Category Archives: work
I’ve been working now for more than a year (granted, that’s really not very long).
I probably imagined that I’d be used to it by now: that, perhaps, the first time that work felt like, you know, work, I’d sort of wake up and go, “Oh, yeah, I’m a professional dancer, this is my job now, no big deal” on a kind of visceral level.
Turns out, that’s not the case. It’s no longer terribly surprising on a rational level, and the Impostor Syndrome has slackened its grip a bit, but every time something happens that makes me realize that I’m doing this amazing thing I feel this little kind of giddy rush.
It’s like when you pick up some random thing at a thrift store, and you google it because it’s interesting, and you realize that it’s actually kind of a rare and unique treasure. It’s like, “I have this amazing thing, and nobody realizes it’s this amazing thing!”
Also a bit like, “Wow, I’ve been given this amazing gift … do They realize that They’ve given me this amazing gift?”
I could ask my friends who’ve been doing this much longer than I have, I suppose … but I also suppose that every answer would be different, because every journey is different.
I hope I never stop at least occasionally being surprised and delighted that, yo, the Universe seems to have decided on a whim that I should be a dancer, and people seem to agree with the Universe, including people who seem to want to pay people to be dancers.
Anyway, there you have it.
The Americana show went well, by the way. Better than I expected: the floor proved to be incredibly grippy … like, seriously, I think it’s surfaced in some Super High-Friction Space Age Polymer … but the costumes for the piece before ours had glitter tutus, and the tiny bits of glitter greatly reduced the friction, making turns and so forth far easier. My piqué turns in the manège at the end could’ve been better (for some reason, I didn’t crank my turnout … eh), but overall the effect of the piece was really exactly what I’d hoped for … and, of course, both Kathy and Christina are fantastic to work with and perfect partners.
We opened “Happy Birthday” tonight, and it was good 😀
First time I’ve done a front-handspring in front of a paying audience since I’m not even sure when (high school, probably?) … so that was pretty awesome. It’s a Vweird thing, because it’s basically a single front handspring with a leap out of the rebound, but the run-up is so long that it builds up a lot of power 😀
Anyway, I tried not to go Full VonRothbart this time, and I got to wear a pair of sparkly things on my face:
…I’m pretty sure that our AD copes with nerves by more or less literally throwing fairy dust at them. Like, initially, a few of us were going to wear jewels on our faces, and then a few more, but tonight while we were dressing he was like, “JEWELS ON EVERYONE! WE MUST ALL HAVE JEWELS!”
No complaint here. I’m really quite delighted that I got to wear sparkly things on my face, and even more delighted that they somehow survived the one-two punch of humidity and sweat, not to mention the trapeze and everything else. Eyelash glue: it’s like hot glue for your face 😀
Speaking of trapeze, my trapeze piece went rather well … though there was one somewhat alarming moment in which my tights gripped the trapeze but slipped around my leg whilst I was doing a drop transition to a single knee hang … EEK. But I played it off like that was supposed to happen, as you do.
I’m using my own trap for this show, which is cool. It’s a really, really nice trapeze from Patti at Aerial Animals. She’s a bit of a legend in my local circle of aerialists, especially amongst those of us who like our traps heavy. It’s basically an exact copy of the one my friend and trap teacher M uses.
In other news, I received an invitation to stage a piece as part of a benefit show for local refugee services, which was awesome. We’ll be doing a further iteration of the excerpt from “Tenebrae,” this time with both The Lovers and The Stranger.
I needed a name for my group, so I called it Antiphon Project. So I seem to have kind of accidentally launched a wee dance company? Or at least the germ of one.
- The name of the group (which might, someday, be just Antiphon, or possibly something like Antiphon Dance Theater or Antiphon Contemporary Ballet) is the result of a brain glitch from a long-ago Pilobolus masterclass. They usually end up the classes with compositional improv sessions, and one of the groups made a gorgeous piece that had this beautiful antiphonal movement style … but I couldn’t think of the word “antiphon.” At least, not until I was, predictably, lying in bed that night 😀 And thus did I decide that if I ever launched a dance company, I’d name it Antiphon for several reasons, but partly so I’d NEVER FORGET THAT WORD EVER AGAIN.
BUT FIRST! I have to survive a whirlwind trip to Connecticut and back for Teacher Training with Pilobolus :O I’ll be leaving directly from Fabled Fragments rehearsal on Sunday, driving straight through with a stop somewhere for a nap for a few hours, chugging straight into class, crashing out as soon as class is over probably, doing the second day of class, possibly crashing at Mom’s overnight, then turning around and driving back home.
