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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review

       I long ago stopped trying to identify individual years as wholly good or irredeemably bad. Wrapping up months by the dozen, slapping a label on the whole package and stacking them neatly away somewhere in our nostalgia-addled memories does a disservice to lived experience. It's much easier to think of life as generally difficult and full of disappointment and get on with it.
     Sort of!
     A part of me is convinced the world will end at 11:59 pm each December 31st, so in the spirit of that approaching terror, and because this is my blog, and because I haven't blogged in a while, and because I did this last year, let's take a look back at my 2014.

January - March:
    These months were cold. So very cold. Some stuff happened, but mostly I remember the cold.
One weekend I braved the arctic temperatures and took the leap of attending a pretty Big Important Audition for one of my dream jobs.  I got all the way to the final round of callbacks after not even expecting to make the first (all singing!) cut and had an incredibly positive experience all around. It made me think that I might still be able to do this show biz thing for a few more years and got me itching just to audition, something I hadn't felt in years.

     My new BarreFIT program started taking off at HMAC in the early months of 2014 with two full classes every week. I enrolled in a Group Fitness Instructor certification program to expand my knowledge and make sure I'm up-to-date on the latest in exercise science as it pertains to training my clients. As a Pilates instructor and dancer, I was fairly confident I already knew most of what the program would teach me but as soon as I got the massive textbook full of anatomic illustrations, I knew I was in for some serious hours of study!

     On the performing side of things, I appeared in a dinner theater production, Daddy's Girl with a local community theater group. It was my first time doing a community theater production not directed by Nic Gunning and it was fun to be part of an ensemble comedy show. 

Daddy's Girl at Short Tract Town Theatre

April - May
     I kicked off the month of April with a weekend of performances playing Shelby Latcherie in Steel Magnolias back under the direction of Nic Gunning with The Valley Theatre. We performed at the Nancy Howe Auditorium (at the David A. Howe Public Library) which has become one of my favorite local venues. The auditorium feels intimate and inviting but can accommodate an audience of 300 (plenty for this area) and has a comfortable backstage space. 
    After winding down from back to back shows, I flew to Texas with my husband and son for the Easter holiday. We spent most of our time visiting my family in San Antonio and also sneaked in a couple of days playing at beach in Port Aransas. (Our toddler loved the sand and the seagulls but was terrified of the waves.)
       In May, HMAC presented its annual Spring Showcase. This production was different than the showcases of previous years--I decided to stage a very abridged version of Swan Lake utilizing all of my ballet students. This was my first attempt at staging any type of story ballet and I felt terrified and incompetent throughout much of the process. I'm pleased with how my students pulled it off, though, and it gave me the confidence to tackle bigger projects as a director/choreographer (foreshadowing!).
Steel Magnolias with The Valley Theatre

June, July, August
    My baby turned two years old in June. The rest of the month is sort of a blur. 
  I planted a garden and more than half of the crops failed or were destroyed by critters. (Curse your cuteness, baby groundhogs!) I converted one of our big closets into a writing cave and only wrote there consistently for about a month before returning to the familiar arms of my living room sofa to tackle client work and creative projects.
     Anyway, I did succeed at passing my GFI exam through the American Council on Exercise and taught a ton of private and group fitness classes. I was also able to attend part of a summer ballet intensive a couple of hours from my house and take some dance, Pilates and yoga classes in Buffalo and Rochester. 
September - October
     A new school year means a new season at HMAC! We managed to grow our student numbers again, particularly for my adult programs. Genesee Dance Theatre officially formed after three rounds of auditions and a lot of self-doubt on my end. We dove headfirst into rehearsals for the company's first production--The Nutcracker. In the middle of all of this I also started dancing with another company, In His Steps based out of Dundee, NY, and became a barre/group ex instructor at a local YMCA! 
     With October came my 25th birthday, a fun weekend in Buffalo to celebrate said birthday, and another new part-time job at an independent bookstore and coffee shop. Yeah. I like being busy. 

