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IT’S MY THERAPY

22 Jun

When I was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, I was very close with my grandmother’s sisters.  I loved my great aunts – they were a colorful group, all with larger than life personalities. They were great cooks, would talk up a storm (mostly gossiping  about the relatives), were always fun but unfortunately, were also big gamblers. GamblingDespite a tight budget, they managed to spend most of their spare time playing  Poker, Canasta, Gin Rummy,  “the horses,” “the numbers” (pre-lottery days), and more. You name it, they were in it. Of course they were always losing, but still, they went back again for more and more. The gambling bug never quit.

My mother, asking why they couldn’t get the habit under control, would always be given the same answer – “it’s my therapy.” The card playing was their therapy, the racetrack, their therapy, Bingo, their therapy. What the heck were they talking about?

Years later, I learned. Life is filled with curves, with lots of bumps in the road. How do you cope with life’s highs and lows? Most people find balance in “a therapy.” pointe shoesWhether it’s yoga, running, reading or a favorite hobby, having “a therapy” helps calm the soul. (Hopefully, that therapy is not gambling)!

So, what’s my therapy? Mmm.. off to ballet class….

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MIRROR MIRROR

5 Mar

I took my usual ballet class this morning, but today, every time I looked in the mirror, I was aghast. What in heaven’s name was I wearing? My ballet skirt was too short, my tights ill fitting; I hated my leotard, those leggings! How did I come up with that outfit? I felt ridiculous.

Natalie Portman in "Black Swan" - that mirror!

During the break between the barre and the adagio I switched my leggings, switched my skirt, hoping that might help.  When I came back in the studio I thought I looked a little better – but did I really? I thought to myself, maybe its best when a dance school requires a uniform. Children at ballet schools most often have to wear specific attire – girls in pink tights, their hair in a bun and a red, blue, green, black leotard depending on their age group… maybe that is the best bet – then there are no mirror/reflection clothing issues and you can focus on what’s important – dance.

I ran these thoughts by my daughter who understood my angst. “I feel the same way,” she said. “If I feel ugly at work, I feel gross the whole day and completely out of it. But, when I’m dressed well and look good, I feel I can do no wrong.”

Truth is, the ballet studio mirror should be used for corrections to technique and alignment, not for self admiration or self esteem issues.

Fox Business had a report last month, “Look Good, Feel Good, Get Hired.” The story, by Cheryl Casone, said “A study by Duke University researchers found that CEOs are more likely to be rated as ‘competent’, and actually make more money, based just on appearance. A September article in Psychology Today was more blunt stating ‘despite the sophisticated HR advancement in hiring and compensation practices, it appears your appearance, and particularly good looks, still matter.’”

NBC's "Smash"

In the February 27 episode of the new NBC hit series Smash, Katherine McPhee’s character is taken by her fellow ensemble members for a “Broadway makeover” – they trash her closet, buy her new dance clothes and a new wardrobe, change her “look” – all in the hopes of her getting the attention, and the lead, in the Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. Will her appearance make a difference?

For the dancer, the studio mirror tells all. Looking your best in that mirror is definitely a confidence booster, and one needs confidence to dance, particularly at my age.

I think Martha Graham had the right idea when she said, “The next time you look into the mirror, just look at the way the ears rest next to the head; look at the way the hairline grows; think of all the little bones in your wrist. It is a miracle. And the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”

She was right. Next time I look in the mirror, I hope to look at myself differently. The new reflection? Our humanity, the body and it’s miracles, and most importantly, the extraordinary miracle of dance.

TENDU LATTE

27 Sep

I always walk into my morning ballet class holding coffee in a take away cup.  I know it’s wrong, but I do it all the time. I presume it’s annoying – even one of my teachers once made fun of me, saying out loud to the class, “Look at her, just like Makarova – she’d come to class wearing her bandana, with her cigarette and coffee cup, smoking and drinking coffee while doing her tendu!” I imagine my teacher, formerly with the Kirov (now the Mariinsky Ballet) would know if that’s true, but I can’t confirm it and I’m definitely no Makarova! Nevertheless, I know I do bend the rules when it comes to class etiquette – sipping coffee between combinations is definitely a no-no.

Natalia Makarova - Photo: Derek Bailey (website). Did Makarova bring her coffee cup into company class?

As a kid at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School the rules were strict – no water (not that there was bottled water to purchase back then), nothing to drink at all. Not even a sip until after class, and that was in the hallway at the water fountain. I remember standing en pointe, trying to reach the spout.

Today, theories on staying hydrated during exercise have changed. The American Council on Exercise® (ACE®) recommends exercisers maintain a constant supply of water in the body, essential to performance. They say dehydration leads to muscle fatigue and loss of coordination, and that even small amounts of water loss may hinder athletic performance.

