Category Archives: WTF
Once upon a time, when I was eight years old, I received my very first violin—and with it, an introduction to the care of sensitive musical instruments: tune gently, handle with care, be careful of drastic changes in temperature and humidity.
Most of us, even if we don’t explicitly know these things, can intuit them from experiences with things like doors that stick when the humidity is high or swing loosely when it’s low. As such, nobody in their right mind would chastise a concert violinist for deciding not to play a Stradivarius in the rain.
Apparently, however, there’s been something of a fracas over the decision that gymnast extraordinaire Simone Biles made to bow out at the Olympics this year (2021, if you’re visiting from the future ^.-).
Many people, it seems, found it very difficult to understand why she might do such a thing, and hurled all manner of invective at her. Biles handled the situation with the same power, grace, and aplomb she displays on the mats.
What her detractors didn’t (and don’t) understand is that Biles’ decision was one that would, for any gymnast, require an immense—even an immeasurable—strength of character. A thousand times more so on the world stage that the Olympics represent.
Because gymnasts, on the whole, grow up in a world that teaches them that there’s no such word as “can’t,” and that winners never quit.
From the first moment budding gymnasts step onto the mat, they’re subjected to a long-standing culture of incredible physical and mental toughness and self-sacrifice. You don’t become even an entry-level competitive gymnast without learning to “tough it out” and “walk it off,” never mind the kind of powerhouse competitor that Biles has become.
To some extent, this is necessary. Gymnastics, like ballet, is hard. It’s tiring and sometimes uncomfortable and demands that an aspiring athlete must learn to reach for deeper reserves of strength than many or even most people living typical, comfortable lives in the developed world can imagine. (Edit: come to think of it, people who’ve given birth prolly get it 🤔)
However, for much of its history, gymnastics training has demanded this in excess, and the result has been injury (and its long-term consequences), careers cut short, and all too often the inability of both gymnasts and coaches to see the body’s breaking point coming until it’s too late. (If this sounds like the ballet world, by the way, it should. Dancers face the same pressures from a similarly young typical age at entry.)
Those of us who have trained seriously in gymnastics understand this. We know what it is to bounce up off the floor after what observers might regards as a terrifying fall and jump right back in without stopping to make sure we’re okay. We know what it is to feel uncertain about whether an injury can withstand the pressure of training or competition and step onto the mats anyway.
We know how very, very effing hard it is, after a lifetime of being told, “Get up; shake it off; you’ve got this,” to say, “You know what? No. I’m staying down and I don’t have this right now, thanks.”
Simone Biles knows her body. She knows her mind. And the fortitude it took to stand before the entire world and say, in essence,”No, I’m not okay to do this right now and I’m not going to take the risk” … That’s a fortitude that a lot of people, to be honest, can’t even imagine.
In short, Biles simply refused to break out her Stradivarius in a hurricane. The fact that the hurricane was an invisible one is irrelevant.
To say, “Biles refused to break out her Stradivarius in 90% humidity” might be more accurate, but it might also be harder for people to understand. So we’ll stick with the hurricane analogy.
Gymnasts, hockey players, dancers, bike racers, aerialists, and many other athletes understand implicitly how very tough Biles had to be to do that.
We also understand that her decision was, whether she thought of it this way or not in the moment, a stand for all the young athletes growing up in athletic cultures in which it’s considered anathema to say, “No.”
In my own life, I’ve injured myself by pushing through things I shouldn’t have, extended the time to full rehabilitation by pushing too hard too soon, and on some occasions avoided serious injury solely by a combination of pure dumb luck with excellent reflexes and an unusually elastic body.
I could’ve avoided most of these things simply by learning, earlier in my life, that there really is a point at which you can and should say, “No.”
My generation grew up with coaches who, as young gymnasts themselves, were inspired by Nadia Comaneci’s endurance under harrowing conditions and Mary Lou Retton’s maxim, “Follow your dreams.”
Those stories bear so much merit—but I can’t explain how much it meant to me, and what a wave of … relief? release? liberation? … broke through me when I heard (through DisabilityTwitter!) about Biles’ decision. I mean I literally, physically felt it—like something exploding deep in my chest, but in the best possible way.
Like the moment when you see someone you love crash their bike hard, and you think, Oh f**K, they’re a goner, but then they get up and look around and kind of dust themselves off, and your heart just goes BOOM because, frankly, you’re so relieved. Or like the first moment in your life you realize that you really, really trust someone.
As an artist-athlete and teacher of artist-athletes, somehow it was Simone Biles that really crystallized for me the idea that, yes—you can say, “I’m not taking my Stradivarius out in the rain.”
I’ve been saying those words for a long time now, but a part of me had a hard time believing them when it came to my own instrument. I could believe them for my students, but not for myself, and that meant I wasn’t always living those words, whether for my students or for myself.
Simone Biles made that idea real for me.
Going forward, of course, negotiating that reality in the world of ballet, where sometimes you’re the only guy and without you the pas de deux isn’t gonna happen, will be another thing entirely. But it always is. Action can’t be divorced from context like that, yo.
Chances are that I’m still going to have to explain, once in a while, why I chose to break out my instrument in the midst of a downpour. I pray that in those moments I’ll be granted the wisdom and grace to do so with clarity, but human beings are imperfect and maybe I won’t, and that’s part of life, too.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Ehlers-Danlos.
Well, two things.
First, from what I understand, Simone Biles also has hypermobile-type EDS and her decision was at least partly based on an episode of “the Twisties,” aka proprioceptive dysfunction.
Proprioceptive dysfunction is a feature of EDS—one that can be really hard for people without EDS to understand, especially where elite athletes and dancers are concerned. It’s understandably hard for them to imagine how you can be someone who’s at the top of the world (or at least, pretty darned good) in a sport or artform that depends on exceptional spatial and body awareness and also be someone whose proprioceptive faculties just … go on strike sometimes.
And yet, that’s how it is. Sometimes the right matrix of stressors makes things go extra haywire, and the systems that allow us to fly through the air with the greatest of ease just plotz. And, trust me, neither you nor we need us flying through the air when that happens.
