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Saturday, July 19, 2014

MFA Monster

     I had no real intention of studying creative writing in college. In high school, I enjoyed writing and idly dreamed (as book lovers do) of writing a novel someday, but writing didn't seem like the kind of craft that could be honed in a classroom. Authors, in my idealistic teenage imagination, were born with great stories and witty prose in their veins, scribbling out masterpieces in dingy urban cafes or lakeside cabins. I felt far too conventional and practical a person to Be a Writer but, at the beginning of my sophomore year of college, signed up for Intro to Creative Writing because 1) it fulfilled a requirement for my English major and 2) I wanted to conquer my fear of letting things I wrote be seen (and critiqued) by others.
    Long story short, I learned that writing, like dance, was something that (duh) improved with practice. Studying writing meant studying books, figuring out what made good stories good and dull stories dull. To my great surprise, I didn't recoil at criticism when it came to my work--I relished it. I also stopped making fun of the term "creative nonfiction", learned that I have no talent for penning poetry, and that writing good fiction is stupidly difficult. But I got better. I submitted some creative nonfiction pieces to national contests and magazines and had a bit of success.
     I took more creative writing courses over the next two years and accidentally added a creative writing minor to my double-major. I started thinking about pursuing an MFA in writing after graduation. When Graham was accepted to a small liberal arts college in rural upstate NY (far, far away from any university offering an MFA in writing), I put that idea on the back burner. It was his turn to earn his bachelor's degree and my turn to support our family.
     Ultimately, I'm glad I didn't pursue a master's degree right out of undergrad. I needed some time off from being a student to write freelance for a while, start a business, have a child and do other Responsible Adult
Things. Still, there's been this little nagging voice in my head since I walked the stage and got my bachelor's degree telling me that I really haven't learned enough, that I ought to be studying writing. I call it my MFA Monster.     Every few months the MFA Monster has me spend sleepless nights browsing the websites of low-residency MFA programs, calculating the amount of student loans I'd need to take out, agonizing over whether or not I had it in me to pursue another degree. Then, just as I'd begin an application, I'd discover some road block I didn't have the energy to overcome--an exorbitant application fee, extreme anxiety, a big business decision. The MFA Monster would retreat and I'd put aside that dream for another few months.
    Now's the time. This is the year. I'm letting my MFA Monster out and setting him loose on sample submissions and personal essays, narrowing down lists of schools, and marking application deadlines on my calendar. I've been working on numerous creative writing projects but really crave the support system and mentoring involved in an academic program. My whole life I've had a tendency toward overestimating my own maturity and jumping the gun (moving away from home permanently at 17, getting married at 19 etc.) I suppose I'm realizing now that I'm not as mature and capable a writer as I want to be and that I need more training and practice.
  I'm not entirely sure why I felt the need to blog about this before even being accepted into any programs. There's a significant chance that I won't even be accepted anywhere and will be walking away from this dream with my tail between my legs and will spend the rest of my days writing fan fiction and drinking boxed wine out of a plastic cup while whining to the pizza delivery boy about how how "I could have been great if they'd given me a chance!" but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fitness Review: Holy Yoga

         Yoga and I have never been best buddies. I'm an impatient person who finds it difficult to sit still. Deep breathing and meditation and self-acceptance aren't really my thing. Pilates, with its emphasis on precision and control appeals to my Type A ballet dancer brain, so when I head to the mat for cross-training, I'm more likely to do the Hundred than a Down Dog.  In college, a dance teacher recommended yoga to me to help with my tight hips, back and major anxiety problems. I made the mistake of taking a couple of classes from a teacher who burned incense in the studio and rubbed herbal ointments on our foreheads in resting poses. It immediately turned me off and it was several years before I tried another yoga class again.

        Fast forward to pregnancy and childbirth and parenthood. As I've journeyed (or, more accurately, stumbled) through these different phases of life I've become more aware that the reasons I tend to shy away from yoga are the very reasons it's good for me.  Last year, I started taking a friend's yoga class and started incorporating more of the practice into my own exercise routine and classes.
Jesus At The Core, Charleston,

This past week I had the opportunity to take a Holy Yoga class in Rochester as part of a Christian wellness conference. Founded by Brook Boone, Holy Yoga encourages its practitioners to connect their "entire being, body, mind and spirit with God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" through the discipline of yoga. I was a little apprehensive to try the class at first. Too often "Christian" versions of things are cheesy and low-quality. I expected it to be either corny or else full of burning incense, smelly ointments and flowery cues. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the practice was both mentally and physically challenging while encouraging a worshipful mindset.
Yoga for your mind, body and spirit

Brooke Boone instructed the slow flow class by candlelight on the first evening of the JATC. She led us through a series of poses interspersed with readings from scripture. She often used cues to help us use mental and spiritual focus to overcome the physical challenges of the yoga practice. I'm always surprised by how our emotional tension carries over into our muscles. I loved that, while there were moments of rest in the practice, we concentrated on scripture or prayer during those moments rather than emptying our minds (as in many yoga practices). My one complaint was the use of worship music during the class. Some might find the upbeat, victorious song selections empowering but I found them distracting and annoying at times. We were often encouraged to sing along to the songs which wasn't really my style. As a person of faith, I prefer to worship through movement and the last place I want to feel pressured to sing is at a yoga class!

Overall, I'd definitely recommend Holy Yoga, particularly to Christians looking for an uplifting and challenging exercise experience. It encouraged me to take more yoga classes throughout the summer and to keep up with regular home practice. Click here to find a Holy Yoga class in your city.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

New Blog Series: WNY Fitness Reviews

I love group exercise classes. As a toddler, I spent time hanging around the aerobics studio at our neighborhood gym, watching my mom take and teach group fitness classes, always joining in for the stretching at the end. (I thought thera-bands made the best toys.) As an introvert to the extreme, I prefer solitariness in almost every activity--shopping, traveling, movie-watching--except exercise.

I think it's common for dancers to trend toward structured group workouts because that's what we know. We spend our lives jumping around mirror-lined studios, following a teacher's instructions, spending months and years learning and mastering different combinations of movement. We know how to step on beat and check our alignment. One of my biggest flaws as a fitness instructor is underestimating how uncomfortable many people feel trying a new class for the first time. I try to make everyone feel welcome and safe in my classes but I forget that for a lot of people, just moving in public is downright terrifying. 

To help myself improve as an instructor and stay in shape during the summer months when my teaching schedule is slower, I'm making it my summer goal to leave my Pilates and dance aerobics comfort zone by trying and reviewing a variety of group exercise classes in the Rochester and Buffalo areas. Every class will be at a studio or gym I've never attended before. Some will be in familiar styles, like barre and yoga, while others will be totally new to me like aerial dance and pole fitness. I'll also be trying my hand at individualized workouts like running (eek) and lifting (ugh).

My first review--covering a Holy Yoga class I took this week--will be posted on Wednesday!

Do you have any suggestions for classes I should visit?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Swan Lake Recap and Summer Plans

What a whirlwind week. Yesterday a cast of just a few dozen kids and teens performed a mature classical ballet with beauty and maturity. Even more than their dancing, I'm proud of their patience, diligence and send of humor during the rehearsal process. Both Swan Lake and the performances by my jazz, tap and pre-school students went smoothly. The kids had fun and the audience loved it  

This was my third year producing and directing a student performance so I felt pretty prepared by Tuesday's final studio rehearsal. Too prepared.  On Wednesday I realized we didn't have nearly enough backstage volunteers to handle the 20 - 30 performers under age 10 in the cast and sent a frantic email to almost everyone I know locally asking for help. On Thursday--the day of our first rehearsal in the auditorium--I found out that our videographer wouldn't be able to record the show after all and that the print shop I'd counted on for programs was closed for the week. Thankfully, a very dear friend and fellow dance school director stepped in to take care of both of those tasks and volunteered to take photos of the performance.

A whole other set of potential problems was waiting for me at the auditorium. The stage hadn't been cleared or cleaned since the school's play a few weeks before so I spent the hour before dancers arrived moving set pieces and props around. Shout out to the high school student who helped me move a heavy sap-covered log after I interrupted his piano practice with my cries for help! Despite that minor inconvenience, the backdrop still on stage from the play ended up being a nice addition to Swan Lake so it all worked out nicely.

Once we got the theater set-up the stage rehearsals were mostly easy sailing. I had a crew of fantastic backstage volunteers who helped the kids get lined up and in order so I could focus on other things and actually watch my dancers. Not every piece was technically perfect but no one left the stage in tears or stood frozen like a deer in the headlights!

Now that the dance season is over, I'm looking forward to a few months of focusing on other aspects of my life: swims and walks with my son, lots of time working in the garden, and taking as many dance classes as I can. One of my biggest priorities this summer will be to spend some time working on the book I'm editing about dancers and body image. I also plan to submit my first MFA program application by the end of July (more on that later).

Before I do any of that,  I should probably clean my house. A distracted mom and two year-old can make some big messes.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Swan Lake: Crunch Time

My students are less than a month away from performing excerpts from Swan Lake at our annual spring showcase. We began the rehearsal process for the corps de ballet sections way back in January (due to the limited amount of time I have with the dancers each week) and I was filled with a lot of doubts: Who was I to condense and re-stage such an important ballet for a cast of mostly recreational ballet students? How would I stay true to the story's original darker themes while being sensitive to the fact that the cast and audience would include young children?

Over the past several weeks I've discovered that I'm more capable than I thought. My students are also far smarter and more adept than I realized. Choreographing and staging any ballet--but especially a story ballet--requires the courage to be vulnerable. You're taking ideas and worlds and shapes you've formed inside your head and releasing them into the world. It's a lot like writing in that sense but with one significant difference: when you write stories you're not using real live people as your tools. As a choreographer your subjects are dancers, real people with thoughts and feelings and opinions In this way making dances is fundamentally collaborative--adjusting to the strengths and weaknesses of your subjects while striving to stay true to your original vision. Writing is more comfortable for me because I can work through my ideas in isolation. The backspace button never gets impatient when I have to rewrite a sentence over and over again the way a dancer might when I re-choreograph a phrase of music.

A few days ago I had the full Swan Lake cast together to work through the entire ballet for the first time. I dreaded the worst--total chaos in the corps and confusion during the pas de deux--but things actually went smoothly! It looked like a ballet--a ballet that needed lots of rehearsal time, but a real ballet that told a story. I'm always looking for things to polish and tweak in my choreography but during that rehearsal I made sure to take some time and just enjoy the fact that things were working. I wasn't as crazy and incompetent as I assumed!

I'm excited to see how everything shapes up in the next month as we put the finishing touches on choreography and costumes. I can't wait for my hard-working students to share this ballet with an audience!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stepping Back

I'm starting a dance company.
I wrote about it a little in my last post.

When I set the gears in place to form the company, I knew what kind of work I was looking at. I knew it would be a challenge to squeeze in this extra-responsibility to my life so quickly but my single-minded brain didn't care. I could do it. I would do it because I needed to.

Almost immediately after launching the website and an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the funds for our first performance, I felt like something wasn't quite right. My husband started questioning whether I thought the timing was really right. I insisted it was and kept moving forward with plans, looking through dancers' resumes and trying to figure out how everything would be funded.

We went on vacation to Texas over Easter where we discussed further whether a summer performance would even be possible. I've decided to take my husband's advice and postpone any further work on an official first performance for the company. We think a show can happen in the fall, giving me the summer to get a solid group of dancers together. I need a few months to focus on being a mom and a wife and that book I'm editing first. I can choreograph ballets today or five years from now or ten years from now but my son is only going to be a kid once. I don't want to miss that.

It doesn't feel great to back track. I hate it. I want to be able to do everything all the time. Learning my own limitations is tough.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Seeking Dancers for Summer Contracts

Big news! I'm launching a dance company! 

This past year, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that our rural area could use its own dance company. My head's also been full of all kinds of ideas for ballets and other works that I just can't set on my young students. So it's time. The pieces are falling into place and I'm aiming to launch Genesee Dance Theatre with a small performance this summer! 

My two biggest needs at this point are dancers and funds. If you'd like to support my new company financially, you can make a donation here

If you'd like to be a part of the company, take a look at the audition notice below and get in touch. Initial contracts will be just for summer rehearsals and performances (2 -3 weeks) but I am also hoping to extend longer term winter contracts to local performers (or those who'd like to make themselves local for our season!). 

Since this is a brand spankin' new company, I also appreciate help getting the word out. Tell your friends and get ready to see some fun and innovative dance in the Genesee Valley region. 

Casting Notice 

Genesee Dance Theatre is seeking versatile male and female dancers for short contracts in July 2014. Dancers must have excellent classical ballet technique. Contemporary, modern and jazz dance experience is a plus.  Rehearsals will take place in Houghton, NY (Rochester/Buffalo area). Housing and transportation will be provided for NYC-based performers.To be considered for an audition, please send an email with your resume and headshot to Performers of all ethnicities and body types are encouraged to apply.