March Madness

Work has been ridiculously busy for this Balletnerd, making ballet almost non-existent for the past two weeks.  This was not helped by my college ballet class also having a week off for spring break.  Tuesday will be my first class back since March 5th.  This seems like an eternity and I can’t help but feel a bit nervous.  The standard concerns I normally have before each class only exaggerated and cartoonishly inflated.  It amazes me how after only a two week break the feelings of “why am I even doing this” creep back in versus my standard “wow I’ve learned so much already”.  Not much you can do but march on in there and just deal with it.

Book Learning – 1st Review

It’s Friday, class is tomorrow, and it’s the perfect time for a ballet book report.

The Joffrey Ballet School’s Book of Ballet-Fit
Author: Dena Moss
272 Pages
Copyright 1999
Paperback

Reason for purchase: I was hooked on this book after reading a few excerpts with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. The author targets the hesitant adult beginner and it appeared to be just what I wanted.

Contents:
- Author’s Note: Who is the Adult Beginner?
- Introduction: Adults can’t really learn ballet, can they?
- Chp 1: From barbells to ballet slippers: If you’re considering a ballet class read this first
- Chp 2: Starting out: What to expect and why
- Chp 3: Getting Physical
- Chp 4: Let’s Get Dressed
- Chp 5: The Language of Ballet
- Chp 6: Basic Barre and Center
- Chp 7: Putting it All Together: The Ballet Fit Workout
- Chp 8: Pointe Work: How far can the adult beginner go?
- Chp 9: Answers to commonly asked adult ballet questions

Personal Impression: I selected this book for my first book report because it really is a good resource, but the book loses almost all of its value if it’s not read early on in the reader’s ballet progression. The book is great at addressing many of the fears and concerns an adult beginner may have regarding their first class. It introduces terminology, basic positions, and movements. Too much time is spent trying to convince the reader of the benefits of ballet and of taking classes, which seems to be a waste since you would probably not need that much convincing if you are already interested enough to read or buy this book.

I only wish I read the chapter on apparel before I bought some of my clothes. The advice is very practical regarding shoes, tights, leotards, etc. When I bought my shoes, I purchased several sizes from Zappos not knowing which would fit best. Fortunately return shipping is FREE!!! I was also under the impression that it would be cool to have a black pair of shoes and a pair of pink shoes. Who doesn’t like more shoes, right?? Found out that for the most part, everyone wears pink. I have not seen a pair of black shoes on a girl or woman in my classes yet. Just men. This book would have told me that and saved me the $20 spent on those black Bloch slippers. Of course being my usual impatient Ballet Nerd self, I immediately cut the elastics that cinch the shoe around my foot. Returning those shoes is no longer an option. I also ran into issues with the color of my tights – purchasing several pairs of black tights with the assumption that I would wear them with the black shoes. NOPE – Wrong again. I have only worn the pink shoes and pink tights. I do thank this book, because I was able to read up on these issues and avoid showing up to class in a ridiculous ensemble, such as pink shoes and black footed tights saving boat loads of embarrassment. The author kindly points out the little differences that would single you out as a ballet square and how to prevent them. Few other books have been as specific on the subject of apparel advice. Most just tell the reader that leotards and shoes in black and pink are fine. Haha – in my case I needed the specific advice as to what exactly is supposed to be black and what is pink. Oh and convertible black tights are ok – it is just the unattractive line of the footed black tights going into the pink shoe with pink elastics further breaking the sleek line of the leg.

The section on technique introduces a beginner to the terminology so they are familiar with the positions and a few steps before their first class; however, since I had already attended a few classes I found I was looking for more thorough technique information. It is a great primer for before the FIRST class and will increase the reader’s overall comfort level with ballet in general. After the first couple classes, more advanced reading material is needed and I recommend Classical Ballet Technique by Gretchen Ward Warren. It is the gold standard in my mind and a point of comparison for all technique books.

