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.
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 🤣🤣🤣
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, 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):
Where to begin? BP went well, as did LouBallet’s Spring Dance Festival. My group’s piece in our show in SDF got a resounding response from the audience and made our director happy, and those are the things that warm the cockles of a dancer’s heart, or at least this dancer’s heart.
BP was my first show with a Big Giant Head, and while the Big Giant Head itself was awesome (our costumer is AMAZING), dancing with it on was a learning experience, even though I did very little actual dancing. I had exactly one lift, which didn’t go well in our first full-dress rehearsal (it was impossible to make the established lift work with the costumes in question), so we changed it to a simple cradle lift that both looked fine and worked. Except in the closing show I somehow managed to bonk my Big Giant Head against my partner’s Big Giant Head, which caused my Big Giant Head to go slightly askew, which led to me almost running both of us into a leg curtain on the exit.
Fortunately at the last minute the curtain hove into sight in what was left of my peripheral vision, and I was able to take evasive action. No dancers were injured in the making of this ballet, or at least not by me.
- I did dance on a somewhat dislocated hip for three weeks, and I’m still paying for that.
So goes the glory of the stage, eh?
Anyway, on the last day of our season I was presented with a contract for 2019-2020. Since I’d just auditioned for another company with surprising success, this left me with a quandary: dance with New Company next year, which will let me stay at home and work on getting the house together, etc, or bite the bullet and rent a room in Lexington, knowing I’ll need to add a second job into the mix in order to cover my expenses?
I’d be lying if I said I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I’m doing the right thing, but I’ve pretty much decided to go ahead and re-up with Actual Ballet Company The First for next year, even though it’s potentially going to make my life more difficult. I think the structure of the full-time schedule is what I need right now, and while I love the fact that New Company has thrown me straight into the deep end, they rehearse part-time.
- Regarding which, I’m doing the Cinderella Pas De Deux in their summer show, which is both delightful and terrifying because like, OMG Pas De Deux, but also NO PRESSURE o.O’
- Regarding which, summer ballet goal: “Improve Partnering Skills” looks like it’s getting checked off the list via the Baptism By Fire method
On the other hand, I really like the people and the company culture at New Company, and part of me feels like I might be making entirely the wrong decision. I’m not actually even sure who to consult about it, though I plan to buttonhole my various ballet peeps after class tomorrow (I’ve been out of commission for about 5 days thanks to a really nasty sinus/chest bug).
Technically I have until the 11th to hand in my contract.
I honestly didn’t expect to actually have, like, a choice at this point (or, for that matter, ever) in the thing I still have trouble calling “my career,” so to have a choice between two options that both have more bright spots than dark is sort of incomprehensible.
Either way, I’m embarking on a side-gig that should help keep me afloat throughout the season without also causing me to stop and catch fire, as it were.
Coming back to my old stomping grounds at LouBallet School after basically being away for the entire season, I’ve been able to see where I’m a stronger dancer than I was last September (and, of course, where I definitely still need work). I’ve been greatly enjoying class with L’Ancien, particularly the moments that I’ve actually managed to earn some shocking words of praise (don’t worry, though, to preserve my reputation I’ve made sure to be a complete screw-up whenever possible, and to do stupid things with my hands at all applicable times).
It’s weird, because one rarely has the chance to step away from the group of dancers with which one has done most of one’s meaningful training for a significant period of time, then return.
Anyway, needless to say, I’ve got my goals in order for the summer, and I’ll definitely be dancing somewhere in the fall.
I’ll also be dancing with New Company for the summer, which I suspect will be a delight. More on that soon. I don’t think I’ll be doing summer intensives, but I might do some masterclasses at LouBallet and LexBallet.
I am, astoundingly, almost at the end of my first year as a company apprentice.
OMG, you guys. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN.
Our season officially ends the day after Beatrix Potter closes—which is to say, the 14th of April.
This, of course, means that it’s time to firm up the Summer Plans.
