Blog Archives

shows and stuff and things

On Saturday, a bunch of us from only weeds will rise in winter descended upon Churchill Downs’ opening night Fund for the Arts gala to perform excerpts from the show in pop-up form.

It went well (though I was a complete disaster on Sunday because I got dehydrated :P). We were a tad awkward at first, but as the night went on we got things nailed down and started tacking on a long-form improv after the set choreography. That just got better and better: the last round was awesome, even if almost no one was left to see it!

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We also demonstrated that modern dancers don’t have to be so hecking serious allataimz.

Anyway, I’m feeling more and more confident about weeds, even if I was a complete PITA[1] to our choreographer-director on Sunday (sorry, AMS!).

  1. I was having an exceptionally difficult time with receptive language processing, but didn’t realize it ’til after rehearsal was over, so I was constantly screwing things up and being mad at AMS about it. Ugh.

In other news, I’ve started working on choreography for my PlayThink piece, and I think it’s going to be quite cool indeed. A friend of mine might be joining me, which would be even cooler. There are parts of it I can’t do very effectively in my house (too many obstacles!!!), but the performance takes place at an outdoor venue that doesn’t have a fancy floor, so now that it’s warm I can practice it in my back yard.

I’m hoping to have settled a group of dancers for shadowlands or whatever I’m calling it soon, because SUDDENLY IT IS ABOUT TO BE MAY WTF.

I am so not good at recruiting people, and really really not good at recruiting people when I have no idea where I’m going to take them to rehearse. Blargh.

On the other hand, L and I have come up with some really solid choreography for the CL/UofL collabo show, so that’s going quite well.

We also just launched rehearsals for the SPA show, which is going to be amazing.

Obviously, my schedule is completely wack right now, and I’m trying to learn how to eat and sleep in the midst of it. What works best food-wise, of course, is simply to cook a couple of huge batches of whatever when I happen to have time. Sleep-wise, on the other hand … eek, who knows?

So that’s it for the moment. Class notes later probably?

How Much Do You Stretch?

I get this question a lot.

That and, “How long did it take you to get your center split?”

The answers are, in short, “Very little, in any formal sense,” and, “About two seconds.”

There’s an assumption among dance students that work is the great equalizer.

That assumption is largely correct—and yet it doesn’t mean that individual variations in innate ability do not occur, or that enough work will overcome all of them.

Most human beings will never achieve a center oversplit. This isn’t because they won’t work hard enough, but because they have normal human pelvises that don’t allow it.

Many human beings will never achieve a even a full center split, in fact.

The center split may be the least malleable feat of flexibility. Unlike the front splits, which simply extend the natural range of motion of the average human hip joint complex, it is enormously dependent on genetics. Even early training exerts only a small degree of influence, as far as I can tell. A full center split requires both soft-tissue flexibility and unusual hip sockets. One is amenable to training; the other might possibly be very slightly amenable to rigorous training at an age at which most children’s parents are much more concerned with basic skills than with the potential eventuality of flat center splits.

I don’t think the group of human beings who have center oversplits is very large. Even though I move in ballet and cirque circles, I can count the examples I know personally on one hand with fingers to spare. And that’s counting myself.

In short, the same characteristics of the hip socket that give us the required range of motion also make us unusually prone to hip dislocations (upright bipedalism a harsh mistress).

Back in the day, a dislocated hip was almost certainly a good way to get eaten by the nearest predator (or otherwise eliminate yourself from the gene pool), thus greatly reducing the likelihood of passing on the genes that allow for extreme hip flexibility. In short, center oversplits are maladaptive in an evolutionary context, and thus exceedingly rare even though we’ve largely decoupled ourselves from natural selection pressures (though it would be interesting to see where we stand in another hundred thousand years or so).

~

So often in Western culture, we equate talent—that is, raw, innate ability —with virtue.

This tendency may be at its most visible in the movement arts: professional training selects for people who both possess innate ability and who work hard, but it’s the innate ability that the average person-on-the-street cites: “Wow, she’s so talented!”

The phenomenon of TV talent shows hasn’t helped. So often, the word talent is right there in the title: America’s Got Talent. It’s too easy to conflate the rocket-to-stardom modality with the myth of talent.

From Algeria to Zimbabwe, successful …Got Talent competitors work their butts off (or, in the case of dancers, on) to make the most of whatever measure of innate ability they have—but we see only the five minutes or so that they command the stage in each episode, unknowns to the public at large. They appear to emerge fully-formed, replete with the armor of their art, from the foreheads of the judges.

It’s too easy to ignore the work and sigh, “If only I was that talented!”

But it’s also too easy to fall into the opposite camp, which discounts innate ability entirely.

~

There’s a familiar impasse that one encounters if one sticks around long enough as an adult ballet student to reach a fairly advanced standard of training.

Newer students admire your talent and/or your work ethic—and then they ask you how they can learn to do the thing you’re doing with such ease (or, at any rate, apparent ease).

Most often, you can truthfully answer, “Work your tuchas off, take class with these three instructors, make three classes per week your bare minimum, and you’ll get there sooner than you think[1].” You can even gently guide the ones who want the results associated with setting ballet on the front burner without having actually done so. Sometimes this means helping them discover for themselves that they love dancing, but are really just there to have fun, and aren’t actually going to prioritize it enough to make the kind of progress they want (at least, not in the timeframe they’re imagining). Sometimes it means helping them give themselves permission to front-burner ballet.

