Category Archives: work
The process of becoming an artist isn’t that complicated. You do art. You are an artist.
The process of learning to see yourself as an artist, on the other hand, comprises an apparently-endless array of subtle layers.
(I’m not sure if it’s an onion or a lotus blossom: like, its roots definitely reach down into the muck of life, but sometimes it makes you cry, so…? Whatever. It can be both.)
Tonight, after closing A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a show that felt like the strongest in my career to date, I had this moment in which I was thinking about something related to work, and it didn’t even occur to me to feel a sense of disbelief, or like I’m not worthy, or anything. I was just thinking about a work thing: a piece to add to the puzzle to make me better at my job.
Only later did it even occur to me to think, “Hey, that’s cool, that my imposter syndrome didn’t even get a look in.”
Every now and then I think back to a conversation I had a few years ago with my friend BB—one in which she said, “…You have your [ballet] career to think about,” back before I was at all certain that any such thing was really going to materialize. At the time, I felt like I should, like, cross my fingers or something. Somehow signal that I wanted it to be true, but maybe didn’t quite think it was.
And yet, here I am.
I’m sure I’ve written before about this process, but I’m equally sure that, a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed I’d be quite as blasé about it as I am now, in part because a year ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever be doing the things I’m doing now.
I’m lucky to have friends who can see things more clearly, and whose words have helped immensely in the moments in which this has all seemed the most unreal.
Their belief has helped to form the foundation of my own, like a builder’s forms shape the concrete walls in a building’s basement.
They helped me believe—even believed for me—so I could do a thing that is almost absurdly unlikely. And the longer I do it, the stronger my own belief becomes.
So this is me, now. I’ve begun, bit by bit, to feel that I have something to offer to my chosen profession.
I’m not sure yet what that thing is, or how to define it. I think that’s harder to do in ballet than in a lot of artforms … like, in ballet, as a dancer, you’re both artist and medium, and another artist is generally responsible for using the pallette of dancers on hand to create work.
You don’t always know what it is that you, specifically, bring to the easel. You don’t know whether you’re magenta or cobalt or red ochre to the choreographer or AD who selects you.
But it doesn’t really matter to me. My goal is to be serviceable: to be a serviceable dancer, one who is good enough to be a credit to the artform and to honor its history. Anything more than that is a bonus.
There’s still a lot I have to learn; a reasonable smattering of holes I need to fill before I can feel like I’ve really got enough of the toolkit to be a whole package—but I’m learning those things, and I’m filling those holes.
Speaking of which: my Petit Allegro is improving again. The keys, for me, are always:
- …keep your legs under you (in other words, constrain your travel, no matter how much you love to travel)
- think about the *down* and the *up* will take care of itself.
So that’s it for now. Or, well … One last thing.
I hope that becoming comfortable with the mere fact of my existence as an actual professional dancer will never make me less grateful for it.
If it does, you can come to dinner with me and kick me under the table as a reminder or something.
Four of these run less than $4 at Aldi.
Coupled with a tortilla or flatbread, one of them makes a nice utensil-free main course at lunch. You can dump the chicken salad straight onto the tortilla and then use the edge of the tortilla to scoop out any that doesn’t dump.
I would say my goal is to eat a healthy, balanced lunch, but really right now it’s just to shove enough food in my face so I don’t eat everything that holds still long enough when I get home (I’m not currently feeling epic salads, for some reason).
So there you go. These and a pack of Aldi’s flatbreads gets you a decent main course for less than $2/lunch. Add Greek yogurt (low sugar for me; too much and I’ll be cranky an hour later) and maybe some store-brand Grape Nuts and you’ve got a decent, inexpensive meal to get you through the afternoon.
This week, on Thursday, we began work in Act II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It is, to say the least, a baptism by fire in terms of partnering. Act II is basically all about the “We’re all getting married and happiness is restored even in the fairy kingdom,” and here I am like, “Feck, well, guess I’m going to learn to not suck so much at partnered turns now.”
But, holy hell. The amount of new material I’ve crammed into my head and body in the past two days is … Erm. It’s a lot.
I’ve been frustrated with myself for not picking some things up as well as I could. I think just not having time to review last night was part of it, and of course just being kinda stressed makes learning harder, which makes you more stressed, etc.
Anyway, I have 3 weeks to look like I know WTF I’m doing, and I’m going to effing well make it happen.
But for now it’s rough, and today I was stressed out and generally mad at myself for the entire day.
So tomorrow will be better. And the day after that will be better. And in three weeks, I will have this down, and I hope I’ll be a partner worth dancing with.
Until then, I’ll try to remember to post my class notes from time to time, but it’s about to get real up in here.
As it often does, New Year’s Eve crept up on me, then pounced 😅 So, erm, happy New Year. And, whilst very technically the new decade really begins NEXT year, since the current default Western calendar has no Year 0, Happy New Decade anyway.
I’ve been cleaning a bit, playing Sims 4, eating everything, and generally being a lazy schmuck.
