Category Archives: healing
*by which I mean I, though also you
I’ve written before about the experience of being someone who never expected to find the one thing for which I was willing to knock everything else right off the table, and then finding that thing.
I am (as a matter of course) talking about ballet.
When you’re in that position, it’s easy to forget that not everything works that way.
I am (as rather less a matter of course) talking about aerials, but also about Ehlers-Danlos.
Sometimes, Making Decisions Gets Complicated.
Recently, I decided to try training seriously on rope (as opposed to just occasionally hopping on the rope and being like, “This is fun” and then not doing it again for 4 years). I love watching rope, and it’s a great apparatus for strong, bendy people, so of course it seemed like it might be a good thing to add to my toolbox.
It took only a few weeks to realize that I was … well, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.
Because, as it turns out, rope is a great fit for my strength and flexibility and a terrible fit for the connective tissue disorder that is the source of my flexibility.
The form of Ehlers-Danlos I have is mild—perhaps not as mild as it gets, but the Ehlers-Danlos spectrum includes flavors that are much harder to live with than mine. Because of that, I sometimes forget that my entire body, as D recently put it, “…is always just on the edge of blistering.”
I mean. We all remember that time I went to a modern SI and my foot blistered under its callus all the way down through several layers of skin, right?
(If you don’t, there’s a pic of the partly-healed blister here CW: ratchet-a** blister pic. I don’t actually think it’s that gruesome, especially not compared to when it first happened … but since several people I know disagree with me about that, consider yourself warned? ^-^’)
Anyway! So, yeah. EDS makes my body respond weirdly to friction and pressure.
And rope is all about that friction and pressure.
Horrible, Unavoidable Blisters Are A Good Reason Not To Do Something, Right?
It didn’t take long to figure out that rope training gives me weird, super-hard, glass-like calluses on my hands … or that the tissue under those calluses then blisters and sloughs, leaving behind raw, blazingly painful ulcers that take for-freaking-ever to heal.
Or that trying to do anything with giant sloughed-off blisters right over the distal ends of your metacarpals is … difficult.
So THAT happened.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, after attempting to get through rope class using a combination of Neosporin Plus, blister bandages, cloth tape, and self-adhesive bandages, I decided to take a couple weeks off of rope, let my hands heal, and think about what to do.
Like, even I am together enough to figure out that I needed to seriously think about whether rope was, in fact, a good fit for me.
Like, yes: it’s cool and I love watching rope performers, but was it worth literally flaying my hands on the regs?
And if I opted out, did that make me, like…
[ G A S P ]
This Is Where You Phone A Friend.
Or, well. If you’re me, you either slide into their DMs or just talk to them in person at the gym, bc actual phone calls??? LMAOOOOOOO. Who even does that? That’s not even what phones are for.
- Yes, I’m making fun of myself. Kind of. But also, that ISN’T what phones are for, or at least not my phone, as evidenced by the fact that it’s absolutely terrible at voice calls. I’m also absolutely terrible at voice calls, so it works out.
Anyway, long story short, last week I finally got around to asking my friend, mentor, and hoop instructor ABM, who has pretty much the same version of EDS that I have, if she does rope, and if so how it plays with her EDS.
- Is a combination friend-and-mentor a “frentor?” Or is that more like someone who’s a friend, but also a bull?
- EDS is a rare disorder unless you’re a dancer, aerialist, or contortionist, in which case sometimes it feels like half the planet has it.
It turns out that she doesn’t, largely because it doesn’t play well with her EDS.
When she does rope, AEB gets the same weird, glassy calluses that I get. They inevitably blister underneath and slough just like mine do. She also said it makes her body hurt in ways that other apparatus don’t, which is consistent with my experience as well. (In my case, I had assumed that more training would fix that, but maybe it wouldn’t.)
ABM is also a super boss-level badass.
So this, in turn, made me feel more okay with the idea of not continuing to pursue rope.
Practically speaking, I’ve pretty much put the question to bed. I haven’t gone to rope class since my glassy calluses tore off. I’m not planning to go to rope class.
And yet my brain still finds it difficult to accept that. I hate being told that I can’t do something, even when I’m the one telling myself that I can’t.
Bargaining Is One Of The Stages Of Grief.
- Which are non-linear, and may be visited numerous times. I think of them as trains: you can ride them more than once, and sometimes you’re on a train that at this moment is operating on both the Denial and Anger lines, for example, which might run concurrently in one place but not another. Like trains, they can also take you to places good, bad, and indifferent, and sometimes even to destinations you didn’t expect.
Figuring out that, realistically and practically, you can’t do a thing you’d like to do is a kind of grief.
So is facing down the fact that, no matter what your Russian-born gymnastics coach told you, sometimes there really is such a thing as can’t, or at least such a thing as, I could, but it would be a spectacularly bad idea on levels that I probably shouldn’t ignore.
And so, when I find myself in this position, inevitably I go through this whole mental wrangling process.
Like, I deny that there’s a problem. I give you full permission to laugh at this right now, in this context, because Y’ALL. Me denying that my skin sloughing off is a problem is like:
I get mad: maybe at myself, maybe at the world. I bargain with myself: “Okay, so I can’t do it in its default state, but can I maybe modify it somehow???”
And I do this, I think, partly because I really actually want to Do The Thing, but also partly because I need to know that I haven’t given up prematurely. Only, when it’s something that I want to do, my brain considers giving up at any point to be premature, and reverts to You Just Don’t Want It Enough mode.
Which Is A Problem.
While there might be ways I could work around the blistering thing, it really seems as if there probably isn’t one. At least, nothing short of inventing a modified version of the apparatus (which involves an R&D budget that I don’t have, because I can’t afford to pay an engineer rn).
Normal skin calluses, but doesn’t then blister under the callus. For those of us whose skin does do the thing, most dance contexts, allow shoes or dance socks or whatevs, and they prevent the whole problem. Artistic gymnastics and some circus disciplines allow “grips” that covered the parts of the hands that are most prone to EDS callus madness and tears (the rippy kind, not the kind that stream from your eyes as you attempt to pick up your coffee pot with your poor, ulcerated hands).
- I mean, assume there are circumstances in which this could happen to normal skin, but for me it’s the norm in some contexts.
- There are modern companies wherein it’s barefoot or nothing. I will probably never work for any of them, because I respect that as an artistic decision and just don’t even audition. I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s also a bit on the ableist side, but That’s Another Post.
Rope isn’t dance or gymnastics, though, and it has some unique constraints. I don’t think grips, or anything else I’ve dreamed up, would actually solve the problem. Like, seriously, I’ve been lying in bed and thought, “Maybe I could stick that moleskin stuff on my hands???” but … no. Freals. There are about a million reasons that probably wouldn’t work.
If I had slightly bigger hands, and could wrap them all the way around the rope, that might make a all the difference for me. But I don’t, and the diameter of the rope used in aerials is pretty much standardized.
Being able to wrap your hands all the way around the rope lets you take some of the pressure off of the distal ends of the metacarpals–I can do that on trapeze, silks, hammock, and sling, and while it doesn’t always prevent the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence, it does most of the time.
That’s good enough. I can work with most of the time, especially since when it does happen on trap or things other than rope, it’s typically because I’m doing something wrong.
On rope, though, even when I’m doing things right, I frequently have to grip the rope in a way that transfers a ton of pressure to the distal ends of my metacarpals. Result: the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence (and a couple weeks of wrestling with simple tasks like buckling a seatbelt, driving, or pulling up the covers in bed).
Even if I had bigger hands, though, the surface texture of the apparatus that I’m lazily calling “rope,” which is actually corde lisse, might still be a problem.
Corde lisse translates to “smooth rope,” and it is smooth–in a sense.
You can’t see or feel the twist of the rope fibers. This isn’t the rope you climb in gym class, which is visibly a rope, but something that looks more like the “velvet rope” barriers one encounters at museum exhibits and performance venues.
It’s a kind of long textile sausage. (It is not, however, velvety.)
Wikipedia describes corde lisse as being made of “soft cotton.” This also is true in a sense.
Une corde lisse has a layer of padding between the steel cable that forms its core and its sausage casing, so in that sense it’s softer than just, say, climbing a naked length of aircraft cable.
Likewise, the heavy-duty canvas duck that forms the sausage casing is made of cotton, in that the cotton itself was presumably soft at some point in its life cycle. But that cotton is then transmogrified into the fabric generally known as “heavy-duty canvas duck” and associated with such words and phrases as “tough,” “stiff,” and “military duffel.”
It is not, in fact, actually sandpaper. It feels soft if you gently stroke it, like you might stroke the belly of a cat sleeping in a sunbeam.
But if you use the boniest bits of the palms of your hands to apply intense pressure to a long sausage cased in heavy canvas duck, “soft” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Like the cat, who was only feigning sleep and did NOT invite you to disturb their recharge sesh, it has bite.
So, basically, for a handful (pun intended) of reasons, rope probably isn’t ever going to actually be my jam, no matter how much I want it to be.
The challenge is feeling like that’s okay.
You Really Don’t Have To Do Everything. Really.
This is where the idea of being fair to myself comes in.
Like, I try to do this thing in which I try to convince myself that it really is okay by playing out a hypothetical situation in which someone else comes to me about a similar problem. It goes like this:
I really like rope, but I’m not sure I can keep doing it because it does bad things to my body. I feel like I should stop, but I also feel weird about it. Like, in gymnastics, the coaches never let us use the word “can’t,” and *shrug* … you know what I mean?
I totally get it! I think you’re making the right decision, actually. You only get one body, so it’s good to listen to it and take care of it! Besides–you do trapeze, hoop, hammock, acro, and adagio, which is a LOT, and you’re doing the right thing to take care of your body so you can keep doing amazing stuff with it.
I’ve had these conversations in real life. Lots of them. And when I’m talking to someone else, I mean it.
Like, I’ll straight-up tell you if I think you’re being a big weenie. I mean, depending on the context, I’ll probably do it in a less-insulting way, like saying, “I know you can get that plank tighter! You’re strong!” or whatever–but still.
- Also, can we all stop for a sec and appreciate the delightful oxymoron implicit in the phrase “big weenie,” since “weenie” is used, in other contexts, as an adjective meaning very small? And also that as a derivative of “weiner,” AKA PENIS, PENIS, PEEEE-NISSSSS, it’s for once not insulting to age groups, non-male genitals, non-male persons, any particular ethnic group, people with disabilities, etc?
