My Weakness and My Strength

“How can an industry that promotes such beautiful art also make us feel so badly about ourselves sometimes?”

Dance is my weakness and my strength.

Sometimes I wish I had fallen in love with a different occupation – something that truly pays the bills and/or something that doesn’t require giving so much of yourself (/ALL of yourself). Unfortunately, there were many moments in my life when dance made me feel bad about myself. I spent a lot of my company career trying to satisfy someone else, to fit in, to not disappoint, to match, and to blend in. I thought all I had to do was “hunker down”, neglect my own needs, and put in my time. But even then I did not always receive the reciprocated respect I was hoping for.

I write today in response to Kathryn Morgan’s brave and necessary reflection on her experience with Miami City Ballet. It was instantly clear that the content of her video resonated with many of us from the ballet world. Ms. Morgan boldly spoke about the toxic body shaming the dance world still perpetuates. Some companies unfortunately still promote the concept that you must be a certain size or fit a certain mold to be valued. Her words and her honesty made me want to get involved in the conversation.

I admit that I did not realize how deeply embedded ballet was in my brain until I started seeing a therapist for my mental health (Happy belated #worldmentalhealthday). All these years I naively thought that I had done a good job of compartmentalizing, keeping ballet in the studio and living the rest of my life according to me. But that was not the case. The situations that always bothered me the most, that would eat at me longer than necessary, were interactions I had with others in which I felt that I was not meeting their expectations. The thing that would drive me to anxiety wasn’t, “Is this what I want? Is this what I need?” But rather, “What will they think of me now? I’m letting that person down. I feel so bad.” The chronic need to please, a toxic personality trait that stems from my experience with ballet, had seeped into my regular life. What I am now trying to relearn essentially is how to care for myself and meet my own needs first. This is something I am still working on today and something I will always have to work at.

“I want my students to know that ART DOESN’T FIT INSIDE A MOLD.”

I do not regret my relationship with ballet. There are many moments that hurt me and are still etched inside my brain, but those moments made me stronger and wiser. Ballet dancers are strong, confident, perseverant, daring, and efficient. But the attack and the bravery that you may see onstage does not always directly translate behind the scenes. You may be surprised to find that offstage and in the real world, many dancers exhibit completely alternate qualities when it comes to addressing personal and social situations.

As artists we must strive to eliminate stories like Ms. Morgan’s, stories in which beautiful, hardworking artists are belittled and shamed. Mental stress, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety are all real experiences that all humans are susceptible to, especially dancers. We must eliminate the stigma associated with mental health and stop expecting every shred of a dancer’s mind and body to be strong. I want my students to know that ART DOESN’T FIT INSIDE A MOLD. It’s about movement, artistry, individuality, and diligence. An audience wants to watch someone who is real, who breathes and feels and has flaws. And we don’t choose dance because it’s easy. We want to feel everything, the highs and the lows – the fear, the pain, the love, and the joy.

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…

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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 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.

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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.

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

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.

The Great Illusion

“Onstage, we are ethereal. In the studio, we are human.”

Tutus. Tiaras. French twists. Satin, theatrical pink pointe shoes. The world of dance is a glamorous one for sure. But behind the curtain is the reality-human beings who sweat, lose their breath, and feel pain. Behind the scenes dancers are doing everything possible to maintain a level of technical and visual perfection. Tissues are on hand for blotting at sweaty brows, ibuprofen to mask a nagging pain, the reddest of lipsticks to make your smile stand out-the tricks are endless. But the final product is worth it. It is enough to sway children to step into the studio and try a ballet class. It brings a tear to the eye and stirs applause and standing ovations. It is the great illusion.

Coppelia hair 2013-stage ready
Coppelia hair, 2013-stage ready

The display onstage is enough for viewers young and old to think that ballet is a piece of cake. What could be better than dancing around dressed in a fabulous outfit with a cavalier to pick you up and spin you around on your toes? But there comes a point in training when the game changes. The work of the art form rears its ugly head and, sadly, many are not up for the challenge. For some, the daily physical battle and quest for perfection is too high a cost for mere moments of greatness onstage…but, to others, this is everything.

