Take two pliés and call me in the morning

10 Dec

I’m definitely feeling the love from your votes for my entry into the Top Dance Blogs of 2010 contest and the question that keeps popping into my mind is if I’m so intelligent and funny then why am I still single?  Joking aside, I figured that because I am entering as a student of dance, it would be relevant to assess what I’ve been doing in the studio, since the majority of my posts have been more academic in nature.  It just so happens that I recently traveled home to Ohio for the holidays, spending time in Dayton with family and then in Columbus for a few days with friends before heading out again for a wedding in Savannah, Georgia, where I found out one should never touch the Spanish moss.  My friends and I thought it would be funny to use them as dwarf beards a la Gimli from the Lord of the Rings franchise (you don’t need to know why…it’s a long story that will never make sense), but we were luckily stopped by a home grown Georgian friend, who warned us of “chiggers,” little red mites that will burrow into your skin and cause fierce itching (I made the mistake of Googling for pictures—I suggest that you do not).  The point is,  I was in Savannah, but before that I was in Columbus.

In Columbus, I visited with lovely ballet teacher friends, dropping in for a few classes for a “regular check up.”  As one of the many adult students of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s open program, most of the teachers I’ve encountered are in fact trained in the Balanchine method.  I’ve documented a few of these differences in previous entries, but a while ago I began to wonder if somehow certain changes have been creeping in.  The catalyst was a freak pique in attitude, where I was horrified to see in the mirror that my leg was way out to the side.  I should clarify that it’s not that I’m opposed to Balanchine entirely, but I understand much of the training methods to be unsuited for my body type, hence the “check up.”  I think revered Balanchine muse Violette Verdy said it best…she said that she didn’t think she was a Balanchine dancer because he had a company of greyhounds and borzois, while she was a French poodle (which makes me a kiwi bird—small, quirky, and flightless).  Anyway, for many reasons, I am incredibly thankful for the foundation I received at Ohio State, which was probably more Russian based, with bits of the French, Italian and British schools mixed in because PNB classes present certain challenges that I can’t always overcome.

For example, the fact of life is that I don’t have great turnout.  It’s one thing to have fairly open hips to say, 160° or 170° and cheat a little to 180°, as the teachers often tell their students to take their legs completely out to the side in an extension a la seconde.  However, if you have a mere 100° or so like I do, going that far to the side does one of two things: it contorts you into some weird position that makes you fall over or you turn in your standing leg.  I was taught to bring the leg forward in line with my natural turnout, because that’s where I can access rotation in my hips.  I haven’t much, but it’s all I’ve got and I’d rather work with that than look awkward trying to achieve the impossible or worse, injure myself in the process.  Also, I am of the school of thought that rotation in the hips has a certain aesthetic appeal because of the way the feet can be presented…but one’s preference for that or the Balanchine look is strictly a matter of opinion.

There are certain corrections in ballet that are more or less universal so I apply what I can but sometimes I do end up disregarding others.  I’m not trying to be a know-it-all, in fact, I’m completely open to trying the advice PNB teachers give at least once.  However, if I’m falling out of turns or finding it impossible to get a good balance, I go back to what I know and concepts that have proven to be the most successful for me in the past—all things I learned from my teachers at OSU.  There’s nothing wrong with having the courage to stand your ground on what works best for you and I would even go as far as saying that it is a responsibility every student, whether of ballet or even school should take on for themselves.  Learning isn’t just about the absorption of information; an understanding of what percentage of that information is beneficial is equally important.  This is not to say when I disagree with the Balanchine method I have the right to make a scene…it’s also my responsibility to try new things, internalize what it is teachers are telling me and compare that to the knowledge I have and come up with my own resolutions.  Although…if I’m going to be impudent, the gremlin in me desperately wants to mount a protest against Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in favor of Ashton’s The Dream…but I bet that you didn’t see that one coming!

Meanwhile, I loved taking class with my teacher friends again and liked the challenges I faced at barre, with (as much as I hate it) lots of work on relevé.  We even did a mini-Rose Adagio in one class, and to think that a year ago, I would have had no idea what that meant!  I felt a new sense of freedom in returning to those studios, and I could feel a certain energy that made me dance better.  I suppose time apart makes the heart grow fonder indeed, and everything just seemed stronger.  I even managed a couple of triple pirouettes and threw in extra beats whenever I could in the allegros.  For the longest time, I wasn’t really sure how to add a beat to a balloné and once I figured it out I wasn’t even sure if I could, but gosh darn it I went for it in good old Studio 3 and I did it!  So now I have that to carry with me though the million-dollar question is, have I been Balanchine-ified?  Well, I received confirmation that my technique looks stronger so the answer would be “no.”  That was the greatest news because it means that through my self-corrections I’m  succeeding as a bastion of my preferred technique, and improving as well.

Ironically, after all the efforts to make sure I wasn’t becoming a Balanchine dancer (I am an Ashton worshipper after all!), one of my friends told me that she would be doing a tiny excerpt of Balanchine choreography in her class.  While it may sound like I would have avoided it, the truth is that whenever given the opportunity I’d rather dance than not.  So it went that she taught us a short phrase from The Four Temperaments, but rather than have us dance it to Hindemith’s famous score, we danced it to Lady GaGa’s Bad Romance instead.  Rock.  On.  I totally toned down my usual emotiveness and did my “serious face,” busting out some School of American Ballet fingers and relishing the opportunity to “whack” my leg up into the air instead of an elegantly elastic grand battement.  Every now and then it’s good to let loose…even I can get a little too serious in ballet sometimes.

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3 Responses to “Take two pliés and call me in the morning”

  1. Dianne December 11, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    I so enjoyed this post! For my own multiple-style-training-reasons, I think I really got what you were saying. And because of your charming and humorous writing also. Any dancer has to decide what works for them, despite what training icons are kept or discarded. I love them all, but – could not do them all. Enjoyed!

    • youdancefunny December 12, 2010 at 12:43 am #

      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Different methods of training in ballet is one of those things I think dancers could get together and talk about until the cows come home. It’s like the day when I found out in the French school, a brisé is the same thing as a glissade battu…my world was spinning!

  2. Hilary December 13, 2010 at 5:28 am #

    You know my feelings on Hindemith. And Lady Gaga. This is a clear improvement. 🙂

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