Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top Ballet Exercise Videos

Here it is guys! This is my top list for ballet videos. All exercise videos that had little to no ballet will be booted off immediately. These list will mostly be based on my final opinion of the exercises, not by the overall score I originally gave them. Reasoning is: 1) the overall score is based on the factors I was grading on. Though these covered most bases, didn't cover everything, and 2) I feel like if I had to review some of these again, I would give them a different score after viewing better/worse exercise videos after them.

Let's begin!

Eliminated: Pure Barre and Yoga Booty Ballet

This exercise gets the bottom of the list, but perhaps this is because I'm not the target age for this exercise. This exercise is geared toward women over 50, and I'm only 20. Since I found this exercise far to simple, I gave it the lowest spot on my list. Still, others may find it of great use. 

This exercise made me sweat, but it was just too jarring at times! Though I loved the studio they performed in, the jarring exercise, the ultimatum, makes me score it lower.

Though the exercise was really great, the confusing main menu and narrator make me but this around the middle of my list. It's just not as good as its sequel. 

I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted this as third or not. This video is better for beginners, but not as long. Also, it can be quite deceiving about how many exercises it has on the DVD. 

This had a strong ballet based workout, but the floor exercises will need a lot of practice before you can keep up with her. I highly recommend this video.

This DVD took all of the errors of the original and improved them. If you want a ballet DVD, this is one of the ones I would recommend you try first. It's well worth your money and has a great instructional video for beginners. Fabulous!

I love, love, love this DVD! It's the one I look forward to the most when selecting an exercise DVD. It's cheap, it's well-made, it has a strong ballet exercise, and is just the right length. The only thing I wish it had was a section specifically for learning proper form. Otherwise, this is my favorite exercise DVD that I would recommend to all looking for a ballet fitness workout.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Paying for Classes

 Phew, I just paid my tuition for next month's worth of classes. I go to a park district so I can get a deduction based on my residency. Still, I just paid $210 for a little over one month of classes. I know that may seem like nothing to other people, but for a college student who can't find a job in this economy, that is the cost of one of my kidneys.

If this keeps up, I may not be able to keep dancing. Unless a company finally responds to my resume and job application, I'll be forced to either drop to once a week only, switch studios, or be so unlucky as to drop ballet altogether. 

Is this $15/class a good price for dance classes? Other adult dancers, how much do you pay per class? Are you satisfied with your studio? I tried doing research on other dance studios in my area, but (get this) all I got was a bunch of "this link is missing" errors or they just won't let me click on links. So much for doing research....

How Pointe Shoes are Made

I decided to share another awesome Youtube video today! This is a special on television that shoes how pointe shoes are made!

No wonder shoes are so expensive!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review-- Center Stage

Alrighty! Another ballet movie for me to review! This one is Center Stage. It was released in 2000 with mostly unknown actors, but some make recognize the ballet director and ballet teacher. Let's get cracking!

Story's about students who have been accepted into a ballet company's workshop. Though they passed, it is more like an extended audition since three boys and three girls will be chosen to dance for the company. With so many good dancers, competition is going very tough.
This movie is the ultimate 90s cliché. Granted, this movie was just coming out of the 90s when it was released. It still has those tacky moments where they have an entire scene dedicated to a pillow fight, but still try to be all serious by having someone be bulimic. You know what I mean? Still, it doesn't mean I hated it. It kept me interested--it just not going to win awards for an original screenplay.

The characters are also cliché. And almost all the characters look the same--minus the brunette and the tall, black girl (thank god for them! Or else I wouldn't be able to tell anyone apart). A lot of the students tend to blend blandly into the background. Only a few stand out. One is the tall, black girl (a bit of a rebel). The second is the uptight snobbish girl (the brunette). And then there's the underdog character (one of the blondes). I would give names but their names hardly matter in this type of movie.
The purpose of these characters is not really to amuse us, but to create archetypes that many dancers could at least somewhat identify with. This makes the movie more personal, and thus, a more entertaining movie. Here is where they did really well. Since most of the archetypes get featured at some point, there's plenty of opportunities for those who identify with the character to feel their story.
If she looks familiar, it's because she played Doc Oct's wife in Spiderman 2
The actors and actresses are all great dancers, and I really mean that. They are phenomenal. Their acting's not bad either. It did get a bit awkward at times (I was very aware of a script and it made the fourth wall break a bit), but I much rather have a talented dancer in a dance movie than a bunch of stunt doubles and lame cuts to hide the actors' inability to dance.

