Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beginning Contemporary

Have you guys seen that hilarious YouTube video How to Contemporary Dance?  There were definitely moments like that in the contemporary class I took.  I think part of it is that there is no language for some of the things they want you to do.  So it's like, reach left, swoop around, do a hoppy thing, make this shape, throw your leg, turn.

This is not to say that there isn't technique to it.  It's not all loosey goosey as some ballet aficionados may believe (overheard in my ballet studio's locker room: "I don't do modern because I'm not interested in randomly rolling around on the floor").  It may look random, but there is technique to when something is held versus when something is released, where the movement initiates, etc.  

I am a bit pleased with myself that I was able to pick up the choreography at all, and only messing up a little instead of a lot.  I definitely wasn't able to when I last took a contemporary class over a year ago.  I feel like my body awareness has increased as well as my understanding of moving through space. (Yay!)

I do feel like there was an encouragement to just let go and DANCE in this class, which is not always given in a ballet environment.  Moreover, I don't like this kind of instruction in ballet class, because to me it's not ballet if you do it without technique.  Like, I appreciate when Monday teacher shows an overcrossed arm and says, "This may be pretty and flowy, but it's not classical ballet."  Modern is also pretty codified in my experience.  "That's not Horton / Graham, etc!"  There are rules and the rules are important!  Whereas I feel like in contemporary, they may say, that's wrong or bad or not what I wanted, but they wouldn't say, "That's not contemporary dance!"

As an artist, it makes sense to me to think about it as academic representational art versus abstraction or other contemporary forms or styles.  There is technique behind abstraction and the best of this kind of art (imo) comes from those who have good academic background.  But at the end of the day, there isn't the same sense of what it SHOULD BE, even though there is good and bad within it.  Like, if you are drawing a realistic figure, it will be very noticeable if your proportions are off, whereas if you are doing abstraction, even if you can draw a perfectly proportioned realistic figure, that's not the point of it.  And both still have objective standards of composition, color, etc.  Does that make sense, or is that way too ramble-y?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Monday Fun!

Okay, enough with the emo whinging!  I had a wonderful time at ballet yesterday.

My Monday teacher, who is always quite theatrical, was in rare form last night (I think she is in rehearsal for something at the moment).  She was hilarious, and did lots of exaggerated funny demonstrations of what NOT to do.  She did not push us as much as she sometimes does because there was a newbie, but it was a nice thorough class.

I don't want to seem boastful, but I was asked to demo several things.  I even got an approving compliment for my demonstration of grand battement en croix.  I have been working on these with FBT, and am finally getting how to use the floor and not grip.  The height to the side has definitely improved a lot, even with the tendu preparation.  I was also asked to demo a quarter pirouette in center!  Apparently my turns are getting better.  Only for quarters and halves...the whole remains elusive, but even so, I understand the feeling more now.

My best friend from high school took class with me yesterday (she usually does Monday class with me) and it felt really nice.  There was a moment where we were trying to find our balance doing the tapping the barre thing and we caught each other's eyes in the mirror and cracked up.  There was a beautiful moment facing the barre and mirror where we were really in sync with the music and each other, and the girls in back of us, who were perfectly staggered between us, were also in sync.  Our legs looked so beautiful moving in unison.

Adagio in the center was a very pretty combination.  Start in fifth right foot front.  Two pliés with arms going out slightly to the side from bras bas (like a breath of air).  Port de bras (first through fifth to second back to bras bas).  Developpé front, arms to fifth, tendu to close for all of these.  Developpé side with arms in second.  Two pliés with arms again, reverse the port de bras.  Developpé back to first arabesque (ugh, so hard for me to not drop the knee here).  Developpé side again.  My arms looked noticeably less Frankensteinish in this exercise, pretty even.  I still need to get more forward on the standing leg for these developpés, but I felt some improvement.

A good class and a nice dinner afterwards with too much wine!

Monday, April 27, 2015


As my dance intensive month comes to an end, I realize with some sadness that the question of what level I should be taking is kind of a moot point.  I  had asked FBT the other day whether it was better to build up on a really solid foundation of basics or to try things to get the big picture and refine down to the small details.  I forgot that now that my break from Other Movement is over, I will just have to make do with ballet whenever I can.

