Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Adult Dancers Get Some (Much Needed) Love

I don't often post about other people's work, but the fact is, recognition for the adult dancer has been skyrocketing lately! To toot my own tutu, just last week Black Sheep was interviewed for a Major Hotel Chain's in-room magazine, talking about how travelers can take adult open classes at Awesome Ballet School. The author was focusing not only on activities close to the hotel, but ways for adults connect and explore when you find yourself in an unfamiliar location - GREAT exposure for those adult dancers out there, and who knows - maybe it will spur more people to re-engage with ballet!

And yesterday, courtesy of Chris from his blog, Leotards and the Buns In Them, I learned about another new blog exalting the adult dancer, Adult Ballerina Project! Check them out, cher readers - we must support one another!

Knee Update
For those of you who were wondering, I'm going to try a basic class on Saturday - it will be the first class since 10/30, and the first class post-surgery....I think I'll be able to do about 50% of barre and most of adagio in center, but that's about it. I'm nervous but très excited to go back!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, aka Stretchy Pants Day, everyone!

I know I've been MIA, but with good reason. I ended up having knee surgery for cartilage damage and a thickened plica, and have been in recovery for a few weeks. Honestly, I haven't wanted to do anything but wallow in my own self pity, but I think I've finally snapped out of it.

After my post-op appointment this week, the doctor recommended I do 4-6 weeks of physical therapy, and the PT can decide when I can go back to class. Had a PT consult, and she thinks I can go back to a modified class in about 2 weeks!

This news perked up my mood considerably, but I know I have a long road ahead of me. My range of motion is crap and I'm still having a little bit of pain, but just the fact that they said I CAN DANCE AGAIN has given me hope.

And that, mesdames et messieurs, is what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

What about you? What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Knee Update Part 2

Man, has this been a roller coaster. After my last post, I attempted a class on Saturday. I wore a brace and was careful about not doing grand plies or jumps, but about 30 minutes after class my knee was stiff and sore again...but not terrible.

I had just about talked myself out of the surgery, then last night I took a class with La Danseuse, teacher extraordinaire. I definitely pushed myself a bit more, and felt it during class. That class solidified my Friday, I'm having the surgery. It's not just about the pain and swelling. To be honest, I could deal with that. The real reason is what I learned AFTER class last night.

Pointe Class. January. Bring It.

That's right, they approved our beginner pointe class! I do not want to risk further injuring myself or flare-ups around the time I start pointe. This has been a dream of mine for years, and I am beside myself with excitement! So, I will take a modified class this coming Saturday and Tuesday, then I'll be off for recovery. Start crossing your fingers & fifths that the surgery goes well and I end up with a few weeks of recovery, not a few months.

The ups and downs of this thing have my head spinning, but right now, I just want to be healthy and dance.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Knee Update

So the verdict is in, and the docs think I have a torn meniscus. Ce n'est pas bien. They recommended surgery, which if all goes well, will have me back in my dancing shoes within a few weeks. Yay!

But, like all things, this meniscus ain't gonna go away quietly. On Monday, I was ready to rip the damn thing out myself. My knee had locked up, and it was uncomfortable to do anything. Walk, sit, stand, lean, you name it. On Tuesday, the day of my surgery consult, it was only moderately displaying symptoms, so surgeon said he'd leave it up to me. I mean the knee was still stiff, but not painful.

And today, as the universe sits back and laughs, it feels freaking fantastic.

Seriously, WTF? Spontaneous meniscus healing? Is this a cruel joke to lure me into cancelling surgery, only to have it act up right as I'm about to (hopefully!) start the beginning pointe class? I don't understand.

If I have surgery now, the chance of recurrence is much more slim. From all the obsessive Googling I've done, it seems it's basically a crapshoot. You could never have a problem again, or 3 months down the line the meniscus shifts and you're back on crutches.

What the hell do I do? I honestly don't know.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Bee's Knees

What does that mean anyway, "the bee's knees?" Bee's knees are supposed to mean something awesome, but when you think about it, bee's knees are very delicate, likely knobby little things. Which is why I'm convinced I must have The Bee's Knees.

It all started about a week ago after class, with pain and stiffness in my knee. And continued yesterday, with X-rays after class, and today with an MRI.

Argh. And I just got healthy.

To Be Continued......

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Legwarmer Mania

In the Great City Where I Live, fall has officially arrived. I've been busting out the wool coats, scarves and sweaters for about a week now, and absolutely love it. I'm one of those strange people who loves cold and hates heat....yes, I know I'm weird. I also love fall because the shrugs and legwarmers exit their summer hibernation, enveloping me in soft, cozy, cuddly-ness for ballet class. I may have mentioned my love of legwarmers before, but this morning, while packing my bag for work, I realized I might need to seek help...

Me: Don't forget, you have Pilates class after work today.
My Inner Crazy: YAY! We're going to stretch, and bend, and get all ab-tastic!
Me:  Whoa there, cowgirl. That's a lot of happy before coffee. I'm just reminding you so that you bring clothes, and don't have to crawl onto a reformer in your jeans and sweater.
Crazy: Ooh - sweaters....soft and furry and FALL!
Me: Focus. Find some workout pants and a t-shirt, and get on with it.
Crazy: You're no fun. But you know what would be fun? Your capri running tights with LEGWARMERS!
Me: You're crazy. Everyone will look at you and think "who the hell does she think she is, wearing legwarmers with running tights in a reformer class?
Crazy: But they are SOFT! And COLORFUL! A pop of color to transport your mind to fields of poppies and gerberas and tulips!
Me: It's not the Land of Oz, it's Pilates class.
Crazy: It's the Land of LEGWARMERS!
Me: No.
Me: I said no, they're all going to laugh at you and you'll look stupid.
Me: Sigh. How about we compromise and wear a shrug to work in place of a cardigan.
Me: Sigh....put them in the bag. You win again, my legwarmer-obsessed friend, you win again.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Pink Tights

Not only was this Sunday's class full of drama (see previous post), it also forced me to face one of my greatest fears....The Pink Tights.

Many of the bloggers I follow have blogged about the horrors of The Pink Tights. Unless you are a stick insect, Pink Tights make your thighs look very, very scary. You cannot hide from The Pink Tights. They will find you, put a spotlight on your popo, and make you squirm with insecurity. This post from Pointe Til You Drop is one of my favorites on the subject. Now, I will wear The Pink Tights if I have booty shorts or a ballet skirt to go over them (and my thighs), but a leotard with seulement Pink Tights? Quelle horreur!

Well, on Sunday, I switched out my usual ballet bag, and when I got to class, realized I had left my shorts in the other bag. I didn't have a scrap of fabric to cover myself, just my leotard and The Pink Tights.

This is embarrassing, but I legitimately freaked out for a minute, and contemplated leaving class. Luckily rational thought set in and I realized no one is going to be looking at my thighs except me. Even my friends in class are more preoccupied with their own dancing - they aren't going to judge me for the way I look. And if they do, well, I don't need to be friends with them.

So, I stood up tall, grabbed a barre, and did the whole class - in just The Pink Tights. I feel like I have passed some balletic milestone, a sort of right of passage. Granted, I hope I never, ever have to do that again, but you know what? I did it. I faced my fear, and just danced. And isn't that really the point, and the lesson we all need to learn? It's not about you, and it's definitely not about your insecurities. It's about the art, and we are lucky to be a part of it.

Adultes et Enfants

Happy Monday, mes amies! Quel weekend! Today's post is all about Adults and Children. There's a great quote in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, where someone says, "Never lose your childish innocence. It's the most important thing." As adults, we can act like children - sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad. Observe....

This weekend, I made a tutu. That's right, ya'll, tulle overload in a beautiful shade of sea foam green. My walls are also a shade of green, so it's a little hard to see in the photo, but you get the gist. It's a little big, so I need to take out some of the tulle, but it was super easy and super fun. Took me about 25 minutes, and no sewing involved!

Why on earth would I make a tutu (other than the obvious of wearing it around the house while you vacuum and/or drink wine)? You see, me and the Ballet Buds decided it would be age-appropriate to wear tutus to class during Halloween week. Personally, I think we need more excuses to wear tutus. Even Lone Boy in the Ballet Buds is getting into it, and he's going to wear a nice cavalier-esque vest for class, although I think a tutu would be hilarious. Anywho, it's done. If I get enough interest I'll post a tutorial, but there are several fabulous links on the Interwebs to help you through the process. Dancing, wearing silly costumes, and making tutus could all be considered activities that help us get in touch with our inner children. It's not just about taking the time to smell the roses, it's about taking the time to smell the roses, and then imagine yourself in the middle of a fairy tale where you have to hide in a beautiful rose garden while you wait for Prince Charming on his white horse. While wearing a tutu and drinking wine.....or something like that. So wear your tutus, dance while no one is watching, or even if someone is - never lose your childish innocence.

Now the bad side of adults behaving like children. In class this Sunday, there was a Ballet Brawl (a Barre-Room Blitz, anyone?) over mirror space. Never in the years of taking classes at Awesome Ballet School have I seen this type of behavior from adults...or children for that matter. One dancer was using the barres along the back wall. Another dancer was using a portable barre in the center. Back Wall Dancer asked Center Dancer to please move her barre a little bit so that she could see the teacher and the mirror. Center Dancer refused, multiple times, and finally did a "talk to the hand gesture" which infuriated Back Wall Dancer. They continued to shoot daggers at each other throughout the class, then at the break before center, The Confrontation occurred. Grown-ass women yelling at each other, displaying the behavior you'd expect from 4th graders. Luckily the teacher was out of the room for the exchange, otherwise I cannot imagine what she would have said.

At some level, we have to remember that while acting like children can be a healthy past time  we are adults, and are expected to act like adults. Fighting in an adult open level class? Are you serious? This is Awesome Ballet School, and you are an adult recreational dancer. Get over yourself and act your age.

Or better yet, get yourself some wine and a tutu and chill out.........

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taking Baby out of the corner...

The other day, my friend and I were watching the Disney movie Aladdin. Yes, we are thirty-somethings with successful jobs, but we couldn't resist the pull of a childhood movie. It got us talking about our favorite movies from the 80s - the ones we associate with our youth. Growing up in different parts of the country, my roommate and I had different favorites, gems like Top Gun. The Breakfast Club. E.T. Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But the one unanimous title that elicited that gushing "OH MY GAWD I LOOOOOOOOVED THAT MOVIE!" sentiment was none other than Dirty Dancing.

I can remember going over to my friend's house to sneak a peek at the movie - my parents were a lot more strict than those of my friends, so even watching the movie felt like an illicit thrill. It wasn't until I watched the movie again many years later that I realized my parents were probably right to keep my "Hungry Eyes" from the screen - Dirty Dancing dealt with topics that I, as a seven year old, couldn't possibly comprehend. In the end, it didn't matter, because seven-year-old Black Sheep didn't care about the adult themes, she cared about two things. The Dancing...and The Music. Dirty Dancing was my first introduction to choreography. Not being a dancer when I was young, the dance moves seemed so exotic - so happy - that my friends and I couldn't help but watch that VHS tape over...and over...and over again, learning the dance moves. Who of us hasn't tried the Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey lift in the pool? How many of us did talent show versions of Hey Baby? How many of us wore out cassette tapes singing Hungry Eyes at the top of our lungs?

