- The demi-plié is almost isometric. In both the downward and upward movements, the feet—rather than the knees—should initiate the movements. The feet grip the floor and pull the legs into the plié and then relax and push down to return the legs to the standing position. This also applies to pliés on one foot.
- Most dance movements are on one leg. What must be developed at the barre is the ability to balance on and move from one foot. Try to work at portable barre placed parallel to the mirror. Stand behind the barre, on the diagonal. This will allow you to keep an eye on your supporting side and encourage you to work correctly. Test your balance by frequently taking your hand off the barre during exercises. In addition, check your readiness to move. You should always be able to rise off your heel whenever you press down on the floor.
- The supporting leg controls the free leg, and initiates each movement. The timing of every movement is made by the supporting leg. The free leg (the foot that brushes or slides) never pulls or moves the body. Only the supporting foot that pushes the floor should move the body.
- In the center floor, every step you take must be balanced by an arm, or both arms, reaching in the opposite direction. At the barre, develop this sense of the “back arm” by reaching for the barre and pressing down it. Never pull on the barre.
- When you pirouette from the fourth position, be sure that you go to “the end of theplié.”
- A jump is a relevé in the air. Push the floor, stand in the air.
- Overcross the glissade précipitée, which leads into battement fondu developpé relevé, and jumping steps where the free leg is brushed into the air.
In July, at age eighty, I make the BIG DECISION. I will have my severely arthritic right hip replaced. I’ve been putting if off for years, but have finally accepted the fact that the leg is too unstable and getting weaker by the day. What hurts most is not the muscular pain and limited movement, but that after forty-five years of teaching, I no longer have the strength in my right leg to demonstrate full-out. And remember, I’m the guy who has always said “To dance is to live.” Ouch.
Luckily, my personal physician is Dr. Alan Kadet, who only refers his patients to top-tier specialists. His wife, Cindy, had her hip replaced in 2016 by Dr. Roy Davidovitch, Director of the Hip Center at NYU Langone in New York City. Dr. Davidovitch was the first surgeon in New York City to perform the minimally invasive (MIS) Anterior Approach Total Hip Replacement and has since successfully performed hundreds of these procedures.
Unlike other approaches to the hip, the Anterior Hip Replacement is truly a minimally invasive approach that requires a specially designed surgical table. The goal of the anterior approach total hip replacement is to return patients to their normal functional level in an accelerated fashion.
Wednesday, September 6, my son Jason and I check-in at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. The nurses in surgery greet us with huge smiles. They are so friendly and relaxing! There are nine other patients who will have surgery today.
We are all dressed in a plastic gown that has a tube attached to a heater. It’s inflated with warm air which is comforting, since the room is very cold. We are served coffee!
My vitals are taken, the anesthesiologist goes over details, and Dr. Davidovitch, the surgeon, visits with a reassuring smile.
I am taken to the operating room and placed on that special table. The next thing I know, I wake up lying in bed in a private hospital room with Jason and more smiling nurses attending me. I have absolutely no discomfort or pain. In fact, I’m hungry. Lunch is baked salmon on spinach with fruit for desert, and coffee and water. It’s all surprisingly delicious for hospital food!
That night at 8 p.m. Jason brings me home. I am wearing inflatable sleeves over my calf muscles which increase the speed of blood flow and reduce the risk of clot formations. I will wear these sleeves that constantly compress and release at least eighteen hours each day for the next fourteen days. Whenever I walk about I will wear the ActiveCare control device that weighs 1.6 pounds. When I’m stationary, I take off the devices, and plug them into outlets for charging. When I rise from working on my memoir at the computer, I often forget I’m wired in and begin walking out of the room until I am abruptly jerked back by the calf device cables.
On the second day after surgery, there is hardly any swelling and I feel good enough to try some of the exercises recommended by NYU. As usual, I overdo it, and loosen the tape over the protective gauze, and blood trickles down my leg. I am momentarily alarmed, but that drainage is natural after surgery.
The next day, Jason takes me to the doctor’s office where his assistant adds another layer of gauze and, she attaches a PICO device. Besides the long cables for the calf pumps, now I also have a small wire coming out of the protective gauze which is connected to a miniature unit with a long cord that is battery-operated.
For the next five days, I will be wired up to two different devices day and night.
Four days later, I return to the office where Dr. Davidovitch himself removes the PICO device, both dressings, cleans the area, puts on a new dressing, which I am to remove tomorrow. As long is it’s not draining, I will keep the incision uncovered. For the first time, I see that they really did use little metal staples to close the incision. One of my video customers, Justine Coulon, writes that her dad invented those particular staples. Small world!
The staples will be removed on Friday, September 22—seventeen days after surgery.
After this visit with Dr. Davidovitch, swelling and discoloration begin to appear in different areas of the leg each day. Somedays the thigh and knee are so swollen and tight it’s hard to bend the knee to sit.
I’ve been following a carefully prescribed program of medications, but rarely use the pain-killers like Hydrocodone or the “break-through” pills Oxycodone. Only during this past week—when the swelling made my thigh muscle painfully tight—did I take minimum doses. They don’t relax the muscles which are understandably swollen since they are healing.
What works best is to sit back in my zero gravity recliner which elevates my lower legs so they are higher than my heart and ice the swollen thigh for fifteen minutes an hour.
I seem to be in a very intense period of healing, where swelling and discoloration move up and down my right leg. I never can sleep for more than two hours at a time, because my body is cleansing.
Sleeping is a challenge since I am a side sleeper and it’s very difficult to do this with the right leg very weak and swollen, plus I have cables stemming from both knees that are always connected to the device. Last night, nine days after surgery—Saturday September 15—I finally found a comfortable sleeping position leaning back on a bed reading pillow with legs atop two body pillows and a smaller head pillow.
Since this is my first hip surgery, and each person reacts differently, each day has new challenges.
Sunday, September 16, when I awoke, the swelling and muscle tightness had lessened considerably. I did the gentle home exercises (lie on your back and flex and point the foot; bend the knee and slide the heel toward the buttocks; squeeze the buttocks together; and tighten the top of the thighs by pressing the knees into the bed) and I also walked down to the floor below and up to mine twice—a total of sixty-eight steps—using the handrail and a cane. No pain!
Monday, September 18 is the best day yet. Although my right foot is black and blue—it’s a natural healing progression—I can sit and stand and walk with minimal cane use. Jason takes me to see my intern who wants to make sure I’m not urinating excessively because of an infection.
Wednesday, September 20 Dr. Kadet informs me I don’t have a urine infection; the frequent urinations is just part of the healing process. And, today is the day I no longer have to wear the calf pumps. Off they come and away they go! Yeah!
Before lunch I go through all the home exercises and walk the stairs (17 steps) down and up three times—total 102 steps. After lunch, as usual, the swelling increases. My right foot and ankle are especially stiff and swollen, so I lie back on the recliner with legs up and ice.
At the moment, I’m sitting upright at the computer feeling no pain or discomfort. I am so glad I had this surgery and am fascinated with the recovery process.
Cherryl L. Thomas, MD, MBA
Why Being Compared to an Infant is High Praise
I call my adult ballet students at The Ailey Extension my “adult babies” —not because they act like babies and throw tantrums like divas—but, on the contrary, because they come to class with the openness and purity of mind only a child can have. With a sense of wonder and a strong compulsion to learn, they show a limitless potential to improve class after class.
Among my adult babies are doctors, lawyers, bankers, business people and homemakers. Some have never ever been in a ballet studio, others are returning after a hiatus of several decades. They differ in anatomy, background, and aptitude.
However, they all have a common bond in that they are serious about learning ballet, which brings out the parent in me. I don’t insist they all force themselves into classical positions their bodies can’t handle, nor do I insist they do movements that are beyond their means.
Instead, in slowly-paced exercises that are digestible and doable, I show my babies which muscles to use and when and how to use them. I am always on the look-out to make sure they are using their bodies correctly so that they get stronger as they get older. This is probably the key to why adult beginners seek out my classes and instructional videos: I teach the movement process. I want them to be educated ballet students who know how to work their bodies to their advantage.
For both old and new students, my ballet class provides a lifetime of firsts—standing with good posture like a dancer, feeling the strength of working from the core, shifting weight from one foot to the other in various positions—and, also, from out of the blue, having a completely new thought that solves personal and career problems.
Not all my students live in New York—many are spread across the USA, in Australia, South Africa, Dubai, and with our armed forces in Europe and the Pacific. They are my long-distance babies who are learning with my instructional DVDs, streaming videos, and working one-on-one via Skype.
My adult babies know they are on to something new—who would have thought studying ballet could make you feel younger in body and mind?
“THE NUTCRACKER” BALLET – A LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN:
Life Lessons Learned Performing the Timeless Holiday Classic
It’s clear – the holidays are here! Amid the hustle and bustle of the shopping season, most important are those annual traditions that bring us all together – as families and as a culture. For me, nothing signifies the start of the season like the return of “The Nutcracker.”
Appreciation for this holiday classic spans generations and borders. In fact, for the next few weeks, versions will fill stages across the country – and the world. Joyfully, the performances will feature dancers of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels. How many promising dance careers were launched in the warmth of a theater in December, as young sons and daughters were inspired by the artistry and athleticism on display?
Children are not alone in being captivated by the choreography in “The Nutcracker.” The music is familiar and irresistible —certainly a few parents would admit to trying to pull off a few steps when they thought nobody was looking. If you accidentally kicked over some furniture or tweaked a hamstring – don’t be discouraged. Every journey begins with a single step. However, it’s usually best not to start with the hardest one.
As a teacher of adult beginners, I encourage my new students to focus on the long-term benefits of dance, and not on “looking pretty.” Ballet will make you stronger, more graceful and improve your balance – in everything that you do. My own experiences in performing “The Nutcracker,” however, are proof that this success isn’t always overnight:
“It was Christmas in ’55 and all through the house, Finis was fuming, not even a mouse.” – I vividly recall sitting alone in the dark in the theater at The University of Utah, watching a dress rehearsal for the “Nutcracker” and feeling as lonely as could be. It was Christmas, and we just didn’t have the money to fly me to my Mom in Hawaii. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even ready to be a mouse in our production. And I felt just that small.
Still, I was determined to work harder to grow my ballet technique. Only three years later, I danced the “Snow Prince” plus the Spanish and Russian dances in our production. What great preparation for later in life, when I would be a father, teacher and student – all at once. My adult beginners, too, understand the complexities of balancing many roles with energy and passion. The versatility and perspective that adult beginners bring to dance can speed progress and understanding.
The biggest obstacle to achievement for the adult learner is sometimes vanity. I know this too, from experience. In 1960 I performed the Russian ribbon dance in “The Nutcracker” with Michael Smuin of the San Francisco Ballet. Trying to keep up with Michael, the best jumper and turner in the company— doing double air turns across the stage while holding beribboned batons with both hands high above my head—had me bouncing all over the vast opera house stage. Repetition and practice – my usual solution – failed to correct the issue and left my confidence shaken.
My mental block was cured only when I realized that I was focused on trying to look text-book perfect (forcing my turnout and pulling up so much I looked like I was dancing on egg shells), instead of using my body as it was built and the correct body mechanics I had learned from Bill Christensen at the U of Utah. I was working outside of my own body!
It took several years to overcome the mental block of falling all over the stage, but by 1965 I had regained my technique. While dancing with the Harkness Ballet of New York in Cannes, I successfully performed sixty-four double air turns over the course of a single weekend. Four performances, without a hitch – occasion enough for the director to give me a bottle of champagne to celebrate as he thought I had set a new record for double air turns.
I offer this advice – learned by performing in the Nutcracker – to both students and teachers this holiday season:
- Take the time to celebrate your own personal and professional accomplishments
- Fearlessly pursue new challenges, especially those that promise to bring strength and balance to your life
- See “The Nutcracker” ballet! The music is glorious and the story is timeless. I promise you will be truly inspired
RISING ABOVE – OVERCOMING SETBACKS ON YOUR UPWARD TRAJECTORY
A life devoted to ballet offers many chances to be graceful – just not always in the ways you might imagine
My spirits should have been soaring. It was 1965 and The Harkness Ballet of New York was making its official debut in Cannes, France. I was a soloist in a company of 40 dancers, fulfilling my humble dreams as a small child in WWII Hawaii. Even so, I was not a happy camper. Of the 18 works in our repertory, only three were classical – my passion and forte. Worse still, I never got to dance them onstage.
Much of ballet is centered on strength and grace. I found it hard to exhibit either limited to supporting roles as “exotic” characters. In fact, it was hard for me to take ballet seriously at a time when much of my time on stage was spent on the floor wearing knee pads rather than soaring through the air. It was particularly difficult to exhibit grace as the better parts went to other dancers. While I had great respect for their abilities, I felt with proper rehearsing I could do as well as they.
Luckily for me, our guest star was the great Danish dancer Erik Bruhn. He was the recognized “King of Ballet”— a living legend with phenomenal technique and extraordinary grace and beauty. He helped me to understand that what separated the elite performers from the merely remarkable was not ability, but approach. Great stars always work overtime. Erik took me under his wing and became a mentor – let me sit in his dressing room while he made up his god-like face (and hair); let me do the pre-show warm-up with him; and coached me during rehearsals. In all things, he showed me how to do my best.
Erik also taught me the importance of repetition – applying the same process to achieve the same result – day after day. Essentially, how you practice is how you play. After working with Erik, I was no longer concerned with what roles I had, but concentrated on perfecting my technique in preparation for better parts. Which did come with changes in our repertory the following year.
Since then, my own experiences as a teacher have taught me that the world is a better place when every individual is inspired to reach his or her fullest potential. Working with adult novice beginners is especially gratifying, as our sessions aren’t only about improving technique but also enhance the quality of life.
Whether you are a banker, doctor, lawyer, stay-at-home parent or billionaire CEO – the principles apply: discoveries in ballet lead to discoveries in life. Deeply immersing yourself in the movement process can lead to new life-changing thoughts in daily life.
With dedicated repetition of the fundamentals, both student and teacher steadily move forward with knowledge, grace, vitality and strength.