Tag Archives: dance

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 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.

 


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


Ever think about teaching?

Yeah, I know I probably wouldn’t be qualified.

But a drive to Native American festival yesterday had me thinking what if.

I took a tour of an old cattle drive town with maybe about 1,000 people. The friend driving showed me an old abandoned high school gym that was built by a public works program in the 1930s.

After a new school was built, an actress bought the building and ran a community theater there. She’s since passed on, and the building remains vacant except for community reunions and such.

Then we drove out to the nearby Navajo reservation, and talked about the poverty and the lack of programs there.

I guess, in a sense of a dream, I thought wouldn’t be great to offer dance classes for free at some place on the reservation or at the old abandoned gym?

I might could at least teach barre, and maybe some centre, and offer classes for all ages.

But I wouldn’t know how the idea would fly since I am … you know ,,, a middle aged adult dancer approaching the age of 50.

That’s not what people would think when they think of someone teaching ballet in a small community.

Of course, it would keep me involved, since the nearest dance studios are really about 70 miles away, and I can’t seem to make classes consistently.


Semi-private, semi-tough

I really looked forward to driving up to Albuquerque for Thursday’s class.

Last week was extremely fun, and I had to miss Wednesday’s Ballet I class because of an artist reception I had to attend.

Got there a little ahead of time, and kept waiting for others to show up.

One lady who wasn’t there last week showed, followed by the teacher.

No one from the previous week other than me showed, which really concerns me. One of the ladies who attended the week before said she was relieved we had more than four, because evidently that’s the magic number to keep the class from getting cancelled.

With only two of us, the teacher shortened the class from the usual 90 minutes to just an hour.

And it exposed a major weakness: I depend too much on my neighbors at the barre to remember combinations and to keep time with the music.

I led first on the barre because of where we were positioned, and I kept messing up during the combinations (I’d leave our a step or draw a blank about halfway through combinations). I felt sorry for my classmate. Hope I didn’t mess her up to badly.

I think part of the reason I kept messing up was because I felt so much pressure. When there is just two of you, it’s kind of hard to not catch the eye of the teacher. And his barre routines are not simple, which I appreciate.

Did much better in center, which is amazing. I actually think I’m showing more improvement with my glissades and my jetes seemed a lot sharper.

And I thought I did well during grande allegro. It started with chaine turns, then a tonbe pas de bouree glissade assemble, pique, chasse tour jete, tonbe pas de bouree glissade grand jete.

My timing was a little off coming out of the chaines. Because I was slower than the company kids at my old school, I have a tendency to come out on three turns instead of four to make sure I’m on the timing.

Semi-private classes are tough. But I do appreciate all of the corrections.

As for performing being over for me?

I did ask about the adult-character audition, and ended up missing it because I needed to spend time with my daughter today.

I was told there is still a chance the artistic director would still give me a call about possibly being a part of their Nutcracker, but I’m not really counting on it.

My old artistic director from my school back in Alabama asked me on Facebook if I would be returning home to be in their Nutcracker.

Told him I would love to be in it, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to save enough money to either fly home or drive the 1,200 mile trip. And I know he can’t wait for me to decide if I can.

I thought for a moment I could do one of those “Go Fund Me” so I can be in Nutcracker things. But I don’t get a lot of comments or likes on the blog anymore, so maybe I wouldn’t be that successful at it.

Like I said in a previous blog, maybe it will be OK just to sit out this year and enjoy taking class.

That is if we have enough coming for the classes I’m in just to keep them going.


I believe I’ll sit this one out

This past week was the first regular week of classes at BRT in Albuquerque.

For me, it was an interesting pair of classes.

Because of my now-mostly day job, my class choices were a Ballet I class on Wednesday night and Ballet II on Thursday.

The Ballet I class was pretty interesting. I hadn’t been going to it in the summer. Didn’t know who the teacher would be.

The same anxieties always hit with that first class.

The regular teacher wasn’t there. The guy who taught was the guy who has been teaching the Ballet II class that I had been going to during the summer.

There were five of us, and it was a bit of an unusual mix. Of the five, only two were women. I’ve never been in a class where we (the guys) so outnumbered the girls (I have been in classes were the numbers were almost even).

It wasn’t one of my better classes.

I’ll be honest, I always have a hard time finding the right tempo when it comes to a slower class. And this class wasn’t quite a beginner class, and the teacher didn’t quite teach it as one.

I was a bit sloppy and off count.

That is until grande allegro (big jumps) time. Sautee, fi-e, glissade, assemble’ (repeat), pique, chasse, tour jete, tonbe pas de bouree, saute chat is a combination I knew pretty well and managed to earn praise for.

Made me feel a whole lot better.

Night 2: Ballet 2 went a lot better.

Same teacher taught. Everything we did was technically a whole lot difficult than the night before. My timing was better. Technique was better.

I’ll be honest, I rely too much on my neighbors, and since my neighbors were better, I was able to step up my game.

I even managed to make it through petite allegro a lot better than I normally do. My glissades didn’t quite suck as bad as they normally do.

I also think it helped that I was more in my comfort zone.

My four other classmates were women. Why am I more in a comfort zone in a class like that?

When there are other guys in the room, I tend to get a little more competitive, unless they are good friends of mine who are company wonders like two of my close dancer friends back home.

And the two other guys are a couple of decades younger than me. Can’t figure out why I wanted to be so competitive, other than the fact that neither seems to understand spacing, which did annoy me a bit (but I didn’t complain).

Now for the title of this blog entry.

BRT has auditions on Saturday for Nutcracker and its spring performance of Beauty and the Beast.

If you follow my blog, you know I love performing. And I’ve been in at least one ballet a year, and most of the time two, since 2007.

And I was in three in what turned out to be my final year of performing with HBC before packing it up and moving from Alabama to New Mexico.

BRT has an audition for adults for character roles (and company if I were about 20 years younger and three times as good as I am). With HBC, I was pretty much always drafted, something that happens when you are a guy with the shortage of men in ballet.

A few days ago, I was for sure I was going to audition (which would have been a first even though I’ve danced in classes that were audition classes).

But I’m still adjusting to life in New Mexico. So is my daughter.

Even though there is a Ballet I class on Saturday morning (a tough one to make since my ballet commute is about 70 miles), I’ve opted to use Saturday as a sleep-in day, and a day of recreation day with my daughter, who is still not quite as connected to life and friends here in the Land of Enchantment.

So, for the first time since 2007, I believe I’ll be sitting this performance season out.

Which for me is kind of difficult.

It will be really hard reading about other people doing parts with HBC that were solely mine for the past few years.

But I’m getting older.

Maybe it’s time for me to just enjoy class and learn to enjoy performances from the audience.


A tearful goodbye to my ballet family

It dawned on me as I was driving to the ballet school for one final class that it will be 10 years this fall since I first walked into the studio for the first time as I returned to dance as an adult.

I was nervous, thinking it was absolutely crazy to be trying ballet again at the old age of 39.

I found myself in a class of some amazingly encouraging, inspiring women who redefined my definition of beauty. I was content taking class, and fellowshipping with them in the lobby. I was content with class, how it was cool that it destressed ne. It was good exercise.

I had no desire to perform, but a friend talked me into being in the party scene with her in The Nutcracker, and I was bit by the performance bug.

Around the second year I was there, our school changed artistic directors and brought in a new ballet mistress.

Suddenly, ballet went from being just a hobby that was good exercise to becoming a passion where I set goals I never thought I’d set.

I went from being in class with adults around my age, to routinely being outnumbered in classes full of company kids. Because of the shortage of male students, I found myself in partnering classes, working with girls who were my daughter’s age and eventually performing a pas de deux myself.

And I went from being a deer-in-the-headlights party dad in The Nutcracker to performing as a Chinese lion, priest, brawling cowboy, frothy hairdresser and court man in Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Firebird, Dracula, Billy the Kid, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

I also ended up helping with fundraising and performing tech crew duties when I wasn’t on stage performing.

My ballet family expanded from a wonderful group of ladies that I still call friends to dance teachers, company kids, parent-volunteers and the wardrobe ladies.

I’d been focused on my move to New Mexico that I ended up missing a lot of classes at the end.

But I felt the need to make one last class.

I was surprised by Mr. O as we left barre for center work when he entered the room with a plaque to show his appreciation for the work I put in at the ballet.

Mrs. O, our ballet mistress, taught the class. I gave her a tearful hug when class was over.

And I said a tearful goodbye to friends and faculty before walking out of the building. It was tough because the school was overrun with parents and kids registering for fall.

I do not know where my dance journey will lead from here. I hope to find a challenging open class in Albuquerque and build some relationships there.

But now, I’m kind of sad.

I started my journey just renewing a hobby. And somewhere along the line I gained a family.

Pictured is a scene from our performance of Billy the Kid. I’m the brawling cowboy on the right.billy