Category Archives: adulting

Poco à Poco

That’s “little by little” in the Italian of the classical music world.

It often indicates a gradual change in the dynamics of a piece—a gradual crescendo or increase in tempo, perhaps.

Sometimes, when I think about how my life has changed over the past six or so years, it pops into my mind (visually, in that rather curly italic so common to classical scores 😁).

I think that happens for two reasons. First, so much has changed, and so gradually. Second, the ultimate effect on the listener of the direction poco à poco is often that of surprise: the dynamics change so slowly that, at some point, you suddenly awaken to the fact that the whole piece is dramatically different now, but you somehow didn’t notice the change happening.

Today I wrote a short bio for a thing that will remain top-secret for the moment, and in writing it I realized how much easier it has become to describe myself as a dancer, a teacher, and a choreographer.

I was struck with a powerful sense of gratitude, and that sort of delighted “I can’t believe this is really my life” feeling—but not, so much, the impostor syndrome of old.

When I began teaching, it was very much with the sense that I hadn’t really earned the role. I didn’t think I was a good enough dancer, really, to merit a teaching position.

Over the past year, I’ve watched my students grow in technique and confidence, and I haven’t really credited myself with that at all. I’ve sort of regarded it of an automatic process that happens if someone shows you more-or-less correct technique. Yes, now that I’m writing that out, I do suddenly realize how ridiculous it sounds, and that I wouldn’t say that about any of my teachers.

I think I honestly felt that my students were learning in spite of my deficiencies as a teacher.

I’ve begun to realize that, in fact, I have strengths as a teacher. One of them, I suspect, is being aware of the weaknesses in my own technique. It’s strange how glaringly obvious that seems now, when I spent all of last year thinking that the weaknesses in my technique were a reason that I shouldn’t teach.

It occurs to me now (and, yeah, not sure how I overlooked this, either) that even the best dancers have their weak spots, and that if your foundation is fairly solid, what matters as a teacher is knowing what they are so you don’t unwittingly pass them on to your students.

I’m heading into my second year of teaching with a much better sense of how to structure a class across the course of a year, which will help immensely.

I’m heading into my third year—my second “official” year—as a dancer in a ballet company similarly armed with a keener sense of what I need to learn and how to learn it.

I’m heading into both with a sense that this isn’t all some kind of fluke: that I may have taken a circuitous route, but I haven’t slipped in, uninvited, by some forbidden back door and won’t be discovered and unceremoniously ushered back out into the street at any moment. Or, well, probably not.

I wonder, now, if this is how everyone feels when they find their way onto their path. Or, at any rate, how many people feel, in that set of circumstances.

Would I feel differently if I had taken the more usual route through a pre-pro program and auditions or through a university-level ballet pedagogy program?

I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t, but I can’t say for certain that I would.

I can say that I feel more at home doing what I’m doing now than I ever expected to feel. I can say that I can imagine dancing and teaching deep into my future, and the thought doesn’t fill me with the dread and sense of being trapped that I feel when I imagined working at a desk for decades to come.

I can say that while I felt, at the beginning, that I hadn’t really earned my place (regardless of the kind words of my mentors), I failed to realize that even if that were true, I could earn it by staying in it and doing what that place required.

And so, here I am, at the start of a new season, ready to begin.

DancerLife: A Man, A Plan, A … Well, Kind Of A Plan, IDK

Today’s episode of Danseur Ignoble is brought to you by the famous palindrome, “A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL: PANAMA.” Which, to be fair, only works properly if you don’t consider the punctuation when reversing it, in which case you’d get “.AMANAP :LANAC A ,NALP A ,NAM A” thus utterly defeating the entire point of palindromes in the first place. Also, full disclosure: at the moment, as far as I know, there isn’t a canal in my plan.

I wrote recently about how planning to eat is a good idea, and how the #dancerlife can make that challenging, etc.

Anyway, now that the season is looming into sight (OH LORD, MAKE HASTE TO HELP US, etc) and I’ve done the fun part of being a responsible adult danseur (New tights! New shoes! New … dance belts. Yeah, well, it can’t all be that exciting.), I’m on to doing the hard part.

