Ballet Workout Number Five

“Number 5 is alive!”

Yep, just say the number five to me and I will quote Short Circuit at you like nobody’s business. Who said ballet-inspired workouts and 80s comedy films can’t meet in a unique fandom crossover? That’s right, no one! Watch my attitude (see what I did there?).

As usual we work out way down from warm-ups for the upper body to exercises on our knees and then our side and then our backs and then I’m sometimes puffing like the Hogwarts Express. All that’s missing is the whistling.

My attitudes do feel like they’ve gotten better (ha), to me, but maybe that’s also because I’m focusing on how our wonderful instructor is doing things and her attitudes look flawless. I feel inspired, and that’s important, because I’ve got a lot on my plate here: listening to instructions, following instructions, watching myself in the mirror, making sure I breathe in and out when told to, paying attention to how my lower arms line up with my shoulders and that I don’t do left when everyone is doing right.

I love the full-length stretching for arms and legs, but there is still only so far my legs will go from lying down on my back. Our instructor’s legs flash like scissor blades through the air and then she doesn’t touch the floor with her heels when she lowers them. Oh dear. I feel the burn and I feel gravity. My own heels seem to have turned in to dumbells ready to drop.

I do my best. It’s no joke, keeping your legs in the air and switching between flex and changement. I actually have to set my legs down for a bit, and after covertly peeking around, I see that the woman in front of me is just lying on her back, waiting for us to finish. It’s also a little packed and I ended up brushing her hand with my ballet-slippered foot. Oops.

We stop with the flex and changement, but still keeping our legs straight in the air, we bend them apart, raise our upper bodies off our mats, stretch our arms out between our legs and swithc between tapping the air with our palms, then criss-crossing them. I’m glad my friend has her back to me, otherwise I would laugh. And it wouldn’t have been pretty from that position.

I feel proud of myself for staying up every time I wanted to drop back down, even if what currently passes for my abs is singing No by Meghan Trainor.

I do feel there is progress – a bit more stretching here and there, keeping in time with the count and better chroreography following at the end. Our instructor says “Sehr gut” several times, and when we all raise our arms above our heads, our left and right tendus practically in sync, it feels only natural to applaud her as the class ends.


Ballet Workout Number Four

I’m already on number four? Unbelievable!

I forgot my towel, but hey, this isn’t a sweaty workout, so I’m sure I’ll be fine. It’s about stretching and poise, right?

Within 10 minutes I’m eating my words. The leg raising exercises seem more complicated this time around, especially when I’m on my knees, trying to maintain elegant positions of everything that’s not in the air while coordinating that which is. The angles to which our trainer can bend herself are mind-blowing. And she talks at the same time, while I try, again, to breathe in and out correctly, and not giggle from slight nerves.

“Other way,” she says suddenly. I would have jumped, being startled, but I can’t, because I’m on my back. One leg is bent at the knee, the other is stretched out behind me, and I’m supposed to reach around my side with one arm and try to touch the (almost) straight leg. “The other way,” our trainer repeats. I start awkwardly rearranging my legs, trying to look like I do this on a daily basis. “No, no, your legs are in the correct position, it’s your head, your head, look the other way!” OH.

Just the evening before, my friend and I had been talking about how nice it was that you could get used to things in the class without being watched or called out (I have no problem with instructions, I’m just attached to my own headspace for a while before I can process them properly). But since we are markedly fewer participants today, we are there to see and be seen.

And seen we are. Details emerge, like how to hold your elbows during the warm-up arm wavy arm movements I like to do so much. It’s easier to distinguish ourselves in the mirror and therefore we’re more in sync as Tchaikovsky plays in the background. We’re our own little ballet company.

My abs, or what currently passes for them, are groaning in protest, but I do my best, sweat trickling down my face, managing not to pant. This time my choreography bit in the end is not half bad and I feel nicely ironed out when class ends.

How to Talk to a Woman Reading

No Means No, It Doesn’t Matter How Women Say It by Amna Saleem was immediately familiar to me as soon as I read the article. As she described the persistent attention of a man who approached her  with offers of a drink, despite the fact that she was reading a book and repeatedly declined politely, I was nodding along. I remembered various situations both when I was younger and older, and reading about the mocking responses of the irritating would-be suitor, I also remembered those I had heard myself, among them such as “Don’t you ever smile?” and “So what’s your boyfriend’s name?”

But the article and the author’s mention of some of the nicer Tweets she got from readers got me thinking on another topic. How can a man talk to a woman reading in a public place without seeming like a persistent creep? Or how would the non-creeps do it? Here’s an opinion.

My heartfelt suggestion to men who really want to speak to a woman reading would be to follow this example of what to say to her:

Excuse me/ sorry, hi, sorry to bother you, but I just noticed you are reading * insert name of book here * and I’m thinking of getting it for my father/ mother/ sister/ brother/ cousin/ friend. Could you tell me if it’s good/ what you think of it so far?”

If she answers your question, but doesn’t offer anything else, thank her, wish her pleasant reading and BACK OFF.

If a conversation follows, participate, but don’t overdo it with attention or suggestions, drop a bookshop tip or two, or ask her.

A woman reading in a restaurant, cafe, on a park bench or anywhere else outside of the home that’s sufficiently lit is not looking for a way to mask that she is alone, nor is she self-conscious about sitting by herself. Even if she is, that’s her business. She isn’t begging for persistent, even aggressive attention. She might be waiting for someone, she might have had a long day and just needs an escape for a while. Or she just wants to read, dammit.

The point is, she chose this space, this time and this book by herself, for herself. This needs to be respected.

I love to read and I make a goal out of taking myself somewhere beyond my home to do this. I like to interact with the outside world just as much as I like to withdraw from it sometimes. I need to look up from my book after a while, I most certainly need to eat and drink. Like the author of the article, possibly, I also enjoy looking at something other than my phone to fill my time.

It’s not that a woman reading in a public place, or anyone, can’t be approached at all. But this is a specific situation that merits thinking about.

If she’s reading, she intends to concentrate. The only person who is allowed to break that concentration is the one she might be waiting for. Unless they are both meeting up to read together. The fact that she has a book with her means she’s occupied. She picked something to do.

Anyone being approached by someone deserves politeness and respect, as well as some amount of distance at the beginning of communication, especially when it’s about talking to strangers.

That’s it. And no really does mean no.


Ballet Workout Number Three

Today’s ballet workout was, simply put, so good.

I had made some improvements after my last class. It turns out the bun you twist your long hair into either needs to be high up on your head or it needs to be flatter, coiled elegantly against the back, most likely secured with pins (not too skilled in this area and might get overwhelmed by a YouTube tutorial).

I made these logical conclusions all on my own after not being able to lay my head down properly when we did exercises from the back. As a result you end up feverishly sticking your hair up in a sloppy scramble, while trying to stretch your legs up in the air and pay attention to when you’re supposed to be breathing in and out. Today I came with a side braid! Problem solved! So what if some of it comes out behind my ears. I’m a primadonna and there’s no stopping me.

I also ordered a pair of ballet slip-ons on Amazon, after seeing them on other women in the group. The product info lists a tip suggesting I order a size larger, so I do. As soon as they arrive, nude-colored and with extra leather pads sewn on the soles, and I put them on, I understand. While stretchy and bendy, they sit snugly on the foot and my own size would definitely have been too tight a fit. As I walk out of the changing rooms to wait until the gym opens, I see some of the participants in socks glancing at my footwear the way I did during my first ballet workout. Look and learn!

The shoes are a better solution for me than socks and, to me, my stretched out feet look better in the mirror, further inflaming my romanticized ballerina fantasies, which is, of course, why I picked a ballet workout in the first place.

The trainer from my first class appears, red lipstick, bright smile, neatly coiled hair and black exercise clothes. SHE does everything in socks, but then she also bends forward from a sitting position three times further than I do, while giving us instructions on how to breathe and what to do. The by now more familiar French terms sprinkle the workout session and it feels good to stretch properls. Bits from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty play, the sparkling beauty of the music mixing with the sound of all of us breathing in and blowing out.

Slight crunching sounds accompany our almost in-sync pliés and we are told to not go deeper than we can. There are more participants this time and I can’t quite see our instructor, so I end up copying the movements of a girl I recognize from my first ballet workout, the one in serious-looking rehearsing-dancer-inspired gear. She’s clearly good at this, and it also turns out she has a friendly face.

I mess up the minor choreography in the end again – how do you switch between the tendus properly? But I love all the arm movements accompanying the sequence. I am a star, I AM the ballet, I’m… Oh, class is over. We clap. Just like at the end of any good performance.