Category Archives: #dancerlife

Lean In. No: More.

I mean, like, literally.

I’m talking about weight-sharing, here.

Kathy (right) and me weighting-in to rise from a deep freaking lunge.

Weigh(t)ing in on the question of relationships?

When you weight-in, you pour your weight into your partner, who pours their weight into you. Ideally, you should find equilibrium: you’re not pushing Terry* over, and Terry’s not pushing you over.

*Our gender-neutral partner du jour

When you weight-out, it works the same way, except instead of pushing, you’re pulling.

 

This is the lovely thing about weight-sharing: it’s a style of partnering that depends on both partners carrying their share of the weight. If you’re distributing the load equally, you can do all kinds of crazy things that way.

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Like this thing, which we’d be doing better if we were weighting-in correctly.

The piece I’m setting to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (I’m kicking around the idea of calling it “Tenebrae”) combines traditional ballet partnering and weight-sharing, which makes for some interesting transitions: early in the piece, we fold from a shared arabesque en fondu through a moment of weight-sharing into a ballet-standard supported arabeqsue.

The challenge for K, as a ballet dancer who hasn’t worked in a weight-sharing modality before, is surrendering her weight into me at moments that it feels really counter-intuitive. She has the hard part of that move: basically, all I have to do is reach back with my free leg, set the foot on the floor, and get my arms to the right place at the right time so she can use them for leverage at one point in her end of things.

She’s tasked with the bizarre challenge of yielding her weight to me as I recover from the arabesque, rolling into my lap without bringing her working leg down, then fouettéing back into an arabesque.

She pretty much got it from the word go, which blows my mind. At first she wasn’t quite getting enough of her her weight down into me in the middle of all this, but it’s getting better and better. The fact that she springs right back into the traditional ballet mode with no difficulty is amazing.

Regardless, the more she pours her weight into me as we sit back together, the easier the transition is for both of us.

Anyway, the piece is going well. We’re well into the third minute of the dance. I’m not sure about the exact time because the last run we were behind the count and I left out a phrase that I’m pretty sure I want to keep. Regardless, given that we’ve put in about 2.5 hours, I’m very happy with how much we’ve built.

There will, of course, be some rebuilding involved once I start setting this with a larger cast—not least because right now we have the entire stage, and we use the heck out of it[1].

  1. Though, in fact, I need to dial back my travel … the space in which we’ll be showing it is smaller than the studio where we’re rehearsing, and there’s one point at which I’m not only off the stage but probably outside the actual building XD

We’ve started taking video of basically everything, because I have this habit of finishing the part we’ve already worked and starting right into the next section, and it can be hard to remember what, exactly, I did sometimes. Most of the piece is pretty clear in my head, but where it’s vague, I tend to just let the music drive and I, like, forget to remember.

Couple more for posterity 😉

This week I have one more rehearsal for this piece, plus one for Thursday’s show (ArtWorks) and about a million for Weeds, in addition to the usual class schedule.

Class, overall, is going well: I’m working on relying more on my inner thighs, working from my back down through the floor, and trusting my balances.

Oh, and also not doing dumb things with my hands or letting my shoulders creep into my ears when things get complicated. That, too.

Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That helps you keep moving forward when things get sticky.

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

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

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

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

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

shows and stuff and things

On Saturday, a bunch of us from only weeds will rise in winter descended upon Churchill Downs’ opening night Fund for the Arts gala to perform excerpts from the show in pop-up form.

It went well (though I was a complete disaster on Sunday because I got dehydrated :P). We were a tad awkward at first, but as the night went on we got things nailed down and started tacking on a long-form improv after the set choreography. That just got better and better: the last round was awesome, even if almost no one was left to see it!

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We also demonstrated that modern dancers don’t have to be so hecking serious allataimz.

Anyway, I’m feeling more and more confident about weeds, even if I was a complete PITA[1] to our choreographer-director on Sunday (sorry, AMS!).

  1. I was having an exceptionally difficult time with receptive language processing, but didn’t realize it ’til after rehearsal was over, so I was constantly screwing things up and being mad at AMS about it. Ugh.

In other news, I’ve started working on choreography for my PlayThink piece, and I think it’s going to be quite cool indeed. A friend of mine might be joining me, which would be even cooler. There are parts of it I can’t do very effectively in my house (too many obstacles!!!), but the performance takes place at an outdoor venue that doesn’t have a fancy floor, so now that it’s warm I can practice it in my back yard.

