An Ode to the Perfect Ballet Bun

The Perfect Ballet bun is very tight, very neat, and very controlled. It sits close to the head at the back of the skull, flowing organically from the back of the head in a way that accentuates the line of the neck and the shape of the head. It is pulled tight back, each hair neat and confined within the bun, with no stray hairs marring the line. The bun itself is coiled as flat against the head as possible to avoid unnecessary protrusion. It remains neat. It can withstand eight hours of training and rehearsal and grands battements and grands jetés. Which is to say, it can likely withstand Armageddon and remain polished and perfect.

MY perfect ballet bun is quite another story.

My perfect ballet bun happens at five thirty in the morning, after not enough sleep, no shower, and no breakfast. It happens even before my first cup of tea, which is a feat in itself, as very little happens before my first cup of tea. It walks a delicate tightrope, being tight enough not to fail structurally at a crucial moment, and yet not so tight that it gives me a headache. The subway will take care of that on its own and needs no help from my hair. It does not lie flat against my head, as my hair is too thick to coil flat. Instead, it piles up in a rough coil atop my head, leaving the back of my head unimpeded should I feel the need to lie down on my back on the mat and surrender to muscle fatigue at any time.

It is not neat and controlled, and yet it is not exactly messy, as messiness in my personal appearance just isn’t in my nature. My perfect ballet bun is vast. It contains multitudes. That’s part of why it’s so big, not just because my hair is thick enough to braid ropes and destroy elastic bands.

My ballet bun is held up with handmade, heavy-duty Amish steel. Four three-inch pins give it structural integrity. Sometimes my hair starts to reject them and then have to be nudged back in because my hair does not take kindly to discipline or interlopers. But I am the master of my hair. Sometimes.

My ballet bun withstands a 45-minute subway ride, a short walk, and a 50-minute barre class with only minimal wisping. But by the time I finish class, it shows signs of wear. It releases tendrils at the back of the neck and at my temples. And small pieces start to work their way out of the bun itself. I like to think it looks romantic and chic, but mostly it looks tired and probably a little greasy from the sweat.

But my ballet bun serves. It keeps my hair out of my face during pliés and Pilates, during aerials, and even, when it make it a bit neater, during a day of work at the office. It does accentuate the line of my neck and the grace of a body that still hasn’t completely forgot to be a dancer. And that’s why it’s my perfect ballet bun.

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My Morning Workout: Barre

So, since the last post I made, about skin care when life gets hectic, life got hectic and I very clearly did not prioritize blogging. Sorry, guys. Anyway, today I thought I’d talk a little bit about my current favorite morning workout: Barre fitness. Those of you who look at my Instagram story may have noticed the odd early-morning story about being on my way to the gym at an absurd time of day.

A caveat: I only go to Barre class once a week because it’s not the most convenient or inexpensive way to work out. But it is something I enjoy doing and I’ve definitely noticed some positive improvements in my body. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m sometimes a dancer, and even returned to ballet class as a thirty-year-old several years ago. Sadly, my new job in the city means that I don’t have the schedule flexibility to go to ballet class as often, plus my evenings are often monopolized by rehearsals, so exercise classes fall by the wayside.

So I needed to find something that I could do before work in the morning. Something that was convenient to work and that I found interesting. So when I found a gym near my downtown subway stop that offered Pilates and Barre classes, I thought I’d check it out. I signed up for a five-day unlimited trial and managed to go to three classes in five days. And, despite the general feeling of wobbliness of the legs that resulted, I’m glad I did. I managed to find a Barre teacher who I liked far above the other two, and she teaches at a time where I can go to class, wash up, and get to my desk on time with a bit of breakfast on the way.

Now, every Tuesday morning, I wake up at 5:30 a.m., confuse the cat, upset Fiancé, and irritate my internal clock, pack a large handbag with a change of clothes, and get on a 6-a.m. train downtown. I get there in time to stop for a cuppa with milk and sugar because by this time, my body has realized that I’m about to ask it to do things and it wants calories and caffeine first. Then, I make my way a few blocks down and settle in at the gym. I sip my tea and maybe stretch a bit. Lately the room has been rather warm, which is quite nice for a class that requires a bit of flexibility.

When class starts, the instructor leads us through some warm-ups, arm exercises, and then takes us to the barre for stretching, pliés, degagés, and other exercises. It’s very effective at making my muscles shake and cry out, but lately I’ve noticed that as I continue going to class once a week, I’m seeing an improvement in my alignment and stamina. Plus, I just feel graceful, bendy, and strong when I walk out, rather than bleary and a bit sweaty. As my schedule clears up after my next show, I may find myself committing to more Barre mornings, honestly, despite the fact that it’s a bit expensive.

The main thing I like both about Barre in general and about this teacher in particular is that she grounds the class in dance technique, rather than just making it about the burn. She calls the exercises by their ballet names, and even has us do things like pirouette prep exercises. Other Barre classes I went to treat it more like a Pilates class with a bar in the middle. And while I do appreciate a good Pilates class, when I go to Barre, I’m trying to reconnect with my inner ballerina. And this way, I can.

Vintage Exercise: Ballet Class

You don’t get a whole lot more old-fashioned than dance. It’s probably one of the oldest forms of human expression. And as far as dance goes, ballet is the epitome of old-fashioned grace to me. It seriously took a lot of doing to update ballet even a little, and even then, most of the updates are considered “modern dance” instead of ballet and are kept separate from classical training. There’s a reason it’s called “classical training.”

Well, like Zelda Fitzgerald, I’ve come to ballet late in life. I did my turn as an adorable a 5-year-old, but decided not to pursue it. Then, when I turned 30, I decided to take a class with a friend of mine from my original ballet class, at the original studio where we took classes. She’s since fallen out of the habit, but I’ve continued to go. Since starting theater a year ago, I’ve lapsed a bit, but I still love class whenever I get to it.

I finally got back to my favorite mid-week class this week, and loved it. The teacher is tough and doesn’t go easy on the combinations. Her only concession to the fact that it’s called a “beginner” class is that she’ll take an extra minute explaining the steps. Sometimes. But I like that. I’ve taken other dance classes and over the years have decided that I’d rather be the lowest level dancer in a class than the highest level. I learn more.

Ballet, and dance in general, has given me a strong sense of poise and body awareness. The costumier of a show I did over the winter commented on how I was able to wear her beautiful vintage 40s and 60s costumes so well, and I credit a lot of that to my dance training. It makes you look taller and more confident. And, given that I’m actually quite clumsy, can disguise a multitude of awkwardnesses under a veneer of control.

Dance is one of my favorite forms of vintage exercise. In addition to ballet, I also do some modern. I’ve taken classes with a company, but I also do some freestyle dancing on my own. When I read the autobiography of Isadora Duncan, her approach to movement as something that is inherently natural resonated with me, and now when I have my own private dance time, I try to mirror her philosophy, if not her exact movements.

Sadly, this week, upon my return to ballet class, I learned that the nagging soreness I’ve been having in my toe while jogging is not just stiffness that needs stretching out and loosening up. It’s probably a sprain. So I will have to take a few weeks off both jogging and dancing while it heals. But I’m excited to return once more.