Tag Archives: ballet

Norton Simon Museum: ballet will hunt me down and find me

The grandstands for the Tournament of Roses Parade are set up on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena, CA right in front of a building with the name Norton Simon on the wall. That unremarkable building is full of remarkable art.

VanGogh,  Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, old, new (ish), Europe, Asia, and American.

But mostly they have Degas.

I’ve seen the Little Dancer Aged 14 many times in several places, but I hadn’t previously seen her with all of her class, instructors, the corps de ballet and a bunch of ladies in bathtubs. The Norton Simon Museum has three rooms of Degas and ballet.

I didn’t know they had these there.

I often joke that I spend the majority of my life driving and the majority of that driving is to ballet classes. I don’t dance, but I have a little dancer not yet aged 14, and even when I left her home, I cannot escape.

So to balance out the lady dancey dance I ventured out on a personal quest to find artistic depictions of true manliness.

The European artists had quite the offering in every period and across several genre but when it comes to athletic fopishness and swagger, the Asian artists were the clear winners.

The French did not take the loss well.

But in my search for artistic manliness, meaning a little bit of stylish swagger expertly and intentionally executed in oil marble or ink, I found a little extra bit of manliness that wasn’t so pretty.

Like how the painting below done in the 1500s features two older men plotting the “seduction” (word on the placard) of a younger woman and after failing, accuse her of adultery for which she is condemned to death, only to be saved at the last moment.

Then, in another room, where I see Adam and Eve portrayed as the original man and women together, I turn around and see the natural next step where the man is sexually assaulting a woman.

There were additional depictions of assault that I have chosen not to post.

I will add that the Asian artists scupltures while much more explicit also appeared much more consenting.

But most of this art was old- from the past, and art museums aren’t just about what is on the walls.img_4326

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What Are We Building?

We all came from somewhere and someone. This is true for all of us. Our past is just that, we can appreciate it or not, but we should understand this truth especially when we consider that whether we are intentional about it or not, we are all creating what comes next for others.

Actively, passively, it doesn’t strictly matter since time is inevitable and as no one was created in a vacuum, we have all played a role in someone else’s story. Once you begin a story, then start the clock running, a plot has begun and the player in the tale cannot undo it.

So what are you doing with yours? What story, or setting, are you creating?

I was recently able to spend some time with extended family including my parents and together we spent time with my children. I enjoyed it and I enjoy them. I appreciate those who gave so much of themselves to create what and who I am, and I appreciate- though in a different way- that the things I choose to do now and into the future have an effect on those with whom I began.

My grandmother, the one I don’t remember, taught ballet. By all accounts her love and appreciation for ballet outpaced her own skills at dancing, enough-so, that what she passed on to her daughters was a critical and nuanced love for the art more than a participatory aspiration. I am the son of that grandmother’s son, and as this inheritance was apparently maternal, I wasn’t gifted that. Not completely.

I haven’t been raising my children in the same place that I was raised, nor where my parents grew up, and from this new environment my daughter somehow got infected by pointe shoes and tutus. She got it from a “there” (Philadelphia) and not from a “who” (her parents) as we had no ballet appreciation to gift her. But just this past weekend, watching my aunt, watch my daughter dance the Spanish role in the Nutcracker, I saw directly how what I am doing now, ripples out and touches others in all directions- those in my past as well as those who are “now” but may be way off to the side. Because we are swimming in the same body of water. My aunt loved both the dance and the dancer in a way that even her parents couldn’t completely match. I loved that.

And all of this that has happened and is happening now, will matter and help determine what my children do or become when they move out and move on and start their own new things.

We should all look at ourselves and all of our ripples, and consider what it is we are trying to create for tomorrow. We can love who we are and where we come from and still work to do better. We can work to create good things that have never been, or like my family and ballet, skip back to something that was good before but lost along the way.

Because while we all have some sort of genesis that goes in to what we are, none of us are completely bound by it. I may feel limited in my abilities through either or both genetics and socio-economics, but at the end of the day I am my own, and I have will, and what are we all going to do with that?

If things aren’t what they should be now, let us acknowledge that “we” created our “now” and with our volition we can and must do something about it. This means that both you and I and they are all responsible for my very own now, and we all will create what comes next. We all have played a role and no matter what we choose, we will continue to play one moving forward. You did this to me, and I am doing it to you now. We cannot escape the we- nor the I.

If things are good, let us appreciate that and realize how it got that way and determine what should be done with that good going forward. We have to. We are obligated because we all came from somewhere and someone, which means that everything we do is creating those things (someones and somewheres) for new people who are to come- we are connected.

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Balletious Nutcrackevitus

An important part of parenting is protecting your children from infectious disease. While my offspring have been able to avoid measles, mumps, and Jenny McCarthy, I am still a failure in this regard. You see, my daughter has contracted a condition that flares up every December. It elevates her stress levels, tires her out, and completely disrupts our life.

