inspiration

Dance Fearlessly

You can’t step trepidatiously in dance. If you do, that step will be sure to fail you. The only way to be successful in your dance (aka life) is to step confidently and boldly – despite whether you feel dumb. And you can’t wait for someone to tell you exactly how to move. You need to take the initiative yourself, trust your instincts, and know that only you can move the best way for you.

Here’s a easy-to-follow dance-cardio combination to “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke for you to do just that!

I break it down for you first and then I dance it out wholeheartedly. : )

What scares you? What are you on the fence about? Let me know below!

And more importantly let’s kick those fears to the curb and conquer!

 

When are you grateful?

Is it just at Thanksgiving dinner? When you earn that promotion? When you land that dance gig? What about being grateful for the crap in your life? What about being grateful for the parts of your body that you wish were leaner, thinner, or simply not there? What about being grateful for that argument you had with your director or boss? What about being grateful for when your dancing or life doesn’t quite go as planned? What about being grateful when you are struggling with a physical injury?

All of the things that come into our lives – good, bad, and even ugly – are gifts for us. Whether they appear to be gifts that are welcomed (yay promotion!) or are completely undesirable (yay injury!) we have attracted them into our lives and they have found us. (Yes, I absolutely believe in the laws of attraction and the power they hold within this beautiful and crazy universe).

However difficult it may be when something unfortunate comes up to bat, we navigate it with infinitely more grace if we swing some gratitude on it first and foremost. And why not? There is always something to learn. Adversity has its way of blessing us with lessons a hell of a lot more bluntly than Success.

This past week I had a “comeback” performance with Parsons Dance at the Brown Theatre in the Wortham Center in Houston, Texas. The company was double booked (a beautiful gift for a dance company – too many shows!).  There was an afternoon performance for autistic children that the current company couldn’t be present for – in came the retired Parsons-back-up-crew to the rescue! Those autistic children and their families have been dealt a different hand – one that will provide them unique, beautiful gifts and advancements all the same. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel immense gratitude for the state of my body and mind and how it has supported me through my life and career.

How quickly those of us who are in “good” health forget how lucky we are. How quickly we forget how amazing our bodies are – how resilient, how capable. I haven’t always treated my body with love and respect, yet it has never failed me.

Heck, I’ve starved it at times; I’ve hated on parts of it that didn’t meet the ridiculously perfect and unobtainable bar I’ve set for it; I’ve danced the hell out with it and didn’t stretch it; I’ve neglected it of the TLC of massages and baths when it was screaming at me; I’ve trash-talked to it.

Amazingly enough, it has always healed itself miraculously. It continues to stick with me after all the abuse I’ve given it.

If your body is so capable despite neglect and abuse, what is it (and are you) capable of when you are grateful for it?

Don’t let yourself suffer through poor health before you appreciate the glory of your body right now. Hardship and physical set-backs aren’t needed to be grateful for what you have right now (However sometimes they sure can speed up the process for some who can spin the positive despite them).

The more you are grateful for what you have – body and life – the more beauty, prosperity, and abundance flow right back to you.

So, before you dance, be grateful. Before you workout, be grateful. Before you create, be grateful. Before you eat, be grateful. Before you pay for something, be grateful. Before you move from your bed, be grateful. Before you rest your eyes at night, be grateful. Say it aloud to yourself. Dance your entire next class or performance with gratitude.

Share with me. What are you grateful for? How has throwing gratitude on your body and life helped you?

Go on…Be a dreamer!

I am a big time dreamer.  It might behoove me to come down to planet earth from time to time, but I rather not tie myself down to a world of logic alone.  When I dream, I get excited.  I feel alive.  I feel like anything is possible, and from that mindset, it’s the truth.

Yet…I haven’t always operated from this place and my guess is I’m not alone.

How quickly have you squashed your own dreams, or let someone else do the squashing?  If something makes you feel alive and excited, then operating from this place is useful.  It is your beautiful job to keep on dreaming, even when logic, yourself, or others are tempted to bring you down to earth.  All those childhood songs have it right! You should listen to those quixotic tunes more often, rather than dismiss them as child’s play (Seriously try it.  Walk down the street with a tune from Space Jam blaring in your headphones and you’ll feel like you can conquer the world with a smile).  There is something wise and unadulterated in youth that is worthy of fostering through all of life – and I’m advocating dreaming as one of the worthiest.

Ok, before you think I’ve whimsically and unrealistically lost my marbles – here’s some pragmatism to back up the theory of dreaming and unleash its potential to you for your own benefit in your dance and fitness practice – here on planet earth.

I believe in the power of dreaming because I’ve lived the alternative.  I would oscillate back and forth in my mind about what I could and couldn’t do.  I had wonderfully supportive parents who told me I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up.  I believed those words and knew in my soul my passion was to be a professional dancer.  However ridden in my dogged belief, self-doubt crept.  I had some teachers who harped on me with comments delivered as problems in need of fixing.

“With turnout like that, you are never going to be a dancer.”  “Your legs are a real problem; we need to elongate those lines.”  “It is hard to make a life for yourself as a professional dancer.  What’s your backup plan?” 

Inherently those opposing beliefs, spoon-fed to me from outside voices, caused teeter-tottering internal moments of blissful boundless potential and joyless stagnating impossibility.  I would walk into a room and sometimes discount myself because the physiques surrounding me gave the allure that those dancers were highly talented.  I became acutely aware of all my physical shortcomings and it’s what I saw when I looked at myself in the mirror.  Additionally I questioned if I was going to reach the level of success I dreamed of as a performer when audition season was slow and opportunities seemed lacking.

Then something started happening.  I realized that dancers who had a body that gave off the appearance of all the potential in the world didn’t always deliver on par with their physical gifts.  Physical prowess is just a vessel where expression and artistry are harbored, where the mind has the power to generate it.  I excelled in picking up movements and adopting them as my own.  No one could limit my mind.  I knew confidently that if I mentally understood and could visualize a movement, it was only a matter of time, and often it didn’t take long, to then make it a physical reality on my body.  I began to trust my harnessed power of putting my mind behind my movements – both immediate dance moves and career moves – to achieve any results I truly desired.

When I dreamed more and limited less, my dancing – and happiness – soared.  Things changed when I visualized myself executing each little movement with sinewy length and openness.  These moments gifted me that ultimate level and quality in my dancing, and it started to naturally shift my body’s outside physicality.  There’s a general belief out there that what we are given is set and fixed, but there is more malleability and transformation available for us.  Now I’m not saying my legs are hyperextended or my turn out rivals that of Misty Copland’s, but those thoughts don’t even cross my mind.  Furthermore, my legs have become straighter in their musculature and my turn out more rotated and accessible.  Standing in fifth position went from a place of immobile “crunchy” hip flexors and a horribly stuck anterior tip of my pelvis to a place of glorious opportunity for movement.  I used to hate wearing tights since they seemingly highlighted my “imperfections,” but last week I wore fitted leggings to an audition and felt awesome.

I don’t have problems with my physicality that need fixing.  I have all the potential in the world to execute whatever movement I desire to accomplish, and my body has the capacity to change in support of these desires.

I’m channeling R. Kelly’s “I believe I can Fly” – “If I can see it.  Then I can do it.  If I just believe it.  There’s nothing to it.” 

That is freedom.

Ok.  I’ll get to the important, concrete details about dreaming, visualizing, and believing that tends to be left out of all this fluffy chatter.  (It can’t just be all Space Jam and singsongy starry-eyed melodies, or I’m just preaching a one-way ticket to la-la land without any plan of attack!)

