A Plié Is Not a Squat (and other truths of the universe)

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See that up there? It’s fifth position demi-plié in a class at the former Knoxville Ballet School, as executed by some of my Level 2-almost-Level 3 students. And that’s my lovely friend Joan Kunsch of Nutmeg Conservatory teaching them; I had invited her for a springtime guest appearance. As you can see, the girls have (relatively) straight spines, with knees over toes, as they should. That was a class of sweet kids, a bit tricky to teach, as some of them were late arrivals to the ballet world. But they each had an amazing work ethic in class and it was my privilege to teach them.

Plier is the infinitive, and it means simply “to bend.” Plié is the participle, meaning bent or bending. We go down, we come up. That’s it. (Well, there is more about energy and placement, but the downy-uppy part will suffice for my purposes here.) It is the most basic and important movement in all of classical ballet because, as Raymond Lukens would say, it’s the take-off and landing for almost every single movement in ballet. Oh, and the “demi” part? It just means half—you bend the knees half way and then you stretch, or straighten them. There is also a “grand” version, meaning “big,” where you go all the way down and come back up (at least, we hope you come back up).

But I digress. This post is not about the proper execution of this all-important movement. It is about my recent foray into the world of pumping iron.

Yeah, we don’t do pliés in Pump You Up class: we squat. And we squat and we squat and we squat. We squat holding free weights and barbells. And we squat to loud, pulsating, Pump You Up music. We drop our backs and stick out our booties. It is about as far away as one could possibly migrate from a plié.

That is the first univeral truth. The second one is, I am evidently hearing something else in that music, because when I am down, with my booty sticking waaaay out there, everybody else always seems to be up. And vice versa.

Okay, friends, I am a very musical person. You can’t NOT be musical and dance (see Raymond Lukens, above). That, and I am also a classically trained musician (piano and classical guitar, a story for another day). I have spent more than a decade at the front of various ballet classrooms urging my students to soak up every drop of music in each phrase. (That one is mine, not Raymond’s.) Kids like to rush. You can’t rush the music in classical ballet. Unless you are big star, and then you are called a diva.

I have concluded that the Pump You Up teachers and the other students are anxious to finish, ergo our being out of sync. I totally get that—I am anxious as hell to get out of that class about a nanosecond after it starts. I do it because I assume it’s probably good for me. You know: kinda like eating fish oil. It tastes awful, but there must be some benefit, right? No pain, no gain, and all that.

But rushing the music feels as unnatural to me as sticking out my bum in a demi-plié.

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Here is some weight lifting, ballerina-style. They’re my kids, being silly when I asked them to get out the barres.

I leave you with beautiful footage of England’s Royal Ballet in company class as taught by ballet mistress Olga Evreinoff. Yeah, it’s a long video, but the pliés are right at the start. Have a look-see, and hang around for the rest of it, should you be so inclined. They are lovely.

Gotta go work on trying to look glamorous and magnificent whilst sticking out my booty.

 

 

 

Finding Community

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Tom and Deb

Yesterday Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I headed just over the state line to Cambridge, NY for a planned lunch with friends. They are varied folks from varied walks of life, united by a creative group that writer Jon Katz started for artsy people to show off their work without fear of reprisal: a so-called “ministry of encouragement.” And as is so much the way these days, the group’s virtual home is social media. But when Jon and his wife Maria open their house and farm to followers and admirers a couple of times annually, some of us in the group have the chance for face time. Many of us live and work in New England, but the group is global. And it has been a wonderful and enriching experience to meet people from far and wide at Jon and Maria’s, to say nothing of meeting the hosts themselves. Our self-ascribed moniker is “farmies,” after Bedlam Farm. And some of us actually live on farms. But all of us enjoy creating. As I said, it is what unites us. We are photographers, writers, fine artists, poets, performing artists, textile artists, and more. Wide creative boundaries, few rules, no hostility. We produce beautiful things, and the group gives us a safe place to show them off.

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Kindred Spirit Beth (who might possibly have a thing or two up her sleeve)

A few of the local “farmies” have found excuses to get together outside of the sanctioned open house events. Yesterday the planets aligned correctly and HCB and I at last had a chance to join them (we are only about twenty minutes or so away from Cambridge). We had a prolonged lunch at the Round House Café on Cambridge’s Main Street (go there if you can—it is nom; we stayed ’til we were kicked out), where chef-owner Scott Carrino is also a friend of Jon’s and a member of our group; he was über busy, so there was only time for a hand shake and brief chat with him. But he has been known to show up at Jon’s wearing his singer/songwriter hat with guitar in hand; he has mad skilz, not unlike my own handsome chef.

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Kathy and Husband, who recently earned the moniker “Old Husband Dave”

Since my Great Big Move to Vermont almost three years ago (can it really have been that long?), I have struggled to find balance, to overcome fear, and to feel connected. Vermont is a rural state, and that’s all there is to it. Even the cities here that have some critical mass feel pretty dang small to me. Unless you are tied to a church community or some other organization, the reality is that you’ll be challenged to find your tribe.

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Chris and Rachel, long-time friends of Handsome Chef Boyfriend

Yesterday I felt a sense of community I’ve longed for since I-don’t-know-when. Already there are plans in the works for another get-together next month. I miss the days of phoning a friend at 10 and meeting for lunch an hour and a half later. The reality is that those days are probably over. So much about my life looks so different now than it did three years ago; change is hard, not always bad. I’ve managed most of what’s been thrown my way okay, I think.

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Thoughtful Tom and Candy 

Community is redefining itself for me, like so many other parts of the balanced whole. I think I can roll with the punches. This group is a soft landing place, a sweet bunch of folks I feel privileged to join. And they don’t take themselves too seriously: it might be their most admirable quality. See that funny-looking thing at the left up there? It’s what we are now calling Nancy-on-a-Stick, a cutout of a farmie in Oklahoma who could not join us yesterday. But she went everywhere and did everything with us: she had some excellent coffee, some lovely sweet potato chips, wore pretty flowers in her hair, and even attended a flash mob at the neighboring Battenkill Books, where she was interviewed on camera for a YouTube video, true story. (HCB found his way into the video, too; coming soon.)

I managed somehow not to get photos of new friend Jeff Anderson, nor of Kate Rantilla, who arrived late. But I leave you with possibly the best image of the day, snapped during the (ahem) flash mob, which was contrived to draw attention to a local arts organization. And I leave you to reflect on this oxymoron: Flash mob in Cambridge, NY. (Profound, I know.) Good times, good times. Southern friends, y’all need to come on up and see us some time.

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Greetings from Battenkill Books

Balance: Sunday Journal


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Spring has never felt more welcome. And as sure as it has felt like spring for the past week we are evidently in for 50s, clouds and rain for the next. It’s okay by me: there is no snow in the forecast, and I have noted very definite signs of thickening in the tips of the tree branches. Tender green shoots are poking up through the ground everywhere, and soon everything will explode.

The theme around here continues to be balance. There has been some progress, a bit of failure. Last Monday I foolishly decided I’d repeat my Saturday run after work. It was a beautiful afternoon, perfect weather. Anterior tibialis and hammies cared not one jot and screamed and cried like big babies. Still, a four-mile walk was better than a no-mile walk. I continue to work like crazy at the gym most days after work, pushing myself further in yoga, and actually increased my weights in Pump You Up class last week (my moniker, not theirs).

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In spite of allowing myself to slip some in recent months, I am seeing and feeling palpable progress now. Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I went for a run together yesterday, and it was absolutely delicious. We were also charged by a bull protecting his womens, true story. Good thing there was a fence separating us; adrenaline flowed nonetheless—that was a first for me (the bull, not the adrenaline). The communication was very clear: get the hell away from the cows, they are mine. I still love hollaring hello to all of them. It’s my turnaround spot, a high point of the route. As is a sign reading “Aflac was here,” posted in some woods on the edge of swamp where the Battenkill backs up; we have no clue, but somebody has a sense of humor.

Last night HCB made a beautiful dinner, planned ahead of time, to go along with North By Northwest, also planned. I managed to work a reference to the movie into some writing at work not long ago. That got me thinking about the movie, which is why it was on our radar. HCB observed during an opening scene how different it would look and feel if it were shot today, because nobody cares about grooming and couture anymore. I tend to agree; we’re pretty dang sloppy as a society.

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Meanwhile, a failure. I have not kept up with my friend Rebecca’s reading challenge. I am still on the March book and should be halfway through April’s by now. At least I am reading.

It is spring. We have had a lovely weekend doing projects around the house, inside and out. HCB has already cleaned up the tiny garden patch, which you can see in the middle of this photo, a tree limb defining its edge. Last year that tiny piece of earth yielded quite a lot of veg—more than you might imagine. Also note the stream at the bottom. It normally flows across the driveway, but HCB has been working hard in recent days to divert it: lots of digging and soil schlepping. (The man cooks, coaches pole vaulting, knows how to juggle, and moves the earth. What next?)

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And here is a rare, sanctioned, photo of HCB, who is incredibly camera shy.

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Yes, mowing leaves to mulch them and get the yard looking more like a yard again. Still so much to do before the work day arrives early tomorrow morning. And so much on my mind: ballet, writing, more writing, parenting, influential people, unstable people and personalities, people to avoid, people to love. Stories waiting to be told.

Next weekend we get to hang out with some friends over in Cambridge, NY. Looking forward to that. And the continuing search for balance.

Balance: Saturday Photo Essay

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Winter stubbornly hangs on up here in these parts long after spring has sprung elsewhere. I’m getting used to it. I think a sure sign of that is worrying less about weather and lately thinking more about finding balance. Not to get all philosophical about it, but I really do try: work, play, food, exercise, rest—both mind and body—forming new friendships, being part of a new family and all the challenges that entails, somehow finding time for myself, and time for me and Handsome Chef Boyfriend to be a couple, and spiritual life. And of course to hold myself to the highest possible standards in all of it. I’ve been going to the gym since I started my new job in January. Giving up running a year ago was hard enough, leaving the ballet world robbed me of the rest of what was keeping me mobile. At the gym I’m attending various classes: one of them can’t make up its mind what it is (a “fusion” of Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates), Vinyasa yoga, and also a weight lifting class (yes, really: I call it “pump you up” class, but at the gym it has another fancy name).

Yoga resonates with me the most. We work on physical balance in that class, and it is a huge challenge for me: I’ve been trained my entire life to work in external rotation at the hips, but yoga is all about parallel. Forget about it. The other challenge is the guided meditation at the end of class. I know we are supposed to be in the moment, and not allow the day to intrude, and imagine things like flat horizons and layers of stratosphere while we listen to soothing, Eastern music (what a friend’s dad used to call “that goddamn California music,” which always makes me giggle). I stink at reflection and meditation. What I think about instead is, Glad that’s over because my hamstrings hurt like heck, my nose itches, I’m thirsty, and I need to pee: are we done yet? In the end, I can’t take myself seriously enough to be a good practitioner of Vinyasa yoga, but I love what the class does for me, just the same. Today I bravely struck out on a (wait for it) run. First time in a year. There will be hell to pay for it. But there is nothing like a long run to clear the head, after terms like posterior tibial tendonitis and pain insinuate themselves into the meditation of the morning. Yes, it is meditative. Like yoga is supposed to be.

I was outside for an hour and a half this morning. I thought about the Battenkill River, which followed me the whole way, how engorged it is just now with snow runoff, roiling and roaring out of Vermont and into New York, just down the road. I thought about the vernacular architecture I love and was delighted to see that a barn I photographed last year stands resplendent now with its new coat of dark red paint. I enjoyed chatting with a few cows, one of them reclining pensively on the bank of the river, which made me think of this post Jon Katz published recently. I was visited by a barn cat. I found an inlet where the Battenkill backed up into a small finger of a pond, a magical place where the water could not seem to make up its mind which way to go. I talked to the trees, who are still holding back, not for much longer. No signs of color yet, but soon things will explode. Notably, I missed my dog: I feel distinctly lopsided without a leash in my hand and Clarence at my left knee. True balance can only be restored when there is once again a dog in my life.

Still, this morning’s run was the right kind of meditation and reflection for me. Balance whispered in my ear. It is desperately needed and long overdue.

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