It is sad. She is only 12.img_2617

I wish there were a cure.

Some kids grow out of it, others learn to live with the condition even when it is in remission, but it never goes away.

This disease is called Balleritious Nutcrackevitus.img_2663

I heard it was first contracted in France. It found its way to my house when my oldest daughter was 5. It caused uncontrolled leaping and a swirly dizziness. She was a mess.DV IMAGE

I hoped she only had the juvenile strain but as time has gone by, it has only gotten worse.ballerina

At first it was almost amusing, but then it started taking over. The uncontrolled swirls gave way to these repetitive motions. She would squat then stand, squat, then stand- for hours. She would lift one leg, then put it down, over and over again, and again, and again, and a gain. It ate up all of her mind and soul, and finally, it ate my weekends.trainplea

We have tried everything. We have seen experts, spent thousands of dollars on treatments, and finally, we visited an institution.the-rock-school

It was like some sort of leper colony where similarly infected young people could commune and older people could commiserate together. It was supposed to be therapeutic but it seemed to only make things fester.performtheatre

We even tried relocating, thinking that perhaps a drier climate would help her system grow stronger. It was hard, she struggled. We thought she would finally break free, but then Decembers would roll around and she would succumb.rockchatting

One specialist recommended we try these orthopedic sort of shoes. They build in some sort of contraption to try to control the spinning. These medical devices are expensive and not covered by insurance. She has become completely dependent.toefittingpoint

I have learned that varying experts disagree on prescribed treatments. Vaganova says do this, Cecchetti says do that. Balanchine only treats a specific strain of the illness. I have been told that we have to pick a theory and go with it. I always want a second opinion.img_6537

I have watched the patient get worn down from a swirly little squiggle to becoming serious beyond her age. She tends to fixate and focus on every little bit of the therapy. You have never seen such a dedicated out-patient. All of the patients are that way. Fixated.img_8365-2

I fear that if she does not recover soon, institutionalization will be her only hope.anou6045

Merry Christmas Nutcracker families.

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The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree: but a little bit it does

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The Rock School For Dance Education: places I love

In my household exists an aspiring ballerina. She is young, but dedicated. Neither my wife or I know anything about ballet.
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In fact, I think my first ballet was also my child’s first. Someone got us free tickets to the Nutcracker. This little girl was hooked.

Knowing nothing of schools or reputations we sent our little one to the neighborhood rec center. It was great. The kid was five.smoothness

One day, while we were playing at the please touch museum, a local ballet academy gave a small promotional performance in the museum’s theater. The flier they left behind looked legit and it said they gave scholarships.the rock school

I took my little girl to the try-outs, mostly because the place she was at didn’t have any fliers. So obviously this new place is better. Right?
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There were at least a hundred little girls with numbers pinned to their chest. They stood in rows while we parents huddled against the walls. It was tryouts but there was no real dancing. Two women, one with a clip board, would go to the children one by one, inspect their arches, look at their knees, rotate their hips. The groups were given some basic instructions and asked to follow along, one, maybe two steps, and that was it.rocktraining

We got a letter a month later congratulating us on our acceptance.

That is how we came to the Rock School for Dance Education, and unknowingly gave up all the Saturdays for the rest of our lives. They have a strict policy about missing class. It is simple, don’t miss class. The first year it was twice a week, then three the next, now we do three times a week plus rehearsals.trainjumpduo

Pretty strict for a bunch of little girls in dance class. But then again, I had no idea what, or rather where, my little girl was enrolled.

Everywhere claims to be good. All the other parents, the one’s who drive over from Jersey every day, say it is the greatest, but the cynic in me always wondered if they were just trying to reassure themselves.on pointe

I liked it well enough, but really, my kid was little. I would watch class during the one week when parents are allowed to do so, and the little girls and boys would stand up straight, go up on their toes, bend their legs, put their arms up in the air, rinse and repeat.

Meh.

I know enough, to know that I know nothing, so I cannot judge. But then again, judging aside, I did find it interesting that this place where my girl was taking dance class, had dorms.

I should have thought a little more about that.toefittingpoint

Then came the school’s production of the Nutcracker.performtheatre

I struggle to find the correct comparison for what I saw. I came expecting a recital. The kind where doting parents clap and cheer for their child and endure everyone else’s children.

Wrong.pinkballerina

I have been to dozens of high school musical productions of varying quality, been to high school football games in the south, coached football against a private boarding school with the budget of a junior college, and I have never seen a production of any sort that matched the Rock School’s Nutcracker.

I had to keep telling myself these were kids.