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.
…Or, well. If you can call getting tipsy enough on two beers that you feel that driving is perhaps unwise “drunken excess.”
Weeds went pretty well. I felt very solid about the first show, even with a series of last-minute notes. During the second show, the fact that I’d only slept for four hours (for reasons having nothing to do with the show) caught up with me, and I felt mentally somewhat glitchy, though evidently I did a solid job not telegraphing my glitches, including the one very near the end during which I rolled over and completely blanked out not only on what the next move was, but which part of the dance in question we were even on o___o’
I was onstage for basically a solid hour and a half for both shows, with only brief breaks, and didn’t really rehydrate adequately after the second show. End result, when we headed down to the nearby gastrobrewpub for a post-show libation, I downed my first beer too fast (I failed to realize that this is one of the places where you have to ask for water), and subsequently found myself remarkably woobly after only two beers. Oops.
- The show ran about 1 hour, 10 minutes, but I was the opening act. Basically, from the time the doors opened until the start of the show, I was sorting cans and building a can tower (see photo above).
Needless to say, I asked Denis to drive me home, which was interesting since we’d arrived in separate vehicles and I had to drunkenly transfer all the things so my car could sit on a corner downtown overnight without looking like too tempting a target (I mean … if a Subaru that’s old enough to be a rising sophomore at university is ever all that tempting a target?).
Anyway, I did my penance in class this morning. I’ve really, really missed my usual ballet routine, so it was good to be back in the studio.
For the most part I felt reasonably good about class today. I was somewhat less coordinated than usual … Like, we did an exercise that was nothing but chassée-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chassée-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chassée-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-tombé-pas de bourrée-tendu, repeat left, repeat right, repeat left in which I could not for the life of me convince both legs to plié and chassée at the same time.
Likewise, my extensions were meh. Not bad, just passable by professional standards. Which, I guess, should tell me that I’ve made a heck of a lot of progress in the past couple of years, because honestly, “passable by professional standards” is still pretty good. But they lacked a certain je ne sais quois. My arabesque in particular was, erm, workmanlike, but nothing more … to be honest, I don’t think I would even have counted it as “passable” until we made it to centre.
On the other hand, there were some good moments in the petit/medium allegro (be still my heart) in which Killer B and I got into the spirit of things and executed these lovely bounding passes with assemblés battus. We jump well together … at least, we do when I’m not a shambling mess of legs, confusion, and despair.
The long and short of it is that I thought, overall, that I looked pretty good today. Some of this, of course, might have to do with the fact that I set the bar pretty low this morning (as opposed the barre—we were a small class in the big studio downtown, so we just used the one fixed to the wall). But I think even my standard for bad days has improved immensely over the past year: even when I’m a terrible dancer, I’m a much better terrible dancer than I used to be.
Likewise, I managed somehow to have a Good Body Image day. Or at least a Good Body Image morning … I mean, the day’s not over yet. My reflection looked like a strong, graceful, compact dancer, rather than a shetland pony with delusions of grandeur.
I’m not entirely sure how or why this happened, but I’ll take it.
Anyway, tonight CL is opening for Kentucky Shakespeare. I’ll be doing a ball solo (NOT THAT KIND OF BALL SOLO GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER). Still haven’t decided what I’m wearing or which shoes I want (character shoes? ballet shoes? probably ballet shoes), but it should be fun, and will be a nice way to either close out this week or start next week, depending on how you look at it. I tend to regard Sunday as the first day of the week for scheduling purposes, but because I had a show last night and rehearsals all week, it just really feels like the end of a week that was about ten days long 😛
So that’s it for now. More soon, one hopes.
Aaaaaaaaand, we’re back!
This year’s PlayThink proved, without a doubt, to be the best yet for me—the best by leaps and bounds, in fact (pun not originally intended, but retained for effect ;D).
Part of that was simply the result of the stuff I’ve been working on as a human being for the past year: accepting my social difficulties and learning to socialize within my own limits; growing more confident in my basic worth as a human being; listening with presence and patience; and feeling more confident in my body.
Part of it was the result of very conscious choices that I made before and during the event. I’mma talk about those a little now, k? Cool. Here we go:
Good Choices That Worked Out Well
Decide Not To Feel Obligated To Take A Million Classes … Or Any At All.
This may be the smartest thing I’ve done for myself in years. In the past, I selected at least one class each day that I just couldn’t miss, and the more I missed, the more frustrated and cranky I got.
