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Subject: alt.arts.ballet FAQ 3: Dance and You

This article was archived around: Mon, 2 Aug 2004 13:32:18 +0000 (UTC)

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Archive-name: dance/ballet-modern-faq/part2 Posting-frequency: bimonthly Last-modified: Jul. 21, 2004
================================ Part 3 of seven parts ================================ Copyright (c) 1995-2004 by Thomas Parsons; all rights reserved. This FAQ MAY NOT be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, BBS, or Web page, without the written consent of the author. This FAQ MAY NOT be distributed in part or in full for financial gain. No portion of this FAQ may be included in commercial collections or compilations without express permission from the author. ================ Contents: PART 3. BALLET, MODERN DANCE, AND YOU 3.1. When should I start taking ballet? 3.2. When should I start taking modern dance? 3.3. I'm in my early twenties; it it too late for me to start a professional career in ballet? 3.4. I'm 35 (or 45 or 55 or...) years old. Is it ridiculous for me to consider ballet classes? 3.5. I'm thinking of returning to ballet after --- years; how should I start? Are there videos I can buy? 3.6. I'm a man. I feel funny about taking ballet classes. I mean, isn't it...er...a little...? 3.7. Okay, I'm starting ballet. What equipment do I need? 3.8. I'm a guy! Do I *have* to wear tights? 3.9. Where can I buy dancewear? 3.10. How can I make a tutu? 3.11. How do I find/choose a school or teacher? 3.12. How can I tell if a teacher is good? 3.13. If the teacher makes me feel good, won't I become overconfident? 3.14. I live in ----; where can I take classes? 3.15. I don't know a thing about ballet and I'm trying to select a school for my child. What should I look for? 3.16. What is this "Dolly Dinkle" business, anyway? 3.17. What about studying in a university dance department? 3.18. Where can I find out about Summer dance programs? 3.19. I took my first class and I couldn't understand what was going on! 3.20. I keep getting mixed up! 3.21. What is "B-plus"? 3.22. What are the basic movements in dance? 3.23. How can I learn to raise my leg over my shoulder, the way I see other dancers doing? 3.24. When can my daughter start toe dancing? 3.25. I'm an adult beginner. Am I too old for pointe? 3.26. I'm 5'7" (or whatever) high. Am I too tall for ballet? 3.27. What is a career in dancing like? 3.28. My daughter's gym classes are interfering with her ballet training. What can I do to make the school listen? 3.29. How can I build a proper floor for dancing? 3.30. How high should a ballet barre be? 3.31. I'm job hunting. Any tips for preparing a resume? ================ 3. Ballet, Modern Dance, and You 3.1. When should I start taking ballet? The answer to that depends on how old you are. Children must wait until their bones are strong enough to stand the strain that dancing will put on them. Opinions differ as to exactly when that happens, and it depends a great deal on the individual, but it seems to be somewhere between ages six and nine. Younger children will often profit from special dance classes, in which the emphasis is on rhythm, spatial sense, musical sense, and placement. If you are older than that, the answer is, right away. The sooner you start, the better. If you start in your teens, you may be able to dance professionally, or you may not. Igor Youskevitch didn't start until he was 22, and he became a star; but he was Igor Youskevitch. By that age, most people can look forward to ballet only as a recreation. (But it is a *wonderful* recreation!) 3.2. When should I start taking modern dance? Opinions vary; some say, Right away; others say, After you've had a year or two of ballet to lay a foundation. A great deal depends on the individual. Ballet teaches a vocabulary of movement which has largely been rejected by modern dance; and some people find that ballet inhibits the kind of movement favored in modern dance. But ballet is unparallelled for strengthening your body and for teaching you to think of it as an instru- ment of dance. For many people, the ideal may be to take ballet and modern concurrently, if that's feasible. 3.3. I'm in my early twenties; it it too late for me to start a professional career in ballet? It's not impossible--it has been done before--but the odds are against it. Leigh Witchel offers more details: The average age of a woman starting ballet is between eight and eleven, of a man, often in his teens. Later is not unheard of; Melissa Hayden began at 15, Igor Youskevitch at 22. A word of warning, however: As you grow older, developing flexibility is infinitely more difficult. If you do not have a natural facility, you will be fighting an uphill battle the whole way and may find the pain too great to be worth it. Also, for a woman, developing the ankle strength and articulation of the feet necessary for pointe work takes around five years, which adds another handicap. Moreover, at the onset of training, you can really only take so many classes a week without risking injury. So the roads of an amateur and professional do not diverge until at least a little way into training. At that point, take a good look at what you are doing, your progress in relation to others, and how happy it is making you. Are you ready to play a game of catch-up that may be sisyphean? It may be worth the struggle. See also the following question. 3.4. I'm 35 (or 45 or 55 or...) years old. Is it ridiculous for me to consider ballet classes? This topic has come up repeatedly. The answer is No. We have a number of dancers on a.a.b. who started in their thirties or later. Many of them hesitated at first, then plunged in. It would be ridiculous only if you were contemplating a career in ballet at that age; most ballet dancers retire in their forties. (There have been some notable exceptions, however: Auguste Bournonville [Question 4.8.2] choreographed roles for dancers in their sixties; in his _Memoirs_ Casanova describes a dazzling bravura performance by Louis Dupr'e, who was then sixty; and Pavel Gerdt continued to dance until he was 70.) But if you are 45 or older, you are presumably not looking for a professional career. The consensus on a.a.b. is that if your body can still handle the exertion, you can start at any age. The King of Sweden was still playing tennis in his nineties. Ballet is tougher than tennis, but if you can handle it...why not? (Someone on the Net wrote, "Socrates learned to dance when he was 70 because he felt that an essential part of himself had been neglected." And one poster on this group was in a class with a World War II veteran who started taking classes at the age of 72.) Much the same answer applies to taking modern dance, with increased force. Aging affects modern dancers much less than it does ballet dancers; modern dancers will keep performing almost until they drop. One of the main problems for older dancers, particularly in ballet, is getting the teacher to take you seriously, and the older you get, the more acute this problem becomes. Ballet is the most ageist of the arts, after all. But pursuing an art as a recreation doesn't preclude pursuing it seriously and knocking yourself out to do the absolute best you can at it. Many teachers don't seem to realize this. You should be getting cor- rections the same as other, younger dancers. You are paying for instruc- tion, not just for space, an accompanist, and the balletic equivalent of a square-dance caller. Most teachers will judge your seriousness by how hard you work in class and how regularly you come to class. But if you are working hard and still feel you aren't being taken seriously as a dancer, complain. Don't let them treat you as if you had accidentally doddered into a ballet class on your way to the nearest Senior Center. Other observations on this topic from people on a.a.b. follow. Note that many of these apply equally well to dancers starting in their late teens or twenties (Question 3.3). 