Watchful Eyes

“…there is something about a formal presentation of one’s skills, that definitely ups the ante.”

What exactly is it about an audience that shakes our nerves to the core? Is it the desire to attain perfection? Or maybe the worry that we might fail? Or is it that very simple and innate human fear of judgement? We all have different reasons, both stated and deeply personal, but I can assure you that if observing eyes send you into a panic, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

As a ballet teacher, I am currently in the midst of “Parent Observation Week” – the three dreaded words for any teacher that equate to an annual or bi-annual event held during the academic year. This busy week presents an opportunity for students to share their class experience with family and friends, and showcase the development of their dance technique, as well as their favorite steps and combinations. For teachers, it is a time to become better acquainted with parents and to highlight a class’ progress, as well as the individual advancements of students.

However, despite the obvious positive points of parent observation, it can be an anxious time for students and teachers. For young students especially, it is an introduction into the pressures of performance and the anxiety that can come along with it. For more advanced, mature students, it is necessary time to prove oneself and gain practice for future auditions and opportunities. For teachers, too, it can be a nerve-racking experience, ensuring that a class’ abilities are adequately showcased. The best teaching strategies and tools must all be used, different learning types attended to, attention paid to corrections and discipline, and, of course, a little humor to keep it light and get some laughs, can’t hurt.

When it comes right down to it though, all parties involved just have to act natural. But there is something about a formal presentation of one’s skills, that definitely ups the ante. It can affect a person in any career or stage of life. Our basic human instincts come into play-our desire to impress and succeed, and our fear of rejection and judgement.

It’s a wonderful thing to be motivated to give 110% percent and go above and beyond one’s normal expectations, but it’s also okay to experience nerves and anxiety in such a situation. Sometimes in tense, high pressure moments, we create and experience our best work. Under the watchful eyes of others, we may discover something about ourselves that we did not know before.

I've totally used this pic before, but what a great reminder...
I’ve totally used this pic before, but what a great reminder…

Save

Save

Save

An Allegro Anecdote: “I Can’t Turn Left.”

“It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me by any means, but, man, it makes for a good story.”

“I can’t turn left.” Many automatically think of the classic Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander when they hear this phrase. I, however, have actually said this when referring to myself.

In the winter of 2009, I was diagnosed in the West Hartford, Conn. ER with vertigo. Two days previous, the morning after Valentine’s Day, I rouse with a sensation of dizziness like nothing I had ever experienced. Each time I tried to focus my eyes, my gaze was repeatedly pulled downward. I was perpetually on the down slope of a roller coaster. I rested the entire day, tried unsuccessfully to nourish myself (everything came immediately back up), and of course called my Primary Care Physician for life-my Mom. I explained the circumstances, but my mother warily kept implying that I might’ve had “one too many” the night before. (True, we were in singles V-Day celebration mode-cosmopolitan style-the night before) But as my symptoms persisted, I knew it was not at all related.

I went to bed praying/assuming that this weird experience would have exhausted itself by the A.M.—WRONG…conditions remained the same the next day. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t go to dance classes, I couldn’t even watch TV in bed comfortably. The severity and persistence of my symptoms quickly got my Mom’s attention. She left work early and drove the hour and a half down to my college to accompany me to the ER. Finally, (after a long and fearful wait in the height of flu season) I was seen and diagnosed with a bout of vertigo. I wasn’t given much explanation, and was quickly sent home with an anti-nausea med prescription and motion sickness relief patches. I was told the symptoms would gradually fade on their own…

As a student whose college major involves movement about 90% of the time, I had to get back into the groove. But I struggled to get back into dance class. I could only do half of class, and the extreme motion I constantly felt required me to cling to the barre for dear life. The nausea med helped, but the motion sickness patches put me over the edge-the side effects hit me hard. The eye on the same side of my head as the patch (you only put one behind the ear on one side of the body) became severely dilated and my vision blurred. Now I was a vertigo inflicted college student, with blurred vision and one psycho dilated eye. Great.

