modern dance

“You Must Believe In Spring”

“You Must Believe in Spring” is a piece that stemmed from a concept Mario Spinetti (the musical genius on vocals and keyboard here…) brought to me to bring to life with movement. It expresses what it’s like to feel alone and depressed, like there’s no way out, and then the complete opposite side of that coin – what it’s like to be around others who help you see the light. It’s amazing how being close to others and feeling supported can make all the difference in the world in terms of perspective.

 

There’s always a way out of darkness, but sometimes we just can’t see.

 

I’m so very grateful also to Rocco Contini who brought this vision to life with his videography talents. Collaboration is a beautiful thing! Thank you!!

“You Must Believe In Spring”

I am collaborating with dear friend and vocalist extraordinaire, Mario Spinetti. He came to me with a concept for a dance film and here’s my work-in-progress that starts to bring his vision to life with movement.

I’m feeling a bit vulnerable and scared to share something that isn’t a finished product or performance, but alas, choosing to do as I preach and go towards my scary place rather than shy away from it!

Check out more gems from Mario here on Facebook. And I must mention, he is an extraordinary vocal coach – which is how I was blessed enough to meet him in the first place!

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.

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.

Modern Dancers – Rock Stars Overseas. Awesome, but why? America, step it up.

Believe it or not, Parsons Dance and our lovely troupe of performers are a just a wee-notch below Peyton Manning and even C-lister Ginger Spice on the belt of public notoriety.  Shocking, I know.  However, if you take us to Italy or South Korea, our celebrity status gets a lot hotter.  Now why is it modern dance can have more mass popularity overseas while here in America, the average person may not even have a clear depiction of what modern dance encompasses?  What is it about the people and their culture that makes screaming “bis!” (encore in Italian) and jumping to their feet after an already extensive company bow completely normal?  I have some speculations on this reasoning; nothing is supported with scientific proof or even historic research just incase I fool you into thinking my credentials read, “dancer and anthropologist.”  For extensive research purposes (and to bring me back to my college years), I’m choosing Italy and South Korea in comparison against the States because the European and Asian lifestyles are so different from one another, yet when Parsons Dance travels to both, the beautiful response we receive from the people is nothing but warm, enthusiastic, and most significantly, bountiful and a plenty. 

 

 

 

First unproved theory posed by moi:  America, where you can go from rags to riches, is revered as the idolized “other;”  add in you’re from New York, and it brings another level of mystification and admiration.

 

Simplistic enough, what adds to the appeal of Parsons Dance while traveling overseas is, we are a modern dance company from America.  The curiosity and infatuation with people who are different than ourselves predates history.  Furthermore, the American fantasy of being able to freely cultivate your own success and dream as big as you dare still lives (despite opposing connotations of arrogance and greed, to name just two).  We are from a place resident Italian or Koreans merely visit, see in movies, scope out via the internet, or read in books.  We are the other to them.  As they are for us.  International tours pack a lot more excitement than those to the midwest because of the differences in culture we experience first hand.

 

Escalating the American bravado, New York City is one of the most influential and acclaimed cities within the States, let alone the world (“mmwhaahaha”).  New York City, for dance, is the mecca in the field and when Parsons Dance travels overseas, people associate our American, New York company as the cream of the crop.  (And we have fingers crossed and toes pointed our A-game hits the mark.)  The United States and New York City allegiance insinuates ambition and drive.  We put our noses to the grindstone and get the work done because of the deep-seeded adage, “If you put in the time, you will reap the rewards of success.”

 

When I talk to people from other countries and tell them, “I am here from New York,” I see their face light up and their eyes widen as they respond with an enthusiastic “wow”  – welcoming enthusiasm and generally a handful of questions, not necessarily originating from a place of envy, but wonderment at the least.  Going to the corner café for a morning espresso in Italy, the baristi would love to hear details of New York life to get a sense of what it actually was like from the mouth of a native and poke fun at a good old New York accent.  Additionally, in a matter of 10 minutes of shopping in the old village of Seoul, myself and fellow dancer Elena got stopped by two different and unrelated groups of high school students with their iPhones zoomed in on our faces to eagerly record our responses to questions on the Korean life, curious to hear the outsiders’ perspective.  

