Moving forward

Do you remember the scenes in Wall-E with the humans? The ones who are stuck in their hovering chairs: lazy, weak, and uninterested in anything that requires effort to attain? I see now why the animators made them.

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The way we look at those scenes must be similar to the way prehistoric humans would look at us today. How could humans ever get that way?

In this modern age, we no longer really depend on our bodies. And our connection to our bodies has loosened to an incredible degree. We’re not at the Wall-E human level, but we’re not so far away. Look at the way we get around. We get up from sitting on a chair or a couch, we walk a few steps to our car, and proceed to sit immediately after getting into work. Often, our entire day revolves around sitting.

This is a worrying trend. Not only is this neglecting the body, but it does damage to it as well. Physiologically, we require movement to be healthy. We can find many scientific studies that confirm this, but we can also just look to common sense. Most of us know we don’t give enough attention to our bodies.

And to a certain extent, we aren’t to be blamed. Look at the world we live in, look at the comforts we have all around us. How many prehistoric humans had couches? Stoves? Washing machines? Chairs? … Hoverboards?

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All of these things allow us efficiency, but they mean we need our body less. And if we’re using the free time gained to spend a few more minutes (or hours) on Facebook, our bodies are losing out. In modern life, we aren’t forced to pay attention to our bodies, and without a strong will and/or the right environment, keeping in shape is extremely difficult.

I was lucky. I had the chance to make moving my profession. I moved every day and got paid to do so. This caused some other problems in my body, because ballet isn’t exactly natural. But there is one piece of knowledge that even when I’m not dancing every day I bring with me: you don’t forget your body. I understand that being able to move is a blessing. It’s something that we don’t necessarily realize until it’s severely diminished or gone.

And unfortunately, when we are stagnant, our bodies’ ability slowly decreases, almost invisibly. So by the time we realize we can’t touch our toes anymore or that our back is causing us chronic pain, many years have gone by and we have to make an extreme, prolonged effort to come back. Once we’re in some kind of shape, it’s easy to maintain – but it’s incredibly difficult to work ourselves back into shape.

So I want to remind you: Your body is incredibly important. It is intricately connected to your mind – so if you’re neglecting your body, you’re also neglecting your mind. Don’t ignore your body.

If you don’t already have one, find an activity you enjoy and do it regularly. Your mind will thank you for it, and you will benefit in the long run.


This PSA is brought to you by health. I don’t want to proselytize for any one kind of training, as different possibilities for movement abound – all I want to do is remind you, dear reader, that your body is an important part of you. Give it some love!

Here are a few links to different kinds of movement, each of which is designed to keep your body healthy in a well-rounded way:

There are many different types of yoga

Essentrics, a workout based on ballet movement, built around lengthening and flexibility, recently introduced to me by a dear friend

And Tai Chi

These are all interesting ways to cross-train with ballet, by the way. For you ballet dancers that read up until here thinking “I already do something physical. Check!” let me remind you that we can always learn more from other approaches to movement. Each different approach contains its own kind of wisdom. It’s up to us to learn what that is.

Maybe everybody who reads this already has a fitness routine, and you all already know how important your body is. How happy that would make me. What do you do to keep in shape or cross-train? Anything I left out that you particularly like? Share in the comments below.

And then get away from the screen and go enjoy having a body!

Flexibility to an extreme

I wanted to share this because I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. This may be the most flexible human being I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s amazing. Also cringeworthy. And I’m a bit worried about her bone structure when she grows up…

To relate this to ballet (which I better do as it’s on my blog), I’ll point out first that this is rhythmic gymnastics, not ballet. There are similarities, yes, but different goals to achieve in each.

Another thing to note is that the Russians are known for emphasizing flexibility and body proportions in ballet. Trainers are known for manually stretching their students’ feet and legs, and this seems to be an amplification of that same impulse. I can’t imagine how many hours this girl spends stretching (or being stretched) every day.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s impressive, to be sure, but hard to believe that it’s healthy. Of course, I suppose the same holds true for ballet.

VIDEO: Souffle Provisoire

Last year I had the honor of working with a close friend and dance maker, Johanna Henritius, and several other good friends, to make a dance film. The concept of this 10-minute video came to her in a dream, and in it she manages to focus on the human elements of dance. This is dance, but with much less of a focus on technicality or acrobatics. This is about capturing true emotions, and not the artifice or bravura we often see.

Three of us in the film dance full-time with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, so it was tough to fit in the time to film (much less rehearse!), but we made the time we could and attempted to produce something honest and touching.

As a first film project, I’m extremely proud of Johanna and what she achieved through this project, and I wanted to share it with any and all of you that haven’t experienced it yet.

Here’s the teaser:

 

If this intrigues you and you have 1o minutes to spare, check out the whole video at her website. I highly recommend it: http://henritius.com/film.html

Correcting the crowd: how group feedback affects us

How do you inspire a group of dancers to live up to their full potential?

One of the most important skills to learn as an artistic director, ballet master, choreographer, or teacher is learning how to speak to and manage the group. All  bosses have to do it. Organizing a large group of people can be hard at times, and learning the skills necessary to pull the best out of that group can be a long, hard process.

One of the most important tools that can be used is group feedback.Photo on 12-21-15 at 8.07 PM Just as the coach of a football team needs to be able to call the team together to inspire them to action, so does the person at the front of the room need to be able to gather the dancers together to “course-correct.” It might be to suggest a way of approaching the choreography, it might be chiding the group for a lack of focus, or it may be an inspirational talk to boost spirits. It may even be all three at the same time. Group feedback can be used for many different outcomes, but the main idea is to focus the whole group on a particular issue or desired approach.

The principal questions here are: what makes group feedback succeed at its intended purpose? And how can it be used to inspire dancers to work better or harder? Continue reading “Correcting the crowd: how group feedback affects us”

You suck at dancing and it’s your own damn fault (part 2)

 

In the first part of this article, I tackled the false idea that many of us (whether dancers or non-dancers) often have, which is that “you suck at dancing”. If you missed it, find it here. If not, read on.

The second myth I want to take on in this article is this: it’s completely your choice to (and definitely your fault that you) dance the way you do.


This is perhaps the most prominent illusion in our world today, and all sorts of notions about self, willpower, and self-worth are wrapped up in it. Continue reading “You suck at dancing and it’s your own damn fault (part 2)”

You suck at dancing and it’s your own damn fault (part 1)

Okay, now that I have your attention: no, I’m not serious. In fact there are two lies in that sentence, both of which come from our own illusions about our selves and about our objectivity. Although both sides of this thought are wrapped up together, I’ve decided to split this post into two parts in order to tackle these two prominent myths we tell ourselves on their own terms.

Most of this article will be directed to those committed to making dance their profession, so I apologize if it becomes esoteric or uninteresting for you. Regardless of who you are, though, there should be something applicable here!

These two ideas contained in the title come to me relatively often in class, and I know it comes to many others in my profession. This is what we think when we mess up, and say to ourselves “I should be able to do that thing I can’t do! I’ve done it well before. What’s wrong with me?”

We feel like we should be able to do anything which we can envision and which we’ve done in the past, and do it well just for having thought it. Take pirouettes for example: how many of us base our sense of accomplishment pretty much solely on whether we are turning well in one class? If we turn well, good class. Turn badly, shitty dancer.

This is the first myth I’d like to take on. You do not suck at dancing. Continue reading “You suck at dancing and it’s your own damn fault (part 1)”

Introduction to the blog

Hi everybody!

Thanks for tuning in to my first post – I thought this might be a good chance to give a brief introduction to myself and to the reason I created this blog.

Most of you (hi mom!) already know me : I grew up in Portland, Oregon, started dancing at age 5, went through the school and subsequently the ranks of Oregon Ballet Theatre, and then at the age of 25 moved to France to dance for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. And here I am; my history is relatively unimportant as to this blog. The importance to me is only that it’s one story in a world full of unique paths to and through the professional dance world.

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We each have a story to tell, and with each of our experiences comes a different viewpoint on what we do, why we do it, and how we move forward in this world. This blog is intended to do two things:

  1. be a sounding board for me to explore and discuss my ideas about the dynamics that we encounter as professional, classically-based dancers.
  2. be a place where dancers and people interested in our world can discuss their different perspectives on the issues in a dancer’s daily life.

For those of you that are amateur dancers, dancers from other backgrounds, or students of dance, I don’t intend on leaving you out. I definitely want to hear your opinions and insight, which will surely help sharpen and fill out this discussion of what we do. But since the world that I know and have lived in is that of classically based, full-time dance, this is the platform that I’ll use to dive into this murky world.

The world of dance can be a complicated one. We can’t, by necessity, work like other modern day organizations, and this has both upsides and downsides. My hope is to explore these idiosyncrasies by trying to take a bird’s eye view of the issues that we encounter in and outside of our workplace, presenting my take on those issues, and inviting discussion in the comments afterwards.

Please help spark discussion by commenting if you feel inspired or have your own opinion to share. This blog is an attempt to paint a fuller, more well-rounded picture of what we do. We each need to hear alternative viewpoints to our own in order to help shape our judgment and make us more understanding of the things which make us impatient or unhappy. This is a large part of the reason I am starting this blog.

In the coming weeks I’ll try to release a few posts exploring dancer volition and culpability, the use of language in the studio, a dancer interview or two, and hopefully some lighter stuff as well. We don’t have to go deep all the time 🙂

If this sounds interesting to you, please subscribe by clicking “Follow” at the bottom of the page, and you’ll be automatically sent an email once a new post is up.

What do you want me to write about? Tell me in the comments.

Dancer lift off!

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