Days in the life of a ballerina, Part 3

I’m baaack. With more fun and games for my (hopefully) devoted following. 

This time I’m going to talk a little bit about the rehearsal process, another area that can differ drastically from company to company, and even more specifically from choreographer to choreographer and from regisseur to regisseur. Choreographers are people who make dances. Taking inspiration from sources numerous and varied, they visualize movements, patterns, and formations, and direct the dancers to realize those visions. Regisseurs (in this context) are people who “set” ballets that have already been performed. Using videos, notes, and usually a highly developed memory, they reconstruct ballets from seasons past, teaching the steps and patterns to the dancers, and making sure that the work is performed as the original choreographer desired. 

On a given day, I may find myself called (asked to show up) for several different flavors of rehearsals. If we are mounting a “new work” (a ballet that exists only in someone’s imagination), then the dancers will be working directly with a choreographer to create the new dance. This process can be incredibly arduous for all parties. Oftentimes the choreographer will have extremely specific and detailed ideas about how they want the piece to look. It can be very difficult to get the dancers to successfully understand and execute those ideas. Try as we might, we can’t always read minds. 

Working on a new ballet usually means doing tiny little sections of choreography over and over again, tweaking things here, cutting things there, etc. etc. Frustration runs high, and tempers often fly. On the dancer’s side, we want to know exactly where to run, exactly which path our arms are following, and exactly how long to hold a given pose. More often then not, the choreographer can’t answer those questions right away and so we all operate in a state of semi-limbo until things are clarified, and the piece begins to come together. 

If we are setting a ballet that has been performed previously, the rehearsal process *can* be somewhat more straightforward. The regisseur, ballet master/mistress, or other company staff member running the rehearsal is usually is familiar with exactly how the steps should be danced, and just needs to show the dancers what they are supposed to be doing. Of course, undoubtedly questions arise, and then there is the problem of remembering exactly what we are supposed to be doing. When you are working on three or four ballets at once, each with their own incredibly specific, particular steps and instructions, one can start to feel like one’s head is going to explode. 

That’s about how my head feels right now. Wheee.

Seriously folks, I need some more ideas for this little series. What else would you be interested in hearing about? 

Nobody knows the Dreidel Song in Charleston…

We open with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” this weekend. I have mixed feelings about this show. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but clearly I have to pretend to for this production. This doesn’t bother me per se, but it’s a little strange. 

A fair number of carols are sung over the course of the show (I assume that’s what the songs are… I can’t really understand the words in the recorded music, but I can pick out “Christmas” now and again), and the other day I thought I would try and add a little amusement. A couple of years ago, my brother’s acappella group did a a version of “12 days of Christmas” that involved him jumping out in the middle to interrupt with “I had a little dreidel, I made it out of clay..”, to great amusement. I figured I could do the same thing. After the last bow and carol, I struck up my little Chanukah ditty. Everyone in hearing distance just looked at me funny. No one knew what the heck I was singing. Womp Womp.

I admit to being supremely disappointed. I was pleased with my cleverness and thought I was being ironic and amusing. Guess I’m just not in the proverbial Kansas anymore. I kind of thought the Dreidel Song was something that everyone learned in elementary school these days, along with Jingle Bells and various other festive tunes. Clearly I was mistaken. I’ll have to keep my Chanukah festivities to myself. At very least N. got a kick out of it at EBC. 

In other news, things are going well. I’ve got lots to write about, but it’s not going to happen just now. I gotsta go buy a can opener. Later though… Here’s a sneak peak:

1. Dick in a box closet. 

2. EBC

3. Grumblings about the CHS dance scene

4. The amazingness of Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade

5. Nutcracker, Willi Wonka, and Carnival of the Animals

Intrigued yet? 

teehee hee.

The Current State of Affairs 10/31/10

 

Hi there. It’s been a while.

All I can say is that nothing has been easy lately. I’ve been busy - the last two weeks have been chock full of rehearsals and engagements, but I’m still wandering somewhere off the path. I have every intention of continuing with my little ballet series, never fear, it might just take a little bit…

In the meantime….

Mood: I really like to be happy. That has been hard lately. I know that everything will get better, but I keep feeling like I’m gettingless capable/responsible, instead of more. Someone asked me if I was depressed the other day. I don’t think that I’m depressed… but I don’t know what it is that I am. 

Music: Acceptance, Deer Tick, John Mayer, Jelly Roll Morton

Movies (can you believe it?!): The September Issue and the Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button (<— As I told a friend, this movie made me want to jump on a train to New Orleans, wear beautiful dresses, and drink sazeracs all night)

Comestibles: Homemade vegetarian chili. I was really proud of myself. I have a picture somewhere…

Discoveries:

  • Love Me Again on Coming St. A sweet little vintage/used clothing shop. I traded a jacket and pair of pants (neither of which I ever wear) for a wool Anne Taylor trumpet skirt and a pair of T-Strap heels (perfect for dancing). Helloo EBC :)

Adventures:

  • Teaching the Charleston to a rep from the Princeton Review as an audition to be an SAT tutor. He was totally into it. We’ll see if I get the job. 
  • Demoing with Dylan at CSDA last night. We threw together a little number to “It’s a Man’s World” and I think it went rather well. Working on getting a video…
  • CBT Debut as a Transylvanian Transvestite in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. My career has reached a new height.

Upcoming Adventures:

  • After a 36 hour freak show involving a strap-on penis in the closet, I am moving into a new apartment sometime early this week. I’m not even sure I’m prepared to say anything else on the topic just now. 
  • EBC EBC EBC!!!!!!!!!
  • Rehearsals have begun for How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Willy Wonka. Apparently we will also start Nutcracker and Carnival of the Animals this coming week.

Rants:

  • Blues Dancing ≠ Club Dancing. If it makes me uncomfortable to watch, it might need another name. 
  • Micro Blues SHOULD NOT BE LED FROM YOUR FINGERTIPS. NOR YOUR HAND. EVER.

My eye still isn’t healed. I’m still not working enough to pay rent. I’m moving to a new apartment but it’s only real draw at this point is its price. Rocky Horror is amusing and all, but I’m getting to the point where I would be game for pointe shoes and a tutu. I get super excited about going out dancing, and inevitably end up supremely disappointed. Sigh.

Too much down. Here’s some up:

  1. I just got a letter from H.Good and an email from my Grandmother. Also talked to AWhit and Blue Bear on the phone.
  2. Was taken out last weekend by a supremely nice boy. The last thing on my agenda right now is dating, but I did have a lovely time. 
  3. Southwest Airlines is beginning service to Charleston on March 13. $200 Roundtrip to Philly, Boston, NYC, Cali… so pleased.

Sayonara Cyber-Web. Happy Halloween :]

The Current State of Affairs 10/7/10

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…

Discoveries:

  • Mercato on Market St. Stopped in last night to hear the jazz with Mr. Jennings and had a lovely cheese plate, not to mention a lovely dance.
  • The Charleston County Public Library. Amazing collection of jazz and free broadcasts of the Met in HD. ExtraWin for ExtraCulture.
  • pinterest.com (<—check them out!)

Projects: 

  • Organizing my itunes library
  • Figuring out what I want. Trying to make conscious decisions about what I want in life, love, and the rest

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?

Another backlog photo post from my brief stop in NYC at the end of August:

  1. Celebrity sighting at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island.
  2. Ta Da! 
  3. Photo curtesy of Mr. Daniel Short. He actually found it first.
  4. Despite his strong objections I managed to convince Neal to give me the job of writing up the cheese plates at the Marshall Stack. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and he had lots of other things to do. #weirdbaractivities
  5. This store was AMAZING. A huge wall of antique sewing machines. Also awesome clothes. And shoes.
  6. One of my favorite bars, mainly due to it being the home of one of my favorite bartenders. Go check it out: N. 11th and Berry in WBurgh. 

Days in the life of a ballerina, Part 2

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. 

womp womp.

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:

 http://www.planetdancedirect.co.uk/company.asp?ID=68

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.

Days in the life of a ballerina, Part 1

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?

It&#8217;s me! On a wall! Circa 8/22/10 (I&#8217;m still trying to play catch-up). 
These are the scores from the Bal J&amp;J at ILHC. It was my first competition, and I was super excited to have done so well. Most likely a fluke, but I will live vicariously through said fluke for a good while :]

It’s me! On a wall! Circa 8/22/10 (I’m still trying to play catch-up). 

These are the scores from the Bal J&J at ILHC. It was my first competition, and I was super excited to have done so well. Most likely a fluke, but I will live vicariously through said fluke for a good while :]