Sometimes deciding not to do a thing is how we take care of the beautiful instruments that are our bodies. And taking care of the instruments that are our bodies is essential.
The only way I can stop being mad at myself about this kind of thing is to be like, “Yo, you need your hands for PARTNERING, which is your basically YOUR ENTIRE JOB, and also girls won’t like it if they’re all covered in hard, stabby stuff.”
- D, at any rate, doesn’t seem to mind, though maybe he would if I was partnering him in pirouettes on pointe.
And That Isn’t Even The Point.
Look … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there’s great value in the kind of quiet toughness and resilience that training in aerials or gymnastics or ballet, at its best, builds in us.
It’s good to try to overcome obstacles whenever they stand between us and something important or something we really want.
But you know what?
It’s also good to be able to say, without deriding ones’ self as an inadequate little panty-waist, “Actually, I don’t really need a world-beating reason to not do this thing.”
- Apparently, a “panty-waist” was originally an undergarment generally associated with babies–like a shorty union suit. TBH, that sounds like a pretty useful thing. #TheMoreYouKnow
It is okay to want to do a thing, and to try the thing, and to discover that maybe it just doesn’t jam your jelly or whatever. Or that it would jam your jelly, but instead it jellies your distal metacarpals, and that isn’t going to work.
So maybe you change your mind, and decide that the thing in question isn’t for you, at least not right now. And that’s fine.
Changing your mind doesn’t “make you a quitter.” It gives you room and time and energy to not quit all the things you do keep doing.
I do think that I have a good reason for deciding not to continue with rope training.
But it’s not the only good reason, and it would be good if someday I learned that sometimes you don’t even really need a good reason to say, “I think I’ll skip x thing.” That you–I–don’t really need any reason at all except that’s the decision you–I–have made.
Has writing this post moved that needle for me?
I don’t know. I’ve noticed that sometimes we need other people to help us move needles like that. And time. We need time, too.
So even if this doesn’t help move my needle, maybe it’ll help move someone else’s.
I’m doing the National Choreography Month thing, and I’ve been enjoying the heck out of creating improv video clips and watching those created by other artists.
Today, I commented, “#contactimprov is the best. This is beautiful” on one created by LA’s Leigh Purtill Ballet Company (Insta: @LeighPurtillBalletCompany), and they replied, “I love seeing what develops between people who trust each other,” and I thought, Yes.
So much yes.
So much of my current work as a dancer can be traced back to moments of profound trust: to moments at the first Pilobolus workshops I attended in which a momentary connection became, “Yes, we can carry each-other.”
…To the first time Brian set a piece on the open program students at Louisville Ballet School, and entrusted me with solo choreography and, even though I’d never done it before, partnering.
…To a very conscious decision to trust Edwin Olvera when he approached me after a Pilobolus masterclass to suggest that I audition for the company and that I come to the summer intensive (I still haven’t managed to make an audition for the company, but I hope I will … And the SI was everything. Everything.).
…To Mike’s willingness to trust me to lead him in a blind walk dance, and the trust I found so easy to give to Quincy when I was the blind one in the dance, both at my first Pilobolus SI.
…To Rachel’s decision to trust me as an untried choreographer in creating a piece for the Americana Center Fundraiser.
…To Kathy’s and Christina’s willingness to jump in and trust my creative process as I set my first contemporary ballet piece. To my willingness to trust the changes they suggested, which made the piece that much stronger.
…To Dot’s, Jaddyn’s, and EM’S willingness to trust me with their life and limbs while we built pieces together and learned pieces being set on us this past summer.
… To the countless moments that Mr D has probably looked at me flailing through a Bad Ballet Moment and thought, “Jeez, what have I gotten myself into?” but has decided to keep me on anyway.
… To so, so many other moments in which someone has trusted me, or in which I have been able to trust someone else, and beautiful things have grown out of it.
I can say with conviction that my first Pilobolus intensive changed my life. Really and deeply. It was the catalyst for a sea change in so many ways.
The ground of that catalyst, in the end, was trust. Trusting the moments and the process and, eventually, my fellow dancers, until bit by bit I stood on a foundation of trust the like if which I couldn’t have imagined beforehand.
Trust is a springboard. Trust is a ladder. Trust is (sometimes literally) a pair of hands that lift you up into the light.
I love working with Dot and with Jaddyn because we know we’re crazy, but we trust each-other anyway. We trust each-other’s crazy.
There’s something sacred in knowing someone trusts you enough to say, “Hey, here’s this crazy and potentially dangerous lift in which you throw me over your shoulder at high speed, wanna try it?”
There’s something sacred in knowing yourself to be worthy of that trust.
All these moments of trust have been critical in making me what I am right now (for whatever that is 😅).
I would say that I’m surprised by the incredible things my friends from that one Pilobolus intensive are doing, but I’m really not. That group was something else, and in that week we all grew immensely in artistry and in trust. We were all sprinkled with the same magic dust, and the funny thing about magic dust is that it multiplies.
So I guess now the next step, besides continuing to improve as a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, and an artist (oh, look, I said it again) is to figure out how to get better at spreading that magic dust around.
We are made by moments; moments (both bad and good; awkward AF and sublimely beautiful) that loom large in our autobiographical memories.
Just as in contact improv we share weight to create something beautiful, in life we balance and lean on each-other. We become the catalysts for the moments that make other people.
That, too, seems like it must be a sacred trust.
1. Omg, look at me slipping in the phrase “other artists” as if I’m not still routinely consumed by imposter syndrome wrt the right to call myself an artist 🤣🤣🤣
Have you ever seen the entrance to the Kingdom of the Shades (from La Bayadere, one of the “White Ballets” of the classical cannon)? Or the first breathtaking appearance of the swans in a large-scale production of Swan Lake? Or the Snow scene from Nutcracker?
I mean, that’s probably a given. You’re reading this blog, and that means you have internet access and are probably at least a little bit interested in ballet, so that means you can at least watch them on YouTube, probably. (If you came via one of my bike posts, hi! and I’ve got a couple for you, too: a big group ride sweeping around a corner or a tight paceline swapping pulls).
These are some of the best-known scenes in ballet, and with good reason: they display the fundamental truth that there’s immense power in a group of individual people working together.
The entrance of the Shades might be the keenest example.
The dancers enter one by one, in a long line that will eventually double back on itself. They perform the same simple (not easy: simple), repetitive phrase over and over: arabesque (penché, in most versions), temps lié to posé tendu devant, step step, repeat.
They are not massed in a cloud, as the corps so often is. They are not aggregated in attractive little clusters, or in coruscating diagonals, or in opposing echelons. At least, not at first.
Instead, each of the Shades is essentially alone—and yet she’s also part of a whole.
The repeating phrase is nice enough on its own, but nothing you’d necessarily be transfixed by for minutes on end (or, indeed, for one minute on end, unless you’re busily analyzing technique, I guess).
The repeating phrase performed by an ever-lengthening (and eventually redoubling) line of dancers, on the other hand, is mesmerizing. It’s kaleidoscopic.
It evokes an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere even (or perhaps most effectively) when performed against a plain backdrop, with no set except a ramp upon which the advancing shades descend.
This simple phrase, without a single iota of elaboration, becomes a symphony. But it only works if the dancers stay together.
Indeed, it works because the dancers stay together.
At the height of the sequence, the redoubled chain of dancers (still executing the same phrase on the same leg) becomes … Oh, I don’t know: a restless sea; a moonlit, windblown fog racketing between two unseen hills; the very breath of the audience.
Choose whichever metaphor suits you: either way, it becomes one thing; one thing made up of a staggering array of smaller things.
But only if the dancers stay together.
This is where I am in my life. I spent so much of my life standing apart that I came to believe, on some level, that it was somehow better.
Participate, I thought, but don’t join.
Or, join, but not because it’s inherently good to be part of something.
Join because it’s how this thing works: but retain a measure of reserve about the very idea of joining. Remain aloof.
If you remain aloof, the unacknowledged subtext would have read, you can’t be caught off guard and hurt when, inevitably, you’re rejected. (Lessons learned in childhood die hard. When enough people have told you, no one really likes you and no one will ever like you, you come to believe it.)
And yet, as the company has transformed into a place where I feel welcome, bit by bit I find that I want to belong.
That the more I begin to feel that I want to be part of this group—that I like the people in it and the group itself and not just the work we’re doing together—the better I actually seem to dance.
When bikes were my life, I loved—loved—the incomparable symbiotic feeling of sweeping around a curve in a flock of bikes traveling at speed.
As a singer, I have always loved choral harmonies more than anything.
Even as a dancer, I love those moments of pure synchrony, especially in grand allegro (here are four separate bodies flinging themselves violently through space, and yet we are one thing because we are all doing this together!) or in partnering (the best moments, for me, are the ones in which each move seems to flow logically, even inevitably, from the last).
Why, then, am I still surprised to want to be part of something—to want, dare we breathe the word, to belong?
Ironically, I know I shouldn’t be surprised (my aloof, proud, defensive side feels downright affronted: “Of course I know that, man, what are you trying to say?!” …. to be surprised is to be less than omniscient; is to be vulnerable). Humans are social animals, and though I’m not always great at being a human, I am one anyway. Neurologically speaking, even I am wired for belonging.
Of course I want to be part of something, even if the something in question is so obscure that a great many people literally don’t understand that it exists.
(Seriously: there are a lot of people, right here in the First World, who have no idea that a professional ballet company is a thing; that we don’t just clean out the barn, rehearse a couple of times after work, and set up ticket sales).
But it surprises me anyway.
Not least, the knock-on effects: when you start cracking open the door to let people in a little—because, here’s the thing, that’s how you do The Belonging—you find that you try new things that the other people in The Thing to which you’re learning to belong like. It’s transitive almost: I like A and A likes Lizzo, therefore maybe I will also like Lizzo.
You discover music you’ve never really given a second glance before (or you discover who makes music that you’ve low-key liked for a long time but haven’t known who to ask about it). You take a risk and wear something ludicrously silly on Pajama Day—like a hoodie with a sparkly pug with antlers on it (I’ll have to get a picture; I can’t even begin to explain this one).
You say hi first once in a while.
You begin to listen without feeling like you might, at any moment, have to defend yourself.
You begin to talk. Just a little: but then one day you realize you’re having, like, a whole conversation. OMGWTFBBQ, IKR?
And you begin to learn that it feels good to be even a little bit on the inside of something.
You begin to realize that it’s okay to want to feel that. That being on the inside isn’t the same as being one of the people who, back in the day when you were a kid, did everything to ensure that people like you stayed out.
You begin to want to stay together because although you by yourself are just fine, the group is another thing, and it’s a really cool thing.
You begin to realize how much it helps to be a unit.
That (apologies to Kipling) the strength of the corps is in the dancer, and the strength of the dancer is in the corps.
I mean, not that it’s all roses and sunshine, etc. But this, for me, is a new feeling. Realizing that part of merging into the group is being willing to merge; is wanting to merge.
Just like the dancers in the Entrance to the Kingdom of the Shades, we do not surrender our individual strength to join the group.
Instead, we continue to dance on our own legs.
But we dance on our own legs together.
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.
Si vous parlez français, mes chers lecteurs, and/or if you speak Ballet, you know that “pas de problème” can mean either “no problem” or “problem step.” It’s one of of those puns that never gets old, as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, class this morning began as an ongoing pas de problème in the latter sense, since I was still semi-disoriented (I probably should have skipped the sleeping pill last night) and oddly stiff.
Eventually, my body decided to bring itself online, although my brain lagged behind and kept asking stupid questions like, “Are you sure this Sissone travels right?!”
(Yes, Brain. It begins left foot back and travels sideways. Which way do you think it’s going to go? I mean, it could be a Sissone under … BUT IT’S NOT.)
Regardless, it wound up being a semi-acceptable class, which was good, because it was packed and a significant portion of the company came today. I wasn’t at my best—my body never quite finished organizing itself—but I wasn’t at my worst, either.
I’m debating whether HRT means I should actually devote some time to intentionally stretching on the daily. I’ve felt tighter the past week or so than I’m used to feeling, but I’ve also just returned to serious aerial training and done some serious sitting down in the car (we drove to Saint Louis again, this time for a fantastic dance festival).
I suppose it couldn’t hurt to be more intentional about mobility, anyway—especially going forward, with more partnering and so forth on the agenda.
After the Jessica Lang show, D mentioned to me that he thinks I should start strength training with an athletic or personal trainer who understands dance precisely for the purpose of partnering—especially lifting other guys. He rarely makes suggestions about how I should approach my life as a dancer, but when he does he’s usually right, so I’m contemplating how to move forward in that regard. Señor BeastMode is an obvious choice, if he has time in his completely crazy schedule to take on a client right now.
On a broader level, I’m experience the weird cognitive landscape specific to once again having to acclimate my mind to changes in my body. Obviously, I’m trying to work to avoid hypertrophy as much as possible, since I don’t need to be bigger, but at the same time the influence of hormone therapy is changing the overall shape of my body.
Sometimes I’m okay with that, sometimes I’m not. I’m trying to really internalize the idea that it’s okay to be someone who is a dancer, a bottom, and also rather athletically built.
Obviously, this is a refinement of my ongoing body-image weirdness … but it’s such an oddly-specific refinement, I guess. The dancers in Jessica Lang’s company (Jessica Lang Dance, ou JLD) made me feel a little less alien, since there are several guys in JLD who are small, rather pretty, and built like the proverbial brick …. houuussse (da-na-naaa-na … they’re mighty, mighty).
I felt that this occasion called for some Commodores. You’re welcome.
Given that JLD’s choreography skews strongly towards ballet (albeit contemporary ballet), and that ballet is my preferred idiom, it was nice to see boys whose bodies resemble mine (only better trained, I am forced to admit) working in a major professional company.
- …Which is fine, because it turns out that I lurve contemporary ballet.
I realize that, as far as work is concerned, this continues to amount to First World Ballet Problems. Several people who know me have pointed out that my body is not out of line with the standard for male ballet dancers; I’m on the small end and rather powerfully built, but not to such a degree that you don’t see similar guys in ballet in general. Mine is, K suggests, a Bolshoi body rather than a Balanchine body. I’m down with that. I like the Bolshoi better anyway 😉
On a different level, though, the way my body has changed, is changing, is forcing me to redefine my understanding of myself in accordance with my sexuality. I’m not a waifish little twink anymore, but evidently the kind of guys I find interesting (including my husband) are not interested only in waifish little twinks.
I don’t write a great deal about my sexuality, in part because this blog is really more or less about dancing at this point, and in part because my difficulties with it are sort of, like, Queer 452 difficulties instead of Queer 101 difficulties. This may not be true for any of you who read this on the regular or who are reading it right at this very moment, but I suspect that a lot of people who are less familiar with queer issues might not quite grok the source of my internal conflict (well, a significant portion of men might not: female aerialists, who sometimes wrestle with essentially the same problem of the disconnect between their outer Aerial Beast and their inner Dainty Girl, are likely to get it in one, so to speak).
At the same time, I get that it’s aggressively First World Problems-y to be like, “O, woe is me, I have grown up to be this ripped little mesomorph instead of a dainty little ectomorph.” Like, yeah, I get that there are bigger, more problematic problems by far.
And yet, we live with what we live with.
I should note that this isn’t a question of consciously hanging on to some kind of ideal that I know isn’t going to work with me. It’s a question of some really outdated conditioning disrupting what might otherwise be a very natural process of being like, “Oh, okay, this is where my body is going, and this is the stuff I like to do with my body, here’s where I fit. Cool.”
I feel like ultimately it will take a while and a kind of re-conditioning … maybe even some very conscious de-conditioning. That’s going to be a challenge, since the source of the conditioning in question remains my life’s most significant trauma and one that I’m still working to address.
Either way, I should stipulate that I’m grateful for my body and what I can do with it.
I should also stipulate that I’m encountering some of the typical, boring adolescent problems: acne and, um, errr, ahh, wow, there are an awful lot of very freaking hot guys in the world, did you know that? (Actually, just, like, hot people in general.) Seriously. HOW DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY LEARN ANYTHING IN SCHOOL between the ages of 13 and 18, or what have you???? Thank goodness ballet requires so much focus it’s like wearing blinkers (except sometimes, between exercises, when you’re standing there watching and your brain drifts off and is like DAMN HE LOOK GOOD, WHERE YOU GET THOSE CUTE TIGHTS BOY, oh crap was that piqué-piqué-rond or what?).
I’m not sure how to address the latter problem, and today I was really disappointed when I went to the ONLY STORE IN TOWN that reliably stocks Queen Helene’s Mint Julep Mask, which is what I use to address the former problem (acne), and discovered that they were fresh out. I got some other mask that is reasonably acceptable, but it turns out that Amazon carries Queen Helene, and it comes in a tub. The tube version is fine, but a little hard to manage one-handed when you’re languishing in the bath with a good book, so since the price is right and so forth I think I’m just going to order it from Amazon from now on.
On the upside of the whole acne thing, my skin has decided to be way oilier than it used to be, and not to be as ridiculously dry as it has been for basically my entire life. That is a welcome change, to say the least.
So it’s been, heck, like seven months or whatevs, and I haven’t updated the Topless Boys Live series in a bit.
Anyway, here’s where things are, with the new glasses as well (no special reason, just hadn’t put my contacts in yet).
I am also finally getting some definition back after several months of feeling podgy.
The most interesting thing about these scars is that the scars themselves are now thin, whitish lines–healing of some kind is still going on simultaneously alongside them, so my skin is a little pinkish there, especially when I’m cold.
I’m used to the way my body feels, but maybe not to liking the way I look. It still surprises me how much I do like how I look most of the time.
Long day tomorrow: class, rehearsal, different rehearsal, performance, different performance. Class starts at 9 AM; second performance ends at 11:30 PM.
Tonight, though, I’m going to go review choreo for an hour or so, then come home and crash.
Yesterday, I crammed in two acceptable ballet classes and a fantastic acro workshop with a guy who’s here with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo.
We expected partner acro, but it turned out to be basically floor exercise. As it turns out, a lot of my floor exercise repertoire is still very much intact. I got as far as back handsprings before I had to jet off to ballet. Aleks seemed pleasantly surprised (even impressed) with my technique and power, so I left his workshop floating on a cloud of happy.
I was, in fact, as happy as my cat in an empty bathtub. Also rather better at floor exercise.
Perhaps that’s why I spent today feeling pretty decent about myself. I’m occasionally floored by the capability of my body—simultaneously like, “Wow, cool!” and like, terribly grateful at my body will apparently do almost anything I ask of it.
Either way, during modern class I found myself staring into the mirror and kinda liking what I saw. I was wearing a racerback tank that makes me look as much like a gymnast as I do a dancer (and leaves acres of skin exposed to stick to the floor in modern class). For a few minutes what I saw was a broad-shouldered, graceful boy; strong and lean and vital; gleaming with a light sheen of healthy sweat. I saw an athlete; a rather magnificent animal, close-coupled and powerful. I saw, I suppose, what men sometimes see and admire in me. I was reminded of the time that I asked Denis what he saw in my calves, which he all but fetishizes though I have almost always disliked them, and he said one word: “Power.”
Last night, when I was feeling uncertain about doing round-off front handspring on our rather short mat, Aleks said to me, “You can do this. You have power.” It was exactly what I needed to hear: I gave the sequence more vertical punch and less horizontal travel, and there it was, just like when I was ten or thirteen or sixteen.
G-d alone knows what I’ll see when I’m staring down the barrel of the barre tomorrow morning. But it was refreshing to see what I saw tonight.
In related news, I evidently failed to inform my cirque company that I tumble, and they teased me (pleasantly) about that throughout the whole workshop. They were also impressed with how clean, graceful, and powerful my tumbling skills are. Needless to say I’ll likely be using those in upcoming cirque shows 😛
I continue to be terribly grateful that I can still do all this stuff.
Sometimes my body, like all bodies, is a giant jerk—but more often of late it seems like an old friend who’s just been waiting for me to drop by; one who has kept all my favorite games and can remember all the places I like to run and bike and walk. When I dust off a physical skill that I haven’t tried in years, it’s always with a sense of homecoming mingled with a sweet relief.
But looking at myself tonight was something else: the experience of having seen, bit by bit, a thing I somehow missed for many years, and then suddenly seeing it whole for just a moment.
Also, I’d rather forgotten how good it feels to launch yourself into a dead sprint, punch down into the center of the earth, and soar. (I mean, I that in ballet, too, but it’s in a different way.)
It’s good to have that back.
We got the first 30 or 40 seconds of our dance last night.
I like it—it’s completely different in feel from last year’s, very Tango-influenced, rather than neoclassical. Both TS and I are videoing everything from different vantage points, so I was able to see that I dumped my shoulders and core on this wee en dedans turn with the working foot just brushing the ground. It’ll be better next week!
On the whole, though, rehearsal was good. There are 13 of us thus far, and I’m still the Onliest Boy.
I also had a good night in class. Beginner 1 is right before rehearsal, so we arrive in masse and take B1, which means some of us might be a wee bit intimidating to some of the B1 regulars. Still, I enjoy B1, because I don’t have to think about any of the steps at all ever, so I can concentrate on dancing beautifully instead.
Today I hooked up with my friend CP, who is a photographer, to get some headshots and dance photos done. We shot outside, which was interesting: the temperature was okay, but the ground was damp, uneven in places, and (of course) hard, so adjusting was challenging at times.
I got to see the on-camera previews of a few shots (CP shoots on a DSLR), and some were really cool.
One of my favorites, though, is a mostly-beautiful pas de chat Italien with ridiculously effort face. It’s hilarious and honestly pretty cute. (In related news, TIL that executing pas de chats from a standstill often evokes effort face!)
I’m looking forward to seeing the finished pix. They should be pretty cool.
I also snagged a few pix to update my Topless Boys Live! series (even though I don’t go back to Modern ’til next week).
So, there you have it.
I’m at that phase, fitness-wise, in which one says to non-dancers, “I’m still pretty out of shape right now,” and they give you this look:
But dancers will understand, probably.
We’re back in class this week. I’m three classes in and hating, hating, hating everything about myself (except for the fact that I’m no longer dancing with moobs) in class and out.
I recognize that it’s deeply irrational, but that doesn’t seem to make me stop hating myself.
Maybe it’s time to break out the Stare-Into-The-Sun therapy lamp. Maybe it’s time to accept that it’s winter and this always happens to me in the winter.
I’ve found myself on a kind of unintentional and intermittent social media fast, and I think that’s okay. None of my social media streams are terribly stressful, I’m just running on zero alone time, since D is home recuperating from rotator cuff surgery.
Regardless, this is where the ritual of class means the most. I get up; I go to class; I put my hand to the barre and don’t look back (looking back at barre is a good way to fall over and need your own rotators cuffed).
On the upside, I finally installed the heated mattress pad, which probably wasn’t invented to coddle winter-weary dancers but does a reasonable job of it nonetheless.
Next month I’ve got an endocrinology appointment. I’m going to give hormone replacement therapy a try, since my tanking endogenous sex hormone levels are almost certainly not helping. Also going to get my thyroid levels checked, since hypothyroidism runs in both sides of my family and can contribute to depression (and feeling cold and tired all the time).
Even in the midst of this, I’m forced to admit that my petit allegro is improving. When I relax into it, it no longer feels (or looks) like a bunch of ham-fisted hopping.
I keep saying I need to get serious about conditioning, but thus far I haven’t. I’m as afraid of training the wrong things as I am of being unfit. It’s a legacy of childhood gymnastics training—the idea that we must never, never so much as glance at the gym unless a qualified trainer was present to help us not feck up our bodies has lingered long past its expiry date.
BG is a personal trainer in his spare time, so I might do a few sessions with him to get a sense of what I can do without overdeveloping my quads (among other things).
So that’s it. No advanced class today; it’s open house, though, so I’m taking 1:00 class, which is free (though we now have an unlimited tuition plan that has halved my monthly ballet expenses).
Edit: PS—Killer Class is back to being nominally intermediate. It’s still Killer Class.
It’s Monday afternoon: late afternoon, really. I’m feeling restless and lonely. I have all these thoughts in my head and I’d dearly like to have a conversation about them, rather than writing into the ether, but I’m not sure where to begin.
The time of day is a problem. At this hour, in this long, recurring air pocket in my weird freelance life, other people with normal jobs are responsibly working. I’m … you know. Washing the dishes. Debating whether I should eat something else. Doing a mental inventory of the laundry (Do I have a clean dance belt? Yes. Is it one of the good ones? Too late to worry about that now…). Letting thoughts arise and simply go on their way.
I say “percolating” rather than “thinking” because so much of what I’m doing isn’t thinking, exactly. Thinking implies some kind of volitional exercise; it is a thing one opts to do.
I am, instead, doing other things, and “…thoughts,” as the song says, “arrive like butterflies.”
Only, well, not exactly. It is very much a sense of bubbling up rather than descending from above. Not that it matters—either way it’s all a metaphor, really.
Often, it’s uncomfortable. When you’re busy doing something else, and as such not policing your thoughts, it’s really quite startling what floats up from the murky depths. At the moment, for me, it’s a lot of self-hatred and memory and sudden flights of insight into the harshest segments of my own past which I hope to retain but sometimes don’t.
This is, now that I’m thinking about it, not unlike the difficulty a great many of us run into with zazen. You just sit, and while you’re just sitting, everything that’s In There Somewhere finds its way to your consciousness to feck about with your ability to, like, just sit.
- The trouble I run into is the whole sitting bit. If I can sit still for five minutes, it’s basically a minor miracle. I struggle to make it long enough to get to the point at which the Monkey Mind pipes up. I do fine with walking meditation and stuff like that, though.
Which, of course, is part of the point.
As it is, I suppose, part of the point in Just Washing Dishes. You find yourself accidentally meditating, as if Thich Nhat Hanh has teleported in and is standing at your shoulder, saying to you, “Breathing in, I am washing this dish.”
Oops, I guess?
Ironically, whilst ballet is an exceptionally fine way to enter a flow state as far as I’m concerned, it requires so much presence of mind that there’s not really much room for the percolation of stray thoughts.
I used to think that, for this reason, it constituted an ideal form of meditation, or at least that it did for me. Now, I’m not so sure. One of the strengths of zazen (and of its cousin, kinhin, and similar exercises) is precisely the fact that things bubble up from the depths in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t.
I constantly run from uncomfortable thoughts without realizing that I’m doing it. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Most of the time, I don’t even realize it: if I did, I suppose my self-respect would plummet. I believe in trying to face things that scare me.
(Then, I suppose I also believe in choosing my battles, and I could perhaps regard this automatic deflection of uncomfortable thoughts as a kind of unconscious method of doing exactly that.)
So I stand at the sink washing dishes, because our dishwasher is an ancient beast that is both inordinately loud and almost entirely ineffective, which means that if you choose to use it (which, generally, I don’t) you must first wash the dishes anyway before allowing the dishwasher to think it’s doing its job.
I am uncomfortable, but I can’t just plow them back under before I’m aware of them. Nor can I, it seems, usually bring myself to attempt to find someone to talk to in the middle of the afternoon.
The curious thing is that this has, in many ways, been the best thing that could happen to me.
For many years I lived my life on high alert; constantly hypervigilant. Invading thoughts and emotions could and often did provoke a five-alarm response.
For many years I felt that I would, I don’t know, catch fire or something if I neither spoke to someone about the thoughts or did something in response to the internal klaxon.
Yet, so often, talking made no real difference. In fact, I suspect it often made things rather worse.
I wasn’t therapeutically processing thoughts and feelings and memories; I was simply externalizing them as a way of avoiding really wrestling with them. Sometimes, rather than deflecting the thoughts, it only made them shout louder and stick faster. I became caught in storms of fight-or-flight level arousal. Talking about the source of the arousal (or what felt like the source) often seemed only to crank up the perception of danger.
And yet, somehow, uncomfortable as it is, as I persist in attempting to wash the dishes (or just this dish, as is so often the case—when I’m in that place, it’s too much to focus on anything but the immediate thing), I learn that if I remain in place, eventually the alarm bells will subside.
I’m pretty sure this has had a remarkable effect on my overall anxiety level—if ‘anxiety’ is the right word. Who knows? It seems good enough. Anyway, I spend less time than I used to in states of profound vigilance; less time with the warheads armed, as it were.
I become alert, aroused, because something inside me perceives some invisible danger: but the danger passes, and nothing really terrible happens, and each time my brain learns that perhaps the danger in question isn’t real in the immediate sense. My unconscious mind ratchets the Security Alert Level down just a little bit.
This is a thing I’ve learned through necessity. I have left behind the phase of my life in which most of my friends were other college students with giant gaps in their schedules. I now mostly know people with jobs and responsibilities. I have been forced to simply live with very, very wildly uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, I have thus far survived.
I don’t know if I’ll ever live without the klaxons. I am still as wary as a wolf.
If you’d asked me ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to conceive of the way things are now, so it seems reasonable to think that, say, ten years from now things will once again be quite different.
There’s another thing, too.
When I don’t divert the thoughts, sometimes they give rise to creative work. I’ve struggled, recently, with the sense that nothing I’m doing as an artist is in any way actually original or creative (then again, how many minds over the millenia have given us some variant on the maxim, “There’s nothing new under the sun?”)—but I think what I’m really struggling with is that trying to create from whole cloth doesn’t work very well for me.
Rather, I do better to let whatever’s in there filter up and appear on its own, and then to build and refine from there.
I have never been a composer of music: when I try to compose, my compositions turn trite, bathetic, even schmaltzy. I play them later and they make my skin crawl.
When I just sit and play, or when I record the stirrings of visiting muses, things work out quite differently. I won’t say that anything I’ve set down will ever be great, but some of it is in fact quite good.
The same happens when I attempt to compose dances without reference to an internal vision. There’s nothing as depressing as the little passage in a half-baked ballet in which you can tell that the choreographer was thinking, “Rats, how on earth am I going to get the prince over to the punch bowl? All right, tombe, pas de bourree, something, something, just need a few more steps…”
That’s how essentially all my choreography feels (to me, at any rate) when I try to wrestle it into being instead of allowing something to surface, then building on that.
And writing is and has always been, for me, an exercise in hearing and recording the voices and stories of people and worlds that speak from within; a kind of visitation rather than an actual act of creation. The formal, authorial work generally comes after: I’m more of an editor, really.
Perhaps, then, it should be no great surprise that the same basic process allows room for healing of a kind that is, while it’s happening, very uncomfortable, but remains nonetheless crucial.
So I suppose that’s something to think about.
There’s a great deal more, probably, that I could and should say about this, but at the moment I need to put clothes on and go to class.
More, then, at some point in the future.