Ballet Workout Number 10

Drama in the classroom! But I’m ready for it, because, I am, after all, a prima ballerina on the cusp of fame.

Five minutes before class is due to start, our trainer still hasn’t arrived, which isn’t unusual. Instead of getting to stretch in peace or just contemplate whether we are brave enough to stand right in front (that doesn’t apply to me, my place is always in the front ever since I got called there from what I thought was a good spot at the back, but that’s what you get when you are reeking of experience and five foot ten), we were accosted by the trainer packing up after the previous course. Except she stopped packing up when she saw us and suggested we do some warm-ups from her children’s fitness class.

I hopped up and down out of politeness, but stopped when I noticed my classmates were all standing still and stony-faced. I get it, loyalty. We were further interrogated about what type of workout we were about to do and the woman was clearly floored when we answered ballet.

Our own trainer arrived shortly and I had barely registered her cool, brightly patterned wedge sneakers, when she was accused by the other lady of wearing “street shoes”. It took another five minutes for the accuser to exit, and I thought once again that shoes have the power to do all sorts of things to women. And considering we were in a ballet workout, this wasn’t even off-topic.

But I also saw our trainer in a new light – a graceful woman who always comes to our class with a determined smile and in cheerful, bright clothes. Some people can’t let go of that even in passing.

Within minutes I was once again joyfully sweating as I extended my legs in as precise tendus as I could muster, keeping my hands on my hips and smiling at the girl in the mirror. Arms rose, heads were held high, plies went as deep as we could go and the “dog” at the end was very varied indeed, though I think I once again took the cake in terms of looking like I knew what I was doing. Not.

I’m discovering that it’s easier to squat down to retrieve something and THEN get back up again, something I had become a bit ungainly at before I started this workout. I’ve missed the last two classes, but here’s hoping I have the right attitude (see what I did there) and that my body will remember. Stay tuned…

 

 

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Ballet Workout Number 9

Niagara Falls has nothing on me, that’s how much I’m sweating.

Our trainer walks in, catches my eye and gives me a smile. I’m recognized and I instantly know that I can’t move to the back of the room. My place is here, front and center. Well, her place is front and center, mine is slightly to the side. I have accepted the prima ballerina inside me waiting to burst forth and will continue working out. With great workouts comes great sweating.

I missed the previous class, but it’s gratifying and energizing to see that my body seems to remember something. This time I actually manage to sincerely smile at my reflection in the mirror before the sweat obscures my vision. It’s nice to see what I hope really is a straight back and how we all do exercises in sync, as if we’re participating in a performance we hadn’t discussed with each other.

There is slightly less choreography this time and the larger parts of what we did previously have been broken down in to smaller ones. We’re concentrating in greater detail on steps, toes, fingers, and really making an effort, hence the sweating. I’m sorry, I’m writing too much about sweating in this post, it’s making me perspire.

Occasionally our trainer shouts, “Is that ballet? That’s not ballet!” Well, the question we might want to ask ourselves, really, or that we don’t yet trust ourselves to ask her is, what is ballet?

I don’t get as much attention as last time, except for my tendus. “I’m doing this,” our instructor says, sweeping her foot in a graceful arc behind her. “And that’s not what you’re doing.” But of course I remember the instruction about aligning my outstretched foot with the tip of my nose when I bring it back. Got it, got it.

This time I also manage to sometimes pick up my arms and do movements along with moving my feet, switching correctly, so score!

We finish with our hands and feet on the floor, our bodies bent upwards like triangles. “Nothing is supposed to be bending,” the trainer calls out, and I know this is leveled at me. I can’t see what’s bent, because I’m looking down, but I venture a sideways glance at the mirror and am rewarded by a total vision. Red face, sweat dripping down the sides, glasses slipping down my nose, hair all over the place, legs bent at the knees. “Go further forward with your hands,” my trainer says. I do. “Futher!” I do. But only so far. “This is the dog, from yoga, you know?” I didn’t know, I’m woefully misinformed where yoga is concerned, but then, I’ve only just accepted my inner ballerina.

Ballet Workout Number 8

I’m a star. I think I just have to accept it. You have to come to terms with fame, otherwise it will swallow you up and then spit out the stuff it doesn’t like for the world to trample on, leaving nothing behind, nothing. I am not being dramatic. I’m being realistic. I’m being prepared.

I wanted to stay in the back of the class, but our trainer made me come forward.

After last week’s ballet workout number 7, I stayed true to my decision and moved towards the back of the gym. Our trainer nodded in my direction and said, “Can you take two steps forward, you’re standing right by the bar.” I looked behind me, and sure enough, there was a girl standing contentedly right by the bar. Speaking of which, why aren’t we using the bar? When I turned my head back around, my trainer was still looking at me expectantly, and then repeated, “Come forward,” waving her hand encouragingly. I came forward and it was more than two steps. Either she likes me, or I simply radiate raw, at the moments somewhat deeply buried talent, or both. Or she thinks I’m a special case and is giving me particular attention so I understand. Or she’s simply doing her job. But clearly both of us share the belief that one day this will be me:

We mostly follow the same routine as last time and it’s not as overwhelming, nor is the speed with which we change between exercises. I’ve had a whole week to calm down, after all. It’s also inspiring to see the precision and grace of our trainer’s movements. Within seconds of doing our deep, deep plies, though, I get approached, and I can’t get what I’m doing wrong with my back and its lower part. I think my butt is just bigger and curvier…and that’s just the way it is. Another learning curve. Ha! I know, but I couldn’t resist.

When I face the mirror sideways and we do a “check” on our position, the trainer is happy. I forget it promptly when we face the mirror full-frontal again. I’m sure it will come back as I continue discovering my inner star.

We reach the this time slightly less complicated sideways position with feet pointing in different directions and start adding up steps, and while my switches might not be the most swan-like, I certainly manage to follow the choreography, flinging up the right arm and leg each time. It’s still hard to concentrate on both my legs or feet and my arm movements at the same time, so I keep them on my hips for most of the class.

Valuable information learned includes the fact that you don’t show your thumbs when you raise your arms in the first position, and during front tendus the line of your outstretched and curved foot should be aligned with…the tip of your nose! “Your nose is not here!” our trainer tells me encouragingly, pointing at her cheek.

I find myself touched by this disclosure of definitely insider ballet details, because while many of us might be new to the workout, we are not treated inferior. Rather, we are obviously treated like we can learn, regardless of what we came to the workout for or what our level of expertise is.

 

 

 

The French and German Way of Life

Germany is where I live and France is where I go regularly. True, I don’t know all of Germany, I know a certain part of Northern Germany best, and there is still so much to discover. I don’t know all of France either, as I mostly travel in one particular direction when I do go, though I have been to a few different cities. But in the last decade, through this combination, I have been fortunate to experience for myself parts of the French and German way of life. And for me one of the most telling bases of comparison for the two is the impression I’ve gotten from both nations in their approach to managing time.

I think those last two words, the choice of them, is already indicative enough of the strength of the German influence on me, which joyfully melds with my own character set-up. It seems Germans see time as something to be treasured, respected, a luxury to strive for, a tool to plan with, a sought-after component of leisure, an opportunity not to be wasted. For there is nothing more frustrating than time that is wasted. The French, meanwhile, always seem to be sure that whatever happens, there will be more time, becase la vie est belle and so is France, and why don’t you sit down, have a glass of wine and some cheese while you wait, you uptight German person.

In my French class we recently started a new lesson built around the subject of le train. Much was said while we collected the vocabulary we already knew. Our teacher explained the one marked difference between the German Deutsche Bahn and the French SNCF. Punctuality? Non. Plus, plenty of people in Germany complain about Deutsche Bahn. Non, it is le ticket! If you have your German train ticket, your platform is printed on it, and usually c’est vrai! Meanwhile, in a French gare you have to go stare at some information screens to find out where you board your train. It is not unusual to not have these details even 15 minuts before departure (being German). This was precisely my first experience taking the train from Paris-Est station to Strasbourg and the memory still makes me snort like an impatient horse.

I had to ask my teacher one burning question. Are the French relaxed about this fact and all Oui, c’est ça, or are there actually people in the country who are irritated by this? My teacher shrugged with that characteristically elegant, but nonchalant air, her eyebrows going up and her lips puckering in sync with the movement of her shoulders. Certain circumstances allow you to get a refund for your train ticket, she said. But what about your destination, the plan to be somewhere at a certain time, I sputtered. Another shrug.

I was recounting this story to a German friend, after we had made lunch plans, which we neatly laid down like we always do, despite knowing each other for ten years. We had included the possibility of being SPONTANEOUS in deciding where to go if it rained, because we planned to walk. But in case we didn’t get to, we were prepared!

Being a middle child, maybe this is what it’s about for me, a constant melding and co-existence of the stable and the new, the tried and tested injected with occasional joie de vivre, the satisfaction and gratitude of something working our as planned (or better) against arriving somewhere two hours later, but your favourite cafe is still open, and you get dessert on the house because your group is friendly and happy about seeing each other.

I know that the French and German way of life will both stay as they are. I know that I will continue feeling as if a bus or a subway train arriving on time as per my prior checking online is a present just for me. I know that (sometimes) it’s OK to stop thinking about time as such and live in the moment. And occasionally I will prepare dinner as a three-course meal. After that I will memorize the platform number printed on my train ticket AND check it on the information screen in the station.

Ballet Workout Number 7

“Your hips and shoulders, this is all one line, OK?”

I’m getting way more attention than I bargained for, but with the glittering confidence born during previous workouts I have positioned myself almost directly behind our trainer. Well, tough! I can see her clearly and I can definitely see my whole body in the full-length mirror. And she can see me. I’m just an introvert and I wasn’t expecting this, you know?

It’s hard to distinguish exactly how my shoulders and hips should be aligned, because at the same time I’m straining not to drop my “long arms” (“Keep them long, keep them long!”), which already feel like logs, and not slip on one foot while aligning the other. Did I mention my knees were bent?

The trainer attempts to nudge one of my slipper-clad feet in the right direction, but I can’t cooperate and balance without abandoning the whole position. “Don’t work against my hand!” she says encouragingly. I explain about slipping – sorry, explain? I grunt and gasp. I’m told conspirationally that to train in ballet slip-ons is “scheiße” and to go barefoot or find slip-proof socks. Thanks, but no. And after my happiness about finding the slippers, we’re sticking together.

Since I’m still struggling with alignment, my trainer clearly thinks I don’t understand her instructions, because the next thing she says, also encouragingly, is “Quadratisch, praktisch, gut!” As flattering as it is to be compared to one of Germany’s most famous chocolate brands, it’s not enough. I want to tell her which flavor I think I am, but she moves away to the back of the gym to see who else’s hips are lying. I can practically feel the relief of the middle section of the class that they weren’t noticed. On the other hand, they might be too busy sweating.

We mean business. The trainer’s movements are fast, beautiful and the speed of switching between exercises is literally breath-taking. No classical music this time – thumping tribal and gypsy beats fill the room. I want to do what I normally do at a silent disco party, which is go all out, but I can’t. I have to deep, deep plie, then straighten my legs and raise my arms with the grace I’m still sure I possess, then fold them down the middle of my chest (after a few minutes I finally get how to do this) and deep, deep plie once more.

Everyone is making an effort to keep up and I feel a surge of affection towards my classmates. Our trainer is as bendy as a twig and shouts that we’re supposed to be having fun, she wants to see it! We’re doing a quick mix of tendu, step and throw it all out, arms and one leg, switching sides, and I’m focused on following the girl in front of me to keep up with the pace.

During another exercise that involves swinging and switching your arms while your feet are doing something else, I discover that there is a limit to even my multitasking. “Why are you doing it with the same arms?” the trainer asks. “Well…why not?” doesn’t seem like a suitable answer in this case, so I politely say I’m trying.

Balancing on tiptoe with my arms raised above my head refreshes the feeling of glamour and power, as we fill the gym with our various music box ballerina likenesses. Our trainer says that, unfortunately, we don’t have time for exercises on the mat and I silently utter a prayer of thanks (judge me, I don’t care, there’s no POINTE, hahaha). We stretch a little and breathe, which helps with my minor case of sensory overload.

I’m also proud of how I apPLIEd myself, despite my TENDUncy to quietly stick to the back at first. Sometimes you just have to work on your ATTITUDES, and obviously you might get some back.

Don’t you just love what I did there?

 

Learning French and Going to France

When you’re learning French and traveling to France, you naturally feel like you should try speaking French once you arrive on French soil, right? Wait, try? “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” You are not simply a tourist or a visitor anymore. You basically have an obligation.

Oui, Yoda certainly knew what he was talking about. I know the process of this particular trip to Paris and it automatically divides itself in to tasks in my head in reference to opportunities to parler français. With decisively German precision I follow my plan of producing short, but appropriate sentences.

