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Google Labs keeps me entertained with its constant flow of new ideas. The newest one to catch my eye is Similar Images. It works like google images, but rather than relying on keywords to find what you need, once you find an image that approaches what you’re looking for, this app will find ones from around the internet that contain similar attributes.

This is what the front page looks like. Let’s try a search for my favorite subject, dance.

similar images front page

A variety of different results come up. Let’s say I’m looking for a dramatic photo of dancers mid-air against a stark background (as seems to be the fashion these days). We clock on the “similar images” link under that picture…

similar images dance search

Et voila`, lots of mid-air dancers on stark backgrounds.

similar images dance search refined

I can think of so many applications for this labs creation, particularly for bloggers like me who are looking for just the right image to accompany their posts. While the example I show above only resulted in dancers (though in one case it was not a photo but a drawing, which is neat too), I clicked through to other results that did not contain dancers but similar colors, backgrounds, and configurations of images. This could be a positive or a negative depending on what you’re looking for, but nonetheless it’s a new toy to play around with.

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I don’t know if it’s too much yoga and not enough dance, but I can’t seem to find the inspiration to write much lately. Personal blogs are interesting that way; they do tend to come and go, ebb and flow with the whims of the writer. Similarly, my blogroll changes as blogs I follow change or fall into inactivity. Not that I’ve been reading many blogs lately either. But here are a few that I enjoy following lately.

Apartment Therapy – If you live in a small space like me, those lavish spreads in traditional design magazines and blogs are hard to relate to. Apartment Therapy is a blog/web magazine that gives inspiration to those of us who don’t want to sacrifice style in tight quarters. From inspiring color schemes to unique ways to jazz up an entryway (or the wall by your door if you don’t technically have an “entryway”), I have gotten many ideas from this blog that I’ve been able to apply to my own living space.

This is Why You’re Fat – Only in America… Bacon, deep frying, and food-on-a-stick feature prominently on this blog of all culinary creations obscene. Yes, it’s an offensive name, but let’s face it– if you ate stuff like this on a regular basis, I don’t see how you could be skinny (or healthy).  I dare you to look through such creations as The Bacone (A bacon cone filled with scrambled eggs and country gravy topped with a biscuit) or the Fat Sam (Cheesesteak sandwich with chicken fingers, french fries, mozzarella sticks, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, bacon, and topped with egg and hot sauce) without giggling just a little bit.

Jodi’s Blog – I always enjoy following my friend, the talented artist Jodi Hoover’s blog. But never have I enjoyed it more than in the last few days as she blogs The World Beard and Moustache Championships. Jodi’s husband Mickey proudly represented Maryland with his full face of hair. I can’t tell you how entertained I have been reading about the Parade of Beards, and the politics of the World Beard and Moustache Association, and The Beards, an Australian band that, as Jodi explains, “They sing songs about beards for people with beards.”

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.

The NYT’s ArtsBeat Blog asked artists to comment on how the recession is affecting them. It is a fascinating read.

Common themes:

  • Artists are poor to begin with so they didn’t have much to lose.
  • Recessions are good for lesser known artists because the focus on high-priced works produced for rich patrons has decreased. People buy what they can afford and artists produce less for the sake of pandering.
  • For-profit creative industries (i.e., graphic designers, vs independent artists) are being hurt the most.
  • Those that have a day job are counting their blessings.
  • The NYT Arts Beat Blog is a great place for self promotion (just look at all the website links and full names people signed their comments with).
credit: J-Rad, flickr

credit: J-Rad, flickr

Now I want to know from you: How is the recession affecting dance? The economic impact on companies is evident, but how is the down turn affecting the creative process?

My dear regular readers, you may be asking, “Speaking of the recession, what’s up with your blog? does the lack of posts in the last bunch of weeks mean you’re being affected by the downturn as well?” First of all, we are a volunteer operation here so nope, no impact. If I were unemployed, you can bet I’d be posting a lot more! There are two factors at play:

  • I am grateful for my secure job and perhaps because of that– and an increased workload– have been spending more time and effort on it.
  • I am participating in a 40 day yoga program (today is day 24), so I’ve been dancing very little. I’m halfway done with a post about the experience, so stay tuned!

