ASDP – The end :(

Last day of ASDP coincided with my last day of being 35. Too many endings all at once here!

Nah, in truth it was a pleasant way to close out this year of my life.

Started with modern… good class. Did some mirroring stuff with a partner at the beginning. That stuff used to make me rather uncomfortable when I was younger. I don’t mind it so much now, but somehow I still instinctively cringe whenever I find out that we’re doing something like that. Ballet Perfectionist Rori can’t help but feel like she must come up with super-cool, innovative movements that will lead to groundbreaking new choreography, but generally all I come up with is a reprisal of my 4-year-old self rocking out to the record player in my living room. (See Exhibit A below). Meh.

LR Dancing

Rest of class was good, though. Similar to what we’ve been doing. Added a bit more on to our combination we’ve been working on.

Then technique… Kristen Beckwith again. The only person we had three times for technique during the program. But at least with that I felt like I knew what to expect and had a better idea what she was looking for. She said something about my turnout that got me thinking. I don’t remember exactly how she worded it, but it was along the lines of opening the hips from the front. I usually only think about turnout as a rear-end thing, but somehow thinking about it as originating from the front made more sense and was easier to figure out how to engage the right muscles (they are big on turnout at BBS… but there were a lot of comments about engaging the glutes from other teachers and I was fighting the urge to pipe up with quotes from Lisa Howell or Deborah Vogel about how turnout needs to originate from the deep muscles, not the glutes). Barre was good. Centre… some good, some abominable. I love how you can get something perfectly on one side (usually the right in my case), but the other side is a total mystery whose secrets refuse to be revealed.

And then… the grand finale. There was a small crowd collecting in the lobby throughout class. Someone who had done the ASDP last year said that a ton of people show up for the final presentation, but somehow I didn’t think she was serious. I guess she was. Of course, for many of my classmates this is the only opportunity they get to show off what they do in ballet class. So it’s nice that BBS opens this up to family and friends. Apologies to those who know me IRL for not getting an invite. Nutcracker season will be upon us soon. The seats are more comfortable there and I get to dress up all pretty-like.

Anyway, the one bummer with having an audience is that we were only able to watch the other classes do their pieces during our brief rehearsal time before the audience was allowed in. During the actual presentation we remained “backstage” as it were.

I was impressed with what the beginner class did: their rep piece was extremely long! And one dude… someone was joking afterwards that he must’ve been a ringer… his technique was way too good for beginner. The ladies in the elementary level got to wear romantic tutus over their leotards. They seemed adorably excited about this. Meanwhile I thanked my lucky stars that our rep teacher didn’t come up with any such foolishness for us. Though… it would have been nice if he’d suggested a uniform of sorts. Most people wore black/pink because there were some rumors that we should, but there were a few who didn’t hear the rumor. Oh well. It’s not like it was anything formal.

After we did our run-through we vacated the premises so the audience could come fill the folding chairs. They had an idea to show the audience some working rehearsals of the pieces to show what goes into it. So we came out once to do the rehearsal take. Then came out again after the other groups did their rehearsal take to do it as the real deal. Cute idea. No idea what the audience thought of it, though. And it meant that they watched our piece a total of 4 times because our group was so big that each “cast” got to do a performance.

They had a reception afterwards which I poked my head in on to satisfy my curiosity, but knowing no one there I didn’t feel compelled to stay. In the locker room while I was gathering up my things a few people were talking about heading over to the Armenian restaurant around the corner. I came upon them while I was leaving and one of them looked at me and said, “Are you coming with us?” and another one said, “Yes, she is coming with us!” Hm… okay. Why not? There may be belly-dancing.

Six of us dancers and 4 significant others went over and shared pitchers of sangria and hummus/baba ganoush/etc. There was no belly-dancing, but we did get to indulge in some highly dorky ballet-talk. I found out about another studio halfway between me and Boston that some of the ladies go to and highly recommend. It’s a Saturday class, so wouldn’t be able to go during the school year, but their favorite teacher will be there on the 30th, before our year starts, so I may check it out then and see if I can get some of my ballet friends from home to join me!

And that was the end of the program. I’m going to do one final post of my overall impressions/thoughts, but still thinking on that one… Thanks to those of you who have followed along with my first summer “intensive” journey! It’s been a fun one and I’m glad I did it!

ASDP – Winding down

Getting close to the end… sadness! It’s been such a fun ride!

Wednesday:

Modern — We have a drummer to accompany us in class. Yet I apparently chose this day to march to one unseen and unheard by anyone but myself… Was having some sort of processing issues and felt as though I was perpetually out of step. WTF?! I blame the fact that I got to the studio frazzled. I left work with plenty of time, but right before the last stop on the T the train ground to a halt and didn’t move for a good 10 minutes. “Signal problems,” they said. Grr. I’ll give them a signal problem! And worst, we were only a few hundred feet from the station. I hate when you can see where you need to be… just can’t get there. Then it took ages to get out of the parking lot because of traffic on the main road. A mile or so later I came across an accident blocking half the road. None of this had any bearing on the end result, which was that I still got to the studio with time to change and get into class before it started, but my disgruntled-ness spilled over into class. Or something. And of course this is the day that the videographer was in the studios getting footage in case they decide to do a promotional video. Grumbles. At least we have one more modern class on Friday in which I plan to redeem myself.

Technique — For the first time we had a repeat teacher! Kristen Beckwith was leading us. I found her class very lyrical last week and this one was the same. I felt much more capable this time, though. Maybe because I had a better idea of what her expectations? Not sure, but the frustration I felt the week before was gone. I pushed myself on technique and tried to make it somewhat pretty. She has a great way of incorporating clean technique and artistry. More than once she reminded us that we were supposed to be having fun… it’s okay to “dance” it and, in fact, it’s encouraged! Good class. We get her one more time on Friday.