So I went to see a specialist. I was given a series of tests, involving sound and the condition of my ears. The diagnosis-I had been coming down with a virus prior to the onset of vertigo. In response, the nerve controlling my balance within my left inner ear had swelled as a defense mechanism. Enough to the point that I had lost control of my balance and developed vertigo. As my inner ear readjusted, the vertigo would lessen, but it would take an undetermined amount of time. (Supposedly) I would never experience vertigo again.

“I survived two episodes of losing my greatest gifts-my balance and my control of movement.”

As a dancer, the vertigo proved to be quite a handicap for the 3-4 months it took to fizzle out. Because my left ear was the one primarily involved, I had a reoccurring struggle with any movement led by the left side of my body. Pirouettes to the left were a terrible thing for a long time. I struggled in modern class too. Already the ultimate “bunhead”, now in addition, anything too off-center or involving inversion was practically impossible. I was constantly uncoordinated, and was concerned about my progress. It was a stressful time. But it all turned out okay…for about five years…

In the spring of 2014, vertigo again came knocking at my door. This time, I took to the stage. As an apprentice with Ballet Theatre of Maryland, I had a performance that evening. Nothing like timing right? I didn’t have too much responsibility in the show that weekend, but I also didn’t have a solid understudy. I felt pretty uncomfortable attempting to dance under stage lighting and strobe lights, but I didn’t have a choice. I did a low key warm-up that night, enough to get by, and friends and co-workers were on high alert backstage, in case I needed to make an impromptu getaway off the stage (potentially to a trash can). I went out there and modified like whoa. It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me by any means, but, man, it makes for a good story.

Dancers have thick skin (I mean, literally, too…those calluses!). I survived two episodes of losing my greatest gifts-my balance and my control of movement. In my current state, I now have the time and flexibility to truly take care of myself-mentally and physically. Would I have still had vertigo twice if I hadn’t been in the midst of two strenuous, performing arts programs? Probably! But I would have been able to better take care of myself afterwards, and therein lies the difference. It’s okay to push, but treating yourself like a human is okay too. As a dancer, these struggles seemed insurmountable. But they are also distinguishing challenges that have brought me to this point. There’s satisfaction in knowing I’ve survived it all.

The Joy Of..Teaching: Part Two

“…how I choose to communicate…determines if they will sink or swim…Sometimes the feeling is empowering. Sometimes, it’s downright overwhelming.”

Two full weeks of teaching have been completed. I’ve met new students, greeted familiar faces, and made beginning of the year announcements about dress code and “ballet buns”…but now the real work begins. I’ve seen what everyone can do, gauged the capabilities of my classes, and taken (mental) note of who needs what and why. There’s not much different about this year than any other year. I step into my sixth year of teaching fully ready to progress my young charges and take on any challenges they may present. As I crank out the class plans though, I know that despite the importance of the content, it’s how I choose to communicate that determines if they will sink or swim.

PC - Nina Staeben
PC – Nina Staeben

What I love about teaching (here it is…) is the difference I can make. Sometimes the feeling is empowering. Sometimes, it’s downright overwhelming. I could very well choose to play it safe each class. And not to jump on the defensive, but there are many out there who do not appreciate the work of ballet teachers. “What’s the big deal?” “Life goes on, right?” It’s true that the world does not desperately require teachers of dance. But whether I’m giving freedom to a child who needs to release excess energy, or prepping a professional dancer of tomorrow, I know that what I’m doing is important. And, furthermore, it is by no means easy. I could just be a glorified babysitter for my young students, but I would much rather take pride in the fact that I am able to control a room full of 4-year olds and hear them confidently shout out “plié!” and “relevé!” in reference to movement.

PC - Jen O'Keefe
PC – Jen O’Keefe

Some of my favorite teachers were the ones that demanded pristine technique, but also knew how to make class time an enjoyable experience. I truly believe that having a sense of humor is crucial. We’re all going to make mistakes, we may fall (heck, I do that quite often, sometimes tragically), but at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. This attitude is extra important in a studio full of young dancers. The more that children progress technically, the more information there is for them to digest, essentially. As the pressure to improve and expand their knowledge grows, I like to lighten the mood I guess. Just drilling away at tendus for thirty minutes isn’t necessarily helpful, but having a clear understanding of what we’re looking for and why and seeing a visual contrast between beautiful and just plain silly, helps make a difference the next time the students step into the studio. At younger ages, the contrast between “ballerina behavior” and just plain standin’ around pickin’ your nose cracks kids up. It’s a tool I can’t pass up, and I love a good laugh anyway, so everyone wins.

“I know that what I’m doing is important. And…by no means [is it] easy…I…take pride in the fact that I am able to control a room full of 4-year olds and hear them confidently shout out ‘plié!’ and ‘relevé!’ in reference to movement.”

Gifts from teacher-I take so much pride in making these-my most witty of gifts, shown here..
Gifts from teacher – I take so much pride in making these – my most witty of gifts, shown here..

Despite all the laughs though, I always want to set a standard of excellence for my students. With hands on corrections and visual demos, the goal is to help students understand the adjustments we are looking for, both visually and physically (or verbally-it depends on what kind of learner you are!). My Achilles heel of teaching, however, is talking too much and not wanting to let certain things go. The need to press on and cover certain ground always exists, but why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? There’s no time like the present-might as well fix that port de bras or take a deeper look into those pirouettes.

Birthday love <3
Birthday love ❤

Expectations and goals are fine and dandy, but what’s most important is actually dancing. Do I want to create the sharpest, quickest, and cleanest dancers? Yes!! (Please!) But I also just want them to enjoy themselves! They’re most likely there for a particular reason, and for a large percentage, it’s because they just love to move. They relate to dance and movement. It is a language that their bodies understand, and their time in the studio is precious to them. I can only hope that the advice I give, the jokes I make, and the encouragement I offer, are things they will remember and appreciate as they continue down their own life paths.

Namaste Turned Out

“…quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul.”

Namaste and welcome, to this week’s J.O.D. Feeling fueled and positive after some afternoon yoga today, I started thinking about the vast benefits of yoga for dancers. As the summer winds down and we find ourselves preparing for new classes (academic and/or dance), new schedules, and the rigors of our Monday thru Friday lives (or Monday thru..always, as some of us may experience), yoga is an excellent way to prepare for a return to the ballet barre. While aspects of this practice can be quite foreign to classically trained dancers, there are many benefits to the practice, even if only attending on a weekly basis. As movers we are reminded of the need to breathe, thoughtfully stretch, work alternative muscles, and search within ourselves for both mental and physical needs.

the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace <3
the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace  ❤

The main benefit of yoga for dancers is the consistent emphasis on breath and breath support. Lack of breath support in accompaniment with movement is a common problem for dancers of all levels. Without breath support (and more specifically-correct breath support), dancers can become fatigued and lose stamina quickly. It is common, during class time especially, for dancers to exhale aggressively after completion of a combination-a sign that the breath is becoming pent up within the body while dancing. Yoga, on the other hand, promotes constant movement of the breath-both in moments of stillness and motion. Although it takes a great deal of practice, really focusing on the breath can make the process of utilizing it much more enjoyable. Not only does yoga help to promote breath support, but it also introduces different techniques of breathing (i.e. – use of the diaphragm for strength and stamina of breath).

Yoga is also a great alternative and/or addition to traditional ballet stretches. Whether you’re practicing in the Vinyasa technique (more rigorous; flowing and connecting from posture to posture) or Yin (long-held postures, focusing on stretching the fascia and reaching an appropriate “edge”), the poses of traditional yoga practice are excellent formats for allowing dancers to stretch both the lower body and the less commonly used (for ballet technique) muscles of the upper body. Poses like “plank”, “forward fold”, “warrior three”, “standing split”, “frog”, and “supine butterfly” are all excellent for strength and stretch and physically come easily to the “dancer crowd”. However, the prominent, sometimes glaring, difference between ballet and yoga that presents itself, is the lack of turnout. I still find myself wanting to outwardly rotate my hips and most definitely my feet, for certain poses within the yoga technique. However, sticking to the traditional parallel is definitely more successful. Although we desire to stick to what we know physically, the challenge of keeping the hips and feet parallel strengthens different muscles of the body, ones that aren’t commonly used on a day-to-day basis as a dancer.

