“High Hopes”

This fun dance to Mario Spinetti’s “High Hopes” kicked off “Reveal Realign Rejoice,” hosted at Athleta.

When it comes to your body and movement goals, you have to have “high hopes and big dreams” that yes, you can achieve what it is you are after, and yes, you can actually love your body. Sounds cheesy and potentially juvenile, but that is simply step one in the journey, without a doubt. I can’t even tell you how many journals I have with my hopes and dreams written all over them; and that’s always the start of putting a big fat check mark signifying a “nailed it” right along side of it. Allow yourself to picture your happiest, healthiest body being yours.

Enjoy this ditty! Let me know what you think!

Choose Your Motivation Wisely, Or Else…

What motivates you?  Why do you get up and go to class and work out?  If you go to class to look good and get skinny, odds are you will 1.) be more unhappy and 2.) be less successful at achieving your desired thinness.  Damn.  And I thought the vanity angle had some potential to steer me away from dark chocolate truffles and late-night pizza.  The problem with vanity, beyond the fact that basking in your own physical appearance is a rather shallow and continuously transient perception of beauty, is that it is solely an instrumental motive.  A motive that has`everything to do with exterior, personal gain – say notoriety, financial prosperity, getting a job, and in this case, looking thin and implicitly attractive to others.  When we workout to merely look good or senselessly earn the stamp of approval from friends and family, we are doing ourselves a disservice.  It has been proven (don’t just take my word, here are two fabulous and engaging articles vouch for this claim…see below) that people with internal motive – motive that brings forth true connection with the activity at hand devoid of instrumental motive – say, to gain a closer bond with friends, to enhance your mood, to free your mind for an hour-long practice – are more motivated, happier, and more likely to achieve results.  By not focusing on external results, but focusing on the crust of the work and the glory it holds, we truly win.  Also very worth noting, to engage an an activity with both internal and instrumental motives, you also lessen your chance of obtaining your desired results and reaching happiness.  Sorry ladies.  More means of motivation doesn’t bring you more of what you want here!

Alright. So crap.  Now how do we reverse the years of just wanting to look hot in the mirror or in that new evening dress, and start to not only pretend, but truly believe we want to work out to enhance our inner souls (duh!)?  And possibly harder yet, how do we start to love working out – which brings us torture and physical challenges in the heat of the moment?

Enter the life of a dancer.

As dancers, we have to love our job; and it is our job to find freedom and lightness in the lieu of complicated and physically challenging feats.  Let’s be honest, financial prosperity as motivation is off the table.  Notoriety on the other hand, could sabotage the few who want to be known as prima ballerina, genius choreographer, or lead soloist for decades to come, but dancers – particularly the brilliant ones – are very down to earth and simply love the grittiness of the craft.

Yes, dancers are idolized for their sleek figures, but using the motivation of thinness, the pettiest of reasons for attending class, almost always results in a lousy hour and a half and short-changed results.  Every time I gripped on the need to be skinny for a gig or for a director who was demanding a particular aesthetic, I would inevitably leave rehearsal craving, and then caving, for a $9 sundae from 16 handles.  Not to mention over-thinking the need to be in better shape resulted in utter crankiness.  The only way I achieved supreme shape for an important performance, was when I focused instead on the important performance and experiences I needed to deepen to achieve it – when the fluid mastery the steps became my motivation, when my interest laid in my connection with my partner as the music oscillated through chords, or when my intention was to get lost and completely transported in the studio and on stage.  Yes, those things don’t directly correlate to shedded pounds, but my head was on a more successful trek and I wasn’t motivating myself with shallowness.  I worked harder in the studio, and precious moments were not wasted on the mental distraction of how I could look physically better and sadly, possibly gain more approval from a director.  And oddly enough, the tip-top shape would come as result of going deeper with the movement.  Any time instrumental motive was thieving my moments, I felt completely unsatisfied with the rehearsal process and subsequently the culminating performance.  Cue the moments of motivating myself with: trying to get a role, attempting to land a job at any and every audition, proving myself to someone watching, or competing internally with another dancer.  It has only been when I had complete dedication to a work and all the delicate parts of it, that I looked back and claimed I mastered it, conquered it, and performed it to my upmost.

And beautifully enough, everything can be a dance.  The next class you take can be driven by the music, the muscles that are firing, the art of perfecting your form, and the energy of your instructor and the strong women alongside you.  Or better yet, just pick one of those motivators and see if it shifts how you work or how you feel afterwards.  Yes, there are points of class that will be hard and perhaps your go-to mental motivation is the last glance you got of your less-than-perky behind.  Your ass isn’t going to save you here.  Switch your motivation to something locked into the essence of the movement.  Relish in the release of endorphins and fatigue in your muscles.  Encourage yourself with the joy of moving your body, and geez, stop incentivizing with the so-over-rated, socially-obsessed, airbrush-only-obtainable skinny!

This post is thanks to two provoking articles found in the NYTimes Sunday Review, albeit 2014; a thank you for the thoughts of Arthur C. Brooks for his “Love People, Not Pleasure” (July 20th, 2014) and Amy Wrzesniewski’s “The Secret of Effective Motivation.” (July 6th, 2014).

To Dance or Not to Dance, that is the Question. Coming soon to daytime television.

Just about a few months ago, I was walking down 2nd avenue on my way to my waitressing job (a kind reminder of not being on my way to rehearsal or anything entirely productive), on the phone with my poor mother part-crying, part-laughing demanding, “At what point did we think getting a degree in modern dance was a good idea?!  Really modern dance, couldn’t I have been happy being a doctor and having some sense of a secure-future, a normal life?”   For the full intensity of this dramatic moment, picture the dreary puddle-bound city streets in winter rainfall, me being tangled by leashes all with two-pound chitsues dressed in Louis Vuitton rain coats and matching booties on one end and Jimmy Choos and Prada clad women on the other.  Damn, these dogs were living more pampered lives than I was as I gazed down in self-pity to view my soaking wet ripped jeans hovered under my $5 umbrella that only had the lifespan of five city blocks during even the most trivial rainfalls.

Let me just start with how saintly my mother is for putting up with my antics.  I am notorious for being a true Pisces at times – highly emotional and dramatic, constantly change my ideas about what it is I should be doing in order to achieve something higher.  The ugly low of the on-again-off-again dance career and pathetic title of starving artist was looming over me.  Someone hire me to be on “Days of our Lives,” really or perhaps “The Young and the Restless” might be a better fit.  I believe that week I debated going to school to be a psychologist.  A few weeks before I was planning on being a personal trainer to support my dance career.  Before that it was a yoga instructor.  The list goes on and on.  All these ideas were diversions for me; I was having a hard time dealing with the unemployment aspect of the dance profession and seeking fulfillment in the fanatical ideas of another career or parallel career.

My dream job as a dancer always included dripping sweat, diving blindly head-first further into movement than ever thought possible day in and day out, hitting the stage feeling the lights and eyes of the audience on my every move, all while traveling the world and experiencing different cultures.  Right?  Youthful naivety is bliss.  Pinch me, please.  Those are the highs that make it all worth it.  No one mentions that even when you have a dance job this kind of glory comes few and in between, particularly in this economy when dance companies are struggling to have performance seasons and lengthy rehearsal processes (I’ll save the drama of the lack of rehearsals for another episode of this overly dramatized daytime television).  My point being, all careers have their pitfalls.

A few days later (the timing of this is rather hysterical), I went to my friend’s apartment for her boyfriend’s birthday.  She is in graduate school for psychology and I was chatting with some new friends only to hear these soon-to-be psychologists had the same exact woes I had as a dancer.  Sinking deeper in student loans by the semester, having the desire to start a private practice of their own one day but not having the funds or networking quite yet to make it happen and feeling overwhelmed.   I may be a financially struggling artist now, but nothing lasts forever and I won’t be my whole life – take that pessimism!  I am simply a normal 24-year-old with dreams ahead of me, wondering how the pieces of the puzzle are going to fit together and create this career as a performer/choreographer in a lifestyle that makes me comfortable.

How do you stay happy when you feel you have put in the time and still no new windows of opportunity are opening?  I feared a one-dimensional dance career, and was craving change – professionally – although perhaps a new boyfriend would have solved some of those emotional woes.  Auditions for paid, functional dance companies were rarely being posted and I was investing all this time, energy, and money into a career wondering if it would ever pay me back.  It was completely logical for me to inquire about other career paths; ones with some return on investment.  However, no matter how many ideas I tried on for size – and trust me, every week I tried on something new – it felt as if I was denying what made me tick entirely.  I am sure I could live a very happy life as a psychologist because 1) I find the field entirely fascinating and 2) Dr. Christina Ilisije M.D. has a nice ring to it.  But toying with the idea of a career shift seemed like a cop-out.  There is so much in terms of dance I am striving to achieve and haven’t even touched upon yet.  For others a career change or new parallel career may be the necessary kick in the pants life needs.  I’m grateful to have questioned my career choice as an artist; I can recognize it as a choice I make daily rather than an obligation with no way out.  Who knows, if one day I feel I have accomplished my goals as an artist and I find a new challenge to conquer in another career – bring it on.  That day has not come yet, and my recent frustrations stemmed from not achieving them rather than needing a get away car.

So instead of feeling stagnant and bored with my current state, I went Obama and actively introduced change and some new interests into my weekly repertoire.  Either actively do something about feeling uninspired and bummed about lack of rehearsals, or start feeling positive about where you are presently.  Simple concept, but when feeling less than positive doing anything can seem like a huge chore.  Since I couldn’t find the positivity in having lots of free time – I wish I was one of those people – I took up salsa dancing (thank you Shelly for introducing me to your vivacious world!), took a capoeira class for the first time (thank you Aldy!), booked some rehearsal space for my own work (thank you Rebe!), and set a new choreographic commission at my performing arts HS in Howell, NJ.  All these activities were entirely fulfilling yet I didn’t have the luxury of doing them while under the rigors of performing.   Some of them even helped financially to fill in the gaps between dance gigs and lead to more job opportunities in the future.  Funnier yet is as soon as I dove head first with dance and stopped with my crazy delusions and side-tracked thoughts, opportunities came my way.

I do believe a profitable career is possible in any field as long as you have passion and wits to back you up.  Modern dance may not be Hollywood, but there are people who love it and keep it’s engine going.  Keep your head in the game and stay inspired and happy along the way and positive things will come.  If dance is what makes you tick, there is something to be said about constantly going to class, auditions, and shows.  The relationships you build with people now may surprisingly help you in the future. Where you put your energy, things will happen. So take dance classes that make your soul sing.  Stick with friends who share your passion and duke it out together during the down times.  Keep yourself productive.  What do you need to do to feel like you are a part of the dance community, even when you are not actively performing?  See more performances, write, read, and one of my personal favorites, drink vino and talk shop with fabulous company!  So go do what you love and stop worrying about ending up poor and unemployed.  And while I don’t have it in my heart to completely knock a pair of beautifully crafted, over priced Jimmy Choos and those who wear them, I don’t need to be walking my dog in them to be happy.