Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Alastair Macaulay Debate cont.

Over at her blog, Tendus Under a Palm Tree, Miami City Ballet dancer Rebecca King has opened a discussion of recent comments made by New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay about the weight of two dancers in his review of New York City Ballet's performance of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker.  Likely being the least capable person to adequately discuss the weight issue in ballet didn't stop me from being the first to comment.  My bottom line was if weight adversely affected the performance it is a legitimate issue.  But it seemed the critic was just trying to turn a clever phrase.

As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my connection to ballet is through my nieces and a pas de deux class I take with one of my nieces.  But it didn't take long for me to learn that weight in ballet is a very sensitive topic and particularly with young girls an unkind word can have devastating consequences.  When I jokingly told our teacher that I watch what my niece eats because I'll be lifting it later he shot me a look that it isn't a joking matter.

I do know first hand the horrible problems that come with an eating disorder.  My wife suffered through an eating disorder for over ten years all because her mother told her she looked fat one night when we watched my wife's nephew in a high school basketball championship game.

I met my wife when I coached her soccer team.  She looked very athletic with nice legs and if anything was a little on the thin side.  No one would have ever thought she was fat, except her mother who was rail thin the entire time I knew her.

I didn't hear the comment my mother-in-law made and I only learned about it years later.  My wife, who generally always ate well, stopped eating.  She already suffered from panic attacks at that time and losing weight did not help.  And she had a tendency to self medicate with alcohol for the panic attacks which soon took on new dangers due to the weight loss.

Those of you who don't have any experience dealing with someone with an eating disorder won't know the incredible frustration.  My athletic wife became frail.  It didn't help that she injured her knee and wasn't able to play soccer.  Soon it seemed too risky for her to play.  Yet she thought she looked too heavy.

We probably fought every day over eating.  I would ask what she wanted for dinner and she would say anything was fine but everything I suggested was shot down.  Finally she would say I should know what she wanted to eat and since I didn't she wouldn't eat at all because she lost her appetite since I obviously didn't care about her.

This went on for years.  Her friends started to think that I was abusing her.  They did at least one intervention.  They only saw the weight issue but it was so much more than that, with the alcohol issue and panic issue as well.  But she was able to convince them that she was fine.

Then one night I was awakened as she was having a seizure.  She had gotten the flu and stopped drinking for one day.  And that was enough to cause a seizure because her body had been ravaged due to the weight loss and drinking.  She spent almost a week in the hospital and I hoped we were on the road to recovery but she popped open a beer immediately after we got home.  I think she had at least three more seizures after that.  Probably more that I was unaware of.  She still wouldn't eat much.

So I started making her breakfast in bed every morning.  She would eat a little bit at first and eventually did better and better.  I tried not to argue over dinner which had just played into her hands.  And I was able to get her eating more and more.  Little did I know what was coming around the corner.

My wife was gaining more and more weight.  She had her appetite back.  She weighed more than she ever had before for a few months.  Then about five years ago she started complaining of an ear ache.  We went to urgent care and they said it was just the flu.  A month went by and her ear hurt more and more so we finally went to see a specialist.  And the news was not pretty.  She had cancer and the tumor was causing the pain in her ear.  She started weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. 

There is no way that she would have survived the treatment if she weighed as little as she had.  Her body would not have been able to take it.  She has had four surgeries since then and right now she is in the clear.  And she has been able to keep her weight up.  And she is not letting her panic issues stop her from getting out like they used to.  And she has significantly cut down on her drinking.

So I'm not sure how the eating issues stopped.  I think that her body just let her know that she needed to eat and she was able to hear the message.

These eating issues can have dire consequences, I know that first hand.  I'll be watching Rebecca's blog to see other comments from people that are in the ballet world.

Qatar 2022

I have attended the last five soccer World Cups and my niece has come along for the last two World Cups in Germany and South Africa.  Who knows how things will be in twelve years, but right now I have to wonder whether she would be able to have a nice time in Qatar.  It will be excessively hot for one thing. 

There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions about Qatar.  The World Cup is generally considered a big party with drinking alcohol a major part of the celebrations and sorrows as you follow your team.  I understand there are major restrictions on drinking alcohol in Qatar.  Will those restrictions be eased?

What will fans do when they aren't at a match?  How are women treated?  Do they recognize the state of Israel and if Israel qualifies will they be allowed to play there safely?

I have no doubt that Qatar will be able to build nice stadiums, world class hotels and a highly functional transportation system. 

I just have serious doubts about the entire fan experience.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mirlitons 2010

My older niece also was the lead in Mirlitons this year.  She was kind of nervous about the public performance because she had been spending so much time rehearsing the Sugar Plum Fairy role that it had been a month since she practiced Mirliton.  The other four girls are from the pas de deux class.  Three of the four are the most regular participants.  When it comes to the lifts the smallest of the girls is my favorite because she is so light.  Lifting her is the only time I think I could have possibly had a future in ballet if I only were thirty years younger, and willing to work a hundred times harder.

I asked my nieces if they were getting a break from class given that they had just done six performances and the response was they got a break when they performed on Thursday and Friday instead of having class.  There is just an incredible amount of dedication on the part of these girls.