I also did not spend a lot of time reading the ballet fit section in detail (Chp 7). This could be a good reference for stretching and some home exercises to practice between classes. Initially, I was put off by the title of the book thinking that the focus would only be on a ballet-fit / pilates approach and not delve into the details of taking a real ballet class.

Finally, I found that many of the answers to frequent questions addressed in Chp 9 did not apply to me. I was already interested in ballet and did not need convincing of the benefits or did not have the same concerns – primarily as I had already been to a few classes. Again, that might be a different story if the readers has this book prior to their first class. Sorry for the repeat- I feel like a broken record, but with this book I believe I need to emphasize the time frame for when it is most beneficial.

The sinister left side

Why do we always start on the right AND mark the combination on the right? My left side only gets half the ballet class that the right receives. Would it be so bad to switch it up every once in a while? I’ve been noticing lately in the center that my left arm is a bit of a straggler. It hangs a little lower in 2nd position, isn’t as quick to respond to arm changes, and typically wants to do its own thing. Sometimes I’m pretty sure left side is still in bed or watching Saturday morning cartoons. Left side would be much better prepared if it got the same attention as the right. I’m right handed (or right legged/footed – whatever we happened to be using) and naturally my right side is better. My brain has to decode and really concentrate when we switch it over to the left. Sometimes this just doesn’t happen, especially on exercises where we go across the room. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to give the left more of a challenge? Curious as to how left handers cope with such an emphasis on the right.

That old heel…

I have to really focus to keep my weight towards my toes and off my heels.  It just feels so strange.  When I finally get it just right – I’m way off the combination.  UGH

This is a constant correction in my Saturday College Class.  Directed to everyone – but I know I’m a habitual offender.

KEEP YOUR WEIGHT TOWARDS THE TOES!!!

Over and over again.

Aside

Mirror mirror on the wall – whose foot sickles most of all?

This week’s correction at the studio class was regarding hair. “Hair should be in a bun and not a ponytail.  It is too distracting when it swooshes around.” Interesting because the dress code for the studio class is more laid back than the college class.  I’m the only person wearing a leotard and tights.  That was the only correction I received for the whole class – which is kind of disappointing.  I know there was a lot more I could have done better, but only that one comment on hair.  I understand that it is a fine balance for the teacher. How much do you correct in the recreational adult classes?  Over do it and some people could find it too discouraging or embarrassing and will stop showing up.  Not enough and students feel like they are not taken seriously.  Our teacher made the comment that we should use the mirror and be our own harshest critic, but that only works when we’re in the center because it’s hard to even see the mirror while standing at the barre let alone correct oneself.

A.R.M.S.

Awkward
Rigid
Motionless
Sticks

Also known as my arms.  More corrections on arms this weekend.  They are driving me crazy.  They don’t want to move exactly with the feet.  My 2nd position arms are always an issue.  My shoulders start creeping up as soon as my arm goes out.  Next thing you know my shoulders will be above my head.  How do you keep those suckers down?

BalletNerd’s February Top Ten List

Advice for Adult Newbies from a Newbie – A few ideas I wish someone told me before my first class.

10. Buy ballet shoes. You will need them.  Socks don’t cut it.  The leather soles help strengthen your feet and the shoes provide support.  They aren’t that expensive and are easy to find on Amazon or Zappos.  If you don’t feel like going to a local dance store, order several sizes from a website with free return shipping.  Oh and buy pink.  Don’t buy black shoes unless you’re a guy.  Myself, I like leather split soles by Bloch.

9. Read and Research. Read as many ballet books and ballet websites as you can.  It helps immensely with understanding what is going on and for grasping combinations faster.  Understanding that a combination will most likely be performed en croix (front, side, back, side again) was huge for me.  Hahah – I had to have that explained by a book.  Not sure why, but I would have never picked up on that from observation alone.

