Category Archives: life management
I know I’ve written about this before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again, but because for some unfathomable reason I’ve spent basically my entire day on Twitter grooving on threads from the neurodivergent, EDS, and disability communities, it occurs to me to write about why the ballet is a good fit for me, specifically as it interfaces with autism.
Everyone on earth has now written a summary of the basic diagnostic criteria for autism, so I’m not going to do that, here. Y’all know how to Google if you need more info -.^
Instead, I’m going to touch on how working as a dancer in a ballet company is a good fit for me as an autistic person, breaking things down as I go by the specific traits in question.
So, here we go.
Narrow Range Of Specialized Interests
Hooooo, boy. With the exception of the equestrian world and certain subsets of academia (I see you, paleobiologists!), I’m not sure there are too many actual career paths that dovetail as neatly here.
Ballet is an all-encompassing special interest. It requires your body, your mind, and basically all of your time. It’s one of the very few career paths in which obsessive focus on the subject is essentially an entry-level requirement—like, the only way to make it through the training is to be motivated enough by ballet itself, which is why dancers everywhere giggle at t-shirts that read, “I CAN’T. I HAVE CLASS.”
Like, we’ve all been there, and (excepting the few who get shoved into it by overbearing parents), we all chose that life.
As autistics, we experience this thing where people get really sick of our special interests. I honestly have only met one person in the ballet world who occasionally gets tired of talking about ballet, and even he doesn’t get tried enough of it to resent it—he’s just delighted when people bring their non-dancing partners to dancer shindigs so he can talk to them about, like, politics or futböl ^-^
It’s not that we dancers never talk about anything else—but in the studio after rehearsal, or at gatherings of dancers, nobody gets mad if you talk about ballet, or if all your jokes are specific to dance.
I suppose part of this is that ballet leaves precious little time for other pursuits—but, also, you only get that far if it basically consumes your whole being.
Rigid Adherence To Routine
I go to class even when I’m on holiday.
This is, of course, partly because I like going to class, and partly because the only way to stay in shape for ballet is, well, ballet.
But I’ve realized it’s also, to a significant extent, because no matter where I go, class is class. Barre is barre. Centre is centre. Allegro is the best thing that ever—erm, sorry, allegro is allegro.
There may be minor variations (Ha! Ballet puns!) in the routine, but overall, when I step into the studio, I can relax a bit more than I normally do, because I understand the process, and I know what will happen.
That Whole “Systematizing” Thing
NGL, I love a good system—and ballet is a system.
It comes with its own entire language and four hundred years of etiquette, which (bonus!) is largely explicit.
Better still, it combines beautifully with a systematic understanding of anatomy and physiology.
Yes, parts of the system are problematic and due for overhaul—but that can happen in any system. A strong system will weather those changes and come out the other side better than it was.
Ballet has been doing that for four hundred years. As long as we allow it to, it will continue.
Being a member of a company also provides a systematic framework for managing time. Class begins at the same time six days a week; rehearsal and performance schedules are posted where you can see them enter day, but you’ve also got your fellow dancers to remind you that, oh yeah, this Friday we have an outreach gig after lunch.
In a well-organized company, you know the temporal framework for the entire season when you arrive on Day One. Specific parts of it may change due to casting or whatever (for example, global pandemics o.O), but the broad strokes are there.
The Social Aspect
My particular autism is probably most observable in the casual social contexts most NT folks seem to really enjoy—the ones where there’s no specific topic or activity, just general chumming around with a bunch of people. I have literally no idea what to do in those circumstances unless someone fires up a conversation that falls in my range of Known Topics ^.^’
And G-d help me if it’s the kind of party where there’s music and lots of different, overlapping conversations but no room to just dance . I can’t with parties like that—my spoken language processing is too limited, and my brain stops bothering, so I typically find the quietest possible place to hole up with a match-3 game on my phone.
- If there’s room to dance, on the other hand, I’m in my element. It didn’t even really matter what kind of music is playing.
There’s some very interesting research happening about much of autistic social difficulty results directly to autistic neurodivergce itself and how much results from the social opportunity costs of being different, particularly during childhood, bu it’s generally agreed that autistics on the whole typically struggle with social stuff.
Ballet might seem like a weird way to address that, since the typical class offers little or no time for what we think of as socializing. But what it lacks in time to chat, it makes up for in spades under the heading of “shared/corporate/communal experience”—which works well for me as someone who grooves on the whole “parallel play” modality, and which in itself provides fodder for chats outside of class and rehearsal (or during breaks).
- In the sense of “people doing things together as a single entity”—ie, a body, or corpus
You don’t have to know how to have a casual conversation to be part of a group of dancers—but being part of a group of dancers can help you get better at having a casual conversation. At least, it did that for me. I’m not going to say I ever totally stopped being The Weird Kid at LexBallet, but people got to know and like me well enough to see past the discomfort that causes.
Addendum: Oh, and because I totally failed to mention it: there’s nothing as social as partnering. (Well, maybe one other thing ^-^’)
You Never Have To Sit Still
Okay, except sometimes, like if you’re a corps girl in parts of Swan Lake or the Master of Ceremonies during certain parts of The Sleeping Beauty. But, even then, it’s a very active way of being still, and will inevitably be relieved by movement.
I often tell people the story of sitting (“sitting,” lol) in a meeting at the last non-ballet job I had and experiencing this intense revelation: like, literally everyone else in the room was physically able to sit still.
I was the only one doing a jig under the table, furiously taking notes to stay engaged, drawing when there was a lull, and constantly shifting in my chair.
That was the moment when I realized with absolute clarity that I did not belong there. Not in a value-judging way—just in a, “Wow, this is not my environment” way. I realized I wasn’t about to “grow into” sitting down at a desk—not then, and probably not ever.
I need to move in order to function. I mean, yes, that’s true for everyone, don’t get me wrong—basically it’s what makes us not plants. Even sessile species like sea anemones go through phases where the they float around irresponsibly before finding grown-up jobs and settling down.
What I mean is that, for whatever reason, my brain/body compels me to move more than most people are compelled to move.
I think better when I’m moving. I feel better when I’m moving. Moving helps me organize my senses and my thoughts.
Honestly, my brain is kind of like one of those sharks that starts to die if it stops swimming, only replace “die” with “dance a stationary jig while quietly losing the plot, but not actually processing information in any meaningful way.”
I don’t necessarily panic—I just get more and more restless, and the excess spills over in the form of more meltdowns and less sleep. Well, and also just having to get up and take a walk, to anywhere, even if it’s just the despised printer, enemy of humankind, or the file cabinet or whatevs.
Also, I just have a metric shedload of extra energy to burn off, and nothing does that like ballet-company life . Teaching gets partway there, but drains my social meter harder than it does my hyperactivity, so it doesn’t lead to the kind of productive exhaustion that makes me actually feel my best and reliably sleep well.
- working with horses also comes very close, but it’s hard to work at a barn and in a ballet company at the same time; being a picker in a gigantic warehouse also burns off tons of energy, but isn’t as helpful in other ways
This is never a problem in ballet, because in ballet, moving is literally your job.
