Category Archives: #dancerlife

Yes, This

I’m working on a post about some of the stuff I learned in David Reuille’s masterclass, but for the moment, check out this post by Circus Out Of Joint:

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I’ve been lucky to have ballet, circus, and gymnastics instructors who understand the differences in the ways hypermobile people perceive the world and in how our bodies work (versus those of people with average mobility). They’ve done a great job helping me build habits of sound alignment, teaching me what to engage and disengage when, and guiding me towards beautiful ways of moving that won’t destroy my joints.

That doesn’t mean I’m as good at looking out for myself as I should be, though. Circus Out Of Joint discusses some of the ways those of us with hEDS can advocate for ourselves in class, along with some of the challenges that we face in doing so (like, when should we ask our six million questions?).

Do You Get Used To It?

I’ve been working now for more than a year (granted, that’s really not very long).

I probably imagined that I’d be used to it by now: that, perhaps, the first time that work felt like, you know, work, I’d sort of wake up and go, “Oh, yeah, I’m a professional dancer, this is my job now, no big deal” on a kind of visceral level.

Turns out, that’s not the case. It’s no longer terribly surprising on a rational level, and the Impostor Syndrome has slackened its grip a bit, but every time something happens that makes me realize that I’m doing this amazing thing I feel this little kind of giddy rush.

It’s like when you pick up some random thing at a thrift store, and you google it because it’s interesting, and you realize that it’s actually kind of a rare and unique treasure. It’s like, “I have this amazing thing, and nobody realizes it’s this amazing thing!”

Also a bit like, “Wow, I’ve been given this amazing gift … do They realize that They’ve given me this amazing gift?”

I could ask my friends who’ve been doing this much longer than I have, I suppose … but I also suppose that every answer would be different, because every journey is different.

I hope I never stop at least occasionally being surprised and delighted that, yo, the Universe seems to have decided on a whim that I should be a dancer, and people seem to agree with the Universe, including people who seem to want to pay people to be dancers.

Anyway, there you have it.

The Americana show went well, by the way. Better than I expected: the floor proved to be incredibly grippy … like, seriously, I think it’s surfaced in some Super High-Friction Space Age Polymer … but the costumes for the piece before ours had glitter tutus, and the tiny bits of glitter greatly reduced the friction, making turns and so forth far easier. My piqué turns in the manège at the end could’ve been better (for some reason, I didn’t crank my turnout … eh), but overall the effect of the piece was really exactly what I’d hoped for … and, of course, both Kathy and Christina are fantastic to work with and perfect partners.

The Discipline of Rest

For what it’s worth, that’s a terrible title for this post. I’m currently struggling to figure out how to do exactly that, because my schedule will be shifting rather dramatically in about three weeks, Because Reasons (which I’ll discuss further in about four weeks, or something like that: to know, to will, to dare, to restrain oneself to “vaguebooking” for the time being :P).

There are people who will tell you that in their years of training and performing, they never once took a rest day. Because I am a giant chicken bad at dealing with conflict attempting to learn to be a receptive listener, I always restrain myself from immediately asking, “Okay, so how long did it take you to seriously injure yourself or come down with a stress-induced illness?”

But I’ll admit that I think it.

The human body didn’t evolve to work as relentlessly as dancers work. To train in dance is to tax your body to a degree that’s probably best described as “really rather ludicrous.” To do so without adequate rest is, as far as I’m concerned, not a very good idea. I’m not an expert in much of anything, but I’m pretty sure that my opinion is consistent with those of experts in fields like exercise physiology, the neuroscience of learning, and so forth.

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What could possibly go wrong???

As much as I love L’Ancien’s class, and as important as it is to my training, I took this morning off. I took this morning off because Friday has historically been my day off, but obviously couldn’t be this week, and I can’t take tomorrow off (tech rehearsal), and days off are actually pretty important.

As much as I hated missing L’Ancien’s instruction (and all the stories that he tells along the way), it was worth it to me to give my brain and body a day to recoup their resources. Besides, L’Ancien is teaching on Wednesdays now, so I’m not missing all of his classes for the week.

The weird part is that there was a time in my life that I couldn’t imagine living with a schedule in which my minimum two days off per week weren’t back-to-back, let alone living with only one day off per week. But I love what I’m doing now, so now I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum: if I don’t dance for a couple of days in a row, things feel weird.

Still, the one day off is critical. When I get to the end of my six days—especially if they’ve been six long and demanding days—it feels good to loaf in bed and read for a while, and then have time to work around the house and do some further loafing in the bath. My legs inevitably appreciate the break, especially when there’s been a lot of jumping and not so much adagio.

It’s tempting, when you’re trying to make progress in an art form that speaks to your soul, to charge ahead on full steam. It’s also a recipe for over-training, which leads to physical and mental burnout, and undercuts the progress one hopes to make.

As dancers, we are driven people. Beyond a certain level, dance demands a kind of religious devotion; a vocation. It demands discipline (read: motivation + drive), and it demands disciplines.

For people working under religious vocations, the disciplines are things like prayer (or meditation), fasting, waking up before dawn, silent contemplation, and so forth. Different paths offer different disciplines, but the goal is the same: the Disciplines might not necessarily be what anyone particularly wants to do all the time, but they’re essential tools in the life of a contemplative or any other religious person.

For dancers, the Disciplines are things like class (as some of my friends and I call it, “The Liturgy of the Barre”), Pilates, stretching, suffering on the rack … I mean, the foam roller, actually bothering to eat like fueling your body matters (it does), and rest.

Like religious disciplines, all these things can be beautiful and rewarding in their own right, but that doesn’t mean we’re always in the mood. We do them whether or not we feel like it, because that’s the only way to move forward.

~

It may seem strange to think of rest as a discipline. Yet, in a culture (the modern Western world) that seems almost suicidally devoted to the philosophy of Get Up And Go, and in a subculture (dancer culture) in which hard work is the sole port of entry, it has to be.

To undertake a discipline is usually to add in something you don’t want to do or give up something you do want to do, because it will help you achieve something you want even more[1].

  1. This is why motivation is critical: I don’t believe in discipline in the way a certain subset of life-coachy types does. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: discipline is just motivation in action. You have to be more motivated to do the “disciplined” thing than to do whatever else you might do … even though the “disciplined” thing might not seem as rewarding in the immediate moment. If you’re not, you’re simply not going to do it. So “discipline” isn’t some magic gift; it’s a question of figuring out A] what really motivates you and B] how to harness that motivation to achieve your goals. Likewise, motivation isn’t quite as simple as we like to think it is: we’re often really bad at identifying the things that actually motivate us, and much better at identifying the things we think should motivate us. We come up with the wrong answer to the question, “How do I get myself to do this?” and then wonder why we fail.

Rest then, for dancers, is very much a Discipline. We don’t want to take a day off when we could be taking a class that we love. We don’t want to go to bed at 10 PM because we have to get up at 6 to drive across the state for a 9 AM class (egads: I loved David Reuille’s class SO MUCH, but I am also SO GLAD that I don’t have to be in Lexington by 8:45 any time soon). We don’t want to skip going out with our friends.

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I’ll admit, this might not look like a Discipline.

But we do (the last of the three is often the easiest for me, possibly because almost all my friends are dancers and I know I’m going to see them in class anyway). We do it because it’s good for us as dancers. It helps us achieve our goals.

We do it also, perhaps, because we know that there will be weeks when we don’t get a rest day.

I’m not sure that it’s at all possible to bank rest (there’s some argument in favor of recouping lost sleep, but I don’t think rest is quite the same), but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

This is one of the worst-organized posts I’ve written in a long time, but what I’m trying to say is this: there will be people in your life as a dancer who will sneer at you when you tell them that rest is important to you.

Ignore them. They’re wrong.

Even Nureyev, whose capacity for work remains legendary, valued rest above almost all else. He was aware that if you were going to spend ten hours in the studio transforming yourself in to a genius of the artform, you also needed to sleep for roughly ten hours.

Rest isn’t laziness (not that laziness is inherently bad, either: “laziness” is another word for “maximal efficiency,” there’s much to be learned from the self-professed laziness of bike racers, who do everything to maximize their efficiency both on the bike and off).

Rest is a Discipline.

Rest is saying, “No,” so that later you’re able to say “Yes.”

If there’s one thing I think most of us can do as dancers to improve our ability to learn and grow and perform, it’s learning to see rest as sacred.

To see rest as sacred is to vigilantly guard the time we set aside for it, to refuse to be dissuaded from resting, and (when necessary) to preach the gospel of rest as an aid to work.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some serious resting to do, and the bathtub is calling my name.

Today I Learned #1: What is UP, You Guys?!

And I don’t mean like, “Hey guys, what’s up?”

I mean, like, seriously—what even is “UP,” anyway?!

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Upness. What is it? What does it mean? (Photo via Pixabay on Pexels.com)

So!

This week I’m attending Lexington Ballet’s masterclass with David Reuille of Apex Contemporary Dance Theater, which involves getting up at the mostly-unheard of hour of 6 AM, driving to LexBallet, actually functioning before 10 AM, and apparently learning all kinds of stuff.

Today’s corrections & insights from ballet:

  • I don’t actually know where the back edge of my foot is … or at least I didn’t until this morning. WTF, you guys.
  • When you go up & back to do cambré, ACTUALLY GO UP FIRST, duh (Mr. Reuille definitely did NOT put it quite that way, he was just like, “Oh, go UP first!” and he guided me up and over … totally different)
  • DON’T HOP OUT OF YOUR FRICKIN’ TURNS (once again, Mr. Reuille didn’t put it that way): see L’Ancien on The Standing Leg
  • Keep the pelvis neutral (that one was for errbody)
  • Saut de basque: brush to second while facing the back corner (this might not make sense by itself)
  • Emboité en tournant: UP on the coupé (again, might not make sense by itself)

…And from Modern:

  • There actually is a method to what you do with your arms in modern (again, a general but very relevant correction)
  • Difference between a contraction and an overcurve: shoulders go forward only in overcurve; in a contraction, they might move down, but they remain placed over the hips (again, general, but relevant)
  • Figure 4 turn: my arms always want to go the wrong way (this wasn’t a correction I got, just something I noticed)
  • Compass turn: don’t secabesque too far back (this one was specific to me; I’m not sure I applied it very well in the combination)

None of these points are entirely new, but the first one totally boggled me. Like, I thought I was going up and back, but in fact I was just going, like, back and back. Sometimes a small physical correction asplains things better than all the words in the world.

How long have I been doing this, like, back and back instead of up and back thing?

Oh, probably my entire life.

Oddly, this is probably one of the very, very few places in which gymnastics technique can improve ballet technique. To execute a good backbend from a standing start, you actually do have to reach up and then back. If you’re doing a backbend, you’ll probably do this automatically, because if you try to just flop over backwards, it generally doesn’t end well.

Apparently, though, even though I historically had one heck of a nice backbend (though I haven’t tried it by itself in ages), I never thought to bring that quality of upness into my cambré.

I suspect that’s a function of thinking about the end point rather than the beginning.

We often screw up attitude this way as well. We tend to think of bringing the foot to attitude, which makes the whole thing come out wonky. We lose our turnout in an effort to put a foot somewhere in space. If we just think about keeping the leg exactly as it is when à le coup de pied or sur le coup de pied (or, in shorthand, “in coupé”), then rotate and lift from the TOP of the leg (THE TOP, you guys—like, the hip, supported by the core), we get a nice attitude with turnout intact.

Anyway, so all of this has led me to the realization that I still don’t entirely know where up is. I mean, I do: obviously, it’s UP. It’s just like … um. I know more or less where Poughkeepsie is, but if I took it upon myself to drive there, I’d need a little guidance.

I also learned that my brain still doesn’t want to learn combinations (or anything else) before 10:30 AM.

Too bad, brain: you’re just going to have to get used to it.

Anyway, today wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had in terms of actually being able to dance. I particularly failed at sissones, not because I couldn’t sissone, but because I got the combination backwards and then worried about it so hard that it just got worse and worse. So much for, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”

OTOH, I got a “Nice!” on my cabriole, but also the correction to strike sooner. Seems reasonable; I think my life would be easier if I didn’t wait like ten minutes to strike the bottom leg against the top leg.

Anyway, here’s hoping that I’ll be less confused tomorrow. I will DEFINITELY NOT stick myself on the world’s most awkward little speck of barre, where there’s both a bend in the barre as it follows the shape of the wall and also a whole bunch of taped seams in the marley. I will stand somewhere else entirely, because I will plan ahead and then not feel like I can’t move because class has already started.

Showtime

We opened “Happy Birthday” tonight, and it was good 😀

First time I’ve done a front-handspring in front of a paying audience since I’m not even sure when (high school, probably?) … so that was pretty awesome. It’s a Vweird thing, because it’s basically a single front handspring with a leap out of the rebound, but the run-up is so long that it builds up a lot of power 😀

Anyway, I tried not to go Full VonRothbart this time, and I got to wear a pair of sparkly things on my face:

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Ooh! A thparkly!

…I’m pretty sure that our AD copes with nerves by more or less literally throwing fairy dust at them. Like, initially, a few of us were going to wear jewels on our faces, and then a few more, but tonight while we were dressing he was like, “JEWELS ON EVERYONE! WE MUST ALL HAVE JEWELS!”

No complaint here. I’m really quite delighted that I got to wear sparkly things on my face, and even more delighted that they somehow survived the one-two punch of humidity and sweat, not to mention the trapeze and everything else. Eyelash glue: it’s like hot glue for your face 😀

Speaking of trapeze, my trapeze piece went rather well … though there was one somewhat alarming moment in which my tights gripped the trapeze but slipped around my leg whilst I was doing a drop transition to a single knee hang … EEK. But I played it off like that was supposed to happen, as you do.

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Not that moment, but a beautiful shot from our dress run by photographer Maria Marchal ❤

I’m using my own trap for this show, which is cool. It’s a really, really nice trapeze from Patti at Aerial Animals. She’s a bit of a legend in my local circle of aerialists, especially amongst those of us who like our traps heavy. It’s basically an exact copy of the one my friend and trap teacher M uses.

In other news, I received an invitation to stage a piece as part of a benefit show for local refugee services, which was awesome. We’ll be doing a further iteration of the excerpt from “Tenebrae,” this time with both The Lovers and The Stranger.

I needed a name for my group, so I called it Antiphon Project[1]. So I seem to have kind of accidentally launched a wee dance company? Or at least the germ of one.

  1. The name of the group (which might, someday, be just Antiphon, or possibly something like Antiphon Dance Theater or Antiphon Contemporary Ballet) is the result of a brain glitch from a long-ago Pilobolus masterclass. They usually end up the classes with compositional improv sessions, and one of the groups made a gorgeous piece that had this beautiful antiphonal movement style … but I couldn’t think of the word “antiphon.” At least, not until I was, predictably, lying in bed that night 😀 And thus did I decide that if I ever launched a dance company, I’d name it Antiphon for several reasons, but partly so I’d NEVER FORGET THAT WORD EVER AGAIN.

BUT FIRST! I have to survive a whirlwind trip to Connecticut and back for Teacher Training with Pilobolus :O I’ll be leaving directly from Fabled Fragments rehearsal on Sunday, driving straight through with a stop somewhere for a nap for a few hours, chugging straight into class, crashing out as soon as class is over probably, doing the second day of class, possibly crashing at Mom’s overnight, then turning around and driving back home.

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Basically how I feel about that plan, but I can’t afford to fly, so… (Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com)

normality achieved

Back to normal classes today (plus an extra one, in musical theater-style dance). It went well.

Ironically, although I’ve been missing Monday classes due largely to dancing in professional productions, I felt more like a competent and capable dancer today than I have in a while. It guess doesn’t hurt that I was back on familiar ground: ballet will always be my first language.

Anyway, that’s it for now. 4 hours in the studio today. Hoping I’ll sleep well! 😛

Sleep Dep, Two Shows, and Drunken Excess

…Or, well. If you can call getting tipsy enough on two beers that you feel that driving is perhaps unwise “drunken excess.”

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The cast of “Only Weeds Will Rise In Winter.” Photo credit forthcoming, because I’m not sure which of the various photogs took this one! You guys, I am really not sorry to be done wearing that unitard.

Weeds went pretty well. I felt very solid about the first show, even with a series of last-minute notes. During the second show, the fact that I’d only slept for four hours (for reasons having nothing to do with the show) caught up with me, and I felt mentally somewhat glitchy, though evidently I did a solid job not telegraphing my glitches, including the one very near the end during which I rolled over and completely blanked out not only on what the next move was, but which part of the dance in question we were even on o___o’

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If you look this tired WITH stage makeup, congratulations, you’re really tired.

I was onstage for basically a solid hour and a half[1] for both shows, with only brief breaks, and didn’t really rehydrate adequately after the second show. End result, when we headed down to the nearby gastrobrewpub for a post-show libation, I downed my first beer too fast (I failed to realize that this is one of the places where you have to ask for water), and subsequently found myself remarkably woobly after only two beers. Oops.

  1. The show ran about 1 hour, 10 minutes, but I was the opening act. Basically, from the time the doors opened until the start of the show, I was sorting cans and building a can tower (see photo above).
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An accidental, but nonetheless appropriate, representation of my approximate degree of non-sobriety after last night’s celebratory beers.

Needless to say, I asked Denis to drive me home, which was interesting since we’d arrived in separate vehicles and I had to drunkenly transfer all the things so my car could sit on a corner downtown overnight without looking like too tempting a target (I mean … if a Subaru that’s old enough to be a rising sophomore at university is ever all that tempting a target?).

Anyway, I did my penance in class this morning. I’ve really, really missed my usual ballet routine, so it was good to be back in the studio.

For the most part I felt reasonably good about class today. I was somewhat less coordinated than usual … Like, we did an exercise that was nothing but chassée-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chassée-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chassée-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-tombé-pas de bourrée-tendu, repeat left, repeat right, repeat left in which I could not for the life of me convince both legs to plié and chassée at the same time.

Likewise, my extensions were meh. Not bad, just passable by professional standards. Which, I guess, should tell me that I’ve made a heck of a lot of progress in the past couple of years, because honestly, “passable by professional standards” is still pretty good. But they lacked a certain je ne sais quois. My arabesque in particular was, erm, workmanlike, but nothing more … to be honest, I don’t think I would even have counted it as “passable” until we made it to centre.

On the other hand, there were some good moments in the petit/medium allegro (be still my heart) in which Killer B and I got into the spirit of things and executed these lovely bounding passes with assemblés battus. We jump well together … at least, we do when I’m not a shambling mess of legs, confusion, and despair.

The long and short of it is that I thought, overall, that I looked pretty good today. Some of this, of course, might have to do with the fact that I set the bar pretty low this morning (as opposed the barre—we were a small class in the big studio downtown, so we just used the one fixed to the wall). But I think even my standard for bad days has improved immensely over the past year: even when I’m a terrible dancer, I’m a much better terrible dancer than I used to be.

Likewise, I managed somehow to have a Good Body Image day. Or at least a Good Body Image morning … I mean, the day’s not over yet. My reflection looked like a strong, graceful, compact dancer, rather than a shetland pony with delusions of grandeur.

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It NOT me … this time. (Photo by Megan Clark on Pexels.com)

I’m not entirely sure how or why this happened, but I’ll take it.

Anyway, tonight CL is opening for Kentucky Shakespeare. I’ll be doing a ball solo (NOT THAT KIND OF BALL SOLO GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER). Still haven’t decided what I’m wearing or which shoes I want (character shoes? ballet shoes? probably ballet shoes), but it should be fun, and will be a nice way to either close out this week or start next week, depending on how you look at it. I tend to regard Sunday as the first day of the week for scheduling purposes, but because I had a show last night and rehearsals all week, it just really feels like the end of a week that was about ten days long 😛

So that’s it for now. More soon, one hopes.

Cooking with ADHD: Chia Pudding

It’s been about a thousand years since I posted a recipe, but this one’s worth knowing about if you like tapioca. If you don’t like tapioca, on the other hand, you might hate this stuff.

The TL;DR

Prep Time: ~5 minutes
Cook* Time: 1 – 8 hours
Who’ll Like It: Tapioca fans ❤
Who’ll Hate It: Tapioca haters XP
Best Uses: Dessert, Breakfast
Hardest Part: Remembering to buy the d**n Chia Seeds
Pairs Well With: Disorganized mornings; late-night cravings

*And by “cook,” I mean “stick it in the fridge and mostly ignore it”

The Actual Recipe

I’ve adapted this from a variety of similar recipes with similar goals. One of the best things about it is that it’s adaptable. Lactose intolerant? Use almond milk. Allergic to almonds? Try coconut milk. Hate coconut? Use rice milk. Don’t like artificial sweeteners? No worries; you can use sugar or agave or honey or maple syrup or…

Here’s What You’ll Need (for each serving)

  • 1.5 tablespoons of chia seed (I’m using black chia seed because that’s what I’ve got, but white is fine, too)
  • .5 tablespoon unsweetened coconut shreds (or powder)
  • .5 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1-2 tsp sucralose
  • ~.25 tsp coconut extract
  • ~.25 tsp vanilla extract

Here’s What You Do

  • Put everything except the chia into a small container with a lid (I’ve repurposed a glass jar that came with shredded cheese in it)
  • Stir briefly
  • Add the chia
  • Whisk all the things briefly with a small whisk (a fork will work fine, too)
  • Stick the lid on and stick that bad boy (or girl, or gender-nonbinary personage) in the fridge
  • Chill for a minimum of 1 hour, but preferably more like overnight, then come back, stir, and stuff it into your maw

For even distribution of the chia seeds, I’ve been coming back 30 minutes into the chill time to re-whisk everything, but that step is optional.

Most of the recipes I’ve found for this use 1 cup of whatever milk-like product and 3 or 4 tablespoons of chia seeds, but when I made my first batch, I found that makes rather an enormous portion. I halved all the volumes to arrive at what seems, for me, like a more reasonable end product.

That said, you can definitely shove an entire 1-cup-of-milk portion of this into your face if you try hard enough.

Notes

  • I’ve read that highly acidic ingredients can prevent the chia seeds from “gelling” adequately, so if you’re going to toss in orange juice, lemon curd, etc, you might want to do it right before you serve this up.
  • If you eat this stuff after one hour, chances are good that it’ll still be a little loosey-goosey and a little crunchy. Don’t worry, though, you won’t die. Or, at any rate, I didn’t.

I entered the ingredients above into LoseIt’s recipe calculator, and here’s what it threw back:

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The (V) is for “vegan,” since I also made a dairy-based version and entered that one into the calculator.

I suspect that this would be really, really good with lemon curd … which, of course, I don’t happen to have on hand. Even better with berries (which I do have) and lemon curd.

As always, I’ll try to get some pix up here soon.

‘Til then, please enjoy this picture of me looking disconcertingly like a young George “Dubya” Bush on the trapeze:

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I misunderestimated how aggressively this trapeze would attempt to remove my clothes.

And also this one of “splits down,” just because:

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Danseur Booty: 1 / Tights-Removing Trapeze: 0

Things I learned At PlayThink 2018

Aaaaaaaaand, we’re back!

This year’s PlayThink proved, without a doubt, to be the best yet for me—the best by leaps and bounds, in fact (pun not originally intended, but retained for effect ;D).

Part of that was simply the result of the stuff I’ve been working on as a human being for the past year: accepting my social difficulties and learning to socialize within my own limits; growing more confident in my basic worth as a human being; listening with presence and patience; and feeling more confident in my body.

Part of it was the result of very conscious choices that I made before and during the event. I’mma talk about those a little now, k? Cool. Here we go:

Good Choices That Worked Out Well

Decide Not To Feel Obligated To Take A Million Classes … Or Any At All.

This may be the smartest thing I’ve done for myself in years. In the past, I selected at least one class each day that I just couldn’t miss, and the more I missed, the more frustrated and cranky I got.

This year, I decided to take a different tack: to take a page from the Burning Man playbook and regard the experience as The Thing, and the classes as optional sprinkles.

In the end, the only class I went to was my own (because obvs). That’s fine: I opted, instead, to spend a lot of time relaxing, hanging out with friends new and old, and dancing my tuchas off in the evenings.

It turns out that that’s a great way to do PlayThink, too. I gained just as much from simply sharing time with my fellow beings as I would from taking classes, without the stress of staying on top of the schedule or forcing myself to be out among the masses when I needed to be alone for a while.

Accept The Whims Of The Universe.

PlayThink is usually the only place where I can realistically expect D to join me in a dance performance.

This year, his rotator cuff surgery meant I wasn’t sure until a few weeks before the event that he’d even be able to participate … but I wanted him in my piece, regardless.

Of course, this year I’m also juggling the busiest schedule I’ve ever seen, and was sick for two of the 3-or-so weeks that I had to rehearse with him.

In short, I got almost no rehearsal time in with D. I wound up teaching him the basics of weight-sharing in a 20-minute window a few hours before we were scheduled to hit the stage, then trusting that the Demiurge of Improvisation would visit us and bless the final 40 seconds or so of our piece.

On top of all this, I forgot my push broom and had to borrow one, which was a fantastic broom, but had a very different balance point than mine and thus handled rather differently.

The end result was that a bunch of the stuff I had intended to include got left out, and some spontaneous bits magically appeared. Oh, and I threw D right into his personal nightmare of being asked to perform dance improv with an audience.

The funny thing is that everyone loved the piece anyway.

For PlayThink, I like to make pieces that tell simple, funny stories, and the story still came through.

I also like to take familiar materials (in this case, rather literally) and do unexpected things with them. PlayThinkers are a uniquely receptive crowd for that kind of thing!

The best part, though, was that D revealed an unexpected facility for character acting. Apparently, he was completely terrified while he was on stage … but he projected such an air of confidence and radiant joy that even I had no idea he was feeling anything else.

When your dance partner who’s also your life partner can’t tell that you’re actually terrified and not having the time of your life, you’re officially Doin’ It Rite.

Do Scary Things, Knowing That Everything Might Go Completely Wrong.

I fully intended to test-drive my workshop before PlayThink.

You know how these things go, of course. The road to hell, &c.

Anyway, I was actually quite nervous about teaching, and quite convinced that I had No Srs Bizness Doin So.

Turns out, though, that the good folks who participated* didn’t feel that way at all. My workshop went well and was well-received, and I think the participants actually felt like they learned some stuff, which is great.

I decided up front that everything might go wrong, and that I was going to have to be okay with that, but it was, in fact not terribly likely that everything would go wrong**.

I also decided that I would frame the workshop as one in which we were there to learn together, instead of one in which I was Thuh Authoritah and my students wouldn’t Respekt Mah Authoritah unless I demonstrated complete mastery of the subject matter.

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

The best moment for me, by the way, happened much later. The next evening on the dance floor, I saw a couple of the students from my workshop using some of the stuff I taught. They were experimenting together with weight sharing, and they laughing, and clearly having a good time. That was a cool and unexpected outgrowth!

*Did I mention that I was also afraid nobody would come to my weird little workshop? No? Well, I was.

**This is an approach that’s sometimes used in treating anxiety disorders and specific phobias. You learn to have this little conversation with yourself: “What am I afraid will happen if I [don’t go back and check the stove again/leave the house/talk to a stranger at this well-attended festival full of thoughtful people/etc]? I could [burn the house down/die/be abducted by a ring of human traffickers]. Could that really happen? Yes. Of course it could. Will it happen? Probably not. How likely is it to happen? Not very.”

As you can probably tell, this approach has been really helpful for me. By naming the thing you’re afraid of and acknowledging that is, in fact, actually possible, then examining the statistical probability of the thing, you remove some of its power without dehumanizing yourself (or whoever it is that’s struggling with anxiety). Obviously, it’s part of a larger process, but for me it’s a really important part.

Ultimately, PlayThink is about sharing and learning … and even though I didn’t spend a lot of time in the formal learning space this year, I feel like I learned more than I’ve learned at any other PlayThink.

If I had to crystallize the lessons I learned into soundbytes, they’d go something like this:

  • Honor your incarnation by respecting your own limits the same way you’d respect someone else’s. It’s okay. Really.
  • Of course it could all go terribly awry: gently embrace that possibility, then get out there and Do It Anyway.
  • Whenever possible, approach teaching as an opportunity to learn and explore together.
  • Sometimes it’s okay to admit that you’re afraid.

That last one is pretty groundbreaking for me. The circumstances of my childhood and adolescence taught me that to reveal vulnerability was to have that vulnerability exploited: to show fear was to be given reason to be even more afraid; to show weakness was to be hurt.

I think there’s still a lot of the world that operates on those principles, so I’m not going to say that it’s always safe to say, “This scares the #$%! out of me.” Sometimes it’s really, really not.

But it’s good to know that sometimes, it really, really is.

 

 

Unstrung

It’s funny: when we speak of someone being “unstrung,” we typically mean it in the sense that a harp or a piano that has been unstrung is usually having a pretty bad day.

We don’t typically mean it in the other sense—that a bow (the old-fashioned kind made from wood and/or horn and/or bone) should be unstrung regularly, lest the tension of the string ruin its strength.

I think I’m experiencing a bit of both right now.

It’s deeply unpleasant to miss a week of class. By day three, I begin to suffer from the sneaking suspicion that I’m losing my figure if I eat at all (please note, if you’re new to this blog: this a criticism I apply solely to myself—I’m not generally prescriptive about dancers’ bodies, unless the dancer in question is me). My history of anorexia is still, essentially, history … but I’d be lying if I failed to admit that its voice speaks louder when I’m forced to sit down for a while.

This is complicated by the fact that my internal mirror, my mental representation of my body, is updating slowly: that I’m starting to see myself as this rather athletically-built kind of boy, possibly the sort that runs to fat by current professional ballet standards (though perhaps not by any saner standard in the world).

Likewise, I begin to feel frustrated: I know I’ll have to work back into my body a bit; that ballet in particular is an art that demands constant practice. If I miss class for six days, I, my director, the audience, and even the spiders in the stairwell will know. And I’ll really, really know. My deep rotators are, by this point, slowly morphing back into deep potaters (though I am at least feeling well enough to do simple turnout exercises now, provided I do them lying down or in small batches).

And yet it would be impossible and unhealthy to dance through the illness I’ve had this week—I might have milked a few more classes out of myself, but it’s probable that for every hour I strained to charge forward, I’d pay back a day in interest. The show must go on, but at the same time it’s stupid to feck about with a fever and an aggressive infection that has already colonized your upper respiratory system and is eyeing your lungs. If you have to do a show and you don’t have a second cast, you do it; if you’ve got a slow week of class and rehearsals, for goodness’ sake, just take a minute and heal.

Now is no time to get sick—at least, not sicker than I have been. If there’s a good week to take a hit from North Tonsilia, for that matter, this was it: next week is PlayThink, then it’s tech week for Weeds. This week we had fewer rehearsals than usual, and none that were unusually demanding. There was time to sleep and recover.

Time to sleep and recover also means time to review video of Tenebrae and think about work and consider how to move forward.

It’s still a little weird to think about myself as a professional dancer and as a nascent choreographer. It’s really weird in this way that it’s not as weird as it once was. I’m starting to think about the long game; to consider strategies for working as much as I can for as long as I can. It doesn’t seem as ludicrous, anymore, to think seriously about choreographing projects and so forth.

In that light I should think about trying to avoid, say, choking to death. I sliced up some steak to eat with a salad today (now that I can eat salad again :P), but I failed to account for being pretty much unable to breathe through my nose, still. I wound up aspirating a longish piece of steak in the process of trying to bite through it, and D had to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Obviously, it worked: out came the steak, and after a few minutes I was able to go eat my lunch, which I’d literally just started.

Still, it gave me pause. I’ve managed to choke on things before, as one does, but never so badly that I couldn’t sort it out myself. It was less scary than one might expect: like, the initial feeling was, “Oh, I’m choking, I should sort this out,” followed by futile attempts to somehow dislodge this strip-o-steak, um, psychically or something?

The problem being that by the time I staggered into the living room where D was, I was kind of redlining and started to panic as I realized I couldn’t remember the universal sign for “choking,” which apparently is not instinctive :O

That said, I was still able to make a faint gurgling hiss somehow: apparently that, combined with the usual hand-waving that I do when I can’t find words, prompted D to realize that I was choking.

The actual experience of being Heimlich-ed was interesting: there was a moment of, “This isn’t worki—” and then all at once it had worked and I was holding a disgusting, slimy strip of meat in one hand. Weird. After that there was a brief episode of the physical rage that’s my universal response to physical threats, but in a particularly helpless-feeling fashion that made me sit down on the floor and say some colorful words.

And then I realized it was just that—the same reflex I always have—and that I was fine and D had basically just saved my life by correctly reading a particular form of interpretive dance that I do when my language coprocessor crashes.

Which, in retrospect, is really rather funny. So now I have another amusing story to tell at dancer parties, which are basically the only parties I attend, about how interpretive dance saved the day.

You guys, I swear my life is not normally this interesting.

You may now proceed with the obvious jokes related to choking on huge meat, biting off more than I can chew, etc.

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