It’s Been A Minute
This season has been wild. My company had a bumpy road to the opening of Penelope’s Odyssey, with a couple of setbacks due to injuries and other life circumstances that led to last-minute casting changes, which is a huge thing in a very, very character-driven piece with a cast of 8.
We finally gave the first fully-staged performances on a wee tour to beautiful, snowy Vermont early this February (2023), and now that we’ve got the bumps ironed out, we’re looking forward to further performances.
I’ve been taking class with Ballet Hartford, and if you’re in the area and you’re a professional or strong non-professional dancer, I highly recommend checking out their open company class, which runs M/W/F during their season.
Though I’m very much enjoying my work with SPDC, I’ve really missed ballet company life immensely, and returning to a regular, rigorous class over the past couple of weeks has really helped.
At the moment, I plan to audition for local ballet companies, though I’d like to continue working with SPDC on a per-project basis even if I do get hired on by a ballet company. I guess we’ll see how things shake out.
For now, I’m just finding my way back into my body, shaking the rust off my technique, and rebuilding strength. We did a grand allegro today that was a blast, and though I quickly discovered that I don’t actually have a double cabriole devant right now (erm … lol), I am quickly regaining speed and power. Even my petit allegro is coming back together ^-^
Things have been a little rocky at home — not in an interpersonal drama kind of way, but just, like, Alzheimer’s is a difficult thing. I’m very glad that we’re here, both because we have a chance to spend time with my Stepdad while he’s still able to really enjoy our company and because I can’t imagine Mom having to cope on her own.
We have great in-home support three days each week, but even still, having us here means that Mom can go do her own thing sometimes, and know that someone who knows and loves R is here to be with him. D’s experience in working with patients with various dementias comes in handy, as does my experience in finding useful things on the internet ^-^’
I have had some periods of kind of … emotional not-quite-collapse? … when the complexities of my schedule and the lack of alone time have really knocked me flat, so I’m working on being more proactive about taking the down-time I need to make sure that doesn’t happen as often.
Right now, the circumstances of my life are such that I can’t always take time like that, though, and I’m trying to figure out other strategies as well.
Oh, and I’m migrating over to Mastodon from the Bird Site for a number of reasons. More on that later, though — for now, I need to jete ^-^
The weirdest feeling in the world might be the specific limbo between the time when the AD calls to offer you the contract—a really good one—and the moment when you actually sign it, when some part of you keeps feeling like, But what if it’s all a dream, or a mistake, or, or, or—
I’m still wading carefully into these waters; still got one foot in the land of “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent.” But it’s very hard to keep the lid on—even partway on—when you just want to jump up and down and sing.
First, in October, I’ll be trekking out to California to perform the role of Romeo in Leigh Putting Ballet Company’s signature production, Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet
When Leigh first asked if I’d be willing to come out for this role, I was ecstatic, obviously. I mean, it’s not every day one gets offered a leading role, and I’ll finally get to meet a lot of the dancers I’ve worked with remotely.
It’s a particular honor because this is the 5th anniversary production of this show, after which it’ll be taking a hiatus for a couple of years. No pressure, right? ^-^’
Next, I’m starting a new teaching job soon, just started training at a new cirque studio, and I’ve got an audition next Wednesday for a company that I’m excited about potentially joining. I dropped in on their open company class this week, and the company dancers asked if I was planning on auditioning and told me I should definitely audition, which was awesome.
That’s kind of a huge step from my early days in the company at LexBallet, when I felt like nobody, including me, was sure I should really be there.
(I actually had no idea there were auditions coming up, so I’m doubly glad they mentioned it! Part of my brain is still stuck in the pre-pandemic ballet world norm of auditions taking place in late winter/early spring.)
If you ever have the chance to visit a company and take company class before you decide whether or not to audition, I highly recommend it.
One of the reasons I didn’t audition before relocating was simply that I wanted to get a feel for different companies first. That isn’t always possible—a lot of companies don’t do the “open company class” thing, though some will invite you to take company class if you’re a member of another company and you message ahead about classes in their school—but it seems like the ideal approach whenever possible.
As an autistic dancer, it’s probably even more important. It really helps to know in advance if the vibe is going to work and whether the artistic staff communicate in ways that work for your brain.
I was extra lucky in this case, because I got to take class two days in a row with the founder and AD of the company. It was definitely a little intimidating, because this is a well-reputed company I knew of when I was growing up (I mean, not one that’s a household name like ABT or anything—that’s never been a goal for me). It turns out, though, that the founder of the company seems like a lovely person; very grounded, down-to-earth, and firm-but-kind in a way that works really well when wrangling dancers.
I’m very much looking forward to the audition, which seems like a bit of a bizarre thing to say, but here we are.
It helps that it’s in the same time slot as a class I was planning to take anyway—my brain is just looking at it as a class or a workshop, which is exactly how everyone advises dancers to see auditions in the first place.
It’s impossible, of course, to know if I’ll make the cut—but it’s worth going regardless.
