Thursday, January 29, 2015

Friends at the Studio

Do you make friends with people at your dance studio?  I am naturally pretty open, outgoing and friendly.  At ballet, I always chat with people in the dressing room, say hello to the people I see regularly and smile at the people I don't know in class.  There was even a girl I took the subway with after classes, but she switched to a different day because of her schedule.

But there is a part of me that doesn't want to get to know anyone too well in the ballet studio I go to.  I train with people 15-20 hours a week at my other movement studio.  All of the intensive students, company members, company apprentices (this includes me), and regular students know each other.  Sometimes it is emotionally exhausting.  Especially because performers are not always the easiest people.  We are all so involved in each other's lives.

When I go to ballet, I feel a nice cloak of anonymity.  People may know my name and face, but we don't know each other's drama.  I can just go and take class and leave, no baggage.  I love taking class when I'm in a different place, to be able to come and go freely, without expectation.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fixing my Body

So before I went on vacation, I did a very responsible thing and got an injury prevention assessment done at NYU's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, to shed some light on my left side situation and work on my "fix my body" resolution.

Apparently my left side doesn't work as efficiently as my right, and my left gluteus medius and inner thigh muscle are weak, which is causing my left hip flexor pain, which in turn is causing my back to hurt.  They gave me a bunch of exercises that are supposed to help.  If anyone here is in New York, I highly recommend getting this done; it is FREE and FANTASTIC.

Oh also this is a cool thing that happened.  At the end the PT was like oh can you turn on this floor?  And I was like...I think I will stick (but actually I was just terrified to turn in front of her).  But she insisted and I just did it!  Bam!  Turn! And it was even a pretty good one. And then I accidentally went en dedans for the second one, and apologized for going the wrong way, but she said "Great control though!"  And then I turned the right away and it worked again!  I don't know how I did it, as I definitely don't always get all the way around in class...

Oh but

Now I'm on vacation, and on the first day I sprained my ankle hiking.


So much line face.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pointe!!! And Back to Class.

I've been sick for quite a while now, so haven't really been to class (any of them, ballet, other movement, etc).  But I was feeling better yesterday, so decided to start off this week with a bang!

But first I should give you my background ballet and pointe story.  I had tried to get into ballet classes several years ago, but it never really clicked.  I then got super into my other movement study, and have been training intensively in that for the past (almost) three years.  This past summer, the studio / company I train other movement with added a weekly ballet class by FBT (friend ballet teacher).  And all of a sudden, it REALLY clicked.

It may have been because I have much more body awareness than before, and more flexibility and strength.  It may have been because FBT is a fantastic teacher (she is).  Regardless of why, I found myself really loving ballet, which led me to taking other classes regularly in other studios, going to watch ballets, reading ballet books and forums, and all that lovely adult beginner stuff.

My other movement studio switched the teacher for their weekly ballet class, but FBT has always been willing to help me with things when I ask.  Toward the end of 2014, she told me that she thought I could do pointe.  I of course protested.  At that point I had been doing ballet regularly for less than a year, and not even as regularly as I wanted to. All of the blogs and forums I read always warn about the dangers of going on pointe too early.

FBT told me that I had a lot of body awareness and strength, and that my body had a lot of natural facility as well (what???).   So she had me go over to her house and tested my balance and foot and ankle strength.  Then she had me try on her pointe shoes, and I was able to get over the box and do some basic things at the barre.

A few weeks ago, she went with me to get fitted for my pointe shoes.  I was super nervous getting fitted, because I kept thinking they were going to throw me out for being an imposter!  FBT didn't say anything, but the fitter wound up putting me in the same shoes as her's (Grishko 2007s), except hers are the professional version and mine have a super soft shank.  It turns out my feet are really asymmetrical.  I always knew my right foot was bigger because of the way shoes fit, but I thought it was slightly longer.  The fitter pointed out that it was in fact much wider!  She didn't want to sell me two different shoes because I'm a beginner and that's expensive, so I got two different pads instead.

Then I was sick, which sucked, but gave me plenty of time to sew my shoes in bed.  Which brings us back to the present.

Yesterday I had my first real pointe (semi) private with FBT.  My other friend that was a dance major in college but never did pointe (she obviously did ballet, but  more modern) took it with me.  Again, I was nervous that they were going to realize that I was an IMPOSTER and make me leave, but I was actually able to keep up just fine.

We did a thorough warm up for our feet (plies, tendues, temps lié), and then moved on to relevés.  We did one set with plié, sixteen on two feet, eight on right, eight on left.  Then we did it all again as a rise (without plié).  The first set was fine, because we often do that in my usual class with my regular teacher.  My legs were really feeling it in the second set, and I had to go a bit slower on the one legged ones to get my weight properly placed, but I got through it!

Then it was time for pointe.  We spent some time just making sure our ribbons and elastics were properly placed, and having FBT work on our shoes.  As mentioned, my left soft is more slender and smaller than my right, so she had to flatten the box on that side some more.  Then we worked in parallel, going through plie, demi-pointe, to pointe and reversing.  Then relevés in first.  Then my friend and I took some pictures of our feet for reference, and our private was over.

I talked with FBT on our way to the subway, and she said that my right was very good and mostly over the box, but my left was weaker.  It was interesting that I felt like I was fighting my shoes a bit more than when I first went on pointe in her shoes, which were way more broken in.  Going through demi in the shoes is a lot of work right now.

Then I went to other movement and trained for about two hours.  I got a nice compliment on one of my sequences.  Went home and re-sewed my elastics tighter.  Slept and woke up pretty sore in my legs.  But because I love pain or something, went to ballet class with my regular teacher this afternoon.  Usually I go at night on Monday's, but I took advantage of my day off.

I was allowed to be an end of the barre girl for the newer beginners to follow!  Although I was a bit tired and sore, I felt really good in class today.  I feel like being en pointe really teaches you to pull up, and I was able to maintain that feeling for most of class.  Also I'm much more aware of engaging my inner thighs.  There were a few times where my teacher was coming over and I corrected myself on this engagement and she just nodded instead of correcting me.  I also felt way more comfortable in my port de bras.  Finally, I feel like I made a breakthrough in my jumps across the room.  We did sauté arabesques, and I just told myself to focus on stretching my legs and feet and covering as much space as possible.  I was able to get across in four jumps, and got a "better!" from my teacher.

I did get corrected on tendu on my left.  It is just so much harder to maintain my turnout on that side.  Like I have correct my feet in first when closing on the left side.  I don't have that problem on my right at all :(  She just stood by me saying, lead with the toes (closing from front), toes, toes, toes!  This month has been learning about just how much my left side is weaker and more messed up (hip flexor and back wise).  My left foot is prettier though, because it is more slender and more flexible, so there's that.

Tired now, but happy.  I am about to go away on vacation on a sunny beachy island for my birthday, but am resolving to do my relevé exercises everyday.  And handstands on the beach.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Two Swan Lakes

It may be because of the documentary Ballerina (see no.5 on this post), but I've long been fascinated with the Mariinsky Ballet and its dancers.  That's why my first real ballet going experience was Giselle with Diana Vishneva when she was guesting with ABT two years ago.  And that's why I saw the Mariinsky perform Swan Lake at BAM twice this week!

At first, I had only bought tickets to the Thursday (1/15) performance because I thought it was the only one I could make, but then when I saw that Ulyana Lopatkina was dancing on the day after, I cancelled my existing plans (with some guilt) and bought myself a ticket.

I went to Thursday night's performance with my Friend Ballet Teacher (FBT) because my boyfriend, who was originally supposed to go with me, had last minute work stuff come up.  Our seats were great--balcony front, slightly side, but still with a very good view.  My boyfriend's ditching of me (heh) actually turned out to be a fortuitous thing, as I had a lot of fun and learned a lot talking about the ballet with FBT.

Thursday night's performance starred Viktoria Tereshkina as Odette / Odile and she was amazing.  FBT and I were so captivated by her performance.  Her arms and the way she used her head was phenomenal, and very distinctive (FBT was like, it's like she has no bones!).  I felt like her dancing had a lot of personality and she definitely embodied the characters.  My favorite act of the ballet is definitely Act II (the Prince encountering Odette and the Swans), and I was tearing up at how beautiful some of Tereshkina's moments were.  There were parts where she just melted into the Prince and I was like ::ugly cry face in my seat because it's all too beautiful::.  Also her Odette was so different from her Odile, it was a really successful transformation.  When she was dancing Odile, I felt like I could see talons growing on her hands because of the way she used her wrists and fingers.

The joker (Vladislav Shumakov) was also amazing.  His dancing was so effortless and technically incredible in his jumps and turns.  I know not everyone likes this flashy role, but it was fun and so superbly danced on this night.  Whatever, maybe my tastes are not so sophisticated!

The prince (danced by Vladmir Shklyarov) didn't really do it for me.  I think it's partly because the role really has no substance to it; he's basically there to partner.  But his acting was so unconvincing and flat.  It just felt like he was going through the gestures.  Like when he was reaching out with his arm, it just felt really vague.  Who or what was he reaching out to and why?  FBT also said he had a slightly strangely shaped body.  That sounds mean, but it was weirdly distracting.

I went as a singleton to Friday night's performance.  Because I bought the tickets later, my seats were not so great.  I was all the way at the top of the balcony and my view was almost obstructed by the poles on BAM's lighting structure.  

An aside on audience behavior.  I guess because I was so high up, I noticed the audience more than on Thursday.  WHY does BAM allow late seating, and why do people think it's appropriate to get up and wander while the ballet is happening?  And oh my god, there were a bunch of parents with children.  There was this guy who was freaking chatting with his young daughter throughout the first and second act.  I was SO ANGRY.  I kept shooting them dirty looks, but they were too far away to see.  Yes, they were across the aisle in a whole different section of seating and I could hear them.  :-|  If you don't teach your children how to act appropriately in these situations, then maybe you shouldn't bring them.

ANYWAY.  Lopatkina was the main reason I was there that Friday and boy did she deliver.  It was really interesting to see how differently she danced the roles from Tereshkina.  Lopatkina is very tall and long; her lines seemed to go on forever.  I felt like Tereshkina was very girlish in her portrayal, while Lopatkina was very womanly (of course, she is older).  Lopatkina was so elegant and regal in her white swan, and seemed so classically perfect.  Tereshkina was almost "quirky" in hindsight and comparison.  Again, I teared up during Act II because of how beautiful it was.  There was this moment where she did these beats at her ankle and I couldn't breathe it was so perfect.   Also, there were moments when she brought her arms behind her where I felt like they had turned into feathers and she would float away.  She was very ethereal in her white swan.

Her black swan was again more "womanly" to me than Tereshkina's.  I felt that Tereshkina's black swan was delightfully naughty and charming.  Like, it's not her fault she's bad, she just wants to have fun!  Whereas when Lopatkina first entered with Rothbart in Act III, I felt a shock and thought, "That is a dangerous woman." 

There were a few bobbles this night.  One of the female soloists in the Act I pas de trois fell and went off stage, so it became a pas de deux.  But it happened so fast and smoothly, that you might not even have really realized if you didn't know better.  And the jester on this night (Yuroslav Baybordin) fumbled a bit at the end of his big crazy sequence of turns, but was still great (although maybe a touch less great than Shklyarov the night preceding).  The prince was better this night.  While again, the role just really is kind of flat, Yevgeny Ivanchenko did a better job of giving him some emotion and motivation.

Of course, the fabled Mariinsky corps on both nights were beautiful.  Their formations were so precise.  Really incredible to see all of the swans moving together in such perfect unity.  

Last random thoughts: I have to admit that I'm not so into the character dances.  I kind of wanted to go back to the main story!  The Spanish dance was pretty cool though.  Oh, and the costumes were fantastic.  I loved the ombre dyed skirts and dresses.  And maybe I would like a sad ending more than this happy one where they defeat Rothbart, but I didn't dislike the happy ending.  Oh, and I thought the orchestra sounded better on Friday than Thursday, when there were parts that I thought their pacing was off (and not just during the dancing, but during the overtures as well).

I am a lucky duck to have seen both nights.  So much incredible dancing and beauty.

BAM | Swan Lake Jan 15-23.

Oh yeah, they're doing Ratmansky's Cinderella too (Jan 17-20), but I think that production looks really ugly so I didn't buy tickets, even though I did want to see Vishneva dance again.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015


This is a quick post about my other (primary) form of movement study.  I'm calling it that without going into specifics because it is a small community and I want to maintain some anonymity in the small chance that they discover this blog.

My lines felt really good during technique class yesterday.  I think ballet is helping a lot, especially with my extensions.  We also did choreography class, where we paired off into choreographer / performer pairs.  I was choreographed on.  It was harder to maintain those clean lines during the piece (my knees aren't as nice and straight and my feet can get a little wonky), because there were parts that were quite fast and needed a lot of strength and endurance.  The movements were very staccato, and I'm much better in my lines in adagio.

The choreography was quite precise in some places, with my partner giving me very specific counts for certain movements.  That was an interesting experience, as the style in the studio is usually to give the sequence / moves, but to leave the musicality and stylistic choices up to the performer.  I rather enjoyed having such detailed instruction.  I think I like counts a lot more nowadays because of ballet; they are easier to feel and keep track of than before.

I think I was able to convey the mood and character in the piece quite well, and got some praise on my musicality.  This is why I love this form of movement; I am at the point in my mechanics where I can let go and really move / dance / perform.  Just have to remember my form better while I'm doing that.

I am pretty far away from that sort of expressiveness in ballet, as I still really have to focus on technique there, although sometimes I get glimmers of it in center.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ballet Movies: Ranked & Reviewed (Part I)

I know this is supposed to be more of a dance journal, but I was sick over the holidays and had a bunch of days off, so I had plenty of time to be in bed watching and re-watching dance movies.  Here is a list ranking my favorite ones.  My opinion is of course objectively correct.  If you disagree, you are objectively wrong.  ;)  Upcoming list of ballet movies I think are kind of meh.

1. The Red Shoes (1948).  Powell and Pressburger's film starring Moira Shearer.  It is a fantastic film in general, and the dancing is great (Shearer was a professional ballet dancer before becoming a movie star).  The main set piece of the movie is really really good, beautifully surreal.  I was fortunate enough to see a restored print in 2010 at IFC (it was done by Scorsese's Film Foundation, it is apparently one of his favorite films as well); see that version if you can!  The colors are amazing.

2.  The Turning Point (1977).  ABT (with Baryshnikov) dancing, Shirley Maclaine and Anne Bancroft acting.  Enough said.  Well, I'll add that the story line is more complex than the average dance movie, with characters struggling with their regrets in their life and career choices.  My boyfriend even got hooked on this and he is no balletomane!  And there are lots of gorgeous classic ballet scenes.

3.  First Position (2011).  Documentary following six dancers competing in YAGP.  All of the children / teens are surprisingly likable, which is not always the case with precociously talented children.  Also featuring a crazy dance mom character who is very enjoyable to watch, because it will make you glad your mom is not a crazy dance mom, unless your mom is a crazy dance mom.

4.  Center Stage (2000).  Film about students at a pre-pro school loosely based on SAB.  Rather typical teen shenanigans and girl struggling to find her voice in the ballet world narrative.  But let's be real, sometimes teen shenanigans are fun.  Top notch dancing by those who are in the company (including Ethan Steifel and Julie Kent) and the students as well (including a young Zoe Saldana).

5.  Ballerina (2006).  Documentary on five dancers of the Mariinsky.  My favorite are the segments on Diana Vishneva and Ulyana Lopatkina.  It unfortunately also reinforced my dislike of Svetlana Zakharova.  Lots of gorgeous dancing and a fascinating look at the company and Vaganova Academy.

The last four are all on Netflix streaming, so what are are you waiting for?  Go watch a ballet movie.

She DOES know my name!

Went to my regular Monday night class yesterday and it was great.  There were some notable improvements!  My right foot was really able to articulate in tendu; it did that licking / brushing the floor thing.  My left not so much.  I wonder if it is because I am "right-footed" (is that a thing?).  My left foot is actually stronger and more flexible, especially since I sprained my right a few months ago, but my left knee and hip are more messed up, so who knows.

I also got a bunch of positive comments.  She complimented my passé, ronde de jambe en l'aire, and I even got some praise for my quarter / half pirouettes!  The biggest deal for me is that she gave me comments and corrections BY NAME.  For the past few months, she has been saying that she is really good with names...but she never used mine, until last night. It felt really nice and personal.

Corrections: developpé left (sigh, constant correction...she told me to go lower to correct my placement), keep the upper body stiller in dégagé.  My changement were so terrible last night that she had me do them again after the group.  I was landing way too heavily.  And she didn't say it, but I know I wasn't properly using my plié or the floor.  I was really tired though, because we had just done a bunch of réléve (on two feet and one) and sauté.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ballet in a New Year

It's a new year and I am going to do ALL THE THINGS!

-Ballet: at least 2x a week, ideally 3.
-Handstands: do 5 minutes every day.
-See more shows.
-Fix my body/stop being injured.
-Eat more home cooked meals.

Also new year, new blog!  I want to use this blog as my dance journal to keep track of my progress.

And so:

I managed to get out of bed and get to my first class of the year on Friday.  It was at my regular studio, but with a different teacher.  It started slow, and the teacher went into quite a bit of detail about what she wanted in the arms, which was great because I feel like a lot of adult beginner classes tell you to do the arms if you know them or just skip them if you don't.  So how are you ever supposed to learn arms!?  (My solution has been YouTube.)  She also emphasized épaulement and the placement of the head more than my regular teacher.  I didn't do so great at this...I tend to look straight ahead because I'm focusing so hard on everything below.  

Then the pace picked up and it got quite hard for me (freaking frappés), but it was cool to do different exercises than usual and to learn new things.  We did assemblés at the barre, and I actually understood them this time around (I had only previously attempted these in a class when I was visiting LA).   Using the barre to see the fifth position in the air helped a lot.  We also did quarter and half pirouettes, and these went better than usual!  We did the preparation slightly differently (tendu front rather than side), and for the last turn we closed back to be ready for the other side.  Also, we did pas de bourrée both ways.  I didn't even know they went the opposite way (we usually do front side back).

As always, I got corrected on my left leg turning in when I went to the side in développé.  Also to engage my butt more to lengthen the spine, and to make sure my knees don't come in in plié at center  The most interesting correction I got was at center during a soutenu turn and I went the wrong way.  She had gone over them in class earlier, telling us to keep the weight on the front foot, and move the back foot only, and to make a decisive step when bringing the other foot forward.  This isn't what she corrected me on though.  She said, "I don't want you following anyone.  I see you looking at her, and then at her, trying to pick who to follow, and you picked her, and you picked wrong!"  Haha!

Sunday I took barre at the studio where I train my primary movement thing.  It was a bit nerve racking because I see these people 15 hours a week and really wanted to be not terrible.  I actually take ballet more than a lot of the people there though, so it was pretty fun.  I got corrected that my left foot sickles in frappe back (I know I sometimes do this in dégagé back on the left as well).

Things I should practice at home:

Turning, those tendu walks forwards and back (using the head).

I've been practicing my balances at home, and they feel awesome lately!  I sometimes feel like I could stay in relevé forever.