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On Friday I reach the end of 40 Days to Personal Revolution, the yoga program that has been a big part of my life for the past 6 weeks (read all about it here). As I come out of this incredible experience, I reflect on how I will move forward from here.
The “revolution” part of the 40 days was not what I thought it would be. Basically, I’d had this vague idea that I would lose a lot of weight and get totally buff, all while becoming a more chilled out person in the process– pretty much in that order. As for the weight, I haven’t lost any. Not one pound. Not one-half of a pound. As for the buffness, I am happy to report that this expectation has come to fruition. I have some pretty nice tone and defininition around my shoulders, upper arms, and back that I have never had before. And if I poke my finger through the thick layer of fat on my derriere, there’s a nice solid gluteus maximus in there.
As for the chill factor, that two has happened, but in much more specific ways than I could have ever predicted. Having a new relaxation and centering tool (meditation) is a great new tool in my arsenal for getting through difficult moments or fending off anxiety. On a more global level, my priorities have shifted a little. I no longer feel like I have to do it all. If I miss out on something ‘extra’ in favor of spending time chatting with a friend, visiting family, or just relaxing with a book or enjoying the weather outside, so be it. I see the benefit of not being so overscheduled and I appreciate that taking time to enjoy these little, yet most important things in life, enrich my life much more than that extra class or workshop or seminar or networking event ever could.
As I come out of the program, I will come back to dance. But things will be different. I will continue to do yoga more frequently (probably 3-4 days a week rather than the 6 I have been doing), while gradually re-integrating dance into my life. I will probably pick up a little on the blogging, but I will not feel pressure to write any more often than comes naturally to me. This blog is not a means to an end. It is simply an outlet for me to process and share the thoughts and joys that dance brings to me. Rather than “moving on” with my life, I am simply moving forward, taking with me the additional gifts I have been given.
I have taken a brief sabbatical from dance. Earlier this spring, I decided that it was time to get my life into greater balance. At the beginning of the year, I committed to taking better care of myself and to slowing down a little. So the timing was perfect when my yoga studio opened registration for 40 Days to Personal Revolution, a program created by Baron Baptiste (of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, the style that I practice).
I consulted Mr. P and some close friends to see if I was crazy to consider doing yoga for 40 days straight. Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea as long as I was willing to making it a priority in my life. I would have to step back from a lot of my usual pastimes and commitments for the duration of the program. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it, so I registered away. I told my family and friends I was going to do it, and increased the frequency of my yoga practices to gear up for it.
Then, on what was supposed to be day 1, I got a call from the studio: only five people had registered for the program, not enough to go through with it, and they were rescheduling it to early summer. Did I want to go ahead and wait, or just get my money back? I was crestfallen. I had been so excited about doing this, and was incredibly committed to seeing it through; there was no telling where my life would be in two months. After sleeping on an idea from Mr. P I called the studio and asked them if I could still have the discounted rate on the unlimited yoga classes and do the program on my own (which they agreed to). Yay me!
The way the program works (I am following Baptiste’s book to structure the program as I do it solo) is you do yoga six days a week with one day off. You meditate every day, journal, and bring more balance into your diet. I had never meditated before, and luckily you start off gradually, with just five minutes the first week, and working up to thirty in five minute increments by the sixth and final week. The diet portion is not too prescriptive, with just a page or two each week reminding you to incorporate more fruits, veggies and whole ingredients into your diet. Nothing too “out there,” save the three-day fruit fast in week four (more on that later).
So here I am on day 24– how am I faring? Read the rest of this entry »
I don’t often dance at home, beyond a little freestyle grooving simply because of my space constraints. Mr P and I live in an 800 square foot one’bedroom apartment. If you do anything involving a fast-moving extended appendage, you are bound to get hurt.
I found this out the hard way when I dislocated my big toe last year, and because of that I have been very reticent to dance at home. Which is a shame, because today I was moved to dance at home again and really enjoyed it. I treated my space constraints as part of the challenge, so although I was improvising, one of my rules was that I had to stay within a rather narrow box.
After getting warmed up, I decided to videotape myself improvising as I have not done so in a while and was curious to see what I looked like. There are certain areas of my technique where I am feeling much more secure. I have a much better handle on my center, so things like back attitude turns are getting easier for me. This also increased my sense of security in terms of controlling my movements and not hitting furniture.
After reviewing the tape and being both appalled and impressed by certain moments, I took out pen and paper and wrote down the things that I liked and the areas where I should improve. I’m happy to report that the number things I like far outweighed the things I didn’t. The areas for improvement tended to be more general, such as mastering better control over the line of my arms and hands and getting a little more graceful against gravity. The things I liked tended to be certain sequences of moves and qualities of movement. Overall that tells me that my technique is finally starting to get to a place where I can admire the overall outcome rather than saying, “well at least I had good balance on that releve.”
This exercise also inspired me to think about trying my hand at choreography again. It’s amazing the beautiful things my body can do when I’m not thinking about it. When I just let myself go and interpret the music, allowing my body to follow in new and interesting ways, lovely things come out.
I’m going through a time when there are priorities in my life that compete with dance; that at this time are more important than dance. I’m still dancing, but I’m not aggressively pursuing improvement or perfection. I know I will go back to dancing more when this period is over. My body’s a little mad at me. There are more aches and stiffness. I’m a little pudgier. Maybe a little lazier, physically. Less inspired to write about dance.
There is so much at stake in this election. If I’m not doing what I can to get rid of cynicism, mean-spritedness, and wasteful spending (I’m talking about an unnecessary, expensive foreign occupation, the public expense of having so many of our citizens uninsured, and tax loopholes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations), I will regret that I did not do what I could. There will always be a time to dance in the in between times and when this election is over.
I never would have dreamed when I started this blog that I could be an inspirational to anyone. After all, I am but an amateur dancer with no particular great ability, just a love for doing it. Over the course of keeping this blog, I’ve gotten some very nice comments from readers, but this one, from Romy in Lebanon, takes the cake:
“Dear Maria, i just fell upon your blog tonight by accident, i wasn’t even researching dance topics on the internet. Though funny enough, the topic has been in the back of mind for a couple of days now. See, i am in my mid twenties, i have already majored in computer animation, and now i find myself aching to pick up dancing seriously. A childhood dream. I visited paris to see if i can start there, and everyone around me, including universities told me the same thing you were saying, that i late. That completely discouraged me, and now seeing your blog and reading your story was a breath of fresh air. Could i really still start dancing? i am really an amateur. Is it a beautiful world after all, even when you pick it up seriously? I am bookmarking your blog, and will start reading your posts one by one. Hope you will be the Sign for me as i feel it might be. Keep it up Maria.”
I believe that inspiration is not in the greatness of your acts but in giving some voice or hope to someone that sees a part of themselves in you. It has always been my goal to find meaning in everything I do. Just writing for myself gives me enough meaning, but to know that I’ve affected others makes my heart feel very full. Thanks so much to Romy and my other readers that have given me this gift!!
Bodies of water—pools, lakes, the sea—aren’t just for swimming and splashing around. They are also great places to dance and improve your ability to move in different ways. The resistance provided by the water, the buoyancy of your body in the water, and the additional lift provided by the waves of the sea can all be used to your advantage.
I’ve been doing my barre exercises in the pool this summer. Not only is it relaxing and enjoyable, it’s helped me improve muscular strength and extension. In the water, you have to move more slowly, and therefore articulate each movement more carefully. The resistance provided by the water, when done on a regular basis, helps to strengthen and tone your muscles in a different way than when on dry land. Your center is more important than even, because you must keep it even tighter to stay upright in the water. To do your barre sequence in the pool, stand in the shallow end with the edge at barre height, to rest your hand and proceed with your same sequence as usual.
I’ve been told that extension is less a matter of flexibility than of strength and center. Being in the water really drove this point home for me. I am able to extend my leg a good foot higher in the water simply because the buoyancy of it did all the work for me, floating my leg up much higher than I am normally able to keep it on my own strength.
