Category Archives: improv

…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.

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:


Kind of, erm, scorpion? thing…

…to this:


Double stag…

…to this:


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:

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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… . .  .

This Week In Circus Arts

So these things happened in Acro 2 yesterday (both photos by Starr Peters, I think? … at least, I know the first one is).

I can only describe the first one as a four-way fold. Basically, you pretend you’re sitting in a chair, and then you grab hands in the middle and lean back into each other’s laps, and it’s like, “By our powers combined, we are Captain Awkward-As-Hell-But-Looks-Pretty-Cool!”

Also, if you have only one person in the fold who feels comfortable sort of exploding up from this position, everyone else winds up falling over.

Ask me how I know, heh.

The other one is what we’ve nicknamed the “Scented Candlestick” (as in, “Trick or treat, smell my feet…”), though it has another name in Yoga.

Because I’m a medium-sized person, I base and fly everything and everyone, and Katie (who I’m basing in this picture) is one of the best flyers I’ve had the privilege of strangling with my feet 😀


In other news, today was my first day back in Trap 3 since I went to the Burn. I was expecting to suffer, but it was a review day, and I pretty much nailed everything … okay, except for that one thing where I forgot that my flexibility means I can dump myself right out of the trapeze, but fortunately I was on the moderate-low trap and could easily catch myself in a handstand.

And then I got back up and nailed that thing, too. I failed to catch the name of it, but it was kind of a bird’s-nest variant that you enter by dropping from a front balance and catching yourself with the backs of your legs on the ropes. The downside of being really flexible is that you can slide right off the bar; the upside is that you can get into a super-cool hang with your knees folded over the ropes and your hands on your ankles (or calves, or knees). I’ll have to get a picture of that next time I’m in Open Fly.

Edit: I also nailed pike beat to tuck-through and full ankle beats during the warm-up. I meant to try long-arm beat to front balance, but forgot. Still, I’ve never even tried to tuck through from a pike beat before, and I think I’ve done ankle beats all of once. All of that, though, owes to the rather extreme flexibility of my back. It makes doing almost any kind of beats much easier, because you can get a better release and therefore more momentum.

We ended class by playing what I’m going to call Improv Telephone: everyone lines up, then the first person mounts the trapeze and does something, the second one does the mount and the first move and adds something, and so on. The cool part is that, being the second-most advanced class on offer, we’re allowed to do whatever feels right, even if it’s not officially A Thing.

The result (in addition to a fun little piece of choreography) was the invention of a possibly-new skill that we’re calling the Mer-Horse (I say “possibly new” because basically everything under the sun has probably been done at one point or another by someonesomewhere, but this one definitely isn’t in our existing syllabus, and our trainers are pretty well-trained).

Also, I discovered that I do remember how to do dragonfly on the trapeze, even though I always get confused about it on lyra.

Ballet today was alllll about the turnouts … and it was a good class. There was so much fondu that we could’ve opened a restaurant.

It was also timely, because I’ve been working on maintaining all the turnout — like, alllllll of it, in both legs. It’s a workout, but it’s paying off. It’s much easier now to step into and maintain a 180 degree first or a legit toe-to-heel fifth (regarding which: when I started letting my supporting leg drift, Ms B. came over and grabbed me by my hipbones 😀 Hooray for physical corrections!).

Anyway, the biggest challenge right now is to keep the upper body light and easy while working the turnouts like the fate of the world depends on it. This ties into what BW kept shouting at me last week: “Use your lats!”

So I’ll be thinking about turnouts and lats in class tomorrow, heh. And about not letting the barre-side shoulder creep up.

And also about everything else, because ballet.

Also, petit allegro is finally improving, which feels like a minor miracle. I thought I was having a mental block about Sissones, but it turned out that it was a physical block: my épaulement was interfering with liftoff. Ms. B gave us a useful note about that: there’s that little side cambre in the port de bras for Sissones changée a côte, and if you start to cambre before you start to jump, you kind of wind up crippling the jump itself.

Ms. B complimented me on my turns, which is huge. I applied Modern T’s note about using my chin to spot, and it really seems to have helped. Ms. B said she’s going to steal it for another one of her students who spots with her forehead like I was … so a big Well Done to Modern T for that catch and the note to fix it!

The First Audition

So the audition was a bit mixed (kept reminding myself that almost nobody else had 100% of any individual phrase, either), but overall a complete blast — especially loved the partnering improv.

Also, I think my legs are going to fall off.

A Singularly Awesome Day; Also, Have Some Improv

Today, a small group of us got to do an exclusive trapeze performance for a group of people who are way under-served in our community. It was fantastic to be able to take our show to them — they had a great time, and so did we.

Back at home, I managed to get some laundry done, then trundled off to the studio for Denis’ trapeze class and our mutual flexibility/mobility (which I definitely needed; in retrospect, I should definitely have brought the foam roller last week!) and acro-balancing 2 classes.

Suspend usually has good music playing, and I am unable to resist the urge to dance, so eventually I relocated myself to our dance corner. The dance floor is slightly sprung, but it’s still better than the concrete corner where I had initially been trying to convince myself that even itty, bitty jumps were a bad idea.

The meditation/yoga hammocks were still hanging down, and while mucking about on the dance floor, I happened upon the idea of leaping from one open space to another, skimming between visible and invisible zones.

I wound up playing around with the idea and eventually wound up recording a few minutes of the little improv that came out of it.

To be sure, there are definitely some complete WTF moments — like, at one point I wind up on the ground and decide that I should fold myself in half.

What am I thinking in that moment?

Who knows?

I sure as heck couldn’t tell you. At one point, you can clearly tell by the look on my face that I’ve realized I’m doing something that doesn’t really make any sense, and that I have no idea what I should do to fix it.

There are also some moments I really like; ideas that I plan to work on — a bunch of nifty développes, some interesting turns that kind of fold in on themselves; a sequence of pas de chats, another of glissades.

I wasn’t paying any real attention to technique (in case you’re curious, this is more or less what I look like when I go out clubbing, heh); instead, I was making up little rules in my head and seeing what happened when I attempted to follow them — but I think with some attention to technique, something could be made of them. I think next time I’m going to try alternating between the two methods of travel; in this space, that could be pretty interesting visually.

I didn’t notice until I had watched this a couple times that there’s also kind of a motif that occurs near both the beginning and the end (totally not planned; the end of the video is the point at which I realized I had like 2 minutes before my class started)There’s also a brief conversation with Aerial M, asked if I wanted the hammocks put up (when I said I was using them, she actually said, “Cool!” but you can’t really hear that bit).

There are also several moments in which I want to strangle myself for doing the weird things that I so frequently do with my arms, though in a way seeing them in video is helpful, because I don’t usually realize that I’m doing them (the downside of hypermobility: sometimes, you really have no idea where your body parts are).

Watching video of myself dancing, I’m always like, “Wait, why are you dropping your arms there? Why did you just — no! PUT THEM BACK, THEY SHOULD GO AROUND THE OTHER WAY, YOU MORON, DON’T—” and then I realize that yelling at a video of yourself is even dumber, somehow, than yelling at the TV.

Anyway, here, have this little video of me playing around in warm-ups and leg-warmers as a sort of aperitif, and I’ll work on making a better recording of Albrecht’s variation. I think we’re going to try to get the new balancé video done this Friday or next Wednesday, schedules (and weather; we’re crazy, so we’re planning on recording it outdoors!) being what they are.

Edit: PS, I know that a bunch of times, it sounds like I’m hitting the floor really, really hard — that’s an artifact of the way my phone records sound and possibly of the floor itself.

PPS: I have absolutely no idea which song is playing.

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