacity to know what few boys in the South ever did.

Take ballet? Are you serious?

Wouldn’t you rather play football, basketball or baseball?

Aren’t you afraid people are going to think you’re gay?

He’d heard those questions before from family members and friends.

Or at least he considered them friends.

He had been called a sissy at school.

And sometimes he didn’t want people to know that he took ballet, that he wore tights, that he loved dance.

Having moved to this small town, he still had thoughts that he didn’t quite belong.

Boys don’t dance. At least not in the South.

Especially in a town as small as this.

The nerves went away it seemed when his teacher entered the room.

She was strict. But she was kind. And very encouraging.

“Ladies and gentleman,” she would say, with an emphasis gentleman, as they began their combinations at the barre.

He lost himself when the music began to play.

Tendues, degages, frappes.

“Point your foot, Michael,” Madame Sherri would say. “Susan, use your head.”

The corrections, they came.

Trying to stay on demi-pointe was a challenge for a boy of 12 and he tried to stay in time with nine girls.

Fondue, grande battement.

Stretching in the middle of the combinations.

Aren’t you afraid you’re missing out not playing baseball, his mother asked him once.

He didn’t mind playing sports. But he wasn’t that great at them.

People didn’t understand the challenge of ballet.

If only they knew the challenge of keeping your balance during adagio.

It took more stamina than football, he once thought.

Glissade, jete, glissade jete, glissade jete right.

Glissade jete, glissade jete, glissade jete left.

He tried keeping up with the petite allegro combination.

Glissade assemble, glissade assemble.

“Very good Micheal, now use your arms,” Madame Sherri commanded.

Did he really belong here.

Yeah, he still thought that at time.

“Ballet is woman,” is a phrase the great George Balanchine once said.

Too many in the culture he lived, that was an attitude, but not in the sense the great ballet master meant.

He felt a sense of accomplishment when he finally consistently started doing triple pirouettes consistently.

He smiled as even the best of his female peers struggled to do that very thing.

His favorite part of class was grande allegro.

If petite allegro was his weakness, grande allegro was his strength.

The girls in the class took notice as he soared higher and farther than they during combinations.

Any combinations with tour jetes were his favorite.

He felt as if he was flying.

Ballet gave him a feeling he never felt playing sports.

It usually took him to the end of class, but he realized he was at home.

He didn’t mind feeling different afterall.

As his classmates curtsied and he did his princely bow, he couldn’t believe how fast class went.

He couldn’t believe how good he felt.

Editor’s note: This is a short story. It may eventually be part of a book. It is to a degree autobiographal, if there is such a word.

 

 


Here’s to the dance moms who support their sons

It couldn’t have been easy for her watching her son dance in a purple unitard that matched the girls he was dancing with on stage.

That was probably the worst costume ever for a teenage boy performing with his jazz class back in the 1980s, especially in the South, where boys play football.

They don’t dance.

But to be honest, I was in pure bliss dancing the choreography to the song “Shout” by Tears for Fears.

I don’t know if I truly believed my mother when she told me she liked the dance.

She was at best a reluctant dance mom. My sister dancing, that was no big deal.

But I think me asking to take dance classes, don’t think she was really all that thrilled.

I played baseball, and sucked at it. I also played high school football.

But the notion of her son asking to take ballet and jazz, well I know it through her.

My father wasn’t thrilled, that’s for sure.

But to her credit, she let me do it.

I know she was worried about what other people thought.

No one question’s a boy’s masculinity or sexual orientation when you play football.

But back then, taking ballet or any other form of dance. That’s another story.

My mom’s a great mom, don’t get me wrong.

When I returned to ballet as an adult, she seemed excited when I invited her to whatever performance I was in, whether it was the Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet or Billy the Kid.

 

I do wonder, though, what it would have been like to have had a mother who fully supported me earlier. But I’m not complaining.

I’ve know other guys whose mothers flat out did not let them dance.

That’s why I truly admire the moms of the few boys at the schools where I’ve taken class.

While I think its more culturally acceptable nowadays, the stigma still exists and is a reason parents don’t encourage their boys to dance.

It takes a truly courageous mother as well as son to embark on a dance journey.

I’ve heard some say they’ve had to put up with snide comments. Others fear, and legitimately so, that their sons will be bullied.

But still, I’ve observed mothers and parents in general, who have given their support through hours of classes, rehearsals and performances, with words, money and even put in hours helping with costumes, props and other things backstage throughout their career.

I am thankful with Mother’s Day tomorrow for the moms who have encouraged their sons when their sons have wanted to dance.

They play a vital role in the dance world.


The night my double came back

I have always had a love-hate relationship with my pirouettes.

Some days they’re spot on. Other days, I couldn’t buy a double to save my life.

It’s been that way since I returned to dance as an adult.

And after a year away, my expectations haven’t been that great. But that’s OK. How many people are still dancing when they’re 50?

But Monday night was one of those nights when I just felt it. I was staying up long enough, I felt, what the heck, why not go for it.

I nailed doubles on both sides.

I know, it’s a modest goal.

And for once since I started back I felt reasonably well with how I did at the barre. My mind didn’t drift nearly as much. And I kept on pace with the footwork … frappes, pas de chevals, the whole works.

And centre was OK. I zigged a couple of times when I should have zagged. But my transition from pique turns to pique arabesques were OK. As were my chaine turns.

But there are steps I haven’t done in a while that I’m trying to reprocess after such a long layoff.

I want to step up my game and show these folks I can still dance, especially by the time they hold auditions in the fall for Nutcracker and the other shows they have.

Rumor has it, they might be doing Firebird.

I love the ballet. And I’d like to have more than the bit part I used to have in it back at the old studio back home.


You want me to do a “bluebird lift?” Seriously?

The first thing that came across my mind during today’s partnering class was: You’ve got to be kidding me.

I mentioned last week that it had been years since I’ve been in a partnering class. And even then, my experience is limited.

I’ve done one pas de deux in my life. And messed up.

And one to have one more shot at it.

Today, well, was a master class taught by one of the former teachers from the school who was back in town.

It was also led by a dancer with State Ballet, fresh off the Nutcracker.

The teacher from out of town, who was really good, had the pro dancer lead us through the Snow Pas de Deux from Nutcracker.

Did I mention this was only my second partnering class in eons?

We went through it in part. Boy, my promenades with my partner need work.

Near the end of the pas, there is a thing called the “Bluebird lift.”

At least in this pas.

I mentioned last week about my lack of confidence with lifts, and my lack of upper body strength in general.

I thought I would sit this part out.

“Scott, are you doing the bluebird lift?” the teacher who led the class asked.

Evidently, no was the wrong answer.

Thanks to a couple of spotters and a very trusting partner, an ancient soon to be 51-year-old not only caught a 100-pound woman, but lifted her in the air.

Much to my surprise.

“You’re really brave,” I told my partner when I lifted her back down to the ground.

“I trust you guys,” she said.

Did I mention ballerinas are fearless?

The get a bad rap. But try jumping into an aging guys arms and have him lift you above his shoulders.

I still amazed by their complete trust in their partners.

As for the regular class before, yeah, I struggled with barre again. It would help if my mind wouldn’t wander when the teacher explains the combination. Most were doable, but there are times when I wish my mind would move a little faster when remembering what step comes next.

I thought I fared well during the adagio combination. Maybe I can dance after all.

And petite allegro went OK for me. Sisonnes, how I’ve missed you.

And sense there were enough guys, we actually did a couple of men’s variations. It’s been a while since I’ve been in classes where that’s happened.

A tour-enlair? Now that’s a challenge for an old dude who hasn’t done it in a while.

But I think I did OK.

On the health front: My sugar count has dropped to its lowest level since I found out I was a type 2 diabetic.

Weighed in today after the back-to-back classes at 210.

That’s down 8 pounds since that dreaded checkup when the doctor informed me I was a diabetic, need to change my diet and exercise almost daily.

Which I do. I walk at least two miles a day on days that I don’t dance. Except Sunday. That’s the day between dance days.

My body does need a break now and then.

Thank you for putting up with the ramblings of an old dance dude few readers there are out there.

Till next time.