Typically we have rep or variation after technique class, but instead we had a Q&A session with some BB pros! Principals Petra Conti and Eris Nezha and corps de ballet member Sarah Wroth kindly shared an hour with us talking about their experience as dancers. They talked about how they got into ballet, how they transitioned from student to professional, how they approach their roles, etc.

Nezha and Conti are a husband-wife pair, only been with the company since last fall, coming from Teatro alla Scalla in Italy. Nezha sounds like he was chosen to do ballet without really knowing what he was signing up for, but fell in love with it, got his training and worked his way up. Conti came from a family of dancers and said she always danced around the house, and announced around age 10 that she wanted to pursue training at the highest level possible. It was only then that she realized that things that came to her quite naturally (flexibility, high arches) were highly desirable. While Nezha said his first four years of training were the most challenging, Conti said her first few years were the easiest since so many things came naturally to her and from what she told us of her career it’s clear that hard work combined with a ton of natural talent has propelled her to star level at a young age. They are an adorable couple, clearly in love with one another and with ballet. In spite of being international stars they seem very grounded.

While it was great to hear from them, Sarah Wroth’s story was one I could relate to a bit better. As opposed to those who have been groomed for a professional career from a very early age, her story was more of an accidental ballerina. She told us that she started ballet at 7 because her mom wanted her to have some sort of physical outlet after school. A friend was taking dance, so she started taking dance. It was something to do. But it turns out that she was a bit obsessive with getting it right. And the harder she worked, the better she got. Still, she didn’t think of it as a valid career choice until she went to college where she studied dance and began to realize exactly how much passion she had for ballet. She auditioned for various companies including BB, her “reach” company. She didn’t expect to be accepted since she had no professional experience, but at the end she was offered a job. As someone who has had varied passions throughout her life, I’ve often wondered, with a bit of envy, how someone can commit to a career path at the age of 10 and stick with it. Most people don’t stick with it, of course. But there’s always that curiosity about, “What would have happened if I weren’t such a dilettante?” It was nice to hear from someone who took time to reach a decision about what role ballet would play in her life and was able to make it. Maybe her career trajectory has been different because of her delayed decision. But she also seems to be very thoughtful about her career and I expect that she won’t be one of those dancers left wondering what the heck to do with herself once the pointe shoes get put on the shelf. While I was listening to her talk I kept thinking, geez, I’d love to go out for a drink with this woman, she’s hilarious! I was also struck by how collegial all the dancers were… granted, we were only seeing a tiny fraction of the company, but I’ve heard that they are a fairly close-knit company, not as cut-throat as things like “Black Swan” would have us believe. The way they interacted and spoke to us certainly supported that claim. Lots of mutual respect and support.

Thursday:

Pilates — Last one! Class size seems to keep dwindling, but the diehards among us were there. A few new things… and a weird intercostal muscle twinge for me on some of them. But good class overall. I really would like to do more with Pilates since it has helped me to feel much stronger and centered.

Technique — C. Anderson taught our class again. Even though we’ve only had one other technique class with him he’s been kind of a constant presence through our rep classes. No major revelations on this particular day, just continuing the struggle to maximize my minimal degree of turnout and figuring out how to keep my ribs down but my chest lifted.

Repertory — We continued cleaning up the Swan Lake polonaise, but only had about half an hour because…

Lecture — Thursday’s session ran a bit long so that we could have a lecture from a PT who works with athletes and performing artists (including, obviously, dancers!). She talked a bit about the basic differences that come in treating dancers as opposed to other athletes, such as the fact that it’s neither desirable nor advantageous to keep dancers out of the studio entirely while they recover from injuries, but that they have moved more towards modified classes that will allow the dancer to maintain a degree of strength and technique while allowing the injury to heal. She talked about injury treatment and took a lot of questions from people in the audience. I didn’t learn too much that I hadn’t already picked up from A) being a nurse, B) following Lisa Howell online, and C) the e-mails I receive from IADMS. Thankfully I haven’t had too many issues with injuries, so I would have liked to hear more about maximizing our abilities as adults rather than repairing muscle tears, but that’s just me. I thought this was a great lecture topic, just that it could have been put together a little differently to maximize the time.

Next post… last day and final impressions!

ASDP – Week 2 begins

After our weekend off it’s back to BBS-Newton for the second and final week of the adult summer dance program.

Monday:

Modern — Getting into the flow there. Knowing better what to expect with the warmup. We’ve had one combination that we add to a bit each class. It’s been a lot of choreography to take in, but I once we start to get the hang of the steps it is fun. Only problem is there are a lot of changes in direction and I get claustrophobic when people get too close to me. Sometimes when I hang out in the back of a classroom it’s not because I don’t know the steps, it’s because I have more control over my space and have less fear of someone running in the wrong direction towards me like a charging bull.

Technique — We had Carlos Molina, who had taught our rep class on Friday. He’s a soft-spoken, easy-going guy. But he gave a good class with nicely sequenced exercises that led naturally from one to the next. I felt generally strong and clean in this class, which was a good way to start the new week.

