Search This Blog

Friday, September 20, 2013

Work/Life Balance

     This year I've been trying to be more intentional about separating my work and personal lives. It's been effective, sort of. Anyone who owns a business, works from home or performs an all-consuming job they care about deeply, will understand the struggle. I often inhabit the mindset that I am my work and my work is me. I'm still trying to figure out how to make the distinction, where to draw the lines, and how to carve out space for non-work Sarah to make and do things that are worthwhile and fulfilling. Going to New York on a personal mini-break was a good first step. Taking a couple of hours after class every evening to turn off my email, put my phone and choreography notebooks down and just read a book or hang out with my family is another.
    A good friend of mine in a similar situation suggested compartmentalizing my life a little bit more. She recommended scheduling different tasks for different days or times, which seems simple and obvious enough but is actually really difficult for my scattered brain to implement. So far I've set up regular "office hours" for myself during the day (first thing in the morning, then during my kiddo's nap time) to focus on answering emails, prepping classes and working on freelance writing assignments. I take some afternoon time off to focus on mom stuff, then (around 3 pm) I head to the studio to begin my official work day, usually teaching until 8:00 or 9:00 pm. I don't answer work-related texts, emails or calls after this time unless it's an emergency. A real one. I also finally, finally, finally got a separate phone line for my business which helps with this a lot.
       I've given myself Saturdays off with the exception of some occasional private lessons and short teaching gigs in other towns.  Augustus, Graham and I might actually be able to spend entire weekends alogether every now and then. We also decided to cancel all Sunday commitments except for church in order to have one day entirely devoted to family hang out time/wearing sweatpants and reading books all day. I'm almost positive that's what God meant when he commanded us to honor the Sabbath day. Sweatpants. It's still early in the dance season, but this approach is working so far. I'm happier. My family is happier. Things are good. I
    If you have an all-consuming job or a business, how do you find that balance between work and personal life? How do you keep yourself from taking business failures or successes personally?

Monday, September 16, 2013

A City Excursion

    A few days ago, I turned to my husband and said, "I just need to go to New York for a couple of days." Maybe it was the stress of the dance season starting again or an old college photograph. Maybe it was just one of those I'm-going-to-go-crazy-if-I-don't-get-out-of-here moments I feel every now and then in this small town, country life. I just needed to leave. So I bought a cheap bus ticket and left at 4:00 am on Saturday morning for Brooklyn to stay with one of my closest friends, Mia.
    Mia and I met in ballet school twelve years ago. We share a long history, including a couple of years as roommates in our first "grown up" apartment--a run down, almost windowless place on a seedy, but colorful, block in Bushwick. We took drastically different paths in life but no matter how much time passes between our  phone conversations or weekend visits, we seem to be able to pick up right where we left off. Returning to NYC felt the same. When my feet hit the pavement, it's like I never left. I go on autopilot. My pace quickens. My scowl becomes more pronounced. I feel strange wearing bright colors on the subway.
    Despite an obnoxious, persistent cold, I made dance classes a priority during the weekend and managed to get into some of my former regular teachers' classes. It felt like coming home, in a way. I also spent some time wandering a few of my favorite neighborhoods, startled at how everything had remained exactly the same, but somehow different. Like, that iconic no-frills coffee place in the east village is still there, but it's now a full-service brunch cafe, complete with mimosas and sidewalk seating. That second-hand clothing store I loved in college now specializes in overpriced vintage hats no one should  ever wear. On the Upper West Side, H&H Bagels is gone, but my beloved Zabar's remains. I made sure to pick up some bagels and schmear to bring home, as per tradition.
     I also spent a lot more time in Brooklyn on this trip than I have on most of my recent visits. I never particularly took to most neighborhoods in the Borough, preferring the less trendy but more affordable and quieter westernmost blocks of Washington Heights where we lived our married years in the city. Mia lives in Williamsburg, a hip neighborhood that's enjoyed great gentrification over the past fifteen years. I often refer to it as a "hipster playground" and stick out like a sore thumb with my conventional clothes and lack of over sized glasses. Where you find hipsters, you also find good vegan food. I ate a lot of it. It was delicious. I get the Williamsburg love now, sort of.
   My trip was brief--just one night. I hated to leave. I still often feel like I didn't give life in the city enough of a chance. I feel like there's still more I should do there, like our time together is unfinished. As a compromise, I've decided to make weekend city trips a priority every couple of months or so. The city is a sort of home base for me, even after three years away. I need it.
     While I loved the chance to get away and spend some time reconnecting with this city I love and an old friend, I was happy to return to my sweet son and husband. Somethings are worth leaving for.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Permission to Be Happy