Also, get used to the main girl making the same face the entire movie. Maybe this is where Natalie Portman got her inspiration for Black Swan? Hahaha

<---- Seriously, she does it a lot XD

There's also other characters. Like the boy dancers. These guys play a crucial part since they play either the gay best friend clichés or the romantic interests. Also, the ballet director, choreographer, a med-school student, and an overbearing mother. They all did pretty good work so I can't complain. The boy dancers were really, really good.

The sets are mainly in studios, dormrooms, cafeterias, and on-the-town locations. They were actually pretty nice, but studios can get pretty bland. Still, it wasn't too bad at all.
The costumes were your average clothing. For performances, they were fine, but the last ballet performance I thought looked a bit weird. Something just didn't add up with the hair, shoes, and mini-skirt.

The music was mostly pop music. Some of the ballet music was classical, especially for performances of Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. The rest of the movie's background were teen favorites of the era, and the final ballet sequence had pop and even some disco thrown in. Personally, I didn't like the disco music at all. I thought they could find something better, but hey, that's just me.

Again, not much to say about camera. They did a really nice job with the edits and offering a variety of shots for the long dance sequences. I thought it did a nice job of capturing the essence of ballet. So kudos to them!

Ballet Presence:
Ballet! Ballet everywhere! This movie is about ballet straight to the very core. Not only do you see them dancing during class and rehearsal, you also get some full-length dance sequences. 
 They did a great job of capturing the struggles during practice and emotional breakdowns during rehearsals. Whoever wrote the script also knew a bit about ballet because the main girl's main problem is her turn-out, which puts her behind the other girls in the workshop.
The final ballet sequences that feature the students are interesting. One is a traditional ballet. The other has been modernized, most likely to be a bit different and to appeal to a wider audience. It's not bad, but I loved the dancers so it made it really amazing.
Earlier in the movie, you can also see some Swan Lake and some other traditional ballets. There was actually so much dance being featured in this movie, that I had to stop taking screencaps since I had so many. This is definitely a dance movie with great dancers. Proving that if you want to make a movie about ballet, you can easily find someone who can actually dance to play the part.

Overall Enjoyment:
Despite its clichés (eating disorder, underdog, overbearing mother, focus on perfection, trying to discover oneself, etc.), the movie wasn't bad. I mean, let's face it. We're not watching this movie for the story or the characters. We just pick one of the students we identify the most with and watch the ballet. Considering this, the movie does a really nice job knowing its audience. I think it knows its cheese and fully embraces these qualities. This movie won't appeal to most audiences, I'm guessing, since it's geared toward teens and 20-somethings mostly, but it's still not a bad movie to watch if you're outside that target age-range. Do I recommend this movie? Yes. Because the dancing is awesome!

Body Double for Black Swan Speaks Out

Just when I thought I heard enough about this movie, I get this article on my Yahoo home-screen. Though I could have easily not clicked on it, my curiosity got the best of me. As usual XD. Plus, I thought it interesting that it was bashing the movie instead of praising it to high heaven.
So anyway, if you don't want to read it, here's what it says: Natalie's body double, named Sarah Lane, says that she did most of Natalie's dancing in the movie, but in order to make it seem like Natalie became amazing dancer in less than a year, they hid her body-double in the background and removed segments of her in the "making of" sections of the DVD.
The comments on the bottom from other people fall into either of these categories: "Poor Sarah :( that sucks," "It's so obviously not Natalie dancing anyway," "Natalie did an okay job for someone learning," and "It's your job to be in the background!"

