Multitasking: is it taking over your dancing and life?!

Multitasking is our modern-day nature and pride.  Technology is continuously coming up with ways to make it easier to do anything and everything with such ease, and subsequently at the same time.  We can finally conquer all we desire each waking day because we have immediate access to the world at our fingertips (and now even our eyeballs:  google glass hitting Diane Von Furstenberg’s runway)!  False!  The readiness to multitask is a curse.  To multitask by definition reads, “Often used of humans in the same meaning it has for computers, to describe a person doing several things at once.”  Is this really something we want to do?  Do we want to operate the way a computer does?  Those machines burn out for crying out loud, and now, operating like them, so do we!  When we divide our attention we are not doing one thing well.  I find my ability to finish a blog post, get to class early to go over those moves I’ve been dying to perfect, choreograph that piece I’ve dreamt about starting, and pick up choreography swiftly all gets sucked away, minute by minute, to my quietly nagging iPhone that never lurks too far from my side.  And worse yet if it isn’t the technology itself, it’s my brain that now almost seems hard-wired to operate on over-drive mode, my mind constantly bobbing from thought to thought comparable to the Internet I have grown to adopt so openly.  My attention span and patience to sit with one idea sucks.  And why is “turning off” so damn hard?  When we dance, we strive for efficiency of movement – the only way we developpé our leg to our ear is if we only use the muscles we need and let the ones that prohibit our wishful concussion a back seat.  What is our potential for efficiency if we can streamline our thoughts, and release our “mental” hip flexors? …in the studio and in our lives?

Let’s start in the studio before we take on our lives, shall we?

How many times are we at barré and doing the combination with the teacher, except we don’t know what they are going to do?   We move our body and play mind-reader with someone we don’t know.  How effective is that?  Or worse yet, we move our hands when the exercise is ultimately done with our feet, while we also predict what this stranger will do.  Or my personal favorite – how often do we stretch our hamstrings, think about the rotation of our inner thighs from the exercise prior, concern ourselves about our weak something-or-other, our PT appointment that we have to run to directly after class, and contemplate our life’s purpose, all while our favorite teacher just gave a tendue combination?  Then we arrive in first position with our left hand on the barré and we think, “How the hell does this start?”  Maybe if we do one thing, say, listen and absorb the combination only, we will actually get the combo.  Then when we have a second later we can devote all our attention to stretching our hamstrings, rather than just hanging over a dead-leg thrown on a barré.  It is impossible to stretch effectively while  simultaneously learning movement.  It is impossible to get to PT while we do tendues.  It is stupid to concern ourselves with our next career move while we attempt mastery of our degaggé.  Our productiveness in all of these areas significantly improves if we absorb one piece of information at a time.

We  are looking at teacher without seeing teacher.  

Looking is not enough.  Seeing, focusing our undivided attention, brings our level of productivity up another notch.  We are capable of digesting a combination after seeing it demonstrated the first time.  Why not?  It’s just a series of tendues and pliés in a more or less predictable pattern that we’ve practiced for the majority of our lives.  The more we see, the quicker we absorb the combination.  Then when the teacher does it the second time (for those poor souls who were doing their to-do lists in their head the first time), we add a layer of artistry that takes our dancing to the next level.

Now when I play teacher, I do a similar version of this mental multitasking.  I can be teaching and simultaneously distracted with multiple thoughts.  “Is that how that next combination starts?  Is this musical selection working? Are people comprehending what I intended?”  This all takes me away from seeing each one of my dancers more clearly;  understanding how they work, what motivates them, what challenges them and why, what their tendencies are, and where their bodies hold tension.  Seeing my students allows me to help more on an individualized level.  One thought at a time brings forth a more articulate, perceptive, and productive teaching methodology.

And going a step further, when we learn choreography, how much do we see?   How much can we focus our attention on what is solely important at that moment to the person leading the room?  I can distract myself with thoughts of sequencing when I should take a step back and see that the choreographer isn’t stressing the exactness of steps at all.  Their vagueness shouldn’t be a source of frustration but something I can see, and then adopt in my learning style and subsequently my execution, to better suit the purpose before they give that correction.  And vice versa, as a choreographer, can we see how dancers learn the movement and guide them to see the integral essence being created?  If we distract our mind, there is no way we can possibly juggle this level of thought.  If we can’t get to this level of thought, we are missing out on a beautiful layer of depth and therefore, productivity and creativity.

Now if we aren’t already dying to get to this level of efficiency and attention in the studio, we should at least crave it to streamline our lives. Just think about how much time we can earn when we fully devote ourselves to work effectively on one thing at a time.   Limit distractions, delineate time to focus solely on one idea to see if it works before bouncing to the next one and not getting one solid thing accomplished.  We don’t need our iPhones, Gmail, or Facebook to write that term paper.   We can’t research new dance companies holding auditions and talk to our loved ones on the phone.  Odds are we yes them absent-mindedly or end up buying shoes off of Gilt instead.  It is virtually impossible to walk and text successfully.  I typically look like a drunkard.  It is more time efficient to stop, send a text, and then continue on walking.  Instead I insist on spilling my tea on myself, take about 5 blocks to text 3 words, and nearly break a toe while navigating uneven New York pavement.  (Hell, we need those toes!)  I can sit in front of the T.V. and eat dinner and then finish everything on my plate, and feel completely unsatisfied;  I didn’t taste my meal.  How many times do I have to re-read the same paragraph over and over again because I didn’t digest a lick of it?  I am too busy jumping thoughts, or paying attention to the cutie who just got on the bus.  How many times do I attempt to go to bed, but then keep checking my iPhone when the light goes off just to wake in the morning craving an extra half hour of sleep?  And for crying out loud, I don’t need my brain when I do the dishes.  Let’s turn off when we can so we can be refreshed when we do need our minds to work for us.

Let’s use technology when we need it and designate time for it, rather than have it cloud our lives at large.  We don’t need to respond to that text immediately.  Set new standards.  Spend time well, doing one thing at a time.  If we do one thing only, we feel more satisfaction from completing it whole-heartedly.  In turn, we gain some precious time to conquer those dreams that lie in our journals untouched.  We gain a deeper level of artistry.  We gain beautiful, unadulterated moments with our friends and lovers, granting them the full attention we all deserve.  Check out less and stay tuned-in more.   Look less and see more.   Kill mental and physical multitasking once and for all!!!

I attempted to check my iPhone 18 times while I wrote this.

I have 33 pending drafts of articles saved to my computer that I started to write but never finished.

How self-absorbed are you?

I grew up a selfish dancer.  Decades later, I remain one.  I loved mastering the dynamics, shape, and timing of my fabulous moves.  I could practice whenever, wherever I wanted, and I took complete advantage of that, be it under my desk at school, in the kitchen over a roast dinner, or in my friend’s yard while attempting a game of spud (best game ever, who’s with me?!).  Still today, spacing and the movement of a particular section as a whole with all the other dancers and with all its working parts, comes as a secondary layer.  Partnering and unique spacial arrangements are always harder for me to master, partially because it requires someone else to practice with me, but also because it requires me to think first about what movements would be ideal for another person, and for a group of dancers as a whole unit.  It requires thought about the bigger picture, not just myself.  And lord knows, I’m concerned with looking and feeling good under my spotlight.  Oh, wait, I’m sharing this down pool?  I had no idea!  Must have been too busy perfecting my battement into my fierce strut…my bad.

 

I recognize this obsession with mastery of my own body in space and time, but yoga this morning brought my tendency forward with a new verve.  Terrence Monte, one of my yogi faves at Pure Yoga, shed light on the necessity of others to achieve “success” or better put, enlightenment, aka peace, bliss, happiness – whatever you opt to call it.  You can’t be right.  You can’t win.  How do you work better thanks to the group?  Can you think of putting the group in front of yourself?  Can the dance take precedence, rather than just yourself within the work?  Or are you preoccupied solely with your dance moves over the vibe of fellow dance mates?  You can’t be in a relationship alone.  Being a good person and dancer, goes much beyond just taking care of yourself and fine tuning your temple.  You need others to get to a higher place, to move forward, to advance.  The advancements of a group are capable of so much more than you can possibly be capable of alone.  Two voices, minds, bodies, are more powerful than one.  

 

How can this translate and change the way you work in the studio and perform on stage?

 

Possibly, instead of adamantly expressing what the purpose of a certain section of a piece is, you take a second to hear what others have to say about it.  And not just let them speak and then shout your peace afterwards, neglecting their words entirely, but hearing them, taking them into honest consideration, and being open to adapt if it is for the best.  It’s not about not having an opinion.  It’s about honoring your opinion amongst others.  

 

What about focusing your energy on the flow of the piece?  Or recognizing the piece is only as good as its weakest link?  And let’s be honest, a piece isn’t going to translate unless every single soul on stage is working toward a common intention.  Maybe you help another dancer, rather than showing off to the choreographer that you have the steps and the person to your right doesn’t.

 

Even if it’s a solo, there’s an audience out there that is a larger part of what you bring forth as an artist.  What would happen if instead of having moments to yourself before you hit the stage, you put yourself in the position of your audience?  I often hit the stage, saying thanks and gratitude: that I have functioning legs, that I have this opportunity to experience these works, that I own these sensations for my own pleasure.  Self, self, and more self.  What does the audience want to see? What might they need to get out of a slump?  What sensations are they fiening for that perhaps they have difficulty reaching alone?  I’ll admit, before Parsons hits the stage, sometimes we dedicate the performance to someone who can’t be there, but after that initial moment of sending them my well-wishes and passionate intentions at our pre-show whoosh (think giant hand circle, that has now encompassed a beautifully silly set of rituals), I seldom find myself thinking of that person once the music gets blaring.  Instead, my thoughts can quickly get preoccupied with the tasks in front of me.  My entrance, my new lift with my new partner, the edit I can’t forget that we made at half hour, my nagging bladder, my costume, my loose bobby pin, my pre-set costume, my tendonitis, my toe split.  Sorry, but Pop-Pop watching down on me, wants to see the sight of selfless, unified perseverance and flight despite anything and everything.  He knows better.  And so does every single audience member.  

 

When you take the focus off of just yourself, and place it on your family in the wings, and your family in the rows of seats, you put dance in its larger frame-work and alleviate pressures off of just yourself.  

 

So, next time you dance, what can you do for someone else?  How is the new dancer amongst you feeling?  How can you help your partner?  How can you have compassion and support for your choreographer?  How can you change the mood in the studio?  How can you nourish those watching?  

 

May no dancer be left behind.  I vow to work collectively before I work on myself.  And my greedy, selfish-self is back, go figure;  I’m already grinning at the prospect of getting something rewarding in return.

 

Anxious Auditioning. Desperate Dating. Not a cute look.

I’ve spent over ten years in NYC which means two things for a young aspiring female artist.  Countless auditions, and countless dates – for better or worse, equally entertaining and heartbreaking.

And of course, hysteria ensues…

Pushy choreographers.  Pushy men.  Those too nice for their own good.  “Why didn’t I get the memo on what to wear!?”  Perfect on the outside, disaster on the inside.  Studios, and studio apartments alike, screaming for a dust buster.  “Where the hell is this audition?”  “Are we meeting at 8:30 tonight or what?”  Boho chic going to a downtown pub singing karaoke one night,  the next  swinging in heels and a fitted BCBG dining over fine wine.  Fitted lulus, downtown gauchos, and fishnets sporting red lipstick, all in one day.  Those you feel you need to endlessly impress, and it’s never enough.  “Can you shut up already so I can get in a word?”  “I came here to dance right, not just posé like a Roman statue?”  Those with lots of money and lack of integrity.  “You want me to wear what exactly?”  Those with no drive and means of supporting themselves, but honest intentions.  “$5 an hour for rehearsals?” I have my headshot.  I forgot my mints.  I’m lighthearted and laughing at my flubbed triple pirouette.  I’m mortified after pretending to be a champ, tasting sea urchin, and then nearly puking in my napkin while locking eyes over candlelight.  Horrific first impressions that surprise you beautifully.  Beautiful first impressions that disappoint.  People who fall off the face of the earth.  “Weren’t they going to call all of the final ten, and tell us either way?”  “No I didn’t pre-register but you should let me in anyway.”  “This is your uncle’s friend’s nephew, right?”  “How many more of these damn things do I need to endure?”  “Will this be the job that completes my career?”  “Could this be the man I’m meant to marry?”  Friends turned lovers, turned friends again.  Jobs had, left, and revisited.

Hidden in all the madness is me.  Auditioning and dating is a continuous experiment of trial and error to find the best fit, and more significantly, a means of understanding myself and being more honest about what it is I want out of my career and personal life.

Hosting the Parsons Dance audition and leading a mock audition at a Broadway Dance Center intensive gratefully placed me on the other side of the chopping block recently which exposed and surfaced all the emotions that typically come with it (not to mention recently snagging a handsome young gentleman putting an end to the ridiculous dating disasters!).  I watched as eagerness subtly crept in behind eyes, the tellers of so much truth.  Telling eyes and facial expressions either ooze confidence, or become stagnant with the stare of pleading for pleasing whomever is in the front of the room.  Yes, eagerness is beautiful.  It allows dancers to fight for challenging moments, pick up choreography faster, and get jumps up even higher.  However, it is in the eyes of a confident dancer where true performance lies.

Without a doubt, positive attention goes to the dancer who has the combination down pat.  It’s because their brain is quick enough to pick up material and make it their own instantly.  So if your brain is what’s slowing you down, sharpen your tool.  Get to class and force yourself into the first group.  Don’t rely on others to know the steps.  Test yourself.  Work on the combination until you do conquer it.  Attempt different strategies of learning – find counts as landmarks, grasp the over-arching movements or phrasing, utilize sounds and rhythms, name steps even if your inner dialogue sounds maddening.  (“Swirly arm thingy, leg fan big, quirky head roll, boom-kat”  You know, good ‘ole dancer lingo!)  Don’t stop striving to be your best self when looking for any kind of company, professional or personal.  Your best self will attract your best match.

And while working out your best stuff in front of company dancers and directors, staring at them makes it extreme awkward for those watching, not to mention it reads as a disconnect between intention and movement.  Why are you eyeballing the director when you should be concerning yourself with the dance moves?  Those in the front of the room have nothing to do with the cabriole you are doing center stage, and the blatant staring screams of immaturity and feening for the attention and approval of someone else.

While on a date, your expression varies honestly with what is being discussed and you give your attention to the person across from you rather than beading jaggedly from waiter, to the other girl on a date at the table over, to her beau, to the bus boy – at least let’s hope!  You focus on your lovely date with an attentive and generous intention without being obsessive or robotic.  How come our expressions when we dance can become static or horrifically “put on” when we wouldn’t ever consider it in “real life?”  Your eyes, your facial expressions, should be shifting with the way each step makes you feel.  The choreographer is not going to give you those intimate details, moment to moment, that is the job of an honest artist.  Honest art and honest dating please!

Desperation is never a cute look.  Quite frankly, it reeks.  We all know the tragic date where one person direly craves the other and will helplessly and meekly make themselves appear desirable under all circumstances.  Yes, that would be the datée who miraculously loves the same things you love, talks fondly of their well-adjusted parents and their picket fence, and doesn’t dislike a damn thing or hold an adamant opinion of their own.  Why is desperation in dance-form not as blatant?  Moments fly by and thoughts are on being desirable to the authority in the room.  You can draw positive attention to yourself without sacrificing you just to meet someone else’s expectations.  What about your expectations out of the job?  You are auditioning them too.  It is a two-way street.  Why not just be desirable by being entirely you.  What if you get the job, or the boyfriend, and then realize you two are horrible for each other because you weren’t acting like yourself until 4 months into the contract, or relationship?  Screw the authority in the room (yes, I said screw it….shameless shout out!!).  Why don’t you just act as yourself and see if they like you?  Will this job even make you happy?   You are not going to make or break yourself in an instant.  Your training has served you up until this point.  Your hirers, your date, either like what you have going on, or don’t.  So the moment of an audition is really just someone else going on a first date with you.  You’ve been doing your thang all along.  And your thang, either is or isn’t their shtick.

Someone confident with themselves, in their own skin, needs no reassurance.  Anyone can learn a kick-ass pas de bourée but no one is going to instruct how to feel while you do it, or how to have the look of piercing intensity and purpose.  Hands down, I would hire a learner, a good listener, with a zest, over an empty vessel who has down all the steps.

If it is meant to work out, it just will.  And it will be easy, because it will be a wonderful fit.  So don’t sweat how many auditions and dates you’ve been on.  Everyone’s story is different.  Don’t sweat an awkward response to what your family’s like, or one bobble out of a tour.  Not that you are attempting to get tongue-tied or travel on the wrong foot, but when it happens, it is not a deal breaker.  The one major deal breaker, for me, at an audition and on a date for that matter, is someone without confidence, without maturity, without generosity, without the ability to shift a mindset once a new set of ideas are gained, and without the ability to listen and truly hear.

And if within this honesty, you can manage to master the flawless, captivating yet “oh this fabulous person is just me-everyday-oh-so-chill vibe,” you may just have the man…and the dance.  (how’s that for your sappy ending?!)

Not getting the part you want have your tail-feather ruffled? Don’t despair!

Politics exist everywhere.  It doesn’t mean squat about your dancing.  Roles, supposedly deserved, come and go un-danced.  You work tirelessly and devote yourself fully, yet you watch in the wings while another beautiful dancer takes the lime light.  You aren’t envious of their dancing.  You are proud of the way you move and express yourself.  You hold your art in confidence, but the results of the moment don’t quantify your efforts.  And the only thing I mean here by results are the tangible advancements your choreographer grants you, weighed against your expectations.  Amazing results are inevitable when you put your best effort behind your actions.  You may work as hard as you deem possible, and it still may not result in you center stage.  The beautiful effort you put forth shines, but might not be exactly what a choreographer wants to highlight.  None of this is a reflection of your value, but man it can feel like it.  How do you not fall down the slippery slope of questioning your own dancing when the choreographer doing the choosing isn’t granting you the recognition you desire?  The challenge posed to you is to not need the recognition, and not feel less than or second-rate.  Done.  Let’s do this.  How?!

I start by saying the obvious.  I love dancing with Parsons Dance, and it is one of my dreams come true.  On the inside of that dream, I deal with not getting the roles I want – an issue that can lie at the heart of any job.  It is not that I don’t want my dear friend to have that celebrated experience on stage, but it’s the aching desire to feel value from my determination, to have an outsider put a pretty little A+ on my dancing – pathetic, but true.  I thank human nature.  Hell, as a kid all I wanted in my beautifully simple life was to have Mom and Dad tote me around, kiss me, and applaud ad nauseam at my perfected, extremely fancy leg kick with a twirl and split finish.  Now, at 28, my inner child still cries for attention and validation in moments of weakness.  My poor and pathetic ego wants to get what I want at all times, to be the star, regardless if that star role contains moves and a persona that is even uniquely me.  Despite if I know the choreography more intimately than another (again, an unnecessary and useless comparison), my commitments do not always lead me to performing the part.  Worse yet, when my ego get’s bruised, it affects my dancing.  It distracts me.  It forces half of my energy to go towards keeping my head afloat rather than all my energy being devoted to the movement.

A few months ago, having been in this respected company for 3.5 years, I found myself upset in the studio during rehearsal;  not as much from not getting a part, but for feeling misunderstood.  My inner child was crying, “Look at me! I know this dance! Don’t I look lovely! Don’t you love how I am rond de jambing my leg with such pizazz! What? Do you like her rond de jambe better?! Look how hard I’m working!”  Logic does not reign in my brain during times of frustration.  If it did, I would kindly and obviously remind myself, “Just because I know all the dance moves, it does not mean that those are the dance moves truly meant for me.”   Followed by, “You are a beautiful person and dancer, and not getting this role has nothing to do with the level of respect and value you hold, in the company and beyond.”   Instead, my clear judgement left the room, and my emotions whined and paraded around in my head and heart.  It took a walk outside during lunch, a chat with one of my beloved Parsons family members, and a severe push to get a sweat going, to leave the thoughts outside and thrive for the rest of the day.  It was the disconnect between my dedication and the “results” that brought about the treacherous slope of defeat which lead to the ultimate death trap of questioning – questioning my artistic value.

Oh god, I typed it and at the moment I wish I could erase it from my screen and soul simultaneously.  I want to demand that I never question my artistic merits.  I want to demand that I always hold my self in high value.  Yet there are trying moments, that muffle these well-known facts-of-self down to a muted scream in my gut.

My value as a person and artist is not a wavering subject.  Value can only be granted to myself, from myself, and is never anyone else’s responsibility to deliver to me.  

How often do you let decisions made from the choreographer in the front of the room influence how you feel about yourself?  The truth: sometimes your artistic and personal sensibilities are not necessarily in alignment with the preferences of the choreographer and their work of the moment, despite their appreciation and respect of you.  There will be rehearsals when you feel a complete connection between yourself and your choreographer, and there will be times when you fight to get that deep connection back.  Dancing for a company is a business too.   A business full of people who have varying sensibilities of what they like and desire.  A business filled with pleasing not only individual dancers, but board members, booking agents, executive directors, the list goes on.  You have no idea why a choreographer makes the decisions they do.  Choreographers are people.  People who are predisposed to particular people’s movement styles based on their own history, mindset, and tendencies. It may be their preference, it may be someone else’s, it may be random.  Again, someone else’s decisions cannot effect your self-worth.  Not just that it shouldn’t.  It actually is completely unrelated.  

