So here’s how we’re doing on the work front so far this year:
- Culture of Poverty: I got B Cast, which is great. Last year, I don’t think I would’ve made the cut. I think I might’ve mentioned this already. We start rehearsals Sunday, basically as soon as I get back from BDSI’s SI audition.
- Collabo show: my piece got a green light, and I’ve got a partner to work with, so that’s rolling forward. We start reheasals on Thursday.
- Suspend company: I’ve got a company spot, and we’re on to callbacks for specific casting next.
- PlayThink: this year, I’m both performing and teaching. I’m pretty excited about that, y’all! …Speaking of which:
- And, of course, I’ll continue with CirqueLouis.
It’ll be interesting to see how rehearsal schedules shake out for all of this stuff.
This weekend, I’ll be jetting over to Lexington for the Ballet Detroit Summer Intensive audition. I have no idea, honestly, if I’ll make the cut, but I can say that last year I wouldn’t have been brave enough to go. A friend of mine from LexBallet SI is also going, so that’s pretty exciting!
I’m trying to go into it with the mindset that, regardless of the outcome, I can learn a lot from the audition process, and in many ways it’ll be a lot like taking a masterclass (only presumably with a number pinned to your shirt :P).
The weird part is that it’s hard to imagine that my first successful audition was last year, and that before then I felt pretty unsure about auditioning for things in general.
One of the general goals I set down for this year was to reduce my impostor syndrome about working in dance. I think that part of that is going out and auditioning for things—taking risks; seeing how things work out—and another part is choosing atleast some of my auditions strategically, based on my own strengths as a dancer and what kinds of dancers are needed in different markets.
Though I am making money as a dancer now, I’ve come to regard what I’m doing this year as a kind of apprenticeship. Not to say that my command of technique is finished—nobody’s ever done learning technique—but I’m learning the elements of artistry; how to approach roles; how to take direction and use it effectively (I try to be biddable, so to speak, but I don’t know if I always apply direction as well as I could).
I’m lucky to have good mentors in the midst of all this stuff. Señor BeastMode, in particular, has given me a lot to think about for our Showcase piece this year. I think last year he was kind of feeling us out; figuring out how much technique he could throw at us, given the compressed rehearsal schedule.
This year, he’s giving me very specific directions about approaching the role I’m playing in this piece—what kind of movement quality he’s looking for, how to use my eyes, etc. I’m learning how to ask questions to clarify points I don’t quite get in ways that get the answer I’m actually looking for (all too often, I’ll ask, “What was the thing at the end of that phrase?” in a way that sounds like, “What was the beginning of that phrase?”).
This is all stuff I can carry into the other jobs I’ll be doing this year—and into every job I land going forward. To some extent, these are also the points that determine what kinds of jobs you land as a dancer. Being able to ask a clarifying question intelligently at an audition isn’t a bad thing and, of course, reputation matters in a community as small as the dance community.
I’ll also, obviously, be spending this year learning to juggle the insane schedule that seems to be pretty much the hallmark of #dancerlife always and everywhere 😛 It may sound trivial (it may not: you guys know me pretty well by now :D), but part of me is like, “Holy crap, I’m going to have to figure out how to cook and eat food in here somewhere.”
So, basically, I’m doing the stuff you do as a company trainee, only I’m working for 2 different companies as a non-trainee ^-^
Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the coming year, busy though it’s likely to be.
Yesterday, D and I met up with some of my ballet girls at a showing of the Norwegian documentary Ballet Boys, which follows three teenage dancers at a critical period in their training—the point at which they’re deciding whether to continue training and possibly to pursue careers as dancers.
One of the three is absolutely all-in. The other two aren’t as certain. One of them mentions the reality that one faces as a dancer in training: that there’s no time for a typical adolescent social life. He walks away, briefly, from dance—but he literally can’t stop dancing, and ultimately he returns.
I was reminded of a conversation I had not long ago with my friend RH: I said something about how working in dance involves a lot of sacrifice, but it’s willing sacrifice, joyfully given. He said something to the effect that he didn’t see how sacrifice came into it.
For a second, I honestly felt kind of angry. I almost responded with anger.
Then I realized that my anger was the knee-jerk response that dancers evolve as a defense against the fact that people who don’t dance haven’t the faintest hint of a clue about how hard it is; how much it demands. They often seem to legitimately believe that we spend all our time riding unicorns and eating cotton candy and swimming in the fountains of money we get paid for it, when in fact our lives are more akin to monastic vocations—we work grindingly hard, often for peanuts, because we’re called to the Work.
And then I realized that, okay, from his perspective, the commitment and sacrifice required probably aren’t visible, let alone obvious.
RH doesn’t dance, but he knows that I love dancing. He knows that dancing makes me unbelievably happy.
He works in technology, and he loves tech—but he doesn’t love his work in the all-consuming way that I love dancing. The work that he does in the tech sector isn’t the work he’d choose to do if money was no object, and it doesn’t always really work for him. Dancing is absolutely the work I would choose to do if money was no object, and it works for me in a way that nothing else ever has.
Perhaps a bit ironically, I’m working in dance in part because, at the moment, money is an object: to dance at the level I want to, I need to make dance pay for itself. But it’s still what I’d be doing if we suddenly received a windfall that would set us up for life.
That doesn’t, however, mean there’s no sacrifice involved.
Every now and then, someone will say to me, “I wish I could do what you’re doing.”
I try to listen and respond with kindness; with an openness to the nuances of meaning that underpin what they’re saying. I try to factor in things like financial challenges and family commitments (kids change everything).
But what I want to say, most of the time, is this: You could.
Part of what people are saying, when they say that, is this: I wish I was talented enough.
Sometimes, the people saying it are more talented than I am. They may not have as much training, but in terms of raw aptitude, they have the goods. They just need the training to use their aptitude.
I have pretty strong aptitude for dance, don’t get me wrong—but talent isn’t really the deciding factor.
Sometimes they mean, “I wish I’d danced as a kid.” There’s an assumption that it’s essential to start before your bones stop growing—especially in ballet.
Early training does exert some influence—but it’s not the deciding factor, either. My bones are constructed in a way that allows for 180-degree turnout; my feet were definitely shaped by my early training. But there are much, much better dancers than I—professionals at major companies with a lifetime of training and still have less turnout and mediocre feet; but also late-starters without great turnout or awesome feet who have gone on to forge careers out of nothing.
Early training isn’t the deciding factor, either.
The deciding factor, at the end of the day, is sacrifice.
So what, then, do I sacrifice to work in dance?
First and foremost, time.
To work in dance, you have to dance. Dancing eats up oceans of time.
It’s not like training to race bikes as a serious amateur. That you can do around a life that allows some time for other pursuits. You work to develop fitness and riding skills and racing know-how—but a lot it you can do (and ultimately do do) alone, in the interstitial hours around the job that pays for the bike and the racing license and the entry fees.
Dancing requires technique, fitness, and artistry. All of these things, in turn, require a time-commitment that will eat your life. You can potentially fit your training in around another job (and make no mistake, your training is a job), but in so doing you must acknowledge the fact that you will literally have time for nothing else.
I don’t race bikes anymore. I barely ride anymore. I don’t play video games that can’t be squeezed into a few minutes here or there. I’m never up to date on TV shows. I rarely manage to swing a night out, and when I do, it’s almost always with other dancers from the class or rehearsal that ends right before said night out.
I schedule my “life” around dancing. Even my occasional bouts of paid non-dance work are subject to the demands of class and rehearsal schedules. I give up weeks of the summer, when sane people are enjoying cookouts or canoeing, to sweat my ass off with other dancers in the interest of professional development (but also because I love dancing more than anything else).
I rarely manage to snag an evening alone with my husband. Fortunately, he’s okay with that. We make the most of whatever time we can grab.
If he wasn’t okay with that? To be honest, I’d still choose dance.
My time belongs to dance, and it will for the foreseeable future.
As a function of time, I’m also sacrificing money. I could land a job tomorrow that would pay thirty times or more the amount I made as a dancer last year. It might even allow me time to dance as a hobby. It would, in one fell swoop, make us very secure, financially-speaking.
It would also mean giving up the career, such as it is, that I’m building now.
Dance is a demanding muse.
I have back-burnered every other interest except circus arts, and circus arts make the cut only insofar as they allow me to function within them as a dancer and don’t interfere with actually dancing.
I still write, but I do my writing in shreds of time snatched at the ends and beginnings of my days. I often fall asleep while writing in bed.
I know it’ll take me longer to finish the projects I’m working on, but I don’t care.
These are a handful of the things that I’ve cast into the fire in the name of dance.
I don’t mind. They’re joyfully given. I would do all of it again in a heartbeat. If you forced me to live my life over, I’d even do it sooner.
But a sacrifice is a sacrifice, willing or not. That’s the one and only thing that separates me from my friends who would like to do what I’m doing.
- Except the ones who have kids. Denis is a consenting adult who can walk away if he gets sick of playing second fiddle to a career that pays poverty wages. When you have kids, you’re responsible for them in ways that force you to make different decisions. It can be impossible to do what I’m doing and keep the kids fed and housed. In short, kids change everything.
Sometimes, the same people who say they wish they could do what I’m doing are the ones who skip class to just chill, or who opt not to take rep class because it would conflict with game night, or what have you.
