“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!!

When are you grateful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become Radiant.

We are so good at measuring ourselves up against expectations, striving for control, and insisting on being on the inside.  We strive to get that promotion, hear back from that date, have a child before 35, own our own apartment with a particular address, have our children accepted into the best schools, prepare and eat only the healthiest of meals, have the clearest of skin, look amazing in that LBD for Sussie’s wedding, and obviously have all the best moves when that music starts to jive.  As dancers, it’s owning the most supreme of arches in our feet, the highest extensions in our legs, a most creative, contributive mind in the midst of a new process, a limitless sense of ballon, swift learning capabilities, the most rotated hip sockets, and assessing whether we have the perfect balance of strength and the desirable aesthetic of hyperextension.

Hello, everything that doesn’t actually matter.

Whenever we operate under these terms, we are inevitably either winning or losing the rat race.  When we believe we measure up we are floating on top of it all, but damn, when we believe we missed the mark the downward spiral is U.G.L.Y.

Rosamund Stone Zander and her husband Benjamin Zander co-authored a book, “The Art of Possibility,” (genius and an easy read if you ask me!) which unmasks the calculating persona we often hold and suggests living from our more central selves.  Rosamund eludes, “the calculating self exists in the world of scarcity and deficiency while the central self operates under conditions of wholeness and sufficiency” (83).

When we start to become aware of our calculating ways, the things that wreak of insecurity and of not having it all, we can start to operate with our central selves where we know that we live in a world of possibilities; we already possess everything we could ever need if we just choose to see the world through a more abundant, optimistically constructive, and (truthfully) more accurate lens.

In terms of dance, which I tend to see all of life be reflected, I can liken the calculating v. central self to the beloved it factor.  We all know the it factor – when we experience a performing artist – someone on stage who, for some reason or another, for reasons that seem impossible to define, we can’t take our eyes off of them.  They exude this special quality, this clarity, this pureness that is utterly irresistible.  The it factor is present when that person is being their most central self.  They are not performing from a place of not enough – not enough technical prowess, artistic competence, not enough stamina.  Or of wanting to be on the inside – wanting to be loved by the audience, their directors, the critics.  Or of measuring their perceived success – against their last performance, against their fellow dancers, against the company that graced the stage before them.  They are operating from a place of complete abundance and possibility.  There is nothing in that moment they can’t conquer, relish, and indulge in.  Even if a moment doesn’t go as planned, that newness brings a fresh possibility, an added flare to their performance, and an extra zing of excitement to their gut.  All of which captivatingly transcends to us as beholders.

Sometimes I love not knowing all the dance moves.  I take myself off the hook, a.ka. zero expectations (already a strike against the offensive calculating self).

During this past Parsons Summer Intensive, I was taking Elena d’Amario’s modern class, on the second day – so a large part of the combination was already taught and I was left playing catch up.  Crapola.  I was taking class with all the students from the intensive, who while they believed the pressure was on them to perform to their best, we believed as company members that it was our job to be as fabulous as expected, implying dancing at a high level of competence and retaining material without a glitch.  This was completely impossible in this situation.  Dancing a whole song, in which I only properly learned the second half, I was inevitably going to make mistakes.  But I didn’t care.  I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect and I knew I was only going to have the chance to do the combination that afternoon, and I was more than happy with those facts.  I had the best time performing my heart out, doing the moves I knew the best I could and either making up the parts I didn’t know (yes, making stuff up that feels right can be oh-so-fun) or doing the moves on the end of the beat as the rest of the group played to the top of the notes to jolt my memory.  I wasn’t concerned that my boss, colleagues, and students were watching me have a flaw-filled performance – because damn, I was having a good time.  In full disclosure, and fortunate for this moment, I had the privilege of being a part of the company for 5 years and did not feel the need to prove my worth and talent (hello calculating self).  Unfortunately, this was not always my mindset – although it should have been.  I worked for years, concerned about how David (my boss) and my colleagues perceived my movements and those moments only short-changed my experiences and my dancing.

And now I challenge non-dancing phenomenal women to embody their inner it factor.  Whether performing or not (and all life is a performance, is it not?! I believe Liza would agree), the it factor can shine when you are walking down the street in sheer utter bliss without a care in the world, feeling at your most free.  (Sometimes it’s with the best song in your ears, the sun shining with the slightest 73 degree breeze strutting Madison Avenue with your favorite outfit on, post-blow out.  But don’t be fooled, it can just as easily happen when you are caught in the rain, ruining your shoes, freezing cold, and left with nothing but your nearly-broken paper bag of groceries).  You become untouchable, unbreakable.  You are approachable and intriguing.  People take note of your glow.  It’s when out of nowhere you make friends with a stranger on the street.  It is when you are talking with someone you just had an argument with and you express yourself honestly, without accusing or disregarding the other’s actions or feelings.  It’s when you lead a meeting or give a speech and you are not concerning yourself with petty thoughts of your wrinkled shirt, patronizing eyes of those waiting on your words that are suppose to be of mind-shattering caliber, or whether or not you turned off your stove.  You are truly impassioned with your words of the moment and you feel so strongly about your message and its potential to enlighten and motivate others.

Stuff can happen in your performance or (if you insist…) day, that you don’t plan for and that can initially bring forth a feeling of “oh-crap,” but it need not.  If you think you need to change something in order to be completely fulfilled, your calculating self is wreaking its havoc as it loves to do.  The oh-so-wise Rosamund, suggests we inquire within ourselves as a means of finding our calculating ways:

What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?

Our answers often point to our insecurities and our calculating selves’ ruthless attempts of success, belonging, and control.  So boo-hoo!  If we don’t take ourselves so damn seriously, then those moments aren’t as colossal and therefore, can’t take us down.

So world, if you haven’t already noticed, a slew of women are laughing in the ugly face of control and are unleashing their most fabulous, it-moment selves right and left, so take heed…and don’t be blinded by their inner radiance!

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.


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.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surrender everything” -Me

“Save 7% for yourselves.” -Kate Skarpetowska

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

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

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

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

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

“Fear nothing, cherish everything.” -Me

“Take no prisoners.” -Me

“Be thoughtful. Be beautiful.” -Kate Skarepetowska

“Doing this for love.” -PD company

“I’m so grateful.” -Me

“One step at a time.” -Kate Skarpetowska

“Be generous.” -Me

“Give everything and expect nothing.” -Me

Performance Pressures….bring it on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you train your body’s cells for more awareness of your performance space?

While in between reads, I often pick up Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee’s The Body has a Mind of its Own.   I was initially turned on to this book thanks to fellow dancer, Helen Hansen, and gratefully so because it’s entirely fascinating and relevant for professional movers.  Throughout this detailed account of the interwoven mind-body relationship, it sheds light on how our body maps operate and how understanding our body in space extends beyond our physical selves.  Body maps are what they sound like: your brain contains a map of your body’s surface with specific parts of your map synchronized with specific parts of your body. (7)

I just got off the 6 train and nearly missed my stop thanks to the chapter devoted to “place cells” and “grid cells.”  Yes, I was for a moment that obnoxious girl walking on the platform distracted with nose in book.  I like to believe because I’m a dancer with hopefully slightly more body awareness than the average being, I can handle this multi-tasking conundrum with relative ease.  Not always the case, but this time I made it home unscathed.  So what are place cells and grid cells?  “Place cells map the space around your body in terms of whatever environment you happen to be in” (130).   These allow you to situate yourself within a space relative to the objects around you.   Grid cells on the other hand “map space independently from your environment” (130).  This accounts for you knowing where your body is in space based on your own movements.  Superb athletes, Sandra and Matthew explained, have highly developed place and grid cells which allow them to have extremely detailed awareness of themselves versus other players in the game and open court/field opportunities.  Through familiarizing yourself with your performance space, can you enhance your performance experience?  I do often like to meander about the stage, run around, become accustom to the wing space, distance from the audience, feel of the floor in different places, the height of the ceilings, etc.  Prior to a performance I like to make myself as familiar as possible with the space to feel a sense of ownership and comfort while dancing movements under the unpredictable wrath of live performance.  Apparently, this urge holds actual purpose – acclimating and activating your place cells – rather than just a psychological one.  With this in mind now, I will actively introduce this into my future performance routine, perhaps taking more tedious care to acknowledge my surroundings.  Let’s see if it has any beneficial effects! In addition, being comfortable with the movements of the dance and the other performers with you on stage, educates your place cells and heightens your awareness further allowing for appropriate handle of the curve balls of live performance.  Note the ease and effectiveness of a tight-knit dance company performing familiar repertoire while on tour.  Definitely looking forward to this unity for in the upcoming season!