So, Like, In Summary
Anyway, this is long enough.
I’ve written it in part because I’m sure there are people out there who are like, “Wait, I thought all autistics did computers or trains or math,” or even, “How can an autistic person possibly work in ballet?”
I hope this goes a little way towards helping things make sense for people in those camps, but it also helps me understand better what I need from my work environment and why company life, even during my “unpaid trainee/bottom of the pile” days, meant so much to me and worked so well for me.
I’ve been thinking hard about how to make things work going forward, because normally, in dance, you kind of audition everywhere and you go where the job is, but things are happening in my life (nothing ominous, just … responsibilities and stuff) that mean I’ll be moving to a specific place whether or not I get a company spot there.
That has been pretty scary, because I haven’t been sure how to continue building my life as a dancer if that happens. Like, literally, as a not-tall guy who still has some rough spots in his training, that’s a very real possibility. There might not be a company that has a spot for me right now.
But knowing why company life works for me will help me begin to see my way to building a working life that does work, even if that happens.
So, I made a plan (or, well, more like a goal) and … yeah. You know how it goes. Man makes plans; G-d laughs.
In addition to the schedule insanity (that I brought upon myself by not communicating as well as I should have and thus taking on a couple of projects that have added hours of driving time to each week) and STILL trying to finish getting the house sorted, we’re trying to figure things out relative to stuff going on in my family. Oh, and Nutcracker, of course. Two of them, but at least I’m only dancing in one, I guess?
So I haven’t succeeded in compiling and posting resource links yet. Mea maxima culpa.
What the past BASICALLY TWO HECKING YEARS FFS have made me really, really realize is that I thrive in the highly-structured and physically demanding environment of a ballet company, but freelancing makes my head explode.
I don’t know if I’d say that I’m glad that I’ve been given an opportunity to learn how much freelancing in dance probably isn’t a really great, sustainable career choice for me–let’s be honest, we’d all rather that COVID-19 (and misinformation appertaining thereto) hadn’t driven a hecking train through everything, and I’d MUCH rather be halfway through my fourth full season at LexBallet than … this. But, like, at least it’s given me some insight into how NOT to manage my career. Or, at any rate, to the fact that if freelancing is going to be part of my future, I have to find a better way of managing my calendar.
I don’t think I’ll ever be great, or possibly even basically competent, at planning. I think I’m going to have to accept that. It’s not in my wheelhouse, so to speak.
Apparently when I was rolling up my stats or whatevs before I was born, I decided to put a ton of points in strength, dex, charisma, and … whatever stat covers having a brain that’s incredibly good at creative stuff and storing boatloads of information about highly specific things but doesn’t cover things like planning (at all) or processing language (at least in, well, a reliably-accurate way). I clearly more or less zeroed out whichever stats cover things like planning and executive function in general.
I find the whole Ye Olde Tabletoppe Gameyngg analogy helpful because it reminds me that, like, it often really does kind of seem like we have X amount of points that somehow get distributed between an array of characteristics.
While some people–probably most people–roll up well-balanced stats and are very comfortably sound all-rounders, those of us who stack one or more stats do so at the expense of other stats.
Maybe we’re strong AF with a wimpy constitution. Maybe we supercharge Charisma at the expense of mere Strength.
Maybe we roll up a dancer who can’t remember what’s happening this Tuesday, let alone some other, distant Tuesday, if there’s not an external structure in place to help him remember.
Instead of making value judgements about our stats, we can see them as tradeoffs. And just as, in an RPG, you accept the tradeoff and play the character you made, in real life it’s probably a good idea to take stock of one’s strengths and weaknesses instead of wasting energy trying to ameliorate the weaknesses beyond a reasonable degree.
- Seriously. In an RPG, you don’t go, “Greymoor Devondale prepares Spell of Basic Calendar Management” when it’s going to take 17 turns, your party is facing a Balrog with serious indigestion, and you’re the only one whose music can soothe the beast so the Thief can steal the Thing of Needing and save everyone’s butts, or at least advance to the next stage in the adventure. You play the Magic Music and let the appointments fall where they may.
I’m sure there are people who buck this general trend and who are just, you know, spec-hecking-tacular in all their stats. Honestly, I’m happy for them, and happy they exist–like, legitimately, I suspect that there are probably a handful of such folk who are, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, effectively holding back the tide of the rest of the world’s collective idiocy, including mine.
- JS hecking Bach, organist, composer, choir director, and family man extraordinaire comes to mind. But otoh there were elements in his life that facilitated all that; who knows what would become of him in the mad l’aissez-faire end-stage capitalist economy of the 21st-century United States.
I’m also grateful for all the comfortably sound all-rounders–the human Morgan horses of the world who may not be the flashiest, the fastest, the highest-jumping, the smoothest-going, or the hella strongest but who nonetheless are perfectly capable in all those areas and thus are just plain useful. People who are generally competent at being human keep the world turning.
- Seriously. Y’all are the best. May G-d preserve me from becoming a snooty artiste who doesn’t understand how important lunchroom staffers and accountants and stay-at-home-parents and handypersons and all the competent human beings of the world are ❤
For the rest of us, I guess we have to figure it out.
I’ve maybe finally gotten my head around the fact that my body is kind of a unicorn of strength and flexibility and staggeringly good at picking up physical skills and that I am, in fact, apparently actually rather a talented dancer (if also a bit of an idiot with regard to remembering choreography in certain contexts). I’m a seething inferno of creative ideas and stories. I’m good at making stuff up. Like, really good. And for whatever reason I seem to be missing the gene that makes people afraid of improvising in front of an audience, which has begun to strike me as a kind of Holy Grail of gifts related to the performing arts. I was evidently born not with the gift of gab, but that of pure, unadulterated ham.
Oh, and I’m not half bad at obsessing about neuroscience, though it seems less and less likely that I’ll be returning to pursue a PhD therein any time soon (which is fine).
I’m also getting my head around the fact that I’m absolutely not great at planning, managing my schedule, keeping a house decluttered and pleasant to live in unless there’s very little stuff in it, doing any unfamiliar social task, general adulting, and being, well, reasonable.
You know: the things that, well, “normal” people manage with a fair degree of competence, even amidst the wackadoodle landscape of the 21st century.
- For the record, I do know that modern life isn’t easy for, well, “normal” people. Wrestling a giant is always hard. It’s just that, for people like me, we’re doing it with one or both hands tied behind our backs, basically. So we kind of need that paintbrush we’re gripping between our teeth, so we can stab that giant mothertrucker in the nostril, if we ever get close enough.
The last of these (that is, not being reasonable) has been … well, not the hardest to accept, exactly, but maybe the hardest to see. Barring my autistic resistance to unexpected changes when there is a plan (I’m much less rigid in circumstances where there aren’t really established plans or protocols, which might be related to my fearless delight in improvisation), I like to think of myself as a fairly reasonable person. After the inevitable meltdown (“WAIT!!! Here are all the reasons that it would be a HORRIBLE PLAN to combine these two classes!!! I don’t mean to be alarmist but THE WORLD. WILL. ENNNNDDDDDDDDDDD!”) I’m pretty good at accepting changes (“Oh, wait. No. Never mind. You’re right. That’s actually a good idea. Carry on.”).