I restrain myself from saying, “You could do what I’m doing if you chose dance over everything else.”
Most of the time, I don’t say it.
I recognize that I wouldn’t have understood, back before I started dancing again and realized, finally, that dancing was the only thing I had ever really wanted to do. Either you step into the studio one day and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would and will shove everything else off the table to keep dancing, or you don’t.
Both ways of being are valid, good, and necessary—but only one usually leads to working in dance.
As humans, we are great at wanting to want things.
I want to want to paint more often.
I just actually want to dance.
As dancers, we face the generally unconsidered, usually unspoken, and often unconscious assumption that a sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if you do it to achieve something that gives you joy; that helps you to be a whole.
And yet we recognize the sacrifices of medical students, many of whom pursue their calling for exactly same reason that dancers pursue dance.
As dancers, our calling places tremendous strictures on our time and finances; on our relationships and our personal lives. Just because we’re making art, rather than medicine, that doesn’t make our sacrifice less worthwhile.
Doctors, when they’re skilful and lucky, save lives by cracking open chests to work on hearts.
Dancers, when we’re skilful and lucky, save lives by cracking open hearts.
Sometimes, those lives are our own. Sometimes, they’re other lives.
Regardless, at the end of the day day, the life of a dancer—like any other dedicated life—is one of sacrifice.
Because of that, however, it is also one of transcendence.
L’Ancien is away this week, so HD made a guest appearance in Advanced Class.
I let her know early on that I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it through class, but I would probably at least get through barre.
In fact, I hung in there until it was time for jumps, when I chose to call it a day. I’m much, much better, but I’d say that I’m really at about 60% of my typical capacity, and with the BDSI audition and the start of rehearsals for the Culture of Poverty piece looming next weekend, it made sense to start getting tuned in again but also not to risk injury.
Speaking of the Culture of Poverty, I made B cast, which is great. I don’t think I would’ve made the cut for this piece last year: stylistically, AS is a very different kind of dancer than I am, and while I’m confident that I’ll absorb the movement style and vocabulary over the course of the rehearsal process, I know that in auditions I still have a tough time setting aside the mantle of ballet.
Anyway, back to class notes. At barre I found myself reflecting on a thing.
Background info: I’m a little taller than Killer B (when I stand up straight 🤔) and a few inches shorter than TM, who stands behind (and then in front of, and then behind…) me at barre.
My legs, meanwhile, are about as long as TM’s, so he’s quite a bit longer in the torso than I am. Killer B’s proportions are much like mine. Both that said, both Killer B and I have higher extensions than TM (who is quite a beautiful dancer and doesn’t actually need to be able to scratch his ear with his toes; he’s naturally princely and looks a lot like Steven MacRae).
I think it harkens back to something L’Ancien said a few weeks ago: you work with the body you have, and every body has different strengths. Like L’Ancien, TM has deep hip sockets, which means that high extensions and the quick, fluttering beats that make petit allegro sparkle don’t come as readily to him.
- In fact, they have almost exactly the same build.
Meanwhile, I—with my irrefutably square shoulders and profoundly elastic back—will have to think harder about how to create a lovely, unbroken line through my upper body and arms. Oh, and will spend the rest of my natural life quietly muttering, “Pull up your suspenders,” since that analogy makes me stop swaybacking like a retired dairy cow.
Which is a round-about way of saying this: in ballet, almost everything can be a blessing or a curse.
My feet are what EMM (who has finally joined advanced class!) calls “roundy feet,” which means that both my feet and my ankles are extremely mobile. They can do profoundly beautiful things to the lines of my legs, and ultimately they’re really good for banging out solid balances … once I’ve managed to stack all those piddly little bones correctly, and if the muscles agree to do their job.
But I will be challenged for my entire life to keep them strong enough to counter their natural elasticity, and the beauty of my arches is a completely moot point if I’m not quicker in petit allegro than my friends with less “roundy” feet.
A half-baked point is a half-baked point, and getting feet and legs like mine fully straight and pointed is actually rather a lot of work.
TM’s feet are nice, if not quite as fancy as mine, and he consistently makes them look good. At the end of the day, that’s really what matters.
It’s not about having the perfect body for ballet: there’s probably not a single asset that comes without a price (my thighs, y’all—they might make my grand allegro pop, but they also make my 5th position suck sometimes).
It’s about making the most of what you have.
True, there are some traits that seem to be perpetual winners in the ballet world (TM’s incredibly graceful shoulders; my “roundy feet”). But for every working dancer with an aristocratic neck and feet like bananas, there’s a stocky little dude with biscuits who has learned to make the most of what he’s got.
In fact, probably ten, because ballet ultimately belongs to those who work the hardest, and often those who work the hardest are the ones who feel that they have something to overcome.