So much of what bloggers do often involves repurposing material found elsewhere on the internet. In the best case, this consists of quoting a few sentences from an article or sharing a photo or video as the starting point for an original post. I have done this many times myself as I am often inspired to write about things that I find in online publications and blogs.

According to this article by Brian Stelter in the Herald Tribune, copyright infringement lawsuits against bloggers is on the rise. The article raises some interesting considerations that raised some questions for me.

My main question is, where is the line? Is it okay to quote a sentence? Two sentences? Three? A whole paragraph? And when it comes to dance, we share so many videos– it is safe to assume that if it’s on YouTube, it’s okay to share? What about other video sharing sites? I would not use someone else’s work– text, video, audio or otherwise, without crediting my source. But do I have a responsibility to get permission to cite them? If I do not have advertising or any other sources of revenue related to my blog is the standard different than for someone whose blog is an income-generator?

I’m curious to know folks’ thoughts on this, and any knowledge you have about legal precedents in this area.

Thanks to Clinton Yates over at the DC Express Blog Log for featuring my post on Superstars of Dance in both the online and print version. It was so cool to open up my free daily paper on my morning commute and see my words in print. If you’ve come over from Express, welcome!

This is actually the second time Express has linked to me, the first time was on November 20, for my post on Rahm Emanuel’s ballet background. This is the kind of stuff that makes this unpaid writing pasttime so rewarding.

While we’re on the subject of Superstars of Dance, did anyone watch the second installment last night? Did it get any better? Any particular dances we should check out on YouTube?

I just signed up with Twitter. I’ve decided it is the solution to my aborted post problem. That is, I start so many posts and then abandon them before I get to far. Twitter will allow me to get those quick little thoughts, links and observations up more efficiently. To follow me, check out my Twitter feed at the top of the lefthand sidebar, visit my Twitter page, or put it in your feed.

I’ll be testing out Twitter this evening as I watch the first installment of Superstars of Dance.

I am not usually big on new year’s resolutions, but 2008 was kind of a long tough year so I’m welcoming the chance to turn over a new leaf. Instead of calling it my list of resolutions, I’m going to call it my 2009 Action Plan. Making vague promises to myself (i.e., gotta lose that weight and make it to the gym more) only sets me up for failure.

2008 was hard on many fronts. For one, it was a difficult year for the world. We had so many natural and human disasters. Senseless wars dragged on and death tolls continued to mount. Certain toxic elements in my workplace made it hard for me to be there many days. Then there was the presidential campaign, which lasted two years. I threw myself into a lot of projects and commitments in 2008. Three dance performance commitments– two of them incredibly time intensive, a whole lot of travel (mostly for work), and a full-time volunteer commitment on top of my more-than-full-time job for three months this fall. All of these thigns were worthwhile and important, but sometimes I sacrificed myself along the way. When you’re that busy and invested in something, you tend not to focus on your own needs very much.

This year is already off to an auspicious start. The toxic element is out of the way at work and I feel a thousand times better. Our political climate is changing– we have a new President that for the first time in a decade I feel I can claim as ‘my’ president. I invested a lot of my own time and emotional energy in getting him elected and feel personally invested in his success. It is so nice to feel hope for my country’s future. And thank god the campaign is over; we also have a nice newly proportioned Congress to show for it.

2009 will be a year in which I nurture myself; and that in turn will make me a better friend and spouse.

In 2009, I will limit my performance commitments to two. That’s one less than 2008, and it will give me some more space to pay attention to my own development. I will also have more flexibility with my time.

In 2009, I will live a more spontaneously. When I am moved to buy a ticket or take a trip, I will, budget permitting. I have a lot of extra vacation to use this year, so time is not an issue. I will take a trip to NYC before the end of the Spring.

I will make the time to spend more time with my husband and my friends. We will welcome more people into our home (mission accomplished– we had our first dinner party in at least a year or two on New Years Eve). To do this, I’ll have to learn to say no to some commitments that I might otherwise have taken on.

Each time I am moved to say something negative, complaining, or nagging, I will count to three before I open my mouth.

Oh, and one final boring one (because it’s something I’ve actually been able to stick to): I will floss every day.