Repertory — This class was originally listed as “workshop on pirouettes & grand allegro/repertory” or something like that, but Christopher Anderson was all, “Um, we need to get through the rest of the choreography if we are going to be ready for Friday.” Friday the different levels show each other what we’ve learned during the rep classes. And I think there’s only one other opportunity to practice before then. So no workshop. Which was okay with me. Not that I don’t need all the help on pirouettes I can get, but it’s slightly more fun to learn rep. We finished up the part of the polonaise that we’re learning (it’s not the entire dance) and got it relatively clean. Only bad part had nothing to do with the class itself and everything to do with the fact that I started to get a silent migraine during it. Everything right in front of my eyes went blurry. I get these every so often and have learned to ignore it as best I can… it’s annoying as all hell, but usually there is enough of my field of vision that’s normal that I can continue to function and the symptom generally only lasts about 30 minutes or so before resolving, leaving me with the feeling of someone jabbing an ice pick behind one eye (which I realize sounds unpleasant, but compared to the full-blown migraines I used to get it’s really not that bad). I was mostly preoccupied with worrying that the blurriness wouldn’t go away by the time I needed to drive home. I’ve had them hit while I’m driving and end up having to pull over to wait it out. There’s no way I’m hurtling down the highway in a 3000-lb object without being able to see everything going on around me! It resolved before class was over though. Phew!

Tuesday:

Pilates — Pretty much what we’ve been doing with maybe a few elements of added difficulty. The teacher did ask towards the beginning whether the class was leaving us too wiped for the following technique class. I guess that came up during the beginner/elementary session. We all shook our heads. There are some exercises that are definitely difficult, but we don’t do anything to the point of exhaustion, so I’m not sure what their issue was. In fact, I really like having it before technique because I tend to feel much more centered afterwards!

Technique — We had a guest teacher, Andrew Kelley, the Associate Director at Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. I looked him up and he danced with the Dutch National Ballet and has also worked in Hungary and Germany before coming State-side. He’s another relatively soft-spoken sort of guy, but his quiet nature belied the killer workout he gave us. Lots more stuff in rélevé than we typically do, which I actually like… I find that — as counterintuitive as it may seem — when my calves get fatigued I balance better. I think it just forces you to engage all the other muscles: core, etc. He also focused a lot on port de bras. Good stuff. It’s not dancing until you add some expression, but sometimes you need a little guidance as to what exactly you need to do to give your dancing an elegant expression rather than appearing to be a deranged traveling windmill and he was great at helping us decipher that. I also had a minor revelation about petit allegro. I am terrible about putting my heels down and pliéing in jumps. Yeah, I know, unsafe, whatevs… I prefer to think that I jump Balanchine-style. I get more height that way which I find far more entertaining. It’s nice to feel like my thighs are good for something in ballet! But when he had us do a basic 16-changements exercise he specifically told us to stay low to the ground. He’s the boss, so I did. Happened to be standing towards the front so I could actually see my feet in the mirror. And that low jumping really did give me a nice elastic feeling that appeared far more refined than my typical attempts to launch myself towards the rafters. Realized that maybe I don’t need to go ALL out on the first allegro combination and this low-to-the-ground business might be a better way to work into the bigger allegro steps. Hm. Really enjoyed this class.

Variations — Christopher Hird worked with us on the Swan Lake pas de trois we’d started last week. Which, unfortunately, I’d promptly purged from my mind shortly after learning it. Not that I didn’t enjoy it… Just that I was trying to remember the rep stuff and that crowded out whatever else I had learned. We went over the original bit a few times and then got a chance to dance it across the floor in actual pas de trois arrangement (again, the two lone guys got quite the workout partnering all the ladies, but they were good sports). Then we learned another phrase or two and got a chance to dance it through again in our trios. I got strangely nervous about going across the first time. What’s that about? But second time through I was actually able to enjoy it without over-thinking.

Coming up before all is said and done: Q&A with current BB dancers, PT lecture, and end-of-program display. I’ll be glad to get back to having full nights of sleep, but end of program so soon? :(

ASDP – Week 1 is done!

I survived the first half!

Day 5.

Enrichment class, we were back to Pilates again. The teacher added some new exercises or varied exercises to make them harder citing our “intermediate/advanced” status. Hey, I’m intermediate/advanced ballet, NOT Pilates! No, it was a good class, though. Things were feeling less foreign and as a result I (hopefully) am getting more out of it. One of the new exercises we tried was the “jack-knife” where you kind of go over into plow pose, but keeping the legs parallel to the floor, then try to press your legs up towards the ceiling, like you’re doing shoulder stand, without letting the core go all wobbly. I got a compliment on that one! The teacher asked if I’d done it before. I can’t recall if I’ve ever done it formally… I was embarrassed to admit that it’s something I’ve randomly done ever since I was a little kid simply because I find it weirdly entertaining. Should’ve joined the circus.

The intermediates stayed in the same studio for technique class which was being taught by yet another teacher, Gene Murray. I could tell from the moment he entered the studio that this man is a Character. Capital “C”. He’s one of the “guest” faculty for the program (he teaches for BBS at the Boston and Marblehead studios) and the plan was for Christopher Hird to introduce him. Well, he wasn’t there yet, so Mr. Murray introduced himself and went right into our warm-up exercise. This man will not stand on formality! Now… I’m trying to recall whether I’ve ever had a teacher who, legit, bangs on the floor with a cane to the music. I don’t think so. Well, now I have.

He was demanding, for sure. “Épaulement! You are at a level where you must use épaulement!” was a constant refrain throughout the class. But he would also pepper class with, “You are all lovely. Where have you been all my life?!” and other such endearments. I think a lot of my fellow students had no idea how to take this guy. Personally, I thought he was a hoot. Some of the people in my class are obviously on the younger side and seem to be used to a certain kind of teacher. Gene is not that kind of teacher. But thought he was delightful and managed to get a high degree of focus and clean technique while also keeping class fun.

There’s a great article about him here, written a couple years ago when he closed his own studio. Gives you a taste of what the guy is like. There’s a nice video along with it, too. Check it out.

