Monthly Archives: October 2014

Pushing Through

Professional athletes have physical jobs. That means we are active a lot of our working day. This is an amazing part of the job. It keeps us in shape. When we are done at “the office” we don’t have to worry about hitting the gym.

The downside is making sure that we don’t burn ourselves out physically. It can be easy to say yes to every interesting project that is offered. It can be easy to want to keep pushing through even though our body is saying stop. The hard thing about being a dancer is that we have to usually keep working even if we are not feeling 100%. If you are sick and have to miss a day of learning choreography in a group setting, it can feel like letting the group down because you know you will be behind the next time a session is held. Sick can mean injury, physical ailment like the flu, or even just battling the need for a personal day.

There has to be leeway built into our schedules so that we have time to let our bodies recover from the joyous activity we put it through. This means building our performance, rehearsal, and teaching time into a schedule where we give ourselves recovery days. The normal workforce gets two days off in a row. This is important for a mental and physical break from the desk. For dancers, it is important for allowing healing time and catchup time in the non-work part of our life.

Sometimes we feel the need to be martyrs in our dance careers. Be the one who never lets anyone down. Who sacrifices for the greater good. This is all dandy until you have a physical breakdown as a result. The more experienced you are in your career, the more this is mandatory. An aging body (really anything past 25 years old) is going to need increased care to maintain a professional athletic career. Making choices of the types of choreography and partnering we do with students is important. At the end of the day, our body is our money maker and has to function well not just today, but for the foreseeable future.

It can be daunting when students ask for tricks that can put your body at risk. They may have seen you do amazing things with a professional partner and want to have you do the same with their body. The difference is that professional partners really take care of each other’s bodies because there is an unspoken rule to that effect. If one professional hurts another, there is huge guilt that goes with it because we know that any injury can be a career ender. Also, the professional partners are usually well educated in the tricks they do which reduces the injury risk.

Overall, athletes need to put their bodies first. When it asks for rest, give it rest. When it asks for a push, give it a push. Make sure that you are providing for your body in the most careful way possible – engineer your nutrition to support your activity level, engineer your schedule to allow for non-athletic time, engineer your social life to give you balance, engineer your students to allow for reduced injury risk. Your career will thank-you 🙂

A Woman’s Worth

I am interested to enroll in a gender studies course. The reason is that gender identity has come to significant light in my life. I am seeing myself in a different way. I am seeing myself not so much as a woman, but as a human being. I know that sounds strange, but there are a lot of limits put on each gender. I know more about those put on women than men, so that is where my main discussion will lay.

A beautiful friend recently got engaged and told me that she can’t believe someone wants to marry her. There is so much that I take issue with in that declaration. First of all, the idea of marriage does feel archaic to me. I see so many people enter into this contract with the concept that it won’t be their last. I guess the same is in jobs these days as well. In days of yore, you looked for one long-term job and stuck to it. The same went for relationships. That point aside, I see so many of my lady friends putting themselves on hold until someone wants to marry them. Why does life only begin once you snag a partner? I see these beautiful ladies treading the water of mediocrity rather than swimming across the ocean to their own happiness. Do we really need a partner to feel complete?

I don’t believe a partner is needed for completion. I don’t believe that life starts after marriage. I don’t believe that anyone should need another person to be happy in life. Those I see ending their marriages at this point in their life, I see them in shambles personally. They don’t know who they are anymore is a common declaration. Honestly, most of those people didn’t know who they were back then either.  I see them in counseling, trying to find fulfillment in empty ways – acquisition of possessions, seeking attention in any way that they can get it – and becoming more empty as the days pass.

Why do women think they need someone? Maybe it isn’t someone. Maybe it is external validation that they seek in a traditional way that ends up in marriage. I suppose someone getting down on one knee and promising to love you forever could be validating that I am okay. Admittedly, that did happen at one point in my life where I was feeling like it was time for me to grow up. I got caught up in fulfilling societal desires rather than my own and promised myself to someone who was not good for me and who would have murdered me if I had stayed.

I don’t think it was such a matter of needing validation, but feeling societal pressure which is amazing to me when I look back since there is little in me that ever feels the need to fulfill someone else’s expectations. I have spent the last year and a half digging deep to figure out the essence of me. What I thought was the essence of me was stripped away unexpectedly and I had to learn a lot about myself to be okay. All the work I have had to do to figure out who I really am would be insulting to myself if I based my whole okayness on someone else.

I look back on my life and parts of it don’t even seem to belong to me. I morphed into a significantly different person when I got sick. I barely recognize who I was before this. I don’t know how I found happiness in the big things when the big things got stripped away from me so suddenly. These days, the little things are what make me feel good. Knowing that I have somewhere to sleep – yes, that was questionable a few times during this journey. I could never have imagined what not knowing if whether I would have somewhere warm and safe to sleep. I don’t think I judged others in the situation, but I am more empathetic now than ever.

Putting your reliance in another rather than yourself as a woman truly feels diminishing. We are in an enlightened age when women are realizing that they can do everything on their own. I think that we should do it all on our own at least for a time. this gives us strength. It gives us the insight that should a partnership fall apart, we will be okay because we were before we entered it. I think it allows us to put our foot down when we need to set boundaries because we know that should we have to leave the partnership, it will not be the end of the world to supporting our basic needs.

Performing Butterflies

What happens when you are weeks away from going on stage? I have witnessed many reactions to this critical period. I see people lose confidence in their ability to dance. I see people crying in rehearsals. I see others get cocky that they are going to rock it. I see others become quiet and you can see them falling apart in silence.

Why do we get these reactions? It is not as though we didn’t see this moment coming. Most of us have been on stage many times before. Most of us know that the weeks before are going to be critical. During that critical time, maintaining a positive attitude and good relationship with those around us seems like common sense.

However, I see the opposite happen too often. I have seen directors pull a Jekyll and Hyde more often than you realize. Up until the weeks before, they were on board with your performance, encouraging you, trying to draw the best out of you. Then, the critical weeks hit and they are ready to behead everyone in their path. As a result, feelings get hurt, relationships get broken, and some people exit companies after the performance.

Part of the problem is ego. We start off preparing for a performance in a congratulatory manner. “Wow, I pick up the choreography so quickly”, “wow, my lines are amazing”, “wow, we all are so hot when we dance together.” It is good to acknowledge our strengths to build confidence early. It does not help our physicality though. We need to build stamina and strength early. What usually happens is we are congratulatory until the critical point before a performance and then all the negatives we have kept to ourself creep to the surface and change the flavour of the rehearsals. Then the stress begins.

If you have been through preparing for a performance, you know we should be critical from the beginning. We should be giving our all from day one. The reason is that we can do better by performance time if this is in place. Starting off strong means we will be stronger by the time we hit the stage. Starting to put in extra rehearsal hours once the critical point hits is helpful to a degree. It can also be fatiguing. If we put in the same or more hours at the beginning and maintain or reduce that towards the critical point when we are running our choreography over and over again, we will be stronger and better able to handle the stress when it hits. Our bodies will be in better shape and our minds will be better at picking up corrections because the choreography will already be in our bodies rather than just our minds still trying to remember and puppeteer our bodies.

The funny thing is, this happens every season in many companies. They have the track record to know better than to start off easy then ramp up at the end. It is natural to take the path of least resistance. As dancers though, we need the discipline to make it to the next level. This means disciplining ourselves to do it the hard way. Put in the hours to build stamina from day one. Run the choreography full out from the beginning even though there are only small sections to run. Dance it like you are performing it. If we all did this, by the time we hit the stage, we would in a better mental and physical space to rock it. Maybe this time around, we will remember to be disciplined all the way through. Maybe?

A Strange Stage Experience

The reason I like walking onto stage is not for the accolades or glory. It is an internal reason. When my foot first touches the stage, it is like everything starts moving at half speed. My senses are elevated. I can hear conversations in the crowd. I can feel every movement down to the bone in my body. I can feel the muscles in my partners’ bodies indirectly. Every sensation becomes laser focused.

I have never experienced and out-of-body experience and I think my stage experience is almost the inverse of it. It is like my heart takes over. This is where the sincerity of my expression comes from. I feel my heart remembers details of my life that my brain seems to have forgotten. If you ask me about details of relationships that happened seven years ago, I have difficulty pulling out that information to share. It’s not that I want to be guarded. It is more that the information seems to have left my brain. Yet, my body can remember the physical interactions that I can bring back for the stage. I can remember the emotions of the interactions. However, why those emotions were provoked are often not rememberable anymore unless it was exquisitely traumatic.

This past year, I cried before I went on stage for the first time ever. It was not that we had not adequately prepared for the piece. I think the preparation is what provoked the tears. It was as if the preparation had torn my heart open and the remembered trauma that inspired the piece was seeping into my veins. I could feel every physical strike. Every bone bend under his muscled force. Every blood vessel tear in his grip. Every poisonous word whisper in my ear. Every lie smear across my name.  It all came back and hit me as we waited in the curtains.

During that performance, I did not feel at my best. The torture my body had endured seemed to be back in my physical body during the performance. The displaced ribs. The purple hand prints on my arms. The terror memorized in my muscles. I flashed back to his evil eyes stalking me. I was stiff. I was traumatized.

Everyone wanted to talk about the emotion the piece had provoked in them and I had a hard time keeping it together. I felt exposed and vulnerable and my body ached in remembrance. I had no regret in putting this situation on the stage. I feel these situations being expressed in my art is important as it can communicate at a level that my words cannot. This is part of dividends and expense of this experience. My only hope when being this exposed is that it inspires strength in those who witness the story played out on stage and in their own lives.

Finding the New Me

Making the decision to lean into the discomfort of my changing situation changed me. I started to look at it as less of a war – me against my body – and more of a second chance at life. The life I had designed and living to that point was hard. It had hard boundaries. It had hard expectations. It had hard rules. It had hard consequences. I was in love with the challenge of the life I had designed, but there was little room for pleasure.

I was being given a second chance to design my life. A second chance to find pleasure in my life. Without being able to do everything I had before, I had no sense of worth. I was given a chance to find the meaning within myself rather than outside in the decorations I used to justify myself before. I was given a chance to find out who I was and who I could become. I had always been certain of a few things about myself. For one, I was strong. You could beat me, literally, and I would stand back up for more. You could torture me emotionally and I would get past it. You could abuse my trust and I would find a way to trust again.

I also knew that I was smart. I could absorb information at a rate that few could contend with. I could evaluate a situation in short time and be able to tell you the best way to navigate it – in business, life, and human interaction. I could control my body in ways that defied my body size. Smarts were something I had always been able to call upon.

I knew that I was honest. Someone that couldn’t get away with a lie or be able to stomach the idea of being deceptive. If someone asked me for my opinion on something, it was hard for me not to be blunt. Even if my opinion was one that did not put someone in a favourable light. Sometimes I wished I could sugar coat my opinions, but alas, I was not.

These three traits were on what I could start to build my life. They were my essence for as long as I could remember. I knew that there had to me more to me than this, but this was a starting point. I needed to build branches from these three seeds I was replanting. I needed to define meaning in a new way. I did not have the definition yet of who I was, but that would come.