To unruffle my feathers in times of distress, hopping in the studio, taking an open class I know I enjoy, or even trying a new class – dancing material I will never perform after those 2 hours – has from time to time, been a lovely reminder of why I do what I do.  There is nothing political or expected about open class.  I can go in, dance my heart out, and not give a crap if anyone else in the room is going to like me, I mean, my dancing (a shockingly, occasionally hard thing to separate).  The frightening bottom line about taking class for you alone?  You’ll probably dance better, with complete abandon, as you always should, and get recognized for it because you could care less for the recognition.  Politics in the studio of a job we work for can make us lose that freedom.  So get it back somewhere else.  Refresh your memory of the feeling.  Get your confidence boost and lighthearted spirit back and then kick ass back at “work.”

You are the one thing you can control and maintain.  Only you, yourself, can continuously cultivate a sense of home, comfort, sanity, and integrity.  When others rock your boat, break your ship, they’ve cracked into your vulnerabilities.  They are not welcome.  Working hard and having your passion lead all your intentions will never set you astray.  You will see results.  You will not care about roles or jobs gained or lost.  You will become a better artist, person, and technician.  More importantly, your confidence and self-value will be unwavering and take you places you could never conceive possible, and most gloriously, they will be uniquely and entirely yours.

Modern Dancers – Rock Stars Overseas. Awesome, but why? America, step it up.

Believe it or not, Parsons Dance and our lovely troupe of performers are a just a wee-notch below Peyton Manning and even C-lister Ginger Spice on the belt of public notoriety.  Shocking, I know.  However, if you take us to Italy or South Korea, our celebrity status gets a lot hotter.  Now why is it modern dance can have more mass popularity overseas while here in America, the average person may not even have a clear depiction of what modern dance encompasses?  What is it about the people and their culture that makes screaming “bis!” (encore in Italian) and jumping to their feet after an already extensive company bow completely normal?  I have some speculations on this reasoning; nothing is supported with scientific proof or even historic research just incase I fool you into thinking my credentials read, “dancer and anthropologist.”  For extensive research purposes (and to bring me back to my college years), I’m choosing Italy and South Korea in comparison against the States because the European and Asian lifestyles are so different from one another, yet when Parsons Dance travels to both, the beautiful response we receive from the people is nothing but warm, enthusiastic, and most significantly, bountiful and a plenty. 

 

 

 

First unproved theory posed by moi:  America, where you can go from rags to riches, is revered as the idolized “other;”  add in you’re from New York, and it brings another level of mystification and admiration.

 

Simplistic enough, what adds to the appeal of Parsons Dance while traveling overseas is, we are a modern dance company from America.  The curiosity and infatuation with people who are different than ourselves predates history.  Furthermore, the American fantasy of being able to freely cultivate your own success and dream as big as you dare still lives (despite opposing connotations of arrogance and greed, to name just two).  We are from a place resident Italian or Koreans merely visit, see in movies, scope out via the internet, or read in books.  We are the other to them.  As they are for us.  International tours pack a lot more excitement than those to the midwest because of the differences in culture we experience first hand.

 

Escalating the American bravado, New York City is one of the most influential and acclaimed cities within the States, let alone the world (“mmwhaahaha”).  New York City, for dance, is the mecca in the field and when Parsons Dance travels overseas, people associate our American, New York company as the cream of the crop.  (And we have fingers crossed and toes pointed our A-game hits the mark.)  The United States and New York City allegiance insinuates ambition and drive.  We put our noses to the grindstone and get the work done because of the deep-seeded adage, “If you put in the time, you will reap the rewards of success.”

 

When I talk to people from other countries and tell them, “I am here from New York,” I see their face light up and their eyes widen as they respond with an enthusiastic “wow”  – welcoming enthusiasm and generally a handful of questions, not necessarily originating from a place of envy, but wonderment at the least.  Going to the corner café for a morning espresso in Italy, the baristi would love to hear details of New York life to get a sense of what it actually was like from the mouth of a native and poke fun at a good old New York accent.  Additionally, in a matter of 10 minutes of shopping in the old village of Seoul, myself and fellow dancer Elena got stopped by two different and unrelated groups of high school students with their iPhones zoomed in on our faces to eagerly record our responses to questions on the Korean life, curious to hear the outsiders’ perspective.  

 

So bottom-line, when a New York based dance company comes all the way to Italy or Korea we have their attention, and people come out to the theatre with pleasure to see the presumed top notch athleticism and artistry.  

 

 

 

Second fat assumption:  America applauds independence which subtly lessens our connections with others and our value of in-person connections.  Cultures that value in-person connections are more willing to see a performance of live in-person connections, aka dance.

 

Connections and in-person relationships with one another resonates subconsciously to our value of live art.  Seeing people perform in front of us carries more intimacy and a realness nonexistent through a square screen of an iPad.   A society that places predominance on community and spending quality face-time with one another fosters a people more readily interested in seeing and appreciating live performance.  How we relate to one another is established primarily through our cultural structures of family and the workplace.  

 

Here in the States we love our independence.  Living on our own and providing for ourselves is a marker of true adulthood.  Think of the unnecessary stigma associated to living with our parents in our young adult life.  I’m reminded of my parents commenting to me after college, “Chrissy, you can always come back home while you get yourself a bit more stable.”  And my thoughts were a screaming, “Heck no!”  I took pride in immediately living away from my family as a young and fully functioning (most of the time…) adult (most of the time…).  The thought of moving back home after college made my skin crawl, and not because my family was complicated or challenging in ways beyond normal (they were, and are, complicated and challenging in too many ways to count for sure, but all in all, more than lovely), but because I was determined to be successful on my own.  

 

This dire need for proved independence continues to ooze into the U.S. work culture.  It is not a we driven work environment as much as it is an I.  Our stereotypical work environment revolves around declaring solo ideas in cubicles without the help from the multitude of brainpower sitting directly to our right and left.  We get to the workplace before everyone else and leave after everyone else to prove our independent worth and dedication to our company and hopefully reap recognition and monetary perks.  In terms of seeing live performance, this translates into, “What am I going to get from this?” alongside a subtle hesitation to take the extra effort to see others perform.  Workers spent from long work days want to head home and collapse into any activity with pea-sized brain power.  A dance performance is subjective and unpredictable; you may or may not be amazed, and you may or may not like what you see – not exactly a quantifiable sporting event.  However, our altering work culture incorporating group brainstorming and adding creativity to a sterile work environment are aiding in a shift towards the collective and hopefully will alter our view and attendance of the arts. 

 

In Italy, the importance of family trumps, and this ideal is so prevalent when we think of the country, it is what we envision – generations of one family sitting around a huge bowl of pasta Grandma made, yelling across the table at one another.  Adult children often live with their families until they are married into one of their own, and meals are savored together.  When in Italy, nearly every night we found ourselves dining late, meeting with restaurant owners, and wining with patrons of the company as if we were family.  I almost forgot work existed there in the most beautiful of ways possible.  I couldn’t even get a panini at 2pm if I was hungry because everyone decided to go home to eat, relax, and take a nap.  I’ve never been as hungry in my life as when I was roaming the streets of Tempio Pausania in Sardegna, without a lick of food in my belly left over from the night before, when we landed there in the middle of the afternoon and got lost in the desolate streets for an hour and a half searching light-headily to any food oasis.  I was convinced no one lived in the town and the show was going to have three people in the audience.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Once siesta ended and night time ensued, the streets became alive and the house was full.  They took time to eat together and then enjoyed the social company of each other at night.

