Category Archives: #dancerlife

Glancing At The Road Behind

In the specific alternate universe that is ballet, it’s easy to spend all of your time being horrified by how much you still have to learn. There’s simply so freaking much material that it’s essentially impossible for one single human being to learn all of it in any neat, systematic sense.

That’s why a consistent focus on the basics is so essential: if you have placement, aplomb, a general sense of the structural logic of épaulement, and the deep training of muscles and brain, you can generally learn any step that a choreographer throws in your path. 

You don’t have to actually know, for example, pas de harp seal[1]. You see it and do it a few times, and because the laws of ballet are written on your bones (and muscles, and brain) in relatively short order you’ve got an acceptable ballet step[2, 3].

Still, as human beings, we’re wired to look ahead from time to time—and that can be terribly discouraging. We may find ourselves thinking, “There’s so much I still have to learn!” and reaching for the nearest pint, be it of ice cream or beer.

As such, I think it’s healthy, once in a while, to look back. Sometimes it’s very surprising to realize how far you’ve come.

If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d want to do …is go back to Saturday and fix my arms and shoulders. Good thing this piece isn’t supposed to be classical.

Anyway. Yesterday, at Cirque rehearsal, I was standing on a bouncy tumbling track waiting for one of my partners to return, and because I can’t stand still I randomly did a whole bunch of entrechats sixes.

It didn’t occur to me then, but it wasn’t, in the overall span of things, that long ago that I did my first entrechat six. 

It was only a few years ago that I learned Albrecht’s variation at LexBallet’s SI and found it, to say the least, rather a stretch. It was only five years ago and change that, having just returned to ballet, I struggled to get my brain back around glissade-assemblé (which isn’t really a compound step, but as well be, since it shows up all the time as a kind of balletic comma).

When I think back, I can recall the sensation of being vaguely daunted by the appearance of a pas de Basque, since I was taking a class in which knowledge of the same was considered a given and I hadn’t done one since middle school. At the time, I had to think of it as a handful of steps instead of as one entity.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how recently balancé felt challenging (thanks again, Brian!). I spent a year or two just crossing my mental fingers and hoping it would come out right before Brian schooled my entire class by breaking it down, then putting it back together in a way that makes sense.

Two years ago—okay, as recently as a year and a half ago—I hated chaînés (mostly, to be fair, because they seemed to hate me).

Likewise, a year and a half ago and change, I realized that I needed to completely deconstruct my turning technique, and immediately despaired of ever getting back to a reliable triple. Two ear infections and a lot of concentration later, I’m just now at the point where I feel it coming: but my turns look so much better than they used to.

I used to hate adagio. I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with it (though I know I wrote about noticing it one day in class), but In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that long ago.

Last year, quick sissones fried my brain every time.

I’ve reached a point at which learning new steps isn’t a major goal. Once in a while one comes down the pike—Mr D taught us revoltade a few weeks back—but mostly I’m honing what I already have; learning to use my body as a collected and polished machine. Picking up new steps isn’t usually difficult, so I don’t focus on it on the same way.

In learning ballet, we necessarily work from the specific towards the general.

The first things we learn are profoundly specific: the five positions of the legs and feet become the foundation of our entire body of technique. The coordination engendered by always using port de bras informs every movement in the canon, even if it’s in the unspoken, “The canonical port de bras for this step is backwards.”

Over time, as we absorb the language of ballet into our bodies, we learn to speak it fluently, with no trace of an accent. When I watch video of myself dancing now, I see that process in progress: gaps in my absorption of the language appear as hesitations and faults that might or might not be imperceptible to an untrained eye, depending on circumstances. Where I’m closest to fluency, I’m finally beginning to actually look like a proper professional dancer.

 When I look at video from last year—Nutcracker, for example—I’m surprised by which things I clearly have to think about, and by the fact that what now feels like an instinctual awareness of the audience which governs things like the angle of my body in a moment of stillness was definitely not instinctual then. I can see myself thinking about it, and I can see myself forgetting to think about it.

(I suspect that a year from now, I’ll say the same thing. I’ll watch this year’s Nutcracker video and say, “Oh, no! How can you possibly have forgotten to open your downstage shoulder just another ten degrees?!” Maybe I’ll be saying that for the rest of my working life.)

When I look back at video from two or three years ago, I see what I’m guessing Mr D saw when he first invited me to come take company class: a lot of potential coupled with a whole lot left to learn.

All of this reminds me that, although there are days that I feel I’m standing still, or even rolling backwards down Mount Ballet, I’m not. I’ve come a long way.

I’ve written several times about how, in ballet, the goal posts keep moving. 

I think that will always be true: ballet is an athletic pursuit, but first and foremost it’s an art. Once you approach raw physical mastery, there’s infinite room for improvement in artistry. Indeed,one governs the other: the requirement that each step be executed with beauty and feeling shapes the way we train our bodies.

But the endless progress of the goalposts doesn’t mean we don’t also progress. 

It just means that we are never without the joy of pursuit.

  1. This is not a real step, unless it’s the step where you finish a demanding dance and just lie on the floor and wonder why your AD is trying to club you to death with choreography.
  2. …Though the meaning of “acceptable” varies by context. Because my arms like to do their own thing, it takes me a bit longer to get them to a professional standard than it really should 😑
  3. The caveat is that it may take you years to really feel that you perform the step in question beautifully: but an acceptable minimal professional standard will look beautiful to the bar majority of people who aren’t dancers.

On Technique: How Not To Turn From Fourth

Okay, so my turns are often, erm, not horrible these days (probably because my AD is relentless in his quest to make us do six billion turns per class) … And yet I’m still entirely capable of making a complete hash of them from time to time.

In the interest of full disclosure, clarity, and the greater good, then, here’s a spectacular example caught on video in the wild today and translated into handy screenshots. (I am NOT posting the video. I don’t want to scar you guys for life.)

I just can’t even with this. No part of my core is even a little engaged. I’m jello

Erm … That’s not where that goes. How embarassing.

Look at that standing leg. I dare you. That’s right: I’m serving up fresh horror just in time for Hallowe’en, Betches.

I didn’t fall out of this turn in the sense that I didn’t literally go splat. In every other way, though…

We’re not even going to talk about my arms. They’d just doing it for the attention, and we cannot reward their egregious behavior by acknowledging it. I haven’t been this disappointed since … Well, tbh, 2016, but … you know.

Okay, I will say one thing about my arms. See that first photo? Balanchine prep up top; Cecchetti downstairs. No wonder this turn failed. It was the balletic equivalent of a mullet … replete with hamberder hands. 

I’m going to cry.

This turn was not assisted by the fact that there’s a divot in the subfloor under my standing foot, but honestly that excuses nothing. Without said divot, it still would’ve been a fugly turn. You could take it to a salon and give it hours and hours of mud wraps and so forth, and it wouldn’t do any good. Lipstick on a pig*.

*I mean … some members of the porcine family are quite handsome. But lipstick? They don’t really, like, have lips.

Here’s a less bad example, just so I can feel better about life

The non-standard port de bras is intentional.


The gesture leg is attached. The supporting leg is … well, sort-of turned out. My core, like, exists. The balance is fairly straight up and down. And in the video it’s evident that I spotted this turn like a boss.

That last one was of the “effortless double” species. The MOST important factor, for me, is simply keeping my coreengaged. This prevents Slinky Back (would that it could prevent Nickleback), which in turn basically prevents EVERYTHING ELSE THAT IS WRONG WITH THE FIRST TURN.

So engage those core muscles, kids!

…And remember: only YOU can prevent Nickelback  slinkyback!

Managing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pas De Done

There are waypoints, if you will, on the path of life as a dancer … the first audition. The first job. The first show. The first featured role. The first pas de deux.

I fumbled my way onto this path with a fairly simple goal: basically, I just needed to dance. It would be enough to find myself a corps spot somewhere.

I never expected to find myself among the principal artists of any company, and certainly not now.

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you, though. You find the thing that makes you tick, you keep your head down, you do the work … And maybe you find yourself in a place you never expected to be.

Gale Force is a brand-new company. They didn’t have to roll the dice on me: but apparently, when I auditioned, Shannon saw something in me that maybe I don’t always see. She made me an A-company dancer: which is to say, more or less, a principal. She handed me a solo piece, several featured roles, and a pas de deux.

When I got that email, back before we started rehearsals, I just about exploded (in a good way).

That said, my undying case of Impostor Syndrome definitely made its influence felt. 

Part of me was all “I BELIEVE I CAN FLY!” Another part, of course, was like “CHECK YOSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOSELF.”

 I didn’t  exactly tell that second voice to GTFO, but I did ask it to kindly please step back behind the yellow line, sit down, and stop distracting the bus driver.

Needless to say, there were more than a few moments at which Impostor Syndrome stood up and said, “EXCUSE ME, WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING, MR. BIG STUFF?” 

But basically I’m too much of a coward to say, “I think you should demote me out of this dance because I can’t learn,” so instead I had to actually learn the dances and go on being an A-company boy.

Anyway. The bus finally made it to its destination: the show.

We played two Saturday nights. 

During the first date, on the 27th of July, we all caught a highly-contagious case of the Galloping Nerves … including your humble host, who never gets stage fright and thus had literally no idea what to do about it. Those nerves were multiplied by the setting sun during the first half and blazing lights that sat exactly at eye level during the second half, both of which meant we were essentially dancing blind, and by the lack of a stage monitor,which meant that at times we couldn’t hear the music.

Have you ever tried to dance a pas de deux when you can’t hear the music and have only had about four hours to learn the dance together?

In case you’re wondering, it’s about as stressful as it sounds. 

Apparently it looked okay to the audience, but there were long moments that EM and I stared into each-others’ eyes and tried to look romantic as we attempted to figure out by telepathy where in the dance we even were. 

Probably the only thing that saved us was the fact that we knew the order of the lifts (which is more important than it sounds: when your partner leaps at you, you’d better already know which arm is going where), and could remember which one we did last. 

Well, that and the performer’s instinct to just go stolidly on in such a way that the audience never knows you’re completely lost.

The whole company trembled its way through the first show and came out on the other side genuinely delighted that nobody fell down or died. Sometimes, you just have to adjust your goals on the fly.

During the second show, everything changed. 

A quarter of the way into the first number, whatever it is in my brain that loves performing and knows no fear once I hit the stage clicked on. I remembered that this is what I love; that this is where I live. My mojo returned.

The pas de deux came third on the program and was my second piece for the night. 

We stepped out onto the stage, locked eyes and smiled as the music began, and something magical happened: which is to say that the pas de deux happened. We didn’t just know the order of the lifts: we knew the steps; we knew the story: and for those few minutes we lived the story, and the audience loved us.

The author holding his partner in a fish lift on an outdoor stage with greenery behind them and an orange beverage cooler to the viewer's left.

My lovely partner (center), the most important orange cooler in the world (stage right), and me. And, yes, I was hot in that outfit 😅

When the most artistically challenging piece goes well, it’s easy to feel confident about the rest of the night.

Not to say that I didn’t make a single mistake. In fact, I almost knocked myself over during the jazz piece, and again during the final pas de trois (our portable floor gets slick in humid weather, and I should have re-rosined my shoes 😶). It just so happens that I’m really good at saving myself from potential falls. Likewise, I left out a step here or there, and probably added a few without even noticing, as is my wont.

But overall the show went well. My solo piece was staggeringly well-received even though I had to walk back some of the most impressive choreography because I was dancing on a sprained ankle. I neither forgot entire segments of dances nor swapped the order of phrases.

I also got a nice surprise when I first saw our bios: I’ve joined the faculty at FSB. I love teaching, so that’s a solid step in the right direction. 

We have a faculty meeting on Wednesday: the first, I hope,of many faculty meetings to come in my life as a dancer and teacher of dancers.

A while back I realised that somehow, against all odds, I’ve become the person I wanted to be when I was there years old.

Or, well. I mean. I haven’t actually turned into a horse, a dinosaur, unicorn, a cheetah, or a giant shark.

But that three-year-old me that sat up in the balcony and watched the Russian dance in the Nutcracker and said, “I wanna do that!” … Well, that’s the me I’ve become. Which is actually only slightly more probable than transforming into a horse[1] or whatevs, and honestly rad AF.

I’m old enough now to grok that the book or movie that is your life never coasts into the credits … Or, well, not ’til you die, and I’m pretty sure I’m still alive, philosophical wranglings notwithstanding.

But I do feel pretty comfortable saying that this feels, to me, like the close of the first chapter, the first section of the book, or maybe even the first book in the trilogy. Like, I’m standing here at the end of my origin story (or at least this origin story: perhaps the greatest human capacity is that of reinvention; of starting over) and looking out for that moment when you, dear reader, finish reading this sentence and turn the page.

  1. Though, come to think of it, I have been licked and nibbled by any number of horses, who undoubtedly then digested some of my skin cells, which then went on to become part of them, soooo … Win on that one, too, I guess 🤔

The Key To Partnering

There are so many reasons I’m glad that I auditioned for Gale Force, and right now one of the most significant is the opportunity it’s given me to begin honing my partnering skills.I wouldn’t say I’m great at partnering (yet: I might get there, who knows?), but I’m learning fast. I seem to be good at keeping my partners from hitting the deck when things go south,which is comforting, because honestly I mostly have no idea what I’m doing, still.

Anyway, of all the things I’ve learned about partnering thus far, the most important seems at once staggeringly obvious and perhaps a little surprising (which: remember the time you tripped over that brightly-painted curb that you’d noticed before but forgotten and immediately thought, “Jeez, what’s wrong with me?”).

And that most important thing is, of course, trust.

Last night, we started working on a new piece, and AA, the choreographer for this one, gave all of us leeway to toss in elements we thought might fit, including partnering stuff. At one point I looked at Dot and, perhaps because we’re both equally mad and utterly extra, I said, “Cradle to Bluebird?”

 And she said something along the lines of, “Slay, Queen!” (Because, as I’ve mentioned, we’re both extra AF.)

And so we tried it, annnnnnnd:

In a ballet studio, the author balances his partner on his shoulder in a modified

Boom! (From our rehearsal video, Via Dot’s Insta 💖)

I don’t know if either of us expected this to work on the first try: but we trust each-other, so we both dove in full-steam ahead, and it worked like a charm[1].

  1. Though if you know how this lift is supposed to work, you know she’s a little forward of her balance point in this shot, which was the result of my failure to sufficiently account for her skirt. D’oh! Obviously, we made it work.

I would say, “Obviously, you need good technique as well,” but I’m not sure that’s quite as important as it sounds. You need to understand how your body works and possess a feel for the laws of physics. If you’ve got those two things and trust, you’re most of the way there.

Ballet is great at teaching you to use your body. So are acro and gymnastics. 

As for physics … People are forever observing that ballet dancers begin training early because it takes ages to teach the brain and body to work together to produce beautiful technique, but I think there’s another element as well. 

Only experience can develop a gut sense for the way bodies behave in space. When you’re faced with the daunting task of grabbing your friend and tossing her up into a balance on your shoulder, you don’t have a lot of time to make calculations. You may be strong, but if you try to do it slowly, the laws of physics are likely to come out on top.  

You have to be able to mentally spitball the physical process and the trajectory; to be able not only to visualize what’s going to happen, but to tactilize it, if you will: to imagine with your body how the forces involved will feel. 

That way, when you attempt the actual lift, you’ve got a model already in place.You don’t have to consciously think it through–which is good, because lifting humans is a finicky business, and you need to be able to respond without delay of something begins to go wrong. You don’t have time for conscious thought.

If something starts to feel off, you instinctively call upon a lifetime of being a body that moves through space with power and freedom. The accumulated experience of that lifetime drives the inner mechanism that makes you shift your weight, lift your shoulder, step back just a little on one foot (all of which I’m doing in the photo above, to compensate for having placed Dot too far forward).

You don’t think about it; you just do it.

The unspoken knowledge that your body will figure out how to keep you safe when things go south is the foundation of the kind of trust that dancing requires. If you need proof, show a sedentary person a sauté fouetté or even a pas de chat en tournant and ask them to give it a try: they’ll probably respond, “Are you out of your mind? I’d kill myself!”

In a ballet studio, the author stands on one leg as he lifts and unfolds the other whilst simultaneously reaching the opposite hand towards the ground.

Take this rather-contemporary penché developpé: inborn instinct tells me I’ma fall right on my face if I keep this up, so instead I listen to the secondary “instinct” that derives from being a crazy monkey all my life. 

Partnering required that same trust on a different level: when you grab your friend, swing her into a cradle lift, and roll her up onto your shoulder, she’s trusting you to be able to make the necessary split-second adjustments that will stop her falling, and you’re trusting her to make herself as liftable as possible.

You’re tacitly agreeing that both of you operate from a profound applied understanding of gravity, mass, momentum, trajectory, balance…
You’re tacitly agreeing to apply that knowledge even if things feel a little shaky for a second here or there.

That last bit is crucial.

When we feel we’re in physical danger, our true, inborn instincts tell us to ball up and protect our vital organs.

That’s fine in cradle lift–in fact, the tighter your partner tucks, the easier cradle lift becomes, at least until she’s tucked so tightly that she cuts off circulation to one of your arms. Then you’ve got a whole new problem.

It’s not, however, true for any other lift in the repertoire, and especially not for Bluebird.

Excepting cradle[2], every lift in the classical repertoire involves some degree of extension–which means that the partner doing the lifting has to overcome gravity in challenging ways.

  1. One of the entry paths to shoulder-sit is also facilitated by your partner turning into a ball, but only for a moment. Also, purists sometimes argue that shoulder-sit isn’t part of the classical canon. I’m no authority on the subject, but my opinion is that while shoulder-sit is a circus trick, so are many of the showstopping elements in the canon: literally. According to Jennifer Homans’ exhaustive and authoritative history Apollo’s Angels, ballet really did adapt many of its steps from the circus. (#TheMoreYouKnow) At any rate, Serebrennikov covers shoulder-sit in his text on partnering,which is good enough for me.

If you’re attempting to sling your partner into a hip-balance (to borrow a term from the aerial arts) on your shoulder, she needs to trust you enough to unfurl herself into a profoundly vulnerable position in which she becomes, in essence, a see-saw.

If she doesn’t, at best, the beautiful bluebird lift turns into something closer to a dead-bird lift. Dead-bird lift probably has its place in tragic ballets and in modern dance, but it’s also a thousand times harder for you, with your feet on the ground, to support.

At worst, she’ll pivot around your shoulder and faceplant, and if you’re lucky she’ll kick you in the back of the head in the process and knock you out cold so you don’t have to live with the shame of having failed to save her (which is why it’s always the boy’s fault, in classical ballet: your job description involves making sure your partner doesn’t get hurt, since you’re the one with your feet on the ground). At least,not til you wake up.

Just about anyone can sling, say, fifty pounds of board lumber of a reasonable length up on one shoulder with relative ease. On the other hand, slinging fifty pounds of potatoes, loosely packed, is a much greater challenge (not least because you’re likely to take a potato or two to the jaw when you least expect it: potatoes fight dirty). 

Screencast of Taters Gonna Tate GIF.

If you didn’t see this coming, have we even met? I mean, in the virtual sense. (Via the Googs.)

Now multiply that challenge by three, and you begin to see the problem.

Thus, as you’re merrily tossing or slinging or rolling or pushing your partner onto your shoulder, she has to tell her inborn instinct to fold up for safety, “Not now, we’re busy” whilst simultaneously listening very closely to the acquired instincts that help her do the astounding things that make up every ballet dancer’s bread and butter. She also has to listen to whatever your body is doing. 

When she trusts her body, so to speak, and you trust yours, then you can trust each-other so much more easily. When you trust each-other, you try things that frankly seem a bit daft and they work. 

Curiously, all of this happens without a great deal of talking. In fact,when it works, it’s about as close as I’ve come to experiencing actual, literal telepathic communication [3].

  1. Some people might argue that making love must be closer. I doubt any of them have tried dancing a pas de deux, let alone creating one from whole cloth. Sex is great, but if your version involves, say, bluebird lift or overhead press lift, it’s probably much more interesting than mine.

If you don’t trust each-other, at some point in the process, one or both of you will hesitate at a critical moment–and while I’ve yet to drop anyone, the experience that stems from that hesitation is always terrifying.

That moment’s hesitation is a moment in which your partner has no idea what you’re “saying” with your body or what you’ll do next. 

Whether you’re the lifter or the liftee, this is akin to the moment in a relationship when Boo says, “If you can’t figure out why I’m so upset I’m certainly not going to tell you!” …Only with the added risk of catastrophic injury. You’re basically left with no way to predict what your partner will do next: you just have to guess and hope you get it right.

Someone with reasonable experience in partnering can often save a lift even then–but when you’re learning, if you’re the one doing the lifting, your goal instantly becomes simply to not drop your partner; to save them by any means possible. 

Which, if we’re honest, can be scary as heck for both of you: for you, because suddenly all the responsibility is in your hands; for your partner, because suddenly they have no control and can’t predict what’s going to happen.

Hesitation can also render many lifts pretty much impossible: I’m pretty strong, but I doubt that I could slowly dead-lift, say, 140 pounds above my head. 

When I press-lift someone, timing and momentum are crucial. Her jump overcomes enough of the pull of gravity to allow me to lift her past the part of the movement in which I’m weakest—the part where she’s above the level of my shoulders but not yet high enough that I can lock my arms out to sustain her weight above my head (which is totally a circus trick, in my book, but it’s a good one!).

For whatever reason, Dot and I seem to have developed a trust that prevents hesitations and allows us to overcome the inevitable glitches when we try new things together.

I think this stems in part from the fact that we’re both very game experimenters, natural-born crazy monkeys, if you will. But it also stems from familiarity: during our experiments, sometimes things do go sideways, and when that happens, I always manage to catch her, and she always manages not to kick me in the face. Then, I wouldn’t mind if she did: my willingness to risk a kick in the face is crucial to my ability to keep her from hitting the ground when we find ourselves at a sticky wicket.

Anyway, there you have it: the most important thing I’ve learned about partnering. 

If you don’t have perfect technique, trust will get you through. 

If you don’t have trust, though, nothing will.

TFW

  • …you’re trying to figure out where to cram in a side-side-side gig so you can make some extra money this summer so you don’t have to worry as much about expenses during the main season >.<
  • …you realize that you’re performing at a gig you couldn’t currently afford to attend
  • you look at your summer rehearsal and performance schedule and realize that you have officially broken your summer break o.O’
  • …you discover that inflatable bathtubs exist ❤
  • …you realize that, although you don’t think of yourself as an ambitious person, you actually do have some pretty lofty goals that you want to achieve in your lifetime … they’re just not necessarily ones that chime with conventional ideas about “success”

Last week, DS and I put the final touches on our piece for PlayThink’s mainstage show, Gale Force rehearsals began, and I discovered that I do really freaking good turns if I don’t have contacts or glasses on (weird, right?).

My hypothesis about the turns thing is that being unable to see anything clearly prevents the following:

  1. Spotting too high … which I STILL do all too often :/
  2. Hyper-focusing on my spot spot. I didn’t realize I might be doing this until I paused to analyze the feeling of those really, really nice and effortless doubles (and one effortless triple) I tossed out there the other day. I think I get so fixated on the idea of ACTUALLY LOOKING AT AN ACTUAL THING IN THE ACTUAL WORLD that my neck stiffens up in an effort to fix my focus. A stiff neck doesn’t help your turns, guys.

I also finally started listening to Hallberg’s A Body of Work, which I bought on Audible before the season ended and have been putting off because … well, reasons, I guess. I don’t know precisely what those reasons are, though I could probably figure it out if I sat down with my inner being and had a good conversation.

I know part of it was just the sheer dread of having to hear The David Hallberg talking about his amazing successes as a dancer during a time when I was feeling like literally the worst dancer alive.

It turns out, though, that Hallberg is as engaging and humble as an author as he is lyrical and princely as a danseur. So it turns out that in addition to being a fabulous dancer he might ALSO be a fabulous human being. He certainly comes across as thoughtful and very, very human in his writing.

Curiously, many of his struggles are #relatableAF in fact. I found it immensely edifying to hear about his difficulties with his early efforts at partnering, you guys.

Speaking of edifying, I also got an offer for a full scholarship to a summer intensive in Europe, though sadly it coincides with tech and theater week for GFD’s show, so I can’t go. But it was really cool, anyway.

This summer I’m focusing on partnering, tuning up my turns, and NOT DOING DUMB THINGS WITH MY HANDS.

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QV, Dumb Hands Thing The First: do I think I’m going to, like, fly if I flap my hands, or…????

As you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, I’m also working on #BalletFitness … specifically:

  • strength
  • endurance
  • whittling down my thighs so I don’t have to fight with them in 5th position ;D

WRT that last one: I don’t mean spot-reducing; I mean focusing on using the right muscles so my stupid quads will chillax and get out da darned way, while focusing on eating good food so I don’t either gain a lot of weight or constantly feel puny and starved.

I’d like to reiterate, once again, that for me, the size of my thighs is a functional thing. There are people who are much softer and curvier than I am who can dance really well with much bigger thighs because their pelvises are arranged in a way that allows them to access a tight 5th position at their size (which might, for some of them, be harder at a samller size).

Over the past year or two, I’ve realized that I not only have hyuuge quads, but I also have very little clearance because of the way my pelvis and my humeri come together. This means that regardless of my apparently awesome capability for rotation in the hip joint, my 5th position is prone to difficulty because my big, stupid legs are in the big, stupid way.

I mean. They’re not really stupid legs. They’re good legs, Brent. They’re powerful legs. They make it easy for me to jump high and lift people (and yes, in case you’re wondering, you legs and core really do most of that work almost all the time).

But they are big, and they’re set close together, and those factors conspire to place them right in each-other’s way if I’m not vigilant about working in such a way that A) my quads don’t go, “COOL WE GOT THIS BRUH” and inflate to the size of intercontinental ballistic missiles* and B) there’s not much extra “fluff” to get in the way. “Fluff” is probably better than muscles, since it’s squishier, but there’s just no freaking room.

*intercontiental balletic missiles???

So basically I’m in the midst of this crazy transition during which I continue to be sort of flabbergasted by the fact that I am apparently doing this dancer thing now, but also not entirely flabbergasted in the same way I used to be. I don’t know exactly how to describe That Feeling When, so I’ll leave you instead with this lovely picture of ya boiii Mercutius T. Furbelow expressing his sentiments about the arrival of summer weather here in the 502:

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HIM DO A [ [ M E L T T ] ]

And this update on the status of my surgical scars (or relative lack thereof):

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Also, check out doze Classical Ballet Hairs. And Please Ignore My Kitchen, particularly the giant pile of recycling that I was about to take out when I took this, because we all know how staggeringly great I am at planning :/

 

Onward and Upward

Thing the First: I’ve submitted my contract for next season with Actual Ballet Company. It’s going to be interesting, as it looks like the roster is changing quite a bit. I’m not sure how many boys we’ve got for next season.

Thing the Second: last week I had a very nasty surprise cold. It completely knocked me flat for several days, but I seem to be better now. Yay?

Thing the Third: I’ve begun work on my piece for PlayThink and my solo piece for GFD. My friend DS kindly agreed to be my partner for the PlayThink show, since I apparently traumatized Denis by making him improvise last year and he doesn’t want to do it this year 😀

I’m actually quite happy to be working with DS, because she’s a fabulous dancer and, more importantly, loves performing as much as I do.

She also is totally fearless about partnering and she taught me a new lift yesterday:

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It’s possible that my arm (the one you can see) is supposed to go over her leg, though.

Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t always partner in a mask. There’s a reason I’m wearing the mask, but IT’S A SECRET so you’re just going to have to cope. Time reveals all, or at least mostly all.

I don’t actually know what this lift is called. It’s kind of an over-the-shoulder-whirly lift, but I’m sure that’s not its actual name.

It worked the first time we tried it, after which DS said to me, “You’re really strong!” That was a lovely surprise, as I’ve been sadly neglecting core and upper body work for a while (though I’m back to working on it now). I think part of it is that I’ve just had really excellent teachers when it comes to lifting things, especially people. The whole “lift with your legs” thing comes in really handy, especially when your legs are used to launching 160 pounds of strapping lad[1] into the air about a million times a day.

I’m also becoming, well, less bad at partnering promenades in passé, though I still think I look stupid[2] doing them. OTOH, I have almost a month to improve them.

I had some thoughts on technique that I wanted to drop in here, but they’ve apparently evaporated out of my brain, so I’m going to call it a day.

Notes

  1. I am trying to accept the fact that “strapping” is pretty much the adjective that best describes my build at this point.
  2. One might argue that as long as my partner doesn’t look stupid, I’m more or less getting the job done.

The Valley of Decision

Where to begin? BP went well, as did LouBallet’s Spring Dance Festival. My group’s piece in our show in SDF got a resounding response from the audience and made our director happy, and those are the things that warm the cockles of a dancer’s heart, or at least this dancer’s heart.

BP was my first show with a Big Giant Head, and while the Big Giant Head itself was awesome (our costumer is AMAZING), dancing with it on was a learning experience, even though I did very little actual dancing. I had exactly one lift, which didn’t go well in our first full-dress rehearsal (it was impossible to make the established lift work with the costumes in question), so we changed it to a simple cradle lift that both looked fine and worked. Except in the closing show I somehow managed to bonk my Big Giant Head against my partner’s Big Giant Head, which caused my Big Giant Head to go slightly askew, which led to me almost running both of us into a leg curtain on the exit.

Fortunately at the last minute the curtain hove into sight in what was left of my peripheral vision, and I was able to take evasive action. No dancers were injured in the making of this ballet, or at least not by me[1].

  1. I did dance on a somewhat dislocated hip for three weeks, and I’m still paying for that.

So goes the glory of the stage, eh?

Anyway, on the last day of our season I was presented with a contract for 2019-2020. Since I’d just auditioned for another company with surprising success, this left me with a quandary: dance with New Company next year, which will let me stay at home and work on getting the house together, etc, or bite the bullet and rent a room in Lexington, knowing I’ll need to add a second job into the mix in order to cover my expenses?

I’d be lying if I said I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I’m doing the right thing, but I’ve pretty much decided to go ahead and re-up with Actual Ballet Company The First for next year, even though it’s potentially going to make my life more difficult. I think the structure of the full-time schedule is what I need right now, and while I love the fact that New Company has thrown me straight into the deep end[2], they rehearse part-time.

  1. Regarding which, I’m doing the Cinderella Pas De Deux[3] in their summer show, which is both delightful and terrifying because like, OMG Pas De Deux, but also NO PRESSURE o.O’
  2. Regarding which, summer ballet goal: “Improve Partnering Skills” looks like it’s getting checked off the list via the Baptism By Fire method

On the other hand, I really like the people and the company culture at New Company, and part of me feels like I might be making entirely the wrong decision. I’m not actually even sure who to consult about it, though I plan to buttonhole my various ballet peeps after class tomorrow (I’ve been out of commission for about 5 days thanks to a really nasty sinus/chest bug).

Technically I have until the 11th to hand in my contract.

I honestly didn’t expect to actually have, like, a choice at this point (or, for that matter, ever) in the thing I still have trouble calling “my career,” so to have a choice between two options that both have more bright spots than dark is sort of incomprehensible.

Either way, I’m embarking on a side-gig that should help keep me afloat throughout the season without also causing me to stop and catch fire, as it were.

Coming back to my old stomping grounds at LouBallet School after basically being away for the entire season, I’ve been able to see where I’m a stronger dancer than I was last September (and, of course, where I definitely still need work). I’ve been greatly enjoying class with L’Ancien, particularly the moments that I’ve actually managed to earn some shocking words of praise (don’t worry, though, to preserve my reputation I’ve made sure to be a complete screw-up whenever possible, and to do stupid things with my hands at all applicable times).

It’s weird, because one rarely has the chance to step away from the group of dancers with which one has done most of one’s meaningful training for a significant period of time, then return.

Anyway, needless to say, I’ve got my goals in order for the summer, and I’ll definitely be dancing somewhere in the fall.

I’ll also be dancing with New Company for the summer, which I suspect will be a delight. More on that soon. I don’t think I’ll be doing summer intensives, but I might do some masterclasses at LouBallet and LexBallet.

Temps De Fugue

Don’t worry, as far as I know “temps de fugue” isn’t a real ballet step. It’s just a half-baked play on “tempus fugit.”

~

Yesterday, at a show in which I probably knew 60% of the dancers and 90% of the choreographers, I ran into Killer B in the audience.

This season, Killer B made the leap back into life as a company dancer. We were talking about our respective seasons, and she said something like, “Can you believe it’s almost over? It went by so fast!”

And it hit me (again, because it had already hit me, but harder, because it wasn’t just me thinking idly about it) that all at once I’m basically a week from the end of my first full season in Actual Ballet Company.

The past year has been one of vast, wild changes.

In a way, it’s been like a graduation.

BW matriculated to Nashville Ballet. BG matriculated to a directorship at a youth ballet. Killer B matriculated back into the folds of Louisville Ballet, where she has, predictably, been killing it. K has jetted off to California. I fumbled my way into an Apprenticeship at Actual Ballet Company, which I still refuse to name in this blog for some reason[1] even though I’m forever posting links to our shows ^-^’

  1. In case you hadn’t noticed: dancers be superstitious, y’all.

My friends from Pilobolus’ intensive, meanwhile, are literally all over the map. Several have toured the globe with Pilobolus. One is out there dancing with Momix. Two created an amazing project of their own that’s taken off and is selling like, well, muffins (that’s kind of an in-joke; I’ll try to post a link at some point). Some have graduated from undergrad dance programs. Others have matriculated into graduate dance programs.

Friends that I’ve worked with locally outside the ballet, too, have begun building bigger, better things: like the show that I attended yesterday, where I ran into Killer B and we agreed about how much we miss everyone and also about how happy we are for everyone. Like the show that I saw on Valentine’s Day, where my friend Dot (a total sister-from-another-mister, if every I met one) and a nascent company in Frankfort knocked my socks off (I auditioned for their summer show on Saturday, and it was both fun and awesome; more on that in a few).

Improbably, perhaps even implausibly, we’re all out here working our booties off (both literally and metaphorically) and actually doing it. Some of us are doing it with greater financial rewards than others, but we’re all out here moving and shaking and making dance happen with a dedication that even the Puritans would’ve had to appreciate.

And it’s so very,  very weird to be part of that: but also so very, very good.

~

For me, also, this season has been all over the map.

There have been some really, really hard things. I struggled socially, which I should’ve expected but didn’t. I also struggled technically, at times, which I kind of expected but not necessarily in the right areas. I managed to stick it out anyway, and because of that I’ve learned an enormous, enormous amount, and not just in terms of technique.

I feel like things are beginning to gel, now. My balances are so much better, most of the time, than they were back in September (they’re not so great when I have a sinus infection that messes with my inner ear, but that’s to be expected). I know how to use my body in ways that I didn’t before. When I drop in on classes at home, I pick up the choreography so much faster than I used to.

Épaulement—never my greatest strength—is becoming more thoroughly integrated into my technique. My arms mostly know what to do with themselves, though not always, in ways they didn’t before. My hands do not constantly insist that the only ballet is Don Quixote.

At Saturday’s audition, I felt comfortable with my strengths and my weaknesses. The company in question is deeply eclectic, which is really cool, so we all tried a bit of everything: jazz, contemporary, ballet, and tap.

I was completely fine with the fact that I have basically no idea what I’m doing where tap is concerned; I muddled through anyway, following as best I could with very little idea as to what I was doing, and enjoyed the heck out of it. As I prepared to run the tap combo, I said to K (the resident tap maven—really, she’s amazing), “I’m just going to desperately follow along and hope everything works out,” and she replied, “That’s fine! I’ll just borrow your extensions for the ballet parts!”

What I enjoyed most, though, where the moments when A, who gave us our barre at the beginning of the audition, would say, “…And let go of the barre,” and I was generally able to just let go of the barre and balance (except for the attitude balance on the right side, when I put my foot into a little warbly spot in the floor and it took me a bit longer to set up as a result).

I enjoyed that, of course, because static balances have long been a white whale for me, and here I was at an audition just, like, balancing.

To make up for it, of course, I blanked on the beginning of the ballet combination when it came time to run it … but so did basically everybody else for some reason. Now that it’s over, I will never, ever forget the beginning of that combination ^-^’

When I drop in on classes at LBS, where I rebooted my ballet life five years ago, I’ve begun to be able to see how far I’ve come (I never, of course, lose sight of how far I have left to go … those goalposts just keep receding).

That’s a good feeling: like, yes, time continues to fly, but in one sense I’m flying with it for once in my life. I’m making progress in something that means a great deal to me.

Five years ago, I don’t think I could have begun to imagine the life I’m living now. It makes me wonder where I’ll be in another five years, and another.

I’m in no hurry, don’t get me wrong: but I think it’ll be something to see.

Summer Is Coming

I am, astoundingly, almost at the end of my first year as a company apprentice.

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OMG HOW IS IT 26 MARCH ALREADY?!!!

OMG, you guys. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN.

Our season officially ends the day after Beatrix Potter closes—which is to say, the 14th of April.

This, of course, means that it’s time to firm up the Summer Plans.

At the moment, two events are on the books: PlayThink on 12-16 June and Burning Man at the end of August.

At PlayThink I’ll be teaching a workshop (same basic format as last year’s) and performing. I plan to rope my poor long-suffering husband into my performance piece, because I’m just thoughtful like that ^-^ (Don’t worry, he’ll will have lots of props to play with, so he’ll be fine.)

PlayThink is in a new location this year, which is cool because we’ll have new playspaces to explore and stuff, though also a little bittersweet, as things are. I have grown to love HomeGrown Hideaways, and especially Nathan and Jessa, who own and run HGH, and it’ll be both exciting and weird to be PlayThinking in a different place.

superman

It wouldn’t be the same without him. I mean, like, literally. Without him, I’d just be lying on the ground.

This Saturday, the 30th, I’m auditioning for a July gig that should be pretty cool if I make the cut.

Beyond that, I need to figure out how to spend my summer making money, so I can cover my expenses for next year.

Ferrying myself back and forth to Lexington has been, shall we say, not inexpensive, so if I’m going to continue next year I need to figure out how to both bank some cash this summer and keep a steady income stream throughout the season to offset the cost of either commuting or renting a room in town.

Most of us have secondary jobs, but my commute has made it difficult to do more than the occasional brief contract gig this year. When I ride-share with D, I lose a whopping 6 hours per day after accounting for warm-up time, 2 hours’ commute each way, and the inevitable 30 – 60 minutes wait time between when I reach Bardstown and when D gets done at work. When I drive by myself, I’m still losing 3ish hours that I could spend making a little cash on the side.

I’m not complaining, of course: the opportunity to dance full-time has been a g-dsend, and I’m immensely grateful. I just could’ve, like, planned a little better. So I’m trying to be more proactive this time and, like, plan. And we all know how good I am at planning -.-‘

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Actual Footage of Me, Planning

Assuming that Circumstances Don’t Intervene, it will probably make more sense for me to rent a room in town and take a secondary job to cover my expenses. I’ve said that before, but haven’t given myself enough time to make it happen (you guys, that’s a lot of squirrels to juggle), so I’m trying to get well ahead of the curve this time.

However, there is at least some chance that Circumstances Will Intervene, in the form of Other Life Events that might throw a spanner in the works.

I’m not quite ready to write about the Other Life Events yet. It’s not that they’re bad (don’t worry, D and I are fine, and nobody’s dying), it’s just that everything in that specific part of the Life Events Department is so vague right now that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Like, in short, it relates to us potentially moving within the next couple of years, and I’m simultaneously excited about that and Very Not Thrilled at the idea of leaving behind the community of dance and circus friends and colleagues who have helped me kind of, like, find my way and finally start trying to grow up and stuff, and it’s a lot to think about and work on and involves Level 80 Adulting things like getting the house in shape and selling it and stuff.

Honestly, though, that’s more like Fall/Winter/Next Couple Of Years Plans, so it also kind of falls beyond the purview of this, my Tentative Summer Plans post.

So, to bring this back around to the point, I’m not currently planning on traveling for summer intensives this year—though, who knows, that could all change depending on how flexible the Making Money bit is and how well it goes. *shrug*

No matter what happens, I will definitely be dancing this summer, and in particular I’ll be focusing on making my turns really hecking solid and reliable, not leaning back all the danged time, and (ideally) improving my ballet partnering skills.

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It’s a Petit right in my Allegro, you guys.

Oh, and Petit Allegro, because everybody knows how much Petit Allegro loves me and how much I love it back >.<

But, like, that’s basically the same thing as just saying, “And I will work on sucking less at ballet,” because I suspect that I will spend the rest of my natural life doing battle with Petit Allegro, and it will probably still win. Petit Allegro is a worthy adversary, and all that. TBH, thus far, it has outlived every dancer who has ever lived, come to think of it, so my chances of defeating it are slim to none, eh?

 

Anyway. In summerary, here’s my plans for this summer thus far:

  1. PlayThink
  2. July Thing Maybe?
  3. Make Dat Money
  4. Burning Man
  5. Suck Less At Ballet

Further details to follow, of course, because besides “Dance Every Day” my other motto is apparently “Too Many Words.”

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