After that was Repertoire, this time led by Carlos Molina. He’s a former principal dancer with Boston Ballet (also danced at ABT prior to that) and is married to current BB principal Erica Cornejo (whose brother is a principal dancer at ABT… lots of ballet going on in that family!). We continued to work on the polonaise from Swan Lake that we had been learning with Christopher Anderson. Didn’t learn any more choreography, but Carlos spent a lot of time working on cleaning what we had already learned. Due to the enormous size of the class, that meant there was a lot of down time. I mean, of course we marked things even when we weren’t the group of focus, but even so… lots of down time. But on the plus side, it kind of encouraged us to chit-chat a bit with our fellow dancers and actually built a little bit more camaraderie. So that was nice.

On the whole, week one was quite a trip. I’m so glad I decided to do this program and, as nice as it will be to have a few days free to rest and relax, I’m excited for next week… and a little sad knowing that it will be over after that!

Until then…

ASDP – Day 4!

Day 4 offered some welcome respite… mainly in the fact that I worked from home that day which allowed me to get in a couple more hours of sleep. Ah, sweet rest!

This was the first time I’d driven to BBS-Newton directly from home and for some reason my Waze app sent me on a epic odyssey through the ‘burbs surrounding Boston. Knowing what traffic (or traffuck as I’ve heard it referred to quite aptly!) is like at that hour, I don’t doubt that this was actually the fastest way. Thank the gods for technology, otherwise I’d likely still be sitting on the highway.

Enrichment class for the intermediate-advanced levels was modern (have you picked up on the pattern here? Pilates-modern-Pilates-modern…), again taught by Helena Froehlich. And, once again, I loved it. My body seems to adapt to the demands of modern far more naturally than it does ballet. At least this style of modern, whatever style that may be (I love modern, but am sadly ignorant about most of the details on various techniques). Most of the exercises were similar to those from the last class. She added a bunch to our across-the-floor combination, though, which was tricky to catch on to at first, but was really fun once we did (per me, anyway…). And we ended the class with I guess what you’d call a modern grand allegro, doing a run-run-grand jété in double attitude across the floor. Which was AWESOME! Why? Because I got that point where you feel like you might stay suspended in the air if only you don’t look down, just like a cartoon character who’s run off the edge of cliff, but doesn’t realize it yet.

Technique was in one of the smaller studios. I like the space of the grand studio, but it’s weirdly dim, so I welcomed the move to a brighter studio even if we were a bit cozy in there! Helena was teaching our class that day. No major revelations to report in class. Balance was a bit off at the barre. Turning fairy wasn’t drunk, but she may have been hungover — got some clean singles; anything attempted beyond that was flop city. But my muscles felt nice and stretchy. Did learn that BBS advocates that in a tendu from first to front or back the toe should “cross the line” so that at the end of the tendu the toe of the working foot is in line with the heel of the standing leg. Helena said it was kind of stylistic thing that can vary by school, but they feel that it’s a better preparation for working from fifth and encourages more proper alignment. Will have to remember that when I go back to real life.

After technique we were back to the grand studio with the advanced level for variations! Ooh, something new! Christopher Hird was leading this class. We were learning the pas de trois from the first act of Swan Lake. I’m sensing a theme here… BB is opening the 2014-15 season with a new version of Swan Lake, so it seems they’re trying to build some buzz through the ASDP. To their credit, it is working. I can’t wait to see the bits we’ve learned performed on stage by the professionals! There are two guys and about 40 ladies in the class, so the guys got quite the workout while the ladies did a lot of marking (we divided into two groups, with one group learning “Girl 1″ and the other learning “Girl 2″), but I enjoyed learning more choreography.

Typically we are done after this class, but on this night the variations class was shortened by 15 minutes to allow for a 45 minute lecture by Laura Young, a current BBS faculty member who was an original member of Boston Ballet and danced with them as a principal dancer from the age of 18-42! It wasn’t a lecture in the sense that she stood up and rattled off a series of events, but Christopher Hird asked various questions about her experience as a dancer. The part I found most fascinating was that she had started dancing with BB’s predecessor, New England Civic Ballet, when she was only 13. It sounds like it was just a small company made up largely of students. She was telling us that the moms made costumes, her dad and brother were involved in set design. The families of the dancers were what got it up and running. It’s amazing that something went from such humble, homegrown beginnings to where it stands now. And amazing that she has seen it through all of its phases. There’s an article that goes into more of her details on the BB website here and one from the Boston Globe written this year in honor of the 50th anniversary if you’re interested in learning more about her and BB’s growth over the years.

The lecture meant that we got out a bit later than usual, but I was glad to see that so many people stayed to listen. Inspiration doesn’t just come from practice, but comes from shared experiences and realizing that, as minor a cog we may be, we are all part of sustaining and growing ballet!

One more day for week 1!

ASDP – Day 3!

With day 3 came yet another commuting choice… driving to Riverside Station in Newton, which is the end of the D branch of the Green Line and has a lovely big parking lot where you can leave your car for $6 a day. Mileage-wise it’s about the same distance from home as work, the traffic along the route is a teensy bit better, and the parking is about $25 cheaper, so that’s pretty awesome. From there the T ride to work is maybe 20-25 minutes? Not bad at all… T-ed back to Riverside after work and drove maybe 10 minutes from there to BBS-Newton. Finally, I’ve found a happy commuting option! Woohoo! This will be good to have in mind if I ever want to have my car more easily available when I’m at work, too… you know, like if I want to take a class at BBS-Newton after ASDP is over!

So, after a normal night’s sleep and a happy commute and jitters finally wearing off you’d think that day 3 would be most excellent. And… it wasn’t bad. But I didn’t feel quite as good in the studio as I did the two days prior. Curious.