I’m reminded once again of the experience of learning how to track-stand on a geared bike: you begin knowing you don’t know how and failing often, then somewhere along the way you begin to figure it out. Later, at some point you sort of “come to” mid-trackstand and go, “I’m doing it!” (and immediately startle yourself into having to put a foot down).
Later still, you look back and realize it’s been a while since you really thought about it consciously. You might not be a past master at the track-stand, and you might not be breaking any records, but it’s a thing that’s there in your physical repertoire of cycling skills.
More and more often, this is how I feel about my career in dance. I’m still immensely grateful for the circumstances that brought me here, but I feel less and less often like I don’t really belong and like I hope nobody will notice that I’m desperately faking my way through absolutely everything.
I suppose that, like most things, if you fake it long enough while making an effort to actually learn, sooner or later you’re no longer faking it at all.
Anyway, that’s it for now, more or less. In the interest of my general policy of not jinxing things by saying too much, I’m keeping further audition details under wraps for now (probably until I know how the audition turns out).
I keep saying I’ll try to post more often and then being discombobulated by life, but I’ll say it again anyway, now that the relocation process is largely behind us.
Either way, until then, tuck and roll, my friends!
Thoughts on Adult Intensives
Suddenly, here it is almost May.
This happens to me every year, but it’s definitely worse without the structure of the ballet company schedule(1).
- How am I supposed to keep track of which month it is if the only major landmark is Nutcracker? Jeez.
Which, in turn, means that summer is barreling down on us at a staggering rate of *checks google* 1038ish miles per hour, give or take(2), replete with its array of Summer Intensives.
- circumference of the earth/24 (3)
- Wow, only a few sentences in and I’ve already included 2 notes and a note-on-a-note
I’ve already committed to LouBallet’s Adult Summer Intensive, which seems like a really good way to finish out my … seven??? years of training there—a way to spend some concentrated time with some of my favorite teachers and classmates while also, of course, keeping my ballet skills on point(e). Besides, it’s a great program, and we get to learn cool original choreography (some of which has made it to my video CV/audition reel, because I actually felt good about it after watching it).
It’s also fairly affordable, which is more important than usual, since I don’t yet have paid work lined up for, like, after this summer (fortunately, D does).
I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to do basically anything else this summer that doesn’t at least offer me a full scholarship or the equivalent thereof, but there are several programs I’m flat-out dying to attend (DuCon!!!!! ADF! Pilobolus!) if finances magically allow. Likewise, I’m ever-curious about adult SI offerings, and I like to keep an ear to the wind about what’s available—so, from time to time, I go hunting.
And in the process of hunting, I’ve noticed something.
Adult SI Pricing Can Bring You To (Two?), Ahem, Tiers
Yeah, you’re right. That was terrible. Sorry.
In the growing world of adult summer intensives and workshops, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern: there are basically two pricing tiers.
- Tier One: programs that are actually less expensive per week than a lot of (perhaps even most) youth SIs
- Tier Two: programs that are either as expensive as or actually wildly more expensive per week than even top-notch youth SIs
Tuition for the second tier of adult SIs typically runs more than twice the weekly cost of tuition at the first tier, though the dance offerings are often comparable (or, in some cases, richer at the Tier One programs).
I’m curious about what drives the difference in price, and whether the organizers of the different programs (especially Tier Two programs) realize how deeply pricing might impact the makeup of the student body at any individual program.
Given that none of these programs, as far as I know, are restricted to local students only, and that the adult ballet community justly thirsts for quality SIs like hummingbirds thirst for nectar (though it’s fair to say we dancers are less likely to stab each-other in the pursuit of coveted spots around the feeder), “what the market will bear” clearly isn’t the only factor at play. Likewise, all of them have limited spaces, and the number of available spots doesn’t seem to have much to do with pricing models (if it did, we could expect both LouBallet’s and LexBallet’s SIs, which are limited to fairly small numbers, to command much higher prices).
Bringing Tiers To You: A Look At Prices
A brief survey of adult SI pricing reveals a pretty broad range, but it’s worth noting that many of the Tier One programs, though typically open to dancers at all levels, are designed in ways that allow them to serve serious dancers across the spectrum from fairly new beginners to emerging professionals.
Lexington Ballet’s adult SI (scroll to the bottom of the linked page for registration info), at $240 for five four-hour days, continues to be an absolute steal, and I’m not just saying that because LexBallet has been my company and my ballet home for the past few years. The quality of instruction is superb, and I don’t know of an adult SI that’s priced more affordably (unless we start breaking things down per hour, in which case it’s Mutual Dance Theater, hands down). Participants from this SI have found also their way into character roles and even company contracts, thanks to the close participation of LexBallet’s AD, School Director, and other artistic staff.
Mutual Dance Theater’s Modern SI–the one I took a few years ago, before Mam-Luft & Co merged with Mutual–runs $399 at most (late-bird tuition, for disorganized folks like me) for a packed week, with programming 9 AM to 5 PM every day. It’s not ballet-specific, and it’s not one I’d recommend to a true beginner in any dance idiom, but it’s a beast of an intensive (in a good way), and hella affordable. It’s also very much geared towards emerging professionals.