One last thing. Today, it occurred to me to think about why we move slowly, painfully through fondus even though we still have to get there and show the world that moment of breathing stillness (the “picture,” as it were).
What we’re doing is building strength and endurance.
Yes, you can piggyback on momentum and flash-developpé your leg to the level of your eyebrow—but that doesn’t matter in that moment when you emerge from a soutenu through a graceful, elastic fondu developpé into a balance effacé devant and must then hooollllddddd for a rubato breath before you dive into tombé-pas de bourré-etc.
If you try to throw your leg there—that is, to simply harness momentum—you will find it difficult to muster control, and either you’ll fall out of the balance or you’ll fall into the tombé and make yourself late.
I can’t say I didn’t already know this, exactly? I mean, I know we’re not supposed to just throw our legs—even a jeté requires connection and control.
But somehow today it occurred to me that I need to remember the feeling of the balance between control and momentum; that I am eternally training my body to do things it would probably rather not do with muscles that would probably rather do something else (regardless of the fact that my body is both very biddable and highly suitable for ballet, ballet insists on using muscles and joints and bones in rather creative ways).
L’Ancien often makes us do grand battement with slow counts on the down: half a count to hit the apex and show the free leg, then a full count down—controlled all the way, through tendu. It’s the classic, “And ONE! And two. And THREE!…” in which the entire action of the upstroke happens in the blink of an eye. You could, in fact, count it faster and make it, “And ONE! two, three, four and TWO! two, three, four and THREE!…” but almost nobody counts like that in ballet because it would make our heads explode and screw up the phrasing•.
- This is a challenge when I dance to a piece I’ve played, sometimes—often, for ballet purposes, we count at half the time signature, transforming 6/8 into 3/4 or 4/4 into 2/2, then divide everything by instinct into phases of 8 or 6 counts.
Anyway, back to ballet-standard counts. So in this slow-descent exercise, the first “And” is just a breath. The free leg shows at its apex a split second later. The rest of the count is spent carrying the free leg back down, rotating the supporting leg against it the entire way.
The descent is infinitely important: it strengthens all the things; it teaches us to counter one leg with the other. It allows us to really figure out how to lift out of our hips so we can close in a clean fifth.
It also looks really cool. There’s something superhuman about an entire ballet class snapping their feet up to face level, then thoughtfully returning them to the ground.
In aerials, when we’re not yet strong enough to overcome gravity doing a skill going up, we practice the reverse skill—that is, the same skill coming down.
Can’t do a smooth pullover mount on trapeze? No problem. Drape yourself over the bar, fight your way into a handstand, and roll down as far as you can before you just drop. Each day, you’ll get a little further. Soon, you’ll find that when you try your pullover mount, you’ve nailed it.
Barre is basically the same kind of thing. Every time you close with control or choose a slower, smoother (and possibly lower) developpé, you’re making yourself stronger.
Full disclosure: sometimes it’ll hurt more when you’re doing it, and sometimes it’ll hurt a lot the next day.
But that’s ballet for you.
It takes a lot of grueling work to become a magical bluebird that flits weightlessly through the air, y’all.
It’s super easy!
Just get yourself a nice case of food poisoning or a really aggressive gastrointestinal bug. If you can arrange for it to take hold around the time you go to bed, all the better–by the time you wake up and find that you can’t even keep liquids down, you’ll already have gone hours without eating or drinking!
Don’t worry. I do not, by any means, intend this as actual advice.
I was just really startled when I stepped onto the scale today and discovered that the roughly sixteen hours that I could neither eat nor drink yesterday–that is, the sixteen hours that it took me to remember that I had some really effective anti-nausea meds on hand–coupled with the profoundly minimal amount I have eaten and drunk since then has added up to a literal five pound drop in my weight.
Obviously, most of that’s water weight. That doesn’t make it any less startling as a demonstration, though. Dehydration is for reals.
Also, the wicked dehydration headache (unless the headache is part of whatever led to the, erm, gastrological pyrotechnics) is, you know, kind of 0/10 Do Not Recommend.
Fortunately, between the Ondansetron and my immune system having time to work on whatever this is, I’ve now regained the ability to drink and to eat dry, crunchy stuff like saltines (I’m still afraid to try anything else, thus far, though I literally had a very involved dream about chocolate milk).
I did grit my way through my endocrinology appointment yesterday (though I was very, very grateful for the single-user restroom, and was profoundly nauseated on the way home). Based on my previous labs, Dr. P prescribed a moderate dose of Androgel, which is kind of what I was hoping for. It should prevent the overdosing thing that happened last time I tried HRT.