This year, I decided to take a different tack: to take a page from the Burning Man playbook and regard the experience as The Thing, and the classes as optional sprinkles.
In the end, the only class I went to was my own (because obvs). That’s fine: I opted, instead, to spend a lot of time relaxing, hanging out with friends new and old, and dancing my tuchas off in the evenings.
It turns out that that’s a great way to do PlayThink, too. I gained just as much from simply sharing time with my fellow beings as I would from taking classes, without the stress of staying on top of the schedule or forcing myself to be out among the masses when I needed to be alone for a while.
Accept The Whims Of The Universe.
PlayThink is usually the only place where I can realistically expect D to join me in a dance performance.
This year, his rotator cuff surgery meant I wasn’t sure until a few weeks before the event that he’d even be able to participate … but I wanted him in my piece, regardless.
Of course, this year I’m also juggling the busiest schedule I’ve ever seen, and was sick for two of the 3-or-so weeks that I had to rehearse with him.
In short, I got almost no rehearsal time in with D. I wound up teaching him the basics of weight-sharing in a 20-minute window a few hours before we were scheduled to hit the stage, then trusting that the Demiurge of Improvisation would visit us and bless the final 40 seconds or so of our piece.
On top of all this, I forgot my push broom and had to borrow one, which was a fantastic broom, but had a very different balance point than mine and thus handled rather differently.
The end result was that a bunch of the stuff I had intended to include got left out, and some spontaneous bits magically appeared. Oh, and I threw D right into his personal nightmare of being asked to perform dance improv with an audience.
The funny thing is that everyone loved the piece anyway.
For PlayThink, I like to make pieces that tell simple, funny stories, and the story still came through.
I also like to take familiar materials (in this case, rather literally) and do unexpected things with them. PlayThinkers are a uniquely receptive crowd for that kind of thing!
The best part, though, was that D revealed an unexpected facility for character acting. Apparently, he was completely terrified while he was on stage … but he projected such an air of confidence and radiant joy that even I had no idea he was feeling anything else.
When your dance partner who’s also your life partner can’t tell that you’re actually terrified and not having the time of your life, you’re officially Doin’ It Rite.
Do Scary Things, Knowing That Everything Might Go Completely Wrong.
I fully intended to test-drive my workshop before PlayThink.
You know how these things go, of course. The road to hell, &c.
Anyway, I was actually quite nervous about teaching, and quite convinced that I had No Srs Bizness Doin So.
Turns out, though, that the good folks who participated* didn’t feel that way at all. My workshop went well and was well-received, and I think the participants actually felt like they learned some stuff, which is great.
I decided up front that everything might go wrong, and that I was going to have to be okay with that, but it was, in fact not terribly likely that everything would go wrong**.
I also decided that I would frame the workshop as one in which we were there to learn together, instead of one in which I was Thuh Authoritah and my students wouldn’t Respekt Mah Authoritah unless I demonstrated complete mastery of the subject matter.
The best moment for me, by the way, happened much later. The next evening on the dance floor, I saw a couple of the students from my workshop using some of the stuff I taught. They were experimenting together with weight sharing, and they laughing, and clearly having a good time. That was a cool and unexpected outgrowth!
*Did I mention that I was also afraid nobody would come to my weird little workshop? No? Well, I was.
**This is an approach that’s sometimes used in treating anxiety disorders and specific phobias. You learn to have this little conversation with yourself: “What am I afraid will happen if I [don’t go back and check the stove again/leave the house/talk to a stranger at this well-attended festival full of thoughtful people/etc]? I could [burn the house down/die/be abducted by a ring of human traffickers]. Could that really happen? Yes. Of course it could. Will it happen? Probably not. How likely is it to happen? Not very.”
As you can probably tell, this approach has been really helpful for me. By naming the thing you’re afraid of and acknowledging that is, in fact, actually possible, then examining the statistical probability of the thing, you remove some of its power without dehumanizing yourself (or whoever it is that’s struggling with anxiety). Obviously, it’s part of a larger process, but for me it’s a really important part.
Ultimately, PlayThink is about sharing and learning … and even though I didn’t spend a lot of time in the formal learning space this year, I feel like I learned more than I’ve learned at any other PlayThink.
If I had to crystallize the lessons I learned into soundbytes, they’d go something like this:
- Honor your incarnation by respecting your own limits the same way you’d respect someone else’s. It’s okay. Really.
- Of course it could all go terribly awry: gently embrace that possibility, then get out there and Do It Anyway.
