Ballet @ Home: First Finis Jhung DVD Review!

Argh, slacking again!

I have so many topics I’ve been meaning to blog about: our studio’s annual show, an open adult ballet class I took in Cambridge, my review of a new pair of ballet slippers, and news of an upcoming giveaway (yayyyyy, free stuff!).

Hopefully I’ll get around to all of that.

But today I’m going to do a DVD review for all you living room ballerinas and danceurs out there!

I had heard of Finis Jhung from one of my dance teachers who has taken his workshops in the past. She enjoys using some of his music in class (which I affectionately refer to as “the creepy circus music,” but that’s another story!) and spoke very highly of his teaching methods. I’d love to go to NYC and take one of his classes in person, but since I haven’t been able to do that I figured putting a couple of his DVDs into my Netflix queue was the next best thing.

Coincidentally the first one, “Level 1: Barrework for Beginners,” arrived just as summer session at the studio was starting. Yesterday was day 3 of said session. The 4.5 hours of dance over the two days prior following a good three weeks off was telling on me! So… I wasn’t TOO disappointed when my commute got me home a tiny bit too late to make it to ballet. But… since I had this DVD at home I figured I’d give it a try to make up for my missing class.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of DIY ballet. I think the best place to learn is in a studio with a proper floor, mirrors, space, etc., with a qualified teacher. But I understand that’s not always available to everyone and that not all “beginner” classes cater to true beginners and that some people just want to have an adjunct way to practice at home. If any of those categories include you, I highly recommend this DVD.

It’s 90 minutes long, so about the length of a regular ballet class, but it is, essentially, all-barre. If you’re new to ballet or just looking to get back to basics (or, like me, have very limited non-carpeted space in which to practice) this fits the bill perfectly.

It’s divided into 16 (?) exercises. Each exercise is named so you can see the words written out. Finis introduces each exercise and explains not only what the combination is, but why it’s important to dancers, and mistakes to watch out for. Then his assistant, Jennifer, joins him to demonstrate the exercise full-out while he talks her through it and makes corrections.

Jennifer clearly knows her way around a dance studio, but I found her to be a lovely demonstrator. She’s good, but not pro-perfect. Strong, but not a twig. Okay, I actually just Googled her and it looks like she is a professional modern dancer. Obviously has a ballet background, but it’s not her main thing.

The exercises start at the very basic-basic level with what he calls “Number One” which is basically learning proper posture. He references it throughout the DVD to remind the home dancer to maintain that posture through all the exercises. He then introduces turn-out with an exercise that teaches the dancer how to find his/her own natural turn-out and does a basic exercise incorporating that movement with some pliés and rélevés. Then he gets more into the plié concept in kind of a non-traditional way by using a super-wide second. From there it moves into more traditional barre elements of battements tendus, dégagés, port de bras, fondus, and grand battements.

Everything is very slow and methodical, but if you’re an absolute beginner the speed is just right. Don’t worry, if you’re doing everything properly you will work up a bit of a sweat. Finis emphasizes good technique throughout, reminding you to test your balance by letting go of your barre, seeing if you can lift your heel a bit to make sure your weight is placed properly, checking in a mirror to make sure you are maintaining a square center, keeping abs engaged, breathing, shoulders down, etc. He offers tips for correction that are pretty universal and understandable.

Now, of course, I’m not a beginner, so I guess I’m not the best person to tell you whether this is truly accessible to an absolute beginner. But having taught an absolute beginner class I felt that the elements were just about right. If I were still teaching I’d definitely incorporate many of his ideas. If you happen to be a teacher this would be a helpful DVD to have in your library!

As a more advanced dancer, I still felt like I still got a lot out of this. It gave me new ways to think about certain concepts and ideas to take into the studio to correct some bad habits or fix some of the things I find challenging.

So overall, while nothing beats a real class, this DVD comes remarkably close.

Pros: Clear instruction, good demonstration, nice explanations, and helpful corrections. Introduces steps in a way that isn’t overwhelming, but still gets an absolute beginner through most of what would be included in a basic barre.

Cons: The “scenery” isn’t terribly attractive and it kind of looks like it was filmed on a ’90s era camcorder (I think the copyright date is 2002, so it is a teensy bit dated). Depending on your “home studio” set-up, it may be difficult to find a space where you can set up a “barre” and see yourself in the mirror. And speaking of the barre, it would be really helpful if you had a real barre, which most people don’t.

Stay tuned for a review of Level 2: Barrework for Advanced Beginners!

Winter Update

Wow, I’ve been remiss at writing of late! Never fear, though, I’m here and there’s lots of dancing going on. I’ll try the quick recap.

