Monthly Archives: October 2013

Dance Reality

I want to talk about the reality of being a dancer. I hear up and coming dancers talk about “making it”. I have asked a few about what they think that means. Some heard it in a movie and assume that when it happens, they will just know. Some tell me it is when they get their first pay cheque for dancing. Some just do not know.

I do not know if I have really felt like I have made it. I know that I am known. I know that I am talented. I know that I am a good performer. I know that I get paid for the work I do. I know that people enjoy the art I create. Do I feel like I have made it? Not really.

I think acknowledging that I have made it would be an acknowledgement that I can let up. That I do not have to try so hard. That I can be a little less hard on myself. The reality is that if I did anything like that, someone younger and better looking would jump in my place. Maybe the day that I retire, I will look back and say, “yes, I made it.” At that point, I will be able to do all of the above. However, until that day, I don’t think feeling like I have made it will be beneficial.

The truth about a dance career – and this blog is meant to be about honesty and truth – is that dancing is hard. Throughout history, it has been hard. Today, it is hard. Everyday, it will be hard. I will always be in competition with myself and others. I will always have the threat of being eliminated by someone younger, more talented, more dedicated, more alluring. I will always be looking for the next project. I will always be trying to stay in shape. I will always be training. I will always be working towards being a better version of me than the day before. That will not and cannot change.

The upcoming generation of dancers and workers are in a different mind set than mine overall. I am not saying there are not exceptions, but there is a shift in the collective mindset. There is a sense of entitlement across all fields of work. There is a sense that the company owes them something for working – yes, you showed up to work and you got paid, that is what was owed and that debt is settled. In every field, you need to put in your dues, especially in dancing. The rare occasion of a virtuoso, he or she may get around some of the ladder climbing and due paying, but the majority will need to jump through hoops. You will need to prove your worth – just showing up is not going to be good enough.

Dance is a difficult career. I have to be mentally tough all the time. The minute I doubt myself, my dancing suffers as it changes my body. The moment I worry about the competition, I shrink in my physique.  The instance I get offended from a correction, my ability to grow and develop shuts down. There is a toughness that I and all dancers who have survived in the dance field have to develop. I have to work hard physically and mentally every day. I cannot take my eye off the prize of being better than I was a day,  week, month, year, or decade ago. I have to constantly strive for betterment otherwise I will be left in the dust. If you want to be a professional dancer, you need to dig deep and find that drive for yourself. Talent will get you so far. Hard work will get you a career.

Dance Draw

Stepping into the theatre . . . there is nothing like it. This is especially so if it is an older theatre. Imagine the genius those walls have witnessed? Oh, to be a fly on the wall over the years. Observing brilliant pieces of work evolve as performers put their own genius into it. If I could live in a theatre, I would.

The smell is fantastic especially if dance works are currently running. You can smell the sweat. The dance feet. The effort behind the productions. The energy from the high the performers achieved the night before.  The air is electric.

Every time I step into a theatre, be it to perform or observe, there is an excitement that rises inside of me. It brings back memories. Memories of shows I have seen. Memories of shows I have performed. Memories of creations I have dreamed. I can taste the creativity when I enter. I can feel my heart race faster. No other space makes me feel like that.

Dance studios have a similar affect on me. There is a distinct smell that comes with studios that are not brand new. The smell of dance shoes. The smell of human sweat. The smell of intensity. The smell of learning excitement. Whenever I have taken a break from the studio environment, I return to the front door with hesitation. What if I am not good enough anymore? The doubt whispers callously in my ear planting the seed of doubt. Then I open the door. The scent wafts over me. I know I am home. I know I belong.

This is my reward in dance. That sense of home. That sense of belonging. That internal knowing that this is what I am meant to do. I have been awarded this ability and I will not squander it. I refuse to let anything stand in my way. With that attitude, the obstacles part in my path, and I reach a higher consciousness in my dance and life. This is why I dance.

Body of Dance

Humans are visual. When we see something beautiful, we gravitate towards it. Dancers’ bodies are beautiful and they do draw attention. This is a compliment as the hard work we put in at the studio is stamped on our physique. The issue with our bodies being noticed is that we can put too much attention on it and turn it into an ugly thing in our brain.

It is common knowledge that dancers are prone to eating disorders. It is easy to understand why. We spend hours everyday in front of huge mirrors. Sometimes these mirrors are distorted which plays their own games with our minds. Even without the distortion, if you stare at something long enough, you can see it differently. You can start to pick it apart.

