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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blessed to be a Blessing

In true Sarah Badger fashion, I have an impossibly long to-do list staring at me from its perch on a brand new Google Doc, which means it's time to finally update the blog.

A lot has changed since we last spoke, my friends. What began as a plan to rent a space hourly and teach a couple of semi-private classes has turned into the beginnings of a rather large more permanent project. There are many artists in this community, but no real one central place or group in which we can meet to exchange ideas, collaborate and provide arts education. By forming the Community Arts and Movement Center, I hope to be able to provide an outlet for artists to share and rehearse work, as well as a place where we can pass on our art form to others through classes and workshops. Rather than just a dance studio catering primarily to children, I envision a place of learning and wholesome artistic expression for the whole family. For the Fall, I am partnering with another teacher to offer dance classes in the space that will eventually be the Center as I work on all of the paper work and publicity that comes with forming a new organization or business. I'm beginning to believe that this is my reason God brought me to this area when and how He did -- so that I can use the blessings I've been given to bless others.

As of now I'm currently unsure as to whether this Arts Center should be a non-profit or a business. The ultimate goal is not for me to make a personal profit, but to benefit the community which makes me believe this should be a non-profit venture. I envision a class program that would generate revenue, but also a variety of free workshops, performances and master classes as well as, eventually, a free/donation-based arts program for low-income families. Of course there are a lot of other concerns that come with starting a non-profit, so I'm not entirely sure yet. I'm knee deep in all the literature I can find about the subject and busy making arrangements to get dance classes started this Fall. Oh yeah, and I'm teaching at another area studio this year too! It'll be a busy year, but a good busy. This is the kind of work that difficult for me to sit still during the day or sleep at night or do basically anything else. In other words, this project is completely compatible with my obsessive personality.

More updates coming soon!

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Eating Disorder Story

You can read a little about my journey to body acceptance in the September issue of Dance Spirit magazine! Obviously, my recovery process was much more lengthy and complex than I could discuss in a short piece, but I hope it gives you a little insight into the dangers, pain and destructiveness of disordered eating. Pick up the issue at newsstands or read the full article online.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Life Right Now

So, here we are, two months after my last post and I can't come up with any good reason why I haven't posted. Here's my best shot:
I really want this blog to be a place where I can blog about dance and the arts, but I'm suffering from "It's All Been Done Before" syndrome. I'm struggling to believe that I have anything unique to say about the dance world at this stage in my life and career. Maybe I just need to try harder. We'll see. :)

Meanwhile I thought I'd give you a little update on my post-college life.

1. We have a car now which means I'm able to get to Rochester and Buffalo for ballet class. Currently the vehicle is out of service so it looks like this will be a week of giving myself barre and conditioning in the campus gym. I'm trying to find some open modern classes in the area as well because my rolling-around-on-the-floor skills, as always, need some fine tuning.

2. I danced in a promo for a new TV show that (hopefully) will premiere later this year. I'm looking forward to possible joining the regular cast and I'll keep you updated as I get more news!

3. I performed in my student's little studio show in June and had a wonderful time. It was fun to perform but even more rewarding to watch the dancers I coached enjoy their moment in the spotlight. I'm excited to be teaching even more in the Fall, both privately and at another studio near Rochester.

4. I've been writing, writing, writing like a maniac (everywhere but this blog, it seems) trying to keep up with my work load and my more creative projects. When it comes to writing fiction, I find I really can't take even a day or two off. Much like dancing requires physical muscle, telling stories calls for a very specific kind of mental muscle. The more frequently I exercise it, the stronger my stories.

5. Graham and I formed a Summer reading group with some friends and our meetings for tea and discussion are usually the highlight of my week. We're working our way through Crime and Punishment, which Graham (our resident Dostoevsky enthusiast) taking over the discussion those weeks. Every other week we give our minds and souls a little break to read and discuss a children's or young adult novel. It's lovely to revisit well-loved books from childhood and discover I'm not the only adult whose never quite put aside that part of my literary life. Even outside of reading group, I'm reading tons -- everything from historical fiction to modern psychological thrillers to memoir. Every now and then I post reviews on Goodreads.

There. That's what my summer looks like. I hope you're enjoying the season as much as I am.

I promise to be back with more dance writing very soon!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Mighty Pirouette: Talking Dance With "Normies"

Attention World: These are called "pointe shoes."  

That Awkward Moment

 You're at a church social or a dinner party or a family reunion. Your second cousin three times removed or that lady with the pasta  salad or your friend's dad finds out you're a dancer. You answer the obligatory "what kind of dance?" and "what did you think of Black Swan?" questions. You try to change the subject or make your way to the fruit salad but this person just wants to talk to you about dance. 
They offer their commentary on "So You Think You Can Dance" and talk about how they took ballet when they were five and actually had a lot of talent but stopped for whatever reason. If you are talking to the creepy old man type, he'll probably make an awkward comment about dancers and flexibility and leotards. 
Your conversation partner obviously knows nothing about dance and you don't want to seem rude by correcting him or her when he or she uses phrases like "toe shoes", "spins" and "high kicks". Usually, you just smile politely and feel awkward until you get the chance to escape. 

Dance On the Radar

With the prominence of dance in pop culture lately thanks to dance based reality shows and last year's infamous Natalie Portman movie, regular people are becoming more aware of--and interested in--dance. I think this is a great thing. Ballet and modern dance especially have been on pedestals for far too long. I firmly believe that art can be valuable, ethereal and meaningful without being an out-of-reach commodity reserved for echelons of mink-wearing patrons with fat wallets.
Kate Ward's recently wrote a piece for Entertainment Weekly designed to help the average person understand what judges look for on So You Think You Can Dance. I'm less than enthusiastic about the show overall and enjoyed her subtle snark on the show--like her observations about typical, revealing SYTYCD attire*. I also liked Ward's atempt to help "normies" (non-dancers) distinguish solid technique from tricks. 

The Mighty Pirouette

A few components of this article got me thinking about how difficult it can be to explain the nuances of dance technique, dance culture and different dance styles to people totally unfamiliar with the world. Ward placed double pirouettes in the same category as back flips--"tricks." She followed up by explaining that pirouettes are "easier than they look." My first reaction was annoyance. Pirouettes are a dancer's bread and butter. Intermediate and advanced dancers should be able to land a clean double pirouette to both sides. I wouldn't classify it as a "trick" for dancers the same way a back handspring is. 
That said, pirouettes--like everything in ballet--are actually more complicated than they look. First there's the preparation. Is your weight distributed just right? Are you sitting too long in the plié--or worse, barely taking a plié at all? Now we go up to relevé. Are you pushing off of your back foot at the right moment. Hitting the passé position as quickly as possible. Is your supporting leg pulled up and turned out? Is your passé leg in the right place, high on your supporting leg, equally turned out and finished in a supporting foot? We haven't even started to turn yet, or discussed what your arms should be doing. It's one of the most difficult things to teach beginning dancers simply because of all the little components that have to be in place for your turn to work. Many of these things happen automatically after five or ten or twenty years of pirouetting, but every dancer is a work in progress. You're never finished learning how to pirouette.

Instead of being impressed by multiple pirouettes, Ward says, audiences should look for dancers who can raise their legs high over their heads. Strong extensions require solid technique and training, for sure, but plenty of poor dancers can kick their face or developpe their leg to their ear "effortlessly" and do it poorly. I guess what's getting lost here in this piece is that it's not what a dancer does but how they do it that sets them apart. That's what's difficult to explain to a non-dancer and that's what rubbed me the wrong way about the execution of this piece, as much as I appreciated the objective 

Have you ever had a frustrating dance discussion with a non-dancer? What are your thoughts on SYTYCD and dance in pop culture?

*My bitterness about barelegged flimsy top trend probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'm unbearably self-conscious about my thighs. Some of us still prefer wearing tights on stage, thanks.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Book Giveaway Winner!

Julia is the winner of the Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder book giveaway!

Julia, please contact me at graham.sarah.badger at to so I can ship you your book. 

Thanks to all who shared this giveaway, commented and sent emails with their thoughts and stories. I really appreciate it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Forced Creativity, part 1

A response to Reasons Why I Disklike BEDA by Kayley Hyde (owlssayhooot)

It’s become something of a tradition over the last few years for nerdfighter* bloggers  to participate in twice yearly months of daily blogging, called BEDA for Blog Every Day August and Blog Every Day April. Last year I took the solemn oath of a BEDA blogger and put fingers to keys 29 days out of the month. In 2008, I also attempted to write 50,000 words of a manuscript during National Novel Writing Month and failed spectacularly*.
Fellow nerdfighter, friend, and all-around awesome blogger/vlogger Kayley recently blogged about how she’s not sure these kinds of organized month-long attempts at scheduled creativity really do us much good as writers or readers.  In summary, Kayley concluded that BEDA and NaNoWriMo glorify quantity over quality, encourage mediocrity, and push people to create subpar blogs/stories just for the sake of making content.  My friend Hayley (YouTuber, blogger, and consumer of burritos) also posted some worthwhile thoughts on the subject that you can read here. My knee-jerk reaction was to agree wholeheartedly with Kayley’s hypothesis, but when I stopped to think about what BEDA and NaNoWriMo ask of us, I realized that we’re placing two vastly different projects into one umbrella category.
BEDA and NaNoWriMo are similar, I think, only conceptually. Writing a 200-500 word blog every day with no boundaries or rules about content is vastly different from trying to write 50,000 words worth of a novel in 30 days. Both can be good exercises, if used correctly, or complete wastes of time.
BEDA forces writers to think of a new blogging topic to cover every day.  Bloggers cheat themselves if they keep blogging about having nothing to say and, as Kayley observed, if you’re just going to cheat your way through BEDA, why bother? Free writing about having nothing to write is a fine exercise to get your fingers moving and words flowing, but it doesn’t often need to be posted on the internet. However, if you really challenge yourself to write a quality paragraph or two each day, you’ll start to find inspiration everywhere, start to see things in new ways. The ability to flex your creative mind like this is invaluable.
NaNoWriMo is a different monster. It exists to help people get ideas on paper, ideas that probably won’t ever venture further than their author’s word processor or perhaps the inbox of a trustworthy friend. I know several people who adore the NaNoWriMo process and use it as the opportunity to crank out a draft. The serious writers among them go back edit and heavily revise this draft before passing it along to a friend or writing buddy for feedback. I honestly think NaNoWriMo works for some people and not for others. If you’re the kind who needs to be motivated by a kind of game (if you write 50,000 words by the end of NaNo you “win”) or likes the challenge, awesome. But unlike BEDA, the art of novel writing requires planning, plot, character, and, story arc not to mention the ability to, like, move characters through situations and stories with strong, active sentence-level writing. The way NaNo is like, “Yeah! You can write a novel easy peasy in 30 days, even if you don’t know how to write!” is kind of silly. Some people can write strong novels in a month, I’m sure, but for most of us, our finished product is like to be a very long short story. In the case of NaNo, when you’re not actually writing material for anyone to read immediately, that’s fine. If it gets you writing, go for it. But just like you need the discipline to finish NaNoWriMo, you need the discipline to come back to your work, rewrite, and edit like crazy.
Which brings me to part 2.

*If you don’t know what a nerdfighter is, start here and here and also here.
**In my defense, I was taking 18 credit hours at school, working 30 hours per week, dancing 15 hours per week and planning a wedding. Also my story concept sucked.

Forced Creativity, part 2

This is the second part of my unnecessarily long response to Kayely’s blog post about why she dislikes projects like Blog Every Day April/August and National Novel Writing Month.  Read part 1 first.

Discipline is a more important component of creativity than most of us realize. The way I see it, people who wait until they feel inspired to create art will never reach their full potential as artists. Further, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to work professionally in a creative field if you’re used to the luxury of waiting for inspiration.
 Right now, most of my income comes from writing. Granted, it’s not the most creative kind writing, but it’s using combinations of words to communicate ideas. As I’ve been blessed to progress further in the field of freelancing, I've become a more disciplined writer by necessity. If your ability to pay rent depends on how much publishable content you can produce each week, you’re probably going to overcome that writer’s block really fast. If you have a book contract and a deadline, you don’t get to put your work on hold until you have a really good idea for that next chapter. You just have to do it. Dancerand choreographers face similar situations. You don’t get to put a show or gig on hold until you know you have the inspiration to do your best. You have to do your best possible work within the time frame you’re given. It’s not optional. It's your job.
I have never struggled much with discipline as a dancer, but writing discipline is a different story. I’ve already seen a dramatic improvement in my ability to sit down and pound out articles and stories without succumbing to Chronic Self-Editing Syndrome (CSES).
CSES  inhibits me from writing a sentence without erasing it and rewriting it with slightly different word choice a minimum of twelve times. With CSES, an hour or two of hard work will pass before I can even get a paragraph to stick to the page. It primarily strikes when I’m working on creative pieces like short stories and personal essay and makes me so sick of whatever I’m working on that I invariably give up or put the project on hold after just a few days of trying to write the same sentences over and over again.  In order to overcome CSES entirely, I’m going to take a leaf out of NaNoWriMo’s book and challenge myself to finish 25,000 words of an in-progress manuscript during the month of May.  We’ll call it Make Manuscript Progress May or MaMaProMay*.
In conclusion, BEDA and NaNoWriMo and other such projects are beneficial if you allow them to be and I really hope NaMaMaProMay helps me cultivate more discipline. Lord knows I could use it.

*How many awkward acronyms and abbreviations can I put in this post? 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Giveaway: Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder

I'm giving away a book! Scroll down to find out how to enter. 

Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder: Reclaim Yourself, Regain Your Health, Recover for Good

While working on a story about my eating disorder journey for a dance magazine (I'll link to it here when it's published in the fall), I had the wonderful pleasure of getting some advice and tips from Johanna S. Kandel, executive director of the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness and author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder: Reclaim Yourself, Regain Your Health, and Recover For Good. She was gracious enough to send me a copy of her book. At this stage in my life, I am wary of reading books that discuss eating disorders because I'm worried they might trigger old habits or cause me to dwell. In fact, one of the greatest things I ever did during the midway stages of my recovery was to purge all eating disorder-related literature from my life. As I began reading, however, I quickly realized that this was not your typical eating disorder book.

Kandel, a former ballet dancer, provides positive, gentle encouragement and advice for women and men in all stages of eating disorder recovery. In my experience, most eating disorder books fall into one of two categories: memoirs of the illness (like Wasted by Marya Hornbacher) or clinical guides to recovery, usually written by people who have never had an eating disorder themselves. Kandel's book resists these categories. Instead, she infuses practical advice for recovery with recollections from her personal journey. Unlike most memoirs or personal anorexia and bulimia stories, she avoids descriptions of harmful habits and thoughts that might trigger eating disorder sufferers. As Kandel mentions in the book, the problem with most movies and books about eating disorders is that they give people who are already at risk for eating disorders a step by step guide for how to do it "really well." Kandel's voice is honest but hopeful, encouraging but realistic.

I wish I had had this book while I was in the early stages of my recovery, but I am learning from it even now. She includes metaphors to help recovery anorexics, bulimics, binge eaters and everyone in between, visualize their mental processes and alter their negative thinking. The book, encourages the reader to take things moment by moment and to be okay with being okay. All of these mind habits are essential for perfectionists and those of us who tend to obsess about what we didn't do or what we plan to do but forget to be present for life.

Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder is nearly essential for anyone battling disordered eating. I can't recommend it highly enough and to prove it, I will be be giving away one copy of Kandel's book! To enter, you must be a follower of Dancin' Words on Google Friend Connect and leave a comment on this post. If you win, you'll get your choice of a paperback or Kindle copy. Leave a separate comment for each of these optional extra entries.:

1) Link to this giveaway on your  Facebook page or Twitter account (one entry for each link).
2) Link to this giveaway on your blog (three extra entries).
3) Buy a copy of the book for a friend in paperback or for their Kindle (five extra entries).

Remember you must first follow my blog on Google Friend Connect to qualify!

This giveaway will close on May 1 so tell your friends and help spread the word about eating disorder recovery!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The End of Art

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the role art plays in our lives.
For most of my life, I viewed my art--dance--as an end in itself. Like many dancers, I would sacrifice anything for the sake of my art. It was the nexus around which everything else in my life revolved. To me, it was a god.
In NYC, my tendency toward art-worship was encouraged by the city's professional dance scene. But something about the world I loved started rubbing me the wrong way. I started to see what idolatry of art was doing to artists. It became increasingly more painful to see so many gifted, driven artists who derived their self-worth only from their ability to create the art that they loved. If they couldn't serve their "god" the way the art said they should, they felt worthless. A few (too many) used the art as what I see as a kind of self-worship. They loved themselves in the art and with the right job, the right people, the right status, they felt like failures. Often these people (myself included) completely run themselves into the ground or worse--run others into the ground in the competitive show business marketplace.
Against all odds, my time in NYC brought me closer to the one true God. Even immersed in a dance world that encouraged the idolatry of the arts, God brought me back to Him. He became the center of my life. Well, most of it. During my week at Ad Deum Dance's spring intensive last month, I realized that I'd given every part of my life to the Lord, except one--dance. Since that week, I've started seeing dance and writing as means of communication with God, glorifying Him, showing Him to others. For so long my dancing was focused on my goals for my life. It was all about me. Now I'm learning to give it back to Him, to see art as a tool, not as a god.
I really admire artists of all faiths and personal convictions who use their art for a purpose greater than themselves. Be one of them. Make a difference.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A New Way to Learn

It's been a whirlwind month of writing, traveling, dancing, auditioning, nursing sore muscles and reading like crazy.
This is a strange time in my life--a time I never thought I'd experience. In many ways, my life is restricted by my remote, isolated, constantly snowy location on old Native American burial grounds (The Shining, anyone?) but in other ways, I'm freer than I've ever been. For the first time, I am not a formal student. For the first time, I have moderately consistent work that is mobile. For the first time I have no concrete plans and virtually endless potential pathways stretched out before me.
All talk of dance jobs and my frustration in that arena aside, I think I've grown more in these first months of 2011 than I did in my entire four years of college. Stepping outside of the world of academics, the cut-throat NYC dance scene, the by-the-skin-of-your-teeth city lifestyle helped me learn how to learn again, if that makes any sense.
 Instead of focusing on perfection in each dance class, I aim to discover something new about movement, about the way my own body cuts through space.
Instead of struggling through assigned essays and novels, I spend voluntary hours poring over books in the exhaustive religious studies section of the Houghton library. Also I read silly historical fiction and crime novels, because I can.
Graham's sheer enthusiasm for the subjects he's studying (philosophy and theology) make me excited about them too. However, unlike Graham who can't fall asleep until he's read passages from his "Metaphysics, Morality and Mind" textbook, I have my limits. :-) Last weekend my father-in-law and I actually had to place a moratorium on any further discussions of the Euthyphro dilemma. At the end of that car ride I turned to Graham and quoted one of my favorite John Green books, An Abundance of Katherines: "You are such a geek. And that's coming from an overweight 'Star Trek' fan who scored a five on the AP Calculus test. So you know your condition is grave."

So basically, I'm happy. As much as I miss New York City, I'm glad we moved. There are a hundred things I would change about my life, but none of them are important and none of them would bring me any greater joy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Facing Our Fears

Is failure your biggest fear?
It's mine. 
Both dancers and writers we possess an all-encompassing kind of artistic perfectionism,  the kind that plants seeds of devilish obsession, doubt and fear in our self-critical minds. The gothic heart of Black Swan pumps the blood of overblown ballet stereotypes along with unfortunate truths about the dance world  to sustain film's chilling plot. But beyond sprouting wings and attempting to murder fellow company members, dancers have to struggle daily against their own worst fears- that they aren't enough, that they won't make it, that they will fail.
    My own crippling fear of failure nearly destroyed me--as a person and a dancer--several times. I can't pretend I've found the perfect method of dealing with incessant perfectionism or self-doubt, but a quote from this interview with the incredible Jenifer Ringer made me take pause. Ms. Ringer, a principal with the New York City Ballet, made headlines last December when New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay noted that Ringer "looked as thought she'd eaten one sugar plum too many" in his review of City Ballet's "Nutcracker." Macaulay's remark caused an uproar in media and on dance blogs everywhere. Ringer remains open about her past struggles with eating disorders and responded to the critic gracefully both on the Today Show and Oprah: 
 "My first thought was, 'It's happened. My worst nightmare. Somebody has called me heavy in the press and lots of people are going to read about it.' But then my next thought was, 'It's happened and I'm okay and I'm fine the way I am and I have survived it.' I think it's just because I had gone through my eating disorders, I had gone through depression, I had lost dance for a while because of my eating disorders."
-Jenifer Ringer (From, emphasis mine)

    Jeni faced her "worst nightmare." And she's okay. What if spending our lives suppressing our fears, we were able to face them, acknowledge them, and move on? If our worst nightmares came true, could we even use them as a launching pad? In J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement speech (Do I quote this too much? Maybe.) she discusses the fringe benefits of failure, how rock bottom was a place of new beginnings for her. Both Rowling and Ringer (when she first left NYCB and after Macaulay's comments) found themselves in nightmarish situations. Others might have wallowed in self-pity, used failure as an excuse to quit trying, to forget about their dreams. Instead, these women found power in failure. They faced their fear, acknowledged their nightmares, and kept making art. 

Will you do the same? 

Thursday, February 17, 2011


In high school, I remember running into a good friend (who was not a dancer) on my way into a cardio class at the gym. 

     "Why do you need to workout?" she asked. "Don't you already dance a jazillion hours a day?"
     Exchanging stories with professional and pre-professional dancers, I discovered that questions like these from  non-dancing "normies" are pretty common. Why would we want to drag our already worn-out bodies to extra fitnesses classes or workouts? Don't we burn enough calories in ballet class? Athletes typically understand that, for dancers, it's not (or shouldn't be) about exercising more--it's about exercising differently. 

    Cross-training with moderate weight lifting and classes like Pilates and Yoga complement dancer's training by strengthening muscles that don't get enough attention in daily dance classes. And since most ballet, jazz and modern classes are anaerobic--requiring bursts of high-intensity movement followed by rest periods--cardiovascular exercises are necessary to build the endurance we need to perform full-length shows and long variations. 

    Throughout most of high school, I was a cross-training nut. I ran on the elliptical for at least an hour daily, swam, and took Pilates classes several times a week in addition to my dance classes, rehearsals and performances. Unfortunately, I didn't do it with a healthy attitude--I was more focused on burning extra calories and keeping my weight down than protecting those muscles, ligaments and joints. Instead of improving my endurance levels, I exhausted my body so much that I could barely get through a petite allegro combination.  By the time I got to New York City I was so burnt out on the whole body-image obsession that I let my non-dancing exercise routine fall completely by the wayside, almost in protest. I also noticed that a lot of dancers I met "cross-trained" for similar reasons that I did: to look skinnier, to "get ripped", to get an edge on the competition. 
     On the other end of the spectrum are those who ignore body conditioning for a different kind of over-training. I see this trend among ballet dancers especially. Ballerinas tend to be single-minded by nature and are taught that the more classes they take, the better they will be. This is true to some extent. The only way to get better at ballet is by--surprise!-- taking ballet. 
     But there's a limit.
     By working the same muscles over and over again with no variation, you set yourself up for fatigue, injury and burnout. Everyone's body responds differently to various training methods, but find a balance between the extremes of over training, over exercising, and never exercising was one of the best things I ever did for my body and my dancing. 
    As a younger dancer, I saw my ballet technique improve when I added modern, jazz and occasional tap classes to my regimen, in addition to Pilates. My dancing became less tense, my extensions improved, and my balance became rock-solid. (Okay, "rock-solid" is an exaggeration, but it definitely improved!) Teachers noticed more height in my jumps and better phrasing in my petite allegro (thank you, tap). In the past year or so, I've found that regular cross-training yields similar improvements for my dancing overall, not to mention my mood. Rather than the obsessive exercising of my teen years, I now workout to improve my overall sense of wellness and to keep my body working while giving it a little break from the never ending series of battements and jetés still in my future. Plus the endorphins are awesome.

   I'm incredibly interested in dancer fitness at the moment and I want to know: 
   How do you cross-train? Have you noticed a difference in your dancing? 

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Very Long Walk

"When you’re writing, it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe you up onto the top of a hill, and you see something else. Then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book, because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see that everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long, slow process."
-Roald Dahl
I am on a very long walk right now. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Striking a Balance: Physicality versus Creativity

It's no secret that dancers strive to keep their bodies in top physical condition. The incredible athleticism demanded of dancers tempts dancers and dance fans alike to insist "dance is a sport!" I submit that art can be just as demanding on the body, mind and soul as sport--in some cases, even more so. The way I see it, dance is an athletic art, demanding the rigorous physical discipline of athletes as well as the creative capacity of painters, writers and actors. Sometimes it's a struggle between mind and body--as we constantly assess ourselves in the mirror it is easy to get stuck there, to forget that dancing is more about our technical execution of the steps or the size of our thighs. Such carelessness results in "robot dancers" and tricksters--dancers who have all the right physical capabilities but lack the imagination necessary to bring art to life on stage. 
 Growing up, I felt no reserve on stage. I loved pretending to be someone else on stage, transmitting stories and ideas through the near-sacred junction of music and movement. I struggled with the technical side of the art. True, I was blessed with natural coordination and musicality, but my body was naturally inflexible, flat-footed and stumpy. Luckily, beginning ballet at such a young age magically molded decent (though by no-means incredible) arches into my feet while focus and discipline helped me gain the technical strength I needed. By my late teens my whole situation had flip-flopped: I was so concentrated on my technique that my performing became more reserved, safer, boring. 
  Since then, I've struggled daily in finding the right balance. Maybe balance isn't the right word--maybe it's about extremes: extreme technique AND extreme artistry. That's what makes dancers memorable. But how can we achieve that? I used to think the answer was to help students develop artistry at a younger age. Most teachers don't begin working with students on the artistic and creative side of their dancing until adolescents, which is also the time students become the most self-conscious. As I teach classes of my own, I wonder how to integrate elements of acting into the ballet curriculum without 1) teaching a full-blown pantomime class or 2) distracting students from the technical foundation that is so important in early training.

What do you think? Should instructors bring artistry into the classroom earlier? If so, how?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Connected to Art: Dance Online

   I can’t pretend to remember a world without the internet. Even in kindergarten I went to “computer” class to play KidPics and make my own “world wide web page” complete with glowing hot pink comic sans font. In the days B.G. (Before Google), I used Yahoo! Search to find Harry Potter fan pages and the American Girl website. Still, with all my pre-pubescent millennial generation knowledge of https and hyperlinks, I remember very clearly when dance wasn’t online.
    The “real” dance world, the world of professional dancers and elite ballet companies, seemed impossibly distant to me, an overly-ambitious nine year old practicing pliés and tendus at a small studio in South Texas. I checked out video tapes (remember those?) of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake from the library, and recorded every version of Nutcracker that aired on PBS in the month of December. Those perfect ballerinas in their glistening tiaras and pristine pointe shoes* were entirely otherworldly, human only in theory. Together the music and movement magically transformed those girls into Dancers. I longed to become one of them, but I wasn’t quite sure how. When in my long years of training would the transformation from dancer to Dancer be complete? At twelve, at fifteen, at the ancient-to-me age of eighteen? How many fatigued muscles, frustrating classes, and fractured ankles would it take for me to transcend my humanness?
    Something shifted in my awareness of “real” Dancers when I received my first issue of Dance magazine. I read interviews with the dancers I watched on video tapes, the choreographers whose names I’d heard whispered reverently by my instructors or fellow dancers. News about dance companies, shows, and schools made me feel connected to this world. I realized that there was no such thing as a Dancer—they were all just dancers, regular people surrendered to an art form larger than themselves. Suddenly, the reality of dancers-as-people became immensely more thrilling than the abstract form of Dancer. I eagerly awaited the arrival of Dance every month and added subscriptions to Dance Spirit and Pointe when it arrived on the scene a couple of years later. I purchased and checked out piles of dancer biographies and read them in one sitting each.The humanness of dancers made the ethereality of their performances all the more alluring. Print publications connected me to that humanness, made me feel a part of it all.
     These days, dance lovers no longer need to wait at the mailbox for the arrival of the latest pile of dance magazines. Dance blogs like The Winger regularly feature behind-the-scenes looks at dancer's lives while others feature company news and gossip. Choreographers upload reels and rehearsal footage to YouTube, and ballerinas have Twitter accounts. Much has been made lately of the new move by certain companies to draw back the curtain of mystery surrounding ballerinas. New York City Ballet recently began the practice of inviting the audience to ask questions of a company dancer before or after performances. Dancers blog and tweet and stay connected with fans and admirers in a more immediate way than ever before. In my opinion, this is a natural extension of the role than print journalism played in past decades. In an age when information can be shared more rapidly than ever, the escalation of audience’s desire for more information is organic.  Reminding audiences and young dancers that their favorite ballerinas are human too can only be a good thing. I think a sense of familiarity towards dancers increases our interest in their careers, and (hopefully) will nudge us as a culture toward spending more time (and yeah, money) at live dance performances.
    I wonder, however, how print dance journalism is affected by the dance world’s leap onto the internet. Will hard copy dance magazines become obsolete in the next decade?  For the sake of preserving the monthly Christmas feeling of finding a new Dance magazine in my mailbox, I hope not. 

*Little did I know they were actually little satin pink torture chambers