November - December
        Most of November and December were dedicated to working (and working and working and working) as well as final rehearsals, preparations and performances for Genesee Dance Theatre's production of The Nutcracker. 
   The Howe Auditorium ended up being able to sponsor our production, enabling us to offer the show at no charge to audience members. Local businesses, individuals and families met the rest of the production's start-up needs and, somehow, we pulled it off. I need to do a full blog post just about the experience of putting the show together but for now I'll concentrate on the fact that it was, all things considered, a smashing success. We packed the house at both performances--even ended up turning people away--and received a ton of great feedback. It makes me hopeful for the future of dance in Allegany county.

    Nutcracker about killed me (and resulted in nasty Achilles tendonitis) so while my studio is closed for a couple of weeks, I've been recouping--spending a lot of time eating in my pajamas, playing and trying (with mixed success) to potty train my son, and catching up on my reading. 

      For me, 2014 was a brilliant year for dancing and performing and rediscovering what I value most about those disciplines. As far as my personal life, 2014 felt like one long trudge through a freezing cold wasteland without shoes and a sack of bricks on my back. I wish that the passing of another year meant that trudge was over but I know it's not. 2015 is full of uncertainty for me and my family. There's a real possibility that everything about my life will be different in six months--a prospect that both thrills and terrifies me. 

I'd like to end on a more positive note but this post is too long as is. Happy New Year, blog reader friends! 


Monday, October 27, 2014

25 Things Redux

Last year, right before my birthday I posted a list of 25 things I wanted to accomplish in my 25th year. I turn 25 tomorrow and completely forgot about that post until it showed up on my Timehop feed a few days ago. I clicked through to the post and held my breath, expecting to feel disappointed about all the things I was sure I'd failed to accomplish. Instead, I felt surprised by the many milestones I've reached over the past year and the personal growth I experienced. It's been a year of being honest with myself about my own strengths, weaknesses and values. Instead of sweeping the ugly broken pieces of life under the rug, I've faced them and tried (to varying levels of success) to repair them.
 Many of my priorities have shifted as a result. My goals are different. Life has changed.

So, to mark the completion of a quarter of a century of living, let's look back at that list of goals I set for myself one year ago. The items accomplished are bolded, explanations italicized..

1) Establish and commit to a regular writing routine (at least over the summer. . . .)
2) Finish a short story.
3) Finish a non-fiction essay.
4) Submit something to another literary magazine.
5) Finalize my MFA program applications.

6) Become certified to teach the ABT curriculum.
7) Audition/submit myself for at least two dance (performing) jobs.
8) Lay the ground work for establishing a new company in western NY.
9) Expand the theater and voice offerings at my studio, including establishing weekly classes in music and acting. (We had a voice class for a few months before losing our teacher. That counts!)

10) Finally master all Teasers on the mat (I can do them correctly, but am still working on improvement as always.)
11) Take an apparatus class.
12) Earn a second Pilates certification
13) Become certified to teach another fitness discipline (Group exercise through ACE, 7/14, and currently taking a yogafit homestudy course to expand my knowledge.)

14) Become a more consistent meal planner
15) Finish decorating and furnishing our house
16) Finally get our wedding photos and A's baby photos printed and framed
17) Spend daily time in scripture.
18) Plan and grow a more varied garden* (attempted without much success)
19) Take a much belated honeymoon/five year anniversary trip with Graham (sort of . . .day trip for 5th anniversary; overnight trip for my birthday this year)
20) Go an entire week without using social media.
21) Take a class in something completely new.
22) Be intentional about serving and participating in church life
23) Donate at least $100 to a worthy cause or family in need.
24) Figure out a more effective way to organize our budget.
25) Take better care of my marriage, including taking at least two baby-free dates with Graham every month.

I  notice that the Personal, Home and Family category is where I struggled most. There are quite a few reasons for that and I may do a post on how my home life is shifting and evolving soon. 

