Onward and Upward

Thing the First: I’ve submitted my contract for next season with Actual Ballet Company. It’s going to be interesting, as it looks like the roster is changing quite a bit. I’m not sure how many boys we’ve got for next season.

Thing the Second: last week I had a very nasty surprise cold. It completely knocked me flat for several days, but I seem to be better now. Yay?

Thing the Third: I’ve begun work on my piece for PlayThink and my solo piece for GFD. My friend DS kindly agreed to be my partner for the PlayThink show, since I apparently traumatized Denis by making him improvise last year and he doesn’t want to do it this year 😀

I’m actually quite happy to be working with DS, because she’s a fabulous dancer and, more importantly, loves performing as much as I do.

She also is totally fearless about partnering and she taught me a new lift yesterday:

Screenshot_2019-05-15-18-01-20~2.png

It’s possible that my arm (the one you can see) is supposed to go over her leg, though.

Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t always partner in a mask. There’s a reason I’m wearing the mask, but IT’S A SECRET so you’re just going to have to cope. Time reveals all, or at least mostly all.

I don’t actually know what this lift is called. It’s kind of an over-the-shoulder-whirly lift, but I’m sure that’s not its actual name.

It worked the first time we tried it, after which DS said to me, “You’re really strong!” That was a lovely surprise, as I’ve been sadly neglecting core and upper body work for a while (though I’m back to working on it now). I think part of it is that I’ve just had really excellent teachers when it comes to lifting things, especially people. The whole “lift with your legs” thing comes in really handy, especially when your legs are used to launching 160 pounds of strapping lad[1] into the air about a million times a day.

I’m also becoming, well, less bad at partnering promenades in passé, though I still think I look stupid[2] doing them. OTOH, I have almost a month to improve them.

I had some thoughts on technique that I wanted to drop in here, but they’ve apparently evaporated out of my brain, so I’m going to call it a day.

Notes

  1. I am trying to accept the fact that “strapping” is pretty much the adjective that best describes my build at this point.
  2. One might argue that as long as my partner doesn’t look stupid, I’m more or less getting the job done.

A Kind of Evolution

I’ve been thinking about my thinking again.

Also about my feeling.

There’s a deeply superstitious part of me that hesitates to make further prognostications about … well, anything really, but especially my mental health. Likewise, the streak of stubborn pride that so dislikes being wrong doesn’t want to make any blanket statements that I might have to retract.

But, although I suppose I’ve “known” this for much of my life, in the sense that I could echo the phrase and tell you what it literally means (or, well, what I think it literally means?), I haven’t really known in the past that the only constant is change.

Ask me twenty-five years, fifteen years, ten years, five years, five months from now what that means, and I suspect I’ll give you a different-ish answer than I would give you today. My answer will change because my understanding will change. At least, I hope it will: when our minds cease to change, we are either literally or metaphorically dead.

So, anyway.

I’ve had a longish–for me, anyway–run of relatively smaller troughs and peaks in my mood. I wouldn’t describe my mood-state as “stable,” exactly: the lows just aren’t as frequently bone-scraping, and the highs aren’t quite so knife’s-edge glittery and wrathful.

I mean, nobody’s is enitrely stable (with the possible exception once again of people who are literally dead … but since we can’t ask them, we can’t know). Though maybe that’s a function of this particular phase of my evolution: I think I used to understand the neurotypical mood-space[1] as a lake, rather than a tidal basin[2].

  1. By which I mean the area occupied on a graph between the lowest of my lows and the highest of my highs.
  2. I might be using “tidal basin” incorrectly here. I’ll try to double-check it before I publish this post, but I’m afraid if I try right now I’ll fall down a rabbit hole about tides and forget to finish writing this.

The water levels of lakes are disturbed from time to time by droughts or storms, and are subject to some degree of seasonal rise and fall, but on average their levels remain fairly predictable and fairly constant.

The water level in a tidal basin, on the other hand, varies more frequently. Ebb and flow is the major constant, though its degree varies–a spring tide may bring the waves washing far up the beach; coupled with a storm, it may send the waters flooding into the streets of the nearby towns.

Perhaps most people’s mood-space is like a fairly typical tidal basin, while mine has often more closely resembled the Bay of Fundy.

A pier and a boat on the Bay of Fundy showing the water levels at high and low tides.

The Bay of Fundy at high and low tides. Screenshot from Wikipedia, because I’m lazy.

I think the rate of change from low tide to high is still greater for me than it is for many people, but it’s frequently less than it often was in the past. I am learning to manage my life and to see the imposition of boundaries that protect my mood-space as tools that enable me to do the things I love doing rather than as chains confining my wings.

I suppose it helps that I have something, now, that I love doing, and that I must do just about every day if I’m going to do it well. Ballet is a demanding mistress.

Because life is never a controlled experiment, I can’t say which of variable or combination of variables has been most responsible for this particular phase in my personal evolution. Physical activity has always been central in keeping me on a more even keel, but prioritizing good sleep hygiene is also crucial. A much-stronger social circle, a reasonably happy home life, and work that I enjoy certainly contribute as well. Likewise, it’s difficult to overstate the role that hormones play in all this, and I shouldn’t overlook hormone therapy as a factor.