It’s a small dance world, afterall

Back at my old studio in Alabama, our artistic director and his wife, our ballet mistress, used to say the dance world was a small one.

Both were amazing dancers in the day, and danced with some of the top companies in the country.

Whenever one of their professional aspiring students went to summer intensives, they always met teachers or professionals who knew them.

Funny, I never thought about it applying to a recreational, adult ballet dancer.

And then I moved 1,200 miles to New Mexico.

Turns out, the teacher I’ve had for the three regular classes I’ve had used to teach two of the girls I used to dance with back, who were sisters and were my last two stage wives in the productions I was in before moving west.

One of my fellow adult students near my age who was in class also knew one of my fellow adult students (and teacher) from my old school back home. They were evidently at an adult intensive together in New York a few years ago.

So yeah, it is a small dance world afterall.

As for class Monday, I still continue to struggle relearning steps and combinations I haven’t done in a while.

And this week’s class was a small one, three ladies and me.

That meant there were a lot of corrections. That includes old ones, such as spotting on turns.

I’m also having to re-educate myself on arms during tour jetes and saute chats. My glissades, though, and saute chats were better. And I’m finally getting those cabrioles to the back.

Barre work continues to be interesting. My mind and body are still trying to keep up with the pace. I don’t mind though.

I’m almost 51 … and I’ve been out of dance for a year.\

I couldn’t rely on my neighbor since there were only four of us, and when we switch to the side not facing the mirror, yup, that was a challenge. But maybe it will make me less reliant on my neighbor.

And petite allegro was fun on Monday. Yeah, it’s still my strength, the one part of class where I can somewhat redeem myself.

Health-wise, I’m glad I’m back.

I’ve had three good workouts in the past four days (three classes on Saturday and Monday, followed by two miles of walking around the track today).

I’m now down to maybe one or two sodas a week (and those are Coke Zero).

Before I got the edict handed down by the doc, it was six cans of regular Dr. Pepper a day.

I haven’t had  a soda at work in almost a month. Now, it’s pretty much water and green tea.

And I might eat red meat once a week now.

I’m still trying to work my way into that Mediterranean diet the doc recommends.

I’ve cut down sugar tremendously.

And I’ve cut back on the portions.

I’ve decided to work toward being a little leaner and healthier by Nutcracker auditions in August.

That’s another reason I like the new studio. Adults do audition for character roles.

Maybe that gives me another goal to work toward.

I would like to be in one more Nutcracker before I hang up the shoes.

I didn’t know my last one a couple of years ago was going to be my last one (I didn’t know I would be making a radical move).

I need some closure … lol


Can I do this again?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and for good reason.

I thought I’d given up ballet for good. Not long after I retried to get back into ballet, I was promoted to publisher of the small town newspaper that I was editor of.

The long drive and added duties pretty much led to that decision.

Well, something else happened that has rocked my world a little bit. My daughter and I had both been battling weight problems, so we finally decided to find a family doctor in this small New Mexico town.

I was feeling good about where I was at 50. My heart rate is good. My blood pressure was fine. My lungs checked out as I expected as a non-smoker. But because I was overweight (really, I was shocked I weight only 218, which I thought was OK for a man my age), the doctor suggested I do fasting labs.

Maybe doing that right after Thanksgiving wasn’t a great idea. I’m not going to say I’m a border-line diabetic. You either are, or you aren’t. My sugar is too high. My cholesterol is a little high, too.

It’s really not surprising. Too many sodas and too much fried food finally caught up to me.

Changing my diet was the first order of business.

The second? The doc wants me to exercise 4-to-5 days a week.

I started walking. And my cousin and I have set a goal to run in a 10K.

My daughter suggested I get back in dance.

Yeah, at 50.

But it was the only form of exercise I’ve consistently stuck with most of my adult life.

I thought about going back to one of the couple of places I’ve tried since moving to New Mexico.

They’d probably say “you again? how long before you quit again?”

Another dance studio kept popping up in my Facebook feed that encouraged people to give their classes a try after the holidays — including adults.

So I sent an email about the lone adult class listed I could take because of my schedule. I mentioned I took open classes back at my old school in Alabama, and that I had mainly character role performing experience.

