Ugh, My Sinatra Suite Is Not Goin' So Sweet…

Real Sinatra Suite with Baryshnikov

Extremely corny play on words, I know…

Ugh. Last night I had another ballroom lesson with my private lesson teacher, with whom I’m working on a foxtrotish version of Tharp’s Sinatra Suites for the school’s next student showcase, coming up in April. I had a very stressful day at work, and I was so frazzled I completely forgot to eat, which, before a dance lesson, is just not conducive to success. At least not with me. About half an hour before I had to leave for the studio, I tried to scarf down some yogurt and granola, but ever since I developed my Globus a few years ago, scarfing is just not possible; I have to eat s-l-o-w-l-y. Anyway, I managed to ingest about 1/4 of the cup, while stretching and packing up some home-work for later in the evening (nothing like multi-tasking!). But, with only a bowl of cereal and small cup of coffee about nine hours earlier, that quarter cup of yogurt wasn’t enough to keep me focused.

I think. Or it could just be the increasingly weird dynamic I seem to be having lately with my teacher. He seemed to be yelling at me for everything. He kept telling me to look in the mirror at how bad I looked, how crooked and broken my lines were, and how horrible my posture was. And I couldn’t always understand what was bad. Maybe you just can’t see yourself properly in a mirror. (And, he told me to bring a camcorder to my next lesson, so I could videotape myself, which I think is a good idea, since I do seem to pick up on things I hadn’t seen in the mirror … as long as I don’t obsess too much over my flaws). But, in the mirror at least, I don’t always understand how what I’m doing is not right. For example, I’ve been told before — repeatedly actually — that, since I have hyperextended arms, they should be a bit softened (slightly bent at the elbow so as to look graceful and not harsh) — have been told that by both ballet teachers and Pasha, my erstwhile Latin teacher. But this teacher tells me hyperextended is good and I need to make maximum use of that and show it off by making sure my arms are completely straight out at all times, never the least bit bent. But sometimes I couldn’t extend my arms as long and straight out as he wanted me to — I was reaching and reaching and stretching, while he kept chanting “more more more” but they just wouldn’t go any farther out without pulling my blasted shoulder out of its socket! And, when he’d pull on an arm to try to help me make that line, that’s exactly what it felt like! Or, he’d twist my rib cage area if I wasn’t doing “cross body movement” properly, or slap my wrist down if it my hand was extended outward instead of down, or he’d twist my wrist if he wanted me to hold my hands palms facing up instead of down. And some of the ways he was handling me were a little scary. I know he was just trying to correct me, but I had to ask him, nicely of course, if he could be a little gentler, especially with my left wrist since I have a partially torn a ligament in that one, and could have to have surgery if it gets any worse, which I most definitely don’t want. He apologized and explained that he just didn’t want to have to keep repeating himself, and besides, if I didn’t learn how to give him my body weight properly and to maintain the proper push / pull connection with him, especially on a trick like a lunge or stretch, I could hurt myself very easily.

I know that’s true, and that if you don’t have proper technique, both partner-dancing and alone, you can incur serious injury. But on the other hand, I have a very hard time learning when I feel like I’m being yelled at. I just get all flustered and can’t do anything right. And, we were going to put this overhead lift into our routine, and I know myself, and if I’m the least bit scared of the guy I’m dancing with, I’m not going to trust him and I’m subconsciously going to be pulling myself down while he’s trying to get me up into the air, and we could both hurt each other. I need to feel very comfortable with the guy in order to trust him, and in order to do hard things properly. I actually don’t see how anyone can dance with a partner they don’t feel completely comfortable with. It makes me feel for professionals who have to partner someone they’re not comfortable with.
Anyway, I don’t know if it was the lack of food or the pressure but I just couldn’t do anything right, and I couldn’t even remember the rather simple choreography we’ve done so far. I really thought at one point he was going to kill me! I mean, I know he wants me to dance well, and of course I want to be the best I can be, and I appreciate that he is serious and not lazy. But, on the other hand, I am never going to be a professional dancer, and this is supposed to be fun. I think for the first time, after leaving a hard day at work behind to head to the studio, I did not feel my stress-level lessened. Maybe I should put this routine on hold for a while and save the showcase for next October when they have it at a Manhattan theater (as opposed to Long Island, where it is in the spring), when all of my friends can attend again. In the meantime, I can lighten up and maybe learn some standard ballroom from the standard teacher, reducing my private lesson to every other week instead of every week to decrease expenses…. I hate to abandon some of the pretty Tharp-esque choreography I was trying so hard to learn though … although what we’re doing doesn’t look much like what Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo were doing on the tape anyway… I guess genuine foxtrot ballroom and balletish ballroom are two completely different things. I hadn’t realized that. I have a lot to learn about dance, apparently.

Anyway, I guess I will be thinking about this — where to go with my ballroom dancing from here — over the long weekend, since I don’t have my next lesson scheduled until next Friday…

But, the GREAT thing about last night was that I saw a very good ballroom friend: the always sugar-sweet, always full of motherly advice, the splendidly charmingly wonderful, Elaine, whom I haven’t seen since our October showcase! She was having a coaching with the studio owner. When, after my class, I practically fell right into her open arms crying, like a ridiculous baby, she insisted I accompany her to her favorite nearby diner for a glass of wine and some much-needed comfort food, and a pep talk. Funny thing about food though is that, when I haven’t eaten all day and I’m completely stressed, I seem to have no appetite. Well, I ordered some very greasy, very tasty fries, and a glass of the house red (just to cut cholesterol levels from ingestion of said fries, of course πŸ™‚ )


And here, Miss Elaine is being her silly self πŸ™‚ (Notice my ever so nutritious dinner in foreground):
Elaine II

Anyway, it ended up being a very good night after all, full of catching up on life, receiving sound motherly advice on managing work stress and dealing with dance teachers (!), and enjoying good, trashy comfy food. Thanks Elaine πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚


  1. God, those french fries look GOOD!!!!

    I met Twyla Tharp several times when I worked at Tower and loved chatting with her while she picked up CDs; she and Leslie Browne were but two of my delightful choreographer/customers. Too bad the store closed – I miss meeting exciting people like Twyla & Leslie. Only in NYC would such things happen!

    So did you eat all those fries, Tonya? And is that a big pool of ketchup on the plate? Have you tried malt vinegar on fries? Oooooohhh!!!

    Elaine looks like a real character.

  2. tonya, you need a new teacher. the treatment you describe is not conducive to good dancing and isn’t going to help you in the short *or* long terms. the teacher is rough, the choreography is obviously too difficult, and the pedagogy is amateur. don’t blame yourself – get someone new.

  3. When I first moved here, I took some classes with a teacher whowas a perfectionist, and gave me and the other girl in the class a hard time about our choreography issues. (I think part of it was that she was frustrated that only 2 of us signed up for the session.) anyway, she is very passionate about dance, and teaches like she wants all her students to look like pros whether or not we ever intended to be. (Not that I think teachers should let their students be sloppy or have bad technique – but I think it’s ok for hobbyists to have correct and safe technique but not be perfect)

    Anyway, her class always made me feel worse when I was done than when I started, and I ultimately stopped studying with her. I decided I was just not willing to drive half an hour either way and pay for the priveledge of feeling bad about myself.

    I have stayed with my other teacher, who instead of setting high standards for results, she sets high standards for effort. She understands my goals and knows that I practice appropriately in line with those goals, and that’s acceptable to her. She doesn’t expect us all to be the same.

    Life is too short to let someone make you feel bad about something that’s suposed to feel good. If you want to keep studying with him, put your foot down and tell him he is not giving you effective lessons, and that the yelling is not cool. On the other hand, if it were me, I’d be looking for someone with better judgement about how to align their teaching techniques to a student’s dance and personal needs.

  4. Thanks for the advice you guys! I am definitely going to think it over this weekend πŸ™‚

    Philip, between the two of us, we managed to polish off about half of the plate! I will have to try the malt vinegar. Elaine IS a character — you should see her dance πŸ™‚ That is very cool about meeting Tharp!

  5. Yea, Elaine! I’m glad she made you feel a little better – we love you as a super-enthusiastic student and no one wants you to be upset and hating dancing! If it starts to become a chore or upsetting instead of an escape and a joy – well, you have your answer. If you do stick the routine out, the showcase has been moved back to May 7 (just heard tonight, don’t know if you know), so there’s some extra time.

  6. Oh I didn’t know it had been moved back to May — wow. Thanks for telling me!

  7. >>but I think itÒ€ℒs ok for hobbyists to have correct and safe technique but not be perfect)

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