While it's fun to make these lists and look back on them, I don't think I'll make any similar ones for a while. This year has taught me that life is too unpredictable to plan so meticulously. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Morning Pilates Mat Routine

In Pilates--at least in what is now called classical Pilates--the mat exercises are typically practiced in the same order from class to class. Pilates schools and instructors may differ slightly on the correct order of certain exercises with some incorporating modern modifications based on new understandings of the body, but in general classical Pilates teachers stick to the tried-and-true sequencing. Once you come to class a few times you'll begin to remember the order and can start to flow naturally from one move to another both in class and at home. But many of us are crunched for time when it comes to our home practice and clients often ask me, "What exercises should I be doing if I only have 15 minutes?"
     The answer will depend greatly on the individual (Pilates, despite it's formulaic structure, really is so personal!), their experience level, knowledge of the exercises, and points of weakness. Individual adjustments aside, the following routine is a quick 15 - 20 minute sequence I love to do first thing in the morning. This sequence will increase the flow of oxygen to your muscles, elevate your heart rate to warm-up the body, and give you a nice burst of energy to start your day.

Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program, particularly if you have any underlying medical conditions or injuries. For optimal results and safety, I recommend you first learn these exercises in a Pilates class under the instruction of a knowledgeable teacher. 

Morning Mat Pilates 
For this workout you only need an exercise mat! If you don't have one, a thin blanket or towel on a non-skid surface will work as well.

Before you begin:
Focus on body awareness and breath. Lay on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet placed on the mat about hip-width apart. Reach your palms onto the mat right next to your legs. Imagine lengthening your fingertips toward the edge of the mat as you sink your shoulders away from your ears. Take a deep breath in through your nose and let it out through your mouth as you feel your navel draw toward your spine. Repeat the inhale and, on your next exhale, soften the curve of your lower back toward the mat keeping the navel drawn toward your spine. Make sure you are not tensing your gluteus or shoving your lower back down. Take a few more breaths here, focusing on keeping the abdominals engaged and the shoulders down. For more on the neutral spine position and a few helpful body awareness exercises, click here. 

Links to descriptions and demonstrations of each exercise are included!

Happy Pilates-ing! 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

How I (Try to) Make it Work

     I don't read blogs as much as I used to back in the days of Google Reader (RIP) but lately I have been following this Moms Make it Work series on Julia's blog.  My family is entering a point of transition as my husband reaches the end of his undergraduate education and we decide where and how to take our next steps. I like reading thoughts from moms in all different life stages, from those who work full time to those who stay at home and the growing number of moms who, like me, straddle those two worlds. I've also gotten a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances about how work and childcare and chores are managed in our household, so I thought I'd do my own little "moms make it work" post about how I try to balance everything. (The answer is usually, "not very well.")
Barre buddies!

   A Typical Day
    Our days vary greatly depending on Graham's class schedule and my teaching schedule but we try to keep Gus's routine as consistent as possible. He tends to wake up at about 6:30 (though lately he's been sleeping until 7:00 am--glorious!) and I'll get him up, dressed, to the potty (on a good day) and downstairs where I try to get him to eat some breakfast as I make coffee. Graham leaves for school around 7:30 and, because we only have one car in our family, I'll often drive him the three miles to campus so Gus and I can have the car for running errands. Gus and I are home together until 3:00 pm, with the exception of Tuesdays when I teach three hours in the morning and Gus goes to a babysitter. I do my studio admin work like answering emails, updating student accounts, paying bills and planning lessons while Gus naps and usually squeeze in an extra hour of work or writing while he watches an episode of Sesame Street before or after his nap. At 3:00 pm Graham comes home and I usually head down to the studio to start "real" work. Graham stays home with Gus, making him dinner, giving him his bath and putting him down for bed around 7:00 pm. I'm grateful for a husband who doesn't mind our 50/50 childcare split because so far I've been able to work without paying for too much childcare! Every now and then, Gus has to come with me to the studio to clean or teach private lessons. He usually does well but I am not good at having a "mom brain" and "teacher brain" on at the same time, so I prefer him to stay home when I'm teaching.

Teaching Hours
     The last couple of years, I maintained a schedule where I was consistently teaching several hours of physically demanding classes Monday - Thursday, plus a couple of hours on Fridays or Saturdays, after taking care of a baby/toddler all day. Some people can handle that type of schedule but it was really wearing on my brain and body and a big strain for our family. This year I made the decision to combine a couple of ballet classes, so I'm at my studio for a total of about 20 teaching hours and four or five rehearsal hours each week, mostly on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. Tuesdays I finish teaching before noon and have the evening off to take yoga or even stay home and have dinner at a normal time! Thursdays, I've been teaching a couple of Pilates and barre classes in another town but will soon be devoting those evenings to ministry with a Christian ballet company near Seneca Lake. I'm so excited for the opportunity to dance and perform a little bit again in a ministry capacity!
     I get home from work anywhere between 8:00 pm and 9:30 pm. Usually, I make myself a late dinner and spend an hour or two before bed catching up with my husband or reading. I know some WAHMs who are able to squeeze in some working hours at night but my brain just doesn't function productively at night so I try to stay off the computer and away from my "at-home" work unless there's something really pressing to be done.
I take care of most of the day-to-day chores in our household (at least the indoor ones) but I'm pretty terrible at it.  Graham says it's because I'm "only meticulous about ballet." Keeping the counters clean and free of clutter, the dirty dishes at a manageable number, and the laundry done is about the extent of my capabilities on a good day but I'm getting much better! A de-cluttered house and reasonably tidy kitchen are essential to my peace of mind.

Would I do it differently?
This is something I'm trying to figure out. In some ways, I have the best of both worlds. I used to think I'd really like being a stay-at-home-mom but the reality of it is so different and I know I'll always need another outlet (or ten). I do really appreciate that I get to earn a living, mostly outside the home, while simultaneously getting to spend my days with my son.
         Sometimes I'm frustrated with trying to be both a full-time working mom 100% responsible for her family's income and a full-time stay-at-home-mom. We've talked a little bit about it and we think our ideal situation would be for Graham to work full time and for me to just teach/dance/perform part-time in the evenings without the added stress of running a business. That said, I'm incredibly thankful to get to own a business in a field I love where I am right now. It just may not be forever--we're taking that one step, one year at a time.

How does your family "make it work"? I'd love to hear about it! 


Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Time, Not a Place: A Weekend in NYC and Montclair

    When we first moved to Houghton, Graham promised me we'd come back to visit New York City "every couple of months at least." New York was the place where I became an adult. It was difficult for me to imagine a life without the daily struggle to find a seat on a crowded 6 train, the near-constant search for more affordable apartments or the mad rush up seventh avenue trying to get from my book selling job to an audition at Chelsea Studios. Although I was feeling worn out by a city that clearly didn't want me, I also assumed it would always be central to my life, a "home base" of sorts.
   It's true that when I first moved away, I missed the city constantly. Before leaving, I'd agonized over the decision for months. It sounds melodramatic but giving up this place that had always been a central part of the grand plan I had for my life was difficult and maybe a little emotionally traumatic. In fact, after three months in Houghton I went back to the city on my own for almost a month. (I was childless and living off of freelance writing income at the time which allowed for this kind of enormous flexibility.) It was too long really to be there on my own, surfing from one friend's couch to the next and living out of a suitcase when I was a married woman with a grown-up home. I still often feel guilty about leaving Graham on his own for so long particularly in a place where we knew so few people. In retrospect, I think it was selfish and inconsiderate of me, so I never did a long visit like that again. I committed to the new place we'd chosen, new jobs, and our new life which by that time was soon to include a baby.
   Anyway, big surprise: we rarely made it to NYC for visits after that--just once together for my 22nd birthday. I've returned alone (or with Gus) every fall since then, each time promising I'll make my visits more frequent in the coming year.
    Last weekend, I took an overnight bus from Rochester to midtown Manhattan. I drank coffee and read a book in Bryant Park while the sun came up. I thought about how strange it was to feel more at home on a park bench in a city that constantly smells like a sewer surrounded by strangers than in a comfortable farmhouse surrounded by beautiful countryside and people who love me. I took the train uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as it opened for the day and visited my favorite exhibits alone in near silence, something I wish I'd done more often when I went to college just a few blocks away. The rest of the day included coffee and meals with old friends, taking ballet classes, and feeling guilty for leaving my husband and son alone for an entire weekend (#momguilt).

