Stiff

So I realized a few exercises into barre tonight that I had eaten lunch way, way too early. 

Oops. 

By end of class I was both bonking hard and sweating like an unfit racehorse. I couldn’t get enough air moving through my nose to do that nifty breathing exercise I use to slow my heart rate, so I sweated far more than was actually necessary.

I was also stiff in a way that I initially interpreted as ordinary fatigue, but later realized was the result of my muscles flipping me the bird every time I asked them to do anything. That’s what I get for not feeding them enough.   

Still, excepting the repeat of one of our later pirouette exercises, during which I glanced at the mirror and immediately forgot which leg I was supposed to be on and semi-froze (seriously, WAT), things went reasonably well, with some really nice moments into the bargain. 

I don’t think I danced as beautifully, overall, as I did yesterday, but it was still a nice improvement in terms of freedom and musicality compared with what I’ve been doing lately (read: ever). 

I also kept having that weird experience of being flummoxed by frank masculinity of my body. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get used to that. I’m slowly becoming okay with it, though: I am not a delicate little waif-twink, but I am graceful and occasionally even elegant. 

I don’t think I ever really did the math on that. As horses go, maybe I’m basically like a Friesian: strong-boned and muscular and powerful, but also graceful and elegant. I suspect on some level I’ve codified a dancer’s grace and elegance as those of an Akhal-Teke or a young Thoroughbred, but that’s not the only possibility. Trakheners and Friesians and Dutch warmbloods are also graceful and elegant. So are the baroque Spanish breeds.

I’m built for classical dressage: the restrained power of the passage and the piaffe; the explosive brilliance of the airs above the ground. 

I used to believe that the sheer mass of my body undermined the effect of adagio and so forth. Now I’m beginning to see that a powerful build lends its own magic to balances and développés and penchés. 

So there’s that.

Anyway, I’m exhausted. Tomorrow should be good, though.  

Mid-Year Progress Report, 2017

You guys, WTF?!!!

IT IS ALMOST JULY, YOU GUYS. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN.

did-that-really-just-happen

This blog has now reached a point at which I can recycle images at will for almost any topic.

Anyway, as you know, ballet goals: I haz them.

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Some of my ballet goals, affixed to my copy of Tarasov’s (ahem) *man*ual pour les danseurs (Get it? *MAN*ual? Whomp, whomp, whooommmmmp… :V).

Anyway.  (Yup, it’s about to get long in here, so have a cutscene thingy.)

Read the rest of this entry

Some Boring, Practical Advice on Pursuing Your Wild, Impractical Dreams 

Recently I had a chat with a good friend of mine about goals and so forth, and later it occurred to me that I’d failed to say a few really important things—or, well, things that have been important in my own journey, anyway.

They’re things other people have said to me, mostly, though a couple are insights I gleaned by osmosis growing up. They’re things I need to hear too, from time to time, in order to help keep myself on track. I’m writing them down here, where I can always find them if I need them.

Here they are:

1.Identify your actual Wild, Impractical Dream.

This is harder than it sounds. It took me a long time (though it wouldn’t have taken anywhere near as long if I’d just listened to the voice inside me screaming, “GET BACK TO DANCING FFS”).

First, not everyone actually has a wild, impractical dream of this kind: and that’s okay. Honestly, there’s a lot to be said for practicality and reliability, neither of which which are associated with being the kind of lunatic who goes off in pursuit of a Wild, Impractical Dream.

Second, the kind of Wild, Impractical Dream I’m writing about rarely involves the word “and.” It’s an all-in kind of gig: I want to dance for a regional ballet company, not I want to dance for a regional ballet company and ride my way to the top of the FEI stadium jumping circuit. 

Occasionally, someone manages a spectacular “and.” Usually, if you look into it, it owes either to truly extraordinary circumstances or happens largely by chance and involves related dreams (dance and musical theater, for example, or visual arts and fashion, or architecture and mathematics).

Usually, though, pursuing a Wild, Impractical Dream requires singularity of focus (not least because tunnel vision helps you ignore naysayers).

Basically, when you discover the thing that makes you willing to put everything else aside, you’ve probably found it.

