Parsons Dance

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.

 

Anxious Auditioning. Desperate Dating. Not a cute look.

I’ve spent over ten years in NYC which means two things for a young aspiring female artist.  Countless auditions, and countless dates – for better or worse, equally entertaining and heartbreaking.

And of course, hysteria ensues…

Pushy choreographers.  Pushy men.  Those too nice for their own good.  “Why didn’t I get the memo on what to wear!?”  Perfect on the outside, disaster on the inside.  Studios, and studio apartments alike, screaming for a dust buster.  “Where the hell is this audition?”  “Are we meeting at 8:30 tonight or what?”  Boho chic going to a downtown pub singing karaoke one night,  the next  swinging in heels and a fitted BCBG dining over fine wine.  Fitted lulus, downtown gauchos, and fishnets sporting red lipstick, all in one day.  Those you feel you need to endlessly impress, and it’s never enough.  “Can you shut up already so I can get in a word?”  “I came here to dance right, not just posé like a Roman statue?”  Those with lots of money and lack of integrity.  “You want me to wear what exactly?”  Those with no drive and means of supporting themselves, but honest intentions.  “$5 an hour for rehearsals?” I have my headshot.  I forgot my mints.  I’m lighthearted and laughing at my flubbed triple pirouette.  I’m mortified after pretending to be a champ, tasting sea urchin, and then nearly puking in my napkin while locking eyes over candlelight.  Horrific first impressions that surprise you beautifully.  Beautiful first impressions that disappoint.  People who fall off the face of the earth.  “Weren’t they going to call all of the final ten, and tell us either way?”  “No I didn’t pre-register but you should let me in anyway.”  “This is your uncle’s friend’s nephew, right?”  “How many more of these damn things do I need to endure?”  “Will this be the job that completes my career?”  “Could this be the man I’m meant to marry?”  Friends turned lovers, turned friends again.  Jobs had, left, and revisited.

Hidden in all the madness is me.  Auditioning and dating is a continuous experiment of trial and error to find the best fit, and more significantly, a means of understanding myself and being more honest about what it is I want out of my career and personal life.

Hosting the Parsons Dance audition and leading a mock audition at a Broadway Dance Center intensive gratefully placed me on the other side of the chopping block recently which exposed and surfaced all the emotions that typically come with it (not to mention recently snagging a handsome young gentleman putting an end to the ridiculous dating disasters!).  I watched as eagerness subtly crept in behind eyes, the tellers of so much truth.  Telling eyes and facial expressions either ooze confidence, or become stagnant with the stare of pleading for pleasing whomever is in the front of the room.  Yes, eagerness is beautiful.  It allows dancers to fight for challenging moments, pick up choreography faster, and get jumps up even higher.  However, it is in the eyes of a confident dancer where true performance lies.

Without a doubt, positive attention goes to the dancer who has the combination down pat.  It’s because their brain is quick enough to pick up material and make it their own instantly.  So if your brain is what’s slowing you down, sharpen your tool.  Get to class and force yourself into the first group.  Don’t rely on others to know the steps.  Test yourself.  Work on the combination until you do conquer it.  Attempt different strategies of learning – find counts as landmarks, grasp the over-arching movements or phrasing, utilize sounds and rhythms, name steps even if your inner dialogue sounds maddening.  (“Swirly arm thingy, leg fan big, quirky head roll, boom-kat”  You know, good ‘ole dancer lingo!)  Don’t stop striving to be your best self when looking for any kind of company, professional or personal.  Your best self will attract your best match.

And while working out your best stuff in front of company dancers and directors, staring at them makes it extreme awkward for those watching, not to mention it reads as a disconnect between intention and movement.  Why are you eyeballing the director when you should be concerning yourself with the dance moves?  Those in the front of the room have nothing to do with the cabriole you are doing center stage, and the blatant staring screams of immaturity and feening for the attention and approval of someone else.

While on a date, your expression varies honestly with what is being discussed and you give your attention to the person across from you rather than beading jaggedly from waiter, to the other girl on a date at the table over, to her beau, to the bus boy – at least let’s hope!  You focus on your lovely date with an attentive and generous intention without being obsessive or robotic.  How come our expressions when we dance can become static or horrifically “put on” when we wouldn’t ever consider it in “real life?”  Your eyes, your facial expressions, should be shifting with the way each step makes you feel.  The choreographer is not going to give you those intimate details, moment to moment, that is the job of an honest artist.  Honest art and honest dating please!

