Ballet in the Adirondacks


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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The Pain in Sprain is Not Just in the Brain

sprain diagram

Diagram of a lateral ankle sprain from

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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Blogger awards!


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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“Remember, ladies, you’re not people-people,” Miss A said. “You’re birds. Swan queens.”

I nuzzled my arm, er, wing, and tried to look regal while bending back, ready to attack the first steps of the White Swan variation at Studio E.

Miss A came over to correct my arms. They weren’t broken enough. Right arm up, elbow bent, palm facing away to the right. Left arm in a low 1st, wrist flicked outwards. “Now use your upper body more.” I leaned to the right. This was harder than I thought. “No, don’t tilt your head. Look under, as if you’re hiding. You’re a bit frightened, but also a bit thoughtful.” I mimicked the pose, threw myself into those side developpés. “Don’t plié relevé into them, step with a straight leg.”

I looked at the mirror and saw a sweaty, red-faced (s)wannabe wearing a giraffe-print wrap skirt in a failed attempt to look longer and leaner.

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Say hello


Last night, at Studio M, Señor gave our Ballet 2/3 class a lovely, languorous port de bras sequence. From 5th croisé, look back coyly as you chassé back before opening arms into 3rd and tendu devant, tombé and switch arms to gaze at the upper balcony seats, ronde to the other corner, open arms to seconde, posé forward into 5th, lift back leg into a mini arabesque and lunge back, cambré forward and back, prep arms for pirouette, pirouette en dedans with arms in 5th, detourné to the other side.

We marked it, then Señor moved some people over to the front line, the way he normally does, choosing different people from week to week. He asked F to stand beside me, then asked, “Hey, do you know each other?” Smiles and nods. We were two of the regulars — I’ve been taking Señor’s class, on and off, for more than a year now. “I have a brilliant idea. Why don’t we all introduce ourselves and say hello?”

The energy in the room changed. Normally guarded ladies smiled at the newbies, the guy who’d spent most of the barre staring at his reflection in the mirror greeted everyone warmly, people shook hands and looked each other in the eye. After living in Toronto for 8 years, I’ve gotten so used to people looking away, looking down, going to great lengths to avoid offending each other with their eyes. I remember feeling invisible the first few times I walked around downtown, people enclosed in their public bubbles of unseeing. So different from my home city, Manila — where from the moment you step out eyes are on you, looks of undisguised curiosity or judgement, sometimes just a neutral look that lasts maybe 5 seconds and asks nothing in return but acknowledgement.

Señor said, “Now let’s translate that same feeling of openness and warmth to our port de bras. Be present. Be generous with your audience, with each other. Leave the porch lights on!” The pianist rippled through the first bars and we chasséd back. Señor turned on the studio’s two spotlights. Our arms said hello to the front row, to the balcony, to each other in the mirror. Hello, I see you. I see you too. Thank you.

First Steps


I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now.

This time 2 years ago, I was in limbo. I had just become a permanent resident after a few years of studying and working in this city. My days were spent in a grey cubicle staring at 2 computer screens, poring over retail flyer pages and catalogues, proofreading prices, correcting other people’s spelling, and if I got lucky, churning out a tagline or two. I was luckier than many. But something was missing. I had a steady job, my debts had been paid, my loving relationship with V was still going strong after 5 years, and my family back home was doing well — but there was a silence that kept gnawing, that threatened to swallow me up whole.

I went hiking. I grew herbs, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers in containers. I got addicted to playing Diablo III. The restlessness kept growing. Then while visiting my brother in San Francisco, we happened to catch an episode of So You Think You Can Dance, which I’d dismissed as just another mediocre talent show. I saw Eliana’s audition and was speechless. Her body was so expressive, so joyful and honest. By the time she won season 9 with fellow ballet dancer Chehon, I had made up my mind. I would try to dance again. At 30 years old.

I had danced ballet as a kid in Manila, from age 4 to 13, taking Royal Academy of Dance exams and popping toe blisters from pointe shoes. I stopped for all the reasons other girls do: not the ideal body type, not committed enough to give up time with friends, ultimately not good enough to go pro. I still loved it, but I stepped away, thinking that part of my life was over. Once in a while I’d get nightmares of being onstage, dressed in jeans among a flock of white tutus, not knowing what the choreography was and running away before ruining the piece for everyone. I’d wake up with my heart palpitating.

Stepping into Studio C’s beginner ballet class was like meeting up with a good friend you hadn’t seen in years — you liked each other once, but aren’t sure anymore if you can keep a meaningful conversation flowing or make room for each other in your current lives. I put a tentative hand on the barre, between other black-legginged adults. There was room. It was a safe place, a fresh page, a sanctuary other (re)beginners in the blogworld had discovered for themselves.

I started slow, one class a week at first, then 2 (my aching muscles needed a few days in between to recover). Then I discovered other studios in the city, some of which even had live pianists and a progressive ballet curriculum for adults. Some things came back easily (thank you, fast-twitch muscles made for petit allegro), other things I still struggle with (hello spotting, hello there, no here, no…chaîné turn fail). The more I danced, the more genres I tried (tango and contemporary are new favourites), the more I realized it was like re-learning a language. There are emotions, concepts, nuances only that particular language can express, that other words can’t even come close to. I also discovered that the more I danced, the more I wanted to write again.

This is a record of that continuing process of discovery, of experiencing the sense of freedom and wholeness and possibility and community that the worlds of dance and poetry can give. Welcome to Poets and Pirouettes. This should be an interesting ride.