Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ugly

As dancers, there is an expectation of beauty and perfection from ourselves, especially when we are first developing as dancers.  This is to be expected when we are new learning skills.  There has to be a level of mastery before we can start making things our own. I still have this expectation of myself when I start learning new moves.  Once my body understands how it should be executed to fit the criteria of perfection, that’s when the fun begins.  That’s when I work on the ugly.

Ugly is not an easy concept for dancers as we are so entrenched in the philosophy of beauty. There are days when I want to be beautiful and dance in a way that is accepted in my realm as such.  These are the days I am staying within my comfort zone. These are the days that I do not grow.  These are the days that are good for my ego.  These are also the days that are bad for my career because I am not stretching my mental limits.  It’s understandable to have to have beautiful days to keep confident. They have to be matched with days of discomfort as well though to have balance.  There is always a dichotomy to be able to have a whole person in balance.

Some of the most interesting choreographers, teachers, and coaches work with ugly. What I mean is they break from the accepted beauty of the dance.  Whether it is using different faces, broken lines, or unusual sequences of steps, it makes for new challenges for the body while discovering new movement.  One choreographer I worked with challenged me years ago with the concept of ugly.  It wasn’t labelled as such, but that’s how I think of it. There were days I wanted to cry because my boundaries were so stretched, I was so uncomfortable and self-conscious.  Even though she knew she was doing this to me, she kept pushing me anyway.

At the time, I was not that thankful.  There were days I dreaded going to rehearsal.  My stomach would be in knots just thinking about going. However, she shaped me more than any other dancer. Whenever I choreograph, I think to how she shattered my concept of beauty and use that to get outside my box of tricks. This allows me to create performances that are more beautiful and touching than if I stuck to pretty dancing.   It allows for a unique experience for the audience and they walk away with a memory that I helped imprint. Does it get any more satisfying than that?

Evolutionary Dance

The dance forms that have survived involve perfection. They do evolve over time, but the baser techniques remain and the dances have deep roots.  Among the long standing dances, there are many new dance forms that emerge from around the world based on people and music.  Many people latch onto the new dance forms and skip over the more rooted ones for many reasons.  To name a few, it can be easy to make a living because the playing field is level when a new dance emerges, there’s little history so little to learn, and often the rules can be made as you go because there are few leaders in the field to who you will be compared.

When it comes to more established dance forms, there is a steeper learning curve. There’s a history that should be learned and respected, typically a syllabus of steps, accepted technique, and studying the people who have made it already in the field. Those who have made it likely studied under tutelage of the master before them and they have studied with the masters before them creating a passing down of knowledge from generation to generation. A common theme in established dances is they demand perfection to be considered a dancer of note. Sometimes, these forms are deemed boring by the general public because the effort to achieve this ease of perfection falls on blind eyes. This is why companies are trying break out of the box to round out their audiences.  Classical ballet companies are providing a variety in their season including contemporary pieces, pieces to music that is more pop culture, and bringing back renowned pieces that are more popular. The dancing still is rooted in classical ballet, but it is evolved to be more accessible.

Taking something classical and breaking it into something different while maintaining the base technique is fascinating.  Contemporary and modern dance have been given much exposure through shows like So You Think You Can Dance and have whetted the appetite of the public to appreciate this form.  The roots tied to ballet and solid training are still there, but the evolution of these two forms have captivated the imagination of the general public.  These public exposures to dance culture have propelled our young dancers beyond where the same age would have been technique-wise a generation ago. It is amazing to watch the upcoming generation. They now have stars that they truly relate to and  can follow more easily because of social and mass media.  The choreographers who are helping grow this collective dance knowledge are getting the credit they are due because of the media exposure.

This is such an exciting time to be part of dance as it is evolving more quickly than ever in history. Be grateful that you get this experience and don’t take it for granted. Get involved with projects with emerging choreographers. Take opportunities to choreograph your own works when music inspires you. If you can think outside the box, you can become a leader in the changing dance landscape and leave you mark on this art. Your solid roots will help you get there – never forget from where your dancing today came and honour that!

Defining Sexy

I was talking to a friend the other day about my previous weekend.  I was telling her that I felt really sexy last weekend. She had not heard me say that about myself before and asked a few pointed questions to see what that meant to me.  I paused  for a second as she  caught me off guard.

We toss around these terms – sexy, hot, gorgeous – and we don’t ever really think about it. I thought back to last weekend and dug deep to see what I meant by saying I felt sexy. I had  not really thought about it before  in terms of communicating that feeling.  What I came up with  is that sexy is an internal feeling. Almost an elation. I know when I can control my body, I feel very attractive. When my body feels fit that makes me feel sexy. When I dance with someone that I feel connected to and with whom I can play with on the dance  floor,  that makes me feel sexy as well. It’s not about whether I would go home with them or not. It is when I feel powerful though.

After that weekend, some friends and acquaintances took it upon themselves, to contact me to let me know how sexy I looked.  I don’t think it was actually about what I was wearing, but what I was emitting.  Every step I took with the partners I danced with felt juicy, controlled, grounded, connected. The person I mainly danced with was a beautiful dancer with the same dance roots as I, someone  with whom I had always had chemistry  on the dance floor. We’ve been friends for a long time as well. Honestly, when I was dancing with him, there was no one else in the room. Those are the memorable dance moments for me – when I am so present. Presence also makes me feel sexy.

Take a moment and figure out what makes you feel sexy. Take away the clothes, the make-up, the fancy hair-do, and look inside you.  What about you do you bring out of yourself when you are having those moments of feeling sexy? Those are the qualities you can tap into when you dance certain roles, go out to uncomfortable situations, or to bring out your confidence in a difficult audition. Sexy is in all of us.  Tap into it and no one can hold you back.

Pain Push

Philosophies in disciplines across the board have changed over the generations due experience, research, and media reach.  The old adage of no pain no gain is still used in physical training settings and not necessarily in a tongue-in-each manner.  I still see it appear on Facebook, hear it mentioned between friends at the gym.  But is there really gain with pain?

I remember training as a kid, coaches and instructors would have us working even if we were injured.  We would be bandaged up, sometimes looking like the walking wounded, and carrying on through what we could with the crutch of our bodies being supported externally.  Looking back, I can not justify why I did that to myself.  Although it is difficult to justify, that training discipline was engrained in me at such an early age, that I catch myself  pushing to that point.  Fortunately, the body can heal.  Unfortunately, the body does not forget.

I am not advocating approaching your training where you stay in your comfort zone. I do think getting to the point of discomfort is how the body learns new things, builds new strength, and becomes better functioning. Discomfort is one thing and is a useful tool.  Learning to gauge when that discomfort is pain, that is another useful tool.  Many athletes, especially those who were high functioning athletes at a young age, often have different pain barometers and sensitivity than those who did a normal health maintenance level of activity.  Because elite athletes endured so much pain as kids, it became normal to experience it regularly.  Our ability to appear as functioning normally while in distressing pain was developed and it became part of our mental toughness.  However, as adults, this can actually be counter-productive to our athletic careers as it results in pushing things to the point where the pain is intolerable which often signals damage that will be difficult for the body to repair.

Up until my thirties, I got away with abusing my body.  Once I crossed that line into my thirties, it changed and progressively worsens with time. I have always had a team on my side throughout my career who have helped me to maintain my function.  It has included a physiotherapist, massage therapist, chiropractor, acupunturist, and naturopath.  I credit this team for keeping me at the athletic level that I am today.  I can still compete in auditions with those a decade and more my junior and outrun many of them too.  You are an athlete! Care for your body as it’s the only one you have. You want to be able to dance until you die, so invest in maintenance – it’s more than just for cars.

Opening Doors

When is the last time that you sat in a quiet place and just let yourself dream? I have been starting to do this regularly the last while (even if it’s just 30 seconds per day) and some interesting things have started to happen – opportunities have been coming to me at warp speed from places I never expected.  It’s actually starting to freak me out as anything I think I want, the door to the opportunity opens very shortly after.

