October 29, 2012

Is it Show-Time Already?

Nothing has been confirmed yet, but looks like we're going to reprise our Don Quixote -inspired dance for the school's xmas show! Yay! Now it just depends on whether we get enough of our original cast together. It's always tricky with us adults, especially right before the holidays. We have to be able to commit to additional rehearsals, and be free to dance just two days before all of Finland retreats home to spend Christmas. I know some of our "corps" has travel plans, while a few others are no longer at our school (or even in the same country). I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we get to go back on stage - I have really missed the experience!

I also hope to dance and perform better than I did last time. (Read the re-cap from our spring performance here: Ballerina for a Day.) Our teacher has already given us pre-rehearsal preparation to do: we have to rewatch the video from the spring show and rememorize our steps and positions. I remember being much too nervous to enjoy my entrance, and it shows. My piqué attitudes look like a dog trying to take a leak. It still makes me cringe, but not so bad that I can't make a joke about it! This much I've learned from my very few performing opportunities: there's always something you could have done better (and did do better in rehearsals). You might sail through the most difficult part and then screw up the easiest steps. It happens, shit happens. But as long as you keep going, it doesn't really matter. The audience wants to see you do well and have a good time on stage. You want the audience to enjoy your dance. It's a win-win situation, even if you should fall on your butt. Which I haven't done yet. Phew..

My attitudes are not the only thing that I look forward to make over. Watching that video, I keep wondering: where's my smile? I need to smile! Show some teeth! True, it's hard to flash a genuine smile when you're nervous and trying not to mess up the steps.. But maybe if I just fake it at first, it becomes natural as I dance along? I also need to work on my épaulement, it's still too "ballet class" and not enough Don Q. Gawd, the list of repairs doesn't end there. Must have a snappier head while spotting chaînés deboulés, and prettier arms when jumping. And please, not forget to point toes and stretch knees! And it wouldn't hurt to wear more eye make-up. Now, I know very well it's not going to be perfect next time around. I might have the best attitudes ever, and then be disappointed with my final grand jeté. But that's the beauty of a live one-chance-only performance. Even when you know the steps and counts, you never know at what precise moment the magic happens.

October 24, 2012

Pointes from the Postman

Oops, I did it again. That is, I waited until the last class to get new pointe shoes - only to find out that my size was not in stock at my local store! My plan B (out-of-town friend with access to another store) didn't work out either, and I was looking at two more very long weeks of dancing in dying-dead shoes.. You know there's no joy in there. That's why I did another online research on dance wear shops within the EU, to find out if I could possibly get my shoes sooner, and for a reasonable price. And I did!

My pointe shoes are from Bloch: Balance European (in size 6 XX). Here in Finland they cost about 60 Euros (75 USD / 45 GBP). At my current rate of two pointe classes per week, I need to replace shoes about every 10-12 weeks. I have never shellaced or glued my pointes before, but I'm going to do a trial with my new pair. That should buy me a few weeks extra usage. I'm also thinking of getting an extra pair, so I can switch my shoes from class to class. Pointes should be aired at least 36 hours between each use, for the glue to re-harden.

The first shops I checked online were Dance Direct and Porselli, but neither carries my model in their selection. Stores outside of the EU are not really an option for me, as shipping costs are too pricey - and you have to pay duty charges. I knew I could buy Blochs directly from Bloch UK, but they charge a whopping 19,95 £ for delivery to Finland. Even if the shoes themselves cost less there than here, I would need to order at least two pairs as not to exceed 60 € / pair. I did manage to find my model and size at Planet Dance, for 34.95 + 9.95 £ shipping, which would cost the same as buying them locally. I almost made an order, but then I googled some more.. and stumbled across Lazy Dancer (click here: Lazy Dancer).

Not only do they carry my Blochs, but the price is almost half of what I pay here! Darlings, for someone who's living and dancing on a very small budget, it's like striking gold. I was of course suspicious at first, and checked out all the details, terms and conditions, and contacts. I even sent an e-mail, just to let them know that I was interested in making an order. Turns out the store is a small but established family business in Athens, Greece - and everyone has a background in ballet. After I checked the payment system for security, I felt assured enough to place my order. I paid 35.10 €, shipping included.

Just one week later the postman rang and delivered my new pointe shoes. The shoes were in pristine shape, if you don't count tiny penciled markings on the inside for ribbon placements. The satin was new and smooth, and there were no tell-tale signs from over-fitting on previous customers. Normally I do not endorse stores, but I think this one's a pretty good deal. Of course, ordering pointe shoes online works only if you have been fitted before, and know your brand, model and size. You also have to take into account that there might be some small variation from one pair to the other.

I got my pointes this Monday, did some fast sewing (new shoes, old ribbons) and wore them to class the next day. What a relief, never mind that new shoes are always hard on you. Sure beats dancing in dead pointes! Anyway, by the time we got to center practice, I had already made friends with my shoes. Hope we're going to have a good time..

6.11.2011 EDIT: Since I ordered my shoes, prices have gone up. The same Blochs I bought for 35.10 €, cost now 42.00 Euros. Either Lazy Dancer started with low prices to get the business started, or they forgot to add VAT on the purchase price. I'm a bit annoyed that I didn't get to buy more with the "old price", but even the new prices are still a deal - at least for pointe shoes. But there's another problem which I find more troubling: the online shop hasn't been working. I've tried to purchase new flatties since the 2nd of November, but the shop won't let me add anything to the shopping cart. If I try to access my account, the entire site goes off-line. Five days later, and still it doesn't work. I have sent two messages to Lazy Dancer, and I'm waiting for the problem to get fixed.

October 17, 2012

Change is Good

A fitting t-shirt for ballet class, don't you think?

It's happened again. My pirouettes have gone haywire. The moment I go up, I loose it. It's the weirdest thing - and seriously annoying. With all my years in dance, I should be able to pull off consistent double pirouettes, right? But I do have an idea why my turns have become deranged. It's like my system operations have been updated, but those darn pirouettes are still running on an old app. Seriously, I have been getting so many corrections, that my brain is frizzing out trying to implement new alignments and dynamics. And since I can't really re-boot myself, I'll just have to accept that turning is going to be rocky roads for a while.

It's again about quality, not quantity. My teacher doesn't care for "dirty triples" (neither do I). What she wants to see is clean, elegant, refined dancing. The very thing that defines classical ballet. For my turns this means paying attention to the turning pose, specifically my en dehors and heel-toe alignment. There is still a slight tendency to sickle the foot in passé retiré, making the dreaded banana shape. I have been working on this for the past two years, and it's definitely gotten better. My teacher keeps a close eye, and she's not just pushing for a correct position, but for my maximum best. This is not limited to pirouettes alone, but to every other step and movement.

It's not easy to change ingrained habits. Especially not in ballet. I'm not going to say that I was a poor dancer before, but there was more room for improvement than I even thought possible. I'm talking about the basics: pliés and degagés, turn-out, placing toes above knees, stretching your knees to the max, pointing the toes, forwarding heels, keeping the shoulders down (and the popo), the back and neck long, the hips in line, and the list goes on.. Ballet is hard, but the choice is mine. I could continue dancing the same way I have done for umpteenth years, and have a fairly good time. Or, I accept that change doesn't come easy, that it can be frustratingly slow work - but it will make me a better dancer.

Yesterday I was feeling a little shitty, with my pirouettes all over the place and a general and persistent feeling of insecurity. After class I had a talk with my teacher, and she pretty much confirmed what I had been suspecting already: I'm trying so hard to make all the required adjustments that it's throwing me off balance. In other words, now that I'm aware of what I should be doing, it's messing with my old way of doing, well, basically everything. But whereas I thought that I'm just not getting it, Madame informed me that it's perfectly normal to feel this way right now. Then she told me that I have improved a great deal in the past years, that I'm doing really good work - and that I should be proud of myself! Can you imagine what it felt like hearing those words? I swear I grew an inch right there and then.

October 12, 2012

Toe Woe

I don't think it could have hurt more if someone had drilled a nail through my big toe. Not your regular ouchy aprés-pointe toes, but unrelenting and sharp throbbing pain. Some of you may already guess what I'm talking about: the dreaded ingrown nail resulting in nail bed inflammation. Which is not all that rare among ballet dancers. There are of course ways to prevent this, like trimming your nails in a straight line across the top. Also, you can avoid wearing shoes that squeeze your toes tightly together. Pointe shoes do probably not fall into this category.. My problem is that my nails don't lie flat on their bed, but are somewhat curved (like the rest of my body). It's not the tip of the nail which tends to dig in, but the bit under the inside corner. So far, only the left one has been affected and never before this badly. What gives?

I suspect part of it was my fault. I had gotten used to the sometime discomfort because it's limited to movements which have the side of my toe pressing into the floor, like doing a degagé to the back. It's annoying but you move on. I should have been alarmed when my usual soft slippers started to press painfully on my toe, but you get used to that too. I remember when I was on this cross-country ski camp way back in school, and had just had a small growth spurt. My ski boots were about half a size too small, but I took to the lopes anyway. The shoes rubbed my heels raw, the blood soaking all the way through the leather - but I finished my 10k just the same. Give up? No way. So I've got a high treshold for pain, and a very stubborn streak. Great combo for pointe, as long as you know your limits! Last Tuesday I could have switched into soft shoes, but no, I had to finish class in pointe shoes - full out. Did I mention that those shoes are on the brink of death and my big toe banging the floor up on relevé? Acknowledging pain is not the same as being a wuss.

When I went home after that class, I was still okay. But instead of the ouch fading away, it got worse. I took a maximum dose of paracetamol, but to no effect. Could not sleep because of the constant drilling pain. Watched old episodes of The Nanny until 4 am. The next day I was still in pain and miserable. My left big toe reddish and swollen at the inside edge of the nail bed. I had to get out of the house, but putting on shoes and walking: no fun at all. Fortunately my dancing doctor friend came to the rescue. I went to see her later that day for a consult. The bad news: the toe's nail bed was inflamed. The good news: it could have been worse. Antibiotic cream twice a day and it should get better soon. After having googled partial nail removements, I was very much relieved.

After the initial medical care, I was given the full consolation treatment: some lovely Italian Valpolicella which we drank while watching a POB master class on DVD. This was followed by an impromptu sauna-spa evening and finished off with late night deli snacking. You can't get better health care than this. After three days my toe is already much better. Walking longer distances (in shoes) is still a bit painful, and pointe shoes are obviously out of the question. Which really sucks as our pointe class has just been up-graded from 45 minutes back to a full hour, repertoire included. We are currently practicising Raymonda's big variation. Sigh.. I hope my toe is back in dancing shape by Monday. Hopefully even in pointe shoes next Tuesday.

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, ...