I’m hoping to have settled a group of dancers for shadowlands or whatever I’m calling it soon, because SUDDENLY IT IS ABOUT TO BE MAY WTF.

I am so not good at recruiting people, and really really not good at recruiting people when I have no idea where I’m going to take them to rehearse. Blargh.

On the other hand, L and I have come up with some really solid choreography for the CL/UofL collabo show, so that’s going quite well.

We also just launched rehearsals for the SPA show, which is going to be amazing.

Obviously, my schedule is completely wack right now, and I’m trying to learn how to eat and sleep in the midst of it. What works best food-wise, of course, is simply to cook a couple of huge batches of whatever when I happen to have time. Sleep-wise, on the other hand … eek, who knows?

So that’s it for the moment. Class notes later probably?

Topless Boys Live: Seven(?) Months Later

So it’s been, heck, like seven months or whatevs, and I haven’t updated the Topless Boys Live series in a bit.

Anyway, here’s where things are, with the new glasses as well (no special reason, just hadn’t put my contacts in yet).

Evidently I was bored with life this afternoon? Also, this angle makes my head look tiny.

These scars act like a warm-up indicator: they show more when I’m cold. They’re fairly faint on this side, now, except that weird little fold under my arm where the drain was.

They don’t show much under direct light, either.

Because dancers gonna dance.

I didn’t mean to include only my right side. I just like how my shoulders look in this one.

There are two little spots on the left side where I got itchy, scratched off the tape early on, and wound up with irritation that led to a slightly different scar type. These are still kinda pink right now, but they’re my usual hypotrophic scars. They’ll eventually turn white. I’m not worried about them.

I am also finally getting some definition back after several months of feeling podgy.

The most interesting thing about these scars is that the scars themselves are now thin, whitish lines–healing of some kind is still going on simultaneously alongside them, so my skin is a little pinkish there, especially when I’m cold.

I’m used to the way my body feels, but maybe not to liking the way I look. It still surprises me how much I do like how I look most of the time.

Long day tomorrow: class, rehearsal, different rehearsal, performance, different performance. Class starts at 9 AM; second performance ends at 11:30 PM.

Tonight, though, I’m going to go review choreo for an hour or so, then come home and crash.

How Much Do You Stretch?

I get this question a lot.

That and, “How long did it take you to get your center split?”

The answers are, in short, “Very little, in any formal sense,” and, “About two seconds.”

There’s an assumption among dance students that work is the great equalizer.

That assumption is largely correct—and yet it doesn’t mean that individual variations in innate ability do not occur, or that enough work will overcome all of them.

Most human beings will never achieve a center oversplit. This isn’t because they won’t work hard enough, but because they have normal human pelvises that don’t allow it.

Many human beings will never achieve a even a full center split, in fact.

The center split may be the least malleable feat of flexibility. Unlike the front splits, which simply extend the natural range of motion of the average human hip joint complex, it is enormously dependent on genetics. Even early training exerts only a small degree of influence, as far as I can tell. A full center split requires both soft-tissue flexibility and unusual hip sockets. One is amenable to training; the other might possibly be very slightly amenable to rigorous training at an age at which most children’s parents are much more concerned with basic skills than with the potential eventuality of flat center splits.

I don’t think the group of human beings who have center oversplits is very large. Even though I move in ballet and cirque circles, I can count the examples I know personally on one hand with fingers to spare. And that’s counting myself.

In short, the same characteristics of the hip socket that give us the required range of motion also make us unusually prone to hip dislocations (upright bipedalism a harsh mistress).

Back in the day, a dislocated hip was almost certainly a good way to get eaten by the nearest predator (or otherwise eliminate yourself from the gene pool), thus greatly reducing the likelihood of passing on the genes that allow for extreme hip flexibility. In short, center oversplits are maladaptive in an evolutionary context, and thus exceedingly rare even though we’ve largely decoupled ourselves from natural selection pressures (though it would be interesting to see where we stand in another hundred thousand years or so).

~

So often in Western culture, we equate talent—that is, raw, innate ability —with virtue.

This tendency may be at its most visible in the movement arts: professional training selects for people who both possess innate ability and who work hard, but it’s the innate ability that the average person-on-the-street cites: “Wow, she’s so talented!”

The phenomenon of TV talent shows hasn’t helped. So often, the word talent is right there in the title: America’s Got Talent. It’s too easy to conflate the rocket-to-stardom modality with the myth of talent.

From Algeria to Zimbabwe, successful …Got Talent competitors work their butts off (or, in the case of dancers, on) to make the most of whatever measure of innate ability they have—but we see only the five minutes or so that they command the stage in each episode, unknowns to the public at large. They appear to emerge fully-formed, replete with the armor of their art, from the foreheads of the judges.

It’s too easy to ignore the work and sigh, “If only I was that talented!”

But it’s also too easy to fall into the opposite camp, which discounts innate ability entirely.

~

There’s a familiar impasse that one encounters if one sticks around long enough as an adult ballet student to reach a fairly advanced standard of training.

Newer students admire your talent and/or your work ethic—and then they ask you how they can learn to do the thing you’re doing with such ease (or, at any rate, apparent ease).

Most often, you can truthfully answer, “Work your tuchas off, take class with these three instructors, make three classes per week your bare minimum, and you’ll get there sooner than you think[1].” You can even gently guide the ones who want the results associated with setting ballet on the front burner without having actually done so. Sometimes this means helping them discover for themselves that they love dancing, but are really just there to have fun, and aren’t actually going to prioritize it enough to make the kind of progress they want (at least, not in the timeframe they’re imagining). Sometimes it means helping them give themselves permission to front-burner ballet.

  1. This last bit is pretty specific to adult students, who mostly seem to expect everything to take longer than it actually will. Kids can be very much the opposite.

Yet, sometimes, you’re forced to formulate on the fly an answer that gently conveys the idea that no matter how hard they work, their feet aren’t going to look like yours, because your feet are the result of a serendipitous confluence of genetic traits polished by work, or that they’re probably never going to nail a flat center split because their hips aren’t arranged in a way that allows for it. To say, in short: “I don’t have these feet because I’m a professional dancer. I’m a professional dancer because I have these feet … or, well, partly, anyway.”

The challenge, then, is figuring out how to explain the complicated ratio of talent to hard work—that, for the most part, hard work matters much more. It’s mostly at the highest levels (particularly in companies with very specific ideas about how dancers’ bodies look) that both hard work and talent matter almost equally: to dance for ABT or the Royal Ballet or the Kirov, one needs both in almost superhuman doses. Talent alone is certainly not enough, but hard work alone won’t do it, either.

And, then, even at the highest levels, dancers acknowledge that talent is distributed capriciously. Nobody gets it all, in part because some of the genetic gifts associated with success as a dancer (qv, those incredibly mobile feet and ankles everyone wants) actually make technique harder. Every dancer with beautiful feet can point to some other part of her body and say, “Yeah, but…”

~

As kids, we’re often given the impression that talent is everything. American culture is flush with fictional stories of raw, undeveloped talent that is miraculously discovered and immediately transported to the upper echelons of artistic success. That model sells, and fits in the with fairytale mode of instant transformation that colors so much of the media we market to children.

The downside is that, too often, this means talented people feel like they don’t have to work that hard. Vexingly, there are even some points at which this is true: I don’t really work on flexibility, for example[2].

  1. I work on its opposite: strength. A couple weeks without calf raises, and the mobility of my ankles makes one-foot relevé balances beastly hard.

Worse, it can create the impression that a lack of exceptional talent means one shouldn’t bother. This is also fundamentally untrue. The world is full of professional dancers who began with average measures of everything but the motivation to work (not to mention their sublimely-talented peers whose motivation led them to leave ballet). They may not be dancing at the Kirov, but they’re certainly dancing in your local company.

Although the ballet world is full of talented late-starters like Copeland and Hallberg, none of them owe their success to talent alone or even primarily. They are, to a person, incredible workers first and foremost. BW came to ballet very late—but his success owes in no small part to the fact that he does sixteen turns after every class, trains in ankle weights, attends to every detail fastidiously, and simply works like the world depends on it.

And yet: he’s tall-but-not-too-tall, physically beautiful, and gifted with hip mobility equal to mine.

His work is devoted to improving what is already a very fine instrument. His work will probably take him farther than mine does—in part because he actually does work harder than I do, but also because he’s taller than I am (but not too tall). Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, and perhaps at some future time it won’t—but right now it’s a matter of course that ultimately a principal dancer is by default a prince, and we imagine that the prince should be tall and regal. Someone of my middling height and middling talent (as compared to the range of professional dancers, rather than to the population at large) might be Seigfried at Backyard Ballet Theater, but never at PNB or ABT, even if I hadn’t taken a long break from dancing.

~

I should say that I’m not bitter at all about this. I would never in a million years complain about being asked to dance Seigfried or Albrecht or Cavalier (though, like, couldn’t he have a name, y’all?), not least because I love partnering and the princes get almost all the most tender, most beautiful pas de deux.

But give me, any day, the fireworks of the Russian dance, the simmering sensuality of Arabian, the aerial grace of Bluebird, or the wild abandon of Le Corsaire’s famous slave. Give me the corps part I danced last year in Orpheus: a mad, sensuous, pyrotechnic demon of the shadowy depths. Give me the ridiculous athleticism of the peasant pas in Giselle (two very, very long passages of balls-to-the-wall balletic redlining jammed into a lively pas de deux).

It is to these peripheral roles that I’m best suited both by temperament and by physical aptitude. I don’t begrudge the lack of lofty height that will mean I only ever dance Prince What’s-His-Name at summer programs and if all of the taller guys at Podunk Ballet simultaneously come down with flu.

Ultimately, part of becoming a dancer is accepting your limitations.

BG will be the first to tell you he has biscuits of the highest order: but then he’ll show you his carriage, his élan, and his ballon.

BW explained to me the downside of our shared extreme hip mobility: we work twice as hard doing turns in second, for example, because we have to use our muscles to hold ourselves together where other dancers can rely on their bones to do much of the the work. My flexibility, in fact, means I’m prone to dancing like a slinky.

In the grand scheme of things, whether or not you have a center split means less than whether or not you know how to work with what you’ve got.

I don’t stretch very much because the last thing I need, as a dancer, is looser joints. I have a center oversplit because I’m a mutant with an unstable pelvis.

I’m not a dancer because of either of those things. I’m a dancer because the only thing I really want to do is dance, and because I’m lucky enough to be in a position that allows me to apprentice myself as I’m doing now in professional jobs that pay only intermittently. I’m a dancer, in short, because I dance.

This isn’t to say that I my body is not an advantage. It is. I do no one any service by saying otherwise.

But in the end, it’s top-dressing.

If I’m auditioning and my only competition is a physically-similar dancer with the same degree of training and the same work ethic but a body that’s not quite as purpose-built for ballet, there’s a fair chance I’ll come out on top. Give that other dancer a year or two more training or a work ethic comparable to BW’s, though, and my edge vanishes.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying this:

Don’t worry too much about your center split. You might never have one.

If you want to dance, that’s almost never the deciding factor.

Worry instead about your training and your work ethic. If you’re feeling unmotivated, figure out why and how you can hack your motivational system to work around it (concrete goals work for me; an upcoming show works better than anything).

Ask yourself, in the words of the British rowing team, “Does it make the boat go faster?” If it doesn’t, find a way to put it aside. Come back to it later, maybe: but know that later on it might not seem so important.

Know your weaknesses, and work on them within reason: but not at the expense of knowing and honing your strengths.

Ballet is too hard to spend time and energy making it harder.

things you realize

…when you poke through your kindle library at 3 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little by little I’m finding my way.

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

I think about that often.

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

halp

Saw Giselle last night.

Pros: really good performance, and the hops-en-pointe section didn’t seem random and wtf-y. Which, tbh, sometimes it does.

And as silly as ballet mime feels sometimes (I may have leaned over to my friend L during the second act as Mirtha mimed at Albrecht and whispered, “Make me an omelet, mortal!”), Giselle’s mom in Act 1 flat-out ripped everyone’s heart out with it during the death scene.

Cons: one of my favorite people was the guy in the peasant pas (he was lovely), and between that and the fact that I learned the male variation a couple years back, I was all kinds of paying attention, and now the music is STUCK IN MY HEAD FOREVER.

You guys, I would much rather have Tchaikovsky stuck in my head, for reals. Adam is so … errrrrgghhhh.

It’s that class of ballet music that’s fine as long as there’s a ballet to go with it, but nigh unlistenable on its own. (I should note that the male peasant pas is fairly inoffensive … the first two or three times.)

Also, to be honest, I don’t feel like Adam quite understood the story. Like, seriously, listen to Albrecht’s variation. Then ask yourself whether it sounds like the kind of music that goes with the concept these angry dead ladies are trying to dance this guy to death.

To be honest, it sounds more like, “Jovial wine merchant announces his engagement,” or something.

But we accept it, partly because the choreography is awesome and possibly also because by the time the second act begins many of us have had a drink or two.