LouBallet, fairly typical of the first tier with its $550 tuition for a 5.5-day program, could almost certainly double its tuition and then some and still fill the spaces. Instead, they’ve chosen to keep the tuition right where it’s been (for which I am deeply grateful). Ashley Thursby-Kern, who runs the program, specifically considers its role in offering an intensive program for college dancers and emerging professionals who may have aged out of youth SIs, while continuing to foster an environment that supports new dancers as well.
Westside Ballet’s program, located in Santa Monica, is a bit shorter per session (3 hours/day over 4 days) but offers three sessions priced at $500 each. The faculty includes Martine Harley, who is the company’s AD, and Sven Toorvald, along with others representing some top-tier companies. The third week focuses on pas de deux and variations, and if I wasn’t teaching an SI that week, I’d find some way to get my behind out there for that.
ArtEmotion‘s offering– the most expensive I’ve included in this category–looks very comparable to LouBallet’s and, at $800, still seems pretty approachable to those of us in the “broke-ass dancer” category. This is one of the oldest ongoing adult intensives, held at Ballet West’s Salt Lake City studio, and has long been on my list of Intensives I’d Attend If They Weren’t The Same Week As Something Else I’m Already Doing.
- This is a fugly link, so if it doesn’t work, try this one: LouBallet MBB Landing Page
- Assume that this category includes both “lay” dancers with limited disposable income and those of us among the professional segment who usually have access to at least some summer programming for free, but who might have been impacted by pandmic-related closures and/or impending moves (hi) and, either way, still need to stay in shape until September.
These programs, and programs like them–my “First Tier” adult SIs–are largely affiliated with established ballet companies or schools. Access to existing studio space and, perhaps, a built-in supply of students and teachers explain at least some of their relatively affordable prices.
They also tend to be light on extracurriculars–those factors that might make things feel a bit more like a vacation, I guess. Not that you need them after, for example, eight straight hours of modern dance buttkickery.
Tier Two, meanwhile, is a bit more of a mixed bag: one of the programs in question features one of my favorite master teachers and looks like an absolute banger of a program for focused advanced dancers; others seem a bit more like relaxing ballet-themed getaways.
I realize that this perception is very much colored by my experience as one of the aforementioned Emerging Professionals, with its attendant feature of being both chronically broke and accustomed to dancing 30+ hours per week. As my friend Tony (who looks like a tall Steven McRae) says, “Hi Ho, the theatrical life.”
So what kind of programs, you might ask, are in Tier Two?
First, of course: SunKing, the granddaddy of adult SIs. At the time of this writing, SunKing doesn’t have a website up, and I’m not clear on whether or not it’s actually happening this year (links to SK’s Facebarge), but it was always out of my price range anyway. It was one of the few that had enough draw to offer a partnering class, which would’ve been awesome to take before I embarked on Ballet Company Lyfe (y’all, learning partnering piecemeal while rehearsing actual ballets isn’t ideal, is what I’m saying), but not quite awesome enough to warrant launching an OnlyFans or something at this point in my career. Still, I’ve always had the impression that the actual instruction overall was quite good.
Given the serious, focused programs and excellent instruction available in Tier One, there’s only one Tier Two program that leaves me feeling butthurt about being, well, semi-broke, and that’s Runqiao Du’s inaugural DuCon–which I’d leap to attend, if I could afford it (but I can’t, unless I figure out how to make a few thosand dollars PRONTO). DuCon falls at the, well, less-inaccessible end of my second tier: tuition runs $1499 for one week or $2799 for both weeks, and the program offers an excellent teaching staff (Mr. Du himself, plus others), a 6-day week, and programming that runs from 9:30 AM ’til 8:00 PM Monday through Friday. Moreover, Du’s youth SI (which also runs for two weeks) is priced exactly the same, so we (would-be) adult participants aren’t left feeling like cash cows.
At the far end of Tier 2 is another brand-new event: International Adult Ballet Festival. Not gonna lie—I was intrigued when I heard about this one on the Broche Ballet podcast: the program offers a workshop, showcase, and a competition (not a selling point for me, but certainly a unique offering). However, at only 4 days long, IABF comes with a staggering $2950 price tag. To be fair, that does include hotel room, breakfast, lunch, and a couple other meals–but broke-ass dancers are pretty good at finding cheap housing and food, and if I’ma drop $3k on tuition, it’s going to be at DuCon or ADF.
Don’t get me wrong, IABF sounds like a really fun event–but it’s pretty clear that I’m not really their target audience (this isn’t a program that believes adult dancers can’t build careers in dance, but I don’t think it’s really intended for those of us who are already doing so). Likewise, the website’s vibe is more Awesome Ballet Vacation than Come Get Your Ass Handed To You For A Week Or Two. There’s value in both those approaches, of course. Likewise, the event does bill itself as a festival, rather than as a Summer Intensive: more, “Come celebrate ballet!” than “Come suffer with us!” And it’s good that such a thing can exist.
But still. $2950 for 4 days. Wow.
Do Different Tiers Reflect Different Audiences?
As an autistic person, I am perhaps more inclined than most to sort of forget that people can be interested in the same things I’m interested in, but experience those interests very differently(6).
- Some people can apparently like things without tending to rebuild their entire lives around those things! Who knew?!
It doesn’t automatically occur to me that someone else might want to take a summer intensive for different reasons than I do, or maybe, for the same reasons, but perhaps prioritized differently.
Life, for me, the drivers (at least, the ones I can think of right now), ordered by priority, might look like this:
- Refine and improve technique for upcoming season and/or auditions
- Dance AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
- Learn new steps and/or new partnering skills
- Learn repertoire
- Maintain at least the bare minimum fitness level that will prevent me dying on Day 1 of new company class, assuming successful auditions
- Ideally, add a useful piece to my audition reel
- Hang out with my peeps, new and existing
Explicitly not in my list are the following:
- Take a break from my regular job (because ballet is my regular job)
- Find out what it’s like to be able to dance full-time (again, bc that’s basically already my life)
This makes it difficult to imagine choosing a 4-day intensive at any price when there are so many available that run 5 or 6 days or longer: my primary goal is to immerse myself in a demanding curriculum for as long as possible.
Likewise, I find it difficult to imagine being a dancer, but also being satisfied living a life in which a four-day ballet immersion would feel that much different from, like, normal life, because my experience of being a dancer has basically been, “Holy heck, drop everything else, this is the thing
i MUST do.”
And yet, rationally, I am aware that I know people in that exact target market—people who have very demanding careers that they love outside of dance, not to mention family lives that don’t basically also revolve around ballet, but who also passionately love dancing.
Quite a few of them could easily afford a few thousand dollars for a short, almost-all-inclusive ballet intensive. Time is probably in shorter supply for them than it is for me, and the sheer convenience of having almost everything planned out might mean saying, “Hey, I can do this!” instead of “Wow, yeah, I don’t have the time/mental bandwidth/whatever for all this planning.”
Likewise, the fact that I straight up forgot to put “have fun” on my list of priorities says a LOT … though mostly what it’s saying is that, even during the roughest parts of my first year with LexBallet, I still had fun, and I still wanted to be there more than I wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
So it doesn’t occur to me to put “have fun” on the list, because, even if the atmosphere somewhere turns out to be awful, I’m going to enjoy dancing anyway. Especially if I know I’m only there for, at best, a few weeks.
For someone who’s returning to work in another field after their summer program, on the other hand, fun and relaxation might be much higher priorities. There’s something to be said for options existing that fit the needs of people in that situation, too.
Conclusion: I Which I Leave You In Tiers
(Or not, depending on if adult summer intensives are of any interest to you at all.)
Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t the Most Important Thing In The World.
But it’s a valuable insight for me (as someone who is fully behind the idea that different people have different wants and needs but who is also sometimes an absolute bonehead at imagining them), and I hope it might be helpful to others considering adult summer programs—especially, maybe, those considering their first adult summer program.
For me, for example, Mam-Luft (now Mutual) was in many ways a great first summer program—but it was also extremely demanding, often emotionally challenging, sometimes lonely, and just plain physically exhausting. I definitely had some major breakthro moments, but I also failed A LOTTTTT in front of 50 people, with no hope of fading into anonymity, since I was the ONLY guy that year. Oh, and I shredded my foot.
If I hadn’t, by then, already been a pretty experienced student, quietly putting in the foundations for a career in dance; if I was of a less stubborn constitution; maybe especially if I’d taken that SI knowing I had to go back to stressful job, I might’ve felt very differently about exactly the same experience. It might even have made me conclude that SIs weren’t for me, which would’ve been a shame.
So maybe the real TL;DR for this post goes like this:
- There are a lot of adult summer programs now! That’s awesome!
- The programs can be roughly divided into two pricing tiers
- The price of a program doesn’t directly reflect the quality of instruction—most of them look pretty solid!
- The less-expensive programs seem more likely to attract a mixed student body of both amateur and professional dancers
- The more expensive programs are more likely to include things like meals and extracurricular events
- Before you choose a program, it’s a good idea to hash out your needs, goals, and priorities (Will you be going straight back to work in a busy emergency room? Consider a shorter or more relaxed program—you’ll still learn a lot, but you won’t return to work exhausted)
- If you choose a shorter or more relaxed program this year and discover that you want to go harder, you’ll have gained valuable insight for next time
- On the other hand, if you choose a challenging program send find it’s a little too much right now, you can either try again next year or try an easier one next year
- If you get to go to DuCon, please tell me whether it’s as awesome as it sounds so i can figure out whether i need $3000 extra next year 😅
A Final Note: American Dance Festival & Pilobolus
Although I could arguably include American Dance Festival’s Summer Dance Institute in either one of my tiers, and would love to attend the full program, I’m setting it off to one side for now. In short, although full-time tuition runs $2,275, it’s comparable in length to a full-scale youth SI, and offers a staggering array of programming geared towards developing professional dancers. Likewise, you can actually Choose-Your-Own-Adventure your way through it by taking individual classes at $750/4-week class.
