January 26, 2012

100 Posts and 10 Questions

Dear Readers, fellow dancers, ballet-geeks, darlings. Let me just say how happy I am that you are still reading PTYD after a hundred posts! Blogging about my life in ballet has been fun, therapeutic even, but it would mean only half as much without your input. You have moved me, made me smile and given new insights to think about. Reading your comments both inspires and motivates me!

To celebrate this hundreth post, I want to ask you a few questions. Okay, the exact number is ten - but you choose which questions to answer. Think about it, and write as long or succint as you like. I'm looking forward to each and every comment! 

1. Why does dance matter to you, what brings you the most joy?
2. How long have you danced ballet / pointe?
3. How many dance classes do you take?
4. Recitals, shows - do you have performing opportunities?
5. What advice (from your teacher or yourself) would you like to share with everyone?
6. What are your favourite ballets?
7. What is the most challenging step/variation you have learned so far, or are learning right now?
8. Barre, adagio, pirouettes, allegro.. What is your strong suit?
9. How old are you? If you don't want to reveal your exact number, you may choose from:
A) 14-19 B) 20-26 C) 27-34 D) 35-45 C) 46-57 D) You can't put an age on dreams
10. Is there anything you would like me to write about, or other suggestions, comments?

Thank you!

January 25, 2012

Pirouettes, Oh How I Missed Thee!

Remember that frustrating frozen turn syndrome I wrote about last week? Well, guess what. It's gone. Melted away like the mountains of snow outside, come spring. Someone asked me on twitter, how did you do it? Simply put, I just let my stubborn nature take over!

Seriously though, I had to refocus myself. Convinced my inner ballerina that she better get her act together, that popo under and start believing in herself again. Because there is no way you can maybe turn a pirouette. You either turn or don't turn. Yesterday, I turned. Doubles en dehors, en dedans, a variation of en dehors with the passé leg staying in the back, pirouettes finishing in arabesques and even pirouettes en pointe!

My teacher's sound advice helped, again. Imagine you are performing in a full-length ballet. Your entré goes all wrong. Are you going to run off the stage? Nope. If you screw up, you continue as if nothing happened. It does not matter whether you blacked out on some step or fell down from your pirouette. You get back up, you improvise, but you do continue. Every step thereafter is a new opportunity, a fresh plate to dance from.

This advice I took to heart.

January 21, 2012

Back on the Plateau

I would love to be back in Paris, or Berlin or even back on the Prairie (never been there) - but I really don't like being back on the Plateau. The flatland of ballet's learning curve. Because inevitably there are going to be ups and downs and then a whole lot of going nowhere. Anyhow, that's how it starts to feel after a while. Even worse, you get the sense that you are loosing your footing. Literally.

I told my teacher as much, that I think I'm stuck in reverse. Not going forward. She said that I can't expect to advance with every class, not even on a monthly basis. In fact, it may take years for real progress to become apparent. Years? Years?? I'll be in retirement by then! Seriously, I am not the most patient person. But my teacher also had the good sense to remind me that sometimes it's enough to show up and give your muscles a work-out. And that "bad" days are for learning and "good" days the result of getting through those bad days!

Still, I can't help feeling frustrated. Take my pirouettes, for instance. They have always had a way of coming and going, from triples to frozen turns. One of my teachers told us that we have to be in charge of our own bodies, and decide how many turns we want to do. And that being consistent in the quality of our dancing is also key. For me though, turning is still more a game of chance. I never know beforehand whether there are going to be solid singles, teetering doubles or jackpot triples! Although in the past year (2011 included) I have been getting better, more secure - until I suffered another flare-up of frozen turn syndrome (FTS).

Now that I come to think about it, that FTS did not pop out of nowhere. Nor did the apprehension to "present myself", or giving up when faced with majorly challenging petit allegro. All of it was preceded by the limbo of The Plateau. I let my confidence be eroded by my short-comings, by comparing myself to more advanced and skilled co-dancers, and by not believing in my potential to learn and grow. It's like my teacher said, progress is not always apparent. So, even when you think you're going nowhere, you are in fact readying yourself for a change of course, and for possible new break-throughs! Which is why The Plateau is not the end of the road, but merely the beginning of another one..

January 18, 2012

Frozen Turn Syndrome

It happened sometime last week. I lost my pirouettes. Not entirely, as singles are still fine, but doubles are nowhere to be seen. Seriously, this sucks. Yeah, I know there are worse things to loose (like your marbles, the love of your live, your iPhone), but I'm still at loss over this disappearing act. It's not like it hasn't happened before, and it does happen to everyone. You have a bad day, and your pirouettes suck. Usually I get over it and my axis back under the pirouette.

But last week something happened to trigger a bad case of frozen turn syndrome (FTS). Suddenly I have no nerve to go for the multiple turn, no confidence at all. It's ridiculous, really. I mean what's the worst thing that could happen? I fall down, and it would not be for the first time. I fail - and so what? We take class to learn, and mistakes and f***-ups are part of that learning process. As long as you finish your turns with some style (even if you finish on all your fours), it does not matter.

This past Monday I tried to get back on the proverbial horse with a couple of doubles, but failed again as if I had never ever turned before. Watched in dismay as that horsey pas de chevaled away. Then our teacher gave us a no-hands exercise to do. You place your hands at your hips and turn using only your plié and your head to spot. Did I already mention that I'm the worst spotter? I may have a quick mind, but my head is the slowest to spot. Anyway, we did the exercise eight times on both sides, and I was told to repeat with the second group. I wish I could have yelled out "Look, no hands!", but my turns kept getting worse, not better. Next up, pirouette once without hands, followed by a double with hands. Again, eight times on both side.

Our teacher tells everyone to go for the double, but I do pithy singles instead. And this is not my first year in ballet. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that I've done thousands of pirouettes - most of them doubles. Some even triples. By now I know that I'm overthinking my pirouettes, and my teacher notices the same. It does not help, as I start to overthink on the overthinking, you know? I just can't relax into the turns. I have turn jitters.

After intermediate class I take basic level class in pointe shoes. I'm still learning to turn singles on pointe, so there is no pressure for more. Somehow this relaxes me a bit. After that last class I stay and practice, and I am determined. Driven. I'm the last student in the studio, my teacher is counting the attendance list, back turned away. I breath, empty my over-busy mind, plié, rise and turn. And turn. Perfectly balanced, en dehors, like I got all the time in the world! It took me seven classes, 165 minutes of warm-up and no one watching - but I got my turning groove back.

Now I just need to do the same in class. Wish me luck, and remember: turn first, think later!

January 8, 2012

Six Classes Into the New Year

Corks were popped, and the last of the ballet-pink cava drunk a week ago. Darlings, it's time to skip, hop and jeté back to the barre! Which is what I finally did this past week. I had missed those classes so badly! Don't get me wrong, I revere holidays and enjoy R&R as much as the next person - but I prefer to dance first, chill after. Ballet class is my favorite past time, and to have all that time off to lazy around, but no class to go to? It ain't right.

You know what my dream vacation would look like? All dance, with trips to the beach in between. To mix it up a bit, a week or two in Paris or NYC or London - local ballet classes and performances included of course. And to top it all off, a summer dance intensive for adults. A girl can dream, right? Although - if you leave out the trips to glamorous cities, the dance intensive and the beach, it's pretty much where I'm right now. I'm taking a 3-month long sabbatical, studying and looking into possible new career prospects. The icing on the cake: lots of time to dance! It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time.

This means that beginning of next week I have a new ballet class schedule, with the additional option of taking morning classes. I'm also thinking about renting studio space at our school, us students are getting a really good deal at 10€ / hr. Might get some friends with flexible time-tables together and do class on our own. A simple barre for warm-up, then practice pirouettes or allegro or whatever else needs working on (which is pretty much everything).

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Ballet intermediate Ballet
adv. beg. - int

adv. beginner
adv. beginner
Lyrical jazz Pointe
int. beginner
Ballet int.

There is also a short variation from Bournonville's ballet Napoli that I want to study and learn! Pointe-wise it's technically not impossible, but the big challenge is in the tempo and the épaulement. Royal Danish Ballet's Lis Jeppesen does a wonderful interpretation, the best I've seen: musical, lively, spirited and lovely. Whatever I can learn from this will be worth it, I'm sure.

How about you? Have you ever tried to learn a variation on your own? How did you do?

As for those six classes into the New Year.. The first one was wobbly and wonky. Pirouettes were off balance and turn-out was last seen in 2011. Hate when that happens. The next day I was almost back in form, and class was beyond awesome. We got to do modern ballet choreography in pointe class, with elements from Forsythe and Bejart and from our own fabulous teacher Marie-Pierre. It's something I've never done in ballet before, and totally exhilerating! Oh, and the music is awesome too, it's from Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

By the third day, my muscles were complaining, which was to be expected. Took a day off and then headed to a beginner's class. It was almost harder than my usual class! Exercises were slow enough to think about every correction I've ever received, and dance as clean as possible. I might have tried too hard, as my teacher had to remind me twice not to tense up! But it was good to slow down and get back to the bare basics.

My sixth class of the week ended with one perfect pirouette. From fourth, en dehors, turn, turn, into a neat fifth position. Balanced and controlled. Afer one week of almost there, it was so sweet. I'm ready for 2012, bring it on!

January 3, 2012

Dancelutions 2012

I used to make New Year's resolutions. You know - eat more healthy, exercise on all days, pay bills before the due date, learn French, never be late, do not procrastinate.. Then I realised that if something really matters, I will make it happen regardless of promises made. And if it does not - who cares? Instead I do as I please, whether the year has changed or not!

With dance, who needs resolutions anyway? Ballet class may be hard work, but it is a labor of love. I love to push myself, I love to be challenged and I love to dance. And I love to have something to reach for, to have dreams and goals and good intentions. Call them dancelutions, if you like. Anyway, here is my list for 2012. Which is mostly the same as it was last year. What can I say? Dance is a work in progress!


I will try not to over-think. Or in the wise words of Samuel Beckett:
"Dance first, think later. It is the natural order."

It does not matter (so much) what other people in class (might) think of you and me. If you're kind to others, have respect for the art and try your best, you're on the right track no matter what. Even if that means stepping out of your comfort zone with the off chance of making an arse of yourself. Stop worrying what fellow dancers might think. If you never fail, you have never tried!

Present myself.  Today our teacher told us to pose like queens, and I thought of Queen, and queens and Queen Elisabeth -  when I should have been thinking of Elisabeth Platel. Seriously, with this one failure can hit too close home. Who cares if you miss a step or two, but if you look silly instead of majestic.. Well, let's just say major ego bruising ahead! I need to gather my courage for this, be less cautious in my poses and way more out there: Look at me!

Must stretch every day. You get older, you possibly get wiser. Everything else is pretty much down hill. That's why taking good care of the bod becomes paramount. Also, I need that full split on my bad side too. Just in case I have to grand jeté to the right come next spring recital.

Be the boss of me. I decide when to turn a neat double or whatever, it is not a game of chance!

Believe! Don't give up before you have tried. Then try again. Then do, not try.

Dance better than myself (Baryhsnikov said that, and you gotta believe The Man). Do not compare yourself to others, there is always someone who is more flexible, can jump higher or turn better. Look at others for inspiration and help, not to beat yourself down!

Breathe. Do not hold your breath while dancing. Relax. Remember to keep shoulders down. Pointe those feet to their maximum, at all times. Elongate lines. Popo down. Deeper pliés. Turn-out, more.

Make the most of what I can do, and never give up on improving the rest.

For the love of dance, dance with joy!

P.S. Thanks to my awesome ballet teachers Marie-Pierre and Gabriella for inspiring, motivating and sharing their knowledge and love of ballet!

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, ...