Desperation is never a cute look.  Quite frankly, it reeks.  We all know the tragic date where one person direly craves the other and will helplessly and meekly make themselves appear desirable under all circumstances.  Yes, that would be the datée who miraculously loves the same things you love, talks fondly of their well-adjusted parents and their picket fence, and doesn’t dislike a damn thing or hold an adamant opinion of their own.  Why is desperation in dance-form not as blatant?  Moments fly by and thoughts are on being desirable to the authority in the room.  You can draw positive attention to yourself without sacrificing you just to meet someone else’s expectations.  What about your expectations out of the job?  You are auditioning them too.  It is a two-way street.  Why not just be desirable by being entirely you.  What if you get the job, or the boyfriend, and then realize you two are horrible for each other because you weren’t acting like yourself until 4 months into the contract, or relationship?  Screw the authority in the room (yes, I said screw it….shameless shout out!!).  Why don’t you just act as yourself and see if they like you?  Will this job even make you happy?   You are not going to make or break yourself in an instant.  Your training has served you up until this point.  Your hirers, your date, either like what you have going on, or don’t.  So the moment of an audition is really just someone else going on a first date with you.  You’ve been doing your thang all along.  And your thang, either is or isn’t their shtick.

Someone confident with themselves, in their own skin, needs no reassurance.  Anyone can learn a kick-ass pas de bourée but no one is going to instruct how to feel while you do it, or how to have the look of piercing intensity and purpose.  Hands down, I would hire a learner, a good listener, with a zest, over an empty vessel who has down all the steps.

If it is meant to work out, it just will.  And it will be easy, because it will be a wonderful fit.  So don’t sweat how many auditions and dates you’ve been on.  Everyone’s story is different.  Don’t sweat an awkward response to what your family’s like, or one bobble out of a tour.  Not that you are attempting to get tongue-tied or travel on the wrong foot, but when it happens, it is not a deal breaker.  The one major deal breaker, for me, at an audition and on a date for that matter, is someone without confidence, without maturity, without generosity, without the ability to shift a mindset once a new set of ideas are gained, and without the ability to listen and truly hear.

And if within this honesty, you can manage to master the flawless, captivating yet “oh this fabulous person is just me-everyday-oh-so-chill vibe,” you may just have the man…and the dance.  (how’s that for your sappy ending?!)

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.  

Day One of Parsons Dance!

Today was my first official day as a Parsons dancer!  No more apprenticeship or understudy position – ahhhh, feels super!  How did day one go?  Well, I attempted to be studious with the idea of hitting the sack early and packing my bag before I started drooling on my pillowcase to insure a calm, orderly morning.  The reality?  I worked until midnight last night at the restaurant and face-planted my pillow when I got home.  The consequence was to find myself running out of my apartment with puffy eyes and crazy hair as soon as I woke this morning since my cat didn’t have any food in the cabinet for breakfast.  I returned with Friskies in tow to a meowing kitty with a growling belly of my own only to discover my fridge lacked any sort of a sensible breakfast.  I completely stole the remaining milk from my roommate. (Sorry Christie!)  Next discovery?  My laundry was still at the cleaners and my drawers were devoid of any semblance of dance clothes.  So needless to say, I made a few extra run outs and wasn’t exactly slowly sipping my tea while listening to NPR.   Bottom line?  I made it to rehearsal with first-day-pep in my step and some time to stretch out my tight hamstrings.  Side note:  my hammies have been particularly tight because I started taking these amazing, but killer, core-fusion classes at The Body where I am soon to be training as an instructor for some supplemental dance income!  More on this in a later post…

After a series of welcome back hugs and chatting about the tidbits of our summer that have been off each others’ radars, we got straight to business and Liz (associate artistic director extraordinaire) went over who’s going to be doing what for the upcoming performance of Remember Me in Chatham, NY for PS 21 (Performance Spaces for the 21st Century).  This performance is somewhat of a transition between the former and new company – Julie will still be dancing, but this will sadly be her last performance – and some dancers will actually have to learn a separate role for when this upcoming season is underway.  Always a fun mind game!  Yet, there’s no better way to have a deeper understanding of the work and be a more educated teacher.  I fortunately will be the same role in Chatham as in the rest of the season, but it is a separate role from my initial Remember Me experience (I was Julie’s role and now slipping into Lauren’s and most of the core movement is similar – phew!).

The entire company is not back in rehearsals quite yet, so it was just us new folks – myself, Jason, and Ian – along with the help of Sarah, Julie, and Eric.  Most of the day we were translating from the video and sketching out as much of the piece as possible.  We got through the first half, which included about three sections for the ensemble.  Great progress for day one, but if I never have to learn another dance off a video I would die a happy dancer.  Dance companies across the board rely on videos in rehearsal to pass down the information effectively and it gets the job done.  It absolutely is a great record of dance – beats labanotation for the purpose of disseminating movement to future members for sure.  Now to completely dismiss the aforementioned, I find it incredibly tedious and instantly my dyslexia, seemingly inapparent in my writing, comes out in full force as I stare blankly at the screen for what feels like five minutes just to distinguish if I am on stage right or stage left.  Oy!  A good practice of patience I presume.  In addition to my bouts of mental slowness, the energy and dynamism of live performance get muffled through video and I’m often stuck learning movements and then applying the layers of performance, interaction, and energy afterwards.  It is a blessing to have the minds of those who originally conceived this piece in the room to retain and communicate the original intent.  Ideally, with each learning experience I’m attempting to embody the movement in as close to the full, performance form as possible.  I am itching to dance Remember Me with full gusto and looking forward to sinking deeper into it all tomorrow and eventually with a full cast.  Damn, patience is my arch-nemesis.