Likewise, although the cost-per-session of Pilobolus’ excellent program has increased to around $1000, its generous scholarship program makes it relatively accessible, though you can still rack up $3000 in tuition if you go for all three sessions at full cost. It’s also kind of in its own category because, honestly, a lot of ballet people probably wouldn’t be super interested, which is fine.
Last Minute Changes
As an artist, as a dancer who is also autistic, last-minute changes are the bane of my existence.
They’re also just part of the process, especially right now.
The process of filming, with its opportunity for multiple takes, is inherently different from the process of performing a show start-to-finish before a live audience. The certainty in the familiar shape of Nutcracker—the prologue always precedes the crossing, which always precedes party scene, which always precedes “Midnight Scare,” etc—evaporates.
We just finished filming Nutcracker at LexBallet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it was the single most stressful production of my working life this far—not because anything was mishandled, but simply because, as an autistic person, I feel comfortable when I’m accustomed to the process and stressed when I don’t.
Nutcracker is normally our most-familiar ballet. It’s the same ballet every year: adjustments are made to choreography, but the flow of rehearsal and performance are typically known entities. In a way, it’s like singing the alphabet song versus “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star ”: the lyrics might be different, but the music is the same.
- Shout-out to Autocorrupt, which was absolutely determined to make this, “Terrible, Terrible Little Star” 🤣🤣🤣 Autocorrupt be #judgy y’all
That isn’t a bad thing, but at times it was deeply frustrating. I’m sure it was even more so for dancers cast in multiple roles, who thus had to dash back and forth to exchange Costume A for Costume B and so forth. Drosselmeyer is only Drosselmeyer—the amount of undoing and redoing of costume, hair, and makeup it would take to be able to jump in and do, say, one of the second-act variations would be unmanageable during a live show.
Still, I’m learning to accept last-minute changes with less internal grumbling as I grow into this life. They still make me feel stressed and a bit recalcitrant (feels be like “I DON’T WANNA CHANGE THAT! …even though it actually works better the new way 😑”), but I’m no longer horrified that OMG MR D IS CHANGING THINGS A G A I N 😱😱😱
Instead, it’s just like: *shrug* *eyeroll* #dancerlife #yolo
In that same vein, I learned as I was packing my car that D had been exposed to COVID-19 at work again—he’s a healthcare provider, so it’s pretty much inevitable—and instead of returning home, I’d be landing at our friend KL’s house pending D’s test results.
Fortunately, I know KL well enough to feel comfortable in her home, though her catto (who normally likes me) was a little spooked about my unexpected arrival as an overnight guest.
Cats aren’t super keen on last-minute changes, either.
Anyway, I slept for 10 much-needed hours last night, and I’m recuperating. My body is definitely in restock mode: I’m super hungry and super tired, so clearly the stores of extra energy are tapped out (except, like: Hey, body? we actually do still have plenty of stored energy, so don’t expect me to eat 3500 calories today while I’m sitting on my butt! You’re going to have to manage on like 2000 or so).
My car, which was broken into at the least convenient moment during theater/filming week, is still sporting a temporary plastic driver’s-side window constructed from blue painter’s tape and a clear vinyl shower-curtain liner.
I’m debating whether to order a tiny grocery delivery or actually slither into the driver’s seat and go retrieve some food. Alternatively, I might just order some Chinese or something for today, since I have to go out anyway tmw to vote, rehearse, and teach 🤷♂️
- Dear potential thieves: please consider ANY OTHER WINDOW for your car breaking-in activities. I get that sometimes life puts you in a position where breaking into a car seems like the best or only option, but seriously, guys, come on.
- I’m highly grateful for being moderately-sized and flexible af right now. It’s the only way to get into my car rn without removing the temporary window 🤷♂️
Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m still exhausted and I’m seriously considering a nap, even though if there were a World Ranking for Success In Naps I’d be right at the bottom every time.
This Is Me Now
The process of becoming an artist isn’t that complicated. You do art. You are an artist.
The process of learning to see yourself as an artist, on the other hand, comprises an apparently-endless array of subtle layers.
(I’m not sure if it’s an onion or a lotus blossom: like, its roots definitely reach down into the muck of life, but sometimes it makes you cry, so…? Whatever. It can be both.)
Tonight, after closing A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a show that felt like the strongest in my career to date, I had this moment in which I was thinking about something related to work, and it didn’t even occur to me to feel a sense of disbelief, or like I’m not worthy, or anything. I was just thinking about a work thing: a piece to add to the puzzle to make me better at my job.
Only later did it even occur to me to think, “Hey, that’s cool, that my imposter syndrome didn’t even get a look in.”
Every now and then I think back to a conversation I had a few years ago with my friend BB—one in which she said, “…You have your [ballet] career to think about,” back before I was at all certain that any such thing was really going to materialize. At the time, I felt like I should, like, cross my fingers or something. Somehow signal that I wanted it to be true, but maybe didn’t quite think it was.
And yet, here I am.