At PlayThink I’ll be teaching a workshop (same basic format as last year’s) and performing. I plan to rope my poor long-suffering husband into my performance piece, because I’m just thoughtful like that ^-^ (Don’t worry, he’ll will have lots of props to play with, so he’ll be fine.)
PlayThink is in a new location this year, which is cool because we’ll have new playspaces to explore and stuff, though also a little bittersweet, as things are. I have grown to love HomeGrown Hideaways, and especially Nathan and Jessa, who own and run HGH, and it’ll be both exciting and weird to be PlayThinking in a different place.
This Saturday, the 30th, I’m auditioning for a July gig that should be pretty cool if I make the cut.
Beyond that, I need to figure out how to spend my summer making money, so I can cover my expenses for next year.
Ferrying myself back and forth to Lexington has been, shall we say, not inexpensive, so if I’m going to continue next year I need to figure out how to both bank some cash this summer and keep a steady income stream throughout the season to offset the cost of either commuting or renting a room in town.
Most of us have secondary jobs, but my commute has made it difficult to do more than the occasional brief contract gig this year. When I ride-share with D, I lose a whopping 6 hours per day after accounting for warm-up time, 2 hours’ commute each way, and the inevitable 30 – 60 minutes wait time between when I reach Bardstown and when D gets done at work. When I drive by myself, I’m still losing 3ish hours that I could spend making a little cash on the side.
I’m not complaining, of course: the opportunity to dance full-time has been a g-dsend, and I’m immensely grateful. I just could’ve, like, planned a little better. So I’m trying to be more proactive this time and, like, plan. And we all know how good I am at planning -.-‘
Assuming that Circumstances Don’t Intervene, it will probably make more sense for me to rent a room in town and take a secondary job to cover my expenses. I’ve said that before, but haven’t given myself enough time to make it happen (you guys, that’s a lot of squirrels to juggle), so I’m trying to get well ahead of the curve this time.
However, there is at least some chance that Circumstances Will Intervene, in the form of Other Life Events that might throw a spanner in the works.
I’m not quite ready to write about the Other Life Events yet. It’s not that they’re bad (don’t worry, D and I are fine, and nobody’s dying), it’s just that everything in that specific part of the Life Events Department is so vague right now that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Like, in short, it relates to us potentially moving within the next couple of years, and I’m simultaneously excited about that and Very Not Thrilled at the idea of leaving behind the community of dance and circus friends and colleagues who have helped me kind of, like, find my way and finally start trying to grow up and stuff, and it’s a lot to think about and work on and involves Level 80 Adulting things like getting the house in shape and selling it and stuff.
Honestly, though, that’s more like Fall/Winter/Next Couple Of Years Plans, so it also kind of falls beyond the purview of this, my Tentative Summer Plans post.
So, to bring this back around to the point, I’m not currently planning on traveling for summer intensives this year—though, who knows, that could all change depending on how flexible the Making Money bit is and how well it goes. *shrug*
No matter what happens, I will definitely be dancing this summer, and in particular I’ll be focusing on making my turns really hecking solid and reliable, not leaning back all the danged time, and (ideally) improving my ballet partnering skills.
Oh, and Petit Allegro, because everybody knows how much Petit Allegro loves me and how much I love it back >.<
But, like, that’s basically the same thing as just saying, “And I will work on sucking less at ballet,” because I suspect that I will spend the rest of my natural life doing battle with Petit Allegro, and it will probably still win. Petit Allegro is a worthy adversary, and all that. TBH, thus far, it has outlived every dancer who has ever lived, come to think of it, so my chances of defeating it are slim to none, eh?
Anyway. In summ
erary, here’s my plans for this summer thus far:
- July Thing Maybe?
- Make Dat Money
- Burning Man
- Suck Less At Ballet
Further details to follow, of course, because besides “Dance Every Day” my other motto is apparently “Too Many Words.”
But first: housekeeping! By which I mean, apologies for totally failing to post anything on Saturday. We had an unexpected visit from my MIL, AKA Momma Fluffy, who is awesome, and who I haven’t seen in quite a while, and as a result I totally blanked on it. I’ll try to get it out ASAP to keep the series going.
Tomorrow, we begin the second half of my first season with ActualBalletCompany.
During the first half of the season, I learned a great deal both about being part of a ballet company and about myself … and one of the things I learned is that I’m still horribly, horribly shy and socially-awkward.
Apparently, over the past few years–years in which I’ve settled comfortably into a dance- and circus-based social scene here in Louisville–I slowly forgot how terribly, terribly hard it is for me to connect with people I don’t know, especially when they already know each-other. (Admittedly, my summer intensive experiences should’ve reminded me of this, but since they resolved successfully, they didn’t.)
I also forgot, apparently, how my particular flavor of social awkwardness can make me seem like a bona-fide idiot.
When I’m nervous, my working memory, like, stops working. And when I’m around a bunch of strangers whose opinions of me matter immensely to the shape of the next year or so of my life, I get nervous. Like, really, really nervous.
I should note my nervousness isn’t a question of fearfully wondering, “What will they think of me?”
It’s more a question of experience. I’m really, really bad at the initial stages of getting to know people. When there are other people in the room who find my flavor of social awkwardness charming, that isn’t a big deal … but that’s a fairly rare circumstance, in my experience.
And dance is one of those contexts in which being a cohesive part of the group is immensely, immensely important.
Ironically, the working-memory failures that come with a bad case of nerves make it even more important.
When you dance, the greatest resource available to you isn’t the music, or the big fat book of ballet technique, or even YouTube.
The greatest resource available to you, right then and there, is your fellow dancers.
Because when you’re learning a dance, you’re going to miss something.
This isn’t because you’re stupid, or careless, or distracted (though, yeah, sometimes you’re probably going to be distracted, especially if you’re me). It’s because choreography comes at you hella fast, and you have to, like, blink sometimes.
To complicate things, you also can’t really see yourself in the way that other people can see you. So you might be absolutely sure that you Know The Steps, and you still might be wrong.
When you’re unsure, or better yet, you know you don’t know a step or a phrase, the single best thing you can do is ask another dancer.
If you’re shy, the thing you’re least likely to do is … you guessed it! Ask another dancer.
Obviously, this is a problem.
It’s an even bigger problem when your AD or your choreographer says, “Hey, you! You don’t know this part!” and it’s a part you’re dead certain that you know (because it’s, like, saute-balance-saute-balance-pique turn-pique turn-chaine-chaine-chaine-run away … why, yes, this is an example from my actual life, what makes you ask?).
Because that means that you’ve missed something without realizing that you’ve missed something, and now you have to figure out exactly what that is.
In my parenthetical example above, what I was missing was the arms. It wasn’t that I was doing something inherently wrong with my arms: my port de bras was one of the eleventy-million acceptable versions for the combination of steps in question.
But it was wrong anyway, because it wasn’t the one our AD wanted.
The problem is, he didn’t say, “You’re doing the arms wrong,” he just said, “You don’t know this step.” Which, to be honest, is valid: in the context of this dance, I didn’t know the step.
You guys: THE ARMS ARE PART OF THE STEP.
At this particular moment in the dance, I couldn’t see what anyone else was doing with their arms, so I didn’t realize that I was doing something different. Mr D called me out on it a few times in a row, but it didn’t occur to me to ask the girl standing next to me (who is actually one of the nicest, sweetest, and funniest people in the world, but because I was in Super Shy Boy! mode, I didn’t know that yet) what I was doing wrong.
It wasn’t until I videoed the piece and sat down to watch it that I figured it out … and because I couldn’t quite tell from my tiny phone screen what I was supposed to do, I finally, like, asked someone.
And it took almost no time to fix once I did, except for the fact that I’d done it wrong so many times that it’s burned into my brain the wrong way, and I still have to double-check it before we perform that particular piece now.
If I’d just asked earlier on (“Hey, BossMan says I’m wrong, here, but I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong … any thoughts?”) I could’ve saved myself that struggle.
When you’re shy, it can be extra hard to feel okay asking people questions that expose your weaknesses.
In a dance context, however, everyone’s performance depends on everyone else’s … so it’s deeply unlikely that someone’s going to say, “OMG, if you’re so dumb you can’t figure that out, I’m not gonna tell you.” (If someone does, you might be dancing in a group that’s toxic enough that you should think about finding somewhere else to dance.) Usually, they’ll say, “Oh, it’s this,” and demonstrate, and then you can go, “Okay, so like this?” and if you’re right, they’ll say, “Yup, that’s it!” and if not, they’ll adjust you accordingly, and you’ll all go on with your lives and learning the rest of the dance.
What it took me for-freaking-ever to realize is that one of the reasons I sometimes struggle to learn new choreography is that I am extraordinarily shy about asking when I don’t feel like I’ve got it.
Then, knowing that I’m very much a kinaesthetic (that is, physical) learner, I don’t walk through the choreography and nail it down, because I’m afraid I’ll learn it wrong and then have to un-learn and re-learn it.
Both of these things put me behind the curve. First, by failing to ask, I don’t patch the holes in my knowledge base. Second, by failing to loosely work through the choreography on my own I greatly lengthen the process of learning it.
In turn, both of these realities make me nervous (when you have to have the piece down and you know you’re not getting it as fast as everyone else, nervousness is pretty much the guaranteed outcome), which makes my working memory stop working, which makes learning anything next to impossible.
Which makes me look like a complete idiot (because in those moments I am one, albeit temporarily). Which makes people think I’m a complete idiot. Which makes them not want to work with me. Which is glaringly obvious even to someone like me who is not very good at reading social cues. Which makes me nervous.
Repeat ad nauseam.
The solution, of course, is obvious.
In this case, there’s only one way forward, and that’s just to bite the bullet and talk to the least-scary-looking person in the room.
Occasionally, you’ll get lucky and discover that she also isn’t sure about the step in question, and then together you’ll go and prevail upon her friend or friends until one of two things happens: you might find someone who’s dead certain that they know it, or you might discover that nobody’s really entirely sure and thus you might work something out by consensus.
And then, the next time you run it, either your AD will go, “Oh, hey, that looks better,” or s/he’ll say, “No! You’re all wrong.” (S/he might also add, “Oh my G-d, how many times do we have to go over this?!” but try not to take it personally: even the sweetest ADs get nervous, too.)
More likely, the person in question will say something like, “No big deal, it’s this,” and will show you (or tell you) what’s supposed to happen.
The thing I have noticed is that other people do this way more proactively than I do. They don’t waste a lot of time trying to muddle through and figure it out by trying to dance and watch at the same time (by which I don’t mean the usual kind of “watching” that you do to make sure your spacing is okay and that you’re in sync with the people in your group: I mean the high-cognitive load kind of watching that you do when you’re trying to learn brand new choreography).
Most people, if they’re really unclear on something, just ask someone.
So I guess one of my goals for the next half of the season is to stop being afraid to ask people when I’m unclear, even if I feel like I should have learned the choreography in question five months ago.
This won’t fix the thing that makes me amazingly adept at saying the wrong thing at the worst possible moment, or the fact that my sense of humor is (to say the least) odd and that people who don’t know me very, very well often don’t seem to understand that I’m joking.
But it will help me learn dances faster, and that’ll be a big step in the right direction.
With, I hope, the correct port de bras.
- You guys, for future reference: if you’re talking to me in person and what I’m saying sounds completely ludicrous, assume I’m joking. Likewise, I’ll continue to work on my delivery, in hope of someday being able to use irony, sarcasm, and guerilla-theatre-of-the-absurd without convincing everyone around me that I am, in fact, actually stupid.
Just busy and thinking about where to go next with this blorg of mine. By which I mean not the annoying questions like, “How do monetize?” or whatevs but just, like … how best to write on the regular about where this amazing little journey is taking me.
We closed CL’s show “Gravity’s Variety” yesterday, and I think it represented a significant step forward artistically both for my Cirque company and our AD. I loved working on that show, but I’m also glad I’ll have a few two-day weekends (Sunday-Monday weekends, because Saturday is Full Cast Nutcracker Mayhem) before the madness that is Nutcracker: the performance run.
I’m still in the up and down of learning to be a company dancer. Some days I’m like, “I’m coming along” be others I’m like, “What do I even think I’m doing?” I think that’s probably normal, though, especially when you’ve made your entrée into company life by the “wing and a prayer” method.
I have a ways to go before I feel like my worst ballet days are stage-worthyish, which really has to be your standard when you are part of a company people pay good money to see. Fortunately, the roles I’m doing in the shows that cost money are light on the fancy technique as yet.
The Friday before last, Mr D said to me, “You have so much talent. You just need to hone it.” That was a powerful thing. It helps to be reminded, from time to time, that I’m not just experiencing delusions of grandeur, here.
Anyway, I’m here and I’m dancing and sometimes I’m even okay at it. Hope you’re out there killing it, whatever it is you do.
I took my first company class on Tuesday and dove into my first ballet company rehearsal on Wednesday. Our AD (who I quite like) has been putting me to work learning basically everything and dancing in two of the pieces for our season-opener.
Our company now comprises four boys and more than four girls … I keep meaning to count them but I keep forgetting ^-^’ All of them have more experience than I do, but that’s okay. I’m working my booty off catching up, and the challenge is good for me.
Surprisingly, I find it comfortable to be the least experienced dancer in this context. I’m used to being at the top of the class and having to set an example. It’s nice to be able to relax, acknowledge my weaknesses, and just learn like crazy. I don’t have to try to be the best dancer in the room: I already know I’m not the best dancer in the room. I just have to try everything and work like crazy. Those are things I know how to do.
The “trying everything” bit has led to some surprises. I have done at least one double tour on purpose this week. I realized part of my problem is that I wasn’t really snapping my legs in tiiiiiiight. I think I wrote about this once before: to make a double tour work, you really have to turn yourself into a pencil, and do it FAST.
There have, of course, been plenty of non-surprises. When I get tired, I still get swaybacked, and I still let my ribs splay. I’m working on it. When I don’t get in my own way, I’ve got a lot of jump. I have nice feet. I have a habit of throwing my head back in my turns. When I’m unsure, I pull back into myself; I can get very internal. Sometimes I run myself over in grand allegro.
The cool part is that I feel like I now have the opportunity to work on all of those things. I’ve had great classes for the past few years, don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t be doing this right now if I hadn’t. What I haven’t had is class at this level every single day, five days a week, or the opportunity to take what I’ve been working on in class and immediately apply it in rehearsal.
Unsurprisingly, I like the work. Although I don’t really know anyone very well yet, there’s a kind of peace in being a dancer among dancers. We’re all movers, artists, and obsessed people with intense work ethics. If it’s close to lunch and the AD says, “Let’s run it again!” you might hear a little grumbling, but then everyone runs the piece like it’s the first thing we’ve done today.
I like the structure. I like knowing that I fit somewhere in the company. I don’t in the least mind that, for the moment, my particular spot is “The New Boy.” Being the New Boy means I can only get better (or fail to make an effort and bomb completely, but that’s not my style).
It means the world to me that our AD has taken me on as kind of a protegé. I am grateful for the body that I have, which is well-made for ballet, and especially for my feet, which are apparently all that and a bag of chips (they’re the thing that basically every ballet teacher I’ve ever had has mentioned most specifically). At this point it’s up to me to make the most of what I’ve been given, and to live up to the faith Mr. D has placed in me.
And to learn the slave variation from Le Corsaire and nail down an overhead press lift o.O’