1. Take classes as often as you can. At the very start, it may not be a good idea to overdo it, but once your body is up to it, try for at least three classes a week. Learning is much faster then. Two people on this group report that the brain adapts physically in response to classes and that this adaptation progresses more rapidly if you take several classes per week. 2. In older dancers--as well as with younger dancers--many of the big- gest problems are intellectual, not physical. It takes a great deal of concentration to remember the steps that go into a given exercise. The ability to remember how a combination goes does not generally come naturally; it must be learned. Many newcomers are alarmed at the fact that their minds are not up to this; but it takes time for the mind to pick up this ability. It also takes time for the various steps--and there are so many of them!--to get "into your muscles" so you can do them and link them together at short notice. 3. Discouragement is the beginning dancer's worst enemy. Many of us have been dismayed to discover that ballet is much more difficult than we would have expected. It is particularly disheartening the first couple of times when you find that you just can't do some combination at all and have to stand on the side watching the others. And even after that passes--which it will--you may still feel that you are the worst klutz in the class. But (a) everybody else will be too worried about their own performance to notice you and (b) many on this group have reported that, when they had a moment to look around, they discovered that the others are doing no better than they were. 4. As an older dancer you have the advantages of greater maturity, life experience, and motivation. Older dancers tend to listen more carefully and to make a more serious effort to follow instructions. Indeed, one of the dangers is that you may try so hard that you forget that you are here to dance. Occasionally it helps just to forget about all the technicalities (for a moment), loosen up, and just dance. Finally, a word from Shannon: Personally I love teaching adults and would probably quit teaching if I couldn't have at least one class with them. I always come away from the studio with a smile on my face. 3.5. I'm thinking of returning to ballet after -- years; how should I start? Are there videos I can buy? Your best bet is to look for a school (question 3.11), just as if you were starting for the first time. There's not much you can learn from watching videotapes; the consensus of the group has been that your money is much better spent on classes. Steve Keeley put his finger on the main failing of dance videos: they can't give you corrections. You may want to observe a class, if you can, and see how it looks. If you still remember enough (in your mind and your muscles), you will quickly find your proper level, but take a beginners' class when you first go back. 3.6. I'm a man. I feel funny about taking ballet classes. I mean, isn't it...er...a little...? Well, it isn't easy for a man to start ballet, at least in English- speaking countries. There are a number of reasons for this. (1) There seems to be a persistent feeling, at least in our culture, that dancing of any kind is somehow *unmanly.* (2) We wear those tights, showing off our legs, our butts, and our male endowment: surely no "normal" man would go about dressed like that, even on stage! (3) Some of the movements in ballet, especially the use of the arms, look a little...well...flowery. (4) Many male dancers have been gay and have made little or no attempt to conceal the fact. Let's look at these points. (1) When I was a kid, nobody ever said explicitly that dancing was unmanly, but the idea was somehow in the air. (In grade school they tried teaching us folk dancing; the girls loved it; we boys hated it.) If you've internalized this attitude, then you have a real obstacle to overcome if you've ever contemplated ballet classes or have had them urged upon you. All I can say is that a ballet class is not a lot of effeminate flouncing about. It's damned hard work, demanding precision, discipline, concen- tration, and control. It's not for wimps. Take one ballet class, and you'll discover that; it will hit you like a ton of bricks, and the next day you'll ache from one end of your body to the other. I should point out that classes aren't like performances. Most of the classic ballets are about legends, fairy tales, or supernatural beings like enchanted swans. This kind of thing tends to be off-putting for many men, and the notion that this must be what classes are like is likely to repel any man. But ballet classes are nothing like that. They aren't about swans. They're about speed, coordination, stamina, and strength. You can be sure Knute Rockne didn't send football players to ballet classes so they could imitate swans on the playing field. (2) Dancewear is related to those demands. Dance involves your entire body, and there is great emphasis not only on how you move, but on how you hold yourself. In performance, every movement must be shown off to best advantage to the audience, and in class, every movement must be subjected to the minutest scrutiny from your teacher. The ideal, I suppose, would be to dance naked, but since this is generally unacceptable, the clothes worn must reveal everything, especially the muscles of the legs and hips. Hence the use of leotards and tights, designed to be as revealing--and unforgiving--as possible within the limits of decency. (3) The movements in ballet arise from three traditions: folk dancing, the body language of the 16th-century French court, and fencing. (Think of how a fencer holds his free arm, for example.) The use of the arms was strongly influenced by the last two of these traditions and was further refined as ballet was transformed from an amateur activity to a professional, theatrical art. If it bothers you when the teacher tells you to move the arm slowly and gracefully...well, that's just part of the tradition, and you just have to get used to it. (4) As for gay men in dance, sure, there are many gay dancers. There are also many gay accountants, athletes, clergymen, construction workers, engineers, journalists, lawyers, policemen, politicians, professors, scientists, writers...the list goes on and on. If gays are more visible in ballet, it's probably because there has been, historically, less prejudice in the performing arts and, in ballet, more emphasis on sheer ability. But the gay guys are in class for the same purpose as the straight guys and the gay and straight women--to develop and improve their technique and style in one of the most difficult and exacting arts known to man. If being around gay men makes you nervous, then yes, you are going to be uncomfortable in a ballet class (and lots of other places as well). I can only suggest, repectfully, that you do what I had to do myself: grow up and become more secure in your own sexuality. Many times, actually, you'll find you're the only man in the class. If you're serious and work hard, the women will love having you there. You will be surrounded by young women who are as scantily clad as you are. You are there to work, not to ogle, but there's no denying that it's *very* pleasant to work in such company. And yes, it's a great place to meet girls. And when you dance across the floor, you can watch the girl in front of you and try to dance with her, as if the two of you were partners. It isn't as good as actual partnering, but it adds a great deal to the enjoyment of a class, and I think it improves your dancing. I'll tell you this: once you are caught up in a ballet class and struggling with the work, you don't have time to be worried about "manliness." And if you contemplate a professional career, the prejudice will work in your favor. Aspiring ballerinas are abundant, but male dancers are a scarce commodity. Someone once told me that, in the 1950s, all a man had to do to get a job with American Ballet Theatre was be able to walk without crutches! That's no doubt an exaggeration, and very unfair to ABT and their dancers, but it suggests what the employment situation can be for a man. 3.7. Okay, I'm starting ballet. What equipment do I need? For males, tights, a T-shirt (or, optionally, a leotard), a dance belt, and shoes. For females, tights, a leotard, and shoes. For either sex, a "unitard" (a single garment combining tights and top) is also acceptable. Modern dancers tend to go barefoot and are less likely to wear tights. Tights and T-shirt (tucked in) are the traditional wear for ballet classes. They offer an unobstructed view of the leg muscles all the way up to the hip where turnout (Question 2.9) originates. But these days, things have become very casual, and in many schools dancers may be seen wearing anything from bicycle shorts to warmup pants. Studios are rarely air- conditioned, because the muscles are more supple and flexible when warm, and in hot weather bare legs are commonplace. Unitards with legs cut off in mid-thigh are popular. When in doubt, ask your teacher or observe what others in the class wear. The tights can be running tights of the kind you can get in most sporting-goods stores; but hold out for solid colors. Some teachers are fussy about colors and others aren't; moreover, some schools have a dress code in which color indicates your level in the school. When in doubt, ask your teacher before you buy. Otherwise, black or navy blue is a safe choice for men and black or pink is a safe choice for women. Lycra tights are much more forgiving in the matter of fit than all-nylon ones are. Men's tights must not sag at the crotch: use suspenders, use a belt (draw the tights up high and roll them over the belt), or wear a unitard. The sensible thing would be to wear a leotard over the tights to keep them pulled up, but for some unfathomable reason only women wear leotards over the tights; men who wear leotards wear them *under* the tights. (This rule has been frequently, and successfully, challenged, however.) Footed tights look better, but unfooted ones are less apt to sag; if you choose to wear a unitard, you may prefer an unfooted one. A dance belt is the dancer's equivalent of an athletic supporter. (Don't try to get by with a supporter; get the belt.) It's a funny-looking thing, designed to prevent elastic lines showing through the tights. It holds the male organs up against the abdomen, to avoid strains on the sup- porting ligaments. The wide fabric panel in front supports the virilia; the narrow strap in the back fits between the buttocks to hold the belt in place. A dance belt takes some getting used to, but it is essential for ballet training, since it affords the teacher an unobstructed view of the muscles in the upper thigh. NEVER try to dance without the belt; doing so entails the risk of abdominal strains which can be very painful and may take several days to subside. (There is also a discussion of dance belts in the alt.lycra FAQ at http://members.aol.com/rg1004/lycra.faq.html.) The shoes are ordinary ballet shoes; pointe shoes come later on. Fitting ballet shoes is a real art. They should be tight but not painfully so; if you can, get a teacher or an experienced dancer to check the fit. Leather shoes tend to stretch with time; canvas ones tend to shrink if washed. They come to about $30 here in New York. Not a bad price, IMHO, and once they begin to wear out, they make *wonderful* house slippers. There is a narrow lace that runs around the entire top of the shoe; you tighten this to hold the shoe on. For many dancers' feet, this isn't enough, so shoes normally come with a pair of elastic bands, which may be used to help keep the shoe on. The ends of the elastic are sewn onto the top of the shoe at a point just below the ankle bone. (Make sure the stitches do not pass through that lace, or it may not move freely.) Some dancers attach the elastic in a single loop; others make two pieces that cross over the foot. If you're as clumsy at sewing as I am, you can secure the elastic in the desired position with rubber cement. This isn't strong enough for actual wear, but it will hold the elastic in place while you're sewing it. 3.8. I'm a guy! Do I *have* to wear tights? For some reason, many men have problems with this, especially teenagers. And yes, you probably have to. They're worn for a reason, not just to make you look ridiculous or like a sex object <grin>. Your teacher needs to be able to see how the muscles in your legs work, as explained in the previous question. Any garment that obscures these lines interferes with proper instruction. I suppose you could get by wearing some of the alternatives men- tioned in the previous question; but what's the matter with tights, anyway? They're worn in the gym, by cyclists, by joggers, even on the ski slopes. There may well be more men wearing tights to-day than at any previous time in history. So why worry about wearing them in ballet class? One other point: When you start ballet, you are entering a new world, a completely different one with its own standards, ends, and customs. Such an experience is a rare gift, one not granted to everybody, and you should make the most of it. You should relish all the little peculiarities of the balletic tradition as well as the hard work in class. For me these peculiarities include the funny clothes we wear; these are as much a part of ballet as the gown and wig worn by Horace Rumpole are a part of English law. (And if you think tights are strange, wait until you see how ballet shoes are made.) 3.9. Where can I buy dancewear? There are stores that specialize in dancewear. Try the Yellow Pages; look at the ads in a magazine like Dance Magazine; or look in the files `mailorder.txt' and `shoes.txt' in the Dancers' Archive. It's harder to find dancewear for men than for women, because the market is smaller and many places do not stock clothing for men, or stock only a very limited selection. For men's tights, try sporting-goods stores, and remember also that tights are unisex. As long as you don't get sheer pink tights with red spangles, who's going to know whether you're wearing men's or women's? In cases of absolute desperation, you can try women's non-dance tights, available in any department store--but be warned that they're usually very sheer and look funny on a man. If you have to resort to these, try a light color: the sheerness is not as obvious in that case. (And beware of that conspicuous gusset or panel between the legs on many brands that marks them as women's tights. That can be embarrassing if you should do a cambr'e forward or a promenade en arabesque. I've seen some women's tights by Danskin that do not have the panel.) Buying shoes is troublesome, because it takes time to learn how to tell when a shoe fits properly. (It must fit like a glove.) Salespeople in dancewear stores may or may not know. It may be a good idea to show the shoes on your feet to your teacher and get him/her to pass on them. 3.10. How can I make a tutu? I know of two sources of information. First, _Beginning Ballet_, by Joan Lawson (London: A & C Black, New York: Theatre Arts, 1994, ISBN 0-87830- 056-2), has some simple designs for dance costumes, including a tutu. Second, Claudia Folts has written a set of four books (see the Reading List, Section 6.1.12) that provide instructions and patterns. They are available from Tutu.Com PO Box 472287, Charlotte, N.C. 28247-2287 USA (704) 542-2433 Fax: (704) 542.1564 Orders: (800) 420-2080 Email: tutuclub@aol.com Web: http://www.tutu.com 3.11. How do I find/choose a school or teacher? If you know any dancers, ask them. If you don't, look in the Yellow Pages under dance instruction. You can also call the city's leading dance company (if you have one) and ask whether they have a school. There's also an extensive database on dance schools at http://www.pav.org/schools/CITYSEARCH.HTML And you can post in this group. If there are more than one studio, as there will be in large cities, go and try them all out. You will soon know when you are being well taught (see the next question). Here are some of the things you should look for: Does the class conform to the traditional format--barre, _adage_, and allegro? A place that offers something like ballet, jazz, and tap in a single class is not the place for you (unless there's no other choice where you live). Anything but pure, undiluted ballet (or modern) is not for you. Even if you plan eventually to dance in another tradition, ballet is the place to start. If you're an adult, do they offer a special introductory course for absolute beginners? Such courses are rare, but priceless; go for one if it's offered. Are you made to feel that you are really *dancing*, right from the first exercises at the barre? Is dance taught as movement or only as static poses? How much individual attention and correction do you get? An experi- enced dancer can do with less, but a beginner needs a great deal. Does the teacher instruct you in the use of the head and arms, even at the barre, or does (s)he just let your arms hang down like limp spaghetti? A great deal of what makes theatrical dance theatrical is the way the dancer uses his or her head and arms. The audience probably notices these more than the feet. Does the teacher show a good working knowledge of anatomy, and does (s)he pass that knowledge on to you? How does the teacher look when (s)he moves? Do you enjoy watching him/ her move? We learn in part by conscious or unconscious imitation; is your teacher someone you want to imitate? Do they take time to show you how to do an unfamiliar step? Many teachers seem to expect you to pick a step up by watching the others; but watching the others is a bad habit. It makes you rely on the others instead of developing concentration. What is the atmosphere? Is it a warm, pleasant place to be? A good teacher explains, challenges, and encourages students--and answers their questions--without being condescending or putting them down. A good teacher gains the respect of his/her class by showing respect for them. How long is the class? The standard is an hour and a half; some studios give you only an hour and a quarter, which is too rushed. Other things being equal, hold out for the full hour and a half. Do they have a live accompanist, or taped music? Some excellent schools use tape, but a live accompanist is nearly always better. Do they have you dance to fine (classical) music? Barbara Early's book, _Finding the Best Dance Instruction_ (see the References in Part 4) is an excellent guide. One final word: Don't be put off by a ratty-looking studio. Ballet schools are frequently hand-to-mouth operations, with little or no money to spare for decor or even maintenance, and the best instruction I ever had anywhere was in an atrociously ugly, shabby, and depressing plant. 3.12. How can I tell if a teacher is good? I don't know whether you can, at the very start, although if (s)he makes class an unpleasant experience, (s)he's bad. One way to find out is to shop around if you can. The guidelines in question 3.11 should help. After you've tried three or four, you will know who's good, or good for you, at any rate. Part of the problem is that a good teacher for one dancer may not be so for another. The ideal teacher is the one who gives you what you need just now. Again, don't hesitate to *shop around*, even if you feel satisfied with your current teacher. Many people have discovered wonderful teachers just because their regular teacher was, for some reason, unavailable. 3.13. If the teacher makes me feel good, won't I become overconfident? Ballet is a difficult and exacting art, and for most of us progress is slow. Because of this, the danger isn't overconfidence but discourage- ment. Besides, people who feel good about themselves tend to perform better at most things than people who don't. If you are seriously worried about this, try alternating classes with a "feel-good" teacher and a fusser. The feel-good teacher will keep you dancing and the fusser will keep you honest. (The ideal is a teacher who does both.) In any case, feeling good really comes from knowing you have given the class your best effort (and the *best* feeling comes the day you discover you can do a step or combination you never imagined you could do). 3.14. I live in ----; where can I take classes? Again, look in the yellow pages or ask around. There is also a listing in the back of Dance Magazine every month. A project is in the works to compile a directory of schools for the Dancers' Archive. There's no telling, at this point, when it will be ready or how comprehensive it will be. But you can also post that question to this group; that's one of the things this group is for. Another alternative, if you are looking for a school outside your own area, is to use the nationwide Yellow Pages, available on CD-ROM at many public libraries. Look for Dance Instruction and copy the names. You may be able to get further information on schools from Dance/USA. Bonnie Brooks writes: Dance/USA has listings and Member Profiles on all of its member companies available (there is a cost for the Member Profiles), as well as local and regional dance service organizations. Address and phone: Dance/USA 1156 15th Street N.W. Suite 820 Washington, DC 20005 phone: (202)833-1717 fax: (202)833-2686 email: danceusa@tmn.com If there are particular cities you're interested in, we can also look at our entire database of dance companies (including non-members) to give you information about dance activity in particular cities. We don't have extensive information about non-members, but either way it would be a start. You can also consult colleges and universities in your area. Dance Magazine publishes an annual College Guide, usually announced in their February or March issue. The current (1996) price is $20.45 (US) including postage and handling; write to 33 West 60th Street, 10th Floor, New York, New York 10023 or call (212) 245-9050. 3.15. I don't know a thing about ballet and I'm trying to select a school for my child. Where should I look? And what should I look for? Barbara Early's book, _Finding the Best Dance Instruction_, listed in the References in Part 4, is a good place to start. Some of the pointers in the previous question also apply here. In addition, here are some suggestions posted by people on alt.arts.ballet. (Thanks to Sheila <LEHNERS@msn.com>, Frances Kemmish, the Collier Family, and Lobelia, from whose posts the following points were gathered.) These pointers are in no particular order. Note that many of them require observing a class; some teachers don't permit this, in which case you may have to resort to a little discreet espionage. As for where to look, you can try the Yellow Pages, but they don't provide any guidance. Staff at a dancewear store may be dancers, and you can try them. If there's a professional company where you live, try calling them and asking for suggestions. And Jeffrey Salzberg points out that many cities have dance councils which may be able to help you. As for evaluating a school, note first that, as Sheila points out, if your child is very young (age 4 or 5), (s)he should start with a creative movement class, not half tap, half ballet. From this (s)he should move on to ballet or modern. Tap can be started at any time but is truly not as beneficial as ballet. Specific points: Does (s)he have authority and assurance when teaching? Does (s)he hold the attention of the class or are there children running about and chattering out of control? This of course is an indication of the teacher's ability to control the class and create a good learning environment. Do the students seem to be performing the movements with ease and grace? That's right!! When proper foundations are built and students are taught at their own level, new steps come naturally and even Miss Klutz looks like (s)he knows what (s)he is doing! Does (s)he have some good common sense? Does the teacher explain what (s)he wants in terms the student can understand? Does (s)he demonstrate the movements carefully and take trouble over getting them right, or does (s)he seem to think that limbering and high kicks are all that matter? Does (s)he carefully 'break down' (take apart) new movements? Does (s)he generally give corrections, or does (s)he just show the steps and let the pupils get on as best they can? When (s)he makes corrections, does (s)he immediately follow up with praise when the child shows an effort to improve? Does the teacher use humor (but not sarcasm) to relax the class? Is her criticism constructive or destructive? Have the students been inspired to work hard and find pleasure in that work? What mattered to me [the mother of a three-year-old] was the attitude of the teachers, who were kind and generous and loving to the children. Does (s)he encourage the children to be expressive in their dancing by describing or having them describe the mood of the music or the movement? Does (s)he insist on pupils being neatly dressed (and is (s)he neatly dressed herself)? Another poster puts it this way: Do the students appear to be well groomed with hair neatly away from the face and dressed modestly in leotard and tights? Some people feel that students who are dressed uniformly work better as a group. It may also be easier for the teacher to spot mistakes. Does the class appear to be at a similiar age (within 3 years) and development? Speak to some of the other "ballet moms." They're probably biased, but some may be able to help you. Also do a little research on the methods of dancing (ie. Cechetti, Royal Academy etc.) and choose which you would prefer you child to do. Some say it makes no difference but some make quite a fuss about it. For mothers of young girls: at what age will the teacher let girls wear pointe (toe) shoes? Girls should not do pointe work (toe dancing) before the age of 10 or 11, because until then the bones in their feet are not well enough developed to support their weight. For further information on this point, see Question 3.23. In addition to these points, Alex Hill has provided the following list of danger signs: 1. If they display competition trophies, go somewhere else. 2. If they offer a huge variety of styles for children regardless of age, like jazz, tap, hip-hop, lyrical, tumbling, baton, etc., and especially if they offer "combo" classes with various styles combined, go somewhere else. 3. If they handle technique level promotions by age group, or by class group, rather than by individual assessment, go somewhere else. 4. As someone else mentioned, if they can't converse intelligently about a ballet syllabus (Vaganova, RAD, etc.), go somewhere else. 5. If they perform recitals where the dances are called "routines" or "numbers," go somewhere else. 6. If most classes and performances are accompanied by recorded pop music, go somewhere else. 7. If the name of the studio begins with "Miss (insert name here)'s School of Dance," go somewhere else. [Note: Someone on the newsgroup once said to steer clear of schools whose names included the words "Stage" or "Star."] 8. If it looks like many of the teachers are still in high school, go somewhere else. 9. If the instructor "teaches" by standing in front of the class with his/her back turned, expecting everyone to follow the movements, go somewhere else. 10. If the students and instructors don't habitually use French ballet terminology, go somewhere else. Schools range all the way from professional-track schools (where the emphasis is placed on eventually becoming a professional dancer) to schools for triflers (where, as Amy Reusch puts it, the emphasis seems to be on recital photo-opportunities for the parents and grandparents). In some circles, schools of the latter type are scornfully known as "Dolly Dinkle" schools. In larger cities, there's a broad spectrum from which to choose. Any professional-track school should welcome serious recreational dancers. Such students are more numerous, and, as someone posted here once, they're the backbone of the support for ballet in this country. And if you're forced to a choice between the two extremes, the professional-track school is the one to go for, because your child is more likely to be well trained there. Once you've selected a school, trust the teachers there and trust their judgement. Don't hover and don't try to second-guess the teachers. 3.16. What is this "Dolly Dinkle" business, anyway? The name was originally "Dolly Dingle," an artist's character from the 1920s or 30s. Somehow the -g- was changed to a -k- and, for some unknown reason, the name, "Dolly Dinkle," has come to be associated with everything that can go wrong in dance instruction for children. PriMoDnc <primodnc@aol.com> put it most concisely and eloquently: Dolly is the quintessential bad dance teacher, but she doesn't know that she is bad. She can be found in small towns and in large cities all of the USA, not just in the South. You can find just about any form of dance taught at her studio, none of them taught well, plus things like charm, flaming baton twirling, beauty pageant preparation, anything to do with the outer fringes of showbiz. She will have the biggest ad in the yellow pages, will belong to numerous dance organiza- tions in the hopes of adding credibility to her resume. She goes off to weekend workshops in the latest dance craze and comes back certified in two days. She loves garish costumes for her recitals, buys the recital routines mail order and is not aware that dancing on a cement floor is bad for the dancers. 3.17. What about studying in a university dance department? A. Amy Reusch compiled the following list of things to consider. Additional comments are from other posters on alt.arts.ballet. 1 - Are you hoping for a professional career as a dancer, choreographer, teacher, dance therapist, historian, critic, or not sure yet? 2 - Are you interested in ballet or modern particularly? *Comment* My opinion, which is based only on personal experience, is for classical ballet; it is by far best to get connected to a company school. The demographics clearly point towards beginning your training at an early age, though it must be admitted that men have a little more room for later starts. Yes, some can first go to college, but that some make up the small exception to the rule. I guess I'd say, take an inventory of your talents and prospects. Ballet's demands are explicit, see if you meet them, then off to the company school. --jonb@u.washington.edu 3 - Why are you considering college? Are you going to college for the academics, for conservatory training, or for the experience of "college life"? *Comment* I have a daughter who is very interested in a dance major. Actually she would like to wait on college and audition for professional programs but I am strongly against that choice. I feel my college dance degree (TCU) has gotten me much farther than my performing years (Ft. Worth Ballet) would have on their own. A college setting which provides performance opportunities seems to be the best of both worlds. --tiptoa@aol.com *Comment* I ended up at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied biology. There wasn't (and still isn't) a dance program there; it's part of the physical education department, but I was able to take some ballet and dabble in modern. I graduated with a biology degree and moved to NY to study with Merce. Two years later I became a member of the company. I would STRONGLY advise EVERYONE who is interested in becoming a modern dancer to go to college first. Even if you ARE going to study dance, I think it's so necessary to have that kind of experience where you can grow into your own person and get away from the "dancer life" for a while. College and working in a restaurant (sounds silly, I know, but so few dancers around me have EVER had a job) were the two greatest things I could possibly have done to further my under- standing of and respect for the fabulous career I have chosen. I know that I was lucky and this road may not be for everyone, but it worked for me. --banu@aol.com 4 - It's often a good idea to go to a school close to if not in a metropolitan area where it's possible to get to classes outside the University, in case you feel the need to supplement the technique classes offered there or be able to get to auditions. 5 - What kind of performance opportunities exist for students? *Comment* ...Criteria to consider might be performance opportu- nities. I have had students attend programs (Akron U. for example) where they actually get onstage very seldom. Dance is a performing art! Other programs like Butler and TCU provide many settings in which to perform often. --tiptoa@aol.com 6 - Does the school audition, or does it accept students based on their academic grades? It may be an indication of the quality of the department. 7 - What is the school's track record placing dancers in professional companies? *Comment* When you look for a school be sure that you take into consideration who's teaching and what the level of the students are at when they graduate. Are ex-students working in the field and where are they working? A schools track record is very important. Be sure to check the RECENT track record as schools' faculty changes and departments can suddenly change direction. A dance department is only as good as the faculty it currently has. --jsatinoff@aol.com 8 - How are the various schools rated? *Comment* My daughter is a serious ballet student and is consid- ering a dance major in college. We have conducted considerable research on schools that have dance majors, and I recommend that you consult a book published in 1994 by ARCO entitled "The Performing Arts Major's College Guide," compiled by the former Director of Admissions of the Juilliard School ($20.00 from local bookseller or check your public library). The book contains a listing of dance programs and categorizes them as "Most Highly Recommended Programs," "Recommended Programs," and "Other Note- worthy Programs" as determined by surveying dance and drama departments at 700 selective colleges and universities. The "Most Highly Recommended U.S. Programs" (in alphabetical order) are: Arizona State University; Boston Conservatory; Butler University; California Institute of the Arts; Hartford Ballet/University of Hartford/Hartt School; Indiana University; Juilliard School; New World School of the Arts (Fla.); New York University; North Carolina School of the Arts; Ohio State University; Southern Methodist University; SUNY, Purchase; University of California, Irvine; University of Utah; Obviously, some of these programs are better at classical ballet and others are more oriented to modern. There are another 50 or so schools mentioned as "Recommended Programs." --bond@ix.netcom.com 9 - There is more information on university dance departments available on the Internet. You can try the dance links at http://www.dancer.com/dance-links/ or Peterson's College Guide at http://www.petersons.com/vpa/select/dancese.html or do a search on dance+program on Alta Vista, Yahoo, or any of the other Web Search facilities. B. Leigh Witchel says: The question is a hard one to answer. What do you want to do? How old are you? A lot of questions need to be asked. Here's a brief impersonal checklist. If you're under the age of fifteen, stop asking this question altogether (you're too young to be making yourself nuts). If you seriously want to dance in a major ballet company, you're not going to college yet. This is really almost a given, though there are exceptions. You want to go to a good company with a good school attached which takes dancers from its school as apprentices and full company members (not all do.) The best schools are like the best colleges--their name can open doors for you. Having gone to SAB doesn't mean you are a great dancer, but it does mean that you survived the selection process and have the physical attributes necessary to do ballet as defined in America. (This can be argued, but that's the way it is for now.) If your family resists this idea, or if you yourself feel that college is more important, consider one of a few colleges which actually place dancers into company positions or consider going to a good company school and going to a local college part time, to get some of the required courses out of the way. If you choose to go to a more competitive college, you can transfer the credits later. You are going to have to ask yourself seriously what your career prospects are when you make this decision. College dance is an entirely different animal than college ballet. There are quite a few colleges with modern dance programs whose alumnae regularly work in top modern companies. You should also ask yourself what you love. Learning of any sort can only improve your dancing. Exposure to other disciplines makes you a better dancer. But ballet on the top levels in this country requires a devotion verging on the monastic. C. I would add: Remember that there is life after dance, and in ballet it typically begins in your forties or fifties. (In modern dance, some people can continue indefinitely.) So start planning early for the day when you stop dancing, so you don't end up behind the counter in a fast-food place. (This has been known to happen.) 3.18. Where can I find out about Summer dance programs? You can ask in this group; but in addition Dance Magazine regularly publishes a special section on Summer programs in their January issue. There is also information on some Summer programs at <http://www.dancer.com/summer> This site is updated frequently, so it's useful to revisit occasionally. 3.19. I took my first class and I couldn't understand what was going on! This, I'm afraid, is all too typical. One's very first ballet class is apt to be an extremely discouraging experience. In the first place, ballet is *much* harder than most of us expect it to be. Second, you're asked to do things you don't know how to do (the terminology is all strange, and most of it is in French), so you stand there like a dummy while everybody else in the class goes bounding across the studio. The main problem is that the vast majority of ballet classes are ongoing: they don't start out in September with rank beginners and turn out some kind of finished product in June; they just go on and on and people can walk in and begin any time. The only exceptions to this are some children's courses and university courses, where they *do* start with rank beginners in September. And at the David Howard Dance Center in New York they used occasionally to offer a short course called "Introduction to Ballet" for those who knew nothing at all. This was the ideal way to start, because everybody in the class was presumed to be an absolute beginner, but such courses are rare. Failing this, look for Moss and Leopold's _The Joffrey Ballet School's Ballet-Fit_ (cited in the bibliography, Part 6). This book is specifically written for adult beginners and is ideal. Because of this, your classmates are all at different stages of development, especially since you may stay a beginner for two or more years and many of those supposed "beginners" with whom you're comparing yourself have that much background behind them. And just to delight you further, a few experienced dancers, and even some professionals, will occasionally show up for a beginners' class, maybe just to get an extra workout, and they *really* make you feel like a klutz. Under those circumstances, it's no wonder that so many people try one ballet class, think, "Oh, I'll never learn this!" and never come back again. Most teachers will take a little extra care when an absolute beginner shows up, but there isn't much they can do, because there simply isn't time to stop and explain each new step for newcomers and to give them all the correction they need. So even with the best intentioned teachers, it's mainly sink-or-swim. In a sink-or-swim situation, the only thing you can do is *persist*. That's what sets apart those people you watch and wonder at in your very first class: they were presented with the same discouraging picture you're seeing, and they persisted. If you are in a locale where you can shop around, you can try to find a teacher who will take time to explain things for you, but remember that in a large class it isn't practical to make everyone wait while you master the step. You are not supposed to watch the others while you dance, but at this early stage nearly everyone does. Certainly you should watch everyone when you are not dancing yourself (for example, when you are waiting your turn to do a combination). And go to performances and watch the dancers. You learn dancing through a combination of seeing, hearing, and doing. Learning your way around a studio takes time, and with time-- and sheer, dogged persistence--it will come to you. In any case, bear in mind that the other people in the class will *not*, repeat *NOT*, be laughing at you behind your back. They've all been there themselves. You will be lost a good deal of the time for perhaps the first six months, but gradually it all comes together. Some outside read- ing will help; look around in the library or in bookstores for introductory texts that describe the various steps. (Some of these are listed in the bibliography, part 6.1.) You will never learn to dance just by reading about it, but when a step has flummoxed you in class, it can help to read a description of it in the relative tranquility of your own home. You might also consider getting the ballet CD-ROM described in Question 2.18. 3.20 I keep getting mixed up! We all do; don't feel bad about it. Getting mixed up and making mistakes are to the dancer what wrong notes are to the musician or typos to the writer. And in a class, it's usually less important to do the right thing than to do whatever you do the right way and on the music. Even professionals, dancers who have been doing this for years, get mixed up; I've seen it happen. If it can happen to the pros, there's no reason for the rest of us to worry. 3.21. What is "B-plus"? B-plus is _crois'ee derri`ere_, usually used to describe the position you take before doing a combination. You stand in _crois'ee_ with the working leg to the back, relaxed and slightly bent but ready to move when the combination begins. The term originated in the New York City Ballet, and the "B" apparently stands for Balanchine. 3.22. What are the basic movements in dance? Somebody classified all the ways of moving in dance into seven categories. These are: plier, to bend 'elancer, to dart 'etendre, to stretch glisser, to glide relever, to rise tourner, to turn sauter, to leap The origin of this categorization is obscure. Contrary to what an earlier version of this FAQ stated, it is almost certainly not Noverre's (Question 4.7) work. The earliest version I have seen appears in Feuillet's _Chor'egraphie_ (Question 5.1); he omits darting and includes beats (movements in which one leg beats against the other) instead. Tom Baird has pointed out that you can't dart when wearing the heavy costumes used in Baroque dance and suggests that the list as we have it to-day must date back to the 19th Century at the earliest. 3.23. How can I learn to raise my leg over my shoulder, the way I see other dancers doing? The ability to do this is known as _extension_. It is partly a matter of training (and turnout) and partly a matter of physique. Dancing masters distinguish between two basic body types in dancers, known--in French, inevitably--as _arqu'e_ and _jarret'e_. This distinction was first drawn by Noverre (question 4.7), around 1760. The terminology is misleading, because in French, _arqu'e_ means bowlegged and _jarret'e_ knock-kneed. But although even dancers' legs are rarely perfectly straight, the difference is actually functional: An _arqu'e_ dancer is tightly knit, doesn't have much extension, but is good at jumps, while a _jarret'e_ dancer is loose-limbed, not as good at jumps, but has great extension. Noverre said it was a mistake to teach these two types of dancer in exactly the same way. If you are _arqu'e_, you will probably never get your leg over your head. But we can all improve our extension by proper exercise. Once you have been taught stretching exercises in class, you can do them daily at home, and you should. You will be surprised at how much more extension you have after a year or two. Yoga exercises are also valuable; they stretch muscles that even ballet class sometimes misses. For an excellent summary of stretching exercises, including a reading list, see the stretching FAQ by Brad Appleton, available from http://www.enteract.com/~bradapp/docs/rec/stretching/ Note that Brad's sources all recommend holding a stretch for *at least* fifteen seconds, to overcome the "stretch reflex." If they are right, then stretches at the barre, as they are done in most ballet classes, are too short; you should hold them longer when doing them at home. 3.24. When can my daughter start toe dancing? Girls must not go up on pointe (dance or exercise on their toes) until the bones of their feet are fully developed and the muscles--not only in the arches and legs, but also the lower torso--are strong enough to bear the stress. (Joan Lawson says ten; Gretchen Warren says eleven. Barbara Early quotes an orthopedic surgeon who says, not until two years after menarche. Individuals vary, however, and this must ultimately be a judgement call by the teacher. In some cases, it may be wise to get a physician's opinion as well, but pointe work before the age of ten is, or ought to be, out of the question.) They should also have had several years (at least three and preferably more) of proper training. All of this requires careful evaluation on the part of the teacher. Note that we have three requirements here: bones, muscles, and training. Once a dancer is ready, preparation for pointe work is a slow and gradual process. At first, it is just strengthening exercises at the barre--for example, simply going up on pointe and coming back down--for perhaps no more than five or ten minutes. It is only after six months to a year of this that the girls start dancing on pointe in the center. The entire process takes time and close supervision by the teacher. If a parent is knowledgeable about pointe work, (s)he should observe the pointe work to see that enough time is spent at the barre. Girls are sometimes allowed to go on pointe much younger--for example, at age 8 or 9. This may be the result of ignorance on the part of teacher, or perhaps she has knuckled under to pressure from parents who want to see their little darlings dancing on their toes. Beware of this! Starting pointe work at too early an age can do irreparable harm to those "little darlings." 3.25. I'm an adult beginner. Am I too old for pointe? It isn't out of the question. But you have to be just as careful in preparing for pointe as young children have to. Leigh Witchel summarizes: I've seen adult beginners progress to pointe work--it takes time, and their lines are usually not as refined as someone who has been working since childhood, but if this your dream there is no reason not to try it as long as you approach it sensibly and realistically. Briefly: 1) Make sure to find the best training possible, and in order to progress to pointe, you will need to take classes frequently. Once or twice a week won't do it. 2) Your technique and placement off pointe is what leads to the same things on pointe. 3) Pointe work takes ankle strength, development and flexibility. Tendus and releves, and resistance work with a theraband can help. 4) Discuss all of this with your teacher. S/he can tell you most honestly what sort of effort and preparation this might entail. Trog Woolley says: Take it slow and steady; we oldies don't bounce as well as the youngsters and if you fall over it will probably hurt a lot and could be very serious. When you start, relax, enjoy the challenge and the sensation in your body and let it happen. It will. You need to increase the strength in your ankles. There are three really good ways I know to do this. Getting on pointe is one way. Another is to take up tightwire walking (no really! I've been doing it for years and when I started on pointe, my teacher was very surprised how I didn't hobble off the floor at the end of my first session). A more practical way is to get a wobble board. I don't mean one off those musical instruments me old mate Rolf Harris plays. It's a circle of wood with a hemisphere glued in the centre. You stand on it and keep the rim off the floor. The easiest way to strengthen the ankles is to stand on a step. Just have your toes on the step and the rest of you foot out over the edge. Lower yourself as much over the edge as possible. You get a great stretch in the back of the legs. Now stand up on tip toes as high as you can. Repeat ad infinitum, lowering yourself slowly. Use the handrail to aid balance. When this becomes too easy, do them on one leg. 3.26. I'm 5'7" (or whatever) high. Am I too tall for ballet? This question comes up regularly. For anybody who simply wants to take ballet for health and recreation, the answer is No: there's no height limit. If you hope to dance professionally, I'm afraid there isn't any satisfactory answer. There have been reports on the group that women dancers are getting higher and other reports that they are getting shorter; in both cases it depends a good deal on the time frame the writer has in mind. Gretchen Warren's book, _Classical Ballet Technique_, gives the following figures for the ideal female dancer: height 5'2" to 5'8" (157 to 174 cm), weight 85 to 115 lbs (38 to 52 kg). But PNB's principal dancer Ariana Lallone is reportedly 5'11" (180 cm) tall, so there is no hard and fast rule. In practice, what's acceptable depends on the company and on the director (some companies reportedly go in for tall dancers in general) --and on whether and how badly they want you. (P.S.: Warren's figures for the ideal male: height 5'9" to 6'2" (175 to 188 cm), weight 135 to 165 lbs (61 to 75 kg). Remember, again, that these are *ideal* figures.) 3.27. What is a career in dancing like? Rough. It's demanding and highly competitive, especially for women. It is also psychologically stressful, because of the constant pressure for perfection. Salaries are better than they used to be, but still not good. Stagehands are paid better than dancers; so are typists. Your time will not be your own, since you may be called for rehearsals at any time, and your social life will suffer. In ballet, your career will be short, with poor prospects after retirement, and there is the ever- present danger of injuries. Merle Kessler said, "Football players, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of strangers." The same could be said, in lesser degree, of dancers. To make a career in ballet, you have to be head over heels in love with it: that, and talented and tough-minded--and lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. It's even harder for modern dancers; the pay is worse and the job openings fewer. The one advantage modern dancers have over ballet dancers is that their careers last longer. Ballet dancers must be young and athletic and usually retire some time in their forties. Modern dancers may go on into their eighties. 3.28. My daughter's gym classes are interfering with her ballet training. What can I do to make the school listen? A great deal depends on the form the gym class takes; don't panic until you have found exactly what the gym classes entail and have discussed the matter with your daughter's (or son's) teacher. As for what to do if it is indeed a serious problem, one poster on this group replied as follows: Primarily we have found it difficult to deal directly with PE teachers; rather, we have educated our doctor! By finding numerous articles related to ballet biomechanics and running, we were able to show our physician that good running form contradicts good ballet form. The doctor signed the school district exemption for us with the diagnosis "serious ballet student". (Similar exemptions are given to sports athletes.) If the PE teacher still fails to heed the physician's note, (which we have been told to expect in junior high here), it has been suggested to us to say to the principal "Under advice of counsel, we need the names of all who are involved in undermining our medical doctor's advice." Get from him the names of the individuals that will appear on a legal suit, whether or not you intend to proceed, including the PE teachers and the principal, or anyone else who desires to take responsibility. At this point, the principal will probably wake up. While you have his attention, explain: 1) the number of years your child has devoted to training; explain the commitment; iterate the time and expense you have contributed to support the pursuit of her dream; 2) show the state's minimum PE requirement in minutes per week, compared to the number of minutes per week your daughter trains --usually the ballet training exceeds the PE requirements by four- or five-to-one. 3) show the body of evidence that you presented to your physician, along with the physician's exemption. 4) explain the damage that PE commonly inflicts on a serious ballet student. 5) Impart the information that if your daughter does suffer injury, you will request damages based on a full ballet career, which has been denied her because of the school's inflexibility and shortsighted stupidity. In these times, authorities prioritize matters by legal threats, thus attracting what they hope to avoid. Best of luck. Write back if you are successful. --William Fitzgerald wdfitzgrld@pplant.ucdavis.edu 3.29. How can I build a proper floor for dancing?</a> First, the reason for this question: A hard, unyielding surface like concrete is a killer. To avoid injuries, you need a resilient floor. These floors are termed "sprung floors," because the construction makes the floor springy. My own opinion is that this is a job best left to professionals. But for a discussion of ways to make a sprung floor, look at http://www.dancers-archive.com/rec-arts-dance/topics/dance-floor-FAQ.txt which is a collection of e-mail messages discussing various aspects of making, finishing, and maintaining dance floors. 3.30. How high should a ballet barre be? For a studio, the short answer is, 3 feet 6 inches (107 cm) to the top surface of the barre, at least in the studios I've heard about or been able to measure myself. It's a good idea to have a second barre 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) below the first for children, shorter dancers, or those with limited extension. For private use, the answer is less clear-cut. Waist-high is one answer. Robert Joffrey, on the other hand, used to say that the hand on the barre should be the same height as the other hand when the free arm is in second position. This would place the barre even with the bottom of your breastbone. In any case, it's best if the height is adjustable to accommodate the dancer's height, especially if it is for a growing child (or children). 3.31. I'm job hunting. Any tips for preparing a resume? There is information available on line: look for http://wolfram.org/writing/ydr/index.html or consult the bibliography for Eric Wolfram's book. ================================ Continued in Part 4.... ================================ -- -- twp@panix.com | It's easier to apologize afterwards than | getting something allowed in the first place. http://www.panix.com/~twp | --Clifford Stoll