I’m sure I’ve written before about this process, but I’m equally sure that, a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed I’d be quite as blasé about it as I am now, in part because a year ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever be doing the things I’m doing now.
I’m lucky to have friends who can see things more clearly, and whose words have helped immensely in the moments in which this has all seemed the most unreal.
Their belief has helped to form the foundation of my own, like a builder’s forms shape the concrete walls in a building’s basement.
They helped me believe—even believed for me—so I could do a thing that is almost absurdly unlikely. And the longer I do it, the stronger my own belief becomes.
So this is me, now. I’ve begun, bit by bit, to feel that I have something to offer to my chosen profession.
I’m not sure yet what that thing is, or how to define it. I think that’s harder to do in ballet than in a lot of artforms … like, in ballet, as a dancer, you’re both artist and medium, and another artist is generally responsible for using the pallette of dancers on hand to create work.
You don’t always know what it is that you, specifically, bring to the easel. You don’t know whether you’re magenta or cobalt or red ochre to the choreographer or AD who selects you.
But it doesn’t really matter to me. My goal is to be serviceable: to be a serviceable dancer, one who is good enough to be a credit to the artform and to honor its history. Anything more than that is a bonus.
There’s still a lot I have to learn; a reasonable smattering of holes I need to fill before I can feel like I’ve really got enough of the toolkit to be a whole package—but I’m learning those things, and I’m filling those holes.
Speaking of which: my Petit Allegro is improving again. The keys, for me, are always:
- …keep your legs under you (in other words, constrain your travel, no matter how much you love to travel)
- think about the *down* and the *up* will take care of itself.
So that’s it for now. Or, well … One last thing.
I hope that becoming comfortable with the mere fact of my existence as an actual professional dancer will never make me less grateful for it.
If it does, you can come to dinner with me and kick me under the table as a reminder or something.
Moments That Make Us
I’m doing the National Choreography Month thing, and I’ve been enjoying the heck out of creating improv video clips and watching those created by other artists.
Today, I commented, “#contactimprov is the best. This is beautiful” on one created by LA’s Leigh Purtill Ballet Company (Insta: @LeighPurtillBalletCompany), and they replied, “I love seeing what develops between people who trust each other,” and I thought, Yes.
So much yes.
So much of my current work as a dancer can be traced back to moments of profound trust: to moments at the first Pilobolus workshops I attended in which a momentary connection became, “Yes, we can carry each-other.”
…To the first time Brian set a piece on the open program students at Louisville Ballet School, and entrusted me with solo choreography and, even though I’d never done it before, partnering.
…To a very conscious decision to trust Edwin Olvera when he approached me after a Pilobolus masterclass to suggest that I audition for the company and that I come to the summer intensive (I still haven’t managed to make an audition for the company, but I hope I will … And the SI was everything. Everything.).
…To Mike’s willingness to trust me to lead him in a blind walk dance, and the trust I found so easy to give to Quincy when I was the blind one in the dance, both at my first Pilobolus SI.
…To Rachel’s decision to trust me as an untried choreographer in creating a piece for the Americana Center Fundraiser.
…To Kathy’s and Christina’s willingness to jump in and trust my creative process as I set my first contemporary ballet piece. To my willingness to trust the changes they suggested, which made the piece that much stronger.
…To Dot’s, Jaddyn’s, and EM’S willingness to trust me with their life and limbs while we built pieces together and learned pieces being set on us this past summer.
… To the countless moments that Mr D has probably looked at me flailing through a Bad Ballet Moment and thought, “Jeez, what have I gotten myself into?” but has decided to keep me on anyway.
… To so, so many other moments in which someone has trusted me, or in which I have been able to trust someone else, and beautiful things have grown out of it.
I can say with conviction that my first Pilobolus intensive changed my life. Really and deeply. It was the catalyst for a sea change in so many ways.
The ground of that catalyst, in the end, was trust. Trusting the moments and the process and, eventually, my fellow dancers, until bit by bit I stood on a foundation of trust the like if which I couldn’t have imagined beforehand.
Trust is a springboard. Trust is a ladder. Trust is (sometimes literally) a pair of hands that lift you up into the light.
I love working with Dot and with Jaddyn because we know we’re crazy, but we trust each-other anyway. We trust each-other’s crazy.
There’s something sacred in knowing someone trusts you enough to say, “Hey, here’s this crazy and potentially dangerous lift in which you throw me over your shoulder at high speed, wanna try it?”
There’s something sacred in knowing yourself to be worthy of that trust.
All these moments of trust have been critical in making me what I am right now (for whatever that is 😅).
I would say that I’m surprised by the incredible things my friends from that one Pilobolus intensive are doing, but I’m really not. That group was something else, and in that week we all grew immensely in artistry and in trust. We were all sprinkled with the same magic dust, and the funny thing about magic dust is that it multiplies.
So I guess now the next step, besides continuing to improve as a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, and an artist (oh, look, I said it again) is to figure out how to get better at spreading that magic dust around.
We are made by moments; moments (both bad and good; awkward AF and sublimely beautiful) that loom large in our autobiographical memories.