 

Additionally in reflection of Italians’ work demeanor, it might have been easier to count the times when the stage was prepared for us at the appropriate time, and I don’t believe we started a show on time even once.  I’m reminded of Padova, one of my favorite Italian performances, held in an arena known to host music concerts and the like.  The audience was having a grand old time eating, drinking, and socializing before the show.  While we warmed up on stage behind the curtain, they were beautifully boisterous and we probably started at least a half hour late;  I thought this is how going to the theatre should be in the States – an enjoyable unstuffy event.  They were the most incredibly receptive and enthusiastic audience and it brought an energy I’ll always remember.  The relaxed and tight-knitted Italian culture makes for an environment where people place pride on showing up to social events, and enjoying art is an expected way of life rather than something weaseled into a busy schedule.

 

Similarly but with a completely different vibe, Koreans frown upon living alone and most people live with their families until they are married.  One of our Korean presenters expressed she typically hides the fact she lives alone, away from her family – just a tad different than the American prideful independence we hold so near and dear.  In terms of work, when rehearsing and performing in the theatre, it operated like clockwork;  the stage crew was dutifully efficient, timely, and went above and beyond.  One of the workers for the theatre would meet us in the lobby of our hotel to take us to the theatre a few blocks away even though we all knew where it was located.  Our American reaction was, “What a waste of their time, we’ll just get there on our own in time for call.”  The main difference existent in Korean culture is not so much their willingness to work, but the idea of work as a group activity.  Where as we think of accomplishing tasks solo in the workplace to get the notoriety we deserve, their idea of work revolves around the group as a whole.  One day we were all late to a call time because of a miscalculated trip home from one neighborhood in Seoul to the business district where the LG Center was located.  We notified our stage manager, Becca, as soon as we all realized we were stuck and had no way of being there without the luxury of an additional 20 minutes.  Being late is unacceptable, but this was an innocent mistake, we were all together, and our call time allotted this wiggle room without jeopardizing the show in any way.  We got a supreme scolding, had to mop our own stage before the show, and personally apologize to the crew.  (Wowza!)  They were there on time to let us in and we were disrespectful.  The Korean concept of work revolves around the dependance and productivity of the group.  Presumptuous at it may be, group-think culture condones appreciation for attending group-think activities and watching group-think art.

  

 

 

Final hypothesis you are free to deem unsubstantiated:  Our view of our bodies in America is held more in a place of modesty and taboo.

 

Here in our Protestant-raised country, unfortunately enough, even speaking of specific body parts, the sight of a woman breast feeding, or an act of changing clothes around others can bring people discomfort (outside our twisted alternative dance universe where we basically greet one another in the morning with naked hugs).   I honestly get a finger shook at me if I decide to change into my pjs in the middle of my living room back at my parents’ house.  More significantly, when a dancer is objectified on stage, it’s their exposed body under complete engrossed focus.  It’s no wonder why dance has the power to unleash uncomfortable giggles from youth and gasps of disbelief from adults.  Cultural norms of how the body is treated, with what respect, and the connotations specific parts of our bodies hold, plays an enormous role on how each culture treats dancing, the art form where the body is the primary vessel of expression.  

 

Italy.  Ahhhh, the fantastical capital of love and romance.  And yes, how romantic relationships are treated ties directly with how others’ bodies are valued.  I found Italian men particularly romantic and openly passionate;  perhaps to a slight fault considering my woeful experiences.  I’m having a semi-frightening recollection of a young Italian man who I met in Genova and shared a drink or two with over aperitivo.   Each of us comprehended about 5 sentences from one another max.  He then decided on his own accord to drive 2 hours to Cumo, our next city on tour, and show up backstage at our theatre after our tech rehearsal for a rendezvous.  Try getting rid of someone when you don’t speak the language.  It is oddly challenging.  (Picture me locked in my dressing room as he was slowly creeping up the stairs calling my name….not charming!)  Regardless, if I was interested, and didn’t think he was out of his mind, what a beautifully romantic gesture? (eek!)  After chatting further with company Italian, Elena, I learned how Italians comprehend, converse, and embody intimacy and indulging in a partners’ body (yes, I just jumped from romantic gestures to home-base….keeping it HS people).  Sex is not something people toss around casually for fun, or for points amongst friends.  When sex happens between two people, it is a big deal and marks a high level of intimacy.  Even men, don’t voluntarily boast about their sexual conquests; it remains cherished, personal, and told only in complete confidence.  Do I even need to go into how Americans view sex?  Romance is not exactly our country’s middle name.  Point being, Italians have a particular respect for one another and respect for the intimacy of the body.

 

Now while the mass conception of Korea doesn’t carry the same public comfortability with the body as Italy, my trip to a Korean bathhouse for a much needed spa day was proof enough to me that their culture was a far cry from our American values.  Melissa, Elena, and I placed all our clothes and belongings into a locker – yes all – and walked to a room filled with numerous different tubs of varying degrees, showers, saunas and steam rooms.  Friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters sat on stools scrubbing one another down with bath mitts, loofas and their own soaps with the casual heir of, “This is what I do all the time.”  They only peeked up for a moment to notice our unique American frames.  Gratefully we met this lovely Korean woman, who was a lawyer from New York (go figure!), who helped us communicate with some women who did full body scrubs.  If we were all the way in Korea, in an authentic bathhouse, we were determined to get the full experience.  Next thing I knew, I was getting a full aggressive scrub down by a Korean woman wearing just panties, on a table in my birthday suit, laying next to my girlfriends experiencing the same.  My arms and legs were tossed around and maneuvered like a rag doll as she scrubbed me in places I’ve never scrubbed myself.  After the ruff and tough exfoliation session, she proceeded to suds me up with a bar of soap, give me a little massage on my scalp and back, lotion my face, and just when I was so relaxed (and obviously clean) that my mind surrendered into complete nothingness, she took a bucket of water and dumped it on me as if it were gatorade and I was the coach of the winning Super Bowl team.  The whole experience was nothing short of amazing and Melissa, Elena, and I claimed to need a full scrub down at least once a week.  Never in my life has my skin been so smooth.  The reality – I bought a new loofa when I got home and still attempt to scrub the crap out of myself and quite frankly, often get too exhausted to do it with the vigor of a Korean woman.  (That is no easy work!)  Unfortunately, when I think of bathhouses here in New York, a slightly skeezed-out-ick feeling shivers through me.  Here they are perceived as slightly dicy and slimy while there it was beautifully open, comfortable, and perfectly routine.  

 

Bottom-line, I couldn’t fathom going to a bathhouse with my mother and as much as I would love for sexual relationships to be divinely coveted, there is an causal openness that exists shamelessly in America.  These possibly pitiful examples serve as legitimate proof of the cultural differences in the perception of the body.  These perspectives have no choice but to drastically influence how dance is viewed and how willingly someone from the mass public is to purchase a ticket to see an evening of the moving body.  

 

 

  

Now as much as I want to leave you with the lovely image of hot, secretive Italian romances and Korean women rubbing one another down in the nude, I have some culminating thoughts.  My apologies… 

 

It’s all well and good to take account of cultural differences, but moreover, travel opens our eyes to a new normal and is an opportunity to make choices about what we choose to value.  I am a product of New York and American sensibilities, but this is merely one way to live and sense the world.  When we travel and expose ourselves to other ways of operating in our lives, they can become a piece of us that we wear no matter where we lay our home.  So if we take some value in these European and Asian ways, individually we can uphold a glimmer of their ways in ourselves.  We can take interest in people from other places and learn that maybe their way of doing something is worth listening to and adopting.  We can put our selfish infatuation with who’s potentially calling us on our iPhones aside, and put the phone away to eat dinner with our family and co-workers with true eye contact held and a compassionate for those at the table.  We can fight for dance education so our children have a different view of the body.  Dare to influence those around us and shift one life at a time with the multitude of ways we can connect with others.  Perhaps before we know it, modern dance could take on the NFL and put the Spice Girls in their place.  

Nerves, aches, and fatigue. Hold it together! Conquering performances like an all-star.

Performances are the heightened, amplified moments your family, friends, colleagues, directors, critics, lovers, and complete strangers get to come see what you work so hard on during rehearsals.  With Parsons Dance, our two weeks at the Joyce Theater is the one time a year I am guaranteed to perform for my New York family.  It’s my moment to show off to the ones who hear I’m supposedly a talented dancer but rudely only give me one shot every 365 days to see what I truly do and of course, have their speculations rightly confirmed.  It serves as my annual marker to see where I’ve come as a performer and as an opportunity to set a fresh intention of what I wish to accomplish out of two weeks of constant performing.

With the weight of significant performances, nerves and performance pressures can lurk, ready to snap precious and peacefully cherished dance moves without consent.  Nerves, not all bad at all, come in endless distracting flavors.  Sometimes the nervous belly pays a visit at half hour to curtain because you want to nail all your dance steps with the utmost artistic finesse.  Sometimes a surge of excitement blesses you from someone new to modern dance coming to watch for the first time because you’ve introduced them to your world.  Sometimes it’s a wave of longing because it’s the last time on stage in a certain work with the same special cast.  And sometimes it’s an absolute dire sensitivity to your aching body you must be mindful of to survive the show without a hitch.  How do you prep the mind for the nerves and focus your energy appropriately to make for the best show for those who come for proof, and more importantly, yourself, regardless of circumstances?  And “regardless of circumstances” is the kicker here because during strenuous and lengthy performance series, you don’t always feel your freshest every day, regardless of how well you wish to feel, and regardless if Baryshnikov decides to make an appearance in the house. (Hi Mikhail.  Yes, please come tomorrow.  I believe my left hamstring will be a bit stronger and I’ll be on my leg for you.  Thanks.  Kisses.)  Physical and mental states vary as your whole being is thrown to master the test of endurance from daily performances.  This means making those seemingly impossible shows, completely possible and even surprisingly enjoyable be it sprained ankles, colds, fevers, tendentious, fatigue, and soreness.  (Game on!)

So now that you’re completely curious for the reveal of my personal goals for this past Joyce, straight from my journal –  may I have the drum roll please?  Ahem…. To be fearless and selfless through generous performances.  To not fear the unknown of live performance, but to relish in it.  To be absent from judgmental thoughts.  To get lost and surrender to the moments deeper than I have previously by giving everything and expecting nothing.

A funny request, considering the chain of fun-filled events that happened within the first few hours of moving into the Joyce.   (Ahh, here come those lovely circumstances!)

Roughly three hours before curtain, as we were about to start our press call for opening night, I rolled over my already-slightly-bummed left ankle which was sprained a few weeks earlier.  Bravo, Christina.  I hobbled off stage, gracefully let out a few select curse words, iced my ankle, and let a tear or two stream down my cheek due not as much from sadness but from the utter rage of this hideous timing.  I was furious.  And when I’m angry (or tired, hungry, abundantly happy, you name it…), I cry.  I had so much to look forward to with these shows and had extensively prepared my mind and body for this hefty work load – the pieces were well-rehearsed, I had sufficient sleep, my home life was organized and armed with epsom salt, stretching toys, candles, and vitamin drinks to accommodate crazy performance life.  Yet It simply didn’t matter how prepared I was, because, pardon my french, shit happens.  I wanted to whine like a baby, and I gave myself about 5 minutes to whimper and feel bad for myself in the dressing room until I held it together and took the thankfully pitiful-sized injury and turned it into a blessing.  There was a lesson to be learned if I could quiet my temper tantrum and listen.  Justin Flores, a healing God here on earth, came to save the day and graced me with my first session of acupuncture and did some additional body work to get the minimal swelling that creeped in, down as much as possible; he had my ankle moving at more or less full capacity before showtime.  This forced me into hyper-conscious mode.  This opening night show could not be about blowing it out and pushing beyond my means.  I had no choice but to be completely thoughtful with each step, each descent from a lift, each relevé.  I hadn’t thought about my ankle much since I over-stretched the ligament initially, and this sudden and gratefully only minor glitch reminded me how fragile bodies are, how much proper strengthening of weaknesses are completely mandatory, and how completely lucky I am able to move as freely as I do.  I headed into this first show, with any opening night jitters knocked cold right out of me, and an unwavering focus protecting my body.  It was absolutely imperative to concentrate my attention, not just a task I casually handpicked for a fresh perspective, because I had to guarantee myself and my dance family a minimum of two weeks of performances.

Oddly enough, I relished in the restriction.  Taking the performance stride by stride opened a world of time and calmness.

Between moves and counts lie opportunities to make choices.  Music and movement may be swift, but there is a quiet place in the mind that can allow for space between those notes to breathe, pace yourself, and make artistic choices.  Nerves are sequestered under intense focus of a task (one way to calm down, check!).  Furthermore, any fear of screwing up a dance step dissipates when you give yourself the permission to make a mess (not striving for perfection, check!).  A successful performance for me on opening night with a sprained ankle, was simply getting through the show without having to play gimpy in desperation for a wing.

And just as one ailment heals, ankle feeling stronger, another one strikes.  Week two brought a battle with a fever and an unfortunate cold that I wearily won.  Lesson I learned here?  Whenever you are having the most significant performances, your body is put under intense rigors and inevitably unravels.  What makes you special is when you deliver a brilliant performance regardless of the circumstances, because those circumstances will be there.  How can you preserve and deliver your best when you may feel your most compromised?  How many dancers grin and bear it through tendentious, tears, foot splits, and colds?  Regardless of what you got, we all got something.  The unfortunate happens, but it also happens for a reason. It’s not unfortunate at all.  It is a gift; a blessing to pay attention on a deeper level and allow mental focus to resonate beautifully through your physical being.

And while attempting to get a grip on nerves and remain cool, calm, and collected under daunting circumstances, it also helps to redefine performances, put them in perspective, and decide what makes them glorious;  something I love to remind myself of in the quiet of the wings before showtime.

