life in motion


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.


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.

on negative thoughts


“Live through consciousness, not through emotion.”  -my Yogi tea this evening

Everyone has bad days.  You know, those days where you sleep through your alarm, you spill your coffee, and you search for your keys for 15 minutes before realizing they have been in your pocket all along.

For dancers, though, a bad day extends far beyond the typical coffee stain.  When a dancer is having a bad day (and believe me, we have plenty!), it usually means we are hyper focused on our flaws, tearing our technique apart, and subsequently hating what we see in the mirror…ultimately, as you can imagine, this is completely crippling.  But not surprising, considering we spend our days and nights striving for perfection, fighting physics and forcing our bodies to move, balance, hold, turn, twist, and stretch in ways that seem impossible upon first attempt.  Popular belief states that dancers possess a superior mental and emotional strength which permits tolerance of this extreme discipline, and I agree, but even within the confines of these “thick skins”, weak moments do exist.  There are times when we feel that all of these efforts are in vain and negative thoughts swirl around like angry wasps, stinging at our pride.  My feet are too flat, I’ll never have her extension, my boobs are too big, I can’t land a triple…these wasps are vicious and completely detrimental to any possibility of improvement.  So what’s a dancer to do when they come swarming?  Here’s my advice…

1.)  Stop comparing yourself to others.  I recently received an email from a student wondering how to boost her self-confidence in the studio.  One situation in which she feels especially negative, she noted, is when she watches older students in her class, attempts to replicate their movements, fails, and ends up in a downward spiral of self-hatred.  If this sounds familiar to any of you, please remember this: ballet is not a “team sport”.  It is a highly individual practice, and your training is a constantly evolving journey that you are on.  Sure, your teachers, parents, peers and muses are there influencing you along the way, but your dancing concerns you and you alone.  We tend to see the best of talents in others and the worst aspects of ourselves, so comparing yourself to other dancers (especially older, more experienced ones) will only serve to hurt your ego.  So stop that!

2.)  Try changing up your look.  The easiest way to trick your mind into cheering up?  Give your eyes something you know they’ll enjoy seeing in the mirror- maybe a new leotard or a pretty headband– to turn turn those pesky wasps into butterflies.  A few days ago I was having the worst class I’ve had in a while.  Before rehearsal began, I took down my hair from its usual high bun and slicked it into a deeply side-parted one and instantly felt like a new person.  Try it.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

3.)  Give yourself a break.  As I mentioned earlier, technically speaking, ballet is outside the human body’s natural parameters.  If you don’t get it right away, don’t stress.  Some things will come easily, others will require hours of focus, stretching, practice, and yes, repetition before they feel remotely doable.  Be patient, and don’t beat yourself up.

4.)  Make small goals.  I learned this trick in my kickboxing class.  Instead of deciding you simply must nail 32 fouettés by the end of the week, start with 8.  Then 16.  Then 24…by breaking down the process, your goal won’t seem so frustratingly unattainable, and each checkpoint will feel like a major accomplishment.  The small successes will bolster your spirits, providing you with the fuel to reach higher and work harder.

5.)  Practice affirmations.  I have a very good friend who swears by self-affirmations, also known as sweet nothings whispered (or better yet, spoken loudly with conviction) to one’s self each day in the mirror.  It may feel strange at first, but studies show that sending your brain these positive reinforcements triggers a growth in confidence and an improvement in overall mental health.  You is kind, you is smart, you is important…

A dancer’s most important relationship is that between the dancer’s mind and body.  Maintaining a healthy balance of love and support between the two is vital.  I’d love to know, how do you stay positive when things aren’t going your way?

ballerina with red chairs


photo by Sheila K. Lawrence

Seeking perfection for a living can be mentally draining, to say the least.  With so many negative thoughts swirling around in your (bun)head day in and day out…my feet never point in that lift! my butt looks huge in this costume! why can’t I just turn out?!…it’s not hard to lose sight of what’s really important: connecting with your audience.

Enter Sheila.  This Tuesday, a “Backstage At The Arts” class for art-lovers of a more advanced age sat in on our rehearsal day.  About twenty charming students perched in the rows of our black box theater and observed as we marked, ran, and worked through the difficult bits of each piece for this weekend’s show.  Before my scheduled rehearsal time, our artistic director, Misha, opened the floor to any questions the students had for the dancers.  After informing the room of how I’d been dancing since I was 2 years old and my dream company (de jour) is Boston Ballet, Misha let them all in on a little “secret” of mine.  You guessed it, my injury.  The words fractured spine escaped from my subconscious, rolled out through Misha’s pursed lips, made their way to the ears of the students and rushed down their unsuspecting throats, pausing once for an audible, collective sharp inhale before passing down into their stomaches, where they seemed to sit quite uncomfortably.  This spawned a series of How did that happen?  Were you dancing?  How long did it take to recover?  How long have you been back in the studio?  and before I knew it I was in the middle of the first run of In Passing.  We worked on some corrections, ran the piece again and rehearsal was over.

Still feeling a bit too rusty to be in front of an audience, I didn’t waste time exiting the studio after practicing a few pirouettes.  As I b-lined for the dressing room, a woman stopped me.  It was Sheila.  She tapped me on the back and proceeded to express just how deeply In Passing had affected her.  She told me how much she enjoyed my dancing and that the piece nearly moved her to tears.  I noticed she was holding a camera in the same moment when she asked if I might be willing to pose for some photos in an empty studio down the hall.  Of course, being so grateful for her kind words, I obliged.

The shot above, which Sheila has dubbed “Ballerina with Red Chairs”, was the result of this mini photoshoot.  Whenever I see this picture, I will remember Sheila and her warmth.  Every time I look at my shadow cutting through the block of sunlight shining in through the window, I will be reminded of how just a little bit of darkness can interfere with something that is meant to be bright.  So here’s to a night of accepting our shadows and spotlighting our bright bits.  We could all use a little positivity sometimes…don’t you think?

inspecting introspection retrospectively


Just thought I would check back in here to record the effects of today’s “be happy” plan.  This day has brought me many things, among them a new mantra: Good things come to those who smile.

Today was one of the best days I’ve had in a while.  Nothing monumental happened; there were many tough rehearsals and stinky pointe shoes and all that (ballet) jazz.  But something felt so different.  I was smiling, happy, energetic- three words that could not have been further from describing me yesterday.  This difference, I now realize, came from me.  It wasn’t some kind of huge spiritual awakening, or centering of my “qi” (though I am still working on it, ahem, take-home-needles-permanently-stuffed-into-my-hand/back/ear- I’m talking to you), no, it was much simpler than that.  All it took was a smile.  Today I decided to smile when my alarm went off too early, when I rushed to take all of my many new herb supplements (more perks of acupuncture, weeee), spilt hot tea on my hand, did my first plie of the day, put on the aforementioned stinky pointe shoes, got my bum kicked in rehearsal for Enroulment, did one too many pas de chats en pointe during fairy rehearsal- all of it.  I smiled all day, and you know what?  The day smiled back.

PS- If you’re in the New England area, come out to see how well my acupuncture/smiling tactics have been working in this weekend’s performance of Up Close On Hope!

*photo by A. Cemal Ekin, pictured are Ruth Whitney and Alan Alberto in Unexpected, from last weekend’s Up Close