Author Archives: asher
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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.
…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.
… 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.
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.
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 🤣🤣🤣
Today, for the first time in my life, Mr D called me up to demonstrate a combination in company class. I managed not to hose it up, even! (Thank goodness.) But that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway, I meant to post more notes last week, but got distracted, so here are some from the 10th and from the 14th:
My turns in 2nd can be … Erm. A little wild? My spot, for some reason, likes to wander when I’m doing these.
I’ll spot front, then off to the left corner, then back (BACK! As in, I somehow spot THE BACK WALL 😶), then who even knows where, then nowhere, then front again.
Turns in 2nd give you all the chances to spot the wrong things.
I think, honestly, it’s that I’m nervous about turns in second, and I’m usually busy concentrating on keeping my free leg engaged in a position that A] is a valid second and B] is possible to hold while turning.
(Clause B], btw, is the drawback to having crazy flexible hips. They don’t lock neatly into place; instead, you have to work your butt off to hold them steady.)
Anyway, the drawing on the bottom reiterates a point I’ve been working on FOREVER.
When it comes to turns, your body is one piece. If the linkage between hips and shoulders is anything but solid, you’ll have to work harder, and your outcome won’t be what it could be.
The shoulder and hip have to travel together … And that means the rest of each side does, too.
Okay, so “Soft and quick” was actually a correction for petit allegro … I think.
It definitely wasn’t for the Grand pirouette, which is what we were doing when I observed that Mr D’s demonstration of using the standing side of the body was, in short, kind of like the way you throw a solid punch.
I mean, he actually literally did an air-punch with that arm. (It looked hella metal, tbh.)
The power in a solid punch doesn’t just come from the arm. It’s the whole side of the body in one chain. The hip is heavily involved.
In Muay Thai, we learned to bring the hip as part of the strike. I say “strike” because the idea was critical to powering kicks as well: it’s a little different for striking with the leg (which is to say, the shin and the top of the foot) than with the fist, but the end result is the same: the entire side is engaged and acts as one unit.
I suspect that many of us don’t think about that with turns: or, rather, we don’t think about the standing side.
We should. It really significantly improves the quality of our turns, even if we don’t immediately see an increase in quantity.
If we’re already thinking about the free-side hip and shoulder coming around, thinking about the standing side as well should help us initiate the diagonal, contralateral activation pattern in the core that keeps body and soul … or, well, shoulder and hip … together.
Though you may have already guessed that I added it as an afterthought, the “…but gently” is also important. Since we’re not trying to knock anyone out in a ballet—or, not literally, anyway—there is such a thing as too much force.
Too much force can knock you off your leg or simply make it hard to stop turning at the right moment (and while facing the correct direction … just refusing to turn your neck again because you have to move on to the next step doesn’t actually kill your turn’s momentum very effectively).
Likewise, you need a kind of sustained explosion. You can’t just go, “BOOM!” and let the body take care of things.
Instead, you need something more like one of those really long rolls of distant thunder: maybe not L O U D, but strong the whole time. Steady.
Like, as Mr D said today (assuming I even heard this right) drinking a McDonald’s shake.
That’s probably a whole separate post, though.
In case you’re wondering about the bracketed note at the top (“[Listen with the ears … Keep the eyes tracking]”), it’s specific to a thing I noticed during a waltz combination. Mr D was giving me some corrections, and I totally fell apart.
This led to a lovely flash of insight in which I realized that when I’m trying to listen to something while dancing, I turn (or try not to turn!) my head in ways that wreak havoc upon my aplomb and last waste to my spot (and with it, my turns).
I have trouble processing language anyway, so I tend to stiffen up when I’m trying to listen to spoken words. I also kind of back-burner my vision when I’m listening to speech—it just takes a lot of clock cycles, so to speak. (Anyone who’s ever tried to speak to me when the TV is on or when I’m engaged in a visual task will know exactly what I mean.)
I’ve known both these things for most of my life, and yet I never realized how very specifically they apply to ballet classes until yesterday.
One last thing: in case you think my handwriting is usually as nice as it seems in my notes at the top of the second image, check out the bottom.
The notes at the top were written at a very leisurely speed. The ones at the bottom were my rather frantic attempt to record some of Oberon’s stage business.
Sadly, they’re actually fairly legible compared to my everyday handwriting … Basically, if I have to write quickly (which is to say, at a normal note-taking rate), it’s not going to be legible.
Ah, well. You can’t have everything, and if I’m forced to choose between legible handwriting and better turns, I’ll take the turns.
I’ve been thinking for a while about trying to make a habit of posting my class notes.
Sometimes they’re silly, and often they’re impossible to read, but I try to write down my corrections and other points that seem really helpful.
In that vein, here’s today’s:
A transcription (which I probably won’t include every time):
- Engage! (Those arrows are pointing at the muscles to either side of the rectus abdominis. My friend SF pointed out that it looks like they’re pointing to the kidneys 🤣)
- It frees up your hips 😶
- Like, really frees them. 😲
- Relax, it’s just turns 😑
- Pull (and push) towards your standing leg!
- That way, if you tip over, you can correct
- Your free foot has to PUSH OFF so you’re centered on your standing leg
On that last note: you would think I knew that already!
And, I mean, I do. I did. I have. And yet!
I just realized I haven’t really been actively using the soon-to-be free foot as much as I should when initiating turns, so I’m not always pushing myself onto my standing leg as effectively as I could.
My focus at the moment is staying on my leg (or legs, as applicable) and really using the floor.
And also not allowing my arms to do ridiculous BS like they did today during our medium allegro, because ffs, arms 😑
As it often does, New Year’s Eve crept up on me, then pounced 😅 So, erm, happy New Year. And, whilst very technically the new decade really begins NEXT year, since the current default Western calendar has no Year 0, Happy New Decade anyway.
I’ve been cleaning a bit, playing Sims 4, eating everything, and generally being a lazy schmuck.
This is simultaneously the privilege and the punishment of being a dancer on a company break.
On one hand, all the dance things are closed, so you have time to lie around and do nothing. Huzzah! On the other hand, all the dance things are closed, so you have time to lie around and do nothing. Oof.
I’m sure I’ll regret my general sloth on Tuesday when we get back to class. On the other hand, it’s good for the body to have a chance to rest and recover sometimes.
I did finally bite the bullet and purchase a new (to me) laptop. It cost $177 including taxes, which was most of my savings … hi ho, the theatrical life, as my friend RK always says.
It was time. My old laptop is still going, but ay caramba, it takes like 16 million years to do anything. The old machine will be getting an overhaul and becoming a Chromebook, while the new machine will be traveling to and from Lexington with me, as I’m hoping to pick up some light side gigs that I can do online, since Summer Is Coming, and with it…
…It’s on that page, I swear. You have to scroll alllllllll the way almost to the bottom 🤷 (WRT MBB: It’s annoying that a program with such solid technical instruction still refers to itself as a “health and wellness initiative,” but whatever works, I guess?)
I’m going to that one even though I have to pay for it, when I can go to my own company’s for free. Which I’ll try to do this year, though I have work lined up as well, so it’ll depend on scheduling. I have a couple others, including Dancing Wheels, in my sights as well.
I may or may not go to an audition on Sunday. The upside is that it’s for a local company. The downside would be logistical—if I make it, it would mean commuting back to Louisville for rehearsals, which might be too much, what with teaching, CirqueLouis, Spring Collection, etc. I don’t know.
In short, I know I won’t turn down an offer of work, but I think I probably shouldn’t take anything else on right now that requires my physical presence and more commuting. On the other hand, I haven’t yet looked at the details, and if rehearsals don’t start ’til, like, March, it could be doable. Idk.
It’s also time to ponder Burning Man things. Last year’s Burn was both hella fun and transformative, but A] it’s expensive (though not as expensive as people think—any vacation is expensive to us, right now) and B] last summer I overcommitted like crazy and didn’t really get any time to decompress.
Really, I guess I need to get a sense of how my summer’s going to look, then move ahead from there.
So, yeah. I hope 2020 takes you to bed and exciting places, or steeps you in the comfort of familiar and restful ones, according to your needs.
Oh, and one last wee thing: here’s a shot from a wee project Dot and I have launched:
I stayed up way too late writing, nodded off at 4 AM, promptly had a really dumb nightmare* and woke right the heck back up.
Since then, I’ve been stupidly lying here in bed trying to go back to sleep and getting more and more stressed out.
So you know what? I’m going to get up, wrap a couple of gifts I actually somehow forgot I even bought, play Sims 4 on D’s computer, and maybe go back to sleep later, and maybe not, and generally not stress about it, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you can’t sleep.
Also, happy holidays and all that 🎆
*So about the stupid nightmare: it started out as a kind of fun dream about a party, then I realized it reminded me of a ghost movie** I’d seen and immediately segued into being a nightmare about those ghosts
**a ghost movie that doesn’t exist IRL, btw 😑
I’m not sure why I’m just posting this now (I’m tempted to say, “The season is always so busy!” …But I’ve been following this blogger since before I started at Actual Ballet Company), but if you want a fantastic, evidence-based, funny, and above-all kind and compassionate resource to help you on your journey as a Late Starter, or indeed any kind of dancer, do yourself a favor and check out Late To The Party Ballet.
Author Patricia Pyrka launched herself into the ballet life at the age of 37, and since then has used all of her considerable brain power and humor not only to turn herself into a formidable ballet beast, but to help other Late Starters achieve their goals.
Even if you’re not a Late Starter, her sound, evidence-based advice on training and cross-training can do you a world of good. Her thoughtful posts can help you learn to work with your body instead of fighting against it (which I’d wager that all of us, regardless of when we began our training or whether we become professional dancers, will experience at one time or another).
While you’re at it, don’t miss this encouraging guest post on finding the right ballet/life balance for you. Olivia (@bunheadlivi on the Instas) writes with understanding and compassion about figuring out how to build your ballet program and set (and reach!) your goals, and about the importance of making friends with your fellow dancers.
Honestly, I (who can be a bit prescriptive and cranky, in case you hadn’t noticed 😅) felt humbled and schooled by Olivia’s gentle advice. It made me realize I’ve been grossly mishandling those moments when my friends say, “I wish I could do what you’re doing.”
… And if you’re suspect that this might be the beginning of an ongoing series of regular posts about great online resources for dancers and especially for Late Starters, you’re correct.
At least, I hope you’re correct 😅
I’m pretty sure I can handle the “series” part; it’s the “regular” part that … Well, you know how that goes.
I’ll also be updating the navigational features of this blog, since heretofore my use of categories in particular has been pretty loosey-goosey and not terribly helpful if you’re actually trying to find posts related to a specific subject.
It’s going to take me a while, probably, to pore back over Ye Olde Auncient Posts Of Yore and categorize them appropriately, but I’ll be working on that, too.