Ballet Lessons: Stay Together

Have you ever seen the entrance to the Kingdom of the Shades (from La Bayadere, one of the “White Ballets” of the classical cannon)? Or the first breathtaking appearance of the swans in a large-scale production of Swan Lake? Or the Snow scene from Nutcracker?

I mean, that’s probably a given. You’re reading this blog, and that means you have internet access and are probably at least a little bit interested in ballet, so that means you can at least watch them on YouTube, probably. (If you came via one of my bike posts, hi! and I’ve got a couple for you, too: a big group ride sweeping around a corner or a tight paceline swapping pulls).

These are some of the best-known scenes in ballet, and with good reason: they display the fundamental truth that there’s immense power in a group of individual people working together.

The entrance of the Shades might be the keenest example.

The dancers enter one by one, in a long line that will eventually double back on itself. They perform the same simple (not easy: simple), repetitive phrase over and over: arabesque (penché, in most versions), temps lié to posé tendu devant, step step, repeat.

They are not massed in a cloud, as the corps so often is. They are not aggregated in attractive little clusters, or in coruscating diagonals, or in opposing echelons. At least, not at first.

Instead, each of the Shades is essentially alone—and yet she’s also part of a whole.

The repeating phrase is nice enough on its own, but nothing you’d necessarily be transfixed by for minutes on end (or, indeed, for one minute on end, unless you’re busily analyzing technique, I guess).

The repeating phrase performed by an ever-lengthening (and eventually redoubling) line of dancers, on the other hand, is mesmerizing. It’s kaleidoscopic.

It evokes an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere even (or perhaps most effectively) when performed against a plain backdrop, with no set except a ramp upon which the advancing shades descend.

This simple phrase, without a single iota of elaboration, becomes a symphony. But it only works if the dancers stay together.

Indeed, it works because the dancers stay together.

At the height of the sequence, the redoubled chain of dancers (still executing the same phrase on the same leg) becomes … Oh, I don’t know: a restless sea; a moonlit, windblown fog racketing between two unseen hills; the very breath of the audience.

Choose whichever metaphor suits you: either way, it becomes one thing; one thing made up of a staggering array of smaller things.

But only if the dancers stay together.

~

This is where I am in my life. I spent so much of my life standing apart that I came to believe, on some level, that it was somehow better.

Participate, I thought, but don’t join.

Or, join, but not because it’s inherently good to be part of something.

Join because it’s how this thing works: but retain a measure of reserve about the very idea of joining. Remain aloof.

If you remain aloof, the unacknowledged subtext would have read, you can’t be caught off guard and hurt when, inevitably, you’re rejected. (Lessons learned in childhood die hard. When enough people have told you, no one really likes you and no one will ever like you, you come to believe it.)

And yet, as the company has transformed into a place where I feel welcome, bit by bit I find that I want to belong.

That the more I begin to feel that I want to be part of this group—that I like the people in it and the group itself and not just the work we’re doing together—the better I actually seem to dance.

When bikes were my life, I loved—loved—the incomparable symbiotic feeling of sweeping around a curve in a flock of bikes traveling at speed.

As a singer, I have always loved choral harmonies more than anything.

Even as a dancer, I love those moments of pure synchrony, especially in grand allegro (here are four separate bodies flinging themselves violently through space, and yet we are one thing because we are all doing this together!) or in partnering (the best moments, for me, are the ones in which each move seems to flow logically, even inevitably, from the last).

Why, then, am I still surprised to want to be part of something—to want, dare we breathe the word, to belong?

Ironically, I know I shouldn’t be surprised (my aloof, proud, defensive side feels downright affronted: “Of course I know that, man, what are you trying to say?!” …. to be surprised is to be less than omniscient; is to be vulnerable). Humans are social animals, and though I’m not always great at being a human, I am one anyway. Neurologically speaking, even I am wired for belonging.

Of course I want to be part of something, even if the something in question is so obscure that a great many people literally don’t understand that it exists.

(Seriously: there are a lot of people, right here in the First World, who have no idea that a professional ballet company is a thing; that we don’t just clean out the barn, rehearse a couple of times after work, and set up ticket sales).

But it surprises me anyway.

Not least, the knock-on effects: when you start cracking open the door to let people in a little—because, here’s the thing, that’s how you do The Belonging—you find that you try new things that the other people in The Thing to which you’re learning to belong like. It’s transitive almost: I like A and A likes Lizzo, therefore maybe I will also like Lizzo.

You discover music you’ve never really given a second glance before (or you discover who makes music that you’ve low-key liked for a long time but haven’t known who to ask about it). You take a risk and wear something ludicrously silly on Pajama Day—like a hoodie with a sparkly pug with antlers on it (I’ll have to get a picture; I can’t even begin to explain this one).

You say hi first once in a while.

You begin to listen without feeling like you might, at any moment, have to defend yourself.

You begin to talk. Just a little: but then one day you realize you’re having, like, a whole conversation. OMGWTFBBQ, IKR?

