December 31, 2010

Best of Ballet in 2010

It´s been a good year, dance-wise. I have logged in almost 200 ballet classes, and regretted none. Looking back at 2010, these are some of my personal highlights:

Spring Recital. I loved everything about it. Not just learning the new choreography and performing in front of a real audience, but also the extra classes, rehearsals and especially the camaraderie with my fellow dancers. We danced Swan Lake´s first act, actually a pas de trois, but modified for the twelve of us. Our teacher took elements from the original, like the entrance with the tombé pas de bourrés and cabrioles, the jeté entrelacés, the pirouettes and fouetté jumps. We came in in groups of three, each dancing a slightly different variation until forming lines and circles and patterns. Rehearsals were at times a bit frustrating, because someone was always missing, and we constantly had to rearrange our groups and places. But that made it an even better learning experience! Every spot on the stage is important, whether you´re dancing a solo or not. I was just reviewing the video, and as a group we danced pretty well together.

I have not permission to post our performance here, but this video of Swan Lake (performed by the Royal Ballet) shows the original - and of course so much better! Though I´m not embarrassed about our little ballet either <grinning happily>.

Getting over "I Can´t". Last spring I started to feel like I wasn´t improving the way I thought I should. To me, it looked like everyone else in our class was more advanced, doing better, getting ahead. Whereas I was stuck, still the only one not learning how to fouettée or jump brisé volés. I can tell you, this kind of negative thinking and comparing yourself to others (in an unfavorable way) is a waste of precious dance time. Ballet is hard, and sometimes that means being out of your comfort zone. What helped was my teacher talking some sense to me, as well as an article I read by Nichelle of (click here for more). Since then I have seen the light again. I now understand that you cannot become the dancer you want to be unless you sometimes fall flat on your face! Though hopefully, not quite so literally..

Photo: my own
Starting Pointe Classes. I´ve written quite a few posts to explain why I love dancing en pointe, but here´s some more: pointe classes are exciting and fun and scary all at once! For too long I thought pointe technique was beyond me, but it´s not! I can still learn new stuff, it just takes a lot of time and practice. And I´m lucky to have excellent teachers who are not put off by adult beginners. On the contrary, I think they push us even harder because of it. Also, I´m much taller on pointe. For a short person, that alone is reason enough. 

The Best Teachers You Could Ask For.  I´ve said it before: I have been really lucky. Though I was a little worried when my teacher  Gabriella left two months ago (maternity leave). I love her demanding and fun classes! Luckily, she arranged for our equally terrific guest teacher, Madame M-P. 

Every Ballet Class. I love to dance. I love every aspect of it; the hard work, the barre work, center, adagio, pirouettes, petit allegro and grand allegro, the challenges and the rewards.. When you finally nail the triple pirouette or when your grand jeté is airborne, or you just feel the music in every step and pose - it´s sheer bliss!

Happy New Year 2011!
image by ballerinaproject

December 25, 2010

Triple Goodness in Time for Christmas!

Last ballet class before Christmas.. and honestly, I wasn´t expecting all that much. For one thing, I had had about five hours worth of sleep, been on my feet all day and as a result was feeling more than a little cranky. Also, I was running late, which meant I had no time for a proper stretch and warm up. Not the best set-up for a good class, right? Nevertheless, a dancer has to get her quota, especially before a 12 day long break.  Fortunately, once the music started to play and we did the first plie exercise, all the crankiness and weariness disappeared. Just as it always does. 

And it was a good class! This Wednesday there were only four of us, with the rest working late / doing last minute Christmas shopping / holidaying in the tropics (insert appropriate envy here). So we did the entire class as one group, which equals a pretty intense work-out. But best of all, there was time for extra scrutiny and corrections. I´m always eager to get any sort of feedback, whether it´s good or not so.. As long as it helps me to improve my dancing!

