Welcome to the journey in finding the inner swan!

This is my diary of notes and thoughts along the way with learning ballet
as an adult beginner. Please feel free to share your thoughts - it's always
more fun to share the journey!

Ballet technique is arbitrary and very difficult.
It never becomes easy; it becomes possible.

-Agnes De Mille-

16 Jan 2014

My pointe shoes

It's been ages since I wrote anything here, a lot has happened since. I've absolutely loved pointe classes!

I was very lucky with that first pair of pointe shoes I had (Grishko 2007, size 4 XX, medium shank) I did the first ever pointe classes without any padding as they felt really good just as they are (well, as good as pointe shoes can ever feel..) But only for the first few classes. After that they became a little stretched and hurt my little toes and big toes - I definitely needed something to soften the ride. I tried ouch pouches but they were too bulky as the fit of the shoes was so snug. I got some gel tubes for the big toes and taped the little toes and then the shoes (and my feet) were fine again. Until suddenly they didn't offer support anymore and all of the bones in my feet were aching for a week after class - I reckon that meant the pointe shoes had come to their end. 

Bunheads Big Tips - gel lined padding for the big toes

So - it was time for the next pair. The first pair was from a sales bin and I got them dirt cheap: only 20€! I got two pairs as they were so cheap, but the other pair I got in size 4,5, otherwise width and shank were the same. Before I found the sales bin I'd bought a pair of Grishko 2007 in size 4,5 XXX. Well you can guess that even with ouch pouches they were just too big for me and the big toe sank in the shoes as soon as we started doing our exercises in pointe class. I believe this is a common mistake beginners make: they buy the shoes too large. It makes going on pointe very painful! As it happened, I have a dance friend who has similar shaped feet as me but a little bigger - they were perfect for her! She happened to have a brand new pair which were too small for her - so we swapped our shoes! In the meanwhile I was using my other 20€ pair of 2007's and oddly they weren't nearly as good as the first pair even though the only difference is half a size in length. The box seems a lot more narrow! And even after stepping on the box they haven't really become comfortable. They kill my little toes and outer sides of my feet, perhaps they really are too narrow. Peculiar! But - they are all handmade and therefore all different. 

I've now sewn elastics and ribbons on the pair I got from my friend and I'm going to do the next class in them! I'm a little nervous as they are meant for feet much stronger and more developed than mine are - only afterwards I found a description of them.. They are Bloch Axioms in size 4. They seem to be a very good fit so far, very snug, long supporting vamp - a very pretty shape. I do notice that my right foot struggles with them a little bit ( the less flexible one) but the left foot is fine. I'm not used to using ouch pouches and I feel quite far off the floor with them which feels a little weird and less stable. It'll be interesting to see how they are in class!

Bloch Axiom - these are not my feet! Picture is from www.blochworld.com

28 Sep 2013

Amazing Darcey

Just thought I'd share this amazing little clip with you, it's old, many of you may have seen it a million times already but I only came across it recently. It's Darcey Bussell doing a variation of Cinderella by Frederick Ashton. Her footwork is just incredible and the touch of pointe to the floor looks so weightless. Her dancing is just so skillful, fluid, controlled - and joyous! All those turns followed by grand jetes.... Amazing.

22 Sep 2013

Other little steps forward

Starting pointe has been one of the most exciting things for me this autumn, but also the fact that I've moved to the next level of ballet classes. In my dance school we have a beginner's level, basic level, and three advanced levels, each going up quite a big leap in difficulty level. I'm now on the advanced level 1.

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It's quite a huge step forward from my previous basic level, the combinations are a lot faster and are not shown by the teacher so much anymore. More complicated port de bras, more demanding co-ordination..there's a huge amount to learn! There are a lot of things I struggle with, but I'm catching on ok. The barre combinations are already going a lot better now after 5 classes, some fast combinations and all the new directions doing fast grand battements for example cause me headache, but all in all the barre is ok, I'm able to follow and if I fall I'm able to hop back on! This feels like actually a bit more than just a little step forward as doing things fast is not really my nature..I'm a more dreamy adagio type! And with a dreamy head remembering combinations has been a challenge ever since I started ballet. I have no previous dance experience so my head just had to learn memorizing movement from scratch. But what is comforting is that it is possible to learn to be quicker and gradually I've noticed how you can pick out some memory rules about getting the combinations - and with practise, practise, practise eventually things that don't come that naturally to you will get better.  And so it is with me too, although that's something I have to put extra work into compared perhaps to others. I have lovely friends in class who are better at this than I am and they've helped me a lot by sharing little tips to memorize steps and combinations. 

In the centre I really really have to pay attention, I usually wait a few rounds for more experienced people to go first so that I can look very carefully, try to mark after them before attempting myself. Sometimes I get nervous and my head goes blank when it's my turn.. That's not a nice feeling when that happens, but then it's good to try again and go with someone more advanced. But once you do pick up something that was a mess earlier it's the best feeling ever! There are a lot more things to remember in the combinations on this new level - something which is not one of my stronger sides in the first place - but it already feels like that now that I really have to give my utmost concentration to be able to pick up the combinations, it's forcing my head to be active to the max and more able to learn. Does that make any sense? Not that I noticed myself ever being lazy in ballet class before, I always try my best - but now with this duck or dive situation I'm giving my absolute most! No space for daydreaming! Luckily I'm not the only newby on this level, we find great comfort with each other when faced with challenging stuff - just a look across the room to meet equally unsure eyes and a smile really makes it less scary to just throw yourself in the deep end and not worry too much about getting it wrong. All in all I'm really excited about all this challenging stuff, it feels like it's really pushing me forward and I'm learning at full speed!

I had a misfortune of tearing a muscle back in March and it has really hindered my flexibility, but during the summer the leg has got stronger and more supple. The talon a la main is still impossible (the very position the tearing happened) with my injured right leg, but curiously it's already back to normal in my side split. I can do a developpe with it up to a 10 o'clock position now, it's actually stronger than ever before and stronger than the uninjured left side! But - side stretch is still pretty far from what it used to be. Getting there slowly! 

I haven't really done any stretching whatsoever at home since the injury, apart from the elementary therapeutic stretches to look after the scar tissue. Often after class I do a little stretching, but it's high time I started a little stretching regime at home again - because I know how good it does to stretch even just a little every evening! Wonders in fact! But with a pretty hectic life I'm often really tired by the time I get a chance to sit down at the end of the day. Perhaps I'll start again with my intsy wintsy deep core muscles regime, with this I mean doing at least 10 deep core excercises every evening. This regime really works as 10 is such a small amount it's hard to find an excuse or is doable even when tired. I notice myself getting softer with less ballet classes after the summer. In the summer I had a period of going to 4 ballet classes a week, I loved it! But now I just don't have time unfortunately. I only have two general classes a week aswell as the pointe class, it's not enough! I'm trying to squeeze in a monday morning class - but we all know what monday mornings are like...not a morning person at all myself! If I manage to go tomorrow, I'll let you know how it went!

Lovely way to start the morning? I'll give it a try!

17 Sep 2013

Pointe news!

Last Friday was my 4th pointe class - and we're going ahead at full speed! We already did some piques and soutenu turns, holding the barre with only one hand! Also - we did bourrées en pointe..in the centre!!! Wow, that really was a big step forward - but felt wonderful! Bourreés are such hard work in a very subtle way...they look so effortless but you really work hard with those tiniest of little steps!

I've been fairly lucky with my pointe shoes (Grishko 2007's), they fit me pretty well. The shape of the box is very good for my feet, it wasn't painful to go en pointe. The first ever class I did with them was without any padding or tape whatsoever.  I was extremely surprised with this as in my search for pointe shoes I'd tried on numerous pairs and the results were pretty desperate and painful - and at some point I thought I'll never find a pair which will be even tolerable to go en pointe. But - after the first class the shoes stretched a tiny bit, enough for the big toe to take too much pressure especially in the left foot (which is slightly smaller) and I had to try to find the right padding for it to be comfortable again. I first tried ouch pouches but they turned out to be too bulky for the snug fitting shoes. The foot couldn't fit deep enough into the shoe and it caused the foot to bulge out of the box and the balance of the weight of the feet tipped outwards which was definitely not a good thing. Next I tried Bunhead's big tip toe socks (fabric covered gel tubes) on my big toes, and some tape on my little toes - that seemed to be a good combination! I like to feel the shoe with my feet with less padding - although the ouch pouches make pointe shoes more comfortable. I'll go ahead with the toe socks and tape and will try the ouch pouches again in a different pair of shoes.

I have to say I absolutely love doing pointe - it's very challenging but also such a fantastic and majestic feeling to reach to your full length on your tiptoes! Pointe class has definitely become one of the highlights of my week! I'm sure doing pointe is also helping with the rest of my ballet technique as it really forces you to use all of your muscles to the max and find your deep core muscles.

It would be interesting to hear about your experiences with starting to learn pointe technique and/or about your pointe shoe issues!

My left foot..

21 Jun 2013

Performance and pointe

Wow it's been a long time since my last post! A lot has happened since.. In May I performed on stage for the first time ever, felt the nerves but loved it! We did the Kingdom of Shades from La Bayadere with 24 of us and all those arabesques.. I've loved that scene so much ever since I first saw it - I couldn't believe how lucky we were to do it! The music is so beautiful in all it's simplicity - and I love the ethereal yet kind and forgiving spirit of Nikiya, I think it's an extremely touching scene in all it's romanticism. We also did the coda - obviously adjusted to our skill levels. We got to wear a gorgeous white tutu, all 24 of us. I have to say we did look spectacular, even though we were far from professionals. But - what feedback we received from our two performances, we managed to keep our lines pretty straight, which is essential to that piece.

Me at the tutu fittings

 Earlier in the spring I had a chat with my teacher and she said I'd progressed really well and gave me the ok to start pointe classes when the next beginner pointe class starts in August! Now..I have to say I've been feeling like a little girl with excitement about this new phase!

I got on the case of finding myself a pair of pointe shoes a couple of weeks ago so that my teacher could check them out before she leaves for her summer holiday. First I settled on a pair of Grishko Elite size 4XX with soft shanks - but it turned out they were the wrong shape for me after all, my big toe would sink into the bottom of the shoe and it was very painful to be on releve with one foot. I went back to the shop and tried and tested many more sizes and models - the best but not ideal pair were Gambas - 97's I think they were - the size and shape felt good but in the end it just didn't feel like 'my shoe'. They felt bulky and clumsy after the more slender design of Grishkos. I then went into another shop - and they had an outlet room with a cardboard box full of pointe shoes, 20€ a pair! There were Grishko's Fouettes and 2007's and Capezios Glisses. I'd never tried on a pair of Grishko 2007's in the first shop, I had help from the assistant with the fitting each time obviously as I'm a newby with pointe, but she never suggested them. The 2007's turned out to be a perfect fit for my feet! Or at least the best by far from what I'd tried on so far. The assistant said I have quite a strong pointe and a medium shank would be ok. So I bought two pairs, slightly different sizes: 4XX M and 4,5XX M. However..after trying the smaller pair again at home I realised that they were too snug. I thought I'd just give it a go how they would fit without the ouch pouches.....and they were just perfect size and painless to go on pointe even without any cushioning, I could not believe it could be possible! I'm sure actually dancing in them will require at least some toe protection, the inside of the shoes feel a little rough on the skin so at least some toetape is needed. Well - I'm sure I'll discover in practice which works best through trial and error. I love the feel of the shoe, it doesn't feel like a bulky extra thing on my foot (like the Gambas did) - and balancing feels steady, the box feels very even. I went back to the first shop for the third time and changed the Gambas for Grishko 2007 but slightly bigger size 4,5XXX so that they would fit the ouch pouches - in case my novice feet will need a well cushioned shoe after all..now I feel like I'm definitely well prepaired for my pointe classes - I look forward to seeing how they feel in class!

My new Grishko 2007's 4XX M, with newly sewn ribbons, still unbroken
Here they are: my first pointe shoes! :) I haven't done and will not do anything to break them in, until I get the careful advice from my teacher. Also ribbons are probably not tied very beautifully, I don't really know yet how to hide the knot properly..looks like I've done them a bit too tight too.. ;)

But - all has not been just fantastic news: I pulled a hamstring muscle in my right leg on easter, it's taken until now that I can use it without worrying too much. There is still only about 60-70% flexibility that there used to be.. In our performance it was ok, but even a couple of weeks before it felt pretty weak both as the supporting leg and working leg. I had some physio done on it before the show and it really did wonders! But all in all, it hindered and slowed my progress for the last few months. I'm hopeful that during the summer it will get a lot better, I'm going to slowly stretch it to gain more flexibility again - but as it is now, I can still do class pretty much as normal, which is a huge joy! Only grand battements and cambres forward are compromised.

This is my ballet news of late - wishing everyone a lovely summer of dancing!

15 Sep 2012

I'm back!

After a long long silence it might be a high time to write another post! My last post was on a bit of a negative note since I had a long series of flues like never before. This prevented me from taking my classes for about 2 months - I had really nothing to report ballet-wise.

The flues did finally end and I got myself back to my classes as soon as I felt well enough. Two months was a long break for someone like me who's only done ballet for such a short time. The first class was such a shock! I felt like I couldn't remember anything and that my body was just completely alien to ballet.. You know those turn out muscles..you don't really ever use them in anything else but ballet - so they deteriorate very rapidly.. But - to my surprise, concidering how badly the first class went after the break, things did come back to me quicker than I thought. I attended 3-4 classes a week during summer and was very diligent about doing some stretches at home too. I now feel that I've made progress and by the end of summer my body was more supple than ever. Happiness!

Now come autumn and a long time dream came true and I was offered a place at a university I've been wanting to study at - so I'm now doing a master's degree which means less finances and less time! Unfortunately this means less ballet aswell.. It's so difficult to give up my four classes a week routine! Hopefully I'll manage at least two classes a week..

6 Apr 2012

Happy Easter!