Tag Archives: triple pirouette

Technical Tricks of the Trade: Advice from an Amateur

25 Sep

You’d be surprised what you can learn from a set of new eyes, even when they may not be the most experienced.  The fact that people read this blog has given me an inflated sense of ego, and I feel impudent enough to offer some advice when it comes to taking class.  I believe that our flaws shape our perceptions, and as someone with bad feet, bad turnout and no natural flexibility, I’m always looking at how people use such things.  One of the teachers at Pacific Northwest mentioned how Maria Tallchief, who doesn’t have the best feet, would go crazy when dancers with great feet didn’t use them.  This entry shall be an amalgamation of various things the teachers I respect the most have told me and is perhaps geared towards the late starter or beginning/intermediate dance student.  For the accomplished dancer or teacher, there’s a good chance you have something better to do!

If you’re a late starter, fret not.  A late starter is someone who may start at the age of fifteen or sixteen and the good news is you’re NOT a late starter at all.  Many a fine dancer began their training at this age (particularly guys) and went on to professional careers.  One of the best examples I can think of is Melissa Hayden, a celebrated Balanchine muse, who started at fifteen…and you didn’t get to be a Balanchine muse if you didn’t have special qualities!  Hayden was every bit the technical virtuoso on pointe that other dancers who trained from an early age were and she had incredible passion—her true tour de force.  Another great dancer who started at fifteen is Thiago Soares, a current principal with The Royal Ballet, so even in this modern era can one start in their teenage years and achieve the highest ranks possible in dance.  So really, if you’re around this age, don’t call yourself a “late starter,” and think of it as a “delayed start” instead.

If you began past the age of twenty like I did, NOW you’re a true late starter (in my case, 23, so ANCIENT starter).  Professional aspirations are probably unrealistic, but that’s okay because if you’re anything like me, you just love to take class and dance.   Sometimes we’re not taken seriously because we don’t have those possibilities but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to achieve certain things like a double pirouette or a higher leg extension.  However, the approach is perhaps a little different with adult ballet and I will share what I’ve learned, in terms of the four goals that seem to be common:

I want MASSIVE amounts of turnout!

Your knees and hips are screaming—STOP.  Your turnout will improve with continued barre practice.  What people don’t realize though is that it isn’t necessarily how much turnout you have, but how you use it.  I always cite the example of one of the differences I noticed between the corps de ballet of the Bolshoi and The Royal Ballet.  The Bolshoi corps would all line up in perfectly turned out fourth positions but when they went up on pointe, wa-waaaah their legs actually turned in!  This inward rotation was actually very distraction because then they force their turnout on the way down, creating even more extraneous movement.  The Royal Ballet corps, on the other hand, had dancers who were not 180°, but moved in and out of a fourth or fifth position they could use, without extra rotation of the legs.  The cleanliness and efficiency supersedes less-than-180° turnout.

I want to développé SUPER high!

Ah yes…the ever-coveted high leg extension.  This is something like many that I have yet to achieve myself but I will tell you something a teacher told me that BLEW. MY. MIND.  There’s this idea that we need to develop the flexibility and strength to hold the leg up high to the front or to the side, which is true—the problem is once the flexibility is there, we think “strength, strength, strength!”  This actually promotes gripping in the quads and picking up the hip (which you don’t want to do) because you’re thinking about “lifting” the leg…but ballet is SO mental and this is the big dirty secret that I’ll never forget her telling us: The degree of extension that requires the MOST strength is…NINETY DEGREES!  Why?  Because that is when your leg is furthest away from you, and thus the weight is furthest away from you!  Behold, the power of common sense!  So then, how to get the leg above 90°?  She told us about her training and how she spent many months working below 90° at 45°, working only on placement, using the barre more and shifting her weight as little as possible.  That allowed her to train her muscles to extend properly and after the experiment was over she could développé to 120°.  Conclusion?  Getting above 90° is MENTAL.  Think about it (seriously).

I want a HUGE penchée arabesque!

One of the biggest myths in ballet is that every penchée needs to be ginormous and approach a full split.  Wrong!  The most important thing to keep in mind is the connection between the back and the leg, and the line it creates through the hips.  Lots of beginning students try to hike the leg up but then drop the torso, which is not pretty and doesn’t develop the strength in your back you actually need.  If penchées are new to you, start out with little tiny ones and think of the foot taking you up while the torso stays as upright as possible.  Here’s one of the big dirty secrets about penchées too…most of the time, I find getting into it to be the easiest part—it’s getting out of it that’s much more challenging.  A good penchée goes down and comes back up without shifting the foot and rolling around on it.  I used to try to penchée and my leg would literally go nowhere and what worked for me was actually learning to place myself in as square an arabesque as possible.  The Balanchine arabesque, which in my opinion flattens out the three dimensional quality of an arabesque by opening the hip didn’t improve my line at all because I don’t have the turnout.  When I stopped trying to do that and focused on squaring up my hips and rotating from the socket of my standing leg, slowly but surely I greatly improved my penchée…on one side.  My right side hasn’t figured it out yet, but there is a world of difference on my left!