I am very proud of my nieces and all of the girls from the pas class.  I like to bring flowers for "my girls" for after the performances and they seem to appreciate that.  The smiles I receive are priceless.

Trepak 2010

My younger niece was one of the Trepak leads this year.  She is in the purple top.  In the past she has usually been a party child or one of the funny mice.  Last year she was also in Chinese.  She was in Flower this year but my video did not turn out from that.

She started ballet when she was 4 or 5, but quit because there was too much goofing off at that age.  She returned to ballet a few years ago and has been doing a lot of catch up.  Apparently she is supposed to have a natural turn out unlike her sister who has problems with her turn out.   She is fourteen and plays four instruments and has a lovely singing voice. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Snowflakes 2010

If this video actually works, you will be able to see all of the girls who have been in the pas de deux class over the last year.  I've partnered with each of them at some point, but only five of this group were consistent regulars.

I got tears in my eyes watching my niece perform.  I thought she looked and danced beautifully.  All of the girls are very talented.  According to the program, I think each one is an honors student in school.  I don't know where they find the time to dance, rehearse, get homework done and have some semblance of a social life.  I think the social life suffers, except the time they spend with other dancers.

Nutcracker 2010

My nieces had six performances of the Nutcracker this past week.  This picture is from their last performance on Saturday.  This was the first time the one on the left was in Flower.  She also was in Arabian and  lead Trepak  The one on the right had just finished as lead Flower. She also did four performances as Sugar Plum Fairy.  She was also Columbine, Snow, and lead Mirliton.

I have some video but can't seem to get it uploaded.

Watching them dance brings tears to my eyes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


My family moved to San Diego when I was five.  We lived in a part of town not too far from the harbor and there were many Portuguese tuna fisher families in the neighborhood.  That was my first exposure to soccer.  I remember kicking the ball around a bit in the street.  And we could also find soccer on the television, but only on the station in Tijuana, Mexico.

When I was eight we moved to the newly built suburbs to the north and soccer had not yet taken root like it has now.  So I really didn't start playing soccer again until high school.  That worked out well for my brother who is nine years younger.  He was able to start playing when he was five.  So he is a much more natural player. 

I didn't start playing soccer regularly until I was in college.  I played all the usual sports but through college my focus was tennis.  However soccer slowly took over.  I've always been fortunate to play on pretty good teams.  One of my teams won ten championships in twelve years.  Last month I started my twenty-third year with one of my teams.

I am part of a soccer family.  I began coaching soccer when I started law school.  I met my wife while coaching her women's team.  Our son plays soccer and is a coach.  My brother is a coach.  Three of his kids play soccer and my sister's son plays soccer.

We've been to the last five World Cups and I'm already making contacts for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

My connection with ballet is through my sixteen and fourteen year old nieces.  But I think my first exposure to ballet came from the old television show, My Three Sons.  The oldest son Robbie was having trouble in football and the football coach suggested he try ballet to obtain good balance and coordination.  He took a lot of ribbing but then played better.  Or something like that.  Sadly, I was able to watch that as a first run in 1965.

The first ballet I attended was The Nutcracker.  I took my then five year old niece to see it as she had started ballet class a year or two before.  The only thing I knew about it was the first act because when I was in the sixth grade we did a variation as our school's Christmas play back when you could do Christmas plays.  I knew nothing about the ethnic parts in the later acts.  I just remember the look of fascination on my niece's face.

As my niece got older and progressed in ballet I would see some of her performances.  The first one I remember was based on the Wizard of Oz.  She couldn't have been much older than five or six but I could see that she paid attention and had a decent idea of what she was supposed to be doing.

Sadly all the video and photos from those early days were destroyed in a fire than burned hundreds of homes in San Diego in 2007.  Two weeks before the fire I did my first pas class with my niece.  For years I had been warned that when she was old enough for the class that I was expected to be her partner because her father has a bad back.  I had actually been in London that summer to take my niece to the Royal Ballet School's summer outreach program and we attended Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House performed by La Scala Ballet.  We had seats in the fourth or fifth row center and it was amazing. 

Those first classes were memorable because the teacher just kind of expected us to know what to do.  There really wasn't any instruction.  Just watch and do it.  Then after two classes the fire hit and we didn't have any more classes that year.  The following year the class was done by men that were real ballet students.

Last year it was back to the dads, uncles and occasional brother.  But we actually had a male dancer as our teacher who showed us what we were supposed to do.  I found the class to be very difficult, but also rewarding.  It has definitely brought me and my niece closer.  She used to think I didn't like her because personality wise I'm much more like her younger sister and her sister had traveled with me to Germany for the 2006 World Cup so we just had more shared experiences.

My niece is a beautiful dancer.  I think it was three years ago when she had the role of Clara in the Nutcracker and it brought tears to my eyes.

So doing the pas class with my niece has opened my eyes to the world of ballet.  I wish I were better in the class.  I'm old, need both hips replaced, am usually limping from my soccer matches and have had countless soccer injuries over the years which makes me about as flexible as a broomstick, but I love dancing and it is very rewarding to remember a sequence of steps and pull it off without hurting any of the girls.