Category Archives: modern

Thursday: He Who Fondus, Endures(1); Friday: Grand Allegro For The Perplexed (2)

  1. This is probably sufficiently obscure to require some explanation. Basically, it’s a play on a translation of the motto on the Great Seal of the State of Connecticut, which translates literally to “He who transplanted sustains,” but “endures” is close enough).
  2. Maimonides didn’t write this, but maybe he should have.

I started a post about last night’s class, well, last night, and then I got too tired to finish it, so it’s currently a draft on my tablet and I don’t feel like going to get my tablet.

Anyway.

Last night turned into another Private Men’s Technique Class, during which I summarily discovered that one does not, in fact, have to do grand allegro to be completely exhausted at the end of Men’s Tech. BW’s gloriously murderous barre is quite demanding enough to do the job.

In a nutshell, classical men’s technique is essentially about two things: power and endurance. It can be summed up via the famous equation:

bravura=endurance*power(technique)

…What do you mean that isn’t a famous equation?

Power allows you to do the grand allegro pyrotechnics that pretty much define the vast majority of men’s variations in the classical repertoire. Your grand jeté entrelacé isn’t going to look anywhere near as impressive if it doesn’t get off the ground, and as for double tours, you can’t even do them if you don’t basically launch yourself into space. You won’t have time. Disaster (or at least an ungraceful exit) will ensue.

Endurance allows you to get though demanding variations without A) dying or B) flopping around like a distressed fish wrapped in a damp rag (you guys, this is NOT a valid way even to do fish jump). It allows you to still not drop lift your partner in the next bit of the grand pas de deux and to not collapse under your combined weight.

wait-what

You guys, why does this show up when I google “fish jump ballet?” It wasn’t even in the first page on just plain “fish jump.” WTF. And you guess what didn’t make the first page for “fish jump ballet?” THE EFFING FISH JUMP, FOR FRACK’S SAKE. Come on, Google. You had ONE job.

Power requires strength. BG mentioned to us today that we’re sort of designed around gravity, so even though the idea in classical ballet is to look like you’re defying gravity, you do it by employing gravity. Still, if you’re going to launch yourself off the floor, you need power to do it.

Your plié is all about giving yourself to gravity; loading the springs. Your launch is all about pushing down through the floor, right to the center of the earth, fir(ing) all of your guns at once (to) explode into spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace.

Nureyev-is-metal-as-hell-01

Heavy Metal Thunder, via Pinterest. (And of course it’s Nureyev. What did you expect, the Spanish inquisition?)

Endurance requires … erm … endurance. Right. Just pretend I wrote something more intelligent than “x = x.” Move along. Nothing to see here.

What I mean, really, by “endurance requires endurance” is that endurance itself is a pretty complex entity.

First, there’s cardiovascular endurance: no point in being strong enough to do all the things in the Slave variation (or Albrecht’s, or Bluebird, or…) if your heart literally explodes halfway through, or if you can’t get through it without puking because you can’t breathe.

Next, there’s muscular endurance, which I’m sure has some fancy technical name that I can’t recall right now. Basically, that’s the kind of endurance that surrounds the question, “How many times can you launch and catch your own weight (multiplied, as needed, by whatever forces apply at various points) before you have to lie down for a while?”

This is the kind of endurance that you can think of in terms of “reps to exhaustion” or “reps to failure.”

This second kind of endurance depends quite a bit on power: like, really, you need to be flat-out strong enough that the variation you’re doing doesn’t lead to failure—indeed, you may very well need to be strong enough to manage it in the context of an entire ballet.

This is, in a way, kind of like riding a mountain stage in the Tour de France. Mountains have this annoying way of being multiple kilometers in height, and involving multiple climbs, and you don’t get to stop at the top of a given climb.

The race keeps going, and so do you, until you get to the end of the stage (or until you spectacularly crash your bike and are summarily scraped into the team car). Until you get to the end of the stage, you have to keep stomping those pedals, or at any rate turning the cranks.

Most full-length classical ballets are only 2 to 3 hours long, and not a Tour-stage-esque 6 hours long (though nobody ever suggested a mere 6-hour cap to the Sun King). On the other hand, ballet never lets you sit in the peloton and just turn the cranks and recover. Not even when you’re in the corps.

Power alone will get you through a single run of a variation in isolation, but add the rest of a 2-hour ballet, and unless you have some serious endurance, you’re seriously fecked.

Last night was more about endurance than about power, though it was also about power, because holy fondu, Batman. Mostly, it was about the “reps to exhaustion” kind of endurance and the “attitude devant for a million counts” kind of endurance.

(It was also about TOES, because BW’s class is always about my toes.)

It was a “stretch your leg up to your ear, hold, fondu the supporting leg, hold, stretch, hold, drop your arm and see if you can maintain the extension for an additional million counts” kind of day(3).

  1. Regarding which, you guys: this was an exercise in “well, hey, THERE’S a thing I need to fix.” Because, seriously, I haven’t figured out how to do antigravity above about 100 degrees a côte, even though my range of motion theoretically allows for it.

My foot got achy before we made it to jumps, so we called it a night and did a stretch-n-kvetch session in which I learned that, like me, BW really can’t use cycling to cross-train for cardio. Like mine, his quads go crazy too easily.

I know I’ve said this before, but this is one of the reasons he’s such an effective teacher for me: we share some of the same Ballet Problems. One of them is being the elusive kind of unicorn that actually does pile on the muscle rather too easily.

Today, I managed to haul my hinder out of bed and make it to BG’s 10 AM class, where I found my body surprisingly willing to do things, possibly because last night we skipped jumps and stretched instead.

Because BW’s barre is usually even harder than Killer B’s barre, barre didn’t feel difficult(4). Last night we did circular port de bras in sus-sous, so when I opted to do a straight forward-then-back port de bras in sus-sous, it really didn’t feel like much of a challenge.

  1. Except for the part where I failed to acquire a significant portion of one combination because I was busy reflecting on body mechanics, and then the whole class had to start over. Sorry, guys.

This time, possibly because I didn’t take modern class in the morning first, my foot agreed to make it through the little jumps to a very nice grand allegro. That makes twice in one week, which is great.

That said, I found myself overthinking one of the transitions and, as such, screwed things up completely going left.

I did it three times to the left, though, and eventually got it more or less sorted.

Regardless, it was very much a case of, “What do I do with all these legs? Aaaaaugh!”

In fact, though, I think the combination I liked best today was a weird little petit-allegro brain-teaser that went something like:

sissone
sissone
coupé 
to slidey thing avant
assemblé

…and continued around the points of the compass counter-clockwise, though the slidey thing never traveled backwards (so I guess it skipped “south,” and just went “north-east-west-north”). The main challenge is remembering which way you did the slidey thing most recently, so you don’t do the slidey thing in the same direction twice and cause a traffic accident.

I’m sure there’s a name for the “slidey thing” somewhere in the great lexicon of ballet, as it’s a thing that occurs in choreography, but I don’t know what to call it, so my apologies there. It’s sort of a coupé-tombé to second or fourth with the trailing toe gliding  across the floor. Hard to describe, easy to do(5), and really quite pretty.

  1. YMMV. I also think renversé is easy, and apparently people disagree in droves about that. That said, I didn’t always think reversé was easy, but once I got it, I got it.

Anyway, that was class today. Very-nice-but-perplexing grand allegro; unusual and satisfying petit allegro.

Oh, also, I keep forgetting to post this video. I think I keep looking a little lost (which is terrible, given that it’s my own freaking choreography >_<), but given that I had a fever, it could have been a lot worse.

Also, that weird sort of attitude balance near the end? That is HELLA HARD on crash mats, y'all.

In Which We Make A Spectacle Of Ourselves

You guys! We have graphics (stolen from the Facebook event) and everything!

I’m in this, and stuff? (Poster design by Erik Underwood.)

…Here’s a plain text linky, too:

https://www.facebook.com/events/715635038638570/?ti=as

In other news, D and I started working on our PlayThink piece this weekend. I might have forgotten that he’s not accustomed to basing fish-hooks with danseurs who got dat grand allegro booty. I kept discombobulating him and, as such, he kept dropping me :O

Kevin Spalding has officially documented the heck out of my thunderous grand allegro-enabling hindquarters. These legs got powerrrrrrrrr. Also, people look hella weird in modern-dance freeze-frames. 

Regardless, we got the first two verses sketched out. I just need to resurrect the ballet choreography from whatever room corner of my mental Dance Attic it’s crammed into.

I promise that this act is all kinds of silly and definitely not knock-you-on-the-head-political like “Fade to White.” Instead, it’s fun and light-hearted, and if you’re in the area you should to PlayThink and see it. 

But mostly you should to PlayThink because it’s like everything you secretly hoped adulthood be like when you were 5, and that’s amazing.

Memories … In the Corners of My Mind

Here’s how I memorize ballet:

  • The Mark: Okay. Okay. Oh, crap! Wait, what? Okay. Maybe this? Okay. And okay!
  • The First Run:Okay. Okay. Okay. Wait, what? Okay. Maybe this? Okay. And okay!
  • The Second Run: Okay. Okay. Okay. Wait, what? Okay. Okay. Okay. And okay! 
  • The Third Run: Like a Boss, Like a Boss, Like a Boss, Like a Boss, etc. 
  • Next Rehearsal:Like a Boss, Like a Boss, Like a Boss, Like a Boss, etc. 

