Dance diary: Your fingers are alive

So the first class of my absolute beginner ballet workshop was fun! Very basic but still fun.

LINES Dance Center is in an old-school building in the Civic Center area of San Francisco. It’s on the edge of mid-Market sketchville, but conveniently just one block away from a BART entrance. I got there about half an hour before class and had time to change. There isn’t a specific dress code, other than general suggestions about ballet shoes and close-fitting clothing, so I wore a T-shirt, shorts, and a pair of old shoes that I had from a ballet class back in college. I do have two new pairs of shoes that I bought recently, but I figured I would wear the familiar old shoes for the first class. (Also, I’m probably just procrastinating on sewing the elastics on the new shoes.)

The previous class in our assigned studio was running long, so a bunch of us waited on the benches outside. It was neat to hear both hip-hop and classical piano coming from opposite ends of the hall. I met the teacher and we chatted a little about my jazz experience; she mentioned how ballet is much more structured and rigid than jazz, and I was like, I know! Bring it on!

Class notes

The studio was large and bright with mirrors along one wall. We all kind of lumbered in together, but if I had a moment alone, I would be trying hard not to run around singing “The Music and the Mirror” (maybe mashed up with “As If We Never Said Goodbye”). Our class has about sixteen people, all women plus me and one other guy. (Yay, not the only one.) We ran through a typical class: barre then center. Here are the steps and positions we went through in varying degrees:

  • warm-up: stretches at the barre
  • plié, relevé, tendu, degagé (and with piqué), cou de pied, frappé
  • jumps: échappé, changement
  • feet positions: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
  • arm positions: preparatory, 1st, 2nd, 5th
  • across the floor: walks in 3/4 time
  • révérence

I like our teacher. She’s very friendly and attuned to beginners. While explaining the port de bras, she talked about maintaining energy in our arms all the way to our fingertips. “Your fingers are alive!” she said. Love that. I’m going to remember that every time I extend my arms. My fingers are alive. Alive!

By the way, a couple of good resources about ballet technique: the American Ballet Theatre online ballet dictionary, which has concise definitions and videos; and Gretchen Ward Warren’s book Classical Ballet Technique, a large, comprehensive volume with tons of photos. The latter was published in 1989 so it feels kind of dated (especially since there are references throughout to “Soviet” this and that), but it’s a great reference book.

It’s going to seem like forever until the next class. I’ll continue to work out during the week as I usually do but maybe balleticize my exercises a bit. Squat jump? Pimp it out with some arms and turnout and pointed feet, and boom, plié and échappé, baby!

» Previously in the Dance Diary: Prologue.

Dance around town

Our subscription to San Francisco Ballet may have ended (and it’s already time to think about renewing for next season), but I needn’t worry about a lack of dance since there is a trickle of want-to-see performances on my calendar. I’ll try to add some occasional performance news and reviews to my dance diary entries.

Sometime this week (I still need to get tickets!) I plan to see Smuin Ballet‘s spring program, a mixed bill of three pieces: Momentum by Choo San Goh, set to Prokofiev; Mozart Requiem, a world premiere by Amy Seiwert; and To The Beatles by Michael Smuin. It runs through May 15 in San Francisco and later this month in Walnut Creek and San Mateo. Half-price tickets are available on Goldstar.

Dance diary: Prologue

Long story short: Tomorrow, after a hiatus of several years, I finally return to dance. I start ballet.

Long story:

First steps

Apparently I have loved to dance as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until high school that I sort of fell into it seriously. The school was starting a dance program my freshman year, and at auditions for the play, they also had everyone try out for a dance workshop (jazz/musical theater styles), which would meet weekly and perform at the school fashion show and put together a dance concert. I didn’t make it into the play, but I did get into the dance workshop. Honestly I was bewildered at first, but little did I know that dance would turn out to be the one of the most enjoyable activities of my life.

Cue that Billy Elliot song about how dancing makes you feel: “Electricity.”

Throughout high school my weekends and evenings were often spent in the theater: dancing for the workshop or singing in the chorus or all that plus acting in musicals. I loved it. In college I kept up with doing musicals, but for one reason or another I did less and less dance. I did occasional ballroom dancing, and took one jazz class and one ballet class, but that was about it. After college I meant to keep taking class or performing, but you know how it is. Years go by, and you think, oh someday. Eventually.

‘Eventually’ is now

I’d been vaguely keeping my eyes open for dance classes I might eventually take, and a couple of months ago I saw that LINES Dance Center in San Francisco had an “absolute beginner” ballet workshop. Well, I’ve always loved ballet, and even though I have a teeny, tiny bit of experience, “absolute beginner” was just the kind of gentle re-introduction I was interested in. So I signed up. And it starts tomorrow. Excitement!

The workshop meets weekly for only four weeks, but that’s just the first phase, and at that point I can figure out whether to continue (most likely) with the longer next phase and/or if I want to add a drop-in class during the week.

Here is a video about LINES Dance Center, the diverse adult dance school affiliated with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, on the occasion of their twentieth anniversary a couple years ago:

When I decided to do this, I threw myself into everything ballet. For example I’ve been reading ballet blogs, and it’s great to find several written by and/or for adult beginners. I’m very tempted to spin this adventure off into a new, separate dance blog, but we’ll give it time and see.

OK, that’s enough prologue. And now we dance!

SF Ballet’s Tiit Helimets and company to tour Estonia

San Francisco Ballet dancer Tiit Helimets is leading an ensemble of eleven dancers on a performance tour of his native Estonia this summer. Fellow SFB dancer (and photographer and videographer) Quinn Wharton filmed a great video preview of the project, for which they are also soliciting financial support.

I love videos of ballet class and rehearsals as much as, if not more than, those of final performances. So inspiring!

‘Swan Lake’ on ‘DWTS’

I’ve pretty much stopped watching Dancing with the Stars with this season, but now that I’m getting back into ballet I did catch this segment from last night’s episode, a piece “inspired,” if you will, by Swan Lake, featuring Lorena Feijoo (San Francisco Ballet), Lorna Feijoo (Boston Ballet), and José Manuel Carreño (American Ballet Theatre). Swan fight!

I will give DWTS credit for continuing to showcase diverse dance styles in their Macy’s Stars of Dance performances. Ballet on prime-time network television? Thank you!

Though, I do realize they’re riding the Black Swan wave. For some reason I’m not completely digging Swan Lake in this setting. I’m not saying that ballet needs to be compromised for a mass audience, but that I would’ve preferred maybe a more modern piece (or even just costuming) that pushes away from the frilly classical-ballet stereotype.