8. Try wearing the leotard and tights. I know a lot of adult classes only require “clothes that allow for ease of movement”, but take the risk.  It immediately makes me feel more dancerish, even if I suck ass that day.  Capezio leotards are affordable and available on Amazon and almost any online discount dance store.  I like the super soft Capezio convertible tights, too.  Ballet pink is the easiest to deal with because black footed tights and pink shoes look a bit ridiculous.  If you’re dead set on black – go with footless or convertible rolled up.

7. Perform combinations without following others. Again, this was a concept I had to have explicitly explained by a website.  When the teacher marked out the combination, I was just paying attention to make sure I could physically do each step.  I wasn’t even trying to memorize how many times each step was performed because I figured I could just look at the others.  Push yourself to memorize the combination.  Standing at the end of the barre is also a great way to test yourself on this.  This also becomes much easier once you have memorized the common steps.

6. A little legwarmer goes a long way. You might want to hold off on the legwarmers until after the first couple classes.  I love how they look but won’t wear them yet.  Don’t want to over do it and look like I’m trying too hard, at least not the first couple classes anyway.

5. Work on stretching and flexibility. It gives you something to do to keep from being all weird and fidgety on the first day while waiting for the entire class to show up.  Plus even if you are not great at dancing, you can show off some amazing flexibility.  My goal is to be the 2nd in my class to get down in a split.  (Yeah 2nd? I know what you’re thinking why not 1st, but I’m trying to be realistic – see #3).

4. 2x a week minimum. Take class at least twice a week, even if that means going to different studios/schools.  You’ll progress much faster.

3. Realistic goals. You’re not going to go from zero ballet training to amazing arabesques by the third class.  Be happy with your baby steps.  It is so inspiring to hear of other adult beginners and their progress.

2. Show up and keep showing up. This is really a tie for #1.  Even if you stink one week, keep coming back.

1. Number 1 and most important.  For 90% of class – THE OTHER STUDENTS ARE NOT REALLY WATCHING YOU !!! Don’t be too self conscious.  Everyone else is too busy watching their own bumbling newbie selves.  Only the teacher is paying attention to the class as a whole.  At first I did not believe this one – but after a few classes you realize it’s true.

Why aren’t there more ballet apps???

A quick review of ballet apps I downloaded on my iPhone.

Ballet Barre Exercises – Kevin Andrews Industries $2.99
I actually like this app.  Goes through some basic barre exercises.  Includes descriptions and video of each being performed.  Not bad.  I like that it is not just a demonstration of how to do the step one time, but the repetition of each step performed as it would be in a regular barre.  Also glad that it is not super fast, or performed as part of a ridiculously advanced step.

Ballet For Beginners – Anthony Walsh $4.99
Not worth a dime.  This is primarily a collection of YouTube videos which are available for free.  I was really annoyed.  Especially misleading because the app description lists all of the lessons but does not include any pictures except the app picture itself.  Chances are – you’ve probably already seen a few of these videos if you have done any ballet searches on YouTube.  I know I have and would have recognized the videos immediately if a picture was included in the app description.

I have been a little hesitant to download other apps.  Any recommendations?

Curiouser and Curiouser

Lately, I feel like Alice in Wonderland.  What appears true in every day life is usually the opposite in BalletNerd’s beginner world.  Let’s look at a few examples:

Normal Every Day Existence Ballet Beginner World
Fairly young at 29.  Even called a young pup at work the other day. Old – Not even older. Just old. I am more than double the age of some of my classmates.
Compared to most co-workers and friends I’m pretty skinny. Chunk from the Goonies.  I expect to be called upon to perform the truffle shuffle instead of the standard barre at any time in class.
Average height – Ok I will admit even in real life I’m considered tall, but I’ve been surrounded by so many other tall friends and relatives that I no longer notice. Gulliver meets the Lilliputians – why is everyone so short??
Stronger, flexible, agile Weak, inflexible, clumsy clodhopper

Wonder how this will change over time???