What doesn’t kill you

So here is another paradox about learning ballet technique, particularly for someone like me who’s not a natural athlete: doing one strenuous difficult thing makes it easier to do another strenuous difficult thing at the same time.

I’m not addressing the fact that doing a strenuous, difficult thing builds strength over time (obviously it does)… no, I’m slowly discovering the fact that the execution of a certain position or movement, such as staying on demi-point or doing the splits or whatever, is not made easier by reducing the “clench-load” elsewhere, such as relaxing the timbits or letting the stomach sag. It’s taking me forever, but I’m beginning to see that excusing yourself from all your other jobs does not give you the reserve strength to make the job you’re focusing on easier, though you would think it would.

That is, it is my habit, and I’m sure it is the habit of all my non-professional ballet colleagues, to trade one effort for another when we get a correction from the teacher. If  U. comes along and shouts, “Xuxanichka, shulldahs!!” I put them down, but I sacrifice something else, probably a pointed toe or a straight knee. I don’t even know most of the time what I’ve let go till U. comes along again a few seconds later and screeches “”Ellbahs!!” or “Stommmuck!!” — and then I am resentful, thinking, “Christ, I’ve held my shoulders down for the last 16 counts… ISN’T THAT ENOUGH?” Heh.

Ninety per cent of the time, slacking off in another domain is not a conscious choice — I just don’t have the brain capacity to realize I’ve slacked off elsewhere — but sometimes it is deliberate, because I’m convinced I don’t have the physical capacity to add one more ounce of effort to the enormous effort I’m already putting out.

But now, a few years into the mental breakthrough I finally had about the role of the butt in achieving turn-out, I’m starting to experiment.

On Saturday there, I was dealing with my mortal enemy, écarté, shaking with the effort of trying to get the leg perfectly to the side (and possibly a little higher)… and I thought, “What the hell, I will quit thinking about how much my quad hurts and how glad I will be when the music is over and I can put this leg down, and try to do all these other academic technical things.”

So I clenched the buttocks, pulled my shoulders down, straightened the knees, tried to hold the stomach up, etc., etc. ….and either I was in some new realm of pain-induced delusion or ballet technique is much more scientific than I would ever have guessed, because for a few seconds there the écarté did not feel so bad.

It was only a few seconds, though, since écarté usually comes at the end of the most miserable-already exercises, and as soon as the music stopped, I stopped …. but my theory now is that all the admonitions to hold things a certain way have less to do with aesthetics and more to do with providing the basis of strength for something global.

So, like, why have none of my teachers ever said this explicitly???? Do people who are good at something not get why others are not good at it?

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