    Dancers tend to be perfectionists and I'm no exception, at least when it comes to dance and professional pursuits. (I am, sadly, not blessed with the perfectionism that results in an organized sock drawer or a sparkling stove.) In ballet, you are never "finished." Your technique can always be cleaner, your jumps higher, your footwork more precise. I tend to apply that same mentality to general life. It's difficult to allow myself happiness when things aren't perfect, you know? I tend to think I'll be happier when I have a larger business and more students or, conversely, when I have no business to worry about at all. I think I'll be happy when I make more money or finish writing a book or have a master's degree or eat more chocolate or lose ten pounds.

     But it's okay to be happy without those things. It's healthy to be happy without those things. Happiness now doesn't have to mean permanent complacency. Being satisfied with life doesn't mean I can't continue working, improving and growing. It doesn't mean things won't get better. It just means I won't drive myself quite as crazy to get there. 

So, today, I give myself permission to be happy. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Music for Ballet Class

     In an ideal world, every ballet teacher would have an accompanist on a baby grand piano provide the music for daily class. There's nothing like dancing to live music, even if it's provided by an old, bitter Russian lady who takes swigs from a flask between combinations. (Stereotypical, but sometimes true.) Most of us are not so lucky and rely on CDs players or iPods to provide accompaniment for our classes.
    I make a conscious effort to update my ballet music library every few months or so because, when you teach 10 - 15 ballet classes a week, music gets old fast. I do often find myself falling back on a few old faithful standbys. I like tracks that can be used for different kinds of combinations, with a strong down beat and a nice melody. Since I know many of my ballet teacher colleagues are doing the same right now, I thought I'd share some of my favorite class music and accompaniment resources.

1. Between the Barres by Michael Roberts 
This was one of the first albums I purchased upon opening my studio and is still my go-to album for intermediate and advanced barre. I like that Roberts provides as many as three or four different tracks for each exercise with different beautiful melodies and lengths as well as tempos. Cons: Most of the tracks tend toward the slow side (at least for my classes which are allegro heavy) so I often will choreograph quick combinations at double tempo for my advanced class. Because it's designed primarily to accompany barre work, there aren't a lot of good tracks for center work (especially jumps and turns) included.

2. Princess at the Ballet by Lisa Harris
I love many of Lisa Harris's CDs, but Princess at the Ballet is my favorite so far. It contains a lot of familiar melodies--show tunes, pop songs  and TV themes--set to nice, even tempos with an energetic quality and tone that's fun to dance to. With 39 tracks, I can use the CD for several classes back to back and barely have to repeat any music (though I tend to play the same 10 - 15 songs over and over again). Cons: I find some of the tracks are very short, especially for an intermediate/advanced class.

3. Ballet Class iPhone app.
 If you don't have a smart phone, it's almost worth getting one just for this app. It's one of the only apps I've actually dropped money for, and it's definitely worth every cent. (There is a free version as well with just 10 tracks or so). Ballet Class includes musical accompaniment for every kind of ballet exercise. You have the option of selecting the same track in different time signatures and can adjust the tempo and even the number of bars in the song to suit your choreography. It also allows you to make playlists within the app, which is useful if (like me) you teach several different classes and levels. Cons: The music isn't the prettiest and the sound quality is lacking compared to most CDs. Pre-planning is also required if you don't want to have to stop to count the number of bars in your combo before starting the music.

I'm always looking for new class music suggestions so throw 'em at me in the comments!