Ballet in the Adirondacks

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So I just got back from a 5-day trip to the Adirondacks in northern New York state. And as much as I loved the beauty of the wilderness, I’ve got to say, I’m really happy to be home! Lovely loon calls across a lake or the bubbly gurgling of pebbly streams will always come second to one sound in the world: that of a clean toilet flushing in a private bathroom. This was only my second time backcountry camping — and I think it’s confirmed that I’m a city girl through and through. I like being immersed in nature — but at the end of the day, I hate the inconvenience of carrying a 25-pound backpack or setting up a tent or building a fire or only bringing enough food to fit in a bear canister or washing dishes in the dark.

The hikes were more challenging than my friends and I had expected, especially the route along Avalanche Pass and Mount Colden. Scrambling up boulders, crossing creeks on wet rocks, balancing on floating logs, climbing down and up steep ladders, testing suspension bridges, walking along catwalks bolted to the side of a mountain, slipping on muddy trails during a thunderstorm — I can’t count how many times I thanked my ballet-honed quads and calves and glutes for firing properly. My left ankle is another story — maybe it was stupid to hope it had healed properly after 5 weeks. I stepped down from a steep rock at an odd angle and it twanged. And throbbed. And swelled. Thank goodness for elastic ankle supports and arnica pills and friends who understood I had to hike at my own pace.

Below are a few pictures I managed to squeeze in between hikes:

My first blog selfie! Ballet barre stretch on a Hitch-Up Matilda along Avalanche Lake

My first blog selfie! Ballet barre stretch on a “Hitch-up Matilda” along Avalanche Lake

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Weekend Updates: Art, Ankles and an Old Poem

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1. I’m really loving this series of ink-drawn ballerinas on book paper and mixed media. They’re by Romania-based artist Emanuel M. Ologeanu, who sells these and other prints on Etsy. These would look perfect in simple black frames on the walls of my dream room — ballet barre and mirror on one side, writing desk and bookshelves on the other, sprung wooden floor, big bay window letting in the light, with a cat snoozing on the windowsill. Sigh. I did say dream room, right?

2. My mild, grade 1 sprain is healing quite nicely. Three weeks ago, the doctor said I had “angry scar tissue” in my peroneal tendons and quite a bit of tenderness in my posterior tibialis, which she taped up. I’ve also been seeing a Restorative Exercise specialist who analyzed my walking pattern and immediately noticed: collapsed arches and overpronation, especially in my left foot; overactive quads; and weakness in my hips, especially the left gluteus medius which, among other things, is responsible for balancing on one leg. It’s disconcerting how easily these experts can read my body — as if it were an open book, an appliance with usage history and faulty warranties — while I’m obliviously illiterate to my own body’s functions. How could I not have realized that every time I balance on my left foot, my ankle bone forces its way inward and I put all my weight on my big toe, my little toes almost lifting away from the floor? That’s one unstable tripod. It’s a wonder I’ve been able to pull off clean pirouettes on that side! Anyway, we’ve been working on waking up the arch, finding “neutral foot,” redeveloping ankle mobility, strengthening the turnout muscles and improving balance. Hard work — but it’ll be good in the long run, especially if I want to keep dancing for decades.

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Review: Lone Reed Butterfly Print Leotard

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One good thing about my last full class was that I got to wear this butterfly print leotard I’d ordered from Lone Reed Designs for the first time.

I’d been looking for a leo upgrade for a while — my two cotton Capezio Bra-Teks (supportive! comfy! cheap!) were looking pretty washed out and threadbare after more than a year of weekly wear. I wanted something pretty, something not black or burgundy, something unique but not too high-maintenance. And something that actually fit. I’d tried on lots of bodysuits at local dance stores, but (as many of us have moaned and groaned on about) a lot of the designs just aren’t made with a regular adult’s body type in mind. Say I have the waistline of a Medium but the torso length of an Extra Small — do I squeeze into the tiny suit that’s just the right length but creates multiple bulges, or the one that skims over the tummy but droops in the butt and hangs off the shoulders? Let’s not even start with the flimsy “shelf lining” of some leotards — I don’t want my, uh, shelf lined, I want it locked and loaded and refusing to budge.

I looked online. The Yumiko and Eleve leotards all the professionals seem to be wearing were gorgeous, with fancy colour and pattern combinations. But they were pricey if you added front lining or sleeves, with shipping taking up to 8 weeks. And there was no certainty I’d be getting the perfect fit without trying it on beforehand — especially since their size guides come with the warning that “our leotards are designed for the dancer’s body — long and lean”. Then a blog post by Entrechat directed me to Lone Reed Designs, an Etsy shop run by former Houston Ballet dancer Jordan Reed.

I ooh-ed and aah-ed. Her designs are beautiful — lots of lace, gradient colours, fun prints. The one I fell in love with the most was the butterfly print leotard. I found out while browsing that I could customize many of her designs with my preferred colours and prints. Plus — she’ll ask for your measurements and height to ensure the right fit. Score! So I ordered the butterfly print with a hunter green bottom.

The Etsy shop said most items are ready to ship in 3-4 weeks, though I expected a longer wait. To my surprise, my leo arrived barely 3 weeks after ordering — not bad at all, for custom-made dancewear shipped from the U.S. to Canada. The leo itself is a stunner. The floral butterfly print is really pretty up close, with splashes of orange, magenta, blue and moss greens. The material is a shiny nylon spandex that feels substantial, not too thin. The shape makes me think of the Yumiko Sofiane — it’s a high, boat-neck style that’s flattering, with a lovely low back. Not only does it fit perfectly — it’s also supportive! Something about the high neck and front lining really holds that shelf in. I wore it to class without a bra (don’t laugh — it was my first time bra-less in ballet class since I was, oh, 11 years old) — OK, I had body tights under it, so that helped too. But trust me, that was a milestone.

My classmates loved the leo and wanted to know where I’d bought it. Mr. B said I should wear it with a tangerine skirt — that’s a traffic-stopping colour combo, even for me. Did the leo make me feel dancer-like? Definitely. Would I wear it often? Yes, to different studios — it’s pretty memorable, so I wouldn’t want to reach for it every single week. Would I order from Lone Reed Designs again? For sure — but I have to feel like I deserve it first. I could easily get carried away…

Pas de Deux

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For dance lovers, Disney lovers, and lovers of animated storytelling, here’s a beautiful short treat from Glen Keane (the master Disney animator who breathed life into classic characters like Ariel and Rapunzel).

“When I draw, I see my drawing as a sort of… a way for me to connect to you. I see drawing as a kind of seismograph of the soul,” says Keane. “This whole experience has shown me that whether you’re holding a pencil or you’re programming on a keyboard, you are an artist.”

Below is “Duet,” his animated short film. It’s made my rainy Monday morning so much brighter.

 

Wordy Weekends: We All Have Reasons for Moving

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Tia Paulina Flamenco’s post and the reaction of Secrets of a Balletomane reminded me of a Mark Strand poem I fell in love with as a college sophomore. I remember the angst of that age — feeling unheard, uncertain about who I was and where I belonged, wanting to disappear from events I felt forced to attend, from roles I was expected to fulfill. Something was always missing.

It took a while to realize the void inside could be filled by words. Mark Strand was one of those poets whose words resonated, but who also felt strangely inaccessible — I could relate to the obsession with absence but couldn’t understand his desire for self-effacement (then again, what narcissistic teenager can?).

Today, after writing out the alphabet with my injured ankle (one of my prescribed rehab exercises), I reread this poem, first published in Sleeping With One Eye Open (1964) and again in his Selected Poems (1980):

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

We all have reasons, the poem’s speaker says. And because I can’t help but read dance into everything now — especially since I still have to work my way slowly back up to those big jumps I love — here are my reasons. I move to express what my words cannot. I move to get out of my small mind, to reconnect with my body and what it loves to do, to reconnect with something larger. I make big movements to tell myself that it’s OK to take up space, to claim my place in the world, even if it’s just a little corner of the studio. Rephrasing (and perhaps misreading) Strand, I move to keep myself whole.

What are your reasons for moving?

Link Love: The Heather Project

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heather projectTwo bare feet rise up to demi-point, the bandaged first, fourth and fifth toes models of symmetry. Old rose polish is chipping away from the cuticles. Our eyes at floor level, we see the ankles bend forward in a forced arch, as if bowing, acknowledging an audience. The heels lower and the toes wiggle to release.

In another frame, we see the curve of a lower back contracting, compressing upward like an angry cat, then stretching horizontally and arching down into cow pose. In another, a face looks straight at the camera — blonde hair unbound, grey-green eyes blinking. Not turning away, not demanding applause. It is Heather Ogden, principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada and muse of Toronto-based photographer Christopher Wahl’s microsite, The Heather Project.

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The Pain in Sprain is Not Just in the Brain

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sprain diagram

Diagram of a lateral ankle sprain from http://www.insidemnsoccer.com

So it happened. I was in class, standing near the back corner, practicing an attitude pirouette en dedans to the left (counter-clockwise turn with right leg bent behind, for non-balletic readers) when something went wrong. I can’t recall whether there was too much momentum, or my foot was turning faster than my torso, or my torso was spinning faster than my foot could keep up with in a turned out position. Either way, I stumbled. My left ankle twisted and I landed on the outside of a little sickled foot.

Sharp pain, shock, then numbness. It lasted all of two seconds. I was still upright. I don’t think anyone even noticed, as we were all marking the final combination without music. Or they probably thought it was a harmless misstep. The teacher’s reminders blurred into a murmur as I tested the ankle. Yes, I could put some weight on it. Yes, the lateral side was sore. No, I could not do a full rise so I shouldn’t even attempt a turn.

By then, the music had started and it was too late to excuse myself or ask to sit this one out. So I ended up performing the waltz turn combination in a group, focusing on expression in my arms, substituting an attitude balance on flat for an attitude turn. At the end, I even got praised for my musicality. I tried to smile without grimacing. And pretended to stretch on the floor after class, putting my cold, stainless steel water bottle against the now-swollen ankle while waiting for most people to leave first. I should have said something. I don’t know why I didn’t — too ashamed, not wanting to draw attention, not wanting to ruin the rhythm of what, until then, had been an enjoyable class full of brain-teasing patterns and dance-y combinations.

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Wordy Weekends: Ulanova, Bidart and the Ageless Giselle

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bidartIn keeping with this blog’s name, I’ll be writing a weekly post about a poem, poet,  poetic technique or book with some connection to dance — or that can be read from a dancer’s perspective.

I was going through an old journal, searching for fragments to mine for an ongoing project, when I found notes on Frank Bidart’s Watching the Spring Festival (2008). Based on my scribbles, it seems I wasn’t especially moved by this book of lyric poetry, with its flat-sounding meditations on mortality. I much preferred the tonal variety and page-as-stage explorations of Bidart’s dramatic monologues and longer poems in other books. One of these days I’ll reread and write about his 30-page “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky” — maybe in November, when the National Ballet remounts John Neumeier’s Nijinsky.

There was one poem in Watching the Spring Festival that stood out to me: “Ulanova at Forty-Six At Last Dances Before a Camera Giselle.” In it, a persona watches a grainy clip of the famous Bolshoi ballerina Galina Ulanova, who finally allowed herself to be filmed dancing Giselle while on tour in London in 1956. She was 46 years old.

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Studio Snapshot

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Studio N

The early ballettrist takes a photo before people come in to stretch

Here’s one of the beautiful studio spaces at Studio N (otherwise known as the Big Ballet School, the formal academy that trains professional dancers and also has a progressive adult programme). My place on Wednesday nights, at least until the term ends in July, is in the corner, by the fire exit. This way, when we turn to the left side, I have no one in front of me to copy and have to rely on memory. I wish I could dance here all the time — the bright space always feels immense, the marley floor’s well maintained, and the pianist (let’s call him Prokofiev) who accompanies Mr. B’s Level 3/4 class is top-notch — when Pro plays an adage, it’s like the notes are waves that help you lift and sustain your leg! I should write about Mr. B elsewhere — the nickname really fits, as he loves injecting Balanchine-sque steps in the centre. We had a tendu sequence with nifty hip swings (from Rubies, I think?) that felt decidedly un-classical but were oh so fun to do. Must practice those for next week, in case they come up again.

Blogger awards!

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I started this blog a few weeks ago and still consider myself a novice in the blogging community — so it’s very sweet of Lorry (of The 109th Bead) and Paulina (of Tía Paulina Flamenco) to have recommended me for this award:

Versatile Blogger AwardThanks to the two of you! It’s really cool to have found like-minded enthusiasts, who run the gamut from true adult beginners and dancing moms to passionate dabblers and costume-crafters to semi-professionals and all-around awesome people who aim to keep their lives interesting. So here’s a shout-out to fellow bloggers who haven’t been nominated for (or who haven’t posted) this award yet:

I’m a huge fan of The Classical Girl, whose thoughtful reviews and way with words I find incredibly compelling. I’m also constantly impressed by the progress and dedication of Back to First Position, whose journey back to ballet I’ve been following. The Dancing Rider probably best exemplifies the spirit of versatility, with her posts about riding, dancing, gardening and living purposefully. Kittiecat‘s entries about her cats and dancewear are delighful, and JustScott‘s updates about performing and often being the only guy in class are enlightening.

Now I’m supposed to share 7 things you don’t know about me, so here goes:

1. I grew up in the Philippines. My partner V grew up in France. We live and work in Toronto, where we met and fell in love — but “home” and “belonging” will always be problematic concepts now. At the moment, home is where we are (and where the barre is, as Johanna of Pointe Til You Drop said so well).

Tomatoes, kale, chard and basil2. Maybe as a way to combat feelings of rootlessness, I grow things. We’re currently renting an apartment that doesn’t have a backyard, so all the herbs and veggies grow in containers. Here’s a picture of one of our “gardening corners,” with tomatoes, kale, chard and 4 kinds of basil (purple opal, lemon, cinnamon and Genovese).

3. At 32 years old, I still can’t ride a bike! I never had a bike growing up, when my mom deemed Manila’s streets unsafe for anything with less than 4 wheels. It’s on the bucket list — maybe to be crossed off this summer.

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