5 positive things I’ve gotten from 3+ weeks of dancing through social distancing

It’s been more than three weeks since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a national emergency by The White House. For me that means…

More than three weeks since I stopped teaching my students in person.

Three weeks since my and my kids’ upcoming theatrical performance was postponed.

More than three weeks since I started consistently working from home.

More than three weeks (possibly more) since I took my last in-person dance class.

And more than three weeks since I returned to my hometown (which I hadn’t visited in nearly a year) to be socially distanced with my family.

At this time — as our country gets thrown into an increasingly tumultuous state, as jobs are lost and lives are irrevocably changed, and as we learn more and more that people are dirty, unhygienic and incapable of following basic instructions, it’s easy to lament on the negative. And you’d be justified in doing so. But I’m trying to balance out my frustration with a little positivity. So I submit, for your reading pleasure, five positive things I’ve gotten from more than three weeks of socially-distanced dancing:

Dining room chairs make surprisingly good barres

After my fiasco with my rotating barre-stool during my first video class last summer, I’d momentarily sworn off of using household objects as dance aids. But necessity is after all the mother of invention and lacking any other means of getting in a good ballet barre, I reluctantly dragged a dining room chair out into the garage to use as a makeshift barre. Not only is it much more stable than my barstool, it’s also a touch too short, which makes it harder for me to lean too hard on it for support. Suffice it to say, I’ve found myself testing my balance a lot more.

 

I’ll never struggle with a video audition ever again (Hopefully)

 

I’m choosing to think of all of these Zoom classes I’m both giving and receiving as an extended lesson in video study. Having to learn choreography with distorted audio, remember to flip everything to the opposite side and not being able to dance full out but still trying to master the movement I’m learning is a tall order. But so far, I’d like to think I’m managing. With any luck, I’ll never freeze at the words “video audition” or procrastinate video study until the last minute.

 

I’m taking class from teachers from all over the country/world

Including my tap crush Chloe Arnold

I’ve always had this fantasy of taking a road trip across the country and taking class at different studios along the way. Now I get to do it without leaving my house. I still have to find a balance between cross training and taking class, but so far I’ve taken class from some of my favorite teachers in Chicago and scratched a few dream classes (like tap with Chloe and Maude Arnold!) off my bucket list. The best part? I still get to look forward to taking from these incredible artists in person some day.

 

I have more time to build my skills

This hasn’t just been a great opportunity to build my technique. In addition to finally having time to start blogging (and podcasting) again, I’m increasing my lesson planning skills (and learning the importance of really having lesson plans), finally getting a chance to sit and study footage of some of my favorite artists and gaining some important life skills outside of dance (hello budgeting, saving and investing).

 

Most importantly….

 

I’ve gotten a chance to || Pause

I’ve been on the go teaching, rehearsing and dance admin-ing for more than six months, without much of a break. While I absolutely love what I do and would never change my schedule — sometimes, even people who are following their passions need a break. And in the days immediately leading up to the COVID-19 mayhem, burnout and compassion fatigue (from an array of sources — both dance and non-dance) were giving me a run for my money. I’m truly grateful to have this time to breathe, train on my own time, take care of my body and check in with myself mentally.

 

“…even in this time of pausing and reflecting, I am far from still” Credit: Michelle Reid

 

But make no mistake, even in this time of pausing and reflecting, I am far from still. Even when I’m not dancing, teaching or lesson planning, my days staying-at-home are productive. I’m reevaluating my priorities, taking some time to be present with my current surroundings and thinking long and hard about what my future will look like once everything is back to normal, whatever that means.














A dancer’s tribute to Kobe Bryant

CONTENT WARNING

Hey Dancetopians,
I want to say up top that I’m aware of some of the harmful things Kobe Bryant was accused of in the past — I briefly acknowledge that in this post. However, I do feel it’s important to honor what Kobe Bryant meant to a lot of people. I think we can acknowledge the bad things he may have done and the hurt he may have others, while still mourning the loss of his life, his daughter’s life as well as the seven other victims, and celebrating the good he did in the world. But I’m sensitive to others’ experiences, and aware that conversations about him may be triggering to some so if you need to skip this post, feel free.