Just as in contact improv we share weight to create something beautiful, in life we balance and lean on each-other. We become the catalysts for the moments that make other people.
That, too, seems like it must be a sacred trust.
1. Omg, look at me slipping in the phrase “other artists” as if I’m not still routinely consumed by imposter syndrome wrt the right to call myself an artist 🤣🤣🤣
Last Studio Saturday
I’m still stunned by how different this year has been compared to last year. When she launched class this morning A said, “Last studio Saturday guys, can you believe it?”
And, of course, it got me thinking.
By this time last year, the season already felt like an interminable battle; a kind of bitter survival slog.
I did my best to stay positive and keep that to myself, but it was hard. I was lonely and anxious and felt like an outsider and like maybe I shouldn’t be trying to do what I was trying to do.
And here we are this year, and it’s basically a full 180° difference.
I’m still pretty sure I’m the worst dancer in this company, but I’m okay with that.
And part of that is that this year I’m the worst dancer in the company, instead of this weird anxious appendage. Instead of being a stressed out and dejected assemblage of people, we’re a unit in a way that I don’t think we were last year at all, and it’s such a cool feeling to be part of that.
Besides, I’m improving.
The thing about being a professional dancer is that you never get to say to the audience, “I’m sorry, I’m usually better than this; I’m having a really bad day.”
Your worst day still has to be good enough.
So when your AD casts a show, she’s thinking about that, and trying to put you in a role that’ll play to your strengths even on your worst bad day.
And when you’re taking class every day, you’re working on making your worst bad day better and better and better.My worst bad days probably aren’t really 100% “ready for prime time,” but they’re getting better. Part of it is just improving technique, of course—but some of it’s also leaning how to laugh it off when I do something utterly bone-headed, and to make my mistakes look good (or, at any rate, less bad).
And that’s all down to confidence. As a dancer, you live and die by the belief that you have the right to be standing where you are, whether in the studio or on the stage.
Or, well … Okay, sometimes you really have to fake it (laughing at yourself helps).
When I’m having a rough time remembering combinations or whatever, I try to remember what L’Ancien says to me whenever he sees me retreating into myself:
“Remember: you are a prince.”
It’s worth noting that he doesn’t say, “Act like a prince” or “imagine you’re a prince” or even “be a prince.”
He always says are.You are a prince.
Which is to say, it’s there, inside you. You evoke something that already is.
I think we’ve all seen random people—some lady on the bus with four kids and her hair up in a messy Mom-bun; some old gent sitting on a park bench; whoever—who just look regal. Princely. Royal.
I think that’s there in all of us.You reach inside and set your feet on the ground at the heart of a quiet, graceful strength, and you square your shoulders and lengthen the back of your neck and you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and there it is:
Remember. You are a prince.
And then you still add an extra tour jeté and almost leave out that pesky balancé dessous and maybe there’s a moment when you suspect that you might just flat out fall out of your turn.
But you do it with your head high and when you’re done you roll your eyes and laugh at yourself.
So that’s it. That’s where I am.
Next week we’re in the theater for Nut, and then we’re off for three weeks, and then it’s on to the rest of Midsummer Night’s Dream and the rest of the season.
Be kind to each-other, and if there’s a weird oddball loner in your company or class, maybe try to reach out and see if you can draw them into the loop, because they might just be too afraid to try to do it themselves.
Oh, and here’s a shot of my back, just because 😁
Last Year Vs This Year
Last year, at this time, I was feeling really terribly unsure of myself, intimidated, and so afraid of screwing up (and of succeeding, but that’s another story) that I was practically paralyzed all the time.
This year, I’m still unsure of myself sometimes, but not in the same awful way. I’ve reached a point at which I’m eager to get up and learn variations and pas de deux that I’m not cast in, even if I’m just marking and flailing my way through.
The main difference is that I feel like I’m part of the group now. I’m still shy and weird, and I always will be, but there’s nobody here who is hostile towards new and inexperienced people, and in turn I’ve let down my guard and been a little more sociable.
I can’t begin to express how enormous a difference this is making in my dancing.
It’s hard to move well when your nervous system is constantly on high alert and your muscles are coiled and tight. In particular, I can’t turn to save my life when I’m tense … And bad turns quickly lead to a downward spiral (sometimes literally!).
It’s also extremely hard to learn anything at all when you’re forever in fight-or-flight mode: the only thing your brain is primed to learn in those moments is whether or not your approach to escaping from the perceived threat is effective. It definitely doesn’t want to retain the combination or any corrections you’ve received.
I’m sure I seemed rigid and unteachable last year. I wonder how I seem this year—whether Mr D is giving me more corrections and guidance because I seem more teachable, or because I’m improving, or both. Probably both. (To be honest, I don’t actually think about it a lot; I’m just grateful.)
I continue to learn to feel my body in new ways, and to pick things up more easily, and to use my body more effectively and remember how it feels when it works.
I hope things continue in this vein. Last year, though I rarely spoke of it, I questioned whether I should be doing what I’m doing and sometimes despaired of ever living into the potential that’s written into my body.