Being able to identify the sensation of an uptick in mood that’s about to jump the track, and to take steps to either prevent the derailure or at least mitigate some of its harm makes a world of difference. Being willing and able to unburden myself when the dark closes in would, undoubtedly, help to reduce the time I spend in the depths of despair, and would probably lift the floor a bit, so to speak.

I’m still working on that last one.

Everything we do changes us constantly on the most literal and fundamental level: our bodies and our brains adapt. Undoubtedly, my brain has been changing all along. I hope its current configuration is wired for a bit more stability: but it will continue to change, and I think I would be foolish to conclude that my brain is now much better at braining in this stressful modern world and that I don’t need to keep working on it.

In the hardest, darkest moments, that knowledge is almost unbearable. It seems like so much work, so much effort, for so little return.

Right now, though, in this moment of clear, calm light–a kind of pearl-grey springtime light–I realize that what seems, at other times, like so much work and such an exhausting struggle seems, right now, like simply life and living.

This is a change. I’m not going to shout, “Aha! I’ve figured it out!” because I’m quite sure that I haven’t. There was a phase in my life during which I’d reach a kind of equilibrium and feel like I’d reached the end of the novel and now all the struggle and confusion was behindme and it would be clear sailing (feel free to have a chuckle). 

Another phase followed in which I rather violently distrusted the sensation of equilibrium because it felt like a bait-and-switch: I had learned enough to know that it was almost certainly going to end, but not enough to stop resenting and fighting the end of equilibrium.

Now I’m in a phase where I can accept the idea that although this equilibrium is pleasant, it’s also temporary; that something is going to come along and trouble the waters. I don’t know if I’ll manage to keep my composure when that happens: maybe that’s another phase. I hope that if I do lose my grip a bit, I’ll treat myself more compassionately than I have in the past.

Change is going to come. Hell, change is happening right this very moment. I’m not going to make any silly statements about how one must be ready when it comes: frankly, we can’t always be ready.

Besides, the eruptions that change us most profoundly for the good (though not, I am forced to admit, always for the pleasant good) are often those for which we are least prepared. In other words, we learn a lot more from kludging together a solution with paperclips and gum than we do from effectign one with a full tool-kit and a generous array of spare parts. Likewise, we can’t  learn or do much from within an intact eggshell.

The shattering of our worlds, of our illusory senses of permanence and control, is at the same time a powerful force of creation. 

I know this isn’t a new idea. I know people have been telling me this for years.

I know I understand it differently than I did a year ago.

I know that later I will understand more differently still.


The Valley of Decision

Where to begin? BP went well, as did LouBallet’s Spring Dance Festival. My group’s piece in our show in SDF got a resounding response from the audience and made our director happy, and those are the things that warm the cockles of a dancer’s heart, or at least this dancer’s heart.

BP was my first show with a Big Giant Head, and while the Big Giant Head itself was awesome (our costumer is AMAZING), dancing with it on was a learning experience, even though I did very little actual dancing. I had exactly one lift, which didn’t go well in our first full-dress rehearsal (it was impossible to make the established lift work with the costumes in question), so we changed it to a simple cradle lift that both looked fine and worked. Except in the closing show I somehow managed to bonk my Big Giant Head against my partner’s Big Giant Head, which caused my Big Giant Head to go slightly askew, which led to me almost running both of us into a leg curtain on the exit.

Fortunately at the last minute the curtain hove into sight in what was left of my peripheral vision, and I was able to take evasive action. No dancers were injured in the making of this ballet, or at least not by me[1].

  1. I did dance on a somewhat dislocated hip for three weeks, and I’m still paying for that.

So goes the glory of the stage, eh?

Anyway, on the last day of our season I was presented with a contract for 2019-2020. Since I’d just auditioned for another company with surprising success, this left me with a quandary: dance with New Company next year, which will let me stay at home and work on getting the house together, etc, or bite the bullet and rent a room in Lexington, knowing I’ll need to add a second job into the mix in order to cover my expenses?

I’d be lying if I said I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I’m doing the right thing, but I’ve pretty much decided to go ahead and re-up with Actual Ballet Company The First for next year, even though it’s potentially going to make my life more difficult. I think the structure of the full-time schedule is what I need right now, and while I love the fact that New Company has thrown me straight into the deep end[2], they rehearse part-time.

  1. Regarding which, I’m doing the Cinderella Pas De Deux[3] in their summer show, which is both delightful and terrifying because like, OMG Pas De Deux, but also NO PRESSURE o.O’
  2. Regarding which, summer ballet goal: “Improve Partnering Skills” looks like it’s getting checked off the list via the Baptism By Fire method

On the other hand, I really like the people and the company culture at New Company, and part of me feels like I might be making entirely the wrong decision. I’m not actually even sure who to consult about it, though I plan to buttonhole my various ballet peeps after class tomorrow (I’ve been out of commission for about 5 days thanks to a really nasty sinus/chest bug).

Technically I have until the 11th to hand in my contract.

I honestly didn’t expect to actually have, like, a choice at this point (or, for that matter, ever) in the thing I still have trouble calling “my career,” so to have a choice between two options that both have more bright spots than dark is sort of incomprehensible.

