... and read it later

I've recently been inspired by Steven Johnson's book and TED talk and Netflix documentary on where good ideas come from. Good ideas don't come from individual Eureka moments, but instead from many years of cultivating a wide range of ideas. Over time, these ideas collide in different ways, and in these collisions, new discoveries are made. Things that didn't make sense previously can make perfect sense in light of new ideas and learnings.

Ballet is a great example of a time when this philosophy makes sense. It takes years to develop into a professional dancer, and in part, I believe that is because there are so many technical discoveries that one needs to make.

Dance teachers had always told me to take notes. Write everything down, they would say. Although I've always kept a personal journal, I didn't always understand the value in writing down ballet steps. But, because I was determined to learn and succeed in ballet, I did it anyways. Now I get it. 

Over time, as you learn new things, something a teacher said to you years ago may not have made sense. But after learning something new, perhaps that thing that was said is now exactly what you need to hear. Since you've already written it down, you can simply review your notes instead of having to go to a bunch of classes and teachers before hearing that advice again. From time to time, read through notes and see what you can learn.

I take notes in an app on my phone called DayOne. Many teachers will advocate for a physical notebook, but for me, I wanted something I could write in while standing on the train after class, something I could tag and search later, and the ability to use the French keyboard on my phone to correct my spelling and accents.

Write down everything you can remember -- exercises, personal discoveries you made, corrections you were given, what you might have noticed other dancers doing, and what all of that means to you. It usually takes me about an hour to write down everything I can remember after a private session, and 1/2 hour after a group class.

Below is a set of notes after a 90 minute private session with Beth Kurtz.

Notes, November 22, 2015

Every exercise we did today seemed to have a new discovery. During the exercises, a couple of times Beth said she saw progress.

Exercise:

2nd position grande plié
Demi plié
Raise heels
Straighten legs
Port de bras forward on relevé
Come up
Let go of barre and port de bra
Repeat in 1st, port de bras to the side
Repeat in 4th, 2 Demi plies, port de bras to the back
Repeat in 5th, sous-sous, port de bras forward, balance, lift back leg to coup de pie

Discoveries:

After coming up, the balance is very difficult unless you plan on being firm upon straightening. Although the port de bras should be a stretch, after coming up, be ready to be firm and hold the balance.

Exercise:

From 3rd
Dégagé front
Fondu
Dégagé front
Fondu
Dégagé front
Relevé
Lower down
Close 3rd plié
Front
Side
Back
Side from third
Then again en croix from 5th

Discoveries:

Standing knee bending in relevé. Beth said she hadn't noticed it before, but the standing knee bends a little in relevé. She agrees that I should not hyper extend my knees, as I had thought, but it's important to keep the knee straight during relevé. I had noticed that it started bending when I started working on keeping the heel forward. We tried again while being consciously aware of it and I was able to keep it straight. The strength is apparently there but I need to be aware if it and use it.

Exercise:

From 5th
Dégagé front 3 
On 4, leg goes out and both arms port de bras to 5th.
En croix
Turn to other side

Discoveries:

More wild arms. The arms need to detach more and throw them away so they don't affect the body. The arms should move independently.

Standing knee bending in 5th position. When closing from the side to the back especially, the knee bends as the working leg comes in. Beth suggests working on keeping the standing side lifted up out of the legs as much as possible. We tried it slowly and found where some of the sticking points were. When we tried it fast again, we were able to make some improvements by being aware of what we were working on.

Exercise

Start pointing back
Grand battement front (thinking of throwing the leg)
Point back
Battement front
Point back
Battement front
Catch it and hold it up
Lower down
Close
En croix 
To the side, close 5th between. To the back, point front between

Discoveries:

Beth says she believes in experiments. Experiment with going very far into center on grande battement, side especially. So I did. I hung onto the bar, went seemingly way out, and threw my leg up. It went up very well turned out. Magic.

The goal of course is to catch it nice and high.

To the back, the standing leg has to stay vertical. Can't let it pull backwards. The upper body has to go more forward to accommodate.

Exercise:

Starting in 3rd
Coupe
Passe
Développé front
Plié (turn out both legs more)
Straighten (turn out both legs more)
Tendu 
Close
Front
Side
Back.
4 rond de jambe 
1 grand rond de jambe.
Repeat back side front, with higher legs.

Discoveries:

As always, stay in center. When doing the plié, keep the standing knee from wobbling. Take it down to the right position and no where else.

On the grande rand de jambe coming from the back, start turning out as soon as you leave arabesque. Keep the stomach lifted.

Exercise:

Starting 3rd croisé
Devéloppé 1,2 with port de bras
Plié 3
Straighten 4
Demi Rond de jambe to 2nd with port de bras 5
Plié 6
Straighten 7 
Demi rond de jambe to 1st arabesque with port de bras 8
Plié arabesque 1
Straighten 2
Devéloppé front 3,4
Close plié soutenu (counts?)
repeat other side

Discoveries:

Use a large and generous port de bras.

Keep standing side stable and pulling up the whole time. Keep it quiet and pulled up. A place to think of the golden chain analogy.

Don't let the knee wobble on plié.

Exercise:

From the corner
Chasse pas de bourre 
4th plié
Releve in 4th
Plié
Relevé passé, open and close arms to center
Plié on 1 leg in passé
Land in 4th
Again
3rd time, double pirouette
Walk to other side
Repeat

Discoveries:

It worked very well this time. I was focusing on keeping my hips up in the front the whole time and I could tell a huge difference in the mirror as well as the ease with which I could relevé. I felt on top of my legs in a new way, like I was stacked up and I could just stay there.

Had an interesting moment of balance where I didn't know how to get down. I came down and was proud of my balance, but Beth didn't like it at all. She said I went backwards a lot. I think she even stopped the music. I was confused but then realized what had happened. I struck a balance that was so good and I was so on top of my leg, but I didn't know how to get down. So I told her that, and she said that I should just bend the knee to get down. So it seems that really what I always do is throw myself back so I would fall down, instead of just bending my leg and going down.

Once I figured out how to get down, I was able to go for the turns easier.

I think in many cases I would have had a good double but I got scared half way, because it was working and I didn't know what to do. Beth said it'll take some time to get used to it.

In pirouette think of bringing elbows together and arms forward in port de bras. The arms need to come forward in a generous way to stand forward and up on the leg.

Exercise:

Glissade
Jeté
Glissade
jeté
Glissade
Jeté
Sauté
Sauté
Repeat

Discoveries:

Get the upper body moving to the side sooner after the jeté. Do a bigger glissade and get the body going in that direction.

I found that in order to do this, I flicked my back foot quickly on the glissade in order to propel me sideways. The same thing Beth told me to do on the grande jeté. Push fast, not just hard.

Exercise:

From side of the room, side to side, goal is to travel across whole room
Chassé pas de bourré
Glissade 
Assemblé
Repeat other way

Discoveries:

Keep traveling, even in assemblé. In the assemblé, travel in the air with legs in 5th. Keep the upper body moving to the side and make big jumps.

How do you like to take notes?

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