Where did we leave off? Oh yes, December.

So our own Nutcracker show went quite well, I think. If you didn’t catch my somewhat flippant take on my experience as a party mom you can find that here. Snow and Hot Chocolate scenes both went reasonably well, IIRC. And my turn as a Rosebud, though light on the choreography, was full of some lively saut de chats, which I always find enjoyable. All in all I felt that I recovered all confidence that I lost the year prior and then some, so hurrah. Still end up on the plus side!

I also got around to scoping out a couple other studios’ versions of Nut. While they weren’t bad, I still think our version is best. I fully admit to being biased. One studio actually hires professional dancers from a major NYC company to play some of the leads (i.e., Sugarplum and her Cavalier, etc.). I was expecting to be blown away, but unfortunately… not sure whether it was bland choreography or a performance by dancers who felt they could just phone it in because, hey, why stress yourself out for a performance in some podunk high school theatre with a bunch of amateurs, but it was vastly underwhelming. I preferred the students’ dances. The other studio did not feature any special guests, per se. Actually, one child has been on Broadway, though they didn’t hype that. I had heard good things about their training, though, so expected some high quality stuff. I was disappointed to see that their scenery was incredibly cheesy and there was no plot whatsoever. I know the Nut plot is usually held together by a thread, at best, but this didn’t even have that. The party scene was lacking in Y chromosomes… or even people pretending to have Y chromosomes. Since they didn’t use adults and the children playing children weren’t particularly young you couldn’t differentiate between the moms and the kids. And then Act II was just a pure helter-skelter, hodge podge of divertissements. Both of these shows had their redeeming qualities, of course, but still, I walked out feeling a good deal of pride at being associated with our version.

Anyway, with Nut done we had our two week break for the holidays. I celebrated by being disgustingly sick. It seems to be an annual tradition, though this bout was especially violent and gross. Yay.

But… while I was recovering, shortly before New Year’s, I got an e-mail in my inbox from our director. She was wanting to submit a piece for consideration to a choreographers’ showcase that another studio was hosting. We had two weeks to throw this together and video it to send it. Who’s game? I am! So a bunch of us cut our break short to head back to the studio for rehearsals. In the span of two rehearsals we got the piece fully choreographed, costumes fitted, and the whole shebang taped and ready to send off. We found out within a week or two that the piece was accepted, so now we’re back to rehearsals and getting it cleaned up in time for the show! It’s a contemporary ballet piece, en pointe. I like it.

And in other performance news, I was invited back to participate in our local music school’s annual gala. They are reprising the Dancing with the Stars format with this year’s theme being Broadway. The fun twist this year is that the music school’s jazz band will be accompanying us dancers. The not-so-fun twist is that their repertoire apparently consists of snoozer songs. Nice songs, but not exciting to dance to. I had my first rehearsal with my new partner last night and, while not a dancer, he agreed that our song was boring, so we’re lobbying for a slightly more risque and definitely more up-tempo song. Fingers crossed that we get our wish! As for my partner… he told me he’s in it to win it, so I think we’ll get along just fine. We covered ball changes last night (which he referred to as “ball and chains” which was trés hilarious) and he made good progress on jazz squares. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring!

Aside from the performing and the class-taking and such, there are also a few Boston Ballet shows coming up. Close to Chuck (mixed rep) starts next week and shortly after that closes Cinderella opens.

So, that’s the quick and dirty of dance in this corner of the world. Hope everyone else’s new year is off to a good start in the studio, on the stage, or in the seats! Cheers!

Glittered and feathered

I have been terribly remiss in keeping you up to date on the progress with our summer ballet!

But the thing is, dear reader…. the weeks have simply flown and I can’t believe we’re only a couple days from showtime!

Typically I would feel harried and frazzled with the short time we’ve had to prepare. Realistically we’ve only gotten in about 5 or 6 rehearsals for each piece. But for some reason, for this show… it works. I’m not going to question it, just going to enjoy the ride.

Today was our studio dress rehearsal (which is a chance to run through the show from start to finish, in costume, in the studio instead of on stage). The real dress rehearsal will take place in a couple days.

It was the first chance I’ve had to try on my different costumes, which is fun in and of itself! The only thing I’d seen previously was the bodice for our swan costume.

The big excitement for me was finding out that the swans were going to be in classical tutus. This is the first time I’ve gotten to wear one of those puppies since high school. Woot!

But… wait. I went to pull that sucker over my behind and, um, er… I know our costumes are supposed to be snug, but… this… this doesn’t even seem to go past mid-thigh! I pulled it off to make sure the hooks were undone. They were. Uh… help!