Mirrors aside, there is the pressure to be perfect. Some companies hire you on at a certain weight. It is written into the contract. You are expected to maintain that weight as part of your contract. If you breach the weight clause you can be fined. This may seem harsh, but if you have multiple expensive costumes being provided to you by the hiring company based on your hired measurements, you can understand why this exists.

Look at what we wear when we are in the studio. It is usually not baggy pants and a shirt. No, it’s typically figure revealing clothes that allow for examination of proper alignment and use of muscle groups. It comes with the territory. When you want movement to look amazing, you want to know what it looks like fundamentally. You want to know what it looks like free of distracting fabric and costumes. This allows for the best use of coaching time in the studio because there is no skirt hiding an improper alignment. The trained observer will catch everything and that is what you want.

I do hear often from people that I must be able to eat whatever I want because I dance so much or that I must be blessed with my figure. Seriously? I know few dancers who haven’t earned their physiques, especially past their 20s. We do have to watch our calories in versus calories out to maintain a healthy weight. We also have to watch the quality not just quantity of our food as without proper nutrition, acute and chronic injuries will not resolve.

Dancing Politely

In the dance world, there are politics to play. This is such in all aspects of our life whether we like it or not. Dance politics includes playing nice with those with whom  you want to work. It involves taking lessons from influential coaches. It takes speaking neutrally of those you do not like. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer is part of the politics as well.

Those involved in dance at any level, run up against egos. The teachers have to deal with the egos of the parents. The teachers have to deal with the egos of the studio owners. The studio owners contend with the egos of other studio owners. The dancers are up against the egos of the directors, coaches, and choreographers. All this is a lot to put up with when “[you] just came here to dance!”

Behold the life of a dancer in the professional realm. Dance is not an easy route in life. Being a great dancer is a small part of the game. There is much psychological warfare going on behind the scenes that those outside the field rarely see unless they happen to be privy to a conversation not intended for their ears. Dancers have to learn to tune out the political noise that surrounds them.

Dancers are hardy. They are athletes. They are actors. They are musicians. They are puppets. They are masterpieces. They are so many things wrapped into one in the physical realm. If you make it into the professional world for your physical dancing, you have only overcome a small hurdle. That may get your foot into the door to a blossoming career, but it will only get you so far.

Learning to play the game requires a thick hide. You have to learn to take a lot of insult and injury with a smile. You have to swallow your pride. You have to realize your place within the community. You will make mistakes and encounter set backs. This is what will help make you stronger and give you more fight. You do have to fight everyday to stay mentally tough and not give up. Giving up would be so much easier and there may be a gnawing voice reminding you of that constantly. Observe those around you and learn from their mistakes at the same time. Dance is a mine field that you will have to learn to dance through carefully. All said and done, the rewards each day while you tiptoe through will make it worthwhile if you can maintain your eye on the prize.

In Love and War

Within our communities, there are separations that occur. Certain people will stick together and ostracize others. I have observed this happen to other people. I have had it happen to myself as well. It is baffling what grown people will do to each other even when they are moving toward the same goal on a mutual project. This ostracization stems from fear and is something we can all work on.

Creative communities tend to be small. For this reason, you would think they would work together and support one another – financially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and creatively. People worldwide are trying to create more abundant lives. The best synonym for abundance that most can probably relate to is plentifulness. If you are able to believe that there is enough opportunity to go around, the in-fighting that happens in our artistic communities would likely cease. Make love not war, shall we?

I have my hands in many communities aside from the artistic. This has kept me grounded while still being able to dream. I do see war in most of the communities that I work within. I do believe this is because humans are afraid. We are bombarded by media that is negative – do you hear much other than fear mongering when you listen to the news? I stopped listening to it years ago because it always made my stomach turn. People are afraid that their local and global economies are going to crash. They are afraid that they will become ill. They are afraid that they will lose their life partners. They are afraid they will lose their family. People are afraid of a lot of things and it has stopped us from listening to the truths that we inherently know.

If you think about it, much of our life is out of our control. We can try to be healthy. We can try to be successful. We can try to protect ourselves from harm. I have given up on my protectionist ways as I am seeing that many of the things that happen to me happen no matter what I do. Other people’s actions are out of my hands. Thus, I have to keep moving forward no matter the obstacles that come my way. I also have had to take a step back, give up control, and see how things unfold naturally i.e. without meddling. Being in control of everyone and everything is exhausting and an illusion. It comes from fear. It comes from lack of understanding. It is a waste of energy because it is not something any of us will ever be.

I am not saying do not take responsibility for yourself and your actions. We all have our own set of standards and morals that we abide by. Sometimes these contracts with ourselves change over time as they start not working for us. However, it is okay to take a break. It is okay to live that day without worrying about the future. It is okay to break the regimented routine you need to feel normal.

I do believe that if people lived trying to control less in their lives, there would be less war. I see people going to war everyday in their life. They go to war with their co-workers. They go to war with their friends. They go to war with other artists. They go to war with themselves. It is time to take step back. Give yourself a day that you do not go to war. See what happens with your interactions with those in your community. You will likely see more opportunity and connection come your way when you put down your weapons and just be open. I wish everyone would try this as it would eliminate the separation that pushes good people out of our communities.

Sacrificial Bodies

Pain is something that has been on my mind lately. I have been hearing from other dancers past 30 that they are starting to feel pain. Is this part of us aging or is it part of us sacrificing our bodies carelessly?

I have  spent many hours dissecting my body in front of a mirror. It comes with the territory for many of us. It is not just about examining the unchangeable imperfections. It is also about trying to create beauty and innovation. This comes from trying to find new lines, new movements, new expressions. Will all this be worth it when I am older? Will I look back and say, “man, I am so glad I worked my body so hard when I was young as I can still feel the pain from it today”?

I was speaking with a friend who also has chronic pain. He is not a dancer, but has been dealing with it for two and a half years. He was at a support group for pain patients, many that have been in pain for decades. The support group was about goal setting. He said everybody in the room’s goals were the same – they want to be able to sleep as pain is keeping them from that. His goal was to not have fear anymore. I can relate to that as I do fear the physical pain will never go away. I do wonder if it will one day stop me from dancing. I try to not focus on this daily and to live each day like it is my last, pain and all.

If we start feeling pain when we are dancing, should we be stopping? It makes me wonder sometimes. I actually find the pain is often decreased when dancing. In those moments, I can feel the sinew moving, feeling, stretching. There is an endorphin rush that happens with movement. This is why athletes tend to be adrenaline junkies. If they were athletes from youth, they are used to having that high and continue trying to obtain it and sometimes not in the healthiest ways if it stretches past athletic creation. This is also part of the reason athletes can go into a depression when they are injured and cannot use their body to create this natural high.

I have had amazing therapists over the years who have kept me moving through injuries. I have also encountered therapists who tried to stop me from continuing when injured. The therapists who still encouraged training, be it modified, were athletes themselves. They understood the psychology of not wanting to take downtime so as not to lose ground in my athletic progression.

How do we strike that balance between pleasure and pain? It can be difficult as athletes as we often experience both simultaneously throughout our careers. Running causes that mixed message in our bodies as does weight training, pilates, even yoga. Are we pain and pleasure junkies?

Beauty Realized

I was recently asked why I dance in certain projects. The answer boiled down to more than that. It comes down to why I dance. I was a late starter for dance. I really started in university. For a girl, that is really late. Something happened the first time I took class. I felt beautiful. Something shifted in me and I felt beauty for the first time in my life. I had always been told that I was beautiful, but I never understood what that really meant. Dance made me understand my internal beauty.

Dance became an addiction quickly. Luckily, it was a healthy addiction. As I watched my classmates drink and drug every weekend, my weekends were spent dancing. They did not understand what the appeal was for me. I did. It was a break from the reality of school. I was always good at school because I understood how to play the game. I knew how to excel, stay disciplined, and make a short-term sacrifice for a long-term goal. With these skills I had and how devoted I was to school, I did need to get away from it as well. I needed to get out of my head. Getting into my body was the easiest way. It became an escape. Any chance I had to be present in my body, I took it.

I have had the fortune to be exposed to and study many forms of dance. I have not come across one that does not bring out that sense of beauty. Dancing alone is its own level of beauty, even if it is just dancing in my room. Dancing in a group brings beautiful souls together that become synchronized and affect each other. Dancing with a partner creates this conversation between souls. There is a high that happens when two bodies communicate without words. It can be electric and leave me reeling. Finding a partner that I can work with day in and day out with that same high being the result is a gift.

I am thankful for that opportunity to feel beauty everyday. There is nothing else in my life that allows this. Have you thought about and truly articulated what brings you to the floor? You might be surprised about what you discover when you dig deep for the answer.

Power Dance

Within a group of dancers, there will be a variety of personalities. There will be powerful personalities, there will be shy personalities. Some will take a lot of space, some will collapse on themselves. The variety is a beautiful thing to experience because this disparity in personalities is not often reflected on stage.

