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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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.

(S)wannabe

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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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Notes on Watching Company Class

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It felt strange to enter the theatre on a Saturday morning, with all the stage lights on and the dancers already warming up beside freestanding barres. In a way, it felt like sneaking up on Santa’s elves in their summer workshop. But the dancers knew we were there — and thanks to their generosity, a large audience (with lots of little ballerinas and their moms in tow) got to watch the hard work they put in every morning before the curtain goes up.

Here’s what I observed from the 2nd row:

1. Just like any other class, some people come in early to stretch: frog, butterfly, straddle splits, pied à la main. Others take their time, sharing a joke or two, casually putting their hair into a bun. Some are so internally focused, athletes getting into intense game mode. Others smile while doing thereband exercises. A few rush in a minute before class starts. It’s all good.

2. Anything goes, as far as dancewear is concerned. I saw: lovely patterned Elevé and Yumiko leotards, a plain black camisole with straps that had probably snapped once and been reknotted, a gorgeous aquamarine leo with black lace bodice and 3/4 sleeves (really wanted to ask the dancer where she got this!). A faded grey Metallica T-shirt. Thigh-high leg warmers. Knit jumpsuits. Hoodies. Pink tights over leo, black tights under shorts, nude-coloured super-short shorts and bare legs on a guy. Thick cotton socks, down-filled booties, canvas split-soles, even “jewelled” pointe shoes (principal dancers Sonia Rodriguez and Jillian Vanstone appeared to be breaking in their crystal-studded pairs for Cinderella). Lululemon Studio pants, ripstop garbage bag crops, and lots of track pants — we could hear the swish, swish, swish as they did tendus en croix.

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Class Notes and Weekend Excitement

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Last night, at Studio I (which, incidentally, is where the National Ballet trains — a fact that still thrills this little fan’s heart every time I take class there), Madame T gave me a couple of corrections. We were doing fondus. “Turn out your leg more in arabesque”, she said. “You have excellent turnout, but you need to use it.” I extended my leg to the side, hovering somewhere near 80 degrees. She lifted my foot up to shoulder height. “See,” she cooed, “you can go higher.” She let go and my leg dropped back to 80. Sigh. Guess I’ll have to strengthen those hip flexors and be more diligent about stretching.

I redeemed myself towards the end of the class when we started doing brisés. A few people in the Pre-Intermediate class had never done them before, so Madame T asked “the more advanced people” to show the beats. We looked around. Our resident “most advanced girl” was absent. Madame T pointed to me and said, “Demonstrate.” Uh oh. I tried to remember what Miss C from Studio C taught us months ago. Deep demi-plié, tilt the torso diagonally forward as you brush the back leg and beat the other leg to meet it, under-over, land in 5th. It was far from perfect, but it was a definite travelling baby brisé. “Good!” We did 2 slow brisés, 2 fast, a changement, then the other side. 4 times. I was out of breath but happy by the time we were through.

On another note, I’m super excited about this weekend! Besides spending some quality time with V, here’s what I’ve got lined up.

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Say hello

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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.