Another dancer said that hers was snug and took some doing. But… this was going to take some doing, and potentially a tub of margarine. I felt like Winnie the Pooh stuck in the sand bank. The director was standing nearby and said, “Well, it’s a child’s medium.” This made me feel better about the size of my rear in comparison to the opening in the tutu (and I’d just been celebrating that my weight had dipped back into my “happy zone” this morning!). I tried switching with another dancer who is a bit more child-sized, but she had an even tougher time than I did. The director went through the swan roster mentally to see who else was little that might fit into the tutu that I could try switching with… the two smaller people were already wearing that size, so… well, here goes nothing.

So I pushed. And I pulled. And I shimmied. And I wiggled. And damned if I didn’t get that thing over my tush. The good news is that once I got it over my hips it was fine. It was just GETTING it on that was the problem.

Score – Rori: 1, Tutu: 0. Ha!

Oh, but dear reader, the costume is sososososo pretty! It’s like… my dream. Classical tutu. White brocade bodice and basque. Feathers off our arms and feathers pinned to our hair. And a pretty crown, too.

I got a selfie in the mirror of me wearing it. Terribly blurry, but hey, I’m trying to keep a degree of anonymity here (ugh, who am I kidding… if you know me, you know me).

So… here you go… Rori as a Wild Swan.

Swan costume

The run-through of our swan dances went surprisingly well. We have another rehearsal for the swans before the real dress rehearsal, which is much-needed, but even so, I felt good about it.

After swans I had to shimmy my way back out of the tutu to get into my Lady in Waiting costume. Getting out was only marginally easier than getting in! But I managed to pop out in the nick of time to put on my Lady costume (which, thankfully, is much more forgiving!) and change out of my pointe shoes into flatties. Of course during the show I don’t know that I’ll have quite so much time. I’m thinking this will be a week of very clean eating to give myself whatever small edge in costume changing I can!

Drat if this wasn’t the week that I concocted my first batch of homemade, premium ice cream! Waaahhhh!!! A-rationing I shall go!

The final dances went well. Perhaps my favorite part of that section is that we get to stay on stage during the wedding entertainment. They’re such fun to watch, especially the jongleurs, which is pretty much an acro piece. Those kids are incredible! Wish I could do that stuff!

So… one more swan rehearsal, then dress rehearsal, and then the two shows! I’ll be sad when it’s all over. This has been a fun one. Hopefully I’ll get some more pictures to share with you.

In the meantime, happy dancing all!

Saratoga Summer 2013 – Day Three

Our third and final day of our dancer retreat started EARLY!!!

Okay, 7am isn’t particularly early, but… the kids were going to attend ballet class at the Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive where our dancer who was understudying for the NYCB kids was taking class. They stumbled up the stairs from their basement sleeping quarters bleary-eyed, but wearing their pink tights and black leotards, all bunned up and raring to go. We had to get breakfast eaten and bags packed before we left to take them to the studios behind the National Dance Museum for 9, so it was a hectic morning.

I had almost allowed myself to get signed up to take one of the intensive classes, but the pointe shoe fitting I scheduled made that an impossibility. When we got to the studios to check the kids in I was rather relieved at that particular turn of events. The master class we took the day before was one thing — there had been a wide range of ages in that class, from tween to 50+. But the intensive was ALL kids. I can pass for a few years younger than my age, but not THAT much younger! So I can’t say that I regretted not being able to take the class.

I met up with the understudy’s mom who was taking her other daughter for a pointe shoe fitting and we drove back to Saratoga Dance. My fitting was second, so I poked around the store a bit more, but being afraid of dropping any more money (especially seeing as I already expected I may walk out with a pair of pointe shoes!) I ended up perching myself so that I could watch the fitting process for my young friend.

Once again, huge kudos to Katie, the fitter at Saratoga Dance. This young dancer’s feet are particularly challenging to fit. Katie acknowledged this, but never expressed doubt that she’d find a good shoe for this girl. She tried on a couple pairs that were okay, then came back with a Grishko Maya that she had ordered for another dancer. She knew it wasn’t quite the right size, but they were close and she had an inkling that they design of the shoe might work. Though it was a tight squeeze, this young girl was determined to get this shoe on. She went up en pointe, and gosh, even though they weren’t quite the right size, they looked lovely.

Katie left to check on something else and the dancer’s mom asked her which shoe she felt best in. She literally hugged the Maya’s to her and said, “These!” Soooo sweet to see her find shoes that she loved. Even though she wasn’t able to get the shoes then and there, she walked out of the store knowing that a beautiful pair of pointes would soon be on their way to her. Can’t wait to see how they work out for her in class!

