3 Weeks and a Reflection

Yesterday evening I performed as a guest artist with Susan Chambers Dance Company in their concert. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to test out my variations on stage prior to performing them at YAGP!

Backstage with my coach in between variations

Stage make up!

For the most part, it went well – I made no major errors in my dancing, and I did thoroughly enjoy it, which was very important for me (and I therefore feel it was a success in at least one way!) Technically, my performance was not where it should have been – or, not where it needs to be for YAGP! While of course I could – and should – have done better, I think it was far from a failed performance! In fact, I feel that it was successful in another way, too. If you look back through some of my other posts, you will come across several mentions of the mentality I must have behind my dancing; one area of big focus recently has been learning not to be nervous [and then everything that goes along with, and is related to, this skill]. I am really happy to announce that I’m starting to really develop this skill! Yesterday I was not nervous, I was no excited – no, I was very calm, cool, and collected, and this is exactly as it should be! After all, this is my life! Just an ordinary day, an ordinary performance, no big deal at all ūüôā

Still, there is no denying that I have a lot of work yet to be done!

I have 3 weeks now to really push myself to my limits, and I assure you I intend to do nothing less than my best! And when I have the intentions of doing something, I DO IT, no matter what!

In thinking about what exactly went wrong that made my performance anything less than perfect yesterday, and in an effort to do all I can to fix my faults and¬†do it perfectly at YAGP (and from here on forward), I was able to gather a few ‘key points’ which I can now use to make some plans for how I will best put these next 3 weeks to good use. 3 weeks is a¬†lot of time –¬†if I use my time wisely and efficientlly!

Problem 1: I have been treating rehearsals and stage performances differently, taking a different approach to them and going in with a different frame of mind – and it should not be so! To further expand, I have been doing this in two ways: the first is that when I am dancing during rehearsal, the thought running through my head is, “It’s only rehearsal – if I mess up I can do it again – so I will take this ‘risk’ and push myself to do a triple pirouette and go above and beyond each time,” which is not a bad way to think in and of itself; however, the problem presents itself when this frame of mind is contrasted with the one running through my head while on stage, in which I find myself thinking, “Oh! It’s the real thing now, I’m on stage, and so I must do it well, I must not mess up, or else!” This translates into self-doubt, which results in me being cautious and careful – and I end up not doing nearly as well, both because I am doing, for example, less rotations in my turns, and also because any self-doubt peaks out under all that makeup and shows itself in my performance (and that’s very bad indeed)!

The second way in which Problem 1 comes about is my laziness. Wait, what?! Yep, I said it – laziness. Now, ‘lazy’ is the last adjective anyone, including myself, would use to describe me, but I feel that there is no better word to explain what is going on here. You see, I get tired – exhausted, actually! – during rehearsals…understandably so, considering I usually have rehearsals after classes and it’s late at night. But¬†¬†understandable¬†is not excusable! I tend to let any fatigue get the best of me, and I submit to [incredibly false] self-reassurances that, “Oh, it’s alright – I’ll do it better on stage, I’ll have enough energy and adrenaline then to¬†¬†really¬†do it full out!” Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth! In fact, it’s completely the opposite – I need to KILL myself in rehearsal so that when I get to the stage I don’t need to give a second thought to have enough energy and adrenaline to get through the variation full out. Common sense – but it seems to escape me when I am aching and tired! Not anymore, though.

Solution 1:

  1. Treat rehearsals and performance¬†the same exact way.¬†They¬†are the same exact anyway! Each rehearsal must be done as if I am on stage, and each performance will in turn be done the same as if I were in rehearsal. Not only will that result in a better performance (and overall better strength and stamina), but emotionally I will also be much improved. Technically and energy-wise, I will be stronger because of having practiced it¬†¬†completely¬†full out each and every time at rehearsal; and artistically, and emotionally, I will be stronger because of me going in with the same attitude on stage as I take with me into rehearsals – so there is no need to fear the stage any more than there is a need to fear rehearsals. Makes sense, don’t you think?
  2. Record myself during rehearsals. This will allow me to see my mistakes – and the¬†good aspects of my dancing!! – for myself, and to better develop my performance. Seeing it for myself will also teach me more about self-correction and applying any corrections, as well as giving myself a better idea of how I actually dance [it’s funny, but now I think about it, I only have a vague “intrinsic” idea of what my dancing is like!] In addition to this, another benefit that goes along with recording myself is that it makes it more ‘equal’ to performances, which just goes back to helping me succeed in treating rehearsals and performances the same exact way, as I wrote about above.
Problem 2: One of my biggest corrections during my variations is my knees – I have trouble controlling them. They are hyperextended, but I tend not to straighten them all the way like they should be in some movements while I’m dancing. So I always need to focus on pulling my knees up and straightening them hard. I would like to do what I can to make this come more easily to me, so that I have to think about it less and that it’s just something that involves more muscle memory than…memory memory ūüėõ Luckily, there is an easy solution to this!
Solution 2:
  1. Do specific exercises to help strengthen and gain control of my knees.
  2. Be more mindful of my knees during class, and learn to use them properly then so that I can better apply it during rehearsal.
And honestly, I can [and should, and will] apply this same thing to my upper body and my arches, as well.
In these 3 weeks, I also will continue with my weight loss and body goals.
What else am I going to accomplish in these 3 weeks?
I’m going to focus like I have never focused before. This is the real thing, and it’s a very serious thing. There is no room for games, and no room for half-hearted attempts or any hint of hesitation. I’m taking a new approach to my dancing and it does not involve any childish behaviors or jokes.
I’m going to be calm and playful and artistic with my variations, and do them well each time. And I will look like a professional ballerina, not like a shy girl who wants to be a ballerina but is unsure of herself. NO, I am sure of myself and I will show it.
And I have a plan for how I will accomplish all of that! I intend to use every ounce of strength in me and every second of time I have to dedicate myself to this mission of sorts. I am going to try to get access to the studio some mornings so that I can go in by myself and work on everything from my exercises to my variations.
I have 4 days off now from ballet, which for once I am actually happy about and am very grateful to have. I am glad I have this time off because I hope that by resting for four days my body will heal all its injuries, namely my right hamstring. Perhaps my toe will feel better, too. I’m going to do everything I can to rest my body and help it heal – epsom salt baths, sauna, Finalgon…anything and everything to promote healing so that when I come back I can get down to things and work to my bare bones!

And so, the next three weeks are bound to be busy, but also incredibly growth-promoting and I am very much looking forward to perfecting my variations for YAGP!! I know I can do it because I HAVE done it!

I will finish this post with one last snippet of my recent epiphanies: my thought process during the actual variation is skewed from what it should be. I realized this yesterday. I realized that I was thinking about any mistakes I had made when really I needed to be thinking ahead instead! For example, instead of lingering on something that already happened [“my foot was supposed to be higher up in passe in that jump”], I need to forget about everything that I already did and go on to focus on whatever is coming next [“now I’m about to go into the hops in attitude turning around myself, so I have to remember to cross over”]. It’s something that seems like a little detail, but it will make all the difference in the world when I learn how to think ahead correctly instead of leaving my thoughts behind with things that¬†really don’t matter any more!¬†

With that, I end my post-performance reflections, and I end it feeling much more clear about where I am, what I have to work on, and how I’m going to go about working on it. And I know now that I will be able to give as excellent of a performance as I wish to give by working harder, smarter, and better. Here’s to progress and success!¬†I feel, metaphorically, like I’m plunging head-first into an unfamiliar side of the pool, much deeper. But its deepness only means that there is THAT much more to explore, that much more opportunity, that much more distance I can go further. I DO have the chance now to push myself further than ever and I am taking that chance with more enthusiasm than I’ve ever done anything else with before! And that feels great ūüôā

On the topic of music…

…who is your favorite composer? Without hesitation, I can say that mine is Chopin. And for the last few days, I have been especially drawn to his Waltz #10 in B Minor, Op. 69/2.

My favorite time to listen to classical music is while working out. Yep, you read the correctly! The unsuspecting people at the gym who see me pushing myself hard on the elliptical with an energized look on my face would be wrong about 98% of the time if they guessed I were rocking out to Lady Gaga at the gym (I say 98% because there is the odd occasion in which I feel more inclined to work out to more…conventional…exercise music!) The topic has come up in conversation before, and when I tell people what I am listening to I generally get a look of confusion, or the classic “why in the world…” look. Is it ignorance? Lack of exposure or education? Different interests, different personalities? It’s probably a mix of those. And what a shame, too!

Next time you work out, try it my way. Plug yourself into some Chopin or your preferred composer and lose yourself in the music. My guess is that your workout will go by quicker than ever, and that you will enjoy your workout so much that it will feel to have gone by too quickly!

I also enjoy listening to classical compositions while warming up and getting ready for class

For the record, I started listening to classical music during my workouts because I would listen to the music for variations or dances I was rehearsing at the time and I would run the pieces in my head as I worked out; I still do this all the time! The only downside to this is that you may find your hands marking the movements or your face reflecting the expressions you hope to do on stage — and that can look kind of funny to the other people working out! So just keep that in mind, or do like I do, and be indifferent to what other people think of you while working out. I’m there to enjoy myself and improve my body, it’s me¬†time, so I choose to be selfish while at the gym and give a thought to no one but myself ūüėČ

As a closing note on the topic of music, I would like to mention some interesting feedback and insight I received from others in response to my previous post on the connection between music and the dancer. First of all, thank you to those who left comments under the post — to read these comments, scroll down to the bottom of my last post and click the ‘comments’ link.

I opened a topic about this subject on a forum I frequent, dance.net — here is what one forum user, toroandbruin, had to say on the topic:

A lot of dancers like the music of Philip Glass. I didn’t understand this until I saw a company (contemporary in this case) dancing to one of his pieces. His works are, well the word which springs to mind is “minimalist”. Good, but sort of missing something, for me anyway. Not so when the group was dancing to it! The dance would have been OK on its own without music. It formed its own pattern. But the pattern of the dance and the pattern of the Glass music complemented and completed each other perfectly making a wonderfully rich whole. It was kind of like Gounod’s “Ave Maria” and Bach’s “Prelude No. 1 in C major” together forming one of the world’s most acclaimed pieces of music. Separately they are good, great even, but not as truly exceptional as they are together. So I realized that dance can go beyond interpreting music and add something to it.

Another point — although dancers can be inspired by music, the opposite also is true. Musicians can be inspired by watching dancers. When my daughter was taking dance the school did a performance in a mall. The next day an African drummer walked into the school to tell the jazz teacher he would really like to drum for her class and would charge a reasonable rate. The resulting class was incredible, both in terms of dancing and drumming. One of my ballet classes has a pianist who is a genius at playing all sorts of classical music adapted to just the right tempo and length for our exercises. But during our stretch we get the musician’s own wonderful “freeform” compositions which, I’ve come to realize, are inspired by us as well as we are by it.

Once you have created a dance in the absence of music, it would be interesting to have a musician friend compose a piece of music for it. 

Someone else I have had contact with online went ahead and responded to me directly on their own blog.

Dance writers have generally suggested that movement is more essential than music in dance.¬† Play a video of a dance performance without music, and it’s still dance.¬† Play it without the video, and you’re just listening to a musical performance, it is no longer dance… [to read more, please visit Green Pumpkin’s blog:¬†http://open.salon.com/blog/green_pumpkin/2011/11/23/behind_the_magic_how_dancers_create_music]

If anyone is interested in seeing more of the dance.net discussion, here is the link to the topic: http://www.dance.net/topic/9790516/1/Ballet-General/Insight-on-being-part-of-the-music-instead-of-dancing-alongside-it-Opinions-wanted.html&replies=5

Finally, in honor of Thanksgiving, I would like to give a huge¬†thank you to my readers so far! In the fours days my blog has been up, I have already had close to 250 views!! Please continue reading and don’t hesitate to make suggestions if you are inclined to do so ūüôā

I wish everyone a successful Black Friday (do ballet stores have any deals??) and a peaceful weekend! Stay tuned for more blog posts soon about topics relevant to ballet dancers as well as random ramblings and updates on my own dancing!

It is in Something’s Absence That We Learn to Appreciate It

The topic of this post is inspired by my experience working on my own at the studio yesterday. Read on for my new insights into music¬†as an integral part of ballet — and please, feel free to share your opinion and offer your own experiences. I would love for this to be the start of a comprehensive discussion on the matter. It is quite¬†relevant to all dancers! But first, a quick update and summary of yesterday!

Yesterday, Tuesday, was the first day I was completely on my own in the studio, without a class to follow my private rehearsal time. ¬†It went well and I enjoyed it so much that I am thoroughly looking forward to my studio time today! It could have gone better — I will admit, I had some trouble getting over my tiredness to work as hard as I would have had someone been watching. But I realize now that it doesn’t matter who is watching; I am there to work hard, not to work at any less than my best. I can make a lot of progress by going to the studio by myself every day, if¬†I work as hard as I would any other day. My ballet teacher is right, I need to not be a student anymore, but rather to learn how to be a professional artist. That means learning to work because I have to, for myself, and not just for an audience.

So today when I go to the studio, I will go in with the mindset of a professional, ready to put myself to work even though no one is there to call me out on any slacking off. Slacking off — that sounds bad! No, I did not slack off yesterday (those who know me would probably argue that they don’t think I could ever¬†slack off no matter how hard I try!) Let’s just say that barre went by really quick. Too quick!

Part of the problem was the music. I brought my ipod to plug in to the CD player. But I found myself having to continuously stop in between the exercises to change, restart, or pause the music, and I found that to be very frustrating! I like flowing through barre with minimal interruptions between exercises, and I was unable to do that while keeping track of the music at the same time. So I ended up doing barre without any music at all! And now, I can’t decide what I like better or what I hate worse: using music but having to stop constantly throughout barre to fix it, or not using music and being able to flow through the exercises but not having the beautiful music to accompany my movements and inspire them.

I think, however, that I will go the no-music route. Why? It’s a good lesson. It’s an experience I need to know how to deal with and manage. I need to learn to feel the music created from inside of me, and to translate it into my movements.

Part of the way I visualize success in my dancing is the ability to make an audience feel music when there is none, to stimulate their sense of sound even when only their sense of vision — watching me dance — is actually being used.¬†

Ballet requires music; ballet would not be what it is without Tchaikovsky, Minkus, Adam, Shostakovich, Saint-Saens, Chopin…

But imagine what great feats a dancer can accomplish with music if they have the ability to creatively transmit music through their motions when there is none. It is, I think, in the absence of music when we are most able to understand and develop our connection to music.

This would be an opportune time to share ilyaballet’s most recent video blog about some of the male students at the Bolshoi Academy. I forgot about it until now when what I was writing — about the music — was very similar to a situation his boys were in a few weeks ago. Their pianist was ill, and so they carried out several classes without any music at all. It turned out to be an invaluable experience, and everything Ilya and his boys say in the video rings true to my opinions, as is reflected in this post. To see the video and gather more insight into the topic, check out the video titled “5 – Bolshoi Ballet Academy VideoBlog” on ilyaballet’s YouTube channel:¬†http://www.youtube.com/user/ilyaballet

So today, when I go to the studio to give myself a class, I will keep all of this in mind and really work toward establishing a deeper connection with the music by learning how to dance without¬†music. I feel that this is a good step toward acting on what my teacher said I need to learn to do — behave like an artist, instead of like a student. The time has come for me to take my dancing to a different level. I am certain that putting myself through such an experience is exactly the way to start doing that!

And just for fun, here is proof that I did work hard yesterday even though I did not work my hardest! Can you see the sweat glistening on my face and shoulders?!