I want to do 2983573982421903821 pirouettes!

Yeah, me too.  Here’s the deal with pirouettes…different things will work for different people, and chances are you will get an onslaught of various corrections.  My advice here is to remember as many as possible because even if you can’t get your body to physically achieve every correction every time, it’s very much a “checklist” sort of thing, and you’ll often find that different corrections will work for you on different days.  A lot of corrections teachers gave me of course made sense and I would try to do what they were asking but didn’t quite “feel it.”  You’d be surprised at how some corrections may make much more sense weeks, months or even years later.  A long time ago one of my teachers was always telling me to “feel wide in your back,” but only now, just the other day I actually FELT it and BAM! Triple pirouette (I’ve been chicken and sticking with doubles lately).

Hope this helps, from a fellow ballet class addict!  Let me know how this all goes…unless it makes stuff worse, then don’t sue me.  I can only hope to pretend to SOUND like a real expert.

Mash-up: A dance version of Glee?

21 Oct

On Monday I started doing pilates again, and it was rough.  I had been doing them every day for a long time, progressed to more advanced exercises, and then after a vacation just couldn’t get back into it.  So there I was, almost eleven months later, starting all over from scratch with the beginner exercises.  It was sad…I’m so weak, so out of shape, and I was annoyed with myself.  But it’s one of those things where you just have to start again and stick with it, because if you obsess over where you used to be, you’re not going to want to try.  At least it was better than the very first time I did pilates, when I REALLY couldn’t do anything.  Things will come back faster, and interestingly enough I think parts of my core that were dormant have been reawakened.  I tried pirouettes just for funsies, and managed okay triples on both sides.  Given, I was wearing socks on a shiny hardwood floor, but I’ll take it!  There was one 3.5 that even stayed on relevé, so I think this is my body’s way of telling me to work out before it deteriorates completely.  Little gifts like triple pirouettes are only a taste of what’s to come, it promises.

Anyway, today is Wednesday, which for me, is ALL about Glee.  It’s no secret that I am completely obsessed with this show, and to a potentially unhealthy degree.  I guess in some ways it’s what I wish my high school experience was like.  Although I was (and never will be) no singer, I was involved in the geekier stuff like band and theatre that attracted bullying and teasing like a cows to an alien tractor beam.  I don’t know if this show will have any lasting effect on that, but it is my greatest hope that someday, something will change the minds of young people who think it’s acceptable to make fun of others based on what they’re passionate about.  I didn’t choose my talents and it was difficult for me to understand why people were so intent on being merciless towards me.  My senior year I was one of the best flute players in the school, and I was constantly mocked for that and many other reasons (being a minority, effeminate, skinny and unathletic…I was the TRIPLE bullseye).  I know what it’s like to be a Rachel or a Kurt (Kurchel?)…to have talents and a personality that few seemed to appreciate and although I never had a slushie thrown in my face I had plenty of cruelties tossed my way.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me…on the one hand, putting up with all that crap made me headstrong (maaaaaybe stubborn), but I still have plenty of insecurities.  But this can also be attributed to my zodiacs…the Aries in me always says “GO FOR IT!” but those who are born in the Year of the Rat with wood as their element are incredibly insecure people.  It’s a strange dynamic that I have to go through just to make decisions.

It wasn’t until I started dancing (and this was towards the end of university mind you!) that the repair process even began.  It was through dance that I finally started to appreciate the person I am, regardless of whether other people did or not.  This is why I love dance more than life itself and Glee almost as much as I love dance.  However, as much as I love both, I can’t see them mixing very well.  I don’t think a dance version of Glee would work out, for a couple of reasons.  First, being on the dance team doesn’t qualify as geeky.  Second, and the most important, is that people who sing can come from many different backgrounds, which is the same in dance, but with singing, the uniting force is language, and the spoken (er…sung?) word.  We’re trained as soon as we can make any kind of sound from our mouths to speak a language.  However, the common element between all the different dance forms is movement, which despite being the realm of exploration for modern, is much more obscure because most of us aren’t taught to “speak movement” so intensively.  This is why I feel an appreciation for dance is so necessary for a healthy, balanced life.  Just as one should know how to read, so should they know how to observe communication through dance.  It’s no wonder people often show up to their first dance class, a completely insecure wreck, because they’re so out of touch with their bodies.  Dance/movement training should be incorporated a lot more into schools methinks…I went to public school and we never had anything like that.  But dance education is a completely different beast, for another day.

Listen to what the cast of Glee had to say about their first dance experiences:

This begs the question though of why is dance so invisible in mainstream media?  Why is it reduced to the occasional, poorly done stereotype?  It was interesting to me that ballet and New York are kind of synonymous, and yet Veronika Part’s appearance on Letterman just a few months ago was the FIRST time they’ve ever had a ballet dancer.  WHAT?!?  Really??  We get a few movies here and there, most of them being terrible…why is it so difficult to have a compelling plot involving dance in a movie?  Or why aren’t there any television shows where characters are dancers?  And if there are, why are they always portrayed a certain way?  You know what I mean, there are exaggerated stereotypes, as if being a dancer prevents you from being a socially adjusted human being…like this one episode of Will and Grace where Will was dating a dancer, who said something like “I did a rond de jambe when I meant to grand jeté it was so embarrassing.”  First of all, there is no possible way to make that mistake, and there’s no way a dancer would say that to someone who had no idea what those terms meant.  Boo on you writers, for crossing your fingers and hoping the technical jargon would suffice.  Or how about when that character shows up at Will’s apartment decked in full Nutcracker makeup, jumping up and down at the door, and later on balancés down the sidewalk to catch snowflakes on his tongue.  Professional dancers don’t do that (unless they intend to)!  I do that!  And only because I’m trying to be funny, not because I’m crazy.

It’s about time dance got some decent exposure on television, for what it truly is.  Not as background for music videos, “reality” shows or B-movies.  I wish there was a talk show that invited dancers, choreographers, artistic directors etc. to be interviewed and  allowed audiences to get to know them as people as well as find out more about their upcoming projects.  Kind of like Actor’s Studio, or even better, something laid back like Ellen DeGeneres’ show…and the host should be me because I could use a job.  I’m interested in everything dance, so why not?  Except butoh…sorry, won’t do that again.

And just for fun, Kurt…because we love Kurt.

Meshuggina Day

17 Jun

I went to a friend’s birthday party last night and made some luscious red velvet cupcakes with a recipe that made more frosting then I’ve ever seen in my entire life…why the recipe called for 4.5 pounds worth of frosting is beyond me.  And why it didn’t occur to me to you know, make one third of that is probably the better question.  You’d think I would have been suspicious with the amount of materials going in (3 packages of cream cheese, 4 sticks of butter, 2 pounds of powdered sugar!), but my sense of space and weight is abysmal.  The point is, the party ended fairly late, so getting up this morning was a massive failure, especially because I left my phone at a friend’s apartment and I set two alarms on my phone in addition to my actual alarm clock.  I’m no early bird.  Although waking up in itself isn’t exactly the problem for me, it’s more the act of getting out of bed and not falling back asleep where I encounter obstacles.

Normally I also take a shower in the morning because that is step number four in the awakening process.  Not only does it wake me up, but especially on days I dance, a hot shower helps to relax the muscles and warm them up, and we all know the importance of warmth before movement and stretching.  But on this fateful day, in order to make it class I only had enough time to throw on some clothes I could move in and fling out the door.  Furthermore, I could only partially complete wake-up step 5, replacing my usual nice solid breakfast with plenty of fruit, yogurt, and granola by inhaling a banana on my way out.  I tell you this, because today was obviously destined to be a disaster of sorts.  A so called “off day,” and trust me when I say I did not disappoint.

The oddities continued when there were only 3 people in class today.  Score for massive amounts of studio space, but still unusual.  Anyway, we hardly did anything new at barre, but the sequencing function of my brain malfunctioned from the get-go.  I’m talking the very first plié exercise, and it just snowballed from there and avalanched later on.  I literally messed up every four counts of this degagé/pique combination that wasn’t all that complex.  I also messed up a something during frappé, skipped another something during grande battement, fell over on a pencheé, completely unwound from a balance in attitude, and I’m thinking you get the picture.  Discombobulatedness and dance can result in some bizarre moments.  Last time I was this bad I bent my toenail backwards in a pas de cheval because I forgot what was going on.  Dear BILLY, would this catastrophe see an end?

No. (at least, not until class was over)

But there was a shining moment of glory.  As we warmed up pirouettes in center, they weren’t going so well and I thought today would not be a turning day, and figured something else, perhaps jumps would be the soup of the day.  But as we went across the floor a second time, a Billy Elliot-blessed-miracle!  Somehow, I managed 3 triple pirouettes in a row!  I tell no lies when I say that has never happened before.  However, in dance, there is this importance concept of “finishing,” and where I was supposed to do a teeny little rond de jambe into a teeny little single pique turn en dehors, I froze like a raccoon in a trash can whose clandestineness had been betrayed by a flashlight.  It turns out the price for a touch of Billy Elliot’s divinity was the instantaneous (but temporary) scattering of what was left of my brain.  No venga for me.

But, my little kitties…I guess to say that every cloud has a silver lining is an understatement.  If I was able to scrape something positive out of a voodoo cursed day like today, the possibilities for a good day are as endless as something infinite.  Common knowledge amongst dancers I’m sure, but there’s your true story reminder from yours truly.