Either way, I’m embarking on a side-gig that should help keep me afloat throughout the season without also causing me to stop and catch fire, as it were.

Coming back to my old stomping grounds at LouBallet School after basically being away for the entire season, I’ve been able to see where I’m a stronger dancer than I was last September (and, of course, where I definitely still need work). I’ve been greatly enjoying class with L’Ancien, particularly the moments that I’ve actually managed to earn some shocking words of praise (don’t worry, though, to preserve my reputation I’ve made sure to be a complete screw-up whenever possible, and to do stupid things with my hands at all applicable times).

It’s weird, because one rarely has the chance to step away from the group of dancers with which one has done most of one’s meaningful training for a significant period of time, then return.

Anyway, needless to say, I’ve got my goals in order for the summer, and I’ll definitely be dancing somewhere in the fall.

I’ll also be dancing with New Company for the summer, which I suspect will be a delight. More on that soon. I don’t think I’ll be doing summer intensives, but I might do some masterclasses at LouBallet and LexBallet.

Temps De Fugue

Don’t worry, as far as I know “temps de fugue” isn’t a real ballet step. It’s just a half-baked play on “tempus fugit.”

~

Yesterday, at a show in which I probably knew 60% of the dancers and 90% of the choreographers, I ran into Killer B in the audience.

This season, Killer B made the leap back into life as a company dancer. We were talking about our respective seasons, and she said something like, “Can you believe it’s almost over? It went by so fast!”

And it hit me (again, because it had already hit me, but harder, because it wasn’t just me thinking idly about it) that all at once I’m basically a week from the end of my first full season in Actual Ballet Company.

The past year has been one of vast, wild changes.

In a way, it’s been like a graduation.

BW matriculated to Nashville Ballet. BG matriculated to a directorship at a youth ballet. Killer B matriculated back into the folds of Louisville Ballet, where she has, predictably, been killing it. K has jetted off to California. I fumbled my way into an Apprenticeship at Actual Ballet Company, which I still refuse to name in this blog for some reason[1] even though I’m forever posting links to our shows ^-^’

  1. In case you hadn’t noticed: dancers be superstitious, y’all.

My friends from Pilobolus’ intensive, meanwhile, are literally all over the map. Several have toured the globe with Pilobolus. One is out there dancing with Momix. Two created an amazing project of their own that’s taken off and is selling like, well, muffins (that’s kind of an in-joke; I’ll try to post a link at some point). Some have graduated from undergrad dance programs. Others have matriculated into graduate dance programs.

Friends that I’ve worked with locally outside the ballet, too, have begun building bigger, better things: like the show that I attended yesterday, where I ran into Killer B and we agreed about how much we miss everyone and also about how happy we are for everyone. Like the show that I saw on Valentine’s Day, where my friend Dot (a total sister-from-another-mister, if every I met one) and a nascent company in Frankfort knocked my socks off (I auditioned for their summer show on Saturday, and it was both fun and awesome; more on that in a few).

Improbably, perhaps even implausibly, we’re all out here working our booties off (both literally and metaphorically) and actually doing it. Some of us are doing it with greater financial rewards than others, but we’re all out here moving and shaking and making dance happen with a dedication that even the Puritans would’ve had to appreciate.

And it’s so very,  very weird to be part of that: but also so very, very good.

~

For me, also, this season has been all over the map.

There have been some really, really hard things. I struggled socially, which I should’ve expected but didn’t. I also struggled technically, at times, which I kind of expected but not necessarily in the right areas. I managed to stick it out anyway, and because of that I’ve learned an enormous, enormous amount, and not just in terms of technique.

I feel like things are beginning to gel, now. My balances are so much better, most of the time, than they were back in September (they’re not so great when I have a sinus infection that messes with my inner ear, but that’s to be expected). I know how to use my body in ways that I didn’t before. When I drop in on classes at home, I pick up the choreography so much faster than I used to.

Épaulement—never my greatest strength—is becoming more thoroughly integrated into my technique. My arms mostly know what to do with themselves, though not always, in ways they didn’t before. My hands do not constantly insist that the only ballet is Don Quixote.

At Saturday’s audition, I felt comfortable with my strengths and my weaknesses. The company in question is deeply eclectic, which is really cool, so we all tried a bit of everything: jazz, contemporary, ballet, and tap.

I was completely fine with the fact that I have basically no idea what I’m doing where tap is concerned; I muddled through anyway, following as best I could with very little idea as to what I was doing, and enjoyed the heck out of it. As I prepared to run the tap combo, I said to K (the resident tap maven—really, she’s amazing), “I’m just going to desperately follow along and hope everything works out,” and she replied, “That’s fine! I’ll just borrow your extensions for the ballet parts!”

What I enjoyed most, though, where the moments when A, who gave us our barre at the beginning of the audition, would say, “…And let go of the barre,” and I was generally able to just let go of the barre and balance (except for the attitude balance on the right side, when I put my foot into a little warbly spot in the floor and it took me a bit longer to set up as a result).

I enjoyed that, of course, because static balances have long been a white whale for me, and here I was at an audition just, like, balancing.

