Thursday, December 26, 2013

How are you?

Today I rolled out my yoga mat.  For the first time in a long time.

Yoga for me has been a wonderful physical and spiritual practice through our the years. But, since my horrendous back injury (over a year ago), it has been near absent in my life.  I have always incorporated yoga into my dance warm ups, but laying out the yoga mat for an explicit practice has not been part of my routine. 

I rolled it out today, because being on vacation I was tired of the bike machine down in the gym and needed a little bit of variety.  Hence, the mat.

I didn't know what my practice would look like.  I didn't know how it would go after so much time.  More specifically I didn't know how I would go (or be). As I lay folded in child's pose, I wondered exactly this.

How am I?  We use the question to mean the state in which we exist. How are you? I'm fine. I'm ok. I'm great! I'm wretched.  But, how is not merely about a state of being. It is also describes the way we exist. The way we do things. The way we navigate the world and our experiences. 

How do I do it?
How would I know?
How should I respond?
How am I standing? How am I lunging, folding, reaching, sitting?  What is the way I do what I do? 

Becoming aware of who we are is really becoming aware of how we are.  And, being aware means asking ourselves this question at every turn.  How do I eat my breakfast? How do I respond to an upset friend, family member, student? 

But, being aware is just the first step.  Being how you are (That's just how I am!) is not an excuse for poor behavior or unskillful practices.  We have the ability to change how we are in the world.  That is the sweetness of being human.  We get to choose whether our behaviors or actions serve us or not.  The new year is a time when many people, who may otherwise not be aware of how they are, look at themselves in the mirror and ask the million dollar question.  How am I? 

The winter solstice is behind us.  The days will now get longer, and we will come closer to the sun with each passing moment.  We have the chance to use this time to examine how we are in this world.  How we are with each other. How we are on the yoga mat or walking down the street. 

This time of quiet, of darkness and reflection is key to really understanding our nature. 

But, the real work comes later.  Discovering how we are is not a one shot deal.  We get to discover how we are every single day we walk this earth.  We get to discover how we are in all that we do.

So the next time you are asked How are you? Take a moment and ask yourself the deeper question of awareness so that you can continue the practice of self discovery with each step, with each moment. 

May you have a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Leaders, Titles, and Britches. Oh My!

I made an amazing discovery this week about my understanding of leadership and leaders.

I grew up in a very supportive and trusting home environment. My parents were and still are role models of compassion, frugality, understanding, logic and enrichment.  In school I had the same experience with my teachers, Ms. Lindert especially, who greeting us in the morning in a variety of languages, encouraged us as individuals and supported us in our unique journeys through the Montessori system.  In the dance classroom, I was under the tutelage of strong ballet dancers who cared not just for the performance but for our well being as individuals ("Have you eaten today?").

In short, the leaders in my formative years were: AWESOME!  

And, thus began my aggrandizement of all leaders.  I didn't know that leaders are people who have problems. I didn't know that leaders make bad decisions. I didn't know that leadership is an imperfect practice.  It just seemed so easy from the outside as a child that I didn't think twice about it.

But, now, I am in a leadership position, and I am scared.

I don't feel like I know enough to be a leader. I don't feel like I have enough presence to be a leader.  I don't feel like I have a pass into the "leader" club with the swanky leather chairs and cigars.  I don't feel like anything other than Beth, trying to make her way through the world. 

And, yet, I am realizing: This is it.  This is what I get. This is what I have to work with. Being a leader is about surrounding yourself with people you trust, gathering as much of the (inevitably) incomplete) information as you can and then following your gut. We talk about leaders being too big for their britches.  Well, I had sewn my britches for a giant who doesn't exist, and there is no way I will ever fit in them.  So, I guess I continue to wear my dance leggings. 

On the other hand, I am slowly learning that the leaders I had placed on the pedestal of perfection, wisdom and power are just a pair of skinny legs too (figuratively speaking).  These people I had placed in the "Leader Club" with the velvet curtains and brandy decanters are just people.  And, there is no reason I (or anyone else) can't have a place at the table.

Titles are words. Labels are not power.  Leaders are just people and people will never be their labels or their titles.  What's that children's book? Everyone Poops?  Well, whatever it is, it helps me humanize those with whom I need to work on behalf of the future of dance and reminds me that I too am a simple human being who will make mistakes, feel small, suffer doubt and ultimately endure.

I have a feeling this isn't going to be pretty. But, I hope my journey will be effective. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Welcome Guest Blogger Dan!

I know none of you were clamoring for the Poetess’ other half to chime in, but here it goes anyway.

One of the fascinating things about our relationship is how different we are in so many ways- and this morning one of them was revealed.

Beth may not have shared, but she is not really a morning person. She works so hard every day, on so many different things, that she is generally worn out at the end of the day, and needs her proper rest to recover. So when the alarm goes off in the morning…snooze bar!

This morning, while Beth soaked up a few more precious moments of rest, I decided to make the traditional Sunday morning oatmeal, after first checking with Beth to make sure I had the recipe right. (1 cup of oatmeal, 3 cups water, on the stovetop).

I thought I was being extra chef-like, and added the raisins, crushed pecans, maple syrup, and soy milk creamer into the perfectly cooked oatmeal on the stove, stirred and heated through. Just the way I like it- and assuredly, the way Beth would prefer it too. Right? Wrong!

I was quite surprised when I was fishing for complements about my wonderful preparation, when Beth revealed how she truly prefers it.
Here is how Beth likes her oatmeal- with all those good bits floating on the top- so that the first couple of bites are mostly cold soy milk creamer and maple syrup. Then later, she pushes aside some pecans for last, so that she has a few left for the very last bite or two. It’s fine with her that some of the middle bites are just plain oatmeal. In a thousand years I never would have imagined it!

Beth was careful to complement my effort so my spirit would not be crushed- but to also to make sure I knew how she really preferred it and why. I have seen Beth eat oatmeal 50 times in her preferred way- but I always assumed it was a way to shorten the cooking time to not be late on her way to rehearsal, and no other reason.

I look forward to many more years of discovery, and challenging my own assumptions about even the simple things in life.

So there you have it. The first ever guest writer installment of Musings of a Dancing Poetess has spoken. Have a great holiday season and go Warriors!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pep Talk for the Teachers

Welcome to the crunch time.  

If you are like me, you too might be wondering: How am I going to finish this semester?   

This happens to me most every semester. I start off strong, hopeful, excited (possibly deluded), and about 5 weeks from the end, I start to wonder what have I done? I am tired, overwhelmed and worried that time is running out.  Plus, my students are tired, overwhelmed and worried that time is running out.  A clear recipe for disaster.

I started explaining to my students the nature of an instructor's thinking process.

Optimistic Teacher experience:
Weeks 1-4  The teacher is filled with hope. She feels patient when students stumble because it is the beginning of the semester and they are "still learning the ropes," and everyone needs a break now and again when they are learning.

Week 5-9 The teacher is in the meat of the content, tons of information is coming out and the students are still grasping at straws trying to figure out what is expected of them.  Patience it still present because the students still have a chance to catch up!

Week 10-13 The teacher is feeling the pressure. The students need to learn this! Time is running out!  Patience is running thin.  The students should know better at this point.  

Week 14-18 The teacher is disappointed.  The students are making the same mistakes and the teacher’s patience has run out. Have they learned anything?  There is no more time to save this ship. Despondency hits.

Combine that with the Struggling Student experience:

Week 1-4 The student is filled with hope, ready for a fresh start.  The teacher is so nice and so patient.  I can do this!

Week 5-9  The student is settling in, but this is way more work than expected. But, it's still the beginning of the semester! What?!?  Time for midterms?!? We just started school! I haven’t studied. But, it is ok, I can make it up.

Week 10-13 The student is tired. The student has a hard time focusing because they caught a cold, and they have so much to do, they don’t know where to start.  Mountains of homework have piled up and the teacher is so demanding! She has no patience anymore! I am stuck!

Week 14-18 The student notices just how far behind they have gotten.  This is serious! They go to the teacher in hopes of figuring out how to put a semester’s worth of learning into 4 weeks.  She explains that is not how it works, and: no, she will not give you the notes from the lectures.  Student: I am screwed. The world is against me.

