Tag Archives: horatio

What I’ve learned about flexibility

7 Nov

I was running around doing…something…yesterday and didn’t have time to write and today I was running around again to several different stores looking for a stand for my laptop (which I didn’t find one that I liked…going to have to order one online).  Now that the northern hemisphere is in its colder months, I like to use my computer in the warmth and comfort of my bed, and set it on top of a mini-table.  But that alone is not enough, and so I stack it on a makeshift laptop stand that is currently comprised of a large book on Personology and a 3-ring binder, to angle it upwards.  The reason why this is so important, and especially for dancers is because you need to have the monitor up by your face at eye level in order to maintain good posture.  One should try to avoid sitting for too long because creasing your hip flexors for extended periods of time is going to make them tight, but when sitting, one should sit upright, which is impossible to do when the computer is far below eye level.  Good posture is not only a part of the ballet aesthetic; through personal research I have found that good posture is the key to good flexibility.  And I’ve done a LOT of research, because nobody has tighter muscles than me (hips like rusted iron hinges as I like to say).

All dancers want to be more flexible, but sometimes there’s a lack of attention paid to the relationship between alignment and flexibility.  For example, many people have an anterior tilt to their pelvises (pelvii?), which actually pulls on the hamstrings and weakens the lower abdominals.  The end result is constantly aggravated hamstrings and weakened hip flexors, neither of which can lengthen properly (and you stick your butt out like a baboon).  Furthermore, when you’re staring downward at a computer, your shoulders are hunching forward and it tightens your chest muscles.  Like the tilted pelvis/leg relationship, the upper back is equally affected by tight chest muscles, leading to less mobility in the shoulders, thus affecting your port de bras.  If your chest muscles are really tight, you’re going to have problems taking your arms up to a nice an open fifth, and keeping your shoulders away from your ears.  Cuban Marden would always tell me to relax my shoulders, and I would try but I literally could not lower my shoulders because I had so much tension in my upper torso.

So what to do…stretch a lot?  Not quite.  A lot of people improve flexibility with what they believe to be proper stretching, but for some of us, it hasn’t worked so well.  I know for me, I’m so behind in mobility that no amount of stretching ever seemed to help.  However, what I realized is that flexibility is not muscular, but mental.  Jigga-what?!?  I completely changed my mind on what flexibility is after talking with a friend who is a med student, and told me that they can play with cadavers and manipulate their joints into contortionistic positions and full splits like it’s no big deal.  First of all, that’s kind of morbid, gross (sorry to paint a graphic picture) and slightly disturbing that these are the people we trust to take care of our health…but it’s also really interesting.  That means when our brains don’t meddle and tell our muscles via neuromuscular functions that they can’t go any further, that the muscles themselves are actually free to do whatever they want.  So stretching isn’t about physically lengthening muscles, but rather, instructing the muscles that it is okay to lengthen.  Translation…every body has the potential and the key is learning to access it.  Ta-da!  Step number one in improving your flexibility is trusting that your body CAN and WILL get there someday.

But, you still have to put in some work.  You can’t just tell your body to be more flexible, because it knows better.  So how to improve flexibility?  I would honestly encourage anyone to do a lot of research and figure out what they need for themselves.  For me, I actually did yoga for a few years and didn’t have much improvement at all.  I hated it…it was boring and didn’t really sufficiently connect the dots for my brain.  Pilates on the other hand, I got a lot out of (even if I haven’t been able to get myself back into a regular routine of doing it).  I got more out of two months of pilates than I did doing two years of yoga.  Every body and brain works differently, and because I have a lot of instability in my core, pilates was doing more to correct my body than yoga was.  However, the idea that stretching is about accessing potential is universal, in my opinion.  As is massage!  Massages are freebies to better flexibility.  The more tension you release in your body, the more flexibility you will have.  Not just muscles, but the all important fascia (which is what yoga actually stretches.  Yoga works for a lot of people…I just hate it).  That’s why I got Horatio (who is excruciating on my quads…that tells you how tight mine are) and a couple of inflatable balls as used in the “Franklin method.”  Eric Franklin’s book Conditioning for Dance has a lot of great theraband exercises for strengthening as well as myofascial release techniques using those inflatable balls for self massage.

So after a lot of research, and looking into the different ways to achieve better flexibility, not just in the realm of dance but from martial arts people to physical therapists (some of which are crazy…and very wrong), I found a flexibility program that is very much in line with my beliefs on how flexibility works.  Although I heard of the various techniques in the program here and there from my research, the program organizes it in such a way that makes it easy for me to make it a part of my daily routine.  I will in fact, embark on this new journey to better flexibility tonight!  I begin as the tightest human being on Earth, and hope to achieve a good split, because Yen Fang told me if I did, I would turn into a prince.  When that day comes, I shall post a complete review of the program…mum’s the word for now because I don’t want to necessarily endorse something I haven’t really tried and had results from yet.  Wish me luck!

Talkin bout Bad Boys

4 Sep

I’ve been a little cranky the past few days, for no particular reason, just having a lot of frustration with different things.  Fortunately, my Manon soundtrack that I bought on Amazon arrived today and it brings back such good memories.  To date, this is by far my favorite soundtrack that I’ve purchased, because it’s not fluffy and grandiose like some of the classics or creepy like Prokofiev.  I was a musician before a wannabe dancer, so for me, what I love most about Jules Massenet’s works that are pieced together for the ballet is the depth and warmth.  My favorite part is the music after Des Grieux’s solo in the courtyard in the first act, where there is this stunning melody that deliciously harmonizes the oboe, violin and cello.  If I recall correctly, it’s the music for the first pas de deux between Des Grieux and Manon, and it makes me melt so much more than the famous bedroom pas de deux.  Overall, Massenet and the orchestrators (Leighton Lucas and Hilda Grant according to my handy dandy library copy of The Ballet Goer’s Guide) did a really wonderful job, especially because virtuoso violin work can get really screechy at times, but it remains really docile and sensual throughout the soundtrack.  Yum!

Meanwhile, yesterday was my first session with Horatio and it kinda sorta really hurt.  A lot.  Especially on my quads, where the recommendation is to stop on tender spots and wait for the discomfort to diminish but I had tenderness and pain every single millimeter so I’m getting the feeling that years of a sedentary lifestyle have left my quads a conglomeration of big fat knots.  I’m not really surprised, but I never expected that they were THIS bad.  Although on the topic of thighs, I read an article this morning that said larger thighs were possibly an indicator of longevity (although not necessarily associated).  People who gain the “spare tire” had higher incidences of heart disease, whereas people who gained weight in their thighs lived longer.  See, I knew there was no reason to be ashamed of having raw materials.

In other news, I’ve been watching the US Open, and they do these technique snippets where the commentators will demonstrate some moves for viewers at home, one of which they called “the pirouette.”  This involves an extended backhand usually, and then a quick pivot away from the court to run back towards the center, and of course geeky me was thinking “that’s no pirouette…it’s a détourné.”  I tried to be a good Samaritan nerd and find a way to contact the broadcasters and inform them of this little misunderstanding, but alas, I could not find such means of contact.  Looks like some dance vocabulary is going to make its way into tennis lingo, even if it is inaccurate.  I still love tennis though, although I wouldn’t recommend it for dancers because it makes your body develop very lopsided.  My right forearm is a lot bigger than my left one, my right shoulder rotates differently from the left…it’s just a hot mess.

Anyway, so back to dance related dance, last night I heard about a dancer, Rasta Thomas via twitter.  Having the time on my hands that I do, I checked out his website and looked for videos on the tube, and I really like his companies’ work.  For one thing, I was cranky at the time so I was kind of in the mood for something angsty, which is out of character because usually my friend Nacho is the one that goes for this kind of stuff (she has rage issues) while I gravitate towards…well I don’t know.  Anyway, one of his companies, The Bad Boys of Dance does some really dynamic, acrobatic dance that is grounded in ballet but draws influences from other forms of movement as well, including martial arts (urrrrgh).  Now normally, the so-called contemporary dance genre is not my favorite because it turns into a circus of gymnastic tricks in a sexualized “look what can I do!” display, but I have to say Bad Boys is the most intelligent and thoughtful presentation of this kind of dance, and I really enjoy it (even the martial arts influence…hoy!).  When it comes to “contemporary,” there’s a good way to do it and a bad way to do it and Bad Boys is very good.  There’s obvious concern for artistic intent, which to me makes the difference in this genre, because a lot of times there are plenty of athletic dancers who have the hat tricks, so how the dance is expressed becomes the cornerstone of defining it.  To me, weakness in expression is most exposed in “contemporary,” and a lot of dances end up looking the same with no differences between them.  But it’s great to see Thomas’ Bad Boys successfully present modernized virtuoso dancing that is easily absorbed by a range of audiences that include crotchety classicists like me and young-uns.

Here’s a trailer for Bad Boys, and apparently one of the pieces uses that song for Requiem for a Dream, which unfortunately I despise (that song and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero are two of my most hated songs in all of life), but I really hope to see them live someday!

And just for kickity-dees, a solo by Rasta Thomas to some MJ.  Love it!

Say Hello to Horatio

2 Sep

So, Center Stage 2 was an abomination, and I noticed that the girl who starred in it (Rachele Brooke Smith) is also starring in the fifth installment of the Bring it On movies, which was just released on dvd yesterday.  I know, I know…she’s probably a nice girl and she’s an actress just trying to make a living, and I have nothing against her personally but this news kind of makes me die a little on the inside.  The Center Stage sequel was bad enough, so this is like going from F to Q, except she’ll probably be more well known for this movie than CS2 even.  Oy.

Anyway, I was browsing Emily Kate Long’s website, a ballet dancer with Ballet Quad Cities.  She has some lovely studio shots, a black and white one that I liked in particular but I noticed a wall hanging with some Japanese calligraphy.  Dusting off the recesses of my brain, I translated it as “from the heavens, the way of karate.”  Mraow?  So I asked her about it on twitter, and she replied that the studio doubles as a karate dojo and even has a punching bag.  People do that?  Obviously, I had no idea people maximized studio space that way, and surely the karate kids pull out mats and such.  I consider myself fortunate that I haven’t had to encounter such circumstances, because I have a tendency to look at the mirror or the floor (bad habit, I know…I slapped myself on the wrist just now), and would probably run into it.  It brings back memories though, because eons ago I was unfortunately once a participant of the martial arts.  People are surprised when I tell them I had a second degree black belt because I am the most harmless human being alive.  Honestly, I don’t even know how I got that far, but it is what it is and I hated being forced to do it.  It’s like I always say…my only regrets in life are things my parents made me do.  They even said I fought like I was dancing (HELLO, CLUE NUMERO UNO!) but they had this thing of making me learn “practical skills.”  I had to learn how to defend myself because apparently everyone in the world is out to get me and I had to take swimming lessons so I wouldn’t drown if my plane crashed into the ocean or I was washed overboard a boat.  The results: I have forgotten everything I learned in taekwondo and usually the people who beat me are friends (or ballet teachers) anyway, and I’m incapable of enjoying the pool or swimming at the beach.  I guess my parents made a lot of mistakes, but I’m still alive.

In other news, I’ve joined dancebloggers, which is a really great resource for finding out about what’s going on in the dance world.  At first, I was kind of nervous about joining because there are actually legitimate dancers, choreographers and the like with actually useful, current information.  Meanwhile, I’m still posting about things forty years behind the times as I struggle to discover and play catch-up.  But I bit the bullet and joined anyway, and decided dance humor would be my niche, so hopefully nobody will take me too seriously!  Anyway, if you don’t know about dancebloggers, they have a really great system set up where you can subscribe to their mailing list and they send a newsletter with previews of the latest entries from bloggers who have joined.  I think the newsletters are daily, and I’ve already gotten a little “participant happy” by commenting on some people’s blogs.  You don’t have to have a blog yourself to join the mailing list, but if you do have a dance related blog, be sure to join!  Get yourself some readers, build a fan base, do the hokey-pokey.

Speaking of current events, I had an amazon gift card and decided to jump on the foam roller bandwagon, which was delivered to my door by the UPS man just minutes ago.  It’s blue and I’ve named it Horatio.  Local stores didn’t carry the size I wanted, as they only had 3ft which was too big and unwieldy and 18in which was too small.  I wanted 2ft, which is a good size and I can use for my back too because I have a short torso.  Dancers are always looking for new ways to release, stretch, strengthen, etc. and I thought I’d give it a whirl.  Especially for me, who is really tight and as much as I stretch my right quads feel tighter and tighter when I lift my leg in second.  As a quick test I just slithered onto it and worked my IT band for a few seconds and it was unpleasant in the good way so I’m really hopeful that this will soothe the fascia and let it know that it’s time to let go.  With Horatio as my personal masseuse, perhaps there is more these old bones can accomplish.

Horatio, sleeping on the couch after a long trip on the UPS truck.

Horatio, sleeping on the couch after a long trip on the UPS truck.

Before the commercial interruption, I was browsing the tube as I do, and one of my favorite things is looking at the “recommended for you” videos because a lot of gems will pop up that I never thought to look for.  The most recent one I favorited was Vladdy-V coaching former Paris Opera Ballet dancer Eric Vu An, in Le Corsaire.  Vladdy-V must be in his late forties-ish, maybe early fifties in the video, but he was still as sharp and vivacious as ever.  I don’t speak French, so I have no idea what he was saying, but on certain accents he would shout “EEE!” to specify where Eric needed to be.  Next time I’m in a ballet class, I’m totally going to try that on a piqué or a whatever that needs to be hit with some oomph.  I’ve tried something similar before, but it was more like an “EEEEeeeeeeeeee~” that trails off as I lose my balance or fall over.  This might work, and like I said, I’ll try anything to improve.  Check him out in his coaching glory, with Eric Vu An and Richard Wilk (Giselle).