Author Archives: asher

Finding North

Right now, I think it’s fairly safe to say that we’re all a bit lost in the woods; a little at sea.

Like, all of us. The whole planet.

We didn’t really know this thing was coming, and now it’s here.

You can prepare all you like for the possibility of some global … I guess disaster is the word; it’s not the word I want, but it’s the only one that to mind. It’s a slow-moving disaster, I guess.

Anyway, you can prepare all you like, but the reality of living in it—the experience of living in it—can’t be anticipated. You can have all the stuff you need to survive and enough to help your neighbors survive, but even that can’t mitigate the shock of the sudden and utter shift, the change when the thing finally comes.

We are, whether we realize it or not, creatures of habit. When we suddenly find ourselves obliged to upend the entire normal course of our days, we kind of derail a bit.

So that’s where I am: derailing a bit, but trying to learn how to drive my train without its track. Trying to figure out which way is up. Trying to orient towards the sun and get my feet under me.

You would think that as someone whose career is inherently cyclical, with long periods of down-time, I would be more okay with this than I am. 

I certainly thought that. I was like, “Yeah, it sucks that our season is over early, and that we never got to do our closing show, but it’s only a month early, really, and we’re okay financially.”

But, really, I thrive on order and ritual, and apparently the ritual for changing gears into summer mode is the last show.

Likewise, “summer mode” usually means I still go to class. It’s easy for me to forget that the thing that keeps my brain on the level is the daily litany of movement. It’s a startling surprise to remember how easily and how quickly things begin to become unbalanced.

The first week of this, D and I were in the middle of finally replacing the Camry—originally with the Electric Jellybean, but since that didn’t work out (the battery wasn’t up to D’s commute), eventually with VW Jetta TDI. That made planning my days difficult for me, so I didn’t dive feet-first into the array of ballet classes available by streaming.

Between the mental stress of the Emerging New Normal and the lack of sufficient physical exercise, my sleep quality and quantity took a nosedive.

Because the rhythm of my day was just plain gone, I kept forgetting to take my Adderall. That meant my brain was … Less able to adjust, shall we say.

Over the past several days, I slowly realized that I was starting to slip, and that it was time to do something about it. I started taking a sleeping pill early each evening in hope of getting some solid sleep.

Last night, it finally worked. I slept until 9:30 today and woke up feeling … if not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at least, like, eyed and tailed. You know. Basically equipped to more or less function.

I remembered to make myself a cup of coffee: it’s become part of my morning ritual, and one that I enjoy. It helps my brain know that there’s a day happening and we’re going to go do the things. I remembered to take my Adderall.

I’m late getting started, but once I finish this coffee and this post I’m going to go take class … albeit, in my living room, and probably in socks. When I’m done with that, I’ll do my assignment for the company, because I’d like to still have a job when the current storm blows itself out.

I’m not going to sermonize or tell anyone how to handle this crisis. We’re all grieving, and grief is a deeply individual process.

Nor am I going to confidently assert that I’ve got this handled, now: I’ve only got this present moment handled, and if things start to derail again, I’m going to try to give myself in una poca de gracia, as the song[1] says.

  1. The song, of course, is La Bamba, which arguably has nothing to do with any of this … Except doesn’t the line, “To dance the Bamba, it’s necessary to have a little grace,” rather beautifully describe how to cope with a sea-change like this one[2]?
  2. Dancing, after all, is just falling and catching yourself, over and over, until it looks beautiful.

 I’m going to remember the tools I’ve learned to use over the past few years. I’m going to:

  • do two things
  • grant myself grace
  • take my Adderall
  • breathe
  • and last, but not least, take class.

Going forward, I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes. That’s okay. We humans are makers of mistakes, but also makers of magic and music and beauty and art.

We’ll get through this, and we’ll find north again.

And until then, we’ll stay home and remember to wash our hands.

Oh, and since I wouldn’t be me without a little irreverent humor, here:

This Cognitive Dissonance

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll know that I don’t write about current events that much. I figure there are enough people out there who are better at that than I am, and thus I mostly stick to writing about ballet.

But today I’ma write about Coronavirus … again.

I’m in a weird place with this thing. On the one hand, I’m healthy AF, young, and on the surface I look a lot like someone who could easily be walking around like, “Eh, I don’t need to worry about this that much.”

 On the other hand, my respiratory system—which at the moment, knock wood, is only mildly annoyed about the horror that is tree pollen—is a gigantic baby that freaks out completely at the least possible provocation.

Like, I’ve had pneumonia five times. 

FIVE. Times.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had bronchitis.

Ordinary ‘flu knocks me flat for 2 weeks, minimum (this is why I get flu shots, y’all … well, that and herd immunity).

And every novel respiratory illness that comes down the pike carries with it the potential for serious career setbacks or worse.

And yet.

I’m not a chronically ill person who *feels* sick most of the time. I’m a chronically ill person person who feels great most of the time, with occasional bouts of shattering illmess, some of which are terrifying.

So right now I’m walking around in the world (or, well, in my house, mostly) with part of my brain not even really thinking about this whole COVID-19 sitch, and another part occasionally going, “F**k, what if someone brings it to D’s work?”

 D, btw, works in healthcare. He’s a physio, but currently works in a nursing and rehab facility, so there’s a real chance that such a thing could happen.

This doesn’t mean that I’m constantly panicking, or indeed panicking at all. Panicking won’t help. But it does mean that I’m using a lot of energy talking to my brain, trying to remind it that we have plans and stuff for things like this. That sometimes bad things happen no matter how well you plan, and that we need to stay rooted in the here and now because panicking now won’t help if something does happen.

And though it’s mostly working, my head is still in a weird place sometimes.

Anyway, life is uncertain, and the only constant is change. I’m not the best at actually practicing Zen, but I do find that even if the tools are a little rusty because you keep forgetting to actually use them, they’re still there in the garden shed when you need them, and rusty tools are better than none.

So, anyway, that helps with the cognitive dissonance a bit, as does giving myself room to feel uncomfortable.

Such is the weirdness of this mental place that it’s very hard to write about.

Also, I’m super tired, so I’m going to close here for now.

Oh: we also bought an electric jellybean—I mean, a Nissan Leaf 😊 It’s actually quite lovely and the interior is very roomy (you could fit about 5 dancers in it and still have room for a large dog behind the rear seat). I quite like it. This one’s a 2013, so the range is pretty decent. D plans to use it as his main commuter, since he works close enough to be well in range and can charge it at work. It’s a cute little car and comfortable to ride in.

A red Nissan Leaf sits on the tarmac in front of a few other cars.

It’s bigger on the inside.

It’s Complicated

So, given the fact that you’re on the internets, chances are that you’ve heard about this whole COVID-19 thing.

Resource hoarding aside (I’m looking you, single dude who lives alone and who just bought 17 cases of toilet paper), the United States actually sense to be doing a sensible, public-spirited thing and closing a lot of things down for a bit in an attempt to reduce transmission of the virus.

And I’m all for that, but at the same time it’s kind of weird and surreal.

The company’s off for the next couple of weeks, and we have no idea what’s going to happen with our last show of the season right now (Cancelled? Postponed? Performed via livestream, in HAZMAT suits?).

We did class this morning and didn’t rehearse. Starting tomorrow, we’re technically on hiatus, though we’re trying to find out if we’ll have access to the studio so we can do class together.

I genuinely had never imagined this particular outcome. It’s a weird place to be. Not bad: just weird.

I guess we’ll figure it out, going forward, a bit at a time.

Meanwhile, my teaching job is moving to an online format that’s going to be … Interesting. I’m not at all certain how I’m going to make that work, given that my house is not danceable and my data plan is utter crap. But I’ll figure something out, anyway … If we have wifi at the studio, maybe they’ll let us look in and use it for streaming.

So that’s where we are in mid-March, 2020. Things are up in the air.

My class notes today were, in short:

  • Turns in 2nd: really snap that second shoulder around
  • “Always finish grand allegro with a double tour, if you can” (Not sure how practicable that is, but I like the audacity of it 😁)
  • Don’t create extra work for yourself

That last one pertains to a couple of things I’m working on: first, unnecessary accessory movements that require additional adjustments to balance, placement, etc; second, keeping things engaged in the right ways so the body moves as efficiently as possible.

Not rocket surgery, but worth contemplating from time to time.

Lastly, (I think) I’m done setting the choreography for “January Thaw,” so I’m planning to start polishing it next week, and I’ve started work on a new piece that I’m developing through choreographic improvisation as well.

The new piece is longer (almost 6 minutes) and a bit more complex in terms of both mechanics and artistry, and I plan to take advantage of the extra time in my schedule to really crack away at it.

Also, the new piece has gigantic sauts de Basque (with a very contemporary port de bras). Because of course it does.

I don’t have a title for it yet, but the music is Chopin again. I’ve got some rather decent video from last night, so I’ll post that sometime soon.

And remember: always pull your tights up AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE before stepping into your balance board.

Partnering: It’s Ballet, Asher

For the longest time, the number one correction I got in any dance context other than ballet was, “It’s not ballet, Asher!”

Now, I’ve finally come full circle.

After rehearsal, L and I have been working on partnering stuff together, since we both want to get better at it. This has led me to realize that the sheer volume of non-traditional partnering I’ve done has been tripping me up in a ballet partnering context.

A lot of modern partnering is based in weight-sharing. You can share weight concentrically or eccentrically—in short, by pouring towards or away from your partner or partners—but either option involves a kind of nonverbal negotiation of balance.

Weighting-in: Kathy and I shared each-others’ weight to make this slow lunge effortless.

Unless you know your partner really well and you’ve developed a strong rapport, you begin slowly.

If you’re “weighting-out,” you tentatively pour yourself away from your partner, feeling for an equal and opposite pull.

If you’re “weighting-in,” you tentatively pour yourself towards your partner, feeling for an equal and opposite push.

It’s this push-pull dynamic that gives partnering based in weight-sharing its beautiful fluid quality. As partners learn to work together, they practice conversing in a language of shared gravity—moving smoothly and silently from “weighting-out” to “weighting-in” and vice-versa.

As they learn to trust each-other and to know each-other’s weight and movement styles, the negotiation process can become so fast and smooth that it becomes invisible to the audience, but it’s always there and it’s always the same.

This is not how ballet partnering typically works.

In ballet partnering—and please note that I’m referring to the traditional, gender-specific roles for clarity, here—the girl isn’t looking for the boy to answer her weight with equal weight. She’s looking for him to be a rock-solid foundation; a kind of balletic buttress.

Buttressing: in this penché, I needed to be firm, not negotiate a gradual sharing of weight.

If you’re used to weight-sharing, you answer lightening with lightening: when your partner gives you less of her weight, you give her less of yours. Likewise, you enter into a pushing dynamic gently: it’s easy to pour too much weight into someone too fast and to knock the whole structure over.

In a ballet context, if your partner feels that you’re supporting her too lightly she tends to respond by taking her weight out of your hands to protect herself. If you’re used to weight-sharing, you’ll automatically respond by lightening and softening your contact, because that’s the typical process of negotiation.

The thing is, that’s not how ballet partnering works at all.

In ballet partnering, the girl offers her weight with the expectation that it’ll be met firmly—as if you, her partner, are a living barre.

Chances are good that if she hasn’t worked with you before, she’ll be light in your hand, so to speak: it is in her best interest not to rely too heavily on you until she’s sure that you’re up to the job.

So, basically, the least useful signal you can send in that moment is exactly the one you’re most likely to automatically send if the vast majority of your experience has been in weight-sharing.

If you respond to the lightness of her touch by offering light support, because the instincts developed through weight-sharing make you feel like you’re going to knock her over otherwise, she’ll won’t feel secure, and withdraw. If her withdrawal leads you to automatically lighten even more, she’ll also withdraw further.

It won’t take long to reach a point at which you’re not a support, but an obstacle: something she’s trying not to whack with her knee or her leg when she turns, for example, but which isn’t actually helping her turn. Needless to say, if that happens, you won’t be able to accomplish much together.

Be steady and firm, and she’ll give you more weight, so she can do the cool stuff that ballet partnering allows. She’ll also be more likely to trust you when you lift her.

Once you get past the negotiation bit, of course, things work pretty much the same way: you don’t want overpower your partner[1]. You just want to be steady and lend her just enough of your gravity and (where appropriate) your momentum or force.

  1. Even in lifts: you can lift another human using only your own strength, but most ballet lifts work best if you work together.
Believe it or not, this lift really requires input from both dancers.

The real difference is that in weight-sharing, every movement or sequence of movements begins with and depends on a negotiation that equalizes gravity between the partners.

In ballet partnering, there is an initial negotiation, but it’s a different one. The girl silently asks, “Can I trust you to hold me up?” and the boy must answer, “Yes, I’m here,” or things aren’t going to work.

The remaining negotiation process in a ballet context is, as far as I’ve experienced, more about figuring out the physics of your specific bodies. How do you get yourself out of the way of her knee? How much liftoff does she need to help you get her into an overhead press lift? Where is her center of gravity? How does she compensate for your short li’l t-rex arms?

So, anyway, that was the breakthrough of the week for me. It’s one of those things that seems like it should be bindingly obvious—and yet I had grown so accustomed to the process of weight-sharing that I didn’t realize I was doing this unhelpful thing until this Friday.

I don’t know if any of this will be all that helpful to anyone who doesn’t share a similar set of circumstances to mine—but I hope it’ll be at least somewhat useful.

Class Notes, 03.03.2020

I can read … most of this, anyway.

My penmanship is in “pretty, but not terribly legible” mode today.

“May +/ or August”

Possible masterclass dates.

“UP != BACK! CHOOSE UP!”

We did a lovely cambré, and after recovering I left my ribs a little too open and my sternum in a bit of a high release.

This does not improve one’s turns or one’s balances … Particularly not à la seconde.

Notes about back leg turnout (mostly relevant to barre and things like tendus, poses, etc—not helpful for turns, particularly):

  1. Recover it all the way*
  2. FAVOR it over front leg**
  3. STAY OFF THE HEEL/ON THE BALL

*I tend to be lazy about bringing my back leg fully into turnout when I close to fifth, because my specific combination of mild hyperextensions and huge calves makes it a bit more of a chore than is usual.

**By “favor it,” I really mean actually think about it. My front leg will take care of its own turnout reliably; I need to work on the back leg.

“Bring your tailbone (fouetté to arabesque).”

A lot of us were guilty of finishing a simple piqué fouetté without really bringing the pelvis with us today. I was over of them at least half the time.

“Hunger Arinn & Sefter Plié.”

This actually says, “Longer Arms & Softer Plié,” but you know. Looling for spit, etc.

“& still bring your head.”

It is always a good idea not to leave your head behind. This is especially true in ballet. That thing is heavy, yo, and since your brain’s in it you can’t just, like, take it off and leave it by your water bottle.

“Gliss no change x2, jeté pas de bourré x2, jeté assemble enrechat quatre x2.”

Mathematically speaking, I should really clarify that combination with some parentheses:

“(Gliss no change)*2, (jeté pas de bourré)*2, jeté assemble (entrechat quatre*2).”

I actually did this petit allegro right a couple of times. I mean, it’s not that complicated; it was just fast.

I’m getting better at keeping my legs under me so I don’t gallop off with myself (or over myself).

Anyway, that’s it for today’s class notes. My rehearsal notes are mostly about character development, since we’re mowing through Snow White wow effectively and I actually have time to think about that at this point.

Class Notes, 02.28.2020

Lest anyone think my class notes are always informative and useful: sometimes it’s just me kvetching into the void.

When you’re struggling, know that someone somewhere is struggling along with you 💜

This Is Me Now

The process of becoming an artist isn’t that complicated. You do art. You are an artist.

The process of learning to see yourself as an artist, on the other hand, comprises an apparently-endless array of subtle layers.

(I’m not sure if it’s an onion or a lotus blossom: like, its roots definitely reach down into the muck of life, but sometimes it makes you cry, so…? Whatever. It can be both.)

Tonight, after closing A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a show that felt like the strongest in my career to date, I had this moment in which I was thinking about something related to work, and it didn’t even occur to me to feel a sense of disbelief, or like I’m not worthy, or anything. I was just thinking about a work thing: a piece to add to the puzzle to make me better at my job.

Only later did it even occur to me to think, “Hey, that’s cool, that my imposter syndrome didn’t even get a look in.”

Every now and then I think back to a conversation I had a few years ago with my friend BB—one in which she said, “…You have your [ballet] career to think about,” back before I was at all certain that any such thing was really going to materialize. At the time, I felt like I should, like, cross my fingers or something. Somehow signal that I wanted it to be true, but maybe didn’t quite think it was.

And yet, here I am.

Yes, here I am, in my sparkly regal jacket and hobo warm-ups.

I’m sure I’ve written before about this process, but I’m equally sure that, a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed I’d be quite as blasé about it as I am now, in part because a year ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever be doing the things I’m doing now.

I’m lucky to have friends who can see things more clearly, and whose words have helped immensely in the moments in which this has all seemed the most unreal.

Their belief has helped to form the foundation of my own, like a builder’s forms shape the concrete walls in a building’s basement.

They helped me believe—even believed for me—so I could do a thing that is almost absurdly unlikely. And the longer I do it, the stronger my own belief becomes.

So this is me, now. I’ve begun, bit by bit, to feel that I have something to offer to my chosen profession.

And not just cheekbones and hair, though those don’t hurt, either 🤷

I’m not sure yet what that thing is, or how to define it. I think that’s harder to do in ballet than in a lot of artforms … like, in ballet, as a dancer, you’re both artist and medium, and another artist is generally responsible for using the pallette of dancers on hand to create work.

You don’t always know what it is that you, specifically, bring to the easel. You don’t know whether you’re magenta or cobalt or red ochre to the choreographer or AD who selects you.

But it doesn’t really matter to me. My goal is to be serviceable: to be a serviceable dancer, one who is good enough to be a credit to the artform and to honor its history. Anything more than that is a bonus.

There’s still a lot I have to learn; a reasonable smattering of holes I need to fill before I can feel like I’ve really got enough of the toolkit to be a whole package—but I’m learning those things, and I’m filling those holes.

Speaking of which: my Petit Allegro is improving again. The keys, for me, are always:

  • …keep your legs under you (in other words, constrain your travel, no matter how much you love to travel)
  • think about the *down* and the *up* will take care of itself.

So that’s it for now. Or, well … One last thing.

I hope that becoming comfortable with the mere fact of my existence as an actual professional dancer will never make me less grateful for it.

If it does, you can come to dinner with me and kick me under the table as a reminder or something.

*Lunching Intensifies*

Four of these run less than $4 at Aldi.

Coupled with a tortilla or flatbread, one of them makes a nice utensil-free main course at lunch. You can dump the chicken salad straight onto the tortilla and then use the edge of the tortilla to scoop out any that doesn’t dump.

I would say my goal is to eat a healthy, balanced lunch, but really right now it’s just to shove enough food in my face so I don’t eat everything that holds still long enough when I get home (I’m not currently feeling epic salads, for some reason).

So there you go. These and a pack of Aldi’s flatbreads gets you a decent main course for less than $2/lunch. Add Greek yogurt (low sugar for me; too much and I’ll be cranky an hour later) and maybe some store-brand Grape Nuts and you’ve got a decent, inexpensive meal to get you through the afternoon.

Rough

This week, on Thursday, we began work in Act II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It is, to say the least, a baptism by fire in terms of partnering. Act II is basically all about the “We’re all getting married and happiness is restored even in the fairy kingdom,” and here I am like, “Feck, well, guess I’m going to learn to not suck so much at partnered turns now.”

But, holy hell. The amount of new material I’ve crammed into my head and body in the past two days is … Erm. It’s a lot.

Today’s somewhat-legible choreography notes😅 The little diagram is a bit of transitional choreography that the the principal guys do—it’s there so I’ll remember what my arms are supposed to do.

I’ve been frustrated with myself for not picking some things up as well as I could. I think just not having time to review last night was part of it, and of course just being kinda stressed makes learning harder, which makes you more stressed, etc.

Anyway, I have 3 weeks to look like I know WTF I’m doing, and I’m going to effing well make it happen.

But for now it’s rough, and today I was stressed out and generally mad at myself for the entire day.

So tomorrow will be better. And the day after that will be better. And in three weeks, I will have this down, and I hope I’ll be a partner worth dancing with.

Until then, I’ll try to remember to post my class notes from time to time, but it’s about to get real up in here.

Class notes with a bit of choreography detail at the bottom. The first note is a very general correction but was incited a thing I noticed in an adage that I struggled with at first. My shoulders were climbing into my ears. That never helps!

Moments That Make Us

I’m doing the National Choreography Month thing, and I’ve been enjoying the heck out of creating improv video clips and watching those created by other artists[1].

Today, I commented, “#contactimprov is the best. This is beautiful” on one created by LA’s Leigh Purtill Ballet Company (Insta: @LeighPurtillBalletCompany), and they replied, “I love seeing what develops between people who trust each other,” and I thought, Yes.

So much yes.

So much of my current work as a dancer can be traced back to moments of profound trust: to moments at the first Pilobolus workshops I attended in which a momentary connection became, “Yes, we can carry each-other.”

…To the first time Brian set a piece on the open program students at Louisville Ballet School, and entrusted me with solo choreography and, even though I’d never done it before, partnering.

That’s my fam right there 💖

…To a very conscious decision to trust Edwin Olvera when he approached me after a Pilobolus masterclass to suggest that I audition for the company and that I come to the summer intensive (I still haven’t managed to make an audition for the company, but I hope I will … And the SI was everything. Everything.).

…To Mike’s willingness to trust me to lead him in a blind walk dance, and the trust I found so easy to give to Quincy when I was the blind one in the dance, both at my first Pilobolus SI.

…To Rachel’s decision to trust me as an untried choreographer in creating a piece for the Americana Center Fundraiser.

We carry each-other.

…To Kathy’s and Christina’s willingness to jump in and trust my creative process as I set my first contemporary ballet piece. To my willingness to trust the changes they suggested, which made the piece that much stronger.

…To Dot’s, Jaddyn’s, and EM’S willingness to trust me with their life and limbs while we built pieces together and learned pieces being set on us this past summer.

This is what radical trust looks like.

… To the countless moments that Mr D has probably looked at me flailing through a Bad Ballet Moment and thought, “Jeez, what have I gotten myself into?” but has decided to keep me on anyway.

… To so, so many other moments in which someone has trusted me, or in which I have been able to trust someone else, and beautiful things have grown out of it.

I can say with conviction that my first Pilobolus intensive changed my life. Really and deeply. It was the catalyst for a sea change in so many ways.

That’s also my fam right there.

The ground of that catalyst, in the end, was trust. Trusting the moments and the process and, eventually, my fellow dancers, until bit by bit I stood on a foundation of trust the like if which I couldn’t have imagined beforehand.

Trust is a springboard. Trust is a ladder. Trust is (sometimes literally) a pair of hands that lift you up into the light.

I love working with Dot and with Jaddyn because we know we’re crazy, but we trust each-other anyway. We trust each-other’s crazy.

If you can’t trust your fellow zombie, who can you trust?

There’s something sacred in knowing someone trusts you enough to say, “Hey, here’s this crazy and potentially dangerous lift in which you throw me over your shoulder at high speed, wanna try it?”

There’s something sacred in knowing yourself to be worthy of that trust.

All these moments of trust have been critical in making me what I am right now (for whatever that is 😅).

I would say that I’m surprised by the incredible things my friends from that one Pilobolus intensive are doing, but I’m really not. That group was something else, and in that week we all grew immensely in artistry and in trust. We were all sprinkled with the same magic dust, and the funny thing about magic dust is that it multiplies.

So I guess now the next step, besides continuing to improve as a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, and an artist (oh, look, I said it again) is to figure out how to get better at spreading that magic dust around.

We are made by moments; moments (both bad and good; awkward AF and sublimely beautiful) that loom large in our autobiographical memories.

Just as in contact improv we share weight to create something beautiful, in life we balance and lean on each-other. We become the catalysts for the moments that make other people.

That, too, seems like it must be a sacred trust.


1. Omg, look at me slipping in the phrase “other artists” as if I’m not still routinely consumed by imposter syndrome wrt the right to call myself an artist 🤣🤣🤣

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