This is simultaneously the privilege and the punishment of being a dancer on a company break.
On one hand, all the dance things are closed, so you have time to lie around and do nothing. Huzzah! On the other hand, all the dance things are closed, so you have time to lie around and do nothing. Oof.
I’m sure I’ll regret my general sloth on Tuesday when we get back to class. On the other hand, it’s good for the body to have a chance to rest and recover sometimes.
I did finally bite the bullet and purchase a new (to me) laptop. It cost $177 including taxes, which was most of my savings … hi ho, the theatrical life, as my friend RK always says.
It was time. My old laptop is still going, but ay caramba, it takes like 16 million years to do anything. The old machine will be getting an overhaul and becoming a Chromebook, while the new machine will be traveling to and from Lexington with me, as I’m hoping to pick up some light side gigs that I can do online, since Summer Is Coming, and with it…
…It’s on that page, I swear. You have to scroll alllllllll the way almost to the bottom 🤷 (WRT MBB: It’s annoying that a program with such solid technical instruction still refers to itself as a “health and wellness initiative,” but whatever works, I guess?)
I’m going to that one even though I have to pay for it, when I can go to my own company’s for free. Which I’ll try to do this year, though I have work lined up as well, so it’ll depend on scheduling. I have a couple others, including Dancing Wheels, in my sights as well.
I may or may not go to an audition on Sunday. The upside is that it’s for a local company. The downside would be logistical—if I make it, it would mean commuting back to Louisville for rehearsals, which might be too much, what with teaching, CirqueLouis, Spring Collection, etc. I don’t know.
In short, I know I won’t turn down an offer of work, but I think I probably shouldn’t take anything else on right now that requires my physical presence and more commuting. On the other hand, I haven’t yet looked at the details, and if rehearsals don’t start ’til, like, March, it could be doable. Idk.
It’s also time to ponder Burning Man things. Last year’s Burn was both hella fun and transformative, but A] it’s expensive (though not as expensive as people think—any vacation is expensive to us, right now) and B] last summer I overcommitted like crazy and didn’t really get any time to decompress.
Really, I guess I need to get a sense of how my summer’s going to look, then move ahead from there.
So, yeah. I hope 2020 takes you to bed and exciting places, or steeps you in the comfort of familiar and restful ones, according to your needs.
Oh, and one last wee thing: here’s a shot from a wee project Dot and I have launched:
The past two weeks, while stressful due to lack of days off, have likely been the best in my career.
It’s hard to explain what’s happened, because I don’t entirely understand it myself. in short, I’ve begun finding confidence again, and the more confident I am, the more I’m able to improve.
Two weeks in a row, Mr D has commented on how much I’m improving. As dancers, we live for those moments, so that’s everything. He’s also started giving me.a ton of corrections in class (a sign,in ballet, that your work is paying off and that your work ethic is showing), not to mentiom notes in rehearsal geared towards making the roles I’m learning and revisiting really sparkle.
The better I do, the better I want to do, and the harder I work. Success breeds success.
Yet, at the same time, my focus continues to be so different than it once was.
It’s weird. At this juncture, there are still steps I don’t know (there are always steps you don’t know: Ballet has had 400 years to invent stuff for us to not know how to do, after all), but learning them is neither as daunting a prospect nor as urgent a goal as it once was.
You reach a point at which you begin to feel that if you need a certain step for something, you’ll pick it up. You find yourself doing steps you’ve never learned and learning how to ask for help if something doesn’t click.
This week Mr D threw revoltades at us again, but I didn’t quite see what he was showing and thought it must be some variant of an assemblé en tournant. I tried it and it worked just fine, and then I thought, “Wait, that’s revoltade, is what that is.”
Anyway, it turns out that if you want to do revoltade, all you do is pretend you’re falling down drunk and then do assemblé en tournant.
So, anyway, learning new steps isn’t the main focus. Every day, I work on aplomb, on.feeling my body, and on control without tension (so, basically, I work on standing up straight, actually managing my limbs and core, and getting out of my own way). I work on what L’Ancien would call “organizing the bones.”
This, in turn, improves everything else.
A couple of years ago, BW gave me the specific goal of maintaining demi-pointe balances on one leg for eight seconds at a go. Some time between them and now, I got there.
Some time between last year and now I learned to walk powerfully and gracefully, with presence: to say with my walk, without executing a single actual ballet step, “Look at me:I am a dancer.”
Some time between the beginning of this season and now, I stopped being afraid to ask my fellow company dancers when I’m.unclear aboit things.
I stopped being afraid to work on pas de deux and variations in the back even though I might never do them. I stopped being afraid to throw myself in when someone’s missing in rehearsal (as a result, I know all of Flowers now 😁).
I can’t put a finger on the specific moment when any of these things happened (though I can identify the day Mr D tricked us into learning revoltade). But they have happened, and that’s a very good thing.
Earlier this week, with my balance all awry thanks to a sinus infection, I knocked myself off my leg hard in the middle of a turn (too much force, too much internal leveling mechanism failure) and recovered by automatically transforming the failed turn into a spinning jump. I didn’t think about it at all: it just happened. I kind of let go of the ground, landed smoothly, and on I went.
This is what I missed so desperately when I didn’t dance. That deep trust in my body; the knowledge that it’ll figure things out. I missed not even having to think about it.
The jump that resulted from the equilibrium failure wasn’t the step Mr D gave us (it actually does have a name, but I can’t seem to summon that name right now o.O) but it was cool and graceful and I think it actually looked pretty good.
I can’t express how helpful that experience was.
So much of confidence is knowing how to bail out gracefully, and knowing that if you fail, you’ll still be okay. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like that in my life before now.
We’re on break this week, then we return with two weeks until Nutcracker. I feel good about this year’s production: last year, I was learning what seemed like this vast and complicated rôle, and constantly afraid I’d forget something or miss a cue generally make an was of myself.
This year I’m fleshing it out, playing with it, enjoying myself. I still screw up, of course, but now I mostly laugh it off.
It’s amazing what feeling accepted does for a person. It’s amazing how you can blossom once it’s safe to come out of your shell.
I look at myself now and I still, of course, see the mistakes and the missing bits of technique and the occasional complete brain failure, but I also see—really see—the potential that Mr D must’ve seen when he asked me.to come and dance.
Once in a while, I even see a powerful, graceful danseur: I may not be the finished, polished article yet (spoiler alert: I don’t think any of us ever feel that we are, anyway), but sometimes I can see how that polished article will look.
Last year, at this time, I was feeling really terribly unsure of myself, intimidated, and so afraid of screwing up (and of succeeding, but that’s another story) that I was practically paralyzed all the time.
This year, I’m still unsure of myself sometimes, but not in the same awful way. I’ve reached a point at which I’m eager to get up and learn variations and pas de deux that I’m not cast in, even if I’m just marking and flailing my way through.
The main difference is that I feel like I’m part of the group now. I’m still shy and weird, and I always will be, but there’s nobody here who is hostile towards new and inexperienced people, and in turn I’ve let down my guard and been a little more sociable.
I can’t begin to express how enormous a difference this is making in my dancing.
It’s hard to move well when your nervous system is constantly on high alert and your muscles are coiled and tight. In particular, I can’t turn to save my life when I’m tense … And bad turns quickly lead to a downward spiral (sometimes literally!).
It’s also extremely hard to learn anything at all when you’re forever in fight-or-flight mode: the only thing your brain is primed to learn in those moments is whether or not your approach to escaping from the perceived threat is effective. It definitely doesn’t want to retain the combination or any corrections you’ve received.
I’m sure I seemed rigid and unteachable last year. I wonder how I seem this year—whether Mr D is giving me more corrections and guidance because I seem more teachable, or because I’m improving, or both. Probably both. (To be honest, I don’t actually think about it a lot; I’m just grateful.)
I continue to learn to feel my body in new ways, and to pick things up more easily, and to use my body more effectively and remember how it feels when it works.
I hope things continue in this vein. Last year, though I rarely spoke of it, I questioned whether I should be doing what I’m doing and sometimes despaired of ever living into the potential that’s written into my body.
This year, I’m starting to feel like I might get there.
The first year is always hard. I think mine was harder than it needed to be due to a handful of factors—but those things are behind me now.
Last year I was just surviving, just trying to hang on by the skin of my teeth.
This year I feel like I’m finally starting to grow.
So much of that is just not being afraid to make mistakes (and to try things).
Bit by bit, I feel like I’m starting to find my way again.
Dancing is hard. You have to pursue excellence—your own best excellence—constantly, while still holding space for mistakes and bad days so you don’t get caught in a self-hate spiral.
I think that goes for every serious student of dance, whether or not you ever find your way into a professional career.
Yesterday was the first day since the beginning of the ballet season that I haven’t had something scheduled that required leaving the house—or, well, technically, I did have a cirque rehearsal, but I was running a fever and decided that it would be prudent to stay home rather than passing my germs along to everyone else.
Same thing today: Monday is a day off ballet-wise, but a rehearsal day for a small group of us from cirque. We decided to cancel cirque rehearsal today, since of the three of us, one is away and one is ill (spoiler alert: it me). Meanwhile, it’s break week at FSB, home of the partnering class I’m taking on Monday nights.
I’m definitely not complaining about the extra day off, though. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I really need some measure of time alone in order to stay sane.
I’m not sure whether my need for solitude (ha, that makes it sound so much more studious and intentional!) is an inborn trait or a function of having spent a great deal of time alone when I was growing up, but that doesn’t really matter anyway. It is, as they say, what it is.
Anyway, this past month has been one long, unbroken stretch of work days—and though I love my work, I’m seriously grateful for a chance to come up for air, even though it’s purely a function of coming down with whatever bug is making the rounds (and even though I’ve spent most of this unexpected down time asleep).
So, anyway, I’ve been meaning to write about how I’m managing at the moment—I mean the nuts-and-bolts of it. Now seems as good a time as any.
First, here’s a look at my work schedule:
- Sunday: Cirque Rehearsal, 12-2
- Monday: Cirque Rehearsal, 5-7, partnering class 6:15-7:30 (in practice, to actually do both, I have to leave cirque rehearsal at 6 and miss the first 45 mins of partnering class, due to an hour long commute)
- Tuesday: Ballet, 10-3:30; Teaching, 4:40-7
- Wednesday: Ballet, 10-3:30, Teaching, 4:40-8:15
- Thursday: Ballet, 10-3:30
- Friday: Ballet, 10-3:30; GFD rehearsal, 5-7
- Saturday: Ballet, 10-4
My shortest commute is about 30 minutes. My longest (home to ballet) is about 90. FSB is on the way home from the ballet, which is helpful, but it’s still a good hour from FSB to home. (I actually rather like driving, but it’s also physically and mentally stressful, so I’m profoundly grateful to finally have a couple of days on which I don’t have to drive at all.)
I’ve also been working a good many one-off cirque gigs and substitute-teaching fairly frequently, which is good for my income, but obviously means more driving and more time away from home.
The upshot of this is that I have very little time to do household stuff, which has been a challenge for me.
I’m not going to say that I’m on top of everything at this point.
I’m so not, especially not when I’ve planned my week around having most of Monday free and I get called in to sub during the day. I’m not great at switching gears, so things get a little bumpy when that happens.
I am, however, hanging in there better than I anticipated.
With that in mind, are the tools I’m using to at least keep us mostly ticking over:
- The Magic Of The Slow-Cooker: It would be hard to overstate how handy a slow-cooker is in my current situation. D doesn’t really cook, and I often don’t really have time to really cook, either, right now. Our slow-cooker has the standard low-heat setting and a higher setting, so you can throw a bunch of stuff into it and come back 3 to 8 hours later, and you’ve got food. It’s also huge. In practice, this means that I can dump some stuff in on Sunday and Monday afternoons, jet off whatever rehearsal, and return to dinner already sorted. It also helps with the next point, which is…
- Batch Cooking: D doesn’t like to eat the same thing for more than a couple of meals in a row, so I used to regard batch cooking as fairly impractical for our situation. Then, it dawned on me that I can make different batch meals on two consecutive days and stick the leftovers in the fridge, and D can alternate between them when I’m not home (or when I’m just too cooked myself to bother). Fortunately, D is a man of fairly simple tastes, and is generally quite content with things like chili, stew, pulled bbq chicken, and so forth. When I’m actually home for dinner, I serve them with…
- Bagged Salads: …Which are also my go-to lunch. At any given time, at least one store will typically be running a special on the “chopped salad” kits that include lots of crunchy vegetables and come with dressing and toppings like sunflower seed kernels, freeze-dried sweetcorn, raisins, and so forth. Often, I find them on clearance for less than $2/bag. They don’t hang around in my fridge long enough to go off, so I grab lots of those. Usually, one bagged salad can feed me through two rehearsals, which means that a fairly healthy lunch runs between $1 and $1.50 per day. A second one usually makes up the bulk of my supper. I also go through a ton of…
- Greek Yogurt and Frozen Fruit: I buy large bags of frozen berries (on sale, whenever possible) and large tubs of Greek yogurt, but I still get through about $8 worth of yogurt and $4 worth of fruit each week. Still, $12/week isn’t bad for a high-quality top-up between rehearsal and teaching.
- Frozen Burritos: I like to make burritos in batches and throw a dozen or so into the freezer. When you get home from a long day dancing and teaching dance, it’s easy to nuke a couple and actually make a decent meal out of them.
- Apples: I’m out of apples right now, and it has made me keenly aware how much I depend on them. I like really crisp apples, preferably tart or semi-tart, so I buy large bags of Granny Smith, Jazz, and similar cultivars. Normally, I eat a couple of them with some toast for breakfast, and they get me through to lunch. Without them, I wind up eating twice as much yogurt and twice as much toast. Apples are filling, y’all. They also don’t require any…
- Dishes: okay, so here’s where I’m flummoxed. I manage my own dishes by using as few as possible washing each dish as soon as I’ve used it and simply reusing the same two cups all the time: one for hot drinks and one for cold (they get washed once a day or so). D doesn’t adhere to that practice, though, which means I’m left with a batch of dishes to hand-wash on the regular (out dishwasher is dead). I haven’t found an ideal time for that, which means that at the moment they get done basically just whenever. It’s not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world, either. The slow-cooker also helps, since I generally only make one-pot recipes, which means fewer dishes to wash.
I’m still struggling to keep on top of laundry. The challenge there is mainly that D wants his work clothes hung up as soon as they’re dry, which means babysitting the dryer. Maybe simply hanging those things up to dry in the first place would help, though. Socks and the like could still go through the dryer.
D has taken over some of the stuff I was doing—particularly the yard work—which does help, and he doesn’t hesitate to wrangle laundry as needed. In the past, when I had no regular income, it bothered me if he did that, because I felt like as long as I wasn’t bringing in any money, that should be my job. At this point I’ve got a regular income, so I’m learning to feel okay with that.
We still have way too much stuff, which means that I never feel like the house is tidy, because it’s literally impossible to put everything away. We’re discussing how to deal with that—it’s not something I can handle unilaterally, because most of the stuff in the house isn’t mine. I have, at any rate, begun reducing where I can.
So, basically, we’re getting through. I enjoy working on cirque shows, but I won’t be sad to finally have Sundays off for a bit once our current show is done.
I’m actually managing better than I expected to, thus far. Ideally, going forward, I hope to eventually figure out a way too schedule my life so I have at least one regular day off, for sanity’s sake (two would be even better). Likewise, I am at present considering the best way to reduce the amount of stuff in the house and prevent more stuff from accumulating in its place: in other words, a way of solving that problem that will be equally motivating to both of us.
Life as a performing artist is unlikely ever to be as routinely-scheduled as almost any other life in a modern Western economy, and I’m rather glad to discover that capable of handling that.
Anyway, we’re back to ballet tomorrow, so I’d better go wrangle.my ballet laundry. I’m planning to post a couple of my go-to slow-cooker recipes some time soon, as well, and to get back to posting semi-regularly about technique.
There are waypoints, if you will, on the path of life as a dancer … the first audition. The first job. The first show. The first featured role. The first pas de deux.
I fumbled my way onto this path with a fairly simple goal: basically, I just needed to dance. It would be enough to find myself a corps spot somewhere.
I never expected to find myself among the principal artists of any company, and certainly not now.
Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you, though. You find the thing that makes you tick, you keep your head down, you do the work … And maybe you find yourself in a place you never expected to be.
Gale Force is a brand-new company. They didn’t have to roll the dice on me: but apparently, when I auditioned, Shannon saw something in me that maybe I don’t always see. She made me an A-company dancer: which is to say, more or less, a principal. She handed me a solo piece, several featured roles, and a pas de deux.
When I got that email, back before we started rehearsals, I just about exploded (in a good way).
That said, my undying case of Impostor Syndrome definitely made its influence felt.
Part of me was all “I BELIEVE I CAN FLY!” Another part, of course, was like “CHECK YOSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOSELF.”
I didn’t exactly tell that second voice to GTFO, but I did ask it to kindly please step back behind the yellow line, sit down, and stop distracting the bus driver.
Needless to say, there were more than a few moments at which Impostor Syndrome stood up and said, “EXCUSE ME, WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING, MR. BIG STUFF?”
But basically I’m too much of a coward to say, “I think you should demote me out of this dance because I can’t learn,” so instead I had to actually learn the dances and go on being an A-company boy.
Anyway. The bus finally made it to its destination: the show.
We played two Saturday nights.
During the first date, on the 27th of July, we all caught a highly-contagious case of the Galloping Nerves … including your humble host, who never gets stage fright and thus had literally no idea what to do about it. Those nerves were multiplied by the setting sun during the first half and blazing lights that sat exactly at eye level during the second half, both of which meant we were essentially dancing blind, and by the lack of a stage monitor,which meant that at times we couldn’t hear the music.
Have you ever tried to dance a pas de deux when you can’t hear the music and have only had about four hours to learn the dance together?
In case you’re wondering, it’s about as stressful as it sounds.
Apparently it looked okay to the audience, but there were long moments that EM and I stared into each-others’ eyes and tried to look romantic as we attempted to figure out by telepathy where in the dance we even were.
Probably the only thing that saved us was the fact that we knew the order of the lifts (which is more important than it sounds: when your partner leaps at you, you’d better already know which arm is going where), and could remember which one we did last.
Well, that and the performer’s instinct to just go stolidly on in such a way that the audience never knows you’re completely lost.
The whole company trembled its way through the first show and came out on the other side genuinely delighted that nobody fell down or died. Sometimes, you just have to adjust your goals on the fly.
During the second show, everything changed.
A quarter of the way into the first number, whatever it is in my brain that loves performing and knows no fear once I hit the stage clicked on. I remembered that this is what I love; that this is where I live. My mojo returned.
The pas de deux came third on the program and was my second piece for the night.
We stepped out onto the stage, locked eyes and smiled as the music began, and something magical happened: which is to say that the pas de deux happened. We didn’t just know the order of the lifts: we knew the steps; we knew the story: and for those few minutes we lived the story, and the audience loved us.
When the most artistically challenging piece goes well, it’s easy to feel confident about the rest of the night.
Not to say that I didn’t make a single mistake. In fact, I almost knocked myself over during the jazz piece, and again during the final pas de trois (our portable floor gets slick in humid weather, and I should have re-rosined my shoes 😶). It just so happens that I’m really good at saving myself from potential falls. Likewise, I left out a step here or there, and probably added a few without even noticing, as is my wont.
But overall the show went well. My solo piece was staggeringly well-received even though I had to walk back some of the most impressive choreography because I was dancing on a sprained ankle. I neither forgot entire segments of dances nor swapped the order of phrases.
I also got a nice surprise when I first saw our bios: I’ve joined the faculty at FSB. I love teaching, so that’s a solid step in the right direction.
We have a faculty meeting on Wednesday: the first, I hope,of many faculty meetings to come in my life as a dancer and teacher of dancers.
A while back I realised that somehow, against all odds, I’ve become the person I wanted to be when I was there years old.
Or, well. I mean. I haven’t actually turned into a horse, a dinosaur, unicorn, a cheetah, or a giant shark.
But that three-year-old me that sat up in the balcony and watched the Russian dance in the Nutcracker and said, “I wanna do that!” … Well, that’s the me I’ve become. Which is actually only slightly more probable than transforming into a horse or whatevs, and honestly rad AF.
I’m old enough now to grok that the book or movie that is your life never coasts into the credits … Or, well, not ’til you die, and I’m pretty sure I’m still alive, philosophical wranglings notwithstanding.
But I do feel pretty comfortable saying that this feels, to me, like the close of the first chapter, the first section of the book, or maybe even the first book in the trilogy. Like, I’m standing here at the end of my origin story (or at least this origin story: perhaps the greatest human capacity is that of reinvention; of starting over) and looking out for that moment when you, dear reader, finish reading this sentence and turn the page.
- Though, come to think of it, I have been licked and nibbled by any number of horses, who undoubtedly then digested some of my skin cells, which then went on to become part of them, soooo … Win on that one, too, I guess 🤔
There are so many reasons I’m glad that I auditioned for Gale Force, and right now one of the most significant is the opportunity it’s given me to begin honing my partnering skills.I wouldn’t say I’m great at partnering (yet: I might get there, who knows?), but I’m learning fast. I seem to be good at keeping my partners from hitting the deck when things go south,which is comforting, because honestly I mostly have no idea what I’m doing, still.
Anyway, of all the things I’ve learned about partnering thus far, the most important seems at once staggeringly obvious and perhaps a little surprising (which: remember the time you tripped over that brightly-painted curb that you’d noticed before but forgotten and immediately thought, “Jeez, what’s wrong with me?”).
And that most important thing is, of course, trust.
Last night, we started working on a new piece, and AA, the choreographer for this one, gave all of us leeway to toss in elements we thought might fit, including partnering stuff. At one point I looked at Dot and, perhaps because we’re both equally mad and utterly extra, I said, “Cradle to Bluebird?”
And she said something along the lines of, “Slay, Queen!” (Because, as I’ve mentioned, we’re both extra AF.)
And so we tried it, annnnnnnd:
I don’t know if either of us expected this to work on the first try: but we trust each-other, so we both dove in full-steam ahead, and it worked like a charm.
- Though if you know how this lift is supposed to work, you know she’s a little forward of her balance point in this shot, which was the result of my failure to sufficiently account for her skirt. D’oh! Obviously, we made it work.
I would say, “Obviously, you need good technique as well,” but I’m not sure that’s quite as important as it sounds. You need to understand how your body works and possess a feel for the laws of physics. If you’ve got those two things and trust, you’re most of the way there.
Ballet is great at teaching you to use your body. So are acro and gymnastics.
As for physics … People are forever observing that ballet dancers begin training early because it takes ages to teach the brain and body to work together to produce beautiful technique, but I think there’s another element as well.
Only experience can develop a gut sense for the way bodies behave in space. When you’re faced with the daunting task of grabbing your friend and tossing her up into a balance on your shoulder, you don’t have a lot of time to make calculations. You may be strong, but if you try to do it slowly, the laws of physics are likely to come out on top.
You have to be able to mentally spitball the physical process and the trajectory; to be able not only to visualize what’s going to happen, but to tactilize it, if you will: to imagine with your body how the forces involved will feel.
That way, when you attempt the actual lift, you’ve got a model already in place.You don’t have to consciously think it through–which is good, because lifting humans is a finicky business, and you need to be able to respond without delay of something begins to go wrong. You don’t have time for conscious thought.
If something starts to feel off, you instinctively call upon a lifetime of being a body that moves through space with power and freedom. The accumulated experience of that lifetime drives the inner mechanism that makes you shift your weight, lift your shoulder, step back just a little on one foot (all of which I’m doing in the photo above, to compensate for having placed Dot too far forward).
You don’t think about it; you just do it.
The unspoken knowledge that your body will figure out how to keep you safe when things go south is the foundation of the kind of trust that dancing requires. If you need proof, show a sedentary person a sauté fouetté or even a pas de chat en tournant and ask them to give it a try: they’ll probably respond, “Are you out of your mind? I’d kill myself!”
Partnering required that same trust on a different level: when you grab your friend, swing her into a cradle lift, and roll her up onto your shoulder, she’s trusting you to be able to make the necessary split-second adjustments that will stop her falling, and you’re trusting her to make herself as liftable as possible.
You’re tacitly agreeing that both of you operate from a profound applied understanding of gravity, mass, momentum, trajectory, balance…
You’re tacitly agreeing to apply that knowledge even if things feel a little shaky for a second here or there.
That last bit is crucial.
When we feel we’re in physical danger, our true, inborn instincts tell us to ball up and protect our vital organs.
That’s fine in cradle lift–in fact, the tighter your partner tucks, the easier cradle lift becomes, at least until she’s tucked so tightly that she cuts off circulation to one of your arms. Then you’ve got a whole new problem.
It’s not, however, true for any other lift in the repertoire, and especially not for Bluebird.
Excepting cradle, every lift in the classical repertoire involves some degree of extension–which means that the partner doing the lifting has to overcome gravity in challenging ways.
- One of the entry paths to shoulder-sit is also facilitated by your partner turning into a ball, but only for a moment. Also, purists sometimes argue that shoulder-sit isn’t part of the classical canon. I’m no authority on the subject, but my opinion is that while shoulder-sit is a circus trick, so are many of the showstopping elements in the canon: literally. According to Jennifer Homans’ exhaustive and authoritative history Apollo’s Angels, ballet really did adapt many of its steps from the circus. (#TheMoreYouKnow) At any rate, Serebrennikov covers shoulder-sit in his text on partnering,which is good enough for me.
If you’re attempting to sling your partner into a hip-balance (to borrow a term from the aerial arts) on your shoulder, she needs to trust you enough to unfurl herself into a profoundly vulnerable position in which she becomes, in essence, a see-saw.
If she doesn’t, at best, the beautiful bluebird lift turns into something closer to a dead-bird lift. Dead-bird lift probably has its place in tragic ballets and in modern dance, but it’s also a thousand times harder for you, with your feet on the ground, to support.
At worst, she’ll pivot around your shoulder and faceplant, and if you’re lucky she’ll kick you in the back of the head in the process and knock you out cold so you don’t have to live with the shame of having failed to save her (which is why it’s always the boy’s fault, in classical ballet: your job description involves making sure your partner doesn’t get hurt, since you’re the one with your feet on the ground). At least,not til you wake up.
Just about anyone can sling, say, fifty pounds of board lumber of a reasonable length up on one shoulder with relative ease. On the other hand, slinging fifty pounds of potatoes, loosely packed, is a much greater challenge (not least because you’re likely to take a potato or two to the jaw when you least expect it: potatoes fight dirty).
Now multiply that challenge by three, and you begin to see the problem.
Thus, as you’re merrily tossing or slinging or rolling or pushing your partner onto your shoulder, she has to tell her inborn instinct to fold up for safety, “Not now, we’re busy” whilst simultaneously listening very closely to the acquired instincts that help her do the astounding things that make up every ballet dancer’s bread and butter. She also has to listen to whatever your body is doing.
When she trusts her body, so to speak, and you trust yours, then you can trust each-other so much more easily. When you trust each-other, you try things that frankly seem a bit daft and they work.
Curiously, all of this happens without a great deal of talking. In fact,when it works, it’s about as close as I’ve come to experiencing actual, literal telepathic communication .
- Some people might argue that making love must be closer. I doubt any of them have tried dancing a pas de deux, let alone creating one from whole cloth. Sex is great, but if your version involves, say, bluebird lift or overhead press lift, it’s probably much more interesting than mine.
If you don’t trust each-other, at some point in the process, one or both of you will hesitate at a critical moment–and while I’ve yet to drop anyone, the experience that stems from that hesitation is always terrifying.
That moment’s hesitation is a moment in which your partner has no idea what you’re “saying” with your body or what you’ll do next.
Whether you’re the lifter or the liftee, this is akin to the moment in a relationship when Boo says, “If you can’t figure out why I’m so upset I’m certainly not going to tell you!” …Only with the added risk of catastrophic injury. You’re basically left with no way to predict what your partner will do next: you just have to guess and hope you get it right.
Someone with reasonable experience in partnering can often save a lift even then–but when you’re learning, if you’re the one doing the lifting, your goal instantly becomes simply to not drop your partner; to save them by any means possible.
Which, if we’re honest, can be scary as heck for both of you: for you, because suddenly all the responsibility is in your hands; for your partner, because suddenly they have no control and can’t predict what’s going to happen.
Hesitation can also render many lifts pretty much impossible: I’m pretty strong, but I doubt that I could slowly dead-lift, say, 140 pounds above my head.
When I press-lift someone, timing and momentum are crucial. Her jump overcomes enough of the pull of gravity to allow me to lift her past the part of the movement in which I’m weakest—the part where she’s above the level of my shoulders but not yet high enough that I can lock my arms out to sustain her weight above my head (which is totally a circus trick, in my book, but it’s a good one!).
For whatever reason, Dot and I seem to have developed a trust that prevents hesitations and allows us to overcome the inevitable glitches when we try new things together.
I think this stems in part from the fact that we’re both very game experimenters, natural-born crazy monkeys, if you will. But it also stems from familiarity: during our experiments, sometimes things do go sideways, and when that happens, I always manage to catch her, and she always manages not to kick me in the face. Then, I wouldn’t mind if she did: my willingness to risk a kick in the face is crucial to my ability to keep her from hitting the ground when we find ourselves at a sticky wicket.
Anyway, there you have it: the most important thing I’ve learned about partnering.
If you don’t have perfect technique, trust will get you through.
If you don’t have trust, though, nothing will.
- …you’re trying to figure out where to cram in a side-side-side gig so you can make some extra money this summer so you don’t have to worry as much about expenses during the main season >.<
- …you realize that you’re performing at a gig you couldn’t currently afford to attend
- you look at your summer rehearsal and performance schedule and realize that you have officially broken your summer break o.O’
- …you discover that inflatable bathtubs exist ❤
- …you realize that, although you don’t think of yourself as an ambitious person, you actually do have some pretty lofty goals that you want to achieve in your lifetime … they’re just not necessarily ones that chime with conventional ideas about “success”
Last week, DS and I put the final touches on our piece for PlayThink’s mainstage show, Gale Force rehearsals began, and I discovered that I do really freaking good turns if I don’t have contacts or glasses on (weird, right?).
My hypothesis about the turns thing is that being unable to see anything clearly prevents the following:
- Spotting too high … which I STILL do all too often
- Hyper-focusing on my spot spot. I didn’t realize I might be doing this until I paused to analyze the feeling of those really, really nice and effortless doubles (and one effortless triple) I tossed out there the other day. I think I get so fixated on the idea of ACTUALLY LOOKING AT AN ACTUAL THING IN THE ACTUAL WORLD that my neck stiffens up in an effort to fix my focus. A stiff neck doesn’t help your turns, guys.
I also finally started listening to Hallberg’s A Body of Work, which I bought on Audible before the season ended and have been putting off because … well, reasons, I guess. I don’t know precisely what those reasons are, though I could probably figure it out if I sat down with my inner being and had a good conversation.
I know part of it was just the sheer dread of having to hear The David Hallberg talking about his amazing successes as a dancer during a time when I was feeling like literally the worst dancer alive.
It turns out, though, that Hallberg is as engaging and humble as an author as he is lyrical and princely as a danseur. So it turns out that in addition to being a fabulous dancer he might ALSO be a fabulous human being. He certainly comes across as thoughtful and very, very human in his writing.
Curiously, many of his struggles are #relatableAF in fact. I found it immensely edifying to hear about his difficulties with his early efforts at partnering, you guys.
Speaking of edifying, I also got an offer for a full scholarship to a summer intensive in Europe, though sadly it coincides with tech and theater week for GFD’s show, so I can’t go. But it was really cool, anyway.
This summer I’m focusing on partnering, tuning up my turns, and NOT DOING DUMB THINGS WITH MY HANDS.
As you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, I’m also working on #BalletFitness … specifically:
- whittling down my thighs so I don’t have to fight with them in 5th position ;D
WRT that last one: I don’t mean spot-reducing; I mean focusing on using the right muscles so my stupid quads will chillax and get out da darned way, while focusing on eating good food so I don’t either gain a lot of weight or constantly feel puny and starved.
I’d like to reiterate, once again, that for me, the size of my thighs is a functional thing. There are people who are much softer and curvier than I am who can dance really well with much bigger thighs because their pelvises are arranged in a way that allows them to access a tight 5th position at their size (which might, for some of them, be harder at a samller size).
Over the past year or two, I’ve realized that I not only have hyuuge quads, but I also have very little clearance because of the way my pelvis and my humeri come together. This means that regardless of my apparently awesome capability for rotation in the hip joint, my 5th position is prone to difficulty because my big, stupid legs are in the big, stupid way.
I mean. They’re not really stupid legs. They’re good legs, Brent. They’re powerful legs. They make it easy for me to jump high and lift people (and yes, in case you’re wondering, you legs and core really do most of that work almost all the time).
But they are big, and they’re set close together, and those factors conspire to place them right in each-other’s way if I’m not vigilant about working in such a way that A) my quads don’t go, “COOL WE GOT THIS BRUH” and inflate to the size of intercontinental ballistic missiles* and B) there’s not much extra “fluff” to get in the way. “Fluff” is probably better than muscles, since it’s squishier, but there’s just no freaking room.
*intercontiental balletic missiles???
So basically I’m in the midst of this crazy transition during which I continue to be sort of flabbergasted by the fact that I am apparently doing this dancer thing now, but also not entirely flabbergasted in the same way I used to be. I don’t know exactly how to describe That Feeling When, so I’ll leave you instead with this lovely picture of ya boiii Mercutius T. Furbelow expressing his sentiments about the arrival of summer weather here in the 502:And this update on the status of my surgical scars (or relative lack thereof):