Saturday, February 15, 2020

Blog 46

Next week Dutch children have a week off, enjoying Spring Vacation. So next week there will be no lessons at Bayadère. 

The Monday lesson was a kind of wrap up of the last 5 weeks. Lyda used minimal verbal instruction, and we managed to perform the exercise at the barre in 35 minutes.
In the center, we practiced the tendu marché; with every step backward, we had to turn our head in the opposite direction of the foot we were moving. So when we "marched" the left foot en tendu to the left, we had to simultaneously turn our head to the right.
That's what I call a tough job if you are not used to doing so in daily life. It's precisely this kind of moves that keep you developing new pathways in your neurological system; ballet is very useful to rejuvenate yourself.

After the practice of exercises like assemblé and glissade, 4 changements in combination with two emboités, we proceeded to the diagonal and did the pas the cheval.

Pas de cheval means horse's step. A rather peculiar exercise! The right foot of the working leg extends in pointe tendue devant, with a little hop on supporting leg the right leg bends and stretches (as if pawing the ground), weight is transferred to the right leg. At the same time, the left does a little développé derrière and paws the ground (the transfer of weight from one leg to the other occurs during the hop.) 

The second lesson this week was based on character dance, a stylized traditional folk or national dance, with the uses movements and music that have been adapted for the theater.
Character dance is part of the classical ballet repertoire. 
I must admit that I'm very fond of Russian tradition and music.
Even the Russian language is intriguing, with that beautiful Cyrillic alphabet.
I like the physical labor you have to put in to dance. And character dance has something swirling; what an intense experience! 

I invite you to give a comment on my blog. Or to contact me at the e-mail address: bert.jonker@movetoballet.com if you have a particular question or issue you want to share with me. I promise I won't bite!

And now it is time to relax! 
A week off. So no blog next week!
My next blog will be on March 1.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Blog 45

I missed one of the lessons again due to my work. Yep, that’s quite frustrating for my progress in ballet. And of course, for my focus. 
I am a grown-up person. I’ve obligations to attend to. And one of them is earning an income. Luckily, my job can be satisfying. But guarding the balance in my life with respect to working, performing sports and ballet, and spending time with family is necessary.  Sometimes, this is easier said than done. 

In earlier blogs, I wrote about a variety of exercises. Now it’s time to say a few things about the frappé, one of our custom exercises at the barre.   
We begin by standing in a wrapped cou the pied position, the heel of the working leg in front of the ankle of the supporting leg, then extend the working leg sharply en avant to 30 degrees without brushing or changing the shape of the foot. The frappé is a sharp movement and is performed dynamically. In the frappé, more time is spent in the final, outstretched pose of each frappé than in getting there. And then return the working leg in the same way. 
Of course, also à la seconde and derrière.

I always carefully look at Lyda while we perform the frappé, she is my role model. Up to now, I’m still taken by surprise with each frappé she makes. It’s a kind of quick reflex action. All the time, she seems to do a frappé exactly 1-speed millisecond earlier than I do. 
The frappé is also a terrific exercise to train the turn out of my upper thigh. Cause positioning my heel in front of the ankle of my supporting leg with the rest of my foot fully wrapped sur le cou the pied requires a considerable turn out of my upper thigh. And that isn’t easy.

We practice chainé in almost every lesson. We make a series of turns in the same direction on the diagonal. With our feet in demi-pointe.
I have to whip my head around quickly and focus on a specific spot in the classroom with each rotation of my body; otherwise, I will become dizzy. Yet, dizziness is my fate every time again. At the end of the diagonal, that is, if I succeed in maintaining a straight line, I sometimes have to grasp the barre or the wall to stop me from tumbling down. 
No need to drink any alcoholic beverages Lyda says, just do a chainé! 
Every now and then, Lyda wants us to do the chainé en relevé.  She slowly introduces more techniques to enhance our skills. 
As with all other movements in classical ballet, the challenge of turning is to make it look effortless. That’s what I call a real master challenge!