Here’s how I memorize modern*:

  • The Mark: WTF, even how, but what, can I just-, where do I, how do I, what do I, WTF
  • The First Run: okay, even how, but what, can I just-, where do I, okay, what do I, WTF
  • The Second Run: WTF, okay, but what, can I just-, okay, how do I, what do I, okay
  • The Third Run: okay, okay, can I just-, where do I, okay, what do I, okay
  • The Next Rehearsal: okay, okay, okay, where do I, okay, what do I, okay
  • The Rehearsal After That: “Are we sure we learned this dance already?” 

Modern: the struggle is real. 

(Also: Autocorrect: the struggle Isreal.)

“And then she was like, ‘No, it’s up, flick down, swirly, and contract!’ and I was like, ‘I can’t even remember my own name right now.'”


*Okay, so I’ll own up to a little hyperbole, here.   

Wednesday Class: Add X

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you do algebra, even though I love algebra.

I’m talking about a different kind of “adding X.” Specifically, adding X-rolls—the modern dance kind—to improve your ballet.

Today, BG substituted for Killer B because it’s Spring Break. The unofficial topic-of-the-day was using contralateral diagonal connections to drive movement in ballet: like, thinking of your tendu front on the right beginning, more or less, from your left shoulder.

If you’re familiar with X-rolls in modern dance, this will feel very familiar.

If you’re not, here’s a nice little introduction:

Really, contralateral connectivity should feel familiar to everyone in ballet, since it’s basically just a different way of explaining ballet technique … but since nobody ever said to to me in quite that way before, I never made the (AHEM) connection, so I never really thought about it before.

X-rolls and their relatives are great for learning to feel connections between, say, the right toes and the left fingertips via the core and limbs.

When I thought about it that way at center, my tendus and turns suddenly looked lovely: present (if that makes sense), intentional, and clean. Also, my arms were far less inclined to be lazy and/or stupid.

The difference was subtle: my tendus don’t normally look bad. They just looked better. More alive. My turns, meanwhile, are usually a mixed bag: sometimes they’re beautiful; sometimes they’re just giant whirling handbaskets of WTF. Thinking about this kind of diagonal engagement made them reliably look (and feel) nice.

I’m going to have to keep working on this. I suspect that it is, for me, one of those “version update” things: an element that will move my technique from Ballet 2.0 to Ballet 3.0, or whatever I’m on now (honestly, I really wish I’d thought of this metaphor right at the start, so I could use it more effectively >.<).

I’ll also have to bring this with me to BW’s class next week (we don’t have class this week because of Spring Break).

Last week, he analyzed my turns via an exercise that went: tendu, fourth, plié, double from fourth, finish to lunge in fourth, rélèvéplié, double from fourth, finish to lunge in fourth, rélèvéplié, double from fourth, finish to lunge in fourth, rélèvéplié, and so on and so fourth forth and sorted some of the other stupid things I do when doing turns from fourth.

Stupid things like finishing in a freaking enormous lunge(1), then not bothering to pull it in a little before launching the next turn, so I’m basically forcing myself to either jump into my turn or, like, climb into my turn.

  1. My fourth likes to be a borderline lunge all the time, if it can get away with it. I have heard the phrase, “Maybe a slightly smaller fourth,” sooooooo many times…

The purpose of the rélèvé was, of course, to force me to pull myself back in. A couple of times, I just did this crazy lunge-en-rélèvé instead. What even is that?

I’m afraid that this is really why my demi-pointe is crazy strong(2). I am constantly doing insane things with it. If I stop doing them, I hope my feet won’t be like, “Oh, cool, we can relax now.”

  1. Okay, not really. What makes my demi-pointe strong is a combination of mobility and, like, actual strength. My ankles and feet are incredibly mobile, which makes it possible to get up into a super-high demi-point. The downside, of course, is that I never, ever, ever get away with half-assing my demi-point(3), even when everyone else in class does.
  2. This also goes for just straight up pointing my toes. Amongst the many reverse-printed t-shirts I need to make, there is definitely going to be one that just says TOES! I can’t get away with half-assing that, either. My point is fierce, and every single one of my teachers knows that and corrects accordingly. There are days that counts for Thursday class basically go, “And one and TOES and three and TOES and five and TOES…”(4)
  3. Come to think of it, I am officially setting a goal for myself: get through one entire class without half-assing my toe-point so BW does not develop nightmares about desperately shouting “TOES!” into a cold and uncaring universe.

This week, then, is all about the x-connection, overhead pull-downs to get the lats back in order (because my right shoulder has been all creepin’ on my ear when working left at barre lately), keeping the sternum up and the transversus abdominis engaged, and … hell, I don’t even know. That’s enough to worry about for one week.

I realized today that some of the things I’ve been working on with BW are quickly becoming habits. I think that’s the upside of doing class several times per week. I don’t have time to forget the important corrections from the previous class, and each class involves practicing them countless times.

That means—whether for better or for worse—that habits build quickly.

So there we go. For better ballet, add X.

Too Tired to Write an Entire Post

… So please enjoy this screenshot of a screenshot of “Fade to White.” 😉

More soon! 

Modern, Rehearsal, Thursday Class, Shadowy Cabal Ops

Modern today felt good. It was just me, and LF gave me a cool visualization thing to start with. We did lots of floor work and work with using weight and the head-tail connection to move through space. Very cool stuff. 

At first my legs were like, “NO. NO, NO, NO. Nope. Screw you, buddy.” I’m experiencing the kind of achy, fatiguey weirdness that I have when my hormone levels are more out of whack than usual (read: when I’m essentially running on empty), which probably explains it. Seeing an endocrinologist is definitely in the plans for … meh, some time this year. 

That said, the legs got over themselves by the of class, and I feel it was a good class overall. I finally admitted to LF that I get stressed out about remembering modern choreography, and she told me not to worry so much about it. On the last run of our final combination, I didn’t. Oddly enough, I remembered way more of it than I thought I would.

Dance Team was awesome today. They did some really good and really original work, and AS and I were really impressed. My own rehearsal also went well.  

Ballet with BW was partly a private class—one of the owners of studio was with us much of the time, but had to pop out now and then to take care of admin things. Such is running a business! 

Class was very intense—in a good way, as always. Interestingly, I got the exact same physical correction from BW tonight that Killer B me yesterday (or, well, one of them…). Obviously, my shoulders, neck, and chest are a hotbed of ballet problems right now.

I’ve realized that, too some extent, this grows out of a deeply internal focus. When I’m working hard, I to draw into myself mentally—and, it would seem, physically. I’m working on it, though!

Curiously, though, my legs had overcome the morning’s meh-ness … which is good, because I would have died of the rond de jambe combination alone, never mind the fondu and the grand battement, if my legs had continued to suck.  The fondu/adagio, in particular, was challenging: slow fondu, slow relevé, slow fondu, extend avant then fondu attitude, hold forever, extend, sus-sous, continue pattern inside leg back, etc. The pace was what made it hard—it’s that combination of precision, restrained power, and grace that makes your blood boil at adagio tempo. 

Speaking of grand battement, I realized that I haven’t been leading with the heel when closing from the back. It starts that way, then gets lazy in the last inch or two, which is no good. It makes for a lazy fifth and, over the course of the combination, works the supporting leg loose. I mentioned that to BW, and he gave me an extra set to the back only (though still finishing with plié-passé-attitude devant) to sort it.

We also did the dreaded Kneewhacker Turns, which went better than usual. Interestingly, I did whack my knee quite resoundingly once. It didn’t particularly hurt, but startled the heck out of me.  I didn’t do it again, that’s for sure 😀 And, in fact, The Kneewhacker Turns that followed were whack-free. 

At center we tendued (with turns) and then drilled double turns from fourth and second. BW had many thoughts my turns, all of which tie into problems I’ve been attempting to solve. My spot wasn’t as slow as it was the other day, except when I was being afraid of the Kneewhacker. 

I called it a night after a nice waltzy combination across the floor. My toe had started complaining a little, so I decided to take the conservative route. Little jumps Saturday, maybe, and we’ll see how it goes from there.  

After class I my fellow Bike Commuter Cabal operatives for a drink and a late supper. Ben and Jenn Folsom were in town, a rare treat for all of us. It was good to catch up with my bike peeps! 

D took one look at this and said, “No one would ever guess which one of you is a dancer!” 😀


    

A Quick Break So My Head Doesn’t Asplode

Still working on the Great Data Restoration of 2017.

I wish I knew what our desktop PC had done with its backup files, because Jiminy Cricket, this is ridonculous.

From now on, I’m going to upload backups of our backups to The Great Cloud In The Æthers so this will NEVER HAPPEN EVER AGAIN.

Anyway, I’m still working on this. I expect to finish it by … I’m not sure. Tomorrow morning at the latest. It would be tonight, but rehearsal. THE SHOW MUST GO ON, amiright?

