Thursday, July 24, 2014

Conversion via the Beastie Boys

I primarily teach ballet at this place that is mainly focused on jazz dancing.  A little bit of acrobatics, a little bit of ballet, a whole lot of jazz.  They do these jazz competitions that I have heard about but never participated in or worried about.  I had my ballet performances to prepare for - what were these jazz competitions of which people spoke?  And my little jazz girls think that ballet is the most boring thing on the planet.  But their wise studio owner makes them take ballet, because she knows that ballet is the building block of jazz. 

I love her for that.  Because it's true.

No matter how fun or funny I am, no matter how many jokes I tell, no matter how much I smile and cheer for them when they finally get something, they hardly ever smile back.  They just sigh and lean on the bar and half-heartedly do rond des jambs, their arms bent into a weird, very non-balletic shape.

The power of my pure, unadulterated finesse has not changed their minds about ballet.  Is't possible?  My weird jokes and the assigning of nicknames and psychotic smile aren't having any effect??  My weird jokiness is my superpower, man.  And it's been defeated by Ballet Ambivalence.

And I get it.  I hate math, right?  And I had some really cool math teachers, but no matter what they did, none of them made me like math. 

I had an idea last week.  I decided on Tuesday that I was going to do a ballet class using pop music.  Something I've often flirted with doing.  Ever since I heard that song "Walking on Broken Glass."  At the time, I remember immediately choreographing a dance to it in my head - doing ballet to a pop song.  My ballet class, when I was 14, did a ballet dance to "Everybody Dance Now."  That was so bad-arse.  I seriously felt so cool when we did that dance.  And since the studio I work for is so jazz-focused, I knew they'd be okay with my little experiment. 

So I set out to make a playlist.  Using just Ben's music on iTunes.  Because all of my CDs were stolen in 2001.  I'm still mourning that.  Stupid apartment complex in stupid Salt Lake...  We're too poor to buy iTunes music for me.  So I listen to iTunes radio.  Or attempt to listen to Ben's music, which he got from his CD's, which never got stolen.  Lucky fella.

And Ben's, how shall I put this? 

It sucks.

I mean, we have a few song tastes in common - we both love the Beatles.  We both love Led Zepplin.  We both love....ummmm.... Yeah.  That's really where it ends.  He has some hardcore heavy metal, and I hate that stuff.  It makes me feel very angry and want to punch someone.  And I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work in a ballet class.  He loves Beck.  I love one of Beck's songs, "Loser."  (I like to sing the words wrong.  I like to sing, "Soooo, I'm a matador....I'm a loser baby...)  He loves The Doors.  I like the Doors alright, but each song should seriously be cut down by half.  Seven minutes for "Light My Fire"?  No song should be seven minutes long.  "Light My Fire" is a seriously cool song.  For about the first three minutes.  And then for last minute or so.  The middle part needs to be cut out.  The whole organ solo thing.  Bor-ing.

And Pink Floyd?  Don't even get me started.  I seriously, seriously don't get them.  I pride myself on being artsy, but this stuff....I just.....I just can't handle it.  But I do like the majority of "Comfortably Numb."

So creating a playlist without buying tons of music on iTunes was a bit of a challenge.  It took some doing, but eventually I put together a pretty rockin' set of songs.  The biggest challenge was for pirouette music and grand allegro music.  You really, really have to have songs in 6/8 or 3/4 for pirouette exercises and grand allegro (big jumps).  Anything else feels really wrong. 

And can I tell you how hard it is to find pop songs in 3/4 that aren't all slow ballads?  You can do slow ballads for pirouettes, kind of.  I mean, it has to really have a pretty quick tempo still.  And big jumps?  You cannot muster the strength and energy to get excited enough to do big jumps to, like, "Take it to the Limit" by the Eagles.  (Though I did use that for our pirouette exercises.)

So I looked to Google.  "Pop songs in 3/4 time."  There were a few forums on the subject.  Mainly people listing songs and other people swearing at the first people, telling them that that song is in 4/4, not 3/4, duhhhh...  There are some good Beatles songs in 3/4, but I didn't want my entire mix to be Beatles, and I felt very strongly that I needed to use Across the Universe for adagio.  It was staying right there.  Apparently there's a Jay-Z song in 3/4 time, but I wasn't crazy about it.  And there's a Kanye song in 3/4 time.  Again, not crazy about it.  In the end, I settled for "By My Side" by INXS, but when it came time to do grand allegro, I just...couldn't do it.  It just...wasn't quite right.  I ended up switching to a song I wanted to do for petit allegro that worked alright for grand allegro - "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash. 

And how did the girls react to our Jazzy Ballet Class?

They loved it.

I mean, who doesn't love The Clash?

Another favorite for them was when we did jetes to "Body Movin'" by the Beastie Boys.  They were doing more hip hop jetes than ballet jetes, and I had to remind them to keep it ballet-ish.  They were like, "Who ARE these guys???"

I grinned.  "The Beastie Boys."

"The Beastie Boys??  Who are they?"

Ah, young innocence.

Let me think of what else I had on my list...

Plies - I Will Buy You a Garden by Everclear
Tendus - Complicated by Avril Lavigne (don't ask me how a 38-year-old man has Avril Lavigne on his playlist)
Degages - Respect by Aretha Franklin
Fondus - No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley
Stretch - Stay with Me by Sam Smith (could his voice be any silkier?  I'll admit that I full-on bought that single on iTunes)

I can't remember the rest.  But we only do, like, six exercises in an hour.  These girls are still beginners and have a hard time grasping things, so I alternate exercises every week.  I always make sure I do plies and stretches, because warming up and stretching are really important, but next week, we probably will skip tendu and degage and go into rond de jambe, adagio, frappe, etc.

Anywho, the class was a success.  All the moms that usually sit in the observation room on the floor and text the whole time were standing up to watch when they heard Everclear.  And they slowly started to grin.  Nineties nostalgia kicking in.

The girls didn't start grinning until jetes to "Body Movin'."  I think it's safe to say that "Body Movin'" converted them to ballet.

Maybe just for that class.  We'll see.  I'm constantly creating more pop music playlists in my brain.  Driving down the road, listening to the radio, and going, "Oooh!  This would be really good for frappe!" 

I'm sooooooooo sad that I have to leave this job.  At whatever time our house sells.  I have to start applying for dance teaching jobs in Oregon...


Mindy H. said...

Pop ballet ? Coolest thing EVER! All that extra thought/time/work impacted those girls in a way that nothing else could have. You are the kind of teacher (the good kind) who isn't content to simply present, you engage and inspire!

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