Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Oops! I Did It Again

Here we go again ... my dance card is full -- full of unused classes that I must use or lose by the end of May.

"But you go to dance classes all the time," you say. "How is that possible?"

Because I carry dance/fitness membership cards like Lindsay Loh@n carries credit cards. Because I'm dance diversified, like a well-balanced portfolio. Tap over here, Broadway Jazz over there, hip-hop, pilates and barre classes here and there. Because almost a year ago, I stopped going to ballet every week to make more time for exercises to strengthen my core (yawn).

An ever-changing schedule of work and family activities and commitments requires Advanced Dance Class Calculus to create a weekly routine. (Its expression is obvious only to me.) And it is imperfect, hence the surplus classes on my dance card.

But it's happened before, and here I go again.

Nine classes in two weeks? I can do that.

My diverse dance schedule created a collection of dance/fitness class cards.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

One Step at A Time, con't.

If you can read, you can cook. Right? There is some truth in that. Reading and following instructions are fundamental to the process.

So, does it follow that if you can count, you can dance?


Sometimes, some days, all I've got going for me are the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

For example, I took a couple of jazz classes in New York a few years ago. I was nervous going in. The warmup? No problem, went fine. The music? Michael Jackson. A known quantity.

The choreography? Oh yeah, the combination. Yeah, that was harder. It had all of these quick turns and changes of direction. After class, she told me that her apartment was small, so when she made up the combinations, she had to keep changing directions. Well, I needed a map. I couldn't remember what came next. Where to go. Where to look.

For 15 minutes, I was working on the first 32 counts, and she'd moved on. Moved on! The song was half over, and I was still working on the beginning. I moved to the back of the room, to get out of the way of other dancers. I looked at the clock -- nearly 40 minutes left in class. 40 minutes of potential humiliation. I wondered if I ought to fein a cramp or grab my dance bag and run out of the studio gagging, with my hand cupped to my mouth.

After four years in adult dance classes, I recognize the look on other dancers' faces when they are new and feeling in over their heads. The teacher teaches too fast. The steps are too hard. The music is unfamiliar. Those things may be true, but here's what I believe: You're the only one who knows that. And you're your own worst critic. No one is there to watch you. That huge 9-foot mirror? That's for you. Dancers watch themselves. So if you ever find yourself in that situation, decide what it will take for you to stay in the class.

In those painful situations, I decide to focus on one.step.at.a.time. It makes me appear quite serious. So be it. I stuck it out in that particular NY class by breaking her choreography into pieces and thinking only about those pieces before moving on. Count one: right foot. Count two: both arms up/knee up. Count three: jump. It is tedious. But after I embraced that strategy, I was HAPPY to have 40 minutes with the combination. At first, it seemed like an eternity. Time became my ally, because the class danced the combination many, many times. By the end of the class, I had learned about 2/3 of it, and not especially well. But I got to "dance it" and I felt pretty good. After class, I thanked the teacher for a fun class. She smiled, she knew I'd been struggling. "I can tell you know a lot," she said with a helpful shrug.

At least I know how to count ...


Of course, sometimes that flies out the window, and two experiences come to mind.

I accidentally found myself in an advanced modern class a few years ago. (I thought I was waiting for ballet to begin.) By the time I realized my mistake, I thought it would be rude to leave. So I stayed. [cue raucous laughter]

I have very little (read: practically none)  "vocabulary" of modern dance movement in my body. Toward the end of the 90-minute (!) class, I was applying my one-count-at-a-time strategy. Except this dance was counted in sevens and in movements that I have no names for. The teacher came and whispered in my ear: "I know you've never done this before, it's okay. I don't know where we get the impression that we need to be perfect when we dance."

"Ballet teachers," I whispered back.


So what about hip-hop? Hahahahaha...yeah. Tonight I took a hip-hop class that is completely new to me. I knew what I was getting into. There's not really any counting in hip-hop. Maybe and-an-eight. Maybe and-a-one. You may hit the beginning middle and end of a phrase -- but hip-hop choreography floats between the lyric, an ever-shifting bassline, percussion -- the movement is precise but smooth. (It sure wouldn't hurt if I listened to hip-hop music, but I don't.)

As one of my dance friends said to me a few years ago, referring to our Broadway jazz class, "it was a revelation that I could get better at something for which I have no natural ability." That's the way I look at hip-hop. Bring it on, I'll work on it, surely something will happen. Can't get worse, right?

My friend Rachel nailed it this week when she wrote about being okay with being terrified when you're doing something new.  I was channeling a little bit of that NY jazz class in hip-hop tonight when I found myself looking at the clock. I was so bad, the teacher singled me out for a sweet "do what you can" pep talk. I'd be lying if I said THAT wasn't a little embarrassing. I really wanted to look him in the eye and say "It's okay, don't worry about me. I'm here to do what I can and learn what I can't."

And even when I'm bad, it's all good.


And it's still fun.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Common Thread

June 2012, Big Range Dance Festival
Choreographer: Yelena Konetchy
Music: Nathan Laningham
Photographer: John Clark, who owns these photos, so don't take 'em. :)

9 feet of silk form the common thread in this series of four dances by Yelena Konetchy

"A Common Thread" in Big Range Dance Festival, Austin, TX, June 2012.
Choreographer Yelena Konetchy. Photo by John Clark, all rights reserved. 

Gotta Dance

Perhaps my BlogathonATX goals were too ambitious. I wanted to post every 30 minutes but my brain and my fingers don't work that fast.

Time for me to fly. I've gotta dance. Joining a group of adult women at Tapestry Dance Studios in Austin. More to come on that.

London Calling

October 4, 2010

After an hour of tourist toystore mania at Hamley’s on Regent Street, I kiss my husband and kids good-bye at Piccadilly Circus. I will walk toward Covent Garden while they walk the other direction in search of a bus stop at Trafalgar Square to get back to Pimlico and our hotel. “Number 24,” I reminded him. He rolls his eyes at me. 

I turn to walk up Shaftesbury Avenue from Piccadilly Circus and picked up my pace, like a horse to the barn. Class. I’m going to class. It has been over two weeks since my last jazz class, and that one was 5,000 miles away in Austin, Texas. I’m in London. And I’m going to class!

I feel elation and anticipation in my whole body as I walk to Pineapple Studios. There's  some trepidation and slight intimidation, too. What will this class be like? Will I have fun? 

This vacation-induced dance abstinence actually came at a good time. I am coming off a creative binge that included producing a flashmob, performing in a community theatre Broadway revue and co-producing a one-night-only cabaret act. When I returned to class in September, I was ready to throw myself into a new project, to "take it to the next level," to grow and change and become one with the group and the muse and blah blah blah blah blah. Whatever was out there, I was in. I dived back into ballet and into Broadway jazz with an eager body and open heart. Sharing class with friends and in the company of teachers I enjoyed, I was certain something big was ahead.

And then, nothing. I went to class. Started learning a new combination. Wasn't that into it. Surrounded by classmates half my age and younger, I felt self-conscious. Teachers seemed to look right through me. My friends didn't attend nighttime dance classes, so I missed their camaraderie. I couldn't make it to weekday classes except Fridays. I was lonely and uninspired. I kept going but a thought nagged me.

"Maybe I'm really not that into dancing."

Maybe I was too needy, I thought. I wanted my teachers to help me get there, to that "next level" or whatever it was. For a few weeks, I left class with a cloud of disappointment over my head. No useful critique and no praise. When I left for the U.K. the third week in September, I wondered what I would do when I got back.  I packed one pair each of tights, shorts, and jazz shoes and a purple dance top. If I feel like it, I thought, I'll take class in London. If nothing else, I could do yoga.

Am I a little surprised that sparks are flying beneath my feet as I navigated the Mercer Street circus to Langley Street? Class starts at 7pm. It is only 6:20 and I have 40 minutes to spare, but I want to be there. I want to bask in dance studio energy, to hear the music thumping down the halls and peer into studios. Will this enthusiasm propel me through a class with total strangers? My dance community in Austin seems integral to enjoying the experience. There, I am not entirely anonymous. 

Here, I am a visitor. A middle-aged American woman on vacation. Will the younger students look askance at me? Will the cool kids and regulars smirk in the corner? I know that sounds ridiculous and insecure but it's not unfounded. I decide that whatever happens, it will not affect my experience. It is only a one hour class. I know how to do my thing and leave. I do not want to work at keeping my ego intact, but I wil do it if I need to. If I have picked the right class, I expect that I will hold my own.

Down in the huge basement dressing room, I realize that everything is going to be okay.

At a night class in Austin, I could be the oldest dancer in the dressing room. Here, women of all ages, shapes and sizes are changing in and out of dancewear. Discreetly surveying the Pineapple dressing room, I realize that I am anonymous but I am not an anomaly.

It's almost cliche to describe an urban dance studio by its narrow curves, crowded hallways and well-worn studios. I walk the stairway to the second floor to Karen Estabrook's Commercial Jazz class. She sits in the corner, collecting our payments. She smiles at me, gives me the welcoming nod that teachers reserve for new faces. Perhaps she says something like "do what you can." I take that as a welcome. Her tone and look says to me:
Hmm, you look like a dancer who probably knows what she's doing but I know you are new to this class. You are a visitor for a day, and I know that you may never come back. I want you to have a good time. Just dance. Do what you can. It's okay with me. P.S. I'm glad you're here. 
Okay, so maybe that's what I want her to say. Or maybe it's just what I need to hear. 

Her classic jazz warm up feels familiar and comforting. Her combination is easy enough to learn quickly and hard enough that I want to do it better. I do not recognize the song; she says it is a new dance hit. If I heard it again, I may remember the attitude turn in the middle that makes me feel like a dancer in 0-.5 seconds.

After class, I walk the (narrow) hallway and pass the Michael Jackson class. I swear there's 60 people crammed into a dance studio designed for 25, all of them sweating like not-so-smooth criminals. I wish that I could stay and sweat with them, but I go back down to the dressing room. I am walking on clouds. I am a dancer in London. I pull out my iPhone and stare at it. I need to call someone but I'm 5,000 miles away with a roaming international plan with a data limit -- for emergencies only.

So I take pictures instead.

A good sign
Like a horse to the barn, I find the studio in London rush hour.

Obligingly cheeky dance studio receptionist smiles for my camera.

I love London. I know this big, dirty, indifferent city doesn't love me back. It doesn't know I passed through before I turned two and again at age 11. And again at 21, 23 and 27. Then 31 and now 40. It doesn't know that I sing Garry Rafferty's "Baker Street" when I'm changing underground trains. Or hum "Penny Lane" as I wander around my cousin's neighborhood in Harrow. That I used to know the last train out of Charing Cross to Lewisham M-W left around 11:30 p.m. and I needed to be on it or I'd miss the last 21 bus back to Eltham. Pieces of this massive city have been small parts of my life for 40 years.  In its anonymity, I always find myself. 

Thank you, Pineapple, and thank you, London.

One Step at a Time

Coming soon...

How do you survive a hard dance class?

Just like everyone else. One step at a time.

Last night I had a dream...

And today I find myself in a place called BlogathonATX.


One night in July I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. It was 4 a.m. For the record,I am a pretty good sleeper. I don't mine my dreams for inspiration, waking up in the middle of the night to scribble random words on a pad of paper ("re-watch Guffman" "Fosse jazz walks?"). Occasionally, I wake up and wander into our childrens' bedrooms and kiss them good night a second time. Or check a door to make sure it's locked. 

No, the nagging thought at 4 a.m. had nothing to do with the safety of my home or my family. I wasn't hungry. I didn't need a nature break. I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep because of this one thought.


I haven't posted since April, I thought. Do I have anything else to say...

And even if I do, would it be "better" to keep scribbling my journal in a spiral bound notebook, adding to the mound of morning pages I began a few years ago to recover this creative soul? 

Vintage Blogging Platform, circa 1983

At 4:05 a.m., I was soothed by the words of a friend and coach Ann Daly, who is unafraid to beam her bright light into the darker corners of my mind. There are times for doing and times for writing, she told me in 2011. You are doing. You don't have to do both at the same time.

But she added this: you should keep blogging. Don't think about it too much. It doesn't have to be perfect.

My ego protested. But Ann, I'm a writer. I care about grammar, structure, theme, message, metaphor, simile. Inspiration, description, exposition. If I just throw out a bunch of blog posts, God knows what will come out. I write, but I don't always blog. People might READ it.


It's September. The nagging thought that I've abandoned this voice is quiet now. Today I'm culling through saved posts, photos and a ragged spiral bound notebook. I'm going to share some of my dancer experiences going back to 2010 today. It's a leap of faith that I may learn something in the process. Perhaps a new idea will reveal itself, and certainly, old neuroses will be exposed. 

Oh hell, I'll just blog. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sh!t Ballet Teachers Say

For five months, I ignored a nagging pain in my hip, lower back and leg. When three ibuprofen didn't do the trick to get me through a ballet class, I decided to see the orthopedist. I'm now a diligent physical therapy patient and pilates student, doing my clamshells, pretzels, etc. on a daily basis. Until I'm back at the barre more often, here's some of what I miss about ballet class.

"Oh my gawd."

"Like when you’re training a dog not to pee in the house, when they pee, you take them outside to the grass. You’ve got to train your muscle memory the same way. Finish in fifth."

"It's like baking cookies…if you leave something out, it doesn’t work. Same thing – being on demi point – if you’re just partway there, it doesn’t work, you must lock in the ankle."

"How do I say this without hurting anyone’s feeling or getting fired? Keep your hips forward." 

"It’s okay if you do it that way, I’ll just talk about you behind your back."

"The most important thing in ballet is...everything."

What does your ballet teacher say? My friend LLL offered these gems:

"Your ronde de jambe looks like you are wiping dog poop off your shoe." (You mean we don't all look like this doing ronde de jambe?)

"You look like Dominique Moceanu when you start your grande plie." (Perhaps a reference to egregious use of port de bras?)

So really, what gems roll from the tongue of your ballet teacher? Please share.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Here I Come

Sundays are usually slower days. My maximum physical and mental exertion may be a trip to the grocery store during "rush hour" or a hatha flow yoga class. But last Sunday I made it to dance class, because one of my favorite teachers is moving away to pursue a new opportunity in the dance industry. It was one of her last classes in Austin, and I'm going to miss her a bunch. I'll call her K. 

K. teaches "jazz funk." Naming dance classes and styles is a lot like describing new music -- the form itself resists labels. It's almost easier to explain it in the negative. Jazz funk is not hip-hop and it's not traditional "jazz." K. likes to call it "sassy." I call it fun. After technique heavy classes like ballet and even some kinds of theatre dance, jazz funk is liberating. It looks different on everyone, depending on your body type, style, training, strength, etc. 

So last Sunday I head to jazz funk, and K. treats us to a familiar combination, Fergie's "Here I Come." I love this combo of hers because it's athletic with a huge, can't-miss-it downbeat. It seems fast, but if you really listen to the music, there's lots of time to feel it.

I love new songs that sample old songs. In Fergie's case, it's the Temptations' "Get Ready," which I loved as a kid. When I was 16, I stashed cassettes in the car like Temptations Greatest Hits, the soundtrack to the Big Chill, an Aretha Franklin tape and Gladys Knight and the Pips. (Which is why meeting Gladys Knight in a dance studio in Austin earlier this month turned me to mush.) My Motown obsession was a bit unusual among my peers (though I also had a lot of album rock (Boston, Rush) plus "college music" like R.E.M. and Big Audio Dynamite, which a boyfriend called "Blatant Audio Destruction.") The first time I heard this Fergie song, it made me want to dance.

And last summer, K. rolled out a combination for "Here I Come," and I was hooked. Again. For many reasons, I'll miss K's teaching and her music. So in honor of her new adventure in NYC, I'm rolling out my Top 5 list of favorite songs and combinations from "Jazz Funk 2010 - 2012." In no particular order, they are:
  • "Here I Come" (Fergie) - for all the reasons above
  • "Rumor Has It" (Adele) - because it gives us a chance to flaunt Broadway sass plus plenty of opportunities to release it all into the floor
  • "You da One" (Rihanna) - because it made me a better listener -- not a counter, not a words person -- a dancer who listens
  • "Starstruck" (Lady Gaga) - because it made me think "yeah, I can do this."
  • "Smooth Criminal" (Michael Jackson) - because it's MJ, and some teachers may think they're "too cool" to dig up old Michael Jackson songs for the teens and college students in their classes -- and K. is above it.

As a good luck parting gift, I want to give K. something she can use in NYC, and as it happens, an opportunity crossed my Inbox earlier this month. Macy's is hosting "It's Your Move Dance Contest" on Facebook to promote Ideology workout and dance clothes. A publicist asked me to write about my favorite songs and talk about the contest. So I checked it out on Facebook, and it looks like fun. You can pick a song, do a dance and upload it to Facebook, where your friends can vote on it. There are five songs free for download. (If I had to pick one for K., it would probably be the last one, "Rising." If I picked one for my Broadway dance pals, it would be "Dreamin'" - ha!) For my time and effort, I may get some Ideology dancewear, which I'm going to gift to K., who will definitely get good use out of it.

Anyway, something else special happened in class on Sunday. I had already put on my shoes and was ready to leave, when one of my classmates, a young girl in pink who I'll call C., asked to do the combination one more time with our teacher in the middle, K. Her mom invited me to join them, and I got to take the floor with two super special dancers. (This is the first time I've ever done this dance with shoes on! A little sticky. I'm usually barefoot or in half-socks.) I think our parting dance is fitting for K. as she heads to an internship in NYC: Here I Come!

Monday, January 9, 2012

We are Family

Wow. I had no idea the "dance blog" community was out there in force. So pleased to meet you all!

I'm grateful for all the support that put Born Again Dancer in the Top 20 at Dance Advantage's Top Blogs of 2011. I've met several insightful dancers and writers who are sharing their dance experiences -- and there's many more out there.

People like Adult Beginner, who braved her first ballet class at age 32 and did not cry in class -- I can relate to that. It takes a lot of courage to walk into a dance studio with expectations, whatever they may be -- I've written about the many obstacles we face when pursuing something new, especially in dance. They are financial, mental, logistical, and physical. Adult Beginner earned top votes in the Adult Dance category, and it's easy to see why -- her thoughtful observations, sense of humor, authenticity and self-awareness are magnetic. Looking forward to more!

I originally found Dave Tries Ballet on Twitter. Not only is he pretty adept at spelling in French, he's beautifully open about the challenges and opportunities of being an adult dancer, especially one studying ballet. What a treat to be placed in the Adult Dance finalist category with Dave and Adult Beginner!

Then there's Dancing with Stefanie, who has my deepest admiration for diving into ballroom dance competition. Sometimes I don't know what my own two feet are doing -- to add a partner is a big step! Last year I told one of my dance teachers that I wanted to find a dance partner to explore swing dance and other styles. This year, I may need a new approach. As a social dance teacher told me last week, "find the guy, and I'll teach him to dance." We'll see. My husband has good rhythm and it'd be fun to dance with him.

Thank you to Dance Advantage for creating this opportunity to meet 32+ like-minded friends.

Happy New Year!