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.

 

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.

Pointe-rs Needed!

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Back en pointe after 20 years!

Back en pointe after 20 years!

So I went to my 4th real pointe class at Studio J. A short background: Studio J is one of 3 places in this city where adults can take pointe classes. Studio E has beginner pointe workshops that run for 6 weeks at a time — but it takes me at least 50 minutes to get there, by subway and streetcar and a short walk. Studio I has a 45-minute pointe class added to a full 1.5-hour ballet class — but they’re for intermediate and advanced dancers. The last time I was en pointe, I had a 12-year-old’s body, and that was for less than a year — so I’m basically starting from scratch!

My best option was Studio J, which offers continuous drop-in pointe classes — one of which is specifically for beginners. I also liked the fact that the studio required new students to: 1) schedule a private pointe assessment lesson; 2) have been taking at least 2 ballet classes a week for the past 2 years, to ensure proper strength and technique. Continue reading

That’s the Idea…

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Had a tougher than usual Intermediate class today at Studio C. One of the studio’s owners, a gorgeous salsa dancer/choreographer, decided to take class with us. So Mr. Silver upped his game. Fondus were all on relevé with several grand ronds de jambe, frappés had doubles and even triples, grand battements had a couple of fouettés thrown in.

Our first exercise in the centre was a killer, preying on my weaknesses. It went something like (forgive any wrong terminology, please!): pirouette en dehors ending à la seconde effacé, then 3/4 promenade in à la seconde ending in 1st arabesque, fondu pas de bourré. Developpé arabesque, 1/4 promenade, passé developpe devant, fondu, piqué attitude balance, end in relevé 5th. I overshot the turn, wobbled, had a low leg to the side, found my supporting leg turned in, and couldn’t control that piqué attitude just right (either too much force pushing forward, or too much weight on the pinky side of supporting foot). The saving grace was that arabesque fondu and pas de bourré. Give me a pas de bourré any day and I’ll kill it.

I peeked at the mirror a few times. Everyone was struggling with something, even gorgeous studio owner. After our first try, Mr. Silver cocked his head and said one of his favourite lines: “That’s the idea.” We laughed.

One of the things I like about Mr. Silver, who used to be a soloist at the National Ballet and can still whip out triple turns like they were nothing, is that he doesn’t give empty praise. I’ve had a couple of teachers in drop-in classes who throw out compliments like “Excellent” and “Absolutely!” when someone performs a step at a basic, barely satisfactory level. They mean to be encouraging, I know, but somehow I believe them less. When Mr. Silver says “That’s the idea,” he’s acknowledging our effort, our attempts to think through the steps with our bodies, but also telling us that was nowhere near nailing it. Then he gives corrections and asks us to do it again. If the second try’s still wonky, he’ll say, “Let’s work on that again next week.” If it’s better, “That’s more like it.” No unnecessary gushing with this guy.

So when we moved on to assemblés and echappé battus (which I love love love!), and he looked at me and said “Good!”, I beamed. Sometimes just one word can mean so much.