In the process of doing this relentless desk-bound and detail-oriented job, I have discovered that I will do almost anything to avoid sitting at a desk and futzing about with financial datas, including cleaning the house. “Oop, can’t enter the datas right now, our friend who’s in massage therapy school is coming over to work on us!” (Speaking of which: OMG. You guys. Evidently I have needed a legit massage for like 17 years or something.)

Anyway, one of my Avoidance Strategies this morning was to come up with a set of cards for an improv game that I’m going to try with our Dance Team, which is divided into Kids Who Grok Improve and Kids Who Are Like, “Wait, What Steps Am I Supposed To Improv?”

There are three sets of cards, as such:

Animal

  • cheetah
  • elephant
  • falcon
  • lion
  • snail
  • trout

Movement

  • crawl
  • glide
  • run
  • skip
  • stand (yes: in dance, standing is a movement)
  • walk

Feeling

  • angry
  • bored
  • confused
  • joyful
  • sad
  • thoughtful

The idea is to give the kids something a little more concrete around which to improvise movements.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose an Animal card (these are orange in my set). Think about how that animal is shaped and how it moves. Think about how it might feel to be that animal. Are you heavy or light? Are you relaxed or focused? Do you live on the land or in the water, and can you fly? If you live in the water, do you live in lakes, rivers, or oceans? If you live on land, do you live on the plains, the mountains, or the forest? Is it hot there? Cold? It’s okay to start out moving in ways that look like the animal in question, but ultimately you should try to move your body in ways that feel like the animal in question. Explore this for at least one minute; at most, five minutes.
  2. Choose a Movement card (these are green in my set). If you draw “Elephant” and “Glide,” think about how a glide would look and feel if an elephant were doing it. Try to capture that movement with your body. Is there more than one way an Elephant can Glide? How would a Falcon Skip if it were by itself? What about five Falcons together? Explore this for at least one minute; at most, five minutes.
  3. Choose a Feeling card (these are blue in my set). We tend to associate certain movements with certain feelings, but we can mix them up. What would an Elephant Angrily Gliding look and feel like? What would a Snail Joyfully Standing look and feel like? Is there a difference between one Cheetah Thoughtfully Walking and three Cheetahs Thoughtfully Walking? Explore this for five minutes, to give yourself time to connect all the parts.

I plan to couple this with the classic North, South, East, West flocking exercise. I’ll run them through the flocking exercise first, though, so they get a sense of how flocking works before adding weird stuff.

Next time, I might add in “vegetable” and “mineral” categories. How might sad seaweed skip? How might a confused granite cliff-face crawl?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled strugglecast day.

Modern: The Side Successions Succeed

…Sort of.

I learned to love side successions in Cinci last summer. They are so the opposite of ballet, but when they work, holy crap, they’re beautiful (and they feel really good; like your body kind of massages itself while you’re also stretching).

Yesterday we worked on side successions a lot, especially a little traveling side succession thing that has been doin’ me a heckin’ bamboozle during a combination we worked on Tuesday and today, à la “Ballet Squid Goes Modern.”

I wasn’t thinking of it as a travelling side-succession. I was thinking of it as … I dunno, a more vertical washing machine(1) with wavy-gravy arms?

  1. To whit: “washing machine” might not even be the standard Modern Dance People name for the thing I call a “washing machine,” which is basically a squatty kind of chaîné in 2nd en tournant that you do en manège … yeah, I pretty much always wind up describing modern in ballet terms.

In fact, it’s a side-succession coupled with a chassé and a little turn-under.

We did a bunch of these across the floor to some super-cool flamenco music (if I had time for another dance form in my life right now, I’d go straight for flamenco).

Overall, a fairly successful class: I got frustrated at the end because I was struggling to remember bits of a long bit of choreography and I was All By Mysee-e-eeelf, so I couldn’t crib off someone else for the missing parts.

Curiously, I think I remember most of the choreography now ._. I am sorta cursed with that thing where the choreography consolidates on the way home.

Anyway, now I’m going to go try to wrangle the finances. Apparently, at some point, our Quicken restored a backup file (and apparently lost the newer ones?), and I’m basically having to re-do the reconciling for all of 2016. Not happy about that at all.

Where’s Your Head At?

So, it turns out that—believe it or not—modern is not ballet (or, if we’re going to put that in programming terms: modern != ballet). Or, well, it’s not ballet most of the time. So, basically, modern is not ballet, except when intermittently it is ballet.

Jeez.

Anyway.

Today in modern class, we were doing those swirly arm things that result from making circles from high contraction to side curve through high release through the other side curve.

If you don’t modern, this probably makes exactly no sense to you. If you do modern, though, there’s a good chance that you know what I’m talking about. Basically, you don’t really move your arms; you move your sternum and upper back, and that moves your arms.

Anyway! They were sort of the Topic of the Day, and early on they appeared in a nifty tendu/rond-de-jambe/travely combination.

I was having trouble with it. Not with the legs, not with the arms, not with the body or shoulders, but with the head.

No matter what I did, it wanted to point the wrong way. That made the whole thing just feel … eeeee.

Then S, my classmate, figured it out: my body was busily trying to ballet when it was supposed to modern. Or, well, my head was.

Later, my body also rebelled against the entire concept of this sort of side-curve/under-curve chassé thing we were doing. It kept turning into an arabesque. Needless to say, this made for an awkward transition to the next step, which actually was an arabesque (albeit a modern one).

In both cases, once I understood what was happening, I really had to concentrate to correct it, which was challenging—but correcting the glitch in question made the whole movement easier.

I think this explains some of the difficulties I consistently encounter in modern dance. I failed to account for the power of the ballet wiring; the wiring that says when your arm is doing this, your head does this

Since all of the ballet stuff is pretty much automatic, I don’t even notice that I’m doing it … which is fine, when I’m supposed to be doing ballet.

Ballet—especially classical ballet—has pretty specific rules about how the head and the body go together. These rules result in the establishment of motor patterns: this is how technique becomes more automatic over time.

Modern uses those patterns, too, but it also uses other patterns. Some modern motor patterns are essentially the opposite of patterns that are essentially hard-wired into anyone who has accumulated years of ballet training.

The funny part is that I still tend to think of my head as having no idea what to do with itself in ballet, but that’s not exactly true. For the most part, my head does what it’s supposed to these days, with a few glaring exceptions. When it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, I just don’t notice it. I only notice it when it’s doing something wrong and weird, because usually that either screws up my lines or throws off my balance.

Since the body tends to follow the head, if your head is pointing the wrong way in a given combination, there’s a fairly reasonable likelihood that you’re going to do the combination backwards in some way or another. I feel that I’m rather amazingly good at getting things backwards in modern class, and this gives me a bit of insight into why.

Anyway, so that was today’s Insight of the Day: if things are going wrong, check and see what’s going on with your head.

In case you need something to help you remember, here:

Invisible Things With Which I Still Wrestle

I was going to write a more positive kind of post. In fact, I couldn’t sleep last last night night to save my life, and wound up writing most of one. But, honestly, I’m not feeling it today. Instead, I’m wrestling with the little corner of my mind that refuses to stop having anorexia. So, erm. 

So, content warnings, I guess? Abuse, anorexia, attempted suicide, body shaming, rape. 


I did not grow up in a body-positive family.

Probably most of us didn’t. Mine was almost certainly no less body-positive than usual—but things were complicated. 

(More behind the cut. This one gets dark before it gets light again.)


My Mom is small and muscular—not Petite Lady muscular, but Closet Bodybuilder muscular; Female Superhero muscular (I honestly think this is kind of awesome, but I still feel weird saying it without asking her first if it’s okay). She also, like many human beings with insanely busy and stressful lives, tended to be a little on the fluffy side. 

As such, she was eternally on a diet. This was before white people learned about beautiful women in sizes greater than 6.

My sister had the face and coloring of Snow White—and a thyroid that basically did nothing from the time she entered grade school, and a legitimately fat-phobic pediatrician who refused to test her for hypothyroidism because he felt that it was “overdiagnosed.” 

Note that we’re talking about a disease that’s empirically measurable, here: a simple test would have revealed—and later did reveal—that my sister’s thyroid level was in the category of “What the actual feck.” But instead of doing his job, our first pediatrician essentially prescribed my sister essentially the same diet that I, years later, would impose upon myself: the one that left me weighing 85 pounds at 5’4″. 

On the other hand, my sis excelled in school, and I didn’t, and as such I felt like our parents (both avid readers and unabashed intellectuals) valued her more. 

I meanwhile, was everything my family didn’t know what to do with: smart, but bad at school; a natural athlete; gifted with a ridiculous set of eyelashes; and, above all, thin.

I seriously thought I was stupid for most of my childhood—but I was lean and strong and could trust my body to do what I asked it to do.

Unfortunately, the only one of these things that seemed to correspond to anything my family cared about was that I was lean. 

Somewhere in my Mom’s house there’s a picture of me at five or six, not in any way the pudgy little kid people expect at that age, but whip-slim and seriously defined. That was noticed, commented on, and reinforced.

It became part of how I defined myself. A big part. 

In fact, for a long time, it was the only way I knew how to succeed. 

~

Is important to note that, in the midst of all this, my family wasn’t cruel about body size—at least, not that I saw. Mom is a good feminist, and tried hard to walk the “you’re beautiful the way you are, but for your health you should lose weight” line for my sis. At the time, that was about as close to body positivity as one was likely to get.

The thing is, actions speak louder than words—and it was clear that the whole situation made Mom wildly uncomfortable, no matter how hard she tried to keep that under wraps. And, in the end, my sis heard more about her failure to shrink to an acceptable size than she did about her incisive mind, her facility with the written word, or her fabulous design sense. 

The same model applied to my failure to function at school: I heard constantly about how I could excel if I just tried harder. I knew that was incorrect, because I was trying so hard I wanted to explode. It didn’t seem to really matter that I was legitimately gifted in dance, music, and visual art—my family embraced the arts, but didn’t seem to regard them as viable career paths. It only seemed to matter that I was an unmitigated disaster in the academic sphere. 

Thus, unconsciously, I picked up on the fact that what I had to offer the world was a nice body and beautiful eyelashes. I was a gay boy who grew up in a house full of women. My role models were young ballet dancers. In my mind, a “nice body”  was thin.

I was thirteen when I spent a summer at a well-reputed gymnastics training program. Ironically, this would be the experience that ended my aspirations as a competitive gymnast: I was light and strong, but everyone else was hitting puberty and I was, essentially, still a kid. I was already taller than both my parents, but reedy in build. In terms of upper-body strength, I could no longer compete.

On the other hand, I returned home with the kind of lean, attenuated physique that one attains by five or six hours a day spent in hard physical training—and suddenly I was very attractive to a certain subset of the male population (read: the kind of assholes that find underdeveloped middle school kids attractive, ugh, but what the hell did I know? I literally didn’t know what what the word “rape” meant.). As a young, socially awkward, queer kid, the effect of this kind of attention was profound.

I fell into a flirtation with one such individual. I thought I could handle myself, until suddenly it was all too apparent that I couldn’t.

I’m not going to discuss the details. The end result was basically a year of hell, a solid case of Stockholm syndrome that would take years to undo, and a conviction that the only, only, only thing that made me worthwhile was my lean, bony, androgynous body. 

I think you can see where this is going. 

I don’t usually tell people this, but this is why I stopped dancing (and also the reason that, when I returned to dance in high school, it was through modern first, no matter how badly I will yearned for the order and beauty of ballet, literally because you can wear looser clothes). This was the reason that I didn’t apply, as a rising freshman, to the dance program at the arts magnet that would later very literally save my life. I no longer trusted my body—and at the same time, I felt it was the only thing of value I had to offer the world.

I believed I was stupid, but I also believed that I was desirable as long as I stayed thin. 

But being desirable also felt dangerous. My whole world was terrifyingly out of control, including the only thing I regarded as an asset. 

So I basically stopped eating. 

Remember the diet my sister’s pediatrician prescribed? It was 800 calories a day. At one point, that was my goal (it later dwindled to 600, which is still the number my brain settles on when things get bad). My sister was forced to count grapes. I counted them myself. 

For a year or more, I could wrap my own hands around my waist. I remained convinced that I was getting fatter. 

I find this almost inconceivable now: I mean, not the delusional sense that I was getting fatter, but the fact that I was that freaking thin.

~

From where I stand now, I can see that a lot of my anorexia was, predictably, about controlling the only thing I could control. I had discovered, terrifyingly, that I couldn’t even control what other people did my body, but I could control its size. I could remain lean and sleek and androgynous—though increasingly I must have just been bony, even cadaverous. 

I convinced myself that I was not, in fact, really anorexic because I thought it was fine if other people were big (in fact, big guys are still kind of at the top of my list, though it increasingly seems that I find the vast majority of adult humans attractive to varying degrees). Clearly, that meant that the problem wasn’t with my perceptions of body shape, but with my actual body. 

Awesome logic, there, amiright? 

In other ways, I retreated into a world of fantasy and delusion for a while. When you can’t talk about what’s happening to you, but you have to offer some account that explains why you aren’t doing your homework and why you never wear shorts or short sleeves, you quickly learn to lie, and to lie well. You learn that people don’t, on the balance, really want to know that things are, in fact, unspeakably bad.

You learn learn to control the two things you can still control: the story the world gets about you, and what you put in your mouth. 

~

I was fourteen when I used a broken pen—the clear, hard-plastic kind that you can literally use to shank a mofo—to drill a hole in my left arm. The intent was to cut a neat little hole into the large blood vessels in each wrist, one centimeter square. The ultimate goal was death.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. 