My response? Pfffft... big deal. You're a body double. That's sort of your job. Plus, it was really, really obvious that Natalie did almost none of her own dancing. (Unless you consider spotting or running back and forth on stage a dance move, then she did a lot more. ) Yes, Natalie's a-MAZE-ing dancing was blown waaaaay out of proportion, but it's time to move on. Besides, why get all mouthy about it now? You should have done this around Oscar time... if ever.

I feel a bit bad now for saying Natalie's dancing was okay, even though I truly believe it. It's just that my dance teacher is friends with one of the women who trained her, so I feel like I'm insulting my teacher when I don't think Natalie's performance was anything spectacular. I want to say sorry in case she somehow comes across this blog, but it's really how I feel about this movie..

So what are your opinions? Don't be afraid to leave a comment. I'll only gouge your eyes out :P

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Manga-- Forbidden Dance

I have another ballet manga! After this, I'm planning on a Top-10 list for ballet exercises and perhaps some ballet tips I found very useful in my first couple months taking ballet. Though I understand the latter is like the blind leading the blind, I do think I have some tips that could help the basic beginner. So anyway, back on target, this is a brief look at the manga series called Forbidden Dance.

Forbidden Dance is a series with four volumes. You can read a fan scanlation online here. This series is a bit old; released in 1998.

The story is about the best dancer in her ballet school named Aya. During a competition performance of Giselle's solo, she trips and sprains her ankle. Though she recovers, she is now terrified to dance. It's not until she watches an all-male ballet troop with an impressive male dancer that she wants to try again, but she just doesn't want to dance in her ballet class, she wants to dance with the all-male troop, regardless of her own gender.
This impressive male dancer is named Akira. And he's sort of a douche-bag. He's tough, but he knows his dance. Despite his poor first-impression, Aya still wants to dance with him one day on stage. even though it's an all-male troop, offers her a deal. He tells her that if she can win first place in a national audition, she can join his group. 

Aya knows that it was in this very competition that she fell last year but wants to join the group so badly that she is willing to confront her fears. She practices with all she has in order to be up-to-par with the rest of the girls in the competition.

*spoilers ahead*

Of course, there are more complications than just overcoming her fear during the competitions. First, there is the highly-critical judge. Second is her high-strung rival. Lastly is the unsuspecting peer of Aya's, Nachan. The rival tosses insults and could jeopardize Aya's chance of winning first, but the friend of Aya's proves even more troublesome. Nachan actually sabotages her dance shoes so her feet get cut right before performing! Harsh. 

The judge is no easier. He is a British ballet instructor brought in for the competition. Though the crowd loved her early performances during the preliminaries, he criticized her dancing as unrefined. Now Aya must quickly learn what she needs to do to change her performance, or she'll risk a zero from this particular judge.

Ayais lucky enough to find the judge in the lobby. She asks him about what she did wrong and he tells her that she lacks the stability and attention to detail that mark the very purpose of ballet. Though she did many tricks, it needs more fine-tuning. Aya won't let this stop her, and borrows a video of a British dancer named Diana. She realizes that what she's lacking that Diana has is poise and working every inch of her body--right down to her fingertips. Though the finals are drawing near, she practices so she can perfect her solo from Giselle.

But that friend, Nachan, is back again. This time, when Nachan doesn't make the finals like Aya, she threatens to kill herself if Aya doesn't step down from the competition. Luckily, Akira, the troop leader, is able to calm the girl down so Aya can perform. Thanks to all of the work Aya put into fine-tuning her dance, she is able to win first place and is now aloud to join the dance troop.

Aya joins the troop but has to work extra hard to keep up with everyone. It seems that no matter what she does, she's always behind. Add to her insecurities a rival dancer, and you've got major problems in both the personal and business fields. Aya has started to fall for Akira at this point, and though she's confident in herself, the dancer to enter the scene is the very same British dancer she looked to for form correction, Diana. 

But Diana has her own problems. During a performance of Swan Lake, Aya notices that Diana's ankle is bothering her. She runs behind scenes to talk to Diana about it, but she refuses Aya to tell anyone, convinced that such a reveal would ruin her career. Aya knows she can't dance the Black Swan on her bad ankle, so offers to dance the Black Swan for her. How they could swap a 100% Japanese girl for a 100% British girl and have NO ONE backstage notice is beyond me (they do notice during the performance, but only by her dancing).