I don’t typically post about celebrity deaths. And I recognize that it’s probably strange that the first “In Memoriam” blog I’m writing isn’t even about a dancer. But I felt compelled to share this…

No one can or will accuse me of being a diehard sports fan. But, like many people yesterday, I found myself deeply affected by the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, his young daughter Gianna and the seven passengers who also passed away in the helicopter crash.

I think this was mainly because of the jarring reminder that life is promised to no one; the tangible knowledge that the last moments of a person’s life can begin with them leaving their house on a regular day fully expecting to return.

But I think what touched me the most about Kobe Bryant was remembering a conversation I had with a Lyft driver years ago.

In the fall of 2016 (I think) as I was trekking from Evanston to Skokie to put things in storage during a move, I found myself in a car with a Lyft driver who happened to be an avid (and very chatty) basketball fan. I started out the conversation passively listening to him talk about the sport, but suddenly as the subject switched to the topic of Kobe’s work ethic, my interest was piqued. The driver shared how Kobe’s passion for basketball put him at odds with certain players who often returned at the start of each season out of shape, after he’d spent much of his time in the offseason training and working on his craft.

I never saw that Lyft driver again. I don’t remember his name or what he looked like. Much of the rest of what we talked about is a blur, and you’d still be hard-pressed to catch me watching any sporting event on TV. But as I began my post-college adult life, and my dance career, I found myself returning to this part of the conversation often as I dealt with self-doubt, frustration at not being cast in pieces, and the always-burning desire to live up to my potential. I resolved to “be like Kobe” and work as hard as I could, even when those around me didn’t make the same choice. I decided that while I may not have had all the gifts other dancers had, no one would ever be able to question my work ethic. Nearly four years into my professional dance career, I’d say that mindset, which many would call the “Mamba Mentality,” is serving me well.

It also goes without saying that it speaks volumes that Kobe was able to touch so many lives, from those who watched him on TV religiously, to those, like me, who barely glanced at ESPN.

Kobe’s life and death bring a lot of complex emotions for many people, including me, to the surface, and I absolutely want to acknowledge those feelings. But I also want to recognize, and show gratitude for, the impact his drive to be the best had on me, a person who, even on a good day, is a devoted dancer, but a lackluster sports fan.

Rest well, Kobe.

Letter to my 15-year-old-dancer self

Dear 15-year-old Jorie

First of all, it’s me or rather you from 10 years in the future. As I write this it’s 11:08 Chicago time, which means it’s just after midnight in Miami (not factoring in any futuristic travel time changes) so you’ve probably finally drifted off to sleep after coming home from dance (hip hop tonight, right?) eating dinner and finishing your homework. Algebra II is rough, I know.

Anyway, I’m writing because last month we celebrated our 25th birthday and our unofficial 20th anniversary as dancers! A lot has happened in the last decade. Most of it is good, a tiny bit of it isn’t so good. But rejoice, you made it to 25 and you’re still dancing!

Right now I’m at home not feeling great after a less than stellar heels class (that ended up turning into a hip hop class because I left my heels at home). Writing this letter to you is my way of temporarily turning my aggravation into gratitude. So, in case you’re curious and want a sneak peek into what your future looks like, here are a few things you need to know about your life as a dancer, from yourself, 10 years in the future.

You WILL have a professional dance career.

And it will be cooler than you could even imagine. You’ll dance on some of Chicago’s most famous stages – The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, The Reva and David Logan Center, even the House of Blues. You’ll do so many genres from contemporary to jazz, you’ll even get to do hip hop. Last December you shot a music video right before Christmas. The best part? You’re still taking class and people still want to work with you. Your knees occasionally hurt, but they still work so as far as I’m concerned, it’s far from over!

You’ll get to teach…Tap.

Right about now, you’re pretty ambivalent about tap – and it’ll only be worse by the time you finish high school (sorry). I get it, contemporary and hip hop are cool and you want to be good at what’s cool. It makes sense, in that teenager-y way. But tap will give you the chance to pour into so many people. You won’t just teach technique. You’ll help people, young AND old, learn confidence, openness and compassion, and you’ll get to set some cool pieces in the process. Tap will also become a way of exploring your Blackness and increasing your wokeness as a dancer and as a person. I’m sorry to tell you this, hon, but right about now you’re pretty self-hating and problematic. But, again, don’t worry. We’re going to fix it in college and beyond!

