Four Things I’m Bad At (And One I’m Not)

Having missed class last week, I have returned to summer ballet with Birdie. While my two-week break had a less detrimental effect on my performance than I had feared, Birdie’s still unfamiliar class has unearthed new depths of my balletic ineptitude. Such as…

1. Remembering combinations

I tried to be smart and stand in the middle of the barre today. However, the studio has acquired an additional barre that faces the mirror instead of running parallel to it and Birdie put two of the students there. As there were only five of us, it was either me or the new girl in the middle, and I figured she needed it more. It’s not like I could follow her anyway, she literally just started ballet two weeks ago.

I would like to make it clear that I got the plié combination right this time. Everything else was somewhere between oh là là (which in French is an expression of annoyance, not innuendo) and outright merde. Even craning my neck around inelegantly to look behind me didn’t help much. Birdie has this quirk, where she’ll be walking along the barre and counting out the exercise, and then she’ll suddenly stop counting and go tutor someone in some particular detail of the technique. To the credit of the class, everyone except her «victim» continues the exercise – or an exercise. Basically, each student just does her own steps to her own beat, and then we gracefully conclude it with a joint port-de-bras when the music ends. Which brings us to…

2. Staying in time with the music

I have occasional trouble with timing in jazz, but ballet just kills me every time. Usually, I tend to be too fast. This goes for tendus, fondus and especially the circular port-de-bras that Birdie is extremely fond of. The latter I complete in about half the time it should take (probably because I can’t look around to see how far along the others are when I’m doubled over). I’m sure it looks like some extreme form of headbanging from outside.

Going too slow, on the other hand, only happened to me once today. And that was because I suck at…

3. Battements jetés

To be fair, they were ridiculously fast. The biggest problem here is probably insufficient core muscles. I need to acquire moar coar ASAP.

4. Adagio

During the adagio, Birdie kept chirping on about how each movement was basically a natural continuation of the previous one and we couldn’t get it wrong if we just went along with it. One part of that statement was true. The other was not. Can you guess which is which?

Let’s just say it was catastrophic and leave it at that.

But then the events took an unexpected turn. Apparently I’m not bad at…

Soutenus!

We did those across the floor and after the very first round, the new girl said to me: «Your turns look really good!» She even came up to me in the changing room after class… and then she said it again! She also added that they looked natural and not forced or wobbly!

Once I resumed my normal shape after having a minute as a molten puddle on the floor, I thanked her and realised she has a point. By coincidence, both my jazz teacher, Y., and my regular ballet teacher, M., had taken a particular liking to soutenus several weeks before the break started, so I ended up doing those twice a week for a month or two. While Y. still has a lot to say about my turnout and the placement of my feet, I can hold my balance pretty well by now.

So hooray for progress and for new girls who are not afraid to compliment people!

PS: Don’t get me wrong – today’s class was hard, but I enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot! This blog has had an unexpected effect on my ability to navigate difficult classes. I fall into the pit of negative self-talk a bit too easily, especially when the going gets hard. But now, instead of thinking «I am shit an this» repetitively, I think «I am shit at this and I will write a funny post about it.» And, believe it or not, that helps.

3 thoughts on “Four Things I’m Bad At (And One I’m Not)

  1. Hooray for soutenus! Also for being back in class!

    While this might, in fact, cause your classmates to think you’ve gone bananas, both timing and remembering combinations might possibly be helped by singing quietly to yourself under your breath.

    When I’m struggling, I sometimes turn the choreography into a little song that goes along with the music and addresses the part I don’t really have sorted — so a really slow circular port de bras could conceivably go, “and down and two and side and four back corner and six around and eight” (I mention the back corner specifically because we all get yelled at over neglecting it as a class basically every day, heh). I don’t always even use full names of things — last night, we had, “And out and hold, out, out, cheval, and side, side, side, etc” for example. Just shortcuts to help myself remember.

    The core and inner-thigh muscles that will help with fast tendus will also help with adagio, in time. The challenge with adagio is both holding together and moving at the same time, but it gets easier as you develop greater strength and awareness in all the muscles that ballet uses in inventive new ways.

    I mention the inner thigh, btw, because with fast battement tendu I really, really find it helpful to concentrating on using those muscles to pull my legs back in (and also about rotating the heel forward and extending from the top of the leg down, rather than just reaching).

    I don’t know if that idea will help you as much as it has helped me, but it *has* been of great help to me, anyway.

    If you happen to have a few minutes free, David Hallberg’s audition video for Paris Opera Ballet School (made when he was 16) is a really good visual example that I’ve found helpful there, as well, and it’s on YouTube (I’ll try to post a link later if you want one).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for the idea! I do this a lot in all other areas of my life, but I have somehow never thought of using it in dance. I’ll have to try it out next week. As for my classmates, I think they are too busy to mind, and if I end up in front yet again and it works, I might just earn their eternal gratitude. At least two times during class today people thought it was a good idea to follow me and I only noticed when I forgot what I was supposed to do next and suddenly the whole class ground to a halt. D: This makes me feel uniquely guilty.

    The thigh adductors, really? Well, this explains a lot! Mine are not exactly great and I strain them often – usually when the jazz choreography involves sinking down to or rising up from the floor with the weight on one leg. You’d think doing this over and over again would hurt the quadriceps, but nooo, it’s my inner thigh muscles that get it every time. I’ll work on strengthening them and keep your advice as to using them in mind. Thank you so much!

    I have also found and watched the video. I have one question: IS HE EVEN HUMAN?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Last thing first: Now that you mention it, it’s entirely possible that Hallberg is not human. He is sooooo amazing. Probably also secretly a unicorn, like CompanyB.

    Let me know if the making-things-into-songs gambit works for you! I’m always curious as to how well my weird little ideas translate to other people 😀

    As for adductors: indeed! They and the rotators are super important in ballet, especially for things like tendus.

    One of the best things I did for mine was fast tendus under water whilst on vacation in Florida last year. I was, at the time, having difficulty gaining speed in petit allegro (the curse of my giant legs: a thick pendulum swings more slowly than a thin one), and Ms. B of Killer Class suggested that I do that while swimming.

    It was actually really difficult in open water, but easier in the pool. It can probably also be done floor-barre style in a bathtub, come to think of it, though I guess they’d have to be very small tendus unless you’ve got a really, really wide tub.

    Therabands also work for this sort of thing, but they’re nowhere near as much fun as swimming 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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