The daily life of a dancer looks much different than the snap shot that is captured onstage. Although an aura of glamour remains in the studio, the picture is not as pretty. While the audience sees a preened soloist and cookie cutter corps, each Shade or Wili looking exactly like the next, in the studio not just characters exist, but human beings. Tights frequently are riddled with holes, warmups protect aching muscles, “trash bag” apparel is as far as the eye can see, but the work does not suffer as a result. Although dancers may not look their absolute best 100% of the time, studio work provides the growth and strife that every dancer needs to experience.

In the studio, 2015
In the studio, 2015

“For some, the daily physical battle and quest for perfection is too high a cost for mere moments of greatness onstage…but, to others, this is everything.”

In the studio, we see the details (it’s like showing your work in algebra and calculus; it’s the meat of everything-the reason the answer exists). The stretches, the care that is taken with the body, the incessant practice of a simple movement-it all happens there. In class and rehearsal, the process is not hidden away under glamour. The athleticism shines through. Onstage, we are ethereal. In the studio, we are human. I was always told that class is your time. The time to take chances, to be relentless, and to push myself to my absolute breaking point. But unlike a sport, the stage is not the place for that kind of behavior. There is room for passion and expression, but technically it is not a time to be overly brave. The illusion does not allow for mistakes.

The next time you go to the ballet, either contemporary or classical, you should appreciate the work before you. Behind the glitz and glam and gobo lighting are artists who work every day to create beauty through movement. The product they present before you is one that has been nurtured. The time spent in the studio has made the experience what it is at that very moment-a chance to be flawless. Presentation is pristine, pain is masked, and the days toiling away at perfection are unknown to you. This is the great illusion of the stage.

Stage meets studio. Getting ready backstage, 2014 - Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse
Stage meets studio. Getting ready backstage, 2014 – Photo Courtesy of Keith Alan Sprouse

The Point(e) Of It All

“It is…a literal balancing act, as we create glimmers of perfection poised on the edge of a pointe shoe box.”

The art of pointe work is a beautiful and merciless one. It is both a great honor and a great responsibility when pointe shoes are bestowed upon a dancer. However, there can be many misconceptions and questions. How? When? Why???!

My feet stealing the show...
My feet stealing the show…

It is sometimes thought that these shoes are the only footwear option for a ballet dancer, serving as permanent fixtures on the ends of the toes. Not true. We all have to start somewhere, but the pointe shoe is not the smartest place to begin. Although the epitome of classical ballet is pointe work, the art form is by no means diminished in the absence of these gorgeous shoes. They are meant to add strength, height, length, and further supernatural awe to movement. The beauty of ballet is increased tenfold in a pointe shoe. A relevé is not simply a relevé, but rather an elevated height achieved by shockingly balancing on one’s toes. A pirouette is no longer stifled by the friction of a technique shoe against Marley, but rather aided in number and quality by the small, delicate balance point of a pointe shoe tip. Every line is smoothed, lengthened, and further finessed. And balance becomes a whole other “ball game”. A somewhat simple feat when supported by the strength of five metatarsals working together, balancing en pointe is another story entirely when limited to a couple of toes and the strength of one’s ankle and calf. Refining one’s balance and limiting the wobbles of a pointe shoe, is a never-ending job (when you hit a good balance en pointe in the studio, take the opportunity to wave your arms and/or scream loudly for someone to look because it might not happen again for a while).

Stepping up to pointe...(pardon the floppy wrist) Ballet Theatre of Maryland 2012
Stepping up to pointe…
Ballet Theatre of Maryland 2012

The beauty and challenge these shoes add is obvious, but how do you get to that point(e) in your training? When are you ready? Some are handed a pair of pointe shoes when they hit a certain level or reach a certain age. But pointe candidates should be delegated with care. Although one who has mastered a reasonable portion of the ballet curriculum and language may think they’re well-prepared for pointe work, it is not to be taken lightly. Everyone’s timeline, in this case, is unique. There is no need to rush. Pointe work requires a high level of strength and discipline, and starting too early can harm the body, making it more prone to injury. Frustration is understandable, but it is better to begin fully prepared for this challenge.

 

“The beauty of ballet is increased tenfold in a pointe shoe.”

En pointe... Ballet Theatre of Maryland's Swan Lake 2014
En pointe…
Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Swan Lake 2014

I remember what a joy it was once I began pointe. The challenge further ignited my passion for dance. All I wanted was to learn and practice everything I could. I would race to put my pointe shoes on for class and then suffer through blisters, so I was the last to take them off. After a while the novelty began to wear off though and certain exercises started to feel monotonous. I wanted to learn more, and I couldn’t get it fast enough. But the strength gained from basic, repeated exercises is nothing to scoff at. It is now something I seek (a valuable pointe class, back to basics, can benefit any dancer). Pointe class can feel like the cruelest of torture-going back to the barre and redoing every intricacy of movement with a wooden block strapped to your foot is not pleasant, quite obviously-but it is a medicine that every dancer needs, fuel for what is to come.

Despite the beauty and despite position and experience, the challenge of pointe work never diminishes. It is like a fantastic game to be played every day-a literal balancing act, as we create glimmers of perfection poised on the edge of a pointe shoe box. Even the wrong attitude can make you fall more quickly. But when it’s right, it’s right. Your feet may be trapped and confined, throbbing and exhausted, but with the height and the balance comes freedom. We constantly dare to do what others cannot. It is an unattainable perfection that we seek, but isn’t that what makes it so intoxicating?…

 

Go Organic

“My sole (soul) connection is to movement, and its bounty of styles and intricacies.”

I am a mover. Yes, I am a ballerina, an artist, a technician, and a perfectionist, but the bottom line is that I am simply a mover. My sole (soul) connection is to movement, and its bounty of styles and intricacies. But this can easily be forgotten. In pursuit of knowledge, we tend to overcomplicate our lives, stressing, overthinking, and beginning to feel so many conflicting ideas  that we can barely move at all. It is the basics that will save us – natural, organic movement and remembering who we are. Ballerina, Rockette, or breaker, you just need to keep it simple.

I think one of the most common flaws when moving is overworking yourself. A body that is working with conflicting ideas cannot display flow and ease of movement. It’s interesting that a common failure among dancers is not letting go and being natural. Not to hop on the Elsa train, but you really have to “let it go” sometimes! When I receive the correction to “just dance” or “don’t try so hard” at first I’m a little doubtful, but it’s nearly laughable in the end because it always works. The answer is so accessible. If you’re supposed to be turning, let yourself turn-naturally. If you’re jumping, don’t analyze the movement to the extent that you barely come off the ground. Jump. It’s so simple, but as professionals of our craft, our pursuit of greatness and exploration of new ideas can cause us to miss the big picture.

“…the difference between a dancer and a great dancer is exploration of movement and the awareness that they have…A dancer who can vary the way they move and have control of these sensational concepts, will convey beauty in everything they do.”

Here’s something else I bet you haven’t thought about lately in class – sensation. Yes, you’re moving through air, by yourself or maybe partnered, on a Marley floor, but what is your connection point? What is your relationship with all of those things? Although you shouldn’t complicate your life (as I mentioned above), the difference between a dancer and a great dancer is exploration of movement and the awareness that they have. When we dance we are of another world to the audience. They want to see ease and beauty. A dancer who can vary the way they move and have control of these sensational concepts, will convey that beauty in everything they do.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland's Nutcracker 2013 - I think our best photo moments are dancers are the moments we think no one will capture, when we are simply living...
Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Nutcracker 2013 – “I think our best photo moments as dancers are the moments we think no one will capture, when we are simply living…” Photo Courtesy of Donna Cole
All of this is fine and dandy as long as you’re breathing though. As dancers, not a class goes by that we don’t let out a shockingly long exhale at the end of a combination. An audible reminder that we were holding our breath the whole time. Not only will you tire yourself out this way, but you lose that natural side, your connection to the earth. You start to become a pent up dancer soon to fatigue, instead of a smooth, confident mover. Be “otherworldly” so you look flawless and confident, but do not lose that organic appeal. It’s okay to breathe. Give yourself moments in which you can embrace what you’re doing and fuel yourself.