It is not all fluff.  The operations of the soul are real.  The brain has amazing potential – much of which has barely been fully realized.  The words we speak first to ourselves, and then outwardly to others have energy and life to them.  They are as real and as tangible in our life as the legs we move with.  They create ripples of energy.  It is your choice whether you make ripples of positivity or negativity.  You need to brainwash yourself and rewire your subconscious towards the positive.

Awesome.  How can you do this?  (Disclaimer:  I’m continuously working on this myself, but here is what I’ve gathered, and you can continue to follow me as I use this method for my future gain!)

For starters, get clear about what it is you want.  Don’t just think it.  Write it down.  Be specific about why, how, where, and when.  Write about how a life like this feels.  Put a date on when this dream is a breathing reality.  Read it to yourself aloud.  And then read it again.  And again.  (I mean, how fun is that!?  You get to dream up whatever your heart desires and then believe it into reality!)

Here’s my latest dream – that is written in my journal, exists on a vision board that hangs right near my bed, and is also recorded as a voice memo in my phone (Call me crazy, I’m good with it!).  I listen to my own voice recording first thing in the morning and those are the last words I speak to myself before my head hits the pillow.  Here’s an abridged version:

I am a forever-inspired performer and teacher.  On March 3rd (My 31st birthday!), I am dancing on the Broadway stage and have a thriving business of my own with $100,000 in my possession.  My body is physically primed allowing me to reach new physical heights – great flexibility and higher and quicker jumps and footing.  Living Dance has a dedicated and involved community – reaching 5,000 followers – and inspires artists and women through dance and dance-related fitness.  I teach workshops and private sessions to get dancers and women moving passionately and at their ultimate potential so that they can obtain the results they crave.

Next, listen to your internal dialogue.  Which way do you skew (positive or negative)?  What’s the tone of your internal voice (optimistic and kind, or pessimistic and demeaning)?  Then you immediately replace any negative thoughts or tone with a positive one.   I doubted whether I wanted to put the specific dollar amount to my dream in writing for the public to see.  What if that level of financial abundance doesn’t work out for me?  What if people think I am crazy?  I felt a little silly proclaiming something that might seem ridiculous and impossible.   Oh hi there fear and self-doubt.  You have zero ability to zap my dream away from me; I’m choosing boldness and confidence instead.  The specificity and vocalization of these dreams are important.  That doubtful voice I heard as I typed proved to me that I could still believe and trust more in the deserved monetary compensation of my efforts.  There will not always be teachers or others around you that bless you with the gift of seeing more in yourself, but you absolutely can become more aware when those around you are speaking words of limitation.  I beg you to hear them, value your dreams and beliefs more, and discard them.  And then you should do yourself the favor of replacing those limiting words, with boundless ones all the same.

It’s not enough to just think, visualize, or dream about your desires.  Feel it and be emotionally invested in your dreaming.  When you infuse your desire with emotion, your subconscious starts to become infiltrated.  When your subconscious, or your soul, doesn’t believe it, that’s when those second-guessing voices creep within yourself.  Don’t get mad when they do, it takes time to switch deep-rooted thought processes.  Approach it with a lighthearted, fun curiosity.    Bottom line, just don’t be like the majority of unfortunate souls who walk around thinking, “How nice it would be if I was in great shape!” Or, “What would feel like to have that kind of career?”  You are then missing the valuable element of emotional attachment, and you will not be gifted with the change you are capable of obtaining.

Use your imagination.  Not only because it’s fun, but because it is seriously useful.  I envision myself taking class in the ultimate fashion.  Sometimes I have a larger vision in mind – I’m taking ballet class as if I’m live on the Broadway stage.  Sometimes I have a more immediate vision – I close my eyes at barre and envision my body executing the movement to a tee, or do the same thing – but with my eyes open, thank god – in center.  All I know is that it is wondrously fun and physically rewarding.

Lastly and essentially, take action on your gut impulses and the external opportunities that arise from this dreaming.  Dreaming and visualizing is great and all, but if you keep squandering the thoughts that pop up in your brain about what you can do to make them happen or generate excuses for not taking the opportunities that would advance you closer, those dreams are going to escape you.  Applying this in a class setting – whether you are dancing or performing a fitness regimen it is extremely rewarding because you are immediately taking action towards your ultimate physical goal.  As those of you who have graced the stage know too well, if you are thinking about your wobbling foot on the floor, you will be sure to keep up that wobbling and have it dictate how the movement goes moving forward.  If you think that plank pose is the hardest exercise ever, it will continue to defeat you.  If you think of yourself as overweight or out of shape, odds are you will yo-yo back and forth with fad diets, your weight, and confidence.  Be mindful; when your thoughts waiver, so does your body!

The dreaming mindset is one essential step in obtaining the results you truly desire.  You can execute a quadruple pirouette, get down to your ideal weight, or land a job.  It will take commitment, focus of mind, and patience, but if you honestly and diligently put it into effect – and ultimately take action to your internal impulses and external opportunities – it is fail proof. The sky’s your limit.  No, I’m serious.  Dream big!  And then, dream bigger! I’m doing it.  Why the hell wouldn’t you?!  If you believe yourself, you’ll get what you want!

Leave a comment and let me know what your big dreams are!  Immediate or long-term, I’d love to hear.

Multitasking: is it taking over your dancing and life?!

Multitasking is our modern-day nature and pride.  Technology is continuously coming up with ways to make it easier to do anything and everything with such ease, and subsequently at the same time.  We can finally conquer all we desire each waking day because we have immediate access to the world at our fingertips (and now even our eyeballs:  google glass hitting Diane Von Furstenberg’s runway)!  False!  The readiness to multitask is a curse.  To multitask by definition reads, “Often used of humans in the same meaning it has for computers, to describe a person doing several things at once.”  Is this really something we want to do?  Do we want to operate the way a computer does?  Those machines burn out for crying out loud, and now, operating like them, so do we!  When we divide our attention we are not doing one thing well.  I find my ability to finish a blog post, get to class early to go over those moves I’ve been dying to perfect, choreograph that piece I’ve dreamt about starting, and pick up choreography swiftly all gets sucked away, minute by minute, to my quietly nagging iPhone that never lurks too far from my side.  And worse yet if it isn’t the technology itself, it’s my brain that now almost seems hard-wired to operate on over-drive mode, my mind constantly bobbing from thought to thought comparable to the Internet I have grown to adopt so openly.  My attention span and patience to sit with one idea sucks.  And why is “turning off” so damn hard?  When we dance, we strive for efficiency of movement – the only way we developpé our leg to our ear is if we only use the muscles we need and let the ones that prohibit our wishful concussion a back seat.  What is our potential for efficiency if we can streamline our thoughts, and release our “mental” hip flexors? …in the studio and in our lives?

Let’s start in the studio before we take on our lives, shall we?

How many times are we at barré and doing the combination with the teacher, except we don’t know what they are going to do?   We move our body and play mind-reader with someone we don’t know.  How effective is that?  Or worse yet, we move our hands when the exercise is ultimately done with our feet, while we also predict what this stranger will do.  Or my personal favorite – how often do we stretch our hamstrings, think about the rotation of our inner thighs from the exercise prior, concern ourselves about our weak something-or-other, our PT appointment that we have to run to directly after class, and contemplate our life’s purpose, all while our favorite teacher just gave a tendue combination?  Then we arrive in first position with our left hand on the barré and we think, “How the hell does this start?”  Maybe if we do one thing, say, listen and absorb the combination only, we will actually get the combo.  Then when we have a second later we can devote all our attention to stretching our hamstrings, rather than just hanging over a dead-leg thrown on a barré.  It is impossible to stretch effectively while  simultaneously learning movement.  It is impossible to get to PT while we do tendues.  It is stupid to concern ourselves with our next career move while we attempt mastery of our degaggé.  Our productiveness in all of these areas significantly improves if we absorb one piece of information at a time.