My Mom wasn’t home. My sister was living with our Dad. My grandmother, who was legitimately gifted with a kind of second sight I can’t explain away, happened to be staying with us (in retrospect, I assume this was because I was such a mess). 

She interrupted me before I could finish the job. We had never been allowed locks on our bedroom doors, and I wasn’t aware you could wedge a door shut with a chair. I had made an effort to jam my door with a heavy bookcase, but I don’t think anything would’ve stopped Gram. She was around eighty by then, but she she was a force of nature, and she loved my sister and me so much.

I told Gram I had cut myself by accident. She didn’t believe me, and I knew she didn’t believe me, but we pretended that she just really needed my company. I don’t remember what else I did that night, but obviously dying wasn’t involved. 

The next day I went to school. Predictably, my arm started bleeding during art class. I tried to hide it, but the girl who shared my table quietly called my teacher’s attention to the problem. 

I was hospitalized before dinner.

Even in the hospital I maintained that I couldn’t possibly have anorexia because the other anorexics thought fat people were disgusting. I liked fat people, so I couldn’t be like them. Again with the logic.

Ultimately, it wouldn’t so much be the actual treatment, but the side-effects of medication that broke the back of that first episode of severe dietary restriction. The medications I was given made me retain water and temporarily destroyed my metabolism. They also disrupted my balance and equilibrium. I had lost control even of my body, so there was little point in trying to control it. 

I’d like to say that cured me, but it didn’t. As soon as I could manage it, as soon as I moved out of my Mom’s house, I starved myself back down down to a BMI of 17.

Since then I’ve struggled intermittently with this thing. Ironically, ballet helps—first because you can’t actually starve yourself and expect to dance well for long; second because it has taught me to trust my body again and to appreciate it for something other than androgynous leanness.

At my “fighting weight,” I’m just a dancer, like other dancers: lean but strong, possessed of a kind of masculine grace I didn’t used to appreciate in myself.

Right now, though, I’m six pounds up, the world is on fire, and I’m struggling with this beast again. 

I recognize that a lot of of it is this: things feel insanely out of control.

My country seems to be steering full steam ahead for for the nearest dangerous rocky shoal. People I care about are standing on precarious slopes. Decisions being made by people in power threaten all kinds of civil liberties for all kinds of people. They also directly threaten D’s livelihood (he specializes in treating adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, whose Healthcare is government-funded) and mine (I’m an artist; of you crash the economy, artists feel feel it fast). That’s part of it.

But, just as much, the life that I’ve carefully constructed like a divided dinner plate is losing its barriers. People I take class with are becoming friends. My facebook is connected to my Instagram, which isn’t connected to my blog, but since they share a title I’m terrified that my dance peeps are going to roll up in my blog and tell me I’m insane (and be really, really annoyed with me for writing about class).

That’s also part of it.

And this thing with being a performing artist is sort of weirdly taking off,  and that’s both thrilling and terrifying. It’s like stepping out onto a high wire, knowing there might be some asshole on Terra Firma with tin snips and a grudge.  Oh, and then there’s the housework. And the book-keeping. And the fact that I’m still in limbo about surgical correction for the whole Dances with Moobs problem. 

All of that feels pretty out of control.

Likewise, for me, the six pounds makes ballet technique harder: simply put, my thighs are already big enough that a little extra fluff can hose up my fifth. Sure, it’s still pretty good, but I was closing in on reliably perfect. 

And, ultimately, like so many people who  struggle with anorexia, I am by nature and by training a relentless perfectionist.

So that little gap in my fifth? 

It fecking well drives me mad. 

~

Experience has taught me that this, too, will pass. I know my body well enough to know that it’ll get back to its “fighting weight” soon enough.

Just, right now, I’m wrestling the furious frustration of not quite being able to put this anorexia thing to bed once and for all.

I’m not giving in to it. I’m still more or less driving the train. 

But the internal struggle is on; the one between the voice in my head that calmly informs me that if I don’t shed six pounds by Thursday, it’s because I’m weak, and the other, newer voice—a healthy, logical voice that reminds me, “You dance and train like twenty hours a week. Relax.”

For what it’s worth, this—for me—is still about me. Like I said: I like all kinds of bodies: all kinds except the one specific and unique kind that is this body; my body. On somebody else I’d look at it and go, “Hey, he’s cute.”

On myself, though? 

Check back with me in a couple of weeks, when things start to feel a little calmer (or don’t), when I’ve adjusted to the latest subspecies in my ever-evolving schedule.

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