Filtering by Category: Ballroom

Dance Diary: And Now for Something Completely...

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...different...odd...soul shakingly frightening...all of the above?

Somehow, I thought three years of ballroom dance had prepared me to go out and conquer myriad other forms of dance with great ease. Not so much really, as I discovered when ventured into Hip-Hop, Bollywood and Heels classes. It’s kind of like being an opera singer your entire life and then deciding you want to front a Death Metal band.

Who knew that my refusal to learn the Running Man in the nineties would be a glaring hole in my dance education in the year 2018? I spent the 90’s (and the decades before and after that) doing musical theatre, and singing pop songs. All the dance training I have had in my life has centered on pointed toes, pretty hands and elegant movement. Hip-Hop physicality is another universe from what I know.

As for Bollywood, it’s not as easy as the movies make it look. What you don’t realize watching them is how fast it is. Some of the movements are very close to Hip-Hop while others are more in line with forms I’m more familiar with. I think this may be my favorite of the new things I’ve tried lately. Not because I’m good at it, oh no, it will take eons and hours of practice before I’m remotely competent. It’s the narrative element that appeals to the storyteller in me.

Heels class has been an interesting experience in its own way. I’m used to dancing in heels so you wouldn’t think this would be a huge change. Yet most heels classes concentrate on more pop forms of dance so I’m playing catch up quite a bit. The last few weeks we’ve been working on a more lyrical (slower, more elegant, cleaner more fluid lines) and I’ve been loving it.

While my ballroom experience hasn’t helped as much stylistically or choreographically in these classes it has helped me in a lot of other ways. The biggest one being that it’s given me the guts to go into a class as a rank beginner and not run out screaming. I definitely have more patience with myself and have adjusted my expectations. Right now, If I am coming away from the class having digested 30-40 percent of the steps I’m happy with that.

I’ve also learned not to be afraid to ask the instructor to put a combination on video for me. Most of the classes I’ve been in work on the same combination for four weeks, adding a little bit each week. If I get a video of the combination that gives me a clear practice blueprint. I may not come back into class having learned it perfectly but there will be a level of comfort with the choreography that helps to pick up just a little more each time.

Most of all what the last few years have brought is dogged persistence. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated and even a little depressed sometimes. The key is to remind myself that these feelings are not reality. Most of the time it’s my ego telling me I shouldn’t do things that make me look goofy in public. But as a friend said to me today “If we just did things that we are good at then we would never grow.”

So I’m growing.

Imperfectly Perfect

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Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist. ─ Jane Smiley

A friend of mine likes to say, “First drafts are always yucky”. Of course, he uses a word other than yucky, but I’m trying to keep  my language a little more PG rated these days (or maybe just this hour...minute...whatever). His point though is that when starting a project it’s not so important what you write, only that you write it. I feel the same way about dancing.

I don’t often post videos of my dancing. I loathe watching myself. When I do the inner demons pull up their Barcaloungers and popcorn and whisper in my ear - “You’re too old”, “you look like a giant stork”, “You’re not a pro, you’ll never be, why bother, you just look foolish” , “look at you, your toes don’t point, your turnout’s bad, you’re just flailing about”.

I was not born dancing, I did not start when I was three, I started only about three years ago. I took a dance class here and there growing up, but I was never good at it so I put my energy into the places I was - singing and acting. When I look at where I was when I started and where I am now, there is vast improvement. I am still in my first draft dancewise. I’m not where I was, but I’m not where I’m going to be either.

So, if I distract the inner demons with something shiny to shut them up and watch this video again this is what I see... 

*A woman who is using decades of training in acting and music to add to what she’s learned about dance to give a performance that appears confident and assured. There is no stumbling around wondering what comes next, she is moving from moment to moment with certainty (except when she’s supposed to appear uncertain....again....acting chops)

*A woman who has worked hard to learn a new skill. Someone who has invested in herself and understands that to get to the good stuff sometimes you have to risk looking foolish. 

*A woman with determination, unwilling to let the opinions of other people stop her. 

*A woman who battles her demons and fears every time she walks into the dance studio, but stubbornly refuses to allow them to rule her. 

* A woman who keeps trying daily to perfect herself on her own terms. 

And so I post my dance video. This is my first draft. Better than some, not as good as others, but entirely mine. 

 

 

Hitting the High Points...

This summer has been one of constant motion - I joined the board of Pioneer Productions, produced (and had a cameo appearance in) a musical and hit two very big milestones. One was inevitable and the other came through more than two years of blood,sweat and blisters.

