Ballet Workout Number 14

Actually, there have been more ballet workouts between my last post about it and this one, but for the sake of consistency and harmony I’ll just continue numbering normally.

French class is out due to the place where I have my course being classified as a school, and therefore they stick to Hamburg state school vacation regulations. This means that my evening is free to go to the ballet workout with my favourite trainer. I come in and it’s a bit more crowded than usual, plus two dudes immediately stick out among the usual majority of women. One is young and bendy, practically teenage-looking, the other is middle-aged and wrapped up in layers, but as the class starts everyone forgets about each other, because all our inner prima ballerinas are unleashed and we concentrate on professional things like balance and poise.

The routine, however, is literally flipped. Instead of starting with doing exercises while standing up and working our way down to sitting and lying down positions, we begin by sitting on our mats and stretching – still feels great! No planks this time, though. There is a brief tremor of fear in the air as it looks like our trainer might just go for it, but it passes and we all laugh in mutual recognition and bonding. I think.

Predictably I’m feeling the burn when we get to the ab-based moves, but I do my best. Some go easier than I expect and I wonder whether I’m doing something wrong – maybe I’m not paying attention to some detail that is supposed to make it harder? Or maybe I should just accept that I’m getting better at this! Don’t forget the prima ballerina.

We get to a half-sitting position, legs outstretched to the side, and then we’re supposed to raise the top leg and stretch it some more. This is all very soothing and I calmly do my thing as far as I can go. Meanwhile, our trainer raises her leg all the way to a right angle and then nonchalantly tucks it behind her ear. She continues talking and advising us to be careful.

I will not forget this moment in a hurry. I’m pretty sure my little niece can do this without a second thought and laugh at the same time. Maybe one day I will return to that kind of flexibility. Until then…

We raise ourselves up – the trainer does it using only her legs and I’m not sure what I do, but I don’t fall over. We finish with a tiny bit of choreography, enthusiasm and happiness making up for some lack of elegance. People who laugh at ballet and ballet dancers should really go to one of these workouts, seriously.

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Santa Baby covered by Lindsey Stirling

Both the song and the music video have been up for a while, but I’ve been listening and watching on repeat, that’s how much I love how this cover by Lindsey Stirling turned out! And now it’s time to pour out my feelings. My favourite line is I want a yacht and, really, that’s not a lot, just the way she says it with that saucy look, and the dance moves match it perfectly. It might become a daily quote. Oh, and I want that shower cap with sequins on it and, really, that’s not a lot. Of sequins. I just love how they catch the light…

Focus!

Since being uploaded on November 29 the music video has already had almost 2.4 million views at the time of writing this blog post, way to go Lindsey! There are so many things I love about the video, where to start…

Lindsey co-directed and her trademark attention to detail and concepting, not to mention her individuality, are all immediately obvious. From the colour palette switching between pinks, lilacs, whites and blues in various intensity, to the nods to her inspiration sources which she talks about in this behind the scenes video, it’s three and a half minutes packed with gorgeous, fun images.

The opening notes that repeat themselves throughout the song click at once with the imagery of  floating soap bubbles, balloons and lights and lend a modern touch to a classic. And then Lindsey sings! She does, and what a great job. In this inspiring interview on the Build series she talks about her vocal work in particular, saying that she ended up liking her voice on the demos she recorded at first and sticking with it.

I love her confidence as well as the whole tone of her singing, how it ties with the music in her interpretation, the balanced execution and the coquettish, feminine vibe. The fact that she went on to do her own vocals also makes me incredibly excited for what she will produce in the future. In addition, she spoke about the challenge of covering a beloved Christmas classic that many others have covered before as well and coming up with a way to do it that had her mark on it.

Just when you’ve managed to digest it is indeed Lindsey singing Santa Baby, she makes my jaw drop even more by dancing en pointe in ballet shoes! She’s been known not just for her mind-blowing simultaneous violin playing and dancing, but also as an amazingly talented, sharp dancer, especially after her season on Dancing with the Stars in 2017. Her movements are precise and beautiful, you can tell she’s trained, but at the same time the choreography doesn’t look studied or mechanical. Her enjoyment of what she is doing shines through in the scenes, which I’m in awe of even more now that I have a (very) slight inkling of how hard ballet sequences can actually be.

Been an angel all year… Merry Christmas!

 

The Nutcracker Ballet: Timeless Magic

So the reason I’m including this in the Hamburg section is because my beloved city has a beautiful cinema, the Passage Kino, and for a few years now they have been showing live broadcasts of selected ballets performed by the Bolshoi Theater ensemble in Moscow. I have increasingly enjoyed going to ballet performances as I grew up, but since childhood I have deeply loved three of Tchaikovsky’s ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and, a special favourite, The Nutcracker.

These live broadcasts are a fantastic option for those of us who might not always make it to a live performance on stage, but are dying to get their classical Russian ballet fix AND like a good bargain, because obviously prices for the cinema tickets differ considerably from theater ones. AND you can see everything. AND I love going to the movies as well. THOUGH I would also love to one day see a performance in the Bolshoi Theater itself. BUT I also feel patriotic about the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater, where I saw all those ballets first, and they remain the most beautiful performances I have ever been to.

