Category Archives: auditions
The weirdest feeling in the world might be the specific limbo between the time when the AD calls to offer you the contract—a really good one—and the moment when you actually sign it, when some part of you keeps feeling like, But what if it’s all a dream, or a mistake, or, or, or—
I’m still wading carefully into these waters; still got one foot in the land of “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent.” But it’s very hard to keep the lid on—even partway on—when you just want to jump up and down and sing.
First, in October, I’ll be trekking out to California to perform the role of Romeo in Leigh Putting Ballet Company’s signature production, Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet
When Leigh first asked if I’d be willing to come out for this role, I was ecstatic, obviously. I mean, it’s not every day one gets offered a leading role, and I’ll finally get to meet a lot of the dancers I’ve worked with remotely.
It’s a particular honor because this is the 5th anniversary production of this show, after which it’ll be taking a hiatus for a couple of years. No pressure, right? ^-^’
Next, I’m starting a new teaching job soon, just started training at a new cirque studio, and I’ve got an audition next Wednesday for a company that I’m excited about potentially joining. I dropped in on their open company class this week, and the company dancers asked if I was planning on auditioning and told me I should definitely audition, which was awesome.
That’s kind of a huge step from my early days in the company at LexBallet, when I felt like nobody, including me, was sure I should really be there.
(I actually had no idea there were auditions coming up, so I’m doubly glad they mentioned it! Part of my brain is still stuck in the pre-pandemic ballet world norm of auditions taking place in late winter/early spring.)
If you ever have the chance to visit a company and take company class before you decide whether or not to audition, I highly recommend it.
One of the reasons I didn’t audition before relocating was simply that I wanted to get a feel for different companies first. That isn’t always possible—a lot of companies don’t do the “open company class” thing, though some will invite you to take company class if you’re a member of another company and you message ahead about classes in their school—but it seems like the ideal approach whenever possible.
As an autistic dancer, it’s probably even more important. It really helps to know in advance if the vibe is going to work and whether the artistic staff communicate in ways that work for your brain.
I was extra lucky in this case, because I got to take class two days in a row with the founder and AD of the company. It was definitely a little intimidating, because this is a well-reputed company I knew of when I was growing up (I mean, not one that’s a household name like ABT or anything—that’s never been a goal for me). It turns out, though, that the founder of the company seems like a lovely person; very grounded, down-to-earth, and firm-but-kind in a way that works really well when wrangling dancers.
I’m very much looking forward to the audition, which seems like a bit of a bizarre thing to say, but here we are.
It helps that it’s in the same time slot as a class I was planning to take anyway—my brain is just looking at it as a class or a workshop, which is exactly how everyone advises dancers to see auditions in the first place.
It’s impossible, of course, to know if I’ll make the cut—but it’s worth going regardless.
I’m reminded once again of the experience of learning how to track-stand on a geared bike: you begin knowing you don’t know how and failing often, then somewhere along the way you begin to figure it out. Later, at some point you sort of “come to” mid-trackstand and go, “I’m doing it!” (and immediately startle yourself into having to put a foot down).
Later still, you look back and realize it’s been a while since you really thought about it consciously. You might not be a past master at the track-stand, and you might not be breaking any records, but it’s a thing that’s there in your physical repertoire of cycling skills.
More and more often, this is how I feel about my career in dance. I’m still immensely grateful for the circumstances that brought me here, but I feel less and less often like I don’t really belong and like I hope nobody will notice that I’m desperately faking my way through absolutely everything.
I suppose that, like most things, if you fake it long enough while making an effort to actually learn, sooner or later you’re no longer faking it at all.
Anyway, that’s it for now, more or less. In the interest of my general policy of not jinxing things by saying too much, I’m keeping further audition details under wraps for now (probably until I know how the audition turns out).
I keep saying I’ll try to post more often and then being discombobulated by life, but I’ll say it again anyway, now that the relocation process is largely behind us.
Either way, until then, tuck and roll, my friends!
I know I’ve written about this before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again, but because for some unfathomable reason I’ve spent basically my entire day on Twitter grooving on threads from the neurodivergent, EDS, and disability communities, it occurs to me to write about why the ballet is a good fit for me, specifically as it interfaces with autism.
Everyone on earth has now written a summary of the basic diagnostic criteria for autism, so I’m not going to do that, here. Y’all know how to Google if you need more info -.^
Instead, I’m going to touch on how working as a dancer in a ballet company is a good fit for me as an autistic person, breaking things down as I go by the specific traits in question.
So, here we go.