However, how can we better prepare ourselves for performances that are not as familiar in our body? Dancing professionally often means being on tour and performing on stages you are experiencing just hours before curtain as well as jumping into new roles and pieces on a whim.  This is where grid cells and having superb comprehension of your body in space comes in handy.  As dancers we have been training to move our limbs through space for a sufficient part of our lives.  I would imagine that by now, our grid cells are well adept.  Edvard Moser, a scientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, believes we are born with our place and grid cells or they develop very early in our growth (132).

Can we strengthen our cells through constant rehearsal?   I like to believe so despite Edvard, because something tells me my place and grid cells could use some additional work.  I can’t help but recall a time when my grid cells were clearly out of whack.  It was my second Parsons performance of Remember Me when my first few 8 counts required me to chaine on stage from stage left to just beyond center mark and then stop on a dime to walk confidently downstage arms slapping the space in front of me directly towards the audience.  Well, the newness of the material, stage, and lights got the best of me, because as soon as I reached stage right of center and avoided hitting my partner Eric, who is spiraling directly at me mind you, I paraded my sorry butt upstage towards the scrim with complete conviction and gusto.  It only took about one or two steps before I recognized the black scrim was not quite the black haze of the audience and turned myself around like nothing ever happened besides my mental bewilderment of “did I really just do that?!”  What a way to kick off the piece, particularly when it’s David Parsons’ first time seeing you perform his work.  Priceless!  This seems like a prime example of my place and grid cells unable to adequately identify my body in space.  For the record, I am awful at recognizing my north-south-east-west unless I can identify at least one direction from an outside source.  Apparently there are people who innately know what direction they are facing.  Slightly jealous.  Sandra and Matthew claim once confused by cardinal directions, always confused since the cells themselves are confused (132).  Not looking too good for me.  I have slightly confused cells for sure!  This brings the golden rule of changing your position at the ballet barre to a whole new level.  I often change my spot at barre, but generally pick standing with my torso north and south (in the cardinal directions of the room) rather than east and west.  Think its time to start retraining my place cells!

I highly recommend The Body has a Mind of its Own for so much more than just this chapter.  If you are at all curious about how we make sense of our bodies in space from a scientific vantage point written in not-so scientific lingo, pick it up!

About to perform In the End on Friday in Maryland.  The Rouse theatre – a new theatre.  In the End – a new dance.  Come on cells, don’t fail me now!

JKOHS students dance to impress

Back in 2009, I received the opportunity to teach a residency at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School on behalf of Buglisi Dance Theatre and their outreach affiliation with the NYC public schools.  I restaged excerpts of Jacqueline Buglisi’s Caravaggio Meets Hopper. Honestly, teaching these students was such a treat for me and I am eager to teach more residencies both on behalf of BDT or Parsons (in due time, hopefully!) and with my own choreography.  I was impressed with how well they executed the work when they applied themselves openly to the movement.  Congrats dancers!

The engaging challenge for me is to actively reach out and engage each and every student to have them put forth their best effort.  One of the most eye opening experiences was to see one young woman in particular have so many “can nots” and personal limitations imposed upon herself, when she truthfully had some of the most potential and mental swiftness of the bunch.  She wouldn’t dare push herself, but when myself and dance instructor for the program, Vivian Ullman (bless that woman and the tremendous work which she does!), milked it out of her she was nothing short of remarkable.  Gets me thinking so much about how our upbringing and background has such an impact on our perception of ourselves and the possibilities we have available to us.  I believe I can thank Malcolm Gladwell for this – reading Outliers now!  Perhaps a post about the patterns instilled in most “successful” (gosh whatever that means) dancers to come!  So without further ado and any more distracting side-bar remarks, here is intimate video footage of the dancers working, from the studio through to dress rehearsal.  Enjoy!

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!

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