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.

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.

Growing through Injuries. Being smart and not a sissy.

It’s unfortunate but true; it sometimes takes a series of brutally depressing, disappointing, disturbing, heartbreaking, twisted, gruesome (is this going to far??  …point made?) events to find the beauty in those things we take for granted in our daily grind.  Hopefully, we don’t have to get as far as gruesome to come to this realization, but better late than never.   In this past summer, I’ve had three of my dearest friends – Evan Copland, Elena D’amario, and Sarah Braverman – out of commission from dancing due to major injuries.  Just to give some of their contextual backstory, this was the longest break they’ve had from dance ever in their lives.  Not only are these dancers not able to move their bodies in the extreme ways our profession demands, but they are also unable to walk around and enjoy the mobility of “normal people,” something we all forget is a luxury.

So straight from the horse’s mouth.  Here’s the scoop on Evan’s, Elena’s, and Sara’s injuries and their words of wisdom from their altered perspectives us healthy and able-bodied folks just can’t embody:

Evan – 27 and one of the most versatile and nasty dancers (nasty’s not the first word that pops out of my mouth when describing damn good dancing, but believe it would slip out of his and serves as a perfect description) with the purest of hearts I know.  He was on tour with Sean Curran in Karkol in the Kyrgyz Republic, dancing in the last piece of the final show of a month long tour; he did two little runs on stage followed by a precipitaté that did not end as sweetly as inclined.  Heard offstage, something snapped loudly.  That was just his entrance.  He proceeded to finish his duet and even attempted to go back on stage for the final section in the true committed animal he is, but he couldn’t stand.  Evan broke his fifth metatarsal just below the joint, in a place where there is no blood flow which means an agonizingly slow healing process.  What always impresses me about Evan is his complete level-headedness about his injury (shout out to Dharma Punks and his Buddhist approach to life).  He’s not one to waste his energy being unnecessarily upset or stressed about a situation he simply cannot change.  His initial concern was letting down his dance family.  He primarily dances for Shen Wei Dance Arts and working with Sean was a project that conveniently slipped into his schedule during time off.  Shen Wei was just about to start rehearsals and a series of touring, now sans Evan.  As much as we dance for the love of the art, we do it endlessly for those beside us – who we sweat with, go on these performative journeys with, who we partner and support.  This support was graciously reciprocated back in his time of need and leaving Evan feeling blessed and positive.

A major challenge to Evan’s inner zen came with his doctor visits and unmet expectations (hard not to have ’em but damn unnecessary expectations…).  He would be expecting his recovery to be more advanced; wanting to be told to get off the crutches, or remove his oh-so-fashion forward sleek boot sooner than allowed.  With some patience and fatiguing dedication to PT work, his first day of sneakers, August 10th, eventually came.  The same day he shaved his head.  Fresh start.  This time off made him evaluate his life choices; does he want to focus on performing or teaching?  How does he want to direct this next chapter in his life and career?  He has come back with a broadened perspective.  He is not just a Shen Wei dancer but is passionate about outreach and moving in an endless number of ways.  And now, talking with Evan is as contagious as ever.  He’s amped up to start dancing again and dive head first into classes; not too shabby of a place to be.  The injury was a blessing in disguise; he was forced to address what he wanted and head back to his passion with this new experience under his belt.

Elena – 21 year old stunning Italian beauty on and off stage was dancing with a meniscus tear for 9 months (amazing how the body can function when the surrounding muscles are there to support – thank you training!).  Yes, that means it was torn all throughout our Joyce season and full 6-week, non-stop Italian tour until it actually flipped over during swift, consecutive sauté de basque turns during the Parsons Summer Intensive.  Her thoughts?  It’s more psychological work over physical.  While not able to dance, something she has clearly done her whole life, the internal struggle comes to identity.  “Who am I?  Am I interesting still?”  We tend to identify ourselves as dancers, and this gift elevates our self worth; the reason others find me attractive and likable is because of my relationship with dance.  How unfortunately comprehensible, but utterly untrue.  Elena piggybacked this personal conundrum with filling her life with other activities she typically doesn’t have time for and started taking pride in the other things she loves to do beyond dance.  There are innumerable facets of our personality that make us beautifully individual and we are so much more than what we do (how much I can hate that as a first question when meeting someone fresh….).  Also, she now has a new found perspective on how fortunate us dancers are to do what we love, which puts complaining on the petty minutiae of the daily grind completely out of the question.

Another (completely unwarranted) fear?  “Everyone is going to be in rehearsal without me.”  Being removed from the group and loosing touch with the dynamics of the tight family unit and missing out on the progress on the fresh season was a concern.  My vantage point?  I blinked my eyes and Elena was back in the studio working.  To be exact, the summer intensive was at the end of June and she is back in rehearsals now at the end of August.  Nothing was lost.  She could never lose the beautiful connection we have as a group, and in terms of physical material developed, it is nothing she couldn’t pick up and learn in a heartbeat.  Her healing process and how much every day she can see the the growth of her muscles and diminished swelling serves as a constant inspiration and her new found perspective brings vigor to her dancing.

Next up – Sarah- 26 year old talent to behold onstage and stunner in person, tore her lateral meniscus, needed to get an ACL reconstruction with a hamstring autograft (yes, they snipped part of her hamstring and braided it to become her ACL.  Amazing huh??), and have the frayed tissue covering her kneecap shaved down.  A more severe injury, resulting in a 9 to 12 month recovery.  Sarah’s meniscus had also been torn throughout the season, but her ACL snapped on-site.  For better or worse, Sarah was at an audition, asked to jump hurdles, when she full gusto, swan lake-style jetéd (how’s that for proper French!) and landed all her weight down on her front leg, fearful of allowing her back leg to drop and (god-forbid, in our dancer mindset!) knock over the hurdle.  Apparently, she “was not Flo-jo,” and instead her foot remained turned out as her knee decided to shoot forward instead, just for fun.  Her hide sight? Know your limitations.  The audition was actually something she repeatedly declined until she gradually succumbed to the request.  “Know your limits.  You will get other jobs. We are trained to say yes.”   And some advice she now notices?  While dancing, we have an amazing capacity thanks to body knowledge to meander through movement artfully even when we land from jumps without perfect technique.  Know your body and it’s imperfect technical tendencies, and work on correcting them.  In physical therapy, there is no cheating from doing exercises properly; in dance we get to emote out of a jump that doesn’t go exactly as planned without anyone else noticing, and fooling even ourselves.

The dancer mentality is truly a double edged sword.  Most of us are not one’s to complain, and we accept minor wear and tear as part of the occupation.   We time and time again sacrifice the health of our bodies in the name of the work and those in the wings with us.  We act as if pieces of tape on our toes and torn muscles are enough to get through a performance and the adrenaline rush of the stage conveniently helps us forget these pains.  Where’s the line between quietly managing through expected minor setbacks and taking personal authority over our bodies which may mean a (gasp!) much needed break?  Sometimes it is better to sit one out and be able to come back full throttle rather than turning a minor injury into something that unnecessarily grows to become a larger problem.  In the moment it can seems like it is an absolute must to perform a piece full out, be it for a show, in front of a director, or for an audition.  We always have a choice, no matter how high the stakes of the performance.  Our bodies must come first, and at the end of the day, we know our bodies best.  Everyone has a different threshold for pain, but we need to be smart about pushing ourselves and know when it is going too far.

How can I take better care of my body?  I am definitely guilty of turning a blind eye to minor injuries and muscular sorriness.  There are nights when I pass out, exhausted from my day – not icing, not bathing in epsom salts, not getting a massage, and grossly enough, sometimes not even cleaning out cuts on the bottom of my feet before my head collapses on my pillow.  (I like to think I’ve built up my immune system??)  I am now reminded these small acts of tlc for ourselves are our insurance plan for the long run.  It just takes minutes to prevent injuries from further advancing.  Writing this is serving as a vow to myself to take the time.  Once the wake of these loved ones’ injuries are long settled, it will be easy to slip into old ways and feel the need to take a few more moments in my bed rather than tending to the needs of my instrument.  Dancing isn’t forever.   Nothing is.  My ability to dance at this level of intensity is finite.  It is an extreme blessing to be capable of moving my body, especially in the high demands dance insists upon.  Every day I wake up, I receive the opportunity to dance and reap the joy it brings.  This is not a guarantee.  But life has its roadblocks and time away from dancing doesn’t have to be disastrous; it just means more time devoted to other things you love and enjoy but never seem to have the time to accomplish.

Gratefully, Evan, Elena, and Sarah are on their way to a full recovery and are around those who love and support them in order to help keep their spirits high.  As dancers, let’s keep our bodies mobile and happy and henceforth, our hearts the same.  (Ahhh, so sappy!!)  Let’s be smart with our bodies, take care of what we have to the best we can, and still manage to not turn into whining sissies in the meantime.