  1. This last bit is pretty specific to adult students, who mostly seem to expect everything to take longer than it actually will. Kids can be very much the opposite.

Yet, sometimes, you’re forced to formulate on the fly an answer that gently conveys the idea that no matter how hard they work, their feet aren’t going to look like yours, because your feet are the result of a serendipitous confluence of genetic traits polished by work, or that they’re probably never going to nail a flat center split because their hips aren’t arranged in a way that allows for it. To say, in short: “I don’t have these feet because I’m a professional dancer. I’m a professional dancer because I have these feet … or, well, partly, anyway.”

The challenge, then, is figuring out how to explain the complicated ratio of talent to hard work—that, for the most part, hard work matters much more. It’s mostly at the highest levels (particularly in companies with very specific ideas about how dancers’ bodies look) that both hard work and talent matter almost equally: to dance for ABT or the Royal Ballet or the Kirov, one needs both in almost superhuman doses. Talent alone is certainly not enough, but hard work alone won’t do it, either.

And, then, even at the highest levels, dancers acknowledge that talent is distributed capriciously. Nobody gets it all, in part because some of the genetic gifts associated with success as a dancer (qv, those incredibly mobile feet and ankles everyone wants) actually make technique harder. Every dancer with beautiful feet can point to some other part of her body and say, “Yeah, but…”

~

As kids, we’re often given the impression that talent is everything. American culture is flush with fictional stories of raw, undeveloped talent that is miraculously discovered and immediately transported to the upper echelons of artistic success. That model sells, and fits in the with fairytale mode of instant transformation that colors so much of the media we market to children.

The downside is that, too often, this means talented people feel like they don’t have to work that hard. Vexingly, there are even some points at which this is true: I don’t really work on flexibility, for example[2].

  1. I work on its opposite: strength. A couple weeks without calf raises, and the mobility of my ankles makes one-foot relevé balances beastly hard.

Worse, it can create the impression that a lack of exceptional talent means one shouldn’t bother. This is also fundamentally untrue. The world is full of professional dancers who began with average measures of everything but the motivation to work (not to mention their sublimely-talented peers whose motivation led them to leave ballet). They may not be dancing at the Kirov, but they’re certainly dancing in your local company.

Although the ballet world is full of talented late-starters like Copeland and Hallberg, none of them owe their success to talent alone or even primarily. They are, to a person, incredible workers first and foremost. BW came to ballet very late—but his success owes in no small part to the fact that he does sixteen turns after every class, trains in ankle weights, attends to every detail fastidiously, and simply works like the world depends on it.

And yet: he’s tall-but-not-too-tall, physically beautiful, and gifted with hip mobility equal to mine.

His work is devoted to improving what is already a very fine instrument. His work will probably take him farther than mine does—in part because he actually does work harder than I do, but also because he’s taller than I am (but not too tall). Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, and perhaps at some future time it won’t—but right now it’s a matter of course that ultimately a principal dancer is by default a prince, and we imagine that the prince should be tall and regal. Someone of my middling height and middling talent (as compared to the range of professional dancers, rather than to the population at large) might be Seigfried at Backyard Ballet Theater, but never at PNB or ABT, even if I hadn’t taken a long break from dancing.

~

I should say that I’m not bitter at all about this. I would never in a million years complain about being asked to dance Seigfried or Albrecht or Cavalier (though, like, couldn’t he have a name, y’all?), not least because I love partnering and the princes get almost all the most tender, most beautiful pas de deux.

But give me, any day, the fireworks of the Russian dance, the simmering sensuality of Arabian, the aerial grace of Bluebird, or the wild abandon of Le Corsaire’s famous slave. Give me the corps part I danced last year in Orpheus: a mad, sensuous, pyrotechnic demon of the shadowy depths. Give me the ridiculous athleticism of the peasant pas in Giselle (two very, very long passages of balls-to-the-wall balletic redlining jammed into a lively pas de deux).

It is to these peripheral roles that I’m best suited both by temperament and by physical aptitude. I don’t begrudge the lack of lofty height that will mean I only ever dance Prince What’s-His-Name at summer programs and if all of the taller guys at Podunk Ballet simultaneously come down with flu.

Ultimately, part of becoming a dancer is accepting your limitations.

BG will be the first to tell you he has biscuits of the highest order: but then he’ll show you his carriage, his élan, and his ballon.

BW explained to me the downside of our shared extreme hip mobility: we work twice as hard doing turns in second, for example, because we have to use our muscles to hold ourselves together where other dancers can rely on their bones to do much of the the work. My flexibility, in fact, means I’m prone to dancing like a slinky.

In the grand scheme of things, whether or not you have a center split means less than whether or not you know how to work with what you’ve got.

I don’t stretch very much because the last thing I need, as a dancer, is looser joints. I have a center oversplit because I’m a mutant with an unstable pelvis.

I’m not a dancer because of either of those things. I’m a dancer because the only thing I really want to do is dance, and because I’m lucky enough to be in a position that allows me to apprentice myself as I’m doing now in professional jobs that pay only intermittently. I’m a dancer, in short, because I dance.

This isn’t to say that I my body is not an advantage. It is. I do no one any service by saying otherwise.

But in the end, it’s top-dressing.

If I’m auditioning and my only competition is a physically-similar dancer with the same degree of training and the same work ethic but a body that’s not quite as purpose-built for ballet, there’s a fair chance I’ll come out on top. Give that other dancer a year or two more training or a work ethic comparable to BW’s, though, and my edge vanishes.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying this:

Don’t worry too much about your center split. You might never have one.

If you want to dance, that’s almost never the deciding factor.

Worry instead about your training and your work ethic. If you’re feeling unmotivated, figure out why and how you can hack your motivational system to work around it (concrete goals work for me; an upcoming show works better than anything).

Ask yourself, in the words of the British rowing team, “Does it make the boat go faster?” If it doesn’t, find a way to put it aside. Come back to it later, maybe: but know that later on it might not seem so important.

Know your weaknesses, and work on them within reason: but not at the expense of knowing and honing your strengths.

Ballet is too hard to spend time and energy making it harder.

A Little Notation

But, first: Good Pesach, y’all!

…Assuming that it is in fact still Saturday. Honestly, being off sick has really screwed up my internal calendar. (I dare not even contemplate what it’s probably doing to my internal- and external rotators .__.,)

And, second!

Dear Northern Hemisphere,

I’ve officially switched to my springtime header, so if winter decides to repeat its coda* yet again, sorry about that.

You may lodge any complaints with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration**, which is clearly losing its battle with the capricious demiurges of weather, who in turn don’t want any snot-nosed dance blogger*** telling them what to do.

Ignobly,

Your Humble Danseur

*Prolly the Nutcracker Prince, amirite? Because obvs. Winter. Always showboating. SMH
**These are the folks who run the US weather machines, yesno?
***Who hopes to be slightly less snot-nosed soon, through the miracle of modern medicine?

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Let this two-week old shot of a hardy magnolia blossom stand in for all the trees currently in flower that I have failed to photograph because I’m sick.

Yesterday I checked in with my GP, who is awesome on numerous levels (not every doctor closes out an appointment with, “When’s your next show?! You have to tell me so I can get tickets!”). She confirmed my sinus infection and sent me off with a ton of prescriptions—specifically, levofloxacin and pseudoephedrine, plus the usual generic Adderall—which I proceeded to fill at the usual CVS.

I’m sure my local band of intrepid pharmacists think I’m basically a crank addict or running a meth lab or whatevs. (Crank is speed, right? Yesno? Why, of course there’s an answer for that question on the internet.) I can see why they might think that, given my prescriptions and the fact that this end of town is sort of known for that sort of thing.

Really, though, I just want to be able to breathe through my nose and adult.

At the same time, even.

And, sadly, while psuedoephedrine marginally improves my adulting abilities, it doesn’t do so effectively enough that I could, say, skip the Adderall for now. Adderall, meanwhile, does exactly nothing for my congestion, as best I can tell.

So, there you have it.

Normally, the combination of psuedoephedrine and Adderall doesn’t actually make me feel like anything other than a person who can both breathe and efficiently accomplish important goal-directed behaviors pertaining to daily life. Apparently, however:

(psuedoephedrine + Adderall + coffee) * feververtigo resulting from inner-ear wonkiness

= high AF

>_____>     o_____O’     <_____<

At least, to be honest, I assume that’s what being high AF feels like. My illicit substance-use history comprises, in short, the occasional glass of wine and a few beers (and never more than two in one day) prior to age 21[1]. At one time, it was because I was that annoying judgmental straightedge kid[2]; at other times, it was a function of fear of addiction; now it’s just basically force of habit. Which just goes to show that anything can become a habit.

  1. I did get very tipsy at my Mom’s New Year’s Eve party when I was 17, which involved exactly one flute of champagne. I then went upstairs and proceeded to watch Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, because OMFG I was so embarrassingly Serious and Earnest in high school, and senior year was peak Serious & Earnest territory.
  2. Not that all straightedge kids are annoying and judgmental. Some are awesome and humble and all that. I just wasn’t one of them. Ugh. Can you tell I’ve been watching The Mortified Guide…?

Anyway, I’m just not sure how else to describe the weird state of consciousness in which one is both somehow very, very like awake but also … floaty. Spacey.

Not, like, Kevin Spacey. More like this kind of spacey:

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So: basically me, yesterday. Actually, the weird, muffled quality of sound and the weird delay between brain and body makes this an even better analogy.

Admittedly, I probably could’ve skipped the coffee … but I decided, as one does, that since I was officially not contagious I should peel myself out of bed and go to rehearsal, and that involved driving, which involved staying awake.

Which was a problem, because awake was the one thing my body absolutely, positively did not want to be. (Actually, there are a whole host of other things it didn’t want to be, but they’re all basically subsets of awake.)

Honestly, the single most alarming thing about this particular sinus infection has been the absolutely crushing fatigue.

Like, driving home from my doc’s office, I was constantly fighting the urge to just close my eyes and go to sleep. Not, mind you, just thinking, “Gosh, I’m really sleepy, *yawn*” but actively having to tell myself:

DO NOT CLOSE YOUR EFFING EYES, MORON. NO. NO. OPEN THEM BACK UP. IT IS NOT OKAY TO BLINK FOR 5 SECONDS AT A TIME.WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

This, remember, is me: the Boy Who Stayed Awake. I do the driving on all our road trips because I can stay awake more or less indefinitely as long as I’m sitting upright (read: I can only sleep sitting up with assistance from modern pharmacology, and have been like that my entire life).

The same person for whom achieving a night’s rest typically involves less “going to sleep than “lying there in hope that sleep will eventually trip over me on its way to meet someone in the Pacific Time Zone.

Like, literally, I only realized last year that people can actually, you know, actually go to sleep.

ON PURPOSE!!! (You guys! I’m serious! What even is that?!)

Et cetera.

So having to fight to stay awake … WHILE DRIVING, no less … is something of a novelty.

One that I addressed by drinking WAY THE HECK TOO MUCH COFFEE.

Anyway, basically I floated my way through rehearsal in a state that resembled somehow experiencing that hypnagogic sense of falling through space whilst remaining upright and alert (well … more or less).

WEIRD.

Fortunately, the part of the show that we worked last night mostly takes place sitting at a group of tables, and I was able to mark it without actually having to fall on the floor (technically called for at various points, but not necessary when marking). Which is good, because had I made it to the floor it’s highly unlikely that I would then have made it back off the floor.

Then I ate a bunch of chicken-flavored crackers, recopied my choreography notes (you guys, I have never done a piece that involves this much writing: this thing is complicated), and went back to bed. Exciting, right?

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Page 2. Of 4. Amazingly, this all actually makes sense to me.

Amazingly, I’m pretty sure I actually learned the choreography I needed to learn. See all those letters in circles at the bottom of the right-hand column? Those are 4-count phrases. There are six of them, continuously mixed and re-mixed throughout the piece, comme Rosas Danst Rosas (speaking of which: if you haven’t seen Rosas yet, you can watch the whole thing there … and then, if you’re feeling inspired, you can create your own take on it as part of a worldwide project).

The longer I spend in the rarified climes of the dance world, the more I realize that I am the kind of dancer who learns modern choreography best by, in short, brute force.

Show me a phrase once, and I’ll feck it right up. If I’m lucky, I’ll have shot a good mental video so I run over it again and again in my head and have learned it by the time I’m halfway home.

Show me a phrase, then walk me through it three times, and I’ll start to give it back to you accurately. Let me run it around six times[3], and I’ll start adding musicality and nuance.

  1. I pick up ballet choreography much, much faster: usually I need one demonstration, and I’m good. That doesn’t mean I’ll do it correctly after seeing it once, but it does mean I know what I’m supposed to be doing and can hypothetically fix my own errors.

This means, in short, that I struggle at modern auditions, but I quickly become an asset in rehearsal.

The downside is that it makes me very hesitant to rehearse modern choreography on my own, because I’m afraid I’ll misunderstand part of the demo and train myself into a step that isn’t there, or that goes somewhere else, or whatever. I develop pretty strong motor patterns, and fixing them can be a challenge.

I also managed to come up with my own special shorthand notation for the set phrases that are remixed and sequenced throughout the piece:

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When you need to name specific movements, you use what you’ve got. Still … pushfling? And in case you’re wondering, yes, “WHAT” and “ARGH” are specific movements.

That felt like rather a stroke of genius, to be honest.

I’m not primarily a verbal learner, but in ballet contexts I use the names of steps (or, well, sometimes the nicknames I’ve privately given them) synchronized to the rhythm of the music (or the counts) as a backup system for when I’m missing a piece of my visual and kinaesthetic maps. This little cheat-sheet of four-counts represents a surprisingly successful attempt to create that same kind of backup system in a modern-dance context.

The sort of tablature of notes further up evolved over the course of the first day of rehearsals, though I’ve refined it a bit since the first iteration. It acts as a framework; kind of a score, if you will, to keep track of what happens when.

At the beginning, for my group, so much of this piece is counting like crazy, then throwing in some small-but-important gesture. Even “PAUSE” has a specific meaning entirely disparate from “HOLD.”

 

Weekend Round-Up, I Guess?

Totally failed to write about my own show, as you do. 😆

It went well—not perfect, but well enough that the audience thought it was. I got a nice word from our director, BG: “Your musicality was perfect.” As a dancer, that’s not a word you hear often.

Also quite a few nice words from folks in the audience—friends and perfect strangers both. E’s husband told me: “You stole the show—I mean that as a compliment!” That was a lovely thing to hear, but I think the best thing was K’s friends, who described my dancing to her as “powerful,” among other lovely words I wish I remembered right now.

K, meanwhile—my friend-turned-ballet partner who made me take myself seriously as a dancer some while back by telling me that I reminded her of Nureyev— described my attitude turn as beautiful, floating, and apparently effortless, with the free leg raised to 90 degrees.

I was glad to hear that, because in both the tech run and the full dress run I didn’t account for how remarkably grippy this particular batch of Marley was and wound up with 3/4s of an attitude turn and the world’s tiniest promenade 😅 During the actual show, it felt great, but that’s not always the most accurate barometer!

In the end, I think everyone was pretty happy with things.

There’s an immense peace that comes over me when I’m on stage. It’s like being immersed entirely in the stream of the present. Time is at once infinite and fleeting. Choreography appears like a divine gift. I don’t have to think about it: it’s just there.

“Did someone order a choreography?!”

There was a weird moment right at the beginning when I realized, with surprise, not only could I actually see part of the audience quite clearly[1], but was sharing a moment of eye contact with a woman out in the seats. That was really, really cool—also a crystal-clear visual memory that I’ll carry forever.

  1. In many theaters, the lighting renders the audience effectively invisible. You might catch the glare off an eyeglass lens, but that’s about it.