Our teacher (old-school Vaganova) gave us this challenging center exercise, with fondues into relevé, rondes de jambe, piqués and pirouettes. The double pirouette en dehors was supposed to finish with the retiré leg in tendu effacé devant. And I just could not get it right. Every time I tried, my pirouette veered off the pose. Then my teacher recognized the problem: I kept opening the retiré leg too early, and that would carry me away from my axis. So I tried to hold the pose longer, and tried again.. really focusing on the finish.. and then I nailed it! A clean triple pirouette and pose! Christmas wish-list: triple pirouettes: check.  I wonder if this works with quadruple turns too.. Can´t wait to find out what happens next year! 

Happy Holidays everyone! 
And multiple pirouettes all around!

Illustration by Rudolf Koivu.

December 21, 2010

Dear Santa, I wish..

..for higher extensions (even an inch would do), clean triple pirouettes, one decent quadruple, fouetté turns (8 in succession would be a personal record), brisé volés, heels forward at all times, improved turn-out, stretched knees on pointe, pirouettes on pointe, anything good on pointe and..

..perfect pointe shoes. Dear Santa, you don´t by any chance happen to have a good cobbler working for you? If you do: my street size is 38 (European), toes are short, and of "peasant" shape (first two equally long), feet are wide-ish, heel is round, arch medium-high, instep normal. Any color is nice, though maybe not too pink.. I did see that Grishko has a new model called "Miracle" - just what I need! Oh, wait... apparently the name refers to the shoe´s non-stinky quality, and not to some wondrous insta-ballerina property. Dang! see more live performances. Next year our National Ballet is showing Kenneth McMillan´s Manon for the first time and John Cranko´s Romeo and Juliet, both absolute must-sees! I´ve only seen snippets on TV and YouTube, and I´m dying to see these ballets performed live! 

And finally, I wish for many more dance classes with our fabulous teachers Madame G and Madame M-P,  who continue to push us beyond our perceived limits in the nicest way possible. Thank you.

The Nutcracker, act 1-5. Royal Ballet (2008)

Photo above post: San Francisco Ballet: Nutcracker.

December 13, 2010

1000 Minutes On Pointe!

Just did the math: since starting pointe this August, I have had 17 x 60 min classes, totaling about 1000 minutes spent on pointe. Yay! And I´ve learned a thing or two:

  • Pointe shoes need to be professionally fitted. I bought mine 10 years ago without supervision. I did not know at the time that the shanks are too long, which is why there´s way too much bagginess at the heel. Not pretty. Also, the box of the right foot is too narrow, twisting the shank away from underneath the foot. It´s not that they are impossible to dance with, but why make things any harder? (New pointe shoes are already on my Christmas wish-list.)
  • Breaking in pointe shoes is serious business. I used the technique described by Lisa Howell, but my teacher took steps a little further and showed me how to actually break the shank at its 3/4 length (under the heel). This works for my feet. Other feet might need something else.
  • Pointe shoes are not Uggs. You can pad and tape as much as you like, but discomfort and pain are inevitable. Even when shoes have been properly fitted. But you will get used to it. I use old-fashioned lamb´s wool, though many prefer gel-tips and Ouch Pouches. Also, special blister band-aid helps.
  • Pointe shoes are not clogs either. You still need to articulate your feet, be able to roll through demi-pointe and go over the box.
  • Going over the box (without falling over) is a big deal. Also, you cannot sit in your shoes, but must pull up at all times.
  • You can´t fake pointe technique. No way. When knees need be stretched, they really have to be. Do not go up on pointe with lax knees. Also, heels must be forwarded at all times. Maintaining proper turn-out on pointe is even more crucial than it is in soft shoes.
  • Single leg relevés with passé retirés are fun to do in soft shoes. With pointe shoes, and up on full relevé? Not so much.. But I´m getting there, albeit very slowly. 
  • Pointe is not for sissies. In fact is the most difficult physical activity I´ve ever attempted to do. This includes slacklining (a form of tightrope walking), which I did way back in college. Not kidding!

    Here´s an inspirational clip from Don Quichotte, with danseuse étoile Dorothee Gilbert of Paris Opera Ballet. She is absolutely amazing!

    December 9, 2010


    Still recovering from last Friday´s ballet and pointe class.. Why? It was absolutely awesome, that´s why! Got tons of feedback from our Fabulous French Ballet Teacher, corrections, and even some praise (yay)! Best of all, I had two rare ahaa-moments. The stars must have been finally properly aligned, right along with my feet and toes. This is how I got there:

    Present your heel. Your teacher has probably taught you to forward your heel in order to maximize turnout of the working leg. The idea is to rotate from the hip joint, so that there is one continuous line, spiraling from the upper leg all the way down to the foot. A screwdriver is another popular visual image. It´s the correction I keep getting the most, and yet I struggle with it. Slower exercices are fine, as there is time enough to think and rotate. With fast dégagés, however, the heel loses its maximum turn-out at the last moment of the tendue. It´s really frustrating! At its worst, the foot looks almost sickled, not a big banana, but still. And in ballet this is very, very bad. Because as we all know, any inward sickling is a sign of improper training and or weak ankles. I´m very aware of this, and it makes me feel pretty self-conscious about my feet.

    1. winged   2. neutral   3. sickled (don´t !)
    image from

    My ahaa-moment. Madame had just recently instructed us how to wing the working foot in arabesque (note: the foot is not supposed to wing so much that it looks like a crease, but a beautiful continuation of the line). The effect is rather subtle, since my foot is capable of only 5-10 degrees of outward movement (as opposed to 40 degrees inward). Anyway, my  big realization  came when I figured out that if the working foot is winged just a little (even the idea of "winging" seems to be enough), the action prompts the to heel turn more forward, and hey presto: instant improved turnout. Ahaa! It is a small change with a huge difference. Even my brisés are better than ever. Why? Brisé is a traveling and beating step, and beating your legs in the air works best with actively turned out feet. All this time I had used less turn-out than I´m actually capable of! Ahaa..

    December 5, 2010

    Dancing Down Memory Lane, part 1

    Growing up in a still-divided Berlin, me and my pals treated the city as our playground, the vast parks as our forests, the streets and backyards as our domain.. even with the Wall a constant and sinister presence. In retrospect it was a creepy normalcy, but to us kids it enhanced the sense of adventure as we roamed about, our playtime blissfully unsupervised. At the time I was a tomboy, climbing trees and jumping fences and happy at that. I had no clue about ballet, neither did any of my friends.

    Victoria Park, Berlin

    The Wall, photo: Barbara Klemm

    I never had dance lessons as a child. No pink tights, no satiny ballet shoes, no recitals. But being so happily clueless, I never knew if I was missing out on anything. For all I know, I might have hated the whole ballet class experience. I was a competitive kid back then, always wanting to be the best and finish any race first. Not having a natural body for ballet (certainly not after hitting my teen years), the eventual disappointment of never being good enough would have been hard to bear. No regrets then. I´m just happy to be dancing now.

    As I wrote before, I had no clue about ballet. Fortunately, at the time (West-)German TV was overflowing with American programming, especially old Hollywood movies and musicals. And I loved the dancing more than anything. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were my heroes, Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron my idols. Their movement to music was the most beautiful and exciting thing I could imagine! To this day I am fascinated by the elegance of their lines and the vigor and skill of old-school musical dancing. It made me fall in love with dancing in the first place..

    I still get a big kick out of these movies and their dance numbers. And hey, there´s more ballet in them than I remembered. Go figure..

    Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly
    An American in Paris (1951), Dir. Vincente Minelli,
    starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.

    Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. The Band Wagon (1953, Dir. Vincente Minelli):

    December 3, 2010

    My Pre-Ballet Check-List

    • Dance-bag packed and ready: soft slippers, pointe shoes, lambswool, toe tape, tights(footless, black), leo, skirt, warm-up sweater, pants and socks, hair elastic and bobby-pins, towel and water bottle.
    • snack: banana and peanut butter
    • be at dance-school at least 30 min before class
    • warm-up: push-ups, sit-ups, plank
    • stretch
    • catch up with friends
    • switch to dance-frame of mind:  think positive(" I can", instead of "I can´t"),
      concentrate and absorb.
    • turn-out, heels forward, knees stretched, back long, core strong, line plum..
    • breath, elongate, dance, live!

    “You will only get out of a dance class what you bring to it. 
    Learn by practice.”
    - Martha Graham 

    To That Special Ballet Teacher

    To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...