So that’s my list. No mention of diet and exercise, because if I really stay true to the above, the rest will follow.

What about your 2009 Action Plan?

Apparently great minds dance bloggers think alike.

I just came across this post by Claudia La Rocco on the Culturist blog. It is eerily similar to my own post on the same subjectTo the letter, we both quoted the exact same quote from a Rolling Stone article and selected the same exact photo to illustrate our posts.

Here’s the problem: La Rocco wrote her post on November 6, while I posted mine on November 18. To anyone else, it might appear to be a case of plagiarism (mine). In reality, I had not happened upon her piece until today.

Sometimes I’ll be surfing the dance blogs and happen upon something that is virtually identical to something I wrote, and posted after I did so. I usually feel annoyed, thinking it copycat behavior, but this incident challenges that assumption. There are only so many original thoughts and things to write in the world, and even fewer when we bloggers, who have a tendency to rehash the trends of the moment and reference things others have already done, have interests that lie in the same area.

One thing that’s frustrated me as I’ve tried to get caught up on several months’ worth of posts from the dance blogosphere (I have not actively followed my feed since, oh, April) is how hard it is to connect with a lot of what’s being written about companies/dancers whose work I’ve never seen. I think this is why I’m starting to reach out a little more locally. It is easier to read and relate to the familiar.

I feel that most reviews and company news is only relevant to those who have seen those works or companies. For example, much is being written about Christopher Wheeldon’s works. I have never seen anything by Wheeldon, so it means little to me. Even when I do get through a [usually particularly well-written, if I make it all the way through,] review, I have little to comment on, other than “interesting post, thanks for sharing!”

I just want to put this topic out there for discussion, that is, if anyone’s still reading my blog since I went MIA in commenting on everyone else’s:

Do you take pleasure in reading a review or news of something you have not seen or a company/choreographer you are not familiar with? If so, why or why not? Certainly the same could go for the work of any type of artist. Do you enjoy reading a review of an exhibition if you are unfamiliar with the artist?

The first session I attended was on Saturday afternoon. Entitled Presenting Ballet Across America, it was a panel of artistic directors of ballet companies and critics. Sitting on the panel were the Washington Ballet‘s artistic director, Septime Webre, and associate director, Jeff Edwards. From the Boston Ballet, artistic director Miko Nissinen. From the Joffrey Ballet, artistic director Ashely Wheater. Critics Jean Battey Lewis of the Washington Times and Theodore Bale from Boston rounded out the panel. The moderator was the NY Post’s Robert Johnson.

Though I am but a baby in the world of balletomanes, even I was able recognize the star power of this panel. Topics discussed were accessibility, outreach and education, programming choices, touring, music, and relationships with critics. On this last topic, I thought it was a nice touch to have critics from the same cities as two of the artistic directors, given their long-standing, if at times adversarial, relationships. I was going to neatly summarize everything, but there were so many nice nuggets of insight and quotes that the below is essentially a cleaned-up version of my notes.

 On accessibility:

 To gain an entry point to dance, audiences need to find something that they can connect with. Some connect with abstract ideas and emotions, while others need more explicit or literal imagery. Dancegoers seem to have shorter attention spans than operagoers. Why is it operagoers will happily sit through a 4 hour opera, but dancegoers squirm in their seats if it’s over an hour? These considerations may be factored in for whether a work will contain an intermission or not.

On the use of popular music to appeal to broader audiences: 

Very few of those pieces have any staying power, because they relied on the strength of the music or the star power of the musician rather than on the strength of the choreography. Tharp’s Sinatra Songs is an exception because it was such a significant contribution to the American jazz canon (it’s been done by 17 companies, and counting). Live music is so important to the art. It’s not financially feasible to have Sting go on tour with you. If we do want to use contemporary music, we need to start seeking out one of the many talented, but lesser known musicians working today.

On TV, video and movies:

This is an exciting time where dancing being #1 on TV for the first time in decades is very exciting. It’s a moment of opportunity. We’re just waiting to see a reality show about ballet! There needs to be better integration of video and dance– the video behind the dancer showing abstractions or cues has been done. An example of innovation was given from the Paris Ballet where video showed activities going on live offstage that vastly contrasted with what the audience saw on stage.

The Company did more harm than good to the Joffrey. It trivialized the company and was a caricature of the artistic director and his process. It would add value to have dance critics write about dance movies and dance on TV, rather than a TV or movie critic that knows nothing about the art. Two exceptions cited were Lewis’ review of Fred Astaire movie reissues, and Bale’s review of The Company

Someone asked why so few video dances apply the classical dance vocabularly (mostly modern and ballroom). Maybe it’s because ballet thinks so rigidly in terms of the rectangular proscenium stage, whereas video benefits from more dynamic facings and shapes. HD technology is a good thing– it allows more of the movement to come through the screen, even on proscenium-filmed video dances.

Would companies ever consider a shift of resources from live to video dance? To do it right, you have to invest millions of dollars in the right equipment, which will become obsolete in just a few years. It’s not financially feasible because it would take too much away from the audiences. What about alternative sources of funding? Forsythe did a DVD the documents his whole process, and it was funded by museums.

On education:

We need to think about how we can better develop talent in the USA. 40% of companies are foreign and 70% of principles are foreign. This says something about the quality of our own training. Other countries have rigid training and curricula in place. We need to look at what sort of standards of quality we should require for teachers and students. Discipline and rigor are lacking, yet we are trying to do too much too early (i.e., 8 yr olds going en pointe). Schools affiliated with companies are money makers so there’s an incentive to keep standards lower, such as holding on to students that are not progressing, to keep getting their tuition.

On diversity:  

 It is difficult to attract African American dancers. They mostly seem to gravitate to historically AA companies such as Ailey. What could companies do to become more representative of the communities they belong to?

There is a trend now to more varied body types. How we talk about shape and weight has changed, and our eyes have changed in terms of how we see bodies.

 On dance criticism:  

Dance critics can do more to inform their audiences and provide context. There is too much “inside baseball,” assuming readers know much more than they do about dance. In terms of how companies see their critics, articles should be constructive and emphasize the singular point of view so that readers understand that it’s coming from just one perspective.

I attended parts of the Dance Critics Association conference this weekend, and am very glad that I did. While I would have liked to attend the whole thing, I had some rehearsal conflicts that I could not get out of. In the end, I attended one workshop on Saturday, and two workshops and a lecture on Sunday.

I’ll get into the individual sessions in subsequent posts (I was originally was going to do one post but it got too long), but the overall benefit of my attendance was meeting other dance writers, both new and established, catching up with friends and acquaintainces, and getting an overall sense of the state of the dance writing profession and the interrelationships between those who dance and manage dance companies, and those who write about them.

I got the sense that dance criticism is at a crossroads. This year has seen many arts critics job losses from traditional newspapers due to budget cuts. The average age is on the older side, and most of these critics quite rightly focused on the art of writing about dance, are not as tech savvy as they need to be to evolve with the changing times. As one critic asked, how can we adapt to new technology, blogging rather than working for a newspaper and still get paid for it? At the end of the conference, that question remained unanswered, but a dialogue had started.

A year ago today, I wrote my first post.

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.

My world shrank a little when my journalist friend Sadie messaged me on Facebook a few weeks ago, “I am interviewing your friend Boris for a story I’m writing. How do you know him?” The friend in question was my dance blogosphere buddy Boris Willis of Dance a Day fame, and who she must have noticed on my Facebook friends list.

The article, a profile of DC’s Shaw neighborhood features Boris and other residents (including an 81 year old woman who was a dancer during the U Street entertainment heyday under the stage name “The Body”), giving some nice background and a community context to his Dance a Day project. Congratulations, Boris and Sadie!

An interesting factoid is that Shaw is allegedly DC’s “bloggiest neighborhood,” with an interesting array of online perspectives. Another Shaw blog mentioned in the article is Treebox Vodka, which despite its intriguing name is about cleaning up trash in the neighborhood. With the blogosphere being as vast as it is, I love the idea of envisioning it in terms of bloggers’ physical proximity, rather than just by topic. I have always thought of my online community in terms of those that write about dance, but Sadie’s article has inspired me to tap into blogs in my area.

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