In a business meeting, I talked with my colleagues about my sports and ballet activities. And look at what happened. They became enthusiastic and asked me to organize a boxing clinic and ballet lesson somewhere in 2020. Would it surprise you if I say to you that the male colleagues want to box and the females want to experience a ballet lesson? I asked them to do both. Then I asked Lyda if she is prepared to give a ballet lesson, and she too reacted with lots of enthusiasm. A few days later, my daughter and her friend asked me when they can join in a trial lesson. And the same question came from my oldest son. 
Is something happening here?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Blog 44

It is so intriguing to discover how well Russian Ballet is thought through. I experienced this quite intense in this week’s classes. It gives me a strange sense of proudness that I’m taking part in this beautiful art!

Thursday, we practiced the cambré. Cambré means bent over. A movement curving the spine forward, sideways or backward. We did the backward one.
In a backbend, your fulcrum descends down the spine. It initially supports the weight of your head, then more and more of the torso, as the bending becomes more extreme. And then stay in balance! That bending backward is quite an exercise. I can hardly make a proper backward bend. My shoulders and upper back are stiff. But so is my spine. And of course, the muscles of my back need to be trained.

I discovered (again) that I’ve got some work to do. Lyda gave me a few exercises to practice at home. 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 a few times. Then gradually raise your legs, turned out, and your feet pointed, hold it as high as you can for 8 counts, and slowly lower. Again a few times. The crescendo of this exercise is that you slowly lift both torso and legs, hold it for 8 counts, and slowly lower, do this say 3 times. 

We practiced the temps lié in the center, Lyda said this was the official version, but it is also the simplest version. For you know: I’m a beginner.
You start standing in the fifth position croisé, the right foot front. Then do a demi plié, both arms in the first position. Your right foot glides forward into croisé, your left foot remains in demi plié. Then shift your weight on to the right foot and point your left foot behind. Bring your left arm up and your right arm out to the side. Bring the left foot from behind into the 5th position en face in demi plié, shifting left arm into the first position, right arm remains in the second position. Slide the toe of the right foot to the side, leaving left in demi plié, shift weight on to outstretched right leg (opening left arm into the second position), with pointed toe slide left leg into the 5th position front in demi plié. Drop your arm into a preparatory position, and repeat the whole movement on the left foot.
Mind the transference of weight onto the front leg that is accompanied by an oppositional extension of the back leg (pointe tendue derrière croisé), the back foot pushes the weight onto the front foot. So exquisite and elegant.

We had some chit chat in the classroom about the Bolshoi Ballet Company. Lyda showed us some pictures of young ballerina’s training the cambré, or arabesque. The alignment of the head, torso, arms, legs, and feet gives it its artistic beauty. So perfectly aligned! And she told how the young students grasp every moment to train their flexibility. The boarding school has carpets all over the place, so students can do their stretches on the floor.

And it’s time to buy new black tights. Lyda advised me to try another brand so I can feel the difference in texture, and fit.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Blog 43 A fun lesson

I could only attend the Monday evening class this week. An unexpected meeting came up on Thursday that lasted through the evening, so regretfully I had to text Lyda that I could not come. So only one class this week. Is the glass then half empty or half full? Half-full I would say. Moreover, we had a fun and relaxed class on Monday.

We practiced the regular barre exercises plié, tendu, jeté, ronde jambe, developpé, fondu, and frappé, of course, accompanied by that beautiful piano music. I'm still surprised by the many possible variations in these movements. As Lyda puts it: "I can think up of an endless variety of movements, I'll be able to surprise you until you're 100 years old."

The fondu is an intriguing kind of exercise. To achieve the quality of "melting," both legs need to stretch and bend at the same rate. The right foot moves from the 5th position to sur le cou de pied, and the left foot simultaneously does a demi plié, its knee turned out. Then the right knee opens forward (en avant) with the toes pointed on the floor, the left one straightens out and extends in the knee joint simultaneously with the right one. The right foot returns to sur le cou de pied, and the movement is repeated à la seconde, en derrière. A very controlled movement, très lentement, where the working leg successively and smoothly unfolds as the supporting leg straightens. As if you move when standing in a swimming pool. The resistance of the water makes you move slower.

Yes, I've learned that a swimming pool provides a perfect playground for a ballet dancer. Mind you, when you want to practice the developpé the water helps you to maintain your balance and lift your leg. But it also provides the extra resistance if you want to train on strengthening your muscles.

One of the students, Marion, lent me the book "Winter seasons, a dancer's journal," written by Toni Bentley. Toni wrote this book at the age of 22, as a young ballerina and member of the corps de ballet of New York's City Ballet, during the time Balanchine was the choreographer. She did not perceive herself as a successful dancer. She knew she would never become a principal or soloist. That feeling that her career had stagnated led her to take a long, personal look within, and she began writing a journal covering the City Ballet's winter season between November 1980 and February 1981. She left the City Ballet, but returned later. This experience taught her that the dancer's life is ingrained in her character; it was impossible for her to leave. Though still in the corps she rediscovers the joy in her role. Her life is simpler now, her energy directed toward her dancing. It touches me that though she didn't accomplish the top, she knew to reconcile with herself and find joy in ballet again. Ballet can be very competitive if you want to become a professional dancer. There is a downside to ballet when you look at it from this perspective. But this doesn't interfere with my love for this beautiful art.

This week Lyda added a link on the Facebook site of La Bayadère to a story of an older woman, Michelle Herman, who started ballet at the age of 62. It's an inspiring story. As a kid, she took modern dance classes for five or six years. She discovered classical ballet now, she is older and is in love with it. I can wholeheartedly recommend you to read the testimony of her new passion. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Blog 42

I have to pay special attention again on my placement cause this was the second time this month that Lyda had to correct me in my placement. The knee of my working leg is slightly bent.

I understand the importance of correct placement. It really uplifts your performance. So here is a rehearsal, to remind me of the elementary lessons learned, but apparently seeping away. A wake-up call!
In a correct stance the weight of my body has to be correctly centered over the feet, with the armpit and the hipbone vertically aligned, shoulders low, the ribs in and flat, thus controlling the lower back and stabilizing the vertical placement of the torso directly on top of my supporting legs. In the aplomb stance, the patella is in an uplifted position, and this is a result of the contraction of the quads. You need to develop your quads in ballet to lift up your legs. Strengthening your quads requires exercising over some period of time. And these exercises are, in fact, the regulars of each lesson, tendu, jeté and so on. The trick is to perform the exercises with contracted quads, keeping your patella uplifted, so you build up strength. 
And looking in the mirror, of course, I tried to correct myself. 
I also noticed that a proper placement helps when you have to keep balance standing on demi-pointe.

And this brought me back to another eye-opener. When in tendu, I seem to have my working leg a bit bent in de knee. It's hard work for me to stretch that knee. Until Lyda remarked that my working leg was not properly turned out. So when I focused on turning my leg more out, the bent knee simultaneously became a stretched knee. 
And again, I discover that it is not yet part of my system that in ballet, all movements are performed with the legs turned out. 

We practiced the pas de chat (step of the cat) extensively in the Monday lesson. 
When going to the right on the diagonal: right leg fifth position back: the right leg is lifted to high retiré (not touching the supporting knee) as the left leg pushes off the floor and is lifted to a high retiré. The landing occurs on the right leg with left leg closing in the fifth devant. We did this in a series to the same side. Lyda added a special nuance with respect to the starting position: the right leg in the 5th position in front, from then on, as mentioned above. 

And then the assemblé (to put together, assemble) at the barre: the jump from one foot onto two. There are times when the assemblé seems to be so easy, but this day it was not. There are times when body and mind don't seem to work together.

On Thursday, we had a real ballet workout lesson. I loved it. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Blog 41 
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit "(Aristotle).

Happy New Year, everyone! Time to start up again and make those wishes and intentions come true that you made on New Year's Eve.

My first disappointment this year came in fast: no exam this year, though a few weeks ago this seemed so real. I was so looking forward to my next exam. Not enough pupils enrolled, so the business case is negative for Lyda. I understand this, and yet I longed for that sense of purpose, that discipline when preparing for that Grade 3 exam. To bad!

In the week before Xmas, Lyda dedicated a lesson to flexibility and stretching. This week she mentioned the positive effect of massaging your neck on your stretching ability. And she referred to Lisa Howell, an Australian physiotherapist. Lisa is a well-known therapist in the ballet dancing community, a beacon for dancers with dance injuries.
Lyda experimented in her classes with the neck massaging method to improve flexibility, and she concludes that it is effective with say 50% of the pupils. So she invited us to try this for ourselves. By the way: the massage can be easily done by yourself. 

As you know, by now I'm a bit rusty. So about a year ago, I bought Lisa Howell's Front Splits Flexibility Program. There are a few eye-openers in this course. One of them is about fascia. A fascia is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles.
This fibrous connective tissue contains tightly packed bundles of collagen fibers that are oriented in a wavy pattern parallel to the direction of pull.
The fascia of each muscle links to that of many other muscles, so tension in one muscle group can be transferred to other muscle groups. So it is not the muscles themselves that interconnect, but the fascia. 
You can speak of a continuous fascial line: it extends from the muscles in the head and neck, through the upper back, lower back and pelvis, to the hamstrings and down into the calves and feet. 
Now you understand why massaging your muscles at the base of your skull can have a positive effect on all the other muscles down the back of your body even down into your legs. 

In my last blog I also mentioned the book "Relax into stretch" by Pavel Tsatsouline, a Russian sportsman. Worthwhile to read. A relaxed mindset is a key issue when we talk about flexibility. I immediately experience that relation when I have a busy day and have to run to be in my class on time.
I have to face it: stress causes tension of the muscles. And when in stress, it's not easy to start massaging your neck muscles. 

So time to form new habits…..
Please, let me awaken my 3 D's (drive, discipline, and determination) at times when I need them most!

On Sunday, I had a New Year's training in my boxing gym, culminating in a push-up competition. Primitive, raw stuff. I felt stiff the next day. Even my warm-up and flexibility exercises didn't work out well, so my first lesson of ballet started with a rigid body. 
But as soon as we started with the plié, accompanied by that beautiful piano music Lyda always provides for, I felt the relaxation unwinding my body. The delicate and sophisticated movements and music made me feel at ease, this was my moment of mindfulness. Ballet as a perfect antidote for living my busy and demanding life.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Blog 40 Xmas coming, holiday on the way

This week already the last lessons at Bayadère before the Xmas break. 2019 passed by like a whirlwind.
On January 6, lessons will start again, 2020 is impatiently waiting to make its entrance!

Monday evening I hurried tot Bayadère and came a bit too late. Lyda was giving a special lesson about stretching. Very interesting for a rusty person like me. Educational, because she explained to us the works of lengthening and contracting of the muscle fibers. And of course, after the information, she walked the talk. Not easy for me to perform the exercises she wanted us to do, because I came in late after a tough day at work, no chance to do my warming up. But heck, I gave it a try.

Passive stretching, active stretching, dynamic stretching, PNF stretching. Use Google and find out what it means. There are different opinions about what method of stretching is the best. The most practical solution to this riddle is to try and discover what method suits you best. 
In my opinion, it is not short muscles and connective tissues that make me tight; no, it is my nervous system. It's the muscle software that interdicts my muscles to slide out to their true full length. Muscle software is based on previous experiences like sitting all day or performing monotonous labor. I think my nervous system picked a fixed length for every one of my muscles in my lifetime and is thereby programmed to keep it that way. Whenever you reach too far compared to this self adapted standard, the stretch reflex kicks in and reins your muscles in. 
And things like fear and tension tighten the muscles up too, so they will resist lengthening. 

Lyda made us do a mixture of passive and active stretching. First passive, then bouncing, followed by passive. 
I want to deepen my knowledge of this stretching. One of the books I read right now is "Relax into stretch" by Pavel Tsatsouline, a Russian sportsman. He advocates PNF stretching: create flexibility through muscle tension.
I am astonished that in most of the ballet books that I've read, nothing is said about stretching. While so much flexibility is needed in doing the ballet exercises.

The Thursday lesson went on in a very relaxing atmosphere; we practiced jazz ballet and did joint mobility exercises. And after that a game, in two groups we pictured a few scenes of a fairy tale, the other group had then to guess which fairy tale we were depicting and vice versa.

During this vacation, I will not write a blog. It's time for some relaxation, visiting family, and reading books. I'll continue my daily exercises on flexibility and visit the gym to do my workouts. Oh, there is still so much that I want to know and to learn.

See you in January! Have a nice Holiday! My blessings to you!

I invite you to give a comment on my blog. Or to contact me at the e-mail address: bert.jonker@movetoballet.com if you have a particular question or issue you want to share with me.