Anyway, I just went to a live Bolshoi broadcast of The Nutcracker, ’tis the season, and here’s a trailer.

The magical, familiar score of the ballet carried me home and I found myself thinking of The Nutcracker‘s timeless appeal. What made this particular ballet such a hit, year after year? Why did I still feel a strong pull to see it whenever December rolled around?

There is a lot to say about this, without getting technical, and I couldn’t get technical anyway, because I’m not a ballerina or a choreographer, despite my ballet workout confidence.

Everything starts with the story, and I was fortunate enough not only to read the book in different translations, but also to see two lovely animated adaptations that closely followed both E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella and the musical sequence of the ballet. If you’re curious, one was Russian from 1973 (45 years ago?!) and the other was Canadian from 1990 (that 90s nostalgia…) The Russian version was without words, with the ballet’s music being the narrator, while the 90s adaptation had dialogue.

Of course it was inevitable that at some point both book and ballet fused in my imagination, since the music captures everything about the story that draws you in: the joy of celebrating (not just Christmas), the magic and mystery of a winter night, the underlying fear of what lurks in the darkness, growing up, romance, dreams and reality – there’s a lot!

The ballet is a masterpiece of dancing, and I can tell you this as well: even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of my ballet workouts, I can now actually spot some of the movements we learned, compared to just watching and marveling, and therefore imagine JUST HOW DAMN SKILLED all those dancers are. General tip, if you’re watching or reading something where the characters are doing stuff that awakens your interest, maybe try out a course that teaches it or something related. You might gain valuable insight.

The enduring, exquisite choreography by Marius Petipa seamlessly matches the music of the ballet and I never tire of watching the group dances, especially the airy, joyful Waltz of the Flowers (also a wonderful springtime tune, thus making The Nutcracker music suitable not only for the winter season).

The ballet, in its stunning visual representation, also cleverly leaves plenty of questions unanswered, and that might be another reason for its timeless appeal, because we keep coming back to interpret anew. At the center of the story is the experience of a young girl, Marie, who blooms into a young woman, but how does that work with the timeline (one night)? Of course, logically only adult ballerinas can dance the role, which automatically influences our perspective. Is the godfather a magician? Whose side is he on? Did Marie become the Sugarplum Fairy?

I don’t need to know, because I love the continued delight, wonder and charm of the ballet, and it’s fascinating that music and a performance put together some 125 years ago are still very much alive…

 

Ballet Workout Number 13

Oh my God, you can see just how long it’s been since the date under the last post about ballet workout number 12… But true perfection cannot be rushed. I’m back.

The classical music starts playing (oh, bliss), because I’m once again in the class taught by the trainer who gets me. Her elegance is immediately obvious before she even starts moving and she makes even a simple black training outfit look chic. She starts with the warm-ups, bending, arm movements that make me wonder how she looked dancing on stage.

I enjoy every second, but predictably I rapidly feel it’s been a while with my whole body. At least I can definitely still stretch, I tell myself, I’m not stiff, I just need some… renewed practice. Still, the peaceful atmosphere, the large mirrors, the music all bring me a bit closer to the world that fascinates so many. I get lost in a daydream of another world where I might be able to do this…“Stay on your back, swing your right leg over your left one and try to reach your heel with your left hand.” Heel? I hope I can get halfway down my calf. But it’s OK, because “…be careful, we don’t want anything to…” She pasues delicately. “…tear?” I croak helpfully. Bingo!

We stretch and do the attitudes I’ve missed, flex and raise our legs until I’ve perfected my drunk grasshopper pose so much even I’m impressed by myself.

It all feels very nice at the end, though the delayed soreness reaction surprises me a little, but maybe it’s better because I wanted to enjoy getting back to the workout.

 

Ballet Workout Number 12

Yes, it’s once again been a while, because I was traveling. I walked in to the class slightly apprehensive, but then, oh joyful miracle. The trainer from ballet workout number 1 walked in, put on some classical music…and I would have wept tears of pure joy, had I not needed to concentrate on my plié and breathing. Because make no mistake, the dedicated extremely amateur ballerina is still there.

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I’ve enjoyed all the other workouts and obviously they’ve provided a lot of fun material for this blog, but as soon as that music started playing and the trainer had us raise our hands in the positions that make me feel regal, then do all those lovely stretches, I knew that these were the classes I truly wanted to attend. I wouldn’t be contributing anything to the other ones with my underlying discomfort and attempts to do something I wasn’t yet ready for. The epiphany filled my chest with peace and I didn’t mind at all when the trainer gently repeated to me that I needed to stretch out my other leg from my half lying position on the mat.

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It’s a good feeling to know what you want and what suits you to make sure you do your best, or what feels right in the moment.

It also helps when your abs and thighs ache the next morning and you try to remember why.

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…

 

 

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.