looking up from Bryant Park in the morning
   At the end of the day, I took the train out to visit and stay with an old friend who now lives in Montclair, NJ. I've never been the biggest fan of New Jersey, so I was surprised that I absolutely loved this town. Even though I was exhausted from 24 hours of traveling, city walking, and dancing, we went out an explored the neighborhood. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe and having dessert at 10 o'clock at night while catching up with an old and dear friend was honestly the highlight of the weekend for me. When you find a friend you can really listen to and share things with openly, hold onto him or her, because those friendships are the best.
       Saturday, I didn't even feel the need to go back into the city. Instead, I took Pilates at a studio near my friend's apartment, explored the town a little more, and caught an incredible dance performance nearby. Although I did do more city activities on Sunday before catching an afternoon bus back to Rochester, I realized on this trip that I miss a time in my life rather than a place. When I crave city life it's because I'm missing the feeling of possibility I had as a seventeen-year-old moving to Manhattan to start "real life" in the fall of 2007.  I miss being able to walk down the street and meet one of my (few but close)  friends for a cup of coffee. I miss the sense that any crazy, wild, life shaking thing can happen to you if only you're in the right place at the right time.  I feel now like I was so eager to grow up and settle down that I didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities I had by getting to go to school in such a diverse place with so many resources. But that's just nostalgia and hindsight stewing together to alter my memory. I know that I ultimately made the right decisions, that the NYC transplant life was not for me and that this life is what God wanted for me. Still, I feel a mad desire to live closer to that imagined potential future.

Maybe New Jersey will be seeing a lot more of me in the future.

There's something I never thought I'd say.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

You are Not Your Job

I have trouble separating my identity from my job. The majority of my childhood and adolescence were spent in pursuit of a single goal--dancing professionally. As a privileged middle class girl growing up in the twenty-first century, I was told I could accomplish anything if I worked hard enough, so I set my sights on earning a living by doing something  I loved, something I found valuable. There was no question in my mind that I was destined to make a living from my art, not from a so-called "survival job." It was horribly narrow-minded and elitist of me.
Real life, as is so often the case, turned out not to be so straightforward. I've succeeded at a number of career-related pursuits as an adult and failed at others. I've worked some as a performer but not in the way I envisioned. I've been so married to the mantra, "Do what you love!" that I've not even considered other alternatives. Miya Tokumitsu wrote recently about the problematic nature and inherent elticsm of the "Do What You Love" philosophy and, after years of making my passion my work, I agree with her analysis.
    Certainly, I've been fortunate and extremely privileged to have the luxury of pursuing freelance performing and writing as well as small business ownership. I've also made sacrifices of time and personal financial security to do so---my husband and I lived below the state poverty line for the first four years of our marriage and still have precarious months and weeks on a regular basis. But my experience is still one of privilege. I'm white, college educated and from a middle/upper-middle class background. My parents and immediate family members almost all hold bachelor's or master's degrees and are employed. I have a social safety net that's allowed me to try to "do what I love" that so many people don't have.
      In this "do what you love" culture that places higher value on jobs done for "passion" than for financial need or work's own sake, it's easy to let our identities be all about what we "do." When you're self-employed, it's even easier to fall into this trap.  Often (as in my case) you and your business are literally the same legal entity. I'm working daily to remind myself that I am not my job. Neither are you. Painting murals for a living doesn't mean you have any richer an inner life than a waitress. Running a tech start-up doesn't make you any more capable of loving others than an assembly line worker at a factory. Owning a dance studio doesn't make me a better or worse person or necessarily mean I'm any more or less successful than if I were working in any other field.

