Tag Archives: the elderly

Reader Topic: Getting Free Dance Lessons

9 Mar

So I was contacted by a reader who moderates the website http://fr.ee, a website that is solely devoted to getting freebies in life, including how to get free dance lessons.  He suggested that as a topic for my blog and I am happy to oblige…because unsurprisingly, I have opinions on this.  They already have a post that is more focused on ballroom dances like salsa, so I thought I’d tackle styles that I’m either more familiar with or have somehow managed to make its way into my category bar you see to the right.

I must preface by saying that my general views on dance are that it is in essence free.  You can put on some music (or not) and whatever movement you do (or not do) IS dance.  Untrained perhaps, but that doesn’t make it undancelike.  In fact, when I attended Separate Panes at OSU, one of the performers was not quite a trained dancer (a work in progress if you will) and yet he moves sinuously and with purpose.  It was obviously innate to him and Svetlana even mentioned how unfair it was that he danced so beautifully and she is a dance major (and ballet extraordinaire).  Unfortunately not everyone is born with such natural abilities, but dance is also one of those things where you get what you put into it.  If you invest the time and money you will see changes…changes of varying degrees depending on your body and your natural abilities but the point is if you want any change, you need to invest in it.  I promise if you do, dance will find a way to reward you!  At any rate, this is not to say you can’t enjoy a little freebie or two and sometimes that’s all you need to get started.

For free ballet lessons, there are a couple of things you can do.  You can watch videos on YouTube or slightly better, borrow an instructional video from your local library.  Personally, I don’t recommend either because if there’s one dance form that really necessitates being in the studio, it’s ballet.  I realize that some people may not have the confidence and that it can all be overwhelming to show up in a leotard and learn a bunch of new French words.  In that sense, watching a few videos is a good way to relieve some of the anticipation and at least see what some of the basic movements look like.  Even the fact that you can rewind videos can be inhibiting…after all, the art of catching up is a part of learning to dance.  If you’re learning a petite allegro and haven’t mastered all of the little jumps, negotiating with your body to get through it when it’s crunch time isn’t going to happen if you have the luxury of rewinding!

It is possible to get free ballet lessons though…for example, BalletMet, the premiere ballet company in Columbus, Ohio puts in vouchers for one free class in every program that they hand out if you attend a performance.  Getting into the performance for free is a different matter, but the voucher of course is.  If you’re really shady, you can even hang out after a performance and pick up programs people left behind or dig through the trash if you must.  If you’re super-shady, you can even ask if any of your friends are going, ask if you can have their free class and/or have them play raccoon and dig through trash for you.  It’s not glamorous…but it is free.

For jazz classes, my opinion differs a bit.  Pretty much the only way to get a free jazz class is to hope a studio might have a “bring a friend” day or a “first class free” kind of deal and there’s no way to find that out unless you know someone who attends that particular studio (I brought a friend once to a jazz class at OSU…talked to the teacher beforehand and she was cool with it.  Come to think of it, if you are a college student, checking to see if your university offers dance classes is another potential opportunity for free classes.  If you’re already paying full time tuition, why not?).  So talking is your best weapon, but I actually do approve a bit of videos for jazz.  Jazz has some neat tricks and when it comes to learning a trick-type skill, sometimes the “monkey-see-monkey-do” approach works best.  For example, watching videos is how I learned the mechanics of an illusion turn (not that I can do one, but I know how it works thanks to video).  Also, videos online in particular have been a way for innovative moves to be passed around, because unlike ballet, jazz has tons of room for new steps.

When it comes to modern, I believe it’s important to be in the studio (or not) again.  What I mean is it’s important to be somewhere…in a group, in a space, with a someone who can tell you what you’re doing or you can decide what to do, together.  The beauty of modern is that it doesn’t have to be a studio…I love it when dances take place outside.  A great way to get free classes in modern technique though is to keep your ear to the ground for any upcoming festivals, symposiums and workshops.  Modern dancers need income of course, but they are also more eager to spread their ideas, techniques and style than in any other dance form, resulting in some free opportunities.  It can be hard to find your way into the modern community though and my recommendation is to start with a local university with a dance department, since a lot of research happens there and local events often emerge as dance majors and graduate students seek to solidify their voices as they get their degrees.  These are emerging artists that need guinea pigs…volunteers are greatly appreciated.

As for tap classes, I have never taken a tap class but I can offer one unique idea.  I do not joke when I say this, but volunteer at a senior center.  I know someone who did, found out that some of the residents were hoofers and learned from them for what?  For free.  It’s an idea that is full of win-win because the old folks love to have visitors and something to look forward to and you get free tap lessons.  Think about it, this is the generation that grew up watching the likes of Fred and Ginger, Eleanor Powell and that handsome devil Gene Kelly.  For the elderly of today, tap was a BIG DEAL in their day and recreational lessons oh so very common.  This is not to say I think you should find a senior center and interrogate each resident until you find one who can tap…but the opportunity may present itself if you’re already volunteering.  They’re bound to have wonderful stories too about tap dancing in its golden age.

If none of the above works for you…be a man.  Literally.  You’d be surprised what that can get you in the world of dance.

Alex Wong dance funny

23 Jul

In today’s entry I would like to “spotlight” a couple of dancers, as most dancers are dying to be the prima/primeur.  There are a select few like me, on the other hand, who hate being the center of attention though.  It’s maddening really, because at times I want to be one of those people who comes alive and embraces the spotlight, but I always end up shaking like a leaf in an earthquake and feeling massively uncomfortable.  And that’s just for Informances, nothing remotely professional.  I confound myself because I treat every class like a performance and enjoy every moment, and yet I have this gift for crumbling under pressure. 

For example, have you ever been asked to demonstrate something in class?  It happened to me for the first time, EVER last week at BalletMet with sweet peach George.  In the grande allegro he gave us the timing was a little unclear (4 x saut de chats, chassé, tour jeté, saut de basque) and apparently I was getting it.  So he asked me to demonstrate, and I was confused for a moment because the possibility of me demonstrating something has never occurred to me, and more importantly, why?  But he mentioned the timing and so I did it, and what do I do?  I screw up of course.  Tour jeté’d off the wrong leg…for some reason my brain froze and decided it’s kind of weird to saut de chat right and then chassé left and tour jeté with the left leg.  Especially because my right side is the better tour jeté-er so it always wants to dominate.  It’s like what teacher Jessica says when she demonstrates frappé combinations at barre…that she always has to use her “smart foot.”  But rather than smart I’d say my right side is a tyrannical bully.  You should be ashamed right side…you ruined my moment, and for that I shall demote you and always mark on the left.

But enough about me, there’s this woman in Karen’s class who if you can believe it, is at least in her sixties and still dances…barre, center, allegro, the whole shebangsies.  OSU has this sweet deal called Program 60, where senior citizens can take any classes for free, just for personal enrichment.  Anyway, we think she’s fierce (I’ve also been told she has recovered from a stroke!), and I was telling Sveta that she could be in her 100’s and in a walker and still strut around the nursing home en pointe.  Come to think of it, wouldn’t having a walker be really convenient anyway?  It would be like having a portable barre with you everywhere you go, and because it flanks you on both sides you wouldn’t even have to détourné to work both halves of your body.  But I digress…the point is, she is amazing, and you have to admire her passion and continuing ability to dance.

My next spotlight points to Alex Wong, a dancer that became well known for auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance,” but was denied participation because of his contract with Miami City Ballet.  First of all, I’m going to mount the soapbox and say that I’m not exactly a fan of SYTYCD.  I admire the dancers of course and am glad that dance is on TV and is reaching new audiences, but I can’t stand Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy and even Mia Michaels (who everyone seems to love).  Nigel is by far the worst, because he thinks he’s the big man on campus now, and something tells me he’s just bitter he was no primeur danseur and thus greedily soul-sucks perfectly good dancers by finding something to criticize about them, and control how much exposure they get on television.  Not to mention he’s a behemoth sexist, who said unforgivable things to that gay ballroom couple (something to the effect of “he didn’t like it” and “boys should be boys and girls should be girls”) and is constantly finding subtle ways to enforce sexist stereotypes.  Is it any coincidence that the girls did a group Bollywood routine, with heavily bejeweled costumes, rich colors, and intricate hand movements while the men took off their shirts in an athletic, dynamic, “powerful” African dance?  As if women have to be “exotic and sexy” while the men have to have muscles and be “wild.”  In a way it’s also enforcing racist stereotypes while simultaneously feminizing/masculinizing certain cultures.  Could one person seriously do more damage to the world of dance?

The answer is yes.  Because he’s the same numbskull that created that awful show “Superstars of Dance,” which pitted certain cultural and folk dances (and some not) against others.  Who’s to say that Irish step dance is better than Indian Bharatanatyam?  Or that the 7-time world champion Irish dancer is better than the most famous Bharatanatyam dancer in India?  And to make matters worse he had representatives from each country judging, with the home country judge omitted if their country was performing.  So in essence, you have a bunch of people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and somehow their judging is supposed to be legit?  Seriously.  And as much as I love ballet, I’m not at all surprised the Russian ballerina, Maria Kochetkova won.  Maria was wonderful, but OY.  Ballet won over Kathak (a North Indian traditional dance) and popping.  What does that even mean?  I hate the way these competitions trivialize dance and turn into these circuses where acrobatics and the big tricks so often take precedence.  The meaning of art is being lost thanks to the likes of Nigel who is much too eager to exploit dancers for “ratings” and titles that mean nothing.

Oh and Mary Murphy knows her ballroom but she’s loud, obnoxious and talks too much.  That is all.  Dismounting soapbox, 10.0 landing.

So back to Alex Wong…he is a dancer that youdancefunny really appreciates.  Not only is he a technical phenom, he has quite the sense of humor.  The fact that as a ballet dancer he can perform the “Single Ladies” dance in its entirety is amusing, but he takes it a step further by performing it in a character ballet costume for what I would call the absolute best Single Ladies parody done to date:

And not only that, he also pays homage to one of the best movies ever, “Bring it On” in this “dancers gone retarded” video:

If you check his youtube channel, you can also see a video of him and his friends/roommates doing a…something…tribute?  To “28 Days Later” which I shan’t post here because it really doesn’t have anything to do with dance (not to mention the movie really grossed me out so I try to block out memories of it), but is worth a watch because you can tell it took place in a dancer’s residence since he beats one of the cannibalistic zombies with a foam roller.

There seriously needs to be an SNL geared towards dance comedy, and he seriously needs to be the star.

Classes at Balletmet…FINALLY

11 Jul

So I’ve been taking a lot of ballet classes this week…Mon/Wed/Fri. morning with Karen Eliot (if that’s her real name…I keep forgetting to ask) at OSU and I also took a couple of classes at BalletMet with foreign teacher men people, at least one of which is Russian (YES! Or should I say…DA!).  BalletMet is Columbus’ premier ballet company, and you would think after 20ish years of life in C-bus I would have taken some classes before, but sadly this is not the case.  My parents never even took me to see the NUTCRACKER.  I had to get my Nutcracker fix from the Care Bears VHS version (which has its misgivings…but oh that Grumpy Bear…what a hoot).  We’re talking the ONE ballet everyone in their mother of pearl knows (well that and Swan Lake) and my parents deprived me.  Which some may say is a good thing I suppose…since it’s known to some as “ugh, THAT ballet.”

Anyway, so I wanted to give BalletMet classes a try just because they’re a Columbus thing and their classes are pretty good, even if the schedule is really bizarre.  During the summer they only have classes for adults for 4 weeks in July.  Early summer is understandably reserved for summer intensives for the little ballet bambinas aspiring to be professionals, but the sporadic schedule is still unpleasant.  Criticism aside, I had class with Dmitri on Tuesday, and at first I found him difficult to understand, but he demonstrated well enough so that I didn’t have to (a skill I developed while studying abroad…when you live in a foreign country, you learn to survive without understanding everything.  Or sometimes, anything).  Pretty standard class, nothing too crazy…although I guess some of the students looked a bit out of sorts and he asked if this was their first class since classes had ended in the spring to which they replied “yes.”  A HA!  A negative consequence of BalletMet’s helter skelter wonky schedule.  Although the fact that he even asked at all makes me wonder what was he doing during the month off?   Obviously he wasn’t teaching, but then what?  Who?  Where…oh well.

Now Thursday night’s class was taught by George, this diminutive and elderly man who was even harder to understand and didn’t really demonstrate.  His foot would kind of shuffle around a little and then before I knew it he’d be asking the pianist to play and somehow everything flew right by me.  The weird thing though, is there were dancers in the class who DID understand and apparently derived some kind of structured exercise from said foot shuffles, so clearly it’s not him, it’s me.  I suppose only time can give me the skills to decode this secret language…time and practice.  When I was able to get a grasp on what he was saying he definitely knew what he was talking about, and told me to keep my chest open and lengthen my neck more (even though I have a short neck…poo).  And come to think of it, he complimented my saut de basque.  Although I do think he was a lot more optimistic about my abilities than I am…I’m not flexible at all (hamstrings of steel) and in this rond de jambe en l’air-ish thrown leg thingie he wanted me to kick over his hand, which he held just under my shoulder and that wasn’t going to happen.  And he also had me hold my leg out to the side as high as possible, proceeded to poke me in several places to get me to stand up straighter and wanted me to keep it there after I let go and that wasn’t going to happen either.  But at least one of us sees the potential, and he gave me an encouraging pat on the shoulder at the end of class.

Then this morning it was back to Karen, who told us today not to shoot our arms towards the sky because we don’t “seek the heavens for help” and we need to shape our arms and maintain the shape as we move.  It was a rather odd day though…a lot of giggles in the background, but apparently some of the grad students were joking around about building a community for retired dancers called “Shady Pines,” even though I’m sure they’re all in their 20’s and MAAAAYBE early 30’s.  But it’s like I said before, dancers see their careers in terms of dog years.  But I can’t really speak for people who have had major injuries since I never have (and to think I used to feel left out for never having broken a bone).  Although I did sustain a minor injury today, and not in the studio mind you…because dancers never get injured in the studio.  But I’m pretty sure I sprained my finger when I whacked it against the turn signal handle switch while I was driving today.  Still hurts, the stupid little extremity.

One lovely thing that did happen this week was that the accompanist played a song I requested, for adagge on Wednesday AND Friday.  If you want a lovely song, try Chopin’s Nocturne no.2 in E-flat major, Op.9, no.2.  It’s one of my all time favorites, and because it’s a 12/8 it can even be played faster too for waltzy enchaînements.  But all good things must come to an end, and one un-lovely thing was the barrage of sissones this week.  What is it about sissones that make me get stuck?  Grande allegro this morning was failli-assemblé-3 x changement, SISSONE en avant step through assemblé-3 x changement, sissone ouverte coupe assemblé- 3 x changement, then your run of the mill tombé-pas de bourée-glissade-saut de chat (with arms in THIRD!  AHAHAHAHA! Or as they say in Brazil, AHUAHUAHUAHUA!).  But seriously, everytime, right before the sissone it was like landing in a puddle of molasses.  I hesitate, I freak, and then I’m 2 counts behind.  Damn me and my slow reaction time!

Grumpy Bear don't play when it comes to the sissone

Grumpy Bear don't play when it comes to the sissone

Meanwhile, in other news, I am officially on twitter now.  Don’t know if it’s a good idea, and my feeble brain is having problems keeping up with technology these days, but what the heck.  I’ll try almost anything once.

Day 2 of Marden’s Venga! boot camp

17 Jun

So today was supposedly a Beginning/Intermediate class, however it was pretty much exactly the same as yesterday’s Intermediate/Advanced class and he probably isn’t aware that the students might be different or he doesn’t care.  One of the other dancers in the class yesterday mentioned that when she took class with him fall quarter there were no “levels” per se, just “his” class.  Since I was there for the first day it didn’t matter one way or another, so SPLENDID!  Unfair advantage perhaps, but now that my brain is catching up to my body I was able to do the glissade-assemblé-glissade-assemblé-glissade-brisé-brisé-assemblé combination.  This in retrospect (and in writing) isn’t so bad.  I was just rusty, or it’s a sign that I’m getting old.

See, now I always make fun of myself for being “old” at the ripe age of 25 and then when Marden forgets something or makes a mistake he too uses the “I’m old” excuse.  Come to think of it, so does my mother, but as an Asian mother (or as I sometimes refer to them, squirrel burglars, based on their ability to hide your possessions from you) she picks and chooses when to use that as an excuse, and yet she denies any responsibility when I tell her she forgot something, such as the location of one of my belongings she has hidden.  At any rate, Marden even went as far as preempting one of the students and the accompanist who know him well, forbidding them to mention this apparently ghastly number.  Although when he demonstrates a massive tour jeté or a triple pirouette in attitude, I have some serious doubts about his concept of “old.”

I suppose this may have something to do with his lengthy career in dance, because it seems as though dancers are mostly led to believe that their careers will only last for so long.  Obviously it’s true to a certain extent, and I’m guessing the measurement is roughly equivalent to dog years.  After years of training once one turns professional at around 18-20, they have what, 15 or so human years (which is average for a lot of dogs) to dance and then their careers are done?  Although I can’t quite picture myself being a professional, as someone who started in his twenties, that makes me what, dead already?  Just put me doooooown (I jest of course, because for whatever reason, I still find dance worthwhile to do and learn, and if I’m willing to work hard at it, why not?).  Besides dance needs all kinds of students, especially adult students for 3 reasons:

1. More students = more money (and dance needs every penny!)

2. Some children, tweens and teens are brats.

3. The mongrels from #2’s parents are brats.

You’d be surprised how many dance teachers would rather teach adults instead of kids.  Or maybe you wouldn’t.

Today’s Venga!:

So yesterday’s grande allegro consisted of a series of 3 saut de chat, a pique arabesque, followed by two tour jeté, a soutenou and ending with a, surprise, attitude pirouette.  Today’s was mostly the same, but he changed the attitude pirouette to a regular pirouette en dedans.  Surprise!  Except, that turn was followed by a step into a pique attitude turn en dehors…HA!  We venga after all!