Assessment of day one?  My body felt a little “crunchy” (typical dance lingo for feeling less than supple!) and I plan on getting to the studio even earlier tomorrow to give myself a proper ballet barre.  That is, if my morning is more zen than today’s fun madness!  Face-planting pillow soon!

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!

“Remember Me” with Parsons Dance at the Joyce – Lady Gaga step aside.

Backstage in the dressing room of the Joyce, I tediously and ritualistically applied my makeup entirely too early.  I literally did it as slow and methodically as humanly possible just so I didn’t have ions of time before curtain to psych myself out.  My hair had about a full 20 minutes of unnecessary maintenance time.  All the teasing and spraying was putting the girls from Jersey Shore to shame.  Then I put on my costume just-so right before I covered up with layers of warm ups and headed for the stage during half-hour call.  After going through some last-minute partnering details, there was nothing more I could do; rehearsal was over.  Now it was just between me, the music, my partners, and the stage.  All the hours of rehearsal seemed to culminate during these select performances.  I couldn’t help but feel entirely energized and slightly nervous for my first performance of Remember Me.  It was marking my debut with Parsons Dance and felt like somewhat of an audition to see if my efforts and talent in the studio adequately translated to performance.  As an understudy, I had never danced the piece with lights or an audience and it was my second time dancing with the full company on the stage.  Crazy fun!  I was grateful to be nervous.  There have been times recently where performing onstage felt like another day, and to be nervous reminded me of how important dance remained to me.  Then the cool breeze from the house rushed in as the curtain lifted and the music began.  I thought with my first steps, “No stopping now.  What ever you do is right.  Enjoy the ride.  Have fun.  Be a rock star.”

Performing is somewhat of a mind game.   Remember Me was still fresh in my body.  More than the movements themselves (which trust me still need improving), what seemed the most unfamiliar was simply being in the space with the other performers.  It was no longer me, in the studio, executing the movements solo.  Now there were 10 other dancers on stage, slightly disorienting lights, and an audience including my friends and family watching.  I swear I thought I could hear my mini fan club chatting about me from the front rows.  Gosh this could be terrifying or thrilling!  One reason I crave dance is for the rush and high of live performance, so go figure, the performance-junkie chose the latter.

I would be lying entirely if I claimed to have no judgmental thoughts in the midst of my two performances at the Joyce.   These were not performances of complete glorious abandon, taken over by movement, music, and character.  Dispersed between moments of divine abdication were contrasting moments of vicious counting to stay on time, extensive use of my periphery to make sure I wasn’t crash-carting another dancer, fleeting last minute-corrections and partnering techniques, and thoughts of “damn this is so fun,” all whipping past my mind.  Also, I cannot be more gracious to all the fabulously talented performers who literally rooted and egged me on from start to finish.  Their endless encouragement and energy carried me through all the curve balls of live performance.  Did some moments work out better in the studio? Absolutely.  Did a new energy and aliveness come through the movements?  Of course.  Regardless of what happened on stage and my judgments on it, at bow someone could have told me I just one a million dollars because that was exactly how I felt – or at least how I imagine I would feel because the jackpot has definitely yet to come my way.  Rock star moment – check!  I was totally Lady Gaga at the Grammy’s (or perhaps Lindsay Vonn on the gold medal podium)!

I’d like to give myself the luxury of saying abandoned performances completely devoid of judgmental thoughts come with time and being comfortable within the material.  However, I don’t believe this to be true.  As a professional, a majority of your performances occur under-rehearsed, without the luxury of time.  Fresh material can serve as a gateway to a purely present performance.  You choose to be either daunted and distracted or elated and in the zone.  Despite however foreign the material is, your mind, body, and spirit are the tools you have and can rely on – they are not unfamiliar.

Some of my most liberating and transcending performances have been those where my mind goes quiet; there is no other concern in the world beside the existence of the present moment.  My endless goal is to achieve this presence as much as possible when dancing – be it studio or stage.

I have one more final crack at Remember Me in Park City, Utah where I fully intend to question this process of performing and the mental focus necessary to Just Dance Gaga-stlye.