The first biggie was my birthday. Whether it was divisible by five, ten or three hundred twelve I will leave you to guess. I’m not ashamed of my age but I also don’t feel the need to advertise it. I have officially entered my IDGAF Years. You have been warned.

The other was that I moved from Bronze level to Silver in my dancing. In my studio you start out at Bronze one and work your way through four levels until you reach the Silver level. Basically the Bronze syllabus is what most colleges use in their ballroom dance majors so finishing it is the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. It took two and a half years and a whole lot of toil but I did it and I’m proud of it. 

I had no idea when I started it but studying dance has been the best decision I could have made. It has made an impact on almost every other aspect of my life. In an odd way almost everything that has happened in my career in the last couple of years can be traced back to this decision. 

Dancing did not make me a different performer/person but through it I have become more myself than I have ever been. I am finally at home in my own skin and that has given me confidence both physically and psychically. The skills I already had when I started, the ability to create a character, to perform, to engage an audience, to tell a story have only grown stronger. Added to that are new ways of expressing myself and different ways to explore and understand music. Also, because ballroom is an art that is dependent upon working with another person it has enhanced my ability to communicate with a partner.

I have always been great with words. Words have been my salvation throughout my entire life. Dance has enhanced my nonverbal communication. I can take the stage without saying a word and that is a powerful tool to own.

It took me a while to come around to seeing it this way, but Dance has given me the gift of being a beginner again. You can never fully master an art unless you allow yourself the time and space to be bad at it. It’s not just how you conquer your craft but what teaches you empathy and patience. Knowing this makes me a stronger performer and a better teacher of performers. (This will really come in handy when I teach my Solo performance workshop in October. A plethora of shameless plugs coming soon.)

Finally, there’s the wardrobe. It hasn’t really changed that, it’s just given me even more opportunities to break out the sequins, fringe and corsets. This is the most excellent thing of all! 

 

Dance Diary Sturm Und Samba

The first time I took a West Coast Swing class I went home and cried. The next day I went into the studio and my instructor said, “we’re going to do a West Coast Swing solo...” I worked really hard and did it, now it’s my favorite dance. This will not happen with Samba. If a praying mantis and a bunny had a baby that danced that’s my samba. It’s never made me cry, but more than a few Brazillilans have when they see me do it. Yesterday an instructor said to me, “I see something in your samba I have never seen before,” he did not explain what this meant. I love the music, I love watching other people dance it, I love the costumes, it is just not my dance. By now I have done enough samba to know my loathing will never turn to love. And yet...

I still do it. Yes, it’s part of my program I’m forced to do it no matter my feelings on the matter. But also, not liking something is no reason not to do it. Well, it is but in this case there are reasons to do it anyway. Samba has a very distinct rhythm and timing, and anything that gives a musician a different way of using those things is a very good thing. Samba is also one of the more energetic dances so I’m burning lots of calories thus justifying the occasional baked goods binge. 

Mostly though, I’m stubborn. I don’t like to be bad at anything, even something I hate. This might be my best/worst thing. Best because I think that getting through life requires tenacity and a refusal to accept circumstances which are not to my liking. Worst because it causes me to hold on to some things longer than I should. 

I’ll be holding on to samba a little longer. I suspect it still has some things to teach me. 

 

 

Dance Diary: Playing to Win

Dress Courtesy of  Encore Ballroom Couture   Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

Dress Courtesy of Encore Ballroom Couture  Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

I am not a competitive person. That’s a lie, I am an extremely competitive person, what I do not like is organized competition. If you want to get all psychoanalytical about it, you could say it comes from forever being the last one picked when it came to kickball, softball, or any sport requiring speed, dexterity and the ability to remain undistracted by the nearest shiny object. Or maybe it was the whistle wearing, clipboard wielding elementary school PE teacher who lined us up like military recruits and screamed that we would never be popular unless we were good at sports. Exactly what this pasty, brainy, introvert who carried a breifcase through fifth grade needed to hear to assure her that elementary school was not really for her. Whatever it was, it was enough for me to swear off organized sports for life.

Thus when my dance instructors started strongly encouraging me to go to the World-Dance-A-Rama in New York City it was sort of a good news/bad news situation. The good news: I’d get to put on sequins and fringe and lots and lots of makeup and perform. Also, New York, so it wasn’t like I had to expend a great deal of effort to get there. The bad news: Judges. Giving scores. Prizes that I will not win. I’m not saying this to gain your pity or to self deprecate, but because I’ve only been at this for two years, and I’ve always been in it to improve my performance skills not to win medals for my samba bounce.  Something I knew I would have to continually remind myself if I went through with this.

Dress Courtesy of  Classic Ballroom Elegance  Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

Dress Courtesy of Classic Ballroom Elegance Hair & Make-up by Melanie Rivera

It did help that the judges, while definitely wielding clipboards, wore neither whistles, crew cuts or athletic socks. In fact, one was wearing  the most covetable pair of boots, and I was dying to ask her where she got them, but I digress.  I managed to do a West Coast Swing solo, and I danced tango, waltz, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Samba,  Mambo, Argentine Tango, Cha Cha, Rumba, Swing, Bolero, and Hustle all without major flashbacks. There were even times I managed to forget that I was being judged. That I can willingly dance in front of any audience let alone one made up people who are passing judgement on me is still a surprise to me. And the immense amount of  Preparation for this event definitely made me a better dancer, and the better I become the more at home I feel in my body. This is something I’ve been able to translate into every aspect of my performing.

 My friend and mentor, the late Erv Raible, always asked me after every show, “Did you win?” He wasn’t talking about prizes, what he wanted to know was did I give the audience everything I had? Did I play it safe or did I take risks that made me a better performer? DId I show the audience who I was and make a connnection? 

 So did I win? If you’re talking in terms of actual trophies, bestowed by judges, no. I’d like to tell you I’m perfectly sanguine in this outcome, but there’s still enough of the nerdy fifth grader in me that I really would have liked a shiny medal to stash in my briefcase. But in the terms laid out by my friend Erv of giving it all to get better at what I love  and communicating it to an audience. Absolutely! 

Dance Diary: Coco, I Don’t Think We’re in Armani Anymore

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Feathers & spangles & ruffles! Oh, my! 

I hoped it would never come to this. I swore I would never do it. I believe my exact words on the subject were “if I ever even say I’m thinking about doing this slap me”. And yet...here I am agreeing to take part in my first major dance competition.  And with that comes the need for a costume.

 

As someone who has spent a good part of her life refining her personal style entering the arena of ballroom wear is, as one of my Romanian instructors says, “a little bit challenge”. I love rhinestones and sequins and all sorts of embellishments, but I tend to draw the line at eye searing neons and animal prints in shades that any leopard will tell you do not occur in nature. And then there are the cutouts...I could be wrong, but I highly doubt any judge wants to see the scar from my gallbladder surgery. But I also had a broadway costume designer mentor who once told me that the difference between the professionals and the amateurs he worked with was that the professionals were always willing to try anything that the designer threw at them. So when it came time to go to the professionals and chose a dress my rule was “no matter what say yes” (which is also the first rule of improv, but that’s for another day).

 

Fortunately for me, I found a great crew of experts at Encore Ballroom Couture. It didn’t hurt at all that I came equipped with my own crew of my sister, Evie, and two great nieces, Epuri & Coco (ages ten & eight) for second and third opinions.  Entering the showroom was like landing on planet sparkle. Every where you looked there were beads and sequins and fringe and lace and color. Heaven for the little girls in my entourage and not too bad for their auntie either. It was sort of like being on Say Yes to the Dress Ballroom Edition (hmmm....I might actually watch that show....Cable execs if you’re listening...)

 

So with the goal of saying yes to whatever they presented me to try on out came the dresses. The first thing you need to know about trying on dance costumes is that the way they appear on the hanger often bears no relation to the way they will look on a human. This was apparent pretty quickly from the very first dress. On the hanger it appeared as a pile of gold and copper stones with a skirt made of varying shades of old panty hose. But once I put it on the stones sparkled in the light and brought out my skin tone, and the chiffon skirt moved like a dream.  

 

Also, when your entrourage includes an eight and a ten year old there wil be some difference of opinion in what constitutes an appropriate dress. The yellow fishnet dress that was held together by spangles, feathers and a strategically placed flower or two had me breaking into the chorus of “Copacabana”, but for the under twelve set it was just right. Don’t get me wrong, it was the sort of dress that would look gorgeous on a woman with much darker skin and better developed stomach muscles than I, but it was not my dress. Their second choice of a daisy printed dress with a maribou hemline made me look like an extra on the Dukes of Hazzard but on a sunny busty blonde it would be absolutely smashing. 

In the end I figured out that much of what I already knew about dressing in the real world and dressing for the ballroom was not all that different. Jewel tones sing on me and neons and pastels not so much (the less said about the lavender dress that Evie said make me look like a fairy the better). Fringe is my embellishment of choice. The cut and fit of a garment  are my best friends.And always, always listen to the experts when they make suggestions. I’m thrilled with the dress I chose, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until March to see it. 

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This one came close....