Updates: Nutcracker, Back to Basics, Friends in Ballet

Back in December and early January, my ballet class was working on choreography for the Spanish dance in the Nutracker, which was really fun. My instructor even brought in fans for the final classes we practiced it in the first few days of January.

Soon after that, we dove back into the basics for the yearly crowd of newcomers as the new year began. Surprisingly, it’s been really tough going through the class relatively slow (tough but good). The first weekend of those classes I made it to three classes in one weekend and was super sore. This weekend I found myself sick and barely made it through two classes.

This weekend I did make it to a pointe class, too, despite being sick. That was tough, especially since my last class in December was really tough and painful (I’m still not sure why).

I’m happy that in this weekend’s class I managed to keep my pointe shoes on for the entire class (and not have switched to flat slippers), but I know there’s still a lot of work left to be done there. I’ve tried to keep up with strengthening exercises everyday at home and trying to make it to every class that I can.

I’ve also had one of my coworkers join me for a class, and I’m looking forward to her joining me for more. I love bringing new people to class.

How’s your first half of January been? Please share updates in the comments–I love reading them! 

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Ballet Class Recap: August Slump

It’s been a bit of a rough couple of weeks. I’ve decided to pass on running the Philly 10K, since there’s no way we can be ready on  time. While I’m pretty disappointed that it feels like I’m giving up (again)–I’m still glad that I’m making the right decision for my health. There is always next year.

Instead, I’ll be doing my favorite local 5K from last year at the end of September, which will benefit a group that runs with shelter dogs. I’m excited. So far, running without the pressure of trying to greatly increase my mileage has been going really well.

I feel like I haven’t consistently made it to ballet class consistently with vacation, moving and work (as well as lack of sleep) — although I’ve made it to at least one last class in the past three weeks. This past week I made it to two, thanks to some friends from class who texted me to get moving and get to class.  I’ve been a little frustrated with how I’ve done in class (especially with jumping) but I’m hoping once summer is over and I’m more regularly in class things will be going better.

How has your August been?

Guest Post: Ode to Beginner Ballet Class

Kristen’s post, “There’s A Reason Why We Do The Boring Exercises,” reminded me of advice I once heard: “Every dancer — even a professional — should take a beginner class once in awhile.” Initially puzzled, I gradually understood this statement.

For the past two years I have studied with a wonderful teacher at my studio’s Beginner II (Beg II) and Advanced Beginner (AB) levels. The labels are a bit misleading; the Beg II class uses vocabulary that presumes previous training and the AB class  — often attended by professional dancers — moves rapidly through complex combinations. Instructing levels from Beg II to professional company classes, my teacher pays meticulous attention to and offers corrections to dancers of all abilities and training experiences.

When first returning to ballet, I took Beg II class twice a week. Eventually I realized that in order to progress, I needed to try the AB level. I worked up the nerve after

  • my studio cancelled my second Beg II class;
  • I learned that my excellent Beg II teacher also instructed an AB class that fit my now “freer” schedule;
  • and my neighbor (a professional ballerina) convinced me to accompany her to this teacher’s AB class … and I survived.

Despite feeling intimidated, I was relieved to hear the some of the steps taught in Beg II … only now quickly executed in longer, more complex combinations. During the first few AB classes, I was happy just to survive barre before getting lost when we moved to the center. After a month of barely managing to keep my head above water, I actually could keep up somewhat without fear of getting in anyone else’s way (i.e., becoming ballet roadkill). Most importantly, I committed myself to venturing into my teacher’s Thursday AB class while continuing her Tuesday Beg II class.

Why? I discovered that practicing basic technique and simple steps in Beg II before applying them in more complex combinations in AB class was a great formula for improvement. In Beg II class, the teacher breaks down steps that are taken for granted in AB class.

For example, I had no idea what a demi-contretemps step was. In the AB class when dancers reversed direction mid-combination with a demi-contretemps step, I just stared in confusion (they looked like they were almost tripping themselves!); I would simply switch direction to keep up (and not get run over). Then one day in the Beg II class, my teacher dissected a demi-contretemps and I actually understood the step’s proper mechanics. Two days later in AB class when I again encountered the demi-contretemps, I tried to execute the step instead of merely running in the opposite direction. Of course my demi-contretemps step was not good right away, but at least I had learned and could work on the step’s proper technique.

In Beg II class my teacher also isolates specific steps for us to practice that she mixes together in AB class combinations. For example, in Beg II class we can practice proper technique (i.e. spotting, arm and leg positioning, balancing in passé in full releve for a complete rotation, etc.) for a specific pirouette or turn by executing lines of the same step across the room. Then we practice simple combinations of alternating steps (like one pique turn en dedans, then one pique turn en dehors, repeat to end.) Therefore, by the next AB class, when this same teacher gives out combinations of different pirouettes and turns mixed together, I can concentrate on each step’s technique.

My teacher tells us in Beg II class that when she teaches or observes the higher level classes (i.e., AB, Intermediate and above), she sometimes witnesses “bad behavior” — poor habits, sloppiness and incorrect form as advanced dancers move quickly through complicated combinations. Beg II class provides valuable opportunities to hone proper technique under close observation with helpful corrections … so I’m not just imitating others or guessing at steps in AB in order to keep up with (and stay out of the way of) other dancers.

How Does an Adult Beginner Break in Pointe Shoes Safely?

bend that shankWhen I started pointe class last fall, I had no idea how to break in pointe shoes. Of course I heard of people bending the shank, banging the shoe on the floor, hammering or standing on the box and even slamming a shoe in a door frame. Remember the montage of dancers breaking in their shoes in the movie Center Stage? Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I knew that trying one of these methods was a surefire way to break (not break in) my pointe shoes.

On the first day of class, my instructor had us put on the pointe shoes and walk, then run around in demi-pointe. Although I felt like I was shuffling around in wooden shoes, I knew this was the first step to actually breaking in the shoes … I just couldn’t imagine my feet being strong enough and lasting long enough to break them in successfully. I felt more discouraged when I releved – my feet looked like tiny stilts.

A bit depressed and embarrassed, I lamented about my first class to my neighbor, a ballet dancer who performed the Sugarplum Fairy role in a professional DC-area Nutcracker production just 8 months after having twins. “Oh … maybe I’m in over my head. Maybe I’m not ready. Maybe I shouldn’t even be trying pointe,” I sighed.

She scoffed, “That was your first day! And you had on new pointe shoes! What do you expect?” She paused and thought for a moment. “Try this: wear your pointe shoes in the house, but put socks on over the shoes. Walk around the house in demi-pointe while doing your normal tasks, like the laundry, dishes, etc. with socks over the shoes.”

I wasn’t sure if this was going to work but tried it anyway. At least this method seemed safe (for me and my shoes) and built onto what I did in class. After a few of 20-minute sessions of walking around in pointe shoes in demi-pointe (that is all my feet could stand at the time), I felt like the shoes were not so stiff … and I felt less discouraged. Of course breaking in the shoes didn’t happen overnight and more exercises in class were needed to break them in, but I felt encouraged by this low-maintenance, convenient method that worked from my own body heat and foot strength. I liked this method because:

  •  the socks kept in body heat to warm up the shoes, which of course softened the shank and box, allowing them to mold to shape of my foot;
  • I wasn’t breaking or bending the shank in random places;
  • the socks protected the shoes from being scratched up;
  • I didn’t worry about slipping on the tile floors with the socks’ traction;
  • I was strengthening my feet at same time and;
  • this method took no time out of my day since I could incorporate it in my everyday activities – especially important for adult dancers!

By my second class, the shoes felt much more comfortable and I could bend and flex my foot to roll up and releve. I can’t say that walking around demi-pointe in pointe shoes covered with socks broke in my pointe shoes completely, but it was an encouraging start.

Ballerina Profiles: Ashley of Ballet Shoes and Mickey Ears

This week’s interview is with Ashley, a fellow adult ballerina who got back into ballet after doing it from the ages of 3-12. She runs Ballet Shoes and Mickey Ears, be sure to check it out!

Make sure to wish her a happy birthday as well on Sunday!

Adult Ballerina Project: When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

Ashley: I started taking classes once a week in October 2011. I started taking more classes towards the end of spring and through summer.

ABP: Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

A: Yes!! I started taking dance at the age of 3 years old!! I took ballet, tap, and eventually jazz. I took classes until I was 12 years old, when my family moved.

ABP: Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

A: I decided that I finally wanted to get involved in dancing again last year. It’s always been a part of my life. I love dancing! No matter where I am or when!! I was needing some independence and thought this would be a perfect hobby. I’m normally a really shy person when in a crowd of people. Taking ballet as an adult has allowed me to become more outgoing and confident in myself.

ABP: Where do you take classes?

A: I take classes in a nearby small town. It’s about 30 minutes from my home, but I also work out there, so I’m always right there!! It’s a small studio that only offers ballet, pointe, and hip hop. There is only one teacher, and boy is she amazing!! She used to be a professional ballet dancer. Watching her dance is pretty amazing.

ABP: What is your favorite part about ballet?

A: My favorite part about ballet is the constant challenge. Just when you feel like you’ve got a combination down or your tendues just perfect, bam!! Something new and more difficult comes along! I love the struggle. I have good days and bad days, but in the end they all turn out for the better.

ABP: What is your least favorite part?

A: The least favorite part probably has to be the tightness in my muscles. Even though I stretch and take 6 hours of classes a week, my muscles and what not always feel sore or tight. I guess that what you get for being an adult and not a little 12 year old!!

ABP: Who is your ballet inspiration?

A: I have a few! First off, all of the other fellow adult beginners I found through writing my blog. I think it’s awesome that there are other adults out there trying to do the same thing as me! It’s really neat to see where everyone has started and their improvements already!! Having fellow adult beginner ballerinas inspires me to keep going. To keep trying. To see that everyone struggles or gets an injury. The next inspirations are my teacher and the younger girls in my classes. My teacher is absolutely amazing. She’s such an incredible dancer and artistic director! Being able to share a glimpse into her world is so special. I love listening to her tell stories about her dancing days. She’s just an amazing person. She makes me strive to be the best adult beginner ballerina!! The younger girls in my class also inspire me. They inspire me to keep trying and never give up. It’s very inspiring to have a young girl say I did something really good, or be there to say its okay just try again when I struggle. Having them in class is great. They are such caring, good spirited girls.

ABP: What motivates you to keep dancing?

A: Seeing the improvements I make from week to week motivate me to keep going. Some weeks are worse than others, but things improve when you least expect it. The other thing, or person I should say, that motivates me to keep dancing is none other than my very best friend, the Legal Ballerina. She’s always there for me when I need her most. She knows me better than anyone else. She’s always there to put things in perspective after a bad class or tell me I did a great job when I have a good class. Even though we may not agree on everything, I couldn’t do this without her. She motivates me to be a better dancer (and person) every day.

ABP: Do you take any other dance classes?

A: Right now I only do ballet and pointe. That’s all I have time for!! I would love to try hip hop, but I don’t think the young girls want us older women hip hopping around in their class. Hah!!

ABP: What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

A: I like to crochet, read, watch movies with the husband, go biking, geocaching, camping, hiking, photography, and walking the dog. I just got into crocheting this summer, we’ll see how that goes!! My husband and I really enjoy doing things outdoors. We discovered the cool world of geocaching this summer while on a camping trip! I really like taking pictures with my fancy camera, as I like to call it. I’m still learning, but I think I’ve taken some pretty awesome pictures!! I’m also crazily obsessed with all things Disney. From planning every one of our trips to buying puzzles to wearing clothes, I love all things Disney!! I know pretty much everything you would need to know about Disney. I love it!!

ABP: What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

A: It may seem really intimidating and scary to go to your first class, but just do it!! The teacher and the other girls in class are there to support you! I would do a little research online, check out all of the adult beginner ballerina blogs here, and get some info on what to expect at your first class. Nothing’s worse than showing up being the only person not in a leotard or tripping on your elastics!! If you’re curious about ballet, just go for it and try a class! Most studios will offer you a first free class to see if you like it. That’s what I did!! Just know that no matter what, do what you want to do because it makes you happy. Don’t look back on life and say “what if?!”. Ballet can be very fun yet challenging at the same time. Give it a try!!

More Beginner profiles here:

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