Part of my new dance cross-training is to do some ballet. Rather than wait for 2011 to roll in, I’ve decided to start changing or adding patterns, behaviors, whatever whenever I see fit and can afford to do so.

Monday I attend beginner ballet at an adult-only studio. I hadn’t been there in about year, due to time. It is amazing how much my body has changed in a year. Most notably is the muscle memory I’ve acquired from Bharatanatyam. If you are not familiar with Bharatanatyam, one of the basic postures is called aramundi. It is where the heels touch and the toes and knees are bent and turned out from hip rotation. The ballet first postion foot position is identical to aramundi, as well as the turn out. The only difference is that in first position in ballet, you stand up.

All last night, I ended every exercise in the deep bent aramundi, vs. the straight-legged first position. I didn’t realize why until I was thinking about it later that this is an artifact from Bharatanatyam; you are expected to end every adavu or short combination in aramundi. Students are scolded for leaving the posture at the end. I didn’t realize how much muscle memory I’ve obtained with Bharatanatyam already. I’m curious how cross-training will change my dance skills in Bharatanatyam now. While I cannot afford, time-wise, to dedicate myself to ballet the way I have with Bharatanatyam and Middle Eastern dance, I do want to gain some proficiency. However, I don’t want to lose my Bhartanatyam skills, even though the adavus are really about training your body and mind to perform complex pieces, so the dancer may leave the aramundi position for something straighter-legged.

What are other people’s experiences in cross-training?

I went to see Black Swan yesterday. Although it is a ballet movie, I thought a lot of it was applicable to art in general and life; I recommend that you see it, unless you cannot stomach some very vivid depiction of blood and violence (I had to turn my head a few times). The movie brought up how technique can only take one so far, because you eventually need to go beyond that, to feel the movement and dance. I questioned whether it is possible or reasonable for one person to really be able to do a variety of roles well; Nina, played by Natalie Portman, could only play the role of the innocent White Swan convincingly and worked herself so hard to play the seductive Black Swan convincingly, even though she kept failing. In another blog, we were discussing how we can see how some dancers are perceived as sexy and others are more innocent. I haven’t experienced anything so extreme as Nina’s struggle with this other side of herself (trying to tap into the Black Swan role), but I have struggled as a dancer to tap into other aspects of my personality and display for the world.

The final point I got out of the movie (well, of the ones pertinent to this blog- there were plenty of psychological issues happening) was how far does one have to go for perfection and is it worth it? Without revealing too much of the movie and just thinking about how much full-time dancers, particularly ballet dancers, put into their craft- is it asking to much of them? They have physically demanding schedules, I’ve read that they have to practice even while on vacation, they’re in a highly competitive field where the littlest thing can make you lose, and it isn’t a long-term career or one that you can get into later in life. That isn’t even looking at the eating disorder aspect that can happen to dancers.

This movie gave me a lot to think about; I’m still processing it today.

I realized yesterday that we have roughly a month until the performance for Meiver’s recital. While I have enjoyed the training and think it was good to be taken out of my comfort zone, learning 4 choreographies for her and 2 for Bharatanatyam has left little time for my own personal things. I’ll still need to work on the two choreographies, but going from 6 to 2 is going to be a huge break. When I have my “down time”, I plan on working on the followings:

  • Zills. Zills are far from my comfort zone, but I’d like to get better at them.
  • Working with DVDs. I have stack of DVDs I have not gotten the full use out of.
  • Ballet. I’ve been meaning to attend ballet again, but with attending dance class and/or practicing 4-5 times a week, it doesn’t allow for me to attend ballet. I feel that it will be so helpful with footwork. I’m not sure why Middle Eastern dance footwork trips me up but not Bharatanatyam; I suspect it has something to do with not having an emphasis on footwork in most of my earlier classes.

The holiday season messed with my time management to practice and really partake in the 90 Days of Dance Dedication Challenge. I began officially (at least in my brain) on Tuesday, starting back up with Middle Eastern dance. I went to ballet yesterday. What did I learn, so far, about the challenge?

  • Going to classes is easier than structuring your own practice. It’s nice to be told what to do sometimes, even though what you’re told to do makes your brain shut down.
  • Once you get started dancing, it’s hard to stop. After both dance classes, I went home to practice more. An hour and a half wasn’t enough. Strange.
  • Putting the practice on your calendar makes it harder to skip. I’m religious about keeping a calendar (mine is on my computer). I typically get everything done on my calendar, when it’s written there. I write anything on it- when I work, when I go to dance class, blog post ideas for specific dates. Strangely enough, scheduling in practice hadn’t occurred to me.

Anyone else doing a dance challenge or other kind of practice challenge? I’d love to hear how that’s working out.

I began ballet recently, as I mentioned. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I believe that I’ve mentioned in the past that ballet is incorporated in Middle Eastern dance in some sense; a lot of dancers are trained in ballet from their childhood or some similar time, so they often use balletic terms (releve`, for instance) to describe what we’re doing. Ballet has also been recommended as a way to increase gracefulness and carriage.

I’m not a huge ballet fance, truth be told. However, I am game for trying new things and improving my dance on a whole. That’s why I’m taking ballet. I found ballet isn’t completely foreign. Some of the exercises we’ve done (plies in difference positions) remind me of strength exercises I’ve done in Bharatanatyam and Odissi. The armwork is similar to that of the Middle Eastern classes.

I enjoyed my ballet class; as of today, this isn’t something that I’m passionate about. Since I immediately clicked with other dance forms, I don’t expect to have that happen with ballet. However, I’m going to continue. While ballet may not be a love of mine, I did like it and I can see how it’s going to be useful. My ankles are weaker than they had been, and the exercises we did will definitely strengthen them. I like that the exercises are simple enough (at least now) I can refine my arms and hands. The exercises were also relaxing but challenging, if only because I lack the strength.

Everyone has their theories on dance training. Some dancers are adamant about keeping their dance “pure”, ie. not studying other forms of dance. Others relish in cross training. I’m in the latter category.

I love Middle Eastern dance, don’t get me wrong. However, I do get bored occasionally and like to check out what’s there. Although I love Odissi and Bharatanatyam, I think I want try a “Western” classical dance. A lot of dance friends have said ballet has improved their posture, arms, and carriage. It looks like something that could fun and ultimately improve my Middle Eastern dance. I have decent posture, arms, and carriage, but I could always improve.

Going to ballet will also help familiarize me with ballet terms. A lot of dance teachers use them, even those without much ballet training. Rather than have to guess at what second position is, I hopefully will be able to understand without much thought.

I’m not convinced ballet will be something I love, but I think it can indeed be useful and enjoyable.