Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Day in the Life of Mia

You've seen it from Steven's eyes, now here's a look at what a day is like for Mia Leimkuhler, another OBT dancer that has agreeably let us virtually job shadow her for a day.

My very interesting life:
Gavin's been sending out emails, cajoling us for war stories, and I've racked my brain for a few. But really, I have nothing. Sure, I have odds and ends of mishaps and sordid details of behind-the-scenes type things, but they all seem like inside jokes: I'm not wholly sure they're amusing to anyone else but me and the people directly involved. I'm not sure, for example, that most people would find it funny that when we found out we'd have to run Nutcracker Act II all over again during one rehearsal, Matthew Pippin announced that Christmas was cancelled. But the fact remains that I'm pretty sure my life as a ballet dancer isn't exactly thrilling or wildly interesting. If they made a TV show based on my life I'm pretty sure people would change the channel after about five minutes because 1. it's exasperatingly boring, or 2. they can't understand the random things that are coming out of my incoherent mouth. So, my normal day:

I wake up every day at 7:40am. There, that's one hint to the deep-running OCD that accounts for so many of my idiosyncrasies--I wake up at 7:40 because it's ten minutes more sleep than 7:30 but five minutes more time than if I woke up at 7:45. And by wake up I mean that I am up, I am resetting the alarm that rouses me from my slumber with the classical radio station. I know a lot of dancers who don't eat breakfast (something about not being able to eat anything early in the morning), but I can't imagine that. Breakfast gets me out of bed. I honestly get excited if I wake up and remember that I have fresh berries in my fridge or a shiny, brand-spanking new box of cereal to rip into (for the record, I'm disturbingly addicted to the frosted flakes they sell at Whole Foods). I learned the hard way, though, to put my glasses on before embarking upon breakfast; when you're groggy and partially blind the carton of chicken broth looks identical to the carton of soymilk.

I drive to the studio around nine-ish, earlier if I have physical therapy that morning or later if I couldn't manage to put together a decent-looking normal, pedestrian, non-lycra/microfiber outfit. Once at OBT I change into a non-pedestrian lycra/microfiber outfit, coax my hair into something that resembles a French twist and stretch out my major muscle groups before class begins at ten. Once class begins we all focus and work very hard.

Rehearsals are scheduled in blocks from 11:45 to 2:30 and 3:30 to 5:30, and depending what I'm rehearsing/involved in I could have a short day (read: out of the building by 2:30) or be at OBT until 5:30. We rehearse the ballets that are to be performed in the next program, or even in the program after that. There's always something to be rehearsed, fine-tuned and perfected, and I'm happiest when I'm in the studio pouring myself into a piece of choreography. Fun fact: In a rehearsal day that lasts until 5:30, I usually go through a wardrobe change of about three or so leotards. Those things become un-ladylike-ly (I'm fully aware that that isn't a word) sweaty and stinky and really, it's no fun being in a wet lycra onesie. So by the end of a full-day rehearsal week I've plowed through at least fifteen leotards and just as many pairs of tights. Not to mention a week's worth of normal-people clothes. So much laundry! This is why I dream of having a lovely washer and dryer set in my own apartment. Not in my own building, which I have, but physically in my apartment. My heart flutters at the thought of never having to make that desperate run to Trader Joe's at 8:57pm to buy, oh, a tin of mints and ask for a roll of quarters as my cash back.

Once home I throw down my bag, kick off my shoes, open my fridge and think about dinner. That's a lie, I've most likely been thinking about dinner since four pm. I'm quite good about cooking for myself. It's a good way to save money, I make lunches of leftovers, and by cooking for myself I ensure that I'm eating exactly what I want prepared exactly the way I want it. My fridge is abnormally full; I've learned this by peering into the fridges of friends and coworkers. Not only does my Fridgidaire contain aforementioned leftovers from previous meals, but the leftovers of the ingredients that went into said meals, various condiments for various cuisines (Asian sauces, salsas, jams and confits, the ubiquitous ketchup/catsup and about half a dozen mustards), and the binding building blocks of baking (hello, alliteration!)--eggs, butter, sugar, flour. The only fridge I've seen that resembles my apocalyptic food vessel is that of my downstairs neighbor, and she has two other mouths to feed. I only have to account for my own. But I like cooking, and a little pottering about in the kitchen is a nice way to unwind. Except for when I burn myself or realize I'm missing one crucial ingredient. Then it's not so relaxing.

After dinner there's email, the gym, French class on Wednesday nights, television (sweet, sweet HBO), shower, reading, bed. Elaboration: the gym happens because it helps keep my stamina up if I'm not rehearsing much in a given week, plus I enjoy the endorphins and it ensures that I'm wiped out and will hopefully sleep well. French class is a recent development, I'm enjoying being back in a school environment and fall upon my homework with what can best be described as furious purposefulness. I indulged in HBO this past summer and, like any true addict who's "only trying it and will give it up really soon," I'm, well, not. I climb into bed squeaky clean and read until my eyelids become very heavy and I realize that I've been reading the same sentence for the past five minutes. I click my bedside lamp off, compile a mental list of what needs to be done tomorrow, and with any luck I'm out.