And you begin to learn that it feels good to be even a little bit on the inside of something.

You begin to realize that it’s okay to want to feel that. That being on the inside isn’t the same as being one of the people who, back in the day when you were a kid, did everything to ensure that people like you stayed out.

You begin to want to stay together because although you by yourself are just fine, the group is another thing, and it’s a really cool thing.

You begin to realize how much it helps to be a unit.

That (apologies to Kipling) the strength of the corps is in the dancer, and the strength of the dancer is in the corps.

I mean, not that it’s all roses and sunshine, etc. But this, for me, is a new feeling. Realizing that part of merging into the group is being willing to merge; is wanting to merge.

Just like the dancers in the Entrance to the Kingdom of the Shades, we do not surrender our individual strength to join the group.

Instead, we continue to dance on our own legs.

But we dance on our own legs together.

Last Studio Saturday

I’m still stunned by how different this year has been compared to last year. When she launched class this morning A said, “Last studio Saturday guys, can you believe it?”

And, of course, it got me thinking.

By this time last year, the season already felt like an interminable battle; a kind of bitter survival slog.

I did my best to stay positive and keep that to myself, but it was hard. I was lonely and anxious and felt like an outsider and like maybe I shouldn’t be trying to do what I was trying to do.

And here we are this year, and it’s basically a full 180° difference.

I’m still pretty sure I’m the worst dancer in this company, but I’m okay with that.

And part of that is that this year I’m the worst dancer in the company, instead of this weird anxious appendage. Instead of being a stressed out and dejected assemblage of people, we’re a unit in a way that I don’t think we were last year at all, and it’s such a cool feeling to be part of that.

Besides, I’m improving.

The thing about being a professional dancer is that you never get to say to the audience, “I’m sorry, I’m usually better than this; I’m having a really bad day.”

Your worst day still has to be good enough.

So when your AD casts a show, she’s thinking about that, and trying to put you in a role that’ll play to your strengths even on your worst bad day.

And when you’re taking class every day, you’re working on making your worst bad day better and better and better.My worst bad days probably aren’t really 100% “ready for prime time,” but they’re getting better. Part of it is just improving technique, of course—but some of it’s also leaning how to laugh it off when I do something utterly bone-headed, and to make my mistakes look good (or, at any rate, less bad).

And that’s all down to confidence. As a dancer, you live and die by the belief that you have the right to be standing where you are, whether in the studio or on the stage.

Or, well … Okay, sometimes you really have to fake it (laughing at yourself helps).

When I’m having a rough time remembering combinations or whatever, I try to remember what L’Ancien says to me whenever he sees me retreating into myself:

“Remember: you are a prince.”

It’s worth noting that he doesn’t say, “Act like a prince” or “imagine you’re a prince” or even “be a prince.”

He always says are.You are a prince.

Which is to say, it’s there, inside you. You evoke something that already is.

I think we’ve all seen random people—some lady on the bus with four kids and her hair up in a messy Mom-bun; some old gent sitting on a park bench; whoever—who just look regal. Princely. Royal.

I think that’s there in all of us.You reach inside and set your feet on the ground at the heart of a quiet, graceful strength, and you square your shoulders and lengthen the back of your neck and you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and there it is:

Remember. You are a prince.

And then you still add an extra tour jeté and almost leave out that pesky balancé dessous and maybe there’s a moment when you suspect that you might just flat out fall out of your turn.

But you do it with your head high and when you’re done you roll your eyes and laugh at yourself.

So that’s it. That’s where I am.

Next week we’re in the theater for Nut, and then we’re off for three weeks, and then it’s on to the rest of Midsummer Night’s Dream and the rest of the season.

Be kind to each-other, and if there’s a weird oddball loner in your company or class, maybe try to reach out and see if you can draw them into the loop, because they might just be too afraid to try to do it themselves.

Oh, and here’s a shot of my back, just because 😁

Reflections On Almost Half A Season

The past two weeks, while stressful due to lack of days off, have likely been the best in my career.

It’s hard to explain what’s happened, because I don’t entirely understand it myself. in short, I’ve begun finding confidence again, and the more confident I am, the more I’m able to improve.

Two weeks in a row, Mr D has commented on how much I’m improving. As dancers, we live for those moments, so that’s everything. He’s also started giving me.a ton of corrections in class (a sign,in ballet, that your work is paying off and that your work ethic is showing), not to mentiom notes in rehearsal geared towards making the roles I’m learning and revisiting really sparkle.

The better I do, the better I want to do, and the harder I work. Success breeds success.

Yet, at the same time, my focus continues to be so different than it once was.

It’s weird. At this juncture, there are still steps I don’t know (there are always steps you don’t know: Ballet has had 400 years to invent stuff for us to not know how to do, after all), but learning them is neither as daunting a prospect nor as urgent a goal as it once was. 

You reach a point at which you begin to feel that if you need a certain step for something, you’ll pick it up. You find yourself doing steps you’ve never learned and learning how to ask for help if something doesn’t click.

