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.

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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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First Steps

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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.