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.

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 One

“Learning how to best teach others helped me understand how to further “teach myself” and refine my technique.”

When I started out as a B.F.A. undergrad at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, I idolized my future life as a professional dancer. I knew that following the path of a B.F.A. was the best choice for me, to ensure further training, while also completing general studies and a college degree. However, I also assumed that after college, my life would prominently feature performance. What I didn’t realize was the passion I would find for teaching along the way.

Upon entering Hartt’s conservatory-style dance program, I was required to take a pedagogy course for my first year of studies. Working on technique in this in depth manner, not only gave me limitless teaching tools for future students but also for myself. Clarifying terminology, body positions, and arabesques from different schools of thought (for the crowd unfamiliar with ballet-there are some differences that exist in different schools of teaching; the three primary ballet syllabi being..the Vaganova method or Russian training, the Cecchetti method or Italian training, and the RAD method or British training), simultaneously helped me fill in any gaps in my training along the way. Learning how to best teach others helped me understand how to further “teach myself” and refine my technique. My college requisite quickly began to evolve into a future possibility and interest.

“…throughout my entire dance career, my teaching has kept me afloat. It is how I support myself. [without it] I simply wouldn’t have made it out alive.”

Setting foot on the pathway towards a dance career requires a “plan B”. Even the utmost profound confidence in one’s future as a professional dancer should be accompanied by a backup plan in case of personal injury. With knowledge of this fact as well as future financial realities, I realized a professional education in ballet pedagogy would be a valuable asset. So, after completing a full-year as a B.F.A. in Performance, I changed my game plan. A year older, a bit wiser, and cognizant of the possibilities at my fingertips (practically like receiving a double major in dance, all for the reasonable price of one degree!…cough, cough-college loans forever), I adjusted my plan and became a Ballet Pedagogy major instead.

Despite the internships, the observation hours, the consistent and ever-present Richard Glasstone articles, I wouldn’t change my decision for anything. (I think I may have read and discussed every single Glasstone article for my teacher Hilda Morales…“Some Thoughts On”…port de bras, epaulement, allegro…you name it, he thought about it…much to the disdain of myself and my small class of fellow pedagogy majors) I wish I had decided upon my path from day one, but at least I figured it out eventually.

As I write this post this week, I realize what a different time this is for me. I didn’t think I would ever encounter a time when I was only teaching (silly Liz)…or at least I have not yet ever felt ready for such a thing. But over the past year, and really throughout my entire dance career, my teaching has kept me afloat. It is how I support myself. If I had ever desperately tried to exist solely on my meager dancer wages these past five years, I simply wouldn’t have made it out alive. Teaching is my “B”. It is a way for me to be directly involved and to preach what I know. Although it is not me, personally, dancing, it’s pretty darn close.

Back To (Ballerina) School

“I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one.”

September looms before us as students, young and old, head back to school. The nights are a bit more crisp, school sales are underway, and Halloween decorations have somehow crept onto store shelves. Bear with me, because this all makes me rather nostalgic. A truth has hit me (and I accept it willingly, but need to talk it out of course): this is the first year of my life since I was five years old that I will not be “going back to school”, so to speak. Obviously, for 17 of those years, I was truly attending an academic institution of some kind. However, the past five years of my life I have started each late August with a “first day of school” as well. “Ballerina school” – five years of company life.

IMG_0919_2
Just another day at school – happy ballerina – April 2015

I know I’m not the only one that treats the first day back for the company season as the fantastic fresh start that it is. Just as a student preps with a backpack full of fresh notebooks, their coolest outfit, and the yummiest lunch, a dancer preps their shoes, their best leo, and the lunch and snack that will fuel their long day back. It’s clean slate time. Although not all mistakes may have been forgotten, the purity of summer allows even dancers a chance to unwind and be real people. The possibilities are endless now, there are new faces and old friends, spirits are high, and the road that is the next year of your life is laid out before you.

I love this time of year. I thrive off the thrill of day one. Freshness (I’m convinced I have a low grade case of OCD), new beginnings, organization, and plans, plans, plans. But this year is not like the rest. There will be no first day of school for me (for those of you who haven’t heard). It is not ideal, and, honestly, it makes me sad. But it’s what’s happening. A year ago today I took a fall (Balanchine loved dancers who fell, by the way). It was obviously a stumbling point, and it has caused me to stumble again and again, but I won’t let it be an end point.

“What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy?”

I don’t know when I’ll have another opportunity to be on-stage…another opportunity to pour out joy and emotion and leave it there for the taking…but I know that the skepticism I have about the road ahead is okay and it’s natural. Sometimes this is where the true magic lies–in the unexpected.

I admit I am questioning things. Because I like to know what I’m doing…I like a good plan. Not knowing what I’m meant to do next is killing me. What if nothing else besides dancing makes me happy? (teaching dance makes me happy, but in an entirely different way-that’s a convo for another time…soon) What if there isn’t a replacement, a supplement for it? I’m afraid that I won’t be content with anything else…But I’m trying to figure it all out because that’s what I do. That’s me.

So to all my good friends who have started school – regular schooling or “ballerina school” – good luck. Put your best foot forward and plunge into the new.

To ballet company life – this isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.

IMG_2208
“the true magic lies-in the unexpected.” PC – Wendy Grande

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.

Just Like The Pros

“…the world of ballet [is much more] than just going to class and performing. It is a culture and a lifestyle.”

They say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” (Charles Caleb Colton) As we each create our own personal journey as dancers, it is only natural that habits and inspirations are gathered along the way. I can remember the extreme distraction, fear/utter respect, and curiosity I felt whenever I was around a professional dancer. I wanted to dance, walk, talk, dress, and altogether BE like them. Now, despite any qualms I may ever have about myself as a professional, I can “feel” the eyes that evaluate my movements as well.

There is much more to the world of ballet than just going to class and performing. It is a culture and a lifestyle. The fashion, hairstyles, cross training, eating habits, and even character traits of dancers are greatly affected by their profession.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” –Charles Caleb Colton

When I consider some of the important elements that construct my life as a dancer, it is safe to say that many of those details I “stole” from others or adapted as my own. Hairstyles (I’ve watched Sara Mearns’ instructional French twist video on YouTube, and I have perfected a braided hairstyle that I developed from Sarah Lamb), leotards (you better pair those two Yumi colors you like together first before someone else does, or you’re just going to look like a copycat), warmup apparel choices (everyone got on the dance overalls “train” at some point or has cut up a pair of tights to make a shrug; also, trash bag clothing is everything)…Ballet is really quite the fashion world. Even if you’re not on the cover of Pointe Magazine, someone may very well be eyeing your leo and thinking that if they had that very one they’d be a beautiful dancer too.

The world of dance can feel like a foreign place as you take your first steps into the professional world. Thankfully, there will always be opportunities to learn from one another and from the pros we admire above us. As we grow as artists, we gather information and assistance as needed from others – recommendations or personal touches that keep us in touch with our dance culture and that help us further our career or passion for ballet. After all, dance is a hard enough endeavor – the least we can do for one another is share some tricks of the trade.

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.

Back To Basics

“…strength and energy, experience, and understanding. To an extent, a more mature dancer has all these tools, but I definitely took for granted the continuous maintenance…required for ballet.”

A dancer’s ballet technique can undergo constant evolution. The criteria that produce an excellent dancer are by no means black and white after all. Mastery of a step or concept does not guarantee your “ownership” of that progress for life. Although all art forms and physical activities require practice and diligence, ballet requires a special brand of patience and supervision.

I’ve spent the past week standing alongside my students. Taking class and working on the basics-things I’ve done millions of times before, but things that still benefit me.  Although age and experience grant us a sense of muscle memory for many movements and also choreography, there is still room for error and regression (not to be depressing).

I remember that as a young student I assumed, to some degree, that as an older, more mature dancer, the pathway was “only up” from there-easier coordination, a broad dance vocabulary, muscle memory, infinite strength and energy, experience, and understanding. To an extent, a more mature dancer has all these tools, but I definitely took for granted the continuous maintenance (in truth, A GREATER AMOUNT of maintenance) required for ballet. Whether I am taking class on a daily basis or returning after a short hiatus, I find myself not only making adjustments and correcting errors, but also discovering new areas for improvement. In layman’s terms, never a dull moment. I hate to play the strict teacher card (but actually, I love it), but if you’re bored in (any level) class or not feeling challenged, you must not be working very hard.

The constant battle for the “it was perfect” (Black Swan) moment is what keeps a lot of us going isn’t it? For all the perfectionist, OCD types out there (like myself), ballet is an art form that constantly offers a challenge – things to fix, new approaches to investigate, new characters and emotions to explore. A world of perpetual art, whether you’re refining your technique or simply going back to the basics.

Center Stage – Every Girl’s Dream (?)

“…the film brings honor to the art of ballet and the strife of dancers of all ages, [but], logistically, there are some snags in the fabric of the happy ending that Jody Sawyer selects.”

The past few days for me have been more than eventful. There are no words to describe the happiness and pride that radiates from attending and supporting the wedding day of a dear friend. This past Wednesday I packed my bags, wrapped my Bed, Bath, & Beyond goodies for the bride and groom, hung my cornflower blue bridesmaid dress in the backseat of my car and set the GPS for New York. From Wednesday evening through the late hours of Sunday, there was time to reconnect with close friends and to begin new friendships too. Amidst the bachelorette festivities, introductions to the groom’s family and friends, and some good ol’ manicures of course, three of us bridesmaids set aside time for a movie. Two of us dancers, one not, we obviously chose the 2000 classic, Center Stage

Whenever I curl up to enjoy this movie, I never cease to be amused by its antics and also occasionally confused by its values. While the film brings honor to the art of ballet and the strife of dancers of all ages, logistically there are some snags in the fabric of the happy ending that Jody Sawyer selects.  While I truly enjoy every late 90’s jam of the soundtrack, the classic beating of the pointe shoes scene, and the pure beauty of the authentic artistry of Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel, my, perhaps hundredth, glance at the values within makes me retrospectively fear for my young self as a viewing audience.

As I hovered around a laptop this past week with my two friends, we laughed in amusement/shock as we watched Amanda Schull’s character develop—a young girl with clearly no appropriate concept of relationships as she entangles herself within the life of her “boyfriend”/choreographer (a million times quoted, because they literally have one passionate encounter and then never date or interact outside the studio again…come on Jody, you’re better than this…aren’t you?). Who can blame her for falling for his bad boy charm and flawless technique, but girl, this ain’t the time! You are on the brink of your career! There are bigger “fish to fry” for god-sake. While the doe-eyed lead’s obsession with this male figure makes for the perfect dance-meets-love mini-drama, it’s also a concerning snapshot of the dominance of male authoritative power within the dance world.

“While I truly enjoy every late 90’s jam of the soundtrack, the classic beating of the pointe shoes scene, and the pure beauty of…authentic artistry…my, perhaps hundredth, glance at the values within makes me retrospectively fear for my young self as a viewing audience.”

Curtains closed on the final performance, Jody dons her semi-formal attire to hear whether or not her fate includes ABC (the “American Ballet Company”). While her decision here is gutsy, I  actually find it rather terrifying. It makes for great movie content, but Jody again falls headfirst into the outstretched arms of Cooper Nielson, and accepts a (potentially non-existent) principal dancer role in a brand new company. No, no, no, no!! Where’s the contract? Where’s the funding?! Are there even other dancers?!! Jody asks zero questions, and dives right into the opportunity. As an uber-organized, planning obsessed, practical individual, I naturally struggle with this, but now with five years of professional experience and additional years of training under my belt, I can tell you that that is not the way to accept a job. It’s the perfect lack of detail to cue the happy ending, Mandy Moore track, and end credits, but if you’re going to survive as a “bunhead” out there please don’t take a page from Jody Sawyer’s book.

Don’t get me wrong, this will forever be one of my favorite dance movies-a film that brings dancers and non-dancers alike together under the guise of the ballet world and its complexities. However, if I stood near Jody at barre I’d have to snicker to myself a bit and wonder, “girl, what are you doing with your life?” After all…

“I am the best goddamn dancer in the American Ballet Academy. Who the hell are you?!”

That Oldie Feel

“How can ‘something so well practiced…start to slip out of reach after a few days away’?” 

How can I still be (fairly) young (not telling), yet feel so ancient, in terms of ballet? A mere couple days off from the ballet barre can lead to a challenge like no other. Turn out, epaulement, articulation of the most finite body parts-toes, fingers, length in the back of the neck-the list of intrinsic details is lengthy. It is phenomenal, and similarly terrifying, that something so well practiced since birth can start to slip out of reach after a few days away.

Now I’ve already previously emphasized the importance of taking class. But when you’re caught within the grasp of paying bills and indulging in all the delights of summertime, time in the studio can become an irregular occurrence. I cannot even begin to explain the guilt trip that weighs on me as my time away from the studio increases. And there’s the fear that mounts with the knowledge that my next class will be a difficult one…I’m definitely in “summer-mode”, but I have entered the studio at least weekly thank goodness. There’s nothing like the fresh and casual feel of summer class—new faces mixed with old friends, and a shared appreciation of the importance of taking class that can only be felt amongst a small and random mixed age class, lined up at the barre in the early evening of a summer night.

IMG_1983
Sky a la “summer-mode” (PC – Me)

“There’s one key thing you should do when you start feeling ‘ancient, in terms of ballet…’ “

My saving grace when I am “off-season [and] off kilter”, is and always will be some good ol’ fashioned stretching. Again, although I preach this, sometimes it is a task that slips away from me. I must give a shout out to my amazing mother, who makes a point of completing her ballet stretches (your traditional butterfly, front to back splits, middle/straddle splits, frog) at the beginning and end of each day. The value that comes from this is priceless.

Although I know of this great value, it can be so hard to embrace the habit of consistent daily stretching, especially at this time of year. I do reverently recognize that as I grow older in age as a dancer, the process of stretching will not only help to preserve me physically, but also help me to maintain myself as a ballet dancer. It’s really very simple when you think about it. It’s just like getting enough sleep, taking vitamins, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and following a healthy diet-it’s for you. You can do it, or you can break the routine, but I guarantee you’re going to feel amazing if you just take care of yourself.

IMG_1316
Stretch…stretch….and stretch some more (PCs – Elizabeth Grande, Stephanie Hammer, & Victor Smith, respectively)

IMG_0887.PNGIMG_0848.JPG