For enrichment class we were back to Pilates. Most of the exercises were similar to what we had done Monday and I understood better what we were supposed to be doing in most of the exercises. Some things I was able to accomplish a bit better… others still need work. But my core was definitely feeling it!

After that we were back to the grand studio for technique. We had our third teacher in three days, Kristin Beckwith. I found her combinations to be very dance-y: she gave us exercises that incorporated angling ourselves croisé or effacé to the barre, using lots of beautiful port de bras, and the steps were very flowy. Really enjoyed the barre. Then we moved into center and I’m not sure what happened here. My turning fairy apparently snuck out to the wrong kind of bar and came back soused, because I couldn’t seem to even execute a single pirouette cleanly. Which led me to that downward spiral freak-out that I can’t turn and even when we got to piqué turns across the floor which I usually LOVE I was totally disoriented, poorly placed, and sloppy. Grrrrr. Okay, center wasn’t ALL bad. We did a lovely adagio. And there was a fun allegro section that I didn’t get completely right, but I think she said we’ll do it again next week, which I’m looking forward to as it was pretty fun. And then… for the first time in ASDP we finally made it to grand allegro! It was fairly simple, sautés and chassés and a tour jété. Took a lot of energy, but felt good and was very proud of myself for landing all of my tour jétés on one foot with minimal bobbling!

I’ve found it interesting that they’re giving us such a variety of teachers. I wasn’t familiar with any of them prior to coming in. Both Christophers seem to have a more technical approach which, admittedly, I tend to respond best to. Their exercises were fairly simple, but with their corrections really helped me to focus on being cleaner and stronger. Kristen’s class was more like what I’m familiar with at my home studio. She didn’t spend as much time talking through the technical elements, but she kept the class flowing and her combinations allowed for more expression which I enjoy, too… at least when I’m able to get the steps mostly right! Not my best technique class, but I’ll get another go at her class next week. It can be challenging to go from teacher to teacher when each has a slightly different approach, but it’s nice to have a variety of perspectives, too!

After technique class, the advanced class came to join us in the grand studio once again and Christopher Anderson was back to teach us some more of the Swan Lake dance we started on Tuesday. My section’s piece wasn’t terribly challenging, but the other group’s certainly was. I could tell that this is the sort of dance that, from the audience looks like it must be super-fun to dance, but watching everyone learning the steps it’s clear that it is maddeningly difficult to execute. With all of the people in the room it takes a while to get through the choreography, but… CA told us he taught the same piece to some regular SDPers (you know, the hand-chosen kids) and said it was like teaching a bunch of bricks; we caught on much faster. I suppose there’s something to be said for age or experience or whatever it is we have!

Hard to believe the first week is more than half done! Nice to feel like it’s starting to be a bit more routine. Oh, and the exciting, non-dancing thing that happened was that… I spoke. Not that I was entirely mute the two days prior. But I don’t think I said anything beyond what was absolutely necessary. Yesterday a fellow dancer from my level said something in passing and I struck up a bit of a conversation with her. And then in rep a few of us chit-chatted… about the dance, mostly. But it was nice to start to feel like these people are shifting from a mob of strangers to… a mob of not-quite-strangers!

Two more evenings to go this week!

ASDP – Day 2!

Day one – Alarm goes off at the usual time and I hit snooze and jump back in bed, but then realize, ASDP starts today! Bound out of bed and rush to get ready for work.

Day two – Alarm goes off at the usual time and I stumble out of bed, fumble for the snooze button, collapse back in bed and repeat this process about 4 more times. Four hours of sleep is SO no enough.

What a difference a day makes!

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve driven to work in the past two and a half years. And two of those were before I was even on the payroll. Driving into Boston is a royal PITA. The cost of the commuter bus and T pass is well worth it to be able to sleep, read, or daydream while someone else takes responsibility for getting my butt to work. Plus parking near work is at a premium, therefore comes at a premium price.

But after trying to get to and from BBS’s Newton studio via public transport I knew that wasn’t a viable option for the duration. I needed to find a better way, but my bleary-eyed self didn’t have time to figure out the ideal plan at 5am, so I figured I’d suck up the drive and the parking fees for one day and map it out when I was more caffeinated.

As the day wore on, the soreness from day one started to kick in. I blame the Pilates since most of the sore muscles were in my core. But surprisingly my arms were feeling it, too (we hadn’t really done much upper body stuff… so either I’m a weakling or I engaged new muscles without realizing it). My legs a bit, too. But walking four miles in flip-flops may have contributed to that. Don’t get me wrong, the soreness felt good, but was definitely there!

I left my office in the afternoon around 4:30, cried bitter tears at the parking kiosk while I paid dearly to remove my vehicle, and got on the road to Newton. I was in the BBS-Newton parking lot a little after 5, cool, calm, and collected with plenty of time to change and figure out where I needed to be.

Day 2 was already off to a better start and I hadn’t even danced yet!

Which isn’t to say all my jitters had vanished. Because today the intermediate-advanced enrichment class was modern. I have experience in modern, but there are differing techniques and I didn’t know how this class would be structured.

We were in the grand studio for modern, which is where the intermediates had ballet & workshop the day before. As you can guess from the name, it’s a spacious studio. We warmed up by just walking and running around, waking up our bodies. Then moved into more traditional exercises. Helena Froehlich, our teacher, approached the class differently than the modern class I take occasionally at the home studio, but it was very similar to what I experienced with one of my modern professors in college. I loved that professor’s style, always found it very freeing and grounding at the same time. All in all, a great class and I left feeling warmed up and somehow very centered, too.