Second, my excessive sweatiness is very probably also related to EDS—it’s part of the suite of dysautonomic features that come with the package, so to speak—as are my orthostatic hypotension/POTS, episodes of (literally) staggering fatigue, sometimes-weird relationship to hunger and thirst signals, and possibly my tendency to dump salt in my sweat.
So, on Saturday, these conspired to create a situation in which I rocked up to the gym for a doubles coaching session on the apparatus we’ve nicknamed “the rodeo lyra” (bc that mofo will throw you like a bronc if you don’t pay attention) already feeling spacey and fatigued and missed the first mount with the apparatus hung so low I could’ve just forward-folded onto it, lmao (in point of fact, the mount we’re using is harder on a lower apparatus, but not so much harder that I, who literally never miss a mount, would have just completely failed at it if things weren’t decidedly pear-shaped from the word go).
It’s pretty hilarious in retrospect, of course, but at the time scared the hell out of D, who’s my partner in this piece. He’s well aware that I never miss mounts, and because the mount in question results in us facing away from each-other upside-down, he couldn’t see me. His own nervous system decided that the only possible explanation for the fact that my weight wasn’t balancing his was that I had either fallen and broken my neck or was strangling in the span-sets above the hoop o_O””’
I decided (with a little help from ABM, our kind and intrepid coach) to reschedule and go home to take care of whatever the heck was going on with my body (in case you’re wondering, it was what they call “chronic hyponatremia”—the kind you get when your electrolyte levels drop below a certain point over the course of a few days).
Anyway, while I was apologizing to everyone and trying to be okay with that decision, ABM said to me, “You know what we’re calling that now? We’re saying, ‘You Simoned it.'”
As in, you made the right call—you saw that storm coming and put your instrument away.
And I hecking love that.
PS: I got a bunch of rest, sucked down a bunch of noodles with salty broth (and spinach and chicken), and felt like myself again on Sunday. I opted out of morning modern and ballet classes bc I wasn’t sure my electrolyte levels were up to that kind of sweating yet, but was able to get through a slowish-paced lyra class and a rehearsal session on the rodeo lyra.
That’s why you Simone it: because sometimes the best way to get up and kill it tomorrow is to lie the hecking heck down and drink salty, salty broth today.
PPS: I’m working on addressing the dietary imbalances that led to this situation, so hopefully it won’t happen again any time soon. Basically, the past two weeks were unreasonably hot, and there were several days that I forgot to add electrolyte powder to my water but still sweated buckets of salty, salty sweat.
Saturday morning, I had an outdoor performance gig, and although the heat wasn’t as intense as it’s been, I still sweated like a firehose, as I do, and apparently that was the last straw, bc I was a glassy-eyed zombie by 1 PM when our coaching session was scheduled.
One of the joys of hyponatremia will be familiar to endurance athletes who’ve faced the dreaded “Bonk:” your body just … refuses. In the case of the classic Bonk, it’s typically attributed to the depletion of glycogen stores without sufficient carbohydrate replacement, but depletion of electrolytes yields the same basic result (as opposed to extreme over-hydration, which can lead to rapid swelling of the brain, coma, and death before you quite grasp what’s going on o_o).
It’s like someone cranks the power to your muscles way, way down. That’s how I missed my mount. My brain sent the signals to execute the movement, and my body just kind of didn’t.
It tried, bless its heart, because my body is (as I’m learning to understand) a miraculous beast like one of those fantastic, sweet, patient draught horses who will try with everything in themselves to do whatever you ask of them and will almost always succeed. My friend and teacher Killer B recently summed this up by enthusiastically replying, “… Which can do everything!” when I said, “It’s so good to take class with someone who understands my body.”
But in this case, while the conscious motor controls were sending out the plan for “pullover mount to straddle balance,” the unconscious ones were trying to take care of the body by down-regulating the wattage so I wouldn’t waste any more electrolytes doing athletic stuff and possibly die, and/or there just wasn’t enough sodium left for electrical signaling to be that efficient.
Either way, the immediate result was muscles that wouldn’t fire with enough power to bring me over the bar from a standing position. Instead, I got a powerful lesson in really listening to my body.
This isn’t hyperbole, btw. There is no muscling through that specific experience. You can try all you like, but you’re really no longer the one in primary control of the ship. Until you experience that sensation (and I suspect that in our sodium-enriched and largely sedentary culture, most never will), it’s very difficult—maybe even impossible—to imagine.
Fwiw, as an experience, I don’t recommend it. Like, 2/10, and it only gets the 2 bc hecking heck, does it ever teach you some things. But they’re things you can learn without taking all the way to that extreme, and it’s No Fun At All, as the delightfully hedonistuc elves used to say as they died in whatever magical-realm civ-building game of yore that was.
GIF credits: all via Tenor via WP.
In ballet, as in life, there are things you know that you know, and things you know that you know but maybe kinda don’t really know.
- …And also things you know that you don’t know, and things that you don’t know that you don’t know, but … ugh, let’s just start with the stuff we supposedly know. I’m too tired for the, like, epistemology of epistemology right now.
Like, you know that what you do at the barre is important. Foundationally important. Literally everything in ballet, your teachers tell you, is founded on the work you do at the barre.
…And yet it can actually be kind of hard, sometimes, to really feel what that means.
If you’ve been dancing for more than, like, five minutes with good instruction, you’ve probably heard the maxim that everything in ballet is essentially an extension of plie and tendu (some add rond de jambe to the mix; others argue that rond de jambe can be included in the “extension of tendu” category … I think both arguments have merit, so That’s Another Post).
If you’ve been dancing for more than five years with good instruction, you’ve probably experienced that idea directly often enough that it has taken on gut-level meaning.
You have learned to feel that your grand battement is just a tendu at maximum amplitude; that a waltz turn is just a bunch of plies and tendus strung together; that even a double tour is basically a plie that stretches with a lot of oomph.
That does not, however, always translate directly to the complex movements you do once you leave the barre. Knowing with your brain is not the same thing as feeling with your body, etc.
And this is where video comes in.
I think I’ve written a couple of times about the thing that makes video such an exceptionally useful tool for me–specifically, my proprioception is weird because of Ehlers-Danlos, so I can’t always actually feel what my body is doing relative to itself. Video is the best tool I’ve found for figuring out the difference between what I feel like I’m doing and what I’m actually doing.
Sometimes, though, it’s also a goldmine for technique.
Case in point, this:
I’ve been trying to make my body sort out the relationship between the Bournonville grand jete and … to be honest, basically everything. I mean, like, yes: of course I realize that it’s a prime example of “it’s just tendu and plie, but with a little chutzpah,” but somehow I still feel like my execution always cuts a corner somewhere.
The reason that I feel that my execution of the Bournonville jete cuts a corner is that it does.
I’ve been so busy thinking about Bournonville jete being a leap that I’ve been completely overlooking the fact that the leap will take care of itself if you DO THE REST OF THE TECHNIQUE CORRECTLY.
Functionally, this means that instead of brushing and pressing my leading leg and using the combination of that kinetic energy with the potential energy stored in the plie of the second leg, I’m sort of frantically flinging my first leg and throwing my body after it, taking off before the leading leg can do its job (which is to set the height of the leap and then STAY THERE–that’s where control comes in), and generally bungling the entire procedure.
I’m flexible, so I come closer to getting away with it than someone would who can’t just throw a leg wherever, but it’s still not good enough.
(Ballet: it’s always easier when you just do it right, and somehow that never ceases to be completely shocking.)
So, the picture above isn’t technically of a Bournonville jete. It’s technically a picture of … erm. Some kind of enormous cloche? I’d honestly have to go back and watch the video again; my brain is so cooked right now I don’t even remember which exercise it was (it was before grand battement and after degage *shrug*).
When I watched this video, I instantly and powerfully understood that this picture is HOW YOU DO a Bournonville jete, or really any grand jete, and make it count.
- Okay, full disclosure: my upper body shouldn’t start this far back in an actual grand jete, unless I want it the leap to travel straight up I guess? But that’s actually one of the things I need to fix in my grand jete: I often leave my body behind, costing myself both travel and elevation.
What I do remember about this moment was that it was a cloche through from back to front, brushing strongly through first and pressing the leading leg up (as if against a weight: that was JZ’s main correction for me on Thursday–which, by the way, is exactly the main thing I’m focused on improving in my dancing as a whole).
On the first side, I’d relied (as I always do) too much on momentum and not enough engaged strength: I threw the leg (to be fair, jete literally means “throw”) in a way that meant I was no longer in control of it. My leg was on one journey, and my body was on another–their destination was the same, but for all intents and purposes, the leg was taking the early express train and the body was taking a slightly later local. That makes it kinda hard to keep the movements connected, you know?
JZ said to me, “Less momentum; more strength–like lifting a weight with the working leg.” I applied the correction on the second side, and this was the result.
Even though I’ve done an exercise specific to grand jete that uses this motor pattern–done it in a few different schools, in fact (my childhood studio, LouBallet, the Joffrey, LexBallet, pretty sure Naples Ballet)–I’ve somehow never connected the exercise that I was doing in JZ’s class on Thursday with grand jete.
And yet, there it is. If I sprang off that deeply-loaded right leg, I would … well, okay, in this case, I’d crash directly into the wire storage rack that’s like two centimeters from my left foot o.O’
BUT, if I did that in, say, a proper ballet studio … okay, and if I kept my back a bit more lifted … the result would be a lovely grand jete. The position I’m in doesn’t really need to change (except for the fact that my upper body needs to be a little closer to my free leg); I would just need to kind of … let go of the ground. Just add a little spring. And then sustain the leading leg by pressing it up, as if under a weight.
- In case you’re not familiar with the distinction, the Bournonville grand jete is done with the back leg in attitude. Obviously, for the … other version, I’d need a little more spring, to get that back leg all the way straight.
- I love that analogy, because it summarises everything I love about the way Roberto Bolle moves: his movements are always at once contained and free; controlled and fluid. There’s always a sense almost that he moves against the resistance of a thicker atmosphere than the one most of us inhabit. The idea of pressing into a weight helps me think about how to achieve that feeling without becoming tense and unfree.
Somehow, the video that yielded this picture has helped me understand what I am and am not doing correctly when I do grand jete. (And, in fact, that I’m doing almost everything in grand jete incorrectly much of the time, although sometimes I get it right by accident and something beautiful happens.)
It might’ve taken me another five years to figure that out otherwise, because it’s incredibly difficult to see yourself doing a grand jete or any other large, complex movement (trying to watch yourself in the mirror screws up the body mechanics). I certainly get corrections on my technique all the time (that’s just life as a dancer), but video makes it easier to sort out what all those corrections aim to impart.
In short: if you haven’t tried shooting video of yourself in class, I highly recommend it.
Obviously, in a normal class, you should ask permission first and make sure your classmates are okay with it (my experience has been that they’re usually either like, “Sure as long as I never have to look at myself in it XD” or “OOH YES CAN I HAVE A COPY PLS????”).
Likewise, video alone won’t replace the guidance of a good teacher.
But for me, video has become a critical tool for analysing my own movement and figuring out how to improve it.
At least, once I got over the natural desire to bury my head in the sand and never watch myself dancing again ^-^’
This morning, perhaps due to the time change but perhaps also due to the fact that we’re all up to our eyeballs in alligators right now, the struggle was really, really real.
Barre was … well, meh about sums it up. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever done, but I also wasn’t entirely awake, and my legs felt like they weighed about 48 kilos each.
Center tendus were … ugh. More like tendon’ts. I got through the first version without too much awfulness, but when we ran the reverse I kept changing the facing of my hips when I shouldn’t have and, as a result, winding up on the wrong leg, and then having to do this tendu-failli-tendu thing, and then sometimes I’d have faillied the wrong leg somehow and I’d still be wrong, and I’d just go, “Feck it,” and coupé over in whatever way would get me to the right place ’cause ain’t nobody got time for dat.
Adagio was at least back to meh, instead of actively WTF-worthy. When I’m “on,” adagio feels fairly effortless. When I’m off, I adage like a spatially-challenged stork with some kind of substance-use disorder. I still get through it, but it’s … um.
So basically I made it through the adage at a more-or-less acceptable level while lamenting Thursday’s effortless extensions and wondering why my legs continued to experience enhanced gravity, whether last night’s sleeping pill would ever wear off, and exactly how much postnasal drainage could actually dump itself down my throat before something horrible happened (the answer: a lot, apparently, as nothing particularly horrible happened during the remainder of class, regardless of the constant stream of sinus goop working its way down the back of my throat).