Dirty Dancing was so much more than a movie musical that was accessible to everyone - it was the precursor for dance-themed movies like Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, even the Step Up franchise. The soundtrack is instantly recognizable - to this day I can't hear some songs, like Stay or Hey Baby without thinking of jamming out in my friend's basement. As this is the 25th anniversary of the movie (man I feel old), Sony is releasing a deluxe anniversary edition of the soundtrack. It's the original 1987 soundtrack along with a host of special features and freebies. It just begs you to pick up a copy then go home and put on your best Baby costume, find your Johnny, and dance & sing along. And in the meantime, enjoy this blast from the past.'re doin' it right.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bar Method?

I came across this US News article today about the Bar Method craze. I know a few people who have tried it and loved it, but they were not dancers, nor had any interest in classical dance. I'm afraid my purist inner-ballerina would be at odds with the class, and mutter snide comments during a vicious inner monologue about the bastardization of dance. That said, I'm still curious. I do Pilates reformer, after all - could it be that much of a stretch?

What say you, Cher Readers? Have you taken a Bar Method (or other ballet-based fitness) class? Did you enjoy it, or did you ballet run as fast as you could back to the studio for a proper barre workout?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Red Shoes

My local library has a great online lending library - you can download select titles to your iPad/Kindle/eReader for free as long as you have an active library card. I was browsing the titles the other day, when I came upon this book, Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You.

Now I fully realize it's a young adult title, but as I have magpie tendencies where ballet is concerned, I downloaded it and started reading. While the prose is simplistic at best and predictable at worst, there are a few good messages worth repeating.

  1. Not everyone has a ballet body, but that doesn't mean you can't, and shouldn't, dance. Celebrate who you are and your lines (and curves) because they make you, YOU.
  2. You've got to fight for what you believe in. I once had a teacher who said the key to happiness is to find out what your passionate about, and make that your "life" career. What gives you that "fire in your belly," as she used to call it? Once you've found your passion, stand up for it, and learn how to communicate with those who think differently than you.
  3. It's easy to get caught up in the moment. Not to the extent of wearing red shoes that try to entice you to your death, but sometimes we can get so emotionally invested in something that we fail to see reason. Working out 20 times a week may seem like a great idea, and you may love it, but are you doing more harm than good? Take a step back, take a breather, and get some perspective.

The amazing thing about reading a young adult novel is that you see they aren't so different from us - even in our thirties we have the same hang-ups, the same challenges, and the same inner struggles.....just with a much better wardrobe.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gettin' Jeté With It

I had the most amazing class last night. It was one of those classes where everything falls into place - retirés are solid, pirouettes are balanced, and you just feel good. After a string of really bad classes, I desperately needed it. La Danseuse (remember her?) was teaching, and she has really been making an effort to up the ante in class for those of us who want to progress. And boy, did she ever.

I won't bore you with details, but here is the final combination we did in class, which was the culmination of about 30 minutes of across the floor exercises - my psoas and hip flexors are SOOOO tired today! Evidently I've been half-assing the rond de jambe part of my pique turns. When I took the time to actually isolate the movement along with the opening of the arms, it kills!

Across the floor, on a diagonal: Pique turn > chassé effacé > coupé jeté en tournant. Pause in tendu devant, repeat.

IT WAS AWESOME! I felt like I was really dancing, and it definitely didn't feel like a beginner class. The coupé jeté en tournant was new for me. This is a grainy video, but it demonstrates the step pretty well.

12 hours later, I'm still on the ballet high...and THAT'S what I call Gettin' Jeté With It.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Musings on Music

Dance & Music - they go together like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, and Forrest and Jenny. While not impossible, it's difficult to dance without music, and personally, I enjoy a performance more when there's music, as opposed to dance-esque miming on a stage. Which leads me to believe that classically trained dancers, and especially dance teachers, would have a good understanding of music. They don't have to know which notes are in a minor 7th chord, or the meaning of the word "hemiola," but I do expect them to know basics about tempo and time signature.

Which brings me to my rant of the day. You see, cher readers, I fancy myself a bit of a musician. Started piano at a very young age, went to school on music scholarship, and still play at the ripe old age of 32. So it kills me, KILLS ME, when my teachers refer to all music you can waltz (balancé) to as 3/4 time. IT'S NOT ALL 3/4 TIME!

For those of you who don't know how to read music, each piece has a specific meter, indicated by the time signature. The time signature indicates how many beats (think "counts") are in each measure of music, and which note in the measure is worth 1 count. See this great Wiki page for more info on meter, and this great article on time signatures. So, you can balancé to a 3/4 piece, but you can also balancé to a 12/8 piece, or even a 4/4 piece if triplets are used.

Yes, it's a minor thing, but come on - in an artform that makes such a huge deal out of terminology, wouldn't it make sense they should be just as exacting about their musical terms? Or maybe it's just me....grumble grumble grumble....

Friday, September 7, 2012

Is this really happening?

After a long day slugging it out at the office, I booted up my trusty email, to be met with this:

Dear [Black Sheep],

Thank you so much for your letter. We appreciate you sending us your thoughts and needs for additional adult classes. We had a meeting today to discuss your ideas- adding Adult Beginning Pointe and Adult Advanced Beginning Ballet class looks very promising. We will keep you updated and are seriously considering adding these classes to our Spring semester schedule, if time and studio space allows. Thank you again for taking the time to put this letter together. You dedication is much appreciated.

Most Sincerely,
Awesome Ballet Teacher
Awesome Ballet School Faculty and Curriculum Coordinator

Guys, I think this might just happen! I was so excited that I went home and spent about two hours perusing Discount Dance Supply's website, looking at tights and leos and pretty shiny things. Oh yeah - THAT's where all my disposable income has been going!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Oh, heyyyyyyy! There you are!

