Blog Archives

Ballet Lessons: On Being A Shy Dancer

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.

When you dance, the greatest resource available to you is your fellow dancers.

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.

Why?

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.

Christina demonstrating how I feel when I know I should ask someone about the choreography.

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.

A bright orange goldfish gazes out of its tank while other fish swim behind it.
“What were we supposed to do? Guess I’d better ask Goldie.”

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[1].

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.


Notes

  1. 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.

A Few More Thoughts On Choreography; More Good(ish) Classes

D and I are now rehearsing our #Playthink piece.

It’s actually going much better than I expected it to.

As one does, I’ve re-written essentially the entire piece now that I’m setting it on actual people and not just on myself prancing about in the studio and waving my arms to vaguely represent the acro moves.

Initially, I had one vision in mind. Because I was futzing around with it by myself, it involved a lot of ballet.

Now, of course, that has changed. I mean, there’s still ballet: there’s always going to be ballet because, hello, it’s me. That’s kind of what I do, apparently.

But choreography has a way of getting away from you. You begin with one vision, and as you actually create a dance and actually set it on actual people, it transforms.

I suppose that this is because, in a way, a dance is sort of a living thing. It’s a little like having a child (though, of course, on a very different scale) or maybe an elaborate pet. You might think, of a horse, “I’m going to train this horse to be the best cow pony ever,” but the horse might actually not be any good at being a cow pony. It might turn out to be a dressage beastie or something else[1].

  1. My philosophy on training horses was very much shaped both by my childhood trainer and also by the trainer of my friend’s lovely Arabian gelding, which began life as what the Arabian show world in the US calls a “park horse,” morphed into what the Arabian show word in the US calls an “English pleasure” horse, did a brief stint in Arabian-show-world western pleasure, and then eventually found his calling as an endurance racer. Basically, the lady who was responsible for training the horse felt that you needed to figure out which discipline suited the horse, and then train it to be as good as it could possibly be at that discipline. I think that’s a good way to do it.

Anyway. I digress.

So this dance is now almost a steady stream of rather-balletic acro and physical theater, and I’m okay with that. One of my goals was to build a dance that tells a story, and in this case, the story is kind of funny and implausible, and acro and physical theater are good ways to tell it.

I’m not going to try to force this dance to be something it isn’t. I have an entire lifetime in which to craft ballet pieces on ballet dancers (I keep joking that I have this entire three-act ballet in my head, now I just need about fifty dancers and a million dollars or so to get it off the ground … but, really, I do have an entire three-act ballet in my head, and it’s taking up a lot of space!). Right now, I’m working with one ballet dancer (me!) and one Denis, and that presents its own set of challenges and limitations.

Honestly, in creative work, it’s so often the limitations that free us to innovate (just as necessity—or, just as often, laziness—gives birth to invention).

The neat part is that this has led us to inadvertently create a new acro move. I mean, probably someone, somewhere has done it before, but I’ve never seen it. It happens to be one that requires that the flyer have a legit center oversplit (among other things), so probably there are a lot of people who can’t do it. Bony impingement is real, it’s just not something that I experience.

Anyway, the sequence involves moving from this:

stag

Kind of, erm, scorpion? thing…

…to this:

stag-x2

Double stag…

…to this:

superman

Superman? Deep sea dive? Front balance? Limbs bird?

…via returning to a standard vertical candlestick, then opening to a straddle and rolling down onto the base’s feet, and then rotating your legs back and around into the position above (the arms also have to do a thing, obviously).

The same basic end could be approached by moving from the vertical candlestick into a pike candlestick and lowering both legs down that way, but I don’t think it would look anywhere near as cool.

Annoyingly, when I snagged these screenshots, I completely failed to get one of the straddle transition. At the time, I think I was like, “A still photo of this isn’t going to impart any useful information.”

Anyway, you really have to have a perfectly flat straddle for this particular sequence so you don’t just rip your legs off, because your hips take a lot of your weight in the middle of the transition. Basically, if lying face down in a center split feels stretchy, this isn’t the sequence for you.

You also kind of need really good turnout in order to do the rotation bit.

The fact that D literally cannot straighten his legs in an L-base also means that I kind of drop myself onto his feet. Eventually, I’ll reach a point at which I can do a complete smooth rolldown whilst upside-down in a full center split, which will make things a little easier, but right now there’s a gap between the end of my smooth rolldown and the end of Denis’ range of motion (because my core strength is still only pretty good, and not completely awesome).