Going across the floor, things finally began to improve. First off, the talking-to L’Ancien gave all of us about using our weight and our plié shook free of the cobwebs (I think it probably happened while we were doing 6th port de bras in the adage) and rolled into play, and some very, very nice turns resulted (though there was that one triple with way too much force … sometimes I get excited about turns and forget that you don’t need to use all the grand allegro booster rockets).
Second off, I realized that we were all struggling along together.
To whit: uur first turns combination was exceedingly simple—tombé-pas de bourrée to 4th-en dehors-repeat-repeat-rotation-en dedans, then straight into the second side—and did exactly what we all expected it to do so nobody had to think.
Our waltz, on the other hand, was simple but remixed familiar elements in a new way.
We’re all good friends with balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn-tombé-pas de bourrée and then whatever.
This time, JMH gave us:
balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn–CHAÎNÉ-CHAÎNÉ-CHAÎNÉ (petit developpé)-tombé pas de bourrée to fourth-en dehors-tombé back-en dedans (dancer’s choice: I did attitude turn en dedans because it’s in our Showcase piece; finished to arabesque allongé).
We all had to mentally yell at ourselves to keep from going balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn-tombé-pas de bourrée… I suspect that must’ve been pretty funny to watch. There was much visible gnashing of teeth, though we mostly kept the wailing on the inside.
Still, the waltz overall managed, amidst great struggle, to somehow turn out quite nicely. Against all odds, the repeat was rather lovely.
By the time we got to little jumps, my brain was beginning to light up, and the major mistake I kept making was adding extra jumps—in one combination, I kept adding extra changements when the prescribed step was a simple sussous balance. WTF.
I actually yelled at myself about this out loud at one point. Specifically, I said, “Why am I punishing myself?!” as I failed, yet again, to prevent myself from putting in extra changements. Jeez. On the other hand, they were quite decent jumps, so there’s that.
Moreover, my petit assemblé has stopped being a disaster area (my legs actually assemble in the air like they’re supposed to, you guys!), and I finally seem to have programmed that weird coupé-coupé weight shift into my brain somewhere along the way. We finished with jeté-temps levée-coupé coupé-brush jeté, and it was just … there. Like magic.
Anyway, today’s Theater Week Prep Day, during which I will Make All The Food and Clean All The Catbox and Wash All The Dishes and Finish The Stray Laundries and basically prepare for the fact that for the next six days I am unlikely to accomplish anything other than dancing.
The primary goal, really, is to make enough food in advance that I won’t have to really cook until a week from today: instead, I’ll just be able to throw things in to reheat as needed. Obviously, things like scooping the catbox that can be done quickly will still happen. Just not a lot of cooking, because I am unlikely to feel like cooking, but extremely likely to feel like eating, when I get home after rehearsals.
So that’s it for now. My legs feel like blocks of lead, and I plan to soak them in epsom salt solution for as long as my conscience permits later on. If the cat ever deigns to return the use of my left arm to me, anyway.
“Dear heavens, it’s 8 AM already,” he said.
Or, at any rate, he tried to. What came out, instead, sounded more like, “Mrrrghghhhh.”
You’ve probably guessed that today wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had in class. I don’t think it’s so much the getting in at 1:30, which isn’t the end of the world really, or the getting up at 8 on slightly less than 6 hours of sleep.
I suspect that it was the combination of NyQuil (taken to fend off a sinus headache and extra congestion brought on by dry air and so forth: not sleeping was not a viable option) and getting up at 8 on slightly less sleep than it would’ve taken to give the NyQuil time to wear off.
Possibly adding Adderall, a further decongestant, and a cup of coffee to the mix this morning wasn’t the greatest idea.
On the other hand, I made it to class without dying, killing myself, or forgetting my shoes, so there’s that.
At any rate, I wasn’t alone. In one way or another, everyone was heroically Living The Struggle this morning, including L’Ancien, who was mysteriously detained (he apologized profusely).
I do think, however, that I was the sole member of the class who began barre with legs that trembled like the voice of an ancient soprano on Easter morning.
Even standing in fifth was, erm, challenging. I mean, standing in fifth is inherently challenging, and some days your body does it better than other days … but I can’t remember any other specific day on which the challenge in question involved, like, vibration.
So that pretty much alerted me to the fact that it was going to be an interesting class.
By the time we got to the section of our highly-compressed barre that I’ll call “fondu de rondu,” the trembling had stopped. I was grateful for that, and because frankly it was, in fact, a little frightening: imagine balancing, for example, at passé in the midst of a rolling earthquake, for example.
However, the end of the tremors and the lovely high extensions that showed up out of nowhere (and with no conscious effort on my part) conspired to lull me into a false sense of security.
I should’ve realized it when I could tour lent in the mark, but not in the actual run. Obviously, something was rotten in Denmark.
Still, I bulled my way through the adage, through some not-great turns, and through the little jumps (in which I made L’Ancien a little happy by actually jumping, which his the one thing I can do reliably, almost (see below).
And then came the grand allegro. It was simple: pique, chassé, entrelacé, failli, tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, grand jeté, then four more grand jetés just for the hell of it, en manège.
Except when L’Ancien gave us the combination, somehow my amazing brain decided that the first phrase (pique, chassé, entrelacé) was performed left, and that it changed directions via a fouetté or something.
Evidently that wasn’t at all correct, and I can now tell you that it’s quite alarming to fund that you are unexpectedly grand-allegroing yourself towards the person on the next corner and yet, simultaneously, that you can’t seem to make yourself stop…?
That’s not where the mystery comes in, though.
The mystery is that we ran it again, and I did the same thing.
I DID THE GRAND ALLEGRO BACKWARDS TWICE, YOU GUYS.
So, all told, far from the best class I’ve ever had. Not quite Depths of Despair quality, just a whole lot of WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME THIS MORNING?.
To which the answer is obvious. I’m cooked, and perhaps too many drugs. In short, the equivalent of taking class with a hangover, minus the headache.
