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?