Tag Archives: yu yen fang

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!

Happy 50th! Thank You Remanso

26 Sep

This is the fiftieth post I’ve written since youdancefunny’s sacred inception.  Fifty is a pretty monumental number, so I shall write about a dance that was monumental to me.  I was actually thinking about saving this for entry one hundred, but after realizing that would take a few more months, I chacked the idea.  The thought of having this thought linger in my brain for a few more months was not one I was fond of, because when I get a good idea I tend to become pretty impatient about it.  After all, the only way to get another good idea is to get rid of the one you’re holding.  It’s all thanks to a combination of the impatience of an Aries and a lust for living in the present moment that comes from being born in the Year of the Rat.  My birthright has thus rendered me virtually incapable of dealing with the long term stuff, in either direction, past or future.  Too much information?  Maybe.

So in honor of post cincuenta, today’s entry is dedicated to first dance that ever inspired me, Remanso, choreographed by Nacho Duato, to music by composer Enrique Granados’ Valses Poéticos.  I was first introduced to this dance by ballet teacher Yen Fang, ages ago.  Well, more like less than two years, but remember that I am indeed one who lives in the present so two years is like half of eternity.  I think I’ve mentioned her a couple times before, as the teacher who swears like a sailor and would beat me in class.  She would also tell me to carry out the center barres because that’s what the boys should do…or rather boy, since I was the only boy in the class.  Despite her abusive ways, I’ll always remember her class because it was one of my first ballet classes ever, where I first heard the mazurka to Coppelia, and where I was introduced to Remanso.  I started taking dance classes at my university, so the approach was always a little more academic rather than just dancing all the time, so teachers would often show videos and have us write papers and the like.  The one Yen Fang showed was American Ballet Theatre Now – Variety and Virtuosity, which one can purchase brand new at amazon.com for a monstrous $97.89.  HOLY BILLY ELLIOT.  Back up, $100?  Seriously?!?  This is not a drill people…although if you own an artifact called a “VCR,” you can purchase a VHS for a much kinder six dollars.

Sticker shock aside, I found that Remanso appealed to many of my tastes.  The first being the music.  I have a strange affinity for waltzes and time signatures in threes, for which I have no explanation.  Anyway, sometimes a solo piano piece is really all it takes to satisfy the soul, and Valses Poéticos does just that.  In fact, I was so in love with the music I rekindled this idea that I could teach myself how to play piano.  I go through this phase every now and then, with varying degrees of success, ranging from purchasing music and never playing it, to learning the first page of a piece before getting overwhelmed.  Quite frankly, piano (or any classical instrument for that matter), like ballet is not something you can teach yourself, but I decided to buy the music anyway.  What should have been a simple purchase turned into an ordeal when I ordered the music in July, got a call from the store that it had arrived, and had plans to go but somehow got distracted and it slipped my mind.  After that initial day, again, as someone who lives in the present, of course I also forgot all about it (plus going downtown is a pain and I always get lost), until a couple months later when the store lady called again, not leaving a message the first time and then leaving a message the day after.  I rushed to the store and picked it up, with a different store clerk helping me, but the one who had ordered it and made the phone calls was also there and she was giving me the evil eye the whole time.  “I’m sorry!  I forgot!  It was an honest mistake!” I pleaded with my eyes, but she would not relent, and I left feeling dirty and ashamed.

Anyway, back to the dance, it is a modern ballet, and Duato’s choreography is so whimsical and charming, and the lightness of his style really fits the buoyancy of the music itself.  Designed for a male pas de trois (plus a mysterious hand of a fourth human holding a rose), the costumes are simple, leotards in solid dark tones paired with black shorts, which allows for a real sense of the dynamism of the male body.  The set and lighting too are minimal, with just a white square on a black stage, which would illuminate with different colors matching the dancer’s outfits.  It’s such a simple, perfect idea, and the minimized production elements really force your eyes to watch the dancing only.  There’s nothing harsh; it’s sweet, chocolate covered and easy to digest thanks to wonderful symmetry, motifs, repetitions and echoing.  No one dancer overpowers another, and they are playful without it being exaggerated.  It’s also pleasing because I believe it is comprised of all seven movements of Valses Poéticos, so you get a variety of tempi so it never settles into one mood for too long, each one on the verge ephemerality.  I think in many ways, this dance felt like “me.”  After watching it, THAT was the moment when I realized I wished I was a dancer, and it was at that moment I realized I needed to have dance be a significant part of my life or else I wouldn’t truly be human without it.  So I immersed myself, and the rest they say is history…a history that is fading into the recesses of my memory.  Luckily, Remanso never will.

So here it is, for your enjoyment, Remanso, danced by Parrish Maynard, (green…and I want his arabesque), Keith Roberts (gray) and Vladimir Malakhov (blue)…thank Billy nobody has to pay a ridiculous $100 for the DVD and Variety and Virtuosity in its entirety is available on YouTube.  You can also catch a glimpse of Julie Kent at the end, who is featured in the next dance.  Now, I hadn’t seen Center Stage at the time, and only knew of it because friend Mama J-bear (with whom I had my adventures in China with) said it was worth watching because Sascha Radetsky is hot, but I’ll never forget the girl in my class who asked “Is that the girl from Center Stage?  I didn’t like her…she was a bitch.”