To make up for it, of course, I blanked on the beginning of the ballet combination when it came time to run it … but so did basically everybody else for some reason. Now that it’s over, I will never, ever forget the beginning of that combination ^-^’

When I drop in on classes at LBS, where I rebooted my ballet life five years ago, I’ve begun to be able to see how far I’ve come (I never, of course, lose sight of how far I have left to go … those goalposts just keep receding).

That’s a good feeling: like, yes, time continues to fly, but in one sense I’m flying with it for once in my life. I’m making progress in something that means a great deal to me.

Five years ago, I don’t think I could have begun to imagine the life I’m living now. It makes me wonder where I’ll be in another five years, and another.

I’m in no hurry, don’t get me wrong: but I think it’ll be something to see.

Cooking With ADHD: Chalk Marker Hack

Chalk markers + D-Wings + Microwave = Neatness

I’ve finally given in and taken a day off to go to the doctor’s office, so predictably I’m bored out of my skull.

As such, it seemed like a good time to implement a quick organization hack.

I use chalk markers to label and date food storage containers. They’re visible on all colors and transparencies, come in cute colors, and are easy to wipe away. They do, however, really prefer to be stored horizontally.

My previous solution was to jumble them in with my magnetic basket of assorted dry-erase pens, but that resulted in:

  1. an overflowing basket (I’ll pause here for lowbrow humor of the kind that occurs to me every time a U-scan machine politely chirps, “Please check your basket!”).
  2. a giant pain in the tuchas whenever I needed to grab a specific pen.

Enter D-Wings*.

*Any similar product should also work; these just happened to be on hand at Staples** yesterday.

**I should never be allowed to enter Staples without a responsible adult. I did manage to restrain myself from buying a purpose-built Headphones Pocket and about 7,000 Sharpie Pens, but just barely -.-

Technically, D-Wings are cord guides—and I definitely need some of those, because 2019 amirite?—but I noticed that the large ones were the perfect size for my chalk pens.

I stuck them on the side of my microwave, where they’re unlikely to be in the way but not so far out of sight that I’ll forget about them. It seemed less drastic than sticking them on the side of the fridge, which is more likely to stay here if we move someday.

Now my chalk pens will be easy to grab when I need to write “Breakfast” or the current date on a food container.

Better yet, I still have two large D-wings and a bunch of small ones, so my cord-containment needs will not go unmet.

Edit: PS—possibly because I actually remembered to take my Adderall today, I verified the fit before installing the D-Wings, which seems like a good idea.

Summer Is Coming

I am, astoundingly, almost at the end of my first year as a company apprentice.

20181215_174607

OMG HOW IS IT 26 MARCH ALREADY?!!!

OMG, you guys. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN.

Our season officially ends the day after Beatrix Potter closes—which is to say, the 14th of April.

This, of course, means that it’s time to firm up the Summer Plans.

At the moment, two events are on the books: PlayThink on 12-16 June and Burning Man at the end of August.

At PlayThink I’ll be teaching a workshop (same basic format as last year’s) and performing. I plan to rope my poor long-suffering husband into my performance piece, because I’m just thoughtful like that ^-^ (Don’t worry, he’ll will have lots of props to play with, so he’ll be fine.)

PlayThink is in a new location this year, which is cool because we’ll have new playspaces to explore and stuff, though also a little bittersweet, as things are. I have grown to love HomeGrown Hideaways, and especially Nathan and Jessa, who own and run HGH, and it’ll be both exciting and weird to be PlayThinking in a different place.

superman

It wouldn’t be the same without him. I mean, like, literally. Without him, I’d just be lying on the ground.

This Saturday, the 30th, I’m auditioning for a July gig that should be pretty cool if I make the cut.

Beyond that, I need to figure out how to spend my summer making money, so I can cover my expenses for next year.

Ferrying myself back and forth to Lexington has been, shall we say, not inexpensive, so if I’m going to continue next year I need to figure out how to both bank some cash this summer and keep a steady income stream throughout the season to offset the cost of either commuting or renting a room in town.

Most of us have secondary jobs, but my commute has made it difficult to do more than the occasional brief contract gig this year. When I ride-share with D, I lose a whopping 6 hours per day after accounting for warm-up time, 2 hours’ commute each way, and the inevitable 30 – 60 minutes wait time between when I reach Bardstown and when D gets done at work. When I drive by myself, I’m still losing 3ish hours that I could spend making a little cash on the side.

I’m not complaining, of course: the opportunity to dance full-time has been a g-dsend, and I’m immensely grateful. I just could’ve, like, planned a little better. So I’m trying to be more proactive this time and, like, plan. And we all know how good I am at planning -.-‘

i-have-no-idea-what-im-doing

Actual Footage of Me, Planning

Assuming that Circumstances Don’t Intervene, it will probably make more sense for me to rent a room in town and take a secondary job to cover my expenses. I’ve said that before, but haven’t given myself enough time to make it happen (you guys, that’s a lot of squirrels to juggle), so I’m trying to get well ahead of the curve this time.

However, there is at least some chance that Circumstances Will Intervene, in the form of Other Life Events that might throw a spanner in the works.

I’m not quite ready to write about the Other Life Events yet. It’s not that they’re bad (don’t worry, D and I are fine, and nobody’s dying), it’s just that everything in that specific part of the Life Events Department is so vague right now that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Like, in short, it relates to us potentially moving within the next couple of years, and I’m simultaneously excited about that and Very Not Thrilled at the idea of leaving behind the community of dance and circus friends and colleagues who have helped me kind of, like, find my way and finally start trying to grow up and stuff, and it’s a lot to think about and work on and involves Level 80 Adulting things like getting the house in shape and selling it and stuff.

Honestly, though, that’s more like Fall/Winter/Next Couple Of Years Plans, so it also kind of falls beyond the purview of this, my Tentative Summer Plans post.

So, to bring this back around to the point, I’m not currently planning on traveling for summer intensives this year—though, who knows, that could all change depending on how flexible the Making Money bit is and how well it goes. *shrug*

No matter what happens, I will definitely be dancing this summer, and in particular I’ll be focusing on making my turns really hecking solid and reliable, not leaning back all the danged time, and (ideally) improving my ballet partnering skills.

sissones_04.jpg

It’s a Petit right in my Allegro, you guys.

Oh, and Petit Allegro, because everybody knows how much Petit Allegro loves me and how much I love it back >.<

But, like, that’s basically the same thing as just saying, “And I will work on sucking less at ballet,” because I suspect that I will spend the rest of my natural life doing battle with Petit Allegro, and it will probably still win. Petit Allegro is a worthy adversary, and all that. TBH, thus far, it has outlived every dancer who has ever lived, come to think of it, so my chances of defeating it are slim to none, eh?

 

Anyway. In summerary, here’s my plans for this summer thus far:

  1. PlayThink
  2. July Thing Maybe?
  3. Make Dat Money
  4. Burning Man
  5. Suck Less At Ballet

Further details to follow, of course, because besides “Dance Every Day” my other motto is apparently “Too Many Words.”

A Lesson Distilled From Illness

I have been wrestling a sinus infection, one of those opportunistic tagalongs that grabs hold on the wake of a brief-but-fierce virus. Thus far I’ve been trying to wait it out: but while the initial fever has abated, the lingering congestion, drainage, pharyngitis, and fatigue have pretty much convinced me that resistance is futile and a trip to the Immediate Care place is probably in order.

Throughout all of this, I’ve been prying myself out of bed to get to class and rehearsal. It’s just what you do. If I was still running a fever, I’d stay home to avoid infecting the rest of the company: in a company this small, two or three dancers out sick is practically a massacre. 

I’m not feverish, though, so I gather my gumption and go.

It occurred to me this morning (a blessed reprieve, since the company isn’t called until 2 PM) that I wouldn’t do this for a desk job.

In fact, I couldn’t. Being still and concentrating is an enormous challenge when I’m at my best. Right now, it’s impossible.

At the ballet, I can mostly keep my head together when I’m moving, and when I’m not needed it doesn’t matter as much if my brain clicks itself off for a while. I can be a zombie on the sidelines, passively absorbing as much as I’m able to, until I’m needed on the floor again.

I don’t think I would’ve figured this out if I were working a desk job. I’d just have known that other people work through non-contagious illnesses that turn me into a zombie. I couldn’t have figured it out, because I wouldn’t have had the necessary data.

Think of me as a kind if intellectual shark: if my thought process is to live, I have to keep moving. At the best of times, micro-movements and occasional breaks to get up and walk around can do it. If I’m sick or sleep deprived, though, I have to really move to pass enough water over my metaphorical gills.

Driving is the most stressful part of my day right now: too much bodily stillness as the body and its protective shell—a missile that weighs a literal ton—hurtle down the road at around seventy miles per hour. Keeping my brain out of screen-saver mode is far harder than usual even with Adderall.

But I’m getting through it. After the intense mental burden of the drive, I manage all right at the ballet.I

And this is new information, and valuable: it’s not that I’m somehow weaker than my fellow desk-jockeys were when I worked at a desk. It’s that I need different inputs.

So that’s that. And now I need to go gird my loins and enter the fray. The dance, after all, isn’t going to rehearse itself.

Learning Theory Comes Home To Roost

It just occurred to me that I think my turns in second are getting worse because they are,

…And that they are because I keep stopping when I’m doing them wrong because I don’t want to look like an ass.

So I’m reinforcing the wrong technique.

Doubt


Part of life in any group is occasionally overhearing disparaging comments about yourself. I get that. Part of life as a human is learning to keep those comments from getting to you. I get that, too, but like everyone I’m not always good at it.

I’ve been reflecting on this particular thing, because one of the things that bothers me about myself is how very much things people say sometimes bother me (but only sometimes).

Or … well. Not so much when people say things to me. It’s when someone says something about me, but not to me, in a setting in which it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll overhear it.

When someone criticizes me directly, I see it as an opportunity.

At best, it’s an opportunity to learn something.

This is undoubtedly one of the best lessons you learn in the ballet studio: criticism gives you room to grow (and means that your instructor or director hasn’t completely given up on you ^-^’). Ideally, it should be offered constructively, but even if it’s excessively blunt, it’s still useful information.