This is not a lecture, but rather a reminder. I am reminded of something new in my practice of ballet every day (part of what I love about ballet, but we’ll get into that another day). Sometimes the tools you are given will help you and sometimes they won’t. But I guarantee that being natural and simple, will work every time. If you go back to that whenever you stray or overanalyze, you will be just fine. Move, experience, feel the space around you, and connect to it, breathe…Remember who you are. You are a mover.

Partnering work for Ballet Theatre of Maryland's Interlude 2013 - Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gilliam
Partnering work for Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Interlude 2013 – Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gilliam

Ballet Theatre of Maryland's Nutcracker 2013 - Photo Courtesy of Donna Cole
Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Nutcracker 2013 – Photo Courtesy of Donna Cole

This Belongs To You Now

“The product will always belong to the choreographer. But you have the honor of bringing it to life and enhancing it. You can mold it to be the absolute best it can be. It belongs to you now. But what will you do with it?”

As a choreographer, how can you be sure that the very essence of yourself is going to be correctly represented? Honestly, you can’t be one hundred percent sure of what will happen “out there”. When you have created a product and it is ready to be given to an audience, it has its one fleeting chance (after countless hours of thought, creation, preparation, and rehearsal) to be perfect. Most dances live to see the light of day over and over again, but unless you’re a phenom in the choreography world, this might be your work’s first premier and its final showing. You pour your soul into movement, musicality, spacial formations, partnering, level changes, and juxtaposition of feeling, and for what? Your small reward is the chance for it to be seen by an audience of unknown size, hopefully filmed and recorded, and praised or critiqued by said audience for a few subsequent hours. Choreography is unforgiving and, potentially, fruitless.

Like any other art form, it will either succeed or fail. There is also the possibility that it falls somewhere in the gray area in between (complimented but not nearly as much of a success as you wished for). However, that gray area can tend to feel more like failure sometimes. Maybe everyone’s just being polite about it. You may never know.

Three of my dancers from my Hartt School senior choreography project "Embrace" Premiered Fall 2010; Photo Credit Stephanie Crandall
Three of my dancers from my Hartt School senior choreography project “Embrace”, Premiered Fall 2010; Photo Credit Stephanie Crandall

My thoughts for this blog stem again from the Charlottesville Ballet’s student showcase this past weekend. As a professional dancer, standing in the wings dressed in civilian clothes and high heels, watching my dancers, is a surreal experience. Although I have taught for many years now, the dancer in me screams to be out there performing. There is a pressing feeling that I have to be participating or that I’ve potentially missed a cue or entrance. But I’m not needed. It is out of my hands and in theirs instead.

There is a very different dynamic in passing on choreography to young students because it is not about the movement. It is about them being out on their own and showcasing everything they have absorbed. It is still their task to succeed, but the weight of the situation is much less. As a student develops, the job of making the work shine becomes their own. It is not a burden necessarily, but an expectation. With the right tools of precision and artistry, you must give everything of yourself. When you hit the stage after rehearsing ‘til the cows came home, cleaning the choreography with a toothbrush, and clarifying every aspect like combing through tangles with a fine tooth comb, it’s your responsibility. The product will always belong to the choreographer. But you have the honor of bringing it to life and enhancing it. You can mold it to be the absolute best it can be. It belongs to you now. But what will you do with it?

As a dancer, I think about all of this come performance time. I think of all the run throughs, the successes, the failures, the corrections I’ve received, and the compliments I’ve been given. I hope with every shred of being that I can pull it all together to create perfection for just one moment. I don’t care how much it might take out of me. I give it everything and leave it on the stage. It’s about now, and it’s on me. Choreographers trust us with their very selves. They gamble on us because they see something in us. And if they stand backstage and smile (and maybe cry) and wish they were out there too, then maybe we’ve done something right.

Pedro Szalay & his Charlottesville Ballet cast of "She.Lapse.He" Performed Fall 2014
Pedro Szalay & his Charlottesville Ballet cast of “She.Lapse.He” Premiered October 2014