If the thing is coding or massage therapy, congratulations: you’ve got a Wild, Practical dream. You can still read the rest of this if you want, though. I’m pretty sure that, when it comes down to it, the same basic advice applies.

2. If the phrase “…be (a) famous…” is part of your dream, consider reassessing your goals. 

I say this not because any one individual is wildly unlikely to become famous, but because if being famous is part of the motivation, you might actually be barking up the wrong tree.

The passion for the thing, whatever it is—dancing, writing, rotary engines, differential calculus—has to come first.

Otherwise, you’re very probably not going to be motivated enough to stand a snowball’s chance of sticking with it long enough to become mediocre, let alone famous. Wild, Impractical Dreams are harsh mistresses.

If, on the other hand, fame itself is the real Wild, Impractical Dream, own that.

The history of the world is rich with the stories of people who thought, “Man, I’m really not good at anything, but I want to be famous.” The ones who succeed are the ones who acknowledge that fact and dedicate themselves to taking any and every path that might lead to fame until, eventually, one does.
Oddly enough, that’s essentially the same approach that one takes in pursuing  any Wild, Impractical Dream.

3. Take Any and Every Path As Long As You Do So With Focus  

Maybe ballet is your One True Dream, but in the course of pursuing your Wild, Impractical Ballet Dream, you get an offer from a modern company.

If that’s the thing that’s going to let you keep dancing, take it. Be a good Buddhist and avoid clinging to perceptions and phenomena. Maybe ballet feels like the only thing, but sometimes serendipity leads us via scenic byways. Sometimes modern is the way to ballet—and sometimes, on the way to ballet via modern, you discover you were born for the weird and wonderful world of contemporary ballet.

Just learn to discern between scenic byways and “shortcuts” that leave you in Poughkeepsie. And know that sometimes you might get stuck in traffic for a bit.

4. Stand Up for Your Dream 

This might be the hardest one.

A Wild, Impractical Dream is Wild and Impractical at least in part because people don’t “get it.” It might be ahead of its time. It might be way outside of the predominant cultural framework where (and/or when) you are. People might think you’re too young, too old, too black, too white, too poor, too mentally ill, too fat, too skinny, too disabled, too whatever.

Any good Wild, Impractical dream is one you’ll probably have to defend at least once. This requires you to believe not only in your dream, but in yourself—or at least to act like you do.

The funny thing is that by acting as if we believe, we tend to come to believe: we stick around until things start to get real; so real that even we can’t deny it.

5. Accept Change Gracefully (if not Immediately)  

Sometimes, in the midst of pursuing your Wild, Impractical Dream, life will intervene in profound and unexpected ways.

It’s okay to be upset when that happens. Feel the feelings. Have the meltdown, if a meltdown comes along.

The death of a dream is a very hard thing. Even the temporary side-lining or minor refitting of a dream can be hard.

But change is inevitable, and sometimes change knocks is off one course and puts us on another.

Fight with conviction for your Wild, Impractical Dream, knowing that in the end you might not get there. It’s worth doing anyway.

Highlights from Tonight’s Class

Obvs, the fact that I survived is pretty good. 

Here are a few more, in no particular order:

  • The bit during barre when LAA goes, “And then you penché and you just put your hands on the floor and hang out there for a while” as she drops into a 6:00 penché and everyone’s faces be like 😍😒😐😮😯😨😓 while they mentally calculate how badly they’re about to crash & burn
  • But then everyone finds so, so much more penché than they thought they had
  • The bit where JB keeps cracking me up from across the room between barre combinations while I desperately try to keep it together   
  •  The bit when I catch myself in mirror during the waltz and think,  “Holy shizz, I’m dancing!” (Really, “We’re dancing”—my whole group looked so, so good. So polished!) 
  • The bit where holy crap, where did that extension come from? 
  • The bit where I finish the first side of the waltz in an 90 degree extension devant straight out of a stepover double and get The Nod. All dancers know The Nod. We sometimes live and die by The Nod.  

I also made it through essentially all of Trapeze 2 (we’ll see how/if Trap 3 goes, though :P)—the one thing I really couldn’t do was a catcher’s-hang roll-up, and that’s solely because my rectus femoris cramped like a mofo. The legs, they are tired. Pretty sure the bit where I started going,  “Nope ! Nope nope nope! I’m done!” whilst still wrapped in a trapeze was pure comedy, though.   

My front balance and hip hang to catcher’s hang transitions, on the other hand, were aces. 

Forgot To Mention

I only learned about this yesterday, or I’d totally be in Detroit right now, but Ballet Detroit has an Open Session this week. If you’re in the region, drop everything, go, suffer, and return stronger.

Rayevskiy brings the Vaganova, but if you’re afraid you can’t hang, don’t worry. I couldn’t make it 100% of the way on every exercise either, but it was still worth it to take his class. I really wish I could go, because a week of Rayevskiy would be really, really good for all my goals right now.

Ballet-Detroit-Open-Summer-Week-Schedule

Go learn from this terrifyingly-beautiful-but-actually-really-sweet danseur. (Image ganked via screengrab direct from BalletDetroit.)

Since I can’t go, though, you should. You’ll wind up a beast in the best possible sense of the word.

PS: it took me an hour to write this because my stupid computer is terrible :/ Time for some troubleshooting.

What Have I Done

(I’ve succumbed to … not-exactly-peer pressure, is what.)

So I think I mentioned, the other day, that JB has been all kinds of encouraging about getting out there and doing all the classes.

He’s been especially encouraging about the masterclass series—like, every time we see each-other, he’s like, You should do the masterclass series!!! You should! It would be so good for you! DOOOO EEEEEET![1]

  1. This last bit might involve a wee measure of poetic license.

Anyway.

So, being as MOAR CLASS!!! is what I want to do anyway, and the cost is ridiculously reasonable, I have (predictably) thrown in the towel and registered for this week’s session (I’m playing it by ear beyond that, pending intel about auditiony things).

Only, in so doing, I discovered that there are currently only two of us registered for LAB’s session this week.

Two.

TWO.

TWO.

what-have-i-done

So, basically, unless the SI peeps can take the class without registering or something like that, or a whole bunch of people opt in at the last minute, it’s essentially a semi-private class. Which means no lazy resting while the other 27 groups go across the floor (in case you’re wondering, this is one of the things that make BW’s class simultaneously awesome and super hard: NO REST EVER, though he’s proactive about making me stop if I seem to be blowing up my foot).

Also, I am currently way sleep-deprived: couldn’t turn my brain off last night to save my life, then the hubster woke me up to ask if I was going to class and I never made it back to sleep, so I’m running on about 3 hours.

So, like, in case the math isn’t clear, here’s the equation:

2 hour masterclass(semi-private)*3 hours of sleep=AAAAUUGHHHHH

Basically? I’m gonna die.

OTOH I’ll probably sleep well tonight, so there’s that?

In other news I should get my butt back in modern class tomorrow. I managed to miss both days last week.

sissones-01

Oh, and here’s a totally gratuitous sissone photo (with T1 in the foreground being too fast to capture) just because. Note that for once my face is NOT turned towards the stupid mirror. Insofar as it’s possible to see my face, anyway. Also, I do not actually have a Marine-issue flattop right now.

PS: I love the optical illusion that you get when you shoot (as in photograph or video, jeez) dancers from even slightly below. I will grant you that my jumps are generally high and my sissones tend to look extra high because hip mobility ftw, but my right leg in that particular sissone is not actually five feet off the ground. Nevertheless, the barres imply that it is ^-^

Temps-Lié: Some Thoughts

One Fracking Awesome Penché Is Worth It

Mostly good class again today; the kind of class that would have been mind-blowingly good a year ago.

The highlight was the first time of JMG’s usual adage, during which I executed literally the best Penché I’ve ever done, ever.

It was just like, “Down, down ,down, ohai that’s like 5:55[1] penché there, recover like it ain’t no thang…”

  1. Technically, since the supporting leg is the hour hand and stays on the 6 regardless, it would be a 6:55 penché, but that doesn’t read as well.

First run left, though, I lost my rotators and had to put my leg down for a sec. None of the rest of the penchés were anywhere near as good as the first one.

Honestly, though, that one penché—the one that tells me I can penché like a boss if I keep my waterfowls in a linear array—was worth it. It was one of those moments that feel exactly right; the kind when you know even before everyone tells you that you’ve executed a difficult thing[2] beautifully.

  1. Penché is funny. You start learning it really, generally speaking. You then keep working on it foreeeevvvvvarrrrrr, because it’s actually rather hard to do really well.

T and … Crap, I just realized I have two Ts amongst my ballet peeps. Okay, so T1 and T2 clearly benefitted immensely from Curran’s masterclass. Now I really wish I’d taken it. Oh, well: I’ll pick their braingz about it later.

Little by little I’m feeling my progress. I notice new things in my body every single class right now: oh, I’m ever so slightly too far over my hip in piqué arabesque; oh, I’m throwing my head back in soutenu turns (no surprise there); oh, I’m putting waaaaay too much force into adagio turns; oh, I’m losing touch with my pelvis during tours lent.

This all makes me really look forward to Lexington. I have no idea what we’re learning in variations this year, but I feel so much more ready than I did last year.

Anyway, time to go mow the lawn and so forth.

Watching New Dancers; Two Good Classes

It’s Cultural Pass day here, which means the classes at the school studio are free, so of course I grabbed an extra class.

Advanced Class[1] ends at 10:30, leaving me two hours to sort out before Beginning/Intermediate class. I ran some errands, then settled down to watch the Intro class.

  1. Not free, because it’s in the main studios downtown and attracts a different crowd.

It was fascinating: there were a couple of ringers in there (one girl from BG’s Spring Collection, one girl who I’ve seen in every class but Advanced), but many of the dancers were clearly new, and they all used different strategies.

Some of them sketched the idea of the steps, dancing through the combinations even if they aren’t yet entirely technically correct.

Some of them worked with great precision, focusing on placement and articulation, even if it means the feeling of dancing isn’t quite there yet.

Some fell somewhere in between.

I would wonder which strategy works better, only I think you have to use the one that works for you. 

I’m evolving into a technical dancer, but I’ll always belong at heart to Team Just Flail On Through; Team Fake It ‘Til Ya Make It. 

My friend T, meanwhile, belongs to Team Build It ‘Til You’ve Killed It (in a good way). She’s only been dancing for three years, but I admire her lovely placement and her beautiful precision.

~

Anyway, both classes went quite well today, though I had issues remembering the grand allegro in advanced class.

After advanced class, JB rolled up to ask if I was taking this week’s master class, and told me that I’ve come a really long way this season; to keep at it and take class as much as I can and keep working. He actually used the phrase, “The sky’s the limit.” 

He’s the second person who’s said that to me in the past twelve months or so, and it means rather a lot coming from him (meant a lot coming from Dr. K, too). I used to be really nervous around him, because he’s so freaking good. I don’t have quite the level of Hero Worship going on with him that I do with BW, but I also haven’t seen him dance as much.

In BG’s class, everything went smoothly and well (okay, except the part where my left shoe twisted during a turns combination). 

The final combination was a lovely medium allegro—

sissone faillie, assemble; sissone faillie, assemblé; sissone faillie, assemble, plié and hold;

piqué arabesque, step step, grand assemble en tournant, repeat, walk off

—and those sissone faillie, assemblé bits finally felt good. I also managed not to turn my grand assemble en tournant into entrelacé. Much as I can do any turn inside out and backwards, I can turn almost any jump with rotation into entrelacé. SMH.

Killer B is right: when I do my GAET correctly, doubles are possible. Now if I could just overcome my big stupid mental block about double tours, since they’re almost the same thing…

Anyway. I’m back to feeling like a reasonable ballet boy with a reasonable dose of talent. Turns are improving (did a double en dehors in attitude from 4th today by accident whilst marking a turny adage; couldn’t reproduce the result, but at least I know it’s physically possible for my body now 😛 Jumps are improving. Turny jumps, unsurprisingly, are also improving.

Even my arms are getting their act together, bit by bit. I really wish I could repost BG’s video from the class with all the sissones—the bit where I, like, flap my arms when I start to get tired is pure comedy. Swan lake, indeed.

More like Pelican Beach. Pelicans are heckin graceful once they get going, but their departures and arrivals tend to be less than balletic.

So that’s today. JMG tomorrow, and I’m probably going to sign up for this week’s masterclass, since I’m here. I think it’s well worth the $100. I’m hoping to take Philip Velinov’s as well, but that depends on auditions.

Oh, and I managed to do the dreaded attitude tour lent en dehors straight into attitude tour lent en dedans without falling over. That was in JB’s class; in BG’s,we did the same thing, but at passé, AKA the single hardest way to do tours lent[2]. So there’s that, too.

  1. Tour lent is often called promenade, but our AD reserves the term promenade for the partnery version.

A Relative Dose Of Success Followed By, You Know, Life

Leading up to PlayThink this year, I was bulldozed by a swift and nasty bout of your bog-standard “depressolepsy”—that fierce, crushing, exhausting depression that rocks up out of nowhere and smashes everything in its path. Thanks, Rapid Cycling Type I Bipolar, or whatever the hell is going on with my brain.

That’s been the case the past three years running, so I think it has to do with timing: the time of year; the timing of the onset of Summer Intensives and my inability to figure out how much GoGoGo I can take before I need to take my brain out and put it on ice for a couple of days; the timing of the stressful bit of my non-dance job; the timing of always effectively losing my husband to The Great Wave of Planning that precedes his standing summer plans (PlayThink and the Big Burn) just when I most need someone to help me stay afloat[1].

  1. This bit isn’t really his fault, btw. It’s more that I have a hard time broaching the divide between myself and other people, including D, when I’m struggling, and it gets even harder when he seems preoccupied. It’s something we both need to work on, together, and we’re doing it, but it takes time.

None of this was improved by my lack of security about our performance piece for the Friday-night “FlowCase,” which we hadn’t rehearsed anywhere near enough.

D offered time and again to cancel, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be better to get out there and do the show than to back out. This is, for all its friendly down-home atmosphere, a professional gig—and the first rule in the performing arts is and always will be: “The Show Must Go On.”

  1. Corollary[3]: if your name is printed on the official marketing materials, you’re part of the show.
  2. I consistently misspell this word, even though if I stop and think about it for a sec I actually do know how to spell it. Seriously, self: “Corolarry?” Really? Is that, like the cousin of Corojessica, or…? SMH.

Basically, getting out there and screwing up sometimes is part of the business—even Nureyev fell flat on his arse from time to time—but you don’t want to get a reputation for backing out of your commitments.

So I gritted my teeth and accepted that we might totally bomb; that the whole thing might go right off the rails. That life is, after all, pretty much an exercise in walking a tightrope in a maelstrom, for all our delusions of control. That the even inclusion of a twirling beach umbrella and faux 20s-era men’s swimwear might not pull my carefully-crafted little acro-clowning-ballet back from the edge of disaster[3].

  1. I had thought of also including fake moustaches, but forgot about them, so even they could not have saved us if things went south.

So we wrestled our way through a couple more hours of rehearsal rendered incredibly awkward by the lack of so much as a single properly-flat spot in which to rehearse, which in turn made the apex of the whole number—the candlestick-to-diver transition that we basically invented for this show—literally impossible.

And then we went on.

And you know that thing that happens when you get on stage and the whole world falls away and suddenly you’re ON and even if you literally put a foot wrong, you can’t put a foot wrong?

So, that happened.

~

Our performance wasn’t perfect in the literal sense. Because we hadn’t been able to nail the diver transition, we left it out (though we didn’t actually program in something else, just in case it magically came off: I simply sort of rolled out to the side, pulling D up with me).

We had already scuttled the bluebird lift at the end because we need more practice with it before we put it in a show. Right now, its hit rate at home is only about 25%; the rest of the time, I wind up hitting it for about .5 seconds while D struggles to figure out the balance point, then we fall out of it and I yell at him and then apologize for yelling at him.

And, yet, in another way, our performance was a million times better than I could have imagined.

D lit up in a way I’ve never seen him light up on stage (evidently, all you have to do is give him a beach umbrella and let him twirl it[4]).

  1. I actually rather suspected this would be the case, which is why he got to twirl the beach umbrella (okay, so also it fit his character better than it fit mine). D has a lot of natural clown in him. I formulated this thing to play to that strength, and I think it paid off. Choregraphy Rule Number One: when you’re creating a piece on a group of dancers, create it on the dancers you have.

The piece filled up the music exactly (I was incredibly worried that we’d get ahead, finish early, and have to stand there grinning like eejits for 30 seconds or what have you).

Perhaps most importantly, the audience rippled with genuine laughter at all the right moments. It wasn’t that weird, “Uh … is this supposed to be funny?” laughter that we all secretly dread. All the jokes (physical jokes, not verbal ones) hit the mark.

When it was over, they cheered. Lustily. Thrillingly. Authentically. It was awesome.

So, score one for team Dawson/Taylor-Dawson. Not bad at all for a pretty complex bit of physical theater that had a sum total of maybe four or five hours of real rehearsal time and literally no full run-through with music.

Throughout the rest of the festival, we constantly heard how much people had loved the piece.

A few even commented on exactly the thing I’d hoped to bring to the table: the fact that the piece had characters and a storyline, which isn’t something I’ve seen in FlowCase in previous years. Our good friend reported that she was so proud she found herself tearing up. Someone even commented that my ballet (all three-ish steps that actually made it into the final piece!) was beautiful.

Needless to say, the success of the piece and the instantaneous lifting of the pressure of it off of our collective shoulders helped immensely. So did being done, and thus able to go retire to the camper and just read (I did stay for most of the rest of the show, though, until the mosquitoes emerged and began eating me alive).

I also discovered a technique that really helps D and me: right before we went on, we simply talked our way through the piece, back and forth, each of us simply stating the short-hand name for our moves[5].

  1. Except for the ballet part: since I do that by myself, and I sometimes find it quicker not to actually attempt to get the language bit of my brain firing, I just visualized and went, “Balletballetballet, maybe some other ballet” there.

We each went on feeling like the other knew not just the skills required, but the sequence in which they needed to be called up, and it let us both relax. Handy!

~

Anyway, there’s video of the whole FlowCase, but it won’t be ready for a couple of weeks. I’ll watch it, even though I’m not sure I want to (the performance felt really good, but when I watch video, I tend to get hung up in my flaws).

This week, I’m taking two days off to get things back to normal as much as I can before diving back into class and so forth. I am vaguely regretting not signing up for our AD’s master class, because I know a couple of people who are taking it and it sounds cool, but I also recognize that I need a breather.

I need a couple of days to just do day-to-day life stuff. Mentally speaking, I already feel like the summer is more or less over: I’m away for two weeks of July on dance intensives (LexBallet and Pilobolus), then possibly again for much of August and the first week of September (depending on a handful of circumstances) for Burning Man. Because I struggle with time, the idea of those giant pre-planned blocks makes it hard to understand that the rest of the summer, the windows between those bricks, exists.

Inevitably, when I take a couple of days off, there’s a part of my brain that remembers how nice it is to have the whole day to do the things that need doing (or, if possible, to do nothing, or do only things that don’t need doing). Occasionally, a very quiet voice in the back of my head whispers, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do this than to pursue your insane visions?”

I remind it, of course, that “it makes more sense” hasn’t really worked out for us in the past—that I’m not actually great at predicting what makes sense; that (perhaps more importantly) the pursuit of impractical dreams, Quixotic though it may appear, keeps the wind in my sails.

Someday, I’m sure, it probably will make sense to ease off the accelerator a bit; to drop out of the big ring. Right now, though, I’m riding to ride the hills; I’m dancing to feel the sensation of soaring at the top of the grand assemblé porté.

And, yet, I think it’s good for me, having a life in which something as powerfully thrilling as Friday night’s performance is followed by something as entirely mundane as getting out in the backyard to chop up the branches that are still waiting there for me.

To misapply Jack Kornfield’s magnificent summary of Zen practice: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”

So there we are. Back to class tomorrow, though I am sure I’ll sorely (ha!) regret jumping back in with Killer Class instead of something gentler.

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