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

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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.


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.