I’m also generally quite willing to do what works for the greater good and even pretty willing to admit when I’m wrong, once I find the brake that lets me stop arguing simply because I’m arguing (do y’all have that, “Oh, crap, this is the WRONG HILL, but I’d guess better die here because I’m already defending it” reflex between realizing you’re at least partially wrong and adjusting accordingly, or is that just me?).
But I’m not reasonable, and what finally made me realize this was a conversation in which I grumbled at myself for not being reasonable in some specific way, and good ol’ Dr. Dancebelt pointed out to me that we don’t exactly become dancers because we’re reasonable.
To unpack that (since just copying-and-pasting the whole conversation doesn’t seem quite kosher), the idea was this: a truly reasonable person can absolutely love dance and dancing without being compelled to make a career out of it. Being a full-time professional artist of almost any kind is and has, in the Western world, almost always been essentially a way of trading security for passion. There are lots of people who are accountants or nurses (well, maybe not nurses; their schedules are usually even crazier than mine) or teachers or pipefitters or cooks who also paint, write, sculpt, or make music for the love of it, and some of them even get paid for their work.
Some of them also dance for the love of it, though they’re a lot less likely to get paid for dancing because of the demands dancing professionally makes on one’s time.
Yet to do any of those things full-time–which is all but a necessity when your thing is dance (especially ballet)–one must very unreasonably choose a difficult and, let’s be honest, financially perilous way of life. That’s just not a reasonable thing to do (though I guess one could make the argument that if not doing The Thing makes you unbearably unhappy and thus not really any more productive or financially stable in the long run, choosing the way of being financially unstable that doesn’t also make you want to die is actually pretty reasonable?).
Basically, being the kind of person who does what, from the outside, looks like choosing the life of an artist despite the glaringly obvious difficulties it imposes is a bit like being possessed–admittedly, by a fairly benign entity, but one whose directives nonetheless sometimes make other people look at you (often with a kind of baffled wonder) and say, “Well, I sure wouldn’t do that.” (On the other hand, a lot of them also say, “Man, I wish I could do that,” so ???)
But also: as artists, we don’t typically lead head-first. Both my AD at LexBallet, Mr D, and the sort of Ur-Teacher of LouBallet’s open classes, L’Ancien, constantly remind us to get out of our heads and dance.
- Even JS Bach led from a faith like a volcanic caldera, simmering hugely away beneath the exterior–he coupled it with powerful reason to make some of the most beautiful music of the Western classical canon.
Mr D exhorts us to feel the music!
L’Ancien says, “I don’t care if you do the right steps–I want to see you dance!” Yesterday I caught myself saying almost the same thing to a promising student in my Ballet I/II class, “You were right, but you started thinking and you second-guessed yourself. Brains can really get in the way sometimes!”
As artists, we lead with our hearts or our souls or our guts or whatever (Who has time to even contemplate that? The dance won’t dance itself!). If we’re smart/lucky/whatever, we bring our brains along A] to facilitate the process of creation and refine its results and B] to make sure we don’t do anything too stupid and irremediable in the process.
- Yes, I say this with a touch of irony. Contemplation is usually part of it, somewhere along the line, and I suspect that a lot people would argue that the dance is always dancing itself. In fact, being entirely comfortable with the apparent-but-not-entirely-actual paradox implied, I don’t disagree. But That’s Another Post(R).
So I’m learning to accept the measure of unreason that appears to be intrinsic to my nature, and to relinquish the well-trained tendency to worship reasonableness for its own sake. All things in moderation, even moderation, etc.
As for the rest … it’s a learning curve.
Like, honestly, as you grow up, you’re used to getting better at things, and often just kind of growing into things that you couldn’t do very well before. Then you spend a while being, or trying to be, an adult, and you realize: oh, okay. Some of this is just kind of how my brain works, and while I might be able to move the needle a tiny bit by expending basically all the energy I have in a constant, massive, concerted effort, it probably wouldn’t actually be worth it.
It’s kind of like realizing that you’re always going to be 173cm tall with short arms, and buying a footstool to make it easier to get things down from the high shelves. Even the strongest demi-pointe only gets you so far.
A long time ago, I made this kind of decision about managing how autistic I look in the world at large. In familiar settings, with immense effort, I can “pass” as … well, not “normal,” but at least not obviously autistic. I learned to do so as a survival mechanism, albeit one that has always been both limited in its actual effectiveness (Is it really any better if people just think you’re plain old weird? By which I mean, does it actually make life any easier? My experience says it isn’t.) and incredibly taxing to maintain.
I had this kind of epiphany, at one point, that I was wasting a ton of clock-cycles trying to fly under the radar, and that outside of very limited-duration applications (placing an order at a coffee counter, and things like that) it was a complete waste of energy. So I decided to, like, stop doing that.
Which, of course, was difficult in its own way, since by then I’d spent a number of years basically cosplaying “normal” roughly 10-16 hours per day and it was a pretty ingrained habit, albeit a destructive one.
Anyway. The end result was a decision to stop swimming up stream for no dam reason (sorry, kinda went fishing for that pun, didn’t I :V) and, ultimately, to learn some new coping skills. And also to, like, just let my hands flap if they want to, sometimes. (Since then, I’ve learned that it’s amazing what kinds of physical weirdness people will overlook if they know you’re a dancer ‘\_(^.^’)_/`
So instead, I’m trying to learn to actually communicate my needs (this has been huge) and to, like, make accommodations for myself as needed. I have trouble managing a house with a lot of stuff in it, so getting rid of a bunch of the stuff is a reasonable approach–and it turns out that D is, at this point in history, on board with that idea. I have trouble managing the process of making appointments with out quarduple booking myself all the gorram time, so … ermmm. Yeah. Still working on that one.
- …By which I mostly mean “tools and strategies,” though sometimes, of course, the reality is more, “I JUST CAAAAANNNNNNN’T!” than, “I can! But I’m going to need a boat.”
- This isn’t a typo. I’m making fun of myself.
The appointment-management thing is kind of my “white whale,” as we say in the aerial arts community. I’ve been trying to solve that problem forever, and so far I’m 0/infinity. I don’t use any one calendar system reliably enough to prevent it, partly because my phone is crap at multitasking and I lose the thread while it’s taking its sweet time launching gCal or whatever, but mostly because I’m bad at actually remember to copy things into a central calendar and then either get said central calendar out or pull it up while booking things. Ugh. Why.
- The obvious solution is to carry a small, physical notebook and WRITE THINGS DOWN. The challenge is finding one that
- is small enough that I will always carry it and
- plays well with my specific handwriting difficulties
- Oh, right. Because sometimes the relationship between ADHD and autism is multiplicative, not additive.
- Obviously, I haven’t found the One True Notebook yet.
Anyway. So this is where I am right now. I’m trying to stop saying things like, “…But I’ll have a lot more time available once X show is over” because A] that is NEVER true and B] if it ever is true, I would really benefit from a few days to hang my brain out in the sun on the laundry line or something.
Or at least really finish the fecking dishes and laundry. THEY NEVER END.
I originally intended this to be just a short, “Hey, sorry I haven’t done the things yet,” post, but apparently I needed to write for a bit. It did get me thinking about a possible way to implement The Calendar Notebook, though. So maybe I’ll also post that idea at some point.
Until then, keep dancing, and keep being unreasonable, where art is concerned.
I’m writing this mostly as a reminder to myself, since managing widgets on an Android device is kind of a PITA and I’m not in front of my laptop right now.
Anyway! I’m planning to add three resource widgets: one with resources for autistic peeps, one for ADHD peeps, and one for Ehlers-Danlos info.
Each will include links to websites I’ve found really helpful, and that I hope might be helpful to anyone else who’s trying to navigate that neurodiverse lyfe or that bendy, poppy, sometimes dysautonomic lyfe.
I thought about lumping the ASD & ADHD resources into one “Neurodiversity Resources” widget, but A] that could turn into one hella long list and B] breaking them out into two separate widgets might be useful for anyone who’s looking for one topic or the other specifically. Also, I find it deeply satisfying to sort things into categories, because autism.
That said, there is often a lot of overlap between ADHD and ASD, and I hope y’all will feel free to explore any resource that sounds like it might be useful.
ASD is also more common in people with EDS than in the general population, which is both fascinating in terms of research potential and a huge relief to people like me who have spent our entire lives wondering if we’re really just gigantic hypochondriacs (even though EDS is diagnosed by objective physical criteria and we chime right along with the diagnostic profiles for ASD & ADHD and have carried both diagnoses for most of our lives).
I’ll also add a Resource Room page—that way, folks can find the resource lists in an uncluttered context.
Lastly, because I’m a nerd who likes to review things and who recently received the gift of a Costco membership, I think I’m going to try doing a wee video series reviewing stuff I’ve stumbled upon at my Costco that has proven really useful in my life as a neurodiverse dancer currently struggling with the scheduling chaos related to the ongoing pandemic. SPOILER ALERT: it’s mostly gonna be food.
- Autocorrupt suggested, “…ongoing Patricia.” Patricia, I don’t know you, but apparently Autocorrupt thinks that you’re the one sowing chaos in my daily life 😱 Don’t worry, though—Autocorrupt is almost always wrong. Almost always. But if it is you, can you take it down a notch, please? 😅😅😅
You know those soundbytes that your brain makes from experiences in your own life and then plays back every time you hear some kind of trigger word or phrase?
“Something’s happening!!!” is one of mine. My friend Mal, who is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, once shouted this during a particularly complicated group acro thing, and it so beautifully summed up the moment: like, “Something is happening! Is it the right thing? WHO CARES!!! IT’S A RESULT!!! YEAHHHHHHHHH!!!”
If I remember correctly, what was happening was, in fact, the thing we were trying for, so that’s also awesome, but the best part was just the sheer excitement that ANYTHING was happening ^-^
Anyway, it was just one of those really great moments.
As is this.
Yes, COVID-19 is still a thing. We’re still dancing in masks in most circumstances and so forth. People are still getting sick and dying, and I don’t want to make light of that.
But, at the same time, the world of the performing arts and of the movement arts is slowly, cautiously resuming operations.
This week, I’m taking the Louisville Ballet School’s second-annual Adult Summer Intensive. Thus far, it’s been flat-out amazing. I’ve hella missed starting my day with class in a room full of dancers, then spending the whole day at work in the studio. It’s so good to be doing it now, and it’s a great group this year–14 of us doing the full-day program, plus an additional handful doing the half-day version.
Next week, on the 11th, I’m teaching a workshop for aerialists (and other movement-based performers who might not have a strong dance background) specifically on What To Do With Your Hands. Honestly, given my history as a Ballet Squid, I’m both deeply moved that people actually asked me to teach that specific topic and also deeply amused. Honestly, though, the fact that hands have historically been a biiiiiit of a problem for me is one of the reasons I actually feel qualified to teach this.
I am not, for example, all that well well placed to teach flexibility, because my entire approach would be, “IDK LOL MY BODY JUST DOES THAT *shrug*”
But since I’ve actually had to work at making my hands not do stupid and ridiculous things ALL THE TIME, I think I can actually offer some useful insights–like, “your hands will be more graceful if you think of them as extensions of your arms,” for example.
On the 13th, our preview production of Leigh Purtill Ballet Company’s CIRCUS OF WORLDLY WONDERS goes live (or semi-live). The show will have both pre-recorded and live segments, and there will also be a raffle and other cool fundraising stuff.
On the 17th, it’s PLAYTHINK TIME!!! I’ll be teaching my usual workshop, Move And Be Moved, at 6:30 PM on Thursday and performing an original piece with my friend Emma in the main-stage Flowcase, which begins at 8:30 PM on Friday.
Emma has, by the way, been a fabulous partner. She came into this with no real partnering experience, but has been incredibly game about trying everything. We also take regular breaks to act like a couple of five-year olds, which is super important to the partnering relationship IMO.
In July and possibly August, I’ll be teaching at Summer Intensives, and beginning rehearsals for LPBC’s next show, Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet, in which I get to be a werewolf (AWOOOOOOOOOO!!!).
I also have a bunch of short gigs with Turners’ Smile Parade, which is an awesome sort of pop-up circusette that visits nursing homes, schools, birthday parties, and so forth, and I’m hecking excited about those, because frankly they’re SUPER fun ❤
I may or may not find a way to jam another SI into my summer, though who knows? Right now, I’m feeling pretty booked, and like perhaps I shouldn’t add anything because I need to leave room to, like, actually breathe and relax and put my feet up before I dive into what is somehow the THIRD YEAR of my ballet-teaching career and the … fourth? year of my ballet career.
Tonight, though, I’ll be sliding into the bathtub for a little R&R before I crawl into bed. My body feels great (if a bit tired) right now, but 6ish hours of dancing, followed by an hour pushing the lawn mower around, can take a toll, and a bath will help put things right.
I think I was 20 or so when I first thought to myself, “The first step in growing up is realizing that you’re still a kid” or something like that.
Even at the time, that seemed very obviously like a Step Zero kind of idea: like, not even Step One in the actual program of working on the thing, but the step that makes you realize there’s a thing to maybe work on in the first place.
- … Though, in fact, I’m not at all enamoured with the idea of growing up for its own sake, and never have been. More on that later, ! maybe?
At the time I was still rather blindly invested in the idea of myself as being mature-beyond-my-years. That was a problem because, in fact, I wasn’t so much preternaturally mature as developmentally delayed in a way that completely hoses up the cultural signals of maturity.
Like: it’s hard to get in trouble by doing stupid things with your friends when you don’t have any friends. Not getting in trouble can make it seem like you’re making good choices, when in fact you just haven’t had to make those choices in the first place.
It’s easy to follow the rules when you’re developmentally still at a stage in which you actually really like rules. This can make it seem like you’re a mature and prudent individual with clear foresight when, once again, you might not actually be equipped to make prudent decisions or be at all good at figuring out how your immediate actions might impact your long-term outcomes.
It’s easy to sound like an old soul when you basically learned how humans talk by reading books written by people who died a hundred years ago (and let’s not forget the social weirdness of growing up in the ur-nerdy, monomaniacal worlds of ballet and classical music, in which children tend to behave almost as if they come from another time, because the culture of the artform selects for a kind of old-world obedience). None of those things mean you have any idea how to have adult relationships.
When an actual 8- or 10-year old comes across that way, we assume that—appearances notwithstanding—they’re still not yet in a place, developmentally, that qualifies them to march forth into the adult world and, like, provide for themselves, navigate complex adult relationships, and … all that stuff.
When someone who’s 18 or 20 comes across that way, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Things Aren’t Always As They Appear. Instead, we congratulate them for their apparent maturity and are then flabbergasted when they make a disastrous hash of actually Adulting.
This can be just as true when the person in question is yourself. It can be hard to see our own deficiencies. We are, by nature, standing too close, so to speak.
Which brings me to The Obvious, Not-Obvious Thing.
I have spent a huge chunk of my life trying to prove that I could Live A Normal Life Despite My Differences/Disabilities, without understanding that simply acting as if they didn’t exist was, perhaps, not the best strategy. (Okay, full disclosure: I still do this on the regs. Long-established habits take time to change.)
As a result, I’ve basically lived a life in which I’m constantly angry at myself for the mentaphorical equivalent of failing to make it up the stairs in a wheelchair when there’s a ramp RIGHT HECKING THERE, for G-d’s sake. Or, at least, there’s an easy enough way to add one.
- Caveat: there are, of course, still many, many situations in which there is neither a literal nor a metaphorical ramp. The fact that the culture at large behaves as if people with disabilities are failures in those situations is another post entirely, and one that lots of people have written better than I might. Likewise, deciding to climb the stairs in your wheelchair because you actually want to is a totally valid pursuit.
Anyway, lately (and belatedly, given that anyone who’s spent more than two minutes around Buddhism should hecking well know better, but there I go becoming attached to a concept again—specifically one about how I should or shouldn’t learn, which seems hilariously apropos), it has begun to occur to me to forgive myself, as it were, for being what I am.
Like … I might be able, with immense effort, to change some of these things to some extent—but why do that when there are other ways to reach the same goals? And why be mad at myself when I struggle? It’s not like being mad actually helps (in this circumstance).
In other words, it has begun to occur to me that instead of continuing to ram my metaphorical wheelchair into the stairs and be angry at myself for failing to climb, I can accept the metaphorical wheelchair situation and, like, add metaphorical ramps instead. (This seems relevant to this year’s intention, “Ask for help.”)
It has begun to occur to me that instead of fighting to change some of the limitations (for lack of a better word) that my brain imposes, I can accept that they’re there and figure out how to work with them—to harness them where it’s possible and to accommodate them where it’s not.
I guess I used to assume (albeit unconsciously) that I would “grow out of” things—that one day I’d learn how to do things the “normal” way (which is difficult enough for “normal” people, come to think of it) and … that would be that, I guess?
It’s not an unreasonable hypothesis—after all, at one point, I didn’t know how to tie my shoes, and then I figured it out and now it’s automatic.
It is, however, an incomplete hypothesis, or maybe a complete one that I’ve overgeneralized. (Teaching has been helpful, I think: it’s made the idea of different people having different strengths and weaknesses real to me in a way that it wasn’t before.)
In the past, for example, whenever I figured out a way to actually get myself to sleep in an almost-normal pattern, I I would simultaneously feel pleased with myself (This is it! I’m finally doing it!) and incredibly anxious (But what if something happens and I can’t sustain it?). I would cling white-knuckled to the System I’d devised. Then I’d be terribly disappointed when, inevitably, something interrupted the System and my brain happily reverted to its night-owl default because, yooooo, chronotypes are a thing.
I felt this way despite understanding that last point (chronotypes are a thing, though they tend to wander a bit over the course of our lives and we can force ourselves, with effort and routine, to live contrarily to them).
It takes several weeks to condition myself to sleep on a different cycle than the one my brain wants, but only about two nights off-pattern to reset back to square one. This is frustrating, obviously—but it doesn’t have to feel like a disaster.
I can remind myself that stressing out about it only makes things harder, and that while more than a few nights in a row of sleep deprivation can have dangerous consequences for my mental health, I now know how to combine a handful of tools (strict sleep hygiene, medication, and sheer physical exhaustion) to make myself sleep. Ideally, I should actually apply them before sleep-deprivation-induced mania takes hold, but even if it reaches that point, I now have the safety nets in place to prevent actual disaster.
In short, I’ve learned to tell myself, “It’s going to be okay” and believe it.
And though I’ve been reading and hearing about it for years, only recently did I develop the ability to apply a measure of radical acceptance. Like, how hard can it be to say, “Ah! I’ve managed to get to sleep by 1 AM and wake up by 9 AM for three days running. That’s convenient,” without feeling like THIS IS IT! I’M FINALLY DOING IT! or freaking out when, inevitably, I don’t get to sleep until 4 AM at some point?
Really hard, apparently.
But I’m learning to both say and feel, “It was handy to be awake by 9 AM and well-rested for a few days, but it’s no big deal that it didn’t work out today.” (Admittedly, it would be harder to do that if the company weren’t on hiatus. But we are, so I might as well work on developing this skill while sleep-scheduling demands are still on easy mode.)
I can also be fine with understanding, for example, that I’m not good at the kind of abstract planning that Adulting requires, or at managing money (or literally anything else) unless I keep things very simple, or at making phone calls (I joke about this all the time, but I also spend a lot of time being annoyed with myself about it). And being fine with understanding those things could help a lot.
Like, it turns out that when you stop being mad at yourself, it actually really is easier to start looking for ways to approach problems and get stuff done, just like everybody has been saying since forever.
So, basically, my current hypothesis is this:
Why not accept that what I am and where I am right now and begin working on building ramps so I can live without constantly feeling like I’m fighting an uphill battle?
I’ve also only just kind of realized that “accepting what I am right now” is different than “clinging to an idea of What I Am.” The first option leaves room for change and, frankly, for just being wrong. I might not actually understand all that well “what I am right now,” but if I accept that I can try different strategies until I find one that works, then it doesn’t really matter that much anyway.
If I can fail without getting angry at myself—that is, without judging myself—it’s not actually that hard to try again, or try something else, or to allow myself to rest before trying something else, or, you know, whatever.
And maybe I can even learn that it’s okay to fail. We can’t all be great at everything, and the world would be boring (and I wouldn’t have a job as a dancer, probably) if we were.
As an artist, as a dancer who is also autistic, last-minute changes are the bane of my existence.
They’re also just part of the process, especially right now.
The process of filming, with its opportunity for multiple takes, is inherently different from the process of performing a show start-to-finish before a live audience. The certainty in the familiar shape of Nutcracker—the prologue always precedes the crossing, which always precedes party scene, which always precedes “Midnight Scare,” etc—evaporates.
We just finished filming Nutcracker at LexBallet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it was the single most stressful production of my working life this far—not because anything was mishandled, but simply because, as an autistic person, I feel comfortable when I’m accustomed to the process and stressed when I don’t.
Nutcracker is normally our most-familiar ballet. It’s the same ballet every year: adjustments are made to choreography, but the flow of rehearsal and performance are typically known entities. In a way, it’s like singing the alphabet song versus “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star ”: the lyrics might be different, but the music is the same.
- Shout-out to Autocorrupt, which was absolutely determined to make this, “Terrible, Terrible Little Star” 🤣🤣🤣 Autocorrupt be #judgy y’all
That isn’t a bad thing, but at times it was deeply frustrating. I’m sure it was even more so for dancers cast in multiple roles, who thus had to dash back and forth to exchange Costume A for Costume B and so forth. Drosselmeyer is only Drosselmeyer—the amount of undoing and redoing of costume, hair, and makeup it would take to be able to jump in and do, say, one of the second-act variations would be unmanageable during a live show.
Still, I’m learning to accept last-minute changes with less internal grumbling as I grow into this life. They still make me feel stressed and a bit recalcitrant (feels be like “I DON’T WANNA CHANGE THAT! …even though it actually works better the new way 😑”), but I’m no longer horrified that OMG MR D IS CHANGING THINGS A G A I N 😱😱😱
Instead, it’s just like: *shrug* *eyeroll* #dancerlife #yolo
In that same vein, I learned as I was packing my car that D had been exposed to COVID-19 at work again—he’s a healthcare provider, so it’s pretty much inevitable—and instead of returning home, I’d be landing at our friend KL’s house pending D’s test results.
Fortunately, I know KL well enough to feel comfortable in her home, though her catto (who normally likes me) was a little spooked about my unexpected arrival as an overnight guest.
Cats aren’t super keen on last-minute changes, either.
Anyway, I slept for 10 much-needed hours last night, and I’m recuperating. My body is definitely in restock mode: I’m super hungry and super tired, so clearly the stores of extra energy are tapped out (except, like: Hey, body? we actually do still have plenty of stored energy, so don’t expect me to eat 3500 calories today while I’m sitting on my butt! You’re going to have to manage on like 2000 or so).
My car, which was broken into at the least convenient moment during theater/filming week, is still sporting a temporary plastic driver’s-side window constructed from blue painter’s tape and a clear vinyl shower-curtain liner.
I’m debating whether to order a tiny grocery delivery or actually slither into the driver’s seat and go retrieve some food. Alternatively, I might just order some Chinese or something for today, since I have to go out anyway tmw to vote, rehearse, and teach 🤷♂️
- Dear potential thieves: please consider ANY OTHER WINDOW for your car breaking-in activities. I get that sometimes life puts you in a position where breaking into a car seems like the best or only option, but seriously, guys, come on.
- I’m highly grateful for being moderately-sized and flexible af right now. It’s the only way to get into my car rn without removing the temporary window 🤷♂️
Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m still exhausted and I’m seriously considering a nap, even though if there were a World Ranking for Success In Naps I’d be right at the bottom every time.
(For a month, anyway.)
It’s hard to explain how good it feels to return to the studio, masks and all. It’s good to be back with my people, but also to have externally-imposed structure to my days.
Going into the pandemic, I was beginning to understand how much I need externally-imposed structure. Losing it abruptly really drove that point home.
Getting back to serious aerials training made a difference—that gave me at least some structure, more physical exercise than I had been getting, and a reason to leave the house.
Returning to dancing full-time takes it to another level.
It also gets me out of my own head, which is helpful.
Different things work for different people, but in terms of really staying sane, this seems to be the best option for me.
I had a good class today, all things considered. Rehearsal also went well. Revisiting a role I know well is comforting in a way I never expected—perhaps because it’s a touch of normality in uncertain times.
Speaking of which: while I’ve been reflecting on what role I, as an artist, can play in the ongoing movement for justice, I found myself thinking a lot about how ballet will only evolve as we begin to step away from business as usual in terms of how we teach and recruit dancers of color, dancers with disabilities, and dancers from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
And while that’s an important thing to think about in its own right, it made me realize that I shouldn’t be as worried about not being good at doing the things that have been essential to running a ballet company in the “business as usual” sense.
I mean, I’m still going to be a person with autism and there are still lots of ways in which I will need the help of other people if I’m ever going to really get Antiphon off the ground.
But if, in some very significant ways, the way Antiphon operates looks different from the traditional model of how ballet companies work, then good—because part of its ultimate mission is to be a different animal.
I hope that it will grow to be a company that better reflects the diversity of dancers in terms not only of their physical beings, but of the experiences they’ve had as a result of living lives colored by the experiences that come with those physical beings.
- As an autistic dancer and choreographer, I think neurodiversity and psychological diversity should also be part of Antiphon’s mission. But I’m also super exhausted and couldn’t figure it how to work that into the sentence 😅 Sorry.
I hope that it will become something bigger than me, and that I’ll have the grace to get out of the way and yield the floor so dancers within the company can tell their stories.
I suppose if I do my job right, Antiphon will operate as a springboard: a diverse group of dancers who work together and know each-other well enough that when someone within the company steps up to create a dance, they’ll have a pallette with which they feel confident “painting,” so to speak.
Anyway, that’s it for now. More to follow, but I’m tiiiiiiired.
Today’s episode of Danseur Ignoble is brought to you by the famous palindrome, “A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL: PANAMA.” Which, to be fair, only works properly if you don’t consider the punctuation when reversing it, in which case you’d get “.AMANAP :LANAC A ,NALP A ,NAM A” thus utterly defeating the entire point of palindromes in the first place. Also, full disclosure: at the moment, as far as I know, there isn’t a canal in my plan.
I wrote recently about how planning to eat is a good idea, and how the #dancerlife can make that challenging, etc.
Anyway, now that the season is looming into sight (OH LORD, MAKE HASTE TO HELP US, etc) and I’ve done the fun part of being a responsible adult danseur (New tights! New shoes! New … dance belts. Yeah, well, it can’t all be that exciting.), I’m on to doing the hard part.
Or, well, the part that’s hard for me.
Which is planning.
Anyway, in the spirit of continuing to explore the vagaries of #dancerlife in ways that might potentially be useful to other people, today we’ll take a brief look at my planning process (HA! I’m not sure it qualifies as a process, tbh.)
I find it really helpful to create a broad visual guide to my week: a kind of general picture of how things are likely to look, knowing that they’re going to be different sometimes. Because I’ll take 6,000,000 years to finish it if I try to do it by hand, I typically just create a table in Google Docs.
Here, for your edification, is a screenshot of said table as it currently stands:
My teaching schedule (thus far) includes Monday evenings (useful, since my teaching job is more or less halfway between home and Lexington) and Wednesday evenings, and my Wednesday class is late enough to allow me to take an extra class in Lexington on Wednesday evening.
I’m deeply grateful that I won’t be trying to jet out to Frankfort to teach at 5:15, or 5:30, after rehearsal. Yes, it bought me some time to play around in the studio, but it also made it really hard to figure out when I to eat dinner.
Though I’m not sure yet whether this strategy will work, my current plan for Wednesday is to eat a reasonably substantial meal between Rehearsal Block B and Evening Class, then a snack/mini-meal on the way home from teaching. That should prevent me from wanting to murder anyone in the interval.
I might(???) be teaching on Friday evening, though if I’m not I plan to take an extra class then as well. Might as well make the most of my time, and I have plenty to learn as a dancer, soooooooooo………..
I have literally no idea what Theater Week for our first production will look like, nor whether the Nutcracker run will in any way resemble its usual self, so I’m not even going to try to make a draft plan for Theater Week right now.
TBH, half the time, no matter how well I plan, Theater Week turns into “All You Can Eat Pizza Week” anyway (work is irrelevant, as one inevitably just has to tap a sub, or in my case, possibly several).
I think our company schedule is a little different this year (I seem to recall that our morning break is now 15 mins, which probably means we’ll take lunch at 1:30 instead of 1, or something) but not so much so that it’ll drive a train right through this schedule, which is only a rough draft anyway.
If you find yourself thinking, “Yes, fine–you’ve written all these words, and you’ve still told us NOTHING about your planning process,” you’re absolutely correct, and I apologize.
So here’s how the process itself works:
Really first, before I actually begin planning, I look at my various schedules from various places and try to make them make sense in my head and generally develop a headache.
Officially First, I realize I need to make a visual depiction of my typical week, so I begin by making a table on a blank document.
At first, my blank document includes:
- 7 columns: one for each day of the week.
- 4 rows: one for each more-or-less arbitrary division in my day (I don’t like to use an hour-by-hour schema at this stage; I get too hung up on how things don’t line up visually the way I want them to).
Then I realize that I need a header row for days of the week, so I add that, and probably a label column so I can label the different sections of the day, so I add that too and spend a few minutes dithering over what I want to call the different parts of my day.
Once those rows and columns are in place, I start copying data into the individual cells for my company day, then by data for classes other than company class, then data for my teaching job(s).
At some point in this process, I realize I want color blocks to help me visualize my week without reading, so I start adding those. And then once the color blocks start coming together, I realize that a visual breaks for lunch would probably help, so I add a row (columns merged, text aligned center-center) for that. And, hey! It does help!
I briefly decide that I need a separate row for my potential second teaching job, so I add one. Then I change my mind, since adding the row in question will make the whole schedule less meaningful visually, and I remove that row and decide that I’ll just add a note at the top of each work cell (and probably make them different colors if I teach at more than one place).
For now, since I’m not 100% sure I’ll have an extra teaching gig, I’ve filled in the space it would occupy with question marks (???). It could take place on Thursday instead of Friday, but Friday seems more likely, and so the overall shape of the week in this draft is settled.
Then I realize I’m going to need another visual break between the end of the company day and … everything else, even though I technically consider additional classes part of company life. So I add one of those, formatted just like the lunch break, and label it accordingly.
The line for breakfast was kind of an afterthought. I actually thought about leaving it out: I mean, I actually do tend to eat breakfast every day, because when I don’t, I’m typically unfit for human company until I do eat something. But I liked what it brought to the table visually, and in all honesty, it’s useful in helping me imagine how I need to use my time.
Which, for me, is the whole point of doing this.
What this little visual layout really does is help me stop myself overcommitting.
Without it, I tend to imagine all of the time that I’m not actively in the studio either dancing or teaching as “free” and thus available for teaching or whatever, or even just doing side projects. And then, unsurprisingly, I wind up burning myself out.
There will always be seasons (NUTCRACKER) in a dancer’s life in which a little burnout (NUTCRACKER) is more or less inevitable (N U T C R A C K E R!!!!).
That’s why we have breaks in our company calendars. We need that time to literally rest, so our minds and bodies can recover from the strain of long days rehearsing and performing (and living on pizza because we’re artists and thus broke).
Last year, I overcommitted myself, and wound up creating a situation in which I wasn’t eating well enough or resting enough during rehearsal weeks, so by the time performance runs ended, I was not simply cooked, but overcooked. I did finish the year a better and stronger dancer than I began it, but I could’ve made more progress if I’d just taken slightly better care of myself.
Likewise, just as it is with our hearts and minds, we can only take more out of our bodies than we put back for so long. If my goal is to have staying power as a dancer, I need to take care of my instrument. Part of that is feeding it well and giving it enough rest to make up for the crazy demands I place on it.
Nobody pursues a career in dance because it’s easy: if you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll either drop out before you get anywhere near a career, or you’ll realize how wrong you were and embrace the challenge.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to make it harder for ourselves.
And one of the best ways to prevent making it harder for ourselves, of course, is to plan. And while I try not to overuse this phrase, I am sufficiently bad at planning on the whole that I want to say, “If I can do this, you probably can, too.”
PS: my decision to arrange my schedule Sunday-Saturday is a purely pragmatic one. That way, since my company week runs Tuesday-Saturday, my least-scheduled days are grouped together, which I find visually useful. You should organize your week in whatever way works best for you.
(You can find Part 1 here.)
Last month, I attended a really great Zoom workshop with Becky Lindberg Schroeder on nutrition for dancers and realized that I’ve been doing a few really important things wrong. Part 1 of this series covers some of the important insights that came out of that workshop, but I’ll review them in brief so you don’t have to go back and read the whole thing if you’re not feeling it:
- Eat more
- Eat more often
- Eat a snack
- Eat some d%$#n carbs for breakfast
- MAKE A PLAN (but keep it flexible)
My blood sugar skews low, with overnight fasting levels around 70 (the “normal” fasting range is 80-100). This means that, for me, including a mix of faster-burning carbs and slower-burning carbs (along with some protein and fat) in the morning fuel mix is a really good idea.
I really liked Becky’s suggestion for planning: write out a basic picture of your daily schedule by hand, so you can see where you might need to add some fuel to the tank, then plan accordingly.
Step 1: Plan When To Eat
If you’re in a sedentary job, you can probably get away with eating three times a day or so. If you’re a dancer, though, there are sound arguments to be made in favor of eating every 3-4 hours: not huge meals every time, but just enough to keep the engine ticking over smoothly. (If you’re someone who straddles both worlds, with school during the day or a 9-5 desk job and a busy class/rehearsal schedule, a hybrid approach might work.)
My first step was to sketch out a loose version of my schedule and then plug in little notes to tell myself when to eat. I put boxes around them because I’m a pretty visual thinker and I find it helpful to make them stand out.
It’s worth mentioning that as dancers, we often have quite different schedules during regular rehearsal weeks and during Theater Weeks.
Since Theater Weeks comprise a whole different animal, and also because I’m not even sure what they’ll look like this year, I’ll give them their own post later on. For now, here’s a rough sketch of my typical schedule during a normal week:
Even though my days are still a little vague after 3:30 PM, since I don’t actually know for sure yet at what times I’ll be teaching, writing out my schedule helped me understand how long some of its blocks are.
Like, if I don’t eat a snack between breakfast (which I try to eat around 9 AM, but occasionally eat earlier) and lunch (which nominally happens a little after 1 PM, but sometimes gets bumped later), I’m pushing my luck in terms of keeping myself adequately fueled.
It makes more sense to actually eat a snack during the break between class and rehearsal. That way, I can keep my blood sugar a bit steadier, and won’t want to murder someone by the end of the first rehearsal block of the day. Or, well … I probably won’t want to murder someone. Or at any rate I won’t want to murder someone simply because my blood sugar is low.
Likewise, if I don’t eat something between the end of the second rehearsal block and the various things I do after rehearsal, I should really not be surprised if I can barely function when I’m done with my evening stuff.
Last year I was teaching until 8:15 PM some 40 minutes from my work-week home a couple nights a week.
And yet, for some reason, I suffered under the delusion that it was a good idea to wait until I got home to eat.
WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK, FRIENDOS.
Basically, that meant finishing rehearsal between 3 and 3:30 PM, driving to my teaching job, then teaching for like four hours, then driving home without passing out, then somehow eating something actually worthwhile, at like 9:30 at night, when I just wanted to lie down and read.
That, needless to say, was not a good plan. All too often, it devolved into, “I’m picking up a $5 Hot-N-Ready so I won’t wrap my car around a tree.”
My schedule this year will be a little different, but my typical day will still be pretty long. I’ll be doing strength training and taking evening class on days that I don’t teach, so most of the time my working day will end around 7 PM.
So, in terms of when to eat, my basic (flexible) plan includes breakfast around 9 AM, a snack around 11:30 AM, lunch around 1 PM, another snack somewhere between 3:30 PM and 4 PM, and possibly another around 7 PM, if my day’s going to run later than that. I’ll eat dinner either when I get home or on the way home.
Step 2: Plan What To Eat
Now that I’ve figured out when to eat, it makes sense to put some thought into what to eat–that is, the specifics.
Last year, I had decent success with breakfast smoothies that included some pasteurized egg whites for protein, but in retrospect they could’ve used more calories, really any fat, and probably also some toast or something to add some slower-burning carbs.
I also had reasonable success with PBJs made with natural chunky peanut butter on multigrain & flax toast, though one of those by itself isn’t quite enough. Two might work.
Greek yogurt with fruit and generic Grape Nuts was … somewhere in the middle. It might’ve worked better if I used full-fat yogurt, which would’ve raised the overall calorie count and helped breakfast burn off more slowly. Even then, though, it takes a LOT of that particular dish to equal the caloric burn of morning class alone, let alone morning class plus the first rehearsal block.
I did not have much success with the, “Oh crap, I spent too much time reading, guess I’ll shove an apple and a granola bar into my face” breakfast. The last 30-45 mins of the first rehearsal block were uniformly brutal on those days, especially if my snack selection was, “Oh, look, another apple.”
Don’t get me wrong–I love apples. Apples are a perfect, portable, essentially waste-free snack food. They just aren’t built to keep you afloat by themselves when you’re burning as much energy as ballet requires. Plus, eating one can take a while.
So breakfast for this coming season is probably not going to be just smoothies or just apples.
I didn’t help anything by shifting my lunch plan towards “even more yogurt,” or “heck it, I’ll just eat some granola bars” because I got tired of trying to scarf down entire huge salads in 30 minutes (and also of carrying huge salads around with me).
In retrospect, the best solution I found for lunch was chicken salad with almonds and cranberries that I got in little puck-sized packages from ALDI, and something along those lines is probably a solid option. The packaging was recyclable, so I wasn’t left with a lot of dishes I didn’t want to wash–but since the same stuff is available in a larger package (also recyclable), I might just get those. They can be kept cold in a lunch bag small enough to go inside my dance bag and combined with nonperishable wraps to make an easy-to-eat lunch with a decent nutritional profile.
I might also try bringing prepared smoothies as a side dish–I have neat little zipper pouches that let you make smoothies and freeze them in portable portions (that then double as ice blocks!), or maybe I’ll just pack them in freezable plastic screw-top jars, which are easier to clean (glass jars are out–I’m not careful enough with my lunch bag for that!).
Hummus, previously a frequent main dish for lunch, will stay on as a side dish. I’ll add some pretzels to go with it.
For snacks, apples, protein bars, granola bars, and trail mix will continue to play featured roles, and I’ll probably relax my admittedly-obsessive rules about sugar a bit, which will greatly expand the options.
I’ll also probably keep applesauce packets in the mix, especially for days when my blood sugar does tank (because I’m not a perfect planner, or even a good planner–I’m a barely-adequate planner, and I am guaranteed to get it wrong sometimes).
Becky Lindberg pointed out that protein bars, even the inexpensive ones, can be really useful for dancers: they’re concentrated sources of protein and calories, and easy to eat when you need to stay fueled up but don’t have time for a meal.
My gigantic salads will probably move to the dinner slot. They’re filling, easy to prepare, and easy to round out with the addition of some kind of protein and some slower-burning carbs.
If I’m going to be working later than 7 PM, I won’t make the mistake of thinking I can wait until I get home to eat. I’ll either figure out a fairly-substantial meal that keeps well all day and can be eaten in the car or accept that working late might sometimes mean hitting a drive-thru for dinner, which in turn means choosing something that’s inexpensive but nutritionally decent.
I’m lucky in that I don’t actually have to worry about salt intake–or, rather, I have to worry about it in the opposite of the usual way. I sweat like crazy and lose a lot of salt in my sweat, so the challenge for me is taking in enough salt (and electrolytes in general) to replace what I lose in class and rehearsal. That means quite a few of Subway’s options are possibilities, since you can trick them out with all the vegetables and keep things fairly healthful.
Step 3: When Your Body Says Eat, Maybe Listen?
Possibly the biggest mistake I made last year was just plain not eating enough.
I would find that I was hungry at 10 PM and dismiss it as boredom rather than hunger, when in fact, after reviewing my eating habits over the course of the season, I often had every right to be hungry.
A lot of the time, I just plain wasn’t eating enough. I was legitimately hungry at 10 PM. I probably wouldn’t have been if I’d eaten enough in the first place, but I plan to make a habit of accepting the reality that the physical demands of my schedule are such that sometimes a 10 PM snack is a good idea.
Anyway, that’s the outline of the plan. I’ll cover the details and the Theater Week version in coming posts, but for now, I’m going to go eat something!