She's alive!!!! Before I tell you what I've been up to, let me get the apologies and mea culpas out of the way.

  • Yes, it has been an extraordinarily long time since I last posted.
  • No, I did not catch some strange foreign disease rendering me unable to type.
  • Yes, I thought about quitting the blog. This, and my long absence, makes me a pretty terrible blogger.
  • No, I did not quit ballet.
  • Yes, I am very, very sorry.
So, that said, let's get down to brass tacks. What has this Black Sheep been up to since mid-May? Here's the Cliffs Notes version: Physical Therapy, Back to Ballet....Lots of Ballet, Attempted a Double, Petition School to add Classes (more on that later). And of course the regular "life" stuff, but it's pretty much "all work and no play makes Sheep a dull girl."

My injury finally healed, thanks to the tireless efforts of my physical therapist to coax some semblance of strength out of my right ankle. Seriously, she deserves a medal for dealing with my eye-rolling, sighing, complaining, and general malaise. But, she did teach me a lot about my body and "finding neutral." It is amazing how intricately our bodies are linked. Tipped pelvis = overworked hip flexors = weak psoas = compensation in the knee and ankle = sinus tarsi syndrome and sickling. Crazy, no? I find myself being more aware of my body's placement in everyday activities, and it has really paid off!

When I first got back to class, it was extremely difficult. My right side would tire out near dégagés, and felt as though I'd never get back to where I was pre-injury. But four months later, and I'm back to three classes per week, and feeling strong.

So here's where it gets fun. There's a group of us who have been taking classes together consistently for about two years. We have really bonded as a group; brunches, post-class drinks, ballet's awesome. We all share the frustration of not really progressing beyond our class, as there is a huge gap in technique between our level and the next level up. So, we got together, and like good ballet soldiers (Ballet Corps, anyone?), we drafted up a petition to the Academy to not only add an intermediate level class, but to start a BEGINNING POINTE CLASS! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this.

We handed in our petition and signatures this past Tuesday, so hopefully we will hear something soon. Keep your fingers (and fifths) crossed!

Monday, May 14, 2012

A case of the blahs....

Cher reader, I realize I have been officially "out of it" for a while. I'd love to blame it on the whole injury thing, but realistically I think it's as simple as having a case of the blahs. I don't feel like working. I don't feel like writing. I don't feel like socializing, and I don't even feel like grocery shopping, which oddly enough, is normally a fun experience for me (yes, I'm weird). Sad thing is, I always feel like dancing, but of course, being injured, I can't. I recently read a blog post on called "Finding Balance: Dancers On Coping With Injury." It's a great post which I highly recommend. It seems my "blahs" are not uncommon, which makes me feel marginally better....

But, cher reader, how do you get past the blahs? How do you put down the wine glass, put your best foot foward and move on? Je ne sais pas.

I'd welcome your input - comment away!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hurts So Good

Ladies and gents, I'm back. I took a little hiatus due to a peskie little ankle injury (more on that later) and a much needed vacation to Europe. It's kind of hard to obsess over missing class when you're standing in front of Opera Garnier in Paris, but I did my best :)

This past Saturday I had my first ballet class in 5 weeks - my physical therapist has allowed me to try one class per week, and even then, I have to sit out petit allegro and across the floor. It was interesting - my strength has diminished considerably even with 2x per week physical therapy, but the feeling.....oh the feeling!....of dancing again was simply marvelous. I didn't realize how much I missed it until after I took that first plie of the class - my grin was ear to ear. I felt more graceful and alive than I have in weeks. It's like I've been reunited with a long lost friend, and we were able to pick up our relationship as though time had never passed.

All that lovey dovey ballet mumbo jumbo aside, it is going to be some serious WORK to get back into fighting shape. I feel like I lost about 3 months of progress in just 5 weeks. The physical therapist, who luckily has a dance background, was able to pinpoint quickly that I'm actually sickling just the slightest bit on one side, which, over time, has led to this subtalar inflammation syndrome. Le sigh. I keep telling myself that all these baby steps will add up to something, but it's frustrating.

Anyways, for those who want to know, my trip was great. Paris was amazing as usual, Brussels a little meh, and Prague breathtaking. It's been difficult adjusting back into regular life, strangely enough. I miss how quiet Europe is, the wonderful coffee, the architecture, the refinement, and above all, I miss the food. I'm a bit of a foodie and American food (and coffee!) just depresses me now. Trust me - the idea of becoming a permanent expat is even more attractive than before, as long as I can find me a ballet class :)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ladies & Gentlemen, we have a diagnosis...

Sinus Tarsi Syndrome.

Saw the ortho doc on Friday and the good news is that the pain was diagnosable, which is SO much better than having them tell you "you must have sprained your ankle or you're overusing it." The bad news is that I have to take 4 weeks off dance, and start physical therapy 2x per week for 4-5 weeks.

On the upside, my doctor is HOT. That's HOT with a capital H, O, and T. Also, according to my X-rays, I have a nice foot for dance, at least according to Dr. Hotty McHotty. That doesn't quite make up for the fact that he's telling me not to dance for a month, but it's nice to know there's nothing inherent in my bone structure that would prevent me from going on pointe.

So, Cher Reader, it is likely my posts for the next 4-5 weeks will be about PT. Quelle horreur!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I Feel Guilty

Based on advice from La Danseuse, to assist Poor Little Ankle in the healing process I'm trying to take it easy. My Sunday ballet class started 30 minutes ago, and I am not there. I feel so guilty! Granted, it is really nice to sit on my couch and vegetate, but I really feel like I'm doing something devilish by not dancing. What if they learn something new and I'm not there? What if today is the day that my pirouettes finally decide to become awesome? What if, what if, what if.

