Author Archives: asher

Harness The Imposter

Today I’m going to begin with a caveat: imposter syndrome varies from person to person and moment to moment. There might be times that the strategy to follow won’t work—heck, it could even backfire—so don’t feel like it’s something you must try, or like you’re less of a dancer (or a person, or what have you) if you don’t.

Take care of yourself in the moment you’re in. You don’t have to do everything today; heck, you don’t have to do everything at all. It’s amazingly liberating to realize that, to be honest, a lot of things can wait, and that you’re not even the tiniest bit obligated to try ever possible approach to a problem.

Now, that being said, buckle in if you’d like to join me on a wee excursion into the territory of Imposterland.

A statue of a perplexed but adorable little dragon sits in lush green grass. They appear to also be suffering from imposter syndrome, possibly.
Imposterland: Here Be Dragons … Kind of. (pic via WP’s image library)

Okay, so earlier I was working around the house and listening to Broche Ballet’s podcast and thinking about imposter syndrome (as you do).

Somewhere in there, something reminded me of my early days in the company at Lexington Ballet, back in the Before Times, c 2018[1].

  1. Seriously, that feels like about a MILLION YEARS AGO 😱

At the time, I was grappling with a terrible case of imposter syndrome (as you do). It was a rough time. I struggled a lot. On the regular, usually when everything else was also going wrong, imposter syndrome reared its ugly head and whispered, “You don’t deserve to be here. You’re not good enough. And they’re gonna figure it out.

And every now and then, like a lifeline from the Universe, another thought would counter, “So what? Who cares? You’re here. Get to work. Prove them wrong. Rise to the occasion. Earn your spot.

My life, of course, is not a Hollywood blockbuster, so it didn’t immediately fix everything. Not by a long shot. I still had rough days. I still struggled to pick things up in class more often than I care to admit. I still frequently felt like a squid attempting to dance in size 114 clown shoes.

But at the end of the season, I was offered a contract for the following year—and that comes down, in part, to the sheer bloody-minded stubbornness that says, “So what? Who cares? (etc)” That stubborn streak, and the desire to make my Imposter Syndrome eat its words, kept me from walking out when things were at their roughest.

I’ve never thought of imposter Syndrome as an ally in my efforts to build a career as a dancer. I mean, now that I’m reflecting on it, I guess it makes sense to recognize that it’s trying to protect me, but it really often feels like anything but an ally.

But somehow, today, something went ping! and I realized that, indirectly, it has been not only one of my most faithful companions on this journey, but (at times, anyway) a helpful companion.

Imposter syndrome’s timorous whisper has served to feed my tenacity. At critical moments, it has awakened a kind of perverse grit. It has jabbed at the part of me that hates to fail.

I’m not saying this is true for everyone: it’s not even true for me all the time. With two years more-or-less on hiatus under my belt and little to show for it except better port de bras, a somewhat-more-reliable double tour, and a bit more, ahem, insulation than I had when the pandemic began, I’m staring down the barrel of a cross-country move into what is, in terms of dance, terra incognita.

You can bet your bippy that my inner imposter has a lot to say right now, and that the other voice, that stubborn inner voice, doesn’t always reply.

But now I know that I can say to my imposter syndrome, “Yo, thanks for looking out for me, but I’m not quitting. Whether or not I deserved to be where here when I walked through the door, I’m here now, and I’m gonna stick it out and earn my place.”

The funny thing is that sticking it out, in and of itself, really does help. You can do something day in, day out for years without improving at all, but only if your circumstances significantly limit the chance of improvement. Spend enough time doing almost anything with a least a little guidance, and you’re gonna improve.

Back in the fall of 2018, I was as insecure as a teacher of dance and as a choreographer as I was as a dancer.

Flash forward to today, and I’m a reasonably confident teacher: I know I’m not perfect, and that I have a lot to learn, but when I look at my students’ progress, it’s pretty clear that something’s working.

I’m also a reasonably confident choreographer: I set dances that people enjoy watching, and I don’t feel like I haven’t earned the right to do so. When I’m alone in the studio, setting a pas de deux or the corps parts for Act II of Simon Crane, it no longer feels like a pipe dream, or like a vision I shouldn’t look at too directly. Sure, setting an entire gigantic ballet is an enormous goal, and I still have literally no idea how to get there, but I no longer feel like I’m somehow not worthy to try.

I’m not as confident, yet, that I’ve earned my place as a dancer, but I’m getting there poco à poco. Opportunities are appearing that I doubt I could have imagined a few years back.

That’s where sticking it out, even out of nothing but sheer spite, really shines.

It’s kind of like learning to ride a bike: you fall. You get scraped up. You kick the curb, the bike, and especially yourself. You get back on. You crash some more. You keep getting back on because like heck some stupid inanimate object[2] is going to beat you. And then at some point you’re sort of tottering along, and you start to pick up some speed, and the air moves over your skin like the breath of G-d moving over the face of the deep, and YOU ARE DOING IT!

  1. As a cyclist and lover of bikes, I am willing to certify that bikes are only inanimate objects in the loosest sense. Every single bike has a soul, and that soul is the soul of a pony that goes like a dream for a skilled rider with quiet hands, but will dump a N00b in a puddle STAT and then stand there laughing about it: not malicious, exactly, but perhaps a bit cynical, with a keen sense of the Order of Things. Every horse person on earth has met some version of this pony. So has every cyclist.

And then, of course, you crash again. You tend to crash a lot in the beginning, because that’s how beginnings work. Heck, if you’re a baby wood duck, your first experience of flight is being shoved out of the nest to crash in the underbrush, presumably so when is time to learn to fly, you’ll already know what crashing is like, and you won’t let it stop you (or possibly because some distant ancestor long ago decided that eggs were safer in trees, and here we are).

But, anyway, wood duck, cyclist, or dancer, you get up and dust off and get back to it. You’ve started, so you might as well keep on going.

And if you keep going long enough, you might just figure it out. You might discover, after all, that while you were looking elsewhere, you’ve earned your spot.

I used to think every other professional dancer I knew could see all my flaws. Now, I know they can: but most of them also choose—and I’m immensely grateful for this—to see my strengths.

The strength that is a spiteful refusal to give in to my imposter syndrome—or, seen from another angle, the conviction to endure through whatever trial arises—may or may not be invisible. I suspect my AD at LexBallet saw it plainly from time to time.

But, looking back, it’s a strength that I guess I can see.

One last thing: I know that privilege is a part of this. Opportunity is unequally distributed, especially for male ballet dancers, who are still pretty thin on the ground and who thus enjoy a far greater chance of finding a spot. So is the kind of financial security that affords both good training and the ability to absorb the financial challenges that come with being an artist. So is health.

Likewise, I have done exactly none of this on my own. Dancers are unicorns not only in that we’re kind of rare, but in that we—like Peter Beagle’s Last Unicorn—need others to see us; to believe in us; to know what we are. We’re a communal concern, whether we like it or not.

The thought of exactly how much artistic potential goes untapped either through lack of opportunity or through lack of recognition[3] and support is, quite frankly, staggering.

  1. Not recognition in the public, award-receiving sense, but in the private, “I am your teacher and I see that you have a gift and I’m going to tell you about it, along with anyone I know who can help you develop it” sense

Please know that if lack of privilege, of opportunity, of means, of health, of recognition, or of support—or, really, anything else: life is full of obstacles—stands in your way, I am not saying, “Just pick yourself up by your bootstraps!”

Imposter syndrome is a mirage, but there are plenty of real obstacles in the world, and imposter syndrome can make it even harder to overcome them.

If you’re in the woods, if you’re in the country of obstacles, I hope you’ll find your way clear (and I’ll help any way that I’m able, though I have no idea what that might look like).

I hope also that you might be able to harness your inner imposter. Maybe even make friends with them.

I’m not really there yet, but why not?

Thoughts on Adult Intensives

Okay. So.

Suddenly, here it is almost May.

This happens to me every year, but it’s definitely worse without the structure of the ballet company schedule(1).

  1. How am I supposed to keep track of which month it is if the only major landmark is Nutcracker? Jeez.

Which, in turn, means that summer is barreling down on us at a staggering rate of *checks google* 1038ish miles per hour, give or take(2), replete with its array of Summer Intensives.

  1. circumference of the earth/24 (3)
  2. Wow, only a few sentences in and I’ve already included 2 notes and a note-on-a-note

I’ve already committed to LouBallet’s Adult Summer Intensive, which seems like a really good way to finish out my … seven??? years of training there—a way to spend some concentrated time with some of my favorite teachers and classmates while also, of course, keeping my ballet skills on point(e). Besides, it’s a great program, and we get to learn cool original choreography (some of which has made it to my video CV/audition reel, because I actually felt good about it after watching it).

It’s also fairly affordable, which is more important than usual, since I don’t yet have paid work lined up for, like, after this summer (fortunately, D does).

I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to do basically anything else this summer that doesn’t at least offer me a full scholarship or the equivalent thereof, but there are several programs I’m flat-out dying to attend (DuCon!!!!! ADF! Pilobolus!) if finances magically allow. Likewise, I’m ever-curious about adult SI offerings, and I like to keep an ear to the wind about what’s available—so, from time to time, I go hunting.

And in the process of hunting, I’ve noticed something.

Adult SI Pricing Can Bring You To (Two?), Ahem, Tiers

Yeah, you’re right. That was terrible. Sorry.

In the growing world of adult summer intensives and workshops, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern: there are basically two pricing tiers.

  • Tier One: programs that are actually less expensive per week than a lot of (perhaps even most) youth SIs
  • Tier Two: programs that are either as expensive as or actually wildly more expensive per week than even top-notch youth SIs

Tuition for the second tier of adult SIs typically runs more than twice the weekly cost of tuition at the first tier, though the dance offerings are often comparable (or, in some cases, richer at the Tier One programs).

I’m curious about what drives the difference in price, and whether the organizers of the different programs (especially Tier Two programs) realize how deeply pricing might impact the makeup of the student body at any individual program.

Given that none of these programs, as far as I know, are restricted to local students only, and that the adult ballet community justly thirsts for quality SIs like hummingbirds thirst for nectar (though it’s fair to say we dancers are less likely to stab each-other in the pursuit of coveted spots around the feeder), “what the market will bear” clearly isn’t the only factor at play. Likewise, all of them have limited spaces, and the number of available spots doesn’t seem to have much to do with pricing models (if it did, we could expect both LouBallet’s and LexBallet’s SIs, which are limited to fairly small numbers, to command much higher prices).

Bringing Tiers To You: A Look At Prices

A brief survey of adult SI pricing reveals a pretty broad range, but it’s worth noting that many of the Tier One programs, though typically  open to dancers at all levels, are designed in ways that allow them to serve serious dancers across the spectrum from fairly new beginners to emerging professionals.

Lexington Ballet’s adult SI (scroll to the bottom of the linked page for registration info), at $240 for five four-hour days, continues to be an absolute steal, and I’m not just saying that because LexBallet has been my company and my ballet home for the past few years. The quality of instruction is superb, and I don’t know of an adult SI that’s priced more affordably (unless we start breaking things down per hour, in which case it’s Mutual Dance Theater, hands down). Participants from this SI have found also their way into character roles and even company contracts, thanks to the close participation of LexBallet’s AD, School Director, and other artistic staff.

Mutual Dance Theater’s Modern SI–the one I took a few years ago, before Mam-Luft & Co merged with  Mutual–runs $399 at most (late-bird tuition, for disorganized folks like me) for a packed week, with programming 9 AM to 5 PM every day. It’s not ballet-specific, and it’s not one I’d recommend to a true beginner in any dance idiom, but it’s a beast of an intensive (in a good way), and hella affordable. It’s also very much geared towards emerging professionals.

LouBallet, fairly typical of the first tier with its $550 tuition for a 5.5-day program[4], could almost certainly double its tuition and then some and still fill the spaces. Instead, they’ve chosen to keep the tuition right where it’s been (for which I am deeply grateful). Ashley Thursby-Kern, who runs the program, specifically considers its role in offering an intensive program for college dancers and emerging professionals who may have aged out of youth SIs, while continuing to foster an environment that supports new dancers as well.

Westside Ballet’s program, located in Santa Monica, is a bit shorter per session (3 hours/day over 4 days) but offers three sessions priced at $500 each. The faculty includes Martine Harley, who is the company’s AD, and Sven Toorvald, along with others representing some top-tier companies. The third week focuses on pas de deux and variations, and if I wasn’t teaching an SI that week, I’d find some way to get my behind out there for that.

ArtEmotion‘s offering– the most expensive I’ve included in this category–looks very comparable to LouBallet’s and, at $800, still seems pretty approachable to those of us in the “broke-ass dancer” category[5]. This is one of the oldest ongoing adult intensives, held at Ballet West’s Salt Lake City studio, and has long been on my list of Intensives I’d Attend If They Weren’t The Same Week As Something Else I’m Already Doing.

  1. This is a fugly link, so if it doesn’t work, try this one: LouBallet MBB Landing Page
  2. Assume that this category includes both “lay” dancers with limited disposable income and those of us among the professional segment who usually have access to at least some summer programming for free, but who might have been impacted by pandmic-related closures and/or impending moves (hi) and, either way, still need to stay in shape until September.

These programs, and programs like them–my “First Tier” adult SIs–are largely affiliated with established ballet companies or schools. Access to existing studio space and, perhaps, a built-in supply of students and teachers explain at least some of their relatively affordable prices.

They also tend to be light on extracurriculars–those factors that might make things feel a bit more like a vacation, I guess. Not that you need them after, for example, eight straight hours of modern dance buttkickery.

Tier Two, meanwhile, is a bit more of a mixed bag: one of the programs in question features one of my favorite master teachers and looks like an absolute banger of a program for focused advanced dancers; others seem a bit more like relaxing ballet-themed getaways.

I realize that this perception is very much colored by my experience as one of the aforementioned Emerging Professionals, with its attendant feature of being both chronically broke and accustomed to dancing 30+ hours per week. As my friend Tony (who looks like a tall Steven McRae) says, “Hi Ho, the theatrical life.”

So what kind of programs, you might ask, are in Tier Two?

First, of course: SunKing, the granddaddy of adult SIs. At the time of this writing, SunKing doesn’t have a website up, and I’m not clear on whether or not it’s actually happening this year (links to SK’s Facebarge), but it was always out of my price range anyway. It was one of the few that had enough draw to offer a partnering class, which would’ve been awesome to take before I embarked on Ballet Company Lyfe (y’all, learning partnering piecemeal while rehearsing actual ballets isn’t ideal, is what I’m saying), but not quite awesome enough to warrant launching an OnlyFans or something at this point in my career. Still, I’ve always had the impression that the actual instruction overall was quite good.

Given the serious, focused programs and excellent instruction available in Tier One, there’s only one Tier Two program that leaves me feeling butthurt about being, well, semi-broke, and that’s Runqiao Du’s inaugural DuCon–which I’d leap to attend, if I could afford it (but I can’t, unless I figure out how to make a few thosand dollars PRONTO). DuCon falls at the, well, less-inaccessible end of my second tier: tuition runs $1499 for one week or $2799 for both weeks, and the program offers an excellent teaching staff (Mr. Du himself, plus others), a 6-day week, and programming that runs from 9:30 AM ’til 8:00 PM Monday through Friday. Moreover, Du’s youth SI (which also runs for two weeks) is priced exactly the same, so we (would-be) adult participants aren’t left feeling like cash cows.

At the far end of Tier 2 is another brand-new event: International Adult Ballet Festival. Not gonna lie—I was intrigued when I heard about this one on the Broche Ballet podcast: the program offers a workshop, showcase, and a competition (not a selling point for me, but certainly a unique offering). However, at only 4 days long, IABF comes with a staggering $2950 price tag. To be fair, that does include hotel room, breakfast, lunch, and a couple other meals–but broke-ass dancers are pretty good at finding cheap housing and food, and if I’ma drop $3k on tuition, it’s going to be at DuCon or ADF.

Don’t get me wrong, IABF sounds like a really fun event–but it’s pretty clear that I’m not really their target audience (this isn’t a program that believes adult dancers can’t build careers in dance, but I don’t think it’s really intended for those of us who are already doing so). Likewise, the website’s vibe is more Awesome Ballet Vacation than Come Get Your Ass Handed To You For A Week Or Two. There’s value in both those approaches, of course. Likewise, the event does bill itself as a festival, rather than as a Summer Intensive: more, “Come celebrate ballet!” than “Come suffer with us!” And it’s good that such a thing can exist.

But still. $2950 for 4 days. Wow.

Do Different Tiers Reflect Different Audiences?

As an autistic person, I am perhaps more inclined than most to sort of forget that people can be interested in the same things I’m interested in, but experience those interests very differently(6).

  1. Some people can apparently like things without tending to rebuild their entire lives around those things! Who knew?!

It doesn’t automatically occur to me that someone else might want to take a summer intensive for different reasons than I do, or maybe, for the same reasons, but perhaps prioritized differently.

Life, for me, the drivers (at least, the ones I can think of right now), ordered by priority, might look like this:

  • Refine and improve technique for upcoming season and/or auditions
  • Learn new steps and/or new partnering skills
  • Learn repertoire
  • Maintain at least the bare minimum fitness level that will prevent me dying on Day 1 of new company class, assuming successful auditions
  • Ideally, add a useful piece to my audition reel
  • Hang out with my peeps, new and existing

Explicitly not in my list are the following:

  • Relax
  • Take a break from my regular job (because ballet is my regular job)
  • Find out what it’s like to be able to dance full-time (again, bc that’s basically already my life)

This makes it difficult to imagine choosing a 4-day intensive at any price when there are so many available that run 5 or 6 days or longer: my primary goal is to immerse myself in a demanding curriculum for as long as possible.

Likewise, I find it difficult to imagine being a dancer, but also being satisfied living a life in which a four-day ballet immersion would feel that much different from, like, normal life, because my experience of being a dancer has basically been, “Holy heck, drop everything else, this is the thing

i MUST do.”

And yet, rationally, I am aware that I know people in that exact target market—people who have very demanding careers that they love outside of dance, not to mention family lives that don’t basically also revolve around ballet, but who also passionately love dancing.

Quite a few of them could easily afford a few thousand dollars for a short, almost-all-inclusive ballet intensive. Time is probably in shorter supply for them than it is for me, and the sheer convenience of having almost everything planned out might mean saying, “Hey, I can do this!” instead of “Wow, yeah, I don’t have the time/mental bandwidth/whatever for all this planning.”

Likewise, the fact that I straight up forgot to put “have fun” on my list of priorities says a LOT … though mostly what it’s saying is that, even during the roughest parts of my first year with LexBallet, I still had fun, and I still wanted to be there more than I wanted to be anywhere else in the world.

So it doesn’t occur to me to put “have fun” on the list, because, even if the atmosphere somewhere turns out to be awful, I’m going to enjoy dancing anyway. Especially if I know I’m only there for, at best, a few weeks.

For someone who’s returning to work in another field after their summer program, on the other hand, fun and relaxation might be much higher priorities. There’s something to be said for options existing that fit the needs of people in that situation, too.

Conclusion: I Which I Leave You In Tiers

(Or not, depending on if adult summer intensives are of any interest to you at all.)

Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t the Most Important Thing In The World.

But it’s a valuable insight for me (as someone who is fully behind the idea that different people have different wants and needs but who is also sometimes an absolute bonehead at imagining them), and I hope it might be helpful to others considering adult summer programs—especially, maybe, those considering their first adult summer program.

For me, for example, Mam-Luft (now Mutual) was in many ways a great first summer program—but it was also extremely demanding, often emotionally challenging, sometimes lonely, and just plain physically exhausting. I definitely had some major breakthro moments, but I also failed A LOTTTTT in front of 50 people, with no hope of fading into anonymity, since I was the ONLY guy that year. Oh, and I shredded my foot.

If I hadn’t, by then, already been a pretty experienced student, quietly putting in the foundations for a career in dance; if I was of a less stubborn constitution; maybe especially if I’d taken that SI knowing I had to go back to stressful job, I might’ve felt very differently about exactly the same experience. It might even have made me conclude that SIs weren’t for me, which would’ve been a shame.

So maybe the real TL;DR for this post goes like this:

  • There are a lot of adult summer programs now! That’s awesome!
  • The programs can be roughly divided into two pricing tiers
  • The price of a program doesn’t directly reflect the quality of instruction—most of them look pretty solid!
  • The less-expensive programs seem more likely to attract a mixed student body of both amateur and professional dancers
  • The more expensive programs are more likely to include things like meals and extracurricular events
  • Before you choose a program, it’s a good idea to hash out your needs, goals, and priorities (Will you be going straight back to work in a busy emergency room? Consider a shorter or more relaxed program—you’ll still learn a lot, but you won’t return to work exhausted)
  • If you choose a shorter or more relaxed program this year and discover that you want to go harder, you’ll have gained valuable insight for next time
  • On the other hand, if you choose a challenging program send find it’s a little too much right now, you can either try again next year or try an easier one next year
  • If you get to go to DuCon, please tell me whether it’s as awesome as it sounds so i can figure out whether i need $3000 extra next year 😅

A Final Note: American Dance Festival & Pilobolus

Although I could arguably include American Dance Festival’s Summer Dance Institute in either one of my tiers, and would love to attend the full program, I’m setting it off to one side for now. In short, although full-time tuition runs $2,275, it’s comparable in length to a full-scale youth SI, and offers a staggering array of programming geared towards developing professional dancers. Likewise, you can actually Choose-Your-Own-Adventure your way through it by taking individual classes at $750/4-week class.

Likewise, although the cost-per-session of Pilobolus’ excellent program has increased to around $1000, its generous scholarship program makes it relatively accessible, though you can still rack up $3000 in tuition if you go for all three sessions at full cost. It’s also kind of in its own category because, honestly, a lot of ballet people probably wouldn’t be super interested, which is fine.

On Autism And Ballet (Again)

I know I’ve written about this before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again, but because for some unfathomable reason I’ve spent basically my entire day on Twitter grooving on threads from the neurodivergent, EDS, and disability communities, it occurs to me to write about why the ballet is a good fit for me, specifically as it interfaces with autism.

Everyone on earth has now written a summary of the basic diagnostic criteria for autism, so I’m not going to do that, here. Y’all know how to Google if you need more info -.^

Instead, I’m going to touch on how working as a dancer in a ballet company is a good fit for me as an autistic person, breaking things down as I go by the specific traits in question.

So, here we go.

Narrow Range Of Specialized Interests

Hooooo, boy. With the exception of the equestrian world and certain subsets of academia (I see you, paleobiologists!), I’m not sure there are too many actual career paths that dovetail as neatly here.

Ballet is an all-encompassing special interest. It requires your body, your mind, and basically all of your time. It’s one of the very few career paths in which obsessive focus on the subject is essentially an entry-level requirement—like, the only way to make it through the training is to be motivated enough by ballet itself, which is why dancers everywhere giggle at t-shirts that read, “I CAN’T. I HAVE CLASS.”

Like, we’ve all been there, and (excepting the few who get shoved into it by overbearing parents), we all chose that life.

As autistics, we experience this thing where people get really sick of our special interests. I honestly have only met one person in the ballet world who occasionally gets tired of talking about ballet, and even he doesn’t get tried enough of it to resent it—he’s just delighted when people bring their non-dancing partners to dancer shindigs so he can talk to them about, like, politics or futböl ^-^

It’s not that we dancers never talk about anything else—but in the studio after rehearsal, or at gatherings of dancers, nobody gets mad if you talk about ballet, or if all your jokes are specific to dance.

I suppose part of this is that ballet leaves precious little time for other pursuits—but, also, you only get that far if it basically consumes your whole being.

Rigid Adherence To Routine

I go to class even when I’m on holiday.

This is, of course, partly because I like going to class, and partly because the only way to stay in shape for ballet is, well, ballet.

But I’ve realized it’s also, to a significant extent, because no matter where I go, class is class. Barre is barre. Centre is centre. Allegro is the best thing that ever—erm, sorry, allegro is allegro.

There may be minor variations (Ha! Ballet puns!) in the routine, but overall, when I step into the studio, I can relax a bit more than I normally do, because I understand the process, and I know what will happen.

That Whole “Systematizing” Thing

NGL, I love a good system—and ballet is a system.

admittedly, from the outside, it prolly looks a bit like this

It comes with its own entire language and four hundred years of etiquette, which (bonus!) is largely explicit.

Better still, it combines beautifully with a systematic understanding of anatomy and physiology.

Yes, parts of the system are problematic and due for overhaul—but that can happen in any system. A strong system will weather those changes and come out the other side better than it was.

Ballet has been doing that for four hundred years. As long as we allow it to, it will continue.

Being a member of a company also provides a systematic framework for managing time. Class begins at the same time six days a week; rehearsal and performance schedules are posted where you can see them enter day, but you’ve also got your fellow dancers to remind you that, oh yeah, this Friday we have an outreach gig after lunch.

In a well-organized company, you know the temporal framework for the entire season when you arrive on Day One. Specific parts of it may change due to casting or whatever (for example, global pandemics o.O), but the broad strokes are there.

The Social Aspect

My particular autism is probably most observable in the casual social contexts most NT folks seem to really enjoy—the ones where there’s no specific topic or activity, just general chumming around with a bunch of people. I have literally no idea what to do in those circumstances unless someone fires up a conversation that falls in my range of Known Topics ^.^’

And G-d help me if it’s the kind of party where there’s music and lots of different, overlapping conversations but no room to just dance [1]. I can’t with parties like that—my spoken language processing is too limited, and my brain stops bothering, so I typically find the quietest possible place to hole up with a match-3 game on my phone.

  1. If there’s room to dance, on the other hand, I’m in my element. It didn’t even really matter what kind of music is playing.

There’s some very interesting research happening about much of autistic social difficulty results directly to autistic neurodivergce itself and how much results from the social opportunity costs of being different, particularly during childhood, bu it’s generally agreed that autistics on the whole typically struggle with social stuff.

40 Helens Agree (and if somehow you weren’t exposed to reruns of Canadian comedy classics as a kid, I’m sorry)

Ballet might seem like a weird way to address that, since the typical class offers little or no time for what we think of as socializing. But what it lacks in time to chat, it makes up for in spades under the heading of “shared/corporate[2]/communal experience”—which works well for me as someone who grooves on the whole “parallel play” modality, and which in itself provides fodder for chats outside of class and rehearsal (or during breaks).

  1. In the sense of “people doing things together as a single entity”—ie, a body, or corpus

You don’t have to know how to have a casual conversation to be part of a group of dancers—but being part of a group of dancers can help you get better at having a casual conversation. At least, it did that for me. I’m not going to say I ever totally stopped being The Weird Kid at LexBallet, but people got to know and like me well enough to see past the discomfort that causes.

Addendum: Oh, and because I totally failed to mention it: there’s nothing as social as partnering. (Well, maybe one other thing ^-^’)

You Never Have To Sit Still

Okay, except sometimes, like if you’re a corps girl in parts of Swan Lake or the Master of Ceremonies during certain parts of The Sleeping Beauty. But, even then, it’s a very active way of being still, and will inevitably be relieved by movement.

I often tell people the story of sitting (“sitting,” lol) in a meeting at the last non-ballet job I had and experiencing this intense revelation: like, literally everyone else in the room was physically able to sit still.

I was the only one doing a jig under the table, furiously taking notes to stay engaged, drawing when there was a lull, and constantly shifting in my chair.

That was the moment when I realized with absolute clarity that I did not belong there. Not in a value-judging way—just in a, “Wow, this is not my environment” way. I realized I wasn’t about to “grow into” sitting down at a desk—not then, and probably not ever.

Or, well. The combination of me and the environment, anyway.

I need to move in order to function. I mean, yes, that’s true for everyone, don’t get me wrong—basically it’s what makes us not plants. Even sessile species like sea anemones go through phases where the they float around irresponsibly before finding grown-up jobs and settling down.

What I mean is that, for whatever reason, my brain/body compels me to move more than most people are compelled to move.

I think better when I’m moving. I feel better when I’m moving. Moving helps me organize my senses and my thoughts.

Honestly, my brain is kind of like one of those sharks that starts to die if it stops swimming, only replace “die” with “dance a stationary jig while quietly losing the plot, but not actually processing information in any meaningful way.”

I don’t necessarily panic—I just get more and more restless, and the excess spills over in the form of more meltdowns and less sleep. Well, and also just having to get up and take a walk, to anywhere, even if it’s just the despised printer, enemy of humankind, or the file cabinet or whatevs.

Also, I just have a metric shedload of extra energy to burn off, and nothing does that like ballet-company life [3]. Teaching gets partway there, but drains my social meter harder than it does my hyperactivity, so it doesn’t lead to the kind of productive exhaustion that makes me actually feel my best and reliably sleep well.

  1. working with horses also comes very close, but it’s hard to work at a barn and in a ballet company at the same time; being a picker in a gigantic warehouse also burns off tons of energy, but isn’t as helpful in other ways

This is never a problem in ballet, because in ballet, moving is literally your job.

So, Like, In Summary

Anyway, this is long enough.

I’ve written it in part because I’m sure there are people out there who are like, “Wait, I thought all autistics did computers or trains or math,” or even, “How can an autistic person possibly work in ballet?”

I hope this goes a little way towards helping things make sense for people in those camps, but it also helps me understand better what I need from my work environment and why company life, even during my “unpaid trainee/bottom of the pile” days, meant so much to me and worked so well for me.

I’ve been thinking hard about how to make things work going forward, because normally, in dance, you kind of audition everywhere and you go where the job is, but things are happening in my life (nothing ominous, just … responsibilities and stuff) that mean I’ll be moving to a specific place whether or not I get a company spot there.

That has been pretty scary, because I haven’t been sure how to continue building my life as a dancer if that happens. Like, literally, as a not-tall guy who still has some rough spots in his training, that’s a very real possibility. There might not be a company that has a spot for me right now.

But knowing why company life works for me will help me begin to see my way to building a working life that does work, even if that happens.

Rough Day, But Not As Rough

CW: Mention of Suicidal Thoughts

Today was … yeah.

It wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had. Not by a long, long, loooooooong measure.

But it was the kind of day that starts with a reminder of the fact that the ballet company I worked my butt off to be worthy of is still on hiatus, and that since I’m moving, it’s very unlikely I’ll be dancing with them much, if at all, ever again, and that as such the part of my career that meant the most to me is still stalled (pending auditions, etc). This is, for me, a big deal.

I’m also tried and probably haven’t eaten enough bc my schedule is weird and nothing sounds like food, so I’m sure some of this is just down to the fact that I turn into a giant toddler when I’m hungry or tired, let alone both.

So, anyway, right now, my brain is simultaneously like YOU ARE AWFUL, LIFE IS AWFUL, EVERYTHING IS AWFUL and also like OMFG STOP BEING SUCH A GIANT DRAMATIC EMO TODDLER (while yet another part is like Can’t we just stop being so judgmental of our own emotions, here? Sheesh).

But, also, another part of my brain is like, “Dude, you know what? I remember that we’ve felt like this before, and it was terrible and sucked and felt like it would go on forever, but then eventually we stopped feeling like this. So, I’ma let you finish, but you know, it’s very possible that eventually this will stop, too.”

It reminds me of a thing I realized about my suicidal episodes, which come on very fast, usually when I find myself feeling trapped: I can tell myself to wait a day (or an hour, or thirty seconds), and if nothing has changed, I can kill myself then. I tell myself that over and over, until finally I stop having to tell myself that. Sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes it takes less than a day.

But so far I’m still alive, partly because I really mean it in those moments. Like, I tell myself that option is there, and bizarrely, that helps me feel a tiny bit less trapped. That probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it often works for me (in combination with having people in my life who can help me, of course).

Anyway, I think this is the first time my brain has chimed in with NOOOOOO EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE AND IT WILL BE HORRIBLE FOREVER and another part of my brain has said, “Hey, you know, that could be true, but experience tells me it probably isn’t[1], so instead of getting caught in this idea–though you can go on feeling that way, over there, it’s okay–I’m going to hang out and wait and see,” and I’ve been able to sit with that paradox without it losing sight of that second thing, really.

  1. I mean, notwithstanding the fact that in some ways life is unrelentingly horrible to a lot of people. Like, for an incredibly large number of people, that is pretty objectively true, though so many of those people are incredible at enduring things nobody should have to endure. But that’s a different sense of the thing.

I am still struggling with being knocked out of the thing that was so central in my life, and not having somehow gotten my crap together enough to audition last year so I wouldn’t be in this position now (though I’d still be moving, so I’d still be facing the terrifying gamut of auditions). The structure of company life brought a lot of sanity with it, for me; it helped shape my time in ways I’m not good at doing for myself (I don’t mean that as a value judgment: it’s just not a thing my brain does well, and that’s fine). It helped me grow both as a dancer and as a person in ways that I’m not doing, or perhaps not doing as much, under current circumstances (I’m sure I’m learning other things, but the thing you have doesn’t replace the thing you lost; that’s just how grief is).

It’s been hard to talk about this because, quite frankly, the response one often gets is, “Why are you complaining! You have no idea how lucky you are to have had the time that you did in that company.”

Which is both dismissive (grief is not lessened by knowing that one has lost something rare and special; not at all) and, frankly, incorrect. I would hazard that I know better than anyone alive the staggering constellation of circumstances that coincided to give me my time at LexBallet: I know keenly and viscerally just how incredibly lucky I am.

But I also know that luck was only part of it, and that an ocean of hard work and no small measure of sacrifice was also involved.

Grief is real; grief is hard; and still I work not to cling to grief, but to say, “Hello, grief,” and let it be there, while also knowing that other things will come, though I have no idea what they will be, and they might not be the things I imagine that I want.

So here I am, sitting with these things that I feel, and sitting with the uncertainty of things, and part of me is in turmoil about it (though probably more in turmoil about needing to go to bed and/or eat) and part of me is at peace with that turmoil. Which feels kind of neat, in its own way.

And now I’m going to go feed my inner giant emo toddler and go to bed.


PS: the thing that made everything boil over this morning was having a bad day in class in a way that felt like a step backwards: I kept not trusting myself to have the exercises, and instead of just saying, “Ah, feck it,” and going for it, kept watching everyone else in the mirror to make sure I was right, which then actually prevented things from sticking in any meaningful sense, which led to a kind of crisis of nerves in which I couldn’t pick things up because I was busy being afraid that I couldn’t pick things up, to such an extent that L’Ancien called me out on it (which I deserved).

That reminded me how much confidence I’d gained during my time with LexBallet, and which (in that moment) I feared I’d lost, which gave my brain (which was already in a weird place, probably for purely biochemical reasons for once) a thing to hang up about, which colored the rest of the day, which might otherwise have been only a normal day in which some things sucked and other things rocked and most things were just meh.

Besides being okay with sitting with the place where my head is now, part of the answer is to be willing to say, on mornings that I’m as foggy as I was this morning, “OKay, I’m going to hang back and give myself more time to pick things up.”

Sometimes forcing myself to go in the first group every time is a good strategy. Sometimes it’s not, and it’s silly to cling to that strategy when it’s not working.


PPS: At the end of class, when I finally got out of my own way and decided to just trust that I knew the combination, I got some very nice remarks from L’Ancien. That should tell me a lot. I’m sure it will when that part of my brain is ready to listen.

Thinking About Thinking About Mental Illness

In a recent article published in Aeon, clinical psych PhD student Kristopher Nielsen describes a way of thinking about mental disorders as “sticky tendencies” within the framework of embodied enactivism—which is, in turn, a framework to help with trying to understand how we humans function.

I quite like Nielsen’s description. He offered a sensory analogy:

To understand this concept a little more, imagine holding a kitty-litter sized container with both hands. The floor of this container is shaped like a little landscape with hills and valleys. Now imagine placing a marble in the container and moving your hands so that the marble rolls over the landscape. Notice how the marble gets stuck in the valleys and bounces off the hills; how sometimes it falls into patterns or particular tracks across the landscape.

Kristopher Nielsen

He goes on to suggest that we might understand mental disorders as places where the marble has trouble getting out of a given spot in the floor—where it gets stuck, so to speak.

This makes a lot of sense to me—it dovetails nicely with the idea of mental disorders as points along a spectrum (for example: we all experience anxiety from time to time, some for frequently than others; it isn’t generalized anxiety disorder unless it reaches a point at which anxiety disrupts and impairs our lives), while perhaps offering a way to help people understand how the near-universal experience of a passing depression might need to be handled differently than the less-common experience of a persistent one.

It also tracks well with my experiential sense that my mood disturbances are very much cases of getting stuck. (Of course, I acknowledge here that confirmation bias is a thing.)

It has also, in a way, helped to clarify a point I’ve had trouble expressing, because it was difficult to translate from my weird, non-verbal way of thinking about abstract things into words, which are pretty darned important to communicating abstract ideas most of the time, which is this:

Outside of the formal field of psychology, we tend to lump all mental “disorders” into one big collection. We unconsciously think of them as functioning the same way—they’re pieces of the machine that have got out of whack somehow.

This can make it very difficult for people to understand things like related and unrelated comorbidities and why a pinpointed therapy or medication might work for one class of disorders, but might not for another.

In the formal field of psychology, on the other hand, we break out groups of disorders based on the idea that they’re somehow related, though we don’t always quite have a sense of how, and sometimes we’re completely wrong have have to move things around, because brains are complicated, yo.

This distinction is often lost in efforts to communicate about mental disorders with the world at large, first because it’s fundamentally kind of a challenging idea to communicate; second because it’s easy and natural and normal to just lose sight of one’s acquired framework. We get so used to seeing things through a certain set of lenses that we forget they’re there, and we fail to include them with our description of the moon (this can also make it much harder for us to see and accept our own errors as new evidence emerges).

Nielsen’s analogy could be immensely helpful, here, if extended just a little further.

For example, we might think of autism as something that changes the substrate and makes the marble roll differently everywhere.

No two substrates will be exactly the same, but on average, NT substrates will be more similar to one-another than to autistic substrates, and vice-versa (there are, of course, other ways of being neurodivergent, and I can think of ways to further layer the analogy that should still work when they overlap).

Perhaps the neurotypical base is smoother, or rougher, or has wider or narrower grooves overall on average, than the autistic one. Regardless, the ball rolls a bit differently on the autistic base than it does on the neurotypical base.

In both cases, however, it’s still possible for the marble to get stuck.

In both cases, the place where the marble gets stuck is real, and once the marble is stuck there, its entire experience is colored by that stuckness. In both cases, the marble might need extra input to get unstuck, though that input might need to look different for a marble in an allistic track than it does for one in an autistic track.

Regardless, as long as we don’t overinvest in the analogy, the ideas of the track, the variations in the topography of the track, and the marble might be really useful in helping people both at large and within the formal field of psychology imagine mental disorders.

This doesn’t directly address the possibility, of course, of many mental disorders being less actual malfunctions than the result of an infinite diversity of minds being force-fitted into a narrowly-defined set of life options—but Nielsen’s model does acknowledge the role of culture and experiences in shaping the tracks in which our mental marbles run, and doesn’t regard the tracks as fixed, changeless entities.

Likewise, as with any model, this one might not be universally useful. For me, it’s a helpful framework; someone else might find it less than useful or even the opposite of useful.

This is why it’s important to offer models, but not to treat them as holy writ. We’re still far from really understanding the human mind, and our failure to acknowledge that can harm both people (who suffer when we try to force-fit them into inaccurate models) and progress (which is stymied when we let ourselves get stuck in our existing models and when we can’t see beyond them).

It’s encouraging to see that researchers and people at large are taking the question of how to think about mental illness seriously. When we think about our thinking, we make room for change.

This kind of change—change that questions assumptions and tries to meet people where they are—has done a lot of good for those of us living with mental illness and those of us who are neurodivergent in ways that might not fight the traditional idea of “mental illness.”

We’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s good to know that people are making the journey.

Halo View First Look

Although I have a long history of finding it at best annoying and at worst utterly unbearable to wear anything on my wrists, after reading about a million reviews, I decided to give Amazon’s Halo View fitness tracker a try.

You might be wondering why I feel it necessary to actually bother, given that my work involves, like, a metric shed-ton of exercise. And, honestly, that’s an excellent question.

First, there’s definitely a part of me that misses nerding out over workout data like I did in my bike racing days. It’s not even about, like, getting jazzed over progress–I just like data. I was the kind of kid who makes spreadsheets of imaginary things just because.

Second, and much more importantly, I was really curious about the sleep-tracking aspect. I wanted to know whether a bit of wearable tech would agree with my assessments of sleep quality based on how I feel in the morning.

On point the second, so far, the View and I concur, which actually surprises me a little (my faith in tech is generally tempered with a solid dose of realism, and sleep tracking is a lot to ask of a fancy rubber band with a tiny computer strapped in).

I’m not sure what exactly I plan to do with my sleep data, but it’s kind of useful to sync the View, look at the data, and go, “Oh, I feel like I didn’t get any sleep because I didn’t.” Or because I got crappy sleep.

As far as, just, random data is concerned, some of it’s actually pretty useful. The View has a built in oxygen saturation thingy–basically a pulse oximiter for your wrist, and I find it helpful to be able to look at that when I’m feeling a little like my lungs might be trying to go on strike. Because we don’t always localize sensations (including, but not limited to, pain and … weird stretchy feels?) well once we get past the ribcage, a weird vibration or stretchy/constricty feeling that’s probably actually just Ehlers-Danlos doing weird collagen things can sometimes feel like the beginning of an asthma attack, or the way my lungs sometimes feel when I’m sick. A quick 02 Sat check can be deeply reassuring.

Activity tracking is a mixed bag, though I rather expected that. For several normal forms of exercise, there are categories that you can use to log workouts (hit appropriate button -> hit start -> work out -> hit end when you’re done), and because the View logs all your movement whether or not you do that, you can go back and edit workout durations if (okay, when) you forget to turn it on at the beginning of a session.

And you’ll still get points even if you never get around to formally logging a single workout, because the View doesn’t care whether or not you think you’re exercising. If scrubbing the floor gets your heart rate up, it’s going to log that, too.

That said, there’s not really a category that works for ballet (though for some classes, HIIT would probably be a good fit ^-^’), so I just log it as “other.”

That, so far as it goes, is acceptable; even expected (though it would be super cool if there was a “dance” category in the View’s hardware interface).

The place where the View’s Movement tracking features might not be ideal for some come down to the question of Activity goals and sedentary time.

The Halo app uses a weekly activity metric based on a system developed by the American Heart Association. The base weekly goal is 150 points; everything above that is gravy.

With only two days of class and teaching, and a few days left to go in the week, I’m already over 200.

You do get extended goals–300 if you break 150; 600 if you break 300; who knows what after that. I’m looking forward to seeing what it makes of Summer Intensives, or a full-on company week.

What I’m wondering, with regard to Activity goals, is whether the View app ever says, “Whoa, Nellie! Time to take a rest!” Because, honestly, rest is important, and athletes need to rest, and let’s not even get into the topic of exercise bulimia.

Likewise, I’m not exactly sure at what point the View considers you to be sedentary. Like, if you’re Pretty Darned Fit, you can wander around the house a lot without actually doing much to your heart rate. I mention this because it logged some hours as Sedentary that definitely weren’t, though they I guess they weren’t really exercise, either. But I don’t know if it just didn’t notice my steps, or if it only thinks you’re active if your heart rate increases by some unknown amount, or…?

Or, it could be that it just wasn’t used to me yet. That was, after all, the first full day that I wore the thing.

Either way, I wonder what the View would make of someone who spends most of their time in a wheelchair. I also wish it grasped that even when I’m sitting down, I’m almost never sitting still. I do quite a bit of high-volume fidgeting. (Update, even though I haven’t posted this yet: the View uses a combination of heart rate and movement to assess activity level at any given moment. Clearly, I need to swing my arms around more or something when I’m fidgeting ^-^’)

Regardless, you get 8 hours of sedentary time per day, then you lose 1 point for every non-sleeping sedentary hour in that 24-hour period, but Activity points are automatically gained at a rate of 1 to 2 points per minute whenever the View perceives that you’re moving even a little briskly. As such, even though my Halo View has subtracted 15 points for sedentary time, I’m still rocking the Activity goal.

The View app does come with a feature that estimates body fat percentage, but I’ve decided to leave that alone for now. It’s the kind of thing I might find useful in the midst of a full company season, when I can’t eat enough to keep weight on, but at the moment it’s too likely to be triggery, so I’m just not doing it.

I guess I should comment a bit on fit, finish, and build.

Fit-wise, I find the Halo View surprisingly wearable, though it did initially bug me when I first tried using my laptop while wearing it. I accidentally ordered the medium/large band, which is about right on the smallest hole, so I probably should’ve actually ordered the small/medium band like I meant to. That said, I’m planning on ordering an aftermarket band or two.

Part of what makes it work is that the Halo View unit itself is long, but not very wide. It almost spans the entire width of my wrist, but is only as wide as my right index finger, and I think this ratio helps distribute pressure in a way that’s acceptable to my body.

I haven’t had any issues with the band popping off the unit itself, which seems to be a common complaint of early reviewers, though I have managed to accidentally unbuckle it by getting it hooked on my one of the straps of my dance bag.

The display is crisp and bright–honestly, a little too bright for me even on the dimmest setting, but my eyes are pretty sensitive to light. That said, you can disable Lift To View either all the time or in Night Mode, and that keeps it from being a nuisance when you’re trying to sleep.

The onboard interface is pretty intuitive and can, if enabled, display incoming text messagesfrom your phone. It also makes a perfectly good watch, which has proven quite useful to me, even though I’ve never been a watch-wearer before. I’m forced to admit that it’s nice to not have to whip out my phone to check the time (and to discreetly check the time in class, which I usually do because I’m hoping that we have time for another grand allegro exercise ^-^’).

The View purports to be swimming-friendly, which is pretty awesome, though I’m hesitant to wear it in the water with the current band, because I’m not sure my skin would like the combination.

The battery life does seem to run about on par with the promised 7 days, and the charging clip (which I tested when I decided not to wear my View in the bath, though it didn’t really need to charge at the time) is pretty easy to use.

The Halo app offers a bunch of workouts and so forth which are reportedly pretty good overall, but I haven’t tried any yet, so I can’t comment on those.

The app interface overall isn’t terrible, but I do agree with prior reviewer’s assertions that it’s a bit cluttered and a bit prone to rabbit-holing. They’ve also only just added the ability to save favorite workouts, recipes, and so forth, which seems like a glaring omission (still, better late than never).

Overall, I’m glad I bought this thing. It’s doing the thing I hoped it would do–helping me understand how I’m sleeping–and also doing a thing I never expected, which is simply being a watch.

I like the View’s approach to data. It gives you the big picture first as an at-a-glance infographic, and you can drill down from there if you feel the urge. This makes it easier to resist obsessing over granular details that might not be important if you’re not, say, training for races.

That said, for those who are training for races, the View (which lacks onboard GPS) won’t provide data about pacing, mileage, and so forth. For those details, you’ll probably want a more sport-specific activity tracker (or you could use an app like Endomondo for that stuff and something like the Halo View for a big-picture view).

One last thing: the Halo View offers a handful of difference watch faces, most of which offer a “plain and professional” vibe … but if you scroll far enough through the options, you get this one:

Halo View on author's left wrist with the resting cat watch face selected
There’s also one with a cute little doggo.

It may not be plain or professional, but I like it, so Resting Cat it is.

Nachmo with Catsup

Wait, no.

Make that catch-up.

I know, I know. Terrible pun. I’m genuinely sorry, and yet I know I’ll just do it again. Such is the nature of puns.

Okay, so I’ve basically been incognito for two months. November and December are, erm, a little busy in the ballet world and we had a bunch of house projects that became urgently important (and thus got done, but also ate up my unscheduled time).

Then I caught COVID (spoiler alert: thank G-d for vaccines & boosters) and, even after recovering, wasn’t sure what to say about it.

So! Let’s get that one out of the way first.

I can only assume, based on the timeline, that I probably caught COVID while on our miniature tour. Given the timing, the fact that we[1] performed without masks only to later find out the audience was also unmasked, and the fact that almost nobody in the town where we performed seemed to wear masks anywhere at all (and that my masks are all the protect-other-people kind that do little to protect the wearer), it’s deeply probable.

  1. “We” being a group of vaccinated dancers (with the exception of a few who were too young) and very careful about masking. As far as I know, the decision to have us dance unmasked came down to our artistic staff being given the impression that the audience would be masked, because they’ve been extremely careful throughout the pandemic.

That said, it’s hard to say with certainty, because even though I still basically wear a mask whenever I’m around people who aren’t in my pandemic pod, I don’t usually wear an N95 or KN95 mask. Initially, that was because supplies of those were limited for quite a while and people working in healthcare really need them; more recently, it’s been partly because I already own about a million ordinary masks, because I’m mostly around other people who wear masks, and because N95s are an absolute beast to dance in.

As a result, I could’ve picked up the virus literally anywhere, since enormous numbers of Kentuckians, particularly outside of Louisville and Lexington, simply won’t wear masks.

Anyway, because I teach students in the K-12 bracket (who, until recently, weren’t eligible for vaccination) and because as someone with asthma and a history of serious respiratory illness I’m at higher risk of severe complications of COVID-19, I got both initial vaccine doses pretty early and received my booster the day I left for the beginning of our Nutcracker run.

It’s impossible, of course, to say how things would’ve played out if I wasn’t vaccinated, but given my risk profile and medical history (I’ve had pneumonia five hecking times, y’all–my lungs don’t play), it’s pretty likely that the outcome would’ve been poor.

Instead, I had:

  • a fever for two day or so
  • the worst sinus headache I’ve ever had (which is saying something, because fren, I’ve had some wicked sinus headaches in my time)
  • sore throat (though not as bad as the worst strep I’ve ever had, which, to be fair, I totally allowed to get out of control)
  • nosebleeds
  • scabs inside my nose (next to the headache, this was the most miserable thing–blowing my nose was horribly painful for a bit)
  • more than the usual post-nasal drip which occasionally made me cough
  • two days with no appetite
  • a near-complete loss of the ability to taste or smell anything but salt (that happened first, oddly enough, and persisted the longest except for some lingering fatigue, which I’d expect after any significant illness)

Oh, and I basically slept for a solid week, which was great, since it meant I basically only experienced the rest of the symptoms in brief snatches, including that truly egregious headache.

I spent a few extra days in bed with pretty intense fatigue, and then one day I experienced the familiar sensation of being bored as heck and unable to lie down for even thirty more seconds and knew I was going to be fine.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention any lower-respiratory symptoms at all. In fact, as miserable as it was (at least when I was awake, anyway), and as much as it made me miss the rest of our Nutcracker run, my case of COVID-19 would be classified as mild-to-moderate. I emphasize that because, frankly, I think a lot of people don’t understand that basically, no matter how miserable you feel, if it doesn’t send you to the hospital, your COVID-19 isn’t severe.

Not to say that it’s not serious–especially given the potential for Long COVID and its unknowns, and the fact that a couple weeks out of work can decimate a family’s finances–but it can be much, much worse, and that’s a really important point when we’re talking about vaccine efficacy with regard to an illness that can easily kill young, healthy people and that is killing people at staggering rates.

I did take a ton of meds, all of them over-the-counter except for benzonatate, which is a prescription medication that kills the urge to cough. That was important for me since post-nasal drop and/or throat irritation can kick off coughing jags that in turn kick off an inflammation cascade that leads, at minimum, to severe asthma attacks, but which has in numerous instances created a fast track-to-pneumonia situation for me (did I mention that my lungs don’t play?).

I wasn’t willing to take that risk when a simple telehealth appointment could prevent it.

At this point, I’m mostly back to normal: I can make it through a pretty decent ballet class (even with a mask), though I still get tired more easily than usual.

Compared to the average sedentary person, I’m back to being hella fit, though I’m definitely not back to typical mid-season professional dancer fitness.

My best metric is sleep: at typical mid-season fitness level, even after six to eight hours of class and rehearsal, plus whatever happens in the evening, it takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep when I go to bed. Right now, one class and some housework makes me tired enough that it’s a struggle to read for half an hour (which, a bit foolishly, I keep doing because I’m afraid I won’t be able to fall asleep ^-^’).

My second-best metric is fatigue. The form of EDS I have does this weird fatigue thing: I can work my way up to professional-dancer stamina incrementally, but if I seriously overdo it, I get hit with a wave of literally debilitating fatigue and have to spend a day or two in bed. Right now, the threshold for that response is way lower than usual.

But, still, overall? I feel like I dodged a bullet thanks to medical science and Dolly Parton[2].

  1. Simply by chance, I wound up getting the Moderna booster even though my first two doses were Pfizer–I think that was a good thing, too, since anecdotal accounts suggest that particular combination is a little more effective in preventing serious COVID-19 illness.

So, in short, I’m not mad that I got vaxxed and still got sick.

Rather, I’m glad the vaccine did its job and curtailed the severity and, probably, the duration of the illness.

While I really didn’t mind not being able to smell the catbox even while cleaning it, I’m happy to report that I’ve mostly regained my senses[3]. I lost an somewhat alarming amount of weight[4] as a result of just not being interested in food.

  1. Which isn’t to say I’ve become sensible–let’s not be hasty, here!
  2. I want to write about how this intersected with the part of my brain that still lives in Anorexia World, but I think that might need its own post. Suffice it to say that a significant part of me was far from alarmed about the weight loss, and has been struggling with regaining any of it, and I’ve realized I need to do some work, there.

That was a fairly bizarre experience, to be honest. Because I actually did completely lose my appetite for a couple of days, I discovered that, for me anyway, there’s a major difference between being unable to eat and just … not being interested in eating, but being at least somewhat able to eat if I could find something that wasn’t too salty (as much as I like salt, when it’s literally the only thing you can taste, a lot of things are suddenly too salty).

Like, normally, I try to eat with a kind of relaxed mindfulness–actually giving attention to the experience of eating, but also to participating in conversations and being aware of what’s going on around me in general. I had no idea how important the ability to taste was to me, in that process.

When I couldn’t taste my food, actually eating enough was really hard.

First, my interest in food pretty much evaporated, and since I’m bad at recognizing hunger signals until they get really intense, I kept forgetting to eat.

Second, actually finishing even a fairly small meal required pretty intense concentration, because if I got distracted, I just wouldn’t come back to my food. I wouldn’t have predicted that.

Also, there’s a specific kind of cognitive dissonance involved in possessing a powerful sense memory of the taste of spiced chai, but being utterly unable to taste it in real life o.O’

I’ve since gained back what I assume is most of the weight I lost, though I haven’t been weighing myself because I’m apparently constitutionally unable to remember to put new batteries in our scale ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

At any rate, I no longer have to crank my belt way down to keep my trousers on.

So that’s my experience with COVID thus far (could’ve been worse, but still: 0/10, do not recommend).

In other news, it’s National Choreography Month again, and I’m actually managing to keep up to some extent, so here’s my response to Prompt 2, Master Work, in which one re-creates an iconic dance pic:

I’ll have more Nachmo stuff coming.

Til then, keep dancing.

I Botched My Roll

So, I made a plan (or, well, more like a goal) and … yeah. You know how it goes. Man makes plans; G-d laughs.

In addition to the schedule insanity (that I brought upon myself by not communicating as well as I should have and thus taking on a couple of projects that have added hours of driving time to each week) and STILL trying to finish getting the house sorted, we’re trying to figure things out relative to stuff going on in my family. Oh, and Nutcracker, of course. Two of them, but at least I’m only dancing in one, I guess?

So I haven’t succeeded in compiling and posting resource links yet. Mea maxima culpa.

What the past BASICALLY TWO HECKING YEARS FFS have made me really, really realize is that I thrive in the highly-structured and physically demanding environment of a ballet company, but freelancing makes my head explode.

I don’t know if I’d say that I’m glad that I’ve been given an opportunity to learn how much freelancing in dance probably isn’t a really great, sustainable career choice for me–let’s be honest, we’d all rather that COVID-19 (and misinformation appertaining thereto) hadn’t driven a hecking train through everything, and I’d MUCH rather be halfway through my fourth full season at LexBallet than … this. But, like, at least it’s given me some insight into how NOT to manage my career. Or, at any rate, to the fact that if freelancing is going to be part of my future, I have to find a better way of managing my calendar.

I don’t think I’ll ever be great, or possibly even basically competent, at planning. I think I’m going to have to accept that. It’s not in my wheelhouse, so to speak.

Apparently when I was rolling up my stats or whatevs before I was born, I decided to put a ton of points in strength, dex, charisma, and … whatever stat covers having a brain that’s incredibly good at creative stuff and storing boatloads of information about highly specific things but doesn’t cover things like planning (at all) or processing language (at least in, well, a reliably-accurate way). I clearly more or less zeroed out whichever stats cover things like planning and executive function in general.

What’s my “Not Sucking At Life” modifier again?
PC: Murilo Papini via

I find the whole Ye Olde Tabletoppe Gameyngg analogy helpful because it reminds me that, like, it often really does kind of seem like we have X amount of points that somehow get distributed between an array of characteristics.

While some people–probably most people–roll up well-balanced stats and are very comfortably sound all-rounders, those of us who stack one or more stats do so at the expense of other stats.

Maybe we’re strong AF with a wimpy constitution. Maybe we supercharge Charisma at the expense of mere Strength.

Maybe we roll up a dancer who can’t remember what’s happening this Tuesday, let alone some other, distant Tuesday, if there’s not an external structure in place to help him remember.

Instead of making value judgements about our stats, we can see them as tradeoffs. And just as, in an RPG, you accept the tradeoff and play the character you made, in real life it’s probably a good idea to take stock of one’s strengths and weaknesses instead of wasting energy trying to ameliorate the weaknesses beyond a reasonable degree[0].

  1. Seriously. In an RPG, you don’t go, “Greymoor Devondale prepares Spell of Basic Calendar Management” when it’s going to take 17 turns, your party is facing a Balrog with serious indigestion, and you’re the only one whose music can soothe the beast so the Thief can steal the Thing of Needing and save everyone’s butts, or at least advance to the next stage in the adventure. You play the Magic Music and let the appointments fall where they may.

I’m sure there are people who buck this general trend and who are just, you know, spec-hecking-tacular in all their stats[1]. Honestly, I’m happy for them, and happy they exist–like, legitimately, I suspect that there are probably a handful of such folk who are, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, effectively holding back the tide of the rest of the world’s collective idiocy, including mine.

  1. JS hecking Bach, organist, composer, choir director, and family man extraordinaire comes to mind. But otoh there were elements in his life that facilitated all that; who knows what would become of him in the mad l’aissez-faire end-stage capitalist economy of the 21st-century United States.

I’m also grateful for all the comfortably sound all-rounders–the human Morgan horses of the world who may not be the flashiest, the fastest, the highest-jumping, the smoothest-going, or the hella strongest but who nonetheless are perfectly capable in all those areas and thus are just plain useful. People who are generally competent at being human keep the world turning[2].

  1. Seriously. Y’all are the best. May G-d preserve me from becoming a snooty artiste who doesn’t understand how important lunchroom staffers and accountants and stay-at-home-parents and handypersons and all the competent human beings of the world are ❤

For the rest of us, I guess we have to figure it out.

I’ve maybe finally gotten my head around the fact that my body is kind of a unicorn of strength and flexibility and staggeringly good at picking up physical skills and that I am, in fact, apparently actually rather a talented dancer (if also a bit of an idiot with regard to remembering choreography in certain contexts). I’m a seething inferno of creative ideas and stories. I’m good at making stuff up. Like, really good. And for whatever reason I seem to be missing the gene that makes people afraid of improvising in front of an audience, which has begun to strike me as a kind of Holy Grail of gifts related to the performing arts. I was evidently born not with the gift of gab, but that of pure, unadulterated ham.

Oh, and I’m not half bad at obsessing about neuroscience, though it seems less and less likely that I’ll be returning to pursue a PhD therein any time soon (which is fine).

I’m also getting my head around the fact that I’m absolutely not great at planning, managing my schedule, keeping a house decluttered and pleasant to live in unless there’s very little stuff in it, doing any unfamiliar social task, general adulting, and being, well, reasonable.

You know: the things that, well, “normal” people manage with a fair degree of competence, even amidst the wackadoodle landscape of the 21st century[3].

  1. For the record, I do know that modern life isn’t easy for, well, “normal” people. Wrestling a giant is always hard. It’s just that, for people like me, we’re doing it with one or both hands tied behind our backs, basically. So we kind of need that paintbrush we’re gripping between our teeth, so we can stab that giant mothertrucker in the nostril, if we ever get close enough.

The last of these (that is, not being reasonable) has been … well, not the hardest to accept, exactly, but maybe the hardest to see. Barring my autistic resistance to unexpected changes when there is a plan (I’m much less rigid in circumstances where there aren’t really established plans or protocols, which might be related to my fearless delight in improvisation), I like to think of myself as a fairly reasonable person. After the inevitable meltdown (“WAIT!!! Here are all the reasons that it would be a HORRIBLE PLAN to combine these two classes!!! I don’t mean to be alarmist but THE WORLD. WILL. ENNNNDDDDDDDDDDD!”) I’m pretty good at accepting changes (“Oh, wait. No. Never mind. You’re right. That’s actually a good idea. Carry on.”).

I’m also generally quite willing to do what works for the greater good and even pretty willing to admit when I’m wrong, once I find the brake that lets me stop arguing simply because I’m arguing (do y’all have that, “Oh, crap, this is the WRONG HILL, but I’d guess better die here because I’m already defending it” reflex between realizing you’re at least partially wrong and adjusting accordingly, or is that just me?).

But I’m not reasonable, and what finally made me realize this was a conversation in which I grumbled at myself for not being reasonable in some specific way, and good ol’ Dr. Dancebelt pointed out to me that we don’t exactly become dancers because we’re reasonable.

To unpack that (since just copying-and-pasting the whole conversation doesn’t seem quite kosher), the idea was this: a truly reasonable person can absolutely love dance and dancing without being compelled to make a career out of it. Being a full-time professional artist of almost any kind is and has, in the Western world, almost always been essentially a way of trading security for passion. There are lots of people who are accountants or nurses (well, maybe not nurses; their schedules are usually even crazier than mine) or teachers or pipefitters or cooks who also paint, write, sculpt, or make music for the love of it, and some of them even get paid for their work.

Some of them also dance for the love of it, though they’re a lot less likely to get paid for dancing because of the demands dancing professionally makes on one’s time.

Yet to do any of those things full-time–which is all but a necessity when your thing is dance (especially ballet)–one must very unreasonably choose a difficult and, let’s be honest, financially perilous way of life. That’s just not a reasonable thing to do (though I guess one could make the argument that if not doing The Thing makes you unbearably unhappy and thus not really any more productive or financially stable in the long run, choosing the way of being financially unstable that doesn’t also make you want to die is actually pretty reasonable?).

Basically, being the kind of person who does what, from the outside, looks like choosing the life of an artist despite the glaringly obvious difficulties it imposes is a bit like being possessed–admittedly, by a fairly benign entity, but one whose directives nonetheless sometimes make other people look at you (often with a kind of baffled wonder) and say, “Well, I sure wouldn’t do that.” (On the other hand, a lot of them also say, “Man, I wish I could do that,” so ???)

But also: as artists, we don’t typically lead head-first[4]. Both my AD at LexBallet, Mr D, and the sort of Ur-Teacher of LouBallet’s open classes, L’Ancien, constantly remind us to get out of our heads and dance.

  1. Even JS Bach led from a faith like a volcanic caldera, simmering hugely away beneath the exterior–he coupled it with powerful reason to make some of the most beautiful music of the Western classical canon.

Mr D exhorts us to feel the music!

L’Ancien says, “I don’t care if you do the right steps–I want to see you dance!” Yesterday I caught myself saying almost the same thing to a promising student in my Ballet I/II class, “You were right, but you started thinking and you second-guessed yourself. Brains can really get in the way sometimes!”

As artists, we lead with our hearts or our souls or our guts or whatever (Who has time to even contemplate that? The dance won’t dance itself![5]). If we’re smart/lucky/whatever, we bring our brains along A] to facilitate the process of creation and refine its results and B] to make sure we don’t do anything too stupid and irremediable in the process.

  1. Yes, I say this with a touch of irony. Contemplation is usually part of it, somewhere along the line, and I suspect that a lot people would argue that the dance is always dancing itself. In fact, being entirely comfortable with the apparent-but-not-entirely-actual paradox implied, I don’t disagree. But That’s Another Post(R).

So I’m learning to accept the measure of unreason that appears to be intrinsic to my nature, and to relinquish the well-trained tendency to worship reasonableness for its own sake. All things in moderation, even moderation, etc.

As for the rest … it’s a learning curve.

Like, honestly, as you grow up, you’re used to getting better at things, and often just kind of growing into things that you couldn’t do very well before. Then you spend a while being, or trying to be, an adult, and you realize: oh, okay. Some of this is just kind of how my brain works, and while I might be able to move the needle a tiny bit by expending basically all the energy I have in a constant, massive, concerted effort, it probably wouldn’t actually be worth it.

It’s kind of like realizing that you’re always going to be 173cm tall with short arms, and buying a footstool to make it easier to get things down from the high shelves. Even the strongest demi-pointe only gets you so far.

A long time ago, I made this kind of decision about managing how autistic I look in the world at large. In familiar settings, with immense effort, I can “pass” as … well, not “normal,” but at least not obviously autistic. I learned to do so as a survival mechanism, albeit one that has always been both limited in its actual effectiveness (Is it really any better if people just think you’re plain old weird? By which I mean, does it actually make life any easier? My experience says it isn’t.) and incredibly taxing to maintain.

I had this kind of epiphany, at one point, that I was wasting a ton of clock-cycles trying to fly under the radar, and that outside of very limited-duration applications (placing an order at a coffee counter, and things like that) it was a complete waste of energy. So I decided to, like, stop doing that.

Which, of course, was difficult in its own way, since by then I’d spent a number of years basically cosplaying “normal” roughly 10-16 hours per day and it was a pretty ingrained habit, albeit a destructive one.

Anyway. The end result was a decision to stop swimming up stream for no dam reason (sorry, kinda went fishing for that pun, didn’t I :V) and, ultimately, to learn some new coping skills. And also to, like, just let my hands flap if they want to, sometimes. (Since then, I’ve learned that it’s amazing what kinds of physical weirdness people will overlook if they know you’re a dancer ‘\_(^.^’)_/`

So instead, I’m trying to learn to actually communicate my needs (this has been huge) and to, like, make accommodations[6] for myself as needed. I have trouble managing a house with a lot of stuff in it, so getting rid of a bunch of the stuff is a reasonable approach–and it turns out that D is, at this point in history, on board with that idea. I have trouble managing the process of making appointments with out quarduple[7] booking myself all the gorram time, so … ermmm. Yeah. Still working on that one.

  1. …By which I mostly mean “tools and strategies,” though sometimes, of course, the reality is more, “I JUST CAAAAANNNNNNN’T!” than, “I can! But I’m going to need a boat.”
  2. This isn’t a typo. I’m making fun of myself.

The appointment-management thing is kind of my “white whale,” as we say in the aerial arts community. I’ve been trying to solve that problem forever, and so far I’m 0/infinity. I don’t use any one calendar system reliably enough to prevent it, partly because my phone is crap at multitasking and I lose the thread while it’s taking its sweet time launching gCal or whatever, but mostly because I’m bad at actually remember to copy things into a central calendar and then either get said central calendar out or pull it up while booking things[8]. Ugh. Why[9].

  1. The obvious solution is to carry a small, physical notebook[10] and WRITE THINGS DOWN. The challenge is finding one that
    1. is small enough that I will always carry it and
    2. plays well with my specific handwriting difficulties
  2. Oh, right. Because sometimes the relationship between ADHD and autism is multiplicative, not additive.
  3. Obviously, I haven’t found the One True Notebook yet.

Anyway. So this is where I am right now. I’m trying to stop saying things like, “…But I’ll have a lot more time available once X show is over” because A] that is NEVER true and B] if it ever is true, I would really benefit from a few days to hang my brain out in the sun on the laundry line or something.

Or at least really finish the fecking dishes and laundry. THEY NEVER END.

I originally intended this to be just a short, “Hey, sorry I haven’t done the things yet,” post, but apparently I needed to write for a bit. It did get me thinking about a possible way to implement The Calendar Notebook, though. So maybe I’ll also post that idea at some point.

Until then, keep dancing, and keep being unreasonable, where art is concerned.

Resources Incoming!

I’m writing this mostly as a reminder to myself, since managing widgets on an Android device is kind of a PITA and I’m not in front of my laptop right now.

Anyway! I’m planning to add three resource widgets: one with resources for autistic peeps, one for ADHD peeps, and one for Ehlers-Danlos info.

Each will include links to websites I’ve found really helpful, and that I hope might be helpful to anyone else who’s trying to navigate that neurodiverse lyfe or that bendy, poppy, sometimes dysautonomic lyfe.

I thought about lumping the ASD & ADHD resources into one “Neurodiversity Resources” widget, but A] that could turn into one hella long list and B] breaking them out into two separate widgets might be useful for anyone who’s looking for one topic or the other specifically. Also, I find it deeply satisfying to sort things into categories, because autism.

That said, there is often a lot of overlap between ADHD and ASD, and I hope y’all will feel free to explore any resource that sounds like it might be useful.

ASD is also more common in people with EDS than in the general population, which is both fascinating in terms of research potential and a huge relief to people like me who have spent our entire lives wondering if we’re really just gigantic hypochondriacs (even though EDS is diagnosed by objective physical criteria and we chime right along with the diagnostic profiles for ASD & ADHD and have carried both diagnoses for most of our lives).

I’ll also add a Resource Room page—that way, folks can find the resource lists in an uncluttered context.

Lastly, because I’m a nerd who likes to review things and who recently received the gift of a Costco membership, I think I’m going to try doing a wee video series reviewing stuff I’ve stumbled upon at my Costco that has proven really useful in my life as a neurodiverse dancer currently struggling with the scheduling chaos related to the ongoing pandemic[1]. SPOILER ALERT: it’s mostly gonna be food.

  1. Autocorrupt suggested, “…ongoing Patricia.” Patricia, I don’t know you, but apparently Autocorrupt thinks that you’re the one sowing chaos in my daily life 😱 Don’t worry, though—Autocorrupt is almost always wrong. Almost always. But if it is you, can you take it down a notch, please? 😅😅😅

You Will Make Mistakes

So it’s been a while.

We’ve been redacting mold, DIYing our basement living space back into shape after redacting said mold, and otherwise generally working on the house like crazy, while at the same time I’m rehearsing four (I think?) separate things and teaching.

One of the pieces in rehearsal involves this sheer & very sparkly thing in which I don’t even think I look like me, but I do think I look pretty darn good?

So, erm, it’s rather a lot.

I am bad at the kind of adulting that involves juggling four separate, unrelated rehearsal schedules and anything else, never mind that plus everything else. And yet, here we are.


This week I found myself in a frazzle because my brain momentarily decided to latch on to the idea that I might not manage to teach all of my students all of the absolutely correct technique they might need and ten years from now one of them might be in an audition somewhere going, “Oh, snap, I’ve been doing that wrong my entire life.

Case in point: my body wants all attitude turns to employ the same arms as renversé. I just can’t with my body sometimes, y’all. Also, the thing where I STILL put my arm too far back in second sometimes 🤬

And then I realized, like—yeah. That will probably happen. And, to be honest, it’s okay.

I wish it was possible to guarantee that 100% of what I teach would both be absolutely sound and absorbed perfectly. But isn’t, and it never has been.

My own technique has its rough spots (I mean, I don’t call myself “danseur ignoble” for nothin’). My own teachers have probably passed along some quirks, and I certainly came up with plenty of them all by myself.

That’s fine. I don’t resent any of my teachers for the shortcomings I have now; instead, I appreciate how hard they tried to teach me correct, classical technique. I owe my career largely to my teachers’ sound methods, partly to the good graces of directors who have the ability to look beyond my quirks, partly to my ridiculously good feet (still, lol), partly to my own work ethic, and a little bit to raw talent.

People rock up to auditions with all kinds of flaws, because nobody’s perfect. Even if that wasn’t the case, different directors like different versions of things (like: I paused today to ask Mr D whether he wanted our waltz turns to brush through twice or to brush to the front and petit développé/pas de cheval to the back, because both versions are valid and I’ve been doing a lot of the second one lately).

Even students graduating from the best, longest-established schools aren’t perfect. That’s one of the things I love about ballet: no matter how good we are, we can always continue to strive for perfection. The fact that it’s unattainable is immaterial. The practice is the thing.

Likewise, there is no such thing as a perfect teacher. I will make mistakes. I will explain things with crazy analogies that may or may not take root. I will miss some things and overcorrect others.

Here I am DRASTICALLY overcorrecting an échappé 😱 (Whilst simultaneously losing my right-side turnout 🤦)

In the end, I won’t be perfect, either as a dancer or as a teacher, but I suspect that my students will forgive me.

The important part is to teach, to the best of my ability, technique that is as strong and consistent as I can make it, and to continue learning both as a dancer and a teacher so that over time I can teach more effectively.

If I do that, I’ve done my part towards ensuring that most of the technique my students bring to the table will be strong and consistent, provided that the students also do their part, that the winds are favorable, and that, as they say, “the creek don’t riz.”

Because, y’all, I may be a somewhat teacher of regular ballet, but I’m wholly unqualified as an instructor of water ballet.

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