First off, no one in the world can do the pieces you are about to perform (thank you Liz Koeppen!); not critics, other dancers, and thank-god, not your brother or boyfriend.  The perspective as an audience member includes positive thoughts.  (Not once have I sat in the theatre, hoping the performers would fall flat on their face or tumble from a lift with a partner.) All the outside can see is the final product.  Not what you should be doing or could have done, but what you are presently doing, and they are on your team each step of the way.  They came to have fun and be entertained, so p.s., kick back and have a good time out there!

Next, no two performances will ever be alike so there is no point in doing the comparison from night to night or agonizing over a misstep here or a wobble there.  Fretting doesn’t happen nearly as readily in the studio, where the liberty to make mistakes, laugh them off, and carry on care-free reigns.  The stage can be known as the place where the hard work gets hidden, and ideally the elating product gets displayed without a drag.  Why that pressure?  Performances are another place you get to experiment and try something new.  All performances, studio and stage the same, are just another influencing experience.  When you reflect upon your career, you will not remember the details of specific moments as much as you will remember how you felt doing it, and those moments regardless of where they took place, when you felt particularly transformed, moved.  The beauty in dance is its replication of life.  LIfe is full of mistakes, and boy do people love to see someone win a struggle.  Who doesn’t get a thrill watching that “perfect” prima ballerina fight for that extra turn with a sparkle in her eye of sheer will and determination?  On the other hand, there is nothing worse than the eye of defeat in the spirit who lets the pressures get the best of them and lets one mishap run them into the ground for the remainder of the show.   When dance bloopers happen you should be in a state light-hearted enough to drop it, rather than wallow and crumble in its replay in your mind.

What makes for a stunning performance is the one not necessarily flawless, but gutsy and honest.  The dancer fearful of making a mistake is not going to be interesting or worthwhile to watch.  The dancer fearful to make a mistake is the only one who will be sure to fail.  You cannot fail at dance (or anything really), so get the fear of screwing up a lousy dance step out of your head.  It’s a dance move for crying out loud, not brain surgery.  And what about all those millions of steps you do right that you conveniently forget about as you grieve over your sickled disaster of a foot in one arabesque?  Once you put that fear aside, there is a whole other layer of dancing to reach and master. (But it wouldn’t kill you to put a little effort into that biscuit you called a foot the night prior, before you give it a second go-round!)

Lastly, performing doesn’t mean you throw every ounce of your energy into every step.  Every ounce of your thought and focus, yes.  However, when we vomit sheer force and fire over everything all the time it can over-power and make for jagged steps and frenetic connections.  Breathe.  Take a second.  Look at your partner.  No, really look.  See.  And above all listen.  Listen so you can learn.  If you are doing all the talking in your mind with busy thoughts, you cannot listen to the music or your partner, or the group’s connection, or your sensations.  So make a vow to listen so you can learn and adapt to each circumstance live performances throws your way.  I guarantee it will throw you a ton of fun ones.


I’ll leave you with the majority of mantras I used while at the Joyce.  I must always take a few moments to myself on the stage to check in and see where my energy is at, calm myself down, be grateful I can do what I do with a functional and able body, and focus on what I want to gain from the performance ahead, filling my thoughts with words that bring me peace and make me feel I don’t have the world to lift on my shoulders.  Here it goes!

“Surrender everything” -Me

“Save 7% for yourselves.” -Kate Skarpetowska

“Engage, Embrace, Enjoy.” -Dove, yes that would be some brilliant chocolate!

“Those who bring sunshine to others cannot help but keep it from themselves.” -Dove

“You don’t have the luxury of negative thought.” -Christina Applegate

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” -Franklin Roosevelt

“Failure seldom stops you.  What stops you is the fear of failure.” -Jack Lemmon

“Fear nothing, cherish everything.” -Me

“Take no prisoners.” -Me

“Be thoughtful. Be beautiful.” -Kate Skarepetowska

“Doing this for love.” -PD company

“I’m so grateful.” -Me

“One step at a time.” -Kate Skarpetowska

“Be generous.” -Me

“Give everything and expect nothing.” -Me

The Weight of 20 Pounds: A Battle Worth Fighting

I wish I could say I wasn’t plagued by the upsetting dancer-with-eating-disorder cliché, but unfortunately life decided to teach me a lesson instead.  (Don’t you just love that?)  My struggle reared its ugly head while in the middle of my college career, but its origins started way before then when I would nitpick more than just my technique in the mirror as a dance-crazed teenager.  Perfection was what I was after, and I thought I found the surest path to get an extra inch closer.  In reality, those shedded inches were traded for self-deprivation, not only of my physical being, but of my inner pride.  Quite the shame.  Here’s my story, to help abate yours or nip it in your perfect size tush before the seed is even planted.

As a type-A girl who strives for perfection I took control over one more element in my life to achieve a skewed version of greater success.  In entire honesty, I never felt I was restraining myself from food.  I never felt I was even trying “that” hard to lose weight.  My goal was to get into good shape before my next semester at college, and to me, good shape didn’t exactly refer to stamina or strength as much as it did to appearing more “dancerly.”  In the summer months prior to my junior year at Marymount Manhattan College, I was enrolled in a summer course in nutrition.  The class opened up my mind to a better, healthier diet, but, go figure, I took those lessons to the extreme.  I started actively reading labels for more wholesome ingredients and became tediously aware of serving sizes.   All positive health improvements, but only when followed with an air of casual knowledge rather than intense absolutes.

Upon my return to Marymount, teachers took note of my more slender figure.  “Christina you look so thin, don’t lose any more weight please.”  Being told I was thin was a compliment to me.  It brought a devilish smile to my face when someone acknowledged my deteriorating figure.  While I didn’t actively change my newfound eating habits, I continued to slowly lose more weight.  In my head I just thought I was maintaining the slender figure I had proudly achieved.  However, instead I was wasting away and achieving the not-so-sexy skin and bones look.  Let’s set the record straight – I was extremely thin, too thin, by anyone’s standards.  Probably around 100 pound on my medium-build, 5’5 frame.  Yet it remained easy for me to see someone with a more severe case of anorexia as sickly; where their bones were all you saw protruding harshly at rigid angles to form a horrid semblance of a natural figure.  Can you cry, “Denial?”  I was convinced there was nothing wrong with my body, that I didn’t have any disorder, and my pitifully constrained dinners were what someone who performed with their body should have been eating.  I wonder, scared to think how far away I was from this extremeness.  Probably not as far off as I thought; my mental delusion was on par for diving into the deep end.

I stopped listening to my body’s gauge of hunger and analyzed my meals as if it was possible for them to be graded.  It was the realization I really ate at least 4 servings of hummus and crackers in a sitting without hesitation, eagerly going back for seconds, that spawned the desire to shift some habits.  Additionally, I would try not to eat too close to bed time;  possibly allowing myself to indulge in some carrots or some other veggie if I was ravenous and felt like I couldn’t make it through the night.  (Couldn’t make it?! All I was doing was sleeping, but I obviously put myself on such an impossible regimen.)  It was valid to strive for diversity and nutrients in my diet, but it was critical to ingest the calories I as a dancer burned during the day to be prepared for the physical work required.  Any time I absent-mindedly stuffed my face with trail mix or some other pathetic “bird-like” semblance of a meal, guilt ensued.   Then I would try to compensate at the next meal, to ease the guilt away.  How sad to be so pre-occupied with the cyclical thoughts of food, eating, and guilt when there were so many other more productive, positive, care-free thoughts to be had.  I was taking my own life away from myself when I thought I was taking control of it.

The most tragic part?  I felt great.  What more do you need to continue with a downward spiral?  I felt on top of my dance game, when I was truly at the bottom.  I no longer had to hop, wiggle, and squat my way into my skinny jeans fresh out of the wash, and the thought of “Do I look fat in this?” was relieved from my concerns because I was aware I was thin, just not aware I was too thin.  This was the kicker; the fact that I knew I was skinny allowed me to take class in a freer state of mind and ride the wave of my deformed, yet positive view of my body.  I would be in my pink tights and proud to stand in an arabesque facing entirely profile to the mirror.  I didn’t have one thought of, “Ugh, that low belly and thigh are a bit unfortunate.”  Perfect!  I was free to think about sailing around effortlessly in a promenade, luxuriating in my épaulement, and smoothly accentuating whatever turnout I could muster with a sense of hard-earned contentment.  To top it off, I didn’t get my period for 9 months.  While I knew in the back of my mind this was bad, I would be lying if I didn’t say it was glorious to be cramp and bloat free. (To be bloated at 100 pounds seems like an impossible feat.)  I wish I could have added crabby to the list, but while I don’t particularly recall feeling temperamental while in this fragile state, I cannot imagine a body without enough fuel fostering a peaceful mind.

This entire time, I thought I was doing good for myself – caring for my instrument and being performance ready.  What made me come to the realization I was off my rocker?  My parents were scared for me and were near tears when they came to see me perform.  They told me they were going to get me help and that I needed to put on weight.  Seeing their urgency about an issue I thought didn’t exist, especially to warrant their extreme reaction, made me reconsider.  I also honestly knew in my gut not getting my period was my body’s way of shutting down and not functioning as a woman’s should.  Gratefully, the intervention was something I was willing to accept.  I did have concern for my optimal health and the repercussions of losing bone density and being at risk of injury, potentially greatly halting my dancing career all together, horribly frightened me.  Almost as much as (heaven forbid!) putting on some weight.

Gradually seeing the poundage creep on to my scrawny frame and maintaining a sense of self-pride was the most challenging aspect of the struggle.  Losing the weight and controlling my appetite was easy.  Five extra pounds, on the other hand, felt like I was wearing a balloon suit while doing pliés at the barré.  One of the hardest things for me was to get accustomed to having boobs again.  And by boobs, I am referring to my lovely A-cup chest.  Having these mounds of excess flesh with a mind of their own attached smack in the front of my body was hard to grapple with while I stuffed them into the same leotard that once housed essentially just my nipples.  A woman with a chest didn’t exactly measure up to this fantastical, adolescent dancer image I conjured and idolized, making my breasts a source of agony and symbolized me being out of shape rather than simply a beautiful woman.

Along my road to recovery, I became heavier than I was before I was sick.  I intuitively felt I would need to go further in the opposite direction, before I could balance myself and feel at my healthiest.  I let this new heavier body, limit my dancing.  It disabled me because I didn’t feel prideful.  It was a distraction that took me out of the work and into the mirror, concerned with the appearance of movement rather than the movement itself.  The honest truth was my mind hadn’t made as much of a shift as I had believed and hoped; I still critically judged my body.

It is this mindset, so prevalent in dancers, that serves as the initiation to take drastic measures to senselessly curb food intake.  So you need to cut the cycle in your thought process.  

While muddling through this mental shift, I had a nauseating number of helpful conversations with my loving and patient mother, but I will never forget her once uttered words I vehemently disagreed with, “This might always be something you struggle with.”  Excuse me? Always?  Absolutely not.  In a beautifully unpredictable world filled with ever evolving minds, nothing remains constant and people never cease to amaze with their capacity to change, adapt, and shift through the obstacles of life.  If my mind has done a 180 degree turn around when it comes to everything from boyfriends, education, Freudian philosophies, tofu, and the Muppets, then there is absolutely no reason why a mental shift around proper eating habits isn’t possible.  So the words “you might never like the way you look,” and “this will always be an issue” is the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever heard.

Now how do you start this shift?

I did see a therapist to help sort through the emotional turmoil and wrap my mind around the seriousness of the issue.  It was helpful to acknowledge all the thoughts and relationships I had growing up that nurtured this twisted mentality.  Honestly however, I didn’t feel our sessions were extremely insightful, and ultimately she encouraged me to fulfill the work I needed to do on myself.  After a few weekly sessions, I let our time together go and kept an introspective gaze on my reoccurring thoughts.

I repeatedly recited to myself, “I have to fuel my body and this is me and it’s beautiful.”   Various self-loving mantras under a protective veil of inner patience would immediately follow any critical and harshly guilty digs to myself.   I reminded myself of the stunning power in a womanly figure and began to believe the asexual, prepubescent look was not all that and a bag of chips (let’s be real, it was no chips!).  The clothes that once sagged on my wilted tushie had a field day with the comeback of my bubble butt.  Me, on the other hand, initially gawked in the mirror, not so proudly and with a tinge of disgust, before my womanly sass and ass eventually became too much fun to not saunter and flaunt in the heyday of my early twenties.

Nevertheless, in the guts of this mental battle, life threw me tests.  A phone call from a director, chatting about an upcoming season asked me if I planned on getting in shape for it.  “You know. Slim down.”  In complete defense mode, I claimed I didn’t need to and wasn’t willing to drop pounds and sacrifice my health.  A proud moment for myself.  The harsh reality – I wasn’t in my best shape.  However, negotiating the thin line between healthy eating habits and obsessive, pre-occupied ones was too sensitive a debate for me to embark upon at the time.

Ahh! The challenge of being a performing artist.

While performing a visual art form, there is a need to be physically fit.  Some companies (not all, and this should play a part when deciding where you work) are known for maintaining a physical aesthetic, and to ignore this fact would be unrealistic.  The physical work done on a daily basis in the studio prepares our bodies for the strength, stamina, and flexibility necessary.  Sometimes the work is enough to maintain a lean and strong physique, and other times as a performer you have to step up your game when an important show is coming up to make sure you feel your best.

Yes, you take class in front of a mirror all day long.  Yes, you are there captiously sharpening your technique to extreme levels of excellence, and those critiques can sneakily enter your perception of your body.  When are you done striving for the perfect figure and instead enjoy the one you’ve been blessed with?   When the meticulous training and body affliction is all you focus on, you are not dancing.  You are merely moving and fretting.  You won’t get in better shape from worrying tediously at every moment.  There has to come a point when the look of the body is disassociated from the movement, and the beauty of the dance take over.

Let go of compulsive premeditation about meals and issue yourself freedom and an open mind to thoughts of significance.  Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  Eat what makes your body feel good and function at its optimum.  Or don’t, and then fully indulge and enjoy!  Tacking on any guilt with eating something less than nutritious or eating too much of something is absurd.  Food is pleasure and is to be savored.  Being mad at oneself only perpetuates the ugly cycle of emotional eating.  Don’t get upset at yourself.  Laugh at its ridiculous reoccurrence, grant yourself patience without judgement, and let it go – no matter how long this lesson takes. To unleash your fullest capacity as an artist and simply as a happy person, navigating a health relationship with food and your body is a battle worth fighting.