- Whenever possible, approach teaching as an opportunity to learn and explore together.
- Sometimes it’s okay to admit that you’re afraid.
That last one is pretty groundbreaking for me. The circumstances of my childhood and adolescence taught me that to reveal vulnerability was to have that vulnerability exploited: to show fear was to be given reason to be even more afraid; to show weakness was to be hurt.
I think there’s still a lot of the world that operates on those principles, so I’m not going to say that it’s always safe to say, “This scares the #$%! out of me.” Sometimes it’s really, really not.
But it’s good to know that sometimes, it really, really is.
On Monday night, JMG said to us, “Bring your back with you!” as we launched a waltz terre-a-terre. This clicked right into L’Ancien’s note from a couple Saturdays back, and the combination made for a really lovely run: the kind on which even I caught sight of myself in the mirror and thought, “Okay, this boy looks like a dancer.”
I also found the heck out of my inner thighs during that combination, which had a bunch of soutenus that finished in long sous-sus balances. They just basically cranked on automatically without the glutes overpowering them, which was lovely and yielded a hella steady sous-sus.
Last night, during modern class, I worked on continuing to use my inner thighs in relevés, especially when working in turnout. It’s making my balances quite a bit more stable.
Today we had JMG again, since Killer B is away with some of the kids at the SERBA Festival right now. We had a fairly large, lively class: my favorite kind.
I wasn’t on my A game—I somehow managed to make it out of the house without taking either my nasal decongestant or my Adderall, which should give you a general idea of where my head was (or wasn’t?)—but I was, at any rate, on my B game. I didn’t feel as strong as I did Monday night, but I did feel reasonably strong. I didn’t add beats to anything, but I did throw out an awfully nice saut de chat during the grand allegro.
Regardless, it all felt like progress: like my fitness is finally almost back where it needs to be, especially where endurance is concerned. I feel stronger. My turns were stable and my jumps were light and high (except when I was busy hosing up the second petit allegro because, for some reason, I blanked on the world’s simplest combination: glissade, jeté, glissade, jeté, coupé over to chassée, chassée, chassée-assemblée.
Like, seriously, how do you even get lost in that combo???
- I’ll tell you how: you THINK. I was busy thinking about my arms, and things got weird in legtown, and I failed to change the orientation of my hips on first side/first run, and everything went to Baby Giraffeland for a hot minute.
Some of the gains in fitness and strength almost certainly have something to do with the fact that I finally started hormone replacement therapy three weeks ago, and that’s probably starting to make a difference at this point.
I’m taking a fairly low dose, so it’s not going to result in Superhuman GAINZ!!! (which I don’t want: I am muscly enough, thanks)—the goal is basically just to be pretty much normal, instead of functioning with effectively no sex hormones at all. The upshot, however, is that it should somewhat increase my red blood cell count, which is useful for oxygen transport, which is useful for ballet (and for dance in general).
It will probably also make me a bit stronger, which is also useful for ballet (and for dance in general). I’m not sure how much stronger, though, to be honest: I’m not training for massive gains in strength—gaining strength has never been particularly difficult for me. I intentionally chose a low dose in hopes of avoiding unnecessary hypertrophy. I already put muscle on really easily, which isn’t necessarily helpful in many dance contexts (Pilobolus and its relatives are exceptions: compared with a lot of Piloblus’ guys, I’m a slender little wisp of a boy).
Speaking of Pilobolus, it turns out that my rehearsal and performance schedule this summer means I won’t be able to do most of Pilobolus’ summer intensive after all. I’m planning to go up for teacher training, however, since it’s a single weekend and scheduled when I don’t happen to have any shows.
Speaking of progress, it still really utterly blows my mind that I’m doing all this stuff at this point.
It’s amazing what the combination of focus and opportunity can create.
In May of 2016, I was in the middle of a post-baccalaureate redirect.
Last May, I was involved in my first professional work: just one full-scale show and a piece for PlayThink, but every career has to start somewhere.
This year, I’m doing all kinds of crazy stuff.
To an extent, this happened because I’m focused and dedicated and have a reasonable degree of natural aptitude for dance. Mostly, though, I’ve had amazing opportunities.
Focus doesn’t mean anything if you can’t afford to take class; if you can’t find good teachers who believe in you; if there aren’t any professional gigs to audition for or if your life prevents you from taking jobs if you audition successfully.