At any rate, I’ve managed to eat some lunch and now I’m thinking about having a lie down before my audition (though, at present, only thinking, because I’m horrible at taking naps and I’d really rather just power through and get it behind me).
Here’s hoping that things will go a little better this afternoon. We’ll see, eh?
*Now with music!
When you’re a kid, you might experience adults as mostly functional, mostly giant walking disasters, or some combination of the two—but you probably don’t experience them as people quite the same way you experience yourself and your friends as people.
- There are some exceptions: my riding instructor was one of those rare adults who are phenomenal at connecting with kids on a very human level without being a total wishy-washy pushover, which you can’t be when you’re teaching 50-pound 7-year-olds how to handle half-ton beasties front-loaded for panic.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all. It so happens that kids and adults in most of the Western world move in fairly separate spheres, and that the developmental worldview of childhood tends to be a bit solipsistic for entirely developmentally-appropriate reasons.
But, anyway, the upshot of this is that an awful lot of us reach adulthood without having the faintest idea how to, like, adult.
…Which is evidenced by the fact that “adult” is now a verb as well as a noun.
I think maybe this wasn’t always the case. Like, up until pretty recently, people were pretty explicit about training up a child in the way he (or she) should wash the ding-dang-darn dishes for crying out loud (and turn down that racket).
Then my generation came along, close on the heels of Gen X but a bit more computer-y, learning from day one that we were supposed to, like, Follow Our Dreams and self-actualize our unique snowflakitude, but also learn math and science a whole lot, and how to do things with technology, and also how to ballet or football/soccer or handegg or violin or speak seventeen languages or be a Mathlete and a representative in the Model UN or pwn all the Mock Trials.
In short, we were so busy getting a First-Class Education and becoming (in many cases, anyway) Well-Rounded that we never had time to absorb some of the critical secrets to Adulting.
Like, to be honest, COFFEE.
I’m just gonna admit up front that even my Mom will tell you she’s almost never sick. I think germs are just way too scared of her. I remember her being actually sick exactly once during my childhood, and it was totally miserable for about a week, and she confirms the same.
HOWEVER. Given that she worked a billion hours a week and sang in at least one choir at any given time and was (for several years) also working on a Master’s degree and somehow found time to design, plant, and maintain an absolutely lovely garden and did at least some of the carting around of a ridiculous kid who somehow thought it was a good idea to jam ballet and horses and gymnastics and choir and skiing and ice skating and the violin into any one week … anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my Mom was almost certainly crazy tired at least part of the time (though she also has the “can sleep any time, anywhere” super power).
And, somehow, I never quite grokked how spectacularly helpful coffee can be in those circumstances.
At least, not until now, when I’m definitely ill but probably on the mend, and I can’t stand the fact that there are three days worth of dishes piled up in the kitchen, but also not sure I can just plain stand long enough to wash them, because frankly one of the major symptoms of Whatever I Have (probably yet another sinus infection) is knock-you-on-your-keister fatigue.
I don’t usually drink COFFEE after noon, because frankly it’s a terrible idea if you’re already a night owl but you’re also a dancer and you regularly have to be able to function in class at 9 AM. In fact, I usually drink exactly one coffee per day, in the morning, less for the caffeine (though that helps when I’ve had to take a sleeping pill, because see above re: night owl) than for the ritual of it.
However, when one is definitely not well enough to go to class (blargh) but also not ill enough to remain in bed without going crazy, one cup of coffee will help one wash some dishes.
So there it is. COFFEE is tasty, but—used judiciously—also one of the secrets of adulting.
I feel like I really should’ve figured this out before.
It’s probably not a secret at all to vast legions of people my own age and younger than my own age who are simply less, like, insular. I am also the kind of idiot who insists on using a hand-cranked kitchen mixer partly because the electric ones are fecking loud, partly because my inner hipster finds it satisfying, and partly out of sheer cussedness, so draw your own conclusions.
But, anyway, I guess this is a thing I know, now. If you need just a little help adulting, a cup of coffee might do the job. So there you have it.
Anyway, if you came for teh balletz but you’ve had to sit through my long digression into the magic that is COFFEE, my apologies. Anyway, here comes the bit with teh balletz in.
A couple weekends back, I shot a bunch of video of balances on the BOSU balance trainer at Suspend. I posted a couple of them to the Instas, then promptly failed to get around to uploading them to the YouTubes so I could toss some music in and easily post them here and critique my own technique.
Belatedly, I have now uploaded a handful (which is to say, three) videos and slapped a little music on them. The actual soundtrack of gleeful cackling from people working on stuff nearby was pretty amusing, but also pretty distracting.
Now they’re running loose on the Tubes. Sort of. (Okay, so they’re currently unlisted, because people like to be mean—by which I do not mean ‘critical, but fair,’ but instead ‘douchy jerks’—in the comments, and I’m mean enough to myself for about five people, thanks).
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the first one:
…This one hasn’t been on the Instas yet.
Here, I’m working left, which is currently my stronger side balance-wise—which is to say that my right leg is better at the “supporting leg” role and my left leg is better at the “free leg” role.
- L’Ancien favors these translations from the Russian over the usual English “supporting leg/working leg” dichotomy: he points out that the supporting leg, really, is the one doing most of the work, and says things like, “And which leg do you imagine flamingos think about?”
If you watch closely, when I first step onto the BOSU trainer (and then promptly step off), you’ll notice one of my most constant and worst ballet habits: I lead with my freaking hips, like I think I’m on a catwalk in Milan or something.
Ballet is not a catwalk in Milan, you guys.
The shirt I’m wearing (half my costume from Death Defying Acts) makes it hard to see, but at the very beginning my sternum is behind the point of my hip. This is so problematic (and, on the BOSU trainer, so bleeding obvious) that, at 0:05, I step back down so I can basically fix my entire approach.
If you pause the player at 0:07, you’ll notice that I’ve corrected pretty reasonably. I haven’t really turned on my turnout yet (it’s easier to mount the BOSU trainer, then turn on the turnout), but I’m much more squarely balanced over my supporting leg.
At the same point in time, you can also see that my knee is roughly over the arch of my foot: I’m shifting my weight towards the ball of my foot on the supporting side by shifting through the entire leg as well as my body. This allows me to keep my hips level from side to side (at 0:10, I actually tap them with my hands to remind myself to stay level and pull up).
