Saturday, November 30, 2019

Blog 37
A peculiar week. I only could go to class on Monday evening. On Thursday, I had to attend a happening at my work, one of my colleagues celebrated his 40th jubilee.
In the Monday lesson, Lyda talked about an article she had read about stretching in Dance Informa, Australian Edition (DanceInforma.com). A study at The Australian Ballet delivered some surprising results as to what works in stretching and what is actually damaging to the body and increasing the risk of injury. Muscles shouldn’t be passively stretched, that’s what the article says. I’m interested to know how Lisa Howell thinks about this. Maybe I’ll look into this another time.
Lyda started with a new series of exercises. One of them is développé. That means trembling muscles, perspiration running down my cheeks. I described this experience as “the walls of Jericho came tumbling down” in one of my earlier blogs, number 13.
To understand and practice the développé, I did some research. And I found some answers in the book “Ballet beyond tradition.” It is one of my favorite books about ballet, written by Anna Paskevska, former ballet teacher and scholar at the faculty of The Chicago Academy for the Arts and Columbia College. She died at the age of 69 in 2007. You can find more specifics on her on tallskinny.com. She manages to precisely describe and motivate the movements in ballet. She thinks, analyzes, and explains, using words and examples that fit precisely into my kind of thinking. In a way, I feel fond of her. But stop, that’s weird. I’m growing sentimental about a person I’ve never met before. 
She helps me to pierce this intriguing exercise, the développé.
You don’t contract the leg muscles, specifically the quads when lifting the leg. That leads to the overdevelopment of the quads. By that, you overlook the role of the hip flexors. You have to maintain an elongated spine and an aligned pelvis to facilitate access to the iliopsoas and to enable it to utilize its function of lifting the leg. In a développé, all the muscles of the leg that need to be used will be engaged when the starting position of the body is correct; the muscles of the torso and deep muscles of the hip joint will support the motion. The movement’s action depends on the direction of the extension. To the front, once the leg has been lifted to a high retiré, the inner thigh and foot lead the motion outward to the full extension. The iliopsoas muscles carry the weight of the leg. To the side, the thigh is lifted further upward from the retiré position before the leg begins to unfold. To the back, the thigh again leads the unfolding, and the pelvis tilts forward in response.
You have to train the inner muscular strength to make these controlled, intentional movements possible. And here is the tantalizing thing: it takes time, a lot of time. 
Four times to the front, 4 times to the side, 4 times to the back. I felt torn.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Blog 36 Pas de Deux

A very inspiring and exciting ballet week!

It was cold last Monday. In-class exercises went slow and stiff. So Lyda told us to do a few warming up exercises. And it helped. Body temperature rises, joints become more smooth, and the muscles more flexible. In an earlier blog, I wrote about the importance of warming up. Usually, at home, I prepare by doing a few routine stretches. And while waiting in the dressing room at Bayadère, I continue to do this. And at the end of November, that’s not a luxury.

We had an interesting and motivating extra changement exercise. While in the center, Lyda asked us to take off our shoes and put one of them a few inches in front and the other a few inches at the back of our feet. Then she challenged us to do the changement 32 times on our bare feet, remaining in the confines of the shoes. This gives an extra dimension to the changement, and maybe you think I’m exaggerating a bit, but I love these kinds of exercises.

The Thursday lesson was one of a kind. Only Marion and I were in class, the rest of the students didn’t show up for various reasons. So Lyda decided to offer us an alternative lesson. With as she said, hard work for the calves and in the second half of the lesson a few basic techniques for the pas de deux. We eagerly chose for this special lesson.

First a half-hour of exercising the calves: plié to relevé on two feet, then on the right foot, then two feet and left foot then two feet, countless times in series from 8 to 16 movements.
Then from standing to the relevé, the same order of using the feet as mentioned before. And again in series of 8 to 16 movements. They were making fun out of me, fantasizing about the horrible calve cramps and stiffness I would get this weekend.
Well, to be honest, yesterday, Friday, I felt a bit of stiffness in my upper calves. But today that’s already gone. And I made a long run this morning, so I’m doing fine ladies.

Then it was time for the pas de deux. Marion put her hard blocked pointe shoes on. These are satin shoes with stiffened, reinforced toes, the tips of which are squared off to provide a small platform on which the dancer is able to balance.
I learned that it can be harmful to the Achilles tendon to tie the pointe ribbons at the back of the ankle. There is a small indentation just in back of the inside anklebone where the knot can be hidden under the ribbon; in this spot it is both comfortable and invisible Marion told me.
Only advanced dancers are advised to dance on pointe shoes.

The goal of the pas de deux was for her do to some pointe work, with me holding her in different positions.
We practiced some basic techniques. Marion stood in front of me, in plié in the 4th position, I behind her back, in the second position, a bit in plié, with my hands on her waist. Then she springs upward, straightening the knees, simultaneously drawing the toes across into a straight line front to back, aligned with the center of the body. And of course, me acting along with her to achieve harmony of movement. So my partner was sur la pointe, in balance, and now my task was to shift her to the right and to the left, her feet remaining on pointe on the floor. That’s when gravity comes in, and holding and supporting her becomes my task. With safety first! The aim was to develop mutual trust. But also to feel the effect of movement. I actively became aware of spatial dimensions and shifting weight in working together. And correct body positioning in relation to my partner. For me, it was a great way to make my next step into ballet. Marion uttered directions to me when on pointe. I felt honored to exercise these basics with her. Later on, we practiced the arabesque, Marion, in this position, while I rotated her. Thanks, Marion, for your trust! And Lyda for this opportunity to do some more advanced work.
It was a great lesson!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Blog 35 Jumps

Maybe a bit of a stupid confession, but I really thought pliés were meant for creating lenient muscles. To stretch and become more flexible. 
During lessons, though, I heard Lyda say quite regularly that many of the exercises we were doing were actual preparations for a wide range of jumps. So that’s not the point. I could have known.
But only after 1 ½ year has it become clear to me that a demi plié is a starting point for a jump. 

Well, let me look up what Agrippina Vaganova teaches about the elementals of jumping in ballet.
In a correct demi plié, the heels are not lifted from the floor. The main factor of the imparting force at the moment of leaving the floor is the heel. That is why it is essential to pay special attention to the correctness of the demi plié. 
The legs must be forcefully extended in the knees, arches, and toes at the moment of the jump. And after the jump, the feet must touch the floor first with the toe, then softly with the heel, and then lowered into demi plié.

When in jump, Lyda told us to “stay” in the air, hovering, so to speak. I learned that the word balloon is used to describe this.  Hovering in the air, you stay in a pose or position. 
For the development of the jump ending on both feet, the changement de pieds is the appropriate exercise. Every lesson we practice this elementary exercise. We stand in the 5th position, right foot front, in demi plié, push off from the floor, jump up, extending the toes and arching the feet. Then coming down, we change the feet; the left foot will be in the front.
The bigger the jump, the deeper de demi plié. And the arms must remain relaxed, from the shoulder to the hands, slightly curved.

I love the jumps. They ask every inch of you to remain composed yet energetic and are quite exhausting. I feel content after this explosion of force and would want to do this more often.
But that is my general remark on a lot of the exercises we perform. I would like to do them more often, in higher numbers. 

I was a member of two gyms, and the more spacious gym was the gym I departed from. Paying for two gyms and ballet amounts to quite a sum of money, so I had to make choices. I chose to keep the gym where I had the best lessons, and that was the smaller one. And of course, ballet is number one of my choices. 
But now I miss the spacious one, for that was the place where I could exercise my ballet moves and jumps. And that gym was open every day of the week. So now, I feel a bit incomplete. I can’t do my exercises the way I want on Saturdays and Sundays.
I know that I have to exercise more.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Blog 34

Lyda picked up a piece of chalk end drew the rectangle again on the floor. This time to introduce the effacé position. We already practiced en face, de dos, en profil, and croisé direction in the previous lesson. When standing in the croisé direction you can be in the croisé or the effacé position. The fundamental characteristic of croisé is the crossing of the legs. The effacé, in contrast, is with the legs open. It’s all about looking at the mirror to understand how the position looks.

Lyda made a game out of it, she uttered the name of the diverse positions, and we made the moves. To get accustomed to the positions. “En face croisé, de dos, en face effacé,” and so on. This went on for a few minutes.

In the Thursday lesson, Lyda put white tape on the floor of the studio, one stripe for each of us. And we started practicing the tendu, moving en avant, derrière, and à la seconde. Without the barre. These movements implicate holding the balance, and I liked this. Balance is a crucial dimension in ballet. So every day I practice at this, using common everyday movements. When I put my shoes on, I pick up a shoe from the floor, hold it in my hands, stand on one leg and elevate my other leg, putting the shoe on, first the left, then the right. Incorporate the ballet basis movements in your daily life is what Lyda advised us. That’s what I try to do. So when brushing my teeth, I do the demi plié, when picking something up from the floor I keep my legs straight and bend forward to pick the thing up.

We keep on moving up, I guess, doing more exercises in the center of the studio.

Lyda stimulates us to practice at home. Use the Santa Claus period of the year she exclaimed. Ask Santa for a few gifts, like a mirror, a short piece of stair railing, maybe you can hang a small length of stair railing on the wall, and voilà you have your own barre. And ask for tape to make a stripe on the floor.
The motto is: Build your own little ballet studio in one of your rooms at home. And practice. Every day.

We practiced the pas assemblé. It is one of the basic movements for the development of the jump. But it is fairly complicated too.
Stand in the 5th position, right foot front, demi plié, with a sliding movement draw the left leg to the side and with the toe of the extended foot reach the second position on the floor. Then with the right foot which has remained in plié push off the floor, extending the toes during the jump, left leg still in second position in the air, then both feet simultaneously, return to the 5th position in demi plié, left foot front. From this plié, the movement is repeated with the other leg.
The assemblé becomes a little bit more accepted in my system. But I have a long way ahead of me to make it a firm jump!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Blog 33

I am always doing things I can’t do, that’s how I get to do them.
Pablo Picasso

Happily, I recovered from my flu. Now Lyda had a cold and was sniffing all the time. Must be autumn, with the sudden temperature rises and falls, rainy weather and stormy times. I hope I won’t become sick again after this fresh start of ballet lessons this week.

The first lesson was on Monday. The class was full, and I started at the back end of the barre. Modest and ready for the lesson.  After our first movements at the barre, we moved to the center. There Lyda explained the four ways a dancer can stand in front of the audience. She drew a square on the floor with a piece of chalk to indicate the degree of the turn of the body: en face, de dos, en profil, and en croix. Ballet is also theatre. The audience wants to see the dancer. It's important to be aware of this when you perform.
It was a peaceful lesson.

Thursday evening, I collected a few corrections in just a half of an hour. What was I doing wrong? Things went humpy dumpy that evening. Maybe her cold made her a bit grumpy?
Work on your plié, she said. At Bayadère, the Russian demi plié is practiced, but Lyda advised me to use the British demi plié at the barre. My demi plié is not deep enough. Bending the knees and at the same time, keeping the heels on the floor puts a lot of strain on my calves. That’s due to my boxing and running activity, I guess. But I already forgot what the difference is between the British and the Russian plié.

Another thing to work on is my battement jeté. The working leg opens to a height of 45 degrees, fully stretched, then returns to the closed position. It can be performed to the front, side, or back and usually begins in the 1st or 5th position. I act too slow, I have to speed up.
Do systematic repetitions of the same movement a high number of times in succession. That’s her advice.

Well, a frustrating lesson. Luckily I had a few laughs too.

We also practiced the pas de bourrée. As you may remember in an earlier blog, I wrote that the pas de bourrée causes me trouble. The pas de bourrée has several variations and can be done in all possible directions; it is a step in three counts, during the lesson, we exercised the basic form with a change of the feet. If you start with the right foot in front, you will end with the left foot in front. 
According to Lyda, she wanted us to do the pas de bourrée au dessous. And I think she uses a specific extra element in this movement as she incorporates a cou de pied starting position in this exercise. The working foot is flexed and wrapped around the ankle of the supporting leg with the heel in front and the foot winged derrière.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Blog 32

A week off at Bayadère, the children enjoy a vacation. This amounts to three weeks without ballet lessons. I’m glad things start up again next week.

It’s autumn in the Netherlands. Leaves, once green, turn trees into majestic colored symbols of the circle of life. Poetic, isn’t it? This magnificent climax of life, preparing for hibernation and a new start in spring. The colored leaves fall from the trees as the wind blows, they color the ground, leaving trees barren. Trees are monuments of an undefeated will to live, deeply rooted in the earth, touching (kissing) the blue sky. And in doing so, they transcend their struggle for existence in intrinsic beauty and embody fullness of life.

This expression of Mother Nature brings me to the poetry of dance and ballet in particular.

My ultimate goal and I am prepared to spend years of training to achieve this, is to be able to use my body as an expressive instrument. As an expression of my soul!
I’m struggling to master the movements and techniques to make sure that my body does not prevent my soul from expressing itself. And that’s the journey you read about in my blog. Some times romantic, most of the time realistic, and now and then pessimistic.

People marvel at the beauty of a classically trained dancer, so do I. But it’s not the technique that moves me, it’s the embodiment of that whisper of the soul that I seek.

I’ll finish this time with a short piece of poetry from D. H. Lawrence, a famous writer.

When the white feet of dancers beat across the stage
the sound is like the wings of birds at dawn, fluttering,
and when the feathery light bodies rise en pointe, spinning
like the wind across a lake, the sight is romance, uttering.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Blog 31

A short blog this time. I was still sick this week. Coughing and coughing, yes, how nasty this flu is.
I decided to put my focus on recovery and not to bother my fellow students with my flu. So, I skipped the lessons. 

I practice stretches and core exercises to maintain my flexibility and strength. But mind you, if you have problems with your back, don’t do these kinds of exercises without professional coaching.
One of them is the roll-up. The roll-up strengthens the abdominal muscles. 
To begin, you lie on your back with your arms folded across your chest. The hips and knees are bent at 90 degrees angle. Slowly lift your torso while maintaining the elongation of the upper back and neck, to approximately 45 degrees, hold this position for 8 counts, and then slowly roll down. Then repeat this exercise 1 time with a slight twist to the left and repeat with a slight twist to the right. Try to breathe comfortably during this workout. After this first set, repeat 3 to 6 sets. After doing this, you are probably tired!

A few weeks ago, Lyda taught us a back-extension exercise to strengthen the low back muscles. These muscles aid in supporting the torso during dance movements like the arabesque. This exercise balances the effect of the roll-up.
The exercise starts with you lying on your belly, prone, hands beneath the shoulders and the legs in a slight second position. Push off, gently raise your torso, arms loose from the floor, stretch them in front of you and hold this position, as high as your torso can get, 8 counts and then release slowly. Do this 3 to six times. 
You can add a second part to this exercise: while staying with your torso on the floor, gradually raise your legs, hold for 8 counts and slowly release. And third, you can slowly lift both the torso and legs for 8 counts and lower slowly. 

The combination of the roll-up and the back extension is a powerful exercise to strengthen your core.
But now I’ve got the flu, even 3 sets are impossible. Where did my strength and stamina go?