February 25, 2011


Just getting ready for tonight´s ballet classes, but I´m sure Eleanor Roosevelt´s wisdom applies to any given situation.. Although I can´t say that I have ever been really afraid in ballet class. But, over the years there have been many occasions where I thought "I cannot do this." "It is just too hard." "This is only for the good girls and the pros." "Fouettés? Are you kidding me?" "My leg up there? Are you crazy?" Luckily my teacher(s) did not take no for an answer. So I stepped over myself and my self-doubt and did it anyway. I did it my way! Never perfect, mostly just barely there, but every time I tried to do "the impossible" it changed me a little. I have since become more confident in my abilities, and no longer shy away from stepping out of my comfort zone. I feel that there is still more of dance inside me, waiting to be discovered!

Above picture by Robert Caputo, August 2007
From Photography Field Guide: People & Portraits
Edited by myself using Picnik and the wisdom of E. Roosevelt.

February 24, 2011

Baby it´s Cold Outside

I can´t wait for tomorrow when I get to stick my freezing toes into pointe shoes again. The weather forecast has promised another balmy -22 ºC (-8 F), but nothing gets your toes quite as pink and hot as new pointe shoes! Aah, that warming feel of hot coals under your feet..  Although I am finally getting somewhere with the breaking-in of my pointes. After my teacher had sliced the outer soles I took those babies to a short test-drive-dance after class and was actually able to get over the box! Yay! I´m so ready for tomorrow´s class. Bring on the killer relevés and fondues, and hey, is it not about time to throw a pirouette into the mix? I dare you!

February 19, 2011

Ready, Set, Bourrée!

Pointe class, final enchainement. Start with croisé, right leg in tendu derrière. Step forward with right leg passing through to croisé, corresponding arm opening to the side (other arm staying down). Repeat four times, presenting your fabulous-ness to the (imaginary) audience, looking like you own the stage. Then, coupé, and off you bourrée eight counts to the front, coupé again and eight counts back, with beautiful arms coming up and then reverse.

We stand in line, three girls, and the music begins. Four steps, all composed and lovely and then.. Hey, nobody told me this is was a race! The other girls have bourréed half-way across the room before I have even counted to two!

On another note: my teacher Marie-Pierre came to class with her knife, which is not as scary as it sounds. I was not happy with the hard shanks of my new pointes and she had suggested already earlier to cut my shoes into shape. This time I agreed, because class was still a struggle and getting over the box near-impossible. With my now-dead shoes I had just gotten there! I dunno why I ever decided to buy shoes this hard. Oh right, there was nothing else available in my size/width! M-P took out her carpet-cutter knife and was really careful not to rip the satin, since I only have the one pair. She told me that during her 18 years as a professional she used up one pair of pointes per day, especially when she had been promoted to principal dancer! You can do the math.. Anyway, the cut and improved shoes turned out really nice. Instant arches! 

My shoes, fine-tuned by me and M-P.

EDIT: It was pointed out to me, that the cut is not at the 3/4 mark - oops! What can I say, I´m terrible at math.. Anyway, as you can see in the picture above, the cut is closer to the 1/3 mark of the sole. Math aside, this is were the heel ends, or where the instep is at its highest. Cutting the shoe at this mark makes it hug closer to the foot!

February 15, 2011

Dance like no one is watching,

.. and write poems like no one is reading! (Hah, didn´t see that coming!) Usually that is exactly what I do. I write my "poetry" straight into the drawer, just as I would never ever sing in front of people (should anyone from work get any ideas about karaoke - forget it. And that is all I will ever say on that subject.) But lately, I have been revealing stuff about myself. In public. On-line. "Stuff" about my passion for dancing, my ambitions (think quadruple pirouettes, high extensions, elegant lines), insecurities (pink thigh-revealing tights, not getting any younger here, looking silly), my bloody blisters (sorry!), even the content of my fridge (sorry, again). Where did it say that bloggers are introvert exhibitionists? There is certainly a kernel of truth in there. If it were not for the dancing. You cannot dance and be introvert, not at the same time.

Dancing - for me it is a suspension of disbelief, and a leap of faith - every time. I know very well that I will never be up to par with the real dancers of this world. The ones we admire and adore! But I do know that I have some technique to let go and enjoy myself. It is not always easy or comfortable to dance full out, with your heart on your sleeve, but it is exhilarating. Even if I  rarely have the nerve to go that far - class cannot be so intense every time! But when I do it is beyond ____, better than ____, and not like anything else in my experience. Please, if you have ever felt this way, you may insert your own adjectives in the spaces. I would love to know. 

Dance matters to me. It is not the only thing I enjoy or love, meaning that I do have a whole life outside of ballet (seriously). I like to travel, by train, and I like to read (anything from Jane Austen to Harry Potter), just to mention a few. On occasion, I feel the need to write. But blogging is one thing, writing "poetry" - something entirely else. Reminds me of that Japanese proverb:  "We are fools wether we dance or not. So we might as well dance." I like to think it applies to writing poems as well. That is why I´m ready to embarrass myself with the outing of my first public dance "poem". It can´t be worse than my recaps of  pointe shoe break-ins. Please be kind, anyway.

February 13, 2011

New Pointes - No Match Made in Heaven. Yet.

After my old pointe shoes died on me last week, I did an emergency visit to the shop the very next day. I was lucky enough to have a teacher friend in tow, who conveniently happened to be about town the very same day. Always helps to have your own expert back-up. Especially as the one professional fitter is only available on week-days. So when the shop´s sales girl handed me the shoes, my expert witness took hold of them first, and only after careful inspection handed them back over to me. Pretty awesome, don´t you think? I mean who does not love to get the v.i.p. treatment? 