Or, well, the part that’s hard for me.

Which is planning.

Anyway, in the spirit of continuing to explore the vagaries of #dancerlife in ways that might potentially be useful to other people, today we’ll take a brief look at my planning process (HA! I’m not sure it qualifies as a process, tbh.)

I find it really helpful to create a broad visual guide to my week: a kind of general picture of how things are likely to look, knowing that they’re going to be different sometimes. Because I’ll take 6,000,000 years to finish it if I try to do it by hand, I typically just create a table in Google Docs.

Here, for your edification, is a screenshot of said table as it currently stands:

I like to assume that I’m an idiot and address myself accordingly in the notes. I’m not, in fact, actually an idiot in a general sense, but I’m TERRIBLE at imagining time, and reminding myself to “Eat breakfast. SERIOUSLY. EAT BREAKFAST.” is a good idea.

My teaching schedule (thus far) includes Monday evenings (useful, since my teaching job is more or less halfway between home and Lexington) and Wednesday evenings, and my Wednesday class is late enough to allow me to take an extra class in Lexington on Wednesday evening.

I’m deeply grateful that I won’t be trying to jet out to Frankfort to teach at 5:15, or 5:30, after rehearsal. Yes, it bought me some time to play around in the studio, but it also made it really hard to figure out when I to eat dinner.

Though I’m not sure yet whether this strategy will work, my current plan for Wednesday is to eat a reasonably substantial meal between Rehearsal Block B and Evening Class, then a snack/mini-meal on the way home from teaching. That should prevent me from wanting to murder anyone in the interval.

I might(???) be teaching on Friday evening, though if I’m not I plan to take an extra class then as well. Might as well make the most of my time, and I have plenty to learn as a dancer, soooooooooo………..

I have literally no idea what Theater Week for our first production will look like, nor whether the Nutcracker run will in any way resemble its usual self, so I’m not even going to try to make a draft plan for Theater Week right now.

TBH, half the time, no matter how well I plan, Theater Week turns into “All You Can Eat Pizza Week” anyway (work is irrelevant, as one inevitably just has to tap a sub, or in my case, possibly several).

A bird’s-eye view of Theater Week. (Pixabay via Pexels.com)

I think our company schedule is a little different this year (I seem to recall that our morning break is now 15 mins, which probably means we’ll take lunch at 1:30 instead of 1, or something) but not so much so that it’ll drive a train right through this schedule, which is only a rough draft anyway.

If you find yourself thinking, “Yes, fine–you’ve written all these words, and you’ve still told us NOTHING about your planning process,” you’re absolutely correct, and I apologize.

So here’s how the process itself works:

Really first, before I actually begin planning, I look at my various schedules from various places and try to make them make sense in my head and generally develop a headache.

Officially First, I realize I need to make a visual depiction of my typical week, so I begin by making a table on a blank document.

At first, my blank document includes:

  • 7 columns: one for each day of the week.
  • 4 rows: one for each more-or-less arbitrary division in my day (I don’t like to use an hour-by-hour schema at this stage; I get too hung up on how things don’t line up visually the way I want them to).

Then I realize that I need a header row for days of the week, so I add that, and probably a label column so I can label the different sections of the day, so I add that too and spend a few minutes dithering over what I want to call the different parts of my day.

Once those rows and columns are in place, I start copying data into the individual cells for my company day, then by data for classes other than company class, then data for my teaching job(s).

At some point in this process, I realize I want color blocks to help me visualize my week without reading, so I start adding those. And then once the color blocks start coming together, I realize that a visual breaks for lunch would probably help, so I add a row (columns merged, text aligned center-center) for that. And, hey! It does help!

I briefly decide that I need a separate row for my potential second teaching job, so I add one. Then I change my mind, since adding the row in question will make the whole schedule less meaningful visually, and I remove that row and decide that I’ll just add a note at the top of each work cell (and probably make them different colors if I teach at more than one place).

For now, since I’m not 100% sure I’ll have an extra teaching gig, I’ve filled in the space it would occupy with question marks (???). It could take place on Thursday instead of Friday, but Friday seems more likely, and so the overall shape of the week in this draft is settled.

Then I realize I’m going to need another visual break between the end of the company day and … everything else, even though I technically consider additional classes part of company life. So I add one of those, formatted just like the lunch break, and label it accordingly.

The line for breakfast was kind of an afterthought. I actually thought about leaving it out: I mean, I actually do tend to eat breakfast every day, because when I don’t, I’m typically unfit for human company until I do eat something. But I liked what it brought to the table visually, and in all honesty, it’s useful in helping me imagine how I need to use my time.

Which, for me, is the whole point of doing this.

What this little visual layout really does is help me stop myself overcommitting.

Without it, I tend to imagine all of the time that I’m not actively in the studio either dancing or teaching as “free” and thus available for teaching or whatever, or even just doing side projects. And then, unsurprisingly, I wind up burning myself out.

There will always be seasons (NUTCRACKER) in a dancer’s life in which a little burnout (NUTCRACKER) is more or less inevitable (N U T C R A C K E R!!!!).

“WHAT?! Seriously, dude, I’m on break!” (Luis Quintero via Pexels.com)

That’s why we have breaks in our company calendars. We need that time to literally rest, so our minds and bodies can recover from the strain of long days rehearsing and performing (and living on pizza because we’re artists and thus broke).

Last year, I overcommitted myself, and wound up creating a situation in which I wasn’t eating well enough or resting enough during rehearsal weeks, so by the time performance runs ended, I was not simply cooked, but overcooked. I did finish the year a better and stronger dancer than I began it, but I could’ve made more progress if I’d just taken slightly better care of myself.

Likewise, just as it is with our hearts and minds, we can only take more out of our bodies than we put back for so long. If my goal is to have staying power as a dancer, I need to take care of my instrument. Part of that is feeding it well and giving it enough rest to make up for the crazy demands I place on it.

Nobody pursues a career in dance because it’s easy: if you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll either drop out before you get anywhere near a career, or you’ll realize how wrong you were and embrace the challenge.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to make it harder for ourselves.

And one of the best ways to prevent making it harder for ourselves, of course, is to plan. And while I try not to overuse this phrase, I am sufficiently bad at planning on the whole that I want to say, “If I can do this, you probably can, too.”

Swan Lake. By Paata Vardanashvili from Tbilisi, Georgia (Nino Ananiashvili "Swan Lake") [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
It worked for Odette! Or, well. Maybe that’s the wrong example? YOU GET THE POINT.
(PC: Paata Vardanashvili [Nino Ananiashvili “Swan Lake”] [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Caption mine ^-^)

PS: my decision to arrange my schedule Sunday-Saturday is a purely pragmatic one. That way, since my company week runs Tuesday-Saturday, my least-scheduled days are grouped together, which I find visually useful. You should organize your week in whatever way works best for you.

DancerLife: Food, Part 2-Make A Plan

(You can find Part 1 here.)

Last month, I attended a really great Zoom workshop with Becky Lindberg Schroeder on nutrition for dancers and realized that I’ve been doing a few really important things wrong. Part 1 of this series covers some of the important insights that came out of that workshop, but I’ll review them in brief so you don’t have to go back and read the whole thing if you’re not feeling it:

  • Eat more
  • Eat more often
  • Eat a snack
  • Eat some d%$#n carbs for breakfast
  • MAKE A PLAN (but keep it flexible)

My blood sugar skews low, with overnight fasting levels around 70 (the “normal” fasting range is 80-100). This means that, for me, including a mix of faster-burning carbs and slower-burning carbs (along with some protein and fat) in the morning fuel mix is a really good idea.

I really liked Becky’s suggestion for planning: write out a basic picture of your daily schedule by hand, so you can see where you might need to add some fuel to the tank, then plan accordingly.

Step 1: Plan When To Eat

If you’re in a sedentary job, you can probably get away with eating three times a day or so. If you’re a dancer, though, there are sound arguments to be made in favor of eating every 3-4 hours: not huge meals every time, but just enough to keep the engine ticking over smoothly. (If you’re someone who straddles both worlds, with school during the day or a 9-5 desk job and a busy class/rehearsal schedule, a hybrid approach might work.)

My first step was to sketch out a loose version of my schedule and then plug in little notes to tell myself when to eat. I put boxes around them because I’m a pretty visual thinker and I find it helpful to make them stand out.

It’s worth mentioning that as dancers, we often have quite different schedules during regular rehearsal weeks and during Theater Weeks.

Since Theater Weeks comprise a whole different animal, and also because I’m not even sure what they’ll look like this year, I’ll give them their own post later on. For now, here’s a rough sketch of my typical schedule during a normal week:

My typical daily schedule written out on dot-grid paper.
“Work” means teaching, as if dancing all day wasn’t work enough, lol.

Even though my days are still a little vague after 3:30 PM, since I don’t actually know for sure yet at what times I’ll be teaching, writing out my schedule helped me understand how long some of its blocks are.

Like, if I don’t eat a snack between breakfast (which I try to eat around 9 AM, but occasionally eat earlier) and lunch (which nominally happens a little after 1 PM, but sometimes gets bumped later), I’m pushing my luck in terms of keeping myself adequately fueled.

It makes more sense to actually eat a snack during the break between class and rehearsal. That way, I can keep my blood sugar a bit steadier, and won’t want to murder someone by the end of the first rehearsal block of the day. Or, well … I probably won’t want to murder someone. Or at any rate I won’t want to murder someone simply because my blood sugar is low.

Likewise, if I don’t eat something between the end of the second rehearsal block and the various things I do after rehearsal, I should really not be surprised if I can barely function when I’m done with my evening stuff.

Last year I was teaching until 8:15 PM some 40 minutes from my work-week home a couple nights a week.

And yet, for some reason, I suffered under the delusion that it was a good idea to wait until I got home to eat.

WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK, FRIENDOS.

Basically, that meant finishing rehearsal between 3 and 3:30 PM, driving to my teaching job, then teaching for like four hours, then driving home without passing out, then somehow eating something actually worthwhile, at like 9:30 at night, when I just wanted to lie down and read.

That, needless to say, was not a good plan. All too often, it devolved into, “I’m picking up a $5 Hot-N-Ready so I won’t wrap my car around a tree.”

My schedule this year will be a little different, but my typical day will still be pretty long. I’ll be doing strength training and taking evening class on days that I don’t teach, so most of the time my working day will end around 7 PM.

So, in terms of when to eat, my basic (flexible) plan includes breakfast around 9 AM, a snack around 11:30 AM, lunch around 1 PM, another snack somewhere between 3:30 PM and 4 PM, and possibly another around 7 PM, if my day’s going to run later than that. I’ll eat dinner either when I get home or on the way home.

Step 2: Plan What To Eat

Now that I’ve figured out when to eat, it makes sense to put some thought into what to eat–that is, the specifics.

Last year, I had decent success with breakfast smoothies that included some pasteurized egg whites for protein, but in retrospect they could’ve used more calories, really any fat, and probably also some toast or something to add some slower-burning carbs.

I also had reasonable success with PBJs made with natural chunky peanut butter on multigrain & flax toast, though one of those by itself isn’t quite enough. Two might work.

Greek yogurt with fruit and generic Grape Nuts was … somewhere in the middle. It might’ve worked better if I used full-fat yogurt, which would’ve raised the overall calorie count and helped breakfast burn off more slowly. Even then, though, it takes a LOT of that particular dish to equal the caloric burn of morning class alone, let alone morning class plus the first rehearsal block.

I did not have much success with the, “Oh crap, I spent too much time reading, guess I’ll shove an apple and a granola bar into my face” breakfast. The last 30-45 mins of the first rehearsal block were uniformly brutal on those days, especially if my snack selection was, “Oh, look, another apple.”

Don’t get me wrong–I love apples. Apples are a perfect, portable, essentially waste-free snack food. They just aren’t built to keep you afloat by themselves when you’re burning as much energy as ballet requires. Plus, eating one can take a while.

So breakfast for this coming season is probably not going to be just smoothies or just apples.

I didn’t help anything by shifting my lunch plan towards “even more yogurt,” or “heck it, I’ll just eat some granola bars” because I got tired of trying to scarf down entire huge salads in 30 minutes (and also of carrying huge salads around with me).

In retrospect, the best solution I found for lunch was chicken salad with almonds and cranberries that I got in little puck-sized packages from ALDI, and something along those lines is probably a solid option. The packaging was recyclable, so I wasn’t left with a lot of dishes I didn’t want to wash–but since the same stuff is available in a larger package (also recyclable), I might just get those. They can be kept cold in a lunch bag small enough to go inside my dance bag and combined with nonperishable wraps to make an easy-to-eat lunch with a decent nutritional profile.

I might also try bringing prepared smoothies as a side dish–I have neat little zipper pouches that let you make smoothies and freeze them in portable portions (that then double as ice blocks!), or maybe I’ll just pack them in freezable plastic screw-top jars, which are easier to clean (glass jars are out–I’m not careful enough with my lunch bag for that!).

Hummus, previously a frequent main dish for lunch, will stay on as a side dish. I’ll add some pretzels to go with it.

For snacks, apples, protein bars, granola bars, and trail mix will continue to play featured roles, and I’ll probably relax my admittedly-obsessive rules about sugar a bit, which will greatly expand the options.

I’ll also probably keep applesauce packets in the mix, especially for days when my blood sugar does tank (because I’m not a perfect planner, or even a good planner–I’m a barely-adequate planner, and I am guaranteed to get it wrong sometimes).

Becky Lindberg pointed out that protein bars, even the inexpensive ones, can be really useful for dancers: they’re concentrated sources of protein and calories, and easy to eat when you need to stay fueled up but don’t have time for a meal.

My gigantic salads will probably move to the dinner slot. They’re filling, easy to prepare, and easy to round out with the addition of some kind of protein and some slower-burning carbs.

If I’m going to be working later than 7 PM, I won’t make the mistake of thinking I can wait until I get home to eat. I’ll either figure out a fairly-substantial meal that keeps well all day and can be eaten in the car or accept that working late might sometimes mean hitting a drive-thru for dinner, which in turn means choosing something that’s inexpensive but nutritionally decent.

I’m lucky in that I don’t actually have to worry about salt intake–or, rather, I have to worry about it in the opposite of the usual way. I sweat like crazy and lose a lot of salt in my sweat, so the challenge for me is taking in enough salt (and electrolytes in general) to replace what I lose in class and rehearsal. That means quite a few of Subway’s options are possibilities, since you can trick them out with all the vegetables and keep things fairly healthful.

Step 3: When Your Body Says Eat, Maybe Listen?

Possibly the biggest mistake I made last year was just plain not eating enough.

I would find that I was hungry at 10 PM and dismiss it as boredom rather than hunger, when in fact, after reviewing my eating habits over the course of the season, I often had every right to be hungry.

A lot of the time, I just plain wasn’t eating enough. I was legitimately hungry at 10 PM. I probably wouldn’t have been if I’d eaten enough in the first place, but I plan to make a habit of accepting the reality that the physical demands of my schedule are such that sometimes a 10 PM snack is a good idea.

Anyway, that’s the outline of the plan. I’ll cover the details and the Theater Week version in coming posts, but for now, I’m going to go eat something!

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.

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.

Oh Hecc, It’s 2020!

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.

An orange and white cat lying on a purple cushion looking very relaxed.

Mr. Moo demonstrates my plan for the break.

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…

Louisville Ballet School’s first Adult Intensive!!!!!!!

…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:


It’s gonna be lit. 

Literally.

Ballet Lessons: Stay Together

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

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

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

The entrance of the Shades might be the keenest example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, it works because the dancers stay together.

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

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

But only if the dancers stay together.

~

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

Participate, I thought, but don’t join.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it surprises me anyway.

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

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

You say hi first once in a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, we continue to dance on our own legs.

But we dance on our own legs together.

Managing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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