Archive for the 'Random Thoughts' Category

TEACHING BALLET

Sunday, September 12th, 2010


How it is that a young man -a defensive tackle actually- came to be a ballet dancer is a story for another time, but suffice it to say, some years ago I came to teach -or help teach- young women pas de deux, (French for ’steps for two’ -partner dancing), in the toe-shoe and tutu world.  This was in no way because I was a particularly good dancer.  I was slow.  I had good form and terrific turn-out, but a stately adagio (Italian this time -means SLOW), was as close to my forte as anything. (And for that matter, I wasn’t a particularly good tackle either for much the same reason.)  But what I was good at, was lifting young women.  While being able to press a young over-head is a rare ability in general, it was exceedingly rare in most dance studios where there are few men to begin with, those men who are in such classes are pretty young, and finally, those few that were there, were… may we say “lithe.”  So I got hired to teach in a couple of dance studios.

When a young woman is ready to learn to dance with a partner, she has quite a few years invested in dance classes, so most of my pupils were 15 - 20.  It is the job of a ballerina to look light-as-a-feather.  Trust me on this -it’s an illusion.  These women are athletes with a capitol ath and built solid -often quite solid.  Not to be confused with the pretty little things hanging out by the pool.

Pas de deux involves more then lifting, but lifting is a big part of it -either just far enough off the ground for her to do a grand jette -where she does that pretty front-to-back spread-eagle things with her legs. Or it may be only as high as lifting her to the guys’ shoulders in preparation for the “fish” -an ugly word for another pretty thing where she slides down into a position where he kind’a waves her around like her face was a metal-detector. (You have seen it and it’s pretty -trust me.) Or finally, the big lift.  Straight up -as high as he can lift her. In my case, this means that her waist -where you held her- would go from maybe 3 feet up to 8 feet up in about a beat.  Eye level from 5 feet something to more then 10 feet right now.  What fun!

Now you must understand that nobody -don’t care man nor woman, not a weight-lifter nor lithe little danseur, (more French -a male ballet dancer), has any strength until the weight is at least at chest level.  So the girl has to jump the first 18″ on her own. The guy can help a little and once he can get under her, up she goes, but she has to do her bit.

What usually happened -once we had gotten all warmed up and ready, was the main teacher (always a woman and always a well built ballerina herself) and I would demonstrate, and I would lift the students one at a time.  They would give me the required jump and up they would go.  SCREAMING.  The other students would giggle and I have no doubt, assure themselves that they would not scream when it came to be their turn.  And they would scream too.  After I had worked my way through the class once -and it was rarely more then 6 or so girls- I would come back to the first girl for her second go.  But rather then giving me a starting jump, she would inevitably -perhaps instinctively- hunch over, I would lift her about two inches and put her back down a half step forward with both of us off balance and staggering toward the mirrors -where the audience would be.  I’d work my way through the rest of the class, first picking each of them up 2 inches, and then maybe 4 inches on the second run-through, and then 8 inches and then finally after an evening of dead-weight-lifting, getting some of them back up where they belonged.  Some -sadly- never overcame their fear.  They often would go on to become jazz dancers.  Knew one who would go on to become a successful stripper! But this is another story.

DOGS I Have Known:

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010


I have read with much interest the recent literature on the subject of how smart dogs, birds, dolphins etc. might be.  It seems that while dogs and humans are textbook examples of both Darwinism and a successful symbiotic association, in some ways, dogs have gotten the short end of the stick -to use an apt metaphor.  Compared to wolves, our pets are dumb as posts and -not to put too fine a point on its -pussies.

When I first read this -or saw it on PBS or where-ever, I was a little troubled by what lab-coat guys had to say.  You can’t pick up a Reader’s Digest with out reading about some brave dog who saved some (human) member of his pack from some dire calamity at no small risk to himself.   I like the motion of a heroic dog better then the notion of the pussy-dog, but you can’t argue with science.

But what prompts this ‘ticular dog-blog was an every day incident that occurred this AM while I was tending to chores in the back yard.  Our dogs –we have a main, large, & extra-dumb hound, an emergency back-up medium-sized terrier, and an auxiliary little Scotty that alternately ignores and hides from me– attend me to varying degrees when I am in the back yard.  They all try to help.  Or try to understand.  Or just piss on it if understanding eludes them. They do this for a few minutes anyway, before they drift through the dog-door back inside where it is either cooler of warmer depending on the time of the year.

This morning, T. J. -our main dog- was looking at the dog door.  As I finished what ever minor task of the moment, I happened to look again and saw that TJ was still looking at the dog-door.  For all I know, he may have been watching an ant crawl by and was pondering pissing on it.  In his fuzzy wee brain, he might well have debated for some time, because he knew pissing on the house was a bad thing -unlike pissing on the hot-tub 2 feet away, which despite my best efforts to discourage, remained in all our dog’s minds, not a bad thing.

Or he may have had a plan that involved going inside and as he got to the door, he forgot why he was going inside.  (TJ is a sweet dog, but not the smartest in our little pack.  And the bar is set pretty low in this particular pack.)  Now I may be guilty attributing human motives to animal behavior, but heaven knows, I do this all the time.  Usually at the top or the bottom of some staircase.  And usually when I get there and have realized I have forgotten why I schlepped there, and I stand there with a dumb look on my face.  A look just like TJ’s.  Usually, after my dumb-look-moment, bad language and an angry schlep back up or down follows.

TJ, however, lay down in the morning’s sun and took a nap.  Admirable wisdom I think.