New Year Resolutions

Here is the almost inevitable New Year Resolution post…

I’m usually quite good at keeping Resolutions (last year’s was to complete an Olympic Triathlon), and although starting Ballet would have been a cracking resolution, I’ve jumped the gun on that one! So instead, most of my resolutions will be Ballet related, helping me move forward in my classes. So here we go:

1. Keep on taking Ballet classes: Although I’ve got a couple of weeks off over the Winter break, I aim to try and regain and keep the momentum I had in my classes before Christmas. I’m looking to keep with my two mid-week classes at Princeton and three Saturday classes at The Joffrey School. This is going to mean 6.5hrs of Ballet a week which I’m really looking forward to – and if I can fit another class in my schedule/budget then even better!

2. Perform: One thing I would like to do, if possible, is to perform. When I was watching The Nutcracker being performed by both of my schools I realised that I would really like to be on a stage dancing. I realise that I am still a complete beginner, but the Princeton Ballet School are putting on a Spring production of Coppelia I’m hoping to be involved in. The only issue is, because I’m in Ballet 101, I can only be a Super (non-dancing extra) and I don’t know if I can afford $200 to just stand there (I could take an awful lot of extra classes with that money!). I’m going to ask my teacher if I could possibly audition to dance the Czarda with the Ballet 201 students (and actually dance), so I’ll have to wait and see.

3. Maintain body, and improve body image: I’ve mentioned before about my issues with my body, and I’m happy to report that a combination of healthy diet and lots of Ballet has helped me lose some weight and become happier with my body. I want to keep working on this – maintaining the weight I am now, but ‘shaping’ my body a little: I’ve still got a little weight to shift around my waist and want to build up my back and shoulders a little. On top of this I want to keep working on accepting my body and becoming proud of it. I’ll even try and go to the beach without a shirt on this year! (and that’ll be a first…)

4. Use mirrors more: On a related note to resolution number 3, I plan to try to use the mirrors in my schools’ studios more. When I started Ballet I could hardly stand to look in the mirror, especially to really look at my body. Now I am getting more comfortable with my body and I am finding I can use mirrors more – they really are a useful thing to improve technique. There is sometimes a huge difference to what I think I look like and what I actually do (‘you mean my leg really wasn’t at 120 degrees?!?’).

5. Watch as much dance as I can: This is going to be an easy one to keep! First off, I have 5 tickets to see New York City Ballet and am planning on getting as many student rush tickets as I can (as well as tickets to ABT). Also the great TenduTV is releasing more dance on iTunes so I can download performances and watch them on my computer or on the go on my iPad. Add to that the fact that my NetFlix queue has at least 30 Ballet/Dance DVDs at the top of the queue (currently I’m watching the Balanchine Choreography DVDs) and 2011 is going to be dance-packed!

6. Blog more!: Again, this will hopefully be an easy one – I really enjoy blogging, and it seems you lot enjoy reading my posts so I’m going to try and keep up the pace. I was truly honored to reach DanceAdvantage’s Top 20 Dance Blogs of 2010 (and Top 3 Beginner/Student Ballet Blogs) and am using that as a stepping stone for 2011. I was also honored to top 20,000 hits on the blog (a ‘hit’ is a person visiting, possibly more than once, in a 24 hour period – so if you visit on three separate days it would register three hits, but visiting three times in one day would only register once). It’s hard for me to believe that after only three months so many people seem to be reading the blog – I hope you are all finding it interesting!

7. Learn French: So this is pretty tenuously related to Ballet but I’d thought I’d put it in here anyway (to pressure me into doing it when I forget about it halfway through the year!). I’ve been trying to learn French on and off for the last few years (I have some French friends and I’ve always wanted to speak to them in their native tongue) but it keeps stalling. This time I’m determined though! I’ve already got some self-teach books I’ve been working through (and my friends are more than willing to help me), but I’m thinking of maybe giving Rosetta Stone a go. Although it is pretty expensive, I’ve heard fantastic things about it so it might be worth a shot (or a free-trial at least!). And at the end of the day, learning French might make learning Ballet terminology a little easier…

8. Make a major life change: I don’t think if I’ve mentioned this on the blog yet, but come June I’m going to be going through a pretty huge life change. For by then I’ll hopefully have completed my Masters at Rutgers and will be heading back to the UK to complete a PhD in Mathematics. I’m not entirely sure where I’ll be heading yet (applications are being sent as we speak) but I’m pretty excited about this next phase of my life. It’ll take a bit of readjusting to move back to the UK, but you can be sure that I’ll be keeping the Ballet up wherever I end up! I’ve realised these last few months that an hour on the bus to New York is more than worth it for a couple of classes, so I know wherever I end up I can make the effort to get to a Ballet School!

9. Be Happy!: Finally, I’m going to work on being happy! This has been a bit of an issue this last term (one of the reasons I’m heading back to the UK to do my PhD and not staying in the States) but I’m determined to work more at being happy this year. And guess what I’m going use to help me? BALLET! I mean, whenever I go to a class I put all my stress and anxiety behind me and concentrate on the movements, and end up coming out of class feeling relaxed and most certainly happy (if not sometimes a little frustrated at my pirouettes… ). So I’m hoping Ballet will continue to help me through 2011 – as someone I can’t remember famously said “Ballet is better than therapy!”.

So that’s all my New Year’s Resolutions for 2011 – what are yours?

I just want to finish by wishing you all a very Happy New Year, may it bring you much health, wealth and happiness! All of you amazing readers have made the last quarter of 2010 very special and I can’t wait to see what Ballet-related things 2011 brings…

Until next time, keep dancing!

Hogmanay Fireworks 2009/2010 (Taken by David Wilson, Edinburgh 01/01/10)

Most. Amazing. Class. Ever.

Okay, so this post is a little self-indulgent. Why? Because I basically want to brag about a class I just had.

So, I arrived early at the Ballet School (like usual) on Wednesday and ended up standing around reading Computer Algebra: Symbolic and Algebraic Computation - thrilling stuff, I know. Being bored of my book, I kept on looking around and there didn’t seem to be any of the regular faces from my class. Now the class isn’t usually huge (10-15 people), but by this point there is usually at least 5 of us about.

So I’m a little bit suspicious, and slightly worried that class has been cancelled and I just didn’t know about it. As I head into class I’m the only one there. Class is with Ed, a young male dancer with the Company, who is a great teacher and a really decent guy (he was the one who set me my first ever Ballet ‘homework‘) and he tells me to pull out a portable barre while he finds the accompanist. As he comes back, two girls arrive, both around 20, and ask if this is Beginners Ballet. Initially I’m a little disappointed I wouldn’t be getting a private lesson, but after Ed checks with them it turns out they are using this to make-up for a missed Ballet 301 class.

Now this terrified me. I mean, to be in Ballet 301 you have to have done Ballet for a good few years, not just 3 months like I’ve done. That being said, I think them being there was actually better than me having a private lesson because the first thing Ed said was “well, that’s cool because that means we can go at a fast pace”, before adding “as long as that is okay with you David?”. I assured him that this was great, I like to be stretched, and off we went.

Straight away I noticed such a difference to a regular class. It was possible my most intense class so far, but also my most rewarding. It was nice to be seen in his eyes as not a complete beginner (even though I still think of myself as such) and he thought I could cope with this level of difficulty. Also, later on the accompanist was saying how great it was to have a class where everyone knew what they were doing and looked good doing it – a nice unexpected compliment.

So what did we do in the class? Well with only 3 of us, we zoomed through everything but I’m going to try and write down some of the interesting things here. If you want to know the punchline though: we did tour jetés! Yes, I actually did a tour jeté! Me! I’m still in shock!

First stop, Barre. Even pliés were a little different to usual. Our grand pliés were with half port de bras, half reverse port de bras, full port de bras, full reverse port de bras; all of which kept me on my toes! One thing I definitely noticed as we worked through our exercises was that Ed liked to add in a pirouette or two at the barre. I’m not the strongest turner so this was really useful for me to work on different aspects of my turn whilst still having the support of the barre.

After a pretty tough barre we got straight onto center work which was where I noticed an even bigger difference between this and a regular class. I’ve only just recently got the hang of linking combinations like tombé-pas-de-bourée-glissade and glissade-jeté, which is just as well because these were used in most of the combinations we did. Two that were really cool were the following (I apologise profusely for bad spelling, or incorrectly naming steps!):

  • Glissade, jeté, temps lié, glissade jeté, temps lié, assemblé, hold (x2). Then sissone ouvert going forward twice, back once and a sissone fermé side to close (x2).
  • Tombé, pas de bourée, glissade, saute de chat, pique arabesque, tombé, tour jeté

The first combination was interesting because the first phrase was in a 3,3,2 rhythm set to music in 8, so you really had to keep switched on to stop your body automatically following in the music and adding in pauses. The second was interesting because it had a tour frickin’ jeté in it!

I mean, this is one of those moves that just looks damn cool. Not only that, but completing a tour jeté instantly makes you feel like a dancer, and that you’re doing something that not everybody can do. If you don’t know what a tour jeté is, here is my description (which is probably technically incorrect!): it is where you grand battement one leg through to the front, twist your torso and grand battement the other leg back to land on your first leg in a pliéd arabesque. To make things a little clearer, here’s a youtube clip

(In this clip he actually does the pique arababesque to start as well. The tour jeté is at 6 seconds in) Now, obviously my tour jeté looked nothing like this one. In fact, the first time I tried I was pretty tentative and came very close to landing flat on my face. I then realised that if you just “go for it” (best advice I ever got from my teacher) it all kind of comes together. It’s almost like the more I just flung myself at the move, and the more energy I put in, the more secure (and less likely to mess up) I felt. Ed was also kind enough to spend a couple of minutes one-on-one at the end of class going over them and I was really pleased with my attempt when we were done. That’s not to say that my tour jetés were particularly ‘pretty’ or impressive, but they are so much more than I ever thought I would be able to do. I still can’t really believe I did them – I’ve been grinning just thinking about them ever since.

So, to sum up: the most amazing class ever.

Until next time, keep dancing!

Reflections…

So it has now been three months since my first Ballet class, and so I thought it was as good a time as any to reflect on what I’ve learnt so far:

  1. Ballet Is Hard! I mean seriously hard. First off, it’s hard physically – I always finish classes sweaty and feel like my muscles have been put through their paces. Never mind the whole flexibility issue (let’s just say it’ll be a while before I’ll be doing the splits). Next up, it’s hard spatially. By that I mean you need to be aware of your whole body and surroundings constantly. I remember in my first class having to hold relévé first with arm en bas, and finding it so difficult! Now I’ve built up to working on holding passé relévé but they both require that spatial awareness. Finally, Ballet is hard mentally. You have to be ‘switched on’ throughout class – if I stop thinking about my arm during tendus, it immediately droops; if I don’t concentrate during the peculiar degagé combination at the Barre I’ll have no hope during the related centre exercises. Add to that all the terminology to learn, and Ballet becomes a mental workout on top of a physical one!
  2. Ballet Makes Me Feel Alive! So this sounds a very ‘artsy’ comment, but it’s completely true. When I leave a class I may feel sore and tired, but mainly I feel full of so much energy. I feel very much at one with my body (doesn’t that sound very Zen!) and also I just want to keep on dancing. I’ve never had a class so far where I’ve not been disappointed that time was up at the end. Related to that comment, I read somewhere that dance is “better than therapy” and I’ve got to wholeheartedly agree – I’ve been going through some tough times this term at Grad School and dancing keeps me sane.
  3. The Dance Community Is Awesome! Well if you are reading this, you are probably part of the dance community, and more specifically the online dance community, and if so – YOU’RE AWESOME! Seriously. I mean, without you lot I would not be dancing right now. Without sites like Ballet For Men or Tights And Tiaras I wouldn’t have a clue what a dance belt was, or why I needed one. Without tweeters like @mahrobi, @Bead_109 or @youdancefunny I wouldn’t know half as much Ballet trivia as I do. And without other beginners such as Ms. Adult Beginner I would felt far more lonely (and had far fewer laughs) as a beginner than I do. You guys are all so kind and willing to give your time so freely to help me that it really is humbling. So a huge thank you to you all. Offline, I have found that my teachers are all amazing – encouraging and willing to push me to just the right level. Also, everyone in dance class is super friendly. Maybe it’s because we’re all adult beginners and not competing for auditions and the like, but there is a true sense of camaraderie I’ve never found anywhere else.
  4. I’m Addicted… Or at least I’m on my way to being addicted to Ballet. I try and take as many classes as I can fit in my schedule (and budget) – currently four a week. I rent countless DVDs of Ballets and documentaries from NetFlix. I’ve watched my ABT Swan Lake DVD too many times to count. I’ve seen NYC Ballet twice, Bourne’s Swan Lake and have tickets for 5 or 6 performances in NYC Ballet’s Spring Season (and I haven’t even started on ABT’s season). I read as much about Ballet as I can. I read any and every blog or website I can find. I find myself counting down days, and then hours, until my next class. All in all, I love Ballet!
  5. It’s Great, And Sucks, To Be A Guy In Ballet. On the one hand, being a guy in Ballet is kinda awesome. You get immediate attention when you walk into a class (whether you want it or not). You can jump higher and further than most of the class (except for the leggy 6 foot 2 girl in the back!). There’s no need to worry about pointe shoes (thank God!). And then there are tonnes of kick-ass male Ballet dancers as role models (Baryshnikov, Corella, Nureyev, Gomes, Cornejo, Acosta, Ulbricht… the list is endless!). On the other hand, being a guy in Ballet can kinda suck. First, there is obviously the whole stigma-issue – which luckily I have managed to pretty much avoid (I think this is much more of an issue for young male dancers – but is an issue for all male dancers nonetheless). Next up, trying to get clothing can be hard. Even in their flagship store in New York, Capezio have no flesh colored dance belts in my size (large). After the suggestion of a teacher, I tried to find a guys leotard to wear for class (to stop me pulling my t-shirt down constantly) and found that no store in New York seems to stock them. [Thankfully, there is now a new online-store BoysDanceToo which will help remedy the clothing situation!] Finally, although there are many opportunities for a reasonably serious female adult to take pointe class, I have yet to find a open enrollment men’s class. I know I am not yet good enough to take men’s class, but it would be nice to have the option if/when I improve. As for open enrollment partnering classes… do they even exist?!
  6. Learning Ballet Takes Time. Ballet is not an overnight activity. Even after reassurance from my teachers that I am “zooming along”, after three months I am still struggling with some of the basics: keeping my thumbs hidden, keeping my head up, keeping my shoulders down/back keeping my arms lifted at the elbows, the list goes on and on (and we haven’t even started with my feet!). I see this as kind of awesome though, it means that I can keep working on this for years to come, and still have more to work on!
  7. I’m Already Getting The Benefits of Ballet. So I started out by saying I’ve only taken Ballet for three months now, and you would think I wouldn’t see much change in myself in just three months, right? Well that’s what I though, but turns out I was wrong! First off, I am reaping the benefits of the last three months in class. I am getting much more confident and sure of my movements, and have even been asked to the front of class for people to follow a couple times. I’m also doing movements I never though I could – pirouettes (still really sloppy but improving every attempt), grand battements (although my front and back need a huge amount of work, I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see my side ones in the mirror) and just recently I did assemblés en tournant for the first time (and wow, they are fun!). Outside of class, I have seen a change in my body, and it’s posture. I’ve had comments from friends (who didn’t know at the time I took Ballet) that I look taller and more confident. Being coupled with a healthier diet (no pizza, fast food and the like; trying to cook most of what I eat from fresh) I’ve lost some weight whilst growing some lean muscle – garnering more compliments. Finally, I seem to have some abs! They’re currently in hiding behind my tum, but with a little prodding you can definitely tell something’s in there! Finally, Ballet is changing me psychologically. I’m feeling more confident in myself and my body because of class. I’m understanding the good and bad bits about my body, my strengths and limitations, and in doing so am accepting my body much more. On top of that, I feel like I’m doing something to improve my body. I’m also using Ballet as a stress reliever – both in class and out. If my day is getting a little too much, I’ll YouTube a few clips, or sit and deconstruct an interesting combination from a previous class in my head. This is really just like some kind of logic puzzle – working out how the moves fit together, where the key points are, where I struggled and what I can do to improve if we do that combination again. All this uses a different area of my brain than my math work and so takes my mind off other things.
  8. A Dance Journal Is Essential. I’ve mentioned a dance journal in previous posts and wanted to mention it again as I feel it is so important. After each class I note down anything of interest from that session. It may be a useful metaphor – “think of pushing down in a pirouette and corkscrewing”. It may be a general pointer – “tuck thumbs in and keep them hidden”. It may be an interesting combination – “arabesque sauté, chassé x3, then assemblé en tournant”. Or it might be a little reminder to myself – “criticism and pointers means the teacher wants you to improve: think positively!”. Whatever it is, it’s important to note these things down. I also use the back of the journal to keep track of my weight (make sure my weight loss/gain is healthy) and any purchases I make (with sizes for clothing) to make reordering of apparel mcuh easier.

