Category Archives: adventures

Progress

On Monday night, JMG said to us, “Bring your back with you!” as we launched a waltz terre-a-terre. This clicked right into L’Ancien’s note from a couple Saturdays back, and the combination made for a really lovely run: the kind on which even I caught sight of myself in the mirror and thought, “Okay, this boy looks like a dancer.”

I also found the heck out of my inner thighs during that combination, which had a bunch of soutenus that finished in long sous-sus balances. They just basically cranked on automatically without the glutes overpowering them, which was lovely and yielded a hella steady sous-sus.

Last night, during modern class, I worked on continuing to use my inner thighs in relevés, especially when working in turnout. It’s making my balances quite a bit more stable.

Today we had JMG again, since Killer B is away with some of the kids at the SERBA Festival right now. We had a fairly large, lively class: my favorite kind.

I wasn’t on my A game—I somehow managed to make it out of the house without taking either my nasal decongestant or my Adderall, which should give you a general idea of where my head was (or wasn’t?)—but I was, at any rate, on my B game. I didn’t feel as strong as I did Monday night, but I did feel reasonably strong.  I didn’t add beats to anything, but I did throw out an awfully nice saut de chat during the grand allegro.

Regardless, it all felt like progress: like my fitness is finally almost back where it needs to be, especially where endurance is concerned. I feel stronger. My turns were stable and my jumps were light and high (except when I was busy hosing up the second petit allegro because, for some reason, I blanked on the world’s simplest combination: glissade, jeté, glissade, jeté, coupé over to chassée, chassée, chassée-assemblée.

Like, seriously, how do you even get lost in that combo[1]???

  1. I’ll tell you how: you THINK. I was busy thinking about my arms, and things got weird in legtown, and I failed to change the orientation of my hips on first side/first run, and everything went to Baby Giraffeland for a hot minute.

Some of the gains in fitness and strength almost certainly have something to do with the fact that I finally started hormone replacement therapy three weeks ago, and that’s probably starting to make a difference at this point.

I’m taking a fairly low dose, so it’s not going to result in Superhuman GAINZ!!! (which I don’t want: I am muscly enough, thanks)—the goal is basically just to be pretty much normal, instead of functioning with effectively no sex hormones at all. The upshot, however, is that it should somewhat increase my red blood cell count, which is useful for oxygen transport, which is useful for ballet (and for dance in general).

It will probably also make me a bit stronger, which is also useful for ballet (and for dance in general). I’m not sure how much stronger, though, to be honest: I’m not training for massive gains in strength—gaining strength has never been particularly difficult for me. I intentionally chose a low dose in hopes of avoiding unnecessary hypertrophy. I already put muscle on really easily, which isn’t necessarily helpful in many dance contexts (Pilobolus and its relatives are exceptions: compared with a lot of Piloblus’ guys, I’m a slender little wisp of a boy).

Speaking of Pilobolus, it turns out that my rehearsal and performance schedule this summer means I won’t be able to do most of Pilobolus’ summer intensive after all. I’m planning to go up for teacher training, however, since it’s a single weekend and scheduled when I don’t happen to have any shows.

Speaking of progress, it still really utterly blows my mind that I’m doing all this stuff at this point.

It’s amazing what the combination of focus and opportunity can create.

In May of 2016, I was in the middle of a post-baccalaureate redirect.

Last May, I was involved in my first professional work: just one full-scale show and a piece for PlayThink, but every career has to start somewhere.

This year, I’m doing all kinds of crazy stuff.

To an extent, this happened because I’m focused and dedicated and have a reasonable degree of natural aptitude for dance. Mostly, though, I’ve had amazing opportunities.

Focus doesn’t mean anything if you can’t afford to take class; if you can’t find good teachers who believe in you; if there aren’t any professional gigs to audition for or if your life prevents you from taking jobs if you audition successfully.

I’m blanking on who it was, but not long ago I was listening to a podcast in which a successful actor talked about how she got where she is. She recounted moving to LA (or was it New York? Argh, I’m horrible at this) as a young adult—in short, going where the opportunities in her field were—but offered this extremely-sage advice: “Move to LA, but have a sponsor—someone to pay the phone bill while you’re working your way up.[2]”

  1. I’m sure I’ve hosed that quote up pretty well. Sorry 😦

Her sponsor was her mom. My husband has been my primary sponsor—but I can’t overlook the fact that Pilobolus gave me a scholarship; that Suspend has offered me a substantial discount from early in my training; that LBS created a flat-rate tuition plan that lets me take every single class in the open division program.

BG has consistently given me feature choreography in our Showcase pieces. Killer B and BW have dusted me off when I’ve come back from auditions with a bruised ego. K and BB have believed in me when I wasn’t yet ready to believe in myself. M bumped me up to Trapeze 3 when I’d only been training for six months or so.

I’m grateful for all of that sponsorship, direct and indirect, tangible and intangible.

There’s another piece of magic involved, there, also: when so many people have invested in you, whether tangibly or intangibly, you feel a responsibility to rise to the level of their belief.

That helps you keep moving forward when things get sticky.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the next year takes me: that, too, will depend on a combination of my own efforts (gotta go hit those auditions, amirite?) and others’ willingness to invest in me.

Impostor Syndrome is less of a problem than it was a year ago. I hope that as I continue to move forward, it will continue to fade. I’m sure I’ll always feel a little bit like an impostor, especially given that I’ve taken a wildly nontraditional path towards a career in dance—and I hope that I’ll never let it really stop me.

I mean, yes, it gets in the way: but it’s like a lot of forces in the universe. Gravity is a jerk, but you ride your bike up big hills anyway, even as your legs insist that you can’t.

Impostor syndrome is a jerk, but you go out and audition and create dances and teach anyway, even as your brain insists that you have no right doing so.

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Gravity is a jerk, but in the end we win. A little preview from Monday’s session with Kevin Spalding of fotoewizzard photography: “Solitude,” (c) 30 April, 2018. That’s my friend Amy on the right, btw.

Some Days, You Like What You See

Yesterday, I crammed in two acceptable ballet classes and a fantastic acro workshop with a guy who’s here with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo.

We expected partner acro, but it turned out to be basically floor exercise. As it turns out, a lot of my floor exercise repertoire is still very much intact. I got as far as back handsprings before I had to jet off to ballet. Aleks seemed pleasantly surprised (even impressed) with my technique and power, so I left his workshop floating on a cloud of happy.

I was, in fact, as happy as my cat in an empty bathtub. Also rather better at floor exercise.

Perhaps that’s why I spent today feeling pretty decent about myself. I’m occasionally floored by the capability of my body—simultaneously like, “Wow, cool!” and like, terribly grateful at my body will apparently do almost anything I ask of it.

Either way, during modern class I found myself staring into the mirror and kinda liking what I saw. I was wearing a racerback tank that makes me look as much like a gymnast as I do a dancer (and leaves acres of skin exposed to stick to the floor in modern class). For a few minutes what I saw was a broad-shouldered, graceful boy; strong and lean and vital; gleaming with a light sheen of healthy sweat. I saw an athlete; a rather magnificent animal, close-coupled and powerful. I saw, I suppose, what men sometimes see and admire in me. I was reminded of the time that I asked Denis what he saw in my calves, which he all but fetishizes though I have almost always disliked them, and he said one word: “Power.”

Last night, when I was feeling uncertain about doing round-off front handspring on our rather short mat, Aleks said to me, “You can do this. You have power.” It was exactly what I needed to hear: I gave the sequence more vertical punch and less horizontal travel, and there it was, just like when I was ten or thirteen or sixteen.

G-d alone knows what I’ll see when I’m staring down the barrel of the barre tomorrow morning. But it was refreshing to see what I saw tonight.

In related news, I evidently failed to inform my cirque company that I tumble, and they teased me (pleasantly) about that throughout the whole workshop. They were also impressed with how clean, graceful, and powerful my tumbling skills are. Needless to say I’ll likely be using those in upcoming cirque shows 😛

I continue to be terribly grateful that I can still do all this stuff.

Sometimes my body, like all bodies, is a giant jerk—but more often of late it seems like an old friend who’s just been waiting for me to drop by; one who has kept all my favorite games and can remember all the places I like to run and bike and walk. When I dust off a physical skill that I haven’t tried in years, it’s always with a sense of homecoming mingled with a sweet relief.

But looking at myself tonight was something else: the experience of having seen, bit by bit, a thing I somehow missed for many years, and then suddenly seeing it whole for just a moment.

Also, I’d rather forgotten how good it feels to launch yourself into a dead sprint, punch down into the center of the earth, and soar. (I mean, I that in ballet, too, but it’s in a different way.)

It’s good to have that back.

things you realize

…when you poke through your kindle library at 3 AM

I just finished reading Howard’s End, which is both beautiful and vexing, as Forster’s novels can be.

Since I have to be downtown at eight for a couple hours’ circusing, and I’m not feeling sleepy, and I’ve decided to simply accept this facet of my nature for the moment instead of railing against it, I’ve been poking around for something else to read.

Anyway, I’m trying not to buy any books right this second, so I’m looking through my library, and it dawns on me that my Kindle library stands as a record of my thoughts, in a way, since a bit before I began at IUS. And many of those thoughts were me trying to figure out where to put myself; about who I was and how I should be in the world.

And I realize, now, that for all my sense that I’ve been sort of ducking the bit of adult life, I have in fact been settling into it instead. It’s just that it has happened while I wasn’t looking–that is, while I was dancing, and because I was dancing.

This would be positively ruinous to my marriage if D had imagined that he was getting a finished article. Fortunately, neither of us expected that. We’ve moved so, so far from what I first expected that we haven’t yet sorted out how it all works. My schedule is implacable and impossible and my world is terrifyingly rich and full of other people, and somehow in the midst of all this we are trying to figure out how to actually be together sometimes, and not simply under the same roof occasionally.

When we met, the idea of dancing, of being a dancer, was latent in me. Now it’s simply the air that I breathe. It’s not as important to define what you are when you’re busy being.

To be a dancer is to do dance. To work as a dancer is to live a life consumed by dance. I would say that I don’t think it’s a life one sticks with long if it doesn’t fit, but I’m probably wrong. If it fits, nothing else will work.

So it seems that while I’ve been busy just working, just undertaking this mad project, my life has sort-of gelled. Not that I mistake this for permanence: as a dancer is made of dancing, so a life is made of living. Every step moves forward, forward into the unknown.

But I feel, finally, like I’m trying to move towards things instead of away from things, and to be as I am instead of remaking myself perforce in an image that perhaps doesn’t fit. Not to say that I don’t chafe at my own shortcomings: I will probably never be BW, who apologized for making pies (from scratch) ahead while in the thick of rehearsals for Swan Lake, and who is gentle and temperate.

But I’m more willing, maybe, to work with what I’ve got than I was in 2010. Dancing forces you, eventually, to countenance your own limitations (my turnout is good but my fifth position depends deeply on keeping myself lean because I’m muscly; I’m swaybacked; sometimes it seems my arms will be a trial forever…).

When you find your strengths, your weaknesses stop scaring you so much.

Little by little I’m finding my way.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning the card that my favorite high school English teacher gave me was a cut-out swan in which she’d written, simply: “Find your way.”

I think about that often.

That, and the fact that sooner or later, ballet always involves some manner of enchanted swan.

A Little Notation

But, first: Good Pesach, y’all!

…Assuming that it is in fact still Saturday. Honestly, being off sick has really screwed up my internal calendar. (I dare not even contemplate what it’s probably doing to my internal- and external rotators .__.,)

And, second!

Dear Northern Hemisphere,

I’ve officially switched to my springtime header, so if winter decides to repeat its coda* yet again, sorry about that.

You may lodge any complaints with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration**, which is clearly losing its battle with the capricious demiurges of weather, who in turn don’t want any snot-nosed dance blogger*** telling them what to do.

Ignobly,

Your Humble Danseur

*Prolly the Nutcracker Prince, amirite? Because obvs. Winter. Always showboating. SMH
**These are the folks who run the US weather machines, yesno?
***Who hopes to be slightly less snot-nosed soon, through the miracle of modern medicine?

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Let this two-week old shot of a hardy magnolia blossom stand in for all the trees currently in flower that I have failed to photograph because I’m sick.

Yesterday I checked in with my GP, who is awesome on numerous levels (not every doctor closes out an appointment with, “When’s your next show?! You have to tell me so I can get tickets!”). She confirmed my sinus infection and sent me off with a ton of prescriptions—specifically, levofloxacin and pseudoephedrine, plus the usual generic Adderall—which I proceeded to fill at the usual CVS.

I’m sure my local band of intrepid pharmacists think I’m basically a crank addict or running a meth lab or whatevs. (Crank is speed, right? Yesno? Why, of course there’s an answer for that question on the internet.) I can see why they might think that, given my prescriptions and the fact that this end of town is sort of known for that sort of thing.

Really, though, I just want to be able to breathe through my nose and adult.

At the same time, even.

And, sadly, while psuedoephedrine marginally improves my adulting abilities, it doesn’t do so effectively enough that I could, say, skip the Adderall for now. Adderall, meanwhile, does exactly nothing for my congestion, as best I can tell.

So, there you have it.

Normally, the combination of psuedoephedrine and Adderall doesn’t actually make me feel like anything other than a person who can both breathe and efficiently accomplish important goal-directed behaviors pertaining to daily life. Apparently, however:

(psuedoephedrine + Adderall + coffee) * feververtigo resulting from inner-ear wonkiness

= high AF

>_____>     o_____O’     <_____<

At least, to be honest, I assume that’s what being high AF feels like. My illicit substance-use history comprises, in short, the occasional glass of wine and a few beers (and never more than two in one day) prior to age 21[1]. At one time, it was because I was that annoying judgmental straightedge kid[2]; at other times, it was a function of fear of addiction; now it’s just basically force of habit. Which just goes to show that anything can become a habit.

  1. I did get very tipsy at my Mom’s New Year’s Eve party when I was 17, which involved exactly one flute of champagne. I then went upstairs and proceeded to watch Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, because OMFG I was so embarrassingly Serious and Earnest in high school, and senior year was peak Serious & Earnest territory.
  2. Not that all straightedge kids are annoying and judgmental. Some are awesome and humble and all that. I just wasn’t one of them. Ugh. Can you tell I’ve been watching The Mortified Guide…?

Anyway, I’m just not sure how else to describe the weird state of consciousness in which one is both somehow very, very like awake but also … floaty. Spacey.

Not, like, Kevin Spacey. More like this kind of spacey:

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So: basically me, yesterday. Actually, the weird, muffled quality of sound and the weird delay between brain and body makes this an even better analogy.

Admittedly, I probably could’ve skipped the coffee … but I decided, as one does, that since I was officially not contagious I should peel myself out of bed and go to rehearsal, and that involved driving, which involved staying awake.

Which was a problem, because awake was the one thing my body absolutely, positively did not want to be. (Actually, there are a whole host of other things it didn’t want to be, but they’re all basically subsets of awake.)

Honestly, the single most alarming thing about this particular sinus infection has been the absolutely crushing fatigue.

Like, driving home from my doc’s office, I was constantly fighting the urge to just close my eyes and go to sleep. Not, mind you, just thinking, “Gosh, I’m really sleepy, *yawn*” but actively having to tell myself:

DO NOT CLOSE YOUR EFFING EYES, MORON. NO. NO. OPEN THEM BACK UP. IT IS NOT OKAY TO BLINK FOR 5 SECONDS AT A TIME.WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

This, remember, is me: the Boy Who Stayed Awake. I do the driving on all our road trips because I can stay awake more or less indefinitely as long as I’m sitting upright (read: I can only sleep sitting up with assistance from modern pharmacology, and have been like that my entire life).

The same person for whom achieving a night’s rest typically involves less “going to sleep than “lying there in hope that sleep will eventually trip over me on its way to meet someone in the Pacific Time Zone.

Like, literally, I only realized last year that people can actually, you know, actually go to sleep.

ON PURPOSE!!! (You guys! I’m serious! What even is that?!)

Et cetera.

So having to fight to stay awake … WHILE DRIVING, no less … is something of a novelty.

One that I addressed by drinking WAY THE HECK TOO MUCH COFFEE.

Anyway, basically I floated my way through rehearsal in a state that resembled somehow experiencing that hypnagogic sense of falling through space whilst remaining upright and alert (well … more or less).

WEIRD.

Fortunately, the part of the show that we worked last night mostly takes place sitting at a group of tables, and I was able to mark it without actually having to fall on the floor (technically called for at various points, but not necessary when marking). Which is good, because had I made it to the floor it’s highly unlikely that I would then have made it back off the floor.

Then I ate a bunch of chicken-flavored crackers, recopied my choreography notes (you guys, I have never done a piece that involves this much writing: this thing is complicated), and went back to bed. Exciting, right?

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Page 2. Of 4. Amazingly, this all actually makes sense to me.

Amazingly, I’m pretty sure I actually learned the choreography I needed to learn. See all those letters in circles at the bottom of the right-hand column? Those are 4-count phrases. There are six of them, continuously mixed and re-mixed throughout the piece, comme Rosas Danst Rosas (speaking of which: if you haven’t seen Rosas yet, you can watch the whole thing there … and then, if you’re feeling inspired, you can create your own take on it as part of a worldwide project).

The longer I spend in the rarified climes of the dance world, the more I realize that I am the kind of dancer who learns modern choreography best by, in short, brute force.

Show me a phrase once, and I’ll feck it right up. If I’m lucky, I’ll have shot a good mental video so I run over it again and again in my head and have learned it by the time I’m halfway home.

Show me a phrase, then walk me through it three times, and I’ll start to give it back to you accurately. Let me run it around six times[3], and I’ll start adding musicality and nuance.

  1. I pick up ballet choreography much, much faster: usually I need one demonstration, and I’m good. That doesn’t mean I’ll do it correctly after seeing it once, but it does mean I know what I’m supposed to be doing and can hypothetically fix my own errors.

This means, in short, that I struggle at modern auditions, but I quickly become an asset in rehearsal.

The downside is that it makes me very hesitant to rehearse modern choreography on my own, because I’m afraid I’ll misunderstand part of the demo and train myself into a step that isn’t there, or that goes somewhere else, or whatever. I develop pretty strong motor patterns, and fixing them can be a challenge.

I also managed to come up with my own special shorthand notation for the set phrases that are remixed and sequenced throughout the piece:

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When you need to name specific movements, you use what you’ve got. Still … pushfling? And in case you’re wondering, yes, “WHAT” and “ARGH” are specific movements.

That felt like rather a stroke of genius, to be honest.

I’m not primarily a verbal learner, but in ballet contexts I use the names of steps (or, well, sometimes the nicknames I’ve privately given them) synchronized to the rhythm of the music (or the counts) as a backup system for when I’m missing a piece of my visual and kinaesthetic maps. This little cheat-sheet of four-counts represents a surprisingly successful attempt to create that same kind of backup system in a modern-dance context.

The sort of tablature of notes further up evolved over the course of the first day of rehearsals, though I’ve refined it a bit since the first iteration. It acts as a framework; kind of a score, if you will, to keep track of what happens when.

At the beginning, for my group, so much of this piece is counting like crazy, then throwing in some small-but-important gesture. Even “PAUSE” has a specific meaning entirely disparate from “HOLD.”

 

How To Lose Five Pounds Overnight!

…Literally.

It’s super easy!

Just get yourself a nice case of food poisoning or a really aggressive gastrointestinal bug. If you can arrange for it to take hold around the time you go to bed, all the better–by the time you wake up and find that you can’t even keep liquids down, you’ll already have gone hours without eating or drinking!

Don’t worry. I do not, by any means, intend this as actual advice.

I was just really startled when I stepped onto the scale today and discovered that the roughly sixteen hours that I could neither eat nor drink yesterday–that is, the sixteen hours that it took me to remember that I had some really effective anti-nausea meds on hand–coupled with the profoundly minimal amount I have eaten and drunk since then has added up to a literal five pound drop in my weight.

Obviously, most of that’s water weight. That doesn’t make it any less startling as a demonstration, though. Dehydration is for reals.

Also, the wicked dehydration headache (unless the headache is part of whatever led to the, erm, gastrological pyrotechnics) is, you know, kind of 0/10 Do Not Recommend.

Fortunately, between the Ondansetron and my immune system having time to work on whatever this is, I’ve now regained the ability to drink and to eat dry, crunchy stuff like saltines (I’m still afraid to try anything else, thus far, though I literally had a very involved dream about chocolate milk).

I did grit my way through my endocrinology appointment yesterday (though I was very, very grateful for the single-user restroom, and was profoundly nauseated on the way home). Based on my previous labs, Dr. P prescribed a moderate dose of Androgel, which is kind of what I was hoping for. It should prevent the overdosing thing that happened last time I tried HRT.

I didn’t make it to either class or to rehearsal, and I find it absolutely hilarious that earlier in the day I imagined I actually would, somehow, at least make rehearsal. In fact, during the time that I would’ve been at evening class and rehearsal, I was asleep (though I was pretending to listen to podcasts).

Pretty much how I’m feeling, minus any actual sissones.

I was particularly sad to miss this session, as KW from the company–AKA my Ballet Spirit Guide, since I inherited his tights last year–came in to teach class and do some cleaning and polishing of The Piece.

I hope the girls were okay without me.

Except possibly for the bits with C, I think it’s not too hard for them to mark through the partnered sections.

Meanwhile, I’m not usually very important to their spacing, while their spacing is critical to my ability to do my part. I’m forever running through flocks of girls in this piece, so if their spacing is off, it starts to look a bit like sportsball-sans-ball.

Anyway, while this was certainly the second-worst gastrological upset I’ve had (the worst, bar none, was the time I ate some bad shrimp when I was eighteen), I realized yesterday whilst contemplating my fate at the foot of the porcelain throne that it’s actually been quite a while since anything made me puke.

Also, despite being fairly dehydrated, my resting pulse yesterday clocked in at 53, which is pretty nice, and my blood pressure was 100/60, which is about typical for me. I figured my vital stats would be all over the place, but they were fine.

So that’s it for now. I’m planning to attempt to eat some yoghurt, after which I’ll probably resume “listening to podcasts,” also known as sleeping. BW’s class is cancelled tonight, conveniently for me, so I feel no great pressure to attempt ballet heroics.

Marching On (In February)

I … think? … I’m done with auditions for the rest of the month, at this point.

Yesterday’s was actually rather a soaring success, except for my usual habit of forgetting some bit of the modern combination and faking my way through that part so I could get to the next bit, then remembering it right after … but there are two thoughts that cheer me up.

First, nobody had the combo down cold. We all missed bits and pieces.

Second, that’s one of the skills they’re looking for at dance auditions. What happens when you fall off the script (because it happens even to top-tier dancers)? Do you freeze like a deer in the headlights, or do you roll on just as if you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? (Bonus points if you can fake your way through well enough to make it look like everyone else was wrong. I don’t think I accomplished that, yesterday, but I didn’t freeze, either.)

The dance improv bit was, of course, a blast, because I love improv.

The trapeze bit went pretty well despite the fact that apparently whatever demiurge manages music for trapeze auditions believes it’s great fun to mess with mine. I recovered from that and had to improvise a fair bit, but it turned out rather well. And, of course, I didn’t fall off the trapeze this time[1].

  1. Last year’s audition for “Orpheus” is still the one and only time I’ve fallen off a trapeze. It’s also my number-one go-to story to tell when, inevitably, groups of people start reminiscing about stupid moments in their lives. There’s something special about making what seemed, in the moment, a very logical decision to drop myself off a trapeze from ten feet in the air rather than risk breaking my arms. Dancers get it; circus people get it; athletes get it. That said, there are entire hosts of people who think I’m crazy, and they’re probably right—but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat.

Once again, at this audition, they’re not necessarily looking for a polished cirque-style act: they’re looking for expression, musicality, and the ability to command the audience’s attention (and also sound technical elements, obviously). The piece that I showed is one I’m slowly working on set to the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” and it’s intentionally struggly, so it probably didn’t really hurt anything that I was, in fact, wrestling with my own choreography (much of which I didn’t apparently remember).

The acting part was flat-out awesome, and reminded me how much I actually really like acting, my anxiety about struggling to memorize scripts notwithstanding. Maybe what I really like is cold reading. Who knows? Anyway. I really liked the part they handed me, and ran with it.

Today’s audition was also lovely. Almost nobody showed up, so it was really just three of us mostly doing some improv stuff. I already know that our AD likes the way I improvise, so that was just pure fun. I showed the bits of my piece that I could, given my lack of a partner, and described the idea as a whole. Both our AD and the guy from U of L whose group we’re collaborating with liked it, so it looks like it’s a green light there.

My next audition is a couple of weeks away, and I’m happy to have a bit of a breather. The stretch from the past couple of gigs through now has been pretty intense.

Not that I’m complaining. The other night I was kvetching about some company-related annoyance and suddenly though something like, “Oh, hey. I’m complaining about work because that’s what we do. If it wasn’t a pain in the *** sometimes, it wouldn’t be work.”

And that actually felt, in its own way, rather lovely: like, this is my work, and it’s work that I love. And I think I’m becoming rather good at it. Maybe not world-beatingly good or anything but, you know, serviceable. Which has, to be honest, always been the goal. As a ballet boy I’m smallish and muscly and I bounce like a rubber ball, which puts me squarely in the demi-character camp, and I’m fine with that. Not everyone always has to be the prince (and, honestly, there are a lot of ballets in which the prince never gets to do anything cool outside of the pas de deux). As a circus artist, I’m reliable, adaptable, and versatile: not a specialist, but a generalist, and the kind of generalist who can pinch-hit almost anywhere.

I feel like that’s a good thing to be. I’m not here for glory: I’m here because I love to move; because I can’t not move.

And if sometimes that means I’m stressed out and hounded from pillar to post … well, that’s part of it. That and Auditioning for Poverty are pretty much hallmarks life as a dancer, or indeed as any kind of performing artist, or indeed possibly as any kind of artist.

You do the Work because the Work is what moves you … sometimes more literally than other times.

Captain Shakylegs and the Mystery of the Grand Allegro

“Dear heavens, it’s 8 AM already,” he said.

Or, at any rate, he tried to. What came out, instead, sounded more like, “Mrrrghghhhh.”

*****

You’ve probably guessed that today wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had in class. I don’t think it’s so much the getting in at 1:30, which isn’t the end of the world really, or the getting up at 8 on slightly less than 6 hours of sleep.

I suspect that it was the combination of NyQuil (taken to fend off a sinus headache and extra congestion brought on by dry air and so forth: not sleeping was not a viable option) and getting up at 8 on slightly less sleep than it would’ve taken to give the NyQuil time to wear off.

Possibly adding Adderall, a further decongestant, and a cup of coffee to the mix this morning wasn’t the greatest idea.

On the other hand, I made it to class without dying, killing myself, or forgetting my shoes, so there’s that.

At any rate, I wasn’t alone. In one way or another, everyone was heroically Living The Struggle this morning, including L’Ancien, who was mysteriously detained (he apologized profusely).

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I searched Pexels for “struggle” and this was the only result. Close enough.

I do think, however, that I was the sole member of the class who began barre with legs that trembled like the voice of an ancient soprano on Easter morning.

Even standing in fifth was, erm, challenging. I mean, standing in fifth is inherently challenging, and some days your body does it better than other days … but I can’t remember any other specific day on which the challenge in question involved, like, vibration.

So that pretty much alerted me to the fact that it was going to be an interesting class.

By the time we got to the section of our highly-compressed barre that I’ll call “fondu de rondu,” the trembling had stopped. I was grateful for that, and because frankly it was, in fact, a little frightening: imagine balancing, for example, at passé in the midst of a rolling earthquake, for example.

However, the end of the tremors and the lovely high extensions that showed up out of nowhere (and with no conscious effort on my part) conspired to lull me into a false sense of security.

I should’ve realized it when I could tour lent in the mark, but not in the actual run. Obviously, something was rotten in Denmark.

Still, I bulled my way through the adage, through some not-great turns, and through the little jumps (in which I made L’Ancien a little happy by actually jumping, which his the one thing I can do reliably, almost (see below).

And then came the grand allegro. It was simple: pique, chassé, entrelacé, failli, tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, grand jeté, then four more grand jetés just for the hell of it, en manège.

Except when L’Ancien gave us the combination, somehow my amazing brain decided that the first phrase (pique, chassé, entrelacé) was performed left, and that it changed directions via a fouetté or something.

Evidently that wasn’t at all correct, and I can now tell you that it’s quite alarming to fund that you are unexpectedly grand-allegroing yourself towards the person on the next corner and yet, simultaneously, that you can’t seem to make yourself stop…?

That’s not where the mystery comes in, though.

The mystery is that we ran it again, and I did the same thing.

I DID THE GRAND ALLEGRO BACKWARDS TWICE, YOU GUYS.

TWICE.

So, all told, far from the best class I’ve ever had. Not quite Depths of Despair quality, just a whole lot of WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME THIS MORNING?.

Failboat

I have only two questions: Why me? Why now???

To which the answer is obvious. I’m cooked, and perhaps too many drugs. In short, the equivalent of taking class with a hangover, minus the headache.

At any rate, I’ve managed to eat some lunch and now I’m thinking about having a lie down before my audition (though, at present, only thinking, because I’m horrible at taking naps and I’d really rather just power through and get it behind me).

Here’s hoping that things will go a little better this afternoon. We’ll see, eh?

Adulting Secrets #1; Technique Analysis #1*

*Now with music!

When you’re a kid, you might experience adults as mostly functional, mostly giant walking disasters, or some combination of the two—but you probably don’t experience them as people quite the same way you experience yourself and your friends as people[1].

  1. There are some exceptions: my riding instructor was one of those rare adults who are phenomenal at connecting with kids on a very human level without being a total wishy-washy pushover, which you can’t be when you’re teaching 50-pound 7-year-olds how to handle half-ton beasties front-loaded for panic.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all. It so happens that kids and adults in most of the Western world move in fairly separate spheres, and that the developmental worldview of childhood tends to be a bit solipsistic for entirely developmentally-appropriate reasons.

But, anyway, the upshot of this is that an awful lot of us reach adulthood without having the faintest idea how to, like, adult.

…Which is evidenced by the fact that “adult” is now a verb as well as a noun.

I think maybe this wasn’t always the case. Like, up until pretty recently, people were pretty explicit about training up a child in the way he (or she) should wash the ding-dang-darn dishes for crying out loud (and turn down that racket).

Then my generation came along, close on the heels of Gen X but a bit more computer-y, learning from day one that we were supposed to, like, Follow Our Dreams and self-actualize our unique snowflakitude, but also learn math and science a whole lot, and how to do things with technology, and also how to ballet or football/soccer or handegg or violin or speak seventeen languages or be a Mathlete and a representative in the Model UN or pwn all the Mock Trials.

In short, we were so busy getting a First-Class Education and becoming (in many cases, anyway) Well-Rounded that we never had time to absorb some of the critical secrets to Adulting.

Like, to be honest, COFFEE.

I’m just gonna admit up front that even my Mom will tell you she’s almost never sick. I think germs are just way too scared of her. I remember her being actually sick exactly once during my childhood, and it was totally miserable for about a week, and she confirms the same.

HOWEVER. Given that she worked a billion hours a week and sang in at least one choir at any given time and was (for several years) also working on a Master’s degree and somehow found time to design, plant, and maintain an absolutely lovely garden and did at least some of the carting around of a ridiculous kid who somehow thought it was a good idea to jam ballet and horses and gymnastics and choir and skiing and ice skating and the violin into any one week … anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my Mom was almost certainly crazy tired at least part of the time (though she also has the “can sleep any time, anywhere” super power).

And, somehow, I never quite grokked how spectacularly helpful coffee can be in those circumstances.

At least, not until now, when I’m definitely ill but probably on the mend, and I can’t stand the fact that there are three days worth of dishes piled up in the kitchen, but also not sure I can just plain stand long enough to wash them, because frankly one of the major symptoms of Whatever I Have (probably yet another sinus infection) is knock-you-on-your-keister fatigue.

Enter COFFEE.

I don’t usually drink COFFEE after noon, because frankly it’s a terrible idea if you’re already a night owl but you’re also a dancer and you regularly have to be able to function in class at 9 AM. In fact, I usually drink exactly one coffee per day, in the morning, less for the caffeine (though that helps when I’ve had to take a sleeping pill, because see above re: night owl) than for the ritual of it.

However, when one is definitely not well enough to go to class (blargh) but also not ill enough to remain in bed without going crazy, one cup of coffee will help one wash some dishes.

So there it is. COFFEE is tasty, but—used judiciously—also one of the secrets of adulting.

I feel like I really should’ve figured this out before.

It’s probably not a secret at all to vast legions of people my own age and younger than my own age who are simply less, like, insular. I am also the kind of idiot who insists on using a hand-cranked kitchen mixer partly because the electric ones are fecking loud, partly because my inner hipster finds it satisfying, and partly out of sheer cussedness, so draw your own conclusions.

But, anyway, I guess this is a thing I know, now. If you need just a little help adulting, a cup of coffee might do the job. So there you have it.

~

Anyway, if you came for teh balletz but you’ve had to sit through my long digression into the magic that is COFFEE, my apologies. Anyway, here comes the bit with teh balletz in.

A couple weekends back, I shot a bunch of video of balances on the BOSU balance trainer at Suspend. I posted a couple of them to the Instas, then promptly failed to get around to uploading them to the YouTubes so I could toss some music in and easily post them here and critique my own technique.

Belatedly, I have now uploaded a handful (which is to say, three) videos and slapped a little music on them. The actual soundtrack of gleeful cackling from people working on stuff nearby was pretty amusing, but also pretty distracting.

Now they’re running loose on the Tubes. Sort of. (Okay, so they’re currently unlisted, because people like to be mean—by which I do not mean ‘critical, but fair,’ but instead ‘douchy jerks’—in the comments, and I’m mean enough to myself for about five people, thanks).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the first one:

…This one hasn’t been on the Instas yet.

Here, I’m working left, which is currently my stronger side balance-wise—which is to say that my right leg is better at the “supporting leg” role and my left leg is better at the “free leg[2]” role.

  1. L’Ancien favors these translations from the Russian over the usual English “supporting leg/working leg” dichotomy: he points out that the supporting leg, really, is the one doing most of the work, and says things like, “And which leg do you imagine flamingos think about?”

If you watch closely, when I first step onto the BOSU trainer (and then promptly step off), you’ll notice one of my most constant and worst ballet habits: I lead with my freaking hips, like I think I’m on a catwalk in Milan or something.

Ballet is not a catwalk in Milan, you guys.

The shirt I’m wearing (half my costume from Death Defying Acts) makes it hard to see, but at the very beginning my sternum is behind the point of my hip. This is so problematic (and, on the BOSU trainer, so bleeding obvious) that, at 0:05, I step back down so I can basically fix my entire approach.

If you pause the player at 0:07, you’ll notice that I’ve corrected pretty reasonably. I haven’t really turned on my turnout yet (it’s easier to mount the BOSU trainer, then turn on the turnout), but I’m much more squarely balanced over my supporting leg.

At the same point in time, you can also see that my knee is roughly over the arch of my foot: I’m shifting my weight towards the ball of my foot on the supporting side by shifting through the entire leg as well as my body. This allows me to keep my hips level from side to side (at 0:10, I actually tap them with my hands to remind myself to stay level and pull up).

Given that I’m still working in kind of a half-baked turnout, the passé balance that follows is pretty decent. You can see me actively resisting the urge to pull up and back (one of the things that makes passé easier for me than coupé is that you typically bring your arms up to third/en haut, which—as long as you keep your elbows lifted—helps keep your weight forward).

I also correct the height of my passé in the midst of the balance—it still wouldn’t be high enough for BW, and neither would my relevé, but in this video I’m still getting used to the BOSU trainer, here, so I’ll give myself a pass on those. It’s high enough for just about any application, anyway, and lifted correctly from behind and beneath, allowing for increased height without a hip-hike.

It’s when I begin to extend that things go a bit pear-shaped.

The legs themselves are rather nice, I think: I carry the working knee up and out, as one should, and though I lose a couple of degrees and wind up at full extension just a little above ninety (for a split second), the overall mechanical process is fine.

Except.

I totally fail to adjust my upper body to counterbalance the weight of my leg, which is considerable (the average human leg apparently weighs 40 pounds, which is nearly 1/3 of my entire weight). This actually has a lot to do with the loss of elevation on my extension: any extension requires a fair bit of counter-balancing, and those above 90 degrees require quite a bit more counter-balancing than we tend to realize.

Usually, we effect the counter-balance by shifting the weight away form the free leg. Often, this means performing the complex ritual of simultaneously pulling towards the free leg (to engage the muscles that will help it stay up) and away from the free leg (to counter-balance its weight).

In this video, I do absolutely nothing to counter-balance my free leg. I’m thinking too hard about keeping my weight forward, and so I fail to shift it back just a little. As soon as my free leg begins to move through croisée, I am powerless to resist the pull of gravity, and it “knocks me off my leg,” as we say.

In this case, I should have allowed my shoulders to open slightly in opposition as my arms transitioned to allongé. This is accomplished, more or less, with the breath: you breathe in and allow the breath to lift your sternum until it can’t go any higher, so it has to go back a bit, and while this happens you stay engaged so you don’t turn into a sway-backed cow.

Instead, I kept them exactly as they were.

While, to be honest, I find that fairly impressive in and of itself (I’m forever doing crazy stuff with my upper body and actively, rather than passively, putting it where it shouldn’t be), it’s not very effective if you want to balance that extension.

So there you have it.

Also, rather a nice sustained passé balance (or, well, technically retiré, since I’m not really changing my leg from back to front; it seems that way, but really it’s an artifact of mounting the BOSU).

What works best, here, is the lower-body transition into the extension: I keep the hip open as I extend, rather than allowing it to turn in, then extending from parallel. Also, it blows my mind how flat-out steady I am through much of this. Placement: it works.

What doesn’t work is the failure to counter-balance the extension, which in turn costs me both the height of the extension (which I begin to lose immediately) and the duration of the extended balance. Also, my free-side hand:

Passe-Developpe-1-Left-Cropped

WAT. JUST WAT. (But dat leg tho.)

I do finish my rather graceful emergency dismount with a nice, deep, turned-out, knee-over-toe plié, at least, though I immediately let go of my turnout as I swing my right leg around and step toward the camera.

Oh, well.

Next time: a comparison of two first arabesques, followed by a comparison of two penchés (one that kinda works; one that kinda knocks me off the BOSU).

 

A Few Dance Pix

I needed a new headshot, so I asked my friend Christina, who’s a photographer, to shoot some for me. She agreed and asked if I wanted some action shots as well, and I thought that sounded awesome. Anyway, we went out on a grey afternoon with temperatures in the 50s (fahrenheit) and worked for about an hour.

Even though it was hard to get sufficiently warmed up, Christina managed to snag some great shots … and a couple that I asked her to keep because, frankly, they’re kind of hilarious. So here are a few: one funny one, one that’s a great picture of something that’s not very good ballet (but might be pretty good action-movie Kung Faux!), and one that’s just plain beautiful.

So here they are:

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Hilarity Ensues. (c) Christina Noel Photography, 2018.

You know that effort face I keep talking about? Well, THIS IS IT. This is the face that I CONSTANTLY MAKE during petit allegro and also, apparently, whilst attempting to do grand allegro outside in the cold with my shoulders swallowing my neck.

Also, just noticed I have developed a terrible case of Starfish Hand in this one.

TEACHERS: TALK TO YOUR DANCERS ABOUT STARFISH HAND BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

One more thing: I learned in this process that even if you know you’re going to destroy your shoes by wearing them to a damp outdoor dance shoot in the middle of a drizzly Kentucky winter, you should STILL WEAR SHOES THAT FIT.

First, dancing outside in the cold is hard enough without worrying that you’re going to slide out of your shoes when you launch or when you land.

Second, if you actually do get ’round to pointing your toes, oversized shoes make your beautiful dolphin feet look like bricks anyway.

Mad props to Christina for making this shot look beautiful even though I did my best to make everything look ridiculous 🙂

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Pas de Fu! (c) Christina Noel Photography, 2018

Nobody ever posts their Pas De Don’t moments: you know, those times when only one leg is turned out, only one foot is trying to be pointed (to be fair, the bottom one hasn’t had time to get there yet in this shot), you’re making A+ For Effort Face, and the jump you’re doing is great if it’s either modern dance or Kung Faux, but not so great if it’s supposed to be Pas de Chat Italien and actually ballet.

For the good of humankind, then, here’s another of mine.

My épaulement is janky as heck in this shot—and while that makes for some heckin’ awkward ballet, it makes for some really cool Kung Faux, so I’ll take it. Besides, you never know when you might need exactly the right photo to go with your audition application for an international spy thriller ballet.

Christina spotted this one in the mix and kept it for exactly this reason—it totally looks like an action-movie still (presumably from some weird action movie about a random ballet boy just trying to get home from class after all of his street clothes were stolen by ninjas or something). I kind of love it, to be honest.

AsherFinal-26

Dem Legs, Tho. (c) Christina Noel Photography, 2018.

Y’all. Can I just say that I freaking love this?

The pose is from the piece BG is setting on us right now, only we use parallel fifth instead of parallel fourth. Between the surface and the wind, parallel fourth was hard enough to manage; parallel fifth was … umm, yeah. But we both liked the parallel fourth version better anyway.

Never mind the fact that I’m still working off my, ahem, “winter coat.” (That is, the extra coating of insulation that you get when you go visit your parents house and there is no class and your Mom keeps stuffing food down your gullet and you were already still getting back in shape from your last break … oy.)

Never mind the fact that it’s cold and I’m tired as all heck in this picture. I look like I know what I’m about. And I kinda think I look pretty good. Like, if this was a FumblR picture or whatevs, I’d swipe right.

Or … you know, whichever way you’re supposed to swipe if you think someone looks good.

There’s also a color version of this pose shot against the backdrop of the same facade[1] as the first two…

  1. …All that remains of an historical house whose name escapes me at the moment; I’ll fix that some time when I’m not trying to get to bed.

…that I like quite a lot, so I’m going to slap that down here, as well, even though I was only going to post three shots.

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Et Voila. (c) Christina Noel Photography, 2018.

There’s a version of this in which I’m not staring directly into the camera, but I like this one better, so here you go. If you know me well enough you can tell by my eyebrow that I’m basically about to dissolve into a fit of laughter. I almost pulled off the Imperious Gaze, but was borderline slap-happy by this point.

Also, I really need to learn to do this port de bras without hyperextending my fingers, because that looks kinda weird. Though it may not actually be entirely possible for me to do that: my third (ring) finger on both hands only seems to offer “bent” and “hyperextended” as options. Oh, well.

But most importantly, my feet look pretty bangin’ here, even with the oversized shoes.

I think I’m probably going to badger Christina to do a shoot of the same basic jumps and poses and so forth in about three months, when the weather is awesome and I’m in peak shape.

So, brief recap. Here’s what I learned doing this photo shoot:

  • If it’s cold, bring something warm to wrap around yourself between shots. Also probably a thermos full of something hot and possibly alcoholic, unless you have to drive or are underage in your region or whatevs, in which case skip that alcoholic thing.
  • WEAR SHOES THAT FIT
  • WEAR SHOES THAT FIT
  • FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY WEAR SHOES THAT FIT (you can thank me later)
  • You will look weird giving yourself a barre and so forth in the middle of the street in the middle of the afternoon. Do it anyway, even if it means getting there early. I didn’t because I was actually really fracking depressed the morning of the shoot and didn’t get there early enough (or at all), and I regretted it for the entire shoot, but especially when I was doing the eleventy-ninth pas de chat from a standstill 😛

The Weather Grants A Stay Of Execution

(Adorable, chubby baby tiger is unrelated, but adorable.)

We’re having a kind of ice-snow storm thingy, so the Powers That Be have prudently cancelled morning classes tomorrow to give the road crews time to work their magic.

This means I don’t have to face class with Le Directeur Ancien until next week.

My chicken-flavored heart is partly glad and partly horrified that I’ll have ANOTHER WHOLE WEEK in which to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong (though also another week in which to get into somewhat better shape).

Possibly it will turn out that I have nothing to fear. The worst he could do is regard me through eyes brimming with the Disappointment of the four hundred years of ballet teachers who came before hi…

Oh, G-d help me.

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