Another area I’ve been able to work on is jumps and leaps, a big area of weakness for me. The gravity-defying properties of water are a big assist and have helped me to improve my technique and build confidence. With gravity, it’s basically impossible to “articulate” a leap, so if this is an area of weakness for you, the slowness and lift of water can help you get down to the mechanics of getting off the ground. Even more fun than a swimming pool is at the beach. Timing your jumps or leaps with the waves will carry you higher and farther.
Sometimes when you’re on vacation, you don’t have the chance to go to class, but with a little resourcefulness (and water), you can keep on dancing. As the summer comes to a close, here’s one more reason (as if you needed one) to head to the pool or the beach while you still can.
Read the first two installments in this series:
- My First Musical, Part I: The audition
- My First Musical, Part II: In which I am cast, have to make a tough decision, and begin rehearsals
We finally started learning the choreography after a few weeks of vocal rehearsal. It was a very exciting day for me; after all, it was the whole reason I had embarked on this project. Of a cast of 36, five women and two men had been cast as dancers. All but one of the women were significantly younger than me (teens/early 20s), and I was the oldest, and also the only one who did not have years of ballet training under her belt. This became a source of apprehension when the choreography turned out to be largely ballet-based, rather than in a more familiar idiom to me such as jazz or salsa.
In the projects I’ve been involved in, I now realize I was spoon-fed the choreography. The sequences would be taught in small sections over the course of a month or more, going back over each section to make sure it was solid before embarking on the next. On the other hand, our big dance number for the show was taught to us in its entirety in the space of two hours. No doubt this is how the pros do it, but I’m most definitely an amateur and I quickly realized I was going to have to up my game.
We were basically expected to have learned the choreography in that one session. In the next practice, the singing and non-dancing parts were added in. We would come back to a few rough patches just a couple times more, but we never went through the piece more than twice in any subsequent rehearsal. Add to this my own personal paranoias about being too old, too inflexible, too slow to pick up choreography, and too weak ballet technique, I entered a several-week crisis of self esteem. At each practice I thought to myself that there must have been some mistake and they were probably regretting casting me as a dancer. One day, I misread a new version of the casting sheet that was handed out and thought they had replaced me on another dance number due to my poor progress on the first one. As it turns out, I had looked at the wrong line and I was still in there, but my deflated brain was playing tricks on me.
What did I do to address these insecurities and limitations I was mired in? In addition to practicing in any spare moment (at least the parts I could remember without help), I changed my dance class schedule. Rehearsal was four days a week, and on the other days I had the energy I attended basic ballet classes in an attempt to focus my technique and apply any new insights or knowledge to the choreography. I also took every opportunity to ask my fellow dancers questions about the choreography and technique in general. Finally, the assistant choreographer offered me the opportunity for a one-on-one hour in which to polish the combination, which made a huge difference. With just about two weeks to go to opening night, I finally felt comfortable with the choreography, and with just a few days to spare, was able to relax into it enough add my own personal style and be more aware of all that was going on around me.
Why was this such an emotionally trying process for me? Well, there was a lot of truth in my insecurities– it was harder for me than the younger, more experienced dancers. Also, I am a perfectionist by nature and I hold myself to a high standard. Even if my pay or job are not on the line (keeping in mind this is a volunteer, community production and I have no real career aspirations in this area), I always want to do the best possible job I can. I don’t want to let anyone down– not my fellow cast members, not the production staff, and not the people who come to see the show. I don’t want to let myself down either, thinking I could have practiced more or tried harder. That said, seeing myself rise above those barriers in the end made the whole undertaking extremely gratifying. While I’m not the best, I’m my best, and in the end I’m dancing for me, because I love doing it, period.
Stay tuned for more installments on putting all the elements of the show together and the performances.
A telling 2003 New England Journal of Medicine report showed a lower risk for dementia among people over 75 who regularly danced during leisure time. But what was so surprising about the report is that other types of physical exercise didn’t affect dementia risk — dancing was the only physical activity that made a difference.
