Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Cinderella had it easy.

My friend Jackie assured me sweetly that teachers tend to like dancers who fall in class. They are the ones going for it and not holding back.

So I should feel good that I tripped over my own jazz sneakers while doing some simple jazz progressions last week, and took a very contemporary hip-elbow slide across the studio. In the first row. My jazz shoes must be cursed. My last pair served me faithfully till I happily dusted off for my first hip hop class in years - only to have to retrieve them with a broom and dust pan after the rubber disintegrated in the middle of warm-up.

I've been told that a bad dancer blames the floor, while a good dancer blames him/herself. I am blaming myself for stubbornly sticking with some oversized shoes.

Shoes! It seems like a ridiculous predicament for a modern dancer. After all, blisters can be painful but calluses always fit.

But shoes have plagued me since the first pair of ballet slippers I bought for myself ten years ago. Having heard that a good shoe should fit like a glove, I bought the most snug pair I could squeeze my fat old feet into. They turned out to be so tight that I spent my first year of ballet rolling my feet to the big toe side (eversion) because it hurt too much to put weight on the outside of my feet. So how relieved I was when I discovered Sansha prolite extra wide shoes! I wore holes into a couple of pairs - until I got humiliated during an audition when I was told to take them off because my slippers were so loose that the panel couldn't see my feet. I've had RAD character shoes that wouldn't click because they were too loose and my feet slipped around and couldn't control the heels. Socks that sent me skiing across studio floors when all I wanted was to come to a stop.

It's when my toes are furthest from my head that I worry about them the most. I have long given up toddler ballerina dreams - as soon as I could write I wanted to be a novelist instead - but there remains something irresistible in the luminous line of a satin pointe shoe, and the precise elegance of pointe ballet. Never mind the perfect pair, I just wanted something that didn't hurt for some unusually broad, stubby-toed and low-arched feet. It doesn't help that in Singapore, the models available from two major brands can be counted on one hand, and there's no such thing as a professional fitting.

Not that fitters are always helpful. The confusion of the team of amateurs in a Capezio new york shop who gave me a pair of Tendu II so roomy that I could wear my toe-rings and dance, to my teachers' consternation. The disdainful horror of that Paris fitter when I slipped off my sneakers. "Vous avez des pieds tres larges", she said, wrinkling her nose. I ended up with a pair of 50 euro pietragallas which made me feel like my metatarsals were cracking each time I rolled through pointe. The exchange rate was over SGD 2 to the euro at the time, so I grit my teeth and danced on those shoes for an awfully long time. It's been a long journey, and isn't finished yet. I went for several unsuccessful fittings in New York, hunted down the dance enclaves of Bangkok and Beijing, and swapped with friends for models and makes from Japan to Russia and Brazil. For the record I'm currently in favour of the Grishko Maya and experimenting with the China-market Sansha Infanta.

Apart from the bruises to my anatomy and wallet, though, I'm grateful for all that my shoes have been teaching me about my relationship to the ground. It's where our lives start: when we push up into a crawl and then precariously onto two feet.

Some shoe fitting tips and links for anybody else on this journey too:

Soft shoes including ballet slippers, jazz shoes, jazz sneakers, ballet character shoes etc should fit LIKE A GLOVE but not a vice!
Capezio Guide for fitting ballet slippers

Unfortunately there is no easy equivalent rule for pointe shoes. Teachers, fitter,s trial, error, and hopefully some good luck.
Freed Guide for fitting pointe shoes
Gaynor Minden on Foot Types

Friday, 9 January 2009

putting movement into words

I once read somewhere that the most fundamental thing about the experimental theatre experience is that shared relationship of the artists and the collection of brave souls who will come in and sit for an hour or more, with their brains smoking away as they try intently to UNDERSTAND. Going without qualms on the uncharted journey that the artist has prepared, which could be ephiphanal, gut-wrenchingly bad or just a deep snore. Isn't that even more so for dance and performance art! And at every post-show that I have sat in here in Singapore, I am so happy to see that a good number of people do stay back, because they want to understand even more, hear about it and talk about it.

But of post show dialogues (and certain streams of criticism), why do people who are intellectual (with words) always seem to expect artists in other forms to be as articulate? I squirm during those awkward post-show dialogue moments when a supercilious, verbose audience member is trying to extract justification from a tongue-tied choreographer or dancer, or worse, try to insist on some profoundly simplistic point of view. I was at a session last night when the first question went something like "I sensed that the dance was about the struggle between the genders, and that the women seemed to come out as the more dominant." The choreographers gently attempted to say (some more articulately than others), that it was an interesting but unintended point and that the piece was conceived as being about family relationships in general. The lady continued nonetheless to try and push her point; the moderator was too timid to take the mic away.

Some of us may take things from an intellectual tack, but other times and for other people these things just can't be explained in words. One audience member complimented a dancer on her focus and presence, and pressed her to tell just how how she did it. She replied nervously that she just tried her best to get into the roles. I know this may not be satisfying to someone who wants to hear in words what it's all about. I wanted to whisper to the chappie who was just in front of me, give it up, she just does it, she's just incredible and that is the lesson, you won't find an answer here.

There are times when we say things with movement precisely because those abstractions or the shape of those feelings can't fit neatly into words. How I love those mysteries.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

For the love of pain and nutrition

School's back in season! While we're giggling at each other as we limp back into the studio after a brutal jumpstart to the season (crazy placement audition and daily repertory), I have to keep reminding myself that there's nothing else I'd rather be doing, even if my creaky old body doesn't quite agree.

While arming myself with bandages, tape, pain spray, deep heat rub, cold packs and hot packs, my new year resolution is to ingest as many of these as I can hold down:
  • water
  • bananas (for potassium to relieve muscle aches)
  • salmon (protein, calcium and anti-inflammatory omega 3)
  • papayas and oranges (Vitamin C anti oxidants to help healing of muscle tears and formation of collagen for my squeaky knees)
  • spinach & carrots (beta carotene makes vitamin A for tissue repair)
  • nuts and whole grains (vitamin E anti-oxidant and protein, slow release complex carbs)
  • glucosamine tabs (anti-inflammatory)
Handy nutrition information posted here courtesy of my lecturers and "Reboot Your Body", Dance Magazine Jan 2008.