This week Mr D threw revoltades at us again, but I didn’t quite see what he was showing and thought it must be some variant of an assemblé en tournant. I tried it and it worked just fine, and then I thought, “Wait, that’s revoltade, is what that is.”

 Anyway, it turns out that if you want to do revoltade, all you do is pretend you’re falling down drunk and then do assemblé en tournant. 

Who knew?

So, anyway, learning new steps isn’t the main focus. Every day, I work on aplomb, on.feeling my body, and on control without tension (so, basically, I work on standing up straight, actually managing my limbs and core, and getting out of my own way). I work on what L’Ancien would call “organizing the bones.”

This, in turn, improves everything else.

A couple of years ago, BW gave me the specific goal of maintaining demi-pointe balances on one leg for eight seconds at a go. Some time between them and now, I got there.

Some time between last year and now I learned to walk powerfully and gracefully, with presence: to say with my walk, without executing a single actual ballet step, “Look at me:I am a dancer.”

Some time between the beginning of this season and now, I stopped being afraid to ask my fellow company dancers when I’m.unclear aboit things. 

I stopped being afraid to work on pas de deux and variations in the back even though I might never do them. I stopped being afraid to throw myself in when someone’s missing  in rehearsal (as a result, I know all of Flowers now 😁).

I can’t put a finger on the specific moment when any of these things happened (though I can identify the day Mr D tricked us into learning revoltade). But they have happened, and that’s a very good thing.

Earlier this week, with my balance all awry thanks to a sinus infection, I knocked myself off my leg hard in the middle of a turn (too much force, too much internal leveling mechanism failure) and recovered by automatically transforming the failed turn into a spinning jump. I didn’t think about it at all: it just happened. I kind of let go of the ground, landed smoothly, and on I went.

This is what I missed so desperately when I didn’t dance. That deep trust in my body; the knowledge that it’ll figure things out. I missed not even having to think about it.

The jump that resulted from the equilibrium failure wasn’t the step Mr D gave us (it actually does have a name, but I can’t seem to summon that name right now o.O) but it was cool and graceful and I think it actually looked pretty good.

I can’t express how helpful that experience was.

So much of confidence is knowing how to bail out gracefully, and knowing that if you fail, you’ll still be okay. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like that in my life before now.

We’re on break this week, then we return with two weeks until Nutcracker. I feel good about this year’s production: last year, I was learning what seemed like this vast and complicated rôle, and constantly afraid I’d forget something or miss a cue generally make an was of myself.

This year I’m fleshing it out, playing with it, enjoying myself. I still screw up, of course, but now I mostly laugh it off.

It’s amazing what feeling accepted does for a person. It’s amazing how you can blossom once it’s safe to come out of your shell.

I look at myself now and I still, of course, see the mistakes and the missing bits of technique and the occasional complete brain failure, but I also see—really see—the potential that Mr D must’ve seen when he asked me.to come and dance.

Once in a while, I even see a powerful, graceful danseur: I may not be the finished, polished article yet (spoiler alert: I don’t think any of us ever feel that we are, anyway), but sometimes I can see how that polished article will look.

Last Year Vs This Year

Last year, at this time, I was feeling really terribly unsure of myself, intimidated, and so afraid of screwing up (and of succeeding, but that’s another story) that I was practically paralyzed all the time.

This year, I’m still unsure of myself sometimes, but not in the same awful way. I’ve reached a point at which I’m eager to get up and learn variations and pas de deux that I’m not cast in, even if I’m just marking and flailing my way through.

The main difference is that I feel like I’m part of the group now. I’m still shy and weird, and I always will be, but there’s nobody here who is hostile towards new and inexperienced people, and in turn I’ve let down my guard and been a little more sociable.

I can’t begin to express how enormous a difference this is making in my dancing.

It’s hard to move well when your nervous system is constantly on high alert and your muscles are coiled and tight. In particular, I can’t turn to save my life when I’m tense … And bad turns quickly lead to a downward spiral (sometimes literally!).

It’s also extremely hard to learn anything at all when you’re forever in fight-or-flight mode: the only thing your brain is primed to learn in those moments is whether or not your approach to escaping from the perceived threat is effective. It definitely doesn’t want to retain the combination or any corrections you’ve received.

I’m sure I seemed rigid and unteachable last year. I wonder how I seem this year—whether Mr D is giving me more corrections and guidance because I seem more teachable, or because I’m improving, or both. Probably both. (To be honest, I don’t actually think about it a lot; I’m just grateful.)

I continue to learn to feel my body in new ways, and to pick things up more easily, and to use my body more effectively and remember how it feels when it works.

I hope things continue in this vein. Last year, though I rarely spoke of it, I questioned whether I should be doing what I’m doing and sometimes despaired of ever living into the potential that’s written into my body.

This year, I’m starting to feel like I might get there.

The first year is always hard. I think mine was harder than it needed to be due to a handful of factors—but those things are behind me now.

Last year I was just surviving, just trying to hang on by the skin of my teeth.

This year I feel like I’m finally starting to grow.

So much of that is just not being afraid to make mistakes (and to try things).

Bit by bit, I feel like I’m starting to find my way again.

Dancing is hard. You have to pursue excellence—your own best excellence—constantly, while still holding space for mistakes and bad days so you don’t get caught in a self-hate spiral.

I think that goes for every serious student of dance, whether or not you ever find your way into a professional career.

Glancing At The Road Behind

In the specific alternate universe that is ballet, it’s easy to spend all of your time being horrified by how much you still have to learn. There’s simply so freaking much material that it’s essentially impossible for one single human being to learn all of it in any neat, systematic sense.

That’s why a consistent focus on the basics is so essential: if you have placement, aplomb, a general sense of the structural logic of épaulement, and the deep training of muscles and brain, you can generally learn any step that a choreographer throws in your path. 

You don’t have to actually know, for example, pas de harp seal[1]. You see it and do it a few times, and because the laws of ballet are written on your bones (and muscles, and brain) in relatively short order you’ve got an acceptable ballet step[2, 3].

Still, as human beings, we’re wired to look ahead from time to time—and that can be terribly discouraging. We may find ourselves thinking, “There’s so much I still have to learn!” and reaching for the nearest pint, be it of ice cream or beer.

As such, I think it’s healthy, once in a while, to look back. Sometimes it’s very surprising to realize how far you’ve come.

If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d want to do …is go back to Saturday and fix my arms and shoulders. Good thing this piece isn’t supposed to be classical.

Anyway. Yesterday, at Cirque rehearsal, I was standing on a bouncy tumbling track waiting for one of my partners to return, and because I can’t stand still I randomly did a whole bunch of entrechats sixes.

It didn’t occur to me then, but it wasn’t, in the overall span of things, that long ago that I did my first entrechat six. 

It was only a few years ago that I learned Albrecht’s variation at LexBallet’s SI and found it, to say the least, rather a stretch. It was only five years ago and change that, having just returned to ballet, I struggled to get my brain back around glissade-assemblé (which isn’t really a compound step, but as well be, since it shows up all the time as a kind of balletic comma).

When I think back, I can recall the sensation of being vaguely daunted by the appearance of a pas de Basque, since I was taking a class in which knowledge of the same was considered a given and I hadn’t done one since middle school. At the time, I had to think of it as a handful of steps instead of as one entity.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how recently balancé felt challenging (thanks again, Brian!). I spent a year or two just crossing my mental fingers and hoping it would come out right before Brian schooled my entire class by breaking it down, then putting it back together in a way that makes sense.

Two years ago—okay, as recently as a year and a half ago—I hated chaînés (mostly, to be fair, because they seemed to hate me).

Likewise, a year and a half ago and change, I realized that I needed to completely deconstruct my turning technique, and immediately despaired of ever getting back to a reliable triple. Two ear infections and a lot of concentration later, I’m just now at the point where I feel it coming: but my turns look so much better than they used to.

I used to hate adagio. I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with it (though I know I wrote about noticing it one day in class), but In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that long ago.

Last year, quick sissones fried my brain every time.

I’ve reached a point at which learning new steps isn’t a major goal. Once in a while one comes down the pike—Mr D taught us revoltade a few weeks back—but mostly I’m honing what I already have; learning to use my body as a collected and polished machine. Picking up new steps isn’t usually difficult, so I don’t focus on it on the same way.

In learning ballet, we necessarily work from the specific towards the general.

The first things we learn are profoundly specific: the five positions of the legs and feet become the foundation of our entire body of technique. The coordination engendered by always using port de bras informs every movement in the canon, even if it’s in the unspoken, “The canonical port de bras for this step is backwards.”

Over time, as we absorb the language of ballet into our bodies, we learn to speak it fluently, with no trace of an accent. When I watch video of myself dancing now, I see that process in progress: gaps in my absorption of the language appear as hesitations and faults that might or might not be imperceptible to an untrained eye, depending on circumstances. Where I’m closest to fluency, I’m finally beginning to actually look like a proper professional dancer.

 When I look at video from last year—Nutcracker, for example—I’m surprised by which things I clearly have to think about, and by the fact that what now feels like an instinctual awareness of the audience which governs things like the angle of my body in a moment of stillness was definitely not instinctual then. I can see myself thinking about it, and I can see myself forgetting to think about it.

(I suspect that a year from now, I’ll say the same thing. I’ll watch this year’s Nutcracker video and say, “Oh, no! How can you possibly have forgotten to open your downstage shoulder just another ten degrees?!” Maybe I’ll be saying that for the rest of my working life.)

When I look back at video from two or three years ago, I see what I’m guessing Mr D saw when he first invited me to come take company class: a lot of potential coupled with a whole lot left to learn.

All of this reminds me that, although there are days that I feel I’m standing still, or even rolling backwards down Mount Ballet, I’m not. I’ve come a long way.

