Wannabe Dancer

An adult’s discovery of dance of all sorts.

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Location: Sacramento, California, United States

A bona-fide cat lady, homebody, wanna-be writer, and faux extrovert. If I'm not gardening, I'm rehearsing for a local theater production.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ballet II, Sept 24

Our regularly scheduled teacher finally arrived for our Sept 24 Ballet II class. Rachel normally teaches children, not adults. She was pleased by how well we responded to corrections and I was pleased to be given corrections of some substance. I have high hopes for this class…

Hip Hop Skip

I’ve skipped the last three hiphop classes, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve fallen off the dance wagon. I skipped the first class because it was the day after that horrible beginning ballet class and I hadn’t yet driven its taint from my mind. (Tuesday was also the day my aunt came to visit.) I missed Thursday’s class because of a work event. The next Tuesday I was sick and taking it easy. Today, though is the Thursday lunch-time class and I WILL be there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ballet I, Sept 19

This was the absolute worst ballet class I’ve ever taken. I don’t know how I managed to endure 75 minutes. I nearly faked an injury just to have an excuse to leave. I’ve left a class crying because of the difficulty, but never hopping mad because of the inanity.

At first, after she introduced herself to me three times, I just thought the instructor was nervous. It soon became evident that she was incompetent. She appears to be a lovely dancer, but her teaching needs improvement. I won’t, however, be giving her class a second chance.

The first problem was that she didn’t cater to the level of the students. Besides myself, there were two other dancers in the class. They were both beginners and one of them had very little ballet experience. Instead of sticking to a basic barre routine, she made each exercise unnecessarily complicated by mixing steps, changing closings, and adding releves. To make matters worse, she rarely demonstrated a combination the same way twice. Even I was left guessing as to what the correct routine was.

To further muddle things, she did not listen to the music before or as she choreographed each exercise, so the movements didn’t fit the music’s phrasing or length. I can tolerate having to repeat the music in order to finish the combination on one side, but, especially as a beginner, it is important that the combination matches the phrasing.

When we moved to the center, the class did not improve. The other students were absolutely lost on the adagio and petite allegro. When we did pique turns across the floor, they obviously weren’t spotting and ended up careening into the portable barres. The grand adagio routine didn’t fit in the small space and we had to curve it around the end of the room. The center work was alternately useless and dangerous.

What finally put me over the edge were the teacher’s comments: “good job!” “beautiful!” “you’re working so hard!” “we’re really working up a sweat!” I wasn’t doing a good job, I looked terrible, I wasn’t working hard, and I wasn’t sweating. It seemed that she just reverted to these platitudes to fill in the empty spaces when she didn’t know what else to say.

I tried to ignore the teacher’s inadequacies and just concentrate on my own technique, but I failed. I couldn’t even keep my ballet face on; I’m sure my expression gave away my disgust. At the end of class, when she asked us if we were coming back next week, I couldn’t even muster up the graciousness to lie. I just gave her an apologetic look and left.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Ballet II, Sept 17

Saturday was Ballet II. This was the first ballet class I’ve taken since last December and, two days later, I’m still aching.

Ballet II is advertised as a class for intermediate and advanced levels. There were three other students in the class with me. Two of them, senior college students, had not taken ballet class since high school. I didn’t catch the dance background of the third, but she appeared to have little ballet experience. Given this group, I expected the instructor to give an intermediate level class, with an emphasis on foundations. I was not disappointed.

The class almost didn’t happen because our instructor was, again, AWOL. This time, the coordinator stepped in to teach. The CD player didn’t work and she had no ballet music, so she counted for our entire barre exercise. For the adagio, she did manage to find a boombox from the basement and some mellow jazz. We did our petite allegro, turns, and grand allegro to jazz as well.

I had little trouble with the class. I was a bit thrown by the plies in parallel, but I suppose it was good to be shaken up. I am also unused to doing barre exercises from first position. I’m accustomed to slamming my working foot back into fifth and, without the arch of my standing foot to “catch” me, I often missed first position when closing. (I hadn’t realized how sloppy my closings had become!) None of the combinations were difficult, but we repeated the grand battement exercise so many times that I was barely able to lift my leg (especially a la second) by the end. Throughout the class, I kept my extensions low and concentrated on alignment, turnout, and elongation.