I regularly see an acupuncturist and her partner for treatments which helps keep me balanced on so many levels.  I have never been in such a settled place in my life and I am truly thankful for their care. They are big believers of manifestation also referred to by many as the power of intention.  They tell me that everything good in my life right now is due to my power in this. Up until now, maybe for lack of observation of it, I have never really acknowledged this in my life. Throughout my life, I have been considered an overachiever.  My parents always told me that anything I set my mind to, I could do (even if it was scary for them to witness all that I could do).

Is that the power of intention?  Lately, I really am seeing it working and in unexpected ways.  I have been spending a lot of time dreaming which is a luxury for which I am grateful. My life until now has been hurried and bursting at the seams with work and activities. There has been time for dreaming and planning, but nothing like I have now. I always worked hard toward my goals and have had control over a lot because of the work I put into things. Lately, by sitting back and dreaming, I am achieving without so much work.  There are performance, partnering, and travel opportunities like I have never had before.   Maybe they were always there, but I was far too busy and distracted to notice. I am in a place now where I can take these opportunities. The issue is deciding which ones I can juggle without getting to the point of feel hurried and bursting at the seams again.

I should point out that major doors in my life have also closed shortly before all this opportunity came my way. Some of the doors, I had been so attached to and they have been suddenly taken out of my hands.  It has been gasp worthy to be honest that my life took this unexpected turn. I am thankful for these closures as all these opportunities are coming my way because of it.  The struggles have given way to the opportunities of which I had only dreamed possible in the past. So, take some time, think about what you want, put some feelers out there for what you want, and sit back and see what happens.  Maybe there is something to this manifestation thing of which I am just becoming aware?

Living Fast

Dancing is a dream. Dancing is exhilarating. All dancing aside, dancers can also have a really good time.

There are always parties to attend, events to participate in, people who will follow and worship you.  When first becoming known and once you are established, there are constant invitations coming at you and it can be difficult to say no.  For one thing, it is flattering to have people want to spend time with you and hang on your every word, especially if you weren’t a socialite to begin with. For another, a dancer’s budget for entertainment is not usually that large because of financial constraints. Having the opportunity to go out on someone else’s dime can be tempting.

All this is fun and exciting, but there are downsides to all these events.  All this partying typically is a trade off from sleep. I’ve witnessed many dancers get wrapped up in the party scene and have alcohol and drugs become part of their regular habit along with the late hours.  I’m not calling out the occasional drink, I’m referring more to binge drinking and elicit drugs. When we’re young, beautiful, and getting as much exercise as we do in our careers, it may not seem that important to take care of ourselves because  our bodies are pretty resistant to the chemicals  and sleep deprivation. The wear and tear are not that obvious.  However, as the years progress, the accumulation of damage becomes apparent.  You will notice it in the faces and bodies of the established dancers in your community.

Enjoy your fame, have a good time, and remember to prioritize yourself as well. Your body and talent are what’s enabling these opportunities. They are also your meal ticket, so protect the asset of your health so you too can have a long and amazing career.

Tiptoeing Across the Line

Can two dancers work together and be intimately involved? I see it in dance companies. I see it partnerships. I see it in other settings as well. So how do people balance work and romance and still maintain both sides healthily? Carefully!

As feeling beings and passionate dancers, sometimes it can be difficult to separate what we feel when we are dancing from what we feel in life especially in the romantic department. It starts as a working partnership typically, not a romantic partnership. Two people notice each other. They crush on each other. Then the conundrum starts. I like this guy/girl. I like the way that I feel around him/her. Is it just a dance crush or do I feel something real that could lead into something amazing? Do I cross the line? What happens if this all unravels on the romantic side? Will I be hooped on the working side? It is a tricky situation.

Once the line is crossed, a few scenarios may ensue. The first scenario is that the romantic and working relationships deepen. The two grow closer on and off the floor resulting in their performing becoming more believable because the feelings expressed on the stage are real. They grow stronger in everything together and often have a prosperous partnership on and off the stage. This is many a dancer’s dream, but it is the exception.

The second scenario is the romantic relationship deepens and the working relationship becomes awkward. This is usually when the relationship is kept a secret. It maybe secret because the couple comes from an incestuous community of dancers, they are afraid of rumours, are protecting other community member’s feelings, amongst many more. Because they like each other, they try to come across as just friends and downplay even their working relationship. This leads to hurt and resentment.  Sometimes a couple will recover, sometimes the couple will not.

The third scenario is that neither relationship deepens often because one partner is more into it than the other.  The more romantically involved partner feels so scorned when the other one pursues other romantic options. There is the rare time that the working relationship survives.  Often it is more like an atom bomb that levels both partners and the working relationship.  This is the deep seated fear of getting romantically involved with a partner because a dancer’s heart is usually so passionate that it is hurt easily and deeply.

If you are tempted to cross the line, I seriously suggest a discussion about the rules of engagement before the lines is crossed and both partners have to agree to them. How do we act in regular public and in dance public? If someone asks, do we acknowledge our romantic relationship? Can we separate work and romance when the time is appropriate for each? If things fall apart, how do we recover the working relationship? Jumping in blindly is usually disastrous. Most partner dancers have been through it and likely sworn they would never do it again. It can be done though. There are successful crossed lines out there though and the key is communication and clarity. Look both ways before you cross!

Take Care of that Sexy Body

I do not know if I am the only one who hears this comment from men as a flirtation.  I know it is a bit of joke.  As with many dancers, my body is my business card. The way it looks, the way it feels, the way it moves.  As such, it is something that I actually do have to take care of  – all flirting aside.

Anyone who spends as much time in front of a mirror analyzing their body  – it’s technique, esthetics, projection, and presentation – is bound to start noticing their physical flaws. Maybe it is cellulite, a little pouch of fat, or less than perfect proportions. Unfortunately, because we do look at ourselves with intensity when training, mental blocks about our body happen.  Add on fatigue, a failed relationship, or an uncertainty of an audition, and those flaws can play tricks with our brains. “Maybe if my body was more perfect, my life would be more perfect.” Really?

I took me 20 years to get over this and to realize my life and my body will never be perfect. And seriously, do I want it to be? Perfection is boring!  The imperfection of my life is what makes me interesting. I hear friends complaining that their friends have such perfect lives.  Do you really think their lives are that perfect? Yes, they have that Louis Vuitton purse, that 2 carat engagement ring on their finger,  that foreign sports car.  Do you not think they look at your life with envy as well?  You are living your dreams, putting yourself out there like they never will while they stay in their bubble of what society views as perfection.  Seriously boring! I have never wanted that.

Do I still have my bad days where the esthetics of my body bug me? For sure, I still have to try to overcome this everyday. It is difficult to be in an esthetic profession. I think most dancers have gone through a period of obsession with their flaws and likely some sort of eating disorder or emotional disorder went along with it. Everything can start to revolve around this body image. “That director didn’t like me because I was too fat. I would have got that partner if my hair was more beautiful.  I would be more successful if my face was more perfect”. Why do we do this to ourselves?

It can be so difficult to get out of this thinking especially in the earlier years of a dancer’s career. During this period we are young and more sensitive to every success and failure. We are spending much time in a studio working on our technique with coaches, choreographers, and teachers.  In those earlier years we are getting an abundance of feedback, often heard as criticism, which is crucial to our success.  It is not always seen that way and can start to make us doubt our abilities and the essence of ourself.

How do you get out of your head, stop criticizing your image, and just be in that sexy body and dance? Sometimes it takes a break – going out and dancing for fun, spending time with friends, flirting with beautiful people.  Sometimes it is closing the curtains on the mirrors in a studio and just enjoying being in the moment, feeling your body moving how gloriously it can. A little kindness to yourself on a bad day will pay huge dividends in the end.  Your ability to dance has much to do with your ability, more so than your body’s esthetics. Try to love what your body can do, rather than what it looks like.  Your mental attitude towards your body will always be a work in progress, so invest in loving it. You deserve it!

Your Inner Voice

As dancers, I think we intermittently become afraid that if we speak up, we will be punished. Is it because of the abundance of our kind trying to make it? Maybe. Maybe we stay silent to injustices because we are afraid we will be kicked to the curb and quickly be replaced. This is a reality in dance companies, partnerships, and educational facilities. There is a fine line that can be crossed when speaking up becomes a disrespect.