It's okay for work to be work and not passion. Maybe it's even a  healthier approach.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sam Malone in a Bar with a Beer: On Eating Disorders and Eating Well

Only Ted Danson could have great on-screen chemistry with a lemon rind. 
  One of my favorite television shows is Cheers, a 1980s sitcom centered around Sam Malone, a recovered alcoholic who owns a bar. (When I was pregnant I watched all eleven seasons in the space of about three months because I was/am very prone to binging on good things, as we will soon learn.)  In a lot of ways, being a person who's had or has an eating disorder is like being Sam Malone--constantly surrounded by a thing that has the power to destroy you. The big difference is that, unlike Sam Malone who can abstain from beer, we ex-anorexics, ex-bulimics and ex-binge eaters have to eat every day multiple times a day. Depending on where you are in your recovery or how you're feeling that day, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks can feel like battles or emotional triggers or a million other unpleasant things. I
       I've been very vocal both on this blog and other mediums about my past history with eating disorders, particularly my anorexia diagnosis in high school. For a long time, I told "my eating disorder story" as a kind of neat little narrative of down fall, utter despair and miraculous recovery complete with an epiphany about the meaning of my life and a new appreciation for my body. In reality, that journey has been a lot messier and treacherous and drawn out than I think I wanted to admit to myself.
      After seeing a therapist recently for some other life issues, it's become clear that I jumped into a pattern of binge eating pretty quickly after announcing myself "recovered" from anorexia and leaving my outpatient treatment program.  For the most part, I maintain a diet that's as free as animal products as possible (no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, gelatin) because of ethical reasons. I'm also fortunate in that I crave pretty healthy food--most of the time. Some days it's salads and veggie stews and fruit smoothies. Other days it's chocolate chip cookies and tater tots--and I can't just eat six tater tots, I have to eat half a bag of the gross processed frozen kind that make me want to tear my stomach out. To be honest, most of the time I feel totally okay about that. I understand that the occasional overindulgence isn't going to make me gain hundreds of pounds and doesn't mean I'm a failure of a human being. What I am starting to realize though, is that these junk food binges are becoming a regular part of my life in a way they haven't been for a couple of years. They're not healthy and, if possible, I'd like to take care of what ever issue is causing them.
    I'm a big proponent of mindful eating--eating the food I want, whenever I want them as long as I'm both actually hungry and actually craving them. Believe it or not, I actually lost a lot of weight once I embraced that approach. Sometimes, however, I forget about the mindful part and start letting myself eat just whatever because "Body acceptance! Diet free lifestyle!" This past summer, I've fallen back into some old habits which include skipping meals and then compulsively eating vegan candy and/or fried potato products out of loneliness or sadness or some other depressing reason. It's definitely not at an out of control point (been there, done that) but I'd like to get back on track with healthier eating before my dance season starts, particularly since it looks like I'll be donning the pink tights and a tutu for Nutcracker this year and sugarplum fairies with low blood sugar are no fun. Plus, as a fitness professional, I think it's important to model healthy life choices for my clients. To me that includes demonstrating that you should enjoy your favorite dessert every now and then with no guilt and that you should fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods on a daily basis.
   For people with eating disorders or a history of emotional eating, just living normal life is kind of like being an ex-alcoholic in a bar.  There's food everywhere. We have to eat every day. We have to choose every day to do the right thing for our bodies and our minds. It's really hard sometimes and I don't know if I'll ever get it right.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fitness Reviews: Pole Dancing

Yesterday, I did something me-from-five-years-ago never would have done. In fact, me-from-five-years-ago probably would have blushed and clutched her proverbial pearls at the thought.

    I pole danced. 
    Like, I lifted myself up on a pole, jumped onto a pole, spun around a pole--and it was fun! 

  At the beginning of the summer, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone by trying a few classes in the area. I'd read so many fantastic things about what a great workout pole acrobatics and dance are, so I knew right away it had to be on my agenda. Finally, this week, the stars aligned, my Monday night was free, and I headed to Aerial Arts of Rochester to try their Level One Introduction to Pole class. 