There’s something special about realizing that, hey, there are actual people out there, and they’re connected with what you’re doing, and it means something to them. For some performers, that’s kind of a nightmare, but I loved it—especially for this piece, which was full of emotion and human connections (both literal and metaphorical).

Anyway, we followed our terpsichorean triumph with one heck of a party, then hauled our heineys outta bed for class (my calf was iffy, so I opted not to jump—Memorial is a beautiful house, but the floor is pretty hard, and we did a bunch of jumps in our warm-up class before the show). Followed that with an hour of contact improv and 3 hour rehearsal: #dancerlife never stops 😛

This morning I opted to stay home and rest the legs a little, even though I’m adding Monday AM to the rotation. Back to class as usual tonight.

Possibly the best news: BG asked us at our party how we’d feel about performing more often. He has plans in the works. Obviously, I’m so there.

In the meanwhile, though, the next blip on my radar is another gala thing, this time with an excerpt from the Culture of Poverty, on April 30th.

Four years ago, when I stepped back into the studio, I never would have imagined living this life.

Nor would I have imagined becoming Sir Twinkshirt of the Footroller.

Honestly, if you’d described it to me, with all its chaos and exceedingly complicated scheduling, I would have, like, fainted (though it was wouldn’t have changed much, if anything).

In the end, though, this is what happens when we stumble into a driving passion: it, like, you know, drives.

And now, back to our regularly-scheduled laundry day.

Werk Werk Werk Werk

So here’s how we’re doing on the work front so far this year:

  • Culture of Poverty: I got B Cast, which is great. Last year, I don’t think I would’ve made the cut. I think I might’ve mentioned this already. We start rehearsals Sunday, basically as soon as I get back from BDSI’s SI audition.
  • Collabo show: my piece got a green light, and I’ve got a partner to work with, so that’s rolling forward. We start reheasals on Thursday.
  • Suspend company: I’ve got a company spot, and we’re on to callbacks for specific casting next.
  • PlayThink: this year, I’m both performing and teaching. I’m pretty excited about that, y’all! …Speaking of which:

    PlayThink-2018

    Ohai! It me!

  • And, of course, I’ll continue with CirqueLouis.

It’ll be interesting to see how rehearsal schedules shake out for all of this stuff.

This weekend, I’ll be jetting over to Lexington for the Ballet Detroit Summer Intensive audition. I have no idea, honestly, if I’ll make the cut, but I can say that last year I wouldn’t have been brave enough to go. A friend of mine from LexBallet SI is also going, so that’s pretty exciting!

I’m trying to go into it with the mindset that, regardless of the outcome, I can learn a lot from the audition process, and in many ways it’ll be a lot like taking a masterclass (only presumably with a number pinned to your shirt :P).

The weird part is that it’s hard to imagine that my first successful audition was last year, and that before then I felt pretty unsure about auditioning for things in general.

One of the general goals I set down for this year was to reduce my impostor syndrome about working in dance. I think that part of that is going out and auditioning for things—taking risks; seeing how things work out—and another part is choosing atleast  some of my auditions strategically, based on my own strengths as a dancer and what kinds of dancers are needed in different markets.

Though I am making money as a dancer now, I’ve come to regard what I’m doing this year as a kind of apprenticeship. Not to say that my command of technique is finished—nobody’s ever done learning technique—but I’m learning the elements of artistry; how to approach roles; how to take direction and use it effectively (I try to be biddable, so to speak, but I don’t know if I always apply direction as well as I could).

I’m lucky to have good mentors in the midst of all this stuff. Señor BeastMode, in particular, has given me a lot to think about for our Showcase piece this year. I think last year he was kind of feeling us out; figuring out how much technique he could throw at us, given the compressed rehearsal schedule.

This year, he’s giving me very specific directions about approaching the role I’m playing in this piece—what kind of movement quality he’s looking for, how to use my eyes, etc. I’m learning how to ask questions to clarify points I don’t quite get in ways that get the answer I’m actually looking for (all too often, I’ll ask, “What was the thing at the end of that phrase?” in a way that sounds like, “What was the beginning of that phrase?”).

This is all stuff I can carry into the other jobs I’ll be doing this year—and into every job I land going forward. To some extent, these are also the points that determine what kinds of jobs you land as a dancer. Being able to ask a clarifying question intelligently at an audition isn’t a bad thing and, of course, reputation matters in a community as small as the dance community.

I’ll also, obviously, be spending this year learning to juggle the insane schedule that seems to be pretty much the hallmark of #dancerlife always and everywhere 😛 It may sound trivial (it may not: you guys know me pretty well by now :D), but part of me is like, “Holy crap, I’m going to have to figure out how to cook and eat food in here somewhere.”

So, basically, I’m doing the stuff you do as a company trainee, only I’m working for 2 different companies as a non-trainee ^-^

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the coming year, busy though it’s likely to be.

 

Ballet Lessons: On Sacrifice

Yesterday, D and I met up with some of my ballet girls at a showing of the Norwegian documentary Ballet Boys, which follows three teenage dancers at a critical period in their training—the point at which they’re deciding whether to continue training and possibly to pursue careers as dancers.

One of the three is absolutely all-in. The other two aren’t as certain. One of them mentions the reality that one faces as a dancer in training: that there’s no time for a typical adolescent social life. He walks away, briefly, from dance—but he literally can’t stop dancing, and ultimately he returns.

