December 4, 2011

Permission to Speed

Tuesday, pointe class with Madame. Dancing on pointe is no picnic in the park, but I look forward to this class every week. I don't care that my toes are all squished before the hour is over. This is real work that we do - and I love it! Yes, even those slow killer relevés. Sometimes Madame "apologizes" for the muscle burn that she is imposing on us, but I'm happy to work my butt off, literally, and to keep that popo under me and to pointe and stretch and turn-out. I have taken pointe technique with Marie-Pierre (we don't actually call her Madame) since November 2010, and I still can't believe my luck. We get so much positive feedback, expert guidance and hands-on corrections. Seriously, it's master class every week!

My pointe shoes, before and after.

Of course, I'm a long way from being advanced on pointe. I'm just working my way around pirouettes (singles so far) and there is heaps of basic-level technique yet to be learned! But we have advanced to rises on one leg (in center), to fondues, to ballotés in center, to balances, to adding épaulement and fancier port de bras, to jumps on pointe, to steps I don't know what to call, and to choreography. There are even Balanchinean poses!

And turns in diagonale. We did this exercise: Start from fifth, croisé. Step up to relevé wide fourth, effacé. Arms correspond to first arabesque. Close back leg to fifth - turn - degagé front leg - step into big fourth again - repeat. You stay up on pointe the whole time. It's almost like chaînés déboulés, except for the degagé leg, the wide fourth position and the back leg closing in fifth before turning. We have done this exercise before, could have been in spring, don't really remember. I have practiced them a couple of times since, on my own, and I was feeling pretty confident.

Madame demonstrated the turns in slow tempo, which as we all know, is even more difficult. You have to be in control of your balances and you can't cheat. Not that I would ever cheat! Anyway, it was single file and I was first: relevé into fourth, step into fifth, tried to turn but stumbled down. Again and again. Yikes. I was told to keep my weight forward (always good advice) and some other things that were lost in the flailing about. But I did not give up. Never give up!

As the rest of the class turned along the diagonale, I practised on the side and tried to work out the dynamic and rhythm of the turns. Before we embarked to the left, Madame gave some general corrections, and I tried once more - but with more speed. And you know what? I figured out the flow! It worked! Madame must have agreed: "Johanna, that was excellent!" Can you imagine how happy I felt at that moment? Of course, our class is neither pre-professional nor company-class. I know there is "excellent", and then there is excellent. And our teacher is always very generous with her praise. But I think I deserved it just the same!

The best part was when Madame told me I could do the turns at double tempo. No more slowing down, but full speed ahead!


  1. Lovely post again, it's always nice to read about your progress. I hope one day I can go full speed ahead with my pointe shoes, for now I just have to settle for both hands on the barre...


  2. That's awesome, Johanna! I will never understand trying to cheat in ballet class... the only person you really cheat is yourself! And you are so right, never give up! My teacher says that even if you are doing it wrong, you are still learning. And it's so true. We did a new choreographed combination in class and I thought I was doing it really, really poorly. But when we finished my teacher said that I had it all except for one step, then he showed me how to do it. If you would have asked me I would have told you I got every step wrong. Sometimes you just have to go for it, just do your best and full speed ahead!


  3. Hi M!

    Thank you so much! We do a lot of practice with both hands on the barre too - but you do get stronger. It just takes patience and perseverance.
    Enjoy the work while you're at it! :)

  4. Hi Lorry!

    Yeah, there's absolutely no pointe in cheating. You might fool someone who is clueless about ballet, but it will get you nowhere. I do sometimes see dancers who relax their supporting knee to get their developpés higher, or who hop their last turns in pirouettes. It doesn't count if you cheat!

    But trying and failing, and trying again, and failing again - this is how you learn. Just like your teacher said. Dancers are not made in one class. I'm happy for you that you didn't give up.

    We often underestimate our abilities or shy away from difficult steps in fear of looking silly. So what if we do? Not saying that YOU looked silly in the process. Although I often do ;)

  5. Yay!

    I think finding the rythm is one of the most important things in dance - and sometimes feels impossible! It's not just counting or the beat but, like you said, flow of the steps.

    I hit the flow today in my pointe class too, but I found out that I have been speeding! We have been doing a series of echappes and jetes, and I have been thinking they are too fast for me to do - turned out that I have been trying to do them _too_ fast ;)


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, ...