Soon I will be back to doing Other Movement 5-6 days a week, and there will be rehearsals on top of training.  Ballet will have to drop back down to 1-2 times a week, 3 if I'm really lucky.  I won't be able to take the classes that I feel are slightly beyond my comfort level because of scheduling.  I will probably lose my momentum and some of the progress I have made.

I try to remind myself that it is okay.  That the primary purpose of taking ballet is to improve my lines for Other Movement, and this is happening.  That ballet will be there in the future when I have more time and freedom from commitments again.   For now I am choosing Other Movement because of the opportunities I have there, and I have to accept that the consequences are that ballet will have to be less of a priority.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I sprained my ankle again.  This time stepping into a turn during modern class.  The floor was stickier than I'm used to, and I was barefoot.

I have notes from the other classes I've taken since my last update, but I'm too annoyed and sad today to write them out.

Monday, April 20, 2015


So on Friday I took another class with the Bournonville teacher, but I took his basic level class instead of the one level up class.  As always, I won't ever say a class is too easy for me, because there are always things to work on...but it was a fairly basic class.

I just don't understand how one is supposed to go from that class to the class one level up?  The gap in presumed knowledge seems really big.  Even if I took this basic class a hundred times, I don't think it would prepare me for the next level.

Should I be taking the class one level up?  Is there a learning curve I just have to deal with?  Like I said, I think my technique was cleaner than several other people taking that harder class; there were just some combinations that were too fast and tricky.  Is that safe to tackle, or will it just give me bad habits?

In times like this, I wish there was a curriculum class with a clear progression that I could take.  It's hard to cobble together a schedule on your own that gives you what you need to improve and progress.

I enjoyed the class regardless.  There was fun fast footwork.  He did a dégagé combination that was a little different from usual.  The one I get a lot is the classic (imagine right - left) 8-8-4-4-2-2-1-1-1-1.  We did instead (again, right - left) 8-4-2-1-1-8-4-2-1-1.  I also liked the way the explained dégagé.  He said there is no real lift to do dégagé.  It is more of an extension of the tendu.  I guess it's like the energy goes out and in, rather than up or down in any way.

We again did the Bournonville style port de bras in center.  I think he said it was Bournonville's "Thursday" class arms (he apparently liked to give a set class that he named after days of the week, even though you might do a "Wednesday" class on a Tuesday!).  It's very simple.  It starts en croisé bras bas leaning slightly forward, lifting to first, up to fifth, opening to second.  The reverse starts opening to second with a cambré back, etc.  The épaulement comes very naturally in the movement, it just makes sense to move your head and shoulders. I seriously felt like some kind of woodland creature every time we did it.  When we did bras bas leaning forward, I could imagine myself gathering flowers or touching a stream.

I also have to admit...I think I enjoy this class because the teacher is not unattractive.  Apparently my taste in men runs towards those with perfect turnout!  ;)

Friday, April 17, 2015


What a difference a day makes
Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain

Discouraged is a word that seems to come up fairly frequently on ballet adult beginner blogs.  What's the point of all this work?  I'm never going to be good.  I'm too old.  I should just sit at home watching TV, instead of stressing out about all of this ballet stuff.

I will admit that I was rather discouraged this week.  I took my regular Monday class and it was great in the way it is always great.  But I felt something a bit weird in my left Achilles tendon.  Fast forward to Wednesday private with FBT.  There is this exercise she likes to do at the barre that I can't even describe (all I know for sure is that at the end is an attitude balance with option to open up to arabesque with high arms), but it has a lot of going up on on legged relevés.  Between sides, FBT asked me if my ankle is hurting, because something looked off.  I tell her about my Achilles.  When I moved it around to show her, it kept clicking.  She poked at it a bit and said it was definitely inflamed and made me stop and ice.

