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

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.

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).

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 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.

Thoughts After My First Heels Class

So if you pay any attention to my Instagram (@dancetopiablog, follow me!), you know that Tuesday night, I finally endeavored to take my first heels class.

Here’s some video evidence:

And now for some main takeaways from my first time twirling in heels:

 

Muscle Memory is REAL And Getting the Steps Wasn’t that Hard

I have danced in heels a couple of time before. The first time was in character tap shoes for a 42nd Street production when I was 12 and 13 (they brought it back for the studio’s 10th anniversary). Another time was for a can-can piece (I even did fouettés in them), and once for a latin jazz piece. Even though I had experience, I didn’t think it would serve me in this class. I was wrong. The amount of times I kept reminding myself to keep my “weight over the big toe,” as my dance teacher would say, was enough to make your head spin.

On the whole, getting the steps in the class wasn’t difficult. I’m now at a place in my dance journey where I have enough experience and versatility to be able to manage in most classes and at least get the steps reasonably well. Everything I remembered from dancing and balancing in those heels came back full force, and it helped but…

Being fierce (and walking) is hard

I’d like to think that I’m the type of person who’s more than capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. But remembering the steps and remembering to be sexy and fierce at the same time was easier said than done. I also understand what people say when they say Beyoncé was a master at walking. Walking, is hard, being sexy without being too extra is hard, and I definitely have a lot of learning to do.

Confidence isn’t Innate

I tried not to feel ridiculous in that class. This was partly because I’ve always been of the mindset that dancing in heels is one of those things where if you feel like you look ridiculous doing it, chances are, you look ridiculous. But I’m not comfortable being sexy. I’ve arguably never been comfortable, and having to embrace sexiness and an attitude felt ridiculous coming from me. I either did too much (see above) or not enough, and my sweet spot of “fierce but subtle” was frustratingly elusive the entire hour and change that I was in class.

In general, I feel good about where I started. I didn’t do too much too soon (see the IG video above where  my work boots doubled as heels for class).  I actually felt comfortable enough to try a higher, slightly slimmer heel next time around and, most importantly, I didn’t fall.

 

None of this happened, thank goodness!

But feeling totally good about myself and taking myself seriously is another story. I’m not giving up on myself just yet,  I’ll be back in heels class next week. Right now it feels strange and a little awkward, but hopefully this will be another area of growth I’ll be able to celebrate a few months from now.

‘DanceTopia: The Podcast’ – Ep. 1 ‘On Fouettes and New Beginnings’- Show Notes

I’m thrilled to announce my latest project: DanceTopia: The Podcast!

This is my new bi-monthly podcast where I’ll share news, musings, rants and ramblings about my favorite topic, and yours –dance.

The show notes section is my place to brain dump anything I may have missed or need to clarify from the show and to provide additional context or information about anything that was said during the podcast. The notes will be divided according to the section of the show in which the reference was made.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Warmup 

I realized after I said it that Anytime, Anyplace  was one of the Janet Jackson songs that wasn’t necessarily remembered for its choreography. Instead, when she performed it live, Janet would invite a male member of the crowd on stage and have them sit in a chair or perform the song sitting seductively in a chair alone. But it would have been too awkward to cut it out and, in any case, you get the idea.

You can buy Misty Copeland’s book Ballerina Body on Amazon, or swoop it up at your local library like I did.

^^Not an excuse. This book has tons of photos.

Center Combo 

I know Odette/Odile is a dual role. But Odile was the one doing fouettés so that’s why I said Misty Copeland was Odile as opposed to mentioning both Odette and Odile.

You can find my original blog about the matter here. And you can watch the video and see Misty’s response on Instagram below:

View this post on Instagram

Link in my profile. I’m happy to share this because I will forever be a work in progress and will never stop learning. I learn from seeing myself on film and rarely get to. So thank you. I will always reiterate that I am by no means the best in ballet. I understand my position and what I represent. I know that I’m in a very unique position and have been given a rare platform. All I’ve ever wanted is to bring ballet to more people and to help to diversify it. I’ve worked extremely hard to be where I am and I believe that what I bring to the table is authentic artistry with a unique point of view through my life experiences, and my unusual path and upbringing. Also as a black woman and black ballerina. I would love to see all of the incredible deserving black dancers get the opportunities that I have. I will forever be humbled and extremely grateful for the fact that I get to do what I love for a living, that I get to do all of the incredible roles that I do, in particular Swan Queen. There are so many ballerinas that never get to experience dancing the most iconic and demanding role in a ballerinas repertoire. I have so so so much respect for what I do and for the ballerinas I stand on the shoulders of. I’m in awe everyday that I am a part of such an incredible art form that has changed and enriched my life in so many ways and that I get to do it all with ABT. I don’t decide who’s promoted or what roles I dance. I never envisioned myself as the Swan Queen after being in the company for almost 15 years before i was given the opportunity. I have such deep and conflicting feelings connected to Swan Lake. As a black woman and as a ballerina given the chance to take on this role. I often question if I deserve to perform this role. My conclusion, I do. Some of the most memorable Swan Queens in history have brought so much more to this role without having to present the incredible and evolved technique of today by doing insane tricks that bring some to see Swan Lake. For the anticipated 32 fouettés. But it is so much more than that.

A post shared by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

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Link in my profile. People come to see ballet for the escape. For the experience of being moved through our movement and artistry, not to score us on the technicality of what we do. This is why ballet is not a sport. A ballerinas career is not, nor should be defined by how many fouettés she executes. They are a part of the choreography to tell a story of pulling off the entrancement she holds over prince Siegfried. The point is to finish the 3rd act with a whirlwind movement that sucks him in just one last time before it’s revealed that Odile is not Odette. This is the incredible beauty of ballet. To move people. I’m happy to have this dialogue because it’s something I believe in whole heartedly. The history of ballet and it’s origin of pure freedom and expression is what we need to hold onto. Not to come into the theatre as a critic armed with judgement. I do appreciate the changes in the ballet technique, focused on evolving our technical abilities, but the point is to move people and for them to understand the stories we tell through dance. And that is an incredible responsibility and opportunity I will never take for granted.

A post shared by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

Here’s the link to the NYT article I mentioned.

Even though I’m familiar with Swan Lake and knew very well what people were talking about when news of Misty Copeland’s fouettés surfaced, I’d never actually seen the ballet in its full length (due more to lack of opportunity than lack of interest). I believe that my seeing or not seeing the ballet has no bearing on my argument that it’s both racist and intellectually dishonest to criticize Misty Copeland so heavily for not doing the 32 fouettés. However, because I always want to be as well informed as possible when speaking on the podcast, I went ahead and watched a version of the ballet on Youtube. I’m still right, America is a hateful backwards country that would rather see a McDonald’s eating bigot in the White House than a Brown-skinned woman in ABT.

Other notes: 

Apologies for my jingling bracelets (I’ll have to remember to take those off next time), my hissing radiator and my stuffy nose (the result of my typical post-show head cold).

In the future, I’d like to have transcripts of each show available. However, this week’s took a lot of  time to edit and I wanted to get it up ASAP so transcripts will (hopefully) happen with the next episode. Pray for my fingers.

Looking forward: 2018

Is this thing on??

 

 

Hi, did y’all miss me? (All 5 of my readers). It’s been pretty quiet here for the last four months. I’ve been getting my life together, pursuing more professional dance opps, teaching and just in general being a bad blogger-in-chief.

But no more! I love this blog with all my heart–it recently celebrated its first birthday, and now that I have a whole new year I want to give it a fresh start and breathe new life into it.

 

That means…

New Content

New Platforms (think videos)

and New Ideas To Share!

 

I promise I won’t desert you (my devoted 5 readers) again.

 

So let’s get ready to journey to DanceTopia once more!

Revue: With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario by Eva Maze

Yes, I spelled revue like that on purpose, it’s a stylistic choice.

I recently had the pleasure of being asked to review Eva Maze’s memoir With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario. The book is written by Maze and starts with her early days in Bucharest, Romania, during which she survived a bout with scarlet fever, a disease that would end her classical dance training before it had a chance to begin.

Each chapter is named after a city or country Maze lived in. The memoir shows Maze’s college years, marriage to her husband of nearly 50 years Oscar Maze, and the eventual beginnings and success of her career as an impresario, during which time she produced shows for notable dance companies including Lar Lubovitch, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, José Limón Dance Company and Bella Lewitzky Dance Company. The memoir ends with Maze’s eventual retirement to Sarasota, Florida, where she currently resides.

If Forrest Gump were a dancer, this is how I imagine the movie would have played out (haven’t had the chance to read the book yet–it’s on my list). The book beautifully integrates dance and the arts as a whole with major world events. Photos and visuals appear on nearly every page showing Maze as a child, young woman and as she is today at 95 years old. Coupled with newspaper reviews of many of Maze’s shows and historical photographs,  the book is one part memoir, one part photo album and one part history archive.

Maze has a front row seat to WWII, the raising and tearing down of the Berlin wall and the tragic massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, among other landmarks in time. What’s interesting about With Ballet in My Soul, although it doesn’t become apparent until the very end of the book, is that because Maze spends the majority of her adult life living abroad, we aren’t given a glimpse into how dance intersects with major American events. The assassinations of  JFK, Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, the space race, and even the rise of computers and the internet are all omitted from the story save for a passing reference near the end. While it would have been interesting to see dance as a part of American history,  these elements aren’t missed.  Maze goes into amazingly descriptive detail to discuss her time in places like Berlin, Tokyo and Paris both as a producer of performances and as an observer of cultures.

While I generally enjoyed Maze’s discussion of the various environments she lived in throughout her life, there were times where I felt her assessment of other people’s cultures could veer into the territory of being a bit voyeuristic and problematic. An example of this is in the opening  lines of Maze’s chapter about India. Maze describes her life in Europe as “organized” and “middle class” but calls the Indian culture “chaotic, dirty, noisy, hot, poor and very exotic.” This othering happens in other areas as well including a section where Maze refers to a Kabuki dance theater in Tokyo as “exotic,” and it definitely took away from my enjoyment of Maze’s narrative.

It is no secret that it is a privilege to get to travel freely and experience other cultures. Maze does appear to become a student of the cultures she is able to live amongst and seems genuinely interested in learning the dance styles and history of places like New Delhi, Kathmandu and Tokyo. But her attempts, however subtle or unintentional, to differentiate her European upbringing from other non-western cultures, and even from being American (even though she lived and attended college in New York) are off-putting, and put a damper on my appreciation of what would have otherwise been an engrossing narrative.

Privilege aside, Maze does tell an engaging story that flows nicely from the beginning of her life as an aspiring ballerina to her present situation as a woman who has lived a full, rich life and can now enjoy the fruits of her labor. I often say that the key to success as a dancer and in life is to lean into the fact that your career won’t look like the career of the person next to you, the dancer your age, or anyone else. Eva Maze’s desire and willingness to have dance and the arts in her life in any way possible led her to have a brief professional dancing career and a longer and fulfilling career as an impresario. I’d say this could be a worthwhile read for dancers and dance lovers who want to learn about dance from someone who danced briefly, and also learn about what life can be like after dance.

You can purchase to book on Amazon.

[SPONSORED] My Date with the Stickeebra

This is a sponsored blog post, from time to time as opportunities arise I will do those. You, my lovely readers, are free to ignore these posts. NOTE: I will NEVER sponsor or post about something I haven’t tried first.

I recently tried a new bra called the Stickeebra and I wanted to share my experiences with it.

Stickeebra, as the name suggests, adheres to your breasts with a medical grade adhesive. There are no straps, no clasps, and no underwire. In short, it’s the perfect “barely-there” bra. But I wanted to see for myself so I took it for a spin.

I wore the Stickeebra all day at work and one of the first things I noticed was that the bra didn’t stick to me quite the way I expected it to. It didn’t bond to my breasts and stay there, but rather, it almost hovered over my breasts holding on only at the top. However, once it was there, it was THERE. I wore the bra during one of my busiest work days thus far (I had a conference to attend downtown) and it never once slipped off or got slick even as I took the bus and walked around downtown Chicago in 80 degree weather.

“But Jorie, this is a dance blog. What does this have to do with dance,” you ask exasperatedly.

Worry not, dear reader, worry not.

If you’re like me, you’ve had at least one unfortunate experience where you’ve danced/performed in the wrong bra (hello boobs). As dancers, our lines are everything and nothing, especially not bulky undergarments, should stand in the way of that. At the same time, going braless isn’t always the best (or most attractive–I’m looking at you unintentional sideboob) option. Plus, as a choreographer I once worked with pointed out, as women it isn’t really safe to be dancing and jumping with absolutely no support.

Enter, Stickeebra.

To really test the durability of the Stickeebra, I wore it during not one, but two different tap classes. It lasted through lots of sweating, rhythm turning, double pullbacks and wings and it’s probably a pretty safe bet if you’re wearing a form fitting costume that isn’t suitable for a regular bra but need some extra support. It did slip off a little during my second time wearing it at tap but I think that was mainly because my shirt was looser and again, it was on its second wear and I was sweating.

It’s definitely little more risky the looser your top is but if you’re performing and need a bra that doesn’t have straps, show lines or imprints, and doesn’t hurt (*cough* clear straps *cough*) it has a pretty good chance of lasting. If you are able to get out of your head enough to not worry about the seeming lack of support the bra gives, it’s worth a try. If you’re looking for a bit more coverage and support, Stickeebra recommends purchasing a bra that is one size up from your normal cup size. So stop fretting about free-flying tatas before your next show and get Stickee! If you purchase for the first time today you can get 10 percent off your first order!

This post was sponsored by Stickeebra, all views and opinions are my own.