This year, I’m starting to feel like I might get there.
The first year is always hard. I think mine was harder than it needed to be due to a handful of factors—but those things are behind me now.
Last year I was just surviving, just trying to hang on by the skin of my teeth.
This year I feel like I’m finally starting to grow.
So much of that is just not being afraid to make mistakes (and to try things).
Bit by bit, I feel like I’m starting to find my way again.
Dancing is hard. You have to pursue excellence—your own best excellence—constantly, while still holding space for mistakes and bad days so you don’t get caught in a self-hate spiral.
I think that goes for every serious student of dance, whether or not you ever find your way into a professional career.
- …you’re trying to figure out where to cram in a side-side-side gig so you can make some extra money this summer so you don’t have to worry as much about expenses during the main season >.<
- …you realize that you’re performing at a gig you couldn’t currently afford to attend
- you look at your summer rehearsal and performance schedule and realize that you have officially broken your summer break o.O’
- …you discover that inflatable bathtubs exist ❤
- …you realize that, although you don’t think of yourself as an ambitious person, you actually do have some pretty lofty goals that you want to achieve in your lifetime … they’re just not necessarily ones that chime with conventional ideas about “success”
Last week, DS and I put the final touches on our piece for PlayThink’s mainstage show, Gale Force rehearsals began, and I discovered that I do really freaking good turns if I don’t have contacts or glasses on (weird, right?).
My hypothesis about the turns thing is that being unable to see anything clearly prevents the following:
- Spotting too high … which I STILL do all too often
- Hyper-focusing on my spot spot. I didn’t realize I might be doing this until I paused to analyze the feeling of those really, really nice and effortless doubles (and one effortless triple) I tossed out there the other day. I think I get so fixated on the idea of ACTUALLY LOOKING AT AN ACTUAL THING IN THE ACTUAL WORLD that my neck stiffens up in an effort to fix my focus. A stiff neck doesn’t help your turns, guys.
I also finally started listening to Hallberg’s A Body of Work, which I bought on Audible before the season ended and have been putting off because … well, reasons, I guess. I don’t know precisely what those reasons are, though I could probably figure it out if I sat down with my inner being and had a good conversation.
I know part of it was just the sheer dread of having to hear The David Hallberg talking about his amazing successes as a dancer during a time when I was feeling like literally the worst dancer alive.
It turns out, though, that Hallberg is as engaging and humble as an author as he is lyrical and princely as a danseur. So it turns out that in addition to being a fabulous dancer he might ALSO be a fabulous human being. He certainly comes across as thoughtful and very, very human in his writing.
Curiously, many of his struggles are #relatableAF in fact. I found it immensely edifying to hear about his difficulties with his early efforts at partnering, you guys.
Speaking of edifying, I also got an offer for a full scholarship to a summer intensive in Europe, though sadly it coincides with tech and theater week for GFD’s show, so I can’t go. But it was really cool, anyway.
This summer I’m focusing on partnering, tuning up my turns, and NOT DOING DUMB THINGS WITH MY HANDS.
As you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, I’m also working on #BalletFitness … specifically:
- whittling down my thighs so I don’t have to fight with them in 5th position ;D
WRT that last one: I don’t mean spot-reducing; I mean focusing on using the right muscles so my stupid quads will chillax and get out da darned way, while focusing on eating good food so I don’t either gain a lot of weight or constantly feel puny and starved.
I’d like to reiterate, once again, that for me, the size of my thighs is a functional thing. There are people who are much softer and curvier than I am who can dance really well with much bigger thighs because their pelvises are arranged in a way that allows them to access a tight 5th position at their size (which might, for some of them, be harder at a samller size).
Over the past year or two, I’ve realized that I not only have hyuuge quads, but I also have very little clearance because of the way my pelvis and my humeri come together. This means that regardless of my apparently awesome capability for rotation in the hip joint, my 5th position is prone to difficulty because my big, stupid legs are in the big, stupid way.
I mean. They’re not really stupid legs. They’re good legs, Brent. They’re powerful legs. They make it easy for me to jump high and lift people (and yes, in case you’re wondering, you legs and core really do most of that work almost all the time).
But they are big, and they’re set close together, and those factors conspire to place them right in each-other’s way if I’m not vigilant about working in such a way that A) my quads don’t go, “COOL WE GOT THIS BRUH” and inflate to the size of intercontinental ballistic missiles* and B) there’s not much extra “fluff” to get in the way. “Fluff” is probably better than muscles, since it’s squishier, but there’s just no freaking room.
*intercontiental balletic missiles???
So basically I’m in the midst of this crazy transition during which I continue to be sort of flabbergasted by the fact that I am apparently doing this dancer thing now, but also not entirely flabbergasted in the same way I used to be. I don’t know exactly how to describe That Feeling When, so I’ll leave you instead with this lovely picture of ya boiii Mercutius T. Furbelow expressing his sentiments about the arrival of summer weather here in the 502:And this update on the status of my surgical scars (or relative lack thereof):