I’m slightly skeptical of the benefits of the type of dancing the guy is doing in the youtube video shared in the NYT blog post on dementia (though the benefits of promoting intercultural understanding through all his travels balance it out I’m sure) …but seriously, this is good news, indeed.
My own anecdotal feeling on this is that dancing not only physically good for you, but it forces the brain to create and strengthen new connections as it learns to coordinate movement with music, rhythm, control, and left/right awareness. I have seen this study cited before, and wonder if more follow up research has been done on the reasons for dance being a protective factor for dementia. The study abstract can be accessed here.
(Curious…if dancing is good for my brain, I wonder what dancing in a musical theater production is going to do for me to counterbalance the sleep deprivation; that is some serious brain multitasking! [see: My First Musical, parts I and II])
In which I am cast
It’s been almost a month since I told you about my audition for the musical, and I know you’ve been waiting with baited breath to see if I got the part. Why has it taken me almost a month to get to this? Well, my friends, that’s because I got the part, and have been busy rehearsing!
I wasn’t expecting to make it past the first round, and then I really wasn’t expecting to make it past callbacks (this being my first theatrical audition ever). As such, during the whole audition process, Mr. P and I were discussing our summer vacation plans and had pretty much determined that we would be going out of town for three weeks in July. The show was scheduled for three weekends in July, but of course since I wasn’t going to get the part, that wasn’t an issue, right?
Murphy’s Law, people… The next day I got a call from the director telling me that I had been cast as featured ensemble. What should have been amazing news was tempered by the sinking realization that Mr. P and I had a big decision on our hands. My first thinking was that I was willing to give up the play. Mr. P has not been back to Italy to see his family in three years and that made it a non-issue for me. At the same time, I told the director that I would do the play, intending to show up for the first practice “just to see what it was like” and then tell them that something had come up. I was feeling conflicted.
To complicate matters, I told my colleague (the one who’s heavily involved in community theater and had told me about the audition) that I had gotten the part– followed by a scream and a hug by said colleague– and then told her I wasn’t going to do it since we were going to Italy– which was followed by “ARE YOU CRAZY?!” She impressed on me what an incredible accomplishment it was to have not only made callbacks, but to be cast as featured ensemble, given the reputation of the company, and how perfect a match the show was for my interests and abilities. Then I made the mistake of going to the first rehearsal and seeing how many scenes I’d been cast in, and that I was dancing in two numbers (having been erroneously told by the director that I would not be a dancer). Having been issued my libretto, casting sheet, and met the rest of the case, there was no turning back. It was time for a heart to heart with Mr. P.
Mr. P gets “husband of the year” designation. From the beginning, he could sense how important this was to me, and even though I was fully willing to give up the opportunity, he agreed to move our vacation to August and tolerate the crazy rehearsal schedule. If you know anything about Europeans’ vacation schedules, you know that August is the worst possible time to go there. Everyone is on vacation. All the businesses in the cities shut down and people head to the beaches and mountains in droves. Prices are inflated for the month, which is suicide on top of the current dollar-euro exchange rate. Mr. P has been fully supportive and invested in the whole process, and has never once let on that he begrudges it.
In which I begin rehearsals
The first few weeks of rehearsals began sitting down. The goal was to get the vocals down before attempting any choreography or staging. This play has a very strong ensemble component and there was lots of vocals to memorize. Although I am very familiar with this play, having listened to it throughout my childhood, I had to relearn it from the perspective of a mezzo soprano = with harmony. It’s easy to memorize a melody line, but much more of a challenge to memorize the harmony lines of an at times quite dissonant score. All this sitting down made me wonder when we were going to dance. It also gave the opportunity to get to know my fellow cast members.
This is a new social experience. I was in band in high school. I did not really mix with the thespians. I found them to be dramatic and self-centered. Let me tell you something– some things never change. Even as adults, thespians are no exception. Dancers are largely toned down when they are not dancing; musicians can live up to the nerdy stereotype; many thespians are at full speed all the time. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with them, but they are also a fun group. Luckily, there are a couple of dancers to keep things in balance, and the principal actors are with very few exceptions, completely un-divas.