Now the little kids were obviously kids, complete with small ones picking their nose and one little boy yelling he had to go potty mid performance, but then there were the principals. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the like, they not only killed the cynic in me, but left me in awe. These were kids, from first grade through 12th, and it was better than any age similar thing I have ever seen in any context; period.

There were plenty of other existing signs that should have kept Mr. cynic at bey.bluepantsboy

They have an alumni list touting kids who go on to Julliard, all sorts of division 1 colleges, and more in line with what they do, ballet companies.  Principal in the New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, dancers in every major company in the country, as well as Paris, Dresden, Berlin, and on and on and on.

The lead in Fame.

See for yourself. (click here)rockers

Then there was this little documentary that made a big splash at Sundance.

First Position follows a number of kids to and through the American Grand Prix, the big ballet competition for young folks.

Three of the kids they followed in the film went to the Rock.

And then there was my little girl.nutflying

My little girl is still little. Little enough that to assume that she will grow into one of these professionals would be presumptuous, and the folks at the Rock know this.

That is why it is on my list of places I love. Because they know she is a kid.

Because they know she is a kid, they treat her in a way that allows her to love to dance. They are strict, they are serious, but while walking around the lobby waiting for classes to get over, I get the vibe from those who work there, that they actually like kids.toelegs

I have been around coaches, art teachers, even dance instructors, who were once great. They were and are gifted in their craft, but just got old. No longer able to do what they once loved, they are forced to endure the existence of young people in order to make a living.

That’s not the Rock.toeteaching

No the place is not heavenly bliss, it can’t compete at the level it does and be all bliss. But I love it.

This last year, my third, I sat near the front row of the Nutcracker. A woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked if one of the girls was mine. I proudly pointed her out.

“Oh she’s still little. Does she like ballet?”

“Loves it.”

“Oh I’m so sorry.” she consoled patting my shoulder.

Not the answer I was expecting.

“That one is mine, (pointing to the Sugar Plum Fairy) we moved here from Oregon so she could go to the Rock.”

“We just drove here from about ten minutes away,” I replied a little embarrassed by my ignorance and good fortune.

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Nutcracker 1776

Tickets are a bit steep but what do you do when the ticket is to see your own kid? What we did was buy one ticket with which the Mrs. saw the first half, then we switched at intermission.pinkballerinaWhen the lights began to dim I found my seat and sat down. The woman next to me looked over and remarked, “you don’t look like the woman who was here before.”

“Yes. She looks much better than I do. She’s my wife.”

“Not better; just different.”

I think I like this lady.crossI have seen the schools Nutcracker before but it still amazes me that it is more or less a high school production.

When the Sugarplum Fairy danced onto stage the excited woman on the other side of me proudly whispered, “that’s my daughter!”

She’s very good. The mother asked which one was mine. “O, she is little. Does she like ballet?”

“She loves it.”

“I am soooo sorry,” she said in all seriousness. “We moved here from Oregon for my daughter to go to this school.”littlemakAs I watched my girl all done up in lipstick and blush, bun pulled back tight, I wonder if there will come a moment when this all ends. Will she decide she is done? Perhaps my budget will crush her dream, or maybe a stone faced instructor will one day have to tell her that her skill has taken her as far as she can go and that its over.nut2012

But none of those times are now. Now is all smiles and this strange soft, mushy feeling I get when I see her stand with straight back and elongated neck on stage. I love the wide eyed excitement in her face when she tells me all about how the little kid she was in charge of is a hand full and how she got to be in the front row and how there is an after party and can we please, please, please go?

My fear of tomorrow can wait till then.

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The Rock School

Two years ago we took our oldest daughter to try-outs. We were in a room with eighty or so little girls who had numbers pinned to their t-shirts. They stood or sat in rows while a woman went around and one by one checked the arch of the girl’s feet, the flexibility of their hips, and at no time did they ask the little girls to dance.

There is a documentary in theaters now called First Position where a number of young ballet dancers are followed. Two of the kids in the movie go to the Rock School. So does my daughter.

The school is not for dance class, it is intended to train professional dancers. I have no real intention for my girl to make this a career, nor does she, but she is only eight, neither of us know what she wants. But she likes to dance, she likes it there, and I suppose there are worse ways to spend your days.

I know nothing about ballet. Classes are closed to parents except for twice per term during parent observation week. Lobbying teachers regarding a child’s progress is strictly forbidden. I have yet to inquire if they offer ignorant parent instruction. Perhaps they can teach me to recognize ballet positions and I will teach them how to run the veer.

She loves it and I love that. I sat in the balcony with the other “scholarship” parents, we are easily recognizable.

I in a very real way I had hoped she would play little league football. she is the one who used to come to the gym with me to watch guys spar.  But this is parenting, not coaching. When she finds a door she wants to go through it is my job to make sure it opens.

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