Having taken class from so many different teachers, I am well aware that each has their own gems of wisdom to share and Saturday’s instructor was no exception. When one of the students complained about her standing leg cramping during rond de jambes en l’air, our instructor exhorted us to feel the motion initiate from our lower abdomen and the top of the inner thighs (near the hip socket). She assured us that it would ease the movement and end the cramping. I tried it as we repeated the combination on the left, and found that she was right. Instead of using only my quadriceps and buttocks to perform the exercise, it felt as if I was using the strength of my entire body.

I’ve just begun reading Vaganova’s Basic Principles of Classical Ballet and was surprised to read the same concept this morning. Dance is not composed of limbs flapping about independently. Instead, movement must begin “from the body.” I’ve always considered the core as simply the source of stability. To think of it as also the center of all motion and action is quite a mental shift.

Although I’m sore and my balletic shortcomings are newly revealed, I did well for having been on a nine-month dancing break. I can credit step aerobics classes for that. I’ve maintained my stamina, flexibility, and strength. Saturday’s class left me tired, but hardly winded. My innate inflexibility has been somewhat beaten back by a regular regime of stretching in the aerobics classes I teach. And, my calves, usually sore after a ballet class, aren’t aching a bit! My butt, though, is another story, despite my attempts to initiate the movements from my “center.”

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hip Hop, Sept 15

Thursday hip hop is at the fitness center at work. Matt also teaches this class. Today, there were only four of us in class; three of us are regular attendees. Although Matt denied it, I think he took advantage of the small class size and our familiarity with his style and gave us a more challenging routine than usual.

I’ve described the difficulty I have with the movements of hip hop, but neglected to mention how complex the music is. Again, I must compare it to ballet. Ballet class music is generally 4/4 or 3/4 time. Most movements are on a full beat, with the occasionally exception. I can’t even guess at the beat structure of hip hop. I can recognize phrases and the dominant beat, but the half beats and syncopation give me fits. Matt choreographs to the music, and often to the song in particular, so the moves often fall on these odd beats. Hip hop, more so than ballet, requires that I listen.

I have trouble paying attention to the music because I don’t really like hip hop. I don’t listen to it on the radio. I own no hip hop CDs (with the exception of a Blackeyed Peas CD – is that hip hop?). I don’t go to dance clubs. I do not have cable, and hence no MTV. I’m only exposed to that type of music in class. Because I don’t like it much, I tend to tune the music out, and then have trouble with the counts.

Some of it I like less than others. We’ve used a live CD and I found the background noise to be very distracting. Today we listened to Sha, a Cincinnati native whom Matt is choreographing for. I didn’t like that song either. I’m worried that if I don’t develop at least a liking for the music, I will have trouble progressing in class.

Maybe it’s time to force myself to broaden my musical tastes. I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone by beginning these hip hop classes. Perhaps I’ll try listening to hip hop on my own to try to develop a liking for it. It’s so popular with everyone else that it can’t be too bad.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hip Hop III, Sept 13

I would never have considered taking hip hop classes if they had not become the Thursday, lunch-time offering at our gym. Although I enjoyed the movie “Honey,” I didn’t think hip hop was really dancing, more of a series of gyrations with a few visual tricks thrown in. However, my friend Dee was excited to try the class and I allowed myself to be drug along. I struggled through the first class, but eventually developed a surprising appetite for the dance style.

My strong ballet background often inhibits, rather than assists in, dancing hip hop. Ballet is composed of named steps that are nearly universal, but hip hop is a series of free-moving, nameless forms. In ballet class, the instructor rattles off a series of moves: tombe, pas-de-bouree, glissade, grand jete, and we all know exactly what must be done, without demonstration. Hip hop requires the teacher to demonstrate and the student to copy. While that is difficult enough, the student then has to remember the forms without any accompanying association, like a name. For me, ballet is more of a mental exercise, while hip hop relies on muscle memory. The transition is difficult, but I gamely accept the challenge. (I suppose the generation that grew up watching hip hop on TV more easily remembers the moves because they are familiar and can be associated with a witnessed performance.)

While most of hip hop’s moves are nameless, the command to “pop” is repeated over and over again. It is a short, jerky movement of the head, shoulders, hips, and/or legs. I find it comforting that the motion is named, but have a great deal of trouble with execution. After years of smoothing my motions to fit ballet’s graceful manner, “popping” does not come naturally. Neither do any of the other jerky, funky motions common to hip hop. I do my best, but alternate between looking like a stiff robot or someone in the throes of a spasm. When I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror, I can’t help but smile at my lame attempt.

