Category Archives: work

First Class

Today I took my first class with my company’s ballet teacher. She’s fantastic.

I particularly like her focus on strengthening the elements that are really essential to technique (her approach is very Vaganova-based; I think Ste. Agrippina would approve)

She also has a fantastic eye for the small-but-important elements that really solidify technique.

When we finished, she asked us what specific things we were going to remember from today’s class. Here are mine:

  1. *Really* connect the retiré, and connect it a little closer to the kneecap (I’ve been connecting mine about a cm or 2 too far towards the inside of the knee, which functionally means that a lot of the time I’m not really connecting at all, even though I THINK I’m connecting). Also, send the knee all the way to the side, and be a revolving door.
  2. In petit allegro, using pas de bourée en l’air can help you keep your legs contained. Basically, you tombé and close the back leg in a little assemblé, then do the “side, front” bit of the PdB. This gathers your power under you instead of sending you forward.
  3. In exercises battu, think about whether the beat changes or doesn’t change. If you pay attention to this when receiving the combination, you won’t find yourself desperately doing FeetMath en l’air

These are really elemental things—things that as dancers who’ve been dancing for years and years, we probably think we’re doing already.

It’s remarkable how much difference it can make when someone gives you an effective correction on one of these things.

Anyway, that’s it for today.

I am, of course, planning to steal these ideas and bring them to my students tonight, because part of becoming an effective teacher is cribbing things directly from other teachers who are themselves highly effective.

Quickie

I’ve been thinking a lot about this contract that I landed, and about the (overwhelmingly positive) language my new AD used when she called me up to make the offer.

I’ve been thinking about it because I walked into my last contract as a trainee—basically with the knowledge that I was the dancer in the company with the least experience and that I had the most to catch up on in terms of technique and skills.

In some ways, that was great! It meant I felt safe in the knowledge that I had a lot to learn and was gonna struggle sometimes, and overall being able to think about it that way helped me stay a little calmer about things when I did struggle.

However, I’m now doing this thing where I’m walking on in kind of the opposite position—a full company member beginning the season with a pretty big role in a pretty important show.

And it’s made me re-evaluate my feelings about myself as a dancer.

Like, at first, I was like, Holy heck, what if I’m not really as good as SP thinks I am?

And then I thought: No. She’s seen me in ballet class; she’s seen me in company class already [1]. Also, she’s been doing this for THIRTY YEARS. I’m guessing she knows what she’s about.

  1. Once again, y’all: if you can ever take company class a time or two before you audition somewhere, DO IT! Also, should I ever actually get Antiphon off the ground, I think I’m going to do open company class for exactly this reason

And thinking that, knowing that I’ve been given a pretty intense brief, I’m like, Okay, in going to try to see myself as the dancer she sees.

And although giving myself the grace of being a trainee helped in the beginning of my career, I wonder if it didn’t also hold me back. There were definitely times that I felt like, Oh, I shouldn’t ask for x or y, or try this or that; I’m just a trainee.

Admittedly, some of this came down to the culture of the specific company: it was very traditional, and thus very top-down. In many ways, that was good for me, but it definitely made me more hesitant to speak up.

Anyway, that mindset stuck and even after I started to realize I was seriously growing as a dancer. I think maybe D is right and I under-valued my own ability and value as a dancer, possibly by quite a bit.

So now I’ve got this new role in my life as a dancer to step into. And that’s really cool, and really challenging, and it’s forcing me to regularly say to myself, No. You’ve got this. Stop thinking of yourself as “not really that good” and work on being the dancer SP saw in the audition

So there it is.

I guess this is a normal thing that happens when you make a big step forward in your career? But I never thought about it because honestly I never imagined having a career until I stumbled into my professional dance career.

I never imagined being able to do anything long enough to get promoted, really (even though I’d actually been promoted in two jobs by then; neither were jobs I could imagine doing for a decade or longer).

Anyway, here we are.

Oh, one last thing: our first show is in the first theater where I ever saw ballet. So this is really like coming full circle and coming home, and I am HERE FOR IT.

In Transition

The weirdest feeling in the world might be the specific limbo between the time when the AD calls to offer you the contract—a really good one—and the moment when you actually sign it, when some part of you keeps feeling like, But what if it’s all a dream, or a mistake, or, or, or—

I’m still wading carefully into these waters; still got one foot in the land of “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent.” But it’s very hard to keep the lid on—even partway on—when you just want to jump up and down and sing.

I Botched My Roll

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.

What’s my “Not Sucking At Life” modifier again?
PC: Murilo Papini via Pexels.com

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[0].

  1. 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[1]. 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.

  1. 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[2].

  1. 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[3].

  1. 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[4]. 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.

  1. 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![5]). 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.

  1. 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[6] 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[7] booking myself all the gorram time, so … ermmm. Yeah. Still working on that one.

  1. …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.”
  2. 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[8]. Ugh. Why[9].

  1. The obvious solution is to carry a small, physical notebook[10] and WRITE THINGS DOWN. The challenge is finding one that
    1. is small enough that I will always carry it and
    2. plays well with my specific handwriting difficulties
  2. Oh, right. Because sometimes the relationship between ADHD and autism is multiplicative, not additive.
  3. 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.

You Will Make Mistakes

So it’s been a while.

We’ve been redacting mold, DIYing our basement living space back into shape after redacting said mold, and otherwise generally working on the house like crazy, while at the same time I’m rehearsing four (I think?) separate things and teaching.

One of the pieces in rehearsal involves this sheer & very sparkly thing in which I don’t even think I look like me, but I do think I look pretty darn good?

So, erm, it’s rather a lot.

I am bad at the kind of adulting that involves juggling four separate, unrelated rehearsal schedules and anything else, never mind that plus everything else. And yet, here we are.

Anyway.

This week I found myself in a frazzle because my brain momentarily decided to latch on to the idea that I might not manage to teach all of my students all of the absolutely correct technique they might need and ten years from now one of them might be in an audition somewhere going, “Oh, snap, I’ve been doing that wrong my entire life.

Case in point: my body wants all attitude turns to employ the same arms as renversé. I just can’t with my body sometimes, y’all. Also, the thing where I STILL put my arm too far back in second sometimes 🤬

And then I realized, like—yeah. That will probably happen. And, to be honest, it’s okay.

I wish it was possible to guarantee that 100% of what I teach would both be absolutely sound and absorbed perfectly. But isn’t, and it never has been.

My own technique has its rough spots (I mean, I don’t call myself “danseur ignoble” for nothin’). My own teachers have probably passed along some quirks, and I certainly came up with plenty of them all by myself.

That’s fine. I don’t resent any of my teachers for the shortcomings I have now; instead, I appreciate how hard they tried to teach me correct, classical technique. I owe my career largely to my teachers’ sound methods, partly to the good graces of directors who have the ability to look beyond my quirks, partly to my ridiculously good feet (still, lol), partly to my own work ethic, and a little bit to raw talent.

People rock up to auditions with all kinds of flaws, because nobody’s perfect. Even if that wasn’t the case, different directors like different versions of things (like: I paused today to ask Mr D whether he wanted our waltz turns to brush through twice or to brush to the front and petit développé/pas de cheval to the back, because both versions are valid and I’ve been doing a lot of the second one lately).

Even students graduating from the best, longest-established schools aren’t perfect. That’s one of the things I love about ballet: no matter how good we are, we can always continue to strive for perfection. The fact that it’s unattainable is immaterial. The practice is the thing.

Likewise, there is no such thing as a perfect teacher. I will make mistakes. I will explain things with crazy analogies that may or may not take root. I will miss some things and overcorrect others.

Here I am DRASTICALLY overcorrecting an échappé 😱 (Whilst simultaneously losing my right-side turnout 🤦)

In the end, I won’t be perfect, either as a dancer or as a teacher, but I suspect that my students will forgive me.

The important part is to teach, to the best of my ability, technique that is as strong and consistent as I can make it, and to continue learning both as a dancer and a teacher so that over time I can teach more effectively.

If I do that, I’ve done my part towards ensuring that most of the technique my students bring to the table will be strong and consistent, provided that the students also do their part, that the winds are favorable, and that, as they say, “the creek don’t riz.”

Because, y’all, I may be a somewhat teacher of regular ballet, but I’m wholly unqualified as an instructor of water ballet.

Something’s Happening!!!

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.

In a studio with many colorful balls and fabrics, male dancer (the author) stands with his back to the camera, supporting a female dancer (Emma) with her right arm and leg raised.
We’re doing the Nutcracker Grand Pas! …No, just kidding, but I did AHEM borrow this bit from there.

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.

We’re Kinda Back?

We’ve still got a long way to go before we can say the Pandemic is really under control, but little by little life is finding a way[1]. I’ll be adding things to my calendar soon (possibly tomorrow, though it’s our anniversary, so who knows?).

  1. Ahhhhh … 90s Kid references.

So, anyway, I’m doing some things—some live-in-person, some virtual.

One of those things is this great little ballet that Leigh Purtill of Leigh Purtill Ballet Company is creating on a group of dancers spanning the North American continent, “Circus of Worldly Wonders.”

Since my own career spans the continents of ballet and circus, I’m all in for a circus-themed ballet … And so I created this little video exploring a bit of the entwined histories of circus and ballet:

I hope you’ll enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed making it! 💖

Scenes From A Nutcracker

Both of this season’s Nutcrackers are now behind me.

I’ve seen Lexington Ballet’s rather impressive video (link: Lexington Ballet: Nutcracker Reimagined), though FSB’s doesn’t come out ’til the 24th.

Concerns about the out-of-control COVID-19 infection rate scuttled FSB’s live performance (I was fine with that—Nutcracker is fun, but nobody needs to catch COVID-19 over it) and forced some last-minute cast chances, so we didn’t get to do the full Grand Pas after all.

I missed my OG Sugarplum, who is a delightful partner, but she’s at very high risk for COVID complications. I would rather that she remain healthy and whole so we can dance another day.

My Cavalier variation felt … less than great? But perhaps not terrible.

Or, rather, I was deeply disappointed, but everyone else seemed to like it.

I blended a couple of versions to suit the tiny stage, and for some reason during the actual recording my legs seemed iffy about the concept of brisée-volée. It worked fine the rest of the time -.-

I’m not satisfied with that on the grounds that, by definition, as a professional dancer, your worst day still has to be good enough for the people who’ve paid to watch you dance.

This wasn’t my finest hour, though it could’ve been worse. I’m hoping that I did a sufficiently convincing job faking it through the rough spots.

And then, a year ago, I couldn’t even really do brisèe-volée.

Making weird faces doesn’t really help, in case you’re wondering. (PC: Shawchyi Deng Vorisek)

My friend Dot understudied Sugarplum, so we threw together a Coda literally at the last minute. It was fun, and I didn’t actually run into any scenery doing the tiniest tombé-coupé-jeté manège in the history of the world (though I got carried away and *almost* did).

I somehow manage to look about 12 and about 68 at the same time in this pic? But it’s still a rather good pic. PS: I created the gold headband thing from about $0.25 worth of wired ribbon and thread bc my hair would NOT stay out of my eyes. PC: Rae Smith, iirc

In Nutcracker Prince territory, things were a little smoother because I’d somehow managed to have more actual rehearsal. (Y’all, I cannot really explain how I managed to get so little studio time for my variation. But there we have it. Rehearse it til you can’t get it wrong, or you WILL get it wrong.)

Battle Scene was the best-rehearsed part of the whole ballet (I mean, not counting the Grand Pas with my OG Sugarplum), and it was both fun and probably not too shabby. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

It had a ton of sword-fighting:

Mouse Queen (Traci Jo Smith Dixon), Drosselmeyer (Bart Liguori), and Nutcracker Prince bring the DRAMA.
Tombé-chassée-POP! I’m proud of myself for remembering to flex my foot on these jumps.
Chaos reigns! Also, I was very surprised that those boot tops actually made it onto my legs, but they do look pretty good 🤔
O heck! Bamboozled! (I don’t know if I missed the musical cue and never made it to elevé, or if this is right before the elevé. But this should really be a first-position elevé.) PC for these four: I still have to look it up; I’ll update ASAP 😅

I choreographed most of a rather nice Snow Pas on our Clara and myself, though scheduling conflicts meant we wound up kind of semi ad-libbing the last 45 seconds or so 😅 Next year we’ll have existing choreography to work from (assuming I’m still in Kentucky next year).

Given that she has zero partnering experience, our Clara picked things up quite well. (PC: Same as Battle Scene. I think.)

This rather nice little jump was also in there somewhere:

I only know it’s from Snow Pas and not Battle Scene because I’m not holding a sword 🤣

Anyway, as my first guest performance with two principal rôles in a full(ish)-length ballet, it was … Reasonable?

I think?

I guess I won’t really know until I actually see the video.

Learn By Pas-De-Deuxing

Every once in a while, you have an idea and you think, “Well, this might be a terrible idea, but it might be a great idea,” so you give it a go.

When I asked my (ballet) partner if she’d like to do FSB’s Nutcracker with me, there was a certain degree of that feeling. Like: I at least had some partnering skills … but doing the Grand Pas was going to be a sink-or-swim crash course in lots of partnering skills, including ones I’ve struggled with in the past.

Anyway, we’re now a couple weeks into really working on things, and while I don’t want to jinx us by speaking too soon, I’m rather pleased with how well it’s going.

Bit by bit, I’m learning to do the things. Just as importantly, I’m learning how to troubleshoot my own partnering problems.

We had a rough day on Wednesday. The floor was terrifyingly slick, we were both nervous as a result, and things that had worked in the past suddenly weren’t working. Our excellent pas de deux coach was there, but it was only her second session with us, so she wasn’t sure what was up either.

Somehow, somewhere in the midst of the struggle, one of the steps worked, and I realized that the difference was that I simply wasn’t standing as close to my partner as I has been all day. It was near the end of our rehearsal, so I applied that thought to the bit we were working on, then tucked it away.

Yesterday, we didn’t rehearse because my partner had some stuff she needed to do. I washed the floors so we’d feel safer, then walked trhough the dance by myself to cement some chances we’d made to the choreography, then dragged myself home via 2 hours of ridiculous rush hour rerouting (this, of course, is why I try to avoid traveling at rush hour). I reminded myself to stand a bit farther from my partner.

Today, faced with a very compressed rehearsal schedule and a studio that refused to warm up (the thermostat was working, but the furnace wouldn’t turn on o.O), I applied my idea from the outset … and it worked!

In fact, there were things that only kinda worked before that suddenly worked pretty darned well [1, 3] simply because I stood a little further off.

  1. Even with both of us stumping around in warm-up boots[2].
  2. You haven’t lived until you’ve successfully done an arabesque promenade with your partner en pointe with warm-up boots over her pointe shoes.
  3. See: “Ballet: it’s easier when you do it right.”

Obviously, “just stand further away” has its limits–but I think it’s probably a useful idea for a lot of people learning partnering.

Our instinct tends to be to get closer. It makes an instinctive kind of sense: if dropping your partner or knocking her over is bad, you want to be close enough to prevent it, or to rescue her if it does happen. This is probably especially true if you’re a T-Rex and your partner is relatively close to your own height: like, I’m pretty sure part of my tendency to stand too close boils down to instinctively understanding that my arms are short, yo.

But, as it turns out, sometimes that doesn’t work.

Anyway, we both left today’s rehearsal feeling more confident about the adagio movement of the Grand Pas (there’s some partnering in the coda, but it’s nowhere near as long or complicated).

And I left feeling more confident in both my current partnering abilities and about my potential for being a good partner.

This whole process has also reminded me, yet again, that when I’m calm, I’m actually pretty good at learning choreography. And that I’m capable of learning in general.

I’m lucky to have, as a partner, a ballerina[4] who is kind, thoughtful, game, technically sound, and a fine teacher (and also a redhead … as someone who’s effectively a dark ginger myself, I’m quite partial to gingers!).

And we’re lucky to have the support of not one, but two good coaches, both experienced dancers with decades of performing between them.

I was very heartened the other day when E, who’s Coach #1, said she feels confident that we can do this, and do it well. Honestly, that reduced my ambient imposter syndrome level by quite a bit.

  1. And while this appellation has a specific technical definition, I feel comfortable using it here. Not only is she dancing a principal role and being a leader and stuff, she’s a highly accomplished dancer in her own right.

It’s a pretty cool thing to feel like you’re actually making real progress in the calling around which you’ve shaped your life. Which, in fact, I very much do.

Asking my partner to join me in this endeavour was a risk–but it was a good one, I think. I was hoping we’d both come out of it more confident and with a performance we could add to our CVs, and that I’d come out of it a more useful and employable dancer. Thus far, it’s looking like that’s the way things are moving.

Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to the next time we get a chance to dance without our warm-up boots[5].

  1. Which will be Sunday evening of this week. I can’t wait!

We’re Back

(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[1] beings, but of the experiences they’ve had as a result of living lives colored by the experiences that come with those physical beings.

  1. 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.

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