Tonnelets, tutus, and tights

Last week I went to the first class of Ballet 101, a short course on ballet appreciation offered by San Francisco Ballet. This may have been my first time to the SF Ballet studio and office building on Franklin Street–though I may have been there several years ago on a school field trip?–but in any case it was pretty neat to be in the building where so much premier dance activity takes place.

I was led to a boardroom on the first floor, where about fifty or so fellow classmates were already gathered. We were given course readers, and after an introduction by coordinator Cecelia Beam, we got a whirlwind history of ballet entitled “Tonnelets, Tutus, and Tights: Ballet History from France to Russia to America,” given by dance scholar and self-identified “ballet nerd”–my kind of people!–Carrie Gaiser Casey.

Given that I’ve been reading a bunch of ballet history books lately, I was actually pretty familiar with most of the major points from the lecture. But I appreciated that Carrie helped to bring it to life by playing video clips and even having us get up and strike some ballet poses. The video clips were from Le Triomphe de l’amour (reconstructed from a 1680s ballet) (below), La Sylphide (Osipova), and Afternoon of a Faun (Nureyev).

It was all pretty neat, and I was especially interested in her take on where ballet is and where it’s going. She touched on the contemporary trends toward fusion with other kinds of dance, including modern and ethnic styles.

Next time: Ballet 101 doesn’t meet today due to the MLK Jr. Day holiday. Next week it starts up again with a basic ballet technique class taught by SF Ballet School faculty member Pascale Leroy, with company pianist Nina Pinzarrone. We have the choice of participating in the class or observing; you know I’m going to be there dancing!

This is part of a mini-series of posts on Ballet 101 at San Francisco Ballet; check out the others here.

All set for Ballet 101

Every year San Francisco Ballet offers a short course on ballet appreciation, called Ballet 101, which I’ve thought of taking someday. Well, now that I’m pretty much obsessed, the time is now. I’ve had the web page open in a browser window for the past several days, and yesterday they sent out an e-mail publicizing it, so I figured I better jump on it. I went ahead and registered!

From the e-mail:

Ballet 101 is a five-week course for adults who are curious about the inner workings of San Francisco Ballet and would like to deepen their knowledge of ballet. The course includes a combination of lectures, discussions with Ballet Masters and Company Dancers, and facility tours, as well as one ballet technique class for beginners with Pascal Leroy, Former Soloist Dancer and current San Francisco Ballet School faculty member.

Ballet 101 begins January 2012 and will meet five evenings (Jan 9, 23, 30 and Feb 6, 13) from 6 to 8pm at the San Francisco Ballet Building, 455 Franklin Street (between Grove and Fulton). Cost of the course is $225 and is non-refundable.

The course sells out every year, so register online today to reserve your space!

I’m especially excited about the technique class. Since San Francisco Ballet doesn’t offer open adult classes, this is a rare chance to take class in their studios. Watch for my full blog coverage of Ballet 101 in a couple of months!


A new beginning

My current class load is advanced beginning ballet on Monday and Wednesday nights at ODC. When last I wrote about class, several weeks ago, I was at a bit of a crossroads since Level 2 of my absolute beginner ballet workshop at LINES had ended, and my teacher Liezl wasn’t going to be teaching Level 3 until she looped back through 1 and 2 again.

We had a good talk about my options, including other LINES classes, and when I asked her about ODC (where she also sometimes teaches), she was like, “Oh yeah, take Mondays and Wednesdays.” I’d looked at their schedule before and knew which one she meant. I thought, “Hold up, that’s Advanced Beginning! Am I ready?” Well, it was a nice boost to my confidence that she thought I could hack it, and she said she’s worked with the teacher, Marisa, before, so I could mention the connection.

So I started there last month, and that first class was refreshingly challenging but still fun. Later I found out that I had dropped in at the end of a term (i.e., more difficult), so I was proud of myself for keeping up. The class started a new term recently, so curriculum-wise it’s back to the beginning (of advanced beginning) and not as intimidating. The youth/teen program also started up, so we’ve since been joined by several teens for the fall and spring. Thankfully they are at more or less the same level as the adults and not like pirouetting wunderkinds, yet.

Vacation edition

I did want to briefly mention that while on vacation last month in Anaheim (to go to the Disney D23 Expo and Disneyland), I took some time to go take a class at Anaheim Ballet. The only adult class that worked with my schedule was Beginning 2, and it was definitely above my skill level: do-able but still difficult. It was nice that it was a small class (about eight students) and the barre work was all right, but at center and across the floor, suddenly it was pirouettes, fouettés, jetés, etc. Yeah, mine were a bit wonky.

Still I’m psyched now about trying to take ballet class wherever I am. Travel and ballet make a neat combination!

Next steps

Class notes

So since the last dance diary entry several weeks ago, Level 2 of the absolute beginner workshop wrapped up at LINES. After the first few meetings I was starting to feel like the class was in a slow rut, but past the midway point the pace picked up nicely. Not only that but in the last two classes we’ve had live piano accompaniment, which is quite blissful.

At the final class this past Sunday I had some encouraging chats with a couple of the other students and the teacher about what to take next. It turns out that our teacher might not be teaching Level 3 until early next year, so in the meantime I’ll go to drop-in classes and may branch out and check out other schools in the city as well. She mentioned an advanced beginning class at ODC, which I had thought I might not be ready for, but she said that I had been dancing well in class and to check it out. Yay for confidence!

By the way I’m going to be on vacation in Anaheim starting tomorrow, so I’m going to try and carve out some time while we’re there to take a class at Anaheim Ballet. I’m totally excited about the idea of taking ballet class wherever I am, even on vacation.

Dance gear

I bought some new shoes. Thanks to Endless’s free shipping and free return shipping, I just ordered a few pairs in a range of sizes, kept the ones that fit, and returned the ones that didn’t. I ended up getting a pair of Sansha Pro 1 in black canvas. The Capezios I used previously were just a little too big. They were the smallest size in their men’s line (yes, I have relatively small feet, for a guy) so I needed to go unisex. So far, so good.

With my new Under Armour compression shirts (which are kind of flattering if I do say so myself; my workouts during the week are paying off), the dance belt, the tights, the shoes… I am looking very much the real deal.

Around town

Last week I saw a concert by Man Dance Company, an LGBT-focused dance company in San Francisco. This was my first time seeing them, and they seem like a good group of talented dancers. And let’s face it, you just don’t see male couples a lot in ballet or in mainstream dance for that matter, so their dances are kind of refreshing. The highlight for me was several pieces set to songs inspired by Brokeback Mountain. Singer Ryan Harrison and composer Shawn Kirchner were there to perform the songs live. I’d heard a couple of these songs at the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus concert earlier this year and really liked them. So it was neat to see them danced to.

I can’t find any video of the dance performance yet, but here is one of the songs, “Meet Me on the Mountain,” as performed by Ryan and Shawn at a Man Dance concert a few years ago:

Your other left

Class notes

Not much to report on the class front: so far, so good. My July 10 class was my tenth consecutive class, yay.

So it’s funny (but probably not surprising) how sometimes steps that you can do with no problem in one direction are another story in the other direction. Last class (July 17), my teacher combined two steps we’ve been doing (polonaise, I think that’s what it’s called but I still haven’t confirmed, and balancé). Going to the right (diagonally downstage right), no problem. Going to the left–even though these are basically the same steps, just in reverse order–I was all awkward limbs everywhere. Kind of amusing. Ah well, something to work on.

Around town

Universal Ballet, based in Seoul, is on tour in San Francisco right now, and I went to see them last night at the Opera House. (I hadn’t heard any buzz about it beforehand, but $30 center orchestra seats from Goldstar made it hard to pass up.) The program was Shim Chung: The Blindman’s Daughter, a three-act story set in ancient Korea. For some reason going in I was afraid it might be a bit heavy-handed or cheesy, but overall it really is enchanting. (I will try to forgive the improbable, deliriously happy ending. Improbable, even given the already fantasy-laden story.) The dancing is entertaining, and the sets and costumes are impressive, especially in the underwater kingdom scene.

Shim Chung plays again in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon, July 24, then the tour continues in Vancouver.

A studio with a view

Class notes

Last time, I mentioned how my beginner ballet workshop is quite large (about twenty-five people). Well, at our June 26 class we got moved to the studio down the hall, one of the larger studios with tall windows facing Market Street. Our previous studio was fine, just as tall, but there’s so much more room and light here that the former crowdedness doesn’t feel like an issue at all anymore. How can you not be inspired with windows like this?

Dance studio

That Sunday happened to be on Pride weekend, so that means the parade! It was a perfect view of the parade route and the festival in front of City Hall. Though we had to contend with some music and crowd noise from outside, I didn’t mind. It actually made the class feel more energized to me, like, here we are in a big city. Fame!

San Francisco Pride 2011

So class was good. A few new steps and terms: en cloche (literally, “bell”: as applied to a dégagé or battement for example, moving front and back, passing through first position), glissade (sliding step), and various body/arm positions (croisé, effacé, etc.).

Here are some glissades, first simply then with additional jumps (umm, yeah, we didn’t attempt those), from the Royal Ballet’s glossary.

The workshop didn’t meet the next week (July 3) due to the holiday weekend, and though I was tempted to just take a break that day, I went to the open intro class that I’ve been to a couple times before. I like how these two classes sort of complement each other. The beginner workshop lays down the basics, and the intro class steps it up a notch. There are more combinations and jumps. A new one I learned last week is ballonné (I hope I have that right), which basically starts in cou-de-pied, then as you hop, the working leg extends out then comes back in as you land.

Around town

We saw Billy Elliot in San Francisco last week. We’d seen the London production a few years ago while on vacation, and it was great to see the show again and be reminded of how amazing the dancing is. The boys who play Billy are so talented. There is a lot of ballet of course, but also a lot of tap. (I kept thinking, “Hmm, I’d love to learn tap!”) I’m really tempted to see the show yet again before it leaves town in September.

In print

A while back I subscribed to Dance and Pointe magazines, and they’ve started to arrive in the mail. It’s pretty cool, but I will say that, like much of the ballet world, they’re still mostly oriented towards girls and women. I did appreciate the “Next Guys of ABT” feature in the June/July Pointe.

Speaking of magazines, in the July 4 New Yorker, Joan Acocella reviews the Royal Danish Ballet’s recent appearance at Lincoln Center (I was glad to have seen them a couple of months ago in Berkeley) and has this to say:

Bournonville, who is said to have been a superb dancer, emphasized male technique. In his ballets, the men’s steps–beats, air turns, flying jumps, turning jumps–are every bit as hard and as serious as the women’s. In “La Sylphide,” the men do them in kilts, so that we get to see the hardworking thighs. I think all male ballet dancers should perform in kilts.

Amen, sister. (The YouTube clips I came across of the RDB’s La Sylphide aren’t very clear, so instead here’s an early ’90s Alexei Ratmansky as James, though I’m not sure which company this is.) Work that kilt!


I’m a bit behind in my ballet blogging, but just to catch up on the last few weeks…

Class notes

After Beginner Workshop 1 ended, for two Sundays (June 5 and 12) I went to an intro ballet class suggested by my workshop teacher, and it was nice to change things up with a different teacher and slightly different skill level. This is an open class, so the pace is a bit faster, both in terms of the whole class and each individual exercise. Like, we were rond de jambe-ing like nobody’s business. And we got to do more across-the-floor exercises, including a fun one where we got in small groups, linked arms in a line, and did battements (so basically Swan Lake meets the Rockettes).

Some new terms and steps from these two sessions:

  • pas de chat
  • polonaise
  • soubresaut

Last Sunday (June 19) I started Beginner Workshop 2. Nothing really new, but it was good to see our teacher, back from her trip to Russia. The only thing is the class is kind of large… and I may have contributed to that by trying to register after it was already full, at which point they agreed to up the capacity from twenty to twenty-five students. So, good for me that I got in, but it does feel more crowded than the previous session. Ah well, I know I just have to make the most of it: stake out my mirror and barre space, ask questions as needed, and basically not get lost.

Dance gear

Recently I bought a dance belt and tights, and finally tried them on. Not bad, but I haven’t worn them to class yet. The dance center doesn’t have a dress code, so I’m not required to wear tights, but there is something about them, like they’re the uniform for classical ballet, that gives you a feeling of purpose. As in, suit up and dance! So maybe I’ll wear them to next class. We shall see.

Dance around town

Next week the Billy Elliot tour comes to San Francisco for the summer, and we’re seeing it this Monday night. We saw the original London production in 2006, and I’m excited to see it again and see if and how the show has changed since then. (Wow, five years since our London trip. When shall we reprise?)

Dance, Billy, dance!

End of Workshop 1

Class notes

Last Saturday (May 28) was the last class in the four-week “absolute beginner” ballet workshop I’ve been taking. New stuff:

  • cambré
  • fondu
  • balancé: we actually started balancé in the previous class, but this time added the arms, changing from side to side
  • across the floor: polka steps (step, step, step, hop; most of my background is in jazz dance, but there’s a lot of crossover… I wanted to be all, “Oh, so chassé, hop?”)

As I mentioned last week, my teacher is on a ballet-related trip to Saint Petersburg, Russia, so I have a couple of weeks coming up without a regular class. She suggested a particular intro class, which I plan to drop in on tomorrow and the following Sunday. Then on June 19 she returns to lead the the next phase of her ballet workshop. I’d gone online yesterday to register for it and was disappointed to see it was already full. So I called the dance center, and apparently they’d gotten similar inquiries about it; they got back to me and said they would let a few additional people register, so I’m in. Yay!

Dance around town

San Francisco Ballet: I renewed our subscription for the 2012 season. I’m especially looking forward to Onegin and Don Quixote, as well as Chroma, which we didn’t see last season. We’ve been doing a partial-season subscription (five of eight programs) for the last few years; we’re doing the same for next season but we decided to forgo the LGBT Nite Out receptions. I appreciate them, but for us it just wasn’t worth the added expense for all three receptions as a package. We’ll maybe go to one à la carte, if friends are going.

Royal Danish Ballet: The RDB is currently on a U.S. tour and we saw them last week in Berkeley performing The Lesson and La Sylphide. They’re also performing a more modern program on other nights, but after reading about August Bournonville and the RDB origins of La Sylphide, I definitely wanted to see it, one of their signature works. They did not disappoint. Both pieces were lovely and entertaining, and I wish I could’ve come back to see their other program as well. During the Sylphide Act I reel, I leaned over to Thom and asked, “So when are we having our Scottish Highland-theme wedding party?”

La Sylphide

Men in tights? No, men in kilts! (Photo:


I just like saying that. (Though Thom would roll his eyes at me for making any kind of Phil Collins reference, ha.) Anyway, just a quick post this time to go over last Saturday’s class.

Class notes

New steps:

  • battement soutenu
  • sous-sus
  • petit battement

Actually we had started doing battement soutenu and sous-sus at the very end of the previous class, but we only just put together the names to those steps in this class. All seems to be going well so far. Along with a few corrections I also got “good job!” a few times from our teacher, so that’s encouraging.

Every now and then I wish the pace would pick up, but then I realize how demanding ballet technique is, even for simple steps, especially for someone like me who hasn’t danced regularly in a long time. So, slow and sure is good for now. That said, I do feel myself becoming a bit more flexible, which is another bit of encouragement. Also, as if ballet steps weren’t already creeping into my everyday life, we did enough port de bras last class that now when I reach for anything, even a pen at my desk, I’m all, round the arm, relax the hand…

By the way here’s a video on arm positions from the Royal Ballet glossary (though the thumbnail image was unfortunately captured between positions; that’s not actually fifth):

This coming Saturday is the last class of this workshop, which is only four weeks because our teacher is going on a trip to Russia. I had wondered what to do with myself dancewise before she returns to lead the next phase of the workshop, and she recommended a class for us to drop into in the interim. Good stuff.

Papa got a new pair of shoes

Shoe business

If I’m going to dance again, I need new shoes, right? A few weeks ago I bought a couple of pairs of ballet shoes: black Capezio split soles, one pair in leather and another in canvas. I love how Capezio’s main men’s ballet shoe is called Romeo. It’s all very “I’ll be doing pas de deux in no time!”

My previous shoes, which are several years old from a ballet class I took in college, have full soles and are kind of beginner-y. So with my new split-sole shoes, I feel like I’ve “graduated.” In any case, they conform to your arches and show off your feet better. Here you can see the difference between my old shoes (leather full sole) and new shoes (canvas split sole):

Ballet shoes

Side note while we’re talking about shoe photos: For my Stanford application (lo, those many years ago), the main essay prompt was to take a picture of something important to you and write about it. The subject I chose was my jazz shoes. I guess quirky does indeed help.

OK, curious Tiki kind of photobombed this one:

Ballet cat

I sewed the elastics on the canvas pair–not rocket science, but I was proud, since I sew so infrequently–and wore them for class the next day. I definitely like the look and feel. Pretty feet! I mean, strong, manly feet!

Another wardrobe change: I haven’t quite made the leap to tights, though I did buy a suitable pair of thin Adidas pants apparently meant for soccer, but they work well for class.

Class notes

This was the second meeting of my beginner ballet workshop, and most of it went over the previous class’s steps, plus a few additional things:

  • toe and pointing exercises
  • rond de jambe à terre
  • more work from 3rd position
  • across the floor: turning waltz steps, basically like ballroom turns
  • more step combinations, like one that starts with plié, tendu side (still in plié), straighten/close, then repeats with the final step changing to relevé, then again changing to jump/changement

Stuff I need to work on:

  • arms: rounding arms more in 1st and 2nd position, hands closer to chest in 1st
  • turnout: though like flexibility, this is more of a long-term goal of course

And with that, the four-week workshop is already half over! I definitely want to sign up for the next phase, which is thankfully more substantial at eight weeks long.

Dance around town

Last week I went to see Smuin Ballet‘s spring program, a mixed bill of three pieces: Momentum by Choo San Goh, set to Prokofiev; Mozart Requiem, a world premiere by Amy Seiwert; and To The Beatles by Michael Smuin. I think my favorite piece has to be the Requiem. It was totally mesmerizing. (Though I have to admit a kind of soft spot for Mozart’s Requiem; Thom and I once sang it at a choral society sing-along at National Cathedral, and it kind of kicked my ass so I give it respect.) I especially liked how the choral movements with the four vocal soloists corresponded to four dancers in the choreography. Here’s a Facebook album I found with some great shots of the piece by photographer Keith Sutter.

The next performance to see on my calendar is the Royal Danish Ballet, which is going on a four-city U.S. tour and will perform in a couple of weeks at Cal Performances in Berkeley.