Monthly Archives: September 2013

Beluga Whale in a Tea Cup

Breaking out of a plateau is an ongoing challenge for dancers, especially those who are established. It can be more so when you live and work in a community where you are already known and respected. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, why would I learn that?  This is a self-limiting hurdle many have to get over on an ongoing basis.  It’s not so much about ego and thinking highly of one’s self.  It’s more about the energy required to push out of the soft and cozy comfort zone.

The best way for me to eliminate that seemingly elitist attitude is to remove myself from my community and be plunked in a different one with a  grander population of people in my field.  I remember the first time I travelled for dance training outside of my city.  I was so intimidated, thinking that I would be a minnow in an ocean of talent. However, once I took my self-limiting thinking away, I noticed that the talent in each class fit that bell-shaped curve of talent I had noticed in my home town.  15% are outstanding, 15% are not, 70% are average.  Because of the larger populous, there were more people in the outstanding category and thus were providing me with inspiration to better myself.

Traveling for dance is transformative and is one luxury of being part of a company or freelance dancer as you can be paid to travel to work on international projects or be able to stop off somewhere while on tour.  Travel in combination with dance opens up so many doors forcing growth to the open-hearted person.  One thing I love about dance is that it transcends cultural & verbal barriers. The exchange of information between bodies while dancing goes beyond the exchange of information through words.  The benefits last a life time in your dancing and personal life because the adventures bend your reality.

Over the years, my experiences on and off the stage have shaped me. Yes, there have been classes, teachers, and colleagues who have contributed hugely to my style, technique, and ability and I am so grateful for their contributions to my life. I believe that much of my depth as a performer comes from traveling to experience different cultures and the misadventures that came with those travels.  It allows for me to see new methods of expression through cultural mannerisms, folkloric dances, and even religious rituals that have been maintained through thousands of years.  Also, seeing the roots of where my dancing came from, gets me back to the basics, allowing me to rebuild my style with an enriched history.

An Artist’s Worth

The value of an artist seems to be misrepresented in North America.  It is often that artists are offered an opportunity to showcase themselves for no pay.  Most artists could really use the money more than the opportunity to showcase their talent.

I think that our communities (inside and outside of the arts) do not realize what goes into being an artist. If I am hired for a public performance for someone’s event, they typically want me to custom tailor that show for their event.  I love doing this for people – tell me what you want and I will give it to you and more.  What the people hiring artists do not realize is the time and cost that it takes to put the show together.  This involves studio rental time, the opportunity cost that I could be teaching while I am putting the show together, plus the cost of costumes, props, and music. There is far more to a show than me just showing up, being exotic in their eyes, and entertaining them.

I do find it amazing when other artists who hire others for their works, request that their collaborators and employed dancers work for nearly free.  An hourly wage should be set and it should depend on what is brought to the table.  The experience of working with someone is not adequate payment in itself most of the time.  There is opportunity cost for which I could be teaching, being paid to work with other artists, marketing myself, or producing a show.

I think hiring artists may forget where they came from. We all started somewhere. We all had to climb the ladder to get to where we are, all the while battling our doubting demons, other artists with similar talent who might work for less, and trying to stick our head above the crowd in order to get noticed by someone to get our big break.  Even once that big break is achieved, you can tumble back down the ladder a notch or ten without notice.

The artists life is a never ending battle even when working amongst artists who should know better and understand the struggle.  Ask for fair remuneration as an artist.  You have shed the blood, sweat, and a million tears to get to where you are today. You deserve to be valued even if it means training your community to do so.

The Ego has Landed

I have never felt envy. This makes me hard to threaten.  Although I try to have empathy to those who do feel threatened, I try to help them see potential rather than fear and see opportunities for growth.

There are so many blurred lines between the genders.  There is no longer a set roles in society for either gender. In the workforce, women are noticing that what have been dominantly male jobs in the past, don’t really look that hard and are leaping in. Many women look at it that if a man can do it, we certainly can and we’ll bring a flare of innovation with it because our brains think differently. Our liberation also breeds a can-do attitude which is changing the world and changing the balance of power between men and women.

Most men admittedly do not like to feel inferior.  The fact that women are coming into their power is very unsettling to many men. I think part of it was that they didn’t see it coming.  I can’t say that women really did either, but it seems like men are stepping aside rather than maintaining their ground.  Women are bulldozing through and marking their territory. In recent studies, it’s been shown that men take the accomplishments of others as a failure in themselves. It’s fascinating for someone who doesn’t feel envy because I see someone else’s accomplishments as inspiration for my own growth.

A talented female dancer with amazing street smarts, marketability, and training can be a threat to a talented male dancer who doesn’t have it. Rather than seeing the opportunity to grow and learn something that he didn’t know before, some men will take it as an opportunity to let a woman go so that he still remains superior in his circle.

So what should a woman do? Women are not afraid to stand up and declare the awesome things we can bring to a partnership (be it life, career, or dance) rather than dumbing our skill set down to not upset the male’s ego. We are not afraid to be who we are in life or dance.  This is a great thing as many women in the generations before us, couldn’t do this or chose not to. So how does this change the partner finding game for women?

A beautiful partner came into my life.  He was from a different realm of dance than I which made the potential so exciting.  We worked well together, got on personally, and dreamed some big dreams together. We were going to take over the world. It seemed the potential between us was endless and I was so excited that he had walked into my life when I was open to putting my soul into a partnership again.  He told me I was so perfect for him – I was talented, had the perfect body for the stage, had information he didn’t have, and was ready and able to travel to achieve our dreams. So why am I speaking in past-tense?

I forgot myself for a moment.  I forgot about the game involved in partnering, maybe I purposely forgot because I hate the game. I let my guard down and let him see everything that I brought to the table.  I brought more to the table than he did.  I think this was the problem.  I forgot my place in this delicate game of trying to find a dance partner.

I played his game wrong and I lost him over ego.  How ridiculous to throw that synergy and perfection away over ego.  What a waste.  When are men going to man up and instead of trying to maintain their power through games, try to up their own game to keep up with these amazing powerful women that they can be inspired by and learn so much from?  Do women still have to play the game of protecting delicate egos, or should we maintain our power as we are doing in so many other parts of our world and wait for the men to adjust to this new reality?

Mending a Broken Dance Heart

Accompanied by the passion that comes with dance, comes extremes of emotion.  My heart can be so inextricably linked to dance that anything that feels like a set back in dance can also feel like my heart is broken. It may be a failed audition, an injury, or loss of a partner.  Having so much invested in a passion can make the risks so much higher.

It also makes the rewards equally so. The elation of getting the part, living a perfect dance moment, or joining forces with a brilliant partner can carry me for days, weeks, or months on a high like no other.  The high can make me feel like I can do no wrong and that nothing will get in my way of achieving everything I have set forth to do.

The extremes of emotion can be taxing if set backs are lined up one after another.  Being a dancer typically draws a person who is plugged in with their emotions especially if it is someone who spends much time performing.  I am one such person and I need to understand those extremes of emotions to convey to the audience the story I am telling.

So what happens when I have one heart break after another after another? It can feel like it would be best to just walk away from the dance life and settle into something more stable be it a mainstream job, a vanilla relationship, or something that can be counted on as a constant.  The temptation is always there during the rough times to just walk away.  However, the ability to use those extremes of emotion to channel creativity, authenticity, and greater expression of the material keeps me in this game called dance.

Dance heals everything for me in the most exquisite way – even my broken dance heart so that I can go on to love again.

Mixing Pleasure with Business

Taking something you love so much and thinking it will make you happy as a career can be a pipe dream.  I’ve seen it many times.  Someone loves something and decides that they are going to make a life of that and end up resenting everything about that thing they loved when it was just done for the love of it.  Can you mix pleasure with business and still keep the pleasure in it?

I have many friends in the professional dance world who have actually grown to hate dancing after deciding to make a job of it.  Amongst athletes, there is always the dream of “making it.” For sports, it’s the olympics. For dance, it’s dancing at a professional level.  How do you make it and not lose your love of it?

I think part of the cross-over from love to hate in the dance world happens when you start to think of dancing as a requirement.  When you just do it as a hobby, you can go to class or not go to class.  You have a choice.  Once you are part of a company, going to rehearsal is no longer optional. You are being paid to be there, so you’d best be there.

So how do you keep the love alive when it is no longer such a freedom to dance? A shift in attitude has to happen.  I try to appreciate that I am fortunate to get to attend rehearsal or practice or perform.  This is part of my daily mantra, being thankful for the opportunity to make dance my life.  I have to remember that I may not get the opportunity to do this for the next twenty years and so I have to enjoy it every chance I get.  Yes, there are days that are harder, but I think having a hard dance day is better than having no dance day at all. My pleasure is my business.

Experiments in Connection

I was at rehearsal with a group of talented young women.  After two hours of grueling individual dancer work on various concepts, themes, and choreography, we did a small experiment on connection.  We paired up with a dancer we didn’t know. We modified what we had fallen in love with doing in our own bodies and looked at how we could work together to make it into a duet without losing ourselves. The result was so beautiful and surprising between each pairing.  Some pairs connected in their duet by physical touch in different parts of their work. Other connected by mirroring each other’s work.  Others chose to connect by affecting each other’s energy without touching and barely acknowledging each other in their pieces.  They all sound like such different concepts, but the connection was established so strongly between each pair, it was amazing to witness.

Another rehearsal was within a group of partner style dancers.  We connected not only with our partners, but between other couples as well.  We worked on affecting each other in similar ways as within the individual dancer rehearsal. There were pairs that connected with other pairs through physical touch. Other pairs connected with pairs through mirroring or interrupting. Others chose to affect each other’s energy without touching but invading other’s space by their presence.  Within the pairs, we affected each other’s expression of the movement by the difference in experience level, understanding of the movement, and physicality of the dancer.

Human connection is the universal appeal of dance.  As a dancer, I want to be moved. As an audience member, I want to be moved. In dance, I am always seeking a life changing experience. How beautiful it is that so many of these experiences can be happen in the context of a studio or theatre.  I feel so fortunate to be part of this amazing art form.

The Allure of Connection

There is something alluring about dance in the context of human connection.  Many in the partner dance realm experience this connection daily because of working with a partner.  Is this appealing because we have such fractured communities?  Is it because we go home at the end of the day to our houses and close the world out? Is it just that you have someone to rely on to build your career or just share a moment with?

Even without a permanent partner, there is still something I love so much about dancing framed in another’s arms in a social setting.  Maybe it’s my romantic side that is appealed to from old movies where the partners gaze longingly into each other’s eyes.  I think it is also the amazing conversation to be had through two bodies dancing together. In or out of a romantic relationship, I still am drawn to that human connection that happens in dance.

Within the context of partner dancing, for example waltz, rhumba, salsa, there is a set conversation that happens when these dances are first being learned.  Sometimes those bodily communications continue along the same path if two dancers don’t dance outside the box.  The man leads, the woman follows as has always been in this realm of dancing.  Even within this limited bodily conversation, human connection still happens at a deeper level than just physical touch.

Within the context of dancing where there is partnering, for example contemporary, modern, or ballet, the bodily conversation can become a lot more interesting because there is a much greater range that can happen.  My favourite is choreography development with a partner that is based on feeling the music to let the choreography happen.  The nice thing about this is that there can be more of an equal conversation because it is not all one partner leads, and the other partner follows.  Each partner can start and the other responds especially in more improvisational settings.  There doesn’t even have to be physical touch for the deep human connection to occur.

The allure of connecting with another person without saying a word has been part of the emotional appeal of dance throughout time.  We can tell a story to someone we never converse with by being a dancer on stage and them being an observer off stage.  Having a stranger come up after a performance to tell you that what you did spoke to them – there is nothing more amazing than that connection as you have marked each other for life.

The Chameleon

We all start off as specialists in something.  I guess we have to in order to get our technique straight.  Some of us cross-over into other styles or become a chameleon.  This can be for various reasons – boredom, lack of work, or falling in love with a style after seeing it performed.   The chameleon’s adventure can be difficult mentally and physically.  When you are outstanding at one style, it makes you feel vulnerable to admit you don’t know something and put yourself out there for failure in taking up another style.

Even just taking a class in another style can be torturous to the ego. It can make me feel like such a beginner and that I’ve lost my edge.  Often, I walk away from a new class realizing how much I don’t know.  I use this to get inspired to push myself to be more than just passable in that style.  The more I can draw from different styles and techniques, the more employable I am.  As a dancer though, there is always so much I don’t know which is part of what makes a career as a dancer so amazing.  There is always room for improvement.  Once I believe I know it all, I will stop growing, stagnate, and the end of my career will be imminent.

My chameleon adventure started unexpectedly.  I had attended a show a few weeks before it happened.  It was amazing, hard hitting, and appealed to a side of me that I didn’t know could be appealed to.  I had goose bumps during so many parts of it.  I knew the majority of the company was ex-professional or semi-professional ballet in background.  But they were amazing in how they used the technique they knew and broke the lines in so many ways to create this show.  I walked away wanting to be part of it.

I don’t know if it was manifestation or just pure luck, but I was asked to come to one of their company classes through a connection we mutually had in our dance community.  I remember showing up, thinking this was just a dance class. I was sitting on the floor warming up and all these beauties started walking in, one at a time.  I instantly recognized them from the show and realized this wasn’t some side company of the show that I had been invited to take class with – this was the company I had just seen on stage a few weeks back.

My inner voice started telling me to run, that I didn’t belong.  It was nerve wracking to say the least, especially since I didn’t have a ballet background.  I worshipped ballerinas, but was never going to be one.  Four months later, after attending my first class with the company, I was offered a spot on tour with them.  The look on my face obviously gave me away as they asked me if I needed what they said repeated.  This was the first time I felt like I had made it in a new genre aside from my original specialty.  8 years later, I haven’t looked back and continue to learn new styles and obtain work as a cross-over dancer.

Becoming a chameleon takes work, guts, and putting my ego aside.  The long-term benefits of it in my confidence, technique, and stage presence make the growing pains of it worth it. I make a point of taking at least one class outside my main genres every week.  What class will you step out of your comfort zone into this week?  Let your adventure begin!

Oh, Auditions

I used to get nervous, clammy, crampy, shaky, and downright nearly talk myself out of attending auditions (even if I was already in the room). Auditions were intimidating – I felt I was a fraud for putting myself out there. I would see these beautiful dancers who were perfectly done up.  Their hair coiffed just right.  Their makeup immaculate without even a wayward eyelash.  They had fashionable and flashy dancewear that accentuated all the right parts.  They encompassed everything I thought the dancer should be.  They were perfect. I would  look around the room and think, I just don’t belong here.

Then, the choreographer, director, or casting agent would come out and introduce himself or herself and my heart would start to race.  My brain would race too, calling me out that I wasn’t ever going to make it – that I was just dancing on luck to this point and eventually I would be found out.  There were so many times I thought about quietly sneaking out the audition doors and disappearing from the dance world.  My inner voice was not doing me any favours and sometimes I couldn’t get it to shut up!

Being a “mature dancer” now, my brain still goes through the same tug of war.  I have proven myself in the dance community, but there is still that doubt that echoes and it is sometimes hard to ignore.  Now I am going up against the next generation and I see the same fears resounding in them as they stand around trying to appear like they don’t care if they get the part or not.  They are just as worried about being imperfect and failing, but want to put up a wall so no one knows what thoughts are really rattling around in their head.  We all have the thoughts whether we admit.

The thing I’ve realized is that most choreographers and directors don’t want the perfect dancer.  A clone of everyone else is not going to make their production amazing, striking, or make the audience come away with a unique experience.  Many choreographers now want people who are different. Don’t get me wrong, the fundamentals still need to be present –  good technique, dancer’s body, and stage presence.  However, having your own flavour and nuance is what will get you that part. Don’t be afraid to be yourself in the audition.  That’s what will draw the choreographer’s attention above the 120 other beauties in the room.

Will it Stay a Man’s World?

As so many women are coming into their power all over the world, I wonder how this will affect the dance world? WIll males be seeking out these strong and powerful female dancers or will they prefer to seek out the more submissive females that will still allow them to rule in the partner world?

As a female dancer, I know I’m at a disadvantage to finding my perfect partner (compared to a male) because of how abundant my gender is in the dance world.  A strong male dancer gets the pick of the crop – it’s simply been a matter of supply and demand.  So what can we do as females to set ourselves apart when trying to find a male partner? Be better, more attractive, more technical?

I am a powerful person and I know what I want. I also know there is still a game to be played to attract and keep that ideal dance partner.  I am currently in the game to find my perfect partner.  Let’s see how it all plays out.  Will I have to withhold some of my strengths to attract that partner so as to not overpower him or do I use that strength to create synergy that will be beyond what that partner could have with anyone else? I believe that drive for synergy that is the unique factor I bring to the table.