keeping up

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Things have been a bit quiet around here lately. Please excuse the lack of communication; this past month was one of the strangest rehearsal periods of my entire career. Even with the company’s financial footing growing sturdier each year, unexpected setbacks inevitably arise. In coping with unpredictable cashflow, the past few weeks have been a cycle of 4 days on, 3 days off. We were forced into a work schedule of rehearse Wednesday-Saturday, rest Sunday-Tuesday, and repeat. Rehearse, rest, repeat. We’ve explored ways to deal with the stress of lengthy layoffs before, but what happens when layoffs creep into your regular routine?

Mid-season layoffs (we’ve also had a full week off after almost every program this season) are frustrating. Studio time is limited, precious rehearsal hours are coveted. I’d even go as far to say (bear with me) that my identity feels compromised. Without the work behind it, the art of dancing is lost. While I’ve learned to survive that loss during the summer months (re: rest and rosé) mid-season layoffs offer another obstacle entirely. It’s this loaded task of keeping in shape with less dancing time, as well as performing at the extraordinary level expected by the audience who- unless they are reading this post- should know no difference in your preparation experience. It’s easy to fall into a monotonous routine of class, gym, sleep- a truly depressing cocktail for any supposed artiste.

Leaving our surprise layoff period behind, we head into 3 consecutive 6-day show weeks. It will be a welcomed but admittedly difficult and abrupt transition. What an interesting thing to have a job wherein the overriding upset of time off is not the lack of income (which stings- don’t get me wrong), but the lack of the work itself. The first step to coping with such a circumstance is recognizing the beauty in that blessing. The next steps (suggestions, really) are slightly more hands on…

  1. Get away. Escape to Maine, road trip to Connecticut, watch the sun set in another state (thank you New England and your mosaic boarders).
  2. Explore. Try a new recipe, a new form of cross-training, a new craft.
  3. Take the long way home. Linger on the ordinary. You’ve got time.
  4. Journal. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed non-journaler, it’s healthy to document these uncomfortable parts of your life. I promise you will learn something.
  5. Trust your instincts. Listen to your body. Know when to experiment and learn when to relax.
  6. Practice patience. For all things, there is a season. This too shall pass.

frustrations & fixes

Ugh, January, man.  Am I right?

The mornings are dark, the days are short, and the nights are cold.  The wind makes up for all that whipping it spared us of in August with a ferocious vengeance.  What did we ever do to you, January?  We tried to pretend this was the start of a new year for you (even though deep down we all know September wears that honor).  We made resolutions and bought healthy ingredients and mixed up a big batch of excellent intentions for you.  We even vowed to go easier on ourselves if you chose to disapprove of our freshly reconstructed goals for betterment.  So what gives?

These days I’m feeling TIRED.  Not just normal sleepy, but the weird, haggard, larthargic kind that leaves you feeling unmotivated to push yourself during the work day, let alone cross training when rehearsals have ended.  My energy seems to have been packed up with the Christmas decorations, dashed away with Dancer and Prancer and the rest of the holiday jazz.  Despite my energy’s lack of participation, though, the days keep rolling on (is it really January 22nd?), and a girl’s gotta get going.  So with the grievances of dreadful January (wait, wasn’t it dreamy just a few weeks ago?) officially aired, it is time for a few fixes in the form of things that are making me smile on these dark and chilly days…

this baby’s breathDSC07341…for allowing me to channel my inner Tatte.

these eggsDSC07493…because they are some of the first from my brother’s chickens and the cuteness of that little blue one makes me feel all gooey.

this monday morningDSC07468…because I moved my bed to a new wall and the morning light is magic.

this roseDSC07462…because I smile every. single. time. I see it.

this homemade granolaDSC07506…because it’s the season of treats so dang it, treat yoself and yo friends.

jitters & rituals

Before an especially nerve-wracking performance, I listen to Eminem’s Lose Yourself.  I’m not proud of it, but when I first began competing at Youth America Grand Prix in 2004, Hailie was 8 years old, 8 Mile was still (sort of) relevant, and the rap anthem’s carpe minutam memorandum wound my nerves into sanction.  What can I say?  Slim Shady did and does provide my chill.  Everyone has their rituals, and today we’re peeking into the pre-show mind of The Joffrey Ballet’s Mahallia Ward to spy on hers…IMG_2950

MW: Before my first performance of the season, as I was reacquainting myself with pre-show rituals and jitters, I became highly aware of the annoying and almost comical amount of nervous chatter occupying my mind. I alternated between fruitless attempts at calm, and moments of amused observation:

“It’ll feel so good to be on stage again. Dress rehearsal was bad so…that’s good right? Whatever, don’t think about it…What to eat…? Just relax, you got this. You’re a pro…yeah right…no you are. Shut up.

“Ugh! Adrenaline my old friend, I don’t like you. What use are my legs in a fight or flight situation if they have melted into puddles of jelly??! C’mon, strength, energy…Just breathe…ahh yes…oh this would make a cool blog post! This is what you love. This is the fun part! Enjoy it! Just rip up the stage! But take it easy. No stress. But it’s normal to stress, everyone’s stressing inside. So don’t worry. You should probably reinforce the ribbons on your shoes one more time though, just to be sure…

Ok these shoes only have to last one. more. show. Crap they’re buckling. Grrr. Time to plank…60, 59, 58, 57… Nice. Remember just breathe…this is no. big. deal. Just pretend you do this all the time, like you have something way harder to do tomorrow. This is nothing. A breeze! A breezy breeze. Should I pee one more time?

And on and on…
IMG_2915IMG_2947The nerves come with the gig, but I find performing much more enjoyable when I am able to relax and quieten this high strung inner dialogue. 

Here are some ideas to help de-stress and prepare mentally for the stage.

1) Take a nap. During the break between rehearsals and show time, one can find a number of Joffrey’s dancers sprawled out beneath their dressing tables, zipped to the chin in warmups, refueling with some zzz’s.

2) Get out of the building. After rehearsing in a dark theater all day, a dose of fresh air and natural light help me clear my mind and feel energized.

3) Pull out your favorite mindless craft. During our run of The Nutcracker one can find dancers sitting on the pt room floor, make-up half finished, surrounded by crayons and Nutcracker themed coloring pages. Sometimes it helps to focus on staying within the lines rather than worry about (enter favorite performance nightmare here). Crocheting also does the trick. And these coloring books are awesome.

4. Take a shower. A hot shower before a show is like magic. It’s warming, relaxing and makes hair easier to twist. It’s a great way to “reset” and freshen up before going on stage.

5) Give yourself lots of makeup time. For me, putting on my stage makeup is like a meditation. Doing a clean job helps me feel prepared and beautiful and centered in my character. Allowing lots of time minimizes smudges and spills and the stress of sticky eyelash situations.

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For more tips and tricks, head over here.

all photos by Mahallia Ward.

life in motion

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Recently, my days have been a bit freer than I’d like them.

Our first program is beautiful, but small, and my roles rather brief.  Though productive to a fault and never one to complain about free time (hello, homework!), I’ve been fighting to keep this light rehearsal schedule from affecting me emotionally.  I don’t like to admit it, but my relatively dance-less days have been getting me down.

Fortunately, as if sent by the gods of interweb revelations, this blog post made its way to my browser in the peak of last week’s pity party.  One  paragraph and a few sips of chamomile later, something remarkable had happened; Through the shared struggle of someone a thousand miles away, my spirits were lifted.  I felt a strong connection to a dancer whom I’ve never actually met (thanks for that, technology) and the emotional slump we were experiencing together, but apart, suddenly seemed a whole lot more manageable.  Mahallia’s grace, in both words and dancing, reminded me just how strongly the prosperity of my mental health relies on expression through physical movement.  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in ballet’s brain game that I forget to simply enjoy the inherent therapy in motion.

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I found the above quote taped into my new locker at the start of this season.  An excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet left behind by an over-thinking dancer of the past, these ten lines felt wholly uniting.  They seem to be speaking directly to us- those who move to live, those completed by their career, those who find themselves making a living which makes them right back.

If ever you catch yourself toiling in the unsolved answers, I invite you to stop.  Stop looking ahead.  Stop searching for solutions.  So curiosity may drive an exciting ambition, but why not experiment with that potent thirst?  Direct it towards the questions themselves, and dedicate some time to examining what it is you’re asking.  Relish in the observance of negative space, of blank pages, and empty hours.  Experience the unraveling.  Live the questions.

End rant.  Happy Monday!

first photo by Michael Collins.

striking a balance

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Earlier this summer, I hopped a bus to NYC to visit a friend temporarily in town from the Royal Danish Ballet. Seven years had passed since our bonding at Jacob’s Pillow but! thanks to the joys of social media, there was a strong sense of uninterrupted connection between us.  If not in a multi-paragraph message framed in Facebook Blue, than through the remarkably vivid  612×612-pixel window of good old Instagram, over the years we shared in our adventuring.  We watched each other grow.  Separate, but together.

At long last on a rooftop above Brooklyn, pocketed by twinkle lights, we reunited.  The alfresco table was beset with blondes, some faces familiar and some new.  Among those whose acquaintance I’d only just made was the delightful Miss Shelby Elsbree.

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As the sun slipped away, we loaded up on fresh mussels, al dente pasta, and July-ripened artichokes.  Basketballs abounded, flirtatious chefs offered shots and the rosé seemed to reappear endlessly.  We discussed Copenhagen, Boston, Providence, Bournonville, Forsythe and Balanchine.  Collectively reliving old romances, mulling over the merits of dating apps and fantasizing future travels we filled the gaps between our cities with easy communication and the breaking of bread.

The notoriously small nature of the ballet world felt tangible on that breezy New York evening and again this past weekend, when Jessica Spinner of The Whole Dancer reached out to me about her webinar on eating and injury prevention for dancers.  The internet seminar, live on August 27th at 8 pm (or whenever it hits your inbox- all who register will receive a copy of the discussion via email) is completely free and features none other than, that’s right, Boston Ballet Corps Member, Shelby Elsbree.

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Balancing strength and artistry seems a fitting topic for Miss Elsbree, a spirited pint of a person whose energy supersedes her.  The collection of “culinary curiosities” and bits of ballerina life comprising her blog, Tutus & Tea, showcases her unique ability to maintain a harmony between the two.  Here, in her lovely little corner of the web, Shelby proves she has as much grace and power in the kitchen as she does in the studio.

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Avoiding injury as a professional dancer is hard.  Cultivating a healthy relationship with food can be, too.  That essential, deeply personal balance between dance and life often alludes us.  To steal Shelby’s secrets, register for the free webinar (live one week from tonight), and join as she and holistic health coach, Jessica Spinner, navigate the twisting road towards a protective and empowering dancer diet.  Learn how to decipher primary and secondary foods, choose superfoods when recovering from an injury, and experiment with an eating plan to reach your ideal dancer’s body.  Nourish your body and mind.  Your tastebuds (and injury-free bod!) will thank you.

photos by Kenneth B. Edwards.

how to: beat the monday blues

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Happy Monday, all!  A few fun reads from around the web to get you through the world’s most dreaded weekday…

Ballet is Boring. (ha.)

The truth about ballet dancers. (amen)

The best kinda bread-bread ever. (looks so strange, and so yummy)

A love letter to my strained left hamstring. (made me laugh)

Ballet 422 is on Netflix. (what are you waiting for?)

Julie Kent just retired to a 30-minute standing ovation. (#endofanera)

Why I photograph dancers. (so much love for Kenneth, his photography, and his mission)

nesting

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afterlight

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It seems my last post (the one where we discussed negativity) was relatable for more of you than I had anticipated.  Since so many were able to identify with the struggle of controlling interloping thoughts that are anything but happy, I thought it would be nice to share some tricks to keeping yourself balanced outside of the studio.

For the first installation of this balancing-act how-to, I’d like to focus on creating a zen space.  Having an area to yourself designated purely to relaxation and restoration is key to maintaining a healthy mind and body.  Much like a mom-to-be nesting in preparation of her baby’s arrival, I find immense satisfaction in building a nest of my own.  I’ve shared just a few photos of my new apartment previously (which I regularly refer to as the coziest place on earth), but my favorite spot therein has slowly become my bedroom.  I’ve been taking my time putting it together, adding special elements to up its relaxation factor.  A few things that are currently making it extra-snug…

A new mattress from Santa.  One word: plush.  And new sheets, too, because comfort is an extravagance I do not play around with.

String lights in leu of a headboard.  The soft glow of these warm lights makes me feel like I’m wrapped up in a warm blanket- perfect for lazy Sunday mornings spent blogging from my bed.  More fun lighting options here.

Heavenly scented candles. There’s something so comforting about the flicker of a candle.  I once told a friend that when I’m alone, I like to keep a candle burning because it’s subtle movement serves the same “white noise” purpose as a soft radio playing in the background of an empty house;  Its delicate dance creates a buffer between the apartment and me, filling the air with just a bit of motion produced by some source other than myself, and strangely enough, I feel less alone.  My friend looked at me like I was 100% crazy and we moved on, but I’m sticking to my story.  My favorite scents are this (whose sexy smell has earned it the nickname “man candle” amongst my friends and me) and this classic.

Artwork with personal meaning.  When I arrived home after opening night of Peter Pan last spring, there was a package for me at the door.  A very dear friend of mine who lives out of state had thoughtfully sent over a beautiful print depicting one of my favorite quotes from J.M. Barrie’s timeless story- “Just always be waiting for me”.  It’s deep hue and night sky theme make it perfect for hanging just above my bed, and every time I see it I am reminded not only of that magical performance weekend, but also of my lovely friend and her sweet gesture.  I also have a print from Viktor Plotnikov’s Orchis hanging near my bed to remind me of another favorite show.

Something uniquely “me”.  It’s obvious by now, I’m sure, how much Peter Pan means to me.  When I first saw the Haptic Lab “Wendy Darling” kite at the Catbird boutique in Brooklyn, my eyes turned into animated red hearts a la this infamous emoji.  It’s so light and ethereal, and with it hanging right above my bed, I am tugged back to a time where innocence prevailed and I imagined my dreams being carried from Neverland to my bedroom in an enchanted floating ship.  It’s eclectic, it’s strange, it’s a kite hanging in my home- but it’s me and I love it.

So, I’d love to know, do any of you nest like me?

PS- check out my new “Muse” status on the gwenythbrand website ;)