Peace, peace, peace.
“Peace, peace, peace.”

Now some may say that they attend yoga for one reason – good ol’ savasana – a chance to literally lay back, corpse pose style, and let the worries of the day melt away. This deeply meditative moment within the practice is truly important for artists. It is an opportunity to quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul. Even if savasana is the only thing that gets you to yoga class, keep it up, because it’s certainly a good reason to be there.

Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend - always a delight
Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend – always just what I NEED. PC – My Mom  ❤

Yoga is a fantastic pairing or temporary alternative (for injury purposes) to dance. Before ruling out the practice as something too anti-ballet, give it a chance. There is nothing else like it. Although there is a strong meditative, spiritual, and individual component, yoga, like ballet, is also a disciplined practice. Take the opportunity and lie back…breathe, rotate those legs inward a little bit more than you’re used to, and focus on you.

If It Hurts, You’re Doing Something Right.

“We must distinguish between what is a warning sign and what is simply hard work.”

Blisters. Bunions. Muscle spasms. TURNOUT. There are many unpleasant aches and pains in ballet. Breathing is allowed, surprisingly, however, good luck fitting that onto your to do list in class. We all have a lot on our minds when we’re trying to move and create gorgeous lines, but sometimes the technical highlights and the pure muscle behind it all need to take precedence.

Stretch it out.
Stretch it out.

After many months of experiencing constant pain and instability due to my ankle injury, I realize now how much I appreciate good pain. There is definitely a point when muscle exhaustion can become counterproductive, but the lines and movements of ballet technique are completely foreign to the body. In order to train ourselves physically, “muscle memory” is key. If you consider ballet posture from head to toe, there really is nothing natural or organic about it – drawing together of the shoulder blades, the extreme lift of the abdominals combined with closure at the top of rib cage, length in the lower spine, strength powered from the inner thighs and hamstrings, seemingly impossible length of the knee caps, extreme outward rotation of the hip, corresponding turnout of the legs and feet, all without overcompensating and allowing the arches to fall to the floor. The list of extreme demands is long and only further complicated by the addition of movement and steps.

“I appreciate good pain. Post injury…makes me so grateful for the moments when I am able to PUSH again….”

Probably one of the proudest moments of my life. Returned to the stage in a beautiful and complex pointe work - "A Palette of Influence" choreographed by Julia Mitchell. PC - Me
Probably one of the proudest moments of my life. Returned to the stage in a beautiful and complex pointe piece – “A Palette of Influence” choreographed by Julia Mitchell. PC – Me

With all of these different parts of our bodies working together, yet against, each other, how do we know how far to push ourselves when we feel muscle pain? (I find this even more difficult post-injury) I completely stand by the method of “practice makes perfect” – repetition until fatigued is crucial. But this also creates a window for error and injury. We must distinguish between what is a warning sign and what is simply hard work. A smart dancer knows when to say no, but also has a vast understanding of his/her physique and how to fully utilize it. What will save you in the moment of fatigue is creating a whole body experience – engaging the abs, lifting the sternum and chin – “sending energy” elsewhere can be a saving grace.

As a teacher, I frequently see students who are afraid to push themselves. The glaring concern of “it hurts so much!” disrupts the opportunity for muscle memory and drive to kick in. I tell my students, “if it hurts, you’re doing something right.” Absolute truth. The art of dance presents a difficult and challenging road. Personally, post-injury, it is still difficult for me to distinguish when I’ve maybe had enough. I am fighting to better understand that point, and it makes me so grateful for the moments when I am able to PUSH again…when I know that my body is working as a harmonious unit, and it’s okay to go for it. Call me crazy, but no matter how much pain ballet bestows upon me, there is nothing I love more than knowing I have done everything…110% given and barely able to move a muscle. I will always keep coming back for MORE.

Back in the tutu. MORE.
Back in the tutu. Back for MORE.

The Petit World Of Dance

“…this great community I belong to..it never ceases to amaze me.”

