Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lessons from Nutcracker: Breathe

We perform our Nutcracker really early (next week) so I'm passing on what I learn so that you can apply it to your show.

Seriously, just breathe. Yes, you are sick of working with certain people. Yes, the rehearsal schedule just changed for the nine millionth time and you're not sure you can rearrange your  real-life schedule to fit. Also, yes, you are being oversensitive. We all get to that place. Just breathe.

As artists, the bulk of our work is emotional. That's what makes performances so breathtaking and meaningful. Your willingness to be vulnerable and honest and giving to a theater full of strangers is an inspiring strength. It's why you care so much about what you do. And when you care so much about something, it's easier to lose perspective. 

I don't have a way to avoid the heightened stress and drama that accompanies Nutcracker. If I ever figure it out, I promise I will share with you. All I can say is keep breathing. Remember that everyone is feeling the tension that you feel. Give people the benefit of the doubt and a little extra kindness. Remember how much you liked these people six weeks ago. If you can't remember, lie to yourself. 

The work you are doing is exhausting and currently feels endless and thankless. Keep breathing so that you don't hold on to those feelings. It gets better; just don't pass out in the meantime.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I Had No Words

I like to talk. I talk a lot. It's pretty rare for me to be rendered speechless, but last night it happened. Twice.

The first time I was teaching the five-year-olds. The grandmother of one of my dancers walked into my studio and started correcting her granddaughter and criticizing how I had set up my room. I was absolutely speechless. 

In retrospect, there were many things I could (and maybe should) have said. For example:

  • It is inappropriate and disruptive for you to interrupt class.
  • Please set up an appointment to discuss concerns about your dancer.
  • She is five. She is doing just great.
  • Your correction and the expectation that goes along with it is unreasonable for this level in your dancer's development.
  • You have made your granddaughter cry. You need to back off.

Basically anything would have been better than the deer-in-the-headlights look I sported. But I am trying to cut myself some slack because this had never happened to me before. Everyone is bad at something the first time they try. Apparently this extends to dealing with overbearing grandmothers.

The second time I had nothing to say last night was after I had taught my eight-year-olds. One little girl stayed after class and happily said,

"Miss Chelsea, guess what?"
"What?" I asked, bending down to her eye level.
"My mom parked on my cat."

I mean, really, what's the appropriate response to that?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Have a Real Job

Sometimes I dance roles just because I want to wear the headpiece
The other day I was trying to coordinate schedules with a friend and and I mentioned that Tuesday night I'll be working late because I'm coaching a Sugar Plum. He looked at me sideways and asked, "Do the fairies talk to you?"

I know it sounded weird to say I was coaching a sugar plum but it's a real job, you guys!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sissone Tip

I'm full of good explanations
I started teaching sissone en avant this month. The trouble we're having is that some kids are trying to do a grand jeté instead of a sissone. So I've been explaining that sissone goes up before it goes out. Apparently it's a fairly tricky concept.

Last night I talked about how sissone is a fireworks step. Fireworks go way up in the air before they explode. "What happens if fireworks explode before they go up?" I asked.

"They blow up people!" was the emphatic, and correct, response.

"Right," I said, "Mass carnage is bad."

And then, in a moment of reserved brilliance, one of my very quietest dancers muttered, "Bless their hearts."

I laughed out loud. 

I take my work very seriously, but I also manage to have a really great time. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Favoritism

Picking a relevant picture for "favoritism" is really hard
so I settled for a picture of one of my favorite hobbies:
decorating desserts

Favoritism is much more complex than I originally thought. I used to think, "How hard can this be? Treat everyone equally. Duh." I also used to think that treating everyone equally would look the same across the board. I now think "Treat everyone with dignity and respect." And dignity and respect demand flexibility.

It's an unavoidable fact: every artistic director (and, to a lesser degree, every teacher) has their favorite dancer(s). Some bodies work better for certain styles of choreography than others. Some personalities work better together than others. But, for me, as long as every dancer in the room has space to achieve their personal best, dignity and respect are still maintained. Remember that class I took that made me mad? The teacher wasn't respecting the potential of all her students. That was favoritism.

As a teacher, I get asked to do a lot of favors for parents. I'm sure that if I owned my own studio I'd be asked to do even more. I used to think that if you were going to do a favor for a mom who was a friend of yours outside of work, you should be equally willing to do a favor for a mom you don't really know. (Or dads. I know a lot of excellent, involved dads.) I am rethinking this. Granted, it would be a no-brainer if they were asking for the exact same favor, but that has yet to happen to me. The decision to do someone a favor is easier (for me) the more I know about a situation. And, obviously, I know more about my friends than I do parents I only know in passing.

Honestly, I don't want every detail about every parent's life. I already get more information than I want from some people. And, again, sometimes some personalities just click better than others. I don't want parents to feel like they need to buddy up to me just to ensure that their child gets a fair chance in class. So this is one area where things just aren't going to be exactly equal. As long as I'm not mean, I'm at peace with this.

Equality in choreography is basically impossible. Interesting dance simply will not be perfectly equal for all people. Not everyone can be center stage. If I had to ensure that each dancer spent exactly eight counts front and center, the dance would cease to be dancing. Tall dancers in corps work will be behind short dancers much of the time. It can't look equal to everyone.

If I worked my pieces so that they were homages to my favorite dancers with everyone else being just human scenery that would be favoritism. And horridly boring. (And I've totally seen it happen.) If my focus is on creating something beautiful where each person contributes to the whole, I am honoring the artist and potential in each dancer. It won't look perfectly equal, but I will be respecting everyone's contribution equally. 

There's one more element that needs addressing: just as you deserve dignity and respect, I also deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I recently had a mother hand me her contact info so I could "arrange a carpool for [her] daughter." Nope. I am not your lackey. Every time a child comes up to me in between classes with her hair a mess and says, "My mom said you could do my hair," it is disrespectful to me (I have things to do) and to my other students (who deserve 100% of my attention and their allotted class time.) I have more examples, but I'll spare you. 

I think favoritism hurts everyone. The favorites aren't critiqued or challenged as much as they could be; the "others" aren't given as many opportunities to try new things; no one's potential is maximized. Favoritism also requires me, the teacher, the one enforcing favored status, to make sure that I am absolutely, unquestioningly the authority. Frankly, I'm uncomfortable with that. I make mistakes and I want to have the freedom to grow and change. But I also hope that you will give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I'm trying my best to show dignity and respect. Because it will never look equal.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Competition

I overheard an interesting snippet of conversation today. One dancer was retelling a story where someone said that dance was too competitive and that it was simply unnecessary in a professional company. Her stance was that, dude, this is competitive. If you don't like it, you're in the wrong line of work.

I have thoughts on this.
  • There is simply no way to make professional dance less competitive. There will always be more excellent dancers than there are jobs available. Complaining about it is like complaining about the economy--go ahead if you want, but it's completely pointless.
  • At the same time, my unreasonably-driven-I-should-probably-take-some-Xanax-or-something personality will go into fits if I think about competing with the other dancers in my class. For me, "competition" is a win-lose game where I am always the loser. (I'm working on this, guys. I am therapy's favorite child.)
So what's a girl to do? I take the sentiment and just call it another name. (Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? If the person doing the smelling had odd issues, yes.) Instead of looking at the dancers next to me as competition, I see them as visual examples of what I could accomplish. They are inspiring instead of intimidating.

Clearly, this is better for me emotionally. I also think that I am a better dancer because of this mindset. Everyone learns better when they feel safe and supported. Everyone dances better when they are unafraid. Letting other people show you possibilities turns class into a collaboration. Not only does the teacher have something to give you, so does every other person in the room. Suddenly your 90 minutes are so much richer.

I still push myself in class, but I don't compare myself to others. I still see my weaknesses, but I don't see them as fatal flaws. I still like feeling competent and accomplished, but now I can feel that way without needing to be the best in the room.

I am beginning to understand what Margot Fonteyn meant when she said, "Take your work seriously, but never yourself." One of these days I'll get the hang of it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Best Excuse Ever

I get pretty grouchy when girls come to ballet class with their hair down. I am not a control freak (okay, I totally am, but that's not why this bugs me)--having your hair down makes it hard to dance. And asking the teacher to do it assumes that I have nothing to do before class.

But . . . I had a little girl come to class with her hair down with an excuse so good, I laughed out loud. Apparently if you are clever, I will bend the rules for you. Here's her excuse, verbatim:
Miss Chelsea, I'm sorry my hair is down. We had family pictures this afternoon and it took longer than my mom expected because my brothers had to participate.
"My brothers had to participate." That is fabulous!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A First

This is not my happy face
I made my first dancer cry tonight. I feel terrible about it. Here's what happened:

I was rehearsing the buffoons for Nutcracker. The choreography has a section with cartwheels in it. The dancers weren't required to do cartwheels in the audition so I needed to get a handle on who could do what. 

I talked about how some dancers are really proud of their cartwheels and how some are really nervous about them but we are all on Team Buffoon and we cheer for everyone's best effort. I then threatened to tell on them to their mothers if I heard anyone making another dancer feel bad about their acrobatic prowess. (I didn't phrase it quite like that.)

[Side note: I am very aware of how it feels to lose a part because you can't cartwheel. It has totally happened to me. I was so relieved when I outgrew those roles. Then I decided that I was tired of feeling like I couldn't do something, so I took a gymnastics class solely to learn how to cartwheel. In college. I was twenty-two.]

So I sent cast B into the hall to peruse dance magazines because I knew that this would take a little while, that kids get chatty, and that chattiness in rehearsal makes me cranky. Then I had cast A cartwheel for me two people at a time. (First just one cartwheel, then four in a row.)

I'm glad I had them go two at a time; I could clearly see each dancer and (I hope) there was less pressure than doing a solo.

But that's where my best intentions went awry. One dancer wasn't confident with her single cartwheel and began to cry when I asked her to do four. You guys--I feel so bad! I made a child cry!! That is the opposite of what I'm about. (I'm even friends with the founder of BACA--he's gonna kill me.)

Anyway, I had the sweet little girl come sit next to me and I told about how I was way old when I finally learned to cartwheel, gave her a hug, and went on. I know the show must go on, but it was hard. 

A little later I told all the girls how proud I was of them for trying something a little scary and giving it their very best effort. And I had a good talk with the little girl's mom already, which I think is important. I mean, I'd want the teacher to talk with me if it had been my daughter.

But still. I could have gone a long time without ever making a kid cry.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rehearsal Mistress


I am a rehearsal mistress for Provo Civic Ballet's "Nutcracker". (I can't say that without my non-dance friends making rather dirty jokes. And they're never that funny, honestly.) I enjoy the role, but it's not easy for me. This is only my second year, so I am still training my eye to take in the whole group. In case you, too, are new to running a rehearsal for choreography you didn't create, here are some things I've learned:

  • fix the spacing immediately. Don't wait until you have everything learned--fix it right now.
  • there is no such thing as being too familiar with the choreography. Some of the hardest hours of my career have been when I was pulled in last-minute to rehearse/clean something I'd never seen before.
  • when rehearsing young dancers, remember that they are learning how to learn choreography. It's a whole new ballgame for them so be patient. Lie if you must.
  • I try to alternate which cast I start with each week. Otherwise cast A gets the lion's share of attention and they end up looking much better. This doesn't seem fair to the equally hard-working other cast(s).
  • You will get better at this. Just like learning to dance or learning to teach, you can learn how to rehearse. Learn from your mistakes but don't beat yourself up about them or make them part of your identity.
I am lucky to work for an artistic director who, if asked, will give genuinely constructive criticism. She worked with me last year on some elements that I had overlooked and this year is already going so much better. Tonight was our first buffoon rehearsal and it was so good! I am practically giddy.

Of course, I can't take all the credit. All 21 of those dancers (who are all eight and nine years old) brought their A-game. I am so proud of all of them!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Glissades

What is my posture doing in this picture? Why is my butt sticking out?
I have a love-hate thing with glissades. Well, actually, I don't love them at all but I do think that a series of glissades changée is one of the flirty-est steps there is. And a well-done glissade is simply beautiful. Oh, and they are one of the most common connecting steps in all of ballet so learning to do a good glissade is pretty important.

Unfortunately the difference between a crappy glissade and a beautiful one is about seven years of dedication. And I get to be the teacher during those years.

(Note: I love my job. I really do. It is a privilege and a joy. And involves a lot of glissades.)

My students are too young and inexperienced to recognize the difference between the glissades they are doing and the beautiful, amazing steps they could be doing in the future. That's okay--I will help them. Every single week. But that means we do glissades. Every single week. 

I think the kids are bored. They want to do fun, fancy things. They probably wonder why it seems like there is a glissade in every allegro. (Because there practically is.) I don't doubt that tonight at least one of them was thinking, "We know, Miss Chelsea. We've done this before." And it probably seems a little unreasonable of me to make them work on connecting steps instead of letting them run-run-run-LEAP to their little hearts' content. But they've gotten to the age where it's time to get serious. For those who really want to be ballerinas, we've got to put in the work. 

Tonight was a tough-love night. I'm lousy at tough love. Happy, sparkly, butterfly love? Totally my wheelhouse. But no one gets better without someone pushing them to do the hard stuff. And I care about my students, so I'm going to push them. This is just a dip. So yes, the next lesson plan contains more glissades.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Feel Free to Laugh

The shorts in question. Oh, and my awesome tricep muscle. Who knew I had that?!
I had the weirdest thing happen to me today. I took Wilson's class this morning and his class is always hard. Good, artistic, enjoyable, challenging, well-planned, fun and insightful--but also hard. And he likes to end his classes with a series of small jumps.

(Side note: I feel like calling them "small jumps" is misleading. They don't travel anywhere, but the expectation is that I'll somehow manage to get really high off the ground.)

Lately Wilson has been having us do Italian changements as part of the small jumps. In general, I have a very high opinion of the Italians. I could even see myself happily living in southern Italy. But these changements and I don't get a long so well. I'm more of a legato body, myself, so the power needed for this jump really doesn't come easily to me. But whatever. Wilson believes in working on your weaknesses. He's so nice to give me lots of chances.

So there I was, jumping like my life depended on it. I finished the combination and felt something weird on the back of my legs. I absent-midedly brushed my hand across my leg, expecting to find a hair or thread, only to find my shorts. I don't know how, but I managed to literally jump out of my shorts.

This was a completely new experience for me. I've never seen or even heard of this happening before. I wasn't quite sure how I felt. On the one hand, I was super-proud of myself. I mean, people say, "I worked my butt off!" all the time--but I sort of actually did. That's pretty awesome.

On the other hand, my clothes fell off. In a room full of mirrors. And there were other people around. I felt the same kind of embarrassment that I feel on behalf of those 19-year-old guys walking around with their pants half-way down their legs. I never thought I'd be feeling that for myself. I'm generally pretty good about keeping clothes on.

In case you're wondering, no, the elastic in the shorts did not snap. They did not simply bite the dust and wear out. They are perfectly fine. I know because I spent some time walking around my house in them today to make sure. I just managed to jump out of them.

I hope my toes were pointed.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Salt Lake ComiCon

Clearly, she had a much better costume than I did
On Friday my family and I went to the first ever Salt Lake ComiCon. It was also my first con and I had so much fun!! I am totally excited to go next year!

I really don't have much more to say about it except that I loved the guy in the Dr. Horrible costume and forgot to get his picture. Oh, and you can't tell from the picture above, but I went in fishnets and high-heeled boots (because, duh, original series Star Trek). My feet were killing me by the end of the day--and I'm used to some pretty brutal stuff.

But it was totally worth it. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Fun Idea


You may remember that last spring I went to Center Stage's production of "The Wizard of Oz." It was a great production and I really enjoyed it. But that's not what I want to write about tonight.

I happened to be at Center Stage a couple of weeks before the production and I saw that their ballet director, the very talented Melissa Staheli, was hosting a "Wizard of Oz" party. The dancers brought pillows (and treats, I'm assuming) and all watched the movie together. I thought this was a really fun idea.

  • It was a great way to re-energize and inspire the dancers towards the end of rehearsals. Let's face it, the 900th time you've rehearsed something is not the most fun thing in the world. Incredibly important, but not all that fun. A movie party is fun.
  • It was a great way to remind the cast that, for the most part, they liked each other. After what feels like a million hours together, it's pretty easy to forget the good things about people and remember their mildly annoying habits.
  • It was a great way to make sure all the kids fully understood the story they were acting out. You think everyone totally knows the story? Think again. My kids have never seen the movie. (My little sister loved "The Wizard of Oz" growing up and watched it at least once a week. When we moved, I "accidentally" lost it. She's still mad at me about it. We moved 16 years ago.) 

Melissa is a very talented teacher and choreographer. I like to borrow ideas from her whenever I can. This one I'm sharing with everyone.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Becoming Intermediate

It's time to ask someone to come in and take more pictures of me teaching
Last week I came home from teaching feeling very discouraged. This post is all about how I worked through that.

I've learned that when I'm discouraged with a class, it is never the students' fault. They are doing their very best and I appreciate and respect that. Demanding that they "work harder" is never a solution; instead, I must work smarter.

But I cannot take all the blame when a class goes poorly either. I accept a large portion of it, but there are always factors beyond my control. For example, last week:

  • school started. Kids never do great in dance class the first week of school. The transition is too great to expect them to bounce into the studio with the same levels of energy and focus that they had the class before. This will even out on its own, but for some students it takes up to a month to really have a handle on the new schedule.
  • the class in question is the biggest I have ever taught. There are 25 students enrolled. Part of my discouragement is that I simply cannot have the one-on-one time with each student the way I am accustomed to. Fortunately, I have two wonderful assistant teachers in the class so I know each student is getting the attention they need.
          Settling down 25 kids takes quite a while, too, and I've found I need to be stricter with                
          this group than I am accustomed to. I used to wonder how teachers developed the 
          ability to be strict without being mean (and, let's face it, some just settle for mean) 
          but now I think it's something developed out of necessity. Does the fact that I'm 
          learning this now make me a real grown-up?

          Taking a break for a drink of water/using the restroom simply takes TOO LONG with 
          25 students. We only have one drinking fountain, and all of center work can be lost to 
          waiting in line for a drink. There was an easy solution here: the girls now bring water 
          bottles and keep them in a set area of the room. Everyone can get a drink quickly, but 
          I still get to control when the drink break is. That way I don't have an eight-year-old 
          guzzling 64 ounces of water and needing five bathroom breaks. (Bathroom breaks are 
          a big problem in this particular class. We'll tackle that in a few months.)

          Even with a short water break, organizing 25 kids into rows was a headache and a 
          half. Some girls insist on always being in the front, others just have to be center, and 
          then there are always a couple who will hide outside the room until I notice they're 
          missing. So, and this is the very best time-saver I've implemented so far, I assigned 
          spaces for center work. We still rotate rows and a new row starts in front each week, 
          but just knowing where they will be for stretches has magically made that transition 
          so much smoother.

Okay, enough of the factors that were beyond my control. Let's talk about where I screwed up. I forgot that this class is transitioning into being intermediate dancers. Becoming intermediate isn't just about learning harder steps. The expectations of technique and decorum are much higher, the play:work ratio changes, and the dancers are expected to handle more layers of information. At our school, this is also the level where class exercises and music are no longer set. Students must learn new combinations all throughout class and no longer have auditory cues for what comes next. Not only does this require increased focus, it will really highlight whether or not the students have been connecting the words with the movement. And, ideally, by the end of this year students will be able to perform combinations without a teacher dancing with them.

None of this comes naturally to students. The biggest job I have this year is to teach these students how to be intermediate dancers. And I expected too much from them last week. The weren't overly successful (they weren't horrible either, they just didn't look as good as I know they are) because I haven't taught them how to take a harder class yet. So I've made some changes.

The technical aspects of the combinations weren't off. My class was well-planned. But I've simplified the demands of learning new material with each class. First of all, I only change the class after we've done it four times. I feel like that still gives the students practice learning combinations quickly but also leaves enough repetition to promote mastery. Right now I am using the same music every time we dance a class but I plan on using new music with a familiar class in a few months. I am also performing each step with the dancers so that they have someone to watch if (when) they forget what they're doing. My goal is to have the dancers performing without visual cues by mid-spring.  By the end of the year they will be processing an intermediate amount of information.

I don't think that some of the students really understand that the combinations are changing. (These kids are only eight. Before you write them off as clueless, remember how on-the-ball you were at that age. That always helps me be more patient.) A tendu is a tendu is a tendu, right? So what if you can tendu in more than one direction or with a different musical accent? That's the disconnect that is causing trouble in class right now. If you think you know how to tendu, you aren't going to pay any attention to my jibber-jabber about the details. (Important details, like how many to do before stopping.) 

I know many excellent teachers who approach this disconnect verbally or academically. They explain to the students the importance of paying attention, they have contests to see who the best remember-er is for the day, they make standing in the front row for center practice a reward for paying attention at barre . . . And I have seen teachers shame students or threaten to demote them a level if they didn't catch on more quickly. I tried a different approach and am thrilled with the results.

Each time I explain an exercise, I make the students step away from the barre and hold their hands behind their back. I've tried just one of those at a time, but it's so much more effective if I do both. For some reason, this keeps their minds mostly-engaged. The improvement was immediate and impressive. Of all the things I've done in class lately, I am most proud of this one. It is so simple, so fast, and everyone feels good about themselves.

I evaluated progress after tonight's class, and I feel so much better about where the class is. I tell my students that it's okay to learn through making mistakes, and this time it was my turn.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back in the Swing of Things


Okay, so my blogging took a summer break too. But I'm back! And here's where I'm at:


  • I think this article has good information on dealing with ankle sprains. You've probably already found it on your own, but I wanted to make sure.
  • The beginning of the school year is always a little jarring to me as a teacher. We start our year at our studio at the beginning of August so I have a couple of weeks with the kids before school starts. Everything is humming along and then, BAM!, school starts and their poor brains just aren't used to it. Progress is pretty limited for the first month or so. It's okay. It has to get hard before it gets better.
  • Intermediate classes are hard to teach because you are teaching the kids how to take class--it's their first time without a set barre, or set music, and the expectations get a lot higher. I'll write more about this soon, but this transition is rough on everyone in the room.
All in all, I am very happy to be back. I love my job!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Great Pants-less Escapade

I never realized how muscular my feet are!
Everyone has days where stuff just doesn't seem to go as planned. But those days look a little different when you're a dancer.

First of all, I know that caffeinated soda is no excuse for good nutrition. But every once in a while (a little too often, lately) I have moments where I substitute a Coke for real food. It's a terrible option, but that's where I was today.

So there I was, driving along to tonight's class, when I opened my Coke and it was way more carbonated than I expected. Coke sprayed all over the inside of my car and on my pants. In a most un-mom-like fashion, I didn't have a single napkin, paper towel or rag in my entire car and I figured, "these pants already need to be washed, I'll just use them to clean up this sticky mess." I waited until I was at a stoplight to take off my pants, and I was wearing booty-shorts underneath, but I was still technically in gear so I'm guessing that's a ticket-able offense. And I couldn't think of a reasonable excuse to give an officer, so I was pretty relieved that there were no police around.

What kind of ticket would they write for "removing pants whilst still in gear" anyway?

I made it to class and it was, as expected, just great. I left the windows of my car rolled down about an inch to take advantage of the cooler night air--despite the 30% chance of rain--because I live in the desert and it just doesn't rain that much here. Until tonight. Holy buckets of rain, Batman! Tonight it poured! And soaked at least half of the driver's seat. Great.

Pants-less, perched on half the seat of my car, and getting a soggy bottom, I received a text from my husband asking me to stop at the store and pick up some brown sugar. I happened to know that he was making secret-recipe cookies for some friends who were stopping by later, and I know how good those cookies are, and I knew I would be getting some too, so I agreed to stop by the store. (It helps that there's a store near the studio.) But I still didn't have any pants.

Did I let that stop me? No, I did not. I marched through that store, dripping wet, in a T-shirt, booty shorts and flip-flops and got the job done. Did people stare? You bet. Do I blame them? No way. It was a weird thing to wear.

But now I'm home, enjoying the aroma of delicious cookies baking in my oven, so all's well. Oh, and I finally put on clean, dry pants.

Bless my heart.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Geeky Favorite Band


This post has nothing to do with ballet. Ahem, The Doublclicks are adorable!!

Don't ask me why I just barely found this fabulous band. In case you, too, are searching for an addition to your "geek" playlist I have to share. My current favorites are: 

  • Oh, Mr. Darcy (and I don't even like Jane Austen)
  • Apostrophe (because punctuation matters, you guys)
  • Can't You See The World Is Ending (I'm hoping to convince my daughter to make this her theme song when she gets to junior high)
  • Impostor (because didn't we all stay up late watching Curiosity land?)

and I'm sure I'll add to that list. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Back in Class

Sorry, I only have pictures of me teaching
The studio where I normally teach/take class is closed this month. Fortunately I found a great adult class nearby. Adult classes can be really hit-and-miss but this one is taught by a great teacher, Kayci Kirkham.

I've taken class from Kayci before (a year or two ago) and I thought that she was inexperienced but would become a very good teacher. She isn't inexperienced anymore! She is young, but she's great! She was Vagonova-trained, so there were some minor differences from what I'm used to, but what really made the class excellent was her use of imagery.

I am totally going to incorporate her imagery into my own teaching. I have been getting corrections on my port de bras for 20 years and tonight I actually understood what everyone has been trying to teach me! She talked about taking the bottom of my scapula and wrapping it around my ribcage and into my core. (It makes more sense when she's actually manipulating your arms.) I am going to be working on this for a while.

She also talked about using my feet like suction cups and I really could feel an improvement in my plié in petit allegro. I was connecting my energy so much better than before.

And, as always after any break, my posture wasn't perfect. Kayci connected my posture to my hamstrings and helped me release tension in my shoulders by lengthening my back.

Oh, and she talked about imagining your belly button as a black hole so that the upper abs lifted and connected to the spine.

Tonight was the beginners class and I'm almost nervous to take the advanced class. But I'll be going back on Thursday because she is such a good teacher. A word to the wise: Center Stage isn't great about keeping their adult class schedule updated online so if you want to join me I recommend calling to verify the class time.

Taking class from a great teacher is an amazing experience!


Monday, June 17, 2013

Egg On My Face

These girls are older than the girls in this story, but whatever
The other day I was teaching the five-and-six-year-olds. We were pretending to ride unicorns. (This accomplishes many goals at once: we worked on pony canters [a good prep for pas de chat], a manege pattern, and building dexterity in wrists and fingers). At the end of the exercise I said, "Wave goodbye as your unicorn flies away!"

"Miss Chelsea," said my little stickler, "unicorns don't fly. You're thinking of a pegasus."

Clearly I need to bone up on my mythical creatures before tomorrow's class.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Grocery Store is My New Nemesis


image courtesy of wisegeek,org

I am a meticulous list-maker. You would think that would make me a great grocery shopper but, oddly, it doesn't. I have detailed lists of the ingredients I need to cook dinner but I somehow never know what to get for snacks. Fruit, cheese, whole-grain crackers, nuts, yogurt . . . what? And it all seems to get eaten so quickly.

(Confession: it may seem to get eaten so quickly because I've been shopping something like every ten days so the kitchen is totally bare by the time I drag myself to the store.)

And then there are the snacks that I won't buy because I'll single-handedly eat all of it before anyone else knows it's in the house (chips and salsa, I'm looking at you).

I realize that this is totally a first world problem and I am so incredibly lucky to be able to waltz over to the grocery store any old time and buy fresh, healthy foods for myself and my family. For crying out loud, I even managed to find fresh lemongrass yesterday. 

But keeping our house stocked with food you can eat without an hour of preparation is a weakness of mine. So I'm asking for help. (Personal growth, here I come!) What staples do you buy each week?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Art + Science = Awesome

Now I want to make my own Tesla coil and perform to lighting accompaniment.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Favorite Things


Do me a favor and just ignore how my knee began to bend before my heel arrived on the ground
I have a hunch that if I'm ever reincarnated as a musician all my work will be in 3/4 meter. Why? Because all my favorite ballet steps are in 3/4. (Because I know the curiosity is killing you, my favorite steps are: rond de jambe par terre, balancé and waltz turns.)

Apparently I'm a very waltz-y person. I wonder what that says about me?

Also, I once had a teacher say that people are either natural jumpers or natural turners. I beg to disagree. I am neither. I'm not sure what I am, but let's save that discussion for another day. You'll notice that my favorite steps are not jumps or turns, nor are they preparatory steps for jumps or turns.

What are your favorite steps?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

So Flattering


A little while back I received a note that I had been nominated for a Liebster Award. The Liebster is an award freely given to new blogs with less than 200 followers. I was so flattered to receive one! (And frankly rather relieved that someone is interested in what I have to say.)
Here are the rules for accepting the award:
1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves 
2. Answer the questions that the tagger set for you plus create 11 questions for the people       you’ve tagged to answer
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post
4. Go to their page and tell them
5. No tag backs
First of all, I need to thank Alice in Danceland for nominating me. Someday I may plan a road trip just to hug her. And now, in gratitude, I will go on to follow the rules:
11 things about me
  1. I have scoliosis
  2. I have 13 ribs
  3. My sacrum isn't fully fused
  4. I dance anyway, and somehow nothing hurts too much
  5. I love to waterski
  6. My favorite food in the whole world is raspberries, although most people guess chocolate and I often don't correct them
  7. I am neither a morning person nor a night owl. I suppose you could call me sloth-like, but please don't
  8. I have always wanted to be the Arabian soloist in Nutcracker but, at 5'4" I am too short
  9. I started dancing when I was 12
  10. I love decorating sugar cookies
  11. I am a really good cook
My answers for Vivian
  1. What is your best recommendation for new bloggers? If you aren't blogging specifically for friends and family, I would highly recommend reading The Startup of You
  2. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? Right now I'm fantasizing about Boulder, CO, and southern Spain. Although if the chance to live in London (again) came along I would absolutely take it!
  3. What types of posts and blogs do you tend to comment on the most? I usually comment when I have a relevant experience to share. Although I often read and enjoy without saying anything
  4. Favorite Youtube dance clip? This one
  5. Would you give up your day job to dance? Dancing already is my day job and I feel incredibly blessed for that
  6. What is your favorite dance studio? Oh my. I love any studio where excellent teaching and learning happen. They all have a special feeling of their own
  7. Do you like being corrected in class/what type of corrections work best for you? I appreciate corrections and love hearing new imagery
  8. Favorite book? Favorite quote? I read a lot so picking a favorite book is hard . . . I do love The Giver. I also have a few favorite quotes, but I'll pass along this one: 
    Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
    —Kurt Vonnegut 
  9. Best snack between class? As the teacher, I get no time to snack between classes
  10. What’s your favorite leotard? (brand, style, color) Whatever one is newest, and I am still searching for this one
  11. Best advice you wish you would have known when you were younger? Stop worrying about being acceptable. Just work hard to truly accept yourself
11 questions for my nominees 

    1. Why did you start blogging?
    2. What's the coolest thing you've done this month?
    3. What kind of treat do you ask for on your birthday?
    4. What is your dream vacation?
    5. What is the most recent thing you read?
    6. What is the best advice you've ever received?
    7. What was/is your favorite subject in school?
    8. What is your favorite breakfast?
    9. What are your hobbies?
    10. Do you dream in color or black and white?
    11. Any tattoos?
Blogs to check out (there aren't 11 and I have no idea how many followers they have, I just like them)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Audition Tips

I've been judging a few auditions and placement classes lately so I thought I'd share some tips I wish I could have given the dancers.

  • I am hoping to see you succeed. I know auditions are stressful, but try to remember that I'm looking for good things. One mistake isn't the end of your life.
  • Smile. Or at least look pleasant.
  • No matter how you're feeling on the inside, try your very best to look cool, collected and confident on the outside. This means no fidgeting, making odd faces or frantically practicing on the sides when it isn't your turn.
  • Remember that auditions aren't the same as class. It's not okay to be practicing in the back because you're distracting the judges from the actual dancers. It's not okay to join the last group for one more chance at a combination. (Actually, that's never okay in my classes but some teachers don't have a problem with it.) And it's not okay to decide how many pirouettes you feel like doing. Do exactly what was asked of you.
  • Look pleasant. Better yet, smile.
  • When you see the judges talking or smiling together, don't assume the worst. Sometimes we're poking fun at ourselves. (Example: last weekend a fellow judge and I noticed that everyone on the panel was marking the combination with our feet while we took notes. None of us could sit totally still. It was funny.)
  • Don't stare at yourself in the mirror. We want to see you perform.
  • And did I mention how important it is to not look pained? Smiling is always a better look.
Good luck!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Headpieces Can Be Hazardous

headpiece available at tiaras4dance
I feel like I'm the only ballerina who thinks a costume can be complete without a headpiece. Don't get me wrong, I love a beautiful headpiece--but I don't think that you have to have one. Nor do I think bare heads makes your production look amateur. But many, many people around here disagree with me.

In the spirit of Jungian analysis (or maybe not; I only took one psych class in college) I think I've traced these feelings to their source: that one time my headpiece got caught in the scenery and I spent the finale looking like I was being hanged. (Which was not entirely inaccurate.)

The setting of the ballet was a little village in the countryside. The wings were made of netting (the holes were each about a square inch) with tree trunks and branches overlaid. It was very pretty and I really liked how the wings looked irregularly shaped from the audience. But remember the netting, because it played a role in my demise.

Many aspects of that production felt rushed. The sets were great and the dancers were well-rehearsed but the costumes weren't all ready for dress rehearsal and there was some kind of delay getting into the theatre. The tech and dress rehearsals were squashed into a much shorter time slot than usual and everyone's nerves were a little frayed. For some reason (probably to avoid exhausted people killing each other) the director decided not to run the finale in rehearsal. This seemed like no big deal since finales are essentially people running in, standing in straight lines, doing a couple of simple steps in unison and then holding a pose. A monkey could do it. In fact, monkeys probably have.

But no matter how close to the opening we were running, heaven forbid that anyone should go onstage without decorations in their hair. Never mind that the costume department didn't have time to make anything. Never mind that no one had time to run to a craft store for supplies. If you spray paint it silver, it counts as a headpiece! At least, that's what someone thought as they gathered sticks from their backyard, hot glued them to a large bobby pin and painted the whole mess silver.

It looked ridiculous. It looked stupid. And it ended up pinned above my bun. (A classical bun, of course.)

The opening went well. It was a lovely show. And at the end we all ran on, stood in a straight line and danced in unison, ending with soutenous, kneel. [Cue applause.]

Oh, but wait. I was on the end of my line. And I did my turn right in front of the wing. And the sticks in my hairpiece got caught in the netting. And I couldn't kneel. I was the only person standing on stage. And it looked rather like I was hanging from the tree branch.

When the lights went out I put both of my hands on my bun and yanked as hard as I could. The "headpiece" broke in half, some of it still dangling from the tree. As I returned my costume that night the costume mistress demanded tartly "Who broke this?!" "I don't know," I lied, "It belonged to someone else." That woman was scary. I don't feel bad about lying.

And thus was born my belief that it's okay to leave your hair plain.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lots and Lots of Napping

Thank goodness there isn't a picture of me napping. I sleep hard.

This time of year gets a little hard for me because it feels like all of my students are burning out. I teach adorable little kids, but I can tell that they'd rather be outside playing than inside pretending to be fairies or zebras or (my recent favorite) hot dogs.

Plus we're getting ready for the parent demonstrations at the end of the month so I'm not introducing a whole lot of new stuff. Mostly we're perfecting what we already know and seeing how much material we can squeeze into a class. The kids are doing great but they are still ready for a break.

It's pretty draining teaching a room full of people who'd rather be doing something else, hence the napping. But it will be okay; demonstrations are at the end of the month and then comes summer. This slump happens every year, and it always resolves itself.

But if you're wondering why I haven't been blogging, it's because I've been asleep.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Classical Bun


It's spring concert season, which means that I'm about to see a bunch of doorknobs on top of people's heads masquerading as ballet buns. A ballet bun is very flat and you can see the final coil of the bun on top of the dancer's head when she looks straight forward.

I like the tutorial above even though is was done very quickly. (You can see a little bit too much hair on top of her head, but it's still a good example.) For a performance I am sure the dancer wets her hair, uses gel, takes more time, and gets it just a little bit flatter. If you have thick hair you may need to coil your hair in two sections (that's what I need to do to make it really flat. I also need to start my pony tail just a little bit higher.) It will take you a little time to figure out the best place on your head for your pony tail, and how many sections work best for you.

I would like to take this moment and plead with you not to use a Hairgami for your performance. The buns are simply too tall. If you really want to make me happy you'll use bobby pins or hairpins with your Hairgami in class so that your bun stays attached to your head instead of flopping around, but that would be icing on the cake. I would be satisfied if you simply took the time to make a real bun for your performance.

Again, a ballet bun is very flat and you can see the final coil of the bun on top of the dancer's head when she looks straight forward.


image couresty of ehow
These buns aren't quite high enough for a performance, but they are nice and flat

P. S. The YouTube clip was posted by Greenville Ballet School in Greenville, SC. I'm unfamiliar with the school, but if they're willing to teach you how to do your hair they're probably worth looking into. Just in case you're looking for a school in the area.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Geeky Freak-Out

Image courtesy of Engadget
I had to make this picture really big because

  • my city is getting Google fiber and I am way excited about it, and
  • the nice lady standing at the left in the photo is my mom.
Naturally, finding my mom's picture on Engadget led to the following conversation:

Me: Mom! You're on Engadget!!!!
My mom: Nice. What's Engadget?

My mom is so lucky and I'm not even sure how she pulled it off. (Aside from being pure of heart and possibly living out a modern day fairy tale.)

And for those of you who just don't get why I am so freaking excited, Engadget is basically the New York Times for tech news. And my mom was on it.