Mood: Pleased (One of my neighbors must have installed a wireless network. I’ve been mooching all evening.)
Music: Artie Shaw, Coldplay, and Carsie Blanton
Books: Still working on old New Yorkers
Comestibles: Organic Ramen. But! I did make an exciting egg/spinach/stewed tomato/vegan sausage concoction the other night…
Domestic Goddess Adventure: Hanging my laundry on the line and dusting the molding.
Everything goes. My eye improves daily. I try to work hard in class. I try to smile and laugh and engage… I just don’t always know what to make of myself.
Can I have a hug now?
Look at me go! Here’s round 2:
First, a note on a comment I got from missmintyfresh (I miss you dreadfully dear!) - certainly ballet is not unique in it’s obsession with the details. I’m sure if I were an opera singer I would be practicing that one gosh-darned B-flat over and over again trying to get just the right timbre and emphasis. Sometimes in my own semi-obsessive quest for perfection I forget that EVERY artistic endeavor has it’s own struggle. Ah the bliss of unity in frustration.
Anyways. I said, among other things, that I would talk about shoes.
Let’s go buy some shoes…
Sorry. Just kidding.
Where to begin. In a dance company that does predominately ballet-based work (like mine), the girls spend much of their time in pointe shoes (sometimes known as toe shoes). We generally take the first part of our class every morning in “flat” shoes (ballet slippers), but when we get to the part of class where we stop holding onto the barres and do exercises across the floor, most people put their “shoes” on. That’s what we’ll say, no joke. “I’m going to put my shoes on” — and everyone knows what you mean.
As a side note - I actually wrote a whole paper in my semiotics class senior year about the language of ballet dancers. I should post that on here. Remind me.
Flat shoes are made of either leather or canvas. Everyone has their personal preferences. I usually keep a pair of both in my bag and depending on what sort of piece I’m rehearsing, how slippery the floor is, how tired my feet are, etc., I will make a decision as to which ones I wear.
Pointe shoes are traditionally made of satin, canvas, and glue. There is absolutely no wood involved. There is a company now that makes shoes out of elastomerics, but with the exception of a few incredible dancers, they usually look like flippers (in my personal opinion). I could talk about pointe shoes all day. Finding the perfect pair is another endless quest. If you are willing/able to spend the money pointe shoes are infinitely customizable by special ordering them from your preferred manufacturar (there are many). Not yet being in that position myself, I either order my shoes online or go into a dance store and by them there. I have a default shoe (Brand: Bloch, Style: Heritage, Size: 4.5, Width: XXX) that I buy, but if I can find a deal, I’m alway trying new things. For some brands, instead of choosing the style you prefer, you actually find the “maker” that you like best. On the bottom of the shoe where the size is printed, there is also a little symbol that indicates who made it. Each maker has a distinctive mold that s/he uses to make his/her shoes and so even in the same size and width, shoes from one maker will feel drastically different then shoes from another. I recently watched a video about NYCB dancers going to the Freed of London factory to “meet their maker.”
You can just imagine the puns that flew…
When you get the shoes, they are entirely unwearable. You have to sew on your own ribbons and elastic, and break the shoes in. I’ve been told that watching this process can be rather frightening. In my shoes, I rip the suede sole cover halfway off and then use a giant toenail clipper to yank out the nail holding the shank and sole together. Then I bend the shank back and forth (this requires a fair amount of effort) to encourage it to bend just where my arch hits. I also use the heel of my hand to flatten out the box of the shoe to accomodate my lovely square feet.
This might help to clear up some issues of terminology:
Other people have even more exciting routines involving hammering their shoes or wacking them against cement floors. Sometimes people will actually alter the length of the sides of the shoes by sewing in a little pleat. We pour water, alcohol, super glue, and/or floor wax onto different parts of the shoes to adjust their malleability: soften some places, harden and extend the life of others. It’s an endless process.
Sayonara comrades - until we meet again.
So here goes the first of what may turn into a short series of posts about what my life as an apprentice ballet dancer is actually like, in all its (to me) mundane and gory details.
This idea was prompted by a request from a friend who is writing a story about a ballet dancer, and also at the encouragement of my mother, who just thought it might make for some good reading. I can’t promise anything, but here goes:
*One Caveat: every ballet company is different, just like every person and every situation. My experience is undoubtedly somewhat different even from that of my peers here in Chas, but I will to stay away from some of the more personal quirks of my daily comings and goings for this particular project.*
So. It’s 9PM, and I check the calendar on my phone for the updated rehearsal schedule for the next day. We don’t know our schedule more then 11 or 12 hours in advance. The performance calendar has been posted since the summer, but many of the details are still sketchy, and everything is subject to change. Almost always though, we have class from 9-10:30, a 15-minute break, and then some number of rehearsals, depending on what we are cast in. On the rehearsal schedule, we can see which of the various members of the artistic staff is teaching class, which pieces are being rehearsed when, and who needs to be present for each of those rehearsals. If there are costume fittings or special events, those will be noted also.
Ok. Already I have a feeling there is more explaining that needs to happen.
First, a note on the concept of “class.” The importance and weight of class can be difficult to explain. Attendance isn’t mandatory at all companies, but for normal full-time troupes, it is almost always offered and at least encouraged. Most dancers I know have taken class at least 5 days a week, nearly year round, since they were in their mid teens. The content doesn’t change that much either. The purpose is to warm up the body for the work ahead, and to continue to develop the necessary muscles and skills to further enhance our technical abilities. Ballet is so freakin’ hard that you can work on the same silly little movement everyday for years and still feel unsatisfied by it. This could be a whole post in itself. I think I might even do that.
What else for this first introduction… Well, I’m often asked about uniforms/costumes/shoes/etc. Every morning, I tame my unruly mass of curls into a very tight, usually at least rather slick, knot or twist on top of my head. If you have very short hair you can get away with just a little ponytail, but generally a more elegant look is encouraged. Ballet is oftentimes still very old school. We curtsey and say thank you to our teachers and rehearsal masters everyday. That could be a whole post too… FOCUSING. Ok. So yes, I definitely put my hair up. For class and rehearsals, we wear our own clothes: leotards, tights, shorts, leggings, sweatshirts, t shirts, legwarms, jumpers, etc. The hodgepodge of outfits we cobble together is always a striking visual array. In my company, we are required to wear traditional pink tights and leotards two days a week. We avoid looking like pre-professional students by rolling up our tights to our ankles (they have holes under the foot to allow you to put padding on your toes, etc., and by wearing them on top of our leotards instead of underneath. On other days, we wear all sorts of messy looking “junk.” Usually by the end of class when we are sweating and gross, most people are in just a unitard, or leotard and shorts, but most people like to feel super insulated when they are starting off in the morning, and so will wear multiple layers, peeling them off as class goes on.
When we perform, clearly we often wear much more elaborate costumes, but only under very unusual circumstances would those pieces belong to us. A dancer who does a lot of guest appearances might own her own tutu, but in general costumes are owned by the company and altered for each dancer that wears them.
Shoes- that’s whole other post too…
Ok. I think that’s enough for now. I hope this is at least vaguely interesting. I’ve been in this world for so long that it is super hard for me to judge what someone outside of it would be interested in. What would YOU like to know?