The dance world is one of the most tightly knit communities around. Faces are always familiar…and also filled with curiosity…“who’s been to what intensive?” “Isn’t that {so and so} from {such and such} company?” “There’s that fierce turner I’ve seen at my past three auditions.” If you’re ever hoping to run away and start your dance career anew-good luck. You’ll probably see at least two familiar faces the first time you try to “branch out”. We can’t escape each other. This community of artists is small and exclusive…high extension and exquisite feet ONLY (jk we all know those aren’t the only things necessary to become a great performing artist…but they certainly can’t hurt). But I digress, because I wish to discuss this great community I belong to..because it never ceases to amaze me.

“I’ve talked before about strangers in the dance world, but now I speak of friends…”

Last week I was thrilled to set aside the chaos of my current life (nanny-ing, fitness center childcare, moving into my new apartment with my amazing bf) to hit the studio for ballet class on a (rare) free Wednesday afternoon. I was aware that a friend of mine from out of town would be attending, but I left the studio with not only one previous acquaintance but two new ones as well. After class, stories were swapped of shared connections, crazy artistic directors, and recent performances.

It’s comforting, in a way, to venture out into both new and familiar environments and always find  a common thread. I’ve talked before about strangers in the dance world, but now I speak of friends (and new friends!). Friendly connections are everywhere, waiting to be explored. While competition fuels our fire, the encouraging faces of others can also guide us to our best moments. A passion to succeed and live up to our reputation pushes us to embrace our class time and take pride in our work. So the next time you take class, smile, because there’s a 90% chance you know that person and they know you, and we’re all just here to dance aren’t we?

The many, many dance families I've become a part of... <3
The many, many dance families I’ve become a part of… ❤

The Importance Of…Taking Class

“…slower is faster if you practice every day with patience and correctness, you will get there. It’s like preparing for a jump. You can’t rush. You must summon the appropriate energy with split-second timing and have an understanding of purpose to get up in the air. It requires training, confidence and mental effort. You can’t have a vocabulary without the alphabet. Balanchine used to say, “Do you want to be a poet of gesture or do you want to be a physical entity?”
 -Edward Villella,
Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers

Truer words have never been spoken. Ballet is an agonizing game, yet also strangely addictive. No matter how much time and energy you commit, there’s always more that can be done. There’s no sort of holding point or “safe zone”, no short cuts you can take…no medals for technical accomplishments. If you did four pirouettes yesterday, you may struggle to do a clean “two” tomorrow, so tread carefully. Confidence high, but chin down, and “nose to the grindstone”, so to speak. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pre-professional star or Misty Copeland-you’ve got to go to class.

736677_10200316868187459_957624093_o
Tudor rehearsal with Amanda McKerrow. Ballet Theatre of Maryland, 2013 (P.C. – Donna L. Epstein-Cole)

Lately, I’ve felt a bit alone in my undying love and pursuit of a daily ballet class. Not shocking, since we’re about to hit that dead zone season of the dance world, when smaller, regional companies have completed their seasons and ballet schools and academies are wrapping up the semester with recitals and performances. Everyone’s ready for a break. Schools are letting out, and it’s summer time, baby. But although I’ve tried to supplement the need for endorphins with other exercise, and also unintentionally taken long bouts away from the barre (last week, for example, when an abrupt case of late flu prevented me from taking my one class I had planned), my love affair with ballet carries on.

Even if the source of my problems is ballet at times, class is my opportunity for reconciliation and a reminder as to why I still come crawling back each time. With every plié I execute and every allonge of my wrist, I can leave it all at the door and simply stick to what I know. I don’t know what’s next, or even when I’ll take the stage again, but I know what I can find at the barre (pun somewhat intended). In the words of the wise character of Juliette Simone, from the now iconic Center Stage:

“The unwise dancers blame [others]. He didn’t like me…she was unfair…I should have had that part. The smart ones know where to look…when things get rough. It isn’t there. (Walks over the the barre) It’s HERE. No matter what happened in class, performance, last week, five minutes ago…if you come back here…you’ll be home.”
Juliette Simone, Center Stage (2000)

I’m never going to stop needing class. It’s not something I can deny myself…so I surrender.