“In a dehydrated state the body is unable to cool itself efficiently, leading to heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke. Without an adequate supply of water the body will lack energy and muscles may develop cramps. To prevent dehydration, exercisers must drink before, during and after the workout,” says ACE®.

According to a New York Times story by Blair Tindall, Dancers Learn to Get By on Aspirin, Coffee and Grit, “caffeine may hold some benefits; research shows that low doses significantly increase an athlete’s stamina.” The story includes a quote from Linnette Roe, who danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet from 1987 to 1999. “I wish I had racier stories for you… but the No. 1 performance-enhancing drug today is coffee,” she said.

Water? Coffee? Neither is really within the traditional parameters of ballet class decorum. Typical rules on drinking water during class, for example, are outlined on the Virginia Ballet Company website: “It is good to drink water before and after class ends. Drinking water between barre exercises or center exercises is generally not allowed. It is inappropriate to drink water while a teacher is giving a combination. If the teacher allows, students may drink water from a water bottle between barre and moving to the center.”

There was a recent post on the blog Ballet for Me and You called “When to Drink Water During Ballet Class.” The story explained, “Yes, it’s true. There is etiquette when it comes to drinking water! Some schools are strict about their water policies, while others are not. Even if a school is not specific, there are those unspoken rules that exist… some teachers are okay with students taking a quick swig of water between combinations, while others prefer for student to wait until barre is complete. If you’re unsure what’s acceptable, my best suggestion is ask the teacher prior to class if there is a preference or a rule. Otherwise you can take a quick drink, but know the combination, and be ready to start before the music begins.”

And now for the truth – I not only bring my coffee cup into class, but I bring a water bottle too! When I finish off my coffee, I continue on with Poland Spring, stashed in my bag. (Indulge me, please… after 45 years of taking class, hydration is by far the least of my issues)!

WHOSE SPOT IS IT ANYWAY?

13 Sep

I often wonder, why do people always stand at the same place at the ballet barre? No matter what the class, or whom the teacher, no matter what the day or what the level, it seems dancers always stand at the barre in the exact same spot! (In my class, I can almost tell you where people are standing with my eyes closed).

I remember when Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Tudor Trust, told me she always stood at the piano when she took barre in Mr. Tudor’s class at the Metropolitan Opera House and that’s how she became close with Elizabeth Sawyer, Antony Tudor’s accompanist for 17 years.

Dancers at the Barre - Tudor Centennial at Juilliard; Photo: Cliff Jernigan

I’m not talking about “the middle,” where the more advanced or higher level dancers tend to be first. I’m talking about the barre and why people always seem to stand in the exact same place. In my class, dancers are often so committed to their spot that people are literally afraid to “steal” a regular spot from another class member. (I recall one day a dancer holding a tiny section of the barre at the piano relocated like a bullet when the person who normally stands in that spot arrived late – yikes)!

Actually, there seems to be a bit of protocol regarding where you stand at the barre. In a 2009 article in Pointe Magazine, author Temple Kemezis said, “At the beginning of every day, class sets the tone for how you will work. Make note of where people like to stand to avoid standing in someone’s favorite barre spot….”  The article, which discussed proper etiquette for a first-year company member, went on to say, “Communication is your best friend. Checking ahead of time is far better than being kicked off the barre mid-plié by a principal who is late for class.”

Edgar Degas - 1888. "Tänzerinnen an der Stange" Source: Wikipedia

Ashley Bouder,  Principal Dancer for New York City Ballet, told me she always stands in the same spot in company class. “I have stood in the same spot in company class for eight years. I always stand directly behind the piano, no matter which studio the company is taking class in. It makes me feel comfortable. It’s like waking up in your own bed. A hotel bed may feel great, but nothing beats home. That’s how I feel about my barre spot. It’s my home base; a place to start my day,” she said.

In a story called, “A smile on my face… as long as you stay clear of my space” columnist Heidi Rice said it doesn’t matter if  it’s where you sit in college, yoga class or church – “People stake out their territory.” The article, recently published in The Post Independent of Glenwood Springs, CO, went on to say, “When I looked up this whole phenomenon on the Internet, I found something that said, ‘Humans are homeostatic by nature.’ In other words, our bodies like things to pretty much stay the same.”

Yes, we are creatures of habit.

Recently my daughter told me a lawsuit was filed at her NYC gym after one man pushed another off his “favorite” bike in spin class and wound up breaking the trespasser’s arm! She hears the “pusher” is now banned from the Equinox gym for life and “is probably in anger management.” Well, ballet people don’t go that far, but yes, we do like our spots!

Do you always stay at the same place at the barre? (I try not to. But then again, I do like a clear view of the mirror and hate being squished in the corner. The back of the room gets too warm for me and I don’t like being too close to the door…).

Well, I guess I do always stay at the same place at the barre! Or try to!

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