Category Archives: balllet

We’re Back

(For a month, anyway.)

It’s hard to explain how good it feels to return to the studio, masks and all. It’s good to be back with my people, but also to have externally-imposed structure to my days.

Going into the pandemic, I was beginning to understand how much I need externally-imposed structure. Losing it abruptly really drove that point home.

Getting back to serious aerials training made a difference—that gave me at least some structure, more physical exercise than I had been getting, and a reason to leave the house.

Returning to dancing full-time takes it to another level.

It also gets me out of my own head, which is helpful.

Different things work for different people, but in terms of really staying sane, this seems to be the best option for me.

I had a good class today, all things considered. Rehearsal also went well. Revisiting a role I know well is comforting in a way I never expected—perhaps because it’s a touch of normality in uncertain times.

Speaking of which: while I’ve been reflecting on what role I, as an artist, can play in the ongoing movement for justice, I found myself thinking a lot about how ballet will only evolve as we begin to step away from business as usual in terms of how we teach and recruit dancers of color, dancers with disabilities, and dancers from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

And while that’s an important thing to think about in its own right, it made me realize that I shouldn’t be as worried about not being good at doing the things that have been essential to running a ballet company in the “business as usual” sense.

I mean, I’m still going to be a person with autism and there are still lots of ways in which I will need the help of other people if I’m ever going to really get Antiphon off the ground.

But if, in some very significant ways, the way Antiphon operates looks different from the traditional model of how ballet companies work, then good—because part of its ultimate mission is to be a different animal.

I hope that it will grow to be a company that better reflects the diversity of dancers in terms not only of their physical[1] beings, but of the experiences they’ve had as a result of living lives colored by the experiences that come with those physical beings.

  1. As an autistic dancer and choreographer, I think neurodiversity and psychological diversity should also be part of Antiphon’s mission. But I’m also super exhausted and couldn’t figure it how to work that into the sentence 😅 Sorry.

I hope that it will become something bigger than me, and that I’ll have the grace to get out of the way and yield the floor so dancers within the company can tell their stories.

I suppose if I do my job right, Antiphon will operate as a springboard: a diverse group of dancers who work together and know each-other well enough that when someone within the company steps up to create a dance, they’ll have a pallette with which they feel confident “painting,” so to speak.

Anyway, that’s it for now. More to follow, but I’m tiiiiiiired.

You* Don’t Have To Do Everything

*by which I mean I, though also you

I’ve written before about the experience of being someone who never expected to find the one thing for which I was willing to knock everything else right off the table, and then finding that thing.

I am (as a matter of course) talking about ballet.

When you’re in that position, it’s easy to forget that not everything works that way.

I am (as rather less a matter of course) talking about aerials, but also about Ehlers-Danlos.

Sometimes, Making Decisions Gets Complicated.

Recently, I decided to try training seriously on rope (as opposed to just occasionally hopping on the rope and being like, “This is fun” and then not doing it again for 4 years). I love watching rope, and it’s a great apparatus for strong, bendy people, so of course it seemed like it might be a good thing to add to my toolbox.

I mean…

It took only a few weeks to realize that I was … well, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.

Because, as it turns out, rope is a great fit for my strength and flexibility and a terrible fit for the connective tissue disorder that is the source of my flexibility.

The form of Ehlers-Danlos I have is mild—perhaps not as mild as it gets, but the Ehlers-Danlos spectrum includes flavors that are much harder to live with than mine. Because of that, I sometimes forget that my entire body, as D recently put it, “…is always just on the edge of blistering.”

I mean. We all remember that time I went to a modern SI and my foot blistered under its callus all the way down through several layers of skin, right?

(If you don’t, there’s a pic of the partly-healed blister here CW: ratchet-a** blister pic. I don’t actually think it’s that gruesome, especially not compared to when it first happened … but since several people I know disagree with me about that, consider yourself warned? ^-^’)

Anyway! So, yeah. EDS makes my body respond weirdly to friction and pressure.

And rope is all about that friction and pressure.

Horrible, Unavoidable Blisters Are A Good Reason Not To Do Something, Right?

It didn’t take long to figure out that rope training gives me weird, super-hard, glass-like calluses on my hands … or that the tissue under those calluses then blisters and sloughs, leaving behind raw, blazingly painful ulcers that take for-freaking-ever to heal.

Or that trying to do anything with giant sloughed-off blisters right over the distal ends of your metacarpals is … difficult.

So THAT happened.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after attempting to get through rope class using a combination of Neosporin Plus, blister bandages, cloth tape, and self-adhesive bandages, I decided to take a couple weeks off of rope, let my hands heal, and think about what to do.

Like, even I am together enough to figure out that I needed to seriously think about whether rope was, in fact, a good fit for me.

Like, yes: it’s cool and I love watching rope performers, but was it worth literally flaying my hands on the regs?

And if I opted out, did that make me, like…

[ G A S P ]

a quitter?

This Is Where You Phone A Friend.

Or, well. If you’re me, you either slide into their DMs or just talk to them in person at the gym, bc actual phone calls??? LMAOOOOOOO. Who even does that? That’s not even what phones are for[1].

  1. Yes, I’m making fun of myself. Kind of. But also, that ISN’T what phones are for, or at least not my phone, as evidenced by the fact that it’s absolutely terrible at voice calls. I’m also absolutely terrible at voice calls, so it works out.

Anyway, long story short, last week I finally got around to asking my friend, mentor[2], and hoop instructor ABM, who has pretty much the same version of EDS[3] that I have, if she does rope, and if so how it plays with her EDS.

  1. Is a combination friend-and-mentor a “frentor?” Or is that more like someone who’s a friend, but also a bull?
  2. EDS is a rare disorder unless you’re a dancer, aerialist, or contortionist, in which case sometimes it feels like half the planet has it.

It turns out that she doesn’t, largely because it doesn’t play well with her EDS.

When she does rope, AEB gets the same weird, glassy calluses that I get. They inevitably blister underneath and slough just like mine do. She also said it makes her body hurt in ways that other apparatus don’t, which is consistent with my experience as well. (In my case, I had assumed that more training would fix that, but maybe it wouldn’t.)

ABM is also a super boss-level badass.

So this, in turn, made me feel more okay with the idea of not continuing to pursue rope.

Practically speaking, I’ve pretty much put the question to bed. I haven’t gone to rope class since my glassy calluses tore off. I’m not planning to go to rope class.

And yet my brain still finds it difficult to accept that. I hate being told that I can’t do something, even when I’m the one telling myself that I can’t.

Bargaining Is One Of The Stages[4] Of Grief.

  1. Which are non-linear, and may be visited numerous times. I think of them as trains: you can ride them more than once, and sometimes you’re on a train that at this moment is operating on both the Denial and Anger lines, for example, which might run concurrently in one place but not another. Like trains, they can also take you to places good, bad, and indifferent, and sometimes even to destinations you didn’t expect.

Figuring out that, realistically and practically, you can’t do a thing you’d like to do is a kind of grief.

So is facing down the fact that, no matter what your Russian-born gymnastics coach told you, sometimes there really is such a thing as can’t, or at least such a thing as, I could, but it would be a spectacularly bad idea on levels that I probably shouldn’t ignore.

And so, when I find myself in this position, inevitably I go through this whole mental wrangling process.

Like, I deny that there’s a problem. I give you full permission to laugh at this right now, in this context, because Y’ALL. Me denying that my skin sloughing off is a problem is like:

KC Green’s Gunshow, via St34l1n fr0m t3h g00gs

I get mad: maybe at myself, maybe at the world. I bargain with myself: “Okay, so I can’t do it in its default state, but can I maybe modify it somehow???”

And I do this, I think, partly because I really actually want to Do The Thing, but also partly because I need to know that I haven’t given up prematurely. Only, when it’s something that I want to do, my brain considers giving up at any point to be premature, and reverts to You Just Don’t Want It Enough mode.

Which Is A Problem.

So.

While there might be ways I could work around the blistering thing, it really seems as if there probably isn’t one. At least, nothing short of inventing a modified version of the apparatus (which involves an R&D budget that I don’t have, because I can’t afford to pay an engineer rn).

Normal skin calluses, but doesn’t then blister under the callus[5]. For those of us whose skin does do the thing, most dance contexts[6], allow shoes or dance socks or whatevs, and they prevent the whole problem. Artistic gymnastics and some circus disciplines allow “grips” that covered the parts of the hands that are most prone to EDS callus madness and tears (the rippy kind, not the kind that stream from your eyes as you attempt to pick up your coffee pot with your poor, ulcerated hands).

  1. I mean, assume there are circumstances in which this could happen to normal skin, but for me it’s the norm in some contexts.
  2. There are modern companies wherein it’s barefoot or nothing. I will probably never work for any of them, because I respect that as an artistic decision and just don’t even audition. I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s also a bit on the ableist side, but That’s Another Post.

Rope isn’t dance or gymnastics, though, and it has some unique constraints. I don’t think grips, or anything else I’ve dreamed up, would actually solve the problem. Like, seriously, I’ve been lying in bed and thought, “Maybe I could stick that moleskin stuff on my hands???” but … no. Freals. There are about a million reasons that probably wouldn’t work.

If I had slightly bigger hands, and could wrap them all the way around the rope, that might make a all the difference for me. But I don’t, and the diameter of the rope used in aerials is pretty much standardized.

Being able to wrap your hands all the way around the rope lets you take some of the pressure off of the distal ends of the metacarpals–I can do that on trapeze, silks, hammock, and sling, and while it doesn’t always prevent the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence, it does most of the time.

That’s good enough. I can work with most of the time, especially since when it does happen on trap or things other than rope, it’s typically because I’m doing something wrong.

On rope, though, even when I’m doing things right, I frequently have to grip the rope in a way that transfers a ton of pressure to the distal ends of my metacarpals. Result: the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence (and a couple weeks of wrestling with simple tasks like buckling a seatbelt, driving, or pulling up the covers in bed).

Even if I had bigger hands, though, the surface texture of the apparatus that I’m lazily calling “rope,” which is actually corde lisse, might still be a problem.

Corde lisse translates to “smooth rope,” and it is smooth–in a sense.

You can’t see or feel the twist of the rope fibers. This isn’t the rope you climb in gym class, which is visibly a rope, but something that looks more like the “velvet rope” barriers one encounters at museum exhibits and performance venues.

It’s a kind of long textile sausage. (It is not, however, velvety.)

Wikipedia describes corde lisse as being made of “soft cotton.” This also is true in a sense.

Une corde lisse has a layer of padding between the steel cable that forms its core and its sausage casing, so in that sense it’s softer than just, say, climbing a naked length of aircraft cable.

Likewise, the heavy-duty canvas duck that forms the sausage casing is made of cotton, in that the cotton itself was presumably soft at some point in its life cycle. But that cotton is then transmogrified into the fabric generally known as “heavy-duty canvas duck” and associated with such words and phrases as “tough,” “stiff,” and “military duffel.”

It is not, in fact, actually sandpaper. It feels soft if you gently stroke it, like you might stroke the belly of a cat sleeping in a sunbeam.

But if you use the boniest bits of the palms of your hands to apply intense pressure to a long sausage cased in heavy canvas duck, “soft” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Like the cat, who was only feigning sleep and did NOT invite you to disturb their recharge sesh, it has bite.

So, basically, for a handful (pun intended) of reasons, rope probably isn’t ever going to actually be my jam, no matter how much I want it to be.

The challenge is feeling like that’s okay.

You Really Don’t Have To Do Everything. Really.

This is where the idea of being fair to myself comes in.

Like, I try to do this thing in which I try to convince myself that it really is okay by playing out a hypothetical situation in which someone else comes to me about a similar problem. It goes like this:

THEM
I really like rope, but I’m not sure I can keep doing it because it does bad things to my body. I feel like I should stop, but I also feel weird about it. Like, in gymnastics, the coaches never let us use the word “can’t,” and *shrug* … you know what I mean?

ME
I totally get it! I think you’re making the right decision, actually. You only get one body, so it’s good to listen to it and take care of it! Besides–you do trapeze, hoop, hammock, acro, and adagio, which is a LOT, and you’re doing the right thing to take care of your body so you can keep doing amazing stuff with it.

I’ve had these conversations in real life. Lots of them. And when I’m talking to someone else, I mean it.

Like, I’ll straight-up tell you if I think you’re being a big weenie[8]. I mean, depending on the context, I’ll probably do it in a less-insulting way, like saying, “I know you can get that plank tighter! You’re strong!” or whatever–but still.

  1. Also, can we all stop for a sec and appreciate the delightful oxymoron implicit in the phrase “big weenie,” since “weenie” is used, in other contexts, as an adjective meaning very small? And also that as a derivative of “weiner,” AKA PENIS, PENIS, PEEEE-NISSSSS, it’s for once not insulting to age groups, non-male genitals, non-male persons, any particular ethnic group, people with disabilities, etc?

Sometimes deciding not to do a thing is how we take care of the beautiful instruments that are our bodies. And taking care of the instruments that are our bodies is essential.

Still.

The only way I can stop being mad at myself about this kind of thing is to be like, “Yo, you need your hands for PARTNERING, which is your basically YOUR ENTIRE JOB, and also girls won’t like it if they’re all covered in hard, stabby stuff[9].”

  1. D, at any rate, doesn’t seem to mind, though maybe he would if I was partnering him in pirouettes on pointe.

WTF, y’all.

And That Isn’t Even The Point.

Look … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there’s great value in the kind of quiet toughness and resilience that training in aerials or gymnastics or ballet, at its best, builds in us.

It’s good to try to overcome obstacles whenever they stand between us and something important or something we really want.

But you know what?

It’s also good to be able to say, without deriding ones’ self as an inadequate little panty-waist[10], “Actually, I don’t really need a world-beating reason to not do this thing.”

  1. Apparently, a “panty-waist” was originally an undergarment generally associated with babies–like a shorty union suit. TBH, that sounds like a pretty useful thing. #TheMoreYouKnow

It is okay to want to do a thing, and to try the thing, and to discover that maybe it just doesn’t jam your jelly or whatever. Or that it would jam your jelly, but instead it jellies your distal metacarpals, and that isn’t going to work.

So maybe you change your mind, and decide that the thing in question isn’t for you, at least not right now. And that’s fine.

Changing your mind doesn’t “make you a quitter.” It gives you room and time and energy to not quit all the things you do keep doing.

I do think that I have a good reason for deciding not to continue with rope training.

But it’s not the only good reason, and it would be good if someday I learned that sometimes you don’t even really need a good reason to say, “I think I’ll skip x thing.” That you–I–don’t really need any reason at all except that’s the decision you–I–have made.

Has writing this post moved that needle for me?

I don’t know. I’ve noticed that sometimes we need other people to help us move needles like that. And time. We need time, too.

So even if this doesn’t help move my needle, maybe it’ll help move someone else’s.

Nutcracker In September???

First, apologies for falling off the radar for a minute. The past couple of weeks have been, in a word, bizzzaayyyyyyyyy

Anyway! I’m back, at least for the moment.

Normally, at this point, my company would be a week or so into rehearsals for New Works, which is our usual first show of the year. Instead, we haven’t even started yet, because it’s #2020 and everything is CRAY.

Instead of a normal season, this year we’re doing Video Nutcracker Extravaganza! (that’s not its actual title) and … that’s it. Unless a miracle occurs.

So it’s September, we’re not even officially back in the studio until thw 28th, and I’m rehearsing Drosselmeyer all by myself. C’est “la vie 2020”, mes amis!

In an empty studio, the author stands in arabesque a terre, facing audience left, with his left leg back, left hand on his hip, and right arm raised as if holding something aloft. Text above his head reads

This is my life now. How ’bout you?

As ever, I’m recording video so I can fix myself. In that light, here’s an example of glaring hypocrisy in the form of me, dancing:

The author, mid-fouetté, facing audience right, right arm and leg extended back.

If you’ve taken a class with me, you’ve prolly heard me say TURN THE HIPS. I am now saying it to myself.

Okay, so: if you know that I’m mid-fouetté, here, this probably looks mostly fine at first glance. That standing leg could be a touch more turned out (okay, okay—it could be turned out at all), but the shoulders are down, engaged, and essentially square to the hips, and the lines are pretty nice.

Oh, and my feet are nice, because of course they are. They’re the only reliable part of my body. I mean, seriously, dat demi-pointe, doe. Dat arch 😍

Not too shabby, you might think.

Alas, friends! Were it but so!

Sadly, as almost-lovely as this moment is, in the very next second, I decouple my rib cage from my pelvis and failli without turning my hips all the way. Given that the next thing I have to do is run-run-tour de Basque directly across the stage, it makes for an awkward transition.

Oy.

You know what the main cause of this subtle-but-powerful trainwreck is?

That’s right!

STARING.

INTO.

THE MIRROR.

If you’re having trouble with arabesque, piqué arabesque, and fouetté arabesque, ask yourself, “Am I watching myself in the mirror?”

 If the answer is yes: 

STOP.

DOING.

 THAT. 

Here’s why.

We all want to see our arabesques, etc. We want to know:

  • How high is my leg?
  • What exactly are my arms doing?
  • How are my lines?

Those are all good questions.

BUT.

Staring into the mirror won’t answer them.

When we watch ourselves closely in the mirror, we create faults that might not otherwise occur. 

We find ourselves arabesque-ing on an open hip, with unsquare everything.

We fouetté the upper body only 3/4s of the way and the hips only 1/2 way, and failli onto a parallel leg.

This is because the eyes lead the body.

If you’re ever skiing or riding a bike and find yourself inexorably drawn into the gravitational field of an obstacle, with which you then collide, congratulations! You’ve successfully demonstrated the very same phenomenon!

(Sidebar: Ugh. Sometimes it’s blisteringly obvious that I’m a child of the Participation Trophy Era and grew up with computers shouting things like, “Congratulations! You have successfully closed this file!”)

Likewise, if you find yourself riding a beautiful 20 meter circle on a dressage horse, it’s the same thing.

In the first case, you’re looking directly at the obstacle in an effort to avoid it, and because your body follows your eyes and your skis or bike follow your body, you crash into the thing you’re trying to miss.

In the second, you’re looking where you want your horse to go, and this subtly shifts your shoulders and hips in a way that tells the horse what to do. This is why good dressage riders and their well-trained horses appear to communicate through telepathy.

In the studio, the same principle applies. If you stare at yourself in the mirror, you’ll usually leave your hips and shoulders more open than they should be. 

Remember: 

In a proper arabesque, the hips and shoulders are SQUARE and LEVEL[1].

  1. For arabesques above 90 degrees, it may be necessary to open the gesture hip slightly. This is why we first work on low arabesques: you must know the biomechanical rules in order to know exactly how much you can break them.

If they’re not, your body has to work much, much harder to maintain balance, placement, and turnout.

But, wait! There’s more! 😭

There’s another problem here.

If you look very closely at the photo of my fouetté, you’ll notice that I’m not in a crossed position. I’m in the infamous “secabesque,” with my gesture leg at like 4:00 instead of crossed to 6:00 

This is because I failed to establish the position before making it move.

Just as it’s incredibly difficult to manage a clean, controlled turn from a preparation which your back leg is wide of the centerline, it’s nearly impossible to fouetté correctly if your preparation is wrong (and impossible to correct from there if you also stare into the mirror).

Here’s another example:

Technically, the Apollo jump is a variant of sauté-fouetté. While I can’t argue that this one doesn’t look impressive, I should’ve begun from a preparation facing de côte so at the peak of the jump (the moment captured here) my hips would be facing the de côte in the opposite direction, rather than en face. (In the Apollo jump, as opposed to a standard sauté-fouetté, you open the shoulders towards the audience and arch your body towards the gesture leg).

I should note that, in the case of the Drosselmeyer rehearsal pic, the fault is partly the result of not having actually decided whether an arabesque half-turn or a fouetté was a better idea here. 

I have considerable leeway to modify this section of the rôle, where I’m Magicking All The Things prior to the Midnight scare scene, and I hadn’t yet clearly thought through the best way to accomplish this floaty change of direction.

The result is kind of a weird hybrid; a fouettabesque, if you will, that hasn’t decided who to be in life. I’ll have to try doing both—but not at the same time—and see which works better.

The photo proves the rule, btw, that a still shot can be beautiful even if everything that follows is it a complete mess. This is why we should try not to let Instagram get us down. With the exception of the occasional hilariously awkward trapeze video, I mostly post only things that look good, and even then, those pics don’t tell the whole story.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video tells the truth (or, well, more of the truth: video, too, can be deceptive!).

This is why I highly recommend, if at all possible, taking advantage of the powerful tool that is your smartphone’s video camera.

Record video so you won’t be as tempted to try to watch yourself in the mirror. It’s also super helpful for understanding the difference between what your body feels like it’s doing and what it’s actually doing, which can be rather startling. It won’t replace that guidance of a good teacher, but it will help you dial in your technique.

And it’ll also grant you the gift of absolutely hilarious moments like this one:

The author, striding towards audience left while staring over his left shoulder with both arms held straight down.

… so sexy it hurttttsssss

Join us next time when, I guess, we discuss how to walk off the stage without looking like either a blithering idiot (my default) or a smoldering idiot (see photo above)!

Video: Movement Research for “Thaw”

I don’t post video all that often.

Originally it was because A] I didn’t shoot video all that often and B] when I did, I usually couldn’t stand to look at it and didn’t want anyone else to look at it, either. (Or, well … sometimes also because the decent video I had was typically rehearsal video from someone else’s piece, and I didn’t want to post it without permission.)

Now I just rarely post video because I rarely think of it. I share clips to Insta on the regular, but more often than not they’re clips rather than entire pieces.

Anyway, today I was scrolling through my phone’s camera reel and happened to watch one of my movement research videos from March, when I was beginning to work seriously on the piece that originally became “January Thaw,” and is now just “Thaw.”

And in the process, I found the video below, and discovered that I loved parts of it: the weird parallel developpe that was originally part of this piece (I vaguely recall deciding that, because it had to transition into a turned-out arabesque followed by a penche, I should replace it with a normal developpe); the lovely precipite in the middle that was later eclipsed by a series of arabesques (at least, I’m pretty sure I decided to keep the arabesque version); this moment when I unfurl from a contraction in a lunge; these insane floating turns that reminded me that I can, in fact, turn beautifully[1] when I bother to make the effort.

  1. Some of them are decidedly off-plumb, but they somehow wind up being beautiful anyway. *shrug*

There are flaws, of course. I’ve decided not to itemize them. I know they’re there; you know they’re there–I won’t gain anything by nattering on about them, so for once in my life, I won’t.

Anyhoo, the music, to which I own no rights whatsoever, is Alexandra Dariescu’s aching rendition of Chopin’s Prelude #4, Largo, E minor (Op. 28:4) on Chopin/Dutilleux, Volume 1, Champs Hill Records, 2013.

You can find it on Amazon and probably everywhere else, because seriously. This recording is so good.

Anyway, here’s the video. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

DancerLife: Food (Part 1)

Upfront disclaimer/disclosure thing: I am definitely not a nutritionist, as you’ll probably realize if you read the rest of this post, which is mostly about stupid food-related mistakes I made last season. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition, nor should it be taken as advice, unless the advice is: If you have questions about feeding yourself as a dancer, maybe go ask someone who really knows their stuff.

I’ve written about food before. Probably a lot. I like food, though I struggle with food sometimes. I also generally quite like eating[1].

  1. Except, apparently, when I don’t. I’ve recently experienced a baffling lack of interest in food itself: I’ve been in this place in which I would be perfectly content to live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or really whatever requires the least thought or effort, day in and day out.

On the whole, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good grasp of basic nutritional science (hard to get through a Bachelor’s of Science degree that includes Anatomy & Physiology without understanding at least a bit).

I’m sufficiently equipped that I mostly manage to steer clear of trends based on junk science or poor data and to regard with equanimity the ones that might, in terms of their originators’ ideas about science, be based on shaky logic, but which still work well for people in practice because they’re motivating in whatever way and manage to get the various nutrients in.

What I haven’t had, as I discovered over the 2019-2020 ballet season, was the slightest shade of an idea as to how to actually feed myself for performance while dancing 30 hours per week, teaching about six hours per week, and driving an extra 80-90 minutes per day 2-3 days per week between those two gigs.

This was especially difficult on days when I left my teaching job at 8:30 PM and didn’t arrive home until after 9, chronically underfed (though I usually didn’t realize that) and with little time to eat, shower, prepare food for the next day, and wind down before I had to be asleep.

The best lunch decision I made all year, probably. Too bad I kept forgetting to buy more.

To a great extent, this was my own darned fault.

I extrapolated as follows:

  • P1: I have a fairly sound working knowledge of basic nutritional science.
  • P2: An awful lot of the nutritional advice I know how to find runs contrary to basic nutritional science.
  • P3: I am broke and can’t afford to go see a nutritionist.
  • Therefore, I should just stick with what I’m doing.

Or, well, something like that.

Yes, y’all, I am an idiot. Sometimes, anyway. Even often.

I think I also wasn’t sure who to ask: like, let’s be frank. Dancers are mostly paid what is known, in the technical language of economics, as “bupkis.” Or possibly “peanuts.” (In fact, since I have volunteered at events where one of the perks was free access to peanut-based trail mix, I can literally say that I’ve worked for peanuts. Hmmmm.)

Against a background of grass, a squirrel eats a peanut while sitting next to a squirrel feeder full of peanuts.
A dancer making a withdrawal from the bank. (Via Pexels)

Regardless, dancers be broke, and qualified nutritionists who have adequate knowledge of the nutritional requirements of full-time ballet dancers be … not cheap. (Nor should they be. They train for years to master their specialty, just like we do.)

So you had better believe that when I learned that LouBallet’s MindBodyBalance program was hosting a Zoom-based nutrition workshop with an actual qualified person who actually understood things about how to feed dancers, I jumped right on that enroll button.

Anyway, today, Becky Lindberg Schroeder of Lindberg Elite Nutrition (she’s also on Insta!) gave us a really solid talk, with time for discussion, about how to feed ourselves for performance as dancers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I realized I’d been going about things … well, not all wrong, but wrong enough.

The two most important things I’ve been doing were basically:

  • Not eating enough
    and
  • Not eating often enough.

Somehow, I felt like I shouldn’t be eating during the 5-minute break between class and the beginning of rehearsal. I would usually surreptitiously scarf an apple, but I felt like I shouldn’t.

Why?

Honestly, I think I just noticed that few of my fellow dancers shoved a snack into their faces during that interval. Outside the studio, I’m fairly resistant to peer pressure, but life inside the ballet studio is different, especially as an apprentice who doesn’t feel super confident about his place in the company.

Now that I’m writing that “out loud,” of course, it seems kind of dumb.

You can’t stuff yourself with a huge breakfast before class if you want to get through class without, at best, being miserable or, at worst, puking … but if you eat a lighter breakfast at 8:30, by the time class is over at 11:30, it seems entirely reasonable to assume that you’re going need to top up your fuel tank.

If you try to hold out until lunch break at 1, you’re likely to be hangry before you get there. (Regarding which: yes. On days that I’ve failed to eat any kind of snack at all, I’ve usually been deeply hangry before lunch break rolled around.)

A carnivorous dinosaur silhouetted against a night sky.
Me, just before lunch break. (Photo by ~ swinone on Pexels.com)

Becky’s suggestion that we eat every 3-4 hours made that all make sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that I’m now wondering how I failed to grasp it before. Then again, that’s why she’s a high-performance nutritionist, and I’m not.

Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t think I really understood the effects of chronically low blood sugar on both performance and body composition.

Becky showed us a diagram illustrating the point that the range in which the human body works best falls between 80 and 100. My fasting blood sugar is rarely higher than 70 (I forget what the units in question are right now, sorry). I’m impressed if it’s 72; the one time in my life it was as high as (GASP!) 74, I wondered if I’d randomly awakened and eaten something in the middle of the night and forgotten about it.

Anyway, <70 is low. The typical response that garners during a medical exam is basically, “Cool, no need to worry about diabetes!”

But it turns out that when your blood sugar level is low, your body really does burn muscle and hold onto fat. I kind of knew that: we’ve all heard of “starvation mode.” What I didn’t know was that your body doesn’t wait around for a couple of weeks before heading down that road.

So, in short, I probably wasn’t doing myself any favors by avoiding carbs in the morning.

This certainly explains why I’ve felt better on the rare morning that I impulsively threw a donut into the mix because I happened to stop for gas, or had to use ACTUAL SUGAR in my coffee because I ran out of stevia, or whatever.

If you’re starting with basically an empty tank, putting anything in it is going to help. It’s not like you’re body’s going to ignore fuel simply because it’s not Eleventy Octane Super Premium Ultra Plus, Now With Scrubbing Bubbles.

Your body, at that point, just wants ANYTHING. And if you don’t give it something, it’s going to assume that it should hold on to its emergency stores and tap the muscles instead.

That might also explain why basically surrendering to chronic disorganization, purchasing an immersion blender, and just making huge smoothies with some protein stuff (usually pasteurized eggs) and a handful of trail mix (peanuts and almonds … protein and fat in one happy little package) for breakfast and packing more of said trail mix to eat with lunch correlated with an unexpected drop in my body fat percentage.

Obviously, without a controlled experiment, causality is danged hard to determine–but in retrospect, it seems like maybe one way of accidentally starving myself was worse than the other. The one that gave me some carbs, protein, and fat, while still not ideal, was probably less bad.

I also made the mistake of thinking that my other frequent snack choice–inexpensive protein bars, because broke–was somehow … not good enough. Again, that seems silly now. The protein bars in question may be fairly processed (though they’re still mostly made of things that are recognizeable as food, albeit in small chunks), but they do the job of being quick and easy to eat when “quick and easy” are probably the most important criteria. You might have the best apple in the world, but if that’s all you’ve got, and you can’t finish it in 5 minutes, it’s not going to do the job.

Anyway, the most important takeaway for me was that I need to eat more, and to eat more often, than I did last season. Well, that, and to not eschew nutrition in bar form, because that’s often going to be my best bet.

My breakfasts, snacks, and lunches were uniformly underpowered last year (I’m not going to say “too small”), while my dinners were … spotty. I didn’t have time for a full meal between rehearsal and teaching, so by the time my classes let out, I was both incredibly hangry and in no position to drive for 40-50 minutes without eating.

Since I would, inevitably, have also run through the woefully-inadequate supply of food I had packed for the day, I typically resorted to drive-through dining, but usually (in an effort to reduce the artery-clogging effects of fast food) I’d get the smallest meal I could find.

Then I’d be mad at myself when I was starving at 10 PM, or wonder why I was so hungry at 1 AM that I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep without eating something.

You guys. In retrospect, I’m really trying to figure out … like … how I didn’t figure it out -.-

Part of the problem was my tool set. Basically, I was whacking away with a hammer, mentally screaming, “Why is it so hard to saw through this log???!!!!” I kept focusing on how to eat better at dinner time, when I would’ve done better to just eat a little more and a little better across the whole day.

Anyway, one of Becky’s smart, actionable suggestions was to literally write out your daily schedule (not too obsessively: sometimes lunch break is at 12:53; sometimes we get really into rehearsal and at 1:30 Mr D looks up and goes “OMG, sorry, you guys! I haven’t given you a lunch break!”) and figure out how to feed yourself around it.

Which … oh, my G-d. That’s brilliant.

Becky’s presentation also introduced Team USA’s Athlete Plates[2]–three useful visual guides to adjusting nutrition for the demands of your day. They’re less about telling you specifically what to eat than suggesting how to proportion your meals to keep yourself well-fueled. This is exactly the kind of information delivery I’ve been yearning for: visual, so you can use it at a glance, but with lots of deeper information readily available.

  1. You can find PDF guides to the Athlete Plates, along with lots of other great information about nutrition for athletes, on Team USA’s Nutrition page.

In short, I came away from this workshop with a much better sense of how I, a broke-ass dancer with ADHD and time-management challenges, can make a plan to keep myself well-fueled that actually fits into my life.

So that’ll be Part 2 of this post … because right now it’s dinner time, and I’m hungry.

Video: It’s Not Just For Insta Anymore

In ballet, as in life, there are things you know that you know, and things you know that you know but maybe kinda don’t really know[1].

  1. …And also things you know that you don’t know, and things that you don’t know that you don’t know, but … ugh, let’s just start with the stuff we supposedly know. I’m too tired for the, like, epistemology of epistemology right now.

Like, you know that what you do at the barre is important. Foundationally important. Literally everything in ballet, your teachers tell you, is founded on the work you do at the barre.

…And yet it can actually be kind of hard, sometimes, to really feel what that means.

If you’ve been dancing for more than, like, five minutes with good instruction, you’ve probably heard the maxim that everything in ballet is essentially an extension of plie and tendu (some add rond de jambe to the mix; others argue that rond de jambe can be included in the “extension of tendu” category … I think both arguments have merit, so That’s Another Post).

If you’ve been dancing for more than five years with good instruction, you’ve probably experienced that idea directly often enough that it has taken on gut-level meaning.

You have learned to feel that your grand battement is just a tendu at maximum amplitude; that a waltz turn is just a bunch of plies and tendus strung together; that even a double tour is basically a plie that stretches with a lot of oomph.

That does not, however, always translate directly to the complex movements you do once you leave the barre. Knowing with your brain is not the same thing as feeling with your body, etc.

And this is where video comes in.

I think I’ve written a couple of times about the thing that makes video such an exceptionally useful tool for me–specifically, my proprioception is weird because of Ehlers-Danlos, so I can’t always actually feel what my body is doing relative to itself. Video is the best tool I’ve found for figuring out the difference between what I feel like I’m doing and what I’m actually doing.

Sometimes, though, it’s also a goldmine for technique.

Case in point, this:

Never mind the caption–I was poking fun at myself because my eyes either looked or were closed in almost every screencap from this class.

I’ve been trying to make my body sort out the relationship between the Bournonville grand jete and … to be honest, basically everything. I mean, like, yes: of course I realize that it’s a prime example of “it’s just tendu and plie, but with a little chutzpah,” but somehow I still feel like my execution always cuts a corner somewhere.

The reason that I feel that my execution of the Bournonville jete cuts a corner is that it does.

Literally.

I’ve been so busy thinking about Bournonville jete being a leap that I’ve been completely overlooking the fact that the leap will take care of itself if you DO THE REST OF THE TECHNIQUE CORRECTLY.

Functionally, this means that instead of brushing and pressing my leading leg and using the combination of that kinetic energy with the potential energy stored in the plie of the second leg, I’m sort of frantically flinging my first leg and throwing my body after it, taking off before the leading leg can do its job (which is to set the height of the leap and then STAY THERE–that’s where control comes in), and generally bungling the entire procedure.

I’m flexible, so I come closer to getting away with it than someone would who can’t just throw a leg wherever, but it’s still not good enough.

(Ballet: it’s always easier when you just do it right, and somehow that never ceases to be completely shocking.)

So, the picture above isn’t technically of a Bournonville jete. It’s technically a picture of … erm. Some kind of enormous cloche? I’d honestly have to go back and watch the video again; my brain is so cooked right now I don’t even remember which exercise it was (it was before grand battement and after degage *shrug*).

BUT.

When I watched this video, I instantly and powerfully understood that this picture is HOW YOU DO a Bournonville jete, or really any grand jete, and make it count[2].

  1. Okay, full disclosure: my upper body shouldn’t start this far back in an actual grand jete, unless I want it the leap to travel straight up I guess? But that’s actually one of the things I need to fix in my grand jete: I often leave my body behind, costing myself both travel and elevation.

What I do remember about this moment was that it was a cloche through from back to front, brushing strongly through first and pressing the leading leg up (as if against a weight: that was JZ’s main correction for me on Thursday–which, by the way, is exactly the main thing I’m focused on improving in my dancing as a whole).

On the first side, I’d relied (as I always do) too much on momentum and not enough engaged strength: I threw the leg (to be fair, jete literally means “throw”) in a way that meant I was no longer in control of it. My leg was on one journey, and my body was on another–their destination was the same, but for all intents and purposes, the leg was taking the early express train and the body was taking a slightly later local. That makes it kinda hard to keep the movements connected, you know?

JZ said to me, “Less momentum; more strength–like lifting a weight with the working leg.” I applied the correction on the second side, and this was the result.

Even though I’ve done an exercise specific to grand jete that uses this motor pattern–done it in a few different schools, in fact (my childhood studio, LouBallet, the Joffrey, LexBallet, pretty sure Naples Ballet)–I’ve somehow never connected the exercise that I was doing in JZ’s class on Thursday with grand jete.

And yet, there it is. If I sprang off that deeply-loaded right leg, I would … well, okay, in this case, I’d crash directly into the wire storage rack that’s like two centimeters from my left foot o.O’

BUT, if I did that in, say, a proper ballet studio … okay, and if I kept my back a bit more lifted … the result would be a lovely grand jete. The position I’m in doesn’t really need to change (except for the fact that my upper body needs to be a little closer to my free leg); I would just need to kind of … let go of the ground. Just add a little spring[3]. And then sustain the leading leg by pressing it up, as if under a weight[4].

  1. In case you’re not familiar with the distinction, the Bournonville grand jete is done with the back leg in attitude. Obviously, for the … other version, I’d need a little more spring, to get that back leg all the way straight.
  2. I love that analogy, because it summarises everything I love about the way Roberto Bolle moves: his movements are always at once contained and free; controlled and fluid. There’s always a sense almost that he moves against the resistance of a thicker atmosphere than the one most of us inhabit. The idea of pressing into a weight helps me think about how to achieve that feeling without becoming tense and unfree.

Somehow, the video that yielded this picture has helped me understand what I am and am not doing correctly when I do grand jete. (And, in fact, that I’m doing almost everything in grand jete incorrectly much of the time, although sometimes I get it right by accident and something beautiful happens.)

It might’ve taken me another five years to figure that out otherwise, because it’s incredibly difficult to see yourself doing a grand jete or any other large, complex movement (trying to watch yourself in the mirror screws up the body mechanics). I certainly get corrections on my technique all the time (that’s just life as a dancer), but video makes it easier to sort out what all those corrections aim to impart.

In short: if you haven’t tried shooting video of yourself in class, I highly recommend it.

Obviously, in a normal class, you should ask permission first and make sure your classmates are okay with it (my experience has been that they’re usually either like, “Sure as long as I never have to look at myself in it XD” or “OOH YES CAN I HAVE A COPY PLS????”).

Likewise, video alone won’t replace the guidance of a good teacher.

But for me, video has become a critical tool for analysing my own movement and figuring out how to improve it.

At least, once I got over the natural desire to bury my head in the sand and never watch myself dancing again ^-^’

A Tale Of Two Balances

Or, well … two pictures of one balance. Same thing.

Ballet, as I’ve mentioned before, is an art of ever-receding goalposts. You might also say that they’re ever-shrinking goalposts: smaller, and thus harder to spot, and thus harder to hit–but just as important.

This entire post will be devoted to what might seem, to someone who doesn’t dance, like a distinction of no importance–a goalpost minuscule to the point of vanishing. A mere quibble.

But, hang about! I’m about to explain why the differences between the two pictures at the top of this post, which seem nearly invisible until you spot them, but which cannot be unseen once you do, are incredibly important.

But first, let’s zoom in a little.

Can you spot the subtle differences between these two images?

If you noticed that, in the right-hand image, I look like I have a potbelly, you’ve caught at least one! And since I didn’t go and stuff myself with pancakes between these two pictures–in fact, I didn’t go anywhere at all; they’re literally seconds apart during the same actual balance–I’m afraid I can’t blame breakfast.

So what, then, is the cause of this apparent potbelly?

It’s this:

Two images of the same dancer during a balance placed side-by-side with lines indicating the angle of his pelvic tilt.
Pelvic placement: the most important thing in the entire world (if you’re trying to dance ballet, anyway)

On the left, the top of my pelvis is essentially parallel to the floor. My tailbone is reaching down without tucking under, and my ribs and hips are connected by the line of my core … or, well almost. If you look really closely, you can actually see that I’m not quite entirely pulled up between ribs and pelvis, which is part of why everything has gone pear-shaped on the right.

On the right, my tailbone is sticking out towards the wall behind me, and the top of my pelvis is pointing forward and down.

At any moment in a normal person’s life, this sort of thing isn’t necessarily a huge problem. It can predispose you to back pain, but other than that, it’s probably not going to interfere all that much.

At any moment in a dancer’s working life, however, it’s a huge hecking deal, because it opens the door for two huge problems:

  1. Instability: your balances, turns, and just about everything else will be both more difficult than they have to be and, ultimately, worse than they have to be.
  2. Turnout: with my pelvis angled forward, I’m actually blocking my own turnout o_O’

This second point is more important than it might sound. Turnout in ballet isn’t just decorative: rather, it’s functional. Ballet technique is built on the ability to hold turnout, and if your pelvis is doing wacky things that interfere with your turnout, those things become harder to do.

Let’s take another look at that picture, with a few more marks to illuminate things:

Same pic; different caption.

Let’s start from the bottom.

On the left, you can see that I’m both well over the ball of my foot (which is showing off the entire reason I have a job in ballet at all–that arch and instep, right there). If you look closely, you can also see quite a bit of the underside of my shoe, indicating that my turnout is working.

On the right, I’ve fallen backwards, so I’m having to work really hard to stay on a lower demi-pointe. My hips are no longer stacked over the ball of my foot, so I’m forced to hold myself together by muscular effort, instead of allowing bones and gravity to do their job.

Just as importantly, the underside of my shoe is barely visible. My standing-leg turnout is pretty much nil right there.

Moving up to knee height, on the left, my free leg is cranked out close to flat. I’m not at my maximum turnout (or at my maximum retire height … BW would yell at me if he was here ^-^’), but the turnout I’m using here is both respectable and sustainable (in the sense that it’s a degree of turnout that I can readily maintain throughout an exercise or a dance).

On the right, my knee has crept forward. This is the most subtle difference, but it’s there all the same. The angle of my pelvis is making it difficult for me to hold my turnout–blocking it not with bones, but with physics. The angles make it harder for my muscles to keep me positioned on my standing leg without rotating the legs inward.

From mid-hip through just below my arm, on the left, everything is basically one unbroken rectangle (except for a little bit of rounding at the front–a harbinger of things to come, I’m afraid). I’m actually carrying my upper body a little too far back, though not drastically so … or it wouldn’t have been drastic if I’d actually succeeded in keeping my core engaged.

On the right, I’m decidedly swaybacked, but since the shirt I’m wearing makes that hard to see, it winds up looking like I’ve got a potbelly. There’s enough arch in my back to make it very difficult for me to recover without first coming down from the balance.

Lastly, on the left, my eyeline is level. On the right, I’m doing what horse people call “stargazing.” (Interestingly, swaybacked horses do this just like swaybacked people do. It’s almost like all the bones are attached to each-other by muscles, tendons, and ligaments! ^-^’)

I can’t express how incredibly important a level eyeline is.

Heads are heavy, and if you lift your gaze too high, it tends to send your head and everything attached to it backwards. The result tends to be that the pelvis rotates forward and down in an effort to counterbalance the head.

That might not be a recipe for disaster when you’re sitting in an office chair (though, again, it does tend to lead to back pain down the road), but when you’re trying to pirouette, it most certainly is. If I tried an en dedans with the balance on the right as a starting point, I’d fold up like a cheap umbrella.

Anyway, I hope you find this comparison as illuminating as I have. Now I need to dash off and teach a few Zoom classes, so if you’ll excuse me…

Unexpecto Coronum

Bit by itty-bitty bit, I seem to be resuming my life as a dancer.

Not, of course, in the sense of going out and dancing with other people in the studio. Rather, in the sense of finally taking class via Zoom (with a fantastic teacher, Johnny Zhong) on a regular basis … or, at least, I’ve hauled my butt to class twice this week.

Continuing to take class no longer seems like something that’s going to be a struggle against the tides of depression and exhaustion that have beseiged me for however many weeks.

Not that they’re, like, gone … but on Monday this week I hauled myself out of my Personal Doldrums and made myself take an actual class with an actual teacher who could actually see what I’m doing and correct things and (amazingly) tell me when I did something well. And then today I took his class again. And now taking class twice next week seems like given.

(Given the enormous lapse between my last real class and the first one this week, I wasn’t expecting to do anything well.)

Anyway, it took me a long time to get to this point.

I don’t really understand why, but I’m not sure the “why” is really important. I could spend the rest of my life unpicking every single variable that led me to hole up inside myself for, like, two months.

I’ve thought about it, and I’ll think about it again: but now I’m just relieved and grateful.

Grateful for the class.

Grateful for the fact that my body is apparently rather good at putting itself back together.

Grateful especially to my friend SF (if you’re reading this, hi!), who lovingly badgered me into taking JZ’s class, and thereby has probably saved my life, or at least my career … chapeau, girlfriend.

So although I’m still … not okay, I guess, though less not okay than I was a few weeks ago, when I felt like the dark waters of my own internal whatever might finally close over my head and bear me down into their depths … I’m getting there.

I’m not saying, “I’m getting better,” because then I’ll be pissed at myself if I don’t live up to that phrase.

Everything’s back and forth, here and there, ebb and flow. I’m going to have difficult days: we’re all going to have difficult days, always, but especially now in the midst of this novel uncertainty.

But, still, I feel right now like I’ve at least managed to grab a passing bit of flotsam and I’m not fighting so hard to keep my head above water.

Some of that has come with the realization that, although the precipitous and early end of our season torpedoed the twice-weekly unofficial partnering class I was doing with a friend of mine in the company (and everything else), I have an opportunity to really work on becoming a stronger dancer right now.

Working in a less-than-ideal setting* forces me to really focus on the deepest and most essential aspects of technique–holding the core; feeling the turnout; keeping the body together. (Conveniently, JZ’s approach to teaching focuses closely on all of those things.)

*a basement with 7 foot/2.13m ceilings and very freaking hard floors
covered with foam puzzle mats** that make turning a major
challenge ^-^’
**I just put in some new portable dance flooring today. Still hard, so I’ll
be confining jumps to the puzzle mats, but better than it was.

I will be a stronger dancer next season because of the time I’m spending alone(ish) in my basement now.

That doesn’t to any extent reduce the tragedy that has arisen from some breathtakingly poor policy decisions that have led to far, far more death and suffering than was necessary in this crisis (in many countries, but especially in mine).

It doesn’t change the fact that we no longer have a clear sense of what to expect from the future (not that we ever do, but under normal circumstances, we can at least use the standard operating procedures of daily life to infer a kind of baseline normality).

It just means that maybe I, individually, am at the end of one chapter in this unexpected story and at the beginning of another (notwithstanding the utterly imaginary nature of such divisions in the first place ^-^).

I’m planning to post a list of good live video classes, and I’m working on a choreographic project specific to the current quarantine that I’m hoping to post in the next week or so.

For now, stay safe, and keep dancing ❤

Oh, and here’s a pic from last summer, just because:

Still one of my favorite jumps ^-^

The Long Haul

Some thoughts on adapting to the present situation and on teaching … but first, a little housekeeping.

You might notice that my Insta widget has vanished from the sidebar. Last month, Insta decided to make some changes to how it works with WordPress, and users were asked to reconnect the Insta widget. I’ve been trying, and it hasn’t worked yet. It gets halfway through the process and hangs every single time.

Once I figure it out, the widget will be back.

Anyway, onward.

This week would’ve been Theater Week. I liked the role I had in Snow White, and I was looking forward to performing it. Instead, I’m at home, thinking too much and not dancing enough.

This is, I think, probably harder for H, who had the title role for the first time with our company, and L, who graduates from the school this year (and has evolved into quite a fine dancer in the time that I’ve known her), and for whom this would’ve been a grand finale closing this first chapter in her life as a dancer.

But it’s still hard in its own way. I was beginning to find my feet, so to speak, in this ballet. Even though I know it’s for the best, and that what we’re doing right now is critically important, there’s a definite … I don’t even know what the exact word for this feeling is. I had the wind in my sails; the boat was gliding over the waters. Then the wind stopped. Or maybe the boat shot over the edge of an unexpected waterfall.

I try to give myself grace for feeling whatever. As D always says, “If feelings were rational, we wouldn’t call them feelings.” But it’s an active process: actively stopping the voice that says, “Stop feeling x way,” and instead allowing myself what I would allow any other person: the room to feel what I feel.

As a company, we’re doing small video projects, for which I’m grateful. There’s some semblance of continuity; some small reason to force myself to spend at least some time focused on dancing.

That’s helping me cope with the other unexpected outcome, here. Normally, I can’t stop dancing. Right now, I can barely start. My mind shies away from the thought of ballet.

I assumed that was just a question of feeling overwhelmed—first by the circumstances themselves, then by the irritatingly fraught process of buying a car, then by the projects I’m suddenly supposed to be doing around the house (to be fair, they are pretty overwhelming … but it’s not like I don’t have time available). I figured I’d get over it once my mental GPS found an alternative route forward.

This week, though, I’ve realized that it’s not going to be that easy. My mind shies away from the very thought of ballet because I am, in fact, more deeply stunned by the loss of the end of this season than I’ve realized.

Most of my life was spent learning to seal each fresh trauma in its own vault and walk away, numb to the persistent ache of hurt or loss.

This is what happened when I stopped dancing as a kid, and why it was so hard to let myself return: had I never met D, in fact, it’s entirely possible I’d still be ignoring the thing that means the most to me. But D happens to love circus and dance, and every time we watched a cirque show or a dance performance together, the truth trapped inside that vault struck out at the door.

It’s a powerful truth. Sometimes even when you’re actively patching the cracks in the door, a powerful truth breaks free.

But, anyway. This thing where I toss the body (which, obviously, is never dead, trauma being what it is) in a vault and seal it has become a reflex. I do it automatically, now: though I hadn’t realized that until almost this very moment.

So this thing where my mind automatically turns itself away from ballet … it’s a function of a coping mechanism.

I suppose, also, that the trauma in question isn’t just this swift and unexpected change: it’s the weird stress of living with an invisible threat and, honestly, more or less forgetting about it most of the time, because it’s sealed in its Trauma Vault, where it.mostly stays until I have time to sit with it.

The ongoing trauma of this situation, sealed in its vault, acts like a faint buzz in the back of the consciousness—a kind of mental tinnitus. Every now and then, it breaks out and blasts up to the level of a klaxon and my conscious mind suddenly feels, “WE CAN DIE FROM THIS!” for 11 seconds.

Then the unconscious mind steps back into its role as Curator of Trauma Vaults and slams the vault shut again. 

(I do, in fact, take time to actively process this current, ongoing trauma. The last thing I need is for that hinge to get rusty, or for that lock to jam  … that’s when Trauma Vaults really become problematic).

The end of the ballet season, and this ballet itself, are also tied up in that mess.

So the question, then, is how to develop a strategy to bring ballet itself out of that vault so it can function on its own. Partly, I need to do this because I’m not ready to retire from my career in dance. Partly, I need to do this because dancing is, for me, a powerful healing tool.

I’m working on some ideas. 

My friend SF has suggested that we do a class together once a week as peers in addition to the two classes I’m teaching her, and I think that’s a good place to start.

I should probably also haul myself to the Frankfort studio a couple of times each week. There’s no space in my house that’ll allow me to move with the full vigor of my emotions, and I really, really need that if I’m going to stay sane.

I’ve been working on the trapeze as well—it’s not ballet, but it taps the same wellspring, so to speak. A lot of the time I’m just flinging myself around, exploring movement and feeling things out. I’m definitely going to keep doing that as much as I can.

Last, I’ve started a project with four dancers (myself included) that specifically relates to the situation at hand … But I’m filing further details under To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent for now, because it’s just a little embryo of a project at the moment.

So much of my history of pain, my lake of bones, feels so close to the surface so much of the time right now. The skeletons that live beneath the ice are restless. Writing this, I realize that I shouldn’t be surprised by that. The Trauma Vaults may be more civilized, but they’re built into the same deep cave where, if one journeys deep enough, one finds the Lake of Bones.

On a purely physiological level, they’re effectively the same thing.

The limbic system, neural circuitry, biochemistry, and physiological responses that are constantly stressed and intermittently freaking out about the Coronavirus are the same ones that lived with the constant stress of a tense early childhood and the intermittent intense stress of fights between my parents and between my sister and myself.

They’re the same one that lived with the constant stress of stalking and the intermittent extreme stress of emotional manipulation and abuse, profound physical violence, and repeated rape.

Of course the current situation drags those skeletons closer to the light. To the body that is the substrate for the mind, the situation is not so different. The circuits are open and the brain is hunting through them for strategies that will help us all survive.

So in the midst of all this, it’s back to trauma work, I guess, because that seems like a better idea than trying to shove the skeletons back into their lake and lean on the doors to all the Trauma Vaults at the same time.

So, anyway, this is me right now. I hope you’re giving yourself grace in the current circumstance. If you’re struggling, I see you. And if your Curator of Trauma Vaults is working overtime and you wonder if any of this will ever actually be something you can feel, I see you, too.

Peace be with you, friends.

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:

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