Well, then it was my turn for a fitting. Since I hadn’t planned to have one I hadn’t brought my pointe shoes with me, but I told her what I was wearing and Katie told me her opinion of Freed Classics: “You can spend your entire life chasing a shoe you had once.” And I can certainly see how that can be the case. Because they are handcrafted they can be iffy. This is why companies order so many shoes and dancers go through them and probably never use half of the ones ordered for them because they don’t feel quite right.

And this feeds into part of my reason for wanting a fitting… it’s frustrating to spend $100 on a custom shoe that you have to wait 3 months for and then might not fit right. It would be nice to find a stock shoe that works for non-professional me. Katie brought out a pair of Freeds just to get a sense of how they work for me. She also suggested spacers between my first and second toes. My toes tend to compress and it’s been putting a lot of pressure on my second and third toes… plus I keep losing that right big toenail. The spacers she had were different than the ones I tried previously. The ones I had before seemed bulky and didn’t do much. These I couldn’t even feel, but I could tell actually worked.

Then came the question: “How do you feel about Gaynors?” Eeeeeekkkk. Um. Gosh. Well, I don’t really know HOW I feel about Gaynors. I’ve heard the arguments on both sides and I can see validity to both points. My main beef is that I think they look horrendously ugly on most people I’ve seen who wear them. I will also concede, however, that part of the ugliness could very well be due to poor fit. The fitter told me that a lot of issues she sees are due to that exact problem.

Well, hey, it’s a fitting. I’ll try whatever is put in front of me. The only other time I tried Gaynors on was before I returned to pointe, so it would be good to try. So she brought out a pair, along with a couple other traditional shoes. We tried the Gaynors first and they are pretty comfortable (you know… for a pointe shoe). And I surprisingly liked the way the shank felt on my arch. They… well, they didn’t look bad. So they stayed in the running. I also tried a Suffolk which is a brand I’ve been wanting to try (and one that a few of our girls ended up with), but have had a hard time finding. I felt pretty good in those, too. I also tried a pair of Grishko 2007s, which I’ve worn before. This pair seemed to fit better than the ones I had, but didn’t particularly wow me, and the fact that I’d already had an iffy experience with them… nah. I’m trying to remember what, if any, other shoes I tried. Clearly they weren’t memorable, if they existed!

So, it boiled down to the Gaynor Mindens and the Suffolks. Katie preferred the Gaynors, both for looks and for durability, comfort, etc. And… I got them. This doesn’t mean I’m throwing in the towel on the Freeds (more to come on that in another post), but this is a shoe I’ve been intrigued by for quite some time and I’m looking forward to developing a more educated opinion of them. Stay tuned for updates on that front!

Okay, with shoes in hand… we did a little bit more exploring of Saratoga. Our time was limited so I didn’t get to poke in all the adorable shops, but we did find an adorable diner, a fabulous olive oil & balsamic vinegar store (dark chocolate balsamic condimento is the shiz-nit!!!), wandered to Congress Park and watched the kids ride the carousel and took pictures of the children, then got some fro-yo (soft-serve raspberry chocolate sorbet is ALSO the shiz-nit!!!).

With the clock ticking and one more stop to make, we ended our tour of town and loaded back in the car. We stopped at the National Dance Museum on the way out of town. At that hour I decided I’d be fine with just browsing their gift shop for a souvenir (I suppose pointe shoes would have been an adequate souvenir, but they don’t exactly scream “Saratoga!” and that’s what I was looking for!). I found a book on the history of dance in Saratoga and also got some cute baby legwarmers for a little friend of mine. My friend and her daughters and the other girls with us continued browsing while I went to powder my nose.

As I was coming back out my friend said that the gift shop lady said that due to the fact that the museum was closing relatively soon, she wouldn’t charge us if we wanted to go through the exhibits. How nice was that?! So we zipped through the Hall of Fame as well as a couple of the special exhibits going on. There were photos in the foyer from Dancers Among Us, which are trés cool. I think I might need to add that book to my wish list. They also had an En Pointe exhibit sponsored by various pointe shoe makers showing what goes into constructing pointe shoes, how dancers take care of their feet, etc. It was a quick visit, but glad we at least got to see a bit of it!

And then it was back on the road towards home. There was tons more I would have gladly done in Saratoga, but we managed to pack quite a lot in to 48 hours! This town really is a bit of a dancer’s paradise, so if you ever get the chance, check it out. I loved sharing this experience with some of my friends and hope to get back there again soon! There are many shops to be browsed, restaurants to be sampled, and, oh yeah, Sun King Adult Dance Camp!!!

NYCB Workout Review

I’m totally late to this party, but finally got the two discs of the New York City Ballet Workout from Netflix. I had been tempted to buy these from Amazon before, but I’ve gotten a fair number of “ballet-inspired” workouts in the past that left me anything but inspired, so I figured I’d rather give it a test run before I committed to buying it.

I’m still not sure whether I’ll add this to my collection, but the dancer in me likes these slightly more than the Bar Method, Tracy Anderson, or Ballet Beautiful. Maybe simply because these aren’t workouts to just make you look dancer-ish, but are supposedly based on real exercises that NYCBers do (or did… these were filmed over 10 years ago now!).

The two workouts are pretty similar: some warmups (think port de bras, pliés, slow balancés, etc.), core strengthening (abs, back, and push-ups), some floor barre, a bit of center barre (tendus, dégagés, grand battements, etc.), a bit of jumping.

I wouldn’t call it hard-core. I did work up a minor sweat, but I’ve got some kundalini yoga DVDs that leave me feeling far more drenched. However, I think it might be a worthwhile home DVD set for us dancers who might want to add a little something in on our days outside the studio. I especially liked the core strengthening and floor barre stuff. I’ve always wished I could take a floor barre class… the little bit I’ve experienced has given me a lot to think about in terms of how I approach exercises and which muscles I’m engaging. So I appreciated that. And it seemed to offer good cross-training to enhance what we do in class. Not a total substitute for ballet class and not a total substitute for a stretch and strengthen class, but close.

For the non-dancer, I don’t think the exercises here are so far out there that someone unfamiliar with ballet couldn’t pick it up after going through it a few times. There are some unfamiliar terms and they don’t go over the mechanics, but if someone was thinking of wanting to try ballet this might be a good way to practice a few things in the safety of the home before venturing into a studio. Nothing is too technically complex and a lot is done in parallel position. It might be frustrating the first couple times through, though. The filming, especially in the core and floor barre, used a lot of dark lighting so you couldn’t always see clearly what the dancers were demonstrating. And Peter Martins, though I love listening to his voice, does not explain things exactly as they’re happening.

The bonus materials were kind of fun on these… there were behind-the-scenes segments and interviews with the dancers featured in the workouts. If you’re a balletophile like me, you’re always curious to see what a day in the life is like. They are getting a bit dated now, though. The first one is copyrighted 2001, the second 2003, but still fun. Most of the dancers featured were in the corps de ballet at the time, so I’m curious to see how their careers ended up.

I wish there were more ballet workouts like this. It was more lively than some I’ve tried and definitely gave me the chance to work on some ballet-specific stuff in a space where I had time to really think about my turnout, abs, etc. I may add this to my collection, but even if I don’t it’s given me some ideas for things I can work on outside the studio.

Out of alignment

The topic of today’s post is only peripherally dance-related.

To segue into it, I’ll mention a thread I ran across in one of the adult ballet student forums on BT4D. An adult beginner was asking if she (and other ballet dancers who started as adults) were doomed to look “amateurish” forever. Which sparked some ever-helpful, “Well, honey, there’s a reason why the pros are pros and the non-pros are… not” along with a fair sprinkling of, “Give it time.”

But I understood what the poster was getting at… the presentation. There are those people (not necessarily pros) who manage to coordinate everything with the music and look stunning. And then there are those who study for years upon years and only persist in looking awkward.

Some commenters on the thread started bringing up how so much of presentation is phrasing and port de bras and epaulment which was accompanied by a good railing on teachers who do not teach enough of this stuff in adult classes.

Basically, the overarching theme of this part of the thread was how much of “looking like a dancer” boils down to what you’re doing with your upper body. You can have killer arches, extensions to the top of Mt. Everest, and be able to whip out 32 fouettés like it ain’t no thang, but if you don’t sell the dance with your arms and your face then it’s just gymnastics. Similarly, your feet can go entirely wrong, but if your upper body is dancing people don’t notice the foibles so much (I’m majorly paraphrasing here).

And I wholly agree with this. I’ve really been concentrating on trying to dance every class. You know, practicing the tilt of the head at the barre, selling my tombé-pas-de-bourrées to whoever might be watching, etc. For the most part I feel pretty good about that stuff. It’s the thing a bit farther north that sometimes trips me up.

The face.

Now I could write a whole post about appropriate facial expressions based on stuff I’ve seen over the years, but my focus here is on the expression of joy: the good old Smile.

Smiling has long been challenging for me. It’s not that I’m unhappy, I just don’t feel the need to smile unless there’s a good reason to. Case in point… first grade school picture. Captured me with my mouth slightly open looking sort of dazed, sort of pissed off, sort of bemused. I still distinctly remember the situation. The photographer had tried the typical 6-year-old stuff on me, asking me to say something silly to get me to smile. Specifically: “Say, ‘Miss Piggy!’” To which I replied, “No.” I wasn’t trying to be snarky, I just thought it was an odd demand. We weren’t talking about Miss Piggy; why should I just randomly say her name… it was embarassing and I couldn’t believe he would make such a ridiculous request.

That was me.

I had my silly moments, but smiling for the sake of smiling was kind of lost on me.

Imagine my horror when, at age 8, I made my big stage debut in my very first dance recital. Teachers, backstage parents, other students all eagerly said, “Don’t forget to smile!” But… why? I had to remember the steps (especially seeing as most of my classmates weren’t likely to), which required Concentration and thus I had to be Serious. What is this smiling nonsense?

I did eventually grow up enough to realize there are occasions one must channel some joy (which may or may not be actually present) for the sake of appearances whether in photos or onstage or meeting a potential future boss or whatnot.

But while I figured this out I stumbled across another issue… adult teeth. In a not-particularly-large jaw.

It’s true. I’m a bit of a snaggle-tooth.

Nothing grave. Children don’t run screaming when I smile at them. I’ve had dates (and relationships). My friends tell me they don’t notice the crookedness, or they’ll tell me that they think it’s cute and gives me character (which, on good days, I don’t entirely disagree with).

But for around two decades it’s bothered me to some degree. Any time someone wants to get pictures it’s on my mind. I try to turn so that the camera will capture my “good side” and give either the closed-lip smile or bear minimal teeth. Candids are my nemesis.

Since resuming dance a couple years ago and doing performances that’s brought another aspect to my smile reticence. I need to smile on stage for a lot of my pieces. But I can’t help but feel shy, not knowing how much of the crookedness is showing.

Now one side of me says, jeez, Rori, no one cares. Let it go. But the other side says, hey, if it bothers you, fix it! I’m reaching the point of saying: it’s time.

My goal isn’t to conform to society’s arbitrary vision of beauty; I’m just tired of expending excessive mental energy worrying about my mouth. I want to smile when I feel like smiling and not feel self-conscious about it. I want to look at photos of me and focus on what’s going on in the picture rather than how much tooth is showing.

There’s a lot of stuff I can’t correct. But slightly crowded teeth… that’s pretty easy.

So earlier this week I trotted off to chat to one of the dentists in the office I go to. Her assistant talked to me for a bit and is going through treatment herself, which somehow made me feel more comfortable. Then the dentist herself came in and took a look-see. She assured me I could keep all my teeth (one of my pre-reqs… I had the wisdom teeth extracted a few years ago and those were the only chompers I was willing to part with) and said that mine was actually a very straightforward case. Which I kind of figured, but was good to hear. She estimated 8-10 months in treatment aligners, 6 months of wearing a retainer full-time, and a few years of wearing retainers to bed (or possibly getting a permanent retainer installed… not sure how I feel about that). The cost was higher than I would like (okay, anything higher than “free” is higher than I would like), but was in the range I expected.

I fully acknowledge that this is an issue of vanity. My oral health is not really impacted (though I do have a crack in my front tooth that overlaps from whacking it with the mouthpiece of my French horn one too many times). And hell, if we’re talking about vanity, I just saw something a couple weeks ago about a new trend in Japan where girls are having veneers put on their canines to create an illusion of crookedness because it’s “cute.” So who knows, maybe if I just hung on for a few more years my current grin would put me at the height of fashion.

I haven’t 100% decided yet, but I’m strongly leaning towards getting the aligners. It would be nice to put this issue to rest and not spend such a ridiculous amount of energy thinking about my damned teeth. Oh, and the dentist told me that she’s having a special day at the beginning of May, and if I start treatment that day (which I think means getting the dreaded impressions and photos and such) she knocks $500 off the cost and throws in a free whitening treatment. So… that might be enough to get me to commit. Though if I have to wait that long anyway I think I’ll go get a second opinion (and cost estimate) from a local, highly-experienced orthodontist.

We shall see. I’m not looking to turn this into an orthodontic blog (hence the reason I didn’t put the name of the treatment anywhere in this post), but it was something I wanted to discuss… especially since dance has played a role in pushing me over the edge of apathy to actually do something about this. If anyone happens to have experience with this topic and they want to share I’d be happy to hear them!

Dance-olutions 2013

Intention has been set for 2013! Let’s see how the universe pulls through on this one. It’s done remarkably well on those I set in 2011 and 2012 and hopefully will keep sending fuel for those, as well!

Last year’s intention to reverse my career’s downward spiral worked fabulously. With a bit of patience I landed in a great workplace. I’m in a department full of fun people who have been incredibly welcoming, managed by a boss who gives a great balance of autonomy and support, working with people in other parts of the organization who challenge me (in good ways) and seem genuinely appreciative of my work. I’d love to eventually explore other options in the organization, but for now I’m happy to see where the coming year takes me in my existing job… it promises to bring some interesting learning opportunities! Hurrah!

And of course my original intention I set once I decided resolutions were for the birds was that of getting more dance in my life and I am still reaping the rewards of that one, hopefully to continue in 2013.

Of course, intentions are helped by action, and I’ve been thinking about what actions I want to take to keep my dancing life vibrant. No matter how much one loves dance, after a while it can begin to feel a bit stagnant. I’ve been suffering from that feeling lately and I need to shake things up a bit in order to progress and keep it fun!

Number one on the list — cross training

Since I returned to ballet a little over two years ago I’ve really not done anything non-dance related in terms of exercise. I’ve considered the hip-hop and lyrical classes as my “cross-training” which counts in some ways (it’s certainly a different type of movement and engages other muscles). I guess I kind of decided that if I wanted to get better at ballet, the best thing to do was more ballet. And I made progress. But I’ve hit a plateau and realize I might need to do some work outside the studio in order to build the strength and flexibility I desire.

Over the holiday break boredom prompted me to dig out some of my dusty kundalini yoga DVDs. The after-effects were different than those I felt with dance. My abs were sore in different places, I felt it in my shoulders and back, and even the inner thighs. I felt more centered and balanced and thought, gee, I wonder if making this a more regular part of my routine might actually help with some of the things I’ve been struggling with in ballet… finding my core in turns, improving flexibility in my hips and getting a better turnout range, building the strength to extend higher.

Similarly, I’d be interested to see what other cross-training I could add in to my schedule. I’ve taken basic pilates before… a little TOO basic… but I liked it nonetheless and would love to get some of that into my schedule. I’ve heard of gyrotonics and would love to try that. Et cetera. I’m going to keep my eyes open to see if there are any classes I might be able to take either through the little gym at work or the local Y or whatnot.

Along with non-dance classes, I’m resolving to take more dance classes… elsewhere. This is kind of a tough one, because there’s a part of you that feels going somewhere else is like cheating on your spouse. Let’s face it, you’re pretty much looking to see if there is greener grass in some other studio. But realistically, just as your strength and flexibility plateaus at some point, your learning curve plateaus, as well. For the first year or so back to ballet I was relearning so much of what I had known previously, digging knowledge out of the recesses of my brain and convincing my body to do it. Then the year after that was focusing on improvement of that stuff. And there’s still plenty of improvement that can be made. But you begin to learn the patterns of the instructors and sometimes… I hate to say it… you begin to zone out. Everything becomes routine and you start to coast. Sometimes a little bad attitude starts to creep in. Sometimes you just don’t feel excited at the prospect of going to class.

And that’s when you need to shake it up a little.

The other part of this ties back to the whole job thing above. I’m no longer marooned in no-man’s-land… 4 or 5 days a week I’m commuting to this place that has tons of options for adult dance students. I’ve been saying since I started this job that “one of these days” I’m going to take advantage of my proximity to these studios. But day in and day out I find some reason not to. Fancy-pants ballet school’s classes are “too late.” Others are the next town over and it seems like such a hassle to have to switch trains or (gasp!) take a bus. Basically it’s just a combination of laziness and the fear of trying something new. Which is dumb. No more dumb. I don’t have to commit to being a regular student at any of these places, but maybe I’ll set a goal of a class a month somewhere other than my own studio and see where that takes me.

So that’s my 2013 dance plan. Nothing crazy or revolutionary, but hopefully enough to keep me feeling inspired.

Would love to read what your dance plans are for the year… and if you didn’t happen to see it, check out my New Year’s giveaway!

New Year, New You Giveaway!!!!

Welcome to 2013, all! Hope you had fabulous celebrations, took time to count the blessings that came your way in 2012, and are looking forward to the adventures the new year will bring.

New post likely to come regarding my own dance plans for the year, but before I get into the mememememe, how about something for youyouyouyouyou!?

I’ve got a couple prizes for people looking to make some positive changes in the new year!

First up is a copy of The Pointe Book by Janice Barringer and Sarah Schlesinger. I just discovered a 3rd edition of this book was published recently and the one I’m giving away (alas!) is the 2nd edition, but while some of the info about specific pointe shoe brands/models is a bit dated, this book is still chock-full of great info for anyone hoping to be en pointe in the new year or beyond — history of pointe, anatomy of a shoe, care and keeping of shoes, injury prevention, and more!

The Pointe Book

Then we’ve got two DVDs from The Bar Method — Beginner’s Workout and Dancer’s Body Advanced Workout. If you’re not familiar with barre-based workouts, or the Bar Method in particular, it’s a form of exercise that focuses on isometric movements, basically tiny movements that make a big difference in muscle structure. It’s based on the Lotte Berk method (Lotte Berk was a former dancer who came up with exercises to recover from an injury) and incorporates pilates and yoga. I found out about them probably 10 years ago and found that the DVDs really do make a huge and quick difference in the shape of your body. You do NOT need a barre to do the exercises; a tall chair or counter-top works just fine. The only other things you may need are things you likely have in the house already: a mat (a carpeted surface is sufficient), a strap (yoga strap is great, but bathrobe belts or towels work, too!), and light free-weights (or canned food!).

Bar Method DVDs

The DVDs can come as a set or individually (if you happen to only be interested in one of them!). Oh, and unlike my last giveaway, these discs claim to be compatible with all DVD players and don’t list a region, so I assume you can view them wherever you are in the world… fingers crossed.

To enter, please leave me a comment (be sure you’re logged in so that I can access your e-mail address from your profile!) with the following:

1. Which prize(s) are you interested in?
2. What was the highlight of 2012 in your dance world (can be a personal achievement or a performance you saw or something you read or… anything!)?
3. What are you hoping to achieve dancer-wise in 2013 (again, can be personal or not, whatever you want!)?

I’ll keep the giveaway open until the Sunday, January 13th, and will select the winners at that time.

Good luck to all and best wishes for a happy, healthy, well-balanced, flexible, joyful, and strong 2013!

Exciting News from the Sick Bed

Ughhh…

While the Nutcracker crud stayed mild enough for me to get through our final show, it did not hold back its wrath afterwards.

I’m now three days into an unintended sick leave from work. Monday the relentless runny nose kicked in along with the violent sneezing. I would take long naps and feel okay, but as soon as I got up it’s as if someone turned on a faucet in my head.

To add insult to injury, I made myself a nice hot bowl of oatmeal Monday morning only to find out that my milk had gone chunky (which I discovered only after dousing my oatmeal in it). If I wasn’t feeling great beforehand, that certainly didn’t help! Gag. And… no oatmeal. Or milk for my tea. Whine, cry.

Tuesday morning I awoke convinced that, while I was sleeping, a small army of elves entered my room and bashed my face with a bunch of tiny sledgehammers. My teeth hurt. My forehead hurt. My ears hurt.

I briefly considered throwing a tantrum, but when your only audience is a couple of unsympathetic cats, there’s really no benefit.

So instead I zoned out on the couch watching Sesame Street and similar programs. Eventually dragged myself to the grocery store to buy fresh milk and OJ and zinc lozenges (don’t take the zinc with the OJ, btw!) and boxed macaroni and cheese and lotiony tissues. The typical sickie shopping cart contents.

Probably a bit late in the game to try the zinc thing, but I’ll give it a go anyway.

This morning I awoke thinking, aha, the faucet has stopped, I am better! The thermometer said, “How ’bout a low-grade fever?” Screw you, stupid thermometer. At this point I’m so bored I’m actually working from home because I need something to do other than sleep.

Anyway, the subject of this post was that there was exciting news in the midst of all this germiness!

While I was bumbling around the house on Monday trying to figure out what I could eat from my Mother Hubbard’s cupboards I heard a thunk at the front door. I opened the door to find a box which, when opened, revealed this:

Custom Freeds in box

My custom Freed order! Eek!

I placed the order back in October sometime. Nothing major, mostly just stocks with the sides cut down, elastic drawstring, extra piece over the tip (hopefully will make the platform last longer?), light paste on the wings.

I wasn’t really in a mood to wear pointe shoes, but I did slip them on for a minute. I’m not sure if I like how much the sides are cut down… it’s supposed to make the foot look nicer, but I don’t think it does anything for mine. Then again, it’s hard to judge without the elastics and ribbons and without breaking the shank in, so we shall see.

But, dear reader, it is so exciting to get a pair of shoes that you know were made just for you!!! I had to take a picture of the sole… my thumb is covering my last name. My name! On my shoes!

Freed Custom - Sole

So thrilling! Can’t wait to give these shoes a try and see how they work for me! I’ll be updating for sure.

In the meantime, wishing all of my readers good health!