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

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).

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.

BEDS 18: Thoughts on an “off” day

This post was actually tabled over a year ago but since I’m behind and need to find a way to make up the days, I finished it and it’s going to be my BEDS post for today. Enjoy!

 

Today was not a good class day…

 

I did what I normally do. I got up. Got dressed and went to 1 p.m. ballet class. But unlike other times where I left with a “hurts so good” mentality, this class, which again, I always take had me feeling small. Except actually, it wasn’t the class, it was me.  I never felt centered, I felt fat and overheated (and I trained in Florida). I couldn’t focus and I just didn’t feel good about myself that day. And it’s funny because this week I’ve gotten more than one compliment on my growth and work, from teachers and colleagues. But I just didn’t feel good about me and I think it is because I’m struggling internally with things not related to dance. I went to class not feeling great and thought I would feel better but my mind wasn’t right.

On off days, I’m usually madder at myself than I should be. Kind of like falling on stage, off days probably usually feel worse than they look. But because I juggle so many things in addition to dance and I’m almost never able (whether it’s because of time or my own physical limitations) to train as hard as I’d like, I always feel like it’s a sign that I don’t work as hard as other dancers and am less deserving of the right to call myself a professional dancer.

Whether it’s a rough rehearsal or a bad class, I usually ream into myself afterwards and drown in video study or obsessively watching old videos and critiquing myself. But despite my tendency to do this, I recognize that it isn’t healthy and I want to find better ways to hold myself accountable as a dancer. So I’m starting to try to find positive things that demonstrate my growth, even in the midst of a rough day. Whether it’s improved turns, my feet getting better, or simply getting through a class, I’m trying to look at the positives. Because there’s so much good in my life and my career as a dancer, and to castigate myself the way I do is silly and counterproductive.

BEDS Day 10: Brief thoughts on dancing while natural

As I write this, I’m sitting in my bed, bantu knotting my hair. Typing out this blog is my way of giving my arms and wrists a break.

A lot has been written about natural hair in the professional dance world, from the three Alvin Ailey dancers who shared their natural hair routines with Essence in February, to the viral images of dancers rocking their curly tresses. I, myself, have been fortunate to find companies and opportunities that embrace my Blackness and my hair. During one of my most recent shows, I proudly rocked a curly frohawk, and got so many compliments on it.

But there have been other incidents, too. Times where I’ve been othered and made to feel as though my hair isn’t appropriate. Times where I’ve heard stories about my peers’ hair struggles regaled to me as we reapply lipstick and jam bobby pins into our already throbbing scalps.

The dance world has made slow, incremental strides toward embracing Black hair. But days like the night before a show, when I was told to make my puff look like more of a ponytail to match the non-Black girls in the company. Or the times I felt obligated to straighten my hair or wear extensions to achieve a long ponytail or bun. Or worse still, when I hear and see incidents of non-Black women wearing cornrows and bantu knots as a way to “look crazy” or “stand out,”  when hair styles that would get me a side-eye or reprimand from so many directors are helping other people get jobs.

These are the things that let me know that the struggle isn’t over. That Black dancers still have a lot of fighting to do before we are seen, the way our white counterparts are.

And to that I say, let’s get ready to rumble.

BEDS Day 9: Starting over yet again

Yesterday marked my first day at a new teaching gig for a performing arts program for children. It’s the first time in over a year that I’ve taught kids and even though the first day went pretty much without incident, I’m still nervous.

As I mentioned in my “What I’ve Been Up To” blog post a couple months back, teaching children has never been my forté, for a few reasons:

  1. I have no patience–I get frazzled and I either get anxious and cry or get angry and yell.
  2. I’m not great at relating to kids–I noticed when I was teaching at the first school that some of what I was asking the kids to do was going  a tad over their heads or boring them. There’s no quicker way to lose control of a classroom than to bore kids. I’m hoping that this time around I’ve learned enough to not have that problem.
  3. I have difficulty differentiating between age-appropriateness and pandering to children. Contrary to what a lot of the world seems to think, children are smarter and capable of more than people think. Making things excessively simple and squeaky clean does them a disservice. That said, I do still want my students to feel like kids and not have to embody or learn anything they’re not ready for. This type of push pull can be confusing, but I’m hoping this new gig will be a chance to work through it and really become a great teacher that challenges her students while still recognizing their youth.

These hurdles aside, I’m hoping that my year of experience teaching at a studio and my (admittedly brief) previous experience teaching children will come in handy. By teaching at a studio, I’ve learned how to plan out a class and how to develop a class with a consistent student base over a period of time.  My experience teaching kids has taught me a little bit about what engages them and a lot about what not to do when you’re charged with the care and artistic enrichment of kids (yelling, getting anxious, letting the kids get over on you–all really terrible ideas).

 

Hopefully, this time I’m successful.

BEDS Day 8: quick blogs

Hi everyone–

I’ve been planning to do BEDS (Blog Every Day of September) this month. Traveling and getting back into the swing of things at work placed me behind, so to make up for my delay I wanted to do 8 quick “blog-lets” to get me caught up. These will be mainly updates/commentary on my dance life so, let’s get started.

Day 1: Gigs
Ever since I got back from traveling to a conference for work, I’ve been working on a string of gigs. They were all fun but also draining, this is because 1) many of the rehearsals take place after work, and anyone who’s taken class or gone to a rehearsal after a full day of work knows that getting yourself in the frame of mind to dance isn’t always easy and 2) many of the rehearsals were super far away from either work, my house, or both and commuting can be just as draining as the dancing itself.


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In honor of #laborday, here’s a photo of me werqing!!!💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾

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Nonetheless, gigging like this was a test of my abilities as a learner and exposed me to a lot of new people and experiences. In the last two months, I’ve performed at an end of the year fashion show for a mentorship program for young women, The House of Blues and I’m currently rehearsing for a city-wide arts festival. All of this while teaching, holding down a full-time job and trying to drink enough water!

Day 2: All Hail Queen Bey
For Labor Day Weekend I got to do something that’s been on my bucket list for a while. I saw Beyoncé live and in color!

I’ve wanted to see Beyoncé ever since I saw clips from the On The Run Tour and The Formation Tour. Her stamina and showmanship are second to none and she is undoubtedly Tina Turner’s replacement as the hardest working woman in show business. Something tells me Beyoncé’s tours are winding down (she’s earned it) and I wanted to make sure I saw her live while I had the chance.

I’m so glad I did. Queen Bey is everything people say she is and more. Her show looked flawless, I saw her change costumes no fewer than 10 times and she sang perfectly without even a hint of being out of breath. I was blown away by her work ethic and the athleticism of her dancers, and I also enjoyed Jay Z’s part of the show, too. While I don’t think I’ve risen to the level of being a full member of the Beyhive, I do have a new appreciation for Mrs. Knowles-Carter, and, if I ever have another chance to see her perform, I will absolutely take it. The concert was worth it, even though the rain destroyed my shoes and I spent most of the evening barefoot. Like you do.

Day 3: New Tap Shoes

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I have GOT to get new shoes!!!! New taps #comingsoon! #bustedtapshoes #marleydestroyer

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This one is going to be short and sweet. After breaking my second pair of tap shoes in under a year, I finally caved and bought myself a brand spanking new pair of Capezio Tapsonic tap shoes.

I just got them Friday (yay UPS Choice expedited shipping!) and I wore them for the first day of my new teaching gig. So far, no complaints, the sound is loud and clear. Aesthetically, the shoes are nice and they fit pretty well, despite being half a size too big. Hopefully these bad boys last me.

Day 4: The Continuing Journey to Snatched-ness
I’m technically in the off-season, meaning I don’t have any big shows coming up. As such, I’ve been a little bit more relaxed with my diet. But, since autumn is nigh and dance season will be back before you can say “5,6,7,8” I’m trying to get back to sticking to my diet. That includes faithfully adhering to meatless Mondays, minimizing sweets, dairy refined starches and fried foods and making sure I drink plenty of water.

Once production season starts, I’ll eliminate dairy, sweets, fried foods, alcohol and refined starch. I’m also toying with the idea of going vegan for a month after New Year (just to see if I can). This is less about losing weight for me this time (last year it was about losing weight), but more about making sure I have enough energy to get through super packed days of work, rehearsal and classes. It’s about being at my absolute best both physically and mentally for any shows I do. Most importantly, it’s about challenging myself to live my best and healthiest life as a dancer and as a human being. I’m trying to be better at treating my body like the physical temple/powerhouse that has carried me through a nearly 20 year career as a dancer.

Day 5: How Many Hours a Week do You Dance?

The below answer won’t include rehearsals.

This is a rough question to answer because work, gigs and life can have an impact on how much I dance. On a good day I dance during the last few days of the week and on the weekends. If I count my teaching, I spend about 6.5 hours a week dancing, which translates to approximately 5 classes a week. Not counting my teaching, it’s closer to 3-4 hours a week.

This sounds shameful, I know, but because I also work full time, I try to keep the earlier half of the week clear so I’m not burning out. Sometimes if I really feel like I need a class, I’ll cheat and dance earlier in the week, but, generally, my dance schedule is relegated to evenings and weekends.

Day 6: How’s Teaching Going?

So far so good. I’ve been at the studio teaching adults for nearly a year and I just started a new gig teaching kids, which I’m incredibly excited about. I love that I’ve gotten to share my gift for dance in this way and I’m up for the challenge of being the best teacher I can be.

Day 7: Have You Been Keeping up with World of Dance?

Not as well as I should have. A binge watching sesh is definitely in order.

Day 8: Any Blog/Podcast Spoilers???
Wait and see….😏