I’m blanking on who it was, but not long ago I was listening to a podcast in which a successful actor talked about how she got where she is. She recounted moving to LA (or was it New York? Argh, I’m horrible at this) as a young adult—in short, going where the opportunities in her field were—but offered this extremely-sage advice: “Move to LA, but have a sponsor—someone to pay the phone bill while you’re working your way up.”
- I’m sure I’ve hosed that quote up pretty well. Sorry 😦
Her sponsor was her mom. My husband has been my primary sponsor—but I can’t overlook the fact that Pilobolus gave me a scholarship; that Suspend has offered me a substantial discount from early in my training; that LBS created a flat-rate tuition plan that lets me take every single class in the open division program.
BG has consistently given me feature choreography in our Showcase pieces. Killer B and BW have dusted me off when I’ve come back from auditions with a bruised ego. K and BB have believed in me when I wasn’t yet ready to believe in myself. M bumped me up to Trapeze 3 when I’d only been training for six months or so.
I’m grateful for all of that sponsorship, direct and indirect, tangible and intangible.
There’s another piece of magic involved, there, also: when so many people have invested in you, whether tangibly or intangibly, you feel a responsibility to rise to the level of their belief.
That helps you keep moving forward when things get sticky.
I’m looking forward to seeing where the next year takes me: that, too, will depend on a combination of my own efforts (gotta go hit those auditions, amirite?) and others’ willingness to invest in me.
Impostor Syndrome is less of a problem than it was a year ago. I hope that as I continue to move forward, it will continue to fade. I’m sure I’ll always feel a little bit like an impostor, especially given that I’ve taken a wildly nontraditional path towards a career in dance—and I hope that I’ll never let it really stop me.
I mean, yes, it gets in the way: but it’s like a lot of forces in the universe. Gravity is a jerk, but you ride your bike up big hills anyway, even as your legs insist that you can’t.
Impostor syndrome is a jerk, but you go out and audition and create dances and teach anyway, even as your brain insists that you have no right doing so.
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!
Anyway, I’m feeling more and more confident about weeds, even if I was a complete PITA to our choreographer-director on Sunday (sorry, AMS!).
- 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?
Yesterday, I crammed in two acceptable ballet classes and a fantastic acro workshop with a guy who’s here with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo.
We expected partner acro, but it turned out to be basically floor exercise. As it turns out, a lot of my floor exercise repertoire is still very much intact. I got as far as back handsprings before I had to jet off to ballet. Aleks seemed pleasantly surprised (even impressed) with my technique and power, so I left his workshop floating on a cloud of happy.
I was, in fact, as happy as my cat in an empty bathtub. Also rather better at floor exercise.
Perhaps that’s why I spent today feeling pretty decent about myself. I’m occasionally floored by the capability of my body—simultaneously like, “Wow, cool!” and like, terribly grateful at my body will apparently do almost anything I ask of it.
Either way, during modern class I found myself staring into the mirror and kinda liking what I saw. I was wearing a racerback tank that makes me look as much like a gymnast as I do a dancer (and leaves acres of skin exposed to stick to the floor in modern class). For a few minutes what I saw was a broad-shouldered, graceful boy; strong and lean and vital; gleaming with a light sheen of healthy sweat. I saw an athlete; a rather magnificent animal, close-coupled and powerful. I saw, I suppose, what men sometimes see and admire in me. I was reminded of the time that I asked Denis what he saw in my calves, which he all but fetishizes though I have almost always disliked them, and he said one word: “Power.”
Last night, when I was feeling uncertain about doing round-off front handspring on our rather short mat, Aleks said to me, “You can do this. You have power.” It was exactly what I needed to hear: I gave the sequence more vertical punch and less horizontal travel, and there it was, just like when I was ten or thirteen or sixteen.
G-d alone knows what I’ll see when I’m staring down the barrel of the barre tomorrow morning. But it was refreshing to see what I saw tonight.
In related news, I evidently failed to inform my cirque company that I tumble, and they teased me (pleasantly) about that throughout the whole workshop. They were also impressed with how clean, graceful, and powerful my tumbling skills are. Needless to say I’ll likely be using those in upcoming cirque shows 😛
I continue to be terribly grateful that I can still do all this stuff.
Sometimes my body, like all bodies, is a giant jerk—but more often of late it seems like an old friend who’s just been waiting for me to drop by; one who has kept all my favorite games and can remember all the places I like to run and bike and walk. When I dust off a physical skill that I haven’t tried in years, it’s always with a sense of homecoming mingled with a sweet relief.
But looking at myself tonight was something else: the experience of having seen, bit by bit, a thing I somehow missed for many years, and then suddenly seeing it whole for just a moment.
Also, I’d rather forgotten how good it feels to launch yourself into a dead sprint, punch down into the center of the earth, and soar. (I mean, I that in ballet, too, but it’s in a different way.)
It’s good to have that back.
A few years ago I wrestled with composing a solo piece about grief set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
At nearly 8 minutes, it’s quite long for a solo, and I don’t think I had the choreographic wherewithal to make it work back then. I’m still not sure I do. I set it on the back burner, figuring maybe I’d come return it sooner or later.
I’m not sure, at this point, that I ever will. Instead, I’m setting a piece for seven dancers about being alone and unseen amidst the bustle of humanity to the “Adagio.”
The title of the original piece was “Shadowlands”–a reference to the film about C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, which is itself an exploration of grief, but also in reference to Lewis’ phemonenal book, A Grief Observed.
I might retain the original title. The new piece as it has evolved comprises seven dancers: the Four Sisters, the Lovers, and the Outsider.
The Outsider is consigned to the shadows at the edge of human connection, and often shadows the others.
That said, I’m leery of using that title, as it’s too close to Pilobolus’ Shadowland, which I hadn’t even heard of at the time I created the original solo piece.
The first draft of this piece will be shown at the June 1st meeting of Louisville Movement Exchange, a nascent choreographers’ workshop and dance-community connector. I won’t have a heck of a lot of time to set and rehearse the piece, but it doesn’t need to be polished (or even finished).
I’m trying to do as much development as I can beforehand, though I will very likely have to modify things based on the set of dancers I’m working with. I think I’m much better at imagining choreography than I was a few years ago—not least in terms of envisioning how to use the stage.
Given the exceedingly-limited rehearsal time at hand, I’m debating whether to concentrate on setting the first half and taking things from there, or just dive straight into the second half.
The advantage of beginning with the first half, of course, is that if we miraculously bash through it, we might get to the second half anyway … and, to be honest, it’s the part I feel less sure about.
The advantage of beginning with the second half is that I have a really strong, clear vision of it, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be quite good.
I suppose, ultimately, my dancers will determine how I approach the piece: the whole thing builds to a group overhead press-lift, and I plan to try to set that first, since it’s the thing that’s most likely to be uncomfortable for them. Most of them will never have done that sort of thing before. It’s not actually very hard (it’s literally six people doing the lifting, and they’re lifting one person), but it can be daunting.
I also kind of need to decide if I want to be in this piece if I have enough dancers that I don’t need to be. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I would, in fact, love to perform this piece, but setting a piece and learning it at the same time can be problematic, since it’s harder to adjust things on the fly when you can’t see what’s happening until you watch the video.
I’m also back to slowly sorting out problems with Simon Crane.
I think I might set the “Bolero” for a later meeting of the Movement Exchange. I’m not 100% sure it’ll make the final version of the ballet, but I really, really want to set it, and it can stand on its own.
I’m also fiddling with the score still: I’m now fairly certain that the third act will be set to Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony (E minor).
I’m still not entirely sure what to do with the first act.
I would, however, like to finish this ballet before I die (not that I plan on doing that any time soon), so at some point I’m going to just force myself to make a decision about Act I. So I guess it’s back to listening to Romantic/Impressionist music and seeing what fits the story arc.
As regards Act III, I am deeply fond of Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead,” but by itself it’s a bit on the short side, and it doesn’t afford quite enough range to really develop the story. I’d love to use it for something someday—maybe something that doesn’t even have an underlying story or concept—but trying to force-fit that with some other piece of music for the third act of Simon Crane isn’t going to work.
Saint-Saëns’ cello concerto will continue to anchor the second act; indeed, if I leave out the “Bolero,” it will be the entire second act.
So that—and the little piece I’m building for PlayThink, which is rather a lot of fun—does it for choreography projects for now.
More on the PlayThink piece later, of course.
I get this question a lot.
That and, “How long did it take you to get your center split?”
The answers are, in short, “Very little, in any formal sense,” and, “About two seconds.”
There’s an assumption among dance students that work is the great equalizer.
That assumption is largely correct—and yet it doesn’t mean that individual variations in innate ability do not occur, or that enough work will overcome all of them.
Most human beings will never achieve a center oversplit. This isn’t because they won’t work hard enough, but because they have normal human pelvises that don’t allow it.
Many human beings will never achieve a even a full center split, in fact.