I wanted to use a sort of grand rond de jambe as an exit, but that also takes more adductor power than D has right now. If I bring my downstage leg to second, then rond it over, the force makes his right leg (which supports my left hip) shift, and I fall off 😀

We’ll get it eventually, but not in the next two weeks.

So there’s that.

Anyway, classes were good-ish yesterday and today.

Yesterday’s, in fact, was fairly lovely. Today’s was our first Advanced Class with JAB (OMG, his initials are seriously JAB!!! XD), who really does actually give an advanced Advanced Class.

On the upside, I’m finally (FINALLLLLYYYYYY) jumping again for real: grand allegro and everything. Cabrioles with turny bits, even (though I think I kept turning them into some kind of cabriole-scissor hybrid and landing on the wrong leg).

On the other hand, possibly because I went to a party last night and didn’t get to sleep ’til almost 4 AM (and then had to wake up and eat a sandwich, which was surreal because I was still pretty tipsy and more than half asleep), my brain was for the birds today.

I struggled because there were gaps in my recall of Every. Single. Combination. once we left the barre. The bits that came off, though, mostly went pretty well (except for a weird disaster in adagio during which I basically fell off my leg and then couldn’t get back on because gravity is the worst thing sometimes).

I also hit up a new class at Suspend, which is basically floorwork for acro.

You already know how much I love floorwork, soooooo…

Anyway, we got to break out our improv for the last 10 minutes of class, which resulting in some video that’s party really cool and partly like WHY DO YOU KEEP NOT COMPLETING THE MOVEMENTS WITH YOUR ARMS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.

But, anyway, here are a few nice shots from this morning’s video, just because I like them:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also, I feel like in the arch picture, my butt looks like a couple of angry badgers having a fight. Muscular angry badgers, though.

The tape, by the way, is just there because a tree stabbed me in the foot yesterday :/

Anyway, I was being annoyed with myself for not making the effort to do quadruple turns today, and then realized that I’ve somehow, like, sideswiped my ballet goals without realizing it. Like, basically, I’ve made a significant dent in them and didn’t even notice.

Basically, one of my major goals for this year was to nail down reliable triples and unreliable quadruples, basically. And, bizarrely, I have achieved that goal. I had this weird epiphany on the way home from class yesterday: I realized that, like, a year ago or so, even doing one little triple turn more or less by accident was the most amazing thing ever.

And now I’m like, “Meh, triples, yawn,” when I don’t try for quads.

So, basically, I need to pause and appreciate how much progress I have made.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also got turns in second sorted. They’re not always beautiful (or, let’s be honest, even pretty), but I can always do them. Just not always sixteen of them.

So, yeah. There you go. I feel like I’m “back,” more or less, right now.

Of course, Choose Your Own Intensive begins Monday, soooo… . .  .

Very Funny, Universe

Before tonight, I had managed never to really fall off the trapeze before. I’ve dumped myself off handstand-style once, but that doesn’t really count.

Tonight, I managed to take a legit fall—during my audition.

In retrospect, I made the wrong call abotu my music: instead of just going for the piece I’d intended, “La Mer,” which was a little too long, and letting them cut it off, I opted for “Beyond the Sea” (Bobby Darin’s version).

It turns out that the tempo of Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” is actually quite a bit faster than the recording I have of “La Mer.” I was tired and attempting to adapt, and somewhere along the line my brain decided halfway into an egg-to-pike inversion that I was actually doing the arabesque roll to sit that comes at the end.

20161004_085517.jpg

Uh-oh. Here comes the Failboat.

Since one wraps one’s arms for the inversion in question, it’s not possible to do the roll in question without breaking said arms. I’m more afraid of breaking bones than of falling, so I basically just let go.

Failboat

Allll Aboooooaaaaard!

 

Apparently it was a pretty spectacular fall—and a technically-correct one 🙂 I tucked and rolled, and as a result the only parts of me that hurt are my forearms, which is what happens when you wrap your arms and then do crazy shizzle.

I popped back up and was ready to hop back on the trap before they even had a chance to cut the music (though they did, in order to make sure I was okay). I sorted my way through the rest of the trap routine, though I didn’t do the arabesque roll at the end; my arms weren’t digging that.

Ironically, the rest of the audition went pretty well, and apparently my trapeze improv looked pretty great (the fall was evidently quite exciting as well :D).

So, that’s my life for you. When I do finally manage to fall off the trap, it’s in the middle of an audition.

the-most-interesting-cat-in-the-world

At least I didn’t fall down during the dance portion? I did fall down during the acting part, but that was on purpose.

So there.

~

Oh, also, ballet was good today, petit allegro was far less bad than usual, and we discussed rehearsals for showcase, etc.

We also had a Physical Theater workshop, and afterwards I was chatting with the teacher, and she said something like, “So, you dance ballet?”

And I said something like, “Yeah, a little modern, but ballet is really my first language and my first love.”

Then she said, “I could tell—the legs!”

😀

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Eat All The Food.

Back … ish.

(That wasn’t actually intended to be a play on the title of the TV series Black-ish, though that seems to be a fairly thoughtful sitcom, as sitcoms go, from the tiny bits I’ve seen of it.)

So I’m back on my meds (huzzah!) as of this afternoon and, as such, improving in terms of overall function … which is good, because the drain in our kitchen sink chose tonight to explode, and I would have had a flat-out meltdown about that if it had happened yesterday. Fortunately, I married McGayver, who can fix that kind of thing.

I’m doing the job applications thing and it’s going well — had an interview this morning for a position that sounds like pretty much a lock (unless I’ve been convicted in absentia for some kind of crime I committed in my sleep?), though it turns out there are no seasonal positions open ’til September. I could have started next weekish as a permanent employee, but it wouldn’t be terribly convenient for the company, as I’d have to run off for two solid weeks for Burning Man.

Unless I find something that’s really relevant to my studies and/or sounds really compelling, I’ll probably take that job in the fall. It sounds like a good fit for what I want right now — an active, rather than a sedentary, workplace; decent pay; hours that mesh nicely with ballet. Shouldn’t hurt the fitness bit, either.

I’ll need to finally get an actual driver’s license, since the job in question may potentially involve actually driving, but that’s in the plans anyway.

I’m still working for Denis’ Burning Man project and feeling ever-more-useful in that regard. Tonight I set us up with a G+ page, even though I still feel kind of iffy about social media as a marketing platform. For this project, though, since it’s primarily a do-gooder collectivist kind of gig, I don’t really mind 🙂

On Glassdoor this morning, I spotted a listing for a web developer with some knowledge of WordPress and Drupal, as well as some command of your general web languages (HTML, PHP, CSS). I’m kind of kicking around the idea of applying for that. The upside is that the pay would very likely be pretty nice; the downside, of course, is that most development jobs are desk jobs, and I’m not really super into that whole idea. Been there, done that, decided it wasn’t for me.

Our finances are on the mend. Since it took about two solid years of complete and utter miscommunication to blow them up, it’ll probably take a few months to get them 100% back on track. Until then, we’ll be wearing our dance belts a little tighter* 😉

*Actually, mine keeps getting looser, but that’s a different kettle of worms.

My toe is healing. I’m still on the fence about Saturday class. Tomorrow’s out; it’s definitely not ready for Intermediate, and Essentials is cancelled tomorrow. I was able to ride the bike a bit today without driving the toe crazy, but I’d rather let it really heal before I try to push it.

I’ve noticed that Fusion Fitness Dance is back on the calendar, so maybe I’ll give that a whirl at some point, too. That depends on the finances, though. If we’re going to be tight enough that I can only do class two or three times per week for the next while, I don’t want to add a non-technique class.

I guess I’m also going to try not to spring back too quickly from this depression. I tend to decide that “feeling somewhat better = feeling 100% better,” then overtax myself and crash even harder. I hope maybe I’ve learned that lesson by now.

I’ve also learned that, while I now know that there is not, in fact, a famous band called Holland Oats, Harlan Oats, or Haulin’ Oats, I still don’t really know from 80s music. Did you know that “Danger Zone” was a Kenny Loggins song? I sure didn’t until just now. Thanks, Amazon Prime Music.

So that’s it for tonight.

Stay out of the Danger Zone.

You know, unless that’s where you want to be, in which case, carry on.

%d bloggers like this: