Dancing For Spring :)

This semester, one of my goals is to write about dance more.

I have no idea where I’ll get the time, but if something’s important to you, you make the time. Isn’t that how the old adage goes?

Last semester was a blast. I was in my second show, Winterdance 2015, and I got the chance to perform in my first two tap pieces.

I love ballet, for all its difficulty, but tap is my favorite style, and it’s not even a debate.

Still, this semester I’ll get plenty of practice as a dancer in general. I’m retaking Jazz 1, because I want to get more of that traditional style dance practice. That was the first dance class I ever took, way back in 2014, so it’ll be neat to see if/how I’ve grown in my abilities to pick up choreography and just to look decent when I dance. We’ll see.

In the meantime, Tap Ensemble work will continue, and I’ll be in Tap 3 this semester as well, the highest level they offer here at K-State. This will be my first time taking that class.

I can’t quite illustrate how excited I am about it. There will be new choreography, more advanced steps, and just a new dance class, which will be fun for a variety of reasons.

New dance classes offer new challenges. You’re almost always in there with primarily people you’ve never danced with before, and the structure is different even from other classes in the same style that you’ve taken with the same teacher so there is an element of the unexpected. Most importantly though, you never know when or how the teacher is going to throw you out of your comfort zone the first time you take a specific class.

That excites me more than anything, and knowing I’m in Tap 3 makes me confident I can physically handle whatever I have to, meaning this semester will be all about the mental game, and I love that. 🙂

Classes start next Tuesday, right after a Monday that is full of intensives. This’ll be my first time going through those as well, since our coach and tap teacher was on sabbatical last year. Again, I’m excited for the new experiences.

To quote Rob Gronkowski, the hilarious tight end of the New England Patriots:

“…so get ready, cuz I’ma be ready.”

God is Good! 😀

My Week In Dance: Recovery, Rest, and Glimpses of Success

Over the last few weeks, I’d been experiencing soreness in my knees. A visit to my physical therapist and doctor revealed I’m wasn’t actually hurt, just tight. The story about that is rather funny, and can be found here.

In any case, this week in Tap 1, we were scheduled to watch “Tap Dance In America” as part of our education about the nature of Tap dancing. Our teacher loves that movie, and it is actually a great movie truth be told. Still, I was bummed we couldn’t dance that day. I was itching too.

One of our dance teacher’s habits is leading us through what she refers to as “call and response.” She introduces the concept to us very early on in the semester, like week three type “early.” Slowly, she starts to get us into leading it, first in small groups and eventually in front of the class.

Thursday morning last week, I was signed up to lead. We aren’t, traditionally, supposed to plan it, and I didn’t. What I did do, though, was go in knowing more or less what steps I wanted to integrate in there at some point, including a little three step sequence I had as my foundation. I’d been playing with it for a week or so on my own, and had discovered it was both simple enough that anyone could do it and versatile enough that it could become a great foundation for larger, more complicated sequences if done sharply and precisely.

I had no idea how I’d get into it though, or where I’d go from there or even if that sequence would stay in the same order or anything (which it did but it expanded), and I set my mind on avoiding thinking about it until I got up to lead that day.

As we went through warm-ups, with a prospective student and her mother off to the side of the floor watching, I felt my heart race and my feet get antsier than even normal to move.

I was ready for it, and it went well.

The reason I’m writing this though is to tell you about an interaction I had afterward with a classmate.

This classmate came up to me afterward and said something nobody had ever said:

“Dude, well done! You make this look easy!”

Let me reiterate: Nobody had ever said that before.

On the one hand, it’s to be expected: this is Tap 1. A great deal of it is stuff I’m already familiar with, and it SHOULD be easy for me, as I’ve taken this class before and am honored enough to be in the Tap Ensemble here.

Still though, getting such praise from a classmate, without team or even formal friendship bias, was welcome and rare.

I, of course, passed it off awkwardly, giving my appreciation for the compliment while telling them I have “brain-farts” all the time in Ensemble rehearsal, but the comment has still stuck with me ever since.

As the semester goes on, I go through the weekly excitement of dance class and the grind of trying to push myself to close the gap as quickly as possible the divided the experience and skill of the other dancers in the Ensemble.