We  are looking at teacher without seeing teacher.  

Looking is not enough.  Seeing, focusing our undivided attention, brings our level of productivity up another notch.  We are capable of digesting a combination after seeing it demonstrated the first time.  Why not?  It’s just a series of tendues and pliés in a more or less predictable pattern that we’ve practiced for the majority of our lives.  The more we see, the quicker we absorb the combination.  Then when the teacher does it the second time (for those poor souls who were doing their to-do lists in their head the first time), we add a layer of artistry that takes our dancing to the next level.

Now when I play teacher, I do a similar version of this mental multitasking.  I can be teaching and simultaneously distracted with multiple thoughts.  “Is that how that next combination starts?  Is this musical selection working? Are people comprehending what I intended?”  This all takes me away from seeing each one of my dancers more clearly;  understanding how they work, what motivates them, what challenges them and why, what their tendencies are, and where their bodies hold tension.  Seeing my students allows me to help more on an individualized level.  One thought at a time brings forth a more articulate, perceptive, and productive teaching methodology.

And going a step further, when we learn choreography, how much do we see?   How much can we focus our attention on what is solely important at that moment to the person leading the room?  I can distract myself with thoughts of sequencing when I should take a step back and see that the choreographer isn’t stressing the exactness of steps at all.  Their vagueness shouldn’t be a source of frustration but something I can see, and then adopt in my learning style and subsequently my execution, to better suit the purpose before they give that correction.  And vice versa, as a choreographer, can we see how dancers learn the movement and guide them to see the integral essence being created?  If we distract our mind, there is no way we can possibly juggle this level of thought.  If we can’t get to this level of thought, we are missing out on a beautiful layer of depth and therefore, productivity and creativity.

Now if we aren’t already dying to get to this level of efficiency and attention in the studio, we should at least crave it to streamline our lives. Just think about how much time we can earn when we fully devote ourselves to work effectively on one thing at a time.   Limit distractions, delineate time to focus solely on one idea to see if it works before bouncing to the next one and not getting one solid thing accomplished.  We don’t need our iPhones, Gmail, or Facebook to write that term paper.   We can’t research new dance companies holding auditions and talk to our loved ones on the phone.  Odds are we yes them absent-mindedly or end up buying shoes off of Gilt instead.  It is virtually impossible to walk and text successfully.  I typically look like a drunkard.  It is more time efficient to stop, send a text, and then continue on walking.  Instead I insist on spilling my tea on myself, take about 5 blocks to text 3 words, and nearly break a toe while navigating uneven New York pavement.  (Hell, we need those toes!)  I can sit in front of the T.V. and eat dinner and then finish everything on my plate, and feel completely unsatisfied;  I didn’t taste my meal.  How many times do I have to re-read the same paragraph over and over again because I didn’t digest a lick of it?  I am too busy jumping thoughts, or paying attention to the cutie who just got on the bus.  How many times do I attempt to go to bed, but then keep checking my iPhone when the light goes off just to wake in the morning craving an extra half hour of sleep?  And for crying out loud, I don’t need my brain when I do the dishes.  Let’s turn off when we can so we can be refreshed when we do need our minds to work for us.

Let’s use technology when we need it and designate time for it, rather than have it cloud our lives at large.  We don’t need to respond to that text immediately.  Set new standards.  Spend time well, doing one thing at a time.  If we do one thing only, we feel more satisfaction from completing it whole-heartedly.  In turn, we gain some precious time to conquer those dreams that lie in our journals untouched.  We gain a deeper level of artistry.  We gain beautiful, unadulterated moments with our friends and lovers, granting them the full attention we all deserve.  Check out less and stay tuned-in more.   Look less and see more.   Kill mental and physical multitasking once and for all!!!

I attempted to check my iPhone 18 times while I wrote this.

I have 33 pending drafts of articles saved to my computer that I started to write but never finished.

How self-absorbed are you?

I grew up a selfish dancer.  Decades later, I remain one.  I loved mastering the dynamics, shape, and timing of my fabulous moves.  I could practice whenever, wherever I wanted, and I took complete advantage of that, be it under my desk at school, in the kitchen over a roast dinner, or in my friend’s yard while attempting a game of spud (best game ever, who’s with me?!).  Still today, spacing and the movement of a particular section as a whole with all the other dancers and with all its working parts, comes as a secondary layer.  Partnering and unique spacial arrangements are always harder for me to master, partially because it requires someone else to practice with me, but also because it requires me to think first about what movements would be ideal for another person, and for a group of dancers as a whole unit.  It requires thought about the bigger picture, not just myself.  And lord knows, I’m concerned with looking and feeling good under my spotlight.  Oh, wait, I’m sharing this down pool?  I had no idea!  Must have been too busy perfecting my battement into my fierce strut…my bad.

 

I recognize this obsession with mastery of my own body in space and time, but yoga this morning brought my tendency forward with a new verve.  Terrence Monte, one of my yogi faves at Pure Yoga, shed light on the necessity of others to achieve “success” or better put, enlightenment, aka peace, bliss, happiness – whatever you opt to call it.  You can’t be right.  You can’t win.  How do you work better thanks to the group?  Can you think of putting the group in front of yourself?  Can the dance take precedence, rather than just yourself within the work?  Or are you preoccupied solely with your dance moves over the vibe of fellow dance mates?  You can’t be in a relationship alone.  Being a good person and dancer, goes much beyond just taking care of yourself and fine tuning your temple.  You need others to get to a higher place, to move forward, to advance.  The advancements of a group are capable of so much more than you can possibly be capable of alone.  Two voices, minds, bodies, are more powerful than one.  

 

How can this translate and change the way you work in the studio and perform on stage?

 

Possibly, instead of adamantly expressing what the purpose of a certain section of a piece is, you take a second to hear what others have to say about it.  And not just let them speak and then shout your peace afterwards, neglecting their words entirely, but hearing them, taking them into honest consideration, and being open to adapt if it is for the best.  It’s not about not having an opinion.  It’s about honoring your opinion amongst others.  

 

What about focusing your energy on the flow of the piece?  Or recognizing the piece is only as good as its weakest link?  And let’s be honest, a piece isn’t going to translate unless every single soul on stage is working toward a common intention.  Maybe you help another dancer, rather than showing off to the choreographer that you have the steps and the person to your right doesn’t.

 

Even if it’s a solo, there’s an audience out there that is a larger part of what you bring forth as an artist.  What would happen if instead of having moments to yourself before you hit the stage, you put yourself in the position of your audience?  I often hit the stage, saying thanks and gratitude: that I have functioning legs, that I have this opportunity to experience these works, that I own these sensations for my own pleasure.  Self, self, and more self.  What does the audience want to see? What might they need to get out of a slump?  What sensations are they fiening for that perhaps they have difficulty reaching alone?  I’ll admit, before Parsons hits the stage, sometimes we dedicate the performance to someone who can’t be there, but after that initial moment of sending them my well-wishes and passionate intentions at our pre-show whoosh (think giant hand circle, that has now encompassed a beautifully silly set of rituals), I seldom find myself thinking of that person once the music gets blaring.  Instead, my thoughts can quickly get preoccupied with the tasks in front of me.  My entrance, my new lift with my new partner, the edit I can’t forget that we made at half hour, my nagging bladder, my costume, my loose bobby pin, my pre-set costume, my tendonitis, my toe split.  Sorry, but Pop-Pop watching down on me, wants to see the sight of selfless, unified perseverance and flight despite anything and everything.  He knows better.  And so does every single audience member.  

 

When you take the focus off of just yourself, and place it on your family in the wings, and your family in the rows of seats, you put dance in its larger frame-work and alleviate pressures off of just yourself.  

 

So, next time you dance, what can you do for someone else?  How is the new dancer amongst you feeling?  How can you help your partner?  How can you have compassion and support for your choreographer?  How can you change the mood in the studio?  How can you nourish those watching?  

 

May no dancer be left behind.  I vow to work collectively before I work on myself.  And my greedy, selfish-self is back, go figure;  I’m already grinning at the prospect of getting something rewarding in return.

 

Not getting the part you want have your tail-feather ruffled? Don’t despair!

Politics exist everywhere.  It doesn’t mean squat about your dancing.  Roles, supposedly deserved, come and go un-danced.  You work tirelessly and devote yourself fully, yet you watch in the wings while another beautiful dancer takes the lime light.  You aren’t envious of their dancing.  You are proud of the way you move and express yourself.  You hold your art in confidence, but the results of the moment don’t quantify your efforts.  And the only thing I mean here by results are the tangible advancements your choreographer grants you, weighed against your expectations.  Amazing results are inevitable when you put your best effort behind your actions.  You may work as hard as you deem possible, and it still may not result in you center stage.  The beautiful effort you put forth shines, but might not be exactly what a choreographer wants to highlight.  None of this is a reflection of your value, but man it can feel like it.  How do you not fall down the slippery slope of questioning your own dancing when the choreographer doing the choosing isn’t granting you the recognition you desire?  The challenge posed to you is to not need the recognition, and not feel less than or second-rate.  Done.  Let’s do this.  How?!

I start by saying the obvious.  I love dancing with Parsons Dance, and it is one of my dreams come true.  On the inside of that dream, I deal with not getting the roles I want – an issue that can lie at the heart of any job.  It is not that I don’t want my dear friend to have that celebrated experience on stage, but it’s the aching desire to feel value from my determination, to have an outsider put a pretty little A+ on my dancing – pathetic, but true.  I thank human nature.  Hell, as a kid all I wanted in my beautifully simple life was to have Mom and Dad tote me around, kiss me, and applaud ad nauseam at my perfected, extremely fancy leg kick with a twirl and split finish.  Now, at 28, my inner child still cries for attention and validation in moments of weakness.  My poor and pathetic ego wants to get what I want at all times, to be the star, regardless if that star role contains moves and a persona that is even uniquely me.  Despite if I know the choreography more intimately than another (again, an unnecessary and useless comparison), my commitments do not always lead me to performing the part.  Worse yet, when my ego get’s bruised, it affects my dancing.  It distracts me.  It forces half of my energy to go towards keeping my head afloat rather than all my energy being devoted to the movement.

A few months ago, having been in this respected company for 3.5 years, I found myself upset in the studio during rehearsal;  not as much from not getting a part, but for feeling misunderstood.  My inner child was crying, “Look at me! I know this dance! Don’t I look lovely! Don’t you love how I am rond de jambing my leg with such pizazz! What? Do you like her rond de jambe better?! Look how hard I’m working!”  Logic does not reign in my brain during times of frustration.  If it did, I would kindly and obviously remind myself, “Just because I know all the dance moves, it does not mean that those are the dance moves truly meant for me.”   Followed by, “You are a beautiful person and dancer, and not getting this role has nothing to do with the level of respect and value you hold, in the company and beyond.”   Instead, my clear judgement left the room, and my emotions whined and paraded around in my head and heart.  It took a walk outside during lunch, a chat with one of my beloved Parsons family members, and a severe push to get a sweat going, to leave the thoughts outside and thrive for the rest of the day.  It was the disconnect between my dedication and the “results” that brought about the treacherous slope of defeat which lead to the ultimate death trap of questioning – questioning my artistic value.

Oh god, I typed it and at the moment I wish I could erase it from my screen and soul simultaneously.  I want to demand that I never question my artistic merits.  I want to demand that I always hold my self in high value.  Yet there are trying moments, that muffle these well-known facts-of-self down to a muted scream in my gut.

My value as a person and artist is not a wavering subject.  Value can only be granted to myself, from myself, and is never anyone else’s responsibility to deliver to me.  

How often do you let decisions made from the choreographer in the front of the room influence how you feel about yourself?  The truth: sometimes your artistic and personal sensibilities are not necessarily in alignment with the preferences of the choreographer and their work of the moment, despite their appreciation and respect of you.  There will be rehearsals when you feel a complete connection between yourself and your choreographer, and there will be times when you fight to get that deep connection back.  Dancing for a company is a business too.   A business full of people who have varying sensibilities of what they like and desire.  A business filled with pleasing not only individual dancers, but board members, booking agents, executive directors, the list goes on.  You have no idea why a choreographer makes the decisions they do.  Choreographers are people.  People who are predisposed to particular people’s movement styles based on their own history, mindset, and tendencies. It may be their preference, it may be someone else’s, it may be random.  Again, someone else’s decisions cannot effect your self-worth.  Not just that it shouldn’t.  It actually is completely unrelated.  

To unruffle my feathers in times of distress, hopping in the studio, taking an open class I know I enjoy, or even trying a new class – dancing material I will never perform after those 2 hours – has from time to time, been a lovely reminder of why I do what I do.  There is nothing political or expected about open class.  I can go in, dance my heart out, and not give a crap if anyone else in the room is going to like me, I mean, my dancing (a shockingly, occasionally hard thing to separate).  The frightening bottom line about taking class for you alone?  You’ll probably dance better, with complete abandon, as you always should, and get recognized for it because you could care less for the recognition.  Politics in the studio of a job we work for can make us lose that freedom.  So get it back somewhere else.  Refresh your memory of the feeling.  Get your confidence boost and lighthearted spirit back and then kick ass back at “work.”

You are the one thing you can control and maintain.  Only you, yourself, can continuously cultivate a sense of home, comfort, sanity, and integrity.  When others rock your boat, break your ship, they’ve cracked into your vulnerabilities.  They are not welcome.  Working hard and having your passion lead all your intentions will never set you astray.  You will see results.  You will not care about roles or jobs gained or lost.  You will become a better artist, person, and technician.  More importantly, your confidence and self-value will be unwavering and take you places you could never conceive possible, and most gloriously, they will be uniquely and entirely yours.

Nerves, aches, and fatigue. Hold it together! Conquering performances like an all-star.

Performances are the heightened, amplified moments your family, friends, colleagues, directors, critics, lovers, and complete strangers get to come see what you work so hard on during rehearsals.  With Parsons Dance, our two weeks at the Joyce Theater is the one time a year I am guaranteed to perform for my New York family.  It’s my moment to show off to the ones who hear I’m supposedly a talented dancer but rudely only give me one shot every 365 days to see what I truly do and of course, have their speculations rightly confirmed.  It serves as my annual marker to see where I’ve come as a performer and as an opportunity to set a fresh intention of what I wish to accomplish out of two weeks of constant performing.

With the weight of significant performances, nerves and performance pressures can lurk, ready to snap precious and peacefully cherished dance moves without consent.  Nerves, not all bad at all, come in endless distracting flavors.  Sometimes the nervous belly pays a visit at half hour to curtain because you want to nail all your dance steps with the utmost artistic finesse.  Sometimes a surge of excitement blesses you from someone new to modern dance coming to watch for the first time because you’ve introduced them to your world.  Sometimes it’s a wave of longing because it’s the last time on stage in a certain work with the same special cast.  And sometimes it’s an absolute dire sensitivity to your aching body you must be mindful of to survive the show without a hitch.  How do you prep the mind for the nerves and focus your energy appropriately to make for the best show for those who come for proof, and more importantly, yourself, regardless of circumstances?  And “regardless of circumstances” is the kicker here because during strenuous and lengthy performance series, you don’t always feel your freshest every day, regardless of how well you wish to feel, and regardless if Baryshnikov decides to make an appearance in the house. (Hi Mikhail.  Yes, please come tomorrow.  I believe my left hamstring will be a bit stronger and I’ll be on my leg for you.  Thanks.  Kisses.)  Physical and mental states vary as your whole being is thrown to master the test of endurance from daily performances.  This means making those seemingly impossible shows, completely possible and even surprisingly enjoyable be it sprained ankles, colds, fevers, tendentious, fatigue, and soreness.  (Game on!)

So now that you’re completely curious for the reveal of my personal goals for this past Joyce, straight from my journal –  may I have the drum roll please?  Ahem…. To be fearless and selfless through generous performances.  To not fear the unknown of live performance, but to relish in it.  To be absent from judgmental thoughts.  To get lost and surrender to the moments deeper than I have previously by giving everything and expecting nothing.

A funny request, considering the chain of fun-filled events that happened within the first few hours of moving into the Joyce.   (Ahh, here come those lovely circumstances!)

Roughly three hours before curtain, as we were about to start our press call for opening night, I rolled over my already-slightly-bummed left ankle which was sprained a few weeks earlier.  Bravo, Christina.  I hobbled off stage, gracefully let out a few select curse words, iced my ankle, and let a tear or two stream down my cheek due not as much from sadness but from the utter rage of this hideous timing.  I was furious.  And when I’m angry (or tired, hungry, abundantly happy, you name it…), I cry.  I had so much to look forward to with these shows and had extensively prepared my mind and body for this hefty work load – the pieces were well-rehearsed, I had sufficient sleep, my home life was organized and armed with epsom salt, stretching toys, candles, and vitamin drinks to accommodate crazy performance life.  Yet It simply didn’t matter how prepared I was, because, pardon my french, shit happens.  I wanted to whine like a baby, and I gave myself about 5 minutes to whimper and feel bad for myself in the dressing room until I held it together and took the thankfully pitiful-sized injury and turned it into a blessing.  There was a lesson to be learned if I could quiet my temper tantrum and listen.  Justin Flores, a healing God here on earth, came to save the day and graced me with my first session of acupuncture and did some additional body work to get the minimal swelling that creeped in, down as much as possible; he had my ankle moving at more or less full capacity before showtime.  This forced me into hyper-conscious mode.  This opening night show could not be about blowing it out and pushing beyond my means.  I had no choice but to be completely thoughtful with each step, each descent from a lift, each relevé.  I hadn’t thought about my ankle much since I over-stretched the ligament initially, and this sudden and gratefully only minor glitch reminded me how fragile bodies are, how much proper strengthening of weaknesses are completely mandatory, and how completely lucky I am able to move as freely as I do.  I headed into this first show, with any opening night jitters knocked cold right out of me, and an unwavering focus protecting my body.  It was absolutely imperative to concentrate my attention, not just a task I casually handpicked for a fresh perspective, because I had to guarantee myself and my dance family a minimum of two weeks of performances.

Oddly enough, I relished in the restriction.  Taking the performance stride by stride opened a world of time and calmness.

Between moves and counts lie opportunities to make choices.  Music and movement may be swift, but there is a quiet place in the mind that can allow for space between those notes to breathe, pace yourself, and make artistic choices.  Nerves are sequestered under intense focus of a task (one way to calm down, check!).  Furthermore, any fear of screwing up a dance step dissipates when you give yourself the permission to make a mess (not striving for perfection, check!).  A successful performance for me on opening night with a sprained ankle, was simply getting through the show without having to play gimpy in desperation for a wing.

And just as one ailment heals, ankle feeling stronger, another one strikes.  Week two brought a battle with a fever and an unfortunate cold that I wearily won.  Lesson I learned here?  Whenever you are having the most significant performances, your body is put under intense rigors and inevitably unravels.  What makes you special is when you deliver a brilliant performance regardless of the circumstances, because those circumstances will be there.  How can you preserve and deliver your best when you may feel your most compromised?  How many dancers grin and bear it through tendentious, tears, foot splits, and colds?  Regardless of what you got, we all got something.  The unfortunate happens, but it also happens for a reason. It’s not unfortunate at all.  It is a gift; a blessing to pay attention on a deeper level and allow mental focus to resonate beautifully through your physical being.

And while attempting to get a grip on nerves and remain cool, calm, and collected under daunting circumstances, it also helps to redefine performances, put them in perspective, and decide what makes them glorious;  something I love to remind myself of in the quiet of the wings before showtime.

First off, no one in the world can do the pieces you are about to perform (thank you Liz Koeppen!); not critics, other dancers, and thank-god, not your brother or boyfriend.  The perspective as an audience member includes positive thoughts.  (Not once have I sat in the theatre, hoping the performers would fall flat on their face or tumble from a lift with a partner.) All the outside can see is the final product.  Not what you should be doing or could have done, but what you are presently doing, and they are on your team each step of the way.  They came to have fun and be entertained, so p.s., kick back and have a good time out there!

Next, no two performances will ever be alike so there is no point in doing the comparison from night to night or agonizing over a misstep here or a wobble there.  Fretting doesn’t happen nearly as readily in the studio, where the liberty to make mistakes, laugh them off, and carry on care-free reigns.  The stage can be known as the place where the hard work gets hidden, and ideally the elating product gets displayed without a drag.  Why that pressure?  Performances are another place you get to experiment and try something new.  All performances, studio and stage the same, are just another influencing experience.  When you reflect upon your career, you will not remember the details of specific moments as much as you will remember how you felt doing it, and those moments regardless of where they took place, when you felt particularly transformed, moved.  The beauty in dance is its replication of life.  LIfe is full of mistakes, and boy do people love to see someone win a struggle.  Who doesn’t get a thrill watching that “perfect” prima ballerina fight for that extra turn with a sparkle in her eye of sheer will and determination?  On the other hand, there is nothing worse than the eye of defeat in the spirit who lets the pressures get the best of them and lets one mishap run them into the ground for the remainder of the show.   When dance bloopers happen you should be in a state light-hearted enough to drop it, rather than wallow and crumble in its replay in your mind.

What makes for a stunning performance is the one not necessarily flawless, but gutsy and honest.  The dancer fearful of making a mistake is not going to be interesting or worthwhile to watch.  The dancer fearful to make a mistake is the only one who will be sure to fail.  You cannot fail at dance (or anything really), so get the fear of screwing up a lousy dance step out of your head.  It’s a dance move for crying out loud, not brain surgery.  And what about all those millions of steps you do right that you conveniently forget about as you grieve over your sickled disaster of a foot in one arabesque?  Once you put that fear aside, there is a whole other layer of dancing to reach and master. (But it wouldn’t kill you to put a little effort into that biscuit you called a foot the night prior, before you give it a second go-round!)

Lastly, performing doesn’t mean you throw every ounce of your energy into every step.  Every ounce of your thought and focus, yes.  However, when we vomit sheer force and fire over everything all the time it can over-power and make for jagged steps and frenetic connections.  Breathe.  Take a second.  Look at your partner.  No, really look.  See.  And above all listen.  Listen so you can learn.  If you are doing all the talking in your mind with busy thoughts, you cannot listen to the music or your partner, or the group’s connection, or your sensations.  So make a vow to listen so you can learn and adapt to each circumstance live performances throws your way.  I guarantee it will throw you a ton of fun ones.


I’ll leave you with the majority of mantras I used while at the Joyce.  I must always take a few moments to myself on the stage to check in and see where my energy is at, calm myself down, be grateful I can do what I do with a functional and able body, and focus on what I want to gain from the performance ahead, filling my thoughts with words that bring me peace and make me feel I don’t have the world to lift on my shoulders.  Here it goes!

“Surrender everything” -Me

“Save 7% for yourselves.” -Kate Skarpetowska

“Engage, Embrace, Enjoy.” -Dove, yes that would be some brilliant chocolate!

“Those who bring sunshine to others cannot help but keep it from themselves.” -Dove

“You don’t have the luxury of negative thought.” -Christina Applegate

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” -Franklin Roosevelt

“Failure seldom stops you.  What stops you is the fear of failure.” -Jack Lemmon

“Fear nothing, cherish everything.” -Me

“Take no prisoners.” -Me

“Be thoughtful. Be beautiful.” -Kate Skarepetowska

“Doing this for love.” -PD company

“I’m so grateful.” -Me

“One step at a time.” -Kate Skarpetowska

“Be generous.” -Me

“Give everything and expect nothing.” -Me

The Weight of 20 Pounds: A Battle Worth Fighting

I wish I could say I wasn’t plagued by the upsetting dancer-with-eating-disorder cliché, but unfortunately life decided to teach me a lesson instead.  (Don’t you just love that?)  My struggle reared its ugly head while in the middle of my college career, but its origins started way before then when I would nitpick more than just my technique in the mirror as a dance-crazed teenager.  Perfection was what I was after, and I thought I found the surest path to get an extra inch closer.  In reality, those shedded inches were traded for self-deprivation, not only of my physical being, but of my inner pride.  Quite the shame.  Here’s my story, to help abate yours or nip it in your perfect size tush before the seed is even planted.

As a type-A girl who strives for perfection I took control over one more element in my life to achieve a skewed version of greater success.  In entire honesty, I never felt I was restraining myself from food.  I never felt I was even trying “that” hard to lose weight.  My goal was to get into good shape before my next semester at college, and to me, good shape didn’t exactly refer to stamina or strength as much as it did to appearing more “dancerly.”  In the summer months prior to my junior year at Marymount Manhattan College, I was enrolled in a summer course in nutrition.  The class opened up my mind to a better, healthier diet, but, go figure, I took those lessons to the extreme.  I started actively reading labels for more wholesome ingredients and became tediously aware of serving sizes.   All positive health improvements, but only when followed with an air of casual knowledge rather than intense absolutes.

Upon my return to Marymount, teachers took note of my more slender figure.  “Christina you look so thin, don’t lose any more weight please.”  Being told I was thin was a compliment to me.  It brought a devilish smile to my face when someone acknowledged my deteriorating figure.  While I didn’t actively change my newfound eating habits, I continued to slowly lose more weight.  In my head I just thought I was maintaining the slender figure I had proudly achieved.  However, instead I was wasting away and achieving the not-so-sexy skin and bones look.  Let’s set the record straight – I was extremely thin, too thin, by anyone’s standards.  Probably around 100 pound on my medium-build, 5’5 frame.  Yet it remained easy for me to see someone with a more severe case of anorexia as sickly; where their bones were all you saw protruding harshly at rigid angles to form a horrid semblance of a natural figure.  Can you cry, “Denial?”  I was convinced there was nothing wrong with my body, that I didn’t have any disorder, and my pitifully constrained dinners were what someone who performed with their body should have been eating.  I wonder, scared to think how far away I was from this extremeness.  Probably not as far off as I thought; my mental delusion was on par for diving into the deep end.

I stopped listening to my body’s gauge of hunger and analyzed my meals as if it was possible for them to be graded.  It was the realization I really ate at least 4 servings of hummus and crackers in a sitting without hesitation, eagerly going back for seconds, that spawned the desire to shift some habits.  Additionally, I would try not to eat too close to bed time;  possibly allowing myself to indulge in some carrots or some other veggie if I was ravenous and felt like I couldn’t make it through the night.  (Couldn’t make it?! All I was doing was sleeping, but I obviously put myself on such an impossible regimen.)  It was valid to strive for diversity and nutrients in my diet, but it was critical to ingest the calories I as a dancer burned during the day to be prepared for the physical work required.  Any time I absent-mindedly stuffed my face with trail mix or some other pathetic “bird-like” semblance of a meal, guilt ensued.   Then I would try to compensate at the next meal, to ease the guilt away.  How sad to be so pre-occupied with the cyclical thoughts of food, eating, and guilt when there were so many other more productive, positive, care-free thoughts to be had.  I was taking my own life away from myself when I thought I was taking control of it.

The most tragic part?  I felt great.  What more do you need to continue with a downward spiral?  I felt on top of my dance game, when I was truly at the bottom.  I no longer had to hop, wiggle, and squat my way into my skinny jeans fresh out of the wash, and the thought of “Do I look fat in this?” was relieved from my concerns because I was aware I was thin, just not aware I was too thin.  This was the kicker; the fact that I knew I was skinny allowed me to take class in a freer state of mind and ride the wave of my deformed, yet positive view of my body.  I would be in my pink tights and proud to stand in an arabesque facing entirely profile to the mirror.  I didn’t have one thought of, “Ugh, that low belly and thigh are a bit unfortunate.”  Perfect!  I was free to think about sailing around effortlessly in a promenade, luxuriating in my épaulement, and smoothly accentuating whatever turnout I could muster with a sense of hard-earned contentment.  To top it off, I didn’t get my period for 9 months.  While I knew in the back of my mind this was bad, I would be lying if I didn’t say it was glorious to be cramp and bloat free. (To be bloated at 100 pounds seems like an impossible feat.)  I wish I could have added crabby to the list, but while I don’t particularly recall feeling temperamental while in this fragile state, I cannot imagine a body without enough fuel fostering a peaceful mind.

This entire time, I thought I was doing good for myself – caring for my instrument and being performance ready.  What made me come to the realization I was off my rocker?  My parents were scared for me and were near tears when they came to see me perform.  They told me they were going to get me help and that I needed to put on weight.  Seeing their urgency about an issue I thought didn’t exist, especially to warrant their extreme reaction, made me reconsider.  I also honestly knew in my gut not getting my period was my body’s way of shutting down and not functioning as a woman’s should.  Gratefully, the intervention was something I was willing to accept.  I did have concern for my optimal health and the repercussions of losing bone density and being at risk of injury, potentially greatly halting my dancing career all together, horribly frightened me.  Almost as much as (heaven forbid!) putting on some weight.

Gradually seeing the poundage creep on to my scrawny frame and maintaining a sense of self-pride was the most challenging aspect of the struggle.  Losing the weight and controlling my appetite was easy.  Five extra pounds, on the other hand, felt like I was wearing a balloon suit while doing pliés at the barré.  One of the hardest things for me was to get accustomed to having boobs again.  And by boobs, I am referring to my lovely A-cup chest.  Having these mounds of excess flesh with a mind of their own attached smack in the front of my body was hard to grapple with while I stuffed them into the same leotard that once housed essentially just my nipples.  A woman with a chest didn’t exactly measure up to this fantastical, adolescent dancer image I conjured and idolized, making my breasts a source of agony and symbolized me being out of shape rather than simply a beautiful woman.

Along my road to recovery, I became heavier than I was before I was sick.  I intuitively felt I would need to go further in the opposite direction, before I could balance myself and feel at my healthiest.  I let this new heavier body, limit my dancing.  It disabled me because I didn’t feel prideful.  It was a distraction that took me out of the work and into the mirror, concerned with the appearance of movement rather than the movement itself.  The honest truth was my mind hadn’t made as much of a shift as I had believed and hoped; I still critically judged my body.

It is this mindset, so prevalent in dancers, that serves as the initiation to take drastic measures to senselessly curb food intake.  So you need to cut the cycle in your thought process.  

While muddling through this mental shift, I had a nauseating number of helpful conversations with my loving and patient mother, but I will never forget her once uttered words I vehemently disagreed with, “This might always be something you struggle with.”  Excuse me? Always?  Absolutely not.  In a beautifully unpredictable world filled with ever evolving minds, nothing remains constant and people never cease to amaze with their capacity to change, adapt, and shift through the obstacles of life.  If my mind has done a 180 degree turn around when it comes to everything from boyfriends, education, Freudian philosophies, tofu, and the Muppets, then there is absolutely no reason why a mental shift around proper eating habits isn’t possible.  So the words “you might never like the way you look,” and “this will always be an issue” is the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever heard.

Now how do you start this shift?

I did see a therapist to help sort through the emotional turmoil and wrap my mind around the seriousness of the issue.  It was helpful to acknowledge all the thoughts and relationships I had growing up that nurtured this twisted mentality.  Honestly however, I didn’t feel our sessions were extremely insightful, and ultimately she encouraged me to fulfill the work I needed to do on myself.  After a few weekly sessions, I let our time together go and kept an introspective gaze on my reoccurring thoughts.

I repeatedly recited to myself, “I have to fuel my body and this is me and it’s beautiful.”   Various self-loving mantras under a protective veil of inner patience would immediately follow any critical and harshly guilty digs to myself.   I reminded myself of the stunning power in a womanly figure and began to believe the asexual, prepubescent look was not all that and a bag of chips (let’s be real, it was no chips!).  The clothes that once sagged on my wilted tushie had a field day with the comeback of my bubble butt.  Me, on the other hand, initially gawked in the mirror, not so proudly and with a tinge of disgust, before my womanly sass and ass eventually became too much fun to not saunter and flaunt in the heyday of my early twenties.

Nevertheless, in the guts of this mental battle, life threw me tests.  A phone call from a director, chatting about an upcoming season asked me if I planned on getting in shape for it.  “You know. Slim down.”  In complete defense mode, I claimed I didn’t need to and wasn’t willing to drop pounds and sacrifice my health.  A proud moment for myself.  The harsh reality – I wasn’t in my best shape.  However, negotiating the thin line between healthy eating habits and obsessive, pre-occupied ones was too sensitive a debate for me to embark upon at the time.

Ahh! The challenge of being a performing artist.

While performing a visual art form, there is a need to be physically fit.  Some companies (not all, and this should play a part when deciding where you work) are known for maintaining a physical aesthetic, and to ignore this fact would be unrealistic.  The physical work done on a daily basis in the studio prepares our bodies for the strength, stamina, and flexibility necessary.  Sometimes the work is enough to maintain a lean and strong physique, and other times as a performer you have to step up your game when an important show is coming up to make sure you feel your best.

Yes, you take class in front of a mirror all day long.  Yes, you are there captiously sharpening your technique to extreme levels of excellence, and those critiques can sneakily enter your perception of your body.  When are you done striving for the perfect figure and instead enjoy the one you’ve been blessed with?   When the meticulous training and body affliction is all you focus on, you are not dancing.  You are merely moving and fretting.  You won’t get in better shape from worrying tediously at every moment.  There has to come a point when the look of the body is disassociated from the movement, and the beauty of the dance take over.

Let go of compulsive premeditation about meals and issue yourself freedom and an open mind to thoughts of significance.  Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  Eat what makes your body feel good and function at its optimum.  Or don’t, and then fully indulge and enjoy!  Tacking on any guilt with eating something less than nutritious or eating too much of something is absurd.  Food is pleasure and is to be savored.  Being mad at oneself only perpetuates the ugly cycle of emotional eating.  Don’t get upset at yourself.  Laugh at its ridiculous reoccurrence, grant yourself patience without judgement, and let it go – no matter how long this lesson takes. To unleash your fullest capacity as an artist and simply as a happy person, navigating a health relationship with food and your body is a battle worth fighting.

Cut the crap and get inspired people… and keep it that way.

It is in our job description as dancers to provide inspiration to the masses.  The arts are seen as the part of our culture that uplifts people out of the looming malaise our society is said to sit in (hate that…get off your butts people and do something about it).  Art makes you think outside of yourself and pulls you out of your mundane daily grind and can allow you to think about things differently, be moved.  The artist being the vehicle behind the work is the hub of this inspiration.  Furthermore, as dancers, our art is witnessed through our bodies and expressions.  So venerable, so exposed, so terribly clear when inspiration is absent, and consequently, so much beautiful potential to impact others.

 

As dancers, when we are in that special place, lost in the moment, we can feel immortal, not of this earth.  The music starts, the dance begins, and we get enraptured within it, miraculously performing steps that just seep out of our limbs while our soul goes on a journey that doesn’t give us the reality check until it’s over, be it the music stopped, or the audience applauds, or we simply realize the steps for the piece are finished (that’ll do it!).  We have this gift to share.  It is our responsibility to share this gift and have it manifest itself as inspiration for others.

 

Now how do we, as inspiration givers, keep this inspiration going ourselves?  Particularly when the practicalities of life (insert excuse #523 here) take over and we find it hard to get to that special place?

 

Inspiration comes and goes.  Being an artist and living in the waves and wakes of inspiration, it’s proven itself helpful to have my big future goal clear and in the forefront of my brain.  Then, setting tiny little goals for every class and rehearsal acts as stepping stones towards this ultimate desire.  Knowing I want to open my own business within the dance industry down the road helps me be the best dancer I can be now, helps me take class with clear intentions, helps me work that much harder because I can see the ultimate payout.

 

Point being, when class, and just as equally your five-year plan, is this focused you have an agenda of which to grow and learn.  You are not thinking of your degaggé the same way you did the day before since it is looked at through a new lens.  Attending class in the first place has a larger purpose to obtain that goal of perhaps dancing with your dream company.  You can accomplish this level of tremendous growth outside of an educational realm because now, even better, you get to be your own teacher.  Perhaps you take class this week and are focusing on your relationship to the music, taking space, or maybe just letting go a bit more and enjoying yourself instead of being such a constipated thinker.  Whatever your reason for taking class, do it intelligently and purposefully.  Then see where you will end up one year down the road.  Without an agenda, a purpose, a goal, you cannot grow and inspire at your upmost potential. Don’t just show up to class, or the audition, or the performance.  It is not enough.   It is not enough for that audience member who came to be uplifted.  It is not enough for your parents who supported you following your passion perhaps when they came from a household that didn’t allow it.  And it is not enough for that little girl sitting in the front row who’s dream it is to be on stage.  (Yes, I went there.  On board yet?)  But most of all, it is not enough for you.  Don’t sell yourself short.

 

Let’s be brutally honest here.  It is not easy to get your butt to class, let alone be inspired for your big dreams while contemplating if this deflated industry is enough to support you financially and artistically.  I’ve questioned my career decisions with dance and the arts (and at times with some shame in that however unfortunate and unnecessary).  It is not always simple to dance; if your artistic side doesn’t feel fulfilled on a large enough level, then the financial sacrifices we make are no longer justified.  These are practical and wise thoughts, but we can allow “real” life to complicate things and serve as excuses for attacking our long term goals and keeping on a daily inspired pathway.  It has been these woes primarily that kept my mind wandering form a livelihood in the arts and shadowing my potential. (No thank you!)

 

Let’s be simple about it.  If you love it.  Do it.  And stay strong when life makes you waiver.  When we chose this profession, or it chose us, we did not come to it for security or pragmatism.  We came to it because of how it made us feel – for the push, the sweat, the odd love of burning foot tape to our broken feet (yes, masochists), for the support from an audience, for the rush on stage, for the camaraderie of others dancing with us.  We can’t just follow the money and security and leave our passion behind….that would make us sheer mortals rather than inspirational superheroes.

 

I had an eye opening conversation with an incredibly smart, slightly socially awkward (of course…), science engineer in the coffee shop a few weeks ago.  I’ll admit to feeling a bit out of my league while hearing about his fascinating but somewhat technical description of having game-changing insight on a mishap of a space shuttle mission.  He felt compelled to write his story on how this mishap could have been prevented, why it happened, and how he knew about it before the launch, only to know it couldn’t possibly work, and how the high powers that be wouldn’t pay his insight any attention.  What an incredible story to tell!  This happened over a decade ago and this very intelligent man was still questioning whether he should take the time to write and share it.  What a waste of time – write it already!!!! I could tell he was aching to do so – clearly, you don’t just tell people this full story within the first five minutes of meeting them without it impassioning you and constantly running circles around your brain.  So when I asked him why he hadn’t written it, he raffled off two common and perhaps sound excuses. – 1.) Who would read it (meanwhile I have this pea size blog!) and 2.) would this story ever reap any profit for him?  I told him politely that he was crazy and he had to write it.  Call me foolish, but money and notoriety follows passion.  He has no idea where his story can go unless he writes it.  He could get it published in a trade magazine, a journal, asked to talk publicly about it, asked to mentor other engineers in similar circumstances.  The opportunities are endless…..if he writes it.  Are you willing to risk a little to write your passion and win big?  You have to do what you are zealous about, sometimes foolishly and completely lacking any practicalities, to allow your fullest potential to surprise you.  Maybe you’ve managed to slip off the wagon a bit and let your story lie dormant.  That’s ok, but stop wasting time.  Let the time passed be what jump starts you back into gear.  You can start over and fresh at any moment.

 

Dance like you did when you were a kid.  When doing the economical and sensible were the furthest from your concerns.  When you didn’t have bills to pay and your main concern was whether Eddie in the third row in Social Studies liked you.  Dance for something again.  Give it meaning and give it purpose.  Otherwise, why the hell would you do another grand plié with burning thighs, another pass across stage while the wind is knocked out of you, another knee crawl with bruised shins?  You need a reason to do the piece better this time than the time before, for yourself and for the audience who came to be enlivened.  So set a single personal goal this week, this year.  Be specific.  Carve your own path to stay inspired and leave the excuses for mortals, us dancers are such superior beings (yes, waft that nose in the air).  And if you can’t find a good enough reason to foolishly pursue your childhood dreams (lame, and probably bs), do it for your grandma who always wanted to live on stage but let her damn feet get in the way….poor mortal.

 

 

Thank you my Fairbanks dancing all-stars from Alaska Grown who reminded me why I love what I do every time I saw you.  Thank you my science engineer for reminding me even smart people can be foolish.  Thank you Jared for keeping my big dreams in constant reach every day.  Thank you Melissa Ullom, Steve Vaughn, Elena D’Amario, Eric Bourne, Ian Spring, Jason Macdonald, Sarah Braverman, Abby Silva-Gavezzoli, Lauren Garson, Leeann Ramsey, Kate Scarpetowska, Liz Koeppen, and David Parsons for being my family and the generous artists you are who keep me going;  it’s an honor to share the stage and studio with you always.  And (tear, tear, sniff, sniff) thank you Mom and Dad for letting me be a dancer from day one.  And yes, I proudly accept this Oscar.    

Performance Pressures….bring it on!

Inspired by:
Rick Pitino, with Bill Reynolds
“Success is a Choice: Ten steps to overachieving in business and life”

….it’s been awhile since I’ve posted but here’s for some ruthless gumption!

My boyfriend (at the time….unfortunately a long story) lent me Rick Pitino’s “Success is a Choice” when I was craving a motivational, self-help if you will, read. I didn’t know what to expect from the former NY Knicks coach, but turned out his motivational mantras proved more than valid and helpful when applied in reference to dancing and working effectively within a dance company, which at times is absolutely a team or family. As I enter my second season with Parsons Dance, it is my upmost priority to make this season more fulfilling than the first. To take what challenged me, and make those weaknesses into my strengths, and to maximize my strengths to capitalize on what makes me special as a dancer. One aspect I wish to focus on here is performance pressure. As performers we’ve all had our moments where we feel these pressures seep into our bones, when the thought of convincingly moving those rattling bones becomes a much more daunting accomplishment than moments prior in rehearsal. In class and rehearsals, we can more easily tap into the glorious freedom of taking risks with movement and being fearless to make big mistakes and take a wipeout in lieu of finding where our physical limitations lie; these moments are exhilarating because we are pushing ourselves to our maximum. Performance can be exhilarating as well, when those limitations found by falling in the studio, can be trusted and so closely breached as we propel our body full throttle through space with the somewhat-calculated knowledge gained from hours of rehearsal. Most shocking however is, as a professional, this liberty of rehearsing specific works repeatedly to gain the confidence and full comprehension of how our bodies respond to each moment, simply doesn’t exist. Lack of funds, relates directly to the amount of rehearsal time allotted which relates directly to the feeling of preparedness prior to lights, costumes, and stage. I’ve been off-stage with only a single-hand of run-thrus under my belt, partner and all – “Slow Dance” this past summer is reminiscent – and forced to take this pressure and turn it into a positive influence and deliver a moving, elating experience for myself and the audience. Was I completely certain about every moment in the piece? No. We can never be entirely certain of a performance. It hasn’t happened yet; we don’t know what lies ahead. That’s life and what makes it exciting, unless we prefer to take this unknown and make it feel daunting instead. The choice is ours. Pressures exist, and thank god they do. They make us strive harder, longer, seeking finer details and additional nuances. If deadlines of performances and expectations of artist directors and fellow dancers didn’t exist and impose the feeling of wanting to be the best version of ourselves for them, we would be floating around in the blasé realm of mediocrity. And as far as I’m concerned, when we feel ourselves slipping into coasting mediocrity, which inevitably happens from time to time, we need to gratefully seize the opportunity to up the ante, set new goals, reach for higher sights.

So lets not feel negative pressure from the audience and those we wish to impress; that simply leads to stress and fear of failure – completely stifling. Failure is only an emotion we chose, not in definitive existence. Choosing to fear failure of certain moments within a piece, or not having the best performance, we are allowing those fears to take control unnecessarily. Instead lets use the pressure opportunity to see how far we can go. No two performances will ever be the same and this uncertainty is exciting.

So, easier said than done. How can we feel we have a grip on this pressure? For one thing, be confident in the moments we do know in a dance. Do our homework. Know every count, study a video, get into the studio and do some extra work to ease out the moments we don’t know as well or don’t feel as organic on our bodies. No rehearsal time with the rest of the company doesn’t mean we have to stop our work there and settle for not being as comfortable as we need to feel prior to a performance. Eliminate the uncertainties we have control over because other obstacles will always throw us for a loop in live performance – costume malfunction (Nasciemento skirt becoming untied and strings playfully doing another dance around my ankles), odd wings and back stage space (try an octagonal stage in FL with wings about two feet deep with 3 dancers hiding before a grand entrance), makeup running in our eyes (performing Envelope with my glasses pressed onto my face so hard my mascara runs and I’m forced to see out of one, barely open, blurry eye, which tends to happen on multiple occasions). Who says I’m talking from personal experience?? ; )

The performance is going to happen regardless. We choose to experience it trepidatiously or with an all-out vigor leaving no moment full expressed. Lets find trust in our work ethic and discipline. Performance is the prize for all those endless hours of rehearsal and class. So what if we’ve only rehearsal a dance 5 times before we perform it. We’ve had countless hours of dancing under our belt that prepares us to fly under this moment. So lets bring on the pressure and find out just what we are capable of; I bet we’ll surprise even ourselves.

(….gosh, even re-reading this serves as a helpful reminder!)

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