     I arrived about twenty minutes before the advertised start time and I'm glad I did. The class filled up a few minutes after I arrived and several folks were turned away. As I waited for class to start, I chatted with some of the more experienced students who assured me I'd love the workout and become addicted! While I sensed a spirit of camaraderie among the regulars, I also felt completely welcome to the group as a newcomer.
   I expected the pole studio to look like a standard aerobics studio just . . . with poles. While it did have a nice wood floor and a wall of mirrors, the dim lighting, music, and decor added a little bit of club atmosphere. That's not really my scene (to put it mildly) so I started to get nervous. Some girls embraced the pole-dancer look in sports bras and booty shorts, while others (like me) wore more standard fitness attire. I also noticed a wide variety of ages and body types in the class.
      After the instructor (who was subbing the class) introduced herself and instructed us to find a pole partner.  Because of the large number of students in class, we took turns practicing various moves on the poles. I didn't mind this at all because 1)these moves are challenging physically and after a few reps I was glad to take a break and 2) it gave me a chance to meet and learn from a more experienced student. 
    We did a short warm-up of light stretching then got right to the good stuff. The teacher would demonstrate a movement, break it down slowly, then let us practice on our own while she walked around the studio correcting form and helping people when they had difficulty. Then she'd repeat the process with a new move. At the end of class, we put the moves all together to music. 
    For all the planning and research about pole workouts I did before trying the class, I really didn't expect it to be so much stinking fun to dance around a pole. It reminded me of being a little kid on a playground, swinging and climbing over a jungle gym. Like, I see now why people get addicted to this. As a dancer I definitely had an advantage in some ways (balance, coordination, body awareness etc.), but other elements of the class (like the hip shaking during the choreography section) definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. We learned how to do a simple step around the pole, a fireman's spina pirouette, and a fan kick along with a couple of other things. I didn't fall on my face--hooray--but I did end up on the floor with my legs in a weird pretzel shape around the pole at one point. I couldn't get up and had to ask my pole partner to untangle my legs. We're close now. Also--my upper body is not as strong as I thought. Pole has taught me this. 
    The instructor was patient, friendly and helpful, making everyone feel successful even if they didn't master all the exercises. It was far more of a self-directed class than I expected. There was a lot of stopping and starting and working on your own (under supervision) with encouragement from other students. This allowed for a lot of time to practice and play with different choreography so I didn't mind at all. I'm sure the higher level classes have a more aerobic component without as much stopping and starting.  And even though booty popping and hip shaking isn't quite my thing, I never felt like it was untasteful or overboard. 
       My only real criticism is that the warm-up seemed a little short--only about three minutes--and not super thorough. Since the exercises we were doing were primarily strength-based it would have been beneficial to add a couple minutes of light cardio to get the blood pumping and prep the muscles. 
    Despite the short warm up and the reluctant hip-shaking, I totally loved my first pole class! If the studio weren't an hour and half long drive from my house, I'd be back every week. I'm hoping to continue attending when I can and also have plans to try out another type of class at Aerial Arts! 

If you're local to Rochester or visiting, you can drop-in to the Level One Pole class at Aerial Arts of Rochester on Monday or Tuesday evenings for $12 or sign up for a multi-week session.

Have you tried pole? Would you come with me to a class?

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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Steel Magnolias

Oh, hey blog!
I just wrapped up performances as Shelby Latcherie in Steel Magnolias with The Valley Theatre at David A. Howe Library in Wellsville, NY. There was a lot of hairspray, nail polish and pink eye shadow involved. I feel like Shelby is one of the more challenging roles I've had to tackle and I had a lot of fun being part of such a fun ensemble show. I also loved the great vintage theater space we used! If you live in western NY or the southern tier, keep an eye on the Nancy Howe Auditorium website for information about upcoming free events, movie screenings and performances.

After three almost back-to-back straight plays, I'm refocusing on ballet for Houghton Movement & Arts Center's upcoming mini-production of Swan Lake in May. I also have some exciting news about summer dance projects in the area which I'll write about soon!

In rehearsal with (L-R) Megan Specksgoor, Amanda Cox, Sally Murphy and Debbie Young