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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

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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.


Against the wind

You looked out of sorts when I saw you at the Walmart entrance yesterday.

Your hair was a mess, your dress flapping against the stiff New Mexico breeze.

You looked cold wearing only the small jacket and the black stockings.

You looked lonely, like you have the other times I’ve seen you when I’ve gone to shop.

I thought about saying hello. I thought about telling you that maybe we had some of the same struggles.

You always seem out of place.

I’ve felt that way.

Like being the only boy in a ballet class long ago.

But my struggle with being out of place runs deeper.

Being out of place in your own body. Being out of place in society.

I do wonder if you’ve felt the same way I do.

And how you had the courage to deal with it.


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


The last time I did a fishdive lift, my partner wasn’t even born

How is this for returning to ballet for the first time in more than a year: Class No. 3 this week was a partnering class.

It’s been maybe five or six years since I’ve been in a partnering class. But we never did fishdive lifts in those classes.

The last time I did a fishdive lift was when I was 18 in a partnering-pointe class.

And I am two weeks away from birthday No. 51.

There were four men and four women in the class, counting the 30-something guy who taught the class. The other two guys and all of the girls were about my daughter’s age.

We rotated partners. I’ll be honest, I was nervous. I never really thought I did well in the partnering classes I was in a few years ago.

And partnering girls my daughter’s age has always seemed a little awkward.

But I was pleasantly surprised by how well the class went, and by how fun it was.

Other than the waltz-turn ballroom type combo that I completely butchered, I thought I did OK for an old man who hadn’t been in a partnering class for a few years.

The holding your partner while she did pirouette turns part went better than they ever did when I took those classes from Mr.O back in the day. I always thought I did pretty decent with finger turns and whip turns back in the day, and today was no different.

The weird thing? I can’t remember when my lifts were as good as they were today.

I lifted a girl over my head while she gracefully leaned back. Of the three-non teaching guys, I actually did the best.

And they’re much younger. And assumingly have more upper body strength.

Go figure.

My promenades with my partners en pointe were all in the right direction, which for me is a victory. I’ve often been more than confused doing any thing to the left.

As for the regular classes? I’m still shaking off the rust. My glissades suck, but some parts of my petite allegro arsenal seem to have gotten better.

My pirouettes need a lot of work. Getting back to actually doing a double might be a little harder than I thought.

And for some reason, I’m better at floor than barre. The teacher I’ve had for both classes has been challenging, but her combinations are doable. It’s just my brain has got to get used to putting together the combinations, and then getting the body to do them at the pace I need.

It would help if I could get in a little better shape. It would also help if I cut myself a little slack.

For an old man like me, I think I’ve done OK for the first week.

The neat thing is that maybe a few things I thought were beyond my reach when I quit class last year might be back on the table.

There is the opportunity to perform at this school for an old person like me.

And I’ve done one pas de deux since I returned to class as an adult. I messed up, and wanted one more chance at it.

Maybe if I stick with partnering class, that might be one more opportunity for an old man to do one more simple pas de deux before I really do hang up the ballet shoes.