I’ve written several times about how, in ballet, the goal posts keep moving. 

I think that will always be true: ballet is an athletic pursuit, but first and foremost it’s an art. Once you approach raw physical mastery, there’s infinite room for improvement in artistry. Indeed,one governs the other: the requirement that each step be executed with beauty and feeling shapes the way we train our bodies.

But the endless progress of the goalposts doesn’t mean we don’t also progress. 

It just means that we are never without the joy of pursuit.

  1. This is not a real step, unless it’s the step where you finish a demanding dance and just lie on the floor and wonder why your AD is trying to club you to death with choreography.
  2. …Though the meaning of “acceptable” varies by context. Because my arms like to do their own thing, it takes me a bit longer to get them to a professional standard than it really should 😑
  3. The caveat is that it may take you years to really feel that you perform the step in question beautifully: but an acceptable minimal professional standard will look beautiful to the bar majority of people who aren’t dancers.

On Technique: How Not To Turn From Fourth

Okay, so my turns are often, erm, not horrible these days (probably because my AD is relentless in his quest to make us do six billion turns per class) … And yet I’m still entirely capable of making a complete hash of them from time to time.

In the interest of full disclosure, clarity, and the greater good, then, here’s a spectacular example caught on video in the wild today and translated into handy screenshots. (I am NOT posting the video. I don’t want to scar you guys for life.)

I just can’t even with this. No part of my core is even a little engaged. I’m jello

Erm … That’s not where that goes. How embarassing.

Look at that standing leg. I dare you. That’s right: I’m serving up fresh horror just in time for Hallowe’en, Betches.

I didn’t fall out of this turn in the sense that I didn’t literally go splat. In every other way, though…

We’re not even going to talk about my arms. They’d just doing it for the attention, and we cannot reward their egregious behavior by acknowledging it. I haven’t been this disappointed since … Well, tbh, 2016, but … you know.

Okay, I will say one thing about my arms. See that first photo? Balanchine prep up top; Cecchetti downstairs. No wonder this turn failed. It was the balletic equivalent of a mullet … replete with hamberder hands. 

I’m going to cry.

This turn was not assisted by the fact that there’s a divot in the subfloor under my standing foot, but honestly that excuses nothing. Without said divot, it still would’ve been a fugly turn. You could take it to a salon and give it hours and hours of mud wraps and so forth, and it wouldn’t do any good. Lipstick on a pig*.

*I mean … some members of the porcine family are quite handsome. But lipstick? They don’t really, like, have lips.

Here’s a less bad example, just so I can feel better about life

The non-standard port de bras is intentional.


The gesture leg is attached. The supporting leg is … well, sort-of turned out. My core, like, exists. The balance is fairly straight up and down. And in the video it’s evident that I spotted this turn like a boss.

That last one was of the “effortless double” species. The MOST important factor, for me, is simply keeping my coreengaged. This prevents Slinky Back (would that it could prevent Nickleback), which in turn basically prevents EVERYTHING ELSE THAT IS WRONG WITH THE FIRST TURN.

So engage those core muscles, kids!

…And remember: only YOU can prevent Nickelback  slinkyback!

Managing

Yesterday was the first day since the beginning of the ballet season that I haven’t had something scheduled that required leaving the house—or, well, technically, I did have a cirque rehearsal, but I was running a fever and decided that it would be prudent to stay home rather than passing my germs along to everyone else.

Same thing today: Monday is a day off ballet-wise, but a rehearsal day for a small group of us from cirque. We decided to cancel cirque rehearsal today, since of the three of us, one is away and one is ill (spoiler alert: it me). Meanwhile, it’s break week at FSB, home of the partnering class I’m taking on Monday nights.

I’m definitely not complaining about the extra day off, though. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I really need some measure of time alone in order to stay sane. 

I’m not sure whether my need for solitude (ha, that makes it sound so much more studious and intentional!) is an inborn trait or a function of having spent a great deal of time alone when I was growing up, but that doesn’t really matter anyway. It is, as they say, what it is.

Anyway, this past month has been one long, unbroken stretch of work days—and though I love my work, I’m seriously grateful for a chance to come up for air, even though it’s purely a function of coming down with whatever bug is making the rounds (and even though I’ve spent most of this unexpected down time asleep).

So, anyway, I’ve been meaning to write about how I’m managing at the moment—I mean the nuts-and-bolts of it. Now seems as good a time as any.

First, here’s a look at my work schedule:

  • Sunday: Cirque Rehearsal, 12-2
  • Monday: Cirque Rehearsal, 5-7, partnering class 6:15-7:30 (in practice, to actually do both, I have to leave cirque rehearsal at 6 and miss the first 45 mins of partnering class, due to an hour long commute)
  • Tuesday: Ballet, 10-3:30; Teaching, 4:40-7
  • Wednesday: Ballet, 10-3:30, Teaching, 4:40-8:15
  • Thursday: Ballet, 10-3:30
  • Friday: Ballet, 10-3:30; GFD rehearsal, 5-7
  • Saturday: Ballet, 10-4

My shortest commute is about 30 minutes. My longest (home to ballet) is about 90. FSB is on the way home from the ballet, which is helpful, but it’s still a good hour from FSB to home. (I actually rather like driving, but it’s also physically and mentally stressful, so I’m profoundly grateful to finally have a couple of days on which I don’t have to drive at all.)

