The thing about ballet class in the Big Apple that feels the most uniquely New York to me is not the fast tendus or the Rockette in the corner. In fact, it’s precisely not in the room at all…
It’s what’s just outside the windows…those Big City Views.
Sure, 20+ years spent in a studio with barely-there windows could be heightening my appreciation of these giant glass apertures. It’s not like studios with windows don’t exist elsewhere in the world, but there’s a certain sense of weightlessness that comes with saut de chat-ing toward a window on the 5th floor of a high rise building you just can’t find anywhere but here.
…as if you just might fly right out and join the skyline. Tip-toe across the manmade treetops, floating above the bustle below. I spend barre letting the sun warm me up or watching rain color the concrete black. Count the cornices on the 5th floor next door.
This post has no profound meaning, moral, or musing. It is just to say, hey, have you ever danced in a sunny studio way up high in the sky? I can’t believe I almost missed this chance to fly.
Featured studios: Steps NYC, Gibney Dance, Battery Dance.
It’s a Monday and the first day of May, so seems like as good an excuse as any to do a little written manifestation.
Ugh, did you roll your eyes when you read the last word of that sentence? I sorta rolled my eyes when I typed it. “Manifestation” has become so overused, it’s starting to feel like a bad pop song you can’t escape. Is there a Top 40 of colloquialisms?
But alas…there’s no other word to describe the mental exercise I’m practicing now…the gathering of goals, visceral contemplation of where I am, where I want to be, where I will be, and placing those thoughts in the present. The act of living as though your dream reality already exists here and now.
I am being paid to write. I am dancing in the company of artists I admire. I’m marrying my best friend. Home isn’t a place, but a relationship with myself. I feel an overwhelming sense of freedom, a feeling that I should lean into, rather than run from. Let’s expand on that…
I always knew the day would come when I would leave FBP. The day I would retire from “company life” has always been eminent. Yes, I pictured it. I pictured a big stage, a romantic full length ballet, a dramatic “death” on stage. Roses. Tears. Hugs.
I imagined myself turning to the company after the final curtain and thanking them for carrying me through the finish line. I imagined taking bows, photos, deep breaths…
I also imagined a feeling of emptiness. There’s a reason this vision of my final bow always felt ominous. It was always accompanied by my imagination of the next day. The morning after, when I was stripped of my “Dancer” title. A lack of identity, a body stuck in limbo, still living but no longer useful in the way it once was. No longer “important”. No longer purposeful if not on display as art.
But things happened much differently than how I’d pictured. Not only did I not have the big final bow, the dramatic full length, the applause, the roses…I also did not have the empty pit, the useless body, the identity crisis. A closed chapter has actually turned the page onto a new chapter of life- and one that still includes my Self as a Dancer.
Yes, I’m still dancing. No, not every day. No, not in a company. But still in a professional way- in pursuit of bettering my technique, maintaining performance shape, even challenging my artistic identity. In the pursuit of another professional job, another circle of artists, another chance to dance. Now I take class because I want to. And it’s helpful to know that I do! After 13 years of company class, you do start to wonder whether or not you ever enjoyed the ritual of class…
Sometimes you just need a change in the scenery.
A studio with windows. A class with a view.
A new set of teachers, a new set of tools.
A shift in perspective, a purview breakthrough.
A new chapter began even before the last one ended. I started writing. Started living in the new. Which brings us back to our May Monday Morning Manifestation. A feeling of Freedom. Things Falling into place.
Happy Monday, Happy May. The last week of April was all showers, literal and metaphorical. Bring on the flowers, I’m ready to Bloom.
For a few years, I haven’t felt much like filling this space of the internet with my writing.
I am realizing now that this wasn’t stemming from a lack of a desire to write, but instead as a result of not being completely honest with myself. My life as a dancer had begun to feel stagnant. I was living in a creative loop, keeping myself busy in sameness for fear of what change might bring. I couldn’t seem to disrupt the cycle of my dancer routine.
Wake up, take class, rehearse, repeat. This was my life as I knew it for over a decade. In the same studio for more than two. It was home. Until it wasn’t…
Two months ago, I took a big leap, quit my job and moved to New York City with no real plan. And suddenly, I feel like writing here again.
Something about this crazy, confusing, currently inconsistent new chapter has me craving this open space to document. I think it’s because I feel like I am finally being honest with myself again, even if it means not knowing exactly what it is I’m saying as an artist or as a person. I suddenly feel like talking again.
So if you’ve been here throughout the many stops and starts of this blogging journey, thank you for your patience. I hope this new chapter can find us sharing more thoughts on living creatively and feeling fully.
It took until (almost) June to write about Blue Until June, but alas, here we are.
When the final (metaphoric) curtain dropped on our season closing program, I was consumed by teary celebrations of a veteran dancer’s retirement bow. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I felt the pang of missing this ballet.
It’s normal to miss a good ballet when the run is over, especially the kind that brings the cast together to tell an intricate human story through some of the best music ever recorded. But this time the curtain hit the stage extra hard because the appearance of ballets like this one feels rarer than ever.
The little I’ve written on this blog recently has been decidedly melancholy- I hope it’s not bringing you down! Sometimes when good things pass through your body for a short while, it makes their absence feel stronger, and the battle within you ever more fiery. I’ve been living in this mental space of missing things before they are over, perhaps because I am feeling the need for some change in my life. But what kind of change?
Much of the change that has happened in my life has been through natural growth. Sure, there have been a few abrupt, shocking shifts in circumstance. But most have been a slow progression of goals, hard work, and progress. I’ve rarely felt an itch to change- this unfamiliar nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. They always tell you to “listen to you gut” but never tell you quite how to decipher the incoherent whines warbles. That part is up to you.
A change in surroundings? A shift in the daily nouns: People, places, things? What exactly does that little voice in me need to let my natural growth carry on unencumbered? How can I be sure? How will it all work? And when?
For now, I don’t know. For now, I’ll be searching. For June, I’ll be listening inward and looking outward.
Every once in a while, a ballet comes along that’s just…special. Enter Trey McIntyre‘s Blue Until June.
This ballet ticks all of the boxes I didn’t know were empty. Set to the music of Etta James, Blue Until June has got soul. It’s bluesy and narrative but not cumbersome, technical but totally unpretentious. It swings- the music, the movement, the mood. An ensemble piece, it highlights each dancer in a way that feels fun and collaborative, like each one of us is an essential puzzle piece, revealing portions of plot for the audience to untangle.
I feel very grateful to be working on two different roles in this ballet, “Michelle” in one cast and “Erin” in the other. Both women are drastically different, which makes the study of their characters all the more exciting for a pseudo ac-tor like myself. Michelle dances “My Dearest Darling“, a plotting pas de deux about a less-than-savory relationship at the end of its rope. Erin, on the other hand, acts as a bit of a purveyor over the ballet, multifaceted as both bold and central in the story and a fly on the wall watching the other plotlines unfold.
Working on this ballet is an experience that only comes around once in a blue (until june) moon (heh). It feels fulfilling both physically and emotionally, and isn’t that the rarely spotted gift of dedicating yourself to a life in the arts?
We’ll be performing Blue Until June in Westerly and then again 3 more times in Providence. For tickets.
Getting out. We never thought we’d lose it, then wondered for months when we’d ever get it back.
Something about Spring has me anxious for the outdoors. There are new places and old favorites begging to be visited once the crocuses peek out, and I am determined to drink a spritz at (and bring my dog to) them all.
I find myself strangely nostalgic for this time each year, despite the fact that it has historically shown me some challenging patches. Perhaps there’s a power in looking back on those periods of struggle with the strength of living on the other side, and maybe even a small slice of envy aimed back at a me from the past who is about to learn a few major lessons about herself. Each Spring Keeks- the Swan Lake/sickness of 2019, the shutdown of 2020, the outdoor ballet/new puppy mom of 2021- has been so boldly different, I’m eager to meet the me in this one.
She’s 30 now, but that feels no different than 25. Or does it? Surely I am more well-equipped for the world than I was at 25. I’ve been a homeowner for 3.5 years, I know how my water heater works (kind of). I survived baby dog parenthood with the help of my rockstar boyfriend. I have actual lemons (!) on my lemon tree. The little miracles that make up a life.
So what is it that triggers this waltz with nostalgia? The smell of a springy perfume purchased in 2019 as I drag the dregs from the nozzle of its empty glass bottle across my wrists, refusing to let go of that particular musk. The walk to Fourth Street in the mornings, studying the meticulous garden of the painter; The walk home, always lingering at the weeping cherry tree, only sometimes weeping alongside her. Who else could make Spring sound so melancholic?
Despite my flair for the morose, I promise, I am feeling light and optimistic. This is, after all, my most favorite time of year. A physical, undeniable shove from the earth to Get Outside And Do Things! And we have been doing just that. A trip to a new brunch spot in Warren, giant Jenga at the Narragansett Brewery, Louie’s first trip to our favorite date spot, and an afternoon in Newport for a very special photoshoot…but that is a story for another time! Stay tuned, friends.
It’s been so long since I’ve written here, the whole blogging platform has changed. Excuse me while I relearn how to do something that I once did did instinctively…
There’s so much to catch up on, if I try, I’ll never start. So instead, let’s just dive in right where we are, shall we? We are one month out from the end of what feels like the first season. No, I haven’t moved companies or cities…I have been dancing with FBP for 10 (11? 12?) seasons now, but this was the first full season since the you-know-what. Our first full season avoiding the plague, our first full season under new leadership, with troves of new dancers, with a new board president, with a new appreciation for space to move and a barre that is not attached to a kitchen counter…
Everything has changed. Cue the clichés! I know I’ve written it here so many times, you would think I’d learned the lesson: “Change is the only constant.” But all change is not equal. Some things- even big things- change slowly, seaside cliffs being licked away by the tide, retreating closer to the shore with each shift in season. Other changes come abruptly, without warning. No period of consideration, time to feel the change coming on and adjust. These are the sorts of changes that truly test us.
Navigating all of the newness has been its own challenge. But with my former familiarity also came years and years in a career notorious for turning inward, focusing on my own physicality, my own artistry. So what have I learned about myself?
I would like to come back to this space and begin pouring that out. Welcome back, if you’d like to join me in finding out.
photos of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Continuing Points” by Azamat Asangul
Though my posts have been sporadic this year, I have mentioned one of my new favorite teachers more than a few times. At this point he’s STB famous for his revelatory insights (remember remove expectations from the studio and make the perfect mistake?) and in class yesterday, he rattled off another little gem that went something like this:
Allow yourself to dance. Technique is the means, not the end. Technique allows you to dance. Dancing is the point we are after.
Whew, let that sink in. It’s one of those suggestions that seems obvious when you hear it. Of course we are here to dance. This is a dance class, after all. But between the calisthenics of barre and mind-numbing-mirror-staring-nit-picking of center, somewhere that idea gets lost. We stop moving for movement’s sake and start moving for…technique? We’ve got it backwards.
The point of dancing isn’t to make your technique perfect, the point of perfecting your technique is to be able to dance. The more proper your placement, the easier your pirouettes will be. Lengthened muscle work leads to a lighter adagio. It’s not about jamming your body into positions until it breaks. It’s about practicing those technical aspects in the pursuit of dancing. Ah, dancing. It’s so pure, if you allow it to be.
Are you waiting for me to turn this into a life lesson? Some kind of “dancing through life” encouragement? Me too. It’s a concept I still need to put mindful effort into practicing. Perfectionism has ruled my life for as long as I can remember, and in fact, it’s one of the things I fancy most about myself! But perfectionism for perfectionism’s sake (say that 10 times fast) is unfulfilling. Perfectionism for the sake of living at your best, that on the other hand, is a worthy cause.
This lesson is about finding the “why”. Not a groundbreaking concept, but one worth repeating nonetheless. When our days blur into weeks and actions become routines, we tend to go about our business rather blindly, our subconscious convincing us it has a purpose. But often times, we’ve lost sight of the greater purpose as we struggle with the minutia of the micro-tasks that make up the “work” of our lives. We stay up nights worrying about decisions, making pro and con lists, considering every angle, and suddenly we’re imprisoned by the stress of details when the ultimate point is to feel free.
If it’s not glaringly obvious by my lack of clear direction in this post, I have not yet figured this one out myself. I still struggle every day with focusing on my “why” and keeping a looser hold on the perfectionist details. I have been confined far too many times by indecision. But I’d like to remind myself, and whoever else needs to hear it too, that sometimes all there is to doing it, is just doing it. Sometimes, dancing can just be dancing. Take a step back, look at the whole picture, and for a while, enjoy the slightly alarming spontaneity that comes with putting the technique in your back pocket so you can just do some damn dancing.
At the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll say it one last time: 2020 was the year of changing courses. Every track ransacked, every road demolished by some undetectable mayhem. Following suit, as you may know, FBP’s live performances of The Nutcracker were off, then on, then off, then on, then…
After 4 weeks of rehearsals, a twice delayed opening date, a statewide two-week “pause”, and a close contact positive test, by the grace of some Nutcracker magic we were able to film an adapted version of our reimagined production as a virtual show for our audiences. The hard work of so many artists brought us the gift of a long day in a theater, something I almost forgot how much I loved. And then somehow, two weeks later, I got to do it again…
Days after Christmas, six dancers returned to the studio and Yury dug his hands into the clay. We engaged in something dancers crave more than anything; We began the process of creating a new piece. Like brushes dipped in buoyant paints, we let his eyes twirl us around the room, filling empty space with waltzing and making music in the offbeats. By New Year’s Eve, we were half way through- chiseling out careful bits of stone, each pass shaving a bit closer to our sculpture.
On January 8th, we had a tech rehearsal(!!!!). Our theater received us for the first time since February, familiar faces half-covered by medical masks, but wholly welcoming us home. The next day, we woke early for a dress rehearsal followed by two performances of our waltz. Of course, I’ve saved the best tidbit for last: our accompaniment. Pinchas Zuckerman, Amanda Forsythe, and the RI Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. There is nothing quite like dancing on a real stage to live music played by world renowned musicians within kicking distance.
After two performances with significantly limited audiences, we did what any artists starved for the camaraderie of a post-show buzz would do- we celebrated! The theater hosted a little socially distant gala for the performers in the gallery space, where we got to mingle behind masks and sneak sips of wine between breaths. For an hour, it almost felt normal.
At home, I relished the ability to hug my partner and eat pizza on the couch. We talked about the day I’d had and C let me spout on about how good it felt to plug back in. Electrify. Finally, I fell asleep, but the buzz lasted through the night, as good show thrills always do. As I sipped my tea the next morning, I thought How could this be? Fussing over my little artifacts- some backstage polaroids on the coffee table, false eyelashes on the counter- I cherished the only evidence of any magic moments before my carriage turned back into a pumpkin and life returned to something of a blank page.
What a ride these past few months have been. Slowly getting back into the studio in September, taking on Dying Swan in a parking lot October, returning to something slightly resembling “company life” in November, recording a new Nutcracker in December, getting back on stage in January. Now, I’m not sure what this next season will bring. But shoulders strong from carrying all of the lessons learned last year, I’m not reading ahead, I’m just looking forward.
As one of my new favorite teachers says, “Remove the expectations and observe what is actually happening here.” Do not try to predict, don’t look ahead to the last page- the ending won’t make sense yet. You have to live in the pages. So just keep reading.
Dancers being dealt months of dormancy throughout the company’s most changing time has its obvious challenges. Less overt but perhaps more productive to consider, though, are the many openings that come with prolonged pause. Small but mighty things that contribute to grand personal evolutions when collected over time. Tiny victories and lessons gathered as the results of risks taken during times of rediscovery. Or maybe it’s just reacquainting…
Complicated technique that has slipped away paves a path for correcting old habits. Deep grooves that once sculpted your thighs have smoothed over for a new artist’s carving to begin. Even simple things become fun endeavors to discover; Considering a new brand of pointe shoes? Remember this old leotard you used to love? What about this rehearsal skirt that never got worn? Everything is just a bit more precious. There’s no need to saveit for later. All cards are fair game.
These realizations are helpful when you are waist-high in creating a reimagined Nutcracker. One that’s not only different from the production you have danced through 19 Decembers, but different from any show you’ve ever even seen. Because it’s outside. In a parking lot. And there are masks, and skipped scenes, and forced heat. It’s amazing how a year of perspective-change training can make all of the “shortcomings” into miracles. How lucky are we to be given this grant, this space, this time to refocus on our craft? This is the process that gives us life, what makes us tick. The mundane, the repetition, the midnight ache. All of these thorns in our sides that let blossom our art.
As we watch cases rise around the country and here in RI, we remain hopeful that this new Nutcracker will move forward and that we will be able to bring some much needed cheer to our community this season. If you are around, consider bundling up and seeing something new here in Providence.