Finally, I have one more reflection, that I hope other beginners have arrived to after their first three months too.

BALLET IS AMAZING!

Until next time, keep dancing!

P.S. I’m going to leave you with a clip of Daniel Ulbricht doing a variation from Le Corsaire in 2008 [it won't let me embed so I've linked instead] – I saw Daniel dance Tarantelle with the brilliant Ashley Bouder at the New York City Ballet Fall Gala and was blown away by him. His turns and jumps had so much power I honestly thought he was going to jump off the stage at times!

Dance Advantage Contest

Top Blof

Hi everyone,

So, I’ll be putting up a new post up soon, but in the meantime I wanted to mention a contest being run by the amazing Nichelle at Dance Advantage to find the Top Dance Blogs of 2010.

So with a bit of nudging (by some people who will remain nameless :P) I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring: into the category Dance Student/Beginner (which I think sums me up quite nicely :) )

So how does the contest work? Well it all depends on how many comments I get on this post. Each comment equals a vote, and at on December 22nd the blogs with the most comments qualify. Simple, right?

So if you enjoy reading my blog and think it might be worthy of a place on Nichelle’s list, all you have to do is make a comment below this post. You don’t have to say anything specific in the comment (just a “here’s my vote” will do), but if you have any specific reasons for voting I would love to hear them! If there is any particular aspects of the blog you love, please let me know and I’ll try to more posts of that type. Also, if there is anything you would like to see on the blog that I haven’t covered yet, let me know that too!

As you’ll know if you read this blog, I’m no Ballet expert and not very skilled as dancer, but I just aim to be honest in sharing my experience with you guys. Although I can’t reply to comments on this post (as it would unfairly bolster the comments count), I just wanted to take this time to say thank you to all who read this blog, it has been really special being able to share this journey with you. Long may it last!

Until next time, keep dancing!