Throughout rehearsals, I’ve felt like a little sponge. Everything is new and I’m just trying to absorb all the information and direction that is coming at me from every side. As things get added in, it gets more and more complex. Humility and unquestioningness (is that a word?) are the name of the game right now.
Next installment: Dance rehearsals, a crisis of self esteem, and (hopefully) redemption
In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t blogged at all about this season’s So You Think You Can Dance. At first I was feeling bad that I was letting my readers down, but this is my blog, not yours, and let it be known that I am taking a break from TV right now. It’s not so much an intentional thing, but a time issue. I am in either rehearsal or class pretty much every night and weekend day. When I’m not dancing, I’m spending time with the real life human beings that I care about– my husband, my family, my friends. Real life rocks and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Given the choice, I’d rather be dancing (or at least participating in the dance of life) than watching it on a little screen.
Philosophizing aside, maybe the excitement of these shows has worn off for me. After so many years where dance was not the thing to do on TV, it was so thrilling to have shows like SYTYCD that brought dance back to the awareness of the public. Now we have almost reached a saturation point where there is a dance show on pretty much every network and channel, of varying quality and target demographic. I think it is great. There used to be just one or two nights where I could watch the one show on TV where people danced. That’s why it was so sacred to me not to miss it. In some ways, it also inspired me to want to dance more and dance better. It also in some measure inspired me to seek out real life dance watching opportunities, to delve into the distinctions and overlaps between art and entertainment.
We are now in the fourth year of this era of dance on TV. The public is now more educated about dance, and hopefully that will translate into inspiration to dance and see dance in real life as well. Judging from the number of blogs and blog posts that have exploded on this topic in the last year, the dialogue is alive and well.
I said in my last post that I’d be writing about a new challenge I’ve embarked on and the new experiences and lessons that have come with it. What is it you ask? Ok, the title of this post gives it away, but all I have to say, is: Broadway, get ready, ’cause I’m on my way! Not so fast, this is community theater.
A little while back, a coworker who’s heavily involved in community theater forwarded me an audition announcement. They were looking for dancers. The musical, only one of my favorites of all time, was one that I knew backwards and forwards, having listened to the soundtrack a bazillion times with my sister when we were younger.
It was an opportunity I’d sort of been waiting for in the back of my mind. Unless you count being in the orchestra pit in high school way back in the day, I’d never done theater before. A lot of musicals have some amazing dancing, and they look like so much fun. More fun than some of the dance performances I’ve been involved with, dare I say…I figured the dancing in it would be latin-ish, so I might have something to bring to the table. The one catch was that I would have to sing, but my coworker assured me I just needed to be able to carry a tune. That I can do, though I can’t speak to the quality.
Bottom line: I had nothing to lose and figured the audition process would be a fun experience that would fortify me for the future. I had absolutely no expectation of making the cut. In the end, I think this gave me the ability to be relaxed and to be myself.
First, I had to pick a song. I’ve got a low range, so I went with Big Spender from Sweet Charity. Another good choice, as it allowed me to show my sassy side. I downloaded the sheet music and the song and sang along with it a bunch of times by way of practicing.
When I got to the audition I had to fill out a form stating availability, experience, part auditioning for (dancer, of course), and some other stuff including my “age range,” basically the ages I felt I could convincingly portray. I asked about this and was advised to go ten years younger and ten older. As I waited to be called I asked the other auditioners if they had any advice, since it was my first time. “Be charismatic” seemed to be the main tip.
I’d asked my friend if I should dress the part, and she told me not to as you don’t know what they have in mind, so it’s best to be a blank slate. When I got there, all the women seemed to be wearing red dresses (going with the latin-ish theme). Though I was dressed to dance, I was also funnily enough wearing a red shirt with black pants.
