Friday, August 31, 2012

Change is All Around Us

Happiness is essentially a state of going somewhere wholeheartedly, one-directionally, without regret or reservation.”

I post this quote because big changes are happening! It has inspired me to be fearless in the face of new and unfamiliar opportunities as well as reflect on where I have been and where I am going. Tomorrow, Brody and I will be moving to a brand new one bedroom apartment in Claymont, Delaware! We are moving to Delaware to be closer to his job and closer to Philly so I don't have to commute as far. This is a big step for us because even though we lived together in NYC this past fall, we were subletting and living in a room in someone's apartment. So, this is truly our first place and our first time signing a lease! We will be there for at least one year, which is the duration of my contract with D2. 

This is an exciting and scary adventure for the both of us, but mostly exciting :) Change always gives me mixed emotions, but I think that's pretty common, at least with everyone I know. It's just a matter of how you handle those mixed emotions, and I know once I get past the unfamiliarity and get used to my new surroundings, it will feel like home. When we moved to New York, I literally cried for the whole first week; not because I hated it, but because it was new and I was scared. But it ended up being the best four months of my life. It just goes to show you that you never know what life is gonna throw your way or how it will turn out, but somehow it always ends up exactly how it should be. Everyone is constantly evolving from moment to moment in their own lives, and I can't wait to see where this new chapter will take us.

This is my parents' family room right now; yikes! I just thought I'd share with the world how much stuff I have. And this doesn't even include all the furniture we're bringing! Moving in will definitely be an extensive and tiring process, but I'm really looking forward to having my own space to decorate. I'll be posting pictures of the finished product :)

Notice the suitcase busting at the seams. Haha!

I've been on a break from class and rehearsal for about a week and a half now. Plus, our move-in weekend is a three day weekend thanks to Labor Day, so we couldn't of had more perfect timing! We'll have a couple days to get settled before going back to work and class, then I start teaching at the studio a week later. It feels like everything is happening perfectly and I couldn't be more thankful. Rehearsal for D2 starts back up on Tuesday, then on Wednesday we have a showing for our next big performance, "Danco on Danco". The showing is where all of the potential pieces will be performed and critiqued, then they pick which ones will be in the show. "Danco on Danco" is to showcase D2, so I'm really looking forward to it. I am in two pieces that D2 has been rehearsing and one student choreography work. Once we get moved in and back to our normal schedules, I'll be posting updates on that, so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Danco at the Dell!

This is the beautiful outdoor stage that I had the honor to perform on last night for Philadelphia's first annual Founders Day. The venue is the Dell Music Center located in North Philadelphia. The theatre was more like an arena that reminded me of the seating for a baseball game. It has 5,284 seats and can accommodate an additional 600 people on the lawn! The stage itself is open in the front, but the back is connected to a building, so it has a roof that hovers over it. Since this was an outdoor setting, we're lucky that the storms held off until right after the show!

This was my second performance with D2 after only 6 weeks. Donald told us that they normally spend the summer training the "newbies" and they have to wait awhile before they perform, so I'm very grateful that I've been given these great opportunities. Any chance to perform is fantastic, but this performance was big! It included D3 (the youth program), D2 (the second company), Philadanco along with some alumni, and guest artists such as Maurice Hines, Anthony Burrell, Dance Iquail, and Rennie Harris. I shared the stage with some truly inspirational dancers and artists.

The D2 dancers performed two pieces that are in the repertory. The first is called "Music+Style=Jazz". As you can probably tell from the title, this piece is about jazz music and the social dances of that era. Our characters are people in a night club just letting loose and having fun. The second piece is called "Pursuit". As Donald would tell us, "You have to change hats!", meaning this dance has the complete opposite feel from the first dance. We went from sassy jazz club dancers to people trying to avoid death and the end of the world as we know it. Our characters in this piece are fierce, intense, crazy, and in agony. Sounds like a good combo, right? I love this dance because I think it's always fun to do something a little more dark and evil. Maybe that's because I don't normally get to experience that in real life :)

Angela and I in the dressing room before the performance

Performing for a big audience is always nerve-racking, but especially so with D2. I think it's because I've only been in the company for six weeks and therefore, have not had a long period of time to rehearse. I know the choreography enough to perform, but I don't know it in my bones yet. That takes time and repetition, and I know I will be more comfortable once I know the whole rep like the back of my hand because I've done it so many times. It's just like anything else in life; change can be difficult, but you are constantly evolving and growing, and everything becomes easier with time. In fact, I already feel like I'm in the swing of things and thriving in this company compared to my first two weeks of panic, confusion, and exhaustion. I can tell that I pick up choreography quicker than I used to and I hold onto corrections better since the pressure and the standards of this environment are so high. 

