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Poco à Poco

That’s “little by little” in the Italian of the classical music world.

It often indicates a gradual change in the dynamics of a piece—a gradual crescendo or increase in tempo, perhaps.

Sometimes, when I think about how my life has changed over the past six or so years, it pops into my mind (visually, in that rather curly italic so common to classical scores 😁).

I think that happens for two reasons. First, so much has changed, and so gradually. Second, the ultimate effect on the listener of the direction poco à poco is often that of surprise: the dynamics change so slowly that, at some point, you suddenly awaken to the fact that the whole piece is dramatically different now, but you somehow didn’t notice the change happening.

Today I wrote a short bio for a thing that will remain top-secret for the moment, and in writing it I realized how much easier it has become to describe myself as a dancer, a teacher, and a choreographer.

I was struck with a powerful sense of gratitude, and that sort of delighted “I can’t believe this is really my life” feeling—but not, so much, the impostor syndrome of old.

When I began teaching, it was very much with the sense that I hadn’t really earned the role. I didn’t think I was a good enough dancer, really, to merit a teaching position.

Over the past year, I’ve watched my students grow in technique and confidence, and I haven’t really credited myself with that at all. I’ve sort of regarded it of an automatic process that happens if someone shows you more-or-less correct technique. Yes, now that I’m writing that out, I do suddenly realize how ridiculous it sounds, and that I wouldn’t say that about any of my teachers.

I think I honestly felt that my students were learning in spite of my deficiencies as a teacher.

I’ve begun to realize that, in fact, I have strengths as a teacher. One of them, I suspect, is being aware of the weaknesses in my own technique. It’s strange how glaringly obvious that seems now, when I spent all of last year thinking that the weaknesses in my technique were a reason that I shouldn’t teach.

It occurs to me now (and, yeah, not sure how I overlooked this, either) that even the best dancers have their weak spots, and that if your foundation is fairly solid, what matters as a teacher is knowing what they are so you don’t unwittingly pass them on to your students.

I’m heading into my second year of teaching with a much better sense of how to structure a class across the course of a year, which will help immensely.

I’m heading into my third year—my second “official” year—as a dancer in a ballet company similarly armed with a keener sense of what I need to learn and how to learn it.

I’m heading into both with a sense that this isn’t all some kind of fluke: that I may have taken a circuitous route, but I haven’t slipped in, uninvited, by some forbidden back door and won’t be discovered and unceremoniously ushered back out into the street at any moment. Or, well, probably not.

I wonder, now, if this is how everyone feels when they find their way onto their path. Or, at any rate, how many people feel, in that set of circumstances.

Would I feel differently if I had taken the more usual route through a pre-pro program and auditions or through a university-level ballet pedagogy program?

I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t, but I can’t say for certain that I would.

I can say that I feel more at home doing what I’m doing now than I ever expected to feel. I can say that I can imagine dancing and teaching deep into my future, and the thought doesn’t fill me with the dread and sense of being trapped that I feel when I imagined working at a desk for decades to come.

I can say that while I felt, at the beginning, that I hadn’t really earned my place (regardless of the kind words of my mentors), I failed to realize that even if that were true, I could earn it by staying in it and doing what that place required.

And so, here I am, at the start of a new season, ready to begin.

Suddenly Summer o.O

Erm, so, apparently the FSB school year is over! And I missed the memo! (*sarcasm* OMG, can you believe it?! I, of all people, lost track of the calendar! THAT NEVER HAPPENS! */sarcasm*)

Like, seriously, a part of my lesson planning process for my 3-4 Year Olds class, I choose a class theme for each week, and I post the week’s theme with a related printable coloring page to FSB’s facebook page … and I popped it up there for this week and then an hour later our school admin called me up like, “Guess what! We’re on break!” XD

Anyway, I’m sort of vaguely staggered that I have now made it through an entire academic year of teaching.

Sometimes I feel like I’m really getting the hang of it, while other times I feel like I’m still just desperately treading water. Still, there’s nothing like an arbitrary temporal marker to awaken one to the fact that, somehow, one is actually Doing The Thing.

Though I’m also still leaving my left thumb dangling -.-

So I’ve now officially been a ballet teacher (OMGWTFBBQ) for a year and a ballet dancer (in a company) for two years.

Watching video of myself from this morning’s Zoom class[1], I can see that I’ve come a long way as a dancer in the past two years. This morning I was tired and groggy and … stiff might not be the right word, in that my body wasn’t stiff, but my movement quality was stiff AF? Like, I can see that my brain is kind of running in slow motion, ticking off individual steps and kind of grinding gears between them, so The. Phrasing. Is. A. Bit. Staccato.

  1. Video is a phenomenal self-teaching tool, and I keep meaning to write a post about it ^-^’

…And yet watching myself I can still see that this person here, for all his faults, kind of knows what he’s doing. Mostly.

Two years is as long as I’ve ever held any continuous job (or, well–just over two years, really)–but back then I didn’t see the job that I had as a career path. It was a thing I was doing to make money while I figured out what I actually wanted to do with my life ^-^’

Now I’m getting paid a lot less, but working to build a career, which isn’t a thing I ever envisioned doing until I came back to ballet, and even then it took quite a while before I felt like I had a snowball’s chance. Full disclosure: sometimes I still don’t feel like I’ve got a snowball’s chance. Like, part of me is like, “Okay, dude, keep your head down so The Powers That Be don’t notice that you’re Doing The Thing.”

Or in this case, doing a kind of … worried arabesque. (With a semi-dangling thumb. Still.)

Imposter syndrome still makes appearances, of course, and every time I refer to myself as a professional dancer, there’s a part of my brain that winces and goes, “SHUT UP YOU IDIOT DON’T JINX IT.” (That part of my brain apparently doesn’t do commas.)

Imposter syndrome notwithstanding, though, I feel like I’ve found a place in the world in which I actually fit.

Ultimately, I do rather think that’s the only way to become a dancer. It’s too hard otherwise. Either there’s something within you that drives you to dance, no matter how wildly impractical it seems, or there’s not (and that’s okay: like, I’m not driven to be a chef or an investigative journalist, but I love the work they do, and I’m so glad they do it).

I’m not saying that if you don’t dance professionally, you’re not a dancer. training, talent, and physical aptitude alone aren’t enough to make that happen–there’s a lot of chance involved; being in the right place at the right time, basically.

Like, I just happened to wander across Mr D’s radar at a time when he needed guys for The Sleeping Beauty, and then the person who was going to be Drosselmeyer had to back out, and since I was going to be there anyway, Mr D figured he’d just put me in all the things. Likewise, I happened to have met Dot at LexBallet’s SI (and again at PlayThink), and she mentioned to me that Gale Force Dance was holding an audition, which ultimately led both to dancing with GFD and teaching at FSB.

Not everyone stumbles upon circumstances like these. But if you can’t imagine living without dancing, if the studio is where you feel most at home, if you do everything in your power to find a way to dance as much as you can (even if that means you don’t get to dance very much), you have the heart and soul of a dancer.

Next year is still up in the air, a bit: we don’t know yet when, or even if, theater venues will reopen, or what that re-opening will look like. We have no way to know what the changes in question will do to ballet company budgets, or to arts funding (public and private) in general. I don’t think we even know what the rehearsal process will be.

For now, though, I’m just happy to have made it through a year of teaching.

I’ve concluded that adapting to a new job–especially one in a new field–is always a bit of a baptism by fire.

Whether or not you’ve completed formal coursework in teaching, it’s impossible to know before you begin what your students will be like, how they’ll respond to your personality, and so forth. You also don’t know how you’ll operate as a teacher.

Likewise, you learn to be in a ballet company by being in ballet company (this is one of the reasons that Youth Ensemble, Studio Company, and Second Company programs are so valuable).

Nobody can ever say for sure what the future will bring, but generally speaking accumulated experience makes it easier to do whatever thing you’re doing.

Anyway, that’s it for now. SI next week, then who knows what will happen.

Keep dancing, friends.

This Is Me Now

The process of becoming an artist isn’t that complicated. You do art. You are an artist.

The process of learning to see yourself as an artist, on the other hand, comprises an apparently-endless array of subtle layers.

(I’m not sure if it’s an onion or a lotus blossom: like, its roots definitely reach down into the muck of life, but sometimes it makes you cry, so…? Whatever. It can be both.)

Tonight, after closing A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a show that felt like the strongest in my career to date, I had this moment in which I was thinking about something related to work, and it didn’t even occur to me to feel a sense of disbelief, or like I’m not worthy, or anything. I was just thinking about a work thing: a piece to add to the puzzle to make me better at my job.

Only later did it even occur to me to think, “Hey, that’s cool, that my imposter syndrome didn’t even get a look in.”

Every now and then I think back to a conversation I had a few years ago with my friend BB—one in which she said, “…You have your [ballet] career to think about,” back before I was at all certain that any such thing was really going to materialize. At the time, I felt like I should, like, cross my fingers or something. Somehow signal that I wanted it to be true, but maybe didn’t quite think it was.

And yet, here I am.

Yes, here I am, in my sparkly regal jacket and hobo warm-ups.

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.

And not just cheekbones and hair, though those don’t hurt, either 🤷

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.

Do You Get Used To It?

I’ve been working now for more than a year (granted, that’s really not very long).

I probably imagined that I’d be used to it by now: that, perhaps, the first time that work felt like, you know, work, I’d sort of wake up and go, “Oh, yeah, I’m a professional dancer, this is my job now, no big deal” on a kind of visceral level.

Turns out, that’s not the case. It’s no longer terribly surprising on a rational level, and the Impostor Syndrome has slackened its grip a bit, but every time something happens that makes me realize that I’m doing this amazing thing I feel this little kind of giddy rush.

It’s like when you pick up some random thing at a thrift store, and you google it because it’s interesting, and you realize that it’s actually kind of a rare and unique treasure. It’s like, “I have this amazing thing, and nobody realizes it’s this amazing thing!”

Also a bit like, “Wow, I’ve been given this amazing gift … do They realize that They’ve given me this amazing gift?”

I could ask my friends who’ve been doing this much longer than I have, I suppose … but I also suppose that every answer would be different, because every journey is different.

I hope I never stop at least occasionally being surprised and delighted that, yo, the Universe seems to have decided on a whim that I should be a dancer, and people seem to agree with the Universe, including people who seem to want to pay people to be dancers.

Anyway, there you have it.

The Americana show went well, by the way. Better than I expected: the floor proved to be incredibly grippy … like, seriously, I think it’s surfaced in some Super High-Friction Space Age Polymer … but the costumes for the piece before ours had glitter tutus, and the tiny bits of glitter greatly reduced the friction, making turns and so forth far easier. My piqué turns in the manège at the end could’ve been better (for some reason, I didn’t crank my turnout … eh), but overall the effect of the piece was really exactly what I’d hoped for … and, of course, both Kathy and Christina are fantastic to work with and perfect partners.

oh h*ck

Somehow, I had become convinced that the LexBallet intensive was in June (even though it has always been in July) and that PlayThink was in July (even though it has always been in June—my sister’s birthday coincides with it every year), and EVEN, even though I made widgets for this very blorg that list the dates.

Needless to say, knowing that The Time Is Almost Upon Us has me, as they say, a little shook.

Mostly because, for the first time, I’m teaching a workshop, and I haven’t even given said workshop a test drive like I meant to (because Golden Retriever Time, y’all).

Anyway. I think it’ll be okay, but my Imposter Syndrome is off the charts with regard to teaching. I’m like, HOW CAN I TEACH, I DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW ANYTHING??!11

Sissone

Except what a foot is. I can identify a foot.

I’m sure everything will go just fine and nobody will die. And if anybody does die it will probably because Kentucky is ridiculously hot and humid in June and not because I’m a horrible, incompetent danseur and should never be allowed to teach anything, ever. But I hope nobody dies even then because that would really probably put me off teaching for a while (because I’m horribly superstitious deep in the cockles of my heart).

Regardless, I have a Plan (and not just a Goal) for the workshop and a 2-hour window in which to accomplish that plan, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be okay. I’ll just, as Señor Beastmode likes to say, Stick To The Plan. Unless the Plan proves completely useless, in which case I’ll throw it out the window.

In case you’re wondering, the exercises I’m planning to use will be sequenced as follows:

  1. The Little Dance
  2. Invisible Catch
  3. City Streets (Solo Version)
  4. City Streets (Eye Contact Version)
  5. City Streets (Touch Version)
  6. Flocking (North, South, East, West)
    ~
  7. Mirroring (into Touchless Partnering)
  8. Leaning In
  9. Leaning Out
  10. Weight-Share Shape-Building
  11. Lean Tag
  12. Basic Dynamic Weight-Sharing
    ~
  13. 5-Minute Dances
    1. 5 minutes to draft a dance
    2. Brief showing (music: random)
    3. 20 minutes to revise
    4. Final Showing (music: random or dancers’ choice)

A lot of this is stuff I’ve learned from Pilobolus—stuff that I feel very comfortable doing, but possibly not like I have the earned authority to teach it. …Which is hilarious, because I’ve taught all of this at various points, with the exception of 5-Minute Dances, which is something you more facilitate than teach.

Ironically, I feel least qualified to teach in the dance idiom I practice the most (ballet) and most qualified to teach in the one I practice the least (modern partnering improv).

I would say that I’m not sure what that says about my faith in my practice, only I am: what it says is that ballet is a highly-technical, rigorously codified idiom, and teaching it incorrectly can really screw someone up. When I talk about the technical aspects of ballet, people routinely tell me I should teach—but I think it’ll take a few more years of learning, performing, and choreography…ing before I feel qualified to teach ballet.

I also need to start rehearsing “…Lover Boy” in earnest, because I haven’t really given that enough time.

Lastly, I need to NOT TAKE ON ANY MORE PROJECTS RIGHT NOW. I’m booked to the gills all summer, which came as something of a surprise even though in retrospect it seems fairly obvious that that’s what happens when you take two contracts and then load freelance gigs on top of them 😛

sissones_04.jpg

How I’m going to feel by the end of summer.

Not to say I won’t take a ballet job if someone hands it to me, because, you know, ballet.

But still.

Thinking About Teaching, Dancing, and Being Good Enough

Back in January of 2015, I discovered that I love teaching neuroscience-y stuff (which probably shouldn’t have surprised me, since I am both a gigantic know-it-all and the kind of person who delights in watching other people make discoveries).

Unsurprisingly, this year, I’ve discovered that my fondness for teaching transfers really well to teaching dancers.

Full disclosure: where teaching dance is concerned, I literally have the worst case of impostor syndrome I’ve ever had. I’m totally like, “How are they allowing me to do this?! I could completely ruin this whole class with my generalized incompetence AT ANY SECOND!”

It’s significantly worse than the voice in my head that shouted, NO YOU CAN’T, DON’T AGREE, SHUT UP, SHUT UP, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! every time I was offered some exposed or otherwise significant piece of choreography in rep class in Cinci. (Which, btw: I screwed up some stage business — returned to my starting place at one point when I should’ve gone to a different place — but I reminded myself that the audience has no idea it’s not supposed to look like this and it shook out just fine. So there you go.)

What I’m learning, though, is that I have good ideas, sometimes, and that Aerial A and I teach synergistically. My ideas and hers work really well together.

I’ve also learned that, while it can still be hard for me to articulate things verbally, I’m really solid with the physical corrections — those moments in which you actually grab someone’s leg and sort of show it what to do, or (as Claire once so usefully did to me) tap something and say, “Lift this.”

I will totally feel like I seriously have no business being up here, but I’m also learning that a lot of people feel that way a lot of the time. I’m learning to overcome that feeling: maybe not to make it go away, but to more or less thumb my nose at it. I remind myself that Aerial A is particular about her teaching staff and that our dancers are coming along so unbelievably well.

In short, it looks like I am, in fact, good enough — though maybe not in the way my brain means when it thinks, “But I’m nowhere near good enough!”

I’m not perfect. I’m new. I’m inexperienced. I’m learning.

But I’m serviceable. I get the job done. I’m, you know, good enough. Maybe not The. BEST. Teacher! — but still a teacher with some value.

Nobody ever knows everything (not even insufferable know-it-alls) and everybody has to start somewhere.

I’m trying to keep this thought before me as a dancer, as well: in a field where basically every working second is more or less a potential audition, there’s really nowhere to hide. People judge my ability based on what they see, not based on the things I say about myself or the things I think about myself. When people ask me to dance for them, then, the part of my brain that thinks, “She had no idea how awful I really am at this,” is wrong. People who have seen me dance can probably judge my strengths and weaknesses better than I can.

It’s up to them to decide whether, for their purposes, I’m good enough.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if that means “good enough” as in “This guy is clearly to compete in the highest echelons” (hint: I’m not!) or, “Eh, he’ll do all right.”

Good enough is good enough if it gets you in the door.

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