The center split may be the least malleable feat of flexibility. Unlike the front splits, which simply extend the natural range of motion of the average human hip joint complex, it is enormously dependent on genetics. Even early training exerts only a small degree of influence, as far as I can tell. A full center split requires both soft-tissue flexibility and unusual hip sockets. One is amenable to training; the other might possibly be very slightly amenable to rigorous training at an age at which most children’s parents are much more concerned with basic skills than with the potential eventuality of flat center splits.
I don’t think the group of human beings who have center oversplits is very large. Even though I move in ballet and cirque circles, I can count the examples I know personally on one hand with fingers to spare. And that’s counting myself.
In short, the same characteristics of the hip socket that give us the required range of motion also make us unusually prone to hip dislocations (upright bipedalism a harsh mistress).
Back in the day, a dislocated hip was almost certainly a good way to get eaten by the nearest predator (or otherwise eliminate yourself from the gene pool), thus greatly reducing the likelihood of passing on the genes that allow for extreme hip flexibility. In short, center oversplits are maladaptive in an evolutionary context, and thus exceedingly rare even though we’ve largely decoupled ourselves from natural selection pressures (though it would be interesting to see where we stand in another hundred thousand years or so).
So often in Western culture, we equate talent—that is, raw, innate ability —with virtue.
This tendency may be at its most visible in the movement arts: professional training selects for people who both possess innate ability and who work hard, but it’s the innate ability that the average person-on-the-street cites: “Wow, she’s so talented!”
The phenomenon of TV talent shows hasn’t helped. So often, the word talent is right there in the title: America’s Got Talent. It’s too easy to conflate the rocket-to-stardom modality with the myth of talent.
From Algeria to Zimbabwe, successful …Got Talent competitors work their butts off (or, in the case of dancers, on) to make the most of whatever measure of innate ability they have—but we see only the five minutes or so that they command the stage in each episode, unknowns to the public at large. They appear to emerge fully-formed, replete with the armor of their art, from the foreheads of the judges.
It’s too easy to ignore the work and sigh, “If only I was that talented!”
But it’s also too easy to fall into the opposite camp, which discounts innate ability entirely.
There’s a familiar impasse that one encounters if one sticks around long enough as an adult ballet student to reach a fairly advanced standard of training.
Newer students admire your talent and/or your work ethic—and then they ask you how they can learn to do the thing you’re doing with such ease (or, at any rate, apparent ease).
Most often, you can truthfully answer, “Work your tuchas off, take class with these three instructors, make three classes per week your bare minimum, and you’ll get there sooner than you think.” You can even gently guide the ones who want the results associated with setting ballet on the front burner without having actually done so. Sometimes this means helping them discover for themselves that they love dancing, but are really just there to have fun, and aren’t actually going to prioritize it enough to make the kind of progress they want (at least, not in the timeframe they’re imagining). Sometimes it means helping them give themselves permission to front-burner ballet.
- This last bit is pretty specific to adult students, who mostly seem to expect everything to take longer than it actually will. Kids can be very much the opposite.
Yet, sometimes, you’re forced to formulate on the fly an answer that gently conveys the idea that no matter how hard they work, their feet aren’t going to look like yours, because your feet are the result of a serendipitous confluence of genetic traits polished by work, or that they’re probably never going to nail a flat center split because their hips aren’t arranged in a way that allows for it. To say, in short: “I don’t have these feet because I’m a professional dancer. I’m a professional dancer because I have these feet … or, well, partly, anyway.”
The challenge, then, is figuring out how to explain the complicated ratio of talent to hard work—that, for the most part, hard work matters much more. It’s mostly at the highest levels (particularly in companies with very specific ideas about how dancers’ bodies look) that both hard work and talent matter almost equally: to dance for ABT or the Royal Ballet or the Kirov, one needs both in almost superhuman doses. Talent alone is certainly not enough, but hard work alone won’t do it, either.
And, then, even at the highest levels, dancers acknowledge that talent is distributed capriciously. Nobody gets it all, in part because some of the genetic gifts associated with success as a dancer (qv, those incredibly mobile feet and ankles everyone wants) actually make technique harder. Every dancer with beautiful feet can point to some other part of her body and say, “Yeah, but…”
As kids, we’re often given the impression that talent is everything. American culture is flush with fictional stories of raw, undeveloped talent that is miraculously discovered and immediately transported to the upper echelons of artistic success. That model sells, and fits in the with fairytale mode of instant transformation that colors so much of the media we market to children.