That Thursday, however, brought a brief moment to smile at myself, not just because of how much I love this, but at how far I’ve come. My assessments in the class continually go well; the choreography isn’t as challenging, and besides the occasional step that confounds me on my first few attempts at it, I feel like I pick things up in this class fairly well.

Interestingly, I could have probably seen this coming.

At team dance camp (“Bootcamp”) in August, so many of my peers and mentors on the team told me that I would learn so much more in my second iteration of the class than I did in the first one.

They were right.

Last year, I learned how to do the steps. This year, I dare say I’m learning to dance. My peer’s comments that day were a reminder of that, an objective one that I couldn’t simply discount in the wake of my own focus on improvement. With that, and the many kind comments my teachers and my amazing mentors on the team have been giving me, I have all the motivation in the world to keep pushing.

That’s exciting!

It’s all so much more than I could have ever expected to experience so early in my life as a tap dancer. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t holding back on me when I screw up, and I continually beg them not to take it easy on me just because I’m older and starting to dance so late in life compared to when they did; but they’re giving out both praise and guidance at the same time, and it’s everything I want and need.

My Week In Dance: How I Got a Loving Reminder From a Superior Dancer and Friend

Once upon a time, I had a nickname.

My bosses called me “Smiley.” This was a nickname that was well earned and with great cost. It took a couple of years in my former government job for my bosses, who didn’t ever seem to like that I smiled so much, to finally accept that there was nothing they could really do about it. They could scold me or crack jokes or make me work late hours, but ultimately, my smile wasn’t going anywhere.

So imagine my surprise when a veteran of our Tap Ensemble came to me mid-way through an event we had this week and had to remind me to smile.

It was during an event to promote our Tap To Togetherness program, which is a pretty big deal. Let me be clear: she was absolutely right to get with me about it. She was right, I wasn’t smiling. What’s worse, there were cameras around from K-State’s Communications team to help promote us. Yet here I was earning the Academy Award for my performance as an eyesore.

In other words: I embarrassed myself, and even my group to a degree. I’m sorry for that.

That truth, and my failure there, haunted me for the next 24 hours or so and has been on my mind ever since. It caused a major fit of self-reflection in the day that followed.

I grew up smiling, it was one of the second thing I independently chose to start doing habitually in my life when I was a young boy (prayer was the first). Through all the miserable chaos that could sometimes occur within government work, I still was known for how constantly I smiled.

So why wasn’t I smiling while tap dancing? Why wasn’t I doing so in such a crucial time and while doing my favorite thing on this earth?

After much self-reflection, I realized it was probably a side effect of growing up.

That isn’t an excuse either, I’ll write about my opinion on excuses some other time but for the moment just know I don’t accept any on my behalf made by me or anyone else, period.

My mindset has started to shift in the last six to eight months. Certain mental tendencies I’ve always had have started to change.

I feel myself being less prone to impulsive decisions or comments. This is actually in accordance with what modern advances in psychology have discovered as well, specifically that the part of the human brain that controls impulsive decisions finishes developing at 26 years old, which I just turned in August. I also find I’m becoming far more prone to stand up for myself in situations where I know I’m right or when I know I have no obligation to back down on something.

Still, as I thought deeply about my life, I realized growing up wasn’t the whole answer. The real reason I wasn’t smiling that day was because I had been stressed. As I thought about others, I also realized everyone I knew was handling their stress way better than I was. For me, my first response once I actually became distracted by life was to forget to smile, even in dance classes or performances.

That doesn’t work for me. That isn’t acceptable and it never will be.

So! Since Wednesday, I’ve been diligently working to reignite my favorite part of my personality: my childlike joy and love of all that I do in this life, about writing and editing and, most particularly, dancing. It’s still there, I’ve just allowed myself to sheath it or let it become dull. So I’m pulling it out and sharpening it before forever carrying on my should like a heavy battle-axe.

Here’s what I’m getting at: I get to dance every week of my life. I get to come to class, come to rehearsal for Tap Ensemble, and most weeks I get to go out and work with little kids and their families as part of that Tap To Togetherness program I mentioned earlier.

What’s more, I get to come to school and work with some of the most heart-meltingly beautiful and powerful athletes in existence, whether it’s my Tap Ensemble peers/mentors (which each of them is to at least some degree), or my dancer friends in general. I get to come to school every day with people who, both in appearance and in the quality of their characters, are truly captivating on every level.

