Almost every class with Smirnoff includes “Pet-tea-pah number one and number two.”
Took me a couple classes to make the connection that “Pet-tea-pah” equals “Petipa”, as in Marius Petipa, as in Major Choreographer of the 19th century. Swan Lake is his, and many many other ballets.
But his name had never come up in casual conversation before, and when I read about Petipa, his name was pronounced like, “peh-TEA-puh” inside my head.
So it took me a while to figure out that we were essentially doing little tiny snippets of Swan Lake on the diagonal, every class.
My Vaganova book doesn’t mention Petipa #1 and #2, so this may be a Smirnoff Original Class Exercise.
Here’s how they work:
Starting at the back corner (stage left), we line up. Music starts, first person in line pulls up on half-toes in fifth, right foot front, brings her right arm up to third so it makes a nice arc in that pose little kids do when they play ballerina, left arm out in second. Then she travels along the diagonal by taking tiny steps on the balls of her feet-stepstepstepstepstep-while looking up to the right hand and trailing the left hand with a slight waving motion.
Every four counts another person follows. This way we don’t run out of music and Smirnoff does not have to wage war on the cassette player.
Otherwise known as ‘hit the rewind button’. (Poor old dude. He has a real hard time with all those fancy buttons on his boom-box.)
Then we go from the left side.
That’s Petipa #1.
It’s very pretty and feels very ballerina-ish, all of us crossing the floor in a line, the pretty arms, the shimmering legs.
Initially my corrections would be: reminders to gaze up to my left hand, not let my left arm sink, raise higher on the toes, and always always: chin up, long neck, shoulders down.
Recently I’ve been getting more technical corrections. Bend and fully straighten the knees! both of them! don’t let the leading knee do all the work! And he would say, “Your left knee, my Dear, your left knee is not moving, more, more!” After trying a few different things during the course of a few classes I pretty much figured out what he meant. There was too much space between my knees, the following leg needs to stay crossed behind the front as much as I can cross it, so there is never ever visible air between the knees, while remembering to fully straighten after the tiny knee bend, so there’s no shuffling. This is what gives that shimmering, flickering look.
This is also hella difficult.
Used to think Petipa #1 was just an exercise in grace, now I’m breathing heavy with trembling thighs after crossing the floor each time.
Petipa #2 builds on this, keeping the shimmery legs on half-toe, arms in second, but now at a certain cue in the music we Freeze!
And then tiny stepstepstepstepstep in place while we bend forward, sweep the floor with our finger tips, and then quickly straighten back up with arms above our heads all ballerina-style and twirl in place twice spotting the corner and then arms back to second and we stepstepstepstepstep along the diagonal until the music tells us to freeze and we do it all again.
My problem with this one has always been balance. I wobble at the freeze, and then when we’re supposed to sweep the floor I’m the one stopped with hands flat, butt in the air, trying not to keel over face first.
Smirnoff has tried a few ways to tell me not to pause at the bottom, but it’s always been a matter of Pause or Face-Plant, so I always pause.
Until just recently.
Smirnoff said, “my Dear, there’s a pool of water at your feet. It is a very hot day. Scoop the water up quickly! Right onto the top of your head! If you come up too slowly the water will run out of your hands, and you will still be hot. You must scoop quickly! Splash the water over your head!”
And then the clincher:
“My Dear, you mustn’t pause and stare into the pool. Do not fall in love with your reflection, like Narcissus did. Or else you will waste away!”
Gentle Reader, the Adult Beginner loves her some Greek Mythological references. Eats those mofos right up! So you know I was all like, “Hells yes. I am definitely picking up what you are layin’ down, my man.”
And ever since, no more fear of face-plant. I freeze, stepstep down, scoop, straighten up and splash!, twirl twirl and keep going!
Understanding what my hands are doing instead of trying to mimic has made all the difference.
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