I am so thankful for the challenge, "tough love", craziness, and occasional stress because it is shaping me into a strong and resilient professional dancer day by day. Despite the difficulties of remembering spacing and choreography, being nervous, and having to dance on sticky marley with feet that are torn to shreds, the show went extremely well. And I think overcoming those kinds of challenges make it that much more worth it. After all the hard work and long hours of rehearsal, it's so satisfying to look into the audience and see all the happy faces and hear all of the enthusiastic cheers. 

I don't have any pictures of the performance this time, but both dances were recorded, so I have some snapshots from the videos. I apologize for the bad quality!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why Do We Dance?

This is a question that was asked by our company director yesterday in rehearsal, and it is very thought-provoking. I have found that since I've been dancing for so long, I often forget why I dance and I just go through the steps because it has become habit. This is something that you should always avoid, and if it does happen from time to time, constantly remind yourself that you are doing this for a reason. Donald made a good point in asking why we come to the studio everyday and work so hard to get better in class and rehearsal. We wouldn't be putting in all this effort if we didn't care about dancing and didn't feel like doing it. Yet sometimes the inspiration and the meaning of it is lost.

I always apply dance to life because for some of us, these two things are one and the same. This is a perfect example because this happens in our lives all the time. We may go through the motions of daily life without purpose or meaning, we may take the little things for granted, and we may forget who we really are. Life is too short to waste a single moment. Recent events in my family have renewed my motivation for purpose, meaning, mindfulness, passion, and gratitude in my daily life and in my dancing. I want to try harder to live my life to the fullest while I am still young and healthy, then continue that practice throughout the rest of my life. A lot of times it takes a tragedy or something out of the ordinary to jolt someone awake from the mindless, auto-pilot existence that they were living, but you don't need something bad to happen to make you appreciate your life. I think of three things that I'm grateful for when I wake up and before I go to bed. I also try to savor every single experience, even if it's something like driving to dance class.

Even if you don't know your purpose in life yet, just the fact that you are searching gives meaning to your life.  It's the same with dance because you may not know where it will take you or what kind of dance career you're going to have, but if you know why you dance, that is enough. Dance without meaning is just exercise. A great artist puts their heart and soul into every movement and understands why they are doing that movement. For example, during rehearsal Donald wasn't seeing the emotion and the story behind the piece we were doing, he just saw the correct steps. Why would an audience want to pay to see that? He said, "You have to change the room." As in, you have to be so invested in what you're doing that everyone stops and becomes transfixed by you. When you're performing a piece, think about what the choreographer was trying to convey and the relationship between you and the other dancers. If you don't portray that meaning, then what is the point of performing the dance? Dance is a way for dancers and choreographers to express an emotion or idea, so our job as dancers is to show that through movement and intention.

This week in class we have modern/contemporary, and right from day 1 our teacher has been pushing us to our limits. I believe that this is one of the many reasons why we dance; to see how far we can stretch our bodies and our minds. After one of the exercises she told us that we were holding back and she said, "There is so much space that your bodies haven't experienced!" Dancing is like exploring; even if you're in class and there's no story or emotion, there is still a meaning. We are exploring how our bodies can move in space and how far they can go. She also told us, "Modern is about being daring and pushing boundaries." This comment was made about a simple step forward that was not bold enough. So, even walking has to have a purpose. Last week at the end of our class with Milton Myers, he summed up what I'm writing about. He told us that dance and life are the same, and we use dance as a means for life. Most importantly, we are so lucky to have found dance.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

No Pain, No Gain

My world has been a little crazy lately, so I apologize for the delay in posting. I have a feeling this is what it's going to be like throughout my contract with D2. I've been spending 7-8 hours a day commuting to and dancing with Philadanco while also working in the mornings. Situations like this stress the importance of enough sleep, stamina, and a healthy diet. I drink a lot of water while I dance, and if I don't drink enough, usually my body will let me know by giving me a headache or fatigue. I've also been experimenting with what kinds of snacks and how much works best for a long night of dancing.

Basically, since I've last posted we've had 2 weeks of ballet and are currently in our Horton week. Last Wednesday we had our first performance (which is the reason why this post is titled "No Pain, No Gain"). But first, let's talk about ballet. It's interesting how 2 people could be teaching the same exact style of dance, but their classes are so different. That's what happened when we had 2 teachers for ballet 2 weeks in a row. The first teacher spent a lot of time at the barre and a lot of time talking about the objective and the anatomy of what we were doing. His barre exercises would switch back and forth from one side to the other without stopping, whereas with the other teacher we would do one side and then pause before the other side. The teacher for the second week didn't talk as much as the first; He would give corrections here and there, but it was mainly about enhancing our technique by doing.

Some tidbits I learned in ballet the past 2 weeks:
  • Everything at the barre prepares you for the center.
  • Keep breathing (I tend to forget this a lot).
  • Ballet is not a tense, held, statue-like position. It is a living, breathing thing.
  • The center of gravity in ballet is your solar plexus (the center part at the top of your ribs).
  • Turn out even more when you let go of the barre for a balance.
  • Where you are in space is part of the step; It's not only how it's executed, but where it travels.

I talked about "Concerto" in my last post, and that was the dance that I performed at City Hall last Wednesday. "Concerto" is the hardest dance I've ever done. It feels like I'm having an asthma attack by the end of it. I am in every section of the piece and I'm constantly going on and off stage. But every time I rehearsed it full out, I felt my stamina growing a tiny bit. Donald always reminded us to breathe in rehearsal. I think it's funny that we have to be reminded of that, but when you're focused on getting through a piece and doing it well, you forget about breathing! He also told us to pace ourselves, which was great advice. Most of us were trying to go all out and give it our all throughout the whole piece because that's what we're taught, but then by the 3rd section we're so tired that we can barely get through it and that's visible to the audience. Since we want the whole dance to look good, he told us to conserve our energy and find places where we could hold back a little bit. I think that's good for any strenuous dance. Also, the stage we performed on was outdoors and it didn't have wings, so we had to look presentable while we were waiting for our cue and running backstage, despite the fact that we were dripping with sweat and couldn't catch our breath.

You would think that being outdoors would cause less than perfect conditions for dancing, but it couldn't have been more perfect! The stage was set up in the center of City Hall and it was huge with brand new marley floor. The weather was beautiful, we were in the shade, and the turn out was amazing (pun intended). The bleachers were filled as soon as we started rehearsing an hour before the show! We had great support and a wonderful reaction from the audience members. They even clapped for us after we marked through the dances during rehearsal. Donald is very hard on us during rehearsal; The movement and the spacing always has to be perfect. So performing for the first time was very, very nerve-racking. Not only do I want to live up to the high standards, but I had just been thrown into this piece less than a week before. At one point when I was off stage I almost forgot where I had to go next, but everything went off without a hitch.

Here are all of the photos that my mom took of the rehearsal and performance:

No pain, no gain is like the motto of dancing for many reasons. It refers to physical pain as well as mental and emotional challenges. There was physical pain at the performance because of the texture of the brand new floor. Since we dance with bare feet, by the end of our rehearsal I had bubbles and blisters all of the bottom of my feet. One girl even had a blister that split open and started bleeding. When we performed, every time I went off stage and came back to reality for a second, I realized that my feet felt like they were on fire. The floor was beautiful and we're so grateful that we had an amazing stage like that, but the point is, the show must go on no matter what happens. I already mentioned the emotional challenge of being nervous and trying to dance up to high standards. Your stomach might be in knots before a performance, but all you can do is try your best and if you truly believe everything will go well, it will. A mental challenge that I constantly have as a "newbie" in the company is remembering so much choreography. Since our performance we've been working on 3 other pieces for future shows; 2 of them were performed last Wednesday, and the newbies are just getting caught up because Donald wants to add us to them. The third piece is called "Bound" and we had to learn that one off of a tape. This seemed like a daunting task at first because you can't slow down a tape and you have to reverse everything. But, I found out that I am really good at picking up choreography quickly that way :)

As I said earlier, we are currently taking Horton with the one and only, Milton Myers. Milton is a resident teacher and choreographer at Philadanco, and a master of the Horton technique. Horton is probably my favorite style of modern, and I think it's because I like the challenge. I always leave a Horton class sweating and tired, not to mention extremely sore the next day. We do something called laterals where you take your entire torso from side to side, so my abs and sides are killing me! This technique has a lot to do with the torso either bending forward in a flat back, to the side in laterals, or twisting in a spiral. During all of these exercises your legs and pelvis stay stationary and your torso is isolated. That's why a Horton class is such a good workout. The Horton technique is very strong, sharp, and linear, although it may have some other qualities in choreography. It is the foundational technique for modern companies such as Philadanco and Alvin Ailey (Philadanco's sister company). I look forward to building upon what I already know and growing even more in the next 2 classes.

Next week we have modern/contemporary, then Dunham. D2 also has another performance coming up on August 17th, so stay tuned!