Daily Archives: May 24, 2008

J is for Jeté

Petit jeté.

Well, technically, what you’re seeing is coupé derrière en plié, I suppose, but petit jeté begins and ends in this position.

And although I’ll blab a bit and tell you that ‘jeté‘ means ‘thrown’, and is part of the full name of a number of moves in ballet; and that ‘grand jeté‘, what most people probably visualize if they visualize anything when they hear the term, is the exhilarating leap with legs split (but I don’t particularly want to photographically immortalize my gravity-laden version of it, as fun as it is to do), and that petit jeté is a small Jump, starting as above, where the back leg then brushes the floor to propel you up into the air, and you land on the opposite leg in the same position, a very light, springy small Jump (see this glossary with videos from ABT for this and other dance terms in this post): as I say, although you have just been subjected to Jeté 101, this post is not really about jeté, the step.


I’ve always enjoyed dance (enjoyment, of course, does not mean automatically that one possesses a talent for it). Growing up, I know I subjected my parents to little dance shows in the living room. When I was small, my family lived in Germany for several years. I took a couple years of ballet and a year of tap then; there is photographic and Super 8 movie evidence. I remember the teacher as quite strict, very traditional and European.

By the time we moved back to the United States when I was almost 7, I think I was burned out on my strict ballet classes (though I remember tapping around in my school shoes for quite a while). I didn’t ask to take dance again. I was on my junior high ‘pom pom’ squad (kind of like dance team, but far removed from dance teams of today), and I could do the splits and kick high and shake my booty in time, but I didn’t take dance classes.

Then, in college, one of my acquaintances in the dorm invited me to an adult ballet class she was attending. It sounded like fun. Unfortunately, all the other college students taking it had taken years of formal ballet; I was way over my head; I couldn’t turn my feet and hips out 180 degrees, like some of the others, and I hurt my hip trying. I stopped after a few months, and decided ballet was just not meant to be, for me. Instead, I learned ballroom dance through the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club, which was wonderful. (In fact, the first date that my now husband and I went on, was when I dragged him to the BDC’s Halloween Costume ball; I was Queen Titania and he was an extremely good-looking pirate, as I remember; I taught him to waltz — really waltz — and some new swing moves. Nostalgic sigh.)

Fast forward two decades. Out-of-shape, overweight, overly busy mother of two brings her younger daughter to her first three-year-old dance class at the dance studio where her older daughter already goes. The new artistic director, daughter of the owner, is wonderful with a rather shy Gothlet. O-O-S OW O-B mother sees that a new class is being offered for adults who ‘have never danced or been out of dance for some time’. With some trepidation, she signs up.

Wow. I was in love. We learned ballet and Jazz. We were a range of ages, weights and ability levels, but no one was like the 10-years-of-ballet bunheads I’d had in class as a college student. I liked it all, but I loved ballet. The discipline, the engagement of mind with body, the music, the serenity, were just what I needed in a physical activity (I’d TRIED to like aerobics but just couldn’t get into it). I wanted to do more. We performed in the spring studio recital (to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”, the slow part with ballet choreography, the rowdy part performing Jazz); it was so fun! I took the class again, but wanted to move beyond. In a small city, however, opportunities are limited (in, for example, Minneapolis, there are adult classes at different levels, sigh). I took a few private classes, struggled with the ‘advanced/adult’ ballet, dumbing the exercises down to what approached my level (though I incurred a hairline crack of one of the bones of my foot, trying something I didn’t know how to do; should have taught me something).

At about the same time this was going on, the artistic director asked my husband and I if we would play parents in the annual Nutcracker Ballet that the studio puts on. (I think she needed guys and knew I could probably talk my husband into it.) The (now) Preteen was barely old enough to be in the production, but we didn’t think she was nearly ready, she was a wild child, always hanging on the barre and causing trouble. So my husband and I were in the Nutcracker that year, and the kids watched! In fact, we were the parents of Maria and Fritz (and a multicultural family were we, with an Asian ‘daughter’ and a red-headed ‘son’!).

The next year, we reprised our roles, and the Preteen was a mouse (seven years old). But there was a lack of teen dancers for all the variations; there are only so many quick changes one can do, instantaneous changes are not possible, and it was just a number (or lack of numbers) thing that year. So I volunteered, if there was an easier part I could dance to help out. There was, and it would be helpful, so that year I danced Reed Pipes as well (with my sorely-missed young friend Katie).

The following year, the Gothlet was old enough to be in the ballet as well. I actually auditioned this time, and (numbers still being a factor), I was given three roles: Frau Catherine Silberhaus (the mom of Maria again), Reed Pipes, and also Chinese. My husband was asked to be Godfather Drosselmeyer. Now, he can dance; but he’s not a Dancer. (Though he was forced to take ballet when he was boxing competitively, but it didn’t stick.) He is, however, an Actor (where the Preteen gets it from). He worked very hard for months, learning ballet, and he was incredible on stage. The Preteen was a small girl in the Party Scene, and a buffoon in the Mother Ginger scene; the Gothlet was a Snow Angel. Here we are:

Wow, that was an insane time. Talk about ‘jeté‘ meaning thrown — we certainly were thrown into the madness! But awfully fun. (I was working less than full time, and took off essentially all of tech week! Otherwise, there would have been no way.)

Then the next year: there were enough intermediate dancers coming up that newly middle-aged moms weren’t needed any more. A good thing. And the roles rotate (there’s been a different Godfather almost every year, for example). My husband and I wanted to be able to actually see our girls dance; we did watch from the wings, but it’s not the same, actually. So that was the last year we were all in Nutcracker. The Gothlet’s been in it every year; the Preteen took a break (after missing the same birthday party three years in a row, I think she wanted to have time off) but now was in it again last year. It’s still a crazy time, but not nearly as crazy as when we were in the midst. I do miss it, though, at times.

So, before this, if you had told me I would get up on a huge stage in a fine arts university in front of hundreds of strangers, and dance a pas de trois with two girls half my age — I would have questioned your sanity. Afterwards — well, a lot of other experiences in my life have seemed less intimidating in comparison!

I continued to take ballet. And love it. Now I had a goal, achievable for some adult beginning dancers after years of study: Could I do pointe? I was taking 2 -3 classes a week. A friend of mine who taught ballet was encouraging. I took a pre-pointe evaluation class, and was told that I probably could do pointe, though I still needed to work on alignment & strength. But because I was an adult, and listened to my body (much more sensibly after the foot fracture), they trusted that I could take things at my own pace.

A few summers ago, then, I started studying pointe. It was not easy. I had lost weight, but was no sylph; and my flexible bunion-y long-second-toe feet were hard to fit in pointe shoes. But I was enjoying the challenge.

Then, a few months later, in regular ballet class, a simple move, plié passé, involving springing up to one foot en relevé (tiptoe). My right ankle popped audibly, then felt — strange. Then started to hurt a little. Not bad, unless I was on relevé or jumping. When I got home, it was a little swollen. Hmm.

Fast forward again: eventually, after persistent problems for several months (I couldn’t run up steps, bike riding was a bit of a problem, but mostly I just couldn’t dance), an MRI found the problem; a split in one of the ankle tendons, basically a tear that didn’t go all the way through. Next, predictably, surgery; after which I found out that I absolutely was not going to be able to do my job while strictly non-weightbearing (luckily only 10 days), then six weeks of crutches with partial weightbearing and NO DRIVING! FOR A WORKING MOM! And they only told me shortly before surgery!

Then the usual months of rehab; then I could dance again.

I danced and trained for six months before reattempting pointe. But it was no good. My ankle just doesn’t function quite the same way, in the position you are in for pointe (part of a muscle had to be removed for the repair). And I started having a pinched nerve in the foot on that side, probably related.

So I have my old pointe shoes on, above, only for nostalgia’s sake; though I can still fake it

(here’s the painterly version of sous-sus), I won’t be dancing in these. Yes, I’m a little wistful, but it’s OK, I like my soft shoes.

I still take ballet, but I’ve had to increase my work hours back to full time plus, due to the needs of the job, not by my choice, and that’s gotten in the way. This last year, I could only get to one class a week most weeks. Though I’m a little above their level, I ended up taking the same class as my daughters for convenience, as I was starting not to make it to the one class, even. That was fun! I’m not sure they always thought so, but I enjoyed it.

One last little anecdote, then something amusing for those of you who have hung in here with me:

When we joined the church we’re at now, as part of the new member orientation, we were asked to tell about a teacher who had a big influence on us. Well, I was a little stumped; school came easy to me, and though I had many excellent teachers, I didn’t really need encouragement, and I couldn’t think of one particular amazingly influential teacher in high school, college, junior high or whatever.

But then I thought of a teacher who HAD made a big difference to me. The then-new artistic director who had started the adult dance class, who by her positivity and wonderful teaching ability gave me the courage to try dance again. Dance is not something you can study for, or do at home with no one seeing you. It did take courage to get in front of the mirrors and just do it, imperfect as my attempts might be. Her enthusiasm and encouragement transformed me from someone who ‘couldn’t do ballet’, someone who felt clumsy, sluggish, with unshed pregnancy weight, who couldn’t even get her foot on the barre to stretch at first; to someone who loved dance, and who wasn’t afraid to try new things. Even in public. Even, eventually, taking classes with a bunch of slender teen and preteen bunheads, me being practically twice their average weight and three times their age. Even on the stage of a fine arts university, dancing Nutcracker variations. And having a blast! My first ‘adult dance’ teacher truly gave me the gift of dance, of having it back in my life, of saying, “Yes, I can dance.” I’m glad my girls have pursued dance further too, following their own leanings and talents. But even if they didn’t, or when they are no longer at the studio, I still plan to be dancing.

Jeté — Thrown. I plan to keep throwing my heart into my dance, and the rest of me will follow as it can, lame, halt, chubby or what have you.


Visible proof that after that Nutcracker stage, it’s harder to faze me now:

Here’s the last part of the dance I performed at the Blue Moon Fiber Arts Sock Camp Crows Feet last month. A short piece to a Tchaikovsky theme — the world première of my original choreographed piece, “Pas de Corbeille”, “Dance of the Crow”. I actually knit while dancing!

Yes, during much of the dance I was doing dance steps while holding my sock-in-progress in first position, but I did actually, for real, knit stitches while doing bourrées and piqués. (And the stitches looked fine, after.) My friend MJ started filming about two-thirds of the way through, right after I had been doing little jumps, changements and entrechats quatres, and then pretended to drop a stitch. Fear not! I have dpn’s in my bun!

(If for some reason, the video doesn’t work, here’s the link. And, by the way, the head in the foreground taking pictures is Stephen of HizKNITS, blog and podcast. At the end, as I ballet run out into the hall, you can see along the far wall Cat Bordhi with the very blond head, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is the not-too-tall person in green moving fast, and I believe also that’s my new friend Sam who is a frequent columnist on Lime & Violet’s Daily Chum, and my new friend Ariel who is knitting me Sock Camp Souvenirs. And many, many of my friends in the audience! Thanks, MJ, for sharing the video!