Maybe it works better when they play Albrecht as a philandering jerk who just kinda vaguely feels bad about stuff (now that it’s Much Too Late)? Then we’re all on the side of the Wilis, and maybe they think it’s funny.

Though, to be entirely honest, I suspect that Giselle’s BFLF[1], Mirtha, didn’t even think anything was funny even before she became a Wili. Definitely not as she was played last night. There were some seriously fearsome vibes rolling up off the stage.

  1. Best Frenemy Literally Forever

~

In other news, I’m horribly swamped with dancing stuff right now, which I suppose is a good problem to have.

But alas, BW is leaving us for bigger things, so I’m also all kinds of moping about that. I’ll miss him as a ballet mentor, but also as a friend. That said, he won’t be so far away that I can’t go watch him dance once in a while.

I’m glad we have L’Ancien teaching advanced class, but my relationship with him is very different. I had BW entirely to myself for months, and he understands my body better than anyone (better, in fact, than I do) where ballet is concerned.

So until he departs, I plan to make the most of every class with him. I mean, not that I didn’t plan to in the first place. But you know what I mean.

Anyway, it’s late and I’m exhausted, so off to bed with me.

Mr. Merkah demonstrates how I feel right now

Well

After a week of Levofloxacin, which I finished on Thursday, I’m basically back to normal … which is all for the best, since my schedule is about to get complicated.

I took two classes today. BG’s advice: when taking two classes in one day, approach each with a different goal.

My original goal was to focus on technique in the morning and artistry in the evening, but JMH gave us a rather athletic class, so I wind up ultimately just focusing on endurance this evening 😛

On the other hand, I did a billion royales and entrechats, so I’ll be ready for BW’s class on Thursday, though he’ll probably be in rehearsal, so I’m not sure whether we’ll have a substitute or what.

Other things are also looking up. K is trying to organize a partnering class (yaassssssss!), I seem to have a contemporary ballet gig incoming, and the first piece for Culture of Poverty is more or less done. Oh, and I have two named roles in upcoming shows, which is awesome.

Also, my extensions were crazy high today, probably because we had a (visiting? new?) boy in class who was quite good and something in my psyche decided it was important to impress him? But my petit allegro was mediocre. And my adagio was … mixed. And my centre tendu was bleeding awful.

So there you have it. I’m not dead yet.

I’m feeling much better!

Reveille*

(n) An advanced step in which—after falling catastrophically out of a turn, jump, or lift—one rises from the ground with such an air of grace and mastery that the audience (ideally, even the choreographer) believes the whole disaster was part of the original choreography. Example: “Mistaknov’s glorious reveille left us questioning whether Seigfried’s variation was not, in fact, actually supposed to open with a glorious saut de chat followed by a fluid, cat-like tuck-and-roll to the knee. Indeed, we wondered if we’d ever seen it done right before.”

I am definitely recovering. Yesterday, I still woke up feeling fairly exhausted, but by late afternoon some of the fog and fatigue had begun to lift.

Every time I do this to myself, I’m stunned by how thoroughly a fairly minor illness can sap one’s energy (or, at any rate, mine). When you know you’ve got a sinus infection but you let it go for several weeks because you know the antibiotics you’ll take to get rid of it don’t play nicely with ballet and you’ve got a show coming up, you lose track of what “normal” feels like.

Anyway, today I feel almost like a human being, which means that by the end of the week I’ll probably be my usual hyperactive self.

Tonight, I’ll be back in class—I’ll do barre and see how things sit.

There was a brief period in this whole process in which I thought, “I wonder if this is what ‘normal’ feels like.” I wasn’t yet overwhelmingly exhausted, but I could sit down for more than five minutes at a time and could also fall asleep easily without having to spend eight hours furiously dancing first.

It lasted maybe a week. It was nice, in a way, but it wasn’t quite like being myself.

Maybe someday when I’m older I’ll find my way back to that place and it’ll feel like home.

Maybe I won’t: we tend to measure ourselves by our peers, and I’ll probably always be a bit of a live wire by that yardstick.

*not an actual ballet term … BUT IT SHOULD BE

A Little Notation

But, first: Good Pesach, y’all!

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

And, second!

Dear Northern Hemisphere,

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

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

Ignobly,

Your Humble Danseur

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

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

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

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

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

At the same time, even.

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

So, there you have it.

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

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

= high AF

>_____>     o_____O’     <_____<

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Et cetera.

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

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

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

WEIRD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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