When your intuition, also known as your inner voice, is kicking and screaming that something is not right, we need to pay attention. We need to at least acknowledge it and try to see whether it has any merit or truth behind it. Sometimes it is related to previous situations that come up as deja vu and bring up a disturbing memory. Sometimes it is something to which attention needs to be paid.

Within dance companies, there are directors who do no care what the dancers have to say. If you speak up against an injustice, you can be let go. This is unfortunate but true. However, there are companies where there is a strong director, but the company members also can voice their opinions. Many of this type of company are the healthier ones that are around for longer and keep their dancers for longer as well. There definitely has to be someone in charge, but the best leaders are those who enable rather than dictate.

Within a partnership, I think there has to be the same type of leadership. One partner maybe a stronger leader (professionally or personally), but that balance of power still has to be there to enable both partners to be respected and no one gets abused. I have encountered many an abusive partner in my lifetime and I have ended up injured physically or emotionally because of not speaking up when my inner voice was concerned. A healthy partnership has to be healthy for both members and there has to be that balance of power.

I know many a man who does not want the balance of power to shift. They are still the minority of available dancers in the world, so they do unfortunately have more power in the relationship than they should. They can make or break their parter within the partner dancing realm. This can unfortunately make the female partner a bit submissive and maybe more mute than she should be. The best male partners I have had the pleasure to work with are worldly enough to know they have the power to make or break me, but also know enough to respect what I bring to the table and what they can learn from me as well as sharing their knowledge to enrich me at the same time.

I think it is time we set some boundaries with those who are leadership or power roles in the dance world. When they step out of line, it needs to be addressed. Without that, the working relationship can be soured so quickly and the relationship quickly fails or becomes abusive. We have a right as a human to be respected. Speak up when your inner voice tells you to. It’s there for a reason. Dance involves physical sacrifice, but doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice who you are and what you need to be successful.

Leaving Should Behind

I have been told many times that I seem to have lived multiple lives in this one that I am living right now. I have had many adventures, experienced many things, been through many trials, and come out the other side ready for more. I have also been told that I am an inspiration which makes me uncomfortable at times because I am just being me. I do not know how to be any other way.

I am often asked what my secret is. Part of it is that I have never felt like I was going to live a long life which seems to make people uncomfortable when I tell them that, but it is a truth I have known since I was little. Because of this, I try to take every opportunity that comes my way. When I travel, I do not go back to the same place twice as there are too many places I need to see and experience.  I try not to repeat any experience, so I am constantly exposed to new things.  This challenges me and stimulates growth.

I was not always this way though.  There were times when I was afraid to take opportunities because of how I was raised.  There was fear in my upbringing about the unknown.  The fact that I took on the career that I did was terrifying for my parents and I think they still hold their breath waiting for me to fail. I can empathize with their anxiety about my behaviour, but I have to let them be the fearful people that they are.  I choose not to be this way.

It has not all been success. There have been many trials throughout my life and I think that is the best part. I try to embrace them.  Any setback, I look at as an opportunity to beat it and come out better and stronger than I imagined possible.  Mind you, there have been many moments when I thought I would not make it, that this would be the situation that would be my undoing. My friends tend to watch me with apprehension as I think they think the same thing.

I have always been a risk taker and balked when people told me I could not or should not do something.  Imagine having that for a child! That is part of the secret to my success as well because I typically do not do what I “should”. I do not follow the path of other people because I do not see why I should.  In my career, I have been criticized for being outside the box, but have also been revered because of it. I have always been able to take a situation that look perilous and create a success out of it.

The message of all this is really to not limit yourself in your personal life, professional life, or any part of your life.  Why would you want to live a life that everyone else has? Life is short and you never know what your expiration date is going to be.  Take the opportunities that come your way. Life life by your rules and do not listen to the “shoulds” of your society. Failure will happen living this way, but there will always be that dichotomy in everything.  Run with your successes and use your failures as your springboard to greater things.