life perspective

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).

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.