459148_10200340674862611_1698391811_o
HOME at the barre. Class with Amanda McKerrow. Ballet Theatre of Maryland, 2013 (P.C. – Donna L. Epstein-Cole)

Look Back, But Don’t Linger…

“…remember that you cannot change anything. It is all there to stay. The good and the bad, the proud and the embarrassing…you cannot make any alterations.”

Looking back and reflecting on our past is a helpful tool for self-improvement, but potentially a route to regret as well. So how can we reflect in the most positive way possible without abusing ourselves mentally and emotionally? Every moment counts, especially for dancers. Every day that passes presents a class you could’ve taken, a stretch you could’ve held, a variation you could have perfected. Life is so fleeting, and when you start to consider it, the pressure to utilize every minute of every day can begin to heighten expectations furiously.

It is only human to question the decisions that got you here. However, self examination can be dangerous. So proceed with caution. When reflecting on the past, no matter how far back you stray, remember that you cannot change anything. It is all there to stay. The good and the bad, the proud and the embarrassing…whether you’re dwelling on a “Hallmark moment” you had or the worst thing that ever happened to you, you cannot make any alterations. It is helpful to draw from those situations, to learn about yourself, and to use your current knowledge to control the future. BUT don’t dare berate yourself with “what if?” Move on. Make new moments. If you’re stuck in the old, there will be no new.

Short and sweet, but in the spirit of this blog, that’s okay. I have taken a look back at my blog and my dancing recently, and where I stood a year ago, or years before, and I have nothing but pride. Pride for the decisions I made and the steps I took to get here. Sure some things could’ve turned out differently, but what is life, without lessons and bumps along the way? I have no complaints. The path that lies ahead is unknown and a little scary. But that’s okay. I have dealt with my past and am ready for the future. Who knows?-what’s ahead could be even better than what’s passed…

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.

IMG_1616
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.

Sense…And Simplicity

“Changes to lighting, space…to our very selves-strip it down to what it really is…”

Use of all five senses is not a must, but a privilege most of us are accustomed to. Combining all five helps us operate at our most alert and effective state. But what happens when you limit or overwhelm one of those senses? As performing artists, we are accustomed to meeting the challenges that the stage offers us. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy task.

IMG_0887.PNG
Class onstage-I didn’t caption that myself 😉 Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Hammer

When daily rehearsals in studio transform into long hours in a dim theater with radiant side lighting, everyone is thrown by the change to their vision. The accommodations our bodies must make to adjust to the huge contrast in lighting (bright on the sides versus an abyss of darkness before you) naturally starts to confuse our balance. And needless to say, that’s a heck of an important thing for a dancer. Balance is something of low priority since it comes so naturally to us, but in the theater it’s like starting from scratch. I start to train my body for the difference the minute I step inside. During class I force myself to look high and into the dark. The natural response is to look down and only within close proximity: a completely fair reflex, but not a good aesthetic for line and presentation purposes. Step two for success with lighting? Stare them down. Probably not good for overall eye health, but confront the light before your big moment onstage. Prepare yourself for the brilliance (or lack thereof) that those bulbs will present.

“…Enough to shake your belief in your preparedness to the core…”

One must also address drastic changes in apparel. The stage is the time for grandeur and drama, but getting into character requires more work than you would think. Stage makeup and full costume is amazing upon completion, but it also includes a great deal of inhuman details. Long, fake eyelashes, a caked on, perfectly contoured face, awkward, complex costumes, hair that must never move, pointe shoe ribbons that must never come untied. These tactile changes may not seem crucial to the product of movement, but tights or no tights, tutu or none-these details can change the complexity of contact.

And if that’s not enough to shake your belief in your preparedness to the core, don’t forget space. While most companies prepare for the exact spacing of the stage, looking at floor marks and studio landmarks in the light of day is much different than frantically searching for “your mark” (a.k.a. a small tape mark downstage or upstage, that you must secretly seek out with your eyes while still smiling and maintaining a relaxed demeanor) in the midst of performance.

Changes to lighting, space, and to our very selves can make the transition onto the stage seem daunting. But take care, dancers. The final touches to performance do not a show make. It’s about the flavor of the piece…the soul that emanates there. So strip it down to what it really is-you, movement, and an audience. Give it everything you have left.