I’ve also been working a good many one-off cirque gigs and substitute-teaching fairly frequently, which is good for my income, but obviously means more driving and more time away from home.

The upshot of this is that I have very little time to do household stuff, which has been a challenge for me. 

I’m not going to say that I’m on top of everything at this point. 

I’m so not, especially not when I’ve planned my week around having most of Monday free and I get called in to sub during the day. I’m not great at switching gears, so things get a little bumpy when that happens.

I am, however, hanging in there better than I anticipated.

With that in mind, are the tools I’m using to at least keep us mostly ticking over:

  1. The Magic Of The Slow-Cooker: It would be hard to overstate how handy a slow-cooker is in my current situation. D doesn’t really cook, and I often don’t really have time to really cook, either, right now. Our slow-cooker has the standard low-heat setting and a higher setting, so you can throw a bunch of stuff into it and come back 3 to 8 hours later, and you’ve got food. It’s also huge. In practice, this means that I can dump some stuff in on Sunday and Monday afternoons, jet off whatever rehearsal, and return to dinner already sorted. It also helps with the next point, which is…
  2. Batch Cooking: D doesn’t like to eat the same thing for more than a couple of meals in a row, so I used to regard batch cooking as fairly impractical for our situation. Then, it dawned on me that I can make different batch meals on two consecutive days and stick the leftovers in the fridge, and D can alternate between them when I’m not home (or when I’m just too cooked myself to bother). Fortunately, D is a man of fairly simple tastes, and is generally quite content with things like chili, stew, pulled bbq chicken, and so forth. When I’m actually home for dinner, I serve them with…
  3. Bagged Salads: …Which are also my go-to lunch. At any given time, at least one store will typically be running a special on the “chopped salad” kits that include lots of crunchy vegetables and come with dressing and toppings like sunflower seed kernels, freeze-dried sweetcorn, raisins, and so forth. Often, I find them on clearance for less than $2/bag. They don’t hang around in my fridge long enough to go off, so I grab lots of those. Usually, one bagged salad can feed me through two rehearsals, which means that a fairly healthy lunch runs between $1 and $1.50 per day. A second one usually makes up the bulk of my supper. I also go through a ton of…
  4. Greek Yogurt and Frozen Fruit: I buy large bags of frozen berries (on sale, whenever possible) and large tubs of Greek yogurt, but I still get through about $8 worth of yogurt and $4 worth of fruit each week. Still, $12/week isn’t bad for a high-quality top-up between rehearsal and teaching.
  5. Frozen Burritos: I like to make burritos in batches and throw a dozen or so into the freezer. When you get home from a long day dancing and teaching dance, it’s easy to nuke a couple and actually make a decent meal out of them.
  6. Apples: I’m out of apples right now, and it has made me keenly aware how much I depend on them. I like really crisp apples, preferably tart or semi-tart, so I buy large bags of Granny Smith, Jazz, and similar cultivars. Normally, I eat a couple of them with some toast for breakfast, and they get me through to lunch. Without them, I wind up eating twice as much yogurt and twice as much toast. Apples are filling, y’all. They also don’t require any…
  7. Dishes: okay, so here’s where I’m flummoxed. I manage my own dishes by using as few as possible washing each dish as soon as I’ve used it and simply reusing the same two cups all the time: one for hot drinks and one for cold (they get washed once a day or so). D doesn’t adhere to that practice, though, which means I’m left with a batch of dishes to hand-wash on the regular (out dishwasher is dead). I haven’t found an ideal time for that, which means that at the moment they get done basically just whenever. It’s not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world, either. The slow-cooker also helps, since I generally only make one-pot recipes, which means fewer dishes to wash.

I’m still struggling to keep on top of laundry. The challenge there is mainly that D wants his work clothes hung up as soon as they’re dry, which means babysitting the dryer. Maybe simply hanging those things up to dry in the first place would help, though. Socks and the like could still go through the dryer.

D has taken over some of the stuff I was doing—particularly the yard work—which does help, and he doesn’t hesitate to wrangle laundry as needed. In the past, when I had no regular income, it bothered me if he did that, because I felt like as long as I wasn’t bringing in any money, that should be my job. At this point I’ve got a regular income, so I’m learning to feel okay with that.

We still have way too much stuff, which means that I never feel like the house is tidy, because it’s literally impossible to put everything away. We’re discussing how to deal with that—it’s not something I can handle unilaterally, because most of the stuff in the house isn’t mine. I have, at any rate, begun reducing where I can.

So, basically, we’re getting through. I enjoy working on cirque shows, but I won’t be sad to finally have Sundays off for a bit once our current show is done.

I’m actually managing better than I expected to, thus far. Ideally, going forward, I hope to eventually figure out a way too schedule my life so I have at least one regular day off, for sanity’s sake (two would be even better). Likewise, I am at present considering the best way to reduce the amount of stuff in the house and prevent more stuff from accumulating in its place: in other words, a way of solving that problem that will be equally motivating to both of us.

Life as a performing artist is unlikely ever to be as routinely-scheduled as almost any other life in a modern Western economy, and I’m rather glad to discover that capable of handling that.
Anyway, we’re back to ballet tomorrow, so I’d better go wrangle.my ballet laundry. I’m planning to post a couple of my go-to slow-cooker recipes some time soon, as well, and to get back to posting semi-regularly about technique.

The Difference

The main difference between your second year as a new ballet student and your second year in a professional company is that in your second year as a professional, you’re basically comfortable with the fact that you still know almost nothing about how to dance.

Maybe that’s because you also know you’re going to spend the rest of your life learning how.

Pas De Done

There are waypoints, if you will, on the path of life as a dancer … the first audition. The first job. The first show. The first featured role. The first pas de deux.

I fumbled my way onto this path with a fairly simple goal: basically, I just needed to dance. It would be enough to find myself a corps spot somewhere.

I never expected to find myself among the principal artists of any company, and certainly not now.

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you, though. You find the thing that makes you tick, you keep your head down, you do the work … And maybe you find yourself in a place you never expected to be.

Gale Force is a brand-new company. They didn’t have to roll the dice on me: but apparently, when I auditioned, Shannon saw something in me that maybe I don’t always see. She made me an A-company dancer: which is to say, more or less, a principal. She handed me a solo piece, several featured roles, and a pas de deux.

When I got that email, back before we started rehearsals, I just about exploded (in a good way).

That said, my undying case of Impostor Syndrome definitely made its influence felt. 

Part of me was all “I BELIEVE I CAN FLY!” Another part, of course, was like “CHECK YOSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOSELF.”

 I didn’t  exactly tell that second voice to GTFO, but I did ask it to kindly please step back behind the yellow line, sit down, and stop distracting the bus driver.

Needless to say, there were more than a few moments at which Impostor Syndrome stood up and said, “EXCUSE ME, WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING, MR. BIG STUFF?” 

But basically I’m too much of a coward to say, “I think you should demote me out of this dance because I can’t learn,” so instead I had to actually learn the dances and go on being an A-company boy.

Anyway. The bus finally made it to its destination: the show.

We played two Saturday nights. 

During the first date, on the 27th of July, we all caught a highly-contagious case of the Galloping Nerves … including your humble host, who never gets stage fright and thus had literally no idea what to do about it. Those nerves were multiplied by the setting sun during the first half and blazing lights that sat exactly at eye level during the second half, both of which meant we were essentially dancing blind, and by the lack of a stage monitor,which meant that at times we couldn’t hear the music.

Have you ever tried to dance a pas de deux when you can’t hear the music and have only had about four hours to learn the dance together?

In case you’re wondering, it’s about as stressful as it sounds. 

Apparently it looked okay to the audience, but there were long moments that EM and I stared into each-others’ eyes and tried to look romantic as we attempted to figure out by telepathy where in the dance we even were. 

Probably the only thing that saved us was the fact that we knew the order of the lifts (which is more important than it sounds: when your partner leaps at you, you’d better already know which arm is going where), and could remember which one we did last. 

Well, that and the performer’s instinct to just go stolidly on in such a way that the audience never knows you’re completely lost.

The whole company trembled its way through the first show and came out on the other side genuinely delighted that nobody fell down or died. Sometimes, you just have to adjust your goals on the fly.

During the second show, everything changed. 

A quarter of the way into the first number, whatever it is in my brain that loves performing and knows no fear once I hit the stage clicked on. I remembered that this is what I love; that this is where I live. My mojo returned.

The pas de deux came third on the program and was my second piece for the night. 

We stepped out onto the stage, locked eyes and smiled as the music began, and something magical happened: which is to say that the pas de deux happened. We didn’t just know the order of the lifts: we knew the steps; we knew the story: and for those few minutes we lived the story, and the audience loved us.

The author holding his partner in a fish lift on an outdoor stage with greenery behind them and an orange beverage cooler to the viewer's left.

My lovely partner (center), the most important orange cooler in the world (stage right), and me. And, yes, I was hot in that outfit 😅

When the most artistically challenging piece goes well, it’s easy to feel confident about the rest of the night.

Not to say that I didn’t make a single mistake. In fact, I almost knocked myself over during the jazz piece, and again during the final pas de trois (our portable floor gets slick in humid weather, and I should have re-rosined my shoes 😶). It just so happens that I’m really good at saving myself from potential falls. Likewise, I left out a step here or there, and probably added a few without even noticing, as is my wont.