Given that I’m still working in kind of a half-baked turnout, the passé balance that follows is pretty decent. You can see me actively resisting the urge to pull up and back (one of the things that makes passé easier for me than coupé is that you typically bring your arms up to third/en haut, which—as long as you keep your elbows lifted—helps keep your weight forward).
I also correct the height of my passé in the midst of the balance—it still wouldn’t be high enough for BW, and neither would my relevé, but in this video I’m still getting used to the BOSU trainer, here, so I’ll give myself a pass on those. It’s high enough for just about any application, anyway, and lifted correctly from behind and beneath, allowing for increased height without a hip-hike.
It’s when I begin to extend that things go a bit pear-shaped.
The legs themselves are rather nice, I think: I carry the working knee up and out, as one should, and though I lose a couple of degrees and wind up at full extension just a little above ninety (for a split second), the overall mechanical process is fine.
I totally fail to adjust my upper body to counterbalance the weight of my leg, which is considerable (the average human leg apparently weighs 40 pounds, which is nearly 1/3 of my entire weight). This actually has a lot to do with the loss of elevation on my extension: any extension requires a fair bit of counter-balancing, and those above 90 degrees require quite a bit more counter-balancing than we tend to realize.
Usually, we effect the counter-balance by shifting the weight away form the free leg. Often, this means performing the complex ritual of simultaneously pulling towards the free leg (to engage the muscles that will help it stay up) and away from the free leg (to counter-balance its weight).
In this video, I do absolutely nothing to counter-balance my free leg. I’m thinking too hard about keeping my weight forward, and so I fail to shift it back just a little. As soon as my free leg begins to move through croisée, I am powerless to resist the pull of gravity, and it “knocks me off my leg,” as we say.
In this case, I should have allowed my shoulders to open slightly in opposition as my arms transitioned to allongé. This is accomplished, more or less, with the breath: you breathe in and allow the breath to lift your sternum until it can’t go any higher, so it has to go back a bit, and while this happens you stay engaged so you don’t turn into a sway-backed cow.
Instead, I kept them exactly as they were.
While, to be honest, I find that fairly impressive in and of itself (I’m forever doing crazy stuff with my upper body and actively, rather than passively, putting it where it shouldn’t be), it’s not very effective if you want to balance that extension.
So there you have it.
Also, rather a nice sustained passé balance (or, well, technically retiré, since I’m not really changing my leg from back to front; it seems that way, but really it’s an artifact of mounting the BOSU).
What works best, here, is the lower-body transition into the extension: I keep the hip open as I extend, rather than allowing it to turn in, then extending from parallel. Also, it blows my mind how flat-out steady I am through much of this. Placement: it works.
What doesn’t work is the failure to counter-balance the extension, which in turn costs me both the height of the extension (which I begin to lose immediately) and the duration of the extended balance. Also, my free-side hand:
I do finish my rather graceful emergency dismount with a nice, deep, turned-out, knee-over-toe plié, at least, though I immediately let go of my turnout as I swing my right leg around and step toward the camera.
Next time: a comparison of two first arabesques, followed by a comparison of two penchés (one that kinda works; one that kinda knocks me off the BOSU).
I dreamed that I had decided to do a tap number for my PlayThink piece, regardless of the fact that A) there’s not really a stage at the venue suitable for taps and B) I haven’t tapped since I was, like, ten.
But, much as in real life, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a complete lack of appropriate facilities and the required skill set get in my way 😛
In fact, I’m doing no such thing. Rather, I’m choreographing a rather syncretic piece to Queen’s “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy.” Admittedly, that would make a sound platform for a tap dance, if I knew how to tap dance, but I don’t particularly and I don’t plan to spend the next five months doing Emergency Tap Class.
As it stands, “…Lover Boy” has a very Vaudeville feel that calls for jazz-infused choreography, which falls outside my comfort zone (which, basically, comprises “ballet and trapeze”), but not so far out that it feels unreasonable.
I had intended to use something a bit less up-tempo; something similar in tone to Trenet’s “La Mer”—but sometimes one’s Muse cracks one upside the head and says, “You’re gonna do this and you’re gonna like it.”
Muses can be jerks sometimes.
Anyway, after being assaulted by the Muse (which sounds, to be honest, like a title you’d find in the Romance section of the Kindle Unlimited catalog), I spent a little time last night putting together some ideas. I think it’s going to work, and I have until July to make it work. I have also imagined some ways to incorporate Denis that will be possible even though he won’t be able to really use his right arm yet, but we’ll see if I can talk him into it.
I’ve also got kind of a choreography workshop thingy coming up that should be cool. I don’t think I’m going to workshop this specific piece, though: rather, I’m going to see if I can find a partner for Barber’s “Adagio” or start working on either “Bolero,” one of the the pieces for Peace, or the opening piece for Dancers Watching Dance, which is (of course) the Four Little Swans.
I’m leaning away from DWD, though, because as much as I love the idea, it’s explicitly comedic ballet, and I feel like “…Lover Boy” is borderline-comedic and could stand to be balanced with work on a serious piece. “Bolero,” as a standalone piece, falls somewhere in the middle: Simon Crane is a reasonably serious ballet (which is to say that in the great tradition of ballet, we suspend our mirth at the idea of people madly in love with birds and vice-versa), but “Bolero” is very much a kind of production number that could be played for laughs.
It’s really interesting how quickly I click back into Ballet Boy mode. I’ve spend my break consumed by self-doubt, and several times thought about throwing Simon Crane out the window and never trying to choreograph a full-scale story ballet at all … and yet here I am, thinking very seriously about choreography again.
One last bit. I’m kicking around a plan for a wee choreography or improv retreat weekend some time this summer (or late spring). I’m basically the worst planner ever, so this is a terrible idea, but I really want to try to make it happen, and I think I have some good ideas. Having a camper that sleeps four in dedicated beds and up to seven if you convert all the things helps: we can snag a site with a picnic pavilion at a state park or whatevs and people don’t have to necessarily tent-camp. I think that if I start planning now, it might actually happen.
We had a lovely jaunt to my parents’ house over the holidays, returned in time to take a breath and then enjoy a circus party with some old friends of D’s, got almost no sleep, and arrived at our healthcare network’s day surgery center at 5 AM on the 28th to get D’s rotator cuff fixed.
Since then, I’ve gone to two parties (one unofficial, one official), done a ton of cooking and cleaning, and tried to recoup my lost sleep whilst waking up at 4:30 to issue medications to poor D, who currently can’t really do feck all with his right (and dominant) hand.
None of this has kept me from nearly losing my marbles due to a combination of my brief ballet break, sleep deprivation, and stress—so it’s with great anticipation that I look forward to returning to class tomorrow.
At the primary studio, there have been some changes in the interval.
First, they’ve instituted an unlimited monthly tuition rate that literally cuts my old tuition rate back by half. Given that I normally hit twenty classes per month, it saves me $70 even over the professional rate. I jumped right on that bandwagon, of course.
Second, Killer Class is now an advanced class in name as well as in fact. I’m not sure that will actually have any bearing on what we do in Killer Class, since most of the time it’s an advanced class in terms of both pacing and technique anyway, but I do think it gives potential students a better sense of what to expect.
Third, we’ll begin work on our piece for Spring Collection next week. I’m quite looking forward to what Señor BeastMode has in store for us, even though a couple of my best girls might not be joining us this time.
In other news, my Trapeze class has moved to Wednesday … which is excellent, since it means I can get my butt back to Tuesday’s modern class (which is in the evening now). I guess that’s technically a Circus School change, and not a Ballet School change, but still.
I have one show this month (a volunteer gig) and two next month this far. D’s surgery means I’ll be limiting myself to local-ish auditions for the moment, since he needs me around to do stuff like driving and, you know, zipping up his trousers. And stuff.
That’s assuming we don’t murder each-other as result of overexposure in the next two weeks. I love D, but he’s as underfoot as a cat when I’m trying to clean 😉
Regardless, there’s a modern jazz company running an audition next week, and I might go even though I’m not even sure what modern jazz actually is. Guess I’ll find out? But first I’ll have to get someone to shoot a new headshot, maybe.
In other news, the hourly rate of pay for my last paid gig blew my mind. It worked out to more than three times as much per hour as I used to make in my (woefully underpaid, to be fair) banking-industry tech job. Also increased my dance-related income for the year by a margin of 1/3 of the overall total (which was still less than USD 2000, but every little bit counts).
There’s definitely a degree of “I can’t believe they pay me for this” going on over here, but it was also a timely reminder that they (whoever “they”may be) pay me—and pay me startlingly well—because I’ve worked pretty hard to develop a set of skills for which demand (when it exists) outstrips supply.
I try to remind myself that the fact that I enjoy working on this particular skill-set doesn’t mean it’s not work. Nor does the relative ease with which I adapt to the work mean it’s easy—just that I’m well-suited to it.
Either way, it was a nice vote of confidence at a time when I needed one. Not that I’d stop dancing if I never made another dime doing it—but if have to seriously contemplate my current career decisions.
(File under: Every Aphorism I Know I Learned In Bike Racing)
I’ve been having a tough time with re-entry following this summer’s intensives.
Not that I’m, like, pining for the fjords. Just…
Hmm. How do I explain it?
Going to a dance intensive is, in a way, very much like going to summer camp. You’re essentially excused from most of the responsibilities of adulting. Your daily activities are heavily programmed for you. You don’t have to juggle variables, interruptions, or random transportation disasters.
If you forget your ADHD meds, you make it through the day pretty well because all you’re doing, really, is dancing, and your brain works best when you’re in motion. You don’t have to remember a bunch of discrete, unrelated tasks and somehow accomplish them.
If you stay up really late bonding with your new dance family, it’s no big deal. You get up the next day, pour some strong coffee into your face, hit the studio, dance your butt off, and sleep like the dead when you get back to the dorms or your AirBnB.
And then you come home, and your body is adapted to an 8-hours-per-day-plus physical workload that you’re unlikely to match except during the most intense periods of rehearsal or performance, and you have to get back to Adulting (with or without ADHD).
For me, this illuminates one of the central challenges in living with ADHD: it never goes away.
To borrow a quote from Kiwi bike racer Greg Henderson :
- or a quote about success from Robert Strauss, who presumably doesn’t race bikes but could feasibly be a Kiwi; can’t be arsed to look him up right now.
You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.
ADHD is, in some ways, a gorilla that never gets tired. Instead, you have to learn to manage your gorilla—and managing is largely a question of automation.
When I’m doing it right, I manage my ADHD by making it as hard as possible for myself to screw up the basics.
I lay out each day’s clothes the night before, so I never have to fumble around looking for clothes before my brain is working.
My morning and afternoon doses of Adderall are right there in my 7-day pillbox, so I don’t find myself thinking, “Feck, did I take my meds?”
My keys, wallet, sunglasses, and other important small things live on a shelf by the door, so I will always put them there when I walk in and never have to wonder where they are.
My phone lives next to the bed, where it acts as an alarm clock. Once I get out of bed, I either leave it tethered to one of its chargers or keep it nearby. That way, I never have to look for it.
My class and rehearsal schedules get written out on the whiteboard on the refrigerator door. Writing them down helps me remember what’s coming up; it also gives me a hard-copy reference when I’m not sure and lets D know where I am, when.
While I cook, I clean as I go and streamline general dishwashing into those moments when there’s nothing that requires attention.
I run errands before, after, or between classes so I won’t have to take extra trips out of the house. I maintain shopping lists on Google Keep so I don’t have to remember anything, including the shopping list.
I burn a ton of energy, knowing that it’s the only way I’m going to be able to sleep on anything resembling a normal, diurnal schedule. I run Twilight on my phone and f.lux on my PCs to cut out blue rays (this really does make a huge difference, for me). I don’t play video games or peruse social media in bed, because those get my brain ticking over too fast.
I pay really close attention to things like caffeine intake: and if I’m having a rough time sleeping, I avoid any caffeine at all after about 2 PM.
These are all fairly small things, but they add right the heck up.
The problem is, they’re all routine-driven, and once I get out of a routine, it can be really hard getting back in.
