Category Archives: life

Time Flies

Usually I go to intensives and spend the whole time thinking, Wow, there’s a whole week left or whatever.

LexBallet this year has felt completely different, possibly because I’ve been driving back and forth each day (turns out that it is less expensive even than AirBnB). I’m used to either having the days or the evenings to just loll around and read during intensives, so this is pretty different. Even though the total drive time is only about 2.5 hours each day, I’ve also been at home, doing the things I normally do: going to class, running errands, doing laundry, cooking, amusing the cat … which is really quite different from hanging out in a guest capacity somewhere and not having to do anything except feed myself and eventually put clothes on.

So here it is, almost Friday already. I’ve learned quite a bit. This year only four of us are doing rep, and we’re all in the mix together, learning a scene from Paquita that’s usually all girls but which has a bunch of nice little variations. I am, of course, doing the one with lots of big jumps.

I’m wrestling with some of the corps part still, but feeling pretty decent about my solo (which involves three sauts de Basque, so of course I love it). I’m looking forward to showing it off a little tomorrow.

What comes after gets filed partly under Continuing Education and partly under To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent. The CE part is masterclasses: one (maybe two) at LouBallet and one at LexBallet. The other part (parts, really) I’m keeping under my hat for now.

Suffice it to that sometimes you see a fork in the road approaching, and you have to make some decisions, and while either branch has its merits, sometimes you really find yourself rooting for the new horizon.

Unstrung

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pas De Probleme

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 Danceou 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[1]), 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.

  1. …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.

Instagram

Insta thinks I’m into:

  • ballet
  • cats & dogs
  • …bodybuilders?

2 outta 3 ain’t bad (not that I mind body bodybuilders or anything)

shows and stuff and things

On Saturday, a bunch of us from only weeds will rise in winter descended upon Churchill Downs’ opening night Fund for the Arts gala to perform excerpts from the show in pop-up form.

It went well (though I was a complete disaster on Sunday because I got dehydrated :P). We were a tad awkward at first, but as the night went on we got things nailed down and started tacking on a long-form improv after the set choreography. That just got better and better: the last round was awesome, even if almost no one was left to see it!

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We also demonstrated that modern dancers don’t have to be so hecking serious allataimz.

Anyway, I’m feeling more and more confident about weeds, even if I was a complete PITA[1] to our choreographer-director on Sunday (sorry, AMS!).

  1. I was having an exceptionally difficult time with receptive language processing, but didn’t realize it ’til after rehearsal was over, so I was constantly screwing things up and being mad at AMS about it. Ugh.

In other news, I’ve started working on choreography for my PlayThink piece, and I think it’s going to be quite cool indeed. A friend of mine might be joining me, which would be even cooler. There are parts of it I can’t do very effectively in my house (too many obstacles!!!), but the performance takes place at an outdoor venue that doesn’t have a fancy floor, so now that it’s warm I can practice it in my back yard.

I’m hoping to have settled a group of dancers for shadowlands or whatever I’m calling it soon, because SUDDENLY IT IS ABOUT TO BE MAY WTF.

I am so not good at recruiting people, and really really not good at recruiting people when I have no idea where I’m going to take them to rehearse. Blargh.

On the other hand, L and I have come up with some really solid choreography for the CL/UofL collabo show, so that’s going quite well.

We also just launched rehearsals for the SPA show, which is going to be amazing.

Obviously, my schedule is completely wack right now, and I’m trying to learn how to eat and sleep in the midst of it. What works best food-wise, of course, is simply to cook a couple of huge batches of whatever when I happen to have time. Sleep-wise, on the other hand … eek, who knows?

So that’s it for the moment. Class notes later probably?

Topless Boys Live: Seven(?) Months Later

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).

Evidently I was bored with life this afternoon? Also, this angle makes my head look tiny.

These scars act like a warm-up indicator: they show more when I’m cold. They’re fairly faint on this side, now, except that weird little fold under my arm where the drain was.

They don’t show much under direct light, either.

Because dancers gonna dance.

I didn’t mean to include only my right side. I just like how my shoulders look in this one.

There are two little spots on the left side where I got itchy, scratched off the tape early on, and wound up with irritation that led to a slightly different scar type. These are still kinda pink right now, but they’re my usual hypotrophic scars. They’ll eventually turn white. I’m not worried about them.

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.

