Totally not* nervous about ML&Co audition.
*okay maybe a little
Category Archives: work
Leading up to PlayThink this year, I was bulldozed by a swift and nasty bout of your bog-standard “depressolepsy”—that fierce, crushing, exhausting depression that rocks up out of nowhere and smashes everything in its path. Thanks, Rapid Cycling Type I Bipolar, or whatever the hell is going on with my brain.
That’s been the case the past three years running, so I think it has to do with timing: the time of year; the timing of the onset of Summer Intensives and my inability to figure out how much GoGoGo I can take before I need to take my brain out and put it on ice for a couple of days; the timing of the stressful bit of my non-dance job; the timing of always effectively losing my husband to The Great Wave of Planning that precedes his standing summer plans (PlayThink and the Big Burn) just when I most need someone to help me stay afloat.
- This bit isn’t really his fault, btw. It’s more that I have a hard time broaching the divide between myself and other people, including D, when I’m struggling, and it gets even harder when he seems preoccupied. It’s something we both need to work on, together, and we’re doing it, but it takes time.
None of this was improved by my lack of security about our performance piece for the Friday-night “FlowCase,” which we hadn’t rehearsed anywhere near enough.
D offered time and again to cancel, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be better to get out there and do the show than to back out. This is, for all its friendly down-home atmosphere, a professional gig—and the first rule in the performing arts is and always will be: “The Show Must Go On.”
- Corollary: if your name is printed on the official marketing materials, you’re part of the show.
- I consistently misspell this word, even though if I stop and think about it for a sec I actually do know how to spell it. Seriously, self: “Corolarry?” Really? Is that, like the cousin of Corojessica, or…? SMH.
Basically, getting out there and screwing up sometimes is part of the business—even Nureyev fell flat on his arse from time to time—but you don’t want to get a reputation for backing out of your commitments.
So I gritted my teeth and accepted that we might totally bomb; that the whole thing might go right off the rails. That life is, after all, pretty much an exercise in walking a tightrope in a maelstrom, for all our delusions of control. That the even inclusion of a twirling beach umbrella and faux 20s-era men’s swimwear might not pull my carefully-crafted little acro-clowning-ballet back from the edge of disaster.
- I had thought of also including fake moustaches, but forgot about them, so even they could not have saved us if things went south.
So we wrestled our way through a couple more hours of rehearsal rendered incredibly awkward by the lack of so much as a single properly-flat spot in which to rehearse, which in turn made the apex of the whole number—the candlestick-to-diver transition that we basically invented for this show—literally impossible.
And then we went on.
And you know that thing that happens when you get on stage and the whole world falls away and suddenly you’re ON and even if you literally put a foot wrong, you can’t put a foot wrong?
So, that happened.
Our performance wasn’t perfect in the literal sense. Because we hadn’t been able to nail the diver transition, we left it out (though we didn’t actually program in something else, just in case it magically came off: I simply sort of rolled out to the side, pulling D up with me).
We had already scuttled the bluebird lift at the end because we need more practice with it before we put it in a show. Right now, its hit rate at home is only about 25%; the rest of the time, I wind up hitting it for about .5 seconds while D struggles to figure out the balance point, then we fall out of it and I yell at him and then apologize for yelling at him.
And, yet, in another way, our performance was a million times better than I could have imagined.
D lit up in a way I’ve never seen him light up on stage (evidently, all you have to do is give him a beach umbrella and let him twirl it).
- I actually rather suspected this would be the case, which is why he got to twirl the beach umbrella (okay, so also it fit his character better than it fit mine). D has a lot of natural clown in him. I formulated this thing to play to that strength, and I think it paid off. Choregraphy Rule Number One: when you’re creating a piece on a group of dancers, create it on the dancers you have.
The piece filled up the music exactly (I was incredibly worried that we’d get ahead, finish early, and have to stand there grinning like eejits for 30 seconds or what have you).
Perhaps most importantly, the audience rippled with genuine laughter at all the right moments. It wasn’t that weird, “Uh … is this supposed to be funny?” laughter that we all secretly dread. All the jokes (physical jokes, not verbal ones) hit the mark.
When it was over, they cheered. Lustily. Thrillingly. Authentically. It was awesome.
Here’s a shot by the talented Jesse Miller, who photographed a lot of the festival.
So, score one for team Dawson/Taylor-Dawson. Not bad at all for a pretty complex bit of physical theater that had a sum total of maybe four or five hours of real rehearsal time and literally no full run-through with music.
Throughout the rest of the festival, we constantly heard how much people had loved the piece.
A few even commented on exactly the thing I’d hoped to bring to the table: the fact that the piece had characters and a storyline, which isn’t something I’ve seen in FlowCase in previous years. Our good friend reported that she was so proud she found herself tearing up. Someone even commented that my ballet (all three-ish steps that actually made it into the final piece!) was beautiful.
Needless to say, the success of the piece and the instantaneous lifting of the pressure of it off of our collective shoulders helped immensely. So did being done, and thus able to go retire to the camper and just read (I did stay for most of the rest of the show, though, until the mosquitoes emerged and began eating me alive).
I also discovered a technique that really helps D and me: right before we went on, we simply talked our way through the piece, back and forth, each of us simply stating the short-hand name for our moves.
- Except for the ballet part: since I do that by myself, and I sometimes find it quicker not to actually attempt to get the language bit of my brain firing, I just visualized and went, “Balletballetballet, maybe some other ballet” there.
We each went on feeling like the other knew not just the skills required, but the sequence in which they needed to be called up, and it let us both relax. Handy!
Anyway, there’s video of the whole FlowCase, but it won’t be ready for a couple of weeks. I’ll watch it, even though I’m not sure I want to (the performance felt really good, but when I watch video, I tend to get hung up in my flaws).
This week, I’m taking two days off to get things back to normal as much as I can before diving back into class and so forth. I am vaguely regretting not signing up for our AD’s master class, because I know a couple of people who are taking it and it sounds cool, but I also recognize that I need a breather.
I need a couple of days to just do day-to-day life stuff. Mentally speaking, I already feel like the summer is more or less over: I’m away for two weeks of July on dance intensives (LexBallet and Pilobolus), then possibly again for much of August and the first week of September (depending on a handful of circumstances) for Burning Man. Because I struggle with time, the idea of those giant pre-planned blocks makes it hard to understand that the rest of the summer, the windows between those bricks, exists.
Inevitably, when I take a couple of days off, there’s a part of my brain that remembers how nice it is to have the whole day to do the things that need doing (or, if possible, to do nothing, or do only things that don’t need doing). Occasionally, a very quiet voice in the back of my head whispers, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do this than to pursue your insane visions?”
I remind it, of course, that “it makes more sense” hasn’t really worked out for us in the past—that I’m not actually great at predicting what makes sense; that (perhaps more importantly) the pursuit of impractical dreams, Quixotic though it may appear, keeps the wind in my sails.
Someday, I’m sure, it probably will make sense to ease off the accelerator a bit; to drop out of the big ring. Right now, though, I’m riding to ride the hills; I’m dancing to feel the sensation of soaring at the top of the grand assemblé porté.
And, yet, I think it’s good for me, having a life in which something as powerfully thrilling as Friday night’s performance is followed by something as entirely mundane as getting out in the backyard to chop up the branches that are still waiting there for me.
To misapply Jack Kornfield’s magnificent summary of Zen practice: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”
So there we are. Back to class tomorrow, though I am sure I’ll sorely (ha!) regret jumping back in with Killer Class instead of something gentler.
Woke up in a terrible mood again today. At this juncture, though, I recognize that it is what it is, and it will pass. We’ve been around this block before. It’s easier to cope if you can say, “Just hold on for a minute; this, too, will pass.”
I did, however, actually get some sleep last night (better living through chemistry, heh), which should help.
At any rate, something spurred me to get back to work on Simon Crane, so I’ve been gathering a possible selection of music and stringing it all together in a playlist in order to determine whether or not it’s musically coherent. I don’t think I’m ever going to be the kind of choreographer who goes in for an incoherent score, as much as I suppose that could be a useful theatrical device.
This whole process makes me very grateful both for the exposure my parents gave me to good music (literally from before I was born) and for my formal musical training. It helps to know about things like relative keys, and so forth, and to possess at least a basic understanding of stylistic epochs within classical music.
At the moment, the score for Simon Crane begins with piano works by Satie, then transitions in the second act to orchestral works by Ravel (the famous “Bolero,” with a bit of choreographic homage to Béjart, because I think it would be an insult not to acknowledge his “Bolero”) possibly followed by either Saint-Saëns (‘Cello Concerto No. 1) or Vaughan Williams (Oboe Concerto).
The Saint-Saëns is quite difficult to play, evidently, which might be problematic, but a listen-through last night suggested some real choreographic possibilities. The overall arc of the piece rather nicely fits the part of the story that I’m trying to set.
I haven’t listened to the whole of the Vaughan Williams yet, so I have no idea if it’ll really work at all. I just happen to love Vaughan Williams, and the feeling of a lot of his music would fit the overall mood of the ballet pretty well, I think—though, ironically, Vaughan Williams might not be a good fit for the second act. Act II is distinctly urban in tone, while Vaughan Williams frequently evokes the English countryside. We’ll see how it goes.
Regardless, I haven’t listened to “Bolero” with either of the other two pieces yet, so that’s on my agenda for today while I’m finishing up some really boring yard work. It’s possible that neither will actually be a good fit and that I’ll have to find something else. Thank goodness for the sheer profligacy with which the Romantic and Impressionistic composers as a whole deployed their musical gifts!
The final act begins with Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead;” I think it may, in fact, stick with Rachmaninoff all the way through the final act, though that may or may not make every dancer who ever gets saddled with this thing hate me. I don’t know. I quite like dancing to Rachmaninoff, to be honest.
I’m debating whether or not some of this plan entirely works: not so much the use of the two long transitional pieces (“Bolero” and “Isle of the Dead,” both of which practically constitute entire acts in themselves from a storytelling perspective) as whether I’ve worked out an effective transition from Satie’s spare piano works to the lush Romantic orchestral works that follow. Right now, Act I ends with Satie, and Act II begins with “Bolero,” the opening of which is very far-off and spare.
I still have no idea how one, having conceived an entire ballet on this particular scale, goes about trying it out on actual dancers and eventually setting it if one doesn’t already happen to have access to an entire ballet company.
I do think I should be able to set bits of it, however. In particular, the opening scene from Act II, in particular, seems like it’s pretty amenable to performance as a standalone piece, perhaps with some small modifications.
Regardless, I sometimes find myself wishing that I had the slightest sense of how to compose for ballet, or at least for this ballet. Part of it is that I don’t feel like I compose well enough to create an original score for Simon Crane—if there’s one thing that drives me crazy about a lot of the great classical ballets, it’s that their scores are at best trite and at worst practically unlistenable. One accepts them because the dances that go with them are sublimely beautiful, but finds them irritating in the absence of dancers.
- I could see setting dances to some of the music I’ve written, but not this ballet.
I don’t want to beget yet another such score. I’d rather borrow music written by people who knew what they were about and be done with it.
Besides, Simon Crane began with a small piece set to one of Satie’s “Gymnopedies,” and I kind of think that you have to honor your muses. Apparently Terpsichore didn’t see fit to issue me a ballet with original music.
That’s fine. If she had, knowing me, I would probably never actually finish the damned thing.
Update: Having just listened through the Ravel-Vaughan Williams-Rachmaninoff option, I’m pretty sure that the Vaughan Williams is probably not “it.” The transition from “Bolero” to the Oboe Concerto is really quite nice, but I’m not sure that the Oboe Concerto A) fits the moon and B) won’t be a complete nightmare to choreograph, set, learn, and/or dance.
Going to listen to the Ravel-Saint Saëns-Rachmaninoff option now…
Further update: I’m listening to Grieg’s A Minor ‘Cello Sonata, and while it steps back from the complex orchestration of Ravel’s “Bolero,” as it’s written for ‘cello and piano, it might actually be a good fit, as well. Even if I don’t use it for Act II, I should keep it in mind for Act III, assuming that the rest of it fits. I’m only halfway through the first movement.
Yesterday, I had nothing before ballet, so I was properly fed and rested and so forth.
As a result, BW’s class went very well.
After, I went and played at Suspend, where we did all kinds of lifty things in Acro 2.
After that, my car decided to throw a fit and D had to come rescue me (fortunately, I noticed that it sounded weird and didn’t get on the expressway). As result, an already late night got later, and I was too tired to pack lunch.
This morning, D came home early and sent me to Cinci with his truck, which was really sweet of him. I had eaten two hot dogs for lunch, with the intention of grabbing some real food when I got back into Louisville.
In Cinci, partnering class was half really frustrating: I couldn’t hear because my allergies were trolling me, and we were learning partnering phrases, so I kept not quite understanding what was going on. As a result, I kept frustrating my partner, which made me nervous, which makes my brain not work too well.
- Also, my body wanted all the fouettés to be tour jetés. WTF, body?
Anyway, we got there eventually.
During the second half, we did group lifts, and that bit went really well. Didn’t hurt that Acro 2 last night was all about the dynamic group lifts :p
Anyway, after Partnering, my plans for food were scuttled by a traffic jam. I resorted to buying Chex mix at a gas station when I refueled the truck. I would be surprised if that even brought me back up to baseline.
Anyway, BW’s final class was more challenging than it should have been, since I basically ran out of juice. I got all the way through anyway, but my grand pirouettes weren’t really all that grand. They started out nice going right, then fizzled, going left, I just worked fourth-passé-second-plié-relevé-plié-relevé, etc, without the actual turns.
On the other hand, I cracked out some nice grand allegro: it was kind of my way of saying, “I value your class and, dammit, I’mma try as hard as I can!”
That backfired, of course, when we proceeded to follow the second grand allegro combo with even moar petit allegro.
Oh, I can now check entrechats six off my goals list. Or, at any rate, I can mark them as done with baseline success but in need of werk, werk, werk, werk. They’re not pretty, but they’re there.
We did 36 of them.
Also, after that, so many Royales, which are my least favorite jump. I mean, seriously, in France there’s a hamburger named after them.
- I may be employing artistic license here. Who knows?
Anyway, my legs felt weak and resentful (I suspect that, if you’re a dancer or a cyclist, you understand what I mean), and I resented their resentful attitude (note to self: I need to draw a resentful attitude 😁) until I realized that it wasn’t fair to resent them when it was my own fault for not feeding them.
Evidently, it takes a lot of calories to run this body at peak performance, or at any rate more than the ≈600 I have it before tonight’s ballet class.
At any rate, I’m pleased with myself for not giving up. There were a few times in class tonight that my dark side whispered,”You could just say your foot is unhappy!”
But I didn’t.
So there’s that.
Anyway, I’m going to go have a wee soak in some Epsom salts. Tomorrow, I have to leave at 7 AM for Cinci because evidently I’m insane, so after that I’m off to bed.
At ML&Co, it was partnering day. I paired up with a girl who was frankly awesome at partnering. She made us both look good!
I landed hardish a couple of times on my healing foot, but still made it through everything in BW’s masterclass except grand pirouettes going left. My foot complained about those, so I decided to play it safe and only do a couple.
Even grand allegro went reasonably well. Still can’t get out of my own way doing brisées in medium allegro, though
Or, well. I managed a couple going right, but literally got off on the wrong foot going left and failed to actually recover.
I guess that’s going to be a goal this week.
The combo is:
Glissade, jeté, jeté jeté; balloté x4; coupé-balloné; brisée, brisée; temps de cuisse, entrechat quatre x2.
I think I’m going to have to mark that at home.
On the other hand, some of the stength-y things and some of the balance-y things felt easier today, as did the crazy petit allegro brainteaser that BW has us running (the one from last Thursday with the incredibly confusing assemblés).
So that was today. No ML&Co class tomorrow, so I plan to catch up on housework, make friends with the foam roller, and review the crap out of that medium allegro.
Totally not* nervous about ML&Co audition.
Our run of Orpheus went well—it wasn’t 100% perfect, but it was close enough. Our audiences didn’t know it wasn’t perfect, and that’s all that matters. We got another really nice review, as well.
Surprisingly, Mom loved it! I wasn’t sure what she’d think, to be honest. She’s been an avid fan of the performing arts for far longer than I’ve even been alive. I wasn’t sure that the combination of silent theater, aerials, and modern dance would appeal to her. In fact, she thought it was great (and not just the parts I in :D). I don’t think I would have predicted that!
For me, there was definitely a trial-by-fire element. I’ve never had so much choreography to learn for one show, and we had such an oddly compressed rehearsal schedule. On Wednesday, we were still pretty shaky about some things; full of challenging doubts. On Thursday, though, everything seemed to suddenly gel. I guess that dancers, like beans, cook faster in a pressure cooker!
Anyway, it was a learning experience in all regards, and a good one. Nobody ever did call or email to tell me they’d cast me by mistake, so that was cool. Our playwright said that my portrayal of Eurydice’s strict, mean father (we nicknamed the role “Papa Eurydice”) was one of his very favorite parts 😀 (That was one heck of a fun role, too.) I discovered that I like the acting bits almost as much as the dancing bits, and the I love the acting-via-dance element like crazy.
I learned that two shows in one day is very doable.
I learned that I look rather good in a slick 1920’s coiffure 😉
The most important thing that I learned, though, is that I can recover from mistakes without telegraphing them. I only made a few (basically, one biggie per show), but they felt enormous—like, at one point, I wound up way off my mark before a sequence en manège, basically standing at 5:00 instead of 7:00. I still have no idea how that happened, but it did.
In a way, it was funny: I rose from a floorwork passage and thought, “Something feels wrong, here.” By the time I realized that I was way off my mark, though, it was too late to move. Instead, I jumped into the manège sequence where I was, then adjusted by pivoting around another dancer at the end so I would wind up in the right spot. She also tried to adjust, and we bumped into each-other, but we made it. The audience didn’t even notice.
This week, I think I’m going to take it easy a bit. I’m taking a day off-ish today, though I think I’ll be back in class tomorrow. Friday, we’re heading out of town to celebrate our 5th anniversary.
Speaking of which, D gave me a mind-blowing anniversary gift:
The amount planning and subterfuge that went into this is incomprehensible! On the other hand, if I ever need a team of aerialist secret agents who can keep a secret, I know who call! More or less everyone was in on this, and planning phase dates back to January; maybe earlier.
Meanwhile, I had literally no idea this in the works!
It’s longish, but pretty cool.
Opening night went well!
Too tired to write more, though 😛
We threw a little viewing party last night, and I finally watched our video from Spring Collection.
There were a few WTF moments and a few really beautiful moments. On the balance, the rest was okay, especially given our highly-compressed rehearsal schedule. I’d say that analysis applies both to the entire group to me individually. It’s worth noting that essentially everyone’s WTF moments happened at different times, and the overall effect was surprisingly polished.
For my part, I was at my worst right of the gate: I came in too hot, and you can definitely tell. The first sauté arabesque turned into a bad saut de chat, and while the sauté arabesque that leads off the “arrow” was nice, I failed to failli through and the landing was fugly. Like, I started to relax the working leg to tombé onto it, then just didn’t even really bring it through. Eh.
I was at my most mind-bendingly mediocre in the tombé-coupé-balloné-sus sous part, during which my legs looked beautiful but my arms were way too far back and my shoulders creeped up. I didn’t know about the giant hat yet, then. The average of these two things —beautiful legs and feet, bad arms —is a flavor of mediocrity that must be highly specific to dancers who, as kids, weren’t into being beautiful and lyrical, but instead wanted to master the explosive jumps.
I will say, though, that your average person-in-the-street would not be able to pinpoint what, exactly, I was doing wrong. They might spot that something looked a little off—might even say, “The boy looks tense.” They’d be right, really: I was tense. That’s why my shoulders and arms were so weird. I was convinced that I was going to eat Marley at any moment, since that part follows on the tail of the part in which I threw a shoe.
Meanwhile, your entry-level balletomane would be able to identify the problem precisely—but that’s neither here nor there.
I was at my best, meanwhile, throughout the Homage to Apollo/Balanchine Noodle Experiment segment, in which I suddenly turn into this lovely danseur who seems to know what he’s about. I—who once despaired of every figuring out what to do with my arms at all, ever—do these beautiful, lyrical, expressive things with my arms whilst partnering four girls who, for their part, also look lovely.
The turn afterwards morphed into a kind of really high, lovely rond en tournant thing. According to D, if you don’t know that’s not what’s supposed to happen, it looks quite nice, though the finish was iffy—I gave it too much force and had trouble checking my momentum >.< I basically prepared for a normal turn in second, but gave it enough force to launch a rocket and, for some reason, brushed my leg up way, way too high.
The Apollo jump, meanwhile, was higher than I thought (which makes me wonder how high it would have been if I hadn’t been paranoid about missing shoe situation) and acceptable. Not brilliant, but technically sound, and nice enough.
At the very end of the dance, I think I looked a tiny bit lost, though that may be because I kept, for some reason, turning my head too far in these bits that should have in profile. The movements, though, were nice enough.
There’s a lot of improvement over last year’s video from Lexington: like, I can watch this one without wanting to crawl under a rock. The biggest difference is that I carry my arms and upper body so, so much better. I don’t keep dropping my arms and desperately searching the middle distance for … something.
- The fact that I didn’t run myself into the ground in the dress rehearsal probably helped, there.
In the Spring Collection video, there’s only one spot in which I did entirely dropped my arms, and it’s because I had to shimmy through a traffic jam on the way from the tombé-coupé-balloné-sus sous bit to the Changing of the Trains bit. I mostly managed to stay one step ahead of the weird things that inevitably happen onstage, but not that thing.
As a performer, I’m learning to adjust on the fly the same way that you do in the pack in a bike race. I think I’ve come a long way this year.
That said, I still have bad days and bad classes. Today was one. I’m having a wicked bout of body-image issues right now. I didn’t stretch after rehearsal yesterday, and I felt it all through class. I couldn’t get my brain to engage. I felt like I couldn’t move or engage all the things or maintain placement.
In the other hand, I got through little jumps and the first petit allegro without any major complaints from my foot.
In the long run, I’ve at this long enough now to know the taste of a plain old bad day. Although there’s a small part of me that’s loudly freaking out (you know the drill: worst dancer ever, no business dancing, etc), the rest of me is basically like, “Calm down, Felicia.”
Like: it wasn’t a wolf last time, it isn’t a wolf this time, so keep yelling if you want to, but we’re gonna get back to herding our sheep over here.
This week, we’ve got a bunch of late rehearsals; we’re basically running the show until we can do it our sleep (ah, tech week). Orpheus opens on Friday, runs for three shows, and I’ll be down to one performance to rehearse for the time being.
Then it’s on to summer, as unbelievable as that is.
PS: if we get permission to post the ballet video somewhere and everyone’s okay with it, I’ll stick a link out here.
First, something that it never occurred to me to do.
Every now and then I notice that a blogger I’m following will post something like, “1,000 Subscribers! Wow! Thanks!”
I haven’t done that, or at any rate I don’t think that I have … so, um, to all you amazing people out there who follow this blog for whatever reason? Thanks!
It turns out that are more than 2,000 of you. I find that completely baffling, but not in a bad way. I mean, I’d still be writing this blog even no one subscribed (qv: if a hipster blogs in the wilderness and no one subscribes, does it make a sound?), but I’m weirdly delighted by the idea that somewhere out in the world there are people who, for whatever reason, like the stuff I write enough to add it to their feeds.
Special thanks to the handful of you who regularly comment. I live at this odd little nexus of the Ballet Blogger Universe, the Mental Health Blogger Universe, and the Bike Blogger Universe (even though I read bike blogs much more I actually ride right now), and there are folks in all three of those worlds who, even though I know some of you only by your blog handles, feel like friends.
It’s a funny old world, but I’m glad I’m living in it now, in the age of the Innertubes. I’m grateful for this ocean of virtual strangers, this sea of compulsive writers and readers who leave open windows into their lives and who stroll around the virtual block glancing in at windows of others like themselves, pausing now and to wave or chat across the virtual flower-boxes.
Bizarrely, the rest of this is really long, so here’s a more tag:
I’m doing better, lately, mental health-wise. At least on average, anyway.
I suspect that this comes down, in part, to the protective effects of dancing so freaking much.
Like, it’s definitely physically taxing at times (though still nothing compared to last year’s M-L & Co intensive), but for me that’s a good thing. That means I generally sleep better and, in turn, my mood stays more stable.
Add to that the generally-positive effects of exercise, a sense of belonging, and a sense of being good at something (and getting better at it), and you’ve got a nice recipe for better mood.
That said, I’m still struggling a bit with my schedule.
Split shifts aren’t my ideal—but they’re my reality right now, and are very likely to remain as much well into the foreseeable future.
So I’m working on learning how to adapt.
- …Just as I’ve learned to begin sentences with the word “So,” even though it makes my inner Prescriptive Grammarian gnash his teeth and howl with rage.
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that I need one day each week on which I do not schedule anything; on which I can stay home and clean the house and gather my wits about me in preparation for the next sortie.
In the past, I assumed that eventually I would settle into a stable and predictable kind of working life; one in which most weeks would be essentially the same in terms of schedule, if not in terms of content.
That, however, is not the rule for performing artists these days where I live. Indeed, I suspect that it hasn’t been the rule for performing artists almost anywhere, ever.
Had I realized that I was, in fact, doomed to stumble into a sort of career in the performing arts, I might have twigged on to this earlier.
As a dancer, you rather live by the gig unless you’re attached to a company (even then, you still probably need a side-hustle unless you’re either attached to a major company that can afford to pay a living wage or supported by a generous spouse). That makes for an ever-shifting schedule as projects come online, develop, reach fruition, live out their performance runs, and subside.
Most of us have day jobs (even I have a day job: besides being responsible for the housework, I’m still the web lead for D’s business—he just pays me mostly in ballet tuition), so by necessity rehearsals skew towards evenings.
Classes, meanwhile, skew towards mornings—probably in no small measure due to the fact that our teachers are usually also working dancers, directors, or choreographers with own rehearsal schedules, and many of them teach youth classes in the afternoons.
The result is a split-shift reality in which the middle of day becomes “free time”—by which, of course, I really mean the time when we Do All The Things.
This is convenient when it comes to scheduling haircuts, check-up, and shopping trips.
For me, it’s less convenient where getting other things done is concerned. I don’t change gears very well, and I have serious trouble estimating how long any given job will take.
I’m getting used to it, though. These days, I find that when I get home from class in the morning, if I know I’m heading back out in a few hours, I’d rather knock out a few jobs around the house than sit down and read or write—because inevitably, if I start reading or writing, I’ll have to stop at some inconvenient point. Instead, I mostly read or write after I come home in the evening.
Obviously, my day off is an exception.
On my day off, I like to linger in bed, reading or writing, until I feel like doing other things. Then I get up and get going.
I don’t think I could manage a schedule like this at a normal job. I need more time recover mentally from working in an office or a retail environment, though maybe that wouldn’t be true if I worked in the bowels of some filing department, retrieving things and putting things away with minimal actual interaction and little changing of gears.
Basically, for me, interacting with people burns a lot of matches—unless I’m dancing. This might be because interactions in rehearsal follow simple patterns: you receive choreography, you learn it, you take your corrections, now and then you might ask a question or advance an idea.
Mostly, you don’t have to talk.
I had a winter-break job at a warehouse once that I thought of as a of live-action video game: 12 hours pper day, 3 days per week (more if I felt like it), orders rolled onto the screen of my scanning gun, and I went on merry quests throughout Warehouse World to fill them. I have a very keen spatial memory, so I was good at it, and I actually liked the work because I never had to sit down and only rarely had to interact with other people. Basically, my day was like one long scavenger hunt, only I got paid for it.
Maybe I could do something like that on this kind of schedule—but it’s hard to say. I suspect that there’s something specific to doing the thing you love most that makes you more willing and more able to jump through crazy hoops do it.
- Honestly, nobody would ever do ballet in the first place, otherwise, because ballet is basically the art of jumping through crazy hoops and making it look effortless.
Regardless, I would still need one “downtime” day; a day like today on which I can let my brain off the leash—one on which I might still need get things done, but can do them in my own time.
When I worked with horses, even the best schoolmasters and the prospects in the most stringent training got one day off every week to run around in the field just being horses. They needed that.
So do we. So, very much, do I.
Some while back I wrote about the weird point at which I realized that I’d come to identify myself as a dancer, and how it had happened sort of under the radar —by the time I realized it, it was already a fait accompli.
This weekend, it dawned on me that a similar thing has happened again. Without noticing it, I’ve come to think of myself as a working dancer; someone who will to continue to go and audition for things and work in dance for the foreseeable future. Someone for whom even going to auditions in the first place is not actually evidence of madness.
- Or, at any rate, of any madness other than that common to working dancers in general. What it that us think, “Hey, here’s a difficult and challenging thing that I love to do! How can I make it stressful in addition to being difficult and challenging?”
I mean, there was a definite thrill that came with my first successful audition—I didn’t somehow fail to notice that.
But the intervening period, I’ve evolved a sense of myself as someone who does dance in a kind of official capacity. Like, when someone asks what I do, it no longer feels weird to say, “I’m a dancer.”
Ironically, perhaps, the best tool I have for understanding it is my own Impostor Syndrome.
It’s still around, of course. I don’t think Impostor Syndrome ever entirely goes away in any field that invites the thought, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this!” Rather, one might say that it evolves into a question of degree rather than kind.
As such, I no longer feel like actually working as a dancer is some kind of impossible pipe-dream. I can’t feel like that because I am, in fact, working as a dancer.
Instead, my mind has neatly created a new division; one in which there working dancers and, I don’t know, Working Dancers, and I can call myself one but not the other without laughing.
I am okay with that division. I suspect that, going forward, it will help to keep me humble. Besides, it afflicts every working dancer I know, including BW, who in a recent conversation about cross-training said something about “all the really amazing dancers,” which T and I found terribly charming because it was so unmistakably clear that he does not number himself in that group.
T and I, of course, very much do number BW among those stars. To us, he is a treasure: to himself, he is just him, warts and all. Not that I’m assuming he has actual warts.
Such is life. As dancers, we are keenly aware of our own faults. Even Nureyev was: he fell in love first with Eric Bruhn’s precision, because precision was not his own natural strength, and only later with Bruhn himself.
There is always Impostor Syndrome.
So my Impostor Syndrome no longer makes me afraid that, any day now, I’ll get an email saying, “Oh, sorry, there was a clerical oversight. We didn’t really mean cast you. Thanks for coming to all those rehearsals, though!”
Instead, it’s more of a sense that when I tell people what I’m doing work-wise, I should qualify myself: “I mean, I’m not in a company. I’m freelancing right now, doing local shows, auditioning for stuff.” It’s the thing that makes me add the qualifier “semi-” before “professional,” still.
I still feel like I more or less fumbled my way into this work, but I imagine that I’ll keep on fumbling forward now that I’m here. There will be more auditions and more gigs; more split shifts; more grateful kvetching about the weird reality in which one must decide to eat dinner at 3:30 or at 10 and in which one has difficulty identifying one’s co-workers in their street clothes.
Maybe if I keep at it long enough, I’ll even get to be as good at it as some people seem to think I am.
Of course, by then, my goal posts will have moved again, along with the locus of my Impostor Syndrome.
For now, though, there is a part of me that still thinks, “Huh, wow,” on the occasion that I find myself thinking about where I hoped to go when I returned to dance, or when I applied to Columbia’s DMT program, or when Dr. K told me that for someone like me, “…The sky’s the limit.”
I’m still trying to talk myself into believing that last one. As a dancer, I still feel so raw and so unfinished and like there’s so much I to learn, ballet-wise at any rate.
But I’d be lying if I said that those words didn’t act as a kind of springboard. And here I am, in a place I didn’t really believe I would ever find myself until, rather suddenly, I did.
You guys! We have graphics (stolen from the Facebook event) and everything!
…Here’s a plain text linky, too:
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
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.