If the Gym Suit Fits

New studio year has started, but we’re still in the pre-Nutcracker lull (auditions coming up this weekend, stay tuned!)…

Which means that Saturday morning classes are followed, not by a series of rehearsals, but by leisurely breakfasts with the ballet pals.

This past Saturday four of us gathered around a table at our usual haunt alternately chatting about dance gossip and random accounts of our lives. Somehow our conversation got around to… gym class. Not classes at a gym, but physical education class from elementary, middle, high school. How it arrived there, I have no idea. All of us are many years removed from that era!

But there we were. The eldest amongst us asked whether any of the the rest of us had to wear gym uniforms… none of us did. The woman around my age and I waxed rhapsodic over our memories of the Umbro shorts and Champion sweatshirts that were the hallmark of our PE classes. But that was as uniform as we got.

She went on to describe the hideous one-piece outfits they had to wear in her time which sounded like rompers of some sort: shorts with an attached, blousy top that zipped up the back. I remember my mom telling me about these. We all giggled at the thought of having to appear in public in such a get-up.

Then conversation shifted to something else before we all got up to leave. The woman who was talking about the gym uniform said that she was going to go to a dance store to pick up some essentials and I remembered my recent discovery that my bottle of Jet Glue had congealed and I needed to get more. So I tagged along for the ride.

But, of course, no one goes to a dance store just to buy essentials. I mean, if you’re smart, you do, but if you’re human, you will be seduced by a rack of leotards or the display of shoes or something. I happened to spy a warm-up, on the clearance rack, no less, that I had seen months ago on my last visit to this store. It was still there and marked down to a ridiculously low price. I tried it on, pronounced it divine, and added it to my bill with the bottle of Jet Glue.

My companion looked over to see what I found. “It’s a warm-up, see… It’s all-in-one, shorts with a top attached which, um… come to think of it is actually rather blousy.”

Oh, holy hell, I just bought myself a gym uniform!!!

Hahahahaa!!!!

Okay, I’m pretty sure it bears no true resemblance to a gym uniform, but as I heard myself describing it we both cracked up laughing. *snort*

Regardless, I’m still pretty excited about this cozy cuteness! I had a hard time finding a pic on the Googles, so I assume it’s discontinued, but here’s one I found (Jozette for Mirella). Mine is in violet.

Mire_MJ7901_21

ASDP 2014 – The final take

Now that I’m a month or so out from Boston Ballet’s ASDP, some final thoughts… to wrap stuff up in my own head and for anyone considering doing this in the future.

Location:
The ASDP takes place at BBS’s Newton studio. I would have preferred the Boston studio as it’s more convenient for me, but I’m sure that would discourage a lot of people who want to avoid the city. Having my car turned out to be a must… it’s possible to get there via MBTA, but added too much time and frustration for my situation. The studio has its own parking lot and I never had trouble finding a spot, but I did get there early for the enrichment session. I’m not sure whether those who arrived later may have had to park further away, but there seemed to be plenty of spots on the street, if so.

The space:
It’s a spacious facility. When you walk in there’s a waiting area and front desk that is always staffed. There are five studios: the grand studio, as you can guess from the name, is quite spacious; the other four are about half the size of the grand studio, if not smaller, but they still have high ceilings which help them to feel large. We were in different studios for technique depending on the day. The grand studio gave plenty of room to spread out while the others were cozier, but even so our class of 25 had enough room. The teachers were also good about structuring their exercises and groups to fit the space. The flooring was great (not too sticky, not too slippery), the wall barres were all set out a foot or so from the wall, portable barres seemed to be sturdy, though I did have one that was ridiculously tall. The only untidy spot in the place was the dressing room. Can’t speak for the men’s, but the women’s was in various states of gross most of the time. There was a children’s session during the day so I blame them. That was the only part of the studio space I was less than impressed with.

Live music:
At home studio we just have CDs and such. How I’ve missed having a live accompanist (for ballet AND modern classes!)! The teachers don’t have to fiddle around trying to find a track that will work or that is long enough for the combination they want to give. If they need tempo a bit faster or slower they just say so. If you haven’t experienced this, you will love it.

The classes:
I signed up for the “enrichment” session that started an hour beforehand and alternated between Pilates and modern. A lot of people didn’t do this session (it was an additional cost), but if you can swing the extra cash and can get there in time I think the enrichment session is necessary to get the most out of it. Both classes helped me get acquainted with my body in a different way that made me get more out of technique class, plus any additional strengthening is a bonus!

Technique classes — All told we ended up with seven different teachers during the two week session. While each teacher has his/her own style and that can be challenging to bounce among, most were BBS faculty, so the underlying focus and expectation was the same even if the execution was slightly different. And the classes were very formal. Sometimes classes at the home studio turn into ballet happy hour, which is fun, but old-school me appreciated the stricter expectations. To me, “strict” doesn’t mean “no fun” but rather there’s an element of mutual respect and that teacher and student take one another seriously. To me this is central to the art. But… that’s just me.

Repertoire/variations — The hour after technique had various things going on, but for most of the days we were either learning/practicing the beginning of the polonaise from Swan Lake that we presented on the last day or learning part of a pas de trois from Swan Lake. People who had done the program before said that in previous years this hour was only for rep. I liked being able to learn other choreography in the variations class and I also though it was really neat that they taught us stuff from Swan Lake since Boston Ballet will be opening the 2014-15 season with it! I can’t wait to see it on stage and be able to recognize some choreography! This is something that too few ballet students get to experience and I don’t quite have the words to describe the impact this has on a dancer. The first rep I ever learned was when I was 13 or so and we learned some of the Shades choreography from La Bayadère (see pic below… I look like I’m from 1891 instead of 1991!).

La Bayadere 1991

I had no context for this so it didn’t mean much to me at the time… until I saw a video of a professional company performing this same section and realized… we learned the same choreography! Little me had learned things that professionals do! It just gives you a whole new appreciation for the art and makes you feel more connected to it.

The days that we did not do rep or variations we had other stuff going on:
The first day was a “workshop” on pirouettes & allegro. I think they meant to do this twice, but we ended up using the second one to run the rep piece. I would have liked more of this stuff. I’m guessing the secret to pirouettes in hidden in my own damned brain as much as it is in any teacher’s, but it’s helpful to be able to focus on this stuff for longer than a few combinations in a regular class.

We had some lectures from former and current company members. I liked hearing about the history and current company from people who are “on the inside” and gain a greater understanding of what it’s like to dance professionally. A lot of us adults harbor curiosity about what it’s like to be able to do this for a living rather than something we squeeze into our lives around work, school, etc. Of course we know it’s not as glamorous as our fantasies, but it’s still fun to hear what it’s like straight from the horse’s mouth.

Teachers:
I thought the entire faculty was tremendous: caring, skilled, and personable. But, I did have a few favorites. The bummer is that none of my favorites appear to be ones I can take classes with after this.

There was Gene Murray, hilarious and quirky, not universally popular, but had a personality that cracked me up, but also made me want to work my ass off to impress him. He generally teaches day classes at BBS, though there is an evening elementary/intermediate class on Thursday evenings. Sadly, I’m generally not in town on Thursdays. But… I might be able to make it in for one at some point.

Then Andrew Kelley, just… Ballet master, right there. Every comment on technique and artistry was spot-on and I felt like he was this well of knowledge and maybe there would be hope for me yet if someone can just keep explaining things to me the way he does. And he would have us do exercises again to make sure we could truly incorporate what he was telling us. Brilliant. And… I can’t find anything about him teaching anywhere in the city! I did see his name on another studio’s web page, but on their class schedule he was nowhere to be found. That said… I did see that his name is on the BBS faculty roster this week, so maybe there’s light on that horizon.

And Christopher Hird, BBS’s head of adult programming (among other roles)… though he really only taught our very first, abbreviated technique class, and also our variations class, he was a constant presence throughout the two weeks and you could tell that he was committed to us having a great experience. I also loved his corrections. He just… he knows how to teach (no small feat) and made everyone feel like they were welcomed and valued and capable. And… he only teaches beginner classes during the year. Sad trombone.

But all the teachers there were excellent so I’m definitely hoping to plan to take some classes in Boston and Newton during the school year. Great quality classes and the studios are awesome.

And now, in no particular order, some random thoughts about the BBS-ASDP:

If I do this again next year I think I’d bump up to the Advanced level for the additional challenge. I considered switching this year, but I went into this knowing I have a lot of basic things I need to work on and I felt I’d have a better chance of doing that at the Intermediate level. While I didn’t figure out any major secrets, I learned so many little things that I will take with me: stupid stuff like how to better place myself at the barre, thinking about my turnout differently, how to be square (the good square, not the nerdy square!).

Strength — It’s probably impossible to not feel like you’ve built strength after dancing 3.5 hours each night for 10 out of 12 nights, but still… I left feeling like my core, legs, and feet were all working more effectively.

I like having a pre-plié barre warm-up exercise. Every teacher here did one. It’s not something my home studio does, but I love it. It reminds me of yoga classes in one way where you start by focusing on breathing and such rather than jumping right into poses. It gets you centered and puts you in the class mindspace.

Also, I really like teachers who set up lines and groups and rotate the lines. It saves a whole bunch of time figuring out who goes first. Everyone gets a chance at the mirror which means, yes, you WILL need to learn how to remember combinations without following people in front of you, but, NO, you cannot be Snow White’s evil stepmother and plunk yourself in front of the mirror all class. There’s a lot to be gained from having to switch it up.

Sometimes it’s nice to be anonymous. I didn’t know anyone else doing the ASDP. I recognized a few faces from other classes I’ve taken in town, but that was it. It’s scary not to have a security blanket, but it’s also nice to step outside of the usual group and stand on my own two feet.

I loved being part of a group that takes ballet so seriously. Yeah, we were all there to have fun. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t find joy in it. But people were there to learn and to improve. And the teachers wanted to help us get there. Sometimes as adults we get lost in the fray. We’re too old to matter. But I’ve found we’ve got a lot to offer… sometimes it just takes a new explanation or a bit of guidance to allow that to come through.

Should you do the ASDP? Well, first off, I’m not sure I’d travel in from out of town unless you have some other reason to be in the metro Boston area. It’s a great program, but it’s kind of a semi-intensive. It’s intense if you put in a full day of work before getting there. But if I was looking for a true intensive experience I think I’d go for Sun King or one of those where you truly immerse yourself in dance all day, every day for a week. But if you’re local or have some other reason to be in town, do it. There’s a level for just about everyone. There are super-beginners and there are people who have danced for decades. So don’t be afraid that you’re not “good enough” to go. You are, and you will love it.

Overall, this was a great experience and opened me up to the idea of doing more intense intensives (Sun King, I’m looking at you!) in the future.

Anything I missed that you want to know about? Leave me a comment!

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!