You’ll never get out of your head.

I literally just got this correction last Saturday. To get out of my head. And I still don’t know what it means or how to do it. We’ve gotten used to thinking through everything because in some situations it was the only way to get through a class, routine, life,etc. But it may be starting to hinder you – so watch out for that.

You’ll experience racism/racially insensitive behavior in the dance world.

A bit of a buzzkill I know – but it’s coming. Actually, you’ll start noticing some of it in the next year (No, it’s not okay for her to be loudly calling one of the only other Black girls [not you, folks know better thankfully] in the studio a n*gger. It’s not funny, and it’s even less funny that no one in a position of authority said anything to her. That pit in your stomach is there for a reason). You’ll be othered, slightly fetishized and witness instances of cultural appropriation and white people centering themselves in Black experiences. Take it in stride because…

You’re more proud than ever to be an #unapologeticallyblackdancer.

Hell, it’s your blog’s slogan. Chicago was the best thing to ever happen to us because we learned about so many new ways to dance and create art. We also got to see more melanated trinas, hip hop dancers and contemporary dancers than we ever thought possible. And we get to call ourselves one of them. I know, cool right? I’d come over and pinch you but they still haven’t quite worked out time travel yet.


Now that I’ve given you a glimpse into the future, there are a couple of things I want you to work on right now. Well, once you wake up, go to school and are back in dance again.

Stop worrying about what your teachers think.

Learn as much as you can, apply corrections and take notes. But don’t hang onto every word your teachers say and don’t treat them like deities. This goes for your regular teachers and the master teachers you take from at conventions. You’ll find out some less than flattering things about a couple of folks, but for the most part, the journey you take as a dancer will show you that everyone wasn’t right to count you out.

In the name of all that is holy, STOP worrying about what all of those other kids think.

Seriously, you barely remember most of them, and a lot of the ones that were the cruelest to you haven’t done HALF of the things you’ve done. I know it’s hard to be the underdog, to know that nobody thinks you’re good or deserve to be there – but keep going and ignore them. They won’t be begging you for jobs or auditioning for you (at least not yet), but you’ll be better off on the other side of their meanness and bullying.

Don’t give up in class

You already got chased around a dance room this summer for stopping an across the floor combination halfway across the floor. This one is still a work in progress, but just push through – without failure there is no growth. It doesn’t feel good to not get a combo, you’ll never be okay with not winning scholarships.  Again, I’m writing this as I’m sulking in my room after a class that didn’t go well. But keep going – it gets better, I promise. And we still have plenty of growth left in us.

Remember the people who loved you

There are a few. Remember the teachers who never gave up, who showed you how, who wanted you to succeed.  Remember them more than you remember the people who doubted and ignored you. I’m still holding out for an Emmy, Tony or some other cool award for our artistic pursuits. You’re already friends with most of these fantastic teachers on Facebook but just keep their names stored away in your mind so we can shout them out in our acceptance speech.

And last but not least…

Enjoy this time

Enjoy where you are right now. A high school student with no responsibilities who can take class, go to conventions and learn without any pressure. You don’t have bills, you don’t have a full-time job and you don’t have any injuries.

You’ll never be this young again. So once in a while just breathe, take stock of where you are and be thankful, and use that moment of gratitude to help you dance like no one is watching and leave your heart on the stage.

Love,

Jorie from the future

4 Questions You Should Ask About Performing for Exposure

A lot of memes and posts dealing with the debate on what dancers should be paid and the merits of “performing for exposure” have been making the social media rounds. In case you aren’t familiar, performing for exposure means you won’t make any money for your time, creativity or technique, but supposedly, working a particular gig is going to let so many people know about you, the boost in visibility will cover your pro bono performance.

*me when I hear about getting paid in unlimited exposure

You’ll probably encounter this type of gig more than once in your dance career. Rather than shut the exposure gig down with a fast “no,” I thought it might be better to ask a few questions to get a better grasp on how performing “just for exposure” can really help you along as a dancer.

So read on, DanceTopians, for the 4 questions you should ask the next time someone offers you exposure in exchange for a performance:

Are you available to explain exposure to my landlord/utility provider/bill collector?

Anyone you owe money will definitely want an explanation when you write a check for 1,000 exposures, so make sure whoever hires you is on hand and ready to explain how exposure converts to American (or wherever you’re from) currency, so you don’t get evicted from your apartment or have your lights/water/internet shut off.

Are you okay with me not taking class/rehearsing?

If all you’re getting is exposure, a space to rehearse and funds to take extra technique/conditioning classes aren’t going to happen. The creative director (or whoever’s curating your performance) clearly doesn’t care about shelling out for quality, so it shouldn’t matter that you may not be pulled up and on your leg, or are possibly improvising.

How will this compare to being on MTV?

If exposure is enough to cover the fact that you aren’t making money, this gig obviously blows dancing for an awards show, going on a cruise ship or touring with an artist out of the water. Before you take the stage, ask how your notoriety and career will take off after you perform for free. It’ll give you something to look forward to while you’re leaving the venue empty-handed.

Can I bring anything?

Listen, if they can’t pay you, they might struggling in other areas. If you can, see if you can help by bringing some chips, dip or even a DJ who’s also willing to work for exposure.

So, the next time someone asks you to learn, choreograph or perform a routine for nothing but envious looks from audience members and possibly a free meal, run through this list of questions while you’re drawing up the work agreement. It might just give you a deeper understanding of just how beneficial exposure really is.

Dancing with Myself: My First Video Ballet Class

To avoid falling off like I did last season, I’ve been trying to stay in class consistently.

Most of the time I’m able to make it to class at least 3 times a week for a blend of technique (ballet, modern, jazz, tap) and what I call “performance quality” classes (hip hop, contemporary, jazz funk, etc.). This way I get a diverse blend of classes and my body doesn’t get bored.

But the devil and some major life changes (a new job, searching for a new apartment) have worked tirelessly to keep me out of class and off my leg. In an effort to keep myself accountable, I bit the bullet and decided to try a video dance class courtesy of Dancio.

I feel like now’s probably a good time to say this post isn’t sponsored. I’m just sharing.

Dancio lets you rent a ballet or modern class that you can play on the video platform Vimeo for as little as $3.99. The classes range from 46 minutes to just over an hour with dance greats like Craig Hall, Wendy Whelan and Carlos Lopez.

For my first try with Dancio, I chose Craig Hall’s 46-minute ballet class. NOT because it was the shortest but because, frankly, I’m rooting for everybody Black. 🤷🏾‍♀️ Here are a few takeaways from my experience.

Space was definitely an issue

I live in a studio apartment and decided to set up my makeshift studio in the area between my door and my bed (which takes up about 1/3-1/2 of the actual space in my apartment) and used a barstool as a barre (so I guess it was a barre-stool? I know, I’m not funny). But I’m 5’9.5″ and to get anything out of ballet you have to lengthen. Most of the time I was fine, but I definitely felt a bit smushed during battements (kicks) and adagio (slow developpes, extensions). Even when I had space, I definitely didn’t reach for my full length out of fear of kicking a piece of furniture. Grand allegro (big jumps) was simply a no-go so that part of the class just got skipped altogether.

But the good news was this really taught me how to be efficient about my space and to stick with my angles. Both of those things give you as much space as possible in a crowded room.

A barstool (or barre-stool, I’m not letting this go) is not a barre

Especially when it rotates.

Having your one piece of support come from under you before you’ve found your balance is terrifying. But usually, when the chair spun around under me or started to tip over, it meant I was probably bearing down on it too much, which likely means that’s an area where I lean on the barre too much when I’m in a real studio. It also gave me more of an excuse to test my balance during exercises when I normally hold the barre (rond de jambes, frappés, dégagés).

No one saw me, not even me

There are no mirrors in my apartment and, of course, there was no real teacher walking around doling out notes. This forced me to feel where I was on my own and to really think about what my body was doing, whether it was standing up on my supporting leg (something I’ve been working on recently), working through my foot during téndus or pressing into the floor during pirouettes. The downside is since there’s no expert teacher, no one can me when I’m doing something completely wrong or when I’m on the right track but need to make adjustments.

Despite the hiccups, I actually enjoyed giving myself a class and could see myself doing this when I’m too busy to actually get into a studio, or if Chicago decides to bless us with another one of her famous polar vortices next winter. The classes are inexpensive (my class was $3.99) so if money is tight it’s a good alternative to spending $10-$15 three or more times a week.

When it comes to the quality of the class, again, despite the issues I listed above, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Dancio has been around for a while but I avoided it because I thought, even though professionals were the ones teaching, since I wasn’t in a studio with other dancers I wouldn’t get anything out of the class. Happily, I was wrong. Even though the class was only 46 minutes, between rewinding to see the demonstration of a few exercises and taking it upon myself to re-do frappés, tendus at the center and petite allegro (along with a double pirouette tangent I went on), I actually ended up spending about an hour and 10 minutes total “in class.”

Just to be clear, video classes are not and will never be a replacement for actually getting to a studio and they won’t keep me in shape on their own. But all in all, they’re definitely a suitable alternative when life, money or the weather keeps me off the marley.

Blast from the Past: My Interview with Bruno Mars’ Choreographer Phil Tayag

It’s Monday and it’s been a while since I shared a blog post so I thought I’d go into the archives and share one of my favorite interviews from my time as a freelancer with TheCelebrityCafe.com (Now known as Stars and Celebs).

In February 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil ‘Swaggerboy’ Tayag, a founding member of the JabbaWockeeZ and Bruno Mars’ choreographer (he choreographed Bruno’s Superbowl XLI performance with Coldplay and Queen Bey, his video for “Uptown Funk”  as well as the “Finesse” video with Cardi B). Back when I spoke with Phil, the JabbaWockeeZ had just launched their Vegas residency JREAMZ at the MGM Grand hotel.

I got the chance to hear more about the concept for the show, how the JabbaWockeeZ create movement, and what it was like for Phil to work with Bruno Mars. We even had a slight bonding moment when he realized I was a dancer after I mentioned tutting. This was one of my first experiences combining dance with journalism and I’m excited to (re)share it here!

To check out the full interview on Stars and Celebs click here. And read one of my favorite quotes from Phil below:

Obviously, if we’re having fun then the people have fun watching us, because ultimately we’re having fun and that’s what it’s about.

Reflections: Jordan Peele Uses Ballet to Examine Duality and Blackness in ‘Us’

 

After repeated side-eyes from my mother and incredulous reactions from friends, I finally made it to the theater to see Us, Jordan Peele’s latest thriller. The dancer and budding culture critic in me are both glad I did.  

Us is the kind of work where every bit of imagery carries weight. At the same time, every viewer has permission to draw their own conclusions after seeing the film. Because there’s so much to see and take in, everyone is going to zero in on one thing or another that jumped out at them.  For me, the visual that stood out the most was Peele’s use of dance to drive the story.

Obligatory disclaimer: This article has spoilers. If you haven’t seen Us and plan to in the near future, read at your own risk.


Dance and Us

Dance, specifically ballet, plays an integral role in the development of Us’ central characters Adelaide “Addie” Wilson (played by the stunning Lupita Nyong’o) and her tethered twin Red. Addie’s growth as a ballerina speaks to themes surrounding expression of Blackness, assimilation, duality, the other-ness of the Black body and Black liberation.

From the film’s start, dance takes centerstage as a mode of communication for Addie. She uses ballet to recover from a traumatic experience with her tethered reflection at a funhouse in Santa Cruz that rendered her mute. Several flashbacks show Addie doing exercises at the barre as a little girl. Notably, Addie avoids her reflection in a studio mirror as she practices out of fear of seeing her tethered reflection smirking at her.

Over the course of the film, ballet becomes a recurrent part of Addie’s relationship with Red as Red reveals that a solo Addie performed as a teenager (which she recreated underground), inspired her to help the tethered escape and murder their human counterparts.

At the climax of the film, the two engage in one final pas de deux as images of Addie’s teen solo (set to The Nutcracker’s “Pas De Deux: Intrada”) flash in between. Addie ultimately bests Red and kills her as the two share one last, jarring embrace.

But, just before the movie’s conclusion, we learn that “Addie” is actually one of the tethered, and dragged her real world counterpart underground after their first meeting, taking her place above. So it was actually the tethered Addie studying ballet, avoiding her reflection as she did pliés, and performing a solo in front of a crowd, as real-world Addie became her subterranean shadow.

Ballet and Blackness

As I said before, Jordan Peele’s selection of ballet to drive Addie’s growth is no accident. As Addie grapples with the existence of a tethered version of herself, her study of dance parallels her attempts to regain and perform normalcy as she addresses her blackness.

Historically, dance has acted as a method of communication, celebration and identification in the Black community. Take, for example, Crip walking, which allowed gang members to identify themselves through a series of detailed foot movements and hand signs. On college campuses, Black Greek letter organizations (of which I am a member) codified their history and distinguished themselves with stepping and strolling. Even traditional African dances held a variety of purposes, from courtship, to denoting social class or occupation.

By contrast, ballet is a genre that originated in renaissance-era Europe and was traditionally inhabited by white people as a demonstration of class and nobility. Though Black ballerinas have made important strides throughout dance history, it remains a style known for rejecting Black people and their bodies. Why else would it be news that a pointe shoe company finally started making brown shoes in 2018?

Addie, in her study of ballet, attempts to fit its rigid, Eurocentric standards, sacrificing elements of her Blackness in the process. During her solo, we see her childhood pigtails and oversized Thriller tee replaced by a sleek bun and a sparkly white tutu. Her body is lithe and thin as she twirls onstage. But, as she gains acceptance through the lens of a style that glorifies white bodies, Addie ultimately loses her innate, rhythmic connection to Black movement as viewers see when she struggles to snap on beat in the movie’s opening scene.

Reflections in Ballet

Conforming to the demands of the ballet world, Addie finds herself unwilling or unable to see herself, even as she dances in a room full of mirrors. Addie’s literal fear of her reflection becomes symbolic when you consider the timing of the movie. Us, and presumably, Addie’s dance training, begin in 1986. In 1986, the Rockettes hadn’t accepted their first black dancer. Lauren Anderson hadn’t made history as the first Black principal dancer in The Houston Ballet – and wouldn’t for another four years. Misty Copeland was a child and more than two decades away from becoming The American Ballet Theatre’s first Black female principal dancer.

We as the audience are led to believe that Addie avoids her reflection out of the dread of seeing her tethered twin grinning back. But, as Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz said, “[I]f you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” One can only wonder if the person gazing back at Addie really is a monster, or if a lack of representation in the ballet world forced Addie to see herself as other and recoil from her own image.

Ballet and the struggle for liberation

The film’s plot twist further connects the idea of assimilation to Addie’s ballet career. Rather than pursuing dance to heal, Peele seems to imply that tethered Addie actually used dance to help her assimilate and appear human. Meanwhile, her formerly untethered self, now Red, dances with her underground, hitting walls and collapsing as Addie soars at center stage, with both finally realizing their own individual freedom during the peak ballet solo. Addie releases herself from her tethered past, gaining acceptance in a white art form, and Red sees that she can liberate the tethered through her dance. In their final confrontation, the two characters’ interpretations of their movement and corporeality merge as they fight for dominance in the untethered world.

It seems this choreographic struggle for freedom between Addie and Red is intentional. In an interview for Vanity Fair, Us producer Ian Cooper mentioned that the choreography for Addie’s solos revolved around the idea of “[P]recariousness—as if you should have a partner but you don’t.” As teens, Addie and Red dance separately but together. When they meet face-to-face years later, the two perform their adversarial duet as it was meant to be danced–in urgent unison, with the knowledge that liberation and the ability to live and move without inhibition are at stake.

The idea of the phantom partner and two opposing identities moving together reinforces the ideas of two great Black intellects: W.E.B. Du Bois’ and James Baldwin. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness–the notion that Black people have multiple warring selves inside them, held together only by their intrinsic strength– and James Baldwin’s assertion that “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time” both shine through in Red and Addie.

For me, this duality is key to understanding how ballet weaves through Us’ plot. Though Addie appears calm and serene onstage as she performs for an approving audience, her inner consciousness of herself as a Black woman, lies just beneath the surface, embodied in Red’s attempts to copy Addie’s solo. This private ego becomes more frustrated and enraged as it is suppressed and hidden. Similarly, no matter how much we try to conceal and code-switch our Blackness away, it remains. And just as Red finally escapes her prison, our anger, history, trauma and our desire for freedom will eventually emerge and wreak havoc on the people and institutions that try to bury it.

When not being front and center gets you centered

So a few things happened in the last couple of months.

I finished one of the most physically and emotionally challenging professional dance performances I’ve ever done.

I shot a music video with a gospel artist as a backup dancer – but in the final cut, you can’t see me at all.

I agreed to do a gig at an upcoming expo as a backup dancer for an up and coming singer, only for the gig to be canceled due to the artist’s scheduling conflicts.

and,

All the while, to make sure I had the mental and physical energy for the show I just wrapped, I passed over a few other gigs that would have been amazing.

What do all of these things have in common? They all relate to me learning to step back and sit things out. And they all taught me a very important lesson.

A couple of weeks before my show went up, I had a pretty uncomfortable realization. In the last year or so, I’d become really selfish about my dancing. As I started getting cast more and booking more jobs, I started focusing on being seen, on being in the front, on taking any and every gig that might get me a little extra money or exposure. But in trying to be front and center, I lost sight of why I dance.

I like to say that I dance because it’s a creative outlet, it brings me joy and it’s my way of giving glory to God. But if I’d said that to you in the fall of last year, those words would have been little more than hollow lip service.

When I found myself suddenly not in the spots I’d grown accustomed to occupying, not cast or in the back, I had to dig deep to determine what was driving me. I was forced to find a new endgame other than keeping my position or leading the group. Had I not been able to find that drive, I might have decided to take a break from dancing – or I might have gone into the next phase of my career with a chip on my shoulder.

Instead, I learned that I have way more to give as a dancer than smiles, turns or legs. I channeled all the soul I had to offer and found myself feeling every step I took.

I found out that dancing really is a way for me to give glory to God. I’m Christian (more spiritual than religious) and dancing helps me give thanks, not just for the artistic gift He blessed me with, but also to express joy at the life I have, no matter what’s going on.

I started to connect and enjoy my time with the creatives and professionals I have the pleasure of knowing through dance. Even though the gig I started rehearsing for looks like it won’t happen, I truly enjoyed creating and practicing movement for a few hours during the evening with no pressure.

And, over time, I did find myself getting cast, moving to the front and getting my old spots back. More importantly, though, I rediscovered the joy in my dancing. As I mentioned in the very first episode of my podcast, I’d reached a point where I was getting so nervous about performing, it started to make performing a drag. I think this was an extension of my desire to be flawless so I’d get cast more. But, you know what they say, perfect is boring and getting steps right can only get me so far.

Rather than being flawless, I’m going to work toward my new challenge to be more honest, to be freer and to have more fun. I want to see how far I can go just for me and for no one else. And I’m going to have faith, that whatever comes from this phase in my dance journey is exactly what I need.

This is goodbye …An announcement from DanceTopia

Though I’ve done my best to keep up with this blog, life keeps happening. It’s made it impossible to maintain, update and share content in the way I want to. In part, I think this is because I don’t have enough experience as a professional to make my words super compelling. But fortunately, that’s totally in my control. I’ve decided to focus more on taking class and performing as much as possible. Maybe once I have a few more shows, classes and life events under my belt, this blog will have some meat to it.

So it is with a heavy heart that I say…

I’m not going anywhere y’all. But I do need to get better about blogging…that was…no joke.

I’m sorry, I had to get one in. Also, happy spring! 🌼💮🌹🌺

Rapidfire thoughts on the ‘World of Dance’ Season Premiere

I’m late to the WOD party I know

Between a yoga workout and preparing for a huge project at work, I finally had time to watch the season premiere of World of Dance.

Full disclosure, I got really delinquent in my viewership last season (so much so that I completely missed Jenna Dewan’s announcement that she’d be leaving the show). This is partly because, since dance occupies so much of my existence, it can be hard to consume it for sheer entertainment. I’m hoping to get better about that because before tonight I’d forgotten what a truly entertaining show World of Dance is.

Rather than try to look at each and every dance critically, I thought I’d just share a few in-the-moment thoughts I had watching the World of Dance qualifiers, and post a few  of my favorite dances from the episode.

Enjoy…

    • I feel like I’m maturing as a dancer because I can see some of the things the judges see, especially when it comes to dances that didn’t make the cut, or got critical feedback.
      • Sub point – I agree with Ne-Yo way more often so far this season…when did that happen?
    • I used to not know how I felt about the fact that people could compete more than once, but I realize now that I appreciate it. It drives home the point that this is a dance competition and what was once hot may not be hot anymore. Conversely, what didn’t work can come back stronger.
    • I like that the judges move unique acts forward but point out what isn’t strong and don’t let them get away with it.
    • Having a dancer throw their shoes at you is (informally) one of the highest compliments out there…I hope The Kings mounted both of the shoes that were thrown at them somewhere (jk, they probably had to give them back).
    • Having taught and cleaned a full piece for kids for the first time in years, my hat goes off to the junior groups that go on (and the, I’m sure, eternally patient teachers who help them perfect their routines).
    • Even when duos don’t make it through, I have to admire them for being compelling enough to hold people’s attention for the ≈minute-and-a-half they’re on stage.
    • Boy, Instagram really has people thinking that anything is possible in a short period of time. Meeting up w/ a complete stranger (because they were IG famous no less) and expecting to develop enough chemistry to compete with people who’ve been partnering for years because they met organically??? Tuh!
    • Having said that, on the one hand, WOD recognizes that going viral helps and, in some cases, is the impetus of some really lucrative dance careers (see: Les Twins, The Syncopated Ladies, hell, see the kid who made flossing popular). But the judges so far are showing that it takes more than going viral, a professional background or even an existing fan base to be competitive on a world stage. And WOD is truly that, a world stage.
    • I know sibling dance telepathy is a thing. And I’m sad I’ll never experience it myself.
  • I need to take a trip to Europe for the sole purpose of taking tap classes.

A few of my favorite dances:

Ne-Yo’s “Elegant breaking” description was spot-on – I was transfixed from the moment they started moving– their fluidity and variation reminded me of a kaleidoscope.

This piece makes me wish I had a sibling that danced (I still love you big bro!). Watching this piece was such a treat because it was about more than tricks, legs and skimpy costumes (no shade). These ladies were in near perfect unison and their individual moments were wonderful as well (I loved the little body roll one of the girls did at the very end–it was so musical and just looked like it felt so good).

Black Dance History: A Contemplation and a Celebration

Today is February 3, which means we’re three days into Black History Month. While I’ve considered or attempted doing something for BHM every year since I started this blog, I often overpromise and under deliver either because I run out of time, or don’t have the energy.

But more and more I’m realizing that there is a need for me to celebrate my Blackness not only as a person but as a dancer because our contributions to the dance world are so severely under-appreciated and under-reported. I’m also realizing that my celebration doesn’t need to take the form of graphics or flowery blog posts. Just like using my body to express my self is an act of radicalism and protest (often without me even intending for it to be), sharing my thoughts on my history, our history is all the celebration and pride I need to put forth.

So this year, that’s what I’ll do. Rather than try to plan out some elaborate campaign or posting schedule that I may or may not stick to, I’ll just use the platform I’ve created as a sounding board for my rumination, contemplation and celebration of being a Black Dancer in 2019.

I hope you enjoy it!

It was another off day… :/

So I know I’ve said this before, but this time I’m serious…I’m going to commit to writing a blog every day starting today. I feel like I might do better at sticking with a resolution if I start it before New Year.

So yesterday I had another wonky rehearsal. I’m sure I can partially blame it on the cold I’m nursing and the fact that I haven’t been in an actual dance class since Saturday (thanks holiday break) and the fact that I did an hour long work out shortly before rehearsal. But part of me feels like my brain just isn’t on sometimes. I hate those days, even more than the rough days I have when I know I haven’t been in class and I’m cold, or the days when I know I didn’t rehearse (those are few and far between anyway). The days where I’m not on simply because my brain shorts out are the worst, because I can’t put my finger on what happened. It just gets weird and then I start to wonder if it’s just me. If I’m not cut out for this world because my brain just doesn’t stay “on” enough.

I’ve gotten affirmations, and I want to believe that if I keep doing the work I’ll get it back but those moments of uncertainty are always unnerving. Luckily, there’s less than a week until the studios open back up, and until then I’m working out and rehearsing at home.

So I guess I just have to keep working.