[Point of order: Paula East has asked me to mention her class schedule; you can find it on our “Sponsorship and Dance Instruction” page. Classes are now in progress for beginner/intermediate dancers (Sundays) and advanced dancers (Tuesdays) at the Wellness Center.]
Progress in ballet sometimes seems so glacially slow that I forget it’s there at all. Will my pirouettes/turnout/pointe work/posture/ballon/flexibility ever get any better? They do, but it takes ages, so I hardly notice. Then I start looking for other ways of measuring progress. A few weeks ago I was talking to my teacher about another student who has hyperextended knees–when she straightens her leg, her knee goes past perfectly straight so her kneecap sort of disappears into her leg. Kinesiologically, hyperextension may not be a good thing, but my teacher said that some people look for it as a good quality in dancers because it creates a desirable leg line.
Other dancers, I have noticed, are not actually hyperextended but they appear to be, or nearly so, because their quads are so developed that they stand out as much as or more than their kneecaps do when the leg is straight. So you get one nice curve on the front of the thigh from hip to kneecap and one nice curve on the back of the calf from back knee to ankle. And then one nice curve on the top of the foot with a corresponding one under the arch when the foot is pointed. See? Look at her standing leg. (This one, by contrast, looks hyperextended to me…and look at Misha being all gorgeous and 25 with eyeshadow on.)
At the time, I was lamenting to Ms. M. that I’ve always had scrawny chicken legs (and am not hyperextended) and thus I never expect to have disappearing knees. Le sigh. Then, last week, I started noticing that the knees of all my 12-year-old classmates are starting to vanish. It seems like they have all broken out in ballet muscles all of a sudden–and they are even scrawnier than I am, being 12 and all. And yet I didn’t think it was happening to me–even though I can tell I’m getting stronger*–until yesterday, when I was randomly standing in 5th position** while waiting my turn to go across the floor. Lo and behold, my quads are definitely outpacing my kneecaps. Plus, I have actual calf muscles now for the first time in my life (see “scrawny chicken legs,” supra). Hey, you measure your progress your way and I’ll measure mine my way. I think prominent kneecaps are overrated.
*Last week: 72 relevés = torture with a side of calf cramps. This week: 72 relevés = manageable with a side of fun.***
**Thinking here of Adult Beginner spotting dancers in the wild by their tendency to stand in fifth (or first, or fourth) while, e.g., waiting at the grocery store checkout.
***Why can I do piqués but can’t yet do one-foot relevés in retiré or coupé?****
****My asterisks have asterisks. I’m stopping now.