For technique class we were back in the studio where we had Pilates the day before. Definitely nowhere near as spacious as the grand studio, but still perfectly adequate. Christopher Anderson, our workshop instructor from day one, was teaching that day. I found his suggestions the day before so I was excited to take full class from him. But what impressed me the most was when he went to demonstrate the first exercise on one of the portable barres, noticed that it wasn’t at a perfect 90 degree angle from the mirror and straightened it. My fellow dancers at my home studio find me amusing because I have this weird thing about the barre needing to be perfectly perpendicular to the mirror. Yes, he and I will get along just fine.

There were a few new faces and few missing from the day before. Apparently we ladies scared away the two guys… they both moved to different levels. Class was good. Lots of focus on engaging turnout muscles. I also learned that I need to lift my elbows more in first which I had never ever heard before, but it definitely helped me to feel my back more. As with the day before I felt very centered and balanced during most of class. I think having Pilates and/or modern before really helps. I am terrible about warming up for class in my real life, mostly because I just never have enough time, but if I DO have time… I might need to think about what I can incorporate from those classes into a warm-up. Hm.

The one bummer with this class is that we only got through petit allegro before time ran out. This was the second day we never got to grand allegro. I like grand allegro! :( But I appreciated that we got a ton of corrections and spent time working on details. I had a thought about halfway through class that I would have handled the advanced class fine (granted, I came to this conclusion without seeing what they’re doing, just assuming it’s a step beyond what we’re doing in intermediate). The combinations at my home studio tend to be far more complex than what we’re doing at BBS. But… what I was really wanting to get out of this experience was a good technique scrubbing. Sometimes we get so into fancy, complicated stuff in my regular classes that I feel my technique going sloppy and I know I resort to bad habits at times. I want a chance to remind my body about where it should be placed, focus on the small details, and hopefully come back to my regular classes stronger for having gone back to basics. Time will tell on that front, I suppose.

After technique class we were back to the grand studio with the advanced level to learn some repertory! We found out we’d be learning a dance from Mikko Nissinen’s production of Swan Lake. Which — by the by — they will be performing this fall! I know it’s supposed to be an updated version, so not sure if the choreography we learn will be in the ballet, but would be cool if it is! The music is a piece I’m familiar with… I think our director used it in our production of The Wild Swans last summer. It’s a courtier dance or, in some versions, a villager dance. Basically… we get down, we boogie… 17th century style.

Between the advanced and intermediate levels there are 40 people altogether. Huge! Christopher Anderson was teaching this class as well and joked that we had a corps the size of the Bolshoi going on. It worked out, though, since the dance we’re learning was choreographed for 20 people, so he split us into two “casts”. It felt like it took a really long time to learn maybe four phrases of music, but I suppose that’s inevitable when dealing with that many people. Apparently we got farther than he expected us to. It’s a lovely, dance-y piece. Looking forward to learning more.

Managed to get home at a much more reasonable time last night. Much less stressful all around! Onward to day 3!

ASDP – Day 1!

Still not knowing what to do about travel I decided to try to T it on day 1. Coworker suggested I leave work at a time I considered unnecessarily early to make sure I didn’t have to rush (see the pesky bus schedule referenced last post… per Google maps I’d either get to the studio over an hour ahead of time or would barely make it… tough choice; she voted for getting there an hour early). I got to my T stop just as a train was pulling in. So far, so good! Got off at the prescribed stop. Didn’t know where I was supposed to go, but followed a random guy which turned out to be the right way, and found the bus stop. Okay, this is going well! Then I pulled up the where’s-my-bus app and…. bus was nowhere near me.

Well… I thought maybe I’d explore some of Newton’s scenic countryside and walk up to the next bus stop. Get a little warm up in on my travels! Yeah! I figured the bus would be along before I got too far.

So I walked. And walked. Walked some more. Each time I came to a bus stop I checked to see where the bus was and it never seemed to get anywhere near where I was. After about 2.3 miles (literally) the bus caught up to me… at the stop where I would have disembarked! Rawr. Did I mention that it was like 80% humidity and I was wearing business attire and flip-flops for this trek? Yeah, okay, walking was my choice. It was my own lack of patience and inability to stand still that resulted in that long walk. But still. Grrrrrr.

I got to the nondescript building Google maps said was the studio. Um… are you sure, Google? Then I saw a door with the BBS name on it instructing people to enter at the side door. I peeked around the side to see… NO DOORS. But I saw a parking lot behind the building and a couple ladies were walking across it who looked like potential ASDP-ers so kept walking along the side until I found the main entry tucked behind. Walked in and was faced with four people behind the counter. None of whom seemed to notice my presence. I’m sure I looked a bit of a sight by that point, but seriously, hello! Finally one looked at me, asked my name, handed me a name tag and gave me directions to the locker room and the studio I needed to go to.

Relieved that I had made it there with a few minutes to spare, I quickly changed into tights/leo (a gross task when already sweaty), pulled on a tee shirt, pinned on my name tag and grabbed some slippers, a skirt, and some jazz pants (wasn’t sure what the plan was, so wanted to make sure all bases were covered).

First up was the “enrichment” session. This was an add-on to the main program and takes place in the hour before the regular session. I wanted to get all I could out of the experience, plus I would’ve just spent that hour killing time after work otherwise, so it was worth the extra fee. They said that the enrichment would feature classes in modern and Pilates, but said nothing about which was when.