This week, I’m struggling really hard with insomnia. After being sick for most of last week (during which all I actually did was sleep), I’m left with a surplus of energy, but not enough on the schedule to burn it off.
Since it only takes one sleepless night to torpedo weeks of careful sleep programming, I’m currently in the midst of a really unpleasant cycle of sleeping two hours one night, then nine the next.
Last night was one of those two hour nights. I missed class today because of it: I finally got to sleep around 8 AM. Turned off the alarm at 9 AM, when I realized it would be foolish to try to do modern on one hour of sleep. Woke up at 10, when I should’ve been starting class, anyway.
I’ve realized I need to get back to negotiating with my gorilla. I’m home for one more week, then off to That Thing In The Desert after all, then back for a week, then off for a medical thing, then possibly starting rehearsals for a thing, depending.
- In addition to the usual Open Barre sessions with mimosas, I’ll be leading some contact improv playshops at our camp this year.
- I’m going to apply my “to know, to will, to dare, to keep silent” clause here. This is a minor medical procedure but a huge freaking deal for me, so I’m trying not to feck it up.
- Here, too. I’m actually okay with waiting and auditioning for the next thing this company does, but it’s sort of up in the air right now whether we can work around my temporary restrictions after The Secret Medical Thing.
None of this makes it easier to figure out where to start rebuilding my Life Management Protocols, so I’m just going to do what I normally do: fumble forward and hope for the best.
In other words, just pick something and start where you are.
In that vein, I’m hoping to get a class in tomorrow to make up for missing today’s (though tomorrow’s class will be ballet, not modern).
I’ve got a doctor’s appointment at 8-o-freaking-clock in the morning for which I have to check in at 7-goshdarn-30, which means getting up at 6-what-even-is-sixthirty-30 because I kind of need D with me for this one and he needs more than 20 minutes to get out the door 😛
As such, I need to actually get my tuchas in bed at a reasonable hour tonight and, if necessary, hit myself with a whacking great dose of doxylamine succinate to make sure I don’t stay awake all night.
Those are some easy start-where-I-am steps that I can actually do (along with getting audition video links to the AD for the Secret Dance Thing and signing some documents for The Secret Medical Thing and emailing them back to the practice in question).
So, there you have it. I think I really wanted this post to be more of a thought-piece about managing ADHD than me scrabbling on about how I’ve managed to hose everything up for myself (though I did plan to mention that), so I suppose I’ll add that to my queueueueueueue of posts to actually write sooner or later as well.
Until then, I’ll be here, negotiating with my gorilla.
Oh: in other news, I successfully gave a bit of advice to a new guy in class last night, which felt really good.
Yesterday, I had nothing before ballet, so I was properly fed and rested and so forth.
As a result, BW’s class went very well.
After, I went and played at Suspend, where we did all kinds of lifty things in Acro 2.
After that, my car decided to throw a fit and D had to come rescue me (fortunately, I noticed that it sounded weird and didn’t get on the expressway). As result, an already late night got later, and I was too tired to pack lunch.
This morning, D came home early and sent me to Cinci with his truck, which was really sweet of him. I had eaten two hot dogs for lunch, with the intention of grabbing some real food when I got back into Louisville.
In Cinci, partnering class was half really frustrating: I couldn’t hear because my allergies were trolling me, and we were learning partnering phrases, so I kept not quite understanding what was going on. As a result, I kept frustrating my partner, which made me nervous, which makes my brain not work too well.
- Also, my body wanted all the fouettés to be tour jetés. WTF, body?
Anyway, we got there eventually.
During the second half, we did group lifts, and that bit went really well. Didn’t hurt that Acro 2 last night was all about the dynamic group lifts :p
Anyway, after Partnering, my plans for food were scuttled by a traffic jam. I resorted to buying Chex mix at a gas station when I refueled the truck. I would be surprised if that even brought me back up to baseline.
Anyway, BW’s final class was more challenging than it should have been, since I basically ran out of juice. I got all the way through anyway, but my grand pirouettes weren’t really all that grand. They started out nice going right, then fizzled, going left, I just worked fourth-passé-second-plié-relevé-plié-relevé, etc, without the actual turns.
On the other hand, I cracked out some nice grand allegro: it was kind of my way of saying, “I value your class and, dammit, I’mma try as hard as I can!”
That backfired, of course, when we proceeded to follow the second grand allegro combo with even moar petit allegro.
Oh, I can now check entrechats six off my goals list. Or, at any rate, I can mark them as done with baseline success but in need of werk, werk, werk, werk. They’re not pretty, but they’re there.
We did 36 of them.
Also, after that, so many Royales, which are my least favorite jump. I mean, seriously, in France there’s a hamburger named after them.
- I may be employing artistic license here. Who knows?
Anyway, my legs felt weak and resentful (I suspect that, if you’re a dancer or a cyclist, you understand what I mean), and I resented their resentful attitude (note to self: I need to draw a resentful attitude 😁) until I realized that it wasn’t fair to resent them when it was my own fault for not feeding them.
Evidently, it takes a lot of calories to run this body at peak performance, or at any rate more than the ≈600 I have it before tonight’s ballet class.
At any rate, I’m pleased with myself for not giving up. There were a few times in class tonight that my dark side whispered,”You could just say your foot is unhappy!”
But I didn’t.
So there’s that.
Anyway, I’m going to go have a wee soak in some Epsom salts. Tomorrow, I have to leave at 7 AM for Cinci because evidently I’m insane, so after that I’m off to bed.
This morning, I awoke to a weird, intense pulsing pain my slowly-healing toe.
- Though not as weird as the fact that I’ve awakened by 8 AM without an alarm for several days running. #NightOwlProblems
Obviously, this made me a wee bit angry.
And then, after about an hour, it just stopped.
Seriously, foot, what the hecking heck?
I did awake with my foot tucked under the opposite thigh, though. There’s a decent chance that I slept with it in there all
four hours that I actually slept night. Maybe that just made it angry?
- I entertain a hypothesis that dancers, in general, sleep in positions that suggest we’ve been dropped from a great height. My entirely scientific sample of, like, three ballet people has thus far confirmed said hypothesis. Weaknesses of this ongoing study include a subjective operational definition, poorly developed survey instruments, nonrandom sampling, and the complete lack of anything resembling a proper control group.