Somehow, I think I can change the nature of the student/teacher experience. But, I am realizing that maybe that is simply the inherent nature of the student teacher experience. 
But, the reality is that for every difficult student there are actually 10 lovely students who have learned so much!  Just this week I received this note from a Modern I student’s journal entry:

“Taking a dance class has completely changed my views on the activity of dancing, as a whole. "

However, we as humans are biologically build to remember and focus on the challenges. It is part of our survival biology. So, it is easy to forget the success of the many, when faced with the struggle of a few.  It is particularly hard for me to accept that students have the right to fail. I want them to succeed so badly that I forget that I actually have NO control over their choice making.  Those who want to learn will, and those who haven’t put in the effort will not.  No amount of convincing will change it.

And, remember that we are doing something right. We do care. We have given them tools.  We have shared information.  And, some have learned lessons that have nothing to do with the content, but have everything to do with their future lives. 

To all teachers: This is YOUR pep talk.  We give pep talks all the time, but around this time, it is we who need a little uplift to keep us in good spirits. 

Learning takes time. And, a semester will never be enough time to learn it all.  And, that is ok.  Students will struggle because humans will struggle. My Zen teacher reminded me today that “We are all ordinary.”  No one is better or worse. No one is closer to enlightenment than another.  We are all simply ordinary.  We learn the lessons as they come to us and as we need to learn them. Students and teachers: we are all learning life. 

As instructors we get to be reminded of this every semester. 

Learn and let learn.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Time: Your Most Valuable Currency

I have recently become extremely interested in how we document all that we do. 

I am fascinated with our current cultural practices with social media in which we continually post pictures of our experiences, achievement, and questions. And, I have noticed a new practice for the way I post.  I ask myself: what do I value and how is my post supporting the things I value?  

For instance, I recently attended a beautiful dance concert in at ARC Pasadena. It was important to me to come home and immediately write up my review.  Even though I wasn't feeling particularly prolific at the time, I wanted to demonstrate just how valuable I felt the experience was by using my time and skill to support it.  The blog post offered the community two things: the face value of the performance review as documentation, and, on a more general level, proof that this event was worth writing about. In other words, it was worth my time.  By giving my time and attention to the art (in the form of a review), I was modeling how dance is worth putting in the extra time.

As tempting as it is in the blogging world, I try not to use my reviews to elevate myself or my opinions. Instead, I am concerned with the documentation of current dance practices in LA (and beyond) and how written reports and reviews support current dance artists.  Speaking as an artist, I can share that the post show stream of "Great job!", "Fun show," and similar comments of Twitter or Facebook feel good. They feel good because it is feedback that someone took the time to give.  But, they do not offer the much needed reflection dance deserves.  In fact, much of a dance performance's value could come from the discussion and sensations afterward. If we only experience dance for two hours and then leave the theater without a second thought, have we really gotten all we can out of the art form? 

When we see a movie, we often deepen our experience when we then discuss it with our friends afterward, or read reviews of it by trusted sources, or watch the feature commentary by the director and actors.  In other words, our post-show time is importantIt gives value to the art experience.  And, this is what I am coming to realize is lacking in the dance world.  We see a show and often we don't have post show experiences that take us deeper into the art work.  Just as sport show commentators break down all the plays to better understand the twists and turns in a game, dance critics should be breaking down a dance work to identify its inner workings, strengths and weaknesses, innovations and traditions.  This can afford those interested but unfamiliar with dance an inside look to the dance experience, while challenging veteran dance patrons to pin point the value of what they love so much. 

As I wrote my recent review, I was concerned with three things. 
     1. How can I deepen the experience for someone who has seen the show?
     2. How can I document the experience for posterity?*
     3. How can I best convey the reward of the dance experience?

I gave my time, because my time is the most valuable currency I have.  It is a limited resource that I am very aware of day in and day out.  If you haven't guessed already, I am pretty busy, some might say over committed (haha!).  I don't have a lot of "free time," that time is precious to me. 

So, what is worth my time?  What is worth taking my time to document and reflect. What is worth your time?  How are you canonizing your life? One Instagram at a time? One twitter post? One Facebook update?  What is that affording you? What does documentation afford us?

Are your giving your time and attention to the things you truly love? I find that scrolling through my Vine feed (for instance) affords me little more than a distraction.  I have also noticed, my quality of life seems to go down when I get too invested in following my Facebook news feed. Not because I don't have good friends with interesting posts, but because ultimately, very little information is life changing.  And, it uses up my most valuable resource all too easily. 

I understand that you are taking your time to read this blog post.  And, I am honored by your choice.  I hope that I afford you something that you will take with you as you go along your day or week.  I hope that this read is ultimately worth your time because you either love dance, the arts or entertaining vague questions about time and value. 

There is a great book by Tim Ferris called "The 4 hour Work Week." While I am not interested in changing my life to that degree, he does bring up some important points about time management and the value of our time.  Perhaps reading that book last spring planted the seed for this blog.  But, in the end, Ferris is right about one thing.  We choose how to use our time.

So, are you using your time for the things your love? To support the things you love? To honor and deepen your understanding of yourself and the world? Or are you getting caught in the white noise of empty information?


* Side note: the definition of posterity is "for all future generations."  What are we giving our next generation?  How are we making real what we experience as life through our documentation of it?  Are we getting to the nitty-gritty of it all?  What will people know about me when they look back at my Twitter feed?  Am I giving them a complete experience of who I am? Or would entering my world be like entering a house of hoarders? 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: Pennington Dance Group presents BLOW

Last evening I attended a lovely modern dance performance at A Room to Create (ARC) in Pasadena.  This studio/performance space is owned and run by John Pennington and home to Pennington Dance Group.  The show was sold out, with patrons eagerly waiting to see if additional seating would become available.  Pennington means a lot to the LA dance community, not only because of his beautiful dance space, but because of his openhearted and supportive energy for many modern dance companies in the area.  The warmth of the audience emphasized just how beloved Pennington is.

The show opened with a reworked quintet from 2005, entitled OUT OF, choreographed by Pennington.  The five dancers dressed in all white and moved through the space in sweeping patterns that balanced an ethereal quality of beauty with a grounded earth energy. Pennington tied these dynamics together in stunning designs through space that covered the entirety of the performance space with grace and ease.  The piece also incorporated five floor length banners by artist Susan Rankaitis.  These seemingly Japanese inspired panels, set the stage for some of the more Asian stylings in Pennington's choreography.

The show continued with three pieces performed and choreographed by PDG company members.  Tomas Tsai performed his B-boy-meets-dance-theater solo, MEAN.  Li Rothermich performed with Travis Richardson in her impressive and almost acrobatic duet, ECLIPSE.  And, Michael Szanyi captured the audience with his larger than life solo, DESCENT.  This last piece was particularly interesting for its use of theatrical design.

Szanyi stood perched on a box, dressed in a deep red taffeta skirt that cascaded from his corsetted waist down to the floor where it spilled out in all directions.  Set to a piano score by Rachmaninov, Szanyi performed facing upstage the entire time, staying perched in the air as he gestured with his torso and arms in slow, sustained time, never breaking the spell of the piece.  The play of the light on his back and the fleeting glimpses of his profile added to the mystery and magic of the piece.  The moment in which he reached out with a pointed finger reminded me of Michaelanglo's  Sistine Chapel in which Adam is created by the touch of God.  This imagery added a huge layer of meaning in the work, as it immediately opened the door for questioning the nature of man, and more specifically of a gay man, as he stands larger than life, perched on a pedestal in his blood red skirt reaching for the finger of God.

After intermission, Pennington premiered his newest work, BLOW.  This piece opened with the company of eight dancers exhaling and blowing out in all manners possible: sighing, lip buzzing, shushing, whistling, coughing.  The ridiculousness of this situation added a quirky levity to the show that had not yet been incorporated and was refreshing for the audience who now had a chance to laugh.  The opening scene moved into a series of duets, in which the dancers manipulated each other with their breath, inhaling to suck them in and exhaling to send them away. Each couple was unique and playful, moving through the space in unpredictable bursts.  These duets ended with the dancers moving to the walls of the space which were covered in sound-proofing material (black egg crate foam), and against which the duets could interact by pressing and climbing the wall with the help of their partner.  This offered a rich visual experience for the audience who could look between the duets and the four different areas on the wall to choose which moment was interesting and which drew their attention.  However, it was at this point in the work that the connection to the idea of BLOW became muddy.  Nevertheless, the duets were a visual feast as the dancers related to each other with a variety of emotions including suspicion, aggression, play, and curiosity. 

As most of the dancers exited the space, two men were left to perform a duet that was sensitive, patient, and powerful.  The dancers moved through the space with speed and agility that was never forced or awkward. These dancers floated through the huge performance space, covering ground in a way that was extremely satisfying for the viewer.  The immediacy of the duet was palpable for the audience, and yet, the design and precision of the movement was never lost.  Pennington clearly has a way for creating movement that is exuberant, free and visually stimulating. 

The piece then took an unexpected turn, when out of the sensitive moment, in walked Li Chang Rothermich in high platform heels, a pencil skirt, blouse, sunglasses and red designer bag.  It was immediately evident that this woman owned the stage.  Her presence just standing on the stage and looking outward was riveting.  Her put-together affectations contrasted the somewhat disheveled young man in the suit with awkwardly short pants and sneakers who occupied the other side of the stage.  The energetic and qualitative differences between this well-kept women and gangly young man made for a strange and laughable comparison.

But, nothing compared to the next choreographic moment in which two young men dueled with leaf blowers.  Yes! My life in now complete! This outright, obvious interpretation of BLOW was nothing short of hysterical and spectacular. This quirky moment (like the opening) is where the heart of the piece really lies.  Smart and funny.

The piece closed with all eight dancers in black recreating the sensation of being blown across the stage in waves of arm gestures and running patterns that transformed the space into a kinetic playground.  The strongest moment came near the end during which the dancers lined up across the length of the performance space and moved upstage and downstage in gusts of action that reminded me of the unpredictable and immense power of the Santa Ana winds we know so well here in Los Angeles. 

Overall the evening of dance was a notable success. The audience was extremely receptive and gracious. The dancers' chemistry as a whole made clear that they enjoy performing together as a company.  Another special aspect of the performance was original music scores for the majority of the works.  Edgar Rothermich and Tom Peters each provided scores for this performance.  In addition, as a dancer watching this performance there was something extremely satisfying.  Pennington's movement looks like it feels good to dance.  The traveling through space, the smart designs in the use of gesture, and the luxurious and graciousness of the movement quality all add to the kinesthetic appeal of the performance. I know Pennington offers weekly class, and after seeing the show tonight, I am tempted to make the drive to Pasadena!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Musings from NDEO in Miami

I am nestled into my Hyatt Regency bed (quite comfortable) and thinking it is a good time to check in and share a little about how I got here.

It all boils down to dancers with brains.

And, starting tomorrow I will be conferencing with about 400 of them at the National Dance Educators Organization Conference.  Trust me. . . people who can kick overhead and quote learning theory are intimidating!  This annual event is a chance for dance teachers to come together and share what is working in the field, what is not working, what needs attention and what needs to be forgotten.

The National Dance Educator's Organization is a a large and vibrant community of dance educators from across the country (and beyond), serving the needs of dance education and supporting best practices in the field. This year's conference is on "The Art and Craft of Teaching."

But, this post actually isn't about the wonderful aspects of NDEO. If you are interested in the organization, you should look it up and become a member (plus, if you live in California, you become an automatic member of the CDEA-- of which I am cool enough to be called co-president).

The real reason for this post is . . . Twitter.  Huh? Schwat?  Whatchu talkin' bout?

Tonight I had the pleasure of training two of the smartest, most beautiful, most embodied women I know in the art of microblogging.  And, I realized that they are representative of so many of the dance educators of today.  Yes, I have my working group of dance-twitter-peeps, but as a whole, dance organizations are not so hip to the social media trends.  In other words, our branding and buzz making pretty much sucks.  Over the course of the next few days, information will be flung in heaps across panels, workshops, paper presentations and dance floors. The participants will be saturated from the diversity of ideas being tossed around the hallways, in elevators, over coffee and on the sidewalks.

But, who else will know?  Well, at the rate we are sharing on twitter, about 3 people.

So, I am calling dance educators to the twitter campaign. Tweet and twitter about all the ideas you encounter, ask the questions, share the answers, retreet and favorite until your heart's content!  We need to let the world know how much energy there is in this building. How we see a brighter future for generations through moving, feeling, experiencing, learning, knowing, and embodying.

Other fields have figured this out. They have learned how to create the buzz surrounding what they do and love. We need to give an in road to dance today and social media is the best possible way we can get the word out and reach as many people as possible.  It feels good to be a part of something that is alive with energy of a group that is rich with life and ideas.  Twitter is just one platform for us to create that buzz potential, to create a world that anyone who loves dance can find a home, find kinship and find support.  This is our chance to move the experience we have at the conference beyond the walls of this building and into the world at large.

So, go forth, download the app, set up an account, or revive the one you created and forgot about!  Tweet your love of dance!

. . . and don't forget to hashtag #NDEO2013

and I promise I will follow back @bethmegill


Monday, October 7, 2013

Can you see the big picture?

The more I am getting to know about in the ins and outs of the California education system, the more I am realizing why the arts feel so forgotten.  The biggest problem I have noticed is that in general artists do not become administrators.  In much of my experience, the musicians, directors and choreographers are the last ones to volunteer for administrative positions or school-wide tasks.  This is causing a rift between the needs of the performing arts and the people making all the decisions. 

Of course there are exceptions.  I feel very proud to say I trust my dean to fight for the performing arts across campus. I also know a few artists who double as arts advocates in positions across campus, in unions and in state organizations.  But, these champions of the arts are few in number and  in many cases feel like David against Goliath. The irony is that everyone loves the performing arts.  I am sure most schools have featured their performing arts programs on the covers of their school catalog, schedule of classes or introductory brochure.  The arts are the glamorous poster children for personal growth and enrichment.  And, a good portion of the school funding often goes to theaters and arts programs in order to maintain these attractive faces of the college.  And, yet we feel the squeeze: fewer classes, fewer faculty, restrictions on repeatability, concerns about academic integrity.

Despite the general love for the arts, there remains an imbalanced perception of the intrinsic value of the performing arts.  We must be better advocates beyond the classroom if we hope to make changes beyond the safe zone of our rehearsal room, theater or dance studio.  We need to be firmly planted in the conference rooms in order to explain the value of our programs at every turn, or rather, in every campus, district or state wide discussion and vote. 

But, few of us want to step up.  Face it, as artists we like to spend our time practicing our art and teaching our art.  It is much more fun to be in a rehearsal than sitting in a tiresome meeting about budgets.  But, therein lies the problem.  Our desire to be in the creative fray is keeping our time tied up and keeping us out of the board rooms and off the decision making committees. 

Most dance programs at the California community colleges have 1-2 full time faculty. That means the success of the whole program relies on one or two problem solvers who have to make all the decisions and attend all aspects of getting the programs running and functional.  No wonder dance instructors struggle to find time to be on district boards. Directors and conductors probably feel the same way.  When you are prepping for a show, it is easy to feel that the committee meeting is little more than an irritant.

Plus, I am arriving at secondary conclusion that I feel might play even more firmly into the nature of performing artists not moving into administration.  Try this rationale on for size. . .

A dance instructor leads a personally rich and satisfying life.  We get to make meaningful art on a daily basis.  Our practice challenges us to grown as individuals and also gives us the pleasure of entertaining others.  We already have a strong sense of personal power and significance.  Performing artists exist in a world of creative power.  Therefore, we don't feel the need to exert ourselves beyond our domain.  We are already kings and queens of our world.  We don't need to be on a committee to feel like we can do something.  We are already deciders and producers. 

But, there is the rub. 

Our worlds exist in these little bubbles and risk imploding if we can't externalize their value to a wider audience.  If we don't transition (even part time) into advocates, we are doing a disservice to the future generations of performing arts education.  When I think about it, we are really, very lucky that people love the arts as much as they do.  Staying on the covers of catalogs and brochures is part of what is keeping us going.

Are you an artist who has moved into administration or advocacy?  Do you know someone who has?  What problems to do see for performing arts in making this transition?  
How might the performing arts education look different if we did have a conductor, choreographer or director at the helm of the division? The school? The district? The state? 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I'm not a perfectionist! . . . am I?

I learned an interesting life lesson this week. . . about being a perfectionist.