Thursday Night Notes

I got back to aerials today. Worked on rope for the first time since Intro class (so very, very long ago, that seems!) and realized, holy heck, I like rope. We did some trapeze, too, and I learned a new sequence that works for my bendy, snaky body.

After, we chatted about the personality of the apparatuses. Ultimately, we decided that rope is like that big, kinda rough punk kid who maybe doesn’t shower enough but will stop and help you change a tire in the rain, while silks are totally Mean Girls (pretty, but bitchy as hell and complicated, and they’ll drop you like a hot potato if you set a foot wrong). Trapeze, which we didn’t discuss, strikes me as a little aloof and superior. Probably a bit kinky, too. Dance trap is definitely kinky.

After, L and I set a new phrase for my incredibly complicated acro-ballet-ball piece.

Tonight in class, my body remembered how to ballet (though my right quad decided to involve itself in an relevé lent devant one, which was weird and annoying and promptly made it cramp right up the rectus femoris o_O). We were a little boisterous, but still BW gave us some challenging combinations and some good corrections. I did the petit allegro as if I was, like, actually decent at petit allegro. Go figure.

I have, at most, a few more classes with him. I’ll miss him rather more than I care to admit.

At the same time, I’m trying to look forward and plan the next phase of my training. I’ve had a stellar mentor in him, and while hope we’ll keep in touch a bit, it makes sense to build that kind of connection with someone local. I think Killer B might be a good fit. Did I say that already? Predictive Text seems to think so.

Oh. Lastly, I submitted my proposal for a piece for the next choreographers’ salon thingy. Now I need to round up my dancers and get to scheduling. I’ve decided to set the piece for seven dancers, and I think I have enough victims volunteers, but whether I can lay hands on all of them at once remains to be seen.

things you realize

…when you poke through your kindle library at 3 AM

I just finished reading Howard’s End, which is both beautiful and vexing, as Forster’s novels can be.

Since I have to be downtown at eight for a couple hours’ circusing, and I’m not feeling sleepy, and I’ve decided to simply accept this facet of my nature for the moment instead of railing against it, I’ve been poking around for something else to read.

Anyway, I’m trying not to buy any books right this second, so I’m looking through my library, and it dawns on me that my Kindle library stands as a record of my thoughts, in a way, since a bit before I began at IUS. And many of those thoughts were me trying to figure out where to put myself; about who I was and how I should be in the world.

And I realize, now, that for all my sense that I’ve been sort of ducking the bit of adult life, I have in fact been settling into it instead. It’s just that it has happened while I wasn’t looking–that is, while I was dancing, and because I was dancing.

This would be positively ruinous to my marriage if D had imagined that he was getting a finished article. Fortunately, neither of us expected that. We’ve moved so, so far from what I first expected that we haven’t yet sorted out how it all works. My schedule is implacable and impossible and my world is terrifyingly rich and full of other people, and somehow in the midst of all this we are trying to figure out how to actually be together sometimes, and not simply under the same roof occasionally.

When we met, the idea of dancing, of being a dancer, was latent in me. Now it’s simply the air that I breathe. It’s not as important to define what you are when you’re busy being.

To be a dancer is to do dance. To work as a dancer is to live a life consumed by dance. I would say that I don’t think it’s a life one sticks with long if it doesn’t fit, but I’m probably wrong. If it fits, nothing else will work.

So it seems that while I’ve been busy just working, just undertaking this mad project, my life has sort-of gelled. Not that I mistake this for permanence: as a dancer is made of dancing, so a life is made of living. Every step moves forward, forward into the unknown.

But I feel, finally, like I’m trying to move towards things instead of away from things, and to be as I am instead of remaking myself perforce in an image that perhaps doesn’t fit. Not to say that I don’t chafe at my own shortcomings: I will probably never be BW, who apologized for making pies (from scratch) ahead while in the thick of rehearsals for Swan Lake, and who is gentle and temperate.

But I’m more willing, maybe, to work with what I’ve got than I was in 2010. Dancing forces you, eventually, to countenance your own limitations (my turnout is good but my fifth position depends deeply on keeping myself lean because I’m muscly; I’m swaybacked; sometimes it seems my arms will be a trial forever…).

When you find your strengths, your weaknesses stop scaring you so much.

Little by little I’m finding my way.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning the card that my favorite high school English teacher gave me was a cut-out swan in which she’d written, simply: “Find your way.”

I think about that often.

That, and the fact that sooner or later, ballet always involves some manner of enchanted swan.

halp

Saw Giselle last night.

Pros: really good performance, and the hops-en-pointe section didn’t seem random and wtf-y. Which, tbh, sometimes it does.

And as silly as ballet mime feels sometimes (I may have leaned over to my friend L during the second act as Mirtha mimed at Albrecht and whispered, “Make me an omelet, mortal!”), Giselle’s mom in Act 1 flat-out ripped everyone’s heart out with it during the death scene.

Cons: one of my favorite people was the guy in the peasant pas (he was lovely), and between that and the fact that I learned the male variation a couple years back, I was all kinds of paying attention, and now the music is STUCK IN MY HEAD FOREVER.

You guys, I would much rather have Tchaikovsky stuck in my head, for reals. Adam is so … errrrrgghhhh.

It’s that class of ballet music that’s fine as long as there’s a ballet to go with it, but nigh unlistenable on its own. (I should note that the male peasant pas is fairly inoffensive … the first two or three times.)

Also, to be honest, I don’t feel like Adam quite understood the story. Like, seriously, listen to Albrecht’s variation. Then ask yourself whether it sounds like the kind of music that goes with the concept these angry dead ladies are trying to dance this guy to death.

To be honest, it sounds more like, “Jovial wine merchant announces his engagement,” or something.

But we accept it, partly because the choreography is awesome and possibly also because by the time the second act begins many of us have had a drink or two.

Maybe it works better when they play Albrecht as a philandering jerk who just kinda vaguely feels bad about stuff (now that it’s Much Too Late)? Then we’re all on the side of the Wilis, and maybe they think it’s funny.

Though, to be entirely honest, I suspect that Giselle’s BFLF[1], Mirtha, didn’t even think anything was funny even before she became a Wili. Definitely not as she was played last night. There were some seriously fearsome vibes rolling up off the stage.

  1. Best Frenemy Literally Forever

~

In other news, I’m horribly swamped with dancing stuff right now, which I suppose is a good problem to have.

But alas, BW is leaving us for bigger things, so I’m also all kinds of moping about that. I’ll miss him as a ballet mentor, but also as a friend. That said, he won’t be so far away that I can’t go watch him dance once in a while.

I’m glad we have L’Ancien teaching advanced class, but my relationship with him is very different. I had BW entirely to myself for months, and he understands my body better than anyone (better, in fact, than I do) where ballet is concerned.

So until he departs, I plan to make the most of every class with him. I mean, not that I didn’t plan to in the first place. But you know what I mean.

Anyway, it’s late and I’m exhausted, so off to bed with me.

Mr. Merkah demonstrates how I feel right now

Reveille*

(n) An advanced step in which—after falling catastrophically out of a turn, jump, or lift—one rises from the ground with such an air of grace and mastery that the audience (ideally, even the choreographer) believes the whole disaster was part of the original choreography. Example: “Mistaknov’s glorious reveille left us questioning whether Seigfried’s variation was not, in fact, actually supposed to open with a glorious saut de chat followed by a fluid, cat-like tuck-and-roll to the knee. Indeed, we wondered if we’d ever seen it done right before.”

I am definitely recovering. Yesterday, I still woke up feeling fairly exhausted, but by late afternoon some of the fog and fatigue had begun to lift.

Every time I do this to myself, I’m stunned by how thoroughly a fairly minor illness can sap one’s energy (or, at any rate, mine). When you know you’ve got a sinus infection but you let it go for several weeks because you know the antibiotics you’ll take to get rid of it don’t play nicely with ballet and you’ve got a show coming up, you lose track of what “normal” feels like.

Anyway, today I feel almost like a human being, which means that by the end of the week I’ll probably be my usual hyperactive self.

Tonight, I’ll be back in class—I’ll do barre and see how things sit.

There was a brief period in this whole process in which I thought, “I wonder if this is what ‘normal’ feels like.” I wasn’t yet overwhelmingly exhausted, but I could sit down for more than five minutes at a time and could also fall asleep easily without having to spend eight hours furiously dancing first.

It lasted maybe a week. It was nice, in a way, but it wasn’t quite like being myself.

Maybe someday when I’m older I’ll find my way back to that place and it’ll feel like home.

Maybe I won’t: we tend to measure ourselves by our peers, and I’ll probably always be a bit of a live wire by that yardstick.

*not an actual ballet term … BUT IT SHOULD BE

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