A Wild Wrap-up

Well, I wouldn’t call it a swan song, but my run as a swan has come to its natural end.

Oh sigh…

It was a tremendous experience, though. Perhaps one of my favorite performances ever.

Let’s rewind.

We had our studio dress rehearsal on Sunday.

Then rehearsal for the swan pieces on Tuesday. In the midst of all the clarifying, cleaning, and running-through, our dancers were also getting final costume fittings from our dedicated costume volunteers who were dutifully tacking glittery tulle on the tutus and stitching the basques to the waists of the tutus. It was rather a stressful time, honestly. People worried that the costumes might not get done, or that the final alterations wouldn’t result in a workable result. Seeing as my sewing skills top out at sewing elastics and ribbons on to my pointe shoes, all I could really offer were crossed fingers and good wishes.

Then Wednesday and our dress rehearsal in the theatre. I skipped out of work early so I could be home in time to bun up my hair and turn my make-up into something stageworthy. Threw on my tights and nude camisole leotard and headed to the theatre. It’s part of a large high school in the area, but the theatre is glorious with lovely big dressing rooms and a green room, a huge loading dock off the back and a giant overhead door leading to the stage from the hallway opposite the loading dock. This theatre was clearly designed for performing! But we had never performed there before, so it was all a brand-new and, thus, slightly scary world!

While the people backstage figured out the lighting cues and props, the backdrops and curtains and special effects, the dancers figured out their quick costume changes. Let’s face it, dress rehearsal is pretty much just loosely organized chaos!

And then came our turn on stage. First as swans. The fog blew in from the fog machine and we stood on our trembling (at least in my case!) swan legs. We figured out wing entrances and exits and backstage crossings. And discovered that the unmarleyed parts of the floor are scary slippery. Whoops! But hey, better to figure this out before the show! Then on to Ladies in Waiting where we danced with our knights and the princesses and the king and the other king and, towards the end, the tiny little flower girls.

Run-through done we poured out of the theatre. Got to have some post-rehearsal snacks with some of my fellow dancers on the way home.

Then the day of performance number one dawned. It was bea-UT-i-ful. Clear blue, cloudless sky, no humidity. Simply gorgeous. I worked from home that day, but spent most of it giddily checking the clock until it was time to shower and bun up my hair and do my formal performance make-up. Then I headed to the theater in advance of call time to set my spot backstage and relax a bit. It helps that this particular theater is a mere 10 minutes from my house!

We got ready for warm-up class at which point we discovered that this theatre actually has a dance studio in it! Not the greatest studio ever, but beats dancing in the seats! Had a good warm up and got a pep talk from the director, then it was off to put on pointe shoes and costumes and get ready for our show!

So… the first performance of the first production of a show in a new space is always a bit hairy and this was no different. We had a few mis-steps. Lighting and music cues gone awry. And a few brain farts on the part of the dancers. These can be maddening, but they happen and all you can do is roll with it. So we did. And even with the hairy moments I will say that the show blew me away. The details. The dancing. The theatre. It all came together gorgeously. And was over far too soon.

After the show was over I changed quickly backstage and went out front to look for familiar faces (parents, dance teachers, etc.). I heard an unfamiliar voice yell out, “Rori!” and turned to see a friend from MANY moons ago. I knew her from high school, though we didn’t go to the same school… we both played brass instruments and had met through various band events. She had seen my post on Facebook and brought her daughter and a friend of hers to see it! She doesn’t even live in the immediate area! What an amazing and wonderful surprise!

Next morning I set the alarm early for we had a 10am show… on a Friday morning. Yeah, kind of a weird show time, but I think they were trying to capture the summer camp and elder groups. Oh, and it also happened to be… the day I turned 35. I am a 35-year-old swan. Okay, THAT has to be worthy of some sort of accolade, yes?

I treated myself to a trip through the donut chain drive thru down the hill from my house (where another dancer friend was pulling in as I was exiting!) for some eggy/cheesy goodness and went back to the theatre. Settled in, warm-up class, tutu/pointes… you know the deal.

This show went about a thousand times better than the previous evening’s. I mean, the music and lighting cues were mostly on. There were no mass brain farts on the part of the dancers. I figured out how to quickly wiggle my ass in and out of my Very Tiny Tutu. Basically, a glorious final (birthday!) show.

Topped off by going out to the audience to meet up with my parents and brother’s family who had so graciously come to see me dance and take me out for a noon-time margarita and ice cream (there may have been an actual lunch entree in there somewhere, but the margarita and the sundae were the important parts). While we were at the restaurant some other members of the Swan/Ladies family arrived, so I got to spend some time with them, too. (I don’t know about you, but after a show I always feel the need to sit down with my fellow performers and rehash everything!)

The best part of this show, for me, was the feeling of triumph. For whatever reason my last dance company performance (last year’s Nut) left me in a funk. It wasn’t a bad show, but I felt bad. I didn’t meet my own expectations and I was frustrated. While the subsequent recital went fine, I don’t take that as seriously as the company stuff, so it didn’t do much to make me feel better. For whatever reason, my swan performance made me feel like a competent dancer once more. I made my share of mistakes, I can’t deny that, but I enjoyed the dancing. I felt like a swan. I felt beautiful. So from that standpoint… win!

Not a bad way to kick off the next year of my life, I’d say!

Giveaway winners

Apologies for being so slacker-tastic in posting the giveaway winners! The randomly-selected winners are…

[drumroll, please!] 

Purple Magnolia who has won The Pointe Book

and

Sandra who has won The Bar Method DVDs

Congrats to the winners and thanks to everyone who entered (I always love seeing new “faces” on the blog!).

Hope 2013 has been off to a tremendous start for all of you! Stay tuned for future goodies and giveaways!

When you care enough to send the very best…

When I saw the topic for November’s Circle Time over at Dance Advantage — Best Dance Gift EVER — I scanned my memory seeking some piece of dance bric-a-brac that might have meant… something?

Found nothing.

But, of course, the most meaningful gifts rarely come in a box stamped: “Made in China.” No. The most meaningful gifts are the words, thoughts, and experiences shared with those we love.

And then, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was 15, nearing the end of my sophomore year of high school. I had studied ballet with a lovely British woman named Patsy for the previous two years. She dyed her silver hair a vibrant auburn, she wore long dance skirts in class, and loved the color purple. She had danced in Boston in her younger years (based on the timing she would have been there before Boston Ballet’s inception, so I’m not sure where exactly she danced… drat me for having been an unworldly teenager who didn’t think to retain this information!). She didn’t put up with nonsense, yet she was kind and generous, creative and passionate, and served to fuel my love for ballet in a geographic area that otherwise didn’t pay it much never-mind.

I’m not sure if I was aware of this, but she was planning to cease teaching our ballet classes at the end of the school year. This may explain the timing, something that otherwise would have been expected at graduation or some such. She came by my house one day (I might be wrong on this detail, but I do know it was something given in private) and gave me an envelope. It contained a card and a pendant on a silver chain. The pendant was beautiful, but the true gift, and the part that stuck with me all these years, was the story behind it and the rest of the words in the card (written in purple ink on a Degas notecard).

Patsy's gift

I am hesitant about posting the entire contents of the letter — it is a personal exchange and the words are not my own — and yet I can find no way to summarize the contents in a way that accurately captures the meaning or that doesn’t come across as self-aggrandizing, so here goes:

Dear Rori:

You and H—– are my most faithful and responsive students. So, as we come to the end of another year and another recital, I wish to give you something that’s been meaningful to me in my “dance life.”

This little pendant was given to me (34 years ago), by a wonderful group of Boston community dance students with whom I worked for 3 years (in those days, we were all so poor). Since 1960, I have worn the pendant a lot + always treasured it.

I’ve always thought that when we dance, unlike other forms of expression, we are using our bodies to interpret life in its many facets — not an easy thing to do, as every ballet student knows– I have always noticed that there is a marvellous discipline about the way you learn, but most of all there is a great sparkle and joy about the way you move and dance.

So, like your dancing, I wish your life may always sparkle with joy.

With great affection,
Patsy

The letter was concise, contained neatly on the inside of the notecard, and yet it spoke volumes… about respect and tradition, our mission as dancers, and what we each bring to the art. I have reread it many times over the years and it still serves to inspire me. Along with it she entrusted me with a token of her past and that of her students to carry forward, a baton in the grand relay of life.

As a postscript, though she did give up teaching all of us except “H—–” for a time, the lamentations of the rest of us must have gotten back to her. She ended up resuming her ballet classes later the following year and choreographed my senior piece for the recital. I think she retired for good shortly thereafter.

And as a post-postscript, when I originally drafted this post I thought to myself how sad I was to have lost touch over the years with my dear teacher. I ran into her occasionally when I was in college, but the last time I had any communication with her was well over ten years ago. I knew that she would have to be in her 80s by now (with the attendant thoughts about morbidity and mortality)… I did a bit of quick sleuthing and found that the old address still seemed to be good, so before I could give it a second thought I dashed off a letter and popped it in the mail not sure what (if anything) to expect in return. Imagine my delight when a week or so later I arrived home from rehearsal to find an envelope in my mailbox with that familiar handwriting on it! Even more delighted to learn that my senior picture is still on display in her house and her love for ballet lives on. She suggested getting together to go see a ballet together in the spring and I do hope that we can arrange it. I have so many questions I want to ask and I want to just sit and absorb…

And when I do, I will wear her pendant.

Ballet dreamin’

More of a nightmare, actually…

Made the mistake I always make of going back to sleep after getting up to feed the cats this morning. Why is this a mistake? Because invariably I start having really weird dreams when I go back to sleep. Today was no different.

In the dream ballet classes had started up again. Woohoo!

And I was taking class with my favorite teacher. Woohoo!

Except… class was taking place on the sidewalk on a road that went up a very steep hill (there is a fairly steep hill that I drive down to get to the studio, so maybe that’s where I came up with this part of the dream?).

So, taking class outside on a sidewalk with cars zooming by is weird enough.

But on top of that I couldn’t hold the turnout in my back leg in 4th or 5th to save my life. The teacher kept calling me out on it and I tried to explain that I couldn’t maintain turnout without fear of falling and rolling down the hill. But I tried. I kept trying to keep the back leg turned out. And then I’d look back at it and it was parallel once again.

What??? does this even mean?!!?! Bizarre.

We don’t need no stinkin’ barre!

Happy belated Valentine’s Day to all you celebrators out there. Me, I’m not such a fan, but a couple friends and I decided to have an anti-holiday gathering… we wore black and headed out for drinks and yums at an Asian fusion restaurant. Male friend even found some black silk roses at a gas station to gift to his three female un-Valentines.

Probably the best V day I ever had… definitely beats first grade when I developed a horrible ear ache during school and my mom had to come pick me up right before we had our class party (she had been baking a V-day cake while I was in school, though, which went a long way in taking the sting out of that injustice).

Our anti-Valentine’s celebration meant no ballet or hip-hop, though. Some things take priority, what can I say? But I felt that I should compensate somehow, so the night before I stopped at the studio on the way home from work to take a ballet class with the teens. I knew I should have been nervous when I saw the teacher moving the portable barres to the side at the beginning of class after the beginners pointe class let out. Taking the barres… away? What can this mean?

It means… center barre. Horrors. The teacher said that the adults who were in there could use the barre, but the children needed to be hands free. I decided to see how long I could keep up with the kiddos. I did fairly well, only snuck back to the barre for part of adagio. But that’s not to say that any of it was easy. Nope, not at all. It’s kind of sad how extensions practically vanish without the benefit of something to rest your hand on. And how quickly you become a wobble-monster. And the feet… oh, my aching feet. They were so sore. Why? No idea, but that’s where I felt it the most.

I can’t say it was an ego-boosting class. Most of those good-for-you classes aren’t, I’ve noticed. But a reality check isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And on the plus side… I mostly kept up with those whipper-snappers!

Burn, baby, burn

So the other evening I was trying to find ways to avoid balancing my checkbook. I’m proud to say that I was successful! Er… perhaps “proud” is not the word I’m looking for.

Anyway, after feverishly moving around the living room furniture in a maniacal vacuum session and unearthing scores of lost cat toys in the process (kitty heaven!) I still had some time to kill, so decided to do some barre work in the kitchen: the very first lesson in 100 Lessons in Classical Ballet. The lesson I based my own first classes on during my brief, but beloved, teaching stint.

Admittedly my kitchen doesn’t make the best ballet studio in the world. It’s one of those typical galley-style kitchens where there’s no room to swing a cat (much to the relief of my two girls), but Year 1, Lesson 1 doesn’t require a ton of room, really. Mostly demi-pliés, lots of tendus, nearly all exercises facing the barre (or the counter top in my case). Except for smacking my feet on the underside of the cabinets during tendu devant it worked well enough.

Holy shniekies! I was feelin’ it the next day, I’mma tella you! See, that first lesson starts everything off at a snail’s pace. The demi-pliés are the interminable kind where you really have to move like honey to make the movement take up all the time or you’ll end up hanging out at the top or bottom for what seems like an eternity. And battements tendus! Four counts to open, four to close. I would be lying if I said that my inner thighs, feet, and tush weren’t feeling the burn. Then the port de bras exercise. Again, very slow rise from preparatory to first and back, preparatory to first then third (aka fifth) and back, and so on. I could feel it right in the center of my back. Which is good. That’s where I should feel it.

Had class the next day, then repeated the kitchen lesson the day after that. The next night in ballet and pointe I felt stronger, somehow. I didn’t feel as exhausted at the end of class. I felt more confident in pointe class. Coincidence? Who knows?

But man oh man, I might have to make a habit of this. It’s boring as heck, but such a good workout. Gives you the time to focus on all of the elements. Turnout. Not leaning into the standing hip. Articulating the feet. In class it seems like so much of what we do is a brain workout as much as a body workout. A good workout nonetheless, but it felt good to revisit the basics and consider each of the moves in their pure state.

I’ve mostly avoided home practice since I don’t have a good space for it, but I’m wondering if doing a 45-minute barre on my off days mightn’t be a bad idea. Build up some strength and make my class days all the more productive. Hm. At the very least, the delicious ache the next day is invigorating (you know, just the right kind of ache where you can tell that you put in some work, not the limping, groaning kind of ache!).

Oh, and… I miss teaching.

A Gargawho?

So my Saturday morning class is a combination of adults and the two highest levels of the children’s classes. Which generally means that it’s a bit more challenging… they expect more of the children than us oldsters ;) That’s — of course — part of the reason I particularly enjoy that class, even though it’s usually a bit crowded.

This Saturday, during allegro we did what can best be described as a half of a gargouillade. There were a lot of giggles about the name… “A what? Oh, I thought you had a hairball!” Not nearly as many giggles as when we attempted it… “Ah, now I see why it has such an ugly name!” I guess the full-out gargouillade is defined differently depending on the school, but according to Gretchen Ward Warren it’s basically (ha! basically!) a jump where you do a double rond de jambe en l’air on one side followed by a double on the other side. She also says it’s a virtuoso movement… clearly. Because what we did mostly looked spastic and that wasn’t even the full thing! In our combination we just did a jump from fifth with a rond de jambe en l’air on one side, then pas de bourréed out of it. I barely had time to do a single rond de jambe and trying to coordinate it with the jumping… yowza.

Then during grand allegro we were supposed to end our combination with a Kitri jump. Er… a who? I mean, I’ve heard of it but really had no idea how to execute it. When I looked it up just now it’s basically just a fancy sissonne from an assemblé preparation. I wish someone had told me that then! I can do a sissonne! I guess the front leg is straight and the back leg goes into attitude and I think you’re supposed to cambré back while you do it. Kinda looks like a weird cheerleader jump. I fumbled that one… didn’t help that I ran out of room by the time that part of the combination so I did a half-hearted little sauté.

Funny, though… as demoralizing as those jumps were I loved learning them. It’s always nice to try something new and different. Might not look pretty, but every so often you stumble on some weird capability you never had. Then you can bust out your inner Stuart Larkin and run around saying: “Look what I can do!” Or… you can at least have a good laugh at your own (and your classmates’) expense.

Aw, nuts!

I did it, folks. I survived performing in my very first Nutcracker. Better late than never, I say!

What a long weekend. I was smart enough to take the Friday and Monday off from work to get ready & recoup respectively.

Dress rehearsal was appropriately abominable. I’ve heard that’s good luck. Or is it that a good dress rehearsal is bad luck? Regardless, yeah, it was bad. Particularly Snow. That piece marked the first time I’ve performed on stage en pointe in over 15 years. And the first time I’ve ever performed on stage in an active (albeit fake) snowstorm. Ter.Ri.Fy.Ing. My brain went on strike on top of it all, I felt disoriented and completely missed one of my entrances, the entire corps ended up in the wrong place at the end of the piece. It was a hot mess. As was I afterwards. There may or may not have been some tears on my part accompanied by fear that the director was going to come find me and throw me out on my ear (really, no one did well on this run, but I wasn’t feeling entirely rational at that moment). The rest of it went okay, but it was a stressful evening nonetheless.

Saturday morning it was off to the theater for warm up class. I love warm up class. There we are on the stage using chairs with backs that are far too short as barres, the lighting is dim, there are no mirrors and everyone is bundled up in 15 layers to fight off the cold. We are pliéing away to some random, non-ballet music (I think there may have been some Elvis) and for whatever reason it feels awfully zen and terribly professional. Invariably there are a few younger children who haven’t reached the level to participate in warm-up class yet who are scattered throughout the audience watching (and often jumping in line when we do grand allegro). It’s nice. The warm up class was cut short so we flakes could run through our piece one more time to get our timing and places right. Thankfully it went much better this time around and put us in a better frame of mind for the real show.

1pm, curtain’s up. Save for the few flakes who are also cast in the party scene, the rest of us are hanging out waiting, listening to the audio blaring over the speakers to judge when we need to start getting ready. If you looked in you’d see a room full of people in various layers of sweatpants and hoodies with fake eyelashes, crazy eye makeup, and tiaras. Quite the fashion statement. Gradually the tape and toe pads come out. Some people even go so far as to put on their pointe shoes. The music indicates that the party scene is winding down and we start to get our costumes off the rack and help one another get hooked in. Bobby pins are refastened, tulle is straightened, pointe shoe ribbons are hairsprayed and about midway through the battle scene we make our way upstairs to the stage. We crowd around the rosin box dipping toes in and grabbing pinches of rosin to rub on the heels of our tights. The last piece of cheese has been thrown, the soldiers have fired the cannon, and the mouse king is dead. The curtain closes behind Clara and the Nutcracker and while Drosselmeyer turns the Nutcracker into a prince frantic preparations take place behind the curtain. The tree is dropped and moved offstage, the backdrop is lowered and stagehands (and some snowflakes) quickly untie the strings on the forest backdrop and it is raised back up. In the span of a minute or two the stage has magically transformed from a living room into a snow-covered forest. The curtain opens and the snow queen and her cavalier are welcoming Clara and the prince to the forest and the flakes start to fall. Backstage there are 12 snowflakes trembling in their pointe shoes. After the snow pas de deux, it’s our turn to go flake about onstage. I won’t lie, the first show wasn’t great… I ended winded and exhausted, relieved to have it over with. But by the evening show and the following day’s matinee I finally started to find some joy in it. You start to feel the magic… and realize that you’re living the dreams of many a younger (and even older) student whose hopes and dreams are pinned on one day being able to perform as a snowflake. I didn’t have a single show where I “nailed it” but, then again, I don’t think any of us did. But we made it through, no major errors, no snowflakes ended up sitting on their derrières in the middle of a snowdrift. I count that as a success!

Then it was off to get ready for the land of sweets. Off with the tiaras (and hopefully most of the snowflakes that clung to our shellacked noggins… I’m still finding flakes in my car, my dance bag, etc.). I replaced mine with a big blue jewel in the middle of my forehead. The romantic tutu from flakes is traded for a midriff-baring blue velvet top and blue harem pants. The pointe shoes (hallelujah!) are traded for soft slippers. After the Spanish hot chocolate dancers finish we’re on. The dance was probably the easiest (and the shortest) of my three, plus I didn’t have to paste on a big grin. Less stress for me! Other that the fact that my two Arabian children who were supposed to stand in front of me never seemed to end up in the right place until the final show, all went well there.

Then it’s off to switch out the blue jeweled headpiece for a flower in my bun and I’m back into a romantic tutu in pink. Run back upstairs and wait for the gingerbread cookies to finish up (so damned cute!) and back out onstage as a flower. Other than one section where I and two of my fellow dancers have to haul ass to get to our spots on time (and try to suppress our giggles while doing so) it went well. We did have one exploding dragonfly headpiece incident which led to beads on the stage which was terrifying for all of us, particularly knowing that our Dewdrop was heading out to do her fouette turns, but thankfully tragedy was avoided.

As is the way with these things, the shows seemed to get progressively better and by the time it starts to get fun and you want to do it a million more times it’s over. Ah well. An enjoyable experience overall. While I feel like Nut is way overdone and would love to see us put on a different kind of Christmas show (as a kid I danced with a studio that did The Little Matchgirl once… that was cool), it is nice to finally be able to say that I’ve performed in it. A rite of passage, of sorts.

I came, I saw (did), and I got the t-shirt. Literally. And now I enjoy the holiday break! And try to finish up Christmas prep!

What I’d Do With a Million Dollars

Money

Pay off all my debt.

Buy a nocturne blue Saab 9-3 Aero with a manual transmission.

Build a nice little home somewhere (something energy efficient with bells and whistles, but still relatively modest).

Fund a scholarship at my alma mater.

Give the rest away… ideally invest whatever's left wisely so it can grow and fund projects I deem worthy and for me to give to those who need a random act of kindness.

Actually, this is just what I plan to do anyway… but if someone handed me a million dollars tomorrow that would greatly accelerate the process! Oh, and it would also have me heading to the Cadillac dealership to get my dad a CTS-V. Mom, any requests? Perhaps a craft workshop? ;)

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