But Aya is able to hold her own and perform the moves that she knew Diana wouldn't be able to do if she wants to finish the ballet. Thanks to Aya taking over, Diana is able to finish up the last act easily.

 This helps Diana and Aya sort of make peace, but it by no means helps end all problems. Diana collapses at the end of the performance and must be taken to the doctor. They are unsure if she'll be able to dance again, which greatly upsets Diana. Akira is revealed to have gone to the same ballet school as Diana when they were younger, and apparently, were quite close. Aya learns this information and becomes jealous again of all the attention he gives to her.

Still, Aya doesn't let this interrupt her work. She continues to practice hard to be able to keep up with the senior members, but it's still not enough. When Akira tries to get a sponsor for the group, the sponsor says he'll support the troop if Aya sits out. This angers her, but she doesn't let this get her down. She's convinced that if she practices enough, she'll be let on stage.
Remember to read right to left!
The groups also practices hard, but Akira must leave for a while to help return Diana back to Britain. This puts the entire group on edge since he's the star performance, but Aya also sees an opportunity. If Akira can't dance, she will take his place. She cuts her hair to blend in more with the boys and starts practicing more than ever.

Luckily Diana returns home safely. Her ankle is looking better and she may even be able to dance on it. The troop's show starts, but Akira barely has time to make it home in time. Aya must take the stage in his place for the time being. She dances, unbeknown to the audience and sponsor, but the crowd is getting anxious--they came to see Akira dance, but he isn't there.
 Akira arrives back just in time for the ending of the show. Aya and Akira admit their feelings for each other as Akira goes on to perform. When he steps off, he takes Aya back out with him and they dance a routine they had been practicing together. Though the sponsor isn't pleased, he admits that they worked well together. The troop will have money to keep performing and looks to have a promising future.

*end spoilers*
This was actually a really well-written, well-paced manga. Though I felt the romance was weak, I did understand a bit why she admired Akira so much. He did redeem himself in his own way, but was still kind of a douch-bag in comparison to some of the other dancers in the troop. Diana's character was a bit snoobish, but you really understood the pain she went through when she realized she might not be able to dance ever again. Aya's character was definitely the best--a strong-minded, confident woman who never gives up on her dreams and is not afraid to confront her fears. She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to work her butt off for that chance. She was a great female protagonist that I wouldn't mind having little girls look up to as a role-model.

The art was pretty good, but I'm sure you can tell from some of the scans I posted that the anatomy is bizarre. I'm not quite sure if that was creative freedom or what, but if you look, for example, at the scene where Diana injures her ankle, her hand engulfs her ankle. I doubt anyone could really do that, no matter how small your ankles. There were other bizarre mistakes, too, but it wasn't too bad overall.

Though the ballet was pretty accurate, I did notice (and this could actually be a translation error) that the acts of Swan Lake were off. The graphic novel says that the Black Swan comes out in Act 2, but she doesn't come out until Act 3. So some slight errors there, but nothing detrimental to the story.

Overall, this was a very nice story that I'm glad I read. I loved the leading lady and I loved the ballet! Very good and I highly recommend giving it a shot if you're interested.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review-- Dance, Subaru!

Time for another ballet movie! This one is a Japanese film called Dance, Subaru! It's based off a manga by the same name. I haven't read the original manga, so I can't compare this film to its original source, but I'll do what I can! Unfortunately, since it is Japanese, I had to watch this on Youtube. You can find it up on Youtube with subtitles, but the quality is really poor. What this means is that I won't have great screencaps for you guys to enjoy this time around, sadly.

The story is about a young girl named Subaru. She and her twin brother love to dance. After sneaking a peek into a dance studio's rehearsal for Swan Lake, they promise each other to become great dancers one day. But unfortunately for her brother, that is never to happen since he develops brain cancer at a very young age. The tumor causes him to forget memories, but Subaru's dancing allows him to remember her even just for a bit.
A sad day comes when her brother doesn't survive his cancer and dies. Subaru is devastated and wanders away during the funeral. She comes across a brightly lit building that calls itself the "Palais Garnier." She enters the building and finds a small dance company. It's hardly professional and tends to specialize more in humorous ballet and stripping than classical ballet, but Subaru finds herself a niche there with the workers.

Years go by and Subaru is working at the Palais Garnier as a dancer. She dances only during select times during the day/week since she is still in high school and the owner doesn't want her working as a stripper. As she is performing, an American named Liz Park takes note of Subaru's dancing. Liz senses a rival and presses Subaru forward a bit in order to strengthen her dancing. 
Subaru and her childhood friend, Mana
Liz isn't the only one, a childhood friend of Subaru's, also a dancer, named Mana, pushes Subaru to audition for a ballet company. When Subaru is accepted into the company, new paths are open for her. She gets a part in Swan Lake and decides to enter a ballet competition. This is where her story really begins.

The story wasn't bad. There were parts where I was really confused, but it wasn't too complicated or too simple. There was enough drama to keep me interested, and overall, it was paced really nicely.

The characters, hmmm... I'm actually not quite sure how to go about this. The characters were fine. Subaru is a bit aloof and almost mysterious. She tends to keep to herself and will only show herself to those she really trusts. Her supporting characters are also admirable in their own ways. I found Liz particularly interesting. She purposely helps Subaru improve so she could have a rival. Interesting....
It's actually the actors that I'm more interested in. These scene-stealers are definitely the actress playing little Subaru, the actor playing little Subaru's brother, and the actress who plays Liz Park.

The kids playing the younger versions of Subaru and her brother are amazing. The amount of emotion the little girl can portray is really good for someone as young as her. Her little cat dance for the brother is also adorable. Their performance left me amazed.
Liz Park and Subaru Miyamoto
Liz Park's actress is also amazing. Why? For one, she's speaking Japanese and it's not her native language; she's Korean. Not only that, but her accent isn't too bad! Second, she learned ballet for this role. Granted, it's not amazing, but it's not bad either. Third, she's a model, not an actress. The fact that she can play a somewhat selfish, genius dancer is pretty amazing to me. I'm impressed and slightly gobsmacked because I can't learn Japanese as well as her in such a short amount of time. She worked really hard for this role, good for her!

Hmm, not much to say. The setting is in Japan, mostly in the Palais Garnier building. Then there's the dance studios and competition. The settings they pick work for the story. 
The costumes I can't really comment on either. They are either street clothes or their performance clothes. The tutus they wore for Swan Lake looked like your traditional tutus so there's not much to really say here.

Hmmm, music. I didn't really notice anything that amazed me, to be honest. Some classical music was used, like the Little Swans' song from Swan Lake and "Bolero." The other music didn't wow me.

The camera was, actually, really good. There were some really nice shots that I wish I could show you guys, but the quality is so bad it ruins it. For instance, in the Palais Garnier, the owner was speaking in her office. A window opening to the stage below showed the dancers performing as the director spoke with an employee. I loved how they did that since it add depth to the scene.

Also, the editing for the dancing was really good. They did a nice job of matching up the scenes with previously performed moves; as well as transitioning from dancer to dancer during the competition scenes. Also, since the actors weren't professionals, the edits between the actors and their body doubles were really nicely shot. The seemingly effortless shots really made this worth watching.

Ballet Presence:
This entire movie is full of ballet. Though there is other drama, it centers itself around Subaru's dancing. Sadly, the dancer playing Subaru isn't a really good dancer, so her dancing scenes are limited, and those we do get you wish you didn't get. 
For instance, there's this scene where Liz and Subaru's pseudo-boyfriend take her to a hip-hop club to loosen up and learn how to dance with a group of people. The result is...painful. Instead of hip-hop, you get this. No joke.
So though ballet was present, it was mainly only passable with the lead. Everyone else did a really nice job otherwise.

Overall Enjoyment:
This movie was actually really well made. I do wish that there was more dancing and that the lead dancer could be a little better of a dancer, but the director clearly knows what he's doing and is incredibly talented. He knows how to get just the right shot and it pays off during the dance sequences. Despite all this, after seeing it once, I feel as if I've seen it all, really, so I probably wouldn't be willing to watch it a second time. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review-- Trudie Styler's Scult & Tone Ballet

Last but not least for my exercise reviews is the Trudie Styler's Scult & Tone Ballet. Trudie Styler isn't an exercise guru or a professional dancer and probably isn't qualified for this type of exercise, but luckily, she is joined with a man who is. Let's take a look into this to see how I found this particular exercise DVD.

This DVD has several parts. First there are the exercises, a footwork tutorial, and then some bonus material. The two exercises are 25 minutes each and, though they can be completed all at once, are really meant to be completely separately at different times. In fact, both exercises are identical; they just swap out the barre with a chair. So if you think you're getting two exercises in one, think again. It's the exact same thing.

The footwork tutorial doesn't really go over proper ballet form as much as it just slows down the exercise. This is nice, but if you have ballet training, it shouldn't be too hard to be able to keep up with the exercises. Also, since you are doing pliés, it's probably best if you get some ballet training before completing this video. If you've never learned proper form, you could damage your knees. (Trust me, it will hurt after awhile if you don't get a professional to help you.)

Despite the slight rip-off with the identical exercises, I really liked the choreography for the exercise. I felt really stretched out and was sweating by the end of the workout. This exercise is heavily based on ballet, so there are no periods of crunches, push-ups (well, adapted push-ups where you use the barre), or other similar exercises that you'd find in a bootcamp video. Though this video has strong ballet influences, there are no jumps, so if you're worried about too heavy impact on your legs or knees, you'll be fine with this exercise. You almost never let go of the barre and will always have it there for your support in all the exercises.

I actually have few qualms with this exercise DVD, but one of the major issues is the instructors. James d'Silva, the man joining Trudie, seems to know what he's doing, but Trudie sometimes messes up her form. I also get the strong impression that this woman is a rich, bored housewife who decided one day to release a couple exercise videos. James attempts to connect with Trudie as they dance at the barre, yet she seems to be concentrating too hard to return the connection. Also, Trudie only joins James during the barre exercise. James is alone for the chair version of the exercise and the instructional video. If you're going to put your own name in the title, you should be the main expert AND be doing most of the exercises in my opinion.

Also, the setting is nice, but is it appropriate for a ballet video? The setting is in a Buddhist chapel, and it makes me feel like I'm invading a sacred place... Granted, it's not like I'm tap-dancing on Mecca's sacred pillar, but it still feels a bit awkward at times.
The narrator's voice is what I would consider the stereotypical British accent--you know, the one that American actors use to sound "posh" or "stuck up." It's not a problem, but I couldn't shake the idea of "Family Guy" from my head. Still, he does an excellent job of keeping up with the instructors and isn't confusing in his commands. One of the best, actually, in all of the exercises I've reviewed on here.

The camera is also great. The quality of the picture is clear. It's evident that there was great thought behind the zooms, cuts, and sweeps of the instructors as they perform their moves, and it leaves a seamless transition between moves. 
The music is also really, really nice. The DVD says it was composed and performed by a member of Sting, which makes sense because Trudie, here, has some major connections. The music was perfect. It was contemporary while being reminiscent of classical pieces. I loved how calming it was, and it was quite beautiful.

The bonus features are...weird. Like why would I give a crap about having a tour of Trudie's home? Or see behind-the-scenes footage of Sting's new musical video? Oh that's right, I don't give a crap. And I don't want to make eco-friendly wine, either. Completely pointless, but there is a bonus 10-minute meditation section if you are into that sort of thing. I looked a bit at it, and it seemed fine to me even though I don't really meditate.

Workout: 9/10
Instructor: 7/10
Setting: 8/10
Camera: 9/10
Level: Advanced-Expert
Is it actually ballet? Yes
Overall: 8/10

Overall, not a bad DVD at all. I was pleasantly surprised at how ballet the exercise actually was. Though Trudie is lackluster and pretty much just flaunting her wealth throughout the whole DVD,  I still feel like I had a decent workout at the end, which makes me give it a high score of 8.
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