Within a rehearsal, you will see posturing happen between dancers. It can be more evident during an audition. Some dancers will use power dancing to get the attention of those for whom they are auditioning. They will take the choreography for the audition and tweak it to their strengths. If there is a chance to improvise, they will make themselves bigger, maybe keep dancing for longer than those they are auditioning with so the eye of the judges will be drawn to them. This can be disconcerting to the shyer dancers who dance because they love it. It can be threatening to the shyer dancers who cannot put themselves out there that way. It can help or hinder the power dancer’s chance of getting the part depending on the judge.

Powerful dancers can be amazing to work with because they may have astounding presence on stage. Within most performances, there will be someone to whom my eye is drawn. It is not always the same person to whom my companion’s eye is drawn. I tend to be drawn toward the dancers that have presence. Many people are drawn to dancers that have amazing technique. Presence wins over technique for my attention every time. I am not discounting technique and appreciate the beauty of it. It just does not draw me in like someone projecting their presence on stage.

I used to be a shy person myself. I would make myself small in social situations and I still catch myself doing it. It would surprise people that I was a professional dancer as I didn’t carry myself with the confidence they would expect. That is until they would see me on stage. Then it would make sense. Those who saw me on stage first, then met me after would have the same disparity of understanding about me. They were shocked at how “small” I was off stage compared to on stage. Often, I was told that I appeared four or five inches taller on stage than off. That’s the power of presence as a dancer.

Presence is something that can be learned. It is always nice if you naturally have it. However, we are not always blessed with all the tools to be a great performer. Learning to not look down is a starting point. Learning to be absolutely present when you are on stage is the biggest key. The most magical performances for me are when time slows down when I am on stage. That is when nothing else in my life matters but the music in my body.  That is the ultimate power.

New Reality Adaptation

In my lifetime, I have seen technology bound forward. An Atari and Commodore 64 were big deals when I was a kid. Then came the upgraded gamers like Nintendo and Sega. From there it snow balled into much higher tech games. Email was new when I was a kid too. It was fascinating to get mail without having to go through the post office. Then the world wide web started. Websites were not that pretty back then, but you could obtain some information from them.

Why am I talking about technology? It is a wonder to me how dependent we are. In rehearsals, when anyone gets a break, I see everyone grab their phones, disconnect from the people they were just working with, and indulge in the instant gratification of text, facebook, and the internet. It has changed the way we communicate and I feel we are losing this skill. Everyone wants to text or email instead of make a phone call that could save so much time. I admit I have fallen prey to the ease of electronic communication as well.

Youtube is it’s own problem – especially in the creative world. People post videos of creative works on youtube and that creative work is seen all over the world. That means that someone’s work can be broken down, played in slow motion, and duplicated by anyone who has access. The appeal of attending and paying for class is diminished because people post videos of the class or choreography they learned and others can take advantage of that without paying a cent. The appeal of seeing a live performance is diminished too. If someone has seen an artist’s performance on youtube, it can feel like a been there and done when seen live.

We need to give ourselves and the artists we admire respect by not abusing their craft through technology. If you attend a great class or performance and they have allowed video recording of it, respect your artists enough to not post it on youtube – do not post it especially if they have requested that you do not. Like you, they have put in hours honing their skills, developing the work that they present or teach. You and youtube give that work away. Artists are undervalued as it is. Do not add the problem.

Structuring Chaos

A dancer’s life can be seemingly unstructured. Most often it is not a 9-5 job like the majority of society. It can be different from one day to the next, week to week, month to month, and year to year. This can make it difficult to be mentally organized if you are not someone who is typically so inclined.

I am an organized person when it comes to head knowledge. I have been blessed with both an artistic and analytical side which renders me “balanced” by society’s views. I have to admit, my physical environment isn’t always as organized, but it is a flaw I have accepted. When I work in periods where I don’t have a daily project that I am working on, I do find it hard to not spin my wheels trying to figure out what I am going to do with my time today.

Lately, I have had to lay down the law with myself and create a structured schedule. It is still a work in progress, like my dancing, but I am proud I am working on it. There is an exorbitant level of chaos in my life these days. This involves making some life changing decisions that will affect my lifestyle, career, and personal life. I do not enter into these decisions lightly which is part of where my spinning wheels happen if I do not structure my day. I can think on an issue for hours on end without even realizing time has passed but it is mentally exhausting when it happens.

I am working on setting up a schedule that puts aside studying, teaching, and business time. While this is happening, I am also having to put into place intentions for moving forward in a new direction. A lot of my time is now in a hurry up and wait situation which I have not much patience. However, there is not much choice in the matter for me as many things in my life are not controllable, so I have to choose to be patient while that is happening. The stress of trying to be patient is being channeled into my work and I am trying to use it to motivate me until I get to the other side of all this.