Rather than receiving an email giving a little information on the class, the school director asked that I give her a call.

She was curious about my performing experience. A company was not listed on the website or Facebook page. But it turns out the school is attached to a company.

She is encouraging not only to take the class that I sought, but a couple of regular classes she teaches of which adults are allowed to take … and that includes a partnering class that includes adults. She said I could take them at my own pace.

“We also have a choreographer who needs another man for a character role for a ballet this spring about ancient Greece,” she said. “Look at me, I’m already trying to cast you and you haven’t taken a class.”

Really, even at my age, the thought of a partnering class and a performance opportunity does excite me.

And I’m looking forward to taking class tomorrow night.

But some of my doubts have already creeping in about how my skills have already eroded. Seriously, it’s been really two years since I was seriously taking class (not counting the false starts).

What if I’m too fat? What if she says, sorry, you’re not what I thought you were?

I’ve decided to try to have fun tomorrow night.

But I have to wonder … Can I do this again?

meonstage


Going to get back to work on that double

Today was week three in the incredible new world of nothing but adults ballet class.

As an adult “Ballet II” class, we still have quite a few different levels. It’s nice to be among the top of the class.

We continued to work on building up to pirouettes, and those of use (about three in a class of about 15) who had experience with turns got to try them at the end of the combination,

When you haven’t been doing ballet of any kind for six months, there is much to build back up. That includes my turns.

My old problems have returned. I still lean back when I turn. I can’t stay on releve’ long enough. And my left side, which used to be my strength, was pretty bad.

But in this new, informal without performing ballet world, the old goal still remains to hit doubles cleanly and consistently, and work up to a triple. If I can do that, I’ll have to get video of it to send to Mr. O, who once vowed to make it his life work (a joke of course).

As much as I do like the new place, I still miss my home, and the adrenaline rush of being on stage, that I confess.

The classes I’m taking are basic compared to what I’m used to, but still fun.

I didn’t look like a complete idiot during petite allegro, and was one of the better ones in class doing a two pas de chat, jump second, three changement combination that kept changing directions. At least at a slower pace, I’m not thinking about arms and head. I’m hitting those without thinking.

Of course, petite allegro hasn’t involved jete’s or glissades (things I confess I’ve never done well), so it hasn’t been a mess.

And grande allegro went well. Always been my strength. It was the same arabesque hop combination we did last week.

It was pretty basic, but still a good work out.

Class is going great. But that 140-mile round trip will pretty much limit how many classes I’m able to do.

Right now, it looks as if one class a week will have to do.


Muscle memory kicks in

I remember when taking class with young company wonders at the old studio back home how envious I was of them.

The could do steps and combinations without thinking.

I would usually be really frustrated.

Mr. O, the old artistic director would remind me that most of the company wonders had been taking ballet since they were 6 or 7. Many of the steps that were routine for them, I was just trying to master.

Things are a little bit reverse in the Level II adult class I’ve managed to make for the second Sunday in a row.

Out of the class of about 10-11, I’m up near the top. Most of the steps are basic, but that is OK.

I think part of the problem since I restarted ballet as an adult is that in some ways, I plunged in too quickly. I moved on to more complicated steps without entirely mastering technique.

I’ve used the last couple of classes really to concentrate on technique. In a combination across the floor, we did passe releve’ where in my old ballet world I would try to work on hitting that double pirouette consistently. Muscle memory wanted me to turn (and I did a couple of times).

While others in class were doing combinations at the barre with arms in second, I was trying to concentrate on the proper arms and head positions. Muscle memory carried me through while others struggled.

I know how they felt.

I have to say, while the class was pretty basic from what I’m used to (Ms. B., the teacher, introduced grande allegro to class today, so we are a long way from my favorite step, a tour jete’), it was pretty cardio as ballet class gets for a 50-year-old out of shape dude.

There is a Thursday class I’m trying at the same level with the same teacher and many of the same students.

So I can finally say that I’m plunging back in.bianca

Oh yeah, the iPhone shot is a bit blurry of Maple Street Dance Space in Albuquerque, where I take class.