That’s friggin cool! In fact, it’s the coolest thing ever :). So there is no bloody reason I shouldn’t be smiling my face off every single second of every rehearsal. I don’t care how focused I am on getting the movement right, how tired I am, or how much the world around my life as a dancer is testing me. When I come in to dance, I must, and will, leave all of that far edge of the floor.

Ever since that veteran made that comment to me, I’ve refocused myself on remembering all of what I’ve written here today, each and every day. I’ve completely re-set my heart on letting it show, both in and out of the studio.

The world would have us believe we aren’t allowed to show emotion very often. It would have us believe that we aren’t allowed to be excited and fired up about every single day, and that only children have such attitudes. If that’s the case, then I’ll be a bit of a child forever.

I love these people entirely too much not to be excited just to be alive and in the same city as all of them, let alone to get to work with them.

I owe it to them, and to God who was graceful enough to put me here among them, not to show it loudly and proudly and ecstatically every single minute of every, single, day.

I can’t ever thank that veteran enough for inadvertently reminding me of that. 🙂

Dance (Dance 205 Poem from Day 1 of class, Summer 2015)

Dance

It’s the exploration of physics to the overwhelmed English major,

The translation of unknown emotions

Which provides the only daily surprise to he who thinks he knows himself.

It’s the goofiness when you’re alone at home

And need to be truly childish

To fully celebrate

The storm of blessings raging around you.

It’s what you know you can’t contain,

Sorrow, grief, joy or despair.

It’s the only way you can never, actually,

Lie.

Personal Journal Entry 3.3.2015

Anatomy Class Section

For those who don’t know, we’ve been told to practice doing nothing every day, starting for 5 minutes, working our way up to 15, and to keep a journal of some sort about this. We’re to let ourselves think, but only to the degree that we let the thoughts go peacefully as they come. We’re not to read (which makes it hard for me :P). This is today’s journal about this, and I figured it might make an okay blog post. If y’all are interested in seeing this every day, please don’t hesitate to let me know via comment or email me at poet589@ksu.edu. Otherwise, I’ll probably just post every other day’s work on here. Either way I’ll have to post in this later in the class web forum. In the meantime though, here it is for all of you.  🙂

3.3.2015

Today, I tried just doing nothing as I drank coffee upon waking up. It was early, 1:15 a.m. on Tuesday when I initially woke up. 12 minutes, 6 “cups” worth of coffee beans freshly ground, and a trip to bed later, there I was. But instead of sleeping I sat up, with a notebook and pen to my left and my bedroom window blinds now open. It occurred to me then that this would be a good time to test this meditation sans Savasana concept. I was awake, had ample time to rest without fear of delaying my to-do list, and could use the variety of what I tasted (Sumatra roast by Starbucks, hear (the heater working to keep my place at 75 degrees, yes I’m THAT guy) and saw (the American flag flying on top of the engineering complex construction project which is just visible above the apartments to my northeast) to keep me entertained but thoughtless. Side note: I’ll take “run on sentences” for a thousand Alec. Oh well, it’s pre 2 a.m. 😉

Anyways, I’d say this go at this meditation stuff went well. I focused on letting thoughts drift off my mind like imaginary water drops off my fingers as I rose them to high first. They came but I made sure they never held for too long. By the time I tapped out and gave in to my desire to write, the clock on my iPad had changed from 1:27 a.m. to 1:41. Not bad. Maybe we’ll try this again tomorrow, but about four hours later. 🙂

Have a good day everyone :).

Adventures in Ballet 1

Oh if I could only count them, as we prepare to hit midterms. Today is when I hit my Spanish midterm exam, and I’m a little terrified of it, but that’s another story. But I figure since I haven’t written nearly as much this semester as I had hoped, it’s time for an update.

Ballet 1 has led me to meet some really cool people, and it’s gotten better even as the semester has progressed.

Terminology is a fun thing to learn, because it’s in French, and that’s different since I’ve previously studied/continue to study both Spanish and Italian. But I get excited every time learn one. I don’t mean “learn” like hearing it in class and repeating it, etc. I mean the type of learn that is evident in situations like rehearsal for show pieces I’m in. At moments like these, I’ll hear the teacher rattle off a list of French words, like she’s speaking it natively or something, while she instructs us on the next routine during warmups, and I’ll get excited for just a second because I’ll be realizing in my head that I totally understood everything she just said! Or, in other circumstances, I’ll be watching as she works with another dancer and she’ll be offering them corrections and she’ll say something like “You’re doing that pas de chat well, but you need to come up on relevé more” or something like that.

Those little moments are when I usually go up to one of the nearby dancers, most often another guy in the department named Chris, and give them a high five and say something like “Oh yeah! Getting that ballet terminology.”

Small victories, in the society we live, are seldom celebrated. Often this happens because we are too busy beating ourselves up for failures of the same magnitude, the little tiny ones that is.

I’m trying to remember to celebrate those :).

Other things that have been great have included Ballet rehearsal for the piece I’m an understudy in. It’s a massive, really cool ballet, and I’m honored even to just be at rehearsal and be learning it, even if performing is unlikely due to the theme of it. Learning this one has been a challenge, and a joy, and I’m progressing in a way that makes me rather happy. But, more on that in a future blog post. 🙂

In the meantime, Ballet 1 happens every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s a fun little group and lately we’ve been working on lifts and partnering stuff. I really enjoy it more than most of the solo stuff we’ve done. I love movement in general, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something really joyous about getting to turn a girl and knowing the trust it requires her to both have and show. You have to trust her to be strong and she has to trust you to be strong as well, since she’s in elevé (meaning she’s basically standing on her tip toes).

Ballet is such a gorgeous thing! So much of it is about almost acting in a way! When the girl pushes off then looks back at you with her right arm reaching out to you as she prances away to your left, while your left reaches out to her as if to say “but you didn’t have to leave,” just before you turn to catch the next approaching ballerina :). All of this, of course, is done without words at all, and it’s done with such a subtle but impressive sense of discipline that any man would likely love it for that reason alone. Forget the tranquil beauty of both body and in most cases mind that the dancers you work with possess, just the required mental and physical discipline of Ballet makes a man want to stick with it forever.

One of my fellow bloggers, another adult beginner and a person I hope will become a friend through our shared work, said it best in her most recent post:

“I feel like I’m getting so immersed in dance, and apart from seeing my dog at the end of the day it’s the one thing I really look forward to.”

That’s a lot of what I feel right now. I’m starting to get my writing feet back under me, so I’m sure I’ll write more about this later, but for now, I’m excited. Today is Tuesday. Ballet 1 day, and it’s going to be heavenly. 🙂

Keep smiling everyone 🙂

To Move Beyond Words…

To be able to convert words into dance, then forget about the words all together and just let the dances happen on their own. That’s the direction I should strive to take my dancing, and even my writing.

In a recent episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers, actor Zachary Quinto said of acting that he had recently been required to learn to move beyond just the meaning of the words. He had to learn to infuse them with the emotion behind them, not just recite them.

This sentiment about acting echoes comments from a recent reading in one of our Anatomy For Dancers assignments, in which the author of the article essentially said the dance truly became art only after the dancer learned how to stop thinking about it and just let it happen. The dance, like the text of a scene, has a degree of intrinsic meaning while being executed even when the performer is thinking about it in the process. However, the true art of the dance, like that of the text, does not prevail until the body becomes not a separate creature but one with it, free of conscious thought. The true art of dancing, happens when the dancer becomes one with the dance, when the arms and legs and core all become instruments of the work, rather than the other way around as it is when a person starts learning it.

Initially, poetry and coordinated movement alike are tools a person uses to enhance their own appearance. However it is not until the rolls are reversed and the living entity becomes the tool, rather than the showcased being, that true art happens.

As I reflect on my new but continuing journey as a dancer, I become newly aware how vital it is that I work hard and spend vast amounts of quality time practicing my crafts. Through no other means can I open myself up to the opportunity of being the instrument of the beautiful works I’m striving to learn to execute, both in writing and in dance.

I don’t believe in mere “coincidence.” I’m a Christian, and I believe God teaches us and shows us things through seeming “coincidences” and that the more of them we see that point to one specific course or lesson, the more attention we must pay to being good students of these lessons. As the great poet Robert Frost once said:

“How many times it thundered before Franklin took the hint! How may apples fell on Newton’s head before he took the hint! Nature is always hinting at us. It hints over and over again. And suddenly, we take the hint.”

So, I’m taking the hint. This is how I’m going to become a great dancer, and an even better writer. By striving to learn these movements and sequences and words so well that not only do I recreate them, but they recreate me.

Dance goals 2015

In December, I got a chance to audition for the K-State Tap Ensemble. How it went isn’t as important as the result the preparation had on me is. For it, I had to prepare a minute of choreography. I could use any song or no song at all. So in typical “I don’t know how it’ll work but I might as well be true to myself” fashion, I picked the song I consider my theme song: “On Top Of The World” by Imagine Dragons. 🙂

The Audition

In the interests of that though, I submit to you my goals for 2015. These are things that I took most of New Year’s Eve and the months since my birthday in August to come up with. So with that in mind, here we go! 🙂

Dance Goals 2015

1) Earn the right to keep our spot in Tap Ensemble for the next year, and survive “boot camp.” As I mentioned before, that audition went well. Whether I have to audition again in April or not, my first dance goal is to hang in there. There’s an old saying that says a performer should be ready on a moment’s notice to audition again for any spot they hold. Well, I don’t know if that’s how things actually work, maybe I just made that up, but in my case I’m going to sharpen that audition material I used before. Which leads me to goal number 2.

2) Choreograph “On Top Of The World” in Tap style. Yes, I already got a third of the song done, but I want to both sharpen that minute and make it really crisp, as well as finish the entire song in a way that I’m not bored with it. Which means very little repetition with lots of variation in both speed of movements and the movements themselves. In Tap, and really in dancing, there are only so many different movements that exist, so to make something truly unique can be a challenge. And it’s one I want to go for. That leads into goal 3.

3) Choreograph some piece, in a Tap style, using moves starting laying down or things I’ve never seen anyone do yet. Come up with something extremely fun and unconventional just to show off and have fun with. I grew up running, playing ultimate frisbee, doing pushups, all kinds of random stuff. I think throwing something crazy together would be a blast. Maybe coming up with some way to tap while in the full pushup position in a really neat way. I’ve got lots of ideas. My intention is first to have fun, and second to do something flat out insane and ridiculous that just makes people either say “wow” or roll their eyes. Which leads to our next goal 😉

4) Choreograph “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift in a Tap style. Lol I giggle to myself as I see that, because that idea’s so goofy that only I could justify it. Most of my friends will seriously roll their eyes at this one. This’ll be my “I need to make everyone laugh forever” type piece. For those of y’all who don’t know, I’m a big time Taylor Swift fan. I just like the way her voice sounds. I don’t care about the drama in her life, I just know that at some level she’s a complete hopeless romantic, and like the bulk of people who like her music, I empathize with that. Additionally though, this song is a really neat, extremely rhythmic and up-tempo! It’s basically the perfect song to tap to. So for the raw fun of it, I want to choreograph this one as well. Believe it or not, I’ve already got most of what I want to do written down with time blocks drawn out in a notebook of mine. This goal, only two weeks into the year, is probably as much as 60% done :).

5) Perform, baring injury, in both Springdance and Winterdance 2015. That show I auditioned for that I mentioned in The Newbie Chronicles was Springdance 2015. Every year, the dance division faculty and students put on two shows, one in spring and one in fall. You get the gist. Well, I made it into Springdance, so now I simply have to watch and make sure I don’t get hurt and then audition later this year for the second show. Alright, you’ve made it this far, keep going! Last goal

6) Come up with a 3-minute ballet routine for an ballet related audition I may encounter. This is kind of a self-defense type goal, the type of thing I want to have just in the highly unlikely chance I’m every asked on a whim and can use it. Do I ever believe such a situation will arise? Absolutely not. But I’d rather have it and not need it, then one day see the perfect audition opportunity where they want a guy who looks just like me and everything, but requires a pre-planned ballet piece. I don’t know if such auditions exist, but I’m going to be ready in case they do and in case I every need to go through one.

So that’s it! Those are the six things I’m trying to accomplish this year as an aspiring dancer. Feel free to chime in if you have any similar one or have any thoughts; good, bad, or critical, about any of mine 🙂