Unfortunately the selection of shoes could still not be helped. The models I would like to have tried were all absent. My metatarsals are wide-ish, but my short toes only somewhat tapered - meaning that my foot sinks down in a too-square box like Grishko´s Elite. Combine that with a low-ish arch (more so on the right foot), and choices narrow rapidly. I would love to try out Primasoft Pointes, especially the Prima Russe. They seem to have more choices for short toes anyway. Sadly they are not available here. Anyone out there have experience with these?

We finally settled on Bloch Serenade TMT31, as they at least allowed me to go up without sinking down. And because of the TMT shank and box, they are more easy to mold in shape. Back home, I used the hairdryer for heat, and the fridge for cold (as per instructions), and it really worked. Although the shank is still too hard and the vamp just a little bit too high. My teacher friend told me not to let my pointe teacher break the shanks, and I should let my feet do the work. Also, professionals can afford to break in four pairs a day, whereas I´m lucky if I can afford as much in a year! Unlike Megan Fairchild, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, who in this video demonstrates the importance of The Perfect Fit. She also wears a different pair for rehearsals, class and performances. It´s scary to think that pointe shoes can die in the middle of a performance! Ouch!

However, after struggling in Madame´s pointe class I did ask her if she happened to have her carpet-cutter handy, and she promptly offered to snap my shoes. But I must have looked too apprehensive to Madame, because she told me to do the footwork anyway. Come to think of it, I´m not sure TMT shanks can be three-quartered like a traditional paste shoe..? I know that first times in new shoes are hard on everyone, and that the burning hot coals under my feet must have been the result of still-too-snug shoes. Still, when I filmed myself (back home, with laptop cam) doing relevés in seconde, it was not a pretty sight! 
I wonder which sauce goes with pointe shoes..
We will see if I can still improve my relationship with my new Serenades. After all, we have had only one real date so far. It is still too soon for the "let´s just be friends -talk". If we don´t get along after the third time, we can call it quits. And come next pay-check, I will check out another shop I just discovered. They do not employ a professional fitter, but carry the models I would like to try: Bloch Heritage, B-Morph and Balance European. Maybe there will be a match yet that is at least a little closer to heaven!

February 10, 2011

In Memoriam: My First Pointe Shoes

My trusted pointe shoes finally took their last pounding and died on me - midway through class. Ouch! I call it a testament to my increased strength that I still managed to rise up on pointe with shoes that give less support than a sports bra. My teacher just called it suicidal. But I do look fondly at my battered old pointes. They were never perfect to begin with - hello bloody blisters - but I think we had a pretty good run nevertheless. I did my first echappés, my first relevés, piqués, bourrés, and even my first wobbly pirouttes in those shoes. We adjusted to each other, and just when we had established a comfortable working relationship, it came time to say goodbye!

During their short live span of 4,5 months we did our best to learn and grow stronger, and to present ourselves as elegantly as possible. Not really succeeding in the latter, but on occasion there might have been a fleeting moment - when we came just close enough to be on the same planet, instead of occupying different galaxies altogether. My pointe shoes never got to go up on stage - that excitement will be reserved for future pairs (hopefully) - but at least they were blessed to have their shanks snapped into shape by a former Odette/Odile! I cannot say that I will miss them dearly, but good memories will never be forgotten. Even after blisters have long since healed.

Next up: Long live my new pointes!

February 4, 2011

Dancing Til I Drop, and then some

It's one of those days.. Bad hair day and then some. Woke up too early and still missed the bus, then decided to rush to the other stop only to discover that yesterday's mushy snow had frozen into slippery glaciers! Did some interesting moves, flailing arms and all, as I tried to skid to work without breaking anything. I have to say, it's a good thing I've had all that dance training!

Tonight is class with Madame again, which I usually love. If I were not soo tired! My legs are no longer legs but logs, and it will be a feat  to raise them higher than 45 degrees. Not to mention pointe class, which I´m actually dreading a bit. All those slow relevés.. But I am going, nonetheless, and will dance. Dance til I drop..

EDIT: Class was amazing, despite my tired feet and all. You just gotta love a teacher who tells you to do juicy pliés! 

We received lots of fine-tuning, especially regarding port de bras and épaulement. Madame likes it big and beautiful and expressive, whereas my "style" has been more about polite restraint. God forbid anyone should think I'm pretending to be something I'm not! Another teacher commented only the past week that we should not mistake ourselves for artists. Although I think she was referring to some mis-guided over-the-top-artsiness. Still, better to stick to the precise and academic syllabus, in her case good old Vaganova. But I have been doing ballet forever already, and think I might be ready to bring something of myself into my dancing. I don't mean changing the steps or anything crazy like that, just a bit of personalized presence. As long as I am not going to look like an idiot. 

That is why I love Marie-Pierre's classes so much. I used to think that it's her ballerina's privilege to do a port de bras the way she does: sensuous and elegant. I would never ever assume that I could just copy her! I didn't even imagine that she would expect us to! But instead she keeps telling us to do just that, to present ourselves, to be beautiful and elegant. Even better, she shows me how she wants me to do the arms or wrists or head, and it is just like hers! Only that it's still me and my arms and my wrists and my head, but for once it's all good. We are still focussing on the technical stuff, of course, like turning-out, forwarding the heels and stretching  the  knees and the juicy pliés. The difference is that now I am living and dancing moments where I feel almost like a new woman, like someone with a bit of a real dancer inside her. And it makes me insanely happy. 

Picture: my own, edited using picnik

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, ...