There was a crowd of students outside our assigned studio on the floor, so I sat near them and waited. A teacher came out of the studio and said, “Oh, I was wondering where the students were! Come on in!” So we file in and see a few yoga mats on the floor. A few of us tried to figure out whether we had a choice between classes, or what the story was. Someone said that this session was a combination of the intermediate and advanced students and we were doing Pilates today while the beginners and elementary students did Modern next door. Oh. Okay. Now that that mystery has been solved comes the realization that none of us had mats because we didn’t know we needed mats. Thankfully BBS had some for us to use, so back out to the hallway we go to gather mats. We get ourselves arranged and the teacher introduces herself. Stott Pilates is her specialty. She asks if there’s anyone in the room who has never taken Pilates before. The lone guy raised his hand. She assures him he’ll be fine and off we go. I found the directions a bit confusing at times. It’s been quite some time since I took any sort of Pilates and I don’t think it was Stott method (I don’t know the differences among the methods). But I followed along as best I could and I was relieved to find out that I could still do everything for the most part. It actually felt really good to get into all those core muscles. Might have to seek out a Pilates class once this is over.

Once our hour was up we collected our mats and returned them to their cabinet and went to the studio next door where all the students were gathered for a welcome meeting. We sat down and Christopher Hird, BBS’s Head of Adult Programming, welcomed us and introduced some of the faculty we’d be working with. He went over the rough plan for the two weeks: technique class each day followed by a class where we would learn rep/variations — except a couple “workshop” days to work on things that adults have asked to focus on in the past, e.g. pirouettes. There would also be two special lectures, one being a talk about the history of BB and another with a PT. We’d also have a Q&A session with two BB principals. There would be some other faculty coming in to teach us at various points. And at the end of the two weeks we would get to do a little presentation (NOT a performance, they assured us). Oh, and there was an opportunity for a few students to go see a company class and tour the Boston studios next Thursday during the day. Limited seats, first come, first serve. I really really wanted to be able to do that, but it’s a day that I have a meeting at work that would probably conflict with the times. Sad face.

After that they chatted a bit about levels (if, after the first class, you felt you were in the wrong one or if the instructor felt that you were in the wrong one you’d be able to switch) and some other administrative stuff. Then they gave us the opportunity to share our stories if we wanted to. There was a wide range of students from adult beginners to those who have danced since they were toddlers. While only a few people spoke I looked around the room and saw a lot of different ages, body types, clothing choices. Not many guys, but there were a few. It was nice to feel like this really was a place where anyone could feel welcome.

With that we were sent off to our respective studios. The intermediates ended up staying in the same studio, so we didn’t have far to travel. And it is a deliciously large studio! I think I counted around 24 students in our class and there was room for plenty more if they appeared. Christopher Hird was our instructor for the day. Since the meeting had taken up a good chunk of time, barre ended up taking up most of our time with a brief adage at the end. I really liked the combinations. The combinations weren’t boring, but they also weren’t so absurdly complex that I couldn’t keep technique in mind. I think everyone got some sort of individual correction and after each side there were corrections.

My correction was simple, but kind of mind-blowing, too: move my hand forward on the barre and stand a smidge closer. It sounds silly, but it really changed my ability to feel square. Hmph. Lots of good group corrections to incorporate, too. Like how our working leg generally wants to bend a bit during arabesque penchée.

In general I felt pretty good during this class. Balances felt REALLY good. Could be a new environment, or a moon phase, or maybe that Pilates class beforehand.

After our class broke the advanced students came in with their teacher, Christopher Anderson, for the last hour. It was kind of a workshop, kind of just a continuation of class. We spent about half the time on pirouettes followed by allegro. Alas, I did not discover the secret to pirouettes, but we did do some good exercises that I will have to try to remember. I realized that I rarely think about my back in pirouettes… that might help me to stay square. And I rarely bother to spot. Which isn’t such a huge deal when doing singles. But makes it difficult to do more than that! Then we moved on to jumping. I love jumping. I learned that exercises should always progress “two feet to one feet.” Hahaha. Two footed jumps should always be practiced before moving to one footed jumps. And you should always do a medium allegro (I feel like there’s a more appropriate word than “medium,” but can’t think of what it is) in between petit and grand. Doesn’t help if you’re in a class where the teacher doesn’t choose to follow that, but I’ll file that knowledge away in case I ever teach again. My major embarrassment in this section came during an across the floor where I starting thinking about some detail of the combination halfway through a pas de chat and totally blanked on what I was supposed to be doing and ended up doing what I can only refer to as a “pas de blah.” The teacher came up to me to tell me how to do a pas de chat and I was like… yeah… I know… I, uh… my brain… uh… yeah. Mortifying.

Ah well. Class over. Then to try to get home. My less-than-wise decision was to walk to the closest public transit that my T pass worked on which was a mile and a half away. After the walk, a bus ride, and two train rides and my commuter bus, it was well past midnight by the time I got home. Needless to say I decided that I will NOT be using public transport to get there ever again. Traffic and parking costs be damned, I’m driving for the next two weeks!

A bit sore today, but excited to go back for evening #2! Very glad I finally decided to do this!

ASDP – The lead-up

The Boston Ballet School Adult Summer Dance Program (hereafter referred to as “BBS-ASDP” or just “ASDP” or, hell, just “it”) is here!

And not without a whoooooole lot of trepidation on my part. I didn’t know where I was going, what I should plan for, whether I’d be in over my head or bored.

Let’s go in reverse order there… Levels: on the website they list four different levels one could register for — Beginner, Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced. Beginner and Elementary sounded too basic. And Advanced sounded like it was essentially pre-pro/former-pro which I am so not! Therefore Intermediate seemed to be my slot.