I enter the plane and say “Bonjour, Madame”, “Bonjour, Monsieur” to the crew as I make my way to my seat, on the same volume level that I use in other languages, because, you know, je parle un petit peu français. I am rewarded with a “Bonjour, Madame” or sometimes still with a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle.” I like being called Mademoiselle. I don’t find it derogatory and it reminds me of when I started flying to France as a student, after first moving to Germany. The German Fräulein has said farewell and disappeared in to the mist of times past, but Mademoiselle isn’t quite ready to leave just yet.

Step two of my exciting journey en français is putting to the test our extensive lesson on ordering in a restaurant. Are you ready for it? Here goes. “Je voudrais un chocolat chaud, s’il vous plaît.” The stewardess doesn’t politely ask me to repeat my request (parfait!) and gracefully hands me my little cup of hot chocolate, following the action with a sentence I can’t repeat, but I know she’s saying I should stir the liquid. She also asks, and I’m pretty sure I am typing this correctly (confidence is everything), “Vous desirez de l’eau avec votre chocolat chaud?” And because I’m an experienced traveler en France and prepared to invest my German powers of concentration in this drink before me, I answer elegantly, “Non, merci.”

I gratefully sip my hot chocolate, because I need to fortify myself for what comes next after these linguistic achievements. Step three of my interactions en français will be to put money on my Navigo pass so I can take the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris. I spend the remainder of the flight painstakingly composing various versions of what I want to say. “Bonjour, j’ai mon Navigo…non, bonjour, j’ai un Navigo…is it un or une Navigo? Wait, they don’t need to know it’s my Navigo, too much information, and I have it in my hand anyway, it’s not like I just picked it up off the floor, my picture is on it. OK, how about, bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours? Or is it de cinq jours? Or just cinq jours? Bonjour (smoothly slide Navigo towards SNCF employee behind the glass), je suis ici pour (maybe I can ask them, with that little laugh as if we’re sharing an inside joke, if pour is correct, haha, hmmm, oui, le français) cinq jours et je voudrais…what do I use for “to” or “until” when I’m talking about a stop? We recently had a few lessons where we repeated how to use en, au and aux, depending on whether you were talking about a country, city or region, and what gender they were. But we didn’t cover stops of the Parisian metro!

But my feverish race of thoughts is stopped quickly after I enter the SNCF ticket office in the airport. I only manage to get out “Bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours”, but something about it must have been convincing, because the lady at the counter released what sounded to my ears like a torrent of rapid French and the only word I understood was “dimanche”. I apologized in English and she reeled off the information I needed in the same language, but she clearly didn’t wish to pursue any longer interactions, so all my carefully constructed sentence parts will have to be saved for next time.

I redeemed myself the next morning by loudly and decisively telling a man blocking my path in the metro “Excusez-moi!”, only to see that he was a ticket controller.

 

Ballet Workout Number Six

I am a swan. My graceful movements are transporting me across the gym. I extend my long arms, one in front of me, one behind me, and I’m not a swan anymore. I’m Odette, y’all!

Imagination is a wonderful thing. In reality I’m sweating from my head down and my legs and arms feel slightly heavy. Our trainer (yet another different one today) is seriously nice. She explains and demonstrates the moves she wants us to make as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to do them, seemingly with complete faith that we will all be able to execute these lovely ballet components. I immediately like her for it. “Long arms, long arms, keep your arms long!” At 5’10, I hope I’ve got that one covered. OK, I know what she means.

I can’t really see what I’m doing, because I’m concentrating on not falling and not crashing in to the women jumping ahead of me. I therefore don’t really now if my moves are lovely, but I’m having a lovely time.

We are lining up in fours and prancing across the gym with varying degrees of…style. I watch, fascinated, as the first few participants seem to do exactly what we were instructed to do, and it looks amazing. We cover the gym in multiple directions – diagonally, straight on, back and forth. I never stop moving, and though it feels like Odette might have turned back in to a walrus instead of a swan, I decide that in my own little show she’s a happy walrus.

To my delight, standing up on tip-toes and balancing while extending my arms upwards and to the sides is working out better and better, as is following the familiar (yes, that’s just what I do now) choreography bits with tendu. We’ve spent most of the class doing exercizes standing up, so that was an interesting switch. I wonder which part of my body I’ll feel responding tomorrow.

A few tell-tale crunches once again pop around the gym once we bend our knees in our first plies. I lower myself extra carefully, not wanting to join the soundtrack, and watch our trainer position her knees turned outside, looking like an upside-down letter T.

I’ll just work on my long arms for now.