What if today is the day that my ankle decides it has had enough, and just snaps? It's all in your perspective, I guess.

This blows. Can't wait until my ortho appointment this Friday, because NOT dancing is almost worse than dancing with pain. Wow. That sounded really dark and twisty, not to mention masochistic.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ballet - You're Doing it Right

I was just in my office's kitchen (yes, Black Sheep has a real job) and accidentally dropped a fork. I totally penchéed the crap out of that pick up. Yeah, buddy.

Happy Friday, ya'll!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stupid @$%&ing Ankle

For a few months now I've had some pain in my ankle when pointing my foot. Not quite feeling like achilles tendonitis, but something is going on. After Sunday's class this weekend it was positively aching. I couldn't even make it through jumps and I had a noticeable limp after class. So, I figured it was finally time for some professional intervention, as my treatment plan of compression bandages and a few glasses of wine were obviously not helping. I went for a complementary injury screening this morning from a local PT office, thinking they could poke around at my foot and at least be able to wager a guess as to whether I'm looking at a nasty strain or the dreaded torn tendon.

Total. Waste. Of. Time. Dude didn't even examine my ankle, and basically told me to do more theraband exercises, take regular doses of anti-inflammatories, and ice my ankle. Thank you, Captain Obvious. I know you're not a physician, but at least do me the courtesy of examining my ankle for swelling and stability.

I guess I'll give one of the foot & ankle docs he recommended a call.  Stupid @$%&ing Ankle. Sorry. Not dancing makes me cranky.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spanish Not So Fly

So last night La Danseuse decided that class was doing really well, which meant it was time too introduce something new. We learned this across the floor movement where you have your hands on your waist in "Spanish Arms" (google scenes from Don Quixote for reference), and you walk (or promenade, maybe?) grandly across the floor, do some chassés and sautés, but while the footwork is easy, all the while you have to twist your upper body toward the moving leg while turning your head the opposite direction.

Um....yeah......not so much..... My head hurts just thinking about it again. But at least I know what I'll be practicing at home this week!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What would you do-oo-oo for a Klondike bar?

No, this isn't a post on frozen deliciousness, but hey - keep reading anyway!

Today a friend of mine emailed me, asking whether I was meeting up with The Gang at a local watering hole for wings, brewskis and good times. Without even giving it a second thought, I typed out my reply, "No, I'm feeding my ballet addiction tonight. But maybe next time!" A few moments later, my friend responded with, "Yeah, I should have figured, it being Tuesday and all."

Cher reader, there was a time when you would never see me turn down an invite to hang out with my friends and toss a few cold ones back. I love beer. I love friends. Hell, I even love wings. "I should have figured," coupled with my reference to "my ballet addiction" kicked off a little thought bubble inside my head.

Am I really addicted to ballet? And, assuming the answer is yes (because come on, we all know it is), like any good hard-core junkie, what have I given up in my all-consuming passion for my drug? And most importantly, is all the sacrifice worth it?

On the surface, I guess I never thought of the things I've given up for ballet because I feel like ballet has given me so much. But when you get down to it, I really have sacrificed some things for my passion. Things like Friday and Saturday nights out (Have you ever tried spotting while hungover? It doesn't stop the spinning, trust me...), Klondike bars, or in my case, all carbs. Because, cher reader, while the average person you meet on the street would probably not call me obese, I know that if I want to get up on pointe in the next year, I need to shed some Ell Bees (that's lbs, yo). And for me, what works best is a controlled carb diet. So yes, I have put an end to my love affair with carbs, all for the sake of what may be a pipe dream of mine in ballet.

I've also given up pedicures (it just gets all scratched off),  most of my high heels (got to stretch those Achilles!), and quite possibly my sanity. After all, what 30-something in their right mind would give up all those things for something they will (1) never do professionally, (2) is seen by most people as a hobby, and (3) is a little wack-o?

Why do we do it? Because of what ballet gives us. Peace of mind. Better understanding of our bodies. A creative outlet. A sense of beauty. An appreciation for a historic art form. Another way of loving ourselves.

Ballet may be a highly addictive drug, but I refuse to believe that something that makes me feel this good, even with the aches and pains, can be bad for me.

My name is Black Sheep, and I'm an addict.

And I still want that Klondike bar.

What about you, cher reader? What have YOU given up for ballet? Do you think it is worth it? What have you gained? And, of course, what would you do-oo-oo for a Klondike bar? Comment away.....

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Black Sheep Goes Modern

On Friday night I had the opportunity to view Winter Fire, the Joffrey Ballet's collection of three modern pieces: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, After the Rain, and Infra. It was my first time seeing a live modern ballet, and while I think I ultimately prefer classical, it taught me some very valuable lessons.

1. There is beauty in pushing boundaries. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated takes classical technique and bends, torques, and shoves it to the next level. William Forsythe's choreography for ITM,SE is quick, technically challenging and precise but sometimes creates caricatures out of arabesques and port de bras. The result, rather than being grotesque, is more "Cirque du Soleil." And I like it. It made me realize that while perfection in a line is certainly something to strive for, it's not everything. And sometimes, going that extra mile is completely worth it.

2. Never underestimate the impact of music. ITM,SE had a pounding electronic score which completely distracted me from the dancing. I absolutely hated it, and that's a strong word from me. Infra, however, had similar dancing at times to ITM,SE but the score absolutely complemented the dancing. The music for After the Rain was sentimental and lovely, perfectly paired with the staging and choreography. I want to learn that choreography someday - Christopher Wheeldon is a genius, and it was absolutely gorgeous.

3. Everyone has a story. Even modern dancers. From what little I know of modern dance, it seems to be more about movement and less about the story, or at least, the story isn't as immediately recognizable. But a story absolutely unfolds when you have dancers who connect on a deeper level. The final pas de deux in After the Rain left me breathless. You can actually see the dancers supporting each other emotionally, and feel the love in their dancing. After the Rain really told a story, and Infra did as well, but not on as emotional of a level for me.

4. Now I know why ballerinas wear their hair in buns. I love loose hair on dancers. I think it makes them look free, other-worldly, and beautiful. But in Infra (Wayne McGregor choreography), Ricardo Santos' partner (not sure who) had long red hair in a ponytail that kept whipping him in the face during those assisted pirouettes. I felt so bad for him! Imagine getting a face-full of hair every 2 seconds. Beautiful, absolutely. Practical, not so much.

5. Good men are hard to find. When I watch ballet, I tend to focus on the women, because I'm mesmerized by the pointework and impossibly thin, flexible bodies that I continually strive toward. So when a male dancer can steal my attention, it's a pretty major thing. I'm sure that all the Joffrey's dancers are phenomenal, but watching Ricardo Santos and Derrick Agnoletti dance was a real treat. Ricardo's lines are pure artistry. He has impossibly long arms and hands that look just lovely in everything he does. Derrick is like a little firecracker on stage - so full of movement and joie de vivre that you can't take your eyes off him. His final PDD in Infra (I believe it was with Christine Rocas but I can't be sure) was beautiful, showing the softer side of his dancing. Plus, it doesn't hurt that costuming for Infra was basically underwear and tight t-shirts. Le sigh.....

Anyway, I think I'll stick with classical, but seeing Winter Fire definitely gave me a new appreciation for the heights to which we can take this art form. Seeing Joffrey dance was a real treat, one I hope I get to see again. And now, back to the real world.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Classe à Paris?

In a few weeks I will be travelling to Europe, aka My Disneyland. I love Europe and cannot wait for 10 days of bliss in Paris, Brussels and Prague.

My trip itinerary reads like a hedonistic, indulgent novella - cooking class in France, Belgian waffles & chocolate in Brussels, brewery tour in Prague - and I realized - France is not only The Grand Dame of Cuisine, it is also the birthplace of ballet. And what better way to honor that heritage than by taking a true ballet vacation?

I was all kinds of excited about this idea until I actually started looking for classes. Cher Reader, you would not believe how difficult it is to find an adult open class in another country, namely, France. I speak a fair amount of French, so navigating the websites hasn't been too difficult, but finding a beginner or intermediate class that (1) accepts walk-ins, (2) doesn't require a long-term commitment, or (3) is an actual barre + center class has been near impossible.

Interestingly, I learned that many ballet studios in Paris offer barre au sol, otherwise known as floor barre. Having never heard of this before (perhaps I'm behind the times!) I did some mad Googling. Evidently, in barre au sol, the teacher leads students through a series of exercises on the floor which mimic and are meant to strengthen floor work. Think of doing your entire barre series while lying on the floor. It's an interesting concept, but as fascinating as this sounds, if I'm going to be in Paris dancing, I want it to be with a barre (standing upright) with a fabulous French teacher with bun, skirt, and the whole 9 yards. Is that too much to ask?

So I'm putting it out to you, Cher Reader, if you know of any classes one might take in Paris, please let me know!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pas de Crap

Tonight's class went like this:

6:30pm - YEAH! I'm here early! Gonna stretch, do some theraband exercises, check in on Foursquare, you know, important stuff. I'm feeling great!
7:00pm - This is great. There's only about 20 people in the class (about 1/2 of last time) so we're going to have individual attention and this is going to be so much fun!
7:10pm - Wow. Tendus REALLY hurt my ankle. Ce n'est pas bien.
7:30pm - If I smile a lot and use fantastic port de bras, do you think La Danseuse will completely miss the fact that my entire right leg is horrible? My pas de chevals look like pas de crap.
7:50pm - I don't think I can do this.
8:05pm - Thank god. Center adagio. Slow is good.
8:15pm - 32 changements? You have to be $%*&ing kidding me. Where's the barre...I need to hold on to something.
8:17pm - OMG my ankle is going to crumble into pieces.
8:20pm - Échappé, coupé derrière, coupé devant, coupé derrière, pas de bourre, changement. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Kill me now.
8:23pm - I don't think I can make the last 7 minutes of class. Glissades and pas de chats will have to wait. Stretch. Must stretch.

Yeah. It sucked bad.

Come on, get happy!

Happiness is a funny thing. In fact, I would say that Happiness is the ultimate motivator - is there anything we do that isn't in some way driven by our insatiable hunger to be happy? There's a very endearing movie called The Pursuit of Happyness and yes, that's Happyness with a "Y." Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos has started a movement called "Delivering Happiness," which teaches that not only is happiness a primal drive in life, the act of giving happiness to someone else is the ultimate reward. Think on that for a while!

Happiness can be found in the little things, and for me, ballet is no exception. I urge you, Cher Reader, whip out a pen and paper (or your iPad) and jot down your answers to this question: "What about dance makes YOU happy?" Refer back to that list when times are tough, you need a quick pick me up, or class doesn't go so well. Having never met a list I didn't like (seriously, you should see my epic to-do lists), here's the start to my list...
  1. Legwarmers. I absolutely love leg warmers, and they put a smile on my face every time I slip on a pair.
  2. Inner Dancing Peace. When I dance, I physically can't focus on whatever I'm stressing/obsessing about and execute a pirouette. My mind won't do it. So when I dance, I get the closest I've ever come to inner peace - it's just me and my plies, and we get along splendidly.
  3. Tutus. I don't know why, having never worn one myself, but the thought of them makes me smile.
  4. Épaulement. For me, the leg movements may technically be ballet, but it's the artistry in the head and arms that makes it dancing. A dancer with great épaulement will captivate me much more than fancy footwork.
  5. I'm happy that ballet has made me see my body in a different light. When I started back up a year ago, that mirror was my greatest foe, and I saw every flaw and imperfection hugely magnified out of proportion. Over the past year ballet has made me see strength instead of bulk, curvature of The Line instead of fat, and balance instead of awkwardness.
  6. That moment when you balance and feel like you're floating. For me, those moments are still rare, but when I nail a relevé passé, I'm all, "YEAH GIRRRRL!!!! ROCK ON WITH YOUR BAD SELF!"
  7. Men in tights. 'Nuff said.
At the end of the day, I'm happy that my body and my life situation still allow me to dance. And on most days, that alone is enough. :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Where's the Barre?

I love days off from work. I can lounge around on my couch sipping coffee, trying to convince myself that getting out of my PJs is necessary, and that I should actually do a little ballet workout. A few weeks ago, I took some fantastic advice from two of my favorite blogs, spent a few hours at Home Depot, and bought the tools necessary to make my own barre. I largely worked from instructions from this post about building a PVC barre (from Leotards and the Buns in Them), but I think my next incarnation of The Barre will be this one, from Bead 109's fantastic blog.

I ended up covering my bar with faux leather contact paper - it gives it a nice look, is easily wiped down in the event of sweat (although we all know ballerinas don't sweat, they glisten like dewdrops), and makes a cool conversation piece, especially since the barre sits quite visibly in the yoga/ballet/piano room adjacent to my living room.

Pretty, and functional!
I love my barre, but have found my home workouts to be a bit, well, uninspiring. For one, my music seems all off, and I have been unable to find any music for download/purchase that really works for a home barre routine. And then, there's the fact that my apartment was built in the 1890s and has a slight (OK, severe) lean to it. Usually I just pretend that I'm dancing on some fabulous raked stage - which, by the way, has to be the hardest thing EVER - but still, it kills home practice. In short, it is easy for me to come up with reasons to NOT practice at home, even though I really SHOULD. Quelle dilemme.

So, instead of being a good little bunhead and practicing on my homemade raked-stage barre of glory, I'm typing this blog. And drinking coffee. On my couch. In my PJs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Italian Arias, Yes. Italian Changements, not so much.

Last night was like the IHOP of ballet classes. Pas de basque....Italian changements.....and let us not forget All. That. French. Additionally, La Danseuse decided to teach class to orchestral music rather than the traditional piano etudes. A little Italian opera, a little German symphony...I have to say it was a nice change, but it actually threw me off quite a bit, as I found myself listening to the music rather than focusing on my dancing.

Now, my background is in music. Started piano at 9 years of age, and I'm still playing today. Throw in about half a dozen other instruments I learned over the years, and I could have my own one-woman symphony. I love music. It can make me cry, make me giddy, make me name it, there's an Opera for that. But for some reason, my brain cannot concentrate on dancing and Cavelleria Rusticana with the same attention span. Never was that more apparent last night than during Italian changements.

In my all-consuming hatred of frappés I forgot about the seething ire I have for Italian changements. La Danseuse only made us do them once or twice in all of last year, and last night, set to Rossini, I just couldn't do it. Imagine, if you will, a frog trying to jump rope. Or go over hurdles. That's what I looked like. Not a pretty sight.

I hate when you have a class that leaves you feeling defeated. Ce n'est pas bon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Behold the Power of the Interwebs...

True confession time. I'm a serial googler. I Google everyone. And everything. All. The. Time. Google is equal to hours of entertainment for me, and I sincerely believe that if Google should go under, the world as we know it (or at least, as I know it) will end. I may seriously name my next dog Google. Seriously.

Anywho, there I was, Googling Favorite Teacher at Awesome Ballet School. Advance apologies for all the vague references, but Awesome Ballet School is associated with an Awesome Ballet Company - that's relevant for the rest of the story. Now, I consider my Googling powers pretty advanced, and I was not satisfied when my initial results turned up zilch. So I dug deeper and deeper into the interwebs and hit the mother lode.

Brace yourselves.

Favorite Teacher used to be a principal dancer at Awesome Ballet School. Not only that, the picture I frequently stare at in the hallway while I'm stretching because it is so freakin' beautiful is HER in her dancing prime!  But wait there's more.....I unearthed a picture of her dancing with....get ready for your mind to be blown....THE CURRENT DIRECTOR OF THE COMPANY!!! What the what???? Favorite teacher has name-dropped a few times during class, usually a tidbit about taking classes from Gelsey Kirkland and the like, but I now think she may have been holding out on us. She is no longer Favorite Teacher.....she has become.....La Danseuse. Seriously. I found a grainy video showing her dancing circa 1985 and her extensions were mad crazy awesome. Le sigh.

My Tuesday night classes will never be the same - before she was just an amazing teacher - now that I know she was also a world-class ballerina, I realize that (a) I am incredibly lucky to be taking classes from her, (b) I REALLY need to start learning more about actual ballerinas, and not just the ballets they dance in, and (c) I heart Google.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Trop de Ballet

I may have OD'ed on ballet this weekend. Beginner class Friday night. Beginner class followed by Intermediate class Saturday morning. A performance of Romeo & Juliet Saturday night. Advanced beginner class Sunday morning. What in the world was I thinking, especially since I'm on the tail end of injury recovery? Well, I'm pretty sure the inner monologue went something like this:

Friday 5:00pm
My legs: Wow! It's Friday! Let's go to class! Dance dance dance dance dance!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My head: Well, I guess it's a healthier alternative to the usual half bottle of wine, so, what the hell! I'm in!
Legs: Awesome! Don't worry, I feel great. I could do this all weekend. Ankle feels strong, balance is coming back, let's DO THIS! Dance dance dance dance dance!!!!!
Head: Well, just take it easy. You don't want another injury. Let's just be safe, OK?

Saturday 7:00am
Head: Wow. This is early. Where's the coffee. Why are my legs this tired on a Saturday morning?
Legs: Dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance!
Head:Yeah, OK, I get it, you want to dance some more. At least I'm watching a ballet tonight - that counts as rest rime, right?
Legs: Dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance!

Saturday Night 8:00pm
Head: How do they lift their legs so high? They are so teeny tiny! I can't believe I can identify some of these steps! How awesome is that?
Legs: Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Sunday Morning 9:00am
Head: Oh dear god. I'm sore. A hot shower should help, right? Maybe some anti-inflammatory creme?
Legs: Dance dance limp dance so tired dance OMG dance ice pack.
Head: What the &*$% was I thinking, doing this 3 days in a row? You're a grown-ass woman!
Legs: You were right, I was wrong, this was a bad idea.
Head: Eh, don't be so hard on yourself. You did well. But I do think this means we can take Monday off, maybe do a little date night with The Bachelor and a bottle of wine?
Legs: Deal. You bring the wine, I'll bring the ice packs.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Leotard, the Witch & the Wardrobe

Sorry, boys, but this one is for the ladies. When venturing into the world of ballet, one of the inevitable questions beginners will have is, "What do I wear?" Assuming your ballet school does not have a dress code, the simple answer is: anything. Well.....almost. Let's discuss.

  1. You need to be able to move. And stretch. And bend over without displaying your nether regions to the person behind you. Find something that allows for movement but also doesn't have you tugging it up or down every 10 seconds. For this reason, a loose shirt may seem uber comfy, but is rather impractical with all the movement in ballet.
  2. Your teacher needs to be able to see the general placement of your joints. Now, some may disagree with me, but for a beginner I absolutely think it is imperative for the teacher to be able to make see both your ankles and knees to be sure you're in correct alignment in all positions. This is a safety measure as much as it is a learning tool. While yoga pants may meet requirement # 1, if they are so loose your teacher can't find your knees or see your ankles then we have a problem. Try more fitted capri pants or shorts that hit just over the knee. 
  3. You need to feel confident and comfortable. I'm sure at this very moment many of you are saying to yourselves, "But Black Sheep, I will never feel comfortable in a leotard and tights, at least not without a few cocktails and a Xanax chaser!" Believe me, I know the feeling. Start out slow - maybe you wear tights, loose shorts, and a leo with a tank top over it. After a few classes, you will realize that not only are all those layers rather warm, but it is easier for you to dance when you can see your body in the mirror. That's not to say we don't all have fat days - I have to believe even the pros have days when they had a little too much "fun" at the bar after opening night. And on those days, you reach for that trusty cami, pull on a t-shirt, or wear that ballet skirt you've had lying around. Speaking of ballet skirts, Natalie makes a fantastic skirt for those of us with less waspish waists.
  4. Finally, you need to wear appropriate footwear. Socks work just fine in a pinch, but a pair of well-fitting ballet slippers will help you feel the floor, execute turns and jumps, and do a snazzy tendu without picking up all that nasty junk on the floor. (Have you seen the bottom of most ballet shoes? Gross!) Leather versus canvas is a personal choice, but whatever you get, make sure they fit. I recommend going to your local dance supply store for an initial fitting, and once you find a pair you like, you can always pick up extra pairs online.
So there you have it. You don't have to dress like a ballerina, but I guarantee you that "feeling" the part will help you to "dance" the part. The most graceful dancers are the most confident dancers. Find what works for you and WORK IT GIRLFRIEND! For me, what "works" is a black or navy leo (slimming!), black or grey capri-length tights, and black dance shorts (think boy shorts). I start class with a shrug and leg warmers, but those normally come off pretty soon after tendus from first. One day, I hope to feel comfortable enough to rock the pink tights on days other than my "skinny days," but I'm not there yet. For me, black is still the new black.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Things I Wish I Didn't Have to Do Each Class

You know what I really, really hate? Frappes. Frappuccinos? Love them. Frappes, not so much.

That is all.

Happy Anniversary!

This week marks my one year anniversary taking classes from Awesome Ballet School. When I think back to that first class, what stands out most is that I simply felt overwhelmed. I can remember hobbling to the bus after class thinking, "Dear God. Please let me be able to walk tomorrow." Aside from calf and foot cramps during class, I found that after 5 years off, there might be a slight bit of muscle memory, but absolutely no grey-matter memory. Even the simplest combinations were impossible, and I was mentally defeated. I watched my other classmates - thin, svelte things in leotards and tights - and thought nasty things about myself. Not only was I over thirty, but I probably had at least thirty pounds on each of them. At least. On a good day.

I may have ended Day 1 in a dark cloud of despair, but boy, am I glad I stuck with it.

Dear reader, if you are starting out and struggling, please know, It Does Get Better! A year later and remembering combinations is second nature. That foot points a lot better than it used to, and dare I say, I'm starting to look a bit more graceful, which is a nice departure from my initial imitation of a cow hoofing it across the floor. Those leotards and tights? Not so scary. And the first time you nail a pique arabesque and Awesome Tiny Girl does not, you will feel like a million bucks. Trust me, it will happen.

Anywho, Happy Anniversary to me. I think this is the first of many celebrations to come!