I mean, sure, sometimes it’s mortifying to realize that you’ve been doing something wrong for, like, six years. But it’s still useful. You can’t really improve ballet technique—or, for that matter, anything else—unless someone helps you identify your mistakes. Or, well, you probably can improve, but it’ll probably also take a lot longer.

At worst, direct criticism reflects a misunderstanding. If someone says to me, “Jeez, why don’t you pay attention?” I can tell them, “I have trouble processing language, and sometimes when I’m trying to understand what someone just said I pretty much literally don’t hear anything else for a while.” Or I can say, “Oh, yeah, I totally zoned out, didn’t I? Ack! Sorry about that.” (True story: I caught myself zoning out during barre this morning. It was a rough morning, brain-wise.)

When I was in sixth grade, a kid in my class stopped me in the hallway and asked, “Why are you so stuck up?” It was blunt and awkward as hell, but it was also useful information. I was, in fact, horribly shy (I still am), not to mention stiff and formal (both of which were partly neurology and partly social inexperience). I didn’t realize that I came across as stuck up.

I was so flummoxed that I basically answered, “Um?”

The same year, another classmate told me I talked like a robot.

Neither was exactly subtle, and I initially found both pretty confusing: but those comments helped me realize that what I felt on the inside wasn’t what people saw on the outside (which, admittedly, took a long time). They were blunt, but they weren’t meant to be mean.

Even as the least socially-savvy kid in my class, I’d seen enough of intentional meanness to know what it looked like. It was pretty clear in both cases that the classmates in question were just trying to figure stuff out; trying to put things into words. As someone who struggles with spoken language, I also knew how hard putting things into words could be, and how sometimes that can make you sound pretty blunt.

In short, even if it’s blunt, direct criticism can be helpful (if it couldn’t, nobody would ever survive growing up in New England in the first place).

Sometimes even when people do intend their words to be mean and hurtful, they still manage to say something helpful in the process.

If someone says to me, “Oh my G-d, you’re such a fuck-up. How are you so bad at petit allegro?!”[1] I could potentially still say, “I know, I suck at it, don’t I? I’m not entirely sure what’s up with that, like it gets worse sometimes and then gets better sometimes, but I’m working on it. If you notice anything specific, could you let me know?”

  1. I don’t think anybody has actually ever said this to me, though it’s entirely possible that people have said it about me because I have definitely said it about myself. But this is definitely not a real-life example of something someone has lobbed at me in an excessively blunt way or of something I’ve overheard.

Criticism overheard is something else.

It suggests to me that the person doing the criticizing either doesn’t think it’s worth their time of day to speak to me directly, is just one of those people who says things without really thinking, or maybe just isn’t particularly brave about criticizing people.

Either way, it doesn’t offer the same opportunities. Like, yes, if someone makes a specific comment (“OMG, why doesn’t Asher ever pay attention?”), I can take it as a reminder: Hey, you might’ve blinked out for a sec there; you might want to make sure you are paying attention. But it also rankles.

Moreover, sometimes people say things in ways that are mean, and that you can’t do anything about, and they do so in contexts in which you can’t defend yourself without either being a giant jerk or possibly making things worse, and then you’re just stuck with it.

I don’t know if it bothers me more when I suspect that I’m intended to overhear such comments or when I suspect that I’m not intended to.

I don’t know if it really matters.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to discuss someone’s shortcomings with a third person. Sometimes you have to, in order either to figure out how to talk to the person you’re criticising or, if you’re in a position that makes talking to that person impossible, to blow off steam.

It is not, however, in particularly good taste to do so where the person in question is likely to overhear you. And it’s just plain rude to do so intentionally.

But that alone doesn’t explain why sometimes that kind of comment really, really stings.

But this, for me, does: it occurred to me recently that comments I overhear only really bother me when they concern some area in which I already feel unsure of myself.

So that brings us back to doubt.

I don’t imagine that I’ll reach a point in my life at which I don’t wrestle with doubt. I’m not sure that I—or anyone—should.

But there’s reasonable, healthy doubt—the doubt that keeps us humble—and the kind of soul-sucking doubt that grinds down on us and makes it so, so much harder to do the things we’re trying to do.

I’ve spent a lot of this year wrestling my doubt. Sometimes, that’s made it much harder for me to learn: nothing blocks your brain like a good dose of nerves, and nothing makes you nervous like doubt.

I don’t have any groundbreaking insights to add, here.

Doubt is hard. It’s particularly hard when it’s at least partially grounded in reality: when you know how much ground you have to make up, and you’re not really sure if you’re succeeding in that respect.

I can say this, though: pretending it’s not there doesn’t make it go away. It doesn’t even make it easier to grit your teeth and get through it.

The best response I’ve found for my doubt is to give voice to it: to talk to someone who has a clearer head, and who knows both my weaknesses and my strengths, and who can help me discern how much of my doubt is justified and how much isn’t.

Some days, it’s better. Some days, it’s worse. Some days, despite all the things that should move it towards the “better” end of the spectrum, someone says something—about me, but not to me—that just shoots it right back to the Consuming Doubt end of the spectrum.

One of the firmest tenets of my upbringing was this: if you can’t bring yourself to say something to someone’s face, you don’t say it where they can hear you. Ever.

Its corollary goes, “…And if you are going to say something to someone’s face, at least try to say it the way you’d want to hear it, because sooner or later you’re going to be the one on the receiving end.”

The corollary is easy enough to understand.

I don’t know that I’ve given a lot of thought in the past to the first bit: it was just something that got built into my personal code of ethics. I never gave much thought to the why.

So maybe this is the why: everyone has doubts. Everyone has weak spots.

As for me, I will continue to sit with mine, even when it’s hard; to talk to people whose reliable good sense helps keep my compass from spinning off magnetic north; and to try to keep my big mouth shut.

Technical Um, Sunday: Pas De Bourée, or More Fancy Walking

I’ll begin with a caveat:

This will be my first attempt at a BG-style breakdown of a basic technical movement, and goodness only knows if it’ll succeed. So, if this turns out to be even more confusing than the explanations already out there, feel free to feck it out the window and be after finding yourself a better explanation.

Onwards!

Pas De Bourée: Another of the Hardest Easiest Things

As a dancer, you’ll probably execute some or another flavor of pas de bourée more often than any other step in the entire canon of ballet (not least because it’s one of the ways that we all surreptitiously change our feet when we suddenly realize that everyone else is standing on the other foot, so to speak).

This means, ironically, that it’s probably the single most important step in the entire massive arsenal.

By the time you’ve been dancing for a few years, you’ll be able to do the most basic PdB so readily that you’ll find yourself using it to navigate your way through the press at every social function you att—

Oh, wait. 

You’re probably already using PdB that way, even if you’ve never taken a single ballet class or, for that matter, seen so much as a single poster for a ballet.

That’s because the plain-vanilla PdB is a staggeringly pedestrian movement … literally, in fact.

Pas de bourée is very much an organized stagger-step. I’ve often seen its name translated as “Step of the Drunk,” and while I’m pretty sure that “Bourrée” in this sense refers to a social dance.

 Then again, at its core, social dance is just so much fancy walking and organized staggering anyway, and we must acknowledge that social dance and drinking go almost as far back as drinking and the attendant less-organized forms of staggering.

Okay, But What The Heck Does That Mean?

In short, your basic pas de bourée is just a sidestep that changes which foot is in front.

TL;DR: your whole goal, basically, is to move one foot out of the way so you can put the other one in front (or in back, if you’re going that way) without losing momentum.

When you execute a little sidestep to stop your toes being squashed by the latest SuperPram or avoid tracking through something nasty, there’s a good chance that you’ll automatically execute a nice little PdB. 

There are, of course, umptillion fancier versions, many of them specific to the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, whose decline L’Ancien routinely laments (with good reason: the refinements of PdB are both useful and beautiful). 

Forget about them for now. 

There’s no point in trying to wrap your head around pad de bourée a quatre pas until you’ve quite mastered the bog-standard pas de bourée that ballet teachers often describe with the shorthand “back, side, front.” Besides, entire classes full of advanced and professional students who struggle with those rare and specialized versions (ask me how I know 😑).

So where, then, do we begin?

First, by pinning “back, side, front” to a convenient spot on a mental pegboard where it won’t get lost and in which we can completely ignore it for now.

 “Back, side, front” is helpful once you’re basically familiar with what you’re trying to accomplish, but it’s also vague: do the individual terms of the equation describe which foot to move or where to move them?

If you think about it too hard—even as someone who’s danced for yeeeeaarrrssss—it’s easy to get it wrong. There’s not enough of the right information.

So we will, for now, bid adieu to “back, side, front” and get back to Fancy Walking.

Let’s try a mental experiment. 

I apologize in advance to those of you whose brains don’t do the visualizing thing. You might want to read through this a couple of times, get a feel for the story, and then actually act it out, ideally somewhere in which your loved ones or co-workers won’t wonder why you’re shouting, “Oh, no! It’s Boris the Pug!”

 Oh, No! It’s Boris The Pug!

Imagine that you’re in walking along, minding your own business. You’re pretty good at walking by now, so if I ask you, “Which foot comes after ‘left?'” you’ll probably give me a long look[1] and say either, “What are you on about?” or simply, “Right.”[2]

Presumably, you also thoroughly grasp that after right comes left again, and so on ad infinitum, or at least until you reach the coffee shop.

Now, imagine that as you’re walking, in mid-stride, you spot your neighbor Pat just ahead, to your left, walking Boris The Pug.

Boris is an enthusiastically sociable pug[3] who is locally famous for crashing into his favorite people (which includes anyone and everyone in eyeshot). As a resukt, Pat keeps Boris on a shortish lead—but good old Boris is nothing if not determined, and all at once he’s wheezily lunging towards you in hopes of head-butting your shin with ecstatic glee. 

You, however, don’t wish to be party to Boris’ next collision. First of all, Boris is a bit of a dribbler, and you’re wearing your favorite trousers (or skirt, or whatever you like). Second, Pat lives to recount Boris’ history of hilarious head-butting incidents, and although you like Pat, you secretly like Boris more, and you hope this once to spare him from being the butt—dare I say, the head-butt—of the joke.

So as you put your right foot down and Boris the Pug torpedoes himself towards the place where he expects your left leg to appear, you sidestep: you swing your left leg to the right.

Because this does funny things to your mass with regards to gravity, and probably also because you want to give Boris a little extra wheezing room, instead of swinging the left leg forward and right and setting your left foot down in front of your right foot, you swing the left leg a little to the back and right and set the foot down just behind your right foot.

Your weight shifts onto to your left foot, and then your right leg also swings a little to the right, so your left leg has somewhere to go.
Next, you put your right foot down, and now your left leg is free to swing forward.

Finally, you can put your left foot down in front of your right foot and resume the normal course of your walk.

Congratulations! You have spared poor Boris from becoming the subject of yet another embarrassing collision story that Pat will tell at every neighbourhood soirée for the foreseeable future!

Oh. AND you’ve executed a pas de bourée in parallel (which is, I am led to understand, called a “grapevine step” in Jazz? But don’t quite me in that; my knowledge of Jazz is sketchy at best).

So that’s the size of it, really: your garden-variety pas de bourée. In the ballet context, you do this particular kind of PdB going sideways, with turnout, like so, assuming you’re beginning from first position:

  1. Shift your weight onto the right foot.
  2. Lift the left foot, swing it in behind the right foot, and put it down.
  3. Lift the right foot, swing it just a little to the right, and put it down.
  4. Lift the left foot, swing it to the right and put it down in front of the right foot. (If you’re doing the brushed version, it might very well feel like you’re brushing side to close front—another reason I’m putting a freeze on the “back, side, front” analogy.)

You do not, at this point, “do the hokey-pokey and turn yourself around.” That is absolutely NOT what it’s all about. At least, not unless your director tells you to, in which case all bets are off.

Anyway. Where was I?

Oh, erm, right.

Just like balancé, pas de bourée goes “right, left, right” or “left, right, left.” 

If it attempts to do otherwise, it is forced to become a sort of mutant temps-levée, and nobody wants that.

In actual practice, you might either brush the feet out, then brush them back in (as you do in degagé) or crisply lift them[4]. (The degagé version is usually taught first, probably because it feels more intuitive.)

In fact, you’ll often begin your pas de bourée with one foot already in the air, so the initial brush or lift is more implied than actual. You’re already there. You don’t have to close and then open again unless you’re specifically instructed to do so, because PdB is a linking step.

If a combination calls for tombé-pas de bourée (as so many do), and you’ve just tombé-ed onto your left foot, you’ll simply close the right foot (which is already in the air) behind the left foot, put your weight on your right foot, and so forth[5].

You’ll do this any time you need to change feet through a linking step without losing your momentum, but don’t need a glissade changée. In fact, it will very frequently be followed by a glissade changé, especially in that balletic equivalent of “shave and a hair cut, two bits” technically known as “tombé, pas de bourée, glissade, assemblé.” 

 Eventually you’ll discover that pas de bourée occurs at other moments, as well—sometimes even as a means of changing direction (tombé, pas de bourée, piqué arabesque has been known to occur, for example).

 Even the fanciest versions (I’m looking at you, various flavors of PdB a quatre- and cinq pas), however, hew to the rule of “left, then right, etc” (or its equivalent, “right, then left, etc”) simply because we’re upright bipeds. The quadrupedal equivalent, the side-pass, is a fairly advanced dressage maneuver, presumably because coordinating twice as many legs is about fifty times as hard, so be glad you only have two legs.

This Was Really Long Though 😶

You’re right: it was. Just remember that pas de bourée will almost always change feet (ballet shorthand for “switch which foot goes in front”), and if you do it wrong you can cheat by surreptitiously coupé-ing one foot or just doing a little tendu, if you have time.

Of course, as soon as that becomes thoroughly hardwired, you’ll run into a teacher who throws in an occasional PdB without a change of feet, in which case you’ll find it edifying to know that basically everybody grits their teeth and prays when that sort of thing comes up, so don’t worry, it’s not just you.

Notes

  1. Reasonable enough, considering that the question suggests that I’m either profoundly intoxicated, deranged, an alien impersonating a human but not quite sure about the cookbooks t, or all three.
  2. Unless you’ve got a marching cadence running through your head, in which case you might reply, “Left … Left, right, left!” in which case, I don’t know but I’ve been told…
  3. Why a pug? Honestly, I have no idea. My inner world is a very strange place.
  4. The version in which you lift each foot precisely to cou-de-pied (which is usually short-handed as “coupé,” though technically coupé is an action rather than a position) while executing the whole movement on demi-pointe is called pas de bourée piqué, and if you want to see it in action, shows up in the female corps choreography in every Petipa ballet that I’ve ever seen.
  5. This is what makes “back, side, front” confusing. It’s telling you where to put your feet, but “back” and “front” are frequently used as shorthand for which foot in other contexts. It also doesn’t tell you where to start, which can be problematic, since either foot could end theoretically close back on the first count, but only one choice will lead you to end on the correct leg. There are few things as distressing as failing to change legs and proceeding to glissade directly into the person next to you.
%d bloggers like this: