The Day That Hope Was Restored

The past four years have felt extremely dark at times, this year being the darkest of them all.

I was extremely excited for Tuesday. I know many of us were. Tuesday felt like a day that held just as much importance as a personal milestone or a favorite holiday. But when the day did not yield immediate results, as our culture has become accustomed to in all facets of life, it became one more day of fear. One more day we had to wait. And then another. And another.

I’m embarrassed to say that even after countless hours watching MSNBC last week, when the news officially broke on Saturday morning I was giving myself a mental break from election coverage. Instead I was watching the Great British Baking Show – not the most exciting “where were you” moment, but oh well.

When I remember this past Saturday, I will remember watching Kamala Harris’ acceptance speech. While I thought I had already experienced the flood of feelings, of relief, joy, and excitement for the future, when I watched Vice President Elect Harris take the stage, I broke. I wept with joy and with pride to see a woman, representing us all. A woman who represents women of color and of Asian and Indian descent. May she be the first of many to bring diversity to our government, ushering in change and showing young people everywhere that this is a possibility for them, too. When I cried I felt the relief, the weight lifting off all of our shoulders, the realization that we can move forward now. It is a day I will always remember.

The light at the end of the tunnel is so much brighter and finally within our reach. There is hope that we will see progress in our country again. This weekend marked not only the return of progression, but also the return of respect – respect for humanity and diversity. We no longer have to tolerate a president who is tearing us apart and tearing us away from the rest of the world. Hate is not acceptable, and it is not welcome here. May we come together and fix what has been broken. May we look to our two new leaders and the fellow leaders they will choose, to guide us, to break glass ceilings that restrain us, and to help us better relate to one another as Americans.

Hope And Strength

“I am concerned…but I am hopeful…and I am strong.”

…We’re all thinking about it. Election 2016…So I will do my best to lightly touch on the topics of the past week. I am just here to say what is on my mind and potentially on the minds of others.

{I am concerned.} As a liberal, a woman, an artist, and a supporter and friend of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientations, I worry what is next for the diversity of America. When and why did the idea arise that we need to selectively “take back” this country? America is alive and well! We all want America to be great, but why “again”? When did the greatness halt? Why is our consensual faith in America waning? There will always be laws and policies that require adjustment and adaptation, but it is impractical to expect all Americans to conform to a narrow minded set of ideals. That is not why we live in this country. Our differences are what make us so beautifully unique.

{…But I am hopeful}…my hope is scant (one week out), but without hope we will not get through this difficult time. I strongly believe that this change we are experiencing will push us to be proactive and to speak up for our beliefs and rights. Volunteer. Discuss. Be informed. Peacefully protest. The future of our democracy stands before us. The progress that has been made on behalf of many in this country, stands on the precipice of destruction. If we fade into the background post-election, we cannot hope to protect our liberties.

{And I am strong.} Hope must walk hand and hand with strength. While a hopeful outlook is crucial, it is an empty wish without strength and momentum. This will not be an easy time, but we must spark the change we wish to see and be ready to respond. We are the people. We are the popular vote. We are unique, capable, hopeful, and fierce.

Be ready. Harness your hope, find your strength.

What’s In The Word Can’t?…

“When you’re feeling particularly defeated, remember that you got this.”

Whenever I became eminently frustrated growing up (/to this very day), my Mom would challenge me with a simple question – “What’s in the word can’t?!” Whether I answered or not, or simply stared back with a tearful or annoyed face, she would cheerfully answer her rhetorical question with a confident response of – “CAN!” As the eldest child, forging the path into the big, bad world of firsts (first dance audition, first summer intensive, first trip away from home, COLLEGE), sometimes I genuinely did not believe her. New experiences had a looming, impossible quality, like hurdles hundreds of feet high were building up in front of me. But what real value is there in the word can’t? It’s really just an informal way of stating that you are unable to do something or complete a task. But how many genuinely impossible challenges really exist? Unless we have a specific hindrance of some kind, there really is nothing we cannot do or try. But the power of our minds to convince us otherwise can be hard to deny at times.

