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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

Cue Predictable Spasm Of Self-Doubt

Every time I’m forced to take a break of more than a couple of weeks from class, the re-entry period is an exercise in grinding self-doubt.

First, taking a break almost inevitably involves gaining a couple of pounds–generally a sum that the average person would barely notice, but which is all too visible when you return to the studio and are constantly surrounded once again by people with less than 10% body fat.

I may be all about body positivity, but I’m not very good at applying it to myself. I’m also entirely aware that I have somehow stumbled into working in a field in which the folks who decide who gets hired and who doesn’t tend to lean strongly towards lean bodies. Toss in the fact that, given my build, a little more size in the thighs interferes with my fifth position, and you’ve got a recipe for Dancer Meltdown in 3 … 2 … 1…

Worse, it always takes a few weeks to re-awaken and rebuild the muscles responsible for correct execution of classical technique–and even as people who don’t dance continue to harp on about my “natural” grace, I wind up feeling like a half-grown stirk in a dressage ring until things start working together again.

This week has been all about finding my core, not dancing like a swaybacked wildebeest, and remembering how the hell to do turns[1].

  1. Though, bizarrely, whilst I was not dancing, my chaînés improved dramatically–regarding which, WTactualF?

Predictably, the resultant emotional fallout has been a constant stream of thoughts like WHY DID I THINK I WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO AUDITION FOR THINGS?! and I’LL NEVER BE READY!

Me on Thursday, via Wikipedia, link to follow.

So that’s where I am right now. Off to my last week of sandbagging in Saturday beginner class, which I hope will leave me feeling like I can actually dance, and then Jack O’Lantern Spectacular,in which I’ll attempt not to dance like a swaybacked wildebeest before a captive audience of so freaking many.

A Little Gratitude; A Few Thoughts On Working As A Dancer

First, something that it never occurred to me to do.

Every now and then I notice that a blogger I’m following will post something like, “1,000 Subscribers! Wow! Thanks!”

I haven’t done that, or at any rate I don’t think that I have … so, um, to all you amazing people out there who follow this blog for whatever reason? Thanks!

It turns out that are more than 2,000 of you. I find that completely baffling, but not in a bad way. I mean, I’d still be writing this blog even no one subscribed (qv: if a hipster blogs in the wilderness and no one subscribes, does it make a sound?), but I’m weirdly delighted by the idea that somewhere out in the world there are people who, for whatever reason, like the stuff I write enough to add it to their feeds. 

Special thanks to the handful of you who regularly comment. I live at this odd little nexus of the Ballet Blogger Universe, the Mental Health Blogger Universe, and the Bike Blogger Universe (even though I read bike blogs much more I actually ride right now), and there are folks in all three of those worlds who, even though I know some of you only by your blog handles, feel like friends.

It’s a funny old world, but I’m glad I’m living in it now, in the age of the Innertubes. I’m grateful for this ocean of virtual strangers, this sea of compulsive writers and readers who leave open windows into their lives and who stroll around the virtual block glancing in at windows of others like themselves, pausing now and to wave or chat across the virtual flower-boxes.

~

Bizarrely, the rest of this is really long, so here’s a more tag:

Anyway, onwards.

I’m doing better, lately, mental health-wise. At least on average, anyway. 
I suspect that this comes down, in part, to the protective effects of dancing so freaking much.

Like, it’s definitely physically taxing at times (though still nothing compared to last year’s M-L & Co intensive), but for me that’s a good thing. That means I generally sleep better and, in turn, my mood stays more stable.

Add to that the generally-positive effects of exercise, a sense of belonging, and a sense of being good at something (and getting better at it), and you’ve got a nice recipe for better mood.

That said, I’m still struggling a bit with my schedule.

Split shifts aren’t my ideal—but they’re my reality right now, and are very likely to remain as much well into the foreseeable future.

So I’m working on learning how to adapt[1].

  1. …Just as I’ve learned to begin sentences with the word “So,” even though it makes my inner Prescriptive Grammarian gnash his teeth and howl with rage.

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that I need one day each week on which I do not schedule anything; on which I can stay home and clean the house and gather my wits about me in preparation for the next sortie.

In the past, I assumed that eventually I would settle into a stable and predictable kind of working life; one in which most weeks would be essentially the same in terms of schedule, if not in terms of content.

That, however, is not the rule for performing artists these days where I live. Indeed, I suspect that it hasn’t been the rule for performing artists almost anywhere, ever.

Had I realized that I was, in fact, doomed to stumble into a sort of career in the performing arts, I might have twigged on to this earlier.

As a dancer, you rather live by the gig unless you’re attached to a company (even then, you still probably need a side-hustle unless you’re either attached to a major company that can afford to pay a living wage or supported by a generous spouse). That makes for an ever-shifting schedule as projects come online, develop, reach fruition, live out their performance runs, and subside.

Most of us have day jobs (even I have a day job: besides being responsible for the housework, I’m still the web lead for D’s business—he just pays me mostly in ballet tuition), so by necessity rehearsals skew towards evenings.

Classes, meanwhile, skew towards mornings—probably in no small measure due to the fact that our teachers are usually also working dancers, directors, or choreographers with own rehearsal schedules, and many of them teach youth classes in the afternoons.

The result is a split-shift reality in which the middle of day becomes “free time”—by which, of course, I really mean the time when we Do All The Things.

This is convenient when it comes to scheduling haircuts, check-up, and shopping trips.

For me, it’s less convenient where getting other things done is concerned. I don’t change gears very well, and I have serious trouble estimating how long any given job will take.

I’m getting used to it, though. These days, I find that when I get home from class in the morning, if I know I’m heading back out in a few hours, I’d rather knock out a few jobs around the house than sit down and read or write—because inevitably, if I start reading or writing, I’ll have to stop at some inconvenient point. Instead, I mostly read or write after I come home in the evening.

Obviously, my day off is an exception.

On my day off, I like to linger in bed, reading or writing, until I feel like doing other things. Then I get up and get going.

~

I don’t think I could manage a schedule like this at a normal job. I need more time recover mentally from working in an office or a retail environment, though maybe that wouldn’t be true if I worked in the bowels of some filing department, retrieving things and putting things away with minimal actual interaction and little changing of gears.

Basically, for me, interacting with people burns a lot of matches—unless I’m dancing. This might be because interactions in rehearsal follow simple patterns: you receive choreography, you learn it, you take your corrections, now and then you might ask a question or advance an idea. 

Mostly, you don’t have to talk.

I had a winter-break job at a warehouse once that I thought of as a of live-action video game: 12 hours pper day, 3 days per week (more if I felt like it), orders rolled onto the screen of my scanning gun, and I went on merry quests throughout Warehouse World to fill them. I have a very keen spatial memory, so I was good at it, and I actually liked the work because I never had to sit down and only rarely had to interact with other people. Basically, my day was like one long scavenger hunt, only I got paid for it.    

Maybe I could do something like that on this kind of schedule—but it’s hard to say. I suspect that there’s something specific to doing the thing you love most that makes you more willing and more able to jump through crazy hoops do it[2].

  1. Honestly, nobody would ever do ballet in the first place, otherwise, because ballet is basically the art of jumping through crazy hoops and making it look effortless.

Regardless, I would still need one “downtime” day; a day like today on which I can let my brain off the leash—one on which I might still need get things done, but can do them in my own time.

When I worked with horses, even the best schoolmasters and the prospects in the most stringent training got one day off every week to run around in the field just being horses. They needed that.

So do we. So, very much, do I. 

~

Some while back I wrote about the weird point at which I realized that I’d come to identify myself as a dancer, and how it had happened sort of under the radar —by the time I realized it, it was already a fait accompli. 

This weekend, it dawned on me that a similar thing has happened again. Without noticing it, I’ve come to think of myself as a working dancer; someone who will to continue to go and audition for things and work in dance for the foreseeable future. Someone for whom even going to auditions in the first place is not actually evidence of madness[3].

  1. Or, at any rate, of any madness other than that common to working dancers in general. What it that us think, “Hey, here’s a difficult and challenging thing that I love to do! How can I make it stressful in addition to being difficult and challenging?”

I mean, there was a definite thrill that came with my first successful audition—I didn’t somehow fail to notice that.

But the intervening period, I’ve evolved a sense of myself as someone who does dance in a kind of official capacity. Like, when someone asks what I do, it no longer feels weird to say, “I’m a dancer.”

Ironically, perhaps, the best tool I have for understanding it is my own Impostor Syndrome. 

It’s still around, of course. I don’t think Impostor Syndrome ever entirely goes away in any field that invites the thought, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this!” Rather, one might say that it evolves into a question of degree rather than kind.

As such, I no longer feel like actually working as a dancer is some kind of impossible pipe-dream. I can’t feel like that because I am, in fact, working as a dancer.

Instead, my mind has neatly created a new division; one in which there working dancers and, I don’t know, Working Dancers, and I can call myself one but not the other without laughing. 

I am okay with that division. I suspect that, going forward, it will help to keep me humble. Besides, it afflicts every working dancer I know, including BW, who in a recent conversation about cross-training said something about “all the really amazing dancers,” which T and I found terribly charming because it was so unmistakably clear that he does not number himself in that group.

T and I, of course, very much do number BW among those stars. To us, he is a treasure: to himself, he is just him, warts and all. Not that I’m assuming he has actual warts.  

Such is life. As dancers, we are keenly aware of our own faults. Even Nureyev was: he fell in love first with Eric Bruhn’s precision, because precision was not his own natural strength, and only later with Bruhn himself. 

There is always Impostor Syndrome.

So my Impostor Syndrome no longer makes me afraid that, any day now, I’ll get an email saying, “Oh, sorry, there was a clerical oversight. We didn’t really mean cast you. Thanks for coming to all those rehearsals, though!” 

Instead, it’s more of a sense that when I tell people what I’m doing work-wise, I should qualify myself: “I mean, I’m not in a company. I’m freelancing right now, doing local shows, auditioning for stuff.” It’s the thing that makes me add the qualifier “semi-” before “professional,” still. 

I still feel like I more or less fumbled my way into this work, but I imagine that I’ll keep on fumbling forward now that I’m here. There will be more auditions and more gigs; more split shifts; more grateful kvetching about the weird reality in which one must decide to eat dinner at 3:30 or at 10 and in which one has difficulty identifying one’s co-workers in their street clothes.  

Maybe if I keep at it long enough, I’ll even get to be as good at it as some people seem to think I am. 

Of course, by then, my goal posts will have moved again, along with the locus of my Impostor Syndrome.

For now, though, there is a part of me that still thinks, “Huh, wow,” on the occasion that I find myself thinking about where I hoped to go when I returned to dance, or when I applied to Columbia’s DMT program, or when Dr. K told me that for someone like me, “…The sky’s the limit.”

I’m still trying to talk myself into believing that last one. As a dancer, I still feel so raw and so unfinished and like there’s so much I to learn, ballet-wise at any rate.  

But I’d be lying if I said that those words didn’t act as a kind of springboard. And here I am, in a place I didn’t really believe I would ever find myself until, rather suddenly, I did. 

You Might Be A Dancer If, Continued 

Please ignore the shoes making their break for freedom. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • You have a tumble dryer or a clothesline, but laundry day at your place looks like this anyway
  • And by “laundry day,” you mean “any day that ends in -y”
  • Your bedroom resembles a fire sale at a Sansha outlet 
  • You have so many tights (Footed! Convertible! Capri! Short! Really effing short! Strappy!) and joggers you don’t know where to put them all, but only two pair of regular trousers
  • Which you never wear because ugh
  • You are more than typically grateful to the inventors of the Utilikilt
  • You miss pockets, but not enough to make you wear regular clothes(1)  
  1. Besides, they make hoodies with zippered pockets now. 

In case you’re wondering, when a dancer and an aerialist love each-other very much, the result is:

  • A closet like the one above
  • A ridiculous collection of matching tights that the dancer almost never wears because deep in his black-feathered heart of hearts Serious Ballet Boy Is Serious (…but only about ballet). 
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