Five weeks into ballet classes – lots of fun and laughs, good exercise, not much pain anymore. But a ballerina I am not!! Watching myself in the mirror trying to pirouette – oh my – there are times when I feel 2 years old again, just barely able to keep myself on my feet!
Last class, we were reviewing steps and the names of the steps, all French words. A classmate commented that ballet actually originated in Italy, and that got me wondering about the history of ballet and the actual meanings of the words used to describe the steps. So here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned:
Ballet did indeed originate in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, being originally performed in large chambers with the audience in tiered seats on three sides of the dance floor. It further developed as a concert dance form in France, England, and Russia. It is primarily performed to classical music.
This type of dance is very hard to achieve (and I can attest to that), and is known for using every muscle of the body – and let me tell you, my body certainly feels it! Even though it is technically a performance art, sports critics consider it more complicated than any other sport.
Here’s a short video clip of real ballet dancers.
Ballet words – I’ve learned so many in the last few weeks, many that I’d heard before, but now they actually mean something.
Arabesque – the real meaning: position of the body, in profile, supported on one leg, with the other leg extended behind and at right angles to it, and the arms held in various harmonious positions creating the longest possible line from the fingertips to the toes. It should look like this: For me, it means hanging onto the barre for dear life, extending one foot behind me at about, maybe, a 30 degree angle, aching back, trembling thighs, foot on the floor shifting, trying to find a balance.
Barre – the real meaning: The horizontal wooden bar fastened to the walls of the ballet classroom or rehearsal hall which the dancer touches occasionally. For me, a lifeline to which I clutch desperately, has prevented a broken hip more times than I can count.
Pirouette – the real meaning: Whirl or spin. A complete turn of the body on one foot, on point or demi-pointe. The body must be well centered over the supporting leg with the back held strongly and the hips and shoulders aligned. The force of momentum is furnished by the arms, which remain immobile during the turn. The head is the last to move as the body turns away from the spectator and the first to arrive as the body comes around to the spectator, with the eyes focused at a definite point which must be at eye level. Oh my goodness – if I could get everything aligned I might be able to get turned around once. As it is: I get into starting position, then turn about 1/4, then hop the rest of the way around until I’m facing front, landing with feet splayed and arms any old place, to quickly try to recover into a reasonable position before the instructor sees what I’ve done – eyes CLOSED the whole time!!
Plie – the real meaning: bending of the knee or knees. This is an exercise to render the joints and muscles soft and pliable and the tendons flexible and elastic, and to develop a sense of balance. There are two principal pliés: grand plié or full bending of the knees (the knees should be bent until the thighs are horizontal) and demi-plié or half-bending of the knees. The bending movement should be gradual and free from jerks, and the knees should be at least half-bent before the heels are allowed to rise. All demi-pliés are done without lifting the heels from the ground. Here’s what demi- and grand plies should look like:
For me: a squat, heels up the whole time, thighs at maybe 20 degrees (even for a grand) and trembling all the way, one arm awkwardly out trying to maintain a balance, while the other hand grabs onto the bar so I don’t land on my keister.
Tendu – the real meaning: an exercise to force the insteps well outward. The working foot slides from the first or fifth position to the second or fourth position without lifting the toe from the ground. Both knees must be kept straight. When the foot reaches the position pointe tendue, it then returns to the first or fifth position. For me: sticking my toe out in some kind of an approximation of pointing, then hopping around clutching my foot trying to stretch out the cramp.
As hilarious as it is when I’m trying to do all of this, I certainly come away from class knowing that I’ve exercised well, at least as well as I can given the fact that I’ve never been an athlete and I’m old!! I have an exercise routine to carry me through the week (doing this desperately so that Friday night classes don’t hurt too much), and I’m enjoying the classes and the company. In the end, when I’m at home with no mirror, I do at least feel graceful while I’m doing this – and I’m having fun.
Hoping that you find the fun in whatever you do. Happy weekend! Peg