But a couple weeks after registering I went to a random adult open class in Cambridge with a friend of mine. She saw some people she knew from when she had done ASDP a few years ago and was asking them if they were doing it and this whole discussion about levels came up with one person saying that she had always enrolled in the Advanced level, but since the description this year sounded like it wouldn’t be appropriate (see the “pre-pro/former-pro” thing above) she e-mailed the school to ask whether she should still enroll in that section and they said, sure, it would be appropriate for a student who had taken ballet for a long time. I mentioned that I had signed up for Intermediate and the woman was all, “Oh, you’d totally be fine in Advanced.” I didn’t know what to do about that, if anything.

Then, as for what I should plan for… well, there’s a brief “what to expect when you’re ASDPing” on the website, but it’s a bit loosey-goosey, like, “Oh, you know, some ballet technique and rep, and sometimes some Pilates, and some modern, and some lectures, maybe, and some other stuff, TBD!” Ooookay. I mean, that’s fine, I don’t need a minute-by-minute breakdown of the entire two weeks. But I expected some sort of, “Yay, rah-rah, BBS-ASDP is starting soon, welcome, here’s what you need to know” e-mail. I got nothing beyond the confirmation they sent right after I signed up in May. I actually e-mailed them last week to find out whether I was out of compliance on some element of registration and all I got back was a “Nope, you’re all set!” Now, I’m not terribly type A, but… sometimes a girl needs a little hand-holding. Just a smidge. Do I need to get there early, bring anything special, prepare an interpretive dance on the plight of three-toed sloths in the rainforests? Anything?

And then getting where I was going… ugh. ASDP is being held at one of the suburban studios instead of the main studio in Boston proper, but it’s a suburb that’s considered part of the Metro Boston area, so silly me thought, “Hey, the T goes there, no prob!” Their website was all, “Take this trolley branch (conveniently the branch that goes past my work) to this stop, then take the X bus to Y stop, et voila!” Cool. But further investigation showed that the bus one needs to catch is a leprechaun… good luck catching one! It comes mayyyyybe every 45 minutes. Not even. And promptly stops running altogether around 7:30pm. Did I mention the program runs until 9pm each night? And the suggestions for public transit to get back into Boston proper (where I needed to go to pick up my commuter bus) involved commuter rails or expensive bus routes that my T pass does not cover. But driving into the city is a royal PITA. What to do, what to dooooooo?!?!?!

Do you see why I was a teensy bit anxious about this?

But, hey, once you get past the first day most the uncertainty goes away and I can just enjoy. Sooo… on to ASDP!

(To avoid tl;dr syndrome, I’m saving the actual activities of day 1 for another post!)

The Misty Buzz

So, the whole Misty Copeland Under Armour ad has been everywhere lately. Even people I didn’t think were into ballet are posting it on their Facebook feed and it’s all over the news lately.

If you’ve — somehow — missed it, here you go:

Let me start by saying that there are a lot of great things about this ad.

I love anything that puts ballet into the media.

I love that it shows the true athleticism required to be an elite dancer. It’s not just flapping one’s arms about and looking pretty… you need to have incredible strength to make it look that easy. So kudos to UA for showing that.

It bucks the unhealthy waif myth about ballerinas.

And, it has a kick-ass reminder to stay strong and keep working hard for what you want.

But… I have some issues with the ad campaign, or at least some of the press it’s generated.

For one thing, I’ve seen a lot about how this shows that ballet is a sport. Ballet is NOT a sport, it is an art. Yes, it is an art that requires a great deal of athleticism. But it is not a sport. Sure, it is reduced to sport in some areas. We try to grade dancers on technical abilities and artistic merit. But so much of what makes ballet great is the unspoken communication between performer and viewer. And that can be a very personal thing.

I mean, I love hockey. And yeah, it can get me very emotional at times. But much of the emotion is related to whether a goal was scored or a save was made. As a spectator and fan I don’t really care if a goal was pretty or not, if a save was a case of x-ray vision or pure, dumb luck. It’s the end result.

In ballet there’s so much more to see. I’ve gone to ballets where my companion and I saw the exact same show and had two very different interpretations and reactions to what we saw. There is no final score. The end result is up for debate.

So, sorry, opiners, Misty Copeland is an athletic artist, not a sportswoman.

Then, the voice-over. Is this a letter that Misty received? Or is this something Under Armour made up for a good story? Because from what I’ve read of Misty, she never even really danced until she was 13 and was encouraged to pursue it even though her family had doubts. She had such pure, raw talent that the ballet teachers who saw her pushed to do it, far from the discouraging tone of the words in the voice-over. Maybe this is a real letter, but it just doesn’t jibe with what I’ve read of her story. I want to know more about that…

And then there’s something else… I guess maybe the fact that this is so focused on this feeling of rebellion. That, yeah, Misty might not be the image that pops into someone’s head when they think of a generic ballerina, but she had grit, strength, and a don’t-tell-me-no attitude that propelled her to the elite ranks. I’m sure all of that is true. It’s just… there are a lot of plucky, gritty, strong, determined dancers that don’t make it. And the message of this ad seems to be, well, clearly they just didn’t want it enough. The reality is sometimes you do all you can and things don’t work out the way you wanted. And sometimes you end up in a dream position without even knowing that’s where you wanted to be.

I’m not quite sure what point I’m trying to make here. It’s just, I see all these people (mostly people who know zip-zero-nada about dance) being all, “Ooh, this is so awesome, so inspiring!!!” and I’m like, yeah, it’s cool, but…

Something about it just doesn’t quite ring true to me, and I can’t put my finger on what that is.

Anyway, all that aside, the big burning question I have out of this ad campaign is… when is Under Armour going to get into the leotard business? Because, seriously? I sweat like nobody’s business in class and I could use some of that awesome wicking technology in my leos so I don’t look like I just I’ve been to the swimming pool instead of ballet class.