Category Archives: learning my craft

TFW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*intercontiental balletic missiles???

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

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

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

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

 

Onward and Upward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

The Valley of Decision

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

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

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

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

So goes the glory of the stage, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lesson Distilled From Illness

I have been wrestling a sinus infection, one of those opportunistic tagalongs that grabs hold on the wake of a brief-but-fierce virus. Thus far I’ve been trying to wait it out: but while the initial fever has abated, the lingering congestion, drainage, pharyngitis, and fatigue have pretty much convinced me that resistance is futile and a trip to the Immediate Care place is probably in order.

Throughout all of this, I’ve been prying myself out of bed to get to class and rehearsal. It’s just what you do. If I was still running a fever, I’d stay home to avoid infecting the rest of the company: in a company this small, two or three dancers out sick is practically a massacre. 

I’m not feverish, though, so I gather my gumption and go.

It occurred to me this morning (a blessed reprieve, since the company isn’t called until 2 PM) that I wouldn’t do this for a desk job.

In fact, I couldn’t. Being still and concentrating is an enormous challenge when I’m at my best. Right now, it’s impossible.

At the ballet, I can mostly keep my head together when I’m moving, and when I’m not needed it doesn’t matter as much if my brain clicks itself off for a while. I can be a zombie on the sidelines, passively absorbing as much as I’m able to, until I’m needed on the floor again.

I don’t think I would’ve figured this out if I were working a desk job. I’d just have known that other people work through non-contagious illnesses that turn me into a zombie. I couldn’t have figured it out, because I wouldn’t have had the necessary data.

Think of me as a kind if intellectual shark: if my thought process is to live, I have to keep moving. At the best of times, micro-movements and occasional breaks to get up and walk around can do it. If I’m sick or sleep deprived, though, I have to really move to pass enough water over my metaphorical gills.

Driving is the most stressful part of my day right now: too much bodily stillness as the body and its protective shell—a missile that weighs a literal ton—hurtle down the road at around seventy miles per hour. Keeping my brain out of screen-saver mode is far harder than usual even with Adderall.

But I’m getting through it. After the intense mental burden of the drive, I manage all right at the ballet.I

And this is new information, and valuable: it’s not that I’m somehow weaker than my fellow desk-jockeys were when I worked at a desk. It’s that I need different inputs.

So that’s that. And now I need to go gird my loins and enter the fray. The dance, after all, isn’t going to rehearse itself.

Learning Theory Comes Home To Roost

It just occurred to me that I think my turns in second are getting worse because they are,

…And that they are because I keep stopping when I’m doing them wrong because I don’t want to look like an ass.

So I’m reinforcing the wrong technique.

Technical Um, Sunday: Pas De Bourée, or More Fancy Walking

I’ll begin with a caveat:

This will be my first attempt at a BG-style breakdown of a basic technical movement, and goodness only knows if it’ll succeed. So, if this turns out to be even more confusing than the explanations already out there, feel free to feck it out the window and be after finding yourself a better explanation.

Onwards!

Pas De Bourée: Another of the Hardest Easiest Things

As a dancer, you’ll probably execute some or another flavor of pas de bourée more often than any other step in the entire canon of ballet (not least because it’s one of the ways that we all surreptitiously change our feet when we suddenly realize that everyone else is standing on the other foot, so to speak).

This means, ironically, that it’s probably the single most important step in the entire massive arsenal.

By the time you’ve been dancing for a few years, you’ll be able to do the most basic PdB so readily that you’ll find yourself using it to navigate your way through the press at every social function you att—

Oh, wait. 

You’re probably already using PdB that way, even if you’ve never taken a single ballet class or, for that matter, seen so much as a single poster for a ballet.

That’s because the plain-vanilla PdB is a staggeringly pedestrian movement … literally, in fact.

Pas de bourée is very much an organized stagger-step. I’ve often seen its name translated as “Step of the Drunk,” and while I’m pretty sure that “Bourrée” in this sense refers to a social dance.

 Then again, at its core, social dance is just so much fancy walking and organized staggering anyway, and we must acknowledge that social dance and drinking go almost as far back as drinking and the attendant less-organized forms of staggering.

Okay, But What The Heck Does That Mean?

In short, your basic pas de bourée is just a sidestep that changes which foot is in front.

TL;DR: your whole goal, basically, is to move one foot out of the way so you can put the other one in front (or in back, if you’re going that way) without losing momentum.

When you execute a little sidestep to stop your toes being squashed by the latest SuperPram or avoid tracking through something nasty, there’s a good chance that you’ll automatically execute a nice little PdB. 

There are, of course, umptillion fancier versions, many of them specific to the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, whose decline L’Ancien routinely laments (with good reason: the refinements of PdB are both useful and beautiful). 

Forget about them for now. 

There’s no point in trying to wrap your head around pad de bourée a quatre pas until you’ve quite mastered the bog-standard pas de bourée that ballet teachers often describe with the shorthand “back, side, front.” Besides, entire classes full of advanced and professional students who struggle with those rare and specialized versions (ask me how I know 😑).

So where, then, do we begin?

First, by pinning “back, side, front” to a convenient spot on a mental pegboard where it won’t get lost and in which we can completely ignore it for now.

 “Back, side, front” is helpful once you’re basically familiar with what you’re trying to accomplish, but it’s also vague: do the individual terms of the equation describe which foot to move or where to move them?

If you think about it too hard—even as someone who’s danced for yeeeeaarrrssss—it’s easy to get it wrong. There’s not enough of the right information.

So we will, for now, bid adieu to “back, side, front” and get back to Fancy Walking.

Let’s try a mental experiment. 

I apologize in advance to those of you whose brains don’t do the visualizing thing. You might want to read through this a couple of times, get a feel for the story, and then actually act it out, ideally somewhere in which your loved ones or co-workers won’t wonder why you’re shouting, “Oh, no! It’s Boris the Pug!”

 Oh, No! It’s Boris The Pug!

Imagine that you’re in walking along, minding your own business. You’re pretty good at walking by now, so if I ask you, “Which foot comes after ‘left?'” you’ll probably give me a long look[1] and say either, “What are you on about?” or simply, “Right.”[2]

Presumably, you also thoroughly grasp that after right comes left again, and so on ad infinitum, or at least until you reach the coffee shop.

Now, imagine that as you’re walking, in mid-stride, you spot your neighbor Pat just ahead, to your left, walking Boris The Pug.

Boris is an enthusiastically sociable pug[3] who is locally famous for crashing into his favorite people (which includes anyone and everyone in eyeshot). As a resukt, Pat keeps Boris on a shortish lead—but good old Boris is nothing if not determined, and all at once he’s wheezily lunging towards you in hopes of head-butting your shin with ecstatic glee. 

You, however, don’t wish to be party to Boris’ next collision. First of all, Boris is a bit of a dribbler, and you’re wearing your favorite trousers (or skirt, or whatever you like). Second, Pat lives to recount Boris’ history of hilarious head-butting incidents, and although you like Pat, you secretly like Boris more, and you hope this once to spare him from being the butt—dare I say, the head-butt—of the joke.

So as you put your right foot down and Boris the Pug torpedoes himself towards the place where he expects your left leg to appear, you sidestep: you swing your left leg to the right.

Because this does funny things to your mass with regards to gravity, and probably also because you want to give Boris a little extra wheezing room, instead of swinging the left leg forward and right and setting your left foot down in front of your right foot, you swing the left leg a little to the back and right and set the foot down just behind your right foot.

Your weight shifts onto to your left foot, and then your right leg also swings a little to the right, so your left leg has somewhere to go.
Next, you put your right foot down, and now your left leg is free to swing forward.

Finally, you can put your left foot down in front of your right foot and resume the normal course of your walk.

Congratulations! You have spared poor Boris from becoming the subject of yet another embarrassing collision story that Pat will tell at every neighbourhood soirée for the foreseeable future!

Oh. AND you’ve executed a pas de bourée in parallel (which is, I am led to understand, called a “grapevine step” in Jazz? But don’t quite me in that; my knowledge of Jazz is sketchy at best).

So that’s the size of it, really: your garden-variety pas de bourée. In the ballet context, you do this particular kind of PdB going sideways, with turnout, like so, assuming you’re beginning from first position:

  1. Shift your weight onto the right foot.
  2. Lift the left foot, swing it in behind the right foot, and put it down.
  3. Lift the right foot, swing it just a little to the right, and put it down.
  4. Lift the left foot, swing it to the right and put it down in front of the right foot. (If you’re doing the brushed version, it might very well feel like you’re brushing side to close front—another reason I’m putting a freeze on the “back, side, front” analogy.)

You do not, at this point, “do the hokey-pokey and turn yourself around.” That is absolutely NOT what it’s all about. At least, not unless your director tells you to, in which case all bets are off.

Anyway. Where was I?

Oh, erm, right.

Just like balancé, pas de bourée goes “right, left, right” or “left, right, left.” 

If it attempts to do otherwise, it is forced to become a sort of mutant temps-levée, and nobody wants that.

In actual practice, you might either brush the feet out, then brush them back in (as you do in degagé) or crisply lift them[4]. (The degagé version is usually taught first, probably because it feels more intuitive.)

In fact, you’ll often begin your pas de bourée with one foot already in the air, so the initial brush or lift is more implied than actual. You’re already there. You don’t have to close and then open again unless you’re specifically instructed to do so, because PdB is a linking step.

If a combination calls for tombé-pas de bourée (as so many do), and you’ve just tombé-ed onto your left foot, you’ll simply close the right foot (which is already in the air) behind the left foot, put your weight on your right foot, and so forth[5].

You’ll do this any time you need to change feet through a linking step without losing your momentum, but don’t need a glissade changée. In fact, it will very frequently be followed by a glissade changé, especially in that balletic equivalent of “shave and a hair cut, two bits” technically known as “tombé, pas de bourée, glissade, assemblé.” 

 Eventually you’ll discover that pas de bourée occurs at other moments, as well—sometimes even as a means of changing direction (tombé, pas de bourée, piqué arabesque has been known to occur, for example).

 Even the fanciest versions (I’m looking at you, various flavors of PdB a quatre- and cinq pas), however, hew to the rule of “left, then right, etc” (or its equivalent, “right, then left, etc”) simply because we’re upright bipeds. The quadrupedal equivalent, the side-pass, is a fairly advanced dressage maneuver, presumably because coordinating twice as many legs is about fifty times as hard, so be glad you only have two legs.

This Was Really Long Though 😶

You’re right: it was. Just remember that pas de bourée will almost always change feet (ballet shorthand for “switch which foot goes in front”), and if you do it wrong you can cheat by surreptitiously coupé-ing one foot or just doing a little tendu, if you have time.

Of course, as soon as that becomes thoroughly hardwired, you’ll run into a teacher who throws in an occasional PdB without a change of feet, in which case you’ll find it edifying to know that basically everybody grits their teeth and prays when that sort of thing comes up, so don’t worry, it’s not just you.

Notes

  1. Reasonable enough, considering that the question suggests that I’m either profoundly intoxicated, deranged, an alien impersonating a human but not quite sure about the cookbooks t, or all three.
  2. Unless you’ve got a marching cadence running through your head, in which case you might reply, “Left … Left, right, left!” in which case, I don’t know but I’ve been told…
  3. Why a pug? Honestly, I have no idea. My inner world is a very strange place.
  4. The version in which you lift each foot precisely to cou-de-pied (which is usually short-handed as “coupé,” though technically coupé is an action rather than a position) while executing the whole movement on demi-pointe is called pas de bourée piqué, and if you want to see it in action, shows up in the female corps choreography in every Petipa ballet that I’ve ever seen.
  5. This is what makes “back, side, front” confusing. It’s telling you where to put your feet, but “back” and “front” are frequently used as shorthand for which foot in other contexts. It also doesn’t tell you where to start, which can be problematic, since either foot could end theoretically close back on the first count, but only one choice will lead you to end on the correct leg. There are few things as distressing as failing to change legs and proceeding to glissade directly into the person next to you.

Ballet Lessons: On Being A Shy Dancer

But first: housekeeping! By which I mean, apologies for totally failing to post anything on Saturday. We had an unexpected visit from my MIL, AKA Momma Fluffy, who is awesome, and who I haven’t seen in quite a while, and as a result I totally blanked on it. I’ll try to get it out ASAP to keep the series going.


Tomorrow, we begin the second half of my first season with ActualBalletCompany.

During the first half of the season, I learned a great deal both about being part of a ballet company and about myself … and one of the things I learned is that I’m still horribly, horribly shy and socially-awkward.

Apparently, over the past few years–years in which I’ve settled comfortably into a dance- and circus-based social scene here in Louisville–I slowly forgot how terribly, terribly hard it is for me to connect with people I don’t know, especially when they already know each-other. (Admittedly, my summer intensive experiences should’ve reminded me of this, but since they resolved successfully, they didn’t.)

I also forgot, apparently, how my particular flavor of social awkwardness can make me seem like a bona-fide idiot.

When I’m nervous, my working memory, like, stops working. And when I’m around a bunch of strangers whose opinions of me matter immensely to the shape of the next year or so of my life, I get nervous. Like, really, really nervous.

I should note my nervousness isn’t a question of fearfully wondering, “What will they think of me?”

It’s more a question of experience. I’m really, really bad at the initial stages of getting to know people. When there are other people in the room who find my flavor of social awkwardness charming, that isn’t a big deal … but that’s a fairly rare circumstance, in my experience.

And dance is one of those contexts in which being a cohesive part of the group is immensely, immensely important.

When you dance, the greatest resource available to you is your fellow dancers.

Ironically, the working-memory failures that come with a bad case of nerves make it even more important.


When you dance, the greatest resource available to you isn’t the music, or the big fat book of ballet technique, or even YouTube.

The greatest resource available to you, right then and there, is your fellow dancers.

Why?

Because when you’re learning a dance, you’re going to miss something.

This isn’t because you’re stupid, or careless, or distracted (though, yeah, sometimes you’re probably going to be distracted, especially if you’re me). It’s because choreography comes at you hella fast, and you have to, like, blink sometimes.

To complicate things, you also can’t really see yourself in the way that other people can see you. So you might be absolutely sure that you Know The Steps, and you still might be wrong.

When you’re unsure, or better yet, you know you don’t know a step or a phrase, the single best thing you can do is ask another dancer.

If you’re shy, the thing you’re least likely to do is … you guessed it! Ask another dancer.

Christina demonstrating how I feel when I know I should ask someone about the choreography.

Obviously, this is a problem.

It’s an even bigger problem when your AD or your choreographer says, “Hey, you! You don’t know this part!” and it’s a part you’re dead certain that you know (because it’s, like, saute-balance-saute-balance-pique turn-pique turn-chaine-chaine-chaine-run away … why, yes, this is an example from my actual life, what makes you ask?).

Because that means that you’ve missed something without realizing that you’ve missed something, and now you have to figure out exactly what that is.

In my parenthetical example above, what I was missing was the arms. It wasn’t that I was doing something inherently wrong with my arms: my port de bras was one of the eleventy-million acceptable versions for the combination of steps in question.

But it was wrong anyway, because it wasn’t the one our AD wanted.

The problem is, he didn’t say, “You’re doing the arms wrong,” he just said, “You don’t know this step.” Which, to be honest, is valid: in the context of this dance, I didn’t know the step.

You guys: THE ARMS ARE PART OF THE STEP.

At this particular moment in the dance, I couldn’t see what anyone else was doing with their arms, so I didn’t realize that I was doing something different. Mr D called me out on it a few times in a row, but it didn’t occur to me to ask the girl standing next to me (who is actually one of the nicest, sweetest, and funniest people in the world, but because I was in Super Shy Boy! mode, I didn’t know that yet) what I was doing wrong.

It wasn’t until I videoed the piece and sat down to watch it that I figured it out … and because I couldn’t quite tell from my tiny phone screen what I was supposed to do, I finally, like, asked someone.

And it took almost no time to fix once I did, except for the fact that I’d done it wrong so many times that it’s burned into my brain the wrong way, and I still have to double-check it before we perform that particular piece now.

If I’d just asked earlier on (“Hey, BossMan says I’m wrong, here, but I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong … any thoughts?”) I could’ve saved myself that struggle.


When you’re shy, it can be extra hard to feel okay asking people questions that expose your weaknesses.

In a dance context, however, everyone’s performance depends on everyone else’s … so it’s deeply unlikely that someone’s going to say, “OMG, if you’re so dumb you can’t figure that out, I’m not gonna tell you.” (If someone does, you might be dancing in a group that’s toxic enough that you should think about finding somewhere else to dance.) Usually, they’ll say, “Oh, it’s this,” and demonstrate, and then you can go, “Okay, so like this?” and if you’re right, they’ll say, “Yup, that’s it!” and if not, they’ll adjust you accordingly, and you’ll all go on with your lives and learning the rest of the dance.

What it took me for-freaking-ever to realize is that one of the reasons I sometimes struggle to learn new choreography is that I am extraordinarily shy about asking when I don’t feel like I’ve got it.

Then, knowing that I’m very much a kinaesthetic (that is, physical) learner, I don’t walk through the choreography and nail it down, because I’m afraid I’ll learn it wrong and then have to un-learn and re-learn it.

Both of these things put me behind the curve. First, by failing to ask, I don’t patch the holes in my knowledge base. Second, by failing to loosely work through the choreography on my own I greatly lengthen the process of learning it.

In turn, both of these realities make me nervous (when you have to have the piece down and you know you’re not getting it as fast as everyone else, nervousness is pretty much the guaranteed outcome), which makes my working memory stop working, which makes learning anything next to impossible.

A bright orange goldfish gazes out of its tank while other fish swim behind it.
“What were we supposed to do? Guess I’d better ask Goldie.”

Which makes me look like a complete idiot (because in those moments I am one, albeit temporarily). Which makes people think I’m a complete idiot. Which makes them not want to work with me. Which is glaringly obvious even to someone like me who is not very good at reading social cues. Which makes me nervous.

Repeat ad nauseam.


The solution, of course, is obvious.

In this case, there’s only one way forward, and that’s just to bite the bullet and talk to the least-scary-looking person in the room.

Occasionally, you’ll get lucky and discover that she also isn’t sure about the step in question, and then together you’ll go and prevail upon her friend or friends until one of two things happens: you might find someone who’s dead certain that they know it, or you might discover that nobody’s really entirely sure and thus you might work something out by consensus.

And then, the next time you run it, either your AD will go, “Oh, hey, that looks better,” or s/he’ll say, “No! You’re all wrong.” (S/he might also add, “Oh my G-d, how many times do we have to go over this?!” but try not to take it personally: even the sweetest ADs get nervous, too.)

More likely, the person in question will say something like, “No big deal, it’s this,” and will show you (or tell you) what’s supposed to happen.

The thing I have noticed is that other people do this way more proactively than I do. They don’t waste a lot of time trying to muddle through and figure it out by trying to dance and watch at the same time (by which I don’t mean the usual kind of “watching” that you do to make sure your spacing is okay and that you’re in sync with the people in your group: I mean the high-cognitive load kind of watching that you do when you’re trying to learn brand new choreography).

Most people, if they’re really unclear on something, just ask someone.

So I guess one of my goals for the next half of the season is to stop being afraid to ask people when I’m unclear, even if I feel like I should have learned the choreography in question five months ago.

This won’t fix the thing that makes me amazingly adept at saying the wrong thing at the worst possible moment, or the fact that my sense of humor is (to say the least) odd and that people who don’t know me very, very well often don’t seem to understand that I’m joking[1].

But it will help me learn dances faster, and that’ll be a big step in the right direction.

With, I hope, the correct port de bras.


Notes

  1. You guys, for future reference: if you’re talking to me in person and what I’m saying sounds completely ludicrous, assume I’m joking. Likewise, I’ll continue to work on my delivery, in hope of someday being able to use irony, sarcasm, and guerilla-theatre-of-the-absurd without convincing everyone around me that I am, in fact, actually stupid.

When You Get There, Part 2

But first, Hi! And I survived Nutcracker, and it was great, and Happy New Year, and Jeez. Now, on to the next thing.

We all focus a lot on where we’re trying to go, and that’s a good thing. It’s good to allow for the possibility–even the probability–that you might wind up somewhere else entirely, but it’s pretty helpful to have a destination in mind when you set out. Also, like, a basic plan; a loose map that allows for the likelihood of dragons, uncontacted peoples, and so forth. Even if your plan is to explore uncharted waters, after all, you still have to get there somehow.

So that’s an important thing, and a good thing, and helpful up to a point. Specifically, the point at which you reach your destination, and need to move on to Phase 2 of whatever the Grand Plan is … and, curiously, there are precious few resources that explore what happens after you forge a path through whatever obstacles to reach The Far Shore.

And that, I think, represents an enormous growth area for idiots like me who write blogs about setting completely ridiculous goals and pursuing them.

As such, I present the first of my observations: when you get there, you will still be you.

If you’re socially awkward, you will still be socially awkward. If you’re shy and bad at integrating into established social groups, you’ll still be shy and bad at integrating into established social groups. If you’re a slow learner, you’ll still be a slow learner. If you’re prone to bouts of depression … well, you see where I’m going with this.

When you get there, you will still be you.

In other words, your weaknesses, your struggles, and your blind spots disembark with you on that Far Shore.

So, of course, do your strengths, your victories, and your stunning insights–but I think we all assume that anyway. Besides, our strengths are less likely to create problems for us once we Get There. We tend to visualize success, and it’s a good strategy. But, just as the classic fairy-tale ending, “…And they lived happily ever after” omits the likelihood that Cinderella, though kind and brave and all that, has no idea how to comport herself at court, visualizing the success of reaching a certain end-point (say, working for a ballet company) omits the reality of living with ourselves once we’re there.

I’ve been quiet for the past several weeks because I’ve been trying to figure how to square this circle. I remain a sensitive, shy, touchy introvert with enormous, gaping holes in his training. I still have difficulty processing spoken language. I am physically flexible, but mentally not-so-flexible. I am good at adapting to physical challenges on the fly, but not great at coming up with workarounds for more abstract problems because, ultimately, I’m not really good at thinking*.

*Boy, is that a topic for another post.

So I guess that’s my introduction to Danseur Ignoble, Phase 2: going forward, I’ll continue to explore the process of learning to be a dancer, but I’ll also examine my weaknesses as they intersect with my life as a ballet dancer. I hope that in the process, I’ll be able to reflect on my challenges and possibly brainstorm some strategies for coping with them.

As such, here’s the plan–the tentative plan, because hey, this is me we’re talking about–going forward:

On Mondays, I’ll post about a challenge I’m facing in my work that stems from my own personality: how it impacts my work, both for the worse and for the better, and how I’m dealing with it. From time to time, I’ll also check in with other dancers and creative people about similar challenges they’ve faced in their own careers (Are you reading this? Would you like to be one of my interviewees? Let me know in the comments!).

On Saturdays, unless we have a show, I’ll write about technique. If we have a show, who knows? I’ll try to make it on Sunday, but I’m more likely to sit around letting my brain leak out my ears.

The Monday posts will probably be grouped under the Ballet Lessons heading; the Saturday posts will be grouped under Technical Notes.

I will, of course, totally fail at this from time to time, but I figure having some kind of goal is better than having no kind of goal.

I’m not at all certain that any of this will help me address my challenges in helpful ways, but I figure it probably can’t hurt. And, of course, the insight that I’m still me, and that my major life challenges won’t magically evaporate just because I have somehow fumbled my way into a ballet company.

Still, reflecting does usually help, and writing helps me reflect. So here we go: off onto a new adventure. Ish.

Petit All-Aggro

Today was a bad day for double tours, of which I did exactly none, but a good day for petit allegro, albeit in a roundabout way.

I struggled through a combination that shouldn’t have been hard (assemblé, soubresaut, assemblé, soubresaut, assemblé, assemblé, assemblé, entrechat quatre), caught myself in the mirror, and realized that I was brushing my leg out to some weird angle that made closing quickly difficult.

Fixed that, et voilà! Better petit allegro with like 1/10th of the effort.

This did not save me from my inability to do brisée volé correctly in the next combination, but that’s because I am increasingly uncertain that I’ve ever learned it in the first place. Time to RTFM, I guess!

Also, in case you’re wondering, everything in petit allegro works better when you don’t neglect the beautiful plié that you’ve been working on since forever. Sometimes when it gets fast, I still resort to shoving myself into the air using only my feet. It gets me off the ground, but it’s terrible and the landings are a flaming misery.

A while back I figured out that the hard part of dancing professionally is raising the standard of your worst days to a level that won’t make an audience wish they’d gone to see, like, the Drying of the Paint Samples at Home Depot instead.

You can’t stand at the exit saying, “Sorry, it was an off day; here’s a raincheck,” so even your most awful show needs to be good enough.

…Which, in turn, means building the best habits you can, raising your endurance game, learning not to make faces even when everything is a petit right in the allegro, and really just being competent to a very high degree.

For me, it also means learning not to do the weird thing where I bury my brain in a cave of self-directed fury when I do heck things right up. Oddly enough, that doesn’t help. It just makes me late for all my cues.

At the end of the day, we’re human, and we’re going to make a right mess of things now and then. Even the greats fall on their faces sometimes.

Still Not Dead Yet

Just busy and thinking about where to go next with this blorg of mine. By which I mean not the annoying questions like, “How do monetize?” or whatevs but just, like … how best to write on the regular about where this amazing little journey is taking me.

We closed CL’s show “Gravity’s Variety” yesterday, and I think it represented a significant step forward artistically both for my Cirque company and our AD. I loved working on that show, but I’m also glad I’ll have a few two-day weekends (Sunday-Monday weekends, because Saturday is Full Cast Nutcracker Mayhem) before the madness that is Nutcracker: the performance run.

I’m still in the up and down of learning to be a company dancer. Some days I’m like, “I’m coming along” be others I’m like, “What do I even think I’m doing?” I think that’s probably normal, though, especially when you’ve made your entrée into company life by the “wing and a prayer” method.

I have a ways to go before I feel like my worst ballet days are stage-worthyish, which really has to be your standard when you are part of a company people pay good money to see. Fortunately, the roles I’m doing in the shows that cost money are light on the fancy technique as yet.

The Friday before last, Mr D said to me, “You have so much talent. You just need to hone it.” That was a powerful thing. It helps to be reminded, from time to time, that I’m not just experiencing delusions of grandeur, here.

Anyway, I’m here and I’m dancing and sometimes I’m even okay at it. Hope you’re out there killing it, whatever it is you do.

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