We were brought into the audition room in a group of five. I was to go last. As each person finished their audition, they left the room, so I actually auditioned in front of the judges only. I’m not sure if that helped my nerves or not, but I focused on charisma, and tried to move as naturally as I could while singing, despite having noticed the others stood still while they sang. Then again, none of the others seemed to be trying for a dancing part. A couple sashays and arm flourishes actually elicited a couple saucy “oohs” from the judges so I think that tactic worked. After the singing, the judges were most concerned about rehearsal and performance conflicts. One girl immediately got cut because she would be in Greece for a month during rehearsals (duh). After that was verified, each person was asked to do a chaine. Except for me– they said since I was a dancer I obviously knew how to do chaines and I could do choreography during callbacks.
I was a little miffed that I was all dressed to dance and couldn’t even do a chaine, but also a little psyched because it seemed I was making callbacks. Sure enough, the call came pretty soon that I was to attend callbacks a few days later. That’s when I started getting nervous. I hadn’t actually planned on making it that far!
At the callback, all those trying out for lead and dance parts had to learn a combination. It was moderately challenging and technical and took me a couple times to learn fully. Definitely more ballet than latin. I thanked my lucky stars I’ve been going to ballet class lately. Thinking back to the advice I got, I tried to focus on charisma, and on really nailing the moves that felt natural to me. It was impossible to tell what was going on– there were a number of expressionless judges and they kept assigning people to different places in the lines and moving the lines back and front. I have no idea how they kept track of anything, nobody even appeared to be taking notes. They may have been but it almost seemed they were going on memory alone.
I should note that there were tons of women that auditioned and not so many men. The dancing of the men left, for the most part, much to be desired. It was clear that as usual, the fiercest competition in dance is among women.
After the dancing portion, everyone else was brought into the room and we had to sing an excerpt from one of the show’s big choral numbers. No harmonizing was required, and the director moved rather quickly through the room to see how each person was blending with the group. Again, no visible note taking. I have no idea how they did that with so many people trying out. It was eerie.
At that point the audition was over. . .I honestly had very few expectations for myself. Not because I thought I did a bad job, but because I’ve never done theater before, and there were so many people auditioning I didn’t know if I’d stood out or would meet their casting guidelines. Still, I felt hopeful to have the opportunity for a new experience, and for a musical I love so much on top of that.
Stay tuned for the next installment to see if I got the part!
I haven’t devoted the same attention to this blog that I did in the first months. It’s not that I’ve run out of things to write about– I will always have good material as long as I’m dancing– but keeping balance in my life has required me to sacrifice something. The thing has often been this blog. As much as I love you all, dear readers, my personal relationships, and of course, my dancing, take precedence.
As a result, many of my posts lately have been “lazy posts”– quick observations about TV and pop culture. Not that I don’t love pop culture (cause I sure do), but I haven’t taken the time or energy to delve into the more personal aspects of dancing. Sometimes I forget that my balancing act between dance and life is why I started blogging to begin with.
A recent conversation with a friend who reads the blog made me realize that others are interested in my process. To others in similar situations, the things I write can resonate sometime. As a result, I am going to be writing more about my own projects and process. I’m involved in an exciting new project that I’ll be blogging about soon.
I am very much a visual learner, and very much not an auditory learner. When I’m driving, the navigator must point– “left” and “right” are completely lost on me when split second action is required. The same goes for choreography; the typical ballet class practice of verbally listing the sequence in a combination rather than actually demonstrating it inevitably ends in a train wreck for me.
My learning style requires me to rely on copying, which I can do virtually simultaneously. I try to stand as close to the instructor/choreographer as possible for this reason.
I have never been able to do fouette turns (or even a single one). The other day when I was mindlessly copying the choreographer in a rehearsal, I realized that I had just perfectly executed one. For the record, I have since been able to reproduce it, so it wasn’t a fluke. It seems that my body needed to get the feel of it once, and now I’ve internalized it. Yay for harnessing my learning style!
If you’re not sure what your learning style is I found a simple quiz online that will help you figure it out. It did confirm that I am a visual learner.
And, for the benefit of my family and others who may not appreciate how cool it is I can now do a fouette turn, here is what it looks like: