Dance Like Nobody is Watching… Not!

Grand Jete Expectation vs. Reality

How many of you have experienced this moment of truth shown in this ballet meme? Well, I have had plenty in the long and winding path of my adult ballet journey, but I can truly say an emphatic “reality bites!” after my barre practice on the roof recently.

Due to numerous reasons which I will not bore you with, I haven’t been able to go to class for quite some time. So I try to grab a make-shift barre in the corridor of my workplace to practice whenever I can. Recently the weather has been surprisingly “cool” (relatively speaking, as it is still in the upper 20C’s to lower 30C’s here, but with a nice breeze), so I practiced in the early morning on the roof of my home.

What became my make-shift barre on the roof is the flat surface of one side of the wall, which came up to about the right height for me. But there isn’t any possibility for me to grab it. So I just laid my hand on it. First awakening: Without grabbing the barre, I found that my supporting side was actually much weaker than I thought, so that my working leg had a lower extension and less stability when it moved. First lesson: Work on the core to stabilize the supporting side, and don’t rely too much on the barre.

Now, there is a little window that reflects the image of my trunk. When I looked at it during practice, I was quite appalled to see how much my pelvis tilted forward and my belly just sloughed during my exercises. There isn’t any reflective surface in the corridor of my workplace, so I hadn’t been able to see myself from the side. Second lesson: Tilt the pelvis backward a bit and engage the pelvic floor muscles, as I have learned in Pilates. It surely wasn’t easy to to do that in every single movement. My muscles felt so very different!

I tried videotaping myself by placing my smartphone on the floor. It captured the movements of my legs and feet. Gosh! My knees were not straight. My turnout was horrible, and because of that, the feet looked a bit sickled. Despite the horrid awakening, I realized that I hadn’t been putting enough effort into firing my muscles and using the correct alignment in the simplest exercises. So, lesson Number 3: Give up the need for 180-degree turnout and high extensions, and focused on the basics instead. It turned out that every movement required so much more muscle power to be right. I have often felt that I have straightened my legs and pointed my toes enough. But the reality is, “straight” for everyday living is still far from the “ballet straight.” The same goes for pointed feet. I just have been way too relaxed in my practice over the past year. But then I forgive myself, as I am making a come-back after all my muscles went into post-surgery entropy. The muscles are gradually waking up and firing with the help of physiotherapy and Pilates training. Now, this has to translate into my regular practice.

Recently I come across an article by dance physiotherapist Lisa Howell, who wrote that it takes a much longer time to correct wrong movements than to learn them (see  here: http://bit.ly/1KRfs9r). So I expect a lot more repetitions to correct everything that’s wrong about my movements. Luckily, I am at least aware now of how I am doing things incorrectly. So that’s a good start, LOL!

I also recommend my fellow adult dancers to try to check your posture and alignment in the mirror whenever possible, and to videotape yourself just to see how you are progressing over time. While we often hear the saying: “Dance like nobody is watching,” when we practice and aim for improvements, let’s try to dance like everybody is watching, and put up a good performance!

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Baby Ballet Steps… Again

Collage_Self-Practice Today marks the 1st anniversary of my major abdominal surgery. I am back to Square One in ballet. Scar tissues are hindering my movements in the hips and back. It is sometimes disheartening to be unable to lift the legs as high as I used to in the past or to hold a certain position. All I can do is to take baby steps… do baby ballet on my own. It has not been easy. My job responsibilities have increased over the past year, and since my workplace and home are far away from all the ballet studios, I didn’t go to class after work. It was too tiresome, and I didn’t want to stretch my health. So I took it easy. I also started to develop my small online business, which has kept me super busy. The only day I can go to class is Saturday. The class is a one-hour class, too short by the conventional standard. But coming back to the routine, that was just right for me. I do miss the days when I used to take at least three classes a week, as well as those crazy days leading up to the dance competition in 2013, when I practiced every evening after work and then some. But I also remember the adrenaline hikes and how exhausted I would feel. Perhaps it wrecked my health in a way that I do not totally fathom. In any case, I’m taking baby steps to go back into ballet. On sunny days I like to spend my lunch time running barefoot on the grass. And when it’s cloudy or rainy, I would find an empty room in the building where I work, and practice the barre. Most of the time, I feel like this: Chubby Ballerina

Balletomanehk’s 2014 in Review

A big thanks to those of you who have been reading my blog. Due to a major surgery, 2014 was an inactive year in terms of my ballet dancing. It pretty much reset my technique back to square one. But during those inactive months, I devoured books, videos, articles and images of ballet the same way a starving person devours every piece of food in sight. I imagined myself dancing and tried to activate the brain cells related to dance and movement. I even managed to watch a few live performances. Well, it wasn’t nearly as bad being an armchair dancer after all. What will 2015 bring? I certainly hope to continue to bring you interesting content in the upcoming year! Dance on, my ballet friends!

The WordPress.com has prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Musings on Father’s Day

Louisa_dancing

On this Father’s Day, I am going to write about a special person who played the role of a father figure when my own father was drifting away from my life exactly five years ago.

It was 2009, and I was visiting New York to care for my father, who was diagnosed with a very severe cancer, acute lukemia. I made daily runs to the hospital, taking almost two hours each way on the subway. The period was marked by initial optimism, which turned into frustration, angst, despair and then a gradual loss of hope. Some days, not only did my dad have to fight for his life, but I also had to fight the hospital staff for proper treatment. At several junctions my father almost lost his life to incompetent medical doctors and students.

Needless to say, being the primary caretaker, my stress level went off the roof! Luckily I was able to sneak some time to attend ballet classes with the famous master teacher Finis Jhung at Alvin Ailey’s. Every time I went to class, it was like a refuge. A sacred time to empty my mind off the thoughts of the daily chores at the hospital. A time to enjoy music and movement and to learn something new.

Yours truly and Finis after a private class. In those days Finis still gave private coaching and I was so fortunate to have had the chance to enjoy a private class with him.

Yours truly and Finis Jhung after a private class in New York, 2009. In those days Finis still gave private coaching and I was so fortunate to have had the chance to enjoy a private class with him.

 

Unknowingly, I became dependent on Finis’ classes to take me off the drudgery—not only of caretaking but the inevitable fate of my father’s passing. It was like a drug for me, literally, but a good drug! And Finis, being a few years younger than my dad, was like a father figure to me. I marveled at his flexibility, his energy and his passion for teaching. He represented everything that was the opposite of my dying father.

So on this Father’s Day, which marks the 5th anniversary of my dad’s return to the Realm of Bliss, I want to remember not just my own father but to give a special thanks to Finis Jhung, who provided a refuge for me during one of the toughest periods of my life.

Thank you, Finis!