I was reminded of a conversation I had not long ago with my friend RH: I said something about how working in dance involves a lot of sacrifice, but it’s willing sacrifice, joyfully given. He said something to the effect that he didn’t see how sacrifice came into it.

For a second, I honestly felt kind of angry. I almost responded with anger.

Then I realized that my anger was the knee-jerk response that dancers evolve as a defense against the fact that people who don’t dance haven’t the faintest hint of a clue about how hard it is; how much it demands. They often seem to legitimately believe that we spend all our time riding unicorns and eating cotton candy and swimming in the fountains of money we get paid for it, when in fact our lives are more akin to monastic vocations—we work grindingly hard, often for peanuts, because we’re called to the Work.

And then I realized that, okay, from his perspective, the commitment and sacrifice required probably aren’t visible, let alone obvious.

RH doesn’t dance, but he knows that I love dancing. He knows that dancing makes me unbelievably happy.

He works in technology, and he loves tech—but he doesn’t love his work in the all-consuming way that I love dancing. The work that he does in the tech sector isn’t the work he’d choose to do if money was no object, and it doesn’t always really work for him. Dancing is absolutely the work I would choose to do if money was no object, and it works for me in a way that nothing else ever has.

Perhaps a bit ironically, I’m working in dance in part because, at the moment, money is an object: to dance at the level I want to, I need to make dance pay for itself. But it’s still what I’d be doing if we suddenly received a windfall that would set us up for life.

That doesn’t, however, mean there’s no sacrifice involved.

Great! Only 10,000,000 more repetitions and you’ll almost have it!

~

Every now and then, someone will say to me, “I wish I could do what you’re doing.”

I try to listen and respond with kindness; with an openness to the nuances of meaning that underpin what they’re saying. I try to factor in things like financial challenges and family commitments (kids change everything).

But what I want to say, most of the time, is this: You could.

Part of what people are saying, when they say that, is this: I wish I was talented enough.

Sometimes, the people saying it are more talented than I am. They may not have as much training, but in terms of raw aptitude, they have the goods. They just need the training to use their aptitude.

I have pretty strong aptitude for dance, don’t get me wrong—but talent isn’t really the deciding factor.

Sometimes they mean, “I wish I’d danced as a kid.” There’s an assumption that it’s essential to start before your bones stop growing—especially in ballet.

Early training does exert some influence—but it’s not the deciding factor, either. My bones are constructed in a way that allows for 180-degree turnout; my feet were definitely shaped by my early training. But there are much, much better dancers than I—professionals at major companies with a lifetime of training and still have less turnout and mediocre feet; but also late-starters without great turnout or awesome feet who have gone on to forge careers out of nothing.

Early training isn’t the deciding factor, either.

The deciding factor, at the end of the day, is sacrifice.

Welcome to Dancerlife. By continuing, you agree to commit every waking moment for pretty much the rest of forever.

~

So what, then, do I sacrifice to work in dance?

First and foremost, time.

To work in dance, you have to dance. Dancing eats up oceans of time.

It’s not like training to race bikes as a serious amateur. That you can do around a life that allows some time for other pursuits. You work to develop fitness and riding skills and racing know-how—but a lot it you can do (and ultimately do do) alone, in the interstitial hours around the job that pays for the bike and the racing license and the entry fees.

Dancing requires technique, fitness, and artistry. All of these things, in turn, require a time-commitment that will eat your life. You can potentially fit your training in around another job (and make no mistake, your training is a job), but in so doing you must acknowledge the fact that you will literally have time for nothing else.

I don’t race bikes anymore. I barely ride anymore. I don’t play video games that can’t be squeezed into a few minutes here or there. I’m never up to date on TV shows. I rarely manage to swing a night out, and when I do, it’s almost always with other dancers from the class or rehearsal that ends right before said night out.

I thought this was a choreography still, but actually it could totally be a depiction of dancers trying to have a social life (via the amazing NYC Dance Project, via…erm…Instagram?).

I schedule my “life” around dancing. Even my occasional bouts of paid non-dance work are subject to the demands of class and rehearsal schedules. I give up weeks of the summer, when sane people are enjoying cookouts or canoeing, to sweat my ass off with other dancers in the interest of professional development (but also because I love dancing more than anything else).

SI: not, “Are you going?” but “Where are you going?”

I rarely manage to snag an evening alone with my husband. Fortunately, he’s okay with that. We make the most of whatever time we can grab.

If he wasn’t okay with that? To be honest, I’d still choose dance.

My time belongs to dance, and it will for the foreseeable future.

As a function of time, I’m also sacrificing money. I could land a job tomorrow that would pay thirty times or more the amount I made as a dancer last year. It might even allow me time to dance as a hobby. It would, in one fell swoop, make us very secure, financially-speaking.

It would also mean giving up the career, such as it is, that I’m building now.

Dance is a demanding muse.

I have back-burnered every other interest except circus arts, and circus arts make the cut only insofar as they allow me to function within them as a dancer and don’t interfere with actually dancing.

I still write, but I do my writing in shreds of time snatched at the ends and beginnings of my days. I often fall asleep while writing in bed.

I know it’ll take me longer to finish the projects I’m working on, but I don’t care.

These are a handful of the things that I’ve cast into the fire in the name of dance.

I don’t mind. They’re joyfully given. I would do all of it again in a heartbeat. If you forced me to live my life over, I’d even do it sooner.

But a sacrifice is a sacrifice, willing or not. That’s the one and only thing that separates me from my friends who would like to do what I’m doing[1].

  1. Except the ones who have kids. Denis is a consenting adult who can walk away if he gets sick of playing second fiddle to a career that pays poverty wages. When you have kids, you’re responsible for them in ways that force you to make different decisions. It can be impossible to do what I’m doing and keep the kids fed and housed. In short, kids change everything.

~

Sometimes, the same people who say they wish they could do what I’m doing are the ones who skip class to just chill, or who opt not to take rep class because it would conflict with game night, or what have you.

I restrain myself from saying, “You could do what I’m doing if you chose dance over everything else.”

I can’t play this lute! I have rehearsal!

Most of the time, I don’t say it.

I recognize that I wouldn’t have understood, back before I started dancing again and realized, finally, that dancing was the only thing I had ever really wanted to do. Either you step into the studio one day and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would and will shove everything else off the table to keep dancing, or you don’t.

Both ways of being are valid, good, and necessary—but only one usually leads to working in dance.

~

As humans, we are great at wanting to want things.

I want to want to paint more often.

I just actually want to dance.

This doesn’t need a caption, does it?

As dancers, we face the generally unconsidered, usually unspoken, and often unconscious assumption that a sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if you do it to achieve something that gives you joy; that helps you to be a whole.

And yet we recognize the sacrifices of medical students, many of whom pursue their calling for exactly same reason that dancers pursue dance.

As dancers, our calling places tremendous strictures on our time and finances; on our relationships and our personal lives. Just because we’re making art, rather than medicine, that doesn’t make our sacrifice less worthwhile.

Doctors, when they’re skilful and lucky, save lives by cracking open chests to work on hearts.

Dancers, when we’re skilful and lucky, save lives by cracking open hearts.

Sometimes, those lives are our own. Sometimes, they’re other lives.

Regardless, at the end of the day day, the life of a dancer—like any other dedicated life—is one of sacrifice.

Because of that, however, it is also one of transcendence.

Or, well … close enough.

Marching On (In February)

I … think? … I’m done with auditions for the rest of the month, at this point.

Yesterday’s was actually rather a soaring success, except for my usual habit of forgetting some bit of the modern combination and faking my way through that part so I could get to the next bit, then remembering it right after … but there are two thoughts that cheer me up.

First, nobody had the combo down cold. We all missed bits and pieces.

Second, that’s one of the skills they’re looking for at dance auditions. What happens when you fall off the script (because it happens even to top-tier dancers)? Do you freeze like a deer in the headlights, or do you roll on just as if you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? (Bonus points if you can fake your way through well enough to make it look like everyone else was wrong. I don’t think I accomplished that, yesterday, but I didn’t freeze, either.)

The dance improv bit was, of course, a blast, because I love improv.

The trapeze bit went pretty well despite the fact that apparently whatever demiurge manages music for trapeze auditions believes it’s great fun to mess with mine. I recovered from that and had to improvise a fair bit, but it turned out rather well. And, of course, I didn’t fall off the trapeze this time[1].

  1. Last year’s audition for “Orpheus” is still the one and only time I’ve fallen off a trapeze. It’s also my number-one go-to story to tell when, inevitably, groups of people start reminiscing about stupid moments in their lives. There’s something special about making what seemed, in the moment, a very logical decision to drop myself off a trapeze from ten feet in the air rather than risk breaking my arms. Dancers get it; circus people get it; athletes get it. That said, there are entire hosts of people who think I’m crazy, and they’re probably right—but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat.

Once again, at this audition, they’re not necessarily looking for a polished cirque-style act: they’re looking for expression, musicality, and the ability to command the audience’s attention (and also sound technical elements, obviously). The piece that I showed is one I’m slowly working on set to the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” and it’s intentionally struggly, so it probably didn’t really hurt anything that I was, in fact, wrestling with my own choreography (much of which I didn’t apparently remember).

The acting part was flat-out awesome, and reminded me how much I actually really like acting, my anxiety about struggling to memorize scripts notwithstanding. Maybe what I really like is cold reading. Who knows? Anyway. I really liked the part they handed me, and ran with it.

Today’s audition was also lovely. Almost nobody showed up, so it was really just three of us mostly doing some improv stuff. I already know that our AD likes the way I improvise, so that was just pure fun. I showed the bits of my piece that I could, given my lack of a partner, and described the idea as a whole. Both our AD and the guy from U of L whose group we’re collaborating with liked it, so it looks like it’s a green light there.

My next audition is a couple of weeks away, and I’m happy to have a bit of a breather. The stretch from the past couple of gigs through now has been pretty intense.

Not that I’m complaining. The other night I was kvetching about some company-related annoyance and suddenly though something like, “Oh, hey. I’m complaining about work because that’s what we do. If it wasn’t a pain in the *** sometimes, it wouldn’t be work.”

And that actually felt, in its own way, rather lovely: like, this is my work, and it’s work that I love. And I think I’m becoming rather good at it. Maybe not world-beatingly good or anything but, you know, serviceable. Which has, to be honest, always been the goal. As a ballet boy I’m smallish and muscly and I bounce like a rubber ball, which puts me squarely in the demi-character camp, and I’m fine with that. Not everyone always has to be the prince (and, honestly, there are a lot of ballets in which the prince never gets to do anything cool outside of the pas de deux). As a circus artist, I’m reliable, adaptable, and versatile: not a specialist, but a generalist, and the kind of generalist who can pinch-hit almost anywhere.

I feel like that’s a good thing to be. I’m not here for glory: I’m here because I love to move; because I can’t not move.

And if sometimes that means I’m stressed out and hounded from pillar to post … well, that’s part of it. That and Auditioning for Poverty are pretty much hallmarks life as a dancer, or indeed as any kind of performing artist, or indeed possibly as any kind of artist.

You do the Work because the Work is what moves you … sometimes more literally than other times.

Everything Is About To Be In Rehearsals

And I am going to explode. Also I am clearly going to need more colors of pens.

Also, modern was good tonight. I’m delighted by the occasional overlap of Modern and L’Ancien’s class, in which Get Taller As You Close is a recurring theme.

Also, it sometimes makes me nervous partnering girls who don’t come from the Wonderful World of Ballet (where everybody understands that it’s better to accidentally grab some side-boob than to drop someone when you’re learning to catch things like a roll down from Bluebird lift or, worse, fish drive from Bluebird lift ). Not that anything bad or weird has happened recently. Just one of those things you ruminate about when you’re a dude and your work life sometimes involves catching girls you don’t know very well.

Also, last night, I got to use pas de chat Italien in a grand-allegro zig-zag, and whilst it proved immensely successful, I’ve decided I should probably work on some other jumps.

I’m not Catholic, but I suppose I could give it up for Lent?

A Good/Bad Weekend

No class Thursday night because BW had a show, and Friday is currently my day off, though in this case I spent it driving D around.

On Saturday, my second class with L’Ancien was profoundly mixed. I got a “Good!” at barre once, which was really nice, but I was a total disaster at jumps. Like, all the jumps.

L’Ancien gave us a warm-up jump combo that went:

first, fifth, changement, entrechats quartre, trois, cinq

Only, for some reason, what I kept actually doing was:

first, entrechat quatre, changement, wtf, oh no, where even am I, jeté battu?

L’Ancien came over after and stood directly in front of me and made me mark through the steps by myself while he talked me through them. I still had trouble with it, but didn’t figure out til I left class that part of the problem was not knowing where I was supposed to close fifth the first time.

I knew the trois was supposed to finish in back, and was constantly doing mental math to try to make that happen. I thought about it in the car, I thought about it whilst making dinner, and I’m still thinking about it.

L’Ancien did preface that exercise with, “This one’s for your brain.” Which it was.

I think I’m going to ask BW to let us do that exercise on Thursday this week. Also to review odd-counted entrechats, which I’ve had to do twice in the past week-and-change, but haven’t done prior to that in more than a year, if memory serves.

I also flailed through grand allegro. It started with chassée, and I realize now that I was doing tombé instead. At one point I even tried to add the chassée, but didn’t subtract the tombé. You guys, what the actual?

I realize now that it may simply have been the opening salvo of whatever illness has knocked me onto the ropes. I am definitely thinking with far less clarity than usual right now.

That said, Saturday’s show, “Death Defying Acts,” was really very good.

DDA was based on a book of poetry, and the author came for the second show. Fortunately, our intrepid director chose not to tell us that the author was in the house the until the show was over.

Even I would’ve found it a bit nerve-wracking to, in the closing performance, interpret a poet’s character knowing that the poet was right there! (It would be totally different if the poet/author was involved in the rehearsal process, of course—the challenge in this context is that of not knowing if you’re fitting their vision, or at least interpreting in a way that they find satisfying.)

After, the poet told me she was in awe of my Zorada, which meant the world to me. I also got a couple of nice mentions in facebag reviews, one of which described me as a “graceful dementor”—which is rather exactly what I was going for.

Here I am, gracefully dementing with my friend AM, who played a very leonine lion.

I also literally didn’t drop the ball (except when I was supposed to) and while I think I’ve actually done the piece better in rehearsal a couple of times, I think my performance was entirely acceptable even by my standards.

Yesterday, I woke up with a sore throat, a headache, and a fever. I opted out of class, but did go to see “Chicago” (a friend of mine gave tickets) which was awesome even with a really terrible headache. We did hightail it out of there after the first curtain call, though, even though the orchestra plays a fun little set after. My head was ready to explode, and I just wanted to buy some DayQuil and lie down.

After that I went home, ate a chicken pot pie, went to sleep, and, excepting a brief period in which I woke up and read for a little while, I stayed asleep until this morning, when I had to get up to take Denis to work. I would probably still be asleep if still being asleep was an option.

D kindly let me sleep until about 15 minutes before we had to leave, which I appreciate. It takes me basically no time to throw on some warm-ups and make a cup of coffee, and that gave me about 45 more minutes of shut-eye while he showered, shaved, and so forth.

I’m skipping class tonight so I won’t give whatever I have to everyone else (and also because I’ll probably be asleep). I’m hoping that my intensive rest plan will have this licked before tomorrow evening’s modern class, or before Wednesday’s evening class and rehearsal at the outside.

YMBADI

You mught be a dancer if you’ve ever paused in the midst of making a sandwich at 11:30 PM[1] to run through some choreography because you accidentally brushed your foot against the floor and suddenly tge waltz turns make perfect sense.

  1. Which you’re making because you returned home from class at 8:30 and promptly forgot to eat dinner
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