January 30, 2011

Must Find Perfect Pointe Shoes!

Wore my pink tights today, which I never ever do unless bribed or forced. You see, pink tights give me turkey legs, which is just not as flattering as you might think. But when my friend asked me to come along for her pointe shoe fitting, I figured I could do both: give moral support and try out a pair or two myself. Hence the thunder-thigh inducing tights. Now, I have to admit that I´m being self-deprecating here, as my thighs are perfectly fine in the real world. They are also strong enough to squeeze orange juice, an image that has stuck with me ever since Madame told us to squeeze our abductors until we feel "The Pain"! It makes me crave a cold drink of Tropicana every time..

Back to the pointe shoe fitting: It was a busy saturday, and the shop seriously understaffed, but we were lucky enough to be first in line. The salesperson was very nice and helpful, despite the rush. My friend E is an advanced dancer with good solid technique, awesome big jumps and quadruple pirouettes (!). She is also very tall for a ballet dancer, which means that the shoe has to support more weight. Oh, and she has not been seriously on pointe for almost ten years. So I was a bit curious when the fitter asked my friend to go straight away up on pointe in seconde, which is really difficult to do in new shoes!

Luckily she switched her tactic after that and asked E to just relevé in parallel position. It made it easier to see whether the soles were properly aligned or not. But they were not: shoe after shoe, no perfect fit in sight. Either they were too wide, or too narrow or too short or too long, or a size was sold out or a more suitable model missing. So frustrating! One pair of Repettos finally made the short-list, and were laid aside. If the one other shop has nothing better to offer, my friend will have to settle for just "okay".

I did not fare any better. Although I did tell the salesperson that I wanted to try some pairs just because it happened to be convenient, and that I would be back again later. Still, after I gave her my specifics: size 38 or 5 (European/UK), short toes = short vamp, wide forefoot, low(ish) insteps, high arches and soft-medium shank, pre-arched preferably - she had only two models for me to try on. Both of which were totally wrong. Nor did the Grishko Elites fit, or any Freeds or Gambas or Repettos. I asked if I could try Bloch Morphs (with TMT shank), but the shop only carried narrow models like Suprima, Serenade and Axis. Again, so frustrating! I know Bloch Morph / Heritage / Balance European (left picture) could be just right for me, but where to shop? Obviously I cannot buy shoes online without knowing my precise size first!

I guess I have to use my back-up plan and ask my teachers for help. I´m not entirely convinced that the salesperson pulled out all her aces, since it was really busy and she was clearly under some stress. It made me feel all self-conscious and doubtful again. I mean, if I have supposedly "nice feet", there should be a pair of suitable pointe shoes out there, right? Next time I hope to bring my own expert with me, someone who knows both my feet and technique (or lack thereof). Also, I wonder if Madame would let me try out her shoes again. The new pair of Blochs (custom made, no less) she brought in a week ago was almost perfect, the right length and width and so comfortable - only the vamp was a bit too high ( I would not have known). I know perfect pointe shoes are the holy grail of ballet, and to obtain a pair of my own, I will do anything short of selling my soul. Heck, I would even wear the dreaded pink tights to class. Just dare me!

Check out this cool video of pointe shoes in the making:

January 27, 2011

Steps Gone Into Hiding

Dance geometry.
Lately I have had this feeling that my vocabulary of steps has gotten visibly smaller. There has been a lot of focus on clean technique, on improving turn-out and forwarding heels, on long backs and elegant épaulemant. Which is all fine and as it should be and certainly what I need to do. Still, I´m really starting to miss some old friends, like big saut de basques, ballotés and ballonés, cabrioles (in all directions) and fouetteés. Even my frenemies brisé volé and those dreaded turning emboite jumps, which I just never seem to get right. Nonetheless, I would sometimes like to put our quest for perfection aside and just dance, whether I look elegant or not! Hah!

Come to think of lost steps, anyone out there know what this saut is called? It´s done basically like a changement, but you bend your knees in the air, like you would do in a pas de chat. I remember one teacher from waay back calling it "Italian changement", but I could be so very wrong. Anyway, it´s a fun jump and I would love to do it again. Also that grand saut, which starts like a pas de chat, but then you straighten the front leg in mid-air (and return to fifth pos. on landing) - I want to learn it so bad! I wonder if I could ask our teacher sometime? "Madame, I have this wish-list..." 

The video clip shows Dorothee Gilbert dancing in Raymonda. Watch out for the jump at 0:42, it´s the one I described above. We never did it quite this big though.

January 22, 2011

Good Girl!

Let´s face it: this dancer is no spring chick anymore. It´s like my blog title says, I´m way past the Thirty. Like another reader so kindly commented, a "mature dancer". Well, it sure beats being immature. But yes, I have a grown-up job, responsibilities, and at the office no one calls me "girl". That would just be weird. Why then is it so sweet to be called a "good girl" by my ballet teacher? Because it is!

"Good Girl!" means that you´re doing something right, that your hard work and effort are paying off and that your teacher has noticed. In my case it was pointe class. I´m finally getting the grasp of some of it! There might just be hope yet that I will survive our spring recital en pointe..

Also, I love being one of the girls: Saara, Suvi, Eliane, Sari, Miru, Salla, Marja, Anna, Niina, Sanna, Katja, Janina, and many more.. You rock!

artist: Ray Jelliffe

January 18, 2011

First Fondues and Diving Arabesques

Last Friday, and this year´s première pointe class with Madame. We did our first fondues en pointe (well, my first anyway) -  and my initial reaction: gulp.. But surprisingly, I actually managed to roll through demi-pointe all the way up! I guess all those nasty (Madame´s word, not mine) exercises finally paid off. Not that it´s going to get any easier from here! Still, I fully expected to be shamefully out of shape with smoke rising from my burning toes.

Our barre was grueling work nonetheless. We did another first: relevés on a single foot, with passé retiré, then plie and up again. Of course lots of echappés as usual and sous-sous in 5th, with Madame watching every move under the microscope. I learned that to rise into 5th (without jumping), you have to do a tiny little "lick" with the toes of your back foot. It made me think of a cat´s paw, which kind of works since Madame often tells us to move like cats! (Not like the musical.) We also did a new enchainement in the center. Pictured right: the divine, not diving, Paloma Herrera. Photograhper: unknown.

Moving in the diagonal:
Glissade - piqué arabesque - plie - pas de bourré - repeat - and repeat - and, well you get the idea.. 

By the way, our class room is really long. As in too long for chaînés déboulés, piqué pirouettes, anything that requires some serious head-spotting! But that´s a different story. The thing is, you have this exercise which is fun to do but not that challenging in soft shoes. I don´t mean the arabesque - which can be improved upon forever, but rather the steps in between. On pointe however, oh boy.. The moves are all there in my muscle memory, except for those blocks underneath my toes getting in the way! Coming down into plié from a high arabesque - I almost dived head first into the floor, not just once but thrice! It´s a real challenge,  making those feet feel like they belong on pointe. 

I wanted to post this video here, because we have been dancing a lot to the music of Romeo and Juliet. Madame always tells us to respect Prokofiev´s beautiful score, and we try our best. Especially knowing that she herself has danced the role of Juliet not so long ago! The dancer in this clip is of course not Madame (though I wish we had her on film), but Dorothee Gilbert of Paris Opera Ballet. One of my favorite dancers..

January 13, 2011

Pointe: Tomorrow. Saturday: Pain, but No Sorrow.

Kirsty Martin. Photo Tim Richardson.
Just getting ready for tomorrow´s double bill of ballet and pointe. Found my yellow theraband behind the coach and my small rubber pilates ball between the pillows. Hmm.. I guess I have been a bit lazy with my dance homework lately. I can´t believe it´s been already four weeks since my last pointe class - which is the longest break since I started! So, I will have to keep this blog short, do some abs, eat some chocolate cookies, and dust off the trusted theraband.

I like to wrap the band around my toes, sit on the floor (back straight and tummy pulled in) and point and flex. Just something that was taught in my first ballet class ever. Heel - ball - toes. Toes - ball - heel. And repeat. It is totally simple and very effective! In addition I should probably do a set of relevés, but I don´t want to have sore calf muscles tomorrow. Come Saturday there is going to be pain anyway. Hah! I really hope my feet have not forgotten everything, and that my toes will forgive me.. But: no pain, no gain. Right? 

☆ Click here for more toe-push-ups, courtesy of Nichelle from .

Finis Jhung teaching pointe class (level 2). I´m thinking of buying the DVD. Though it´s no substitute for  a real live ballet teacher! I would view this as theory only.. And save the putting into practice for class.

January 12, 2011

Ups and Downs in Ballet (Class)

Well, turns out this week is quite the roller-coaster. It´s only Tuesday, and already there have been some minor and major upsets, as well as some very exciting news! Here´s the news: there will be a ballet recital! And yes, I´m in it! 

