How to Get a Dancer’s Body: Two Strategies*

I: The Slow-and-Steady Approach

  1. If you don’t live in a locality with a good professional company, move to one
  2. Go to performances. Identify a dancer whose body you wouldn’t mind having.
  3. Find a teacher. No, not a dance teacher; that takes way too long. I’m talking about a teacher of the obscure occult arts.
  4. Gather such materials as you may require: the black goat, newts’ tongues, and rooster’s egg may be difficult to source in urban areas.
  5. Using the materials and methods  already acquired, become incorporeal.
  6. Once you have become incorporeal, locate your chosen dancer and cause him or her to become incorporeal as well.
  7. Take over the body of the dancer in question.
  8. Congratulations! You now have a dancer’s body.

II: The “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” Approach

  1. Start dancing. No, seriously, right now, to any kind of music or none.
  2. Are you dancing? Are you in your body? Congratulations! You now have a dancer’s body!

*for best results, attempt with tongue held firmly in cheek

This Mammoth Moment

Class was decent today.

My allergies were, as they have been, off the chain—but that’s par for the course, and no small part of the reason that I bother working on my cardio. The more fit my cardiovascular system is, the less it hates me when I can barely inhale because my nose and the back of my throat are full of goop but I dance anyway.

It wasn’t flat-out the best class I’ve had recently (that was Sunday, I think), but I still feel like every single day I make progress, which is something. Even last Thursday, when my allergies were so bad I thought my head would explode and I had to beg off of grand allegro (to my great and undying humiliation), I made progress.

After class, I reviewed Siegfried’s variation. I had meant to just mark it, but instead after the first phrase I found myself running it: contretemps-tombé-pas de bourrée-glissade-saut de chat, repeat. I was watching my port de bras and my turnout in the mirror and heading back to “stage left” suddenly I noticed that I was, as the song[1] goes, “Way up in the middle of the air,” without actually trying, in this surprisingly nice saut de chat.

  1. The song in question being “Ezekiel Saw The Wheel,” a folk song which I’d never heard until I met my last roommate, who used to sing it: Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up, way up, Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air.

Anyway, that saut de chat startled the heck out of me and I landed like a mammoth, but it’s really good to feel like I’ve regained the best of my “Terpsichorean powers[2],” so to speak.

  1. Why, yes, of course I’m referencing T.S. Elliot. Also, the musical Cats.

On the other hand, I don’t recommend landing like a mammoth even on good floors. I went back to marking, though with a little more vigor than your usual mark.

I also realized that I tend to fail to bring my second leg to the party when I do assemblés in the context of petit allegro.

I mean, it’s not that it doesn’t get there. It’s that I fail to really actively transport it. Like the first leg gets on the train, but the second one has to walk to the party.

I had somehow failed to notice that … no doubt in part because when I do grand allegro assemblés—especially porté—I really snap that puppy right the heck up there. But, in case you were wondering, petit allegro is not, in fact, grand allegro, only smaller,” no matter what its name might imply. It requires its own approach (they do it like nobody’s business in Copenhagen).

But, anyway, I haven’t been really pushing the second foot through the plié and snapping it up there, and Killer B schooled me over it this morning.

So Killer B’s advice is to think of glissade-assemblé as a compound word; a hyphenated phrase like tombé-pas de bourée, (or, if you’re a guy, tombé-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné-chaîné). You have to really push the trailing leg through the bottom of the plié that’s sort of the hyphen so the momentum doesn’t get lost[3].

  1. When you lose the momentum, you wind up with two separate words, one of them mumbled: “Glissade. Assemblah.”

So I tried it, and wouldn’t you know, it worked like a charm.

So that’s today’s bit of technical advice. Since glissade-assemblé is a petit-allegro stock phrase, think of it with a hyphen and pushpushpush the second leg through the plié in the middle, so when it leaves the ground again all the momentum is there.

And use your plié. And use your plié. And use your plié.

Which, coincidentally, will also stop you landing your saut de chat like a mammoth, which you will appreciate when you’re seventy and haven’t yet had to put in new knees, or so I’ve heard.

~

On Monday I found myself reading some old posts in the bath (because reading in the bath is what I would do basically 90% of the time that I’m not dancing, if I had my way … well, that and swimming in the ocean).

It was surprising to look back on where I was only three and a half years ago: to realize that, really, I had no idea I’d be doing what I’m doing now—or maybe just a glimmer of the idea; something that felt like the vaguest of pipe dreams, I suppose.

It was weird to read the words, “If I ever get a chance to perform,” or however I phrased it. At the time, it seemed like gift one distantly hopes to receive: perhaps if I’m really good, someone will give me–no, not a pony, but maybe a hobby horse?

Now the chance to perform is something I pursue and lay hold of with both hands and create for myself. It’s something I am beginning not to feel weird about getting paid to do, like, “Maybe if I keep my head down they won’t notice that they’re paying me money for this.”

And yet I realize, still, that in a way the chance to live the life that I’m living right now is a gift—a gift, I suppose, I’ve worked hard to be worthy of, and will continue to work hard to be worthy of, but still one that depends upon the goodwill of so many people other than myself.

~

Friday, early, we leave for the Playa again.

This year, a group is staging The Rite of Spring. I’ve never seen it live, so I’m looking forward to that. Perhaps I can find other dancers and do class with them.

As for me and my camp, we’re doing Open Barre, with Mimosas, twice. Contact improv, twice. And all the other things that my camp does, but that’s what I’m in charge of. My gift to the Playa, along with whatever I wind up feeding people, as so often I do.

My feelings are mixed about going this year. I’m working, so that’s a challenge—learning the choreography at a distance will be interesting—and I’m afraid of coming back with a respiratory infection again. I’ll have to be careful this year.

But there are always things to be learned, and what was it I was saying about learning not to constantly try to control the outcomes?

So there it is. This is the outcome right now. I’m strung between two loyalties, but perhaps it’s okay. If things work out as I hope they will in the coming months, I most likely won’t be able to go to the Burn in 2018.

Because, as D told me so many times, there is something in the world for which I will sacrifice all other things—even Burning Man, as much as I love it.

When all this is over, the desert will be there still (unless we blow up the world before then, in which case it’s all a moot point anyway).

As Yet Untitled

We spend all our lives
making monsters of ourselves:
the tender feet
hard-trained until they arch like dolphins’ backs,
their bones like bridges spanned
by calloused skin.
The knees’ inverted arc
sails bony ankles heavenward;
the thighs like steely hawsers
cast the whole ship off,
cast it heavenward–
the collarbones like ploughshares
carve the air.

Hard to explain this,
though G-d knows I’ve tried.
What makes us do
all that the unseen god requires of us?
The music speaks
and stirs the weary dead:
go wake the living in their stalls!
The royal box looms empty
lonesome in the night.
Lone and strong we leap
now miracles, now golems,
in the light.

–14 August, 2017

…You Stop When The Gorilla Gets Tired

(File under: Every Aphorism I Know I Learned In Bike Racing)

I’ve been having a tough time with re-entry following this summer’s intensives.

Not that I’m, like, pining for the fjords. Just…

Hmm. How do I explain it?

Going to a dance intensive is, in a way, very much like going to summer camp. You’re essentially excused from most of the responsibilities of adulting. Your daily activities are heavily programmed for you. You don’t have to juggle variables, interruptions, or random transportation disasters.

If you forget your ADHD meds, you make it through the day pretty well because all you’re doing, really, is dancing, and your brain works best when you’re in motion. You don’t have to remember a bunch of discrete, unrelated tasks and somehow accomplish them.

If you stay up really late bonding with your new dance family, it’s no big deal. You get up the next day, pour some strong coffee into your face, hit the studio, dance your butt off, and sleep like the dead when you get back to the dorms or your AirBnB.

And then you come home, and your body is adapted to an 8-hours-per-day-plus physical workload that you’re unlikely to match except during the most intense periods of rehearsal or performance, and you have to get back to Adulting (with or without ADHD).

For me, this illuminates one of the central challenges in living with ADHD: it never goes away.

To borrow a quote from Kiwi bike racer Greg Henderson [1]:

Greg Henderson quote:

Swap “ADHD” for “training” and you’re good. (Shamelessly stolen from Pinterest, of course.)

  1. or a quote about success from Robert Strauss, who presumably doesn’t race bikes but could feasibly be a Kiwi; can’t be arsed to look him up right now.

You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.

ADHD is, in some ways, a gorilla that never gets tired. Instead, you have to learn to manage your gorilla—and managing is largely a question of automation.

When I’m doing it right, I manage my ADHD by making it as hard as possible for myself to screw up the basics.

I lay out each day’s clothes the night before, so I never have to fumble around looking for clothes before my brain is working.

My morning and afternoon doses of Adderall are right there in my 7-day pillbox, so I don’t find myself thinking, “Feck, did I take my meds?”

My keys, wallet, sunglasses, and other important small things live on a shelf by the door, so I will always put them there when I walk in and never have to wonder where they are.

My phone lives next to the bed, where it acts as an alarm clock. Once I get out of bed, I either leave it tethered to one of its chargers or keep it nearby. That way, I never have to look for it.

My class and rehearsal schedules get written out on the whiteboard on the refrigerator door. Writing them down helps me remember what’s coming up; it also gives me a hard-copy reference when I’m not sure and lets D know where I am, when.

While I cook, I clean as I go and streamline general dishwashing into those moments when there’s nothing that requires attention.

I run errands before, after, or between classes so I won’t have to take extra trips out of the house. I maintain shopping lists on Google Keep so I don’t have to remember anything, including the shopping list.

I burn a ton of energy, knowing that it’s the only way I’m going to be able to sleep on anything resembling a normal, diurnal schedule. I run Twilight on my phone and f.lux on my PCs to cut out blue rays (this really does make a huge difference, for me). I don’t play video games or peruse social media in bed, because those get my brain ticking over too fast.

I pay really close attention to things like caffeine intake: and if I’m having a rough time sleeping, I avoid any caffeine at all after about 2 PM.

These are all fairly small things, but they add right the heck up.

The problem is, they’re all routine-driven, and once I get out of a routine, it can be really hard getting back in.

This week, I’m struggling really hard with insomnia. After being sick for most of last week (during which all I actually did was sleep), I’m left with a surplus of energy, but not enough on the schedule to burn it off.

Since it only takes one sleepless night to torpedo weeks of careful sleep programming, I’m currently in the midst of a really unpleasant cycle of sleeping two hours one night, then nine the next.

Last night was one of those two hour nights. I missed class today because of it: I finally got to sleep around 8 AM. Turned off the alarm at 9 AM, when I realized it would be foolish to try to do modern on one hour of sleep. Woke up at 10, when I should’ve been starting class, anyway.

I’ve realized I need to get back to negotiating with my gorilla. I’m home for one more week, then off to That Thing In The Desert[2] after all, then back for a week, then off for a medical thing[3], then possibly starting rehearsals for a thing, depending[4].

  1. In addition to the usual Open Barre sessions with mimosas, I’ll be leading some contact improv playshops at our camp this year.
  2. I’m going to apply my “to know, to will, to dare, to keep silent” clause here. This is a minor medical procedure but a huge freaking deal for me, so I’m trying not to  feck it up.
  3. Here, too. I’m actually okay with waiting and auditioning for the next thing this company does, but it’s sort of up in the air right now whether we can work around my temporary restrictions after The Secret Medical Thing.

None of this makes it easier to figure out where to start rebuilding my Life Management Protocols, so I’m just going to do what I normally do: fumble forward and hope for the best.

In other words, just pick something and start where you are.

In that vein, I’m hoping to get a class in tomorrow to make up for missing today’s (though tomorrow’s class will be ballet, not modern).

I’ve got a doctor’s appointment at 8-o-freaking-clock in the morning for which I have to check in at 7-goshdarn-30, which means getting up at 6-what-even-is-sixthirty-30 because I kind of need D with me for this one and he needs more than 20 minutes to get out the door 😛

As such, I need to actually get my tuchas in bed at a reasonable hour tonight and, if necessary, hit myself with a whacking great dose of doxylamine succinate to make sure I don’t stay awake all night.

Those are some easy start-where-I-am steps that I can actually do (along with getting audition video links to the AD for the Secret Dance Thing and signing some documents for The Secret Medical Thing and emailing them back to the practice in question).

So, there you have it. I think I really wanted this post to be more of a thought-piece about managing ADHD than me scrabbling on about how I’ve managed to hose everything up for myself (though I did plan to mention that), so I suppose I’ll add that to my queueueueueueue of posts to actually write sooner or later as well.

Until then, I’ll be here, negotiating with my gorilla.

~

Oh: in other news, I successfully gave a bit of advice to a new guy in class last night, which felt really good.

Back to Class: The Perversity of Petit Allegro

I took class on Monday and found that, although my feet and Achilles’ tendons were still a little tight, I was mostly functional. I even got some nice turns in.

As such, I hit the studio again tonight (didn’t make morning class because D’s truck overheated, so he needed my car, and I was too late to catch the bus) feeling fairly confident about things.

My confidence was, in fact, well-placed. Class was good, all things considered—I’m still a tad wheezy, but with adequate oceans of medication that stayed under control.

Anyway, tonight’s class was essentially built around petit allegro—not that we didn’t do anything else, because we absolutely did, but the ultimate goal was to improve our petit allegro by improving our use of pliés.

When we finally did get around to petit allegro, BG gave us a very, very helpful note: if the music is fast, focus on getting down into the floor with the pliés.

It’s counter-intuitive as all heck, but it works a treat. I am one of those people who can milk a fair bit of elevation out of a jump by brushing hard and really springing through the feet, so I don’t always use my deepest demi-plié in preparation.

This is not at all helpful in fast petit allegro combinations—it just takes too freaking long, especially when you factor in hyperextended knees and really flexible feet.

Turns out that if I get deep into my demi-plié, I can actually get there faster. I suppose it comes down to employing the entire bottom of the foot—I suspect that when I’m struggling with petit allegro, my heels are probably just skimming the ground when they should be doing some actual work.

Anyway, this feels revelatory, as things do of late. I’m going to have to practice the hell out of it in order to overcome a lifetime of attempting to do petit allegro the way I do grand battement.

Anyway, that’s it for now. In short: never be afraid to get down when it’s time to boogie.

Not Dead Yet, Again

I’m a bit tardy in reporting that I made it home safely from Connecticut after a lovely weekend with my parents.

Since then, I’ve been muddling through the side-effects of the antibiotic I’m taking, which has caused me to feel like I’ve been run over by a truck or something. 

I’d forgotten how thoroughly this stuff hoses me up by the end of a course. This was not in any way improved by driving for 14 hours straight on Monday 😛

Fortunately, I took my last tablet last night. It’ll take a few days to get back to normal. The challenge with this stuff is that it causes fatigue, pain, tightness, and weakness in the muscles and can cause tendon ruptures, so one must be careful. 

I managed not to rupture anything at Pilobolus’ intensive, though—the side-effects were accumulating last week, but hadn’t peaked (and I forgot to take my dose a couple of times).

I went to class yesterday but skipped out after barre because everything in my body felt like it was about to snap. My grand battement was pathetic. I spent much of the rest of the day asleep (so I woke up at 5:30 this morning … Yay?). 

Not sorry at all to see the back of this prescription, though I’m glad it has sorted my sinuses.

I’ve got so, so many thoughts gleaned from my week in Connecticut. I’m slowly organizing them. I’ll try to report back soon-ish.

So It Was National Dance Day

Rather ironically, I celebrated by mostly not dancing.
Well, there was some dancing, in the morning, before I headed for Mom’s. And my friends carried me down the hall to the door when I left.

Pilobolus Summer Workshop was beyond words—or, well, beyond words that I can find when I’m happily exhausted because I spent the week dancing and creating feeling and spent Friday night singing and drinking and dancing and talking and talking and talking…

Went to bed at 7 AM on Saturday. Woke up at 10:50 AM. My body didn’t feel tired, but I could tell my brain was tired.

Anyway, I’m rolling all this stuff around in my head. You leave Pilobolus’ workshop ready to work, but in need of some time to think.

Anyway, instead of writing, today I’ve been taking pictures. Here’s a few from today and a couple from the week for your enjoyment or what have you.

Me, standing in front of a closed windier in my childhood bedroom.

I realized tonight that this room no longer really belongs me, and I no longer really belong to it. ATM though it’s hard to explain what that means. Also, I kind of can’t believe this is my body. That is not hard to explain.

A late ray of sun slanting down through the variegated leaves of a small tree, with a house in soft focus behind.

“Glory be to G-d for dappled things…” —Gerard Manley Hopkins

Students from Pilobolus' Summer Workshop Week 2, 2017.

This is us: the surprisingly-cohesive little commune that was Week 2 in 2017.

Asher sitting down with garden plants in the background.

There was a lovely cool breeze this evening. I sat on the bench near the house and drank it in and was glad to be alive and to be tired.

Asher lying on the floor of the dorms at the workshop with other students in the background.

This was a rough moment: knowing we were all about to part ways. Hard to describe how much you can come to love a group of people when you’ve just spent a week learning to trust them to hold you, guide you, and lift you high into the air.

A woven basket hangs on the outside wall of a garage flanked by mature plantings.

This basket has been hanging on the garage for a long time. I’ve photographed it before, in fact. The light was so beautiful that i couldn’t resist.

Pilobolus: Initial Thoughts (on Day 3)

Just a couple of wee thoughts. We’re working so much and dancing so much and talking so much and just living together so much that I’ve been spending my alone time just reading and breathing.

Anyway, this intensive has been amazing for so many reasons, not least because it has put me in touch with feelings I haven’t really addressed in a long time.

First, it has forced me to very directly face my difficulty approaching people. Every day this week, we’ve spent the morning doing exercises with one partner or set of partners, then repeating or iterating them with another, then another.

I hadn’t realized how much it still freaks me out to choose partners. Yesterday I got seriously rattled by it—but I actually mentioned it to the person who chose me, and they helped me through that moment. It was amazing.

I realize I’ve been feeling like, “This person or that person probably doesn’t want to work with me,” which isn’t fair either to them or to myself. That’s their call. I shouldn’t try to make it for them.

Second, I’ve realized that one of the things I love so much in dance, and especially in this kind of dance, is the giving and receiving of touch in an atmosphere of deep trust.

To do the work we’re doing here, you need to touch your partners and you need to trust them. Somehow, the process we’re working with creates an atmosphere of immense trust. We are all safe here in each-other’s arms (or feet, or whatever).

I came to this understanding by a circuitous back route. There’s one guy here who I kept desperately wanting to work with—to dance with. I wanted to feel his arms around me and his body against mine, but in a way that wasn’t about sex [1].

  1. Or, well, mostly wasn’t.

I kept trying to figure out why (leaving out the fact that he’s beautiful in a very unique way) and finally I realized that it’s the way he partners: he’s solid and steady, and when he holds anyone—anyone—in his arms, you can feel the power and the tenderness of that connection from across the room.

I’ve worked with him a couple of times now. In one piece, I caught him and sank to the ground holding him in my arms (in that particular dance, he had just died). 

It was an incredibly powerful moment. I’m not sure how to explain it, except to say that in that moment he trusted me with his body, and that trust felt like a sacred thing.

But also it just felt so damned good: just a human body touching my human body, which is so strangely important, without any need to be afraid or guarded or aggressive. 

Rather the opposite: the dance involved me catching his wrist as he took a slow backwards fall, pulling him into my arms and collapsing to the ground with him. I couldn’t be afraid or guarded or aggressive; I had to be fast and strong, but soft. I had to get both of us to the floor without anybody getting hurt.

I don’t know how to explain how that feels, but it’s pretty incomparable.

Today there was a dance in which a girl trusted me to catch her mid-flight, redirect her momentum, and throw her halfway across the room; in which I trusted her to pull me straight to the ground out of an arabesque as I pulled her to her feet. That felt incredible. There aren’t many places where you get to feel that kind of thing.

Anyway, that’s it for now. The creative process here never ceases to amaze me. Groups of dancers who had, for the most part, never met a few days back are, each afternoon, creating dances I’d happily pay to see, working in groups as small as two and as large as six, with only minimum input from our teachers.

That, too, is an amazing thing.

Surprise*!

If you’ve been playing along at home, you might recall that I casually mentioned something that might either be a cold or really dedicated allergies.

Anyway, I went to class last night, danced pretty well even though I couldn’t hear, speak, or breathe particularly well, then went on to Acro, although my head had begun to hurt.

In Acro, I started out okay, and then the angry weasels that live in my sinuses decided to step up their efforts. I spent the back half of class lying around on the mats with an arm thrown over my eyes and occasionally peering out to check D’s form, which has improved considerably of late.b BOTH of his feet even point at the same time now!

By the time we got in the car to go home, the weasels—presumably still angry, but also invested with a new sense of purpose—had apparently undertaken a major renovation project in my left maxillary sinus and eye socket.

Whatever they’re doing in there, I sincerely hope that they’re improving the design of my sinuses so I won’t be so prone to infections. 

That would be awesome.

Needless to say, no modern for me today, and tomorrow I’m going to the doc to get this looked at in hopes of being functional during next week’s intensive.

~

*I should probably admit that I’ve spent the past two weeks or so thinking, “I sure hope that [insert x weird thing my head is doing] doesn’t mean I’m incubating a sinus infection,” so it’s not entirely a surprise.

The Accidental Rest Day

I arrived home on Saturday, went out with friends on Saturday night, stayed out way too late, got up and went to class anyway on Sunday[1], and took a planned rest day on Monday.

  1. It was a surprisingly successful class, except for this one moment during which something crazy happened in the preparation for a renversé and I literally said, out loud, “What just happened?!” With that exception, I managed to remember combinations and execute them with a fair degree of élan. I also spread the gospel of Bloch Pro Elastics by handing off the pair that’s too big for me to T, who immediately fell in love with them.

Unfortunately, in the midst of said planned rest day, D’s truck decided to fry its alternator again, which means he’s using the Subaru right now, and I’m Riding the Combat Express (which is, you guys, very different from Going Commando)—you know, hoofing it, with a side of bicycle. This (coupled with uncertainty about whether I’d need to be available in the morning to facilitate picking up the truck from the shop) resulted in Tuesday being an accidental rest day, which might not actually be a bad thing.

Today has been iffy. It’s not impossible to get to class without the car by any means, but it involves a different decision-making process with different criteria in the analysis.

One of them is: am I a sleep-deprived wack-job right now?

I am, predictably, having difficulty sleeping this week—partly because I never sleep well in the middle of summer, but also because physical exhaustion really helps with that whole sleep thing and I’m both still adapted to last week’s exercise load and not getting anywhere near as much exercise.

Anyway, last night I managed to get to sleep by midnight (not going to lie: better living through chemistry, there—a little Nyquil because I’ve either got a cold or am at present violently allergic to the universe). That said, I woke up at 4 AM and didn’t succeed in getting back to sleep until 8:30 AM. Not helpful.

Under the circumstances, I decided against spending 3 hours on the bus (round-trip) to make it to Killer Class, even though I normally would have done exactly that. I wasn’t particularly worried about actually killing myself in class. Rather, the idea of coping with humans and scheduling and bus transfers just seemed impossible.

Instead, I went back to sleep for a couple hours.

Anyway, I’m hoping things will work out so I can deposit D at Suspend, hit up evening class, then roll back down to Suspend for acro.

In the meanwhile, I’m doing the books and serving as a cat-rest—or, well, my right foot is serving as a headrest for the cat, who is sleeping on the footrest under my desk. It’s all very restful.

In other news, I’m off to Pilobolus on Saturday: I plan to leave right after Advanced Class and complete as much of the drive as possible on the first leg, so as to leave less driving for Sunday.

I’ve received the instructions for checking in to the dorms and so forth, so I’m feeling more relaxed about things. In a way, it’s very much like going to summer camp—you get a list of what to bring and what not to bring, details about how dorm rooms and room-mates are assigned (first-come, first-served and dancers’ choice, as it were).

My brain has been percolating choreographic ideas I might want to play with in Connecticut. I’m looking forward to working with a bunch of complete strangers, since it always results in interesting outcomes.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Back to Modern tomorrow; will probably take class Friday morning to make up for my generalized delinquency this week.

Until then, I’ll be here, being a pillow for the cat.

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