Narrow Range Of Specialized Interests
Hooooo, boy. With the exception of the equestrian world and certain subsets of academia (I see you, paleobiologists!), I’m not sure there are too many actual career paths that dovetail as neatly here.
Ballet is an all-encompassing special interest. It requires your body, your mind, and basically all of your time. It’s one of the very few career paths in which obsessive focus on the subject is essentially an entry-level requirement—like, the only way to make it through the training is to be motivated enough by ballet itself, which is why dancers everywhere giggle at t-shirts that read, “I CAN’T. I HAVE CLASS.”
Like, we’ve all been there, and (excepting the few who get shoved into it by overbearing parents), we all chose that life.
As autistics, we experience this thing where people get really sick of our special interests. I honestly have only met one person in the ballet world who occasionally gets tired of talking about ballet, and even he doesn’t get tried enough of it to resent it—he’s just delighted when people bring their non-dancing partners to dancer shindigs so he can talk to them about, like, politics or futböl ^-^
It’s not that we dancers never talk about anything else—but in the studio after rehearsal, or at gatherings of dancers, nobody gets mad if you talk about ballet, or if all your jokes are specific to dance.
I suppose part of this is that ballet leaves precious little time for other pursuits—but, also, you only get that far if it basically consumes your whole being.
Rigid Adherence To Routine
I go to class even when I’m on holiday.
This is, of course, partly because I like going to class, and partly because the only way to stay in shape for ballet is, well, ballet.
But I’ve realized it’s also, to a significant extent, because no matter where I go, class is class. Barre is barre. Centre is centre. Allegro is the best thing that ever—erm, sorry, allegro is allegro.
There may be minor variations (Ha! Ballet puns!) in the routine, but overall, when I step into the studio, I can relax a bit more than I normally do, because I understand the process, and I know what will happen.
That Whole “Systematizing” Thing
NGL, I love a good system—and ballet is a system.
It comes with its own entire language and four hundred years of etiquette, which (bonus!) is largely explicit.
Better still, it combines beautifully with a systematic understanding of anatomy and physiology.
Yes, parts of the system are problematic and due for overhaul—but that can happen in any system. A strong system will weather those changes and come out the other side better than it was.
Ballet has been doing that for four hundred years. As long as we allow it to, it will continue.
Being a member of a company also provides a systematic framework for managing time. Class begins at the same time six days a week; rehearsal and performance schedules are posted where you can see them enter day, but you’ve also got your fellow dancers to remind you that, oh yeah, this Friday we have an outreach gig after lunch.
In a well-organized company, you know the temporal framework for the entire season when you arrive on Day One. Specific parts of it may change due to casting or whatever (for example, global pandemics o.O), but the broad strokes are there.
The Social Aspect
My particular autism is probably most observable in the casual social contexts most NT folks seem to really enjoy—the ones where there’s no specific topic or activity, just general chumming around with a bunch of people. I have literally no idea what to do in those circumstances unless someone fires up a conversation that falls in my range of Known Topics ^.^’
And G-d help me if it’s the kind of party where there’s music and lots of different, overlapping conversations but no room to just dance . I can’t with parties like that—my spoken language processing is too limited, and my brain stops bothering, so I typically find the quietest possible place to hole up with a match-3 game on my phone.
- If there’s room to dance, on the other hand, I’m in my element. It didn’t even really matter what kind of music is playing.
There’s some very interesting research happening about much of autistic social difficulty results directly to autistic neurodivergce itself and how much results from the social opportunity costs of being different, particularly during childhood, bu it’s generally agreed that autistics on the whole typically struggle with social stuff.
Ballet might seem like a weird way to address that, since the typical class offers little or no time for what we think of as socializing. But what it lacks in time to chat, it makes up for in spades under the heading of “shared/corporate/communal experience”—which works well for me as someone who grooves on the whole “parallel play” modality, and which in itself provides fodder for chats outside of class and rehearsal (or during breaks).
- In the sense of “people doing things together as a single entity”—ie, a body, or corpus
You don’t have to know how to have a casual conversation to be part of a group of dancers—but being part of a group of dancers can help you get better at having a casual conversation. At least, it did that for me. I’m not going to say I ever totally stopped being The Weird Kid at LexBallet, but people got to know and like me well enough to see past the discomfort that causes.
Addendum: Oh, and because I totally failed to mention it: there’s nothing as social as partnering. (Well, maybe one other thing ^-^’)
You Never Have To Sit Still
Okay, except sometimes, like if you’re a corps girl in parts of Swan Lake or the Master of Ceremonies during certain parts of The Sleeping Beauty. But, even then, it’s a very active way of being still, and will inevitably be relieved by movement.
I often tell people the story of sitting (“sitting,” lol) in a meeting at the last non-ballet job I had and experiencing this intense revelation: like, literally everyone else in the room was physically able to sit still.
I was the only one doing a jig under the table, furiously taking notes to stay engaged, drawing when there was a lull, and constantly shifting in my chair.
That was the moment when I realized with absolute clarity that I did not belong there. Not in a value-judging way—just in a, “Wow, this is not my environment” way. I realized I wasn’t about to “grow into” sitting down at a desk—not then, and probably not ever.
I need to move in order to function. I mean, yes, that’s true for everyone, don’t get me wrong—basically it’s what makes us not plants. Even sessile species like sea anemones go through phases where the they float around irresponsibly before finding grown-up jobs and settling down.
What I mean is that, for whatever reason, my brain/body compels me to move more than most people are compelled to move.
I think better when I’m moving. I feel better when I’m moving. Moving helps me organize my senses and my thoughts.
Honestly, my brain is kind of like one of those sharks that starts to die if it stops swimming, only replace “die” with “dance a stationary jig while quietly losing the plot, but not actually processing information in any meaningful way.”
I don’t necessarily panic—I just get more and more restless, and the excess spills over in the form of more meltdowns and less sleep. Well, and also just having to get up and take a walk, to anywhere, even if it’s just the despised printer, enemy of humankind, or the file cabinet or whatevs.
Also, I just have a metric shedload of extra energy to burn off, and nothing does that like ballet-company life . Teaching gets partway there, but drains my social meter harder than it does my hyperactivity, so it doesn’t lead to the kind of productive exhaustion that makes me actually feel my best and reliably sleep well.
- working with horses also comes very close, but it’s hard to work at a barn and in a ballet company at the same time; being a picker in a gigantic warehouse also burns off tons of energy, but isn’t as helpful in other ways
This is never a problem in ballet, because in ballet, moving is literally your job.
So, Like, In Summary
Anyway, this is long enough.
I’ve written it in part because I’m sure there are people out there who are like, “Wait, I thought all autistics did computers or trains or math,” or even, “How can an autistic person possibly work in ballet?”
I hope this goes a little way towards helping things make sense for people in those camps, but it also helps me understand better what I need from my work environment and why company life, even during my “unpaid trainee/bottom of the pile” days, meant so much to me and worked so well for me.
I’ve been thinking hard about how to make things work going forward, because normally, in dance, you kind of audition everywhere and you go where the job is, but things are happening in my life (nothing ominous, just … responsibilities and stuff) that mean I’ll be moving to a specific place whether or not I get a company spot there.
That has been pretty scary, because I haven’t been sure how to continue building my life as a dancer if that happens. Like, literally, as a not-tall guy who still has some rough spots in his training, that’s a very real possibility. There might not be a company that has a spot for me right now.
But knowing why company life works for me will help me begin to see my way to building a working life that does work, even if that happens.
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 even though I’m forever posting links to our shows ^-^’
- 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.
L’Ancien continues to rebuild us.
Today was not my best dancing day, but it was acceptable at times. Weather fluctuations are leading to mold blooms and so forth that make my allergies crazy. Ears are connected to noses and throats; all three of mine develop problems.
My hearing gets iffy. I miss bits of combinations (L’Ancien delivers his combinations very quietly, which makes us all listen as ahard as we can) and I start to get stressed out and tense, even though L’Ancien tells us over and over again, “Don’t worry if you do the wrong step. This is class. This is an exercise. That’s not what I’m looking for.”
He’s really not. He cares less what you do; more how you do it. An approximation of the exercise done beautifully will make him happier than a perfect log of the steps done without feeling.
But still, sometimes I get nervous when I feel like I can’t hear.
Still, there were good things: the petit allegro combination in which we did fancy pas de bourrees of a kind that none of us (not even Killer B) had learned because evidently almost nobody teaches them(1)—that is, pas de bourrée a quatre pas and –a cinq pas—coupled to entrechats quatres. My entrechats are a thousand times better for L’Ancien’s insistence that we JUMP! and show essentially a second position in the air around the beats.
- They’re taught in RAD Advanced 1, apparently, but RAD syllabus programs aren’t exactly a dime a dozen around here.
It’s not just switching the feet: I can do that all day. It’s launch STRIKE! beat STRIKE! land fifth.
Last year, I learned to prevent “flappy feet” by thinking about my beats happening higher up in my legs. L’Ancien is transforming them into something worth looking at.
…Which is good, because apparently my assumption that I’m not built for petit allegro is incorrect.
After class I thanked L’Ancien for reviewing and clearly explaining petit battement. He pointed out that the configuration of my pelvis, which is rather shallow, is good for quick batterie.
I suppose I should’ve figured this out earlier, as I was the first member of my first childhood ballet class to nail down entrechats and so forth.
A few weeks ago L’Ancien mentioned our dancer RS, who does a stellar Bluebird (so much so that when my brain chooses to reboot and I can’t get his name to come to mind, I refer to him as “our Bluebird”), and how his shallow hips and relatively short torso make him well-suited for petit allegro. He said the same thing to me today, about my own body.
This is one thing I really appreciate about his teaching style: he teaches to his individual dancers, and not to some nonspecific imaginary dancer, as much as he can.
It’s worth noting that he does this not only by pointing out our weaknesses, but also by pointing out our strengths. By ballet standards, I’m a muscly kind of boy (which always results in a frisson of cognitive dissonance when I’m moving in cirque or modern dance circles, where I’m borderline dainty).
Too often, as dancers, we find ourselves lamenting what we don’t have (in my case, David Hallberg’s “imperially slim” build, with its endless, beautiful lines) instead of celebrating what we do have (…what K calls “that Bolshoi body,” with the enormous, ridiculous Legs of Power and square shoulders that let you do Bluebird left like it’s NBD).
- If you know this poem, you know that it’s beautiful and also a tragedy. I’m not calling Hallberg a tragedy; I just like that phrase. It sounds like him.
In the end, we have to learn to work with the bodies we have: to make the most of them. I think I’ve touched on this before.
Up until now, I have been learning technique—building the elements of movement—but perhaps haven’t learned my body as well as I could have.
By way of analogy, this is like painting in watercolors and being frustrated that they don’t behave like oils. I’m rather a good watercolorist, and that’s partly because I understand how watercolors are and I work with them accordingly.
As a dancer, then, I need to begin to understand how my body is and to work with it accordingly.
I suppose that, once again, it comes down to this basic principle: start where you are.
That means don’t force your turnout, but it also means, discover your gifts.
If you only ever know what’s not great about your body, you’ll never optimize your training as a dancer. Quietly, gently, firmly, L’Ancien says to us, Learn what is great about your body. Every body is different. Every body has gifts.
But also start where you are. Know your strengths; know your weaknesses; train accordingly.
I’ll try to remember all this tomorrow at the BDSI audition, though I’ll also try to just have a good class and enjoy the singular pleasure and specific torture of Vaganova technique.
I hope that I’ll make the cut—not so much because it would make me feel good about myself as a dancer (though I’m sure it would), but because I think two weeks of Nothing But The Vaganova, imparted by a roster of master instructors, is enough to make anyone a stronger, better dancer.
And, possibly, a good way to learn to optimize on one’s strengths.
So here’s how we’re doing on the work front so far this year:
- Culture of Poverty: I got B Cast, which is great. Last year, I don’t think I would’ve made the cut. I think I might’ve mentioned this already. We start rehearsals Sunday, basically as soon as I get back from BDSI’s SI audition.
- Collabo show: my piece got a green light, and I’ve got a partner to work with, so that’s rolling forward. We start reheasals on Thursday.
- Suspend company: I’ve got a company spot, and we’re on to callbacks for specific casting next.
- PlayThink: this year, I’m both performing and teaching. I’m pretty excited about that, y’all! …Speaking of which:
- And, of course, I’ll continue with CirqueLouis.
It’ll be interesting to see how rehearsal schedules shake out for all of this stuff.
This weekend, I’ll be jetting over to Lexington for the Ballet Detroit Summer Intensive audition. I have no idea, honestly, if I’ll make the cut, but I can say that last year I wouldn’t have been brave enough to go. A friend of mine from LexBallet SI is also going, so that’s pretty exciting!
I’m trying to go into it with the mindset that, regardless of the outcome, I can learn a lot from the audition process, and in many ways it’ll be a lot like taking a masterclass (only presumably with a number pinned to your shirt :P).
The weird part is that it’s hard to imagine that my first successful audition was last year, and that before then I felt pretty unsure about auditioning for things in general.
One of the general goals I set down for this year was to reduce my impostor syndrome about working in dance. I think that part of that is going out and auditioning for things—taking risks; seeing how things work out—and another part is choosing atleast some of my auditions strategically, based on my own strengths as a dancer and what kinds of dancers are needed in different markets.
Though I am making money as a dancer now, I’ve come to regard what I’m doing this year as a kind of apprenticeship. Not to say that my command of technique is finished—nobody’s ever done learning technique—but I’m learning the elements of artistry; how to approach roles; how to take direction and use it effectively (I try to be biddable, so to speak, but I don’t know if I always apply direction as well as I could).
I’m lucky to have good mentors in the midst of all this stuff. Señor BeastMode, in particular, has given me a lot to think about for our Showcase piece this year. I think last year he was kind of feeling us out; figuring out how much technique he could throw at us, given the compressed rehearsal schedule.
This year, he’s giving me very specific directions about approaching the role I’m playing in this piece—what kind of movement quality he’s looking for, how to use my eyes, etc. I’m learning how to ask questions to clarify points I don’t quite get in ways that get the answer I’m actually looking for (all too often, I’ll ask, “What was the thing at the end of that phrase?” in a way that sounds like, “What was the beginning of that phrase?”).
This is all stuff I can carry into the other jobs I’ll be doing this year—and into every job I land going forward. To some extent, these are also the points that determine what kinds of jobs you land as a dancer. Being able to ask a clarifying question intelligently at an audition isn’t a bad thing and, of course, reputation matters in a community as small as the dance community.
I’ll also, obviously, be spending this year learning to juggle the insane schedule that seems to be pretty much the hallmark of #dancerlife always and everywhere 😛 It may sound trivial (it may not: you guys know me pretty well by now :D), but part of me is like, “Holy crap, I’m going to have to figure out how to cook and eat food in here somewhere.”
So, basically, I’m doing the stuff you do as a company trainee, only I’m working for 2 different companies as a non-trainee ^-^
Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the coming year, busy though it’s likely to be.
L’Ancien is away this week, so HD made a guest appearance in Advanced Class.
I let her know early on that I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it through class, but I would probably at least get through barre.
In fact, I hung in there until it was time for jumps, when I chose to call it a day. I’m much, much better, but I’d say that I’m really at about 60% of my typical capacity, and with the BDSI audition and the start of rehearsals for the Culture of Poverty piece looming next weekend, it made sense to start getting tuned in again but also not to risk injury.
Speaking of the Culture of Poverty, I made B cast, which is great. I don’t think I would’ve made the cut for this piece last year: stylistically, AS is a very different kind of dancer than I am, and while I’m confident that I’ll absorb the movement style and vocabulary over the course of the rehearsal process, I know that in auditions I still have a tough time setting aside the mantle of ballet.
Anyway, back to class notes. At barre I found myself reflecting on a thing.
Background info: I’m a little taller than Killer B (when I stand up straight 🤔) and a few inches shorter than TM, who stands behind (and then in front of, and then behind…) me at barre.
My legs, meanwhile, are about as long as TM’s, so he’s quite a bit longer in the torso than I am. Killer B’s proportions are much like mine. Both that said, both Killer B and I have higher extensions than TM (who is quite a beautiful dancer and doesn’t actually need to be able to scratch his ear with his toes; he’s naturally princely and looks a lot like Steven MacRae).
I think it harkens back to something L’Ancien said a few weeks ago: you work with the body you have, and every body has different strengths. Like L’Ancien, TM has deep hip sockets, which means that high extensions and the quick, fluttering beats that make petit allegro sparkle don’t come as readily to him.
- In fact, they have almost exactly the same build.
Meanwhile, I—with my irrefutably square shoulders and profoundly elastic back—will have to think harder about how to create a lovely, unbroken line through my upper body and arms. Oh, and will spend the rest of my natural life quietly muttering, “Pull up your suspenders,” since that analogy makes me stop swaybacking like a retired dairy cow.
Which is a round-about way of saying this: in ballet, almost everything can be a blessing or a curse.
My feet are what EMM (who has finally joined advanced class!) calls “roundy feet,” which means that both my feet and my ankles are extremely mobile. They can do profoundly beautiful things to the lines of my legs, and ultimately they’re really good for banging out solid balances … once I’ve managed to stack all those piddly little bones correctly, and if the muscles agree to do their job.
But I will be challenged for my entire life to keep them strong enough to counter their natural elasticity, and the beauty of my arches is a completely moot point if I’m not quicker in petit allegro than my friends with less “roundy” feet.
A half-baked point is a half-baked point, and getting feet and legs like mine fully straight and pointed is actually rather a lot of work.
TM’s feet are nice, if not quite as fancy as mine, and he consistently makes them look good. At the end of the day, that’s really what matters.
It’s not about having the perfect body for ballet: there’s probably not a single asset that comes without a price (my thighs, y’all—they might make my grand allegro pop, but they also make my 5th position suck sometimes).
It’s about making the most of what you have.
True, there are some traits that seem to be perpetual winners in the ballet world (TM’s incredibly graceful shoulders; my “roundy feet”). But for every working dancer with an aristocratic neck and feet like bananas, there’s a stocky little dude with biscuits who has learned to make the most of what he’s got.
In fact, probably ten, because ballet ultimately belongs to those who work the hardest, and often those who work the hardest are the ones who feel that they have something to overcome.
One last thing. Today, it occurred to me to think about why we move slowly, painfully through fondus even though we still have to get there and show the world that moment of breathing stillness (the “picture,” as it were).
What we’re doing is building strength and endurance.
Yes, you can piggyback on momentum and flash-developpé your leg to the level of your eyebrow—but that doesn’t matter in that moment when you emerge from a soutenu through a graceful, elastic fondu developpé into a balance effacé devant and must then hooollllddddd for a rubato breath before you dive into tombé-pas de bourré-etc.
If you try to throw your leg there—that is, to simply harness momentum—you will find it difficult to muster control, and either you’ll fall out of the balance or you’ll fall into the tombé and make yourself late.
I can’t say I didn’t already know this, exactly? I mean, I know we’re not supposed to just throw our legs—even a jeté requires connection and control.
But somehow today it occurred to me that I need to remember the feeling of the balance between control and momentum; that I am eternally training my body to do things it would probably rather not do with muscles that would probably rather do something else (regardless of the fact that my body is both very biddable and highly suitable for ballet, ballet insists on using muscles and joints and bones in rather creative ways).
L’Ancien often makes us do grand battement with slow counts on the down: half a count to hit the apex and show the free leg, then a full count down—controlled all the way, through tendu. It’s the classic, “And ONE! And two. And THREE!…” in which the entire action of the upstroke happens in the blink of an eye. You could, in fact, count it faster and make it, “And ONE! two, three, four and TWO! two, three, four and THREE!…” but almost nobody counts like that in ballet because it would make our heads explode and screw up the phrasing•.
- This is a challenge when I dance to a piece I’ve played, sometimes—often, for ballet purposes, we count at half the time signature, transforming 6/8 into 3/4 or 4/4 into 2/2, then divide everything by instinct into phases of 8 or 6 counts.
Anyway, back to ballet-standard counts. So in this slow-descent exercise, the first “And” is just a breath. The free leg shows at its apex a split second later. The rest of the count is spent carrying the free leg back down, rotating the supporting leg against it the entire way.
The descent is infinitely important: it strengthens all the things; it teaches us to counter one leg with the other. It allows us to really figure out how to lift out of our hips so we can close in a clean fifth.
It also looks really cool. There’s something superhuman about an entire ballet class snapping their feet up to face level, then thoughtfully returning them to the ground.
In aerials, when we’re not yet strong enough to overcome gravity doing a skill going up, we practice the reverse skill—that is, the same skill coming down.
Can’t do a smooth pullover mount on trapeze? No problem. Drape yourself over the bar, fight your way into a handstand, and roll down as far as you can before you just drop. Each day, you’ll get a little further. Soon, you’ll find that when you try your pullover mount, you’ve nailed it.
Barre is basically the same kind of thing. Every time you close with control or choose a slower, smoother (and possibly lower) developpé, you’re making yourself stronger.
Full disclosure: sometimes it’ll hurt more when you’re doing it, and sometimes it’ll hurt a lot the next day.
But that’s ballet for you.
It takes a lot of grueling work to become a magical bluebird that flits weightlessly through the air, y’all.
I … think? … I’m done with auditions for the rest of the month, at this point.
Yesterday’s was actually rather a soaring success, except for my usual habit of forgetting some bit of the modern combination and faking my way through that part so I could get to the next bit, then remembering it right after … but there are two thoughts that cheer me up.
First, nobody had the combo down cold. We all missed bits and pieces.
Second, that’s one of the skills they’re looking for at dance auditions. What happens when you fall off the script (because it happens even to top-tier dancers)? Do you freeze like a deer in the headlights, or do you roll on just as if you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? (Bonus points if you can fake your way through well enough to make it look like everyone else was wrong. I don’t think I accomplished that, yesterday, but I didn’t freeze, either.)
The dance improv bit was, of course, a blast, because I love improv.
The trapeze bit went pretty well despite the fact that apparently whatever demiurge manages music for trapeze auditions believes it’s great fun to mess with mine. I recovered from that and had to improvise a fair bit, but it turned out rather well. And, of course, I didn’t fall off the trapeze this time.
- Last year’s audition for “Orpheus” is still the one and only time I’ve fallen off a trapeze. It’s also my number-one go-to story to tell when, inevitably, groups of people start reminiscing about stupid moments in their lives. There’s something special about making what seemed, in the moment, a very logical decision to drop myself off a trapeze from ten feet in the air rather than risk breaking my arms. Dancers get it; circus people get it; athletes get it. That said, there are entire hosts of people who think I’m crazy, and they’re probably right—but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat.
Once again, at this audition, they’re not necessarily looking for a polished cirque-style act: they’re looking for expression, musicality, and the ability to command the audience’s attention (and also sound technical elements, obviously). The piece that I showed is one I’m slowly working on set to the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” and it’s intentionally struggly, so it probably didn’t really hurt anything that I was, in fact, wrestling with my own choreography (much of which I didn’t apparently remember).
The acting part was flat-out awesome, and reminded me how much I actually really like acting, my anxiety about struggling to memorize scripts notwithstanding. Maybe what I really like is cold reading. Who knows? Anyway. I really liked the part they handed me, and ran with it.
Today’s audition was also lovely. Almost nobody showed up, so it was really just three of us mostly doing some improv stuff. I already know that our AD likes the way I improvise, so that was just pure fun. I showed the bits of my piece that I could, given my lack of a partner, and described the idea as a whole. Both our AD and the guy from U of L whose group we’re collaborating with liked it, so it looks like it’s a green light there.
My next audition is a couple of weeks away, and I’m happy to have a bit of a breather. The stretch from the past couple of gigs through now has been pretty intense.
Not that I’m complaining. The other night I was kvetching about some company-related annoyance and suddenly though something like, “Oh, hey. I’m complaining about work because that’s what we do. If it wasn’t a pain in the *** sometimes, it wouldn’t be work.”
And that actually felt, in its own way, rather lovely: like, this is my work, and it’s work that I love. And I think I’m becoming rather good at it. Maybe not world-beatingly good or anything but, you know, serviceable. Which has, to be honest, always been the goal. As a ballet boy I’m smallish and muscly and I bounce like a rubber ball, which puts me squarely in the demi-character camp, and I’m fine with that. Not everyone always has to be the prince (and, honestly, there are a lot of ballets in which the prince never gets to do anything cool outside of the pas de deux). As a circus artist, I’m reliable, adaptable, and versatile: not a specialist, but a generalist, and the kind of generalist who can pinch-hit almost anywhere.
I feel like that’s a good thing to be. I’m not here for glory: I’m here because I love to move; because I can’t not move.
And if sometimes that means I’m stressed out and hounded from pillar to post … well, that’s part of it. That and Auditioning for Poverty are pretty much hallmarks life as a dancer, or indeed as any kind of performing artist, or indeed possibly as any kind of artist.
You do the Work because the Work is what moves you … sometimes more literally than other times.
Because evidently time and I have a tenuous relationship at best, I realized yesterday that I was beginning, rather than ending, the third week since my surgery, and as such I still face four weeks before I can resume my usual workload. Oops.
On the other hand, that does mean I’m healing very, very well. I’ve been
obsessing over reading other people’s accounts of healing from this kind of survey—initially to figure out what to expect, what was normal, and what was cause to panic, and but now because they’re just plain interesting—and it seems that a lot of folks still have a fair amount of discomfort and so forth at this stage. I’m chalking my relatively easy recovery up to a really awesome surgeon and above-average physical fitness.
Anyway, Golden Retriever Timescales not withstanding, I’m starting to make plans for next year.
- I’ve probably used this analogy before: while my sense of immediate time is pretty decent, once I venture beyond that, my perception of time flakes into two distinct categories—the ones you might imagine a not-very-bright Golden Retriever understanding, which is to say say, Now and Not-Now. Anything further than two weeks out, meanwhile, exists in the realm of absurd fantasy. Evidently, this also applies retroactively 😛
I auditioned for more things this year than last year. I expect to continue that trend next year. I’m looking at dance companies (ballet and modern, but mostly ballet), cirque companies, and cruise-line dance-and-cirque companies right now, as well as the usual gig-based auditions.
Ideally, I would love to work in ballet, but I realize that my particular skill-set makes me a good candidate for progressive circus companies. Likewise, while many classically-trained dancers turn their noses up at working for cruise lines, I like the idea of living and working on a self-contained floating city, and cruise-line companies value versatile performers. I suspect that my strong classical dance background and existing aerial skills will place me well (I’m also a pretty good singer, which doesn’t hurt).
That said, my best asset is simply the ability (and willingness) to up stakes and go wherever the work is.
It seems like a good idea, when you’re trying to work in a ridiculously competitive industry, to identify all of your strengths (not just the obvious ones) and seek opportunities where they’ll be useful. Given that I’ve taken a really, really atypical path to working in dance, I plan to use the heck out of that strategy. My goal is to audition as often as possible for jobs that will find my collection of both skill- and non-skill assets highly desirable: in short, to target companies that need people with strong classical (and progressive) dance training, strong aerial arts training, a background in gymnastics, fearlessness, willingness/desire to travel, and flexibility (both physical and mental). Being a ballet-and-trapeze boy who also performs on lyra and fabrics shouldn’t hurt, either.
I’m not operating under the illusion that, should I work for a cruise line or a touring company, I’ll get to see a great deal of the places we visit—but opportunities do arise, and I’m not seeing much of the world from where I am now, either 😛
Anyway, the primary goal next year is to continue training and gain as much professional experience as I can—basically, either to work with a company that rehearses and performs across a regular season for much or all of the year, or to continue to work with a company like CirqueLouis and take every additional gig that I can.
I’m not defining my ballet goals quite yet: I think I’m going to buttonhole Killer B, BG, and BW about those first. I still don’t have an intentional double tour, so I’ll be working on that through the end of the year once I’m cleared.
Yesterday, I had nothing before ballet, so I was properly fed and rested and so forth.
As a result, BW’s class went very well.
After, I went and played at Suspend, where we did all kinds of lifty things in Acro 2.
After that, my car decided to throw a fit and D had to come rescue me (fortunately, I noticed that it sounded weird and didn’t get on the expressway). As result, an already late night got later, and I was too tired to pack lunch.
This morning, D came home early and sent me to Cinci with his truck, which was really sweet of him. I had eaten two hot dogs for lunch, with the intention of grabbing some real food when I got back into Louisville.
In Cinci, partnering class was half really frustrating: I couldn’t hear because my allergies were trolling me, and we were learning partnering phrases, so I kept not quite understanding what was going on. As a result, I kept frustrating my partner, which made me nervous, which makes my brain not work too well.
- Also, my body wanted all the fouettés to be tour jetés. WTF, body?
Anyway, we got there eventually.
During the second half, we did group lifts, and that bit went really well. Didn’t hurt that Acro 2 last night was all about the dynamic group lifts :p
Anyway, after Partnering, my plans for food were scuttled by a traffic jam. I resorted to buying Chex mix at a gas station when I refueled the truck. I would be surprised if that even brought me back up to baseline.
Anyway, BW’s final class was more challenging than it should have been, since I basically ran out of juice. I got all the way through anyway, but my grand pirouettes weren’t really all that grand. They started out nice going right, then fizzled, going left, I just worked fourth-passé-second-plié-relevé-plié-relevé, etc, without the actual turns.
On the other hand, I cracked out some nice grand allegro: it was kind of my way of saying, “I value your class and, dammit, I’mma try as hard as I can!”
That backfired, of course, when we proceeded to follow the second grand allegro combo with even moar petit allegro.
Oh, I can now check entrechats six off my goals list. Or, at any rate, I can mark them as done with baseline success but in need of werk, werk, werk, werk. They’re not pretty, but they’re there.
We did 36 of them.
Also, after that, so many Royales, which are my least favorite jump. I mean, seriously, in France there’s a hamburger named after them.
- I may be employing artistic license here. Who knows?
Anyway, my legs felt weak and resentful (I suspect that, if you’re a dancer or a cyclist, you understand what I mean), and I resented their resentful attitude (note to self: I need to draw a resentful attitude 😁) until I realized that it wasn’t fair to resent them when it was my own fault for not feeding them.
Evidently, it takes a lot of calories to run this body at peak performance, or at any rate more than the ≈600 I have it before tonight’s ballet class.
At any rate, I’m pleased with myself for not giving up. There were a few times in class tonight that my dark side whispered,”You could just say your foot is unhappy!”
But I didn’t.
So there’s that.
Anyway, I’m going to go have a wee soak in some Epsom salts. Tomorrow, I have to leave at 7 AM for Cinci because evidently I’m insane, so after that I’m off to bed.