I didn’t make it to either class or to rehearsal, and I find it absolutely hilarious that earlier in the day I imagined I actually would, somehow, at least make rehearsal. In fact, during the time that I would’ve been at evening class and rehearsal, I was asleep (though I was pretending to listen to podcasts).
I was particularly sad to miss this session, as KW from the company–AKA my Ballet Spirit Guide, since I inherited his tights last year–came in to teach class and do some cleaning and polishing of The Piece.
I hope the girls were okay without me.
Except possibly for the bits with C, I think it’s not too hard for them to mark through the partnered sections.
Meanwhile, I’m not usually very important to their spacing, while their spacing is critical to my ability to do my part. I’m forever running through flocks of girls in this piece, so if their spacing is off, it starts to look a bit like sportsball-sans-ball.
Anyway, while this was certainly the second-worst gastrological upset I’ve had (the worst, bar none, was the time I ate some bad shrimp when I was eighteen), I realized yesterday whilst contemplating my fate at the foot of the porcelain throne that it’s actually been quite a while since anything made me puke.
Also, despite being fairly dehydrated, my resting pulse yesterday clocked in at 53, which is pretty nice, and my blood pressure was 100/60, which is about typical for me. I figured my vital stats would be all over the place, but they were fine.
So that’s it for now. I’m planning to attempt to eat some yoghurt, after which I’ll probably resume “listening to podcasts,” also known as sleeping. BW’s class is cancelled tonight, conveniently for me, so I feel no great pressure to attempt ballet heroics.
I … think? … I’m done with auditions for the rest of the month, at this point.
Yesterday’s was actually rather a soaring success, except for my usual habit of forgetting some bit of the modern combination and faking my way through that part so I could get to the next bit, then remembering it right after … but there are two thoughts that cheer me up.
First, nobody had the combo down cold. We all missed bits and pieces.
Second, that’s one of the skills they’re looking for at dance auditions. What happens when you fall off the script (because it happens even to top-tier dancers)? Do you freeze like a deer in the headlights, or do you roll on just as if you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? (Bonus points if you can fake your way through well enough to make it look like everyone else was wrong. I don’t think I accomplished that, yesterday, but I didn’t freeze, either.)
The dance improv bit was, of course, a blast, because I love improv.
The trapeze bit went pretty well despite the fact that apparently whatever demiurge manages music for trapeze auditions believes it’s great fun to mess with mine. I recovered from that and had to improvise a fair bit, but it turned out rather well. And, of course, I didn’t fall off the trapeze this time.
- Last year’s audition for “Orpheus” is still the one and only time I’ve fallen off a trapeze. It’s also my number-one go-to story to tell when, inevitably, groups of people start reminiscing about stupid moments in their lives. There’s something special about making what seemed, in the moment, a very logical decision to drop myself off a trapeze from ten feet in the air rather than risk breaking my arms. Dancers get it; circus people get it; athletes get it. That said, there are entire hosts of people who think I’m crazy, and they’re probably right—but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat.
Once again, at this audition, they’re not necessarily looking for a polished cirque-style act: they’re looking for expression, musicality, and the ability to command the audience’s attention (and also sound technical elements, obviously). The piece that I showed is one I’m slowly working on set to the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” and it’s intentionally struggly, so it probably didn’t really hurt anything that I was, in fact, wrestling with my own choreography (much of which I didn’t apparently remember).
The acting part was flat-out awesome, and reminded me how much I actually really like acting, my anxiety about struggling to memorize scripts notwithstanding. Maybe what I really like is cold reading. Who knows? Anyway. I really liked the part they handed me, and ran with it.
Today’s audition was also lovely. Almost nobody showed up, so it was really just three of us mostly doing some improv stuff. I already know that our AD likes the way I improvise, so that was just pure fun. I showed the bits of my piece that I could, given my lack of a partner, and described the idea as a whole. Both our AD and the guy from U of L whose group we’re collaborating with liked it, so it looks like it’s a green light there.
My next audition is a couple of weeks away, and I’m happy to have a bit of a breather. The stretch from the past couple of gigs through now has been pretty intense.
Not that I’m complaining. The other night I was kvetching about some company-related annoyance and suddenly though something like, “Oh, hey. I’m complaining about work because that’s what we do. If it wasn’t a pain in the *** sometimes, it wouldn’t be work.”
And that actually felt, in its own way, rather lovely: like, this is my work, and it’s work that I love. And I think I’m becoming rather good at it. Maybe not world-beatingly good or anything but, you know, serviceable. Which has, to be honest, always been the goal. As a ballet boy I’m smallish and muscly and I bounce like a rubber ball, which puts me squarely in the demi-character camp, and I’m fine with that. Not everyone always has to be the prince (and, honestly, there are a lot of ballets in which the prince never gets to do anything cool outside of the pas de deux). As a circus artist, I’m reliable, adaptable, and versatile: not a specialist, but a generalist, and the kind of generalist who can pinch-hit almost anywhere.
I feel like that’s a good thing to be. I’m not here for glory: I’m here because I love to move; because I can’t not move.
And if sometimes that means I’m stressed out and hounded from pillar to post … well, that’s part of it. That and Auditioning for Poverty are pretty much hallmarks life as a dancer, or indeed as any kind of performing artist, or indeed possibly as any kind of artist.
You do the Work because the Work is what moves you … sometimes more literally than other times.
“Dear heavens, it’s 8 AM already,” he said.
Or, at any rate, he tried to. What came out, instead, sounded more like, “Mrrrghghhhh.”
You’ve probably guessed that today wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had in class. I don’t think it’s so much the getting in at 1:30, which isn’t the end of the world really, or the getting up at 8 on slightly less than 6 hours of sleep.
I suspect that it was the combination of NyQuil (taken to fend off a sinus headache and extra congestion brought on by dry air and so forth: not sleeping was not a viable option) and getting up at 8 on slightly less sleep than it would’ve taken to give the NyQuil time to wear off.
Possibly adding Adderall, a further decongestant, and a cup of coffee to the mix this morning wasn’t the greatest idea.
On the other hand, I made it to class without dying, killing myself, or forgetting my shoes, so there’s that.
At any rate, I wasn’t alone. In one way or another, everyone was heroically Living The Struggle this morning, including L’Ancien, who was mysteriously detained (he apologized profusely).
I do think, however, that I was the sole member of the class who began barre with legs that trembled like the voice of an ancient soprano on Easter morning.
Even standing in fifth was, erm, challenging. I mean, standing in fifth is inherently challenging, and some days your body does it better than other days … but I can’t remember any other specific day on which the challenge in question involved, like, vibration.
So that pretty much alerted me to the fact that it was going to be an interesting class.
By the time we got to the section of our highly-compressed barre that I’ll call “fondu de rondu,” the trembling had stopped. I was grateful for that, and because frankly it was, in fact, a little frightening: imagine balancing, for example, at passé in the midst of a rolling earthquake, for example.
However, the end of the tremors and the lovely high extensions that showed up out of nowhere (and with no conscious effort on my part) conspired to lull me into a false sense of security.
I should’ve realized it when I could tour lent in the mark, but not in the actual run. Obviously, something was rotten in Denmark.
Still, I bulled my way through the adage, through some not-great turns, and through the little jumps (in which I made L’Ancien a little happy by actually jumping, which his the one thing I can do reliably, almost (see below).
And then came the grand allegro. It was simple: pique, chassé, entrelacé, failli, tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, grand jeté, then four more grand jetés just for the hell of it, en manège.
Except when L’Ancien gave us the combination, somehow my amazing brain decided that the first phrase (pique, chassé, entrelacé) was performed left, and that it changed directions via a fouetté or something.
Evidently that wasn’t at all correct, and I can now tell you that it’s quite alarming to fund that you are unexpectedly grand-allegroing yourself towards the person on the next corner and yet, simultaneously, that you can’t seem to make yourself stop…?
That’s not where the mystery comes in, though.
The mystery is that we ran it again, and I did the same thing.
I DID THE GRAND ALLEGRO BACKWARDS TWICE, YOU GUYS.
So, all told, far from the best class I’ve ever had. Not quite Depths of Despair quality, just a whole lot of WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME THIS MORNING?.
To which the answer is obvious. I’m cooked, and perhaps too many drugs. In short, the equivalent of taking class with a hangover, minus the headache.
At any rate, I’ve managed to eat some lunch and now I’m thinking about having a lie down before my audition (though, at present, only thinking, because I’m horrible at taking naps and I’d really rather just power through and get it behind me).
Here’s hoping that things will go a little better this afternoon. We’ll see, eh?
One of the things that I really, really appreciate about my amazing array of ballet teachers is that all of them have, in one way or another, taken it upon themselves to mentor the living daylights out of me.
At my birthday party, whilst being predictably extra for the camera (because I am the world’s biggest ham), I did one of those dive-to-the-knee moves that dudes do all the time in ballet, like this thing:
…only more dynamic, of course.
There are several of these in the choreography for this year’s Showcase piece (though I’m actually on the opposite line, open to the audience instead of closed).
BG said something like, ‘That reminds me! Be bolder about going to the knee.” And then we had a chat about that, and about why.
At one point, he said to me:
“No matter who you are in your daily life, on stage and in the studio, you should be the man every woman wants and every man wants to be.”
We went on to talk about what that means: about the genteel, elegant, graceful masculinity that remains a staple of the art of classical ballet, and how to embody it.
This was not, by the way, in any way intended to disparage my own particular way of being an androgynous kind of boy the rest of the time, or even the role of that kind of ambiguity in other sectors of dance. It was, rather, a question of the ideals of the classical form.
The example we talked about was actually L’Ancien, who is a lovely, very slender man, deeply genteel—but classical ballet is packed with examples. David Hallberg, who manages for all his lithesome beauty to perfectly embody every fairytale prince in the history of fairytales; Mikhail Baryshnikov, who is tiny and not, at first glance, what one typically imagines when one imagines Prince Charming, but who does the same; Rudolf Nureyev, a prince among princes for the whole of his career regardless of his late start, his fiery temperament, and reputation for obstreperousness…
- Like, he’s 5’6″. He’s smaller than I am, and I’m not tall. I kinda vaguely want a t-shirt that says, “Taller Than Baryshnikov” ;D … in case you’re wondering, it’s a quote from a conversation I had with one of my ballet girls ages back. I almost made it the tagline for this blog, but figured it was a bit too obtuse for that.
Anyway, the classical ideal of the danseur entails strength collected under the hand of gentility, fire cooled by courtesy, and boldness tempered by grace. It acknowledges raw, animal power—that’s what gets your grand allegro off the ground—but yokes it with beauty. It couples force with tenderness.
Regardless of one’s gender identity, that seems like a pretty good ideal.
At the end of the day, while you show off your strength in moments of bravura, you must also know how to use it in the service of your partner. Without the latter, the former won’t get you very far. And if you’re a dick, nobody wants to partner you, no matter how good you are.
- This directly informs my answer to the question, “Should boys be exempted from dress code requirements in ballet schools?” My answer is an unambiguous NO. If the girls are required to adhere to a dresscode, the boys should do them the courtesy of doing so as well (if nobody has a dresscode, then this is entirely irrelevant). This may be the very first lesson any danseur learns in the art of courtesy: yeah, you’re special because you’re a boy in ballet, but part of what you should do as a boy in ballet—an essential part of the job—is to treat every girl in ballet like she’s the specialest girl on earth. Besides: without every girl who loves the ballet, whether from the stage or from the audience, ballet would die a pretty swift death. The first lesson every danseur should learn is respect.
In an article that I wrote for an academic anthology, I observed that ballet has shown me the kind of man I want to be and is teaching me how to be that man. I said the same to BG the other night. He smiled: that smile that says, Cool, you get it.
One of the things I like immensely about BG, by the way, is that he lives that ideal. He may be his own kind of Extra; he may be a little crazy—but he approaches the world with strength, magnanimity, and grace. He believes in justice and stands up for it without resorting to coarseness or mudslinging. He’s the kind of person who takes the time to ask how you’re doing when you look a little off. Also, he stands up straight (that’s him in the green shirt in the photo above, by the way: you can pick him out pretty easily, since he’s the only other guy :D). He’s definitely on the list of people I’m glad to have in my corner.
All of this reminds me of an exchange I had with K while working on a partnering bit: after we ran it once, she said, “Give me more strength.”
I realized I’d been too soft—a little timid, actually. Not that I was afraid of her: rather, I was afraid of shoving her over or something. The next time I engaged a little more, and the whole thing went better on each subsequent run (except for the time that I came in at a weird angle and offered her the wrong hand: she managed anyway, incompetent partner or no).
On one hand (HA!) I love partnering; on the other hand (HA SQUARED!) it scares the hell out of me a little, because RESPONSIBILITY OMG. But, like, that’s part of The Thing.
In other words, part of being a danseur is understanding that you both literally and metaphorically hold others up.
There’s also knowing when to hold yourself together and when to let go. In that vein, I’m taking a rest day today. The next day off in my calendar is a week from Friday, and while I love Monday night class, I have a long show and two auditions this coming weekend in addition to the usual array of classes, so a day off seemed like a good idea. I’ll probably take class Friday morning to make up the gap.
Which reminds me of the other bit of mentoring BG did the other night. On our second drink, he explained an important rite of passage for professional dancers: taking class with a hangover. Also the universally-understood hand gesture that says, “I’m gonna keep it at a simmer to save the marley.”
Fortunately, I really don’t get hangovers, so while I wasn’t at my very best in class on Sunday morning since I was running on 5 hours of sleep, I at least didn’t find myself praying to Bilious all through class.
“The dance is in the stillness between the steps.”
I’ve been trying to think of a way to think about this ever since I returned to dance.
That’s it, guys. Right there ^^
Without the stillness, dance is just chaos. In modern, sometimes chaos is the goal—but even in the most chaotic moment in the most chaotic ballet, you’re always showing the audience a series of living stillnesses.
This is why, even at the barre, the moment of full extension in tendu is important, but so is the moment when you stand in fifth.
The stillness between the steps is where ballet lives and breathes.
Incidentally, this is why my group had to do the first grand allegro twice: we didn’t really show the arabesque in the air in our temps-levée arabesque.
We thought we were getting there, but we weren’t. We were still moving through from point A to point B instead of reaching through the stillness of the arabesque as we soared
We also got called out for not really jumping: I have begun to suspect that L’Ancien would rather see me really jump and be a little late than not really jump and be exactly on time. I’m built for big jumps. I should really use them.
Anyway, we fixed ourselves on the repeat. I have no idea what my TLA looked like because, for once, I was using my eyes correctly.
After class, L’Ancien said to us, “You’re completely different dancers than you were even two weeks ago.”
And then he said these three beautiful words:
“Very, very good.”
That is the best possible way to close out a ballet class on your birthday.
This afternoon and evening: trapeze class, audition, dinner, party.
And I am going to explode. Also I am clearly going to need more colors of pens.
Also, modern was good tonight. I’m delighted by the occasional overlap of Modern and L’Ancien’s class, in which Get Taller As You Close is a recurring theme.
Also, it sometimes makes me nervous partnering girls who don’t come from the Wonderful World of Ballet (where everybody understands that it’s better to accidentally grab some side-boob than to drop someone when you’re learning to catch things like a roll down from Bluebird lift or, worse, fish drive from Bluebird lift ). Not that anything bad or weird has happened recently. Just one of those things you ruminate about when you’re a dude and your work life sometimes involves catching girls you don’t know very well.
Also, last night, I got to use pas de chat Italien in a grand-allegro zig-zag, and whilst it proved immensely successful, I’ve decided I should probably work on some other jumps.
I’m not Catholic, but I suppose I could give it up for Lent?
Sometimes, when he takes class with us, BG stops after barre or skips the repetition of an exercise and sneaks in some video recording.
Some of us grumble about it—generally, folks who don’t want to see themselves on the program’s Facebook page (BG is very conscientious about honoring their wishes)—but I’m grateful for the videos.
The thing is, no matter how hard you try, you can never really watch your own turns (by way of example: the same can be said for entrelacés and so many other things). At best, you snatch glimpses of them. It’s hard to really get a sense of how things look so that you can correct accordingly—and how things look often differs considerably from how things feel.
Likewise, video allows a real sense of progress: you can compare last year’s video, last week’s video, this morning’s video and see where you’ve improved, where you really haven’t, and where perhaps you’ve picked up a bad habit.
- Dancers, like horses, catch “vices” from one-another sometimes.
Anyway, BG posted a couple of videos yesterday that I found very useful.
In the first, L and I are doing soutenu turns at the beginning of an exercise. It was surprising to see how much more vertical the axis of my turn has become.
BW has given me so many soutenus; it was in his class that I first noticed that I was allowing my shoulders to fall backwards (or, really, that I was arching my back away from the turn). I’ve been working on that very consciously for months, so it was nice to see how well it’s paid off.
I think I’m still just a shade behind the vertical, but that’ll come.
The second video is a waltz: T, L, and I—generally the more advanced segment of this class—dancing together in a lovely little triad.
I’m much happier with my balancé than I was even a few months ago, though I think T’s épaulement is prettier than mine. Same goes for the waltz turn: I think one of my arms looks a little wonky in this video (I failed to carry my elbow), but I’ve managed to pull a lot of slack out of my spine, which allows me to reach through my legs more effectively.
My turns, on the other hand, are a bit Meh. I prepare with too much slack in my lumbar spine and my free leg slightly less than fully turned out, which means I’m doing extra work to pull the turn up on its axis. This is a profoundly useful bit of intel, as it explains one of the reasons I don’t have reliable triples back yet: my core isn’t quite there—or, at any rate, my use of my core isn’t.
This exercise ends with piqué arabesque, and BG managed to capture the moment when I remembered L’Ancien’s physical correction to my arabesque in our adagio. It’s funny to watch: I remember recalling L’Ancien’s question and pulling myself together, and that it made me late exiting the arabesque but felt good.
In the video, I don’t manage to get my leg and my back as high as I did in L’Ancien’s adage, but it’s a cool thing to remember a mental self-correction and to see it after the fact.
I’m not sure this will work, but here are the videos:
(Gave it a test run. You don’t have to log in to Facebook to watch these, though the dialogue sort of implies it. Just tap or click the video itself to hit play. I’m not sure if they’ll be viewable outside the US; international permissions can be weird.)
Anyway, class tonight, but today I’m basically taking it easy until then. Just going to wash some dishes and cook some food.