I have been called a perfectionist, and I never liked that. Because I'm not a perfectionist when it comes to so many things.  As a teacher, I don't plan my class lessons down to the minute (I hardly "plan" my class lessons at all).  As a choreographer I rely on what I call "accidental greatness."  This is jokingly/seriously become the motto of Megill & Company.  I often will create something and be surprised by the fact that I like it.  I often leave lots of room for interpretation and thus plenty of room for accidental greatness.  As a performer I absolutely love improvisation.  And, as a researcher, good enough seems, well. . . good enough. 

So, I never thought I was a perfectionist.  But, I discovered this week that there is one instance where I believe anything less than perfect is simply unsatisfactory.  And, that is when I let others down.

I am very much willing to admit when I make mistakes, and I am very much willing to suffer the consequences of my own mistakes.  But, when I make a mistake that affects others, I am an absolute terror to myself.  There is no forgiveness. There is no acceptance. There is no compassion. 

I learned this week that I expect myself to be perfect when it comes to my obligations to others. 

I forgive myself in creative situations, in teaching situations, even in learning situations. But if my mistake affects my peers or colleagues, THAT is another story.  This week I made a mistake that I could have avoided. I knew better and had no excuse for my mistake.  I couldn't blame ignorance. I could blame misunderstanding.

It was flat out my fault.

But, humans make mistakes all the time.  So why was this different? In reflecting upon my situation, I learned that I was not upset because I made a mistake, but because it affected people I care about. My actions affected people whom I respect and hope respect me in return.  In other words I had  let these people down and to me that was not ok

The reality was that it wasn't even a big deal. It was solvable and in the end it worked itself out.

But, the lesson was inside of this situation.  I desire that people like me. I desire that I make people happy. I want to ease their suffering. I want to aid them in whatever way possible.  I want to be a net positive in the lives of others. I like making people smile. I like seeing people relax in my presence because they know that I will accept them as they are.  But, there is a cost to this desire.

In Buddhism desire equals suffering, and in this situation is is perfectly true.  

There is a cost to my desire to do good.  When I let others down, I believe that I have failed. When I have disappointed others, I believe that I have proven myself unworthy.  Thus, when it comes to others, I expect perfection.  I expect myself to be nothing short of excellent in my interpersonal interactions. I desire others happiness to such an extend that even the smallest mistake can shatter my sense of self.

I must learn that I will disappoint people.  We all will.

There is no such thing as perfect, and when we make a mistake that affects others it is exactly that. . . a mistake.  An oversight. A misunderstanding. A miscalculation.  An accident.

People will be disappointed in me.  I must learn to accept that.

In the meantime, I will continue to try by best. Not because it make others happy, but because it makes me happy.  I enjoy a job well done.  I enjoy coordinating shows, organizing choreography, helping people when I can.  But, there is no guarantee. 

Making mistakes is part of life. Learning to recover from our mistakes is our practice. 


When have you made a mistake and felt bad about it? Did you do everything you could? Have you forgiven yourself?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Agency: Remembering You Have It

I have recently become enthralled with the word of agency. And, I am not just talking about an office full of paperwork where you sign on the line. Agency is also a term that encompasses our power to choose and act. 

Lesser used definitions of agency read as follows:
(from the online Miriam Webster dictionary) 

the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power 


a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved

Ultimately agency is about our personal power. Agency is how we exert ourselves in the world, making choices about how, what, where, and when we do what we do.  We each have agency over our lives. I describe it to my students to remind them of the fact that they can walk out of the dance classroom at anytime.  No one is holding a gun to their head.  It is there choice to be in the room.  It is their choice to learn.  It is their choice grow and improve. And, it is their sense of personal agency that gives them the power to make these and other important choices.

Feeling like a victim is completely un-fun.  When I find myself feeling pressed for time, or frustrated with my work load, or just plain exhausted, I remind myself of my agency. I remind myself that I have the power to make my own decisions, and I am not a victim.  What this does is shift my thinking away from the heaviness of the moment and put me in a place of power.  I get to choose whether I want to do my work or not. I get to choose if I want to nap or not. I get to choose whether I write this blog or not.  These are all my choices.  

But, agency is coupled with the fact that there are real consequences to all that we do.  In order to not be a victim, we must be able to process the fact that certain behaviors come at a cost (and some with a very high price tag).  For instance, it is my choice whether to skip out on a meeting or a rehearsal, but that choice may mean losing out on the big picture. It may mean losing a friend, losing a part or loosing a job.  

But, in knowing that it is my choice, I get to ask myself "is it worth it?'  

This is the key to finding your own sense of autonomy and self worth.  Being a victim is essentially a cop out to owning our power and putting ourselves first in a giving situation.  When we complain as victims we have given up our agency.  Unless you literally have a gun to your head (or other life threatening situation), you have the choice.  

I have had a gun pointed at me. I was mugged when I was 21 in Solana Beach outside a club at 2am. In that moment, I had little agency.  I was a victim and as a result got my purse stolen but stayed alive.  That was a real-victim situation.  But, the rest of my life when I have felt like a victim, I have actually just made myself a victim. I chose the self definition of victim so I wouldn't have to own my personal power, so I didn't have to own the possibility of making a mistake or otherwise upsetting those around me (disappointed teacher, angry boyfriend, critical boss).  

Believing in your own autonomy and exercising your personal agency is tough!

It means that you have to love and respect yourself enough to make a decision.  But, when you make a decision that is rooted in your own self trust and self love, it feels good. It feels right.  It lets you go to sleep at night with a sense of ease.  There is comfort in knowing that you have a choice.  And, when I realize I have a choice I am reminded of what is really important.  Yes, I may feel stressed from a day at work, but I love teaching, and I choose to be there.  Even on the toughest day, I choose to be there.  When I feel tired and like I don't want to exercise, I am reminded that I exercise to feel better.  Or, when I am tired and just want to sleep, I can choose to do exactly that.  

Right and wrong is irrelevant. Honoring of yourself and acting in congruence with your values and life purpose is what matters.  

Knowing you have the choice makes the choice a lot easier.  


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Life is Over.

I am now dead.

At least according to my Year to Live practice.  I started this reflective and meditative practice a year ago with my spirituality group.  I am the youngest of the group, and there was a moment in which I wondered: Am I doing this prematurely? But, that was just fear rearing its ugly head. I quickly began to feel deep down in my core what I always knew in my head: There is no guarantee on time.  And, all we have is today. Right here, right now.  To underscore the end of my Year to Live practice, I just learned of a 23 year old friend who passed away last week.  This seems to offer me my final lesson, this is my final wake up call to pay attention to my life with unwavering conviction.

The Year to Live practice is based on Steven Levine's book with the same title.  We started with a contemplation of our life's value, moved into a study of death and the death experience, and finally ended with the practice of letting go and transitioning.  As choreographer Doris Humphrey put it: Movement is the "arc between two deaths." And, this year of practice has now come to its end, to its own death although we are still alive. Our group will be hosting a FUN-eral in a few weeks to celebrate our lives.  But, the lessons we learned along the way we will carry with us. 

How has it changed me? First, I wear my clothes.  See my former blog on my strange need to "save" things for when they were deserved.  It seems like a silly thing to note, but this practice of wearing and enjoying what I already have in my possession was a huge learning curve for me. It was a metaphor for giving myself permission to enjoy all aspects of my life TODAY!

Secondly, I learned what it really meant to put myself first.  This came in the form of healing my back, or more accurately starting down the path to long term physical health and mental well being from which I am pleased to have already noticed meaningful results. The road out of physical pain was rocky and frustrating, but for the first time I am actually feeling optimistic about my back and my future in movement. 

I could go on to list other things, but that will just sound and feel like bragging which is not the point at all!  In fact, the real lesson wasn't in achievement. I was in the opposite of an achievement. It came in the acceptance of things as they are and in accepting myself as I am.  There is still a boatload of work to be done in this area, but I see the value in the work.  I see now how cultivating a stable sense of self worth changes how I experience everything in life.  

Self love always seems like a farce to me. I didn't think it really existed. Or rather that I shouldn't buy into it because i either didn't deserve it or that it would lead to failure.  I thought it was best to go through life by self deprecating oneself and motivating oneself with shame, hatred and fear.  I mean it worked for a while! Ha! And, sometimes I still catch myself leading this life. But, after a Year to Live and all of the work I have done to more closely understand my significance, my inherent value and my legacy, I have become clearer in all of my daily interactions (both with others and myself). 

What am I really here to do? How do I really want to be? 

We finished the year by writing a personal mission statement.  I extended that to include a personal set of values by which I want to live my life. 

Mission Statement: I vow to support the personal and spiritual growth of all beings by being honest and authentic in all that I do as a leader, teacher, partner, dancer and artist.  I promise to practice and teach a life of awareness and wisdom, through movement, expression, and human connection.

  • Respect
  • Relationships
  • Support and Service
  • Artistic Process
  • Play and Curiosity
  • Non-Judgement
  • Holistic Balance

There is a sweetness in life and when you are ripping off the pages of YtoL calendar and getting closer to zero each and everyday, you can find the true sweetness real fast. There is no time for self delusion.  Honesty is like a bullet train headed straight into the meaning of life.  

For me, I realized with even greater certainty that dance is not the end goal. It is a mere a vehicle for me.  It is a tool to use for greater self awareness and growth.  There is a richness in movement that connects me into the present moment, the lasting questions and the ever present divine.  My real goal in life is to share the process of discovery, self acceptance, personal growth and authenticity with others. Dance just helps me do that.

I would recommend that anyone willing to enter into a YtoL practice do so.  But, I recommend you do it in a group with people who are going to hold you to it, because the cycle of frustration, uncertainty, hope, fear, anger and acceptance is a wild one and having a great sangha (community) by your side is essential.

There is work yet to be done.  Maybe I will do this again in 10 years or 20 or 40.  But, for now, I will take to heart the lessons I learned and do my best to stay true to my experience of life and love.

Want to read more of my Year to Live related blogs?
Follow through this sequence below.


Friday, September 13, 2013

SoleVita Dance Company: MoveMeant (A Review)

Joelle Martinec presented a stellar evening of dance at the Madrid Theater in Canoga Park, entitled MoveMeant.  Martinec's company, SoleVita, consists of excellently trained dancers who perform with both conviction and accuracy.  The style of the evening can loosely be described as Contemporary Jazz, but distinct flavors existed in each piece creating diversity and entertainment for the duration of the show.  If you love high energy, accessible dance performed by a cast of beautiful bodies, SoleVita's MoveMeant is for you.  The program was a little tricky to follow in terms of how the dances were grouped and titled into themed sections (for MoveMeant) and stand alone pieces.  This left me a little confused on how to connect the pieces under the larger MoveMeant umbrella title,  But, I will do my best to describe a few highlights from this premier event:

Develop featured a potent strobe light representing a camera flash in this study of human shape, line and stopped motion.  The strobe effect is something David Parsons perfected in his solo work Caught from the 1980's. Martinec's take on the strobe played with combinations of bodies in space, sometimes unified, sometimes divergent.  The second portion of Develop, entitled Fixer to Frame, investigated the idea of an ever emerging composition of dancers in space. The bodies wrapped and slid among and through each other before pulsing through the space in rhythmic flow. The red lighting referenced a dark room as the picture emerged through the course of the dance.

Martinec took some time to comment on the various forms of romantic love in her piece All Included.  The three part piece started with a classic tale of boy meets girl.  It begins with a series of comic mishaps, head bonks, accidental slaps in the face, and untimely attempts to connect, before they manage to settle in, find each others rhythm, and fall in love.  The second part, Near Light, performed by Andrew Boyd Bechtold and Jeremy Thompson was a moving duet telling the intimate story of gay love.  This duet was well danced and emotionally honest in a way that separated itas unique from the rest of the largely playful program. The romance was so convincing that it was hard for me to later see these men as heterosexuals in later pieces in which they assumed the more traditional role of heterosexual male. Part three was a fanciful and well costumed piece performed by six females dressed in half of a men's suit and half of a white gown (very Victor/Victoria).  This playful commentary on gender and sexuality was particularly exciting from a visual standpoint as the dancers switched sides (and roles) throughout the puzzle of a dance. 

The Walk West was another multi-section portion of MoveMeant, but this time set with a very theatrical feel of 1800's American pioneers.  The first part refreshed the audience with the absence of a soundtrack or music.  The slow traveling of the cast members across the stage was a well crafted visual for the context of the piece.  The second part, called  Homestead, was the section that worked least for me in that the more conservative and gestural style of the first section gave way to some incongruent jazz styling that didn't fit for me in this early American pioneer context. However, part three, Revealed, brought me back into the historical time and place with circle barn dances that were just plain fun.  Part four, BrotherHood, was the real crown pleaser. Performed by four men, this piece was powerful, aggressive, and visually exciting. I began with a conflict between two men, and I didn't catch the resolve of conflict between two of the characters, but the piece as a whole, including horse galloping, rope throwing, and all manner of jumps and turns was a joy to watch and the audience showed its approval in rousing applause.

The show closed with Finalize This which took MoveMeant back to the home of jazz dance with its mix of cabaret, burlesque, comedy and commercial dance.  In the piece entitled Is it?, I appreciated that these beautiful women were willing to make fun of themselves and the sexuality of the classic chair dance/ strip tease.  In part two, Courtney Ozovek, played it straight and sexy in her high heeled solo pirtS. The show closed with what these dancers do best, fast paced, perfectly timed, hot commercial jazz. Men showing force in suits and ties and ladies sparkling in silver dresses, Whew! is appropriately titled.  These dancers have the stamina that is required for a life of a professional dancer.  High kicking, turning, and leaping right through to the end of the show, Finalize This was a an opportunity for these excellent dancer to show off their incredible skills and deep down love for dancing.

The show featured other works (outside of the MoveMeant theme), including an exquisitely performed solo by the captivating and spellbinding Amber Dupuy, a solemn ensemble piece choreographed by company member Chelsea Mischner, and a texture rich work featuring Kara Hess.  Overall, this show is worth your time and the ticket price.  Worth more actually.  When talking about the entertainment factor in dance: Martinec delivers.  This is a show that will make dancers want to get up and dance and dance fans leaving fully satisfied.

You have one more chance to catch the show Saturday at 8pm at the Madrid Theater.  There is no reason this show shouldn't sell out, so get your tickets now before it is too late.  You will be thoroughly entertained.

Did you see the show? Share your comments below!

For a past review of SoleVite that I year (featuring Modern Communication and 2). Click here. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

I think I just became a Dance Activist.

I didn't plan for it to happen. 

I was always just interested in the questions. How does dance fit into our lives? What is the difference between an artist and a hobbyist?  How can artists make money when we don't save lives like brain surgeons? But, can't art save lives in other ways?  Why doesn't dance have a well used notation system like music?  If theater has dramaturgs, and music has musicologists, what does dance have? 

I didn't know I was opening can after can of worms by asking this stuff. I thought it was just part of loving dance.  And it is, but part of loving dance is protecting it as well.

A month into my new position as Co-president of the California Dance Educators Association (CDEA), I realize now that there is no turning back.  There are huge injustices in the performing arts world and now that I know more about their realities on the state legislative level, I can't just sit back and watch. 

The current issues at hand are the struggling status of dance programs at the Community College level and the lack of a single subject teaching credential for dance in K-12. . .

But, mostly I am tired of the public opinion of dance as a hobby.  Part of this is due to the current consumption of dance in entertainment.  Dance is a sellable commodity. We consume dance most everyday in music videos, dance shows, and advertisements. We love to buy what dance sells.  And, dance has proven to be a great selling agent.

Face it! Dance sells just like music sells. But when we talk about dance selling, we are usually talking about sex selling as well.  Is that the problem?  Is dance's relegated status due to a left over puritanical belief system that founded American culture?  It seems impossible when the news is so busy selling Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMA's. But, because that is the news, that is the image we are giving dance.  Dance as bad, inappropriate, too sexual. 

This is perhaps the nature in the rift between commercial dance and concert dance.  If it is sexy it could (and very likely will) be appropriated to be used as a selling device.  After all the most favorable dances in SYTYCD are the sexy ones! No one is is wearing a burlap sack on Dancing With the Stars.  We forget that these shows are selling something! They are selling ratings! the result is a stronger alienation of the sexy from the nonsexy within the dance world.  It draws the line between commercial dance and "art" dance for the wrong reason.  No wonder people are confused!

Until people start thinking about dance differently, the culture surrounding dance can't change.  But, who is going to change their minds?  Why should they? The engine of the world seems to be functioning just fine using dance as it does.  But, is it? 

We have returned to a relationship with dance that was popular in the 1890's. It was dance as other: dance as the elite, for the elite, consumed by the elite to maintain the elite.  1890's was the height of Classical ballet. It was a brilliant era of fantastic dancers, incredible technique, strength and control! But, not all was well in the dance world.  Even the dance elite became tired of this formula for entertainment.  Soon, the dance world itself rebelled in the form of Modern dance and Modern ballet.  Dance needed to return to the people.  

Right now dance is largely misunderstood as fun.  But, any dance artist can tell you, there is plenty that is not fun about being a dancer or dance artist.  Being hypersexualized is only one example.  Being mis-perceived as a hobby is by far the worst for me.

So, when I advocate I am not just writing letters to the state. I am talking about dance differently to everyone I know.
  • I speak of dance as a practice for understanding oneself and the world.  I see dance as the ultimate vehicle for self reflection and self awareness.  
  • It is also the ideal opportunity to learn teamwork in the form of ensemble.  
  • Dance is our chance to feel human down to the core and to express our humanity in a form that extends far beyond words.  
  • Dance is therapeutic: physically, mentally and psychologically.
  • Healthy dance keeps bodies in good health and minds sharper for old age.
  • The skill of a dance artist exists in a deep understanding of her physical body, the space it occupies and the message it conveys.    
Until our culture sees the study of dance equal to the study of history or philosophy, we have not gone far enough in our advocacy efforts.  The person who describes dance as "just fun" doesn't see the art of what we do yet. 

And, a warning to all dancers: that person may very well be you.

Question:  How does dance change how you see the world? How does dance change how you view yourself in the world?  Has dance saved your life?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

7th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival Rundown

I started to review dance shows one year ago when I wrote about the 6th annual MixMatch Dance Festival hosted by HartPulse Dance Company.  I didn't know at the time that I would keep writing about shows over the course of the year and in the meantime fall in love with dance writing.  You might be interested to know that I am not paid to write any of this. I first started writing because I wanted to support dance; and, until we get a stronger written cannon about the concert dance in the LA area, I believe we will continue to float along under the public radar.  So, I started writing and a year later here I am having just danced in the MixMatch festival and written another article in support of the fantastic dance that took place.

The MixMatch Dance Festival is an open and inclusive dance festival featuring 8 dance styles, 50 choreographers and 70 different dances.  This year it grew to include 5 performances in one weekend, each completely different.  While I wasn't able to attend all 5 shows, I was able to make it to 3 and wanted to share at least a bit of what I enjoyed as part of the festival.  I wish I had time to write about each piece because, every dance had something unique to offer to the diversity of ideas and styles in the festival.  But, considering that I am back in dance class tomorrow at 8 am, I have chosen to cover just a few of the pieces that stood out for me in the shows I saw.

"Spirit of Intention" choreographed by Bay Area dance artist, Anandha Ray and dancers, was a stunning solo performed by Laura Rae Bernasconi.  This fusion of tribal Middle Eastern and modern dance, was unlike anything else in the festival.  The highly stylized and purposeful movement was performed with intensity and honesty. Bernasconi is a commanding performer, bearing her soul to the audience without hesitation through each precisely design gesture. The final roaring exhale evoked a feminine power reminiscent of the goddess Kali herself.  

Friday evening, Anne C. Moore presented a female quartet, entitled "i always choose to misremember."  This contemporary modern work was a feast for the eyes. The dynamism in the choreography and fluid performance by the dancers mesmerized the audience.  This is an example of a movement driven dance success.  While the title hints at a loosely thematic narrative, the power of the piece existed for me in the dancers' ability to engage the audience through the physical and emotional, execution of the rich choreography.

CJ Edwards charmed the audience with his all male hip hop, "The Quest."  These dancers were all very different in physical appliance, yet they had excellent unison in all aspects of space, time and energy.  The circle moment, in which a few of the dancers came to the center to shine in their own way, reminded the audience of the vernacular heritage of hip hop and bridged the gap between social and performance in an easy and effortless way.

The Saturday matinee included, "Fearing the Unkown," choreographed by Mariana Olivera. I had recently seen this piece in the SB ADaPT festival this summer, but seeing it again was an opportunity for me to take note and appreciate the physical risk involved in much of the choreography.  Olivera punctuated the choreography with high risk partnering, including falls, catches and throws that left this audience gasping out loud.  This performance communicated the feeling of helplessness felt by the dancers as they submitted their body weight to each other.

Misa and Stephen Kelly performed their charming and heart warming duet, "Recall is Never Replay."  If you have not seen Misa and Stephen on stage, you should!  This husband and wife duet is quirky and thoughtful, nonsensical and endearing.  The movement and choreographic structure was non traditional, including gestural phrases set to spoken text that seemed related only by chance at times, but it also felt entirely appropriate.  The ending, in which the two slowly entwine in a reclined embrace, wraps up the dada-like piece with a string that can't be explained in words and can only be felt in the gut.

The closing Sunday matinee featured many strong choreographic works, including Tawny Chapman, Artistic director of Leverage Dance.  Chapman presented two distinctly different works. The first, entitled, "Window of Opportunity (Excerpts)," was a modern dance, task-oriented piece performed by nine young dancers in a grid of nine boxes.  The dancers moved through the grid as if in a game, springing, turning, and sliding between the the boxes. This piece created a strong sense of geometry, which the dancers embodied effectively in their mature performance.  The second piece in contrast was entitled The Bitter Earth" and communicated a different tone, although it was performed by many of the same dancers.  This contemporary modern piece was deeply emotional and exquisitely performed by the young women.

Nicole Olsen, choreographed and performed an empowered solo, entitled "Nude."  As the title suggests, the theme of revealing became apparent when Olsen first discarded her sweater.  The piece balanced strength and control with freedom and release.  The release and athletic flow became increasingly present as Olsen shed the layers of her conservative skirt, blouse and tank top, leading the audience up to the moment of ultimate power as she walked upstage taking off her final layer. 

Ashleigh Doede of Nancy Evans Dance Theater presented an excerpt of "Adhere Until. . ." Another audience member said of this piece, "These are the dancers you dream of growing up to be." I have reviewed NEDT before, and as always this performance was technically exquisite and emotionally powerful.  The dancers perform very difficult phrases with a subtle ease that I fear can be missed by an untrained eye.  This particular piece by three women exemplified the solid musicality and physical training that has come to be the thumbprint of NEDT.

"Strings," choreographed and performed by Chihiro Kodama, was a jazz-hip hop-capoeira fusion that was refreshing and playful.  Kodama's choreography and performance integrity rests on his ability to physicalize the music with an intensity and accuracy that is not always seen in contemporary choreography.  His vernacular based movement vocabulary is detailed and precise as well as fun and celebrational. 

Reject Dance Theater presented a few different works over the course of the festival, but I have chosen to speak about Sunday's performance of "Molt" because of the sheer quirkiness of it!  The featured "bird" dancer was a joy to watch in this piece. Her refined movement fit with the proud stance of her bird character.  The other dancers, dressed in fur vests and coats, contrasted the lightness of the bird, with their heavy and loose movement vocabulary.  The motif of the hip slap into what I saw as folded bird wings was so strong for me that I know this piece will resonate with me for a while still.

Festival director, Amanda Hart closed the festival with a duet entitled "Forever." This sweet choreography is characteristic of the strong jazz based choreography (especially male-female partnering) that I have come to expect of Hart's work.  These dancers seemed to authentically enjoy dancing with each other. They were soft and gentle with each other and told the story of falling in love with a conviction that melted the audience. 

Overall the festival was a huge success! 

The Southern Califronia dance community is gaining momentum, with festivals such as MixMatch, ADaPT and Celebrate Dance.  And, the opportunity for choreographers of all genres and backgrounds is greater than ever.  Now is the time to join in the movement and go out to see more dance in your local community.  Take the risk and discover the hidden treasures in your own backyard.  

Did you see the show?
What did you think?
Did you love a dance I didn't mention? (I am sure you did!) Share it here!
Your comments help support dance in LA and Nationwide!


If you are interested in reading up on Last Years MixMatch click here:
MixMatch Run Down (Aug 26th, 2012)
MixMatch Run Down (Sat Aug 25th, 2012)

Also, if you are interested in seeing one of the dance works presented by Megill & Company for this festival, click here. 
Stop. Listen. Dance.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Where did the dance students go??

Hi Everyone,

So, a few things have changed in my dance life since I last wrote a blog post. 

First, I have been elected as co-president of the CDEA (California Dance Educator's Organization state affiliate of NDEO).  What does this mean? I am honestly not quite sure.  What I do know is that dance has a great opportunity for some big changes at the state level regarding a dance credential being offered for dance educators in Primary and Secondary schools.  And, I am dedicated to doing what I can to improve the state of dance on a state, legislative level.  I will do what I can by facilitating and mobilizing the dance community if every way I can.  

Secondly, and what I want to directly address now is the issue of low enrollment in dance classes at my school (Moorpark College).  A week before classes started, I got the call. Two of my classes were cancelled due to enrollment, and I was being reassigned to classes that had formerly been scheduled for adjunct faculty members.  Whether I liked it or not, I was going to be a Hip Hop instructor and there was nothing I could do about it. 

But, aside from my crazy fear about teaching a genre of dance in which I have relatively little training, my questions is Where are all the students?  

When I came to Moorpark college 6 years ago, the classes were overflowing with student! It was a breeze to get 3 sections of Jazz I filled with 50 students each.  We had multiple sections of Ballet, Modern and Jazz at all levels.  Then the state budget crisis came down and we had to make cuts, yet the classes we kept were still full!

Then, this semester came and we were left with nothing but questions marks?  What happened? After  thinking it through I have come up with some speculations on why the enrollment is so low. These are mere speculations, and I have no evidence for any of it. But, that has never stopped me before, and I hope that you may have some additional ideas so we can do better next semester!

1.  TMC: "If it is not on the TMC, you shouldn't take it."  Or at least, that is the growing perception I have noticed among the student population.  Yes, the TMC (Transfer Model Curriculum) streamlines student transfer, but it is coming in at a cost to the general liberal arts education. Students don't have time to "figure out" what they want to do in life.  They will run out of units long before they make a decision.  Students need to be driven and focused.  And, that translates to no extra Modern Dance classes for the dancer at heart. 

2.  Unit Max and Priority Registration:  Students who have acquired more than 60 units* which is the ideal number of units needed to transfer are now sent to the back of the registration line.  Meaning students who mismanage their unit loads in their first semesters may get stuck at the back of the line when they are in most need of their last Math or English class in order to transfer.  This is causing students to treat each unit as a precious gold token.  They can't spend them frivolously on performing arts credits that can enrich and transform their lives!  It is a big decision to give up 2 units of your total transferable units to a Tap dance or Ballet class. 

3.  Fewer offerings make tighter schedules: Offering are fewer and fewer across the campus, therefore students are have less and less flexibility in how to shape their schedules.  Where they used to have 30 options of a GE class on various days and times, they now have only 20, or 15 or fewer! And, that GE class has to take priority over an elective dance class.  Students are very limited in what their schedules can be according to the campus wide scheduling and with all the shifts, it is no wonder we have low enrollment in prime times like 8-10am, 10-12pm and 1-3pm. 

4. Repeatability: Repeatability for dance courses at community colleges has been the hot topic for a couple years now. At this point dance students cannot repeat any dance course.  Therefore, most schools including Moorpark have created 3-5 levels of each genre so the student can continue their training.  However, offering all levels of ballet together is virtually impossible to teach, therefore the program has to separate the levels to different classes at different times.  Therefore, students who could repeat a Level I offered at a good time are now stuck having to take Level 2 and Level 2 is not offered at a good time in their schedule so they end up taking no ballet at all. They have no other recourse.

5.  Dance Majors:  being a dance major is a tough decision, because at this point in history it is a choice of the heart and not the head.  Dance majors have always been few and far between. Most students who take dance take it because they love it and don't want to live without it.  Many dance students are just 3-5 units away from an AA in dance, but don't have the "time" or units available to complete their degree before they transfer as a psychology or chemistry major.  So, our number of completors continues to be low.  The dance industry is missing out on some incredible dancers, choreographers, dance historians and dance theorists.  We are losing them to more employable areas of study. 

Which brings me full back to what I first mentioned in this blog:  The elusive dance credential, as it has come to be called, could offer a great pathway for dancers to get a transfer degree, then a BA in dance, then a credential to teach dance in the public school system.  But, without a strong non-performance based job market out there, dance majors are stuck choosing between what they love and a "practical" degree like Math or Business.  Often, Math or Business wins out.  Until we change the job climate for dance majors by giving them the state's stamp of approval, dance will continue to be at the bottom of the list.  And, we may see dance shrink even more.  The performing arts offer a vehicle to understanding ourselves and the world.  We must find a way to keep dance alive in the state of California as well as nation wide.

And, we must do it together.


*It may be 72 units, I have heard conflicting numbers. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: New Original Works Festival: Week Three

The NOW Festival held at REDCAT on August 8, 2013 was a night of far-out performing arts that rallied the spirit of NOW in the LA arts scene. 

The evening opened with a music work composed by accordionist Daniel Corral entitled Dislike.  The music began in swelling harmonies with the eight accordion players falling in and out of dissonance as they played the loosely structured score. This endless din of accordion harmonies, contrasted the verbal assaults by the readers including highly punctuated accusations taken from a 24 record of the most "disliked" YouTube video ever. The rhythmic disparity allowed for the listener to catch bits and pieces of the caustic language over the drone of the accordions. The challenge existed when the accordions and the readers voices synchronized in the same register and competed for the aural space. However, this sonic competition was just another layer of the conceptual composition. A similar competition existed between lines of the libretto and the voices reading them. It was frustrating and irritating at times, because one would hear the beginning of a sentence but miss the second half due to a sudden sweep of cacophony surrounding it. Each reader talked into the mic in a way that they were talking at each other (and at times at no one) rather than with each other.  The somewhat arbitrary timing of the piece provided a context for outrageous and humorous moments to stand such as "Obama loves Bieber" and "Baby baby baby, oooh" or "Learn some grammar Bro," not to mention the string of profanity and name calling throughout.  By the end of the piece, I hated YouTube; I hated the Internet, and I would have given anything to make it stop. But, my experience of discomfort was what created the power in the Corral's social commentary. It was uncomfortable listening to ugliness of it all, recognizing just how much people feel they need to say, to be heard (at all costs) about things that are ultimately irrelevant to their personal everyday lives. Yet, the need to define oneself by speaking up compelled these YouTube watchers to participate in the ugly stream of toxic thoughts. This 20+ min piece offered the time to viscerally experience the inane communication that is so prevalent in the online environment and gave us pause to consider our own role in this world of dislike.

After a brief intermission, the stage was reset for a dance work entitled The Other Thing, by Meg Wolfe and Morgan Thorson.  The piece opened with a walking pattern that each of the three performers followed in canon. The floorplan allowed for moments for the performers to regard the audience and each other with momentary interest as they passed.  The sounds of their heeled shoes echoed through the space, amplified by a floor microphone. This created a spaciousness to the piece that matched the large and empty performance space.  Fleeting moments of activity left the audience wondering about these three, very different women and their respective natures.  Overall, there was no evident overarching compositional structure or story telling.  The non-sequitur movement and disparate dance phrases created all sorts of questions but never answered any of them. This of course drove my thinking into the purpose of the choreographers' choices.  I first looked to the title: The other thing? Other than what? Tradition? Commercialism? This train of thought seemed to hold some water because this piece offered a whimsical study in the expected and the unrelated. A smattering of patterns, relationships and scenarios, this piece exuded a postmodern/ dance-theater feel that was extremely intellectual and kinesthetic without relying on an evident theme nor narrative.

The mere combination of the dancers on stage provided dynamic contrast that begged questioning. The tall and severe, Meg Wolfe, communicated an energy of seriousness and gravity. But, the slight stature of the sweet, hometown-girl, Jessica Cressey brought a lightness and play to the stage.  Morgan Thorson contrasted both with her feminine allure and long blonde hair. The interaction between these three were quirky if nothing else. It seemed like the piece was one big challenge made to the audience. "Dare to get me and dare to dislike me." This theme of challenge was supported in a stand-out compositional choice in which Wolfe defiantly held both arms overhead in fists for the duration of a song plus another few minutes. Staring down the audience and unwilling to relinquish her stance (despite the apparent fatigue developing in the arms), she crafted a lasting image of the work. 

The night wrapped up with my debut performance on kazoo! Well, mine and the rest of the audience who kazooed in harmony (as designated by the color of your instrument). The one act musical Toxikos directed by Deena Selenow was a bawdy, humor driven, pop music and Greek theater mash up that got the audience laughing out loud. The pop culture references and well timed comedy were just what the audience needed to finish the night on an upbeat note. The original Greek text by Sophocles was well delivered by the cast of women, but unfortunately the narrative meaning was largely lost amidst the mischievous and funny antics by the performers. However, the audience didn't seem to mind or notice and instead were rousted to feverish applause after the final song and dance performance of Britney Spears' Toxic. Although I missed exactly how the song tied into the Greek classic, I, too, enjoyed the fluffy entertainment value and parodic dance moves choreographed by Genevieve Gearhart and Deena Selenow. 

Overall the evening had something for everyone and gave me a lot to thing about as an audience member and artist. NOW Festival is a provocative acronym because it made me link what I saw to the here-and-now of today and therefore framed my experience within my concept of what is NOW and  the question of how each work related to NOW? I was able to bend my brain into various definition of NOW whether it be pop culture references, rejection of current trends or extensions of yesterday's avant garde. Had the evening been presented under a different heading, I may not have made these connection or interpretations. But, I am always grateful for any tidbit of insight into an evening of performance and found these three works excellent representations of the many directions and interpretations of NOW.

The show runs for two more nights. Click here for a link to the REDCAT website and ticket information.  And, remember if you go see it, be sure to come back here and leave your own comments for the performing arts community.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What do the numbers 101, 35 and 10,339 have in common?


And here's how:

You are currently reading my 101st blog post!  Congratulations!  Don't you feel special?  Well, I do, because when I started this blog over 2 years ago, I really didn't know where it was going to take me.  All I knew at the time was that I had something to say, about dance, about life about learning.  And, I needed a forum that was not my classroom and was not my choreography.  Thus was born the Musings by a Dancing Poetess.  You can read my very first post here to see just how crazy I was back then.
Compelled (June 15, 2011)

10, 339
With my 101 posts I have gathered over 10,000 page views! I know this is small potatoes for many bloggers, but it is triumph for me.  I am getting the word out about how dance can improve your quality of life, how growing an appreciation for dance improves your understanding of yourself, society and the world, and how meditation and awareness can be the link to all of the above.  And, a hearty thank you to YOU the reader for helping me get here! I mean, I didn't click on my own link that many times. I mean, geez, I have to a make dances some time! (haha!).

I am well past the 50 day mark in my Year to Live.  Only 35 days to go.  7 weeks.   Not a lot of time, but certainly enough to make it count and soak in the richness that is this lifetime.  I must say I highly recommend this meditative practice as created by Stephen Levine. I have made huge changes in a year because of the simple question. "What do I really want to do?"  I am finding greater joy, asking deeper questions, noticing the passing nature of struggle and challenge and taking more time to support and love those I care about.  Granted, I had my fair share of freak out moments. But, that come with the territory of writing your own personal eulogy (which is my next "assignment"). Yikes!

Of course, these are just numbers. They actually don't mean anything for the future. I could stop writing this blog tomorrow, or you could stop reading it. And, there is no way for me to know how much time I have left in this life.  So, I look at these numbers not as trophies to hang on my wall of accomplishments, but as fuel to keep the engine running, to make the most of my experience and a lasting effect on the world and its inhabitants.  I sometimes say that I am changing the world one dance at a time. I didn't join the peace corps. I didn't open a soup kitchen. But, I am here now reminding you to take life by the hand and leap into your greatest potential.  It won't always be shining and perfect, but it will be authentic and real. 

And, it will be beautiful.


 Here are some oldies-but-goodies for your reading pleasure:
Thanks for READING!!

Artistry in the Jazz Dancer
I see you. . .
Are you vain?
New Reminders of Old Loves
Fascination with Madness

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dance World: We have a problem.

Attention all dancers, choreographers, dance critics, dance students, dance teachers, dance theorists, dance analysts, dance lovers, movers and shakers: We have a problem. 

We are imploding in on ourselves. 

Here's how I figure it: I am a tenured, well educated, deeply passionate, and superbly interested dance artist.  But, I often feel like I have NO idea what is going on the dance world. And, I feel like my sharing with the dance world is like someone screaming into a pillow in a sound proof room. I often feel like my social media posts are less like ripple creating pebbles thrown into a pond of potential and more like a pebble being thrown into the Grand Canyon never to be seen again. 

It's a problem!  

But here is the secret, dancers... Social media only works if people drive it. There is nothing magical about social media. You can't just start a twitter account and expect to get thousands of followers. Social media doesn't do that... We do that. But, the magic of social media is that when it reaches a tipping point, it does seem to perpetuate itself. A few comments from a large body of participants makes for a lot of sharing. But, if the social media engine is being driven by just a few people it can't go very far or very fast. 

I love dance because I love the feeling of lying on the ground, sensing the dance floor beneath me and the weight of my skin covering my bones. This is the experience of dance. The phenomena of dance as an act, a state, a way of life. But the world has grown and ideas are worth sharing. We all feel the need to connect with artists of like mind.  We all want to be inspired and to feel empowered by the solidarity of dance as a shared entity. But in order to feel this, we need to share. And we need to listen. 

The dance world is full of amazing projects, performances and events. But unless we have an effective platform to share these experiences and their documentation, the efforts can be easily overlooked, forgotten, or subsumed by the rest of the non-dance media that pours into our inboxes everyday.  There are platforms out there, BUT we as the members of the dance world have to use it, have to promote it, have to take the time to document and post so the dance world is fertilized by the greatness that already exists within it.  

How you can help the dance world through social media: Pick your Platform

Twitter: is for word people. I like calling it micro blogging. 140 characters to get to the heart of the point and share a link to more info. Can you have in depth conversations in 140 characters? No. But, you can link to articles and discussion forums and blogs that do. And, you might surprise yourself by what you can express in such few characters. 

Facebook: is used most for friends, family, and promotion of events. It combines text, image and video. Then isn't it the best if it does it all?  Well... FB tends to be used for personal communication more than professional communication, so your audience is subject to both aspects if your life (if you choose to use it this way). It can be confusing and things can be lost in the shuffle of people posting images of their tasty dinners. 

Vine: is a video app in which you share 6 second videos that are looped. What vine figure out it that most anything is funny when it is looped endlessly in 6 sec increments. Vine is not about words, it is about catching and sharing a moment. This could be interesting for dance, but so far I haven't connected with a "dance scene" on Vine.

Linked in: a place for your résumé. However, I recently learned that it is searchable by Google (unlike some other social media sites). Which can be great for branding and getting your business identity more exposure. 

Google+: is kinda like FB, except you get to put people in categories so that you can communicate with your colleagues differently that your family or friends. It also has great tools for conference chatting (Google Hangouts), community forums for groups or clubs with access to google drives as well.  Can you tell if is my new favorite thing?  (BTW join the DACCC* today!)

There are others and each has different perks, but the key is not what the program is as much as WHO is using it. When you connect with people on Social Media in a meaningful way, that platform gains more importance in your life, and you are likely to keep using it. But, if you don't use it, you are not going to get anything out of it. People need to share their ideas, questions and comments in order for the machine to work at all. And, everyone has something to share. But, also we need to share beyond our immediate circles!

So, today I challenge you to choose your platform of choice and post your answer to one or more of the following dance related question:

What topic about dance has been on your mind? What questions surround this topic? What are you current experiences with it? What have you learned? What new understanding have you gained?  

Keep your post short and to the point. Share with your colleagues. Then, and most importantly, find and respond to two posts (outside of your immediate circle) and share them with your own community. What did you like/ dislike about them?  Start the discussion.

Notice whether this process gave you a deeper understanding of your topic/question?  Did you learn something new in the process?  

Of course you did!  This is the power of sharing. 

Go on! Post!

*DACCC- Dance Association for California Community Colleges