As a teacher and role model for a large number of ballet students, I now find that I am a major proponent of this question (more like my Mother every day….“that’s a good thing, Mom”). I warn you though, if you plan on using it, you may be met by a few groans or joking eye rolls, especially from a younger crowd. Although I am prepared to shoot down complaints when I am met with resistance, I have to say I can relate. Don’t you remember that feeling as a child or teenager? That fear that nothing will ever fall into place? The belief that there are certain things that must be insurmountable? All part of growing up, but as an older, wiser generation (wink, wink), it is now our job to share our experiences and to encourage and challenge children to succeed and overcome.

“…what real value is there in the word can’t?…how many genuinely impossible challenges really exist?…there really is nothing we cannot do or try.”

I couldn’t tell you precisely what changed my mentality, or when I “grew up” officially, or stopped worrying about failure. But somewhere along the way..it happened. Now, I should rephrase, because I am still extremely “chicken” when it comes to failure (I’m as perfecting as perfectionists come), but if I were to compare myself now to “young, adolescent, Liz Grande”, you’d be looking at two very different girls. The experiences where I have failed, where I have fallen and gotten back up, those are the experiences that make me all the more willing to be brave and just go for it.

Take this little anthem of advice with you this week. When you’re feeling particularly defeated, whether it be by your own self or by the hand of someone else, remember that you got this. Sit yourself down, metaphorically speaking, and remind yourself – “what’s in the word can’t?…” And even though you may disgruntledly decline from offering an answer at first, think of at least one instance in your life where you truly triumphed, even when you thought there was no hope. Even the most daunting of obstacles can be surpassed. Do not let the instinct of defeat overtake your mind. Because no is not an answer…you CAN and you will.

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My lovely, little African violet flowering again after two years! CAN!

The One-Year Anniversary of The J.O.D. Blog – ‘Don’t Put Me In A Box’

One year. Blogging. Teaching. Injury. Love. Lessons. Struggle. Recovery. CHANGE. Where I’m at this year, feels like completely different territory than where I was last year. I’m sure I am stronger {in some way…both physically and mentally}, but I also feel that I have succumbed to negative feelings many a time – doubt, fear, uncertainty, jealousy. If anything, one of the most important lessons I have learned in the past 365 days, is that joy should be taken in dance. It is a true gift. A privilege. Along the way I have found it difficult to brush aside my emotions, my unnecessary concern with what others think of me, and my natural instinct to protect my body from further harm. But while dragging all these feelings around, I have forgotten to practice what I preach. Joy. Self-respect. Gratitude. Yes, I have been damaged, but that doesn’t have to define me.

And with that, I give you “Don’t Put Me In A Box”…

Happy One Year Anniversary to my baby, “The J.O.D. Blog”. May you all bring joy to your dancing and remember that “You Are Enough.

Bunhead. Tall. Not a jumper. Cute. Corps. Injured. – All labels that pop up in the dance world. Sometimes they have to do with our looks, sometimes they have to do with our personalities, sometimes they actually relate to our performance capabilities (go figure, this is the only legitimate reason any sort of label should exist). Now this might not seem like an issue if you’re just being described as who you truly are, but sometimes those labels begin to adhere too strongly. It’s called type-casting, and once it starts it never ends. Someone who knows their qualities and strengths and has a job which is well-suited and specific to them, has no problem. Dancers and artists, however, are constantly battling for jobs and parts. It’s all very competitive in nature. So we have to be diverse.

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Love what you do.

We can’t be good at everything. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and impossible as artists. It will never happen. You can be flawlessly “on your leg” one day, and then the next you feel like you’re brand new to pointe. Despite the technical facts, I wish that we were all given the chance to shine, personal labels aside. A glimmer of potential can go a long way. Yes, this is a business that can’t waste even an ounce of time-you either have it or you don’t. But don’t waste your own time caught up in the labels you’ve been stuck with or the labels of others. The princess and the villain of the ballet don’t always have to be the same individuals. They’re both probably dying to sink their teeth into the opposite role that the other possesses. It all gets monotonous! It’s simple and comfortable to address an individual as an artist and think you have them all figured out. But in doing so, you are limiting your perception of others.