I wound up watching the friend I split the privates with take the rest of the class.  And guys, she is a gorgeous dancer.  I usually don't focus on that because I'm trying to keep up and basically only watch her to follow.  But having an opportunity to sit back and watch her objectively showed me how much more advanced she really is.  She ended with doing pirouettes en pointe at the barre, and I watched sadly in awe.  I really do think these split privates are getting too advanced for me.  I feel bad holding back my friend and I feel like it's not worth FBT's time to teach me.

Anyway, that's the mindset that I had when I dragged myself to class yesterday.  Class which turned out to be very nice!  This teacher doesn't like to give individual corrections it seems.  She tends to correct us as a group after the exercise is over.  But I realized that if you work on applying the correction right when she does this (before the next exercise), she will give you individual attention.

Center was really fun yesterday.  She broke down balancé, which I never had done before.  Like, I learned balancé by just doing them, so it was good to see how each step is supposed to be without all the movement.  We did an exercise where we just did the arms of the balancé before doing the balancés themselves.  We then added soutenou turns to the balancés.  The combination went: preparation leading leg in tendu, balancé, balancé, pique to sous-sus, sous-sus turn, land in plié, stretch to tendu opening the arms, repeat to travel across the floor!  My soutenou turns were actually pretty good!  I think I held my alignment and my arms well; I felt my back working.  It was nice to get the feeling of a turn cleanly.  Which I never, ever get with pirouettes.  I am hoping this will help my turning in general.

This is not what lifted my fog of discouragement though.

What did was this conversation I had with a girl that is very beginner who I've been seeing in class often lately.

Me:  Oh!  You've been coming a lot lately!
Girl:  Yeah, I have a twenty class card that I bought a year ago that is about to expire.
Me: Maybe you can get them to extend it.
Girl: I'm moving soon though.
Me: Well, I guess you can take all the classes, and then do ballet in the new place you're moving to!
Girl: Nah, I'm good.  I gave this ballet thing a whirl.  I don't feel like I need to do it again.
Me: ...wait, what?  ::baffled face::

It was unfathomable to me that she wouldn't want to do ballet anymore.  I thought to myself, "I always want to do it!  It is what I want to do!"  And it's true.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Teacher places student's foot into a sickle.

"This is what we call...


I laughed.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Class levels in New York City are strange.  They vary wildly from school to school, teacher to teacher, even class to class.

My musings as to why:

-There are a billion choices of levels.  The studio I go to most regularly has four level of beginner (intro, basic beginner, beginner, advanced).  They recommend a minimum of 4-6 years of training to take advanced beginner.  What does beginner even mean in this case?!

-We have a lot of expro/pro/prepro dancers in this city.  And they all take class.  Lots of students follow teachers, rather than paying attention to level, so you wind up with a wide range of abilities in one room.

-The above would not be so confusing if teachers taught to the average student in the room or advertised level of the class, rather than to the best.

So, below is an updated summary of the classes I've taken for my Dance Intensive Month since my last entry.  Note that every single one of the open classes I took is billed as an Intro class.  People sometimes are surprised I take intro level classes, but perhaps you can see why I do from this list.

Day 4 was yoga and then all day at Other Movement.  I really needed the yoga, my hamstrings are getting kind of tight, which I have never experienced before.

Day 5 was off for Easter.

Day 6 was my regular Monday class.  My favorite class, and one that prompted me to think about levels.  Our teacher talked about how she has been pushing us to progress, and that she didn't want us to get stuck at this level.  It's rare to get a teacher that actually cares about this in open classes, and probably why I like the class so much.  And so she continues to throw things at us.  For example, using the inside leg at the bar more and other weight transfers.  Adding piqués (the tap kind not the step kind) to our double frappé.  Adding épaulement, using directions in centre.  We also worked on glissade, because apparently they are one of the keys to clean petit allegro.  Bah, I hate petit allegro.

I think of this class as my level.  There was one newbie there who may have had a harder time, but to be fair if there are a lot of newbies, the teacher does take it down a notch.

Day 7 was class at Big Name Dance Center that is more known for modern.  I felt like taking ballet though and this was a good time slot for me.  This class was super basic and I didn't like it, but not because of that.  I never think it is a bad thing to take a very basic class and brush up on fundamentals; it is ridiculous to ever think you are "too good" for a class.  That's the whole ballet thing right?  Even the most basic thing can always be better.  Also, with my training more frequently this month, it's not bad to have a more basic class as a break to prevent injury.

I didn't like this class because it had too much non-ballet stuff in it.  There was this whole yoga/Pilates like warmup on the floor.  There were core conditioning exercises.  There was stretching.  The barre and centre were basic, but I enjoyed the things that were actually ballet.  She also gave room to just improv whatever in centre, because dancing is supposed to be fun.

The thing is, I get the teacher's point.  How can you teach ballet without the students having some degree of body awareness?  How can you get them to strengthen and stretch the things they need to in order to do ballet?  While still having fun.  I guess for me, I do a lot of dedicated conditioning and flexibility for Other Movement because it is absolutely necessary at the level I train.  So when I go to ballet, I WANT TO DO BALLET.

Day 8 was split private with FBT (Friend Ballet Teacher).  I sometimes wish I could have more individual privates with FBT, because my friend I split with is more advanced than me, and sometimes the private gets taught at that level when we are on flat.  Pointe is the great equalizer here though, and obviously I get a lot of individual attention.

I had a hard time getting forward enough this day, and balancing was hard.  On pointe we did our usual relevé exercises, échappé and piqué at the barre.  In centre we did bourrées with a retiré to passé balance en pointe, reverse.  At first I could not get the balance, but then I got forward enough and it worked.  I have a video of it which is pretty cool!  Then sous-sus balance at the end.  Am I the only one who thinks sous-sus balances are the easiest of all the balances?  Apparently this is weird, but for me, there is only one place to go.  I automatically pull up.   Balancing in second is the hardest for me.  We also did boat pas-de-bourrées en pointe, which I got the hang of this time!  I think boat is a French school term.  It's where you brush the free foot out to extend the leg on the third step of the pas-de-bourrée.

Day 9.  Here is a prime example of levels being meaningless.  Remember how on Day 2 I took a fairly basic class and felt very good about it?  Well I took the class yesterday and it was not the same at all!  This class was very much at my level, not impossibly hard but hard enough to be challenging.  I loved it.

She did a lot of stuff from plié and then extending one leg into tendu (keeping the other straight).  For example, we did plié, tendu one leg, bring the leg in while straightening the standing leg going to sous-sus.  Hardcore glutes and inner thighs.  I think she did this because we wound up working on our assemblé at the barre, which requires a lot of single leg strength.  The thing that stood out in centre was working on soutenu turns.  I feel like I did pretty well on these, despite not being a very good turner.  It went, plié, tendu one leg, step to sous-sus, soutenu turn, three dégagés closing back.

I got complimented on my back holding my arms properly, and corrected on not holding my turnout sometimes to the back and in my changement.


Friday, April 3, 2015


Day 3 of Dance Intensive Month, and boy was it humbling.  I decided to take Beginner Ballet at Other Big Name Dance Center tonight (a level above Absolute Beginner there).  This was mostly because I wanted to go to dinner with some friends, and the timing worked out better.  But there was a part of me that thought, maybe I'm ready for this even though it'll probably be a challenge.

Guys, this class was really hard.  So apparently the instructor teaches in the Bournonville style.  And their footwork is SO fast in parts.  Tendus and pliés weren't too terrible, even though the combinations were longer and a bit trickier than usual.  There was one tendu exercise I rather liked.  It went from fifth, tendu on 1 close on 8 en croix, then tendu closing on 4 en croix two times, then closing on 2 two times, then four degagés to the side (so you can see the speedy footwork at play already, right?).

The quickness of the batterie combination KILLED me.  It went, preparation tendu to the side, sur le cou-de-pied wrapped, tendu, sur le cou-de-pied back pointed, tendu, sur le cou-de-pied wrapped, tendu, sur le cou-de-pied front, tendu, then repeat without the tendu (so just wrapped, back pointed, wrapped, front pointed), and then repeat with out the wrapped (so just beating front back).  Oh yeah, AND THEN REVERSE IT.  So I totally messed up on that at the barre, and a bunch of other stuff that I can't even remember.

The adagio stuff went a lot better though.  The fondu combination was really pretty and I was able to do it well, even though I can't remember it exactly.  I think it went something like fondu, tendu, fondu, passé, fondu, attitude (front and side) and then to the back from the back attitude it went into an arabesque, fourth position lunge, use the lunge to turn to the other side??  Maybe.  My attitude position is rather nice, if I may say so myself.  The developpé combination was pretty too.  Each developpé was prefaced by a port de bras in that direction.  It really helped to find the space for the developpé.

Centre was pretty much an unmitigated disaster except for the adagio.  The adagio had these really pretty (apparently Bournonville style) port de bras.  They felt very natural and soft.  I can't even remember the other things really, because they were just so fast and hard.  Oh!  There was a sissone combination that I remember.  But I only remember it because I've never done a sissone before, and this went sooo terribly.  (Sissone to each side, sissone back and front in effacé, changement, other side.)  Oh yeah and one of the combinations ended with a pirouette.  Like, okay now you're just expected to do one, after a bunch of other hard stuff.

The thing is (and I don't mean to brag), I think my fundamentals (alignment, feet, etc) were as good as or even better than some of the people around me (who I was watching to follow).  Like for example my tendus were better than some, but I didn't necessarily put them in the right place or to the right time!  There were obviously also a bunch of amazing dancers as well; as is usual at this place, there were some second company / prepro program people taking the class.

So this class was obviously too hard for me.  But I really want to take this teacher's absolute beginner class because I think I like Bournonville.  I initially felt kind of bad and a little embarrassed about how I did in class.  But honestly, who cares?  I had some fun and learned some stuff.

Anyway, this was a huge contrast to yesterday, Day 2 of Dance Intensive Month, when I took a really basic class with very few people who apparently didn't have a lot of dance experience.  I did everything confidently, and dare I say, pretty well.  I guess that's life...sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down!

Sorry for my writing out all of those combinations in this entry.  Is it boring to read?  As this serves as my dance journal, doing that helps me remember stuff.  I personally do like reading combinations on other people's blogs though.  I like to imagine them in my head.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thoroughly Modern

I kicked off my dance intensive month with a dance double header at Big Name Dance Center yesterday.  The first class was part of a Beginning Modern Workshop, which progresses over the course of six weeks.  I had never done modern before, so I was pretty nervous!

So for this class, there is no barre.  Everything is done in centre.  Including pliés and tendus in parallel.  Instead of live piano, there is live percussion (so nifty).  So far, I feel like the main difference between ballet and modern is the use of the spine.  In ballet, the upper body stays in its "frame."  In modern there is a lot more spine articulation, with contractions and spirals.  This isn't to say that everything is all floppy.  The pelvis needs to be held so that all of this activity can happen on top of it.  Obviously there are other differences (working in parallel, the arms and hands), but the spine so far seems like the main one to me.

After some short phrases in center, we learned some travelling steps.  One was a balancé, but they called it a triplet (obviously it is in parallel).  I forget what the next one is called, but it's kind of like piqueing forward with one leg, so a bit of a peg leg walk?  We then combined these to learn the first part of a Big Name Choreographer dance (two triplets, and then three peg leg things).  On the triplets, the arms and head sweep up for the first, and then sweep down for the second.  It is REALLY hard to do this with your head down, it just makes the "up" part of the down up up impossible...if you get what I mean?  Anyway, I'm excited to learn more of the piece!

After this class, I stayed for Gaga.  Wikipedia definition: "Gaga is a movement language invented by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin."  This wasn't a traditional dance class, rather we never stopped moving as the instructor gave problems that we had to solve with our bodies.  Like shake from your skin rather than your bones.  At times it felt kind of silly, but there were cool moments of discovery.  One of the corrections I really liked was when he gave an instruction to move with moments of exaggeration.  He said to exaggerate is not the same as just doing a bit more, it is an exaggeration.  I think it is good for me to do things like this once in a while to get comfortable with improv and experimentation.  And that it's okay to look stupid sometimes.

I'm a bit sore today and just took ballet.  More on that tomorrow.