Monday, April 22, 2013

A Classical Bun

It's spring concert season, which means that I'm about to see a bunch of doorknobs on top of people's heads masquerading as ballet buns. A ballet bun is very flat and you can see the final coil of the bun on top of the dancer's head when she looks straight forward.

I like the tutorial above even though is was done very quickly. (You can see a little bit too much hair on top of her head, but it's still a good example.) For a performance I am sure the dancer wets her hair, uses gel, takes more time, and gets it just a little bit flatter. If you have thick hair you may need to coil your hair in two sections (that's what I need to do to make it really flat. I also need to start my pony tail just a little bit higher.) It will take you a little time to figure out the best place on your head for your pony tail, and how many sections work best for you.

I would like to take this moment and plead with you not to use a Hairgami for your performance. The buns are simply too tall. If you really want to make me happy you'll use bobby pins or hairpins with your Hairgami in class so that your bun stays attached to your head instead of flopping around, but that would be icing on the cake. I would be satisfied if you simply took the time to make a real bun for your performance.

Again, a ballet bun is very flat and you can see the final coil of the bun on top of the dancer's head when she looks straight forward.

image couresty of ehow
These buns aren't quite high enough for a performance, but they are nice and flat

P. S. The YouTube clip was posted by Greenville Ballet School in Greenville, SC. I'm unfamiliar with the school, but if they're willing to teach you how to do your hair they're probably worth looking into. Just in case you're looking for a school in the area.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Geeky Freak-Out

Image courtesy of Engadget
I had to make this picture really big because

  • my city is getting Google fiber and I am way excited about it, and
  • the nice lady standing at the left in the photo is my mom.
Naturally, finding my mom's picture on Engadget led to the following conversation:

Me: Mom! You're on Engadget!!!!
My mom: Nice. What's Engadget?

My mom is so lucky and I'm not even sure how she pulled it off. (Aside from being pure of heart and possibly living out a modern day fairy tale.)

And for those of you who just don't get why I am so freaking excited, Engadget is basically the New York Times for tech news. And my mom was on it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

That One Time I Got Mad

image courtesy of sillygirlrunning
Really, I don't get mad often. It's just not my style. I can get disappointed and I have elevated frustration to new levels of unhealthy, but mad just isn't me.

But then there was that one time . . .

I was new in town and tried a class at a studio where a friend was teaching. They didn't have an adult open class so I tried the advanced class. The teacher was 40 minutes late. When she did arrive, she didn't even bother apologizing and no one was surprised that she was late. She looked at me and said "With a 2-hour class we run out of stuff to do if we start on time." This was not a good sign.

Then she proceeded to lead us through a jazz warm up. I have no issue with jazz classes at all, but if I'm there to take a ballet class I really want to take a ballet class. But the teacher insisted that we needed to warm up first. I can sort of see the point; a lot of new research is showing that a short cardio warm up before barre can be really beneficial. However, this was a 15-minute warm up. We now had 65 minutes left in class.

Next we skipped pliés because "we are already warm." Have you ever taken a ballet class where you skipped pliés? Because you shouldn't. Ever.

Tendus, dégagés and rond de jambes were fine. But when it came time to do adagio she didn't like the tempo of the music so we used the petit battements music. And grand battements were done to a very legato fondu song because, again, she liked the tempo better. I ask you: what good is it to do an exercise if you completely ignore the quality of the movement?! Now I'll answer my own question: none whatsoever. Quality of movement effects muscular development and no self-respecting ballerina would mess with that. This is the part where I started seething.

Center work was . . . uninspiring. But worst of all it gave me a chance to watch other dancers (since we did it all in groups) and those poor dancers were terrible! Those poor girls were coming to class four days a week and had nothing to show for it. As a teacher, I find that inexcusable.

There was one girl in class who was clearly very naturally gifted and the teacher was obviously catering to her. Every center exercise was built around her strengths and preferences. Sure, she was fun to watch, but that left everyone else stranded without attention (desperately needed) from a teacher. {Side note: I don't think the person leading this class should be called a teacher. Does anyone have a suggestion for another term?} And the talented girl was being handicapped too; she wasn't being pushed to strengthen her weaknesses. And since class wasn't balanced at all, there was no way she could be the best dancer possible.

I felt sad for all of the students. Most of them were wasting their time and the good one wasn't as good as she was being led to think she was. One audition into her career and she would learn that there were all kinds of steps she didn't know. Like petit allegro.

Oh yes, the class completely skipped all petit allegros. And medium allegros. Just a grand allegro because "we are running short on time." Perhaps because we wasted the first hour, hmmm?

When I left class I hurt, and not in the good way. Class was unbalanced, had no natural progression, was musically a nightmare and just generally felt bad. I knew there were less-skilled teachers out there, but I had no idea "bad ballet" could get so ugly. I was angry. Ballet, and her students, deserved better.

In case you're wondering, that studio went out of business less than a year later.

Friday, April 12, 2013

They Missed the Point

The other day a couple of firemen came to the studio. They were examining the businesses in the complex to make sure that if there was an emergency we could all get out quickly. We passed. That's not the point.

The firemen had never seen a ballet class before. We had a great opportunity to do some informal outreach and our office manager did a terrific job of answering their questions. That's not the point either.

The dancers the firemen were watching were our pre-professional company and a surprising number of them were unnerved having an audience. This surprised me. I mean, ballet is a performance art. The goal is to someday have someone watch what you're doing. The girls in class were so preoccupied being nervous about having an audience that they missed what I consider to be the high point of the day.

The point is this: Guys, look at the hot firemen. Yay!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why a Dress Code is a Good Thing

image courtesy of
Wow, it's been a while since I've blogged. Sorry about that. My only excuse is that teaching small children roughly equates to teaching adorable petri dishes full of highly contagious germs.

Anyway, I love having a dress code. I have a friend who thinks that ballet is just a ridiculous collection of rules. Okay, I can see his point, but a lot of those rules serve a purpose. And a dress code serves many purposes at once.

I like uncluttered dress codes (think the opposite of Fame) because, as a teacher, I get a clear view of what's happening on a body. I don't know if you're really stretching your knees if they're always hidden under baggy sweats; I don't know how your posture is if you're wearing a giant shirt stolen from your dad's closet; and those wide-necked shirts that make you stand just a little off-kilter to keep it on your shoulders make you look like maybe you should be evaluated by a medical professional for scoliosis/kyphosis, etc.

Asking students to secure their hair (and I do love a nice bun) is not me being all control-freaky. Little kids especially, but everyone to a degree, have a hard time concentrating if their hair is always falling into their eyes. Hair in a ponytail can whip around and smack you in your eyes when you turn--and it hurts. Hair that falls out halfway through class is a huge distraction to everyone, mostly because I am expected to put it back up again when what I'd really like to do is teach the class. (Also, I am awful at doing hair. I should be your very last resort ever. EVER.)

Don't even get me started on why big jewelry in class is a very bad idea.

Right. Those are very practical reasons. But there's another reason I love having a dress code. These clothes are a uniform. Wearing the clothes designates to everyone that what we're doing in class is not by accident. We came to the studio to do something specific. The dress code helps everyone focus.

These clothes are also a costume. We don't wear them to school, or church, or to the movies, or to the park. (Okay, some little kids do and I think that's adorable, but you get my point.) When we put on the clothes we transform. Instead of being "a person taking a ballet class" we put on the costume and become "a dancer". We all genuinely dance better when we dress the part. It's as if we have set an expectation for ourselves and then live up to it.

Dress codes transform class. 

P. S. The very best way I ever heard to get your reluctant dancer to wear her ballet clothes is to blame "ballet". As in, "Ballet says you have to wear tights." This way mom and dad aren't the bad guys, and neither is the teacher. This nebulous, centuries-old "ballet" has set the rules and we all have to follow them. Many thanks to my friend Mary for the tip!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Impromptu Teaching

You can tell when a given picture of me was taken based on my hair length and/or color
I never show up to class and just wing it. I always have carefully planned classes with predetermined objectives. And I'm a better teacher because of it. However, sometimes the universe presents opportunities to try something new.

Since it's spring break my regular studio has cancelled classes. Since I can't go more than two days without dancing, I found another studio to take class at. But the teacher never arrived. So there we were without a teacher, and the secretary asked if I would just teach. I figured why not?

Here are some tips on teaching without preparation:

  • take a lot of classes so that your brain has lots and lots of combinations and class outlines readily rememberable. (Is anyone else shocked that my spell check recognized "rememberable" as a real word? Just me?)
  • try to tease out what other teachers' objectives are as you are taking class
  • when a teacher gives a class-wide correction, watch to see if the next exercise incorporates that correction
Okay, technically those are tips to become more prepared. Here's some advice on what to do in the moment:
  • keep your barre exercises short. Even the best-planned classes have trouble fitting everything in; short barre exercises will help you have enough time for center work
  • it's okay to ask adults what they want to work on that day, and then let that guide you. Don't ask kids 
  • center work will ideally include a center tendu or adagio (to help everyone get on their leg), an en dedans turn, an en dehors turn, and petit, medium and grand allegros. I like to make the petit allegro long to make sure we get a good cardio element 
  • it's always best when the grand allegro incorporates elements you've already worked on in class. That way everyone can focus on feeling grand and wonderful instead of worrying about the individual pieces of the combination. If you can end on a good-feeling grand allegro, most people will have a really good feeling about the entire class
While I never know if people actually enjoy my classes or just smile because it's polite, everyone was smiling throughout the evening. And I had a great time!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Break

image from
This week is spring break at local studios. I have to say, I'm relieved. Students do funny things when they'd rather be outside playing.

Older students get kind of sluggish. Bless their hearts--they just aren't as quick on remembering combinations, their jumps aren't quite as high, and when you ask them to go to the corner for a grand allegro they saunter slowly.

Little kids get wired. Oh my goodness, those little ones almost literally bounce off the walls! They forget that the dance studio is a special place (code for "don't play tag") and if you blink, you find them jumping off the barres.

The older kids will return from spring break a little more motivated. The little kids will still be adorably nuts, but I will have had a week to recharge and prepare for the rest of the year. Spring break is a very good thing.