Saturday, June 24, 2017

You Are.

Today during class, in between exercises, Ray Hesselink said to me (and he pointed to me and looked me right in the eye and it came from the blue) 'You are a beautiful performer, you can see that you have so many different styles in your body'
and I honestly almost cried.

Then someone from the front desk came to take the register of who was in the class today, and when they called me I said 'here' beaming all over my face and I caught his eye and he gave me a little wink.

I can float on that for what feels like forever.

I really needed to catch a break this week, and I'm truly delighted by this small piece of recognition, and I am proud of myself and I absolutely deserve to be.  I work very hard and I try to do right by everyone, and I don't give up.  So, thanks be to Ray, it truly meant a lot to hear that and I feel great after a long and tough week.

Leave it all behind

There was a time when I would leave a dance class and just go about the rest of my day.  I might have been happy with how I did or not that happy perhaps but either way I would just leave and that would be that.  Probably I’d be tired, usually that satisfied kind of tired from a long day’s hard work and sometimes a more frustrated kind because I had a long night still ahead, or maybe so beat I could think only of getting home and putting on my pyjamas and collapsing in front of the TV. 

I would leave the Sports Centre and whatever feelings I’d had during class, being proud of nailing a sequence or being annoyed with myself at repeatedly not getting a step, wouldn’t come with me.  Not in a negative, ‘I want to forget that ever happened’ way, it just never occurred to me to spend time dissecting my class experience.
At AMDA, too – I would enjoy my dance classes and in general feel fine with how they went – I don’t remember ever having a class there that I really beat myself up over, and to be fair some of that is probably because they were on the gentler side of challenging, the teachers each having only a short time each term in which to impart movement information. Not that we didn’t sweat like mad.  But even when I ran up against things that I wasn’t great at or that I didn’t know how to do, I had a narrative for myself that just kept me breezing on by and never questioning my dancerism.

Maybe around the time of AMDA dance workshop, the extra curricular program you auditioned for (which…I did and got in so already it’s crazy that I doubted so hard) when I started to come up against phenomenal dancers  from the Dance program who have been trained a totally different way than I was – in essence they’ve been trained to be acrobats – I started to doubt myself and stew over not being able to do tricks and gymnastics.  I started to develop a different narrative, one where the story didn’t go ‘I’m a great dancer.  Oh, so and so is better at turning right than me.  But I’m better at x y z.  My leg doesn’t go as high as whatserfaces, but I’m more stylistically versatile’. The story went ‘I don’t belong here.  I don’t know how to do that.  My body won’t do that.  I don’t know how to be a dancer’. 

I’ve been stuck in that mind trap for quite a while now, which means that instead of just leaving a class and continuing with my day, I leave class and analyse and wonder why me or why not me and remember what I did wrong and everyone who did what I did wrong right and wishing I’d done it right and being cross with myself because it was a stupid mistake that I got right every other time and I wish I could do box splits and where does everyone buy their dance clothes? Is there a secret shop I don’t know about I search all the time and I’ve never seen any of these leggings or tops

And other things like that

Which really serves no one least of all me.  I’m sharply aware of its futility and also how completely untrue a lot of the thoughts are because – no one knows I’m feeling any kind of way except me.  The teacher doesn’t know what I’m thinking and I don’t know what they’re thinking.  The other dancers aren’t looking at me they’re looking at the teacher and themselves in the mirror.  (My jazz teacher today shouted out during the warm up ‘I love that green hair’.  That’s dope! That’s what he was thinking about, when he glanced my way!)

But it’s a pattern and a habit and sort of a defence mechanism because if I’m super down on myself it will somehow transmit to the teachers, the classmates, the world that I CAN do it, I’m really good, I know I did that wrong see? See I know it was wrong so I know what makes it right

If I make a mistake in class sure the teacher probably sees it.  But they don’t suddenly hate me or like…take the rest of the class out for drinks so they can laugh about it.  I’m so in my head and I am going to have to work on returning to the mindset that used to allow me to just go in, do it, leave and carry on. 

It’s not just about confidence – I can be confident, I felt very confident in all three classes I took today.  It’s about knowing, without question, that I’m a dancer.  What do dancers do? Dance.  No further analysis needed.  No need to leave class hauling a bag of feelings and doubts.  Just leave and go do the next thing.  And tomorrow, do it again.

I took theatre jazz with Richard Pierlon (I slayed it) tap with Alex Macdonald (it’s my third class with him and every week I’ve felt myself improve hugely, also I nailed the choreography every time until the last two times we did it when I made the same mistake twice because I just had a mind blank) and commercial jazz with Nicholas Palmquist (again, slayed)
4.5 hours of dancing today.

And then I came to sit in Troy’s studio and cool down and obviously think about screwing up in Alex’s class and how the really friendly girl next to me didn’t screw up and she videoed herself doing the choreo with the teacher after class and I didn’t and I couldn’t anyway cos I messed it up and about how no matter how great I felt about the work I did in Palmquist’s class if I’d been in class with some other dancers I know I would have been the worst one because I can’t do the wacky leg things they can do without tearing a hamstring and…I won’t continue because you get the idea.

Even though I did nothing but good today, I still come away with all these bad things to think about myself.  That’s quite an upsetting thing to confront, but it must be confronted because how else will it ever be improved?

Rome wasn’t built in a day.  And I don’t want something done fast, I want something done right.

So tomorrow I’ll go to contemporary class and I challenge myself now with Blog as my witness to finish class and however it may have gone to go into the changing rooms, cool down, put my streets on, leave Steps and go onto the next thing with zero time spent over if and but.

Challenge on.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

'You dance with so much joy'

I was told yesterday by Ray Hesselink that I dance with so much joy, and that is pretty much the best thing anyone can ever tell me.  Ray is an extremely popular and beloved tap teacher here in New York, he's been in the biz forever, he's a wonderful and fun teacher and having finally taken a Ray class I understand exactly what all the hype is about.  He teaches in a style that perfectly balances 'Broadway' style, very MGM inspired, with rhythm style footwork.

This week I took lyrical jazz, rhythm tap, Broadway tap, Ray Hesselink tap and this afternoon will be another round of rhythm with Alex Macdonald, a super dope teacher.  All of these classes pushed me hard and gave me something to work on as well as something to be proud of and something to appreciate about myself as a dancer.

All these classes are made possible by my induction into the Steps work study program.  I work in the cafe Wednesday mornings and as a cashier checking people into classes on Friday mornings, and in exchange I receive unlimited $5 classes and a huge discount on studio rentals.

Well, that's the baseline of the work study program - it's a way for Steps to save money on employees and it's a way for dancers to save money on classes so it's a win win for everyone.  The bonuses that you get from being part of the program, which are really important to me, are things like community, connections, a sense of belonging to the dance world, consistency, new friends, being in a team.  After my first day, I was left feeling so fulfilled and comfortable and I realised that it's because I'm not used to having coworkers.  Babysitting, it's just me.  All Systems Go, just me.  Both great jobs that I'm lucky to have with nice employees and all kinds of good stuff but they both at times can be quite lonely or isolating because I'm the only person who has that job.  At ASG there are adults around all the time but I essentially work alone, and babysitting of course I have the fun of being around lovely kids but rarely adults.  So spending a whole four hours working alongside people who are my age who share something that I love was really wonderful for me and just 8 hours a week is making a huge difference.  Not to mention the high volume of people that come through the studio, during a shift you're constantly talking and interacting.  I haven't done a customer servicey job since I finished working at the AMDA store and I'm happy to be back in it, I've always been good at and liked that aspect of my many jobs over the years.

Going to the same classes regularly means I can build a relationship with favourite teachers, being around dancers makes me finally feel like I'm supposed to be there - not like I'm an outsider looking in to the dance world and wondering how to get in.

It's all good.  Work study is exciting and valuable and I'm quite evidently delighted by it.

Jacob - a constant rock and source of endless comedy - took this picture of me last week.  It looks terribly arty and what have you - here's the secret: he told me to do the Macarena

Happy Father's Day!

This one for some reason is the same in the UK and the US, even though Mother's Day is totally different? I'm confused.

In honour of the one and only John Nigel Fairey let's all enjoy the first Beatles song I remember (to this day my favourite) and appropriate because it was supposedly about a picture that John Lennon's son drew at school one day and not about psychedelic drugs.  Ok John Lennon, suuuure.

Big love and also big love to Grandparent, Uncle, Family Friend, Employer and other sub Dads I've been privileged to have and to cherish dearly.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Eddy Lee

Eddy Lee is a friend of mine, I had the pleasure of dancing with him a couple of times, he is one of those people who when you mention their name three people nearby go 'oh my gosh I LOVE that guy he's the best!'

And Eddy just became the first Asian American cast member of the insane smash hit Broadway musical 'Hamilton', making his Broadway debut.  There's practically a parade, so great is the public outpouring of joy and pride and congratulations, and it's just really, really nice so I wanted to share it a little further.  Noone deserves such an accolade and achievement more, and I don't think that about many people.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Have You Seen LA Lately?

Obligatory 'on my way' picture 
My First Freeway
A beautiful day in the neighbourhood
LA public transit: the EXPO line 
Santa Monica beach! My first of several trips here, a 20 minute ride from my digs
LA: a lot of sand, a lot of people 
Santa Monica Pier
First steps into the Pacific Ocean!
Selfies are totally justified when travelling solo
Also LA: a lot of cars
Colour saturation
Streets and alleys of Culver City 
Echo Park, Downtown LA in the background 
More Echo Park where I spent a glorious few hours drinking iced coffee and scribbling in a notebook
Also witnessed a girl rescue a dog from the inside wall of the lake where he had somehow wandered
Little tiny wildlife reserve in the centre of the lake 
Arrived here by taking a train to Downtown LA then 15 minutes on a bus.  Downtown LA is pretty seedy.  This park however is pleasant and well cared for.  LA is a weird weird town.
They have ducks on the West Coast, who knew
Palm trees continue to inspire in me the thrill of the exotic
Yes I took a lot of pictures but I really had a wonderfully lazy day here
See? Half asleep
Later that same day... 
Everybody wants to go to - HOLLYWOOD
This is Hollywood.  This is the weirdest place I've ever been.  It's like Times Square on crack.  It's a looong strip of touristy souvenir shops, cheap burger places, sex shops and the Harley Davidson shop, and it's also the place where the most famous, wealthy and beautiful people in the world gather sometimes to walk on a red carpet in $1000s worth of designer apparel.  And everyone's just cool with it. What?!?!?!
I unfortunately couldn't get good pictures because it was dark and the stones are light so when the flash goes off it all gets washed out.  In front of the Chinese Theatre (where they have the Hollwood premieres) are the hand and footprints of decades of stars, with a signature and often a message.  This is Gene Kelly - my feet and his were EXACTLY the same size.  I mean.
Front of the Chinese Theatre.  Again...this is a strange place. 
This is In-N-Out burger.  It's a thing on the West Coast.  I enjoyed it, it was very cheap...but NICE TRY Los Angeles.  The clear winner is New York's own Shake Shack - it costs a little more but the burger buns are better, their special sauce is more special and the French fries are superior.  But it was a good effort.

At 9.30pm, I went to see an improv show at The Groundlings theatre.  This a famous LA improv troupe that has some alumni now huge on the USA comedy scene - Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell are the biggest.  I saw an evening of comedy sketches and one improvised scene - it was fantastic, the performers were stellar and most of the sketches were laugh out loud funny.  


A cookie with pink icing because Birthday!
Same face new age
Venice Beach - the kind of wonderfully tacky place that is just fun to stroll through so that's exactly what I did, surrounded on all sides by head shops, places to get henna tattoos or (polyester heavy) vintage clothes, the smell of marijuana and guys on skateboards.  So rad, dudes.

After strolling through the chaos on the boardwalk I took a looong walk all the way along the beach until I got up to Santa Monica Pier 
All the while listening to one of the two huge playlists I made for my trip, featuring Animal Collective, The Flaming Lips, Communions, Ibeyi, Antony and the Johnsons, Beck, Elbow, Spiritualized and Yo La Tengo among others.
Somewhere around here I passed someone I knew from AMDA.  They didn't spot me but I thought it was a fun coincidence.

I went home from Santa Monica on the train, cleaned up and got ready to go out for a very nice evening of French food followed by bossa nova and a cocktail (and a surprise Birthday pudding) in the Culver City Hotel, which is the hotel where all the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz stayed while filming in nearby Culver City studios.
Guess I didn't take many pictures on this day...I went to Santa Monica again, this time with a friend, we walked, we sat, we ate, we bought postcards and I got Lauren a keyring, we had amazing ice cream
AND about 30 seconds after this picture was taken we saw a SEAL swimming in the sea right in front of the end of the pier - he popped out of the waves and disappeared, then reappeared much closer and looked straight at me before popping back under for good.  I squealed and I'm not ashamed, it was so cool.
Here's a cat who was staying in the same place as me.  
Union Station is a very beautiful art deco building, I should've got more/better pictures

Hiking the Hollywood Hills! Aka walking uphill.  But you're supposed to call it hiking I don't know why. I had a green smoothie in my hand when I started and I felt terribly El-Ay
Also when I set out two people were jogging and they passed me and I recognised them both as former AMDA NY students, they recognised me too and we had a fun moment of 'omg fancy seeing you here!' so that's two AMDA NY encounters in a week, we really are everywhere.
First sighting of Griffith Observatory
And there's the Hollywood sign!
There...look closer...
See?? Yeah fun fact, it's REALLY FAR - films TV and photographs, and probably also time spent in New York/other cities where you can get up close to all the famous landmarks, have led me to believe that the sign is very accessible, you can climb on it, sit by it, take pictures right in front of it.  Well you could but you'd have to know how to get there over all the hills.  I did not and alone at 6pm on a Wednesday didn't seem like the moment to try.
So this is the 'in front of the sign' picture requested by Lola.
The famous LA sprawl
The famous Observatory where parts of Rebel Without A Cause was filmed and more recently La La Land...I did see it, and according to that film I was going to come here and dance-levitate my way into space.  I did not.
Closer to the sky

Not pictured: the random luxury homes dotted around the hills, from one of which I could hear someone doing their trumpet practice
Another, sliiightly closer attempt

Such good Me time
After I came down out of the hills and stumbled upon the very cool and interesting neighborhood of Los Feliz (to which I shall return) I got back on the train to return once more to Santa Monica
To watch the sun go down.

This was the beginning of the sunset - it became quite spectacular, the sky turned pink and with it the Pacific which is a very beautiful thing.  I stayed at the beach for a while until after it got dark, standing in the surf and enjoying its meditative effect.

If it seems like I didn't do an awful lot during my time in Los would be right on the money.  That was exactly the point.  I read, I wrote.  I strolled, instead of striding.  I SLEPT. I ate really well and enjoyed every bite.  I watched films with friends. I hung out with a cat.  I listened to so much music that I've been meaning to get to.

Part Two of my West Coast adventure to come - a new city awaits