But overall the show went well. My solo piece was staggeringly well-received even though I had to walk back some of the most impressive choreography because I was dancing on a sprained ankle. I neither forgot entire segments of dances nor swapped the order of phrases.

I also got a nice surprise when I first saw our bios: I’ve joined the faculty at FSB. I love teaching, so that’s a solid step in the right direction. 

We have a faculty meeting on Wednesday: the first, I hope,of many faculty meetings to come in my life as a dancer and teacher of dancers.

A while back I realised that somehow, against all odds, I’ve become the person I wanted to be when I was there years old.

Or, well. I mean. I haven’t actually turned into a horse, a dinosaur, unicorn, a cheetah, or a giant shark.

But that three-year-old me that sat up in the balcony and watched the Russian dance in the Nutcracker and said, “I wanna do that!” … Well, that’s the me I’ve become. Which is actually only slightly more probable than transforming into a horse[1] or whatevs, and honestly rad AF.

I’m old enough now to grok that the book or movie that is your life never coasts into the credits … Or, well, not ’til you die, and I’m pretty sure I’m still alive, philosophical wranglings notwithstanding.

But I do feel pretty comfortable saying that this feels, to me, like the close of the first chapter, the first section of the book, or maybe even the first book in the trilogy. Like, I’m standing here at the end of my origin story (or at least this origin story: perhaps the greatest human capacity is that of reinvention; of starting over) and looking out for that moment when you, dear reader, finish reading this sentence and turn the page.

  1. Though, come to think of it, I have been licked and nibbled by any number of horses, who undoubtedly then digested some of my skin cells, which then went on to become part of them, soooo … Win on that one, too, I guess 🤔

Shea Butter Deodorant!

I’ve been babying a minor ankle sprain so it won’t turn into something worse before the Gale Force show at the end of the month, but it’s starting to feel a bit better, so yesterday I did some dishes and made some deodorant.

Why deodorant?

A] As previously established, I’m a sweaty beast, and using deodorant is simply the polite thing to do if your job involves manhandling[1] other humans. It allows my partners to work with a merely sweaty beast instead of a sweaty, stanky beast.

Nobody … or, well, almost nobody wants to dance with someone who smells like an entire disappointment[2] of teenage boys. Or, at least, not in this context.

  1. In case you’re wondering, this was an actual direction for a dance I’m learning right now: “Just really manhandle her” 😁 Apparently my natural partnering style is quite gentle 🤔
  2. I’m not sure what the right aggregate noun is, but I bet any number of parents would agree that “a disappointment of teenage boys” sounds about right … Or maybe a disagreement?

B] There’s a brand of deodorant that I really like that uses the same set of ingredients … But it costs $10/tube and I’m a bit skint, as it were. (America really needs to adopt the use of the word “skint.”)

C] It looked really easy, and I needed to accomplish something because I’ve been struggling of late. Like WM says, don’t even bother with a double-boiler. I made my batch right in a jelly jar.

I followed Wellnessmama’s recipe for share/coconut oil deodorant fairly exactly … which is to say that I was a bit cavalier with my measurements in that I didn’t obsessively level the shea butter or coconut oil.

Apparently I haven’t decided whether I want to smell French or Australian, because I added lavender and eucalyptus essential oils. That said, I kept the amounts very small, because strong scents are deeply unwelcome in the dance studio.

Anyway, here’s the end result:

A half-pint Mason jelly jar containing a creamy-colored substance, capped and sitting on the arm of a purple sofa.

Shea Butter/Coconut Oil deodorant, version 1.0

It turns out that this formulation won’t stay solid in this climate (at least, not in a house without central aircon), so I’m going to remelt it and add more shae butter so I can transfer it to a deodorant dispenser tube.

That said, I tried it yesterday, and it works a treat. This is a deodorant rather than an antiperspirant, but I haven’t noticed that I’m any sweatier using this than I am using my usual commercial antiperspirant.

I might stay dryer using a “clinical strength” antiperspirant, but of late they tend to give me hives, which leaves me rather disinclined to use them.

I’m now wondering:

  1. Can I make deodorant out of cacao butter?
  2. If yes, will it just make me crave chocolate all day?

So that’s my next bit of DIY deodorant research.

I’ve got some reusable deodorant tubes that I’ll be using to make a portable final product, and I ordered some smaller-size tubes as well so I can make portable Shae butter bars and cacao butter bars to give away at Burning Man.

Shae butter is a fatty acid with lovely soothing qualities, but it remains solid even at pretty high ambient temperatures, which makes it the perfect antidote for Playa Foot, which is caused by the extremely alkaline dust of the dry lakebed that is the Playa.

I haven’t tried using cacao butter on the Playa, but I suspect it’ll be great, too. It stays harder than shae, however, so I might need to blend it with something like coconut oil to lower the melting point a little.

That said, cacao butter will happily melt if you leave it in a hot car, so maybe I’ll maybe some pure cacao bars so people can leave them in their hydration packs with less danger of creating a permanent chocolate-scented oilstain. Hmmm.

I’ll have to think about that one.

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