Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hi all!

Whew! Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but my summer became very busy out of nowhere.

I’ve been teaching a fair amount, which has been nice, but exhausting. It’s like an hour and a half of walking around, talking, and dancing (without really being warmed up). I often find myself demonstrating things on my good side and so the next day I feel completely lopsided because only half of me got a work-out.

I’ve been reading a little, and trying to be outside as much as possible. I’ve been taking classes at the school’s summer program, and 2 of the boys from level 4 and I went to the Gorge and ended up accidentally doing the 12 mile, round-trip, Devil’s Rest hike... It killed our legs, but was well worth it for the view.

Some of the new company members have started to trickle into town, and it’s been fun meeting the people who I’ll be dancing with next season. We’ve only got about 3 weeks now until OBT exposed, and I don’t know about my co-workers, but I’m feeling ready to get back to work.

I’m sorry this post has been so short, and some-what scattered, but it’s hard to sort through a month’s worth of activity and find the interesting, and ballet related, stuff. I’m about to start sewing some shorts and leotards, so soon I’ll make a sort of “Anatomy of a Leotard” post.

Hope you’re all having a fantastic summer!


Ed, Ian, and I:

View from the top:

Monday, July 28, 2008

More On Sweet Pea

I just love that name, the Sweet Pea Festival...

I spoke with Anne a little more about her gig this week, and asked her a bit about her process, her choreography, and her ambitions:

"I have always loved her (Patsy Cline's) music and have been familiar with it since childhood. I am drawn to her as an artist because she did so much to change the face of women in country music, really popular music in general. She took to dressing very elegantly, unlike most women in country music at the time who wore what we would think of now as square dance outfits. Her voice has such soul and depth and, of course, there is the added tragedy that she died so young. She didn't live to know the impact of her work, and there is poetry to that. To hear a voice that is so robust sing lighthearted songs of heartbreak is a bit ironic on multiple levels, which interests me. To choose the pieces I've used I listened to many over and over. I chose selections that are lesser known, for the most part because I didn't want it to be like a greatest hits kind of thing. My structure for the piece is mainly practical. I have few dancers and wanted to make a longish piece, so I just figured out when people would need to rest."

What Anne means by "figured out when people would need to rest" is that since she only has four dancers to work with, she had to strategize how to arrange the sections of the ballet so that it would be evenly balanced amongst all four. For example, that means deciding to arrange it so that there would be solos, duets, and trios without the same people in back-to-back sections, giving them time to catch their breath before their next section to dance.

I wondered how Anne knew how to organize a gig like this one:

"I served as Managing Director of Trey McIntyre Project from 2004 to 2006, during which we completed two national tours. I had a business partner, the current Executive Director of TMP, but between the two of us we handled almost all logistical aspects of financing and planning the tour. This is my first time solo. I'm certainly interested in more and have sincere hopes that this might grow into more summer opportunities for OBT and its dancers."

Everyone will have the chance to see Anne's latest choreographic work at the OBT Exposed tent next month. Details are on the OBT website. Please do stop by and catch it!

Anne, Patsy, and Friends

OBT is making an appearance at the Sweet Pea Festival of the Arts in Bozeman, Montana this weekend. Anne Mueller, offered the opportunity to present ballet at the festival, got together four of her fellow dancers and choreographed a new ballet that they will perform there, along with Balanchine's Apollo (which OBT performed here at home in the 2006-7 season). Her new piece, tentatively titled "Hotcakes and Heartaches" (or something along those lines, she assured me), is a series of solos, duets, and trios set to a collection of fantastic Patsy Cline songs. I watched the dancers rehearse a little bit last week. It's wonderful--- lighthearted but a little poignant, choreographically interesting and fun to watch. It's light and colorful and I'm sure will be a hit!

Here's more information about the Sweet Pea Festival, for anyone who happens to be in or near Bozeman this weekend and wants to check it out:

Anne's ballet will also be performed at OBT Exposed at the end of August in a free performance, open to the public, so stay tuned for details on that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ordering Shoes

Belinda's planning for next season's pointe shoe needs. Actually, many of the orders have been placed already (due to the long wait for delivery, we must plan way ahead in order to ensure we have steady supply), but for the new dancers joining the company, apprentices, and those of us that are changing our orders, it's time to strategize. Since I missed the last two programs of last season I still have a good number of shoes left over, but they are an assortment of different makers because of having to drop my previous stalwart, Mr. Club. Before I got injured we'd ordered trials (2 or 3 pairs) in several different makers to determine which one I'd be comfortable wearing consistently. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to try out those shoes as they arrived, having one foot in a cast and all...

Now that I'm working my way back into the studio I've been trying out a couple of the new makers so I can tell Belinda which ones to order for me. There's a minimum of four months to wait for an order to come in, so even what we put in for now won't arrive until Nutcracker. Some makers take as long as seven months, meaning orders placed now will only help out for the latter part of the 2008-09 season.

I've settled so far on O and V and have research to do on a handful of others. The numbers are staggering, as I wrote about earlier--- 20-25 pairs are ordered in a batch, and usually about 100 per season per dancer, more or less. The dollar amounts are eye-popping.

Off I go to prepare a new pair to try out tomorrow. Even after a few months off, sewing pointe shoes is automatic for me-- my hands pretty much do it without thinking. My whole preparation routine takes a maximum of twenty minutes, and that's including breaking, gluing, and sewing.
Step 1: Step on the box to flatten it, bend the shank to loosen the heel nail, pull out the nail with pliers (or fingernails), separate tongue from shank.
Step 2: Tape the cloth insole back down to the shank so it doesn't roll up under my foot and cause blisters.
Step 3: Squirt glue into the tip.
Step 4: Sew on ribbons and elastic.
Step 5: Squeeze foot into shoe, go to rehearsal. (Make sure the glue is dry first).

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the 2008 summer course. My classes are all doing well--- the adult beginners are making great progress and haven't stormed out in frustration (or boredom) yet, which makes me feel great! My goal is just to make them feel they've gotten a good grasp of some basics of ballet technique, learned some new steps and terminology, and gotten a bit of a workout at the same time. The fact that they're still coming to class twice a week gives me hope that those goals are being met... And they're definitely looking stronger and more confident, which is great.

I've been reading a book about "a day in the life of the human body", which essentially takes you through just that--- a description and explanation of what happens to you physiologically throughout the day, from the moment you wake up until you go to bed at night. (Haven't had much reading time this summer, so I'm still stuck on mid-morning). The chapter I'm in right now goes into much detail on what your brain struggles to do when you force yourself to focus on more than one thing at a time. The chapter addresses "dual-tasking" in situations like driving while talking on a phone, etc., and explains that the different parts of your brain (which control different functions) end up firing away like mad, all jostling for prominence. In the end, the bottom line is that no one is truly good at doing more than one thing at a time. You can get better with practice, but it's because you are really just switching from task to task back and forth very quickly.

I wish we could plug a brain-reader into a dancer taking class, doing barre exercises. Talk about dual-tasking--- I have no idea how many thoughts are trying to get sent to the body all at once. A translation of the brain activity might go like this:
"First position, feet flat, wide, inhale, pull up, stretch, rotate... breathe, plie, arm, ouch, lift, up, tendu, left hip... soften, 5, 6, 7, 8, bend up, reach again, burn, 1, 2, cross, squeeze, tendon feels weird, balance, lift... I'm sore...what rehearsal do I have first?... hot in here... cross fifth, plie, lift, balance, pull up, push down, phew... "
And on, and on. You can see why the rest of life fades into the distance during class each morning. There's no room in your head for anything else!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

50 Meter Freestyle

I've been following the story of Dara Torres, the 41-year-old woman who will be the oldest swimmer ever to compete in the Olympic Games when she goes to Beijing in a few weeks. She's had many ups and downs in her swimming career and is now making her third return from "retirement" to try for one more Olympic medal (she already has nine).

I can't help but feel a certain empathy and kinship with her. I can totally understand her drive and relate to her determination and motivation. What I can't quite get imagine is spending $100,000 a year to maintain a posse of people to make it to the end goal. (She has three coaches, two stretchers, two masseurs and a chiropractor, and works with them all just about every day). But in a way, I feel like I'm running along a bit of a parallel pathway-- pushing to get ready by a specific date, and urging along a body that might not share the same desire to work so hard.

But things are going well in my own little Olympic training camp. I'm able to work quite a bit in the studio now, in pointe shoes and sometimes even without holding on to anything. It all feels less and less foreign every day. What's weird is how different my right and left sides are now-- my entire right leg is still just weaker than my left. And this is despite a pretty well-designed physical therapy and cross-training routine! I can't imagine how off I would feel if I had just sat around and waited to get my cast off. But at the same time, it's true that all those exercises are just a placeholder to keep enough basic strength going to prevent me from toppling over while I try to get the fine-tuned, ballet-specific strength and coordination back. On the one hand, certain things are better than before, just because when I'm in regular rehearsal/performance mode there's no time or energy left over for that much adductor, hamstring, or turnout strengthening. So now, because I've been putting so much attention into those things over the past several weeks, I do feel a certain "brute strength" that is gratifying. But, my poor little foot has lost so much tiny musculature, and there is such bogginess in the ankle joint, that it just doesn't quite want to obey my commands. It's learning, but a little reluctantly. And my toes... they're softer than a baby's bottom. But to look on the bright side, as my callouses disappeared so did my corns.

There's a little video of Dara Torres explaining some of her stretches here, along with the New York Times article that was so fascinating to me:

So when I start feeling like this is ridiculously impossible and I'll never get back to where I was before, I'll think of all those Olympic athletes pushing for something right around the same time I'll be, with luck, getting close to being back with my colleagues and friends, putting together next season's ballets. For the moment I'm putting my pride aside and taking my little baby steps forward every day. I am definitely grateful to have the beehive of activity that is the summer course going on at the studio right now. It's helpful to have people around, to be working in the company of others, even though it's such a solitary, individual pursuit--- and the dancers I'm surrounded by are-- ahem--- a little younger than I am. But we're all very driven, that's for sure!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

El Verano Empieza en Madrid.

The summer begins in Madrid. Well, for me at least. I have planned out for myself a grand European summer vacation, with arrangements that will take me from Madrid to Toledo, Paris, and Barcelona. It is, without a doubt, the most adventurous solitary endeavor I have ever embarked on, and I'm thrilled to say that I will be on this terrific adventure through the first of August. I thought I'd make a few reports here and there as they pertain to OBT and my life as a traveling dancer.

So, with introductions aside, greetings from Madrid! I arrived here at four in the afternoon today, thus capping off exactly twenty-four hours of travel. I'm not nearly as jetlagged as I expected, but then again, I did arrive just in time for siesta. I'm staying with a friend near the Centro del Sol in the very heart of downtown Madrid; earlier this evening I had a chance to stroll around my new neighborhood and enjoy my new scenery, my new ambiance, and quite easily the best horchata I've ever had in my life. It's currently twenty past nine pm here, meaning that dinner is in an hour or two, and, in the true madrilena spirit (there should be a tilde over the n but I'm not sure how to type that) I don't anticipate being in bed before two am. I have no idea how Spanish ballet dancers could function on that sleeping schedule, but then again, they might wonder the same about us.

I had a very interesting conversation with the man seated next to me on my flight from Portland to Amsterdam (ten hours, in case you were wondering). He was on his way from a conference in Hawaii to Ghana, where he was working for improving democratic elections and relations. From there he would follow his job assignments to London, Rome, Bologna, and Barcelona; all in all he was looking at many months of traveling. He was passionate about his job, happily embroiled in politics and people so much so that he didn't seem to mind not having a concrete home. When he found out what I did for a living he sat back in his seat, seemingly impressed.

"You know," he told me, "I've always been very scared of artists. You are very intimidating people. You have the power to create things, every single day, and that isn't daunting or scary to you. You are creators where most of us are just doers. If I was on stage I would fall apart, it would be a disaster."

I was flattered, and I'd never really thought of myself as a creator, so to speak. I told him that I thought of choreographers as the real creators in the dance world, literally giving birth to new steps, sequences, dances that we simply perform. "I just take what I'm given," I explained, "and do my best to run with it. Whatever a choreographer hands me, I add myself to it and put it onstage. That's the fun part; taking someone's creation and making it your own, adding your own personality and identity to it."

"That would be creating as well," he said, "because you're creating this interesting and new version of yourself every single night for people to see. You're very exposed and you're sharing and you're something new that the audience has never seen before. I could never do that, and I don't think anybody can really do that except real artists. It's very wonderful."

I'm always so heartwarmed by the response that people have when learning I'm a professional ballet dancer, but for some reason his comments really stuck. Perhaps it was because it was coming from another professional whose labor I so admired, who traveled the world to educate and help and lead. Here was someone who was going into the heart of Africa to lend his knowledge and services to a dire situation, and he was praising me for what I do. I would have taken his comments for sarcasm if his sincerity weren't so assuredly plausible.

He ended that conversation by simply stating, "You make a lot of people very happy." I don't think I could have asked for a better start to my Grand European Vacation (yes, it's a title), for really, what's better than knowing that after a month of new discoveries, adventures and inspirations, I get to return to a job that makes me, and others, so very happy?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Turn in the Studio

Although I've been in the studio quite a bit over the past few weeks teaching classes, today I put on my other hat and took class for the first time, almost exactly four months after ankle surgery. I'd tested the waters already by doing an experimental barre a few times by myself (at first in my kitchen, holding onto the countertop, and then in an empty studio after class had finished) and felt ready to be in the company of others and follow someone else's direction. How's it feeling? So far, so good. I even put pointe shoes on and went up and down a few times. I'm sure this will change, but for now the most painful thing is my toenails.

I've got two months to get fully back up to speed in time to start rehearsals in September. That's not really very much time. Eight weeks will go by quickly, and I'm still at the very beginning of this next phase of recovery. I'm not sure if it's the last phase or not, but it IS amazing to think back on all the milestones that I've taken note of so far. The one that sticks in my mind the most is the first time I walked outside without a cast, boot, or crutch-- in two normal shoes. That was back in late April sometime, I think. The sensation of freedom was overwhelming--- I felt so unencumbered and free!

So here we go, back at the old familiar barre, doing the old familiar exercises. Except they don't feel quite as familiar as they did once before!