The desire to branch outside of our comfort zone will not always be nourished…and that’s okay. But as an audience member, a teacher, a director, or even as yourself, try to stop the labeling. The superlatives you are bestowing…—it might be time to give them up. It could be disastrous or it could be wonderful, but if you never stir the pot you’ll never know. Personally, I want to rip my label off, and I want out of my box. I am not defined by anyone but myself, but I understand now that I must resist the temptation to self-label as well……I am ready to shed any labels that I bear, whether others have bestowed them or I have bestowed them upon myself. So don’t put me in a box. Because I refuse to stay inside.

What’s Your Breaking Point(e)?

“What do you do when you can’t give it everything you’ve got? When you can’t give even 100% when your norm is 105-110%?”

I’m used to going above and beyond always. That’s my job. Go big or go home. Every day spent dancing is a gift (for lack of a better cheesy analogy), and it’s another day you can succeed in expressing yourself, expand your technique, and develop a deeper understanding of your artistry. But what do you do when you can’t give it everything you’ve got? When you can’t give even 100% when your norm is 105-110%? Well, panic I guess, for one…Not feel like yourself…Become frustrated…These are all normal responses to such a situation, but the words “be careful” and “take it easy” are not really in a ballerina’s accepted vocabulary, no matter what the problem.

There is a certain responsibility that you accept when you decide to become a professional dancer. You are willingly committing yourself to a career of performing impossible feats, creating impossible shapes, and evoking emotion in strangers that is so strong it is palpable even from the last row of an auditorium (you have to be superhuman, essentially). Easy tasks? It’s not saving the world exactly, but putting your body through the constant stress of ballet in a studio setting is hard enough, then add the challenges of competition and performance as well.

“[This is] how we’re programmed. We live a lifestyle in which every second matters.”

What is terrifying, in a way, is the fact that our entire body is needed to ensure success as a dancer. There is not a muscle or nerve synapse you can do without if you want to give yourself the optimum chance. So, basically, no pressure, but eat well, get enough rest, exercise and cross train sufficiently (but not too much), stretch on the daily, practice, practice, practice, always be mentally focused, don’t get sick, don’t get injured, and don’t do anything to jeopardize yourself in any way. Complete this list of lifestyle choices, and you’ll be set up for success every day!…Yeah, okay. But what about when you get a cold? Or you suffer an injury? What about when you overwork yourself?

We’re trained to think that these things don’t matter. That it’s still possible to get through class and rehearsal and do it all, even if you’re hacking up a lung or you have a nagging muscle pain. But it can feel impossible to throw in the towel and stop or sit. We mentally bribe ourselves that it’s fine and do more than is necessary (“just at least do adagio too, and then you can sit down!”). It’s how we’re programmed. We live a lifestyle in which every second matters. Every combination skipped is missed time for practice and improvement. But when we are at our weakest, it is not the time to max out. Be careful. Take it easy—two things we don’t want to hear. But better to conserve the good, than contribute to the bad.

I hope these thoughts are a source of inspiration to myself as well. Just two weeks with a busted ankle feels like a lifetime to me. But a career as fragile as a ballerina’s is bound to be riddled with its share of challenges. When you can’t see the end, it seems impossible, but think of all the superhuman things you’ve already done as a dancer. I’ve fallen, I’ve bled, I’ve bruised, I’ve danced with fevers and bronchitis, I’ve even performed with vertigo. But here I am. Maybe we don’t always have to be that perfect. We can be broken down physically to no end, but the passion remains. No matter the challenge, we accept it, add it to our list, and keep going.

Go big or go home. Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse
Go big or go home.
Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse