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.


Discover Northern Germany: Husum

Husum is a beautiful historic town in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein worth checking out if you want to discover Northern Germany. Lovely walks along streets lined with old brick houses typical of the area and everything being reachable on foot make for easy planning while you’re there.

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Cold winds blow in January from the North Sea nearby, brilliant sunshine might be expected and there are lots of places to stop by for a cup of tea – popular beverage here. The traditional Brauhaus Husum in the Neustadt street is a recommended stop if you’re interested in the local beer culture, and there’s even a proudly sold local brand of mineral water, Unser Gutes Husumer.

The local castle is a good place to start if you want to get a town history fix and the park around it fills with crocuses in the springtime. Even now in this cold winter weather tiny ones are sprouting up from the earth. The Schlosscafe, located right in the castle courtyard, serves tasty (and cheap) dishes, as well as delicious, generously sliced cake. It’s a good way to finish the visit to the castle (which follows a route noble guests were expected to take in the olden days – you might get a guide from the stern lady at the entrance and don’t even think of saying no). I didn’t know Czar Peter the Great visited Husum during the Great Northern War (dim memories of history lessons in school), or that the town used to belong to Denmark. Many signs in the castle and other places are written both in German and Danish.

Husum is also the birthplace of Theodor Storm, an important influencer of the country’s 19th century literary scene and connected to the development of realism in German literature. After walking through all the rooms of his house, which has stayed largely unchanged since his death, through two world wars and despite other owners, it’s amusing to find out that Storm collected and penned ghost stories (Spukgeschichten), which had been unpublished for a long time before being discovered. The receptionist tells me about children huddling around a fireplace in kitchens during dark evenings, while that cold wind raged outside in streets that weren’t yet lit the same as nowadays. They would tell each other these stories, both drawing from what they had heard elsewhere and making things up as they went along. This certainly creates quite an image in my head!

Just like in Hamburg, people say Moin in Husum. Another gem in Northern Germany.


Ballet Workout Number Two

Today’s workout is kicking my butt… Actually, no, my butt is fine, but other parts of my body, like what I thought were my non-existent abs (surprise!) or my arms are feeling the burn. Welcome to ballet workout number two. I’m doing this thing!

Once again, I’m not doing actual ballet, I’m doing a ballet workout, which incorporates elements of ballet training (on a very minor scale for us beginners with possibly no previous physical ballet experience). But it’s fun to see family and friends’ eyes light up when I mention this type of exercise, and whenever I raise my arms above my head, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty”. Bring it on!

The trainer is different this time and there is no classical music. The routine also varies a little, but that’s fine, because all the magazines tell you it’s good to “switch it up” and “go for variety” as far as your workout is concerned. We start with standing warm-ups and exercises. That childhood question, “How long can you stand on your tippy-toes?” is quickly answered as we’re instructed to do so. Can I? Yes. Can I raise one leg while doing so? Hell no.

But I’m not to be deterred. In my blissful headspace, I look like this:

In reality the trainer notices me discreetly lower my outstretched arms to my hips when we do various combinations of tendu and plie (quick French lessons included in workout!). “Yes, yes, do that to control yourselves, to see where your back is!” she calls out encouragingly. I hope my back is where it’s supposed to be, though I need a few seconds to decipher what “Bellybutton towards your spine!” means. Additional interesting statements include “You have an apple between your chin and your chest!” and “There is a glass of water standing on your back that you need to keep upright!” Well, then, I would be soaked, because my butt is sticking up in the air like someone is pulling it up by a wire. I think I’m just too tall for anything nearing push-up status.

We lie on our backs and are asked to stretch one leg upwards, then grab the back of our calves with our hands and stretch. I just manage to get past my knee and know that there is no way I will make the rest of the distance. I turn my head to look at the floor-length mirrors covering the opposite wall, and spot one bent leg, like a grasshopper, sticking out among a sea of straight ones. Yep, me again, blazing my own trail. What do these women do? Is it because most of them are shorter than me? Do they have decades of yoga behind them?

And another thing. Trainers might look just like you when they enter the gym, but then they start doing exercises, all while talking and explaining them, and you realize they are either aliens or unicorns.

The stretching takes care of the kinks I brought along from a week at my day job and I order some ballet slippers (not shoes) for the next class. Because that’s what I do now, this workout thing and this workout gear stuff.


Ballet Workout: First-Timer Report

It’s Saturday, the sun is shining and I’m making my way to my first ever ballet workout, workout gear pulled on and workout bag in hand… Wait, how did this even happen?!

I’ll tell you how! 2018 arrived and I wanted to do things I’d been thinking of for a while, or at least try. It helped that a dear friend had similar thoughts. Workout clothes, workout bag, work out buddy – that’s just how I do things now!

I signed up at Sportspass and now I’m actually a member of Hamburg’s largest sports club. Wait, how did this happen? I’ll tell you how! Roomy corridor, pleasant receptionist, easy system and cheap monthly rates are all important points, as well as being able to  try out as many courses as you like and (physically) can.

We sat outside the gym, waiting for the previous class to finish, in our workout gear and not worn anywhere else sneakers… and a few girls passed us dressed in seriously ballet-inspired clothes and slippers. Once in the gym, the instructor isn’t there yet, so I covertly sneak glances at what the other participants are doing instead of asking directly if it’s OK to drape my towel over the bar. The cues are easy to identify and the sneakers simply get taken off. My socks don’t slip on the wooden floor and I’m hoping I won’t tear my leggings during a stretch I can’t yet imagine. RRRRip! Please no, these are new.

The instructor arrives, the music starts and with quick relief I discover that we are all following our individual levels of fitness, with no prolonged scrutinizing or comments. The classical music playing is soothing and my mind easily wanders elsewhere during the warm-up. It is my belief that those of us with Russian roots might be predisposed to like ballet. Regardless of whether we’ve actually done it ourselves (as you do) or only seen performances, there is something about ballet that makes the Russian heart flutter and eyes mist up, while images of The Nutcracker or Swan Lake take over our minds. We are genetically and historically primed to respond to these movements and knowingly say, “Ah yes!” when ballet enters conversation with other people.

All of the above might be part of my slight romanticzing of the ballet workout, though I’m practical enough to be careful about the workout part. But I’m not proceeding badly or stiffly at all, and I’m enjoying the stretching parts of the session. However, as soon as we get to exercises involving lying on your back and lifting your legs in various positions, well, oh dear. But this is my very first ballet workout, after all.

We sit back up and stretch forward, trying to touch the tips of our straight legs. This is a predictable challenge. The last time I did this, I was six years old and I could do so with both hands at the same time. It was during a dance class, and my teacher was wonderful – perceptive, patient and competent. I remember her in an emerald-green blouse, grey trousers, with a tiny waist and beautifully applied bright make-up. Maybe these memories are part of the reason I was looking forward to today.

My leg bends before I can reach my toes, like that time my eye would shut before I could put in a contact lens. The voice in my head is alternating between repeating Oh, God and quietly swearing in my best imitation of what everyone else thinks a British accent is. I catch my friend’s eye and have to resist making a face, because we are actually concentrating and no one besides the instructor is saying anything. In fact, I do giggle when I catch another redhead’s eye, because she’s taking a tiny break, like me, but she doesn’t react back. Noted!

I’m still able to get up without a fuss as we get to the final exercises. I mess up the sequence of moves, but the music is lovely and I’m trying to remember whether it’s the opening of the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker (that’s as Russian as I get today). The ballet workout seems to be over before I know it and I am already sure while carefully (just in case) walking out that I will want to come again.

The rest of the day passes and I feel fine, mastering stairs is not a problem, but let’s see what my muscles say tomorrow.