Dancing is like acting; one assumes a character. I’ve got the aloof ballet attitude down pat. I find it easy to slip into the cool, detached, elegant demeanor of a ballerina. The hip hop attitude, though, is raw, sexy, and confident. As an old, married lady, this is not a persona I often adopt. I do my best, but, in my failure to fully commit, the end result is quite silly. Again, my image causes me to smirk and roll my eyes.

Last night’s CDT class was Hip Hop III, taught by Matt. Matt also teaches the hip hop class (about level II) I began taking at our fitness center. Having enjoyed his class there (eye-rolling and spastic robot aside), I risked complete humiliation by taking the most advanced hip hop class presented by CDT. Matt brought out an entirely new ensemble of moves, but I managed to remember and execute most of them. My mind was nearly full to overflowing by the time we had learned the extent of the choreography. The end is still fuzzy, but I can recall most of the combination. As usual, my attitude faded in and out; sometimes I was fully committed, and then, suddenly, I’d just be this goofball standing there, waiting for the next move. (Usually, this was when I was supposed to be “popping.”) I tried not to roll my eyes at my blanks and spasms, but it was of no avail. All in all, the class was highly challenging, both mentally and physically. I was glad for the air conditioners pumping cool air into the basement classroom. I’m doing my best to remember the routine, because we’re adding on next week. Maybe I can persuade Matt to help me with the fuzzy parts when I see him for our regular Thursday class.

By the way, the friend who convinced me to try the fitness center class in the first place no longer attends. She says it wasn’t enough of a workout. What *snap* eh *pop* ver *snap*!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ballet I, Sept 12

Part of my impetus for beginning a dance blog is my decision to start taking classes on a regular basis again. I have not done so for about two and a half years. I’ve found that I need to take class at least twice a week in order to stick with it. Once a week attendance isn’t enough to establish a habit. Luckily, I live right down the street from Contemporary Dance Theater and their fall classes began yesterday.

I showed up for Ballet I at 6:15, expecting a beginner-level class. Although out of practice, I believe Ballet I will still be below my skill level. However, a beginner class is a good chance to concentrate on basics like turnout, balance, and alignment without being distracted by fast footwork or difficult movements.

What I got was no class. After ten minutes, the teacher still had not arrived and I was told that the class was cancelled for the evening. I was invited to join the modern class, but, after reading Margot Fonteyn’s biography for the 40-minute bus ride home, I was only in the mood for ballet. My class fee was refunded. I took the opportunity to offer to teach the class myself if there were future problems with the teacher. Who knows, I may find myself a third job.

I will try to establish the attendance habit again tonight, with Hip Hop III. I’m a new hip hop dancer, so a level III class is sure to be a comedy of errors.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Two Left Feet

I took no dance classes as a child. However, that did not deter me from declaring, in 6th grade, that I wanted to be an astronaut, rock star or a ballerina when I grew up. In retrospect, I’m surprised by my last choice. I had never even seen a ballerina other than the tiny plastic figure that spun in my musical jewelry box. Perhaps I had a premonition of the dance obsession that was to grip me in the future.

Having little coordination, my early forays into dance were highly embarrassing. My friend Jen was aghast that I couldn’t master the Roger Rabbit. I was completely lost during the dance portion of auditions for My Fair Lady. I wore holes through the soles of my pantyhose in a vain attempt to learn the Charleston. My two left feet were so bad that I couldn’t even follow a step aerobics class; my friends literally fell off their benches laughing at me. I went off to college, being able to do nothing more than the standard teenage writhing to rock music.

In college, I shared a dorm room with a total stranger, Beth from Seattle. She was a slender girl with a cloud of red curls and a background in cheer and dance. Beth decorated her half of the dorm room with ballet posters featuring images of disintegrating pointe shoes and little girls in technicolor tutus. Intrigued, I asked her to show me some ballet. She assumed first position and began a series of plies. I was absolutely enchanted. She moved like a dream. Her motions were liquid and graceful, yet full of strength. She probably ended after only a few plies, embarrassed by my gawking, but I only remember her endless smooth bends and proud carriage. It didn’t take me long to learn that our school had a beginning ballet class. I enrolled in my first class, that winter, at eighteen.

I’d like to say that my story continues with my dazzling ascent into ballet stardom, but it does not. Despite continuing to take dance classes for the last eleven years, I remain an amateur. I began too late to develop the necessary musculature and flexibility required for professional work. However, that did not keep me from developing a passion for ballet, and, later, other forms of dance. I intend to keep on dancing, for myself, if not for the public. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 6th grade self that I did, in fact, become a ballerina.