 

So bottom-line, when a New York based dance company comes all the way to Italy or Korea we have their attention, and people come out to the theatre with pleasure to see the presumed top notch athleticism and artistry.  

 

 

 

Second fat assumption:  America applauds independence which subtly lessens our connections with others and our value of in-person connections.  Cultures that value in-person connections are more willing to see a performance of live in-person connections, aka dance.

 

Connections and in-person relationships with one another resonates subconsciously to our value of live art.  Seeing people perform in front of us carries more intimacy and a realness nonexistent through a square screen of an iPad.   A society that places predominance on community and spending quality face-time with one another fosters a people more readily interested in seeing and appreciating live performance.  How we relate to one another is established primarily through our cultural structures of family and the workplace.  

 

Here in the States we love our independence.  Living on our own and providing for ourselves is a marker of true adulthood.  Think of the unnecessary stigma associated to living with our parents in our young adult life.  I’m reminded of my parents commenting to me after college, “Chrissy, you can always come back home while you get yourself a bit more stable.”  And my thoughts were a screaming, “Heck no!”  I took pride in immediately living away from my family as a young and fully functioning (most of the time…) adult (most of the time…).  The thought of moving back home after college made my skin crawl, and not because my family was complicated or challenging in ways beyond normal (they were, and are, complicated and challenging in too many ways to count for sure, but all in all, more than lovely), but because I was determined to be successful on my own.  

 

This dire need for proved independence continues to ooze into the U.S. work culture.  It is not a we driven work environment as much as it is an I.  Our stereotypical work environment revolves around declaring solo ideas in cubicles without the help from the multitude of brainpower sitting directly to our right and left.  We get to the workplace before everyone else and leave after everyone else to prove our independent worth and dedication to our company and hopefully reap recognition and monetary perks.  In terms of seeing live performance, this translates into, “What am I going to get from this?” alongside a subtle hesitation to take the extra effort to see others perform.  Workers spent from long work days want to head home and collapse into any activity with pea-sized brain power.  A dance performance is subjective and unpredictable; you may or may not be amazed, and you may or may not like what you see – not exactly a quantifiable sporting event.  However, our altering work culture incorporating group brainstorming and adding creativity to a sterile work environment are aiding in a shift towards the collective and hopefully will alter our view and attendance of the arts. 

 

In Italy, the importance of family trumps, and this ideal is so prevalent when we think of the country, it is what we envision – generations of one family sitting around a huge bowl of pasta Grandma made, yelling across the table at one another.  Adult children often live with their families until they are married into one of their own, and meals are savored together.  When in Italy, nearly every night we found ourselves dining late, meeting with restaurant owners, and wining with patrons of the company as if we were family.  I almost forgot work existed there in the most beautiful of ways possible.  I couldn’t even get a panini at 2pm if I was hungry because everyone decided to go home to eat, relax, and take a nap.  I’ve never been as hungry in my life as when I was roaming the streets of Tempio Pausania in Sardegna, without a lick of food in my belly left over from the night before, when we landed there in the middle of the afternoon and got lost in the desolate streets for an hour and a half searching light-headily to any food oasis.  I was convinced no one lived in the town and the show was going to have three people in the audience.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Once siesta ended and night time ensued, the streets became alive and the house was full.  They took time to eat together and then enjoyed the social company of each other at night.

 

Additionally in reflection of Italians’ work demeanor, it might have been easier to count the times when the stage was prepared for us at the appropriate time, and I don’t believe we started a show on time even once.  I’m reminded of Padova, one of my favorite Italian performances, held in an arena known to host music concerts and the like.  The audience was having a grand old time eating, drinking, and socializing before the show.  While we warmed up on stage behind the curtain, they were beautifully boisterous and we probably started at least a half hour late;  I thought this is how going to the theatre should be in the States – an enjoyable unstuffy event.  They were the most incredibly receptive and enthusiastic audience and it brought an energy I’ll always remember.  The relaxed and tight-knitted Italian culture makes for an environment where people place pride on showing up to social events, and enjoying art is an expected way of life rather than something weaseled into a busy schedule.

 

Similarly but with a completely different vibe, Koreans frown upon living alone and most people live with their families until they are married.  One of our Korean presenters expressed she typically hides the fact she lives alone, away from her family – just a tad different than the American prideful independence we hold so near and dear.  In terms of work, when rehearsing and performing in the theatre, it operated like clockwork;  the stage crew was dutifully efficient, timely, and went above and beyond.  One of the workers for the theatre would meet us in the lobby of our hotel to take us to the theatre a few blocks away even though we all knew where it was located.  Our American reaction was, “What a waste of their time, we’ll just get there on our own in time for call.”  The main difference existent in Korean culture is not so much their willingness to work, but the idea of work as a group activity.  Where as we think of accomplishing tasks solo in the workplace to get the notoriety we deserve, their idea of work revolves around the group as a whole.  One day we were all late to a call time because of a miscalculated trip home from one neighborhood in Seoul to the business district where the LG Center was located.  We notified our stage manager, Becca, as soon as we all realized we were stuck and had no way of being there without the luxury of an additional 20 minutes.  Being late is unacceptable, but this was an innocent mistake, we were all together, and our call time allotted this wiggle room without jeopardizing the show in any way.  We got a supreme scolding, had to mop our own stage before the show, and personally apologize to the crew.  (Wowza!)  They were there on time to let us in and we were disrespectful.  The Korean concept of work revolves around the dependance and productivity of the group.  Presumptuous at it may be, group-think culture condones appreciation for attending group-think activities and watching group-think art.

  

 

 

Final hypothesis you are free to deem unsubstantiated:  Our view of our bodies in America is held more in a place of modesty and taboo.

 

Here in our Protestant-raised country, unfortunately enough, even speaking of specific body parts, the sight of a woman breast feeding, or an act of changing clothes around others can bring people discomfort (outside our twisted alternative dance universe where we basically greet one another in the morning with naked hugs).   I honestly get a finger shook at me if I decide to change into my pjs in the middle of my living room back at my parents’ house.  More significantly, when a dancer is objectified on stage, it’s their exposed body under complete engrossed focus.  It’s no wonder why dance has the power to unleash uncomfortable giggles from youth and gasps of disbelief from adults.  Cultural norms of how the body is treated, with what respect, and the connotations specific parts of our bodies hold, plays an enormous role on how each culture treats dancing, the art form where the body is the primary vessel of expression.  

 

Italy.  Ahhhh, the fantastical capital of love and romance.  And yes, how romantic relationships are treated ties directly with how others’ bodies are valued.  I found Italian men particularly romantic and openly passionate;  perhaps to a slight fault considering my woeful experiences.  I’m having a semi-frightening recollection of a young Italian man who I met in Genova and shared a drink or two with over aperitivo.   Each of us comprehended about 5 sentences from one another max.  He then decided on his own accord to drive 2 hours to Cumo, our next city on tour, and show up backstage at our theatre after our tech rehearsal for a rendezvous.  Try getting rid of someone when you don’t speak the language.  It is oddly challenging.  (Picture me locked in my dressing room as he was slowly creeping up the stairs calling my name….not charming!)  Regardless, if I was interested, and didn’t think he was out of his mind, what a beautifully romantic gesture? (eek!)  After chatting further with company Italian, Elena, I learned how Italians comprehend, converse, and embody intimacy and indulging in a partners’ body (yes, I just jumped from romantic gestures to home-base….keeping it HS people).  Sex is not something people toss around casually for fun, or for points amongst friends.  When sex happens between two people, it is a big deal and marks a high level of intimacy.  Even men, don’t voluntarily boast about their sexual conquests; it remains cherished, personal, and told only in complete confidence.  Do I even need to go into how Americans view sex?  Romance is not exactly our country’s middle name.  Point being, Italians have a particular respect for one another and respect for the intimacy of the body.

 

Now while the mass conception of Korea doesn’t carry the same public comfortability with the body as Italy, my trip to a Korean bathhouse for a much needed spa day was proof enough to me that their culture was a far cry from our American values.  Melissa, Elena, and I placed all our clothes and belongings into a locker – yes all – and walked to a room filled with numerous different tubs of varying degrees, showers, saunas and steam rooms.  Friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters sat on stools scrubbing one another down with bath mitts, loofas and their own soaps with the casual heir of, “This is what I do all the time.”  They only peeked up for a moment to notice our unique American frames.  Gratefully we met this lovely Korean woman, who was a lawyer from New York (go figure!), who helped us communicate with some women who did full body scrubs.  If we were all the way in Korea, in an authentic bathhouse, we were determined to get the full experience.  Next thing I knew, I was getting a full aggressive scrub down by a Korean woman wearing just panties, on a table in my birthday suit, laying next to my girlfriends experiencing the same.  My arms and legs were tossed around and maneuvered like a rag doll as she scrubbed me in places I’ve never scrubbed myself.  After the ruff and tough exfoliation session, she proceeded to suds me up with a bar of soap, give me a little massage on my scalp and back, lotion my face, and just when I was so relaxed (and obviously clean) that my mind surrendered into complete nothingness, she took a bucket of water and dumped it on me as if it were gatorade and I was the coach of the winning Super Bowl team.  The whole experience was nothing short of amazing and Melissa, Elena, and I claimed to need a full scrub down at least once a week.  Never in my life has my skin been so smooth.  The reality – I bought a new loofa when I got home and still attempt to scrub the crap out of myself and quite frankly, often get too exhausted to do it with the vigor of a Korean woman.  (That is no easy work!)  Unfortunately, when I think of bathhouses here in New York, a slightly skeezed-out-ick feeling shivers through me.  Here they are perceived as slightly dicy and slimy while there it was beautifully open, comfortable, and perfectly routine.  

 

Bottom-line, I couldn’t fathom going to a bathhouse with my mother and as much as I would love for sexual relationships to be divinely coveted, there is an causal openness that exists shamelessly in America.  These possibly pitiful examples serve as legitimate proof of the cultural differences in the perception of the body.  These perspectives have no choice but to drastically influence how dance is viewed and how willingly someone from the mass public is to purchase a ticket to see an evening of the moving body.  

 

 

  

Now as much as I want to leave you with the lovely image of hot, secretive Italian romances and Korean women rubbing one another down in the nude, I have some culminating thoughts.  My apologies… 

 

It’s all well and good to take account of cultural differences, but moreover, travel opens our eyes to a new normal and is an opportunity to make choices about what we choose to value.  I am a product of New York and American sensibilities, but this is merely one way to live and sense the world.  When we travel and expose ourselves to other ways of operating in our lives, they can become a piece of us that we wear no matter where we lay our home.  So if we take some value in these European and Asian ways, individually we can uphold a glimmer of their ways in ourselves.  We can take interest in people from other places and learn that maybe their way of doing something is worth listening to and adopting.  We can put our selfish infatuation with who’s potentially calling us on our iPhones aside, and put the phone away to eat dinner with our family and co-workers with true eye contact held and a compassionate for those at the table.  We can fight for dance education so our children have a different view of the body.  Dare to influence those around us and shift one life at a time with the multitude of ways we can connect with others.  Perhaps before we know it, modern dance could take on the NFL and put the Spice Girls in their place.  

How she do that? De-mystifying the job landing process.

With college dance programs graduating a cornucopia of talented, eager dancers and only a handful of established dance companies, with of course a limited number of artists on payroll, how the hell do you make sure you are one of the fortunate few?

There seems to be two schools of thought – you either 1) follow a particular company, giving adequate face time.  You go to all their workshops, auditions, shows, classes taught by company members, etc. or 2) spread your energy to various classes, lacking focus on any one particular company or technique.  If you put all your eggs in one basket you can potentially master a style, making you the most likely candidate for hire.  “Yay!” But when the time comes, will they hire someone else leaving you feeling like you just lost your big shot? “Ekk! No!”  Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen both ways.  If you go with route number two, are you training yourself to be versatile in this world of eclectic and ever-changing choreography or are you lacking objective?  All are good questions to ask ourselves periodically in the midst of attempting to obtain dance jobs.

Some companies seem to have a more linear pathway to hire such as Ailey, Graham, and Taylor.  These companies have second companies from which they can recruit into the first company.  Note the word “can” because for sure these companies have hired dancers without this seemingly logical progression.  If I want to join Ailey, you better believe I’d be taking classes there and assimilating myself with those dancers, teachers, and choreographers.  If Graham is your shtick, there are tons of classes at the Graham school and so forth.  However, these are companies with institutions attached to them.  What about Andrea Miller, Sidra Bell, or companies lacking a second company such as Momix and Parsons?  I believe networking and adequate face time is a must, in addition to obviously passion and inquisitive training.  Companies, and not just dance companies, hire based on who you know.  Bottom line, being in the game – in class with the dancers of these companies, incessantly honing your craft – counts for something.

Companies hire more than just talent.  They are hiring you as person to be a part of their creative family.  This kind of deep seeded relationship takes time to cultivate.  Your energy needs to gel with the others in the group, on a physical and personal level.  This works in the best interest of both parties – there is nothing worse than dancing in a company who’s work you do not believe in and who’s creative environment doesn’t allow you to prosper and grow.  Yes, not only do we need to be dancing, but we need to be dancing work we are passionate about.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  We clearly do this because we love it, not for the whopping paycheck at the end of the day.  Damn it.  Let’s make this even more challenging!

I’ll share my path so far, not because it’s all that fascinating or because I want to write about myself (hmmm, who doesn’t? Please note sarcasm).   Purely because when I first graduated, I would have loved to hear a personal story rather than being mystified and preoccupied with the how-the-hecks of the job-landing process.

I started dancing with Jacqueline Buglisi after learning Requiem while at Marymount Manhattan College.  I love that piece.  I remember performing it for the last time in college, saying to myself right before the first low bellowing note of Fauve’s Requiem, while having my torso draped over the edge of my box whispering, “Please don’t let this be the last time I perform this dance.”  And luckily, it wasn’t.  And the reason it wasn’t, was because I loved it that much and wanted to work so deeply on it, and that enthusiasm and passion shined through – at least that’s what I like to believe.  While in college I was lucky enough to do a few performances of Requiem with the company.  So upon graduation I was able to begin dancing with Buglisi Dance Theatre full-time once a fresh rehearsal process commenced.  Trust me, I remember sitting at the Joyce as an office intern with the company my senior year, wanting so badly to be a dancer on the stage with them for the following season.  I still had no idea if my efforts to stay connected with the company would prosper into Jacqueline asking me to join on for the season and the not knowing was arduous and exciting simultaneously.  However, I wish I felt more excitement being on the brink of a job rather than worrying if I would receive the opportunity.  Bottom line my efforts paid off and moreover, the company was a great fit for my movement style.

While dancing for Jacque I continued to do artistic projects with Sue Bernhard and Maxine Steinman (with whom I still work with) who were teachers of mine at college.  Also, through sheerly being close friends with the dancers of Shen Wei Dance Arts, I was able to be a part of their structured improvisation Behind Resonance at the Park Avenue Armory.  Shen Wei asked his dancers if they knew of anyone who would be great to work with for the project and my dear friend Javier included me into their process.  Being in a dance environment fosters dance opportunities – that simple.  Working in the restaurant also generates more bar and waitressing opportunities.  Take note of where you invest a large amount of your time.

The only dance job I landed solely on an audition without any particular connection to the choreographer was Take Urykemo.  I have danced in class and in college with some of the dancers in his company, which whether or not this helped in the audition process is unbeknownst to me, however it did bring a comfortable and familiar energy to the audition.  Importantly, the movement style felt familiar on my body and exciting simultaneously.

Most recently (as of last Friday!!), I received a job dancing with David Parsons.  (I believe the news threw me in a frenzy of screaming “Yes!!” in tandem with jumping up and down doing some semblance of some pathetic “happy dance” you would do when you were five – somehow I believe it was probably much cuter at five and slightly ridiculous at twenty-five, but who the hell cares?!

While I received news of landing this job in a single instant, so many other relationships and classes earlier in my training and career have made this a logical step.  My training prior to college consisted of jazz classes similar in attack to Parsons’ style.  I have performed work by Robert Battle and attend his classes whenever he offered them.  This was the most direct influence of Parsons technique and repertoire.

However the connection was established more concretely when I was taking Zvi’s ballet class at City Center – loving life, having a great class – and Parsons had rehearsal in the space directly afterwards.  From being involved in the small New York dance community and having auditioned for his company before, David casually talked to me after class.  Nothing significant, just small talk – water cooler chatter if you will.  The next day, I thankfully went to class again at City Center which was quite the feat considering I worked at the restaurant until about 3am the night prior.  When my alarm woke me up at 8:30am for class, it took countless times of lifting my head off the pillow in a wearied eyed debate with myself.  Finally, my will won the fight over my puffy eyes and tired head and I supremely decided I really wanted to go to class – there’s always time to sleep later.  (This personal mantra tends to bite me in the butt time to time – I’m not the most sane while sleep deprived!)  A cat nap was plotted on as soon as I got back home.  Little did I know that after ballet class, David would invite me to stay for rehearsal directly afterwards to just pick up some of the movement, mess around in the studio – “no guarantees.”  I was so beside myself excited and exhilarated.  Exhaustion was the furthest thing from my mind for those next hours.  I looked like a loony, jumping around the back of the studio trying to pick up anything I could while they ran through their pieces.  Turns out loony enthusiasm works.  (Should this be method 3 for getting a job?)  The next day, David asked me to study Julie’s track in Remember Me because there may be two performances at the Joyce when he need her role understudied.  What?!?!  Friggin’ awesome day.  (Yes, awesome day was not enough.  Classy I know.)  The next weeks all I did, and all I wanted to do was my best with the opportunity I was given.  I worked hard, but more importantly I enjoyed every second of it.  The company was such a great group of people and I felt I worked positively in their environment.  I felt challenged and appreciated.  I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of and I felt that it made sense for me.  Boring story short, the Joyce performances lead to a performance in Park City, Utah, which lead to a small fundraising improvisation, which lead to a performance opportunity with them in Maryland to perform a new repertoire piece, In the End.  They offered for me to take their summer intensive and learn the material for the Maryland performance during this time.  Fantastically, they also held an audition for a full-time position.  While I recognized I was in a great position for potential hire, I truly didn’t know if I was going to get the job, ultimately because so many things play a factor into hiring.  I had a blast dancing at the audition and worked hard.  The next day, David professed I got the job and…insert Happy Dance!

What has worked for me so far, and by no means have I reach some ultimate success, is taking classes and mastering to the best of my ability, techniques which make me feel the most alive and enjoying the various company of my colleagues along the way.   My take on the two methods of getting a gig?  In this day and age when variety seems to be a valuable asset it is ideal to have different disciplines in your back pocket.  That being said, when you are asked for a true Graham contraction, don’t put a Parsons spin on it and vice versa.  Listen and watch intently for these details because every company has a language being built on the detailed vocabulary of its movers.

Relax and recognize the relationships and training you established will get you somewhere in due time.  Nothing in life is guaranteed, but have faith in your efforts and keep going!  No audition is a wasted opportunity even if you get the boot at first.  Ya’ just never know…

Mystification disclosed?  I hope to at least some degree.

Taking “Flight” with Take Dance

Last night was opening night and the much-deserved festive gala event for Take Dance’s season at Dance Theatre Workshop.  L’Cheim!  I’m a sucker for a toast whenever possible!  To be entirely honest, I’m typing this now in the slight haziness of the celebratory vodka-sodas I thoroughly enjoyed last evening.  I was entirely grateful to have friends and colleagues in the audience – some of whom have seen me dance countless times and others for the first time.  Thank you all!

The existence of certain people in the audience, be it the New York Times or loved ones, plays a factor in the pre-show excitement.  The sense of eyes watching brings forth an accountability, making this ephemeral art form much more defined.  This accountability is part of what makes performances such a heightened experience distinctive from the studio.  Following in similar vein to the mindset I had with pervious performances, maintaining a sense of calm and quietness of thought enables a more liberated stage experience.  The thoughts of so-and-so watching me cannot enter my mind because that is the exact moment I will detract from the dance and perform less than desirably, or put more simply “flub up.”  Focusing on the task at hand, nothing more, nothing less, has granted me a sense of ease.  My over-zealous self relaxes with the momentous thought, “all I need to do right now is this.”  I’m no longer concerned with the exhaustion or what is going to happen next in the dance.  This present thought process enables smart decision-making, conscious choices in the midst of movement;  to be so aware that in the middle of a jump I can choose to dynamically alter the timing of the landing or have enough gusto to crank out another pirouette because I’ve recognized my weight is to far back.  Instead of taking note of these desires in hindsight, it’s thrilling to recognize it immediately and make a choice to better it instantaneously.  The idea of having a constant choice while dancing also feels liberating because of the sense of control it grants me over the unpredictability of live-performance.

Don’t get me wrong, on rare occasions projective thoughts muddle my Zen presence.  What I’m not the Budda?  Crap…  Nearing the end of a dance feels different than just starting it.  In the beginning there is the desire for a well-executed, invested performance.  Nearing the end of a dance there becomes a sense of abandon.  The hardest parts are over.  Steps prior went well.  This freedom and comfort needs to be felt from the start.  Instead of being uncertain of how future steps will go, embracing the uncertainty and finding excitement enables this abandonment.  Complete abandon is what I value out of performances – most importantly abandon of self, which subsequently manifests physically allowing for languid, luscious, full-bodied expression.  Ahhhh, sounds fantastic.  Well off to the theatre again for round two, getting another crack at a super-conscious and more importantly fun performance!

http://www.dancetheaterworkshop.org/take

Remember Me – no really, don’t forget! My last one…for now I hope!

Just came back from Park City, Utah after my final performance of Remember Me and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nostalgic for the constant rigors of performance and rehearsal, plus the fabulous company of gifted dancers.  Not to mention I am essentially unemployed and slightly broke!  Interested in teaching positions if anyone knows anyone hiring!  Ruthless plug I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures!  Moving on…

My movement tendency, much like my personal tendency is to do more, do all I can.  So it didn’t surprise me one bit to watch a tape of my performance at the Joyce and take notice of my exuberant energy (hate watching past videos but actually found this to be productive rather than a self-loathing experience).  During those performances while I felt my energy was high, I noted a lack of finesse in some of the finer moments.  I wasn’t able to control all the details and articulation as well because of my outward energy.  A sense of grounding and rootedness was lacking.  With these observations and some corrections from Liz (associate director extraordinaire) and David, I decided my aim for this final performance was to maintain a clear precise focus; directness to all the movements trumping an over-zealously quality.  Not to mention there was some necessity in this goal – I was winded!  The elevation in Park City was at 7,000 feet while NYC is a mere 33 feet.  Now, I thought I was in decent shape but I definitely felt the altitude’s effects, even during barre.  Everything seemed a bit more labor-intensive particularly after a flight and sitting around all day prior; my muscles were quite lethargic.  Note to other winded performers: I did use the oxygen tank at a level 3 for about 8 breaths at half hour and I didn’t feel as winded as I was during the tech run.  (Liz mentioned to us previously that using the oxygen at half hour seemed to work best for her in the past and while I don’t have any comparison it seemed to help me out).  So needless to say, efficiency and directness was my official approach to a glorious, stellar performance.

The curtain rose, lights came up, I danced around a bit, and took an ever-divine bow.  Overall, my performance was much more focused and my mind was quieter.  The constant writing and thinking about non-judgmental, present focus made it a primary importance and translated into the performance.  This clear focus in body comes easiest when I have clear focus with my vision.  Actually tangibly looking, seeing, and identifying all moments is key.  To have a clear definition of each moment in a dance penetrates to an audience and back to myself as a thorough performer.  Those tiny transitions are some of my favorite to indulge in because they give the meat of the movement its reason.  In this case, a more distinct focus helped to relax my body into the movement and heighten my awareness of the others around me.  I found ease in mind and my body when I thought, “ this is all I have to do, no more.”  I felt my body relax and I did gain an awareness of more subtle details.  I wasn’t as physically exhausted from over-exerting myself unnecessarily so the execution was smoother.

One exercise I am particularly interested in doing after all this thought about the mind in performance is to record myself performing and speaking my thoughts aloud.  It’s one thing to write about a performance after the fact, but there is significance in the immediate thoughts and sensations which are worthy of investigation.  However, so many thoughts overlap and are inexplicable in terms of concrete words.  I’ll have to think about this one…

This was my last performance for a bit so back into class, choreography, and teaching mode!