On the down-side - or up-side (the jury is still out on that one) - the choreography will be danced on pointe! This adult-pointe-beginner on stage, on pointe. What the hey did I get myself into? But more on the recital and all that later.. The upsetting news came when we heard that one of our advanced level ballet classes got cancelled due to too few prepaid heads in class. The time-slot was not the best (7:30 pm), and the group small to begin with. Also the original teacher left (new baby) and the new teacher did not really have the chance to attract new students. But the classes themselves were fine, very challenging and interesting.

Up and Down.. On the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. 
Then there was today´s ballet class, which unfortunately falls into the "downs"- category as well. I guess you should not take class when you are tired and certainly not when your brain is already over-worked from learning the New Job. Oh yes,  I have a new job! That was my New Year´s resolution from 2010. Find a better job and more time to dance. Check. And check! But I digress, again. Back to today´s class. So, tired and brain-fried and almost late after skating over frozen and slippery roads (without the actual skates), I was still quite happy to be in class. The barre went relatively well, I tried to concentrate on my shoulders (keep them down!) and keep my back long and my feet pointed. Not overly challenging, but a good start nonetheless. But I just could not keep it up! My energy was too low and that´s when I heard this comment, about a particular young talent still having ambitions (and therefore deserving extra attention). What then does that make us adult dancers? Unambitious? Not self-seeking? Not hard-driving? But we do too! Have ambitions that is. Why assume otherwise?

According to one definition, having ambitions means that you have a strong desire to achieve a particular goal. And in ballet there is plenty to be desired. It´s also what drives me and keeps me coming back for more. Even if I´m not having the best time of the day/week/month/whatever! I believe that many, no, most of us adult dancers have ambitions regarding ballet (and other dance styles) - it doesn´t mean we dream of dancing Swan Lake (well, of course we dream, but dream only). I´m talking about realistic goals, such as improving your turn-out, higher extensions, cleaner pirouettes, better epaulement.. The list is long! On a personal note: my goal in the near future is to advance in pointe well enough not to kill and/or embarrass myself on stage (getting off alive and in one piece is good enough)! I want higher extensions. Clean pirouettes every time. A lot of other things.

However, stupid me, hearing that we lack ambition (should not have listened), kind of lost my focus there. Come to think of it, must add this to the list of my goals: develop thick skin! Dancers need this, not just on their toes. But I did not concentrate and our teacher rightly picked on my poor execution of an allegro combination. Glissades are level 1-jumps, but I have had the tendency to do them sailor-like, swaying from side to side, as if walking on deck in rough seas. (No offense to any real sailors out there!) Instead your jump should be in the air with both feet pointed at the same time. It´s something that has been worked on, corrected and practiced. But when I am tired and dancing sloppy, I fall back into my old habit. Ship ahoy, matey! 

Now, the real downer was that I seem to have used up all my credit with this teacher. As I will apparently never learn to execute those glissades properly, she does not think it prudent to correct me anymore. It is also "the reason why I do get corrections from the new teachers." They still have the energy and interest to teach me (not spoken out loud, but implied). I suppose she got up on the wrong foot too. As for me, I kind of lost it after that. Didn´t cry or anything (I cry only when watching sentimental movies. And when there is death. Ballet is not that serious.), but for the remainder of the class I danced like death warmed over, and feeling like sh**. 

Now, I don´t want to tout my own horn, but aside from those recurring sloppy sailor-glissades, I really don´t suck that badly. I know that I´m far from perfect, heck, I´m not even on the same planet as "perfect"! Nevertheless, I have been told on more than one occasion that I do pick up corrections quite well and that I am not beyond learning new stuff. I like to believe that is the truth. From time to time I even get praise from my teachers. Go figure. Sure, sometimes I am too tired or achy to bring my 100% game to the class, but I´m "just" a recreational dancer after all. We are allowed a bit of leeway in our dancing or the attempt thereof. And maybe our ambitions are not always that visible, but trust me, they are lurking underneath, waiting to be nourished and welcomed to the spotlight! 

Dear reader, if you have made it this far, thanks for sticking with me and letting me vent! Next post will be all about the first pointe class of 2011 and the impending recital and all positive (while still being real). I do like to finish my posts on a happier note, so I recommend that you click here for some ballet-fun:

WAIT: there is a long musical intro at the beginning, but you can fast-forward straight to mark 01:47.

January 8, 2011

Pointe this Way, Please!

No pointe class yet! And I was so looking forward to it.. But Madame was still out of the country, and we had a substitute. I know the teacher, have taken classes with her for the past three years, but never pointe. She is very professional, classes are musical, always carefully planned and the exercises have a nice logic and flow about them. It´s just that I rarely get the feedback or amount of corrections I would like, which is totally fine on occasion. Gives you time to think and take responsibility for your own actions (i.e. steps and jumps and stuff ;). 

However, in pointe class I´m still a beginner and require lots of attention and instruction! Sometimes, I even need that teacher who will quite literally hold my hands. LOL. So I skipped pointe class for the first time ever. Apparently it was a wise decision too, since class was of advanced beginner - intermediate level, which is at least three years away from where I´m now. Well, at least I have one more week to get back in shape. Bye then! I´m off to do some more relevés! :)

Finis Jhung teaching pointework (level 1)

January 6, 2011

Back to Ballet, and Still Smiling. Sort of..

Back to ballet after the holidays and oh boy.. everything hurts! All major muscle groups hurt, several joints hurt and even my pride hurts, just a little bit. I can´t believe it would be so hard to get back into ballet-shape after a mere 14-days long hiatus.

Maybe the blame is on the freezing cold winter weather, or the strenuous inventory at work, or the one-too-many Christmas chocolate box. Heck, maybe I just spent way too much time couch-potatoing when I really should have been doing ab exercises and relevés! Still, breaks should be good for you, giving muscles and mind a well deserved rest. Right? Why then does this dance-break feel more like an unwelcome interruption? It´s as if I took one step forward before the break, and now I´ve taken two steps back again. But I suppose that´s ballet for you: you think you have it "made", and then you fall flat on your face. 

I have been on this road before, so why would I think I could just pick up where I left? I mean I can handle the achy muscles and sore ankles, that´s just part of the package. What I am having trouble with is losing my pirouettes (they are all over the place, just not "under me"), my jump (ballon to you ballet-French aficionados) and my coordination. A mere month ago I wrote that "my brisés are better than ever". Yesterday, they pretty much sucked. Our teacher (she of the old-school-Vaganova) gave us a basic exercise: three brisés traveling to the front, three to the back, followed by brisé vole, pas de bourré, and then repeat to the left. The first tempo gave me just time enough to send conscious command to my feet, but our teacher thought it was too boring. The quicker tempo was fun, as in me watching others sauté away! LOL. 

Then there was this beautiful but gruesome adagio: Starting from 5th in croisé, grand plie, return then relevé (arms up in 5th/3rd), back leg passé developpé to the front, leg down to tendu efface, plie and cambré forward, nose to knees, then raise with extended leg coming up, turn to seconde en face, then fouetté to 1. arabesque, followed by penché. Promenade in arabesque 3/4 of a full circle, ending in 2.arabesque, pas de bourré.. this is as far as I can remember. I think there might have been two more pirouettes, in attitude and arabesque and a Italian fouetté thrown in just for fun. Now, I do like challenges, but that adagio was at least two streets away from my comfort zone! So I´m still getting my groove back. I know it´s out there, right along with my disappearing pirouettes, my balance and bobby pins, and yet to be bought perfect pointe shoes. 

Tomorrow it´s back to ballet with Madame M-P. The French style that she teaches is a nice change from the Vaganova classes of late. But best of all, Madame´s classes are both strict and demanding, yet at the same time motivating and exhilarating.. I cannot help but being excited. It´s also the first pointe class of the New Year, and no matter how hard and difficult and even  painful it gets, I still want to be there! 

The clip below is from Christiane Vassaurd´s advanced pre-pro ballet class (Paris Opera Ballet school). It is way beyond any level I will ever reach, but a wonderful inspiration nevertheless. It is also an excellent example of the French style, which according to the German voice-over, demands "brilliant technique, clarity, virtuosity, and lots of chic." Whew!

January 4, 2011

New Year´s Ballet-Resolution: Smile!

Another New Year and time to make some serious dance-resolutions:

  • must learn to turn sextuple pirouettes, 
  • raise extensions to 180 degrees, 
  • do 32 fouettés en tournant, 
  • hop one-legged on pointe and 
  • jump entrechat-douze. 

What? I´m totally delusional you say? Oh, well then.. But seriously, before you and I make those die-hard resolutions and goals and plans, let us be realistic about what we want and how we can get there. And even before that, let´s just sit back for a moment and be less than serious about ballet.. In fact, I think it´s about time for some Funny! I saw this piece just yesterday for the first time, and it had me smiling and laughing throughout. Enjoy. LOL.

For the full length video, click here: The Concert

The clip is from "The concert, ou les malheurs de chacun", performed by the Paris Opera Ballet in honor of the late choreographer Jerome Robbins (1918-1998).

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, ...