The downside is that, too often, this means talented people feel like they don’t have to work that hard. Vexingly, there are even some points at which this is true: I don’t really work on flexibility, for example.
- I work on its opposite: strength. A couple weeks without calf raises, and the mobility of my ankles makes one-foot relevé balances beastly hard.
Worse, it can create the impression that a lack of exceptional talent means one shouldn’t bother. This is also fundamentally untrue. The world is full of professional dancers who began with average measures of everything but the motivation to work (not to mention their sublimely-talented peers whose motivation led them to leave ballet). They may not be dancing at the Kirov, but they’re certainly dancing in your local company.
Although the ballet world is full of talented late-starters like Copeland and Hallberg, none of them owe their success to talent alone or even primarily. They are, to a person, incredible workers first and foremost. BW came to ballet very late—but his success owes in no small part to the fact that he does sixteen turns after every class, trains in ankle weights, attends to every detail fastidiously, and simply works like the world depends on it.
And yet: he’s tall-but-not-too-tall, physically beautiful, and gifted with hip mobility equal to mine.
His work is devoted to improving what is already a very fine instrument. His work will probably take him farther than mine does—in part because he actually does work harder than I do, but also because he’s taller than I am (but not too tall). Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, and perhaps at some future time it won’t—but right now it’s a matter of course that ultimately a principal dancer is by default a prince, and we imagine that the prince should be tall and regal. Someone of my middling height and middling talent (as compared to the range of professional dancers, rather than to the population at large) might be Seigfried at Backyard Ballet Theater, but never at PNB or ABT, even if I hadn’t taken a long break from dancing.
I should say that I’m not bitter at all about this. I would never in a million years complain about being asked to dance Seigfried or Albrecht or Cavalier (though, like, couldn’t he have a name, y’all?), not least because I love partnering and the princes get almost all the most tender, most beautiful pas de deux.
But give me, any day, the fireworks of the Russian dance, the simmering sensuality of Arabian, the aerial grace of Bluebird, or the wild abandon of Le Corsaire’s famous slave. Give me the corps part I danced last year in Orpheus: a mad, sensuous, pyrotechnic demon of the shadowy depths. Give me the ridiculous athleticism of the peasant pas in Giselle (two very, very long passages of balls-to-the-wall balletic redlining jammed into a lively pas de deux).
It is to these peripheral roles that I’m best suited both by temperament and by physical aptitude. I don’t begrudge the lack of lofty height that will mean I only ever dance Prince What’s-His-Name at summer programs and if all of the taller guys at Podunk Ballet simultaneously come down with flu.
Ultimately, part of becoming a dancer is accepting your limitations.
BG will be the first to tell you he has biscuits of the highest order: but then he’ll show you his carriage, his élan, and his ballon.
BW explained to me the downside of our shared extreme hip mobility: we work twice as hard doing turns in second, for example, because we have to use our muscles to hold ourselves together where other dancers can rely on their bones to do much of the the work. My flexibility, in fact, means I’m prone to dancing like a slinky.
In the grand scheme of things, whether or not you have a center split means less than whether or not you know how to work with what you’ve got.
I don’t stretch very much because the last thing I need, as a dancer, is looser joints. I have a center oversplit because I’m a mutant with an unstable pelvis.
I’m not a dancer because of either of those things. I’m a dancer because the only thing I really want to do is dance, and because I’m lucky enough to be in a position that allows me to apprentice myself as I’m doing now in professional jobs that pay only intermittently. I’m a dancer, in short, because I dance.
This isn’t to say that I my body is not an advantage. It is. I do no one any service by saying otherwise.
But in the end, it’s top-dressing.
If I’m auditioning and my only competition is a physically-similar dancer with the same degree of training and the same work ethic but a body that’s not quite as purpose-built for ballet, there’s a fair chance I’ll come out on top. Give that other dancer a year or two more training or a work ethic comparable to BW’s, though, and my edge vanishes.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying this:
Don’t worry too much about your center split. You might never have one.
If you want to dance, that’s almost never the deciding factor.
Worry instead about your training and your work ethic. If you’re feeling unmotivated, figure out why and how you can hack your motivational system to work around it (concrete goals work for me; an upcoming show works better than anything).
Ask yourself, in the words of the British rowing team, “Does it make the boat go faster?” If it doesn’t, find a way to put it aside. Come back to it later, maybe: but know that later on it might not seem so important.
Know your weaknesses, and work on them within reason: but not at the expense of knowing and honing your strengths.
Ballet is too hard to spend time and energy making it harder.