It's not all that interesting, and aside from the spandex part it's probably close to any other working stiff's day. Granted that I have to pay more attention to the upkeep of my body more than, say, the guy at Trader Joe's who begrudgingly hands me a roll of quarters, but everything before and after the OBT part seems like a fairly common routine. When people ask me to describe what my life is like, what my working hours are and what I do with them, I explain that my job as a dancer with OBT functions like your given nine-to-five job, except that instead of sitting at a desk behind a computer I'm on my feet, dancing around. They then nod and look at me as if I'm five. Or crazy. Or else they ask me if I'm going to school (ha, I can now say yes, thank you non-credit French class!) or if I went to school. Usually I'm honest, explaining that instead of going to college I took my job with OBT, that essentially I found a job right out of high school (you know, just like Kobe Bryant).


  1. Mia, thank you for your posting (well, through Gavin that is) :) So am I odd in that I do find Matthew's comment funny? Granted, while I'm far from being a dancer (much to your happiness I'm sure) :) when I see all the decorations and hear commercials and some of the same Christmas songs on the radio over and over and over I think, "oh will it pass?" Though, are you like me in that after the holiday you want to perform it just one more time? (I'm guessing it's good that I am sitting at a computer terminal at the moment... otherwise I might have a pointe shoe thrown at me)

    Incidentally, I'm one of those working stiffs who sits at a computer all day. I work 7-4 M-F sitting at a computer (in a cube) pretty much by myself and try to break software. (are you bored yet?) :) My excitement does come when I get to look forward to lunch so I can go for my hour walk or the thought of heading home to work in my garden. So yes, I suppose we might be somewhat alike... well, except (much to my coworker's happiness) I don't wear tights or dance around the office. ;)

    I do have one question for you though Mia. You mention a few things that are in your fridge. As a dancer does OBT regulate or suggest what you should (or shouldn't) eat? Are there certain foods that you like but don't get a chance to eat much because of your profession?

    Anyways, thank you kindly for a peak into your life as a dancer.


  2. Hi Seth--

    1. Matthew's comment is indeed funny. He has incredible comedic timing, and announcing that Christmas was cancelled amidst hackneyed, grumbling dancers was pretty much comic gold. As far as Christmas and Nutcracker...sigh. That's another entry in and of itself. Long story short, Nutcracker is something of a catch-22 situation, in that you can't wait for it to end, yet as soon as it does you have absolutely no idea what to do with yourself. Except sleep and eat.

    2. In a way, we're all working stiffs. At the end of the day you have to pay bills and write rent checks and take care of all those odds and ends. We all need jobs to pay the bills. I just really managed to luck out in the employment department, as most of the time my job doesn't even feel like work.

    3. Ha, OBT does not regulate what is in our fridges and cabinets. That would be a riot. I think my boss would pass out if he knew how much butter I have in my fridge at any given time (or for that matter, cheese). As professional dancers we're somewhat expected to know what to eat and what not to eat in order to keep ourselves functioning as strong, lean athletes. You learn through experience what you personally need to keep yourself performing at a svelte but strong level. As for myself, I eat pretty much everything in moderation. If I denied myself anything I'd most likely become unhealthily fixated on it. Gavin once gave me the good advice (passed on from Patricia Barker) to have a little dessert every night. Good rule. I also really like the news that dark chocolate is good for you and thusly should be considered health food.

    4. You're welcome! I've received such great feedback from my blog that I think I might write a little more. And I think you meant to say "peek" instead of "peak." (I'm annoyingly obsessed with spelling.)


  3. Morning Mia,

    Thank you for your reply back – though the first thing I did after reading it was think, “oh blast… spelling bit me in the butt!” Your obsession is definitely a good one! I made sure to run spell check on this entry. 

    By the way, hopefully my comment about being a working stiff didn’t come across as though I was implying dancers weren’t working. You definitely have a very demanding job and I couldn’t imagine being physically active as many hours a day as you are. I used to think my two hour workouts were great, but then after reading about your and Gavin’s days, I realize that it’s a mere drop in the bucket compared to a dancer’s life. I’m curious Mia, with as many hours as you all work and the demand on a person’s body, are there age limits when dancers pursue other endeavors whether it be choreography, teaching or college?

    When I was at the last brown bag (for the American performance) there was dialogue between the dancers as well as between the dancers and the choreographer (Lisa?). Do you have much say or suggestion opportunities how to do something or was the conversation we were hearing more on how the dancers were working together to better execute a particular move based off the overall expectation from the choreographer? Also, I noticed a couple times what looked like chalk or powder that Holly put her pointe shoes in. I know from a weight lifting and gymnastics standpoint that’s helpful to keep hands dry and can help when gripping bars. But, with ballet what does it do? Both you and Gavin have mentioned profuse sweating as a lovely side effect of your job, so does the powder help keep your ballet shoes dryer while you move? Does it hinder dancing or does it actually help make slides/spins and such easier?

    I like your idea of health food. I’m sure as many times as the food pyramid has been modified, one slight addition of chocolate to the top wouldn’t be all that hard!

    One last question (hopefully you don’t mind?) – can you explain the difference between the dancer positions? What I mean is you are listed in the OBT roster as a company artist. What’s the difference between say company artist, soloist and principal? Do most dancers start as apprentices with OBT and then go to artist, soloist and then principal? Is it based on years or are there specific competencies that you have to demonstrate to become one or the other? Is this structure common between the different companies?

    Until I next read from you, have a great day and keep up the wonderful work!