The Essence Of Delicacy

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The raindrops fall outside my basement apartment Saturday morning, March 26, 2016. (Photo by Shelton Burch | Poet598.Wordpress.com)

What a beautiful day!

That *click, click, click* sound of the raindrops on the pavement is a bit how I imagine soft-shoe tap should be, or like good choir music: soft, but not “weak.” Not even necessarily “restrained.” Delicacy is an art, and the rain is delicate. It does not restrain itself, but rather it gives only what it needs to give to make its point then stops. There’s tremendous beauty in controlled strength. Why else would non-dancers watch dance. 🙂

I realize I’ve just given you a lot with that one, so I’ll stop. Have a good day everyone :).

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What “Ritz” Means To Me

I lay in bed at 8:26 p.m. An early Tap Ensemble practice awaits me on the other side of the pillow in the morning.

Tomorrow, we’re scheduled to give some extra practice to our rendition of “Putting On The Ritz.”

Something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately has been how I feel about the piece. This has probably arisen because I’ve given the piece a little extra practice at home (my landlords will LOVE the look of the carpet thanks to my tap shoes *wink*). I saw on Pinterest or some a meme that had a ballet dancer in full splits but balanced on a single leg. The caption read “Don’t practice it until you get it right. Practice it until you can’t get it wrong.”

That’s an attitude I’ve tried toward lately.

As I lay here though, reflecting on my thoughts, I find I know how I feel about our version of “Ritz.”

“Ritz” to me is a connection to the bigger art. The music is traditional and common. As I’ve searched the web and youtube for videos of tap dancers, I’ve found a number of renditions, both by youth studios and studios like Tapestry Dance Company, the studio I hope to train in after I graduate college, Lord willing.

So this piece has meaning to me.

It reminds me that as Dancers, and Tap Dancers specifically, we are all connected. It’s a piece that ties us together in tradition, whether it’s being performed by us in a small gymnasium in a Kansas town of less than 1000 people or whether it’s being performed for that same number every night for a month on Broadway.

Not all renditions of it are the same, some are drastically different from ours, but everyone seems to have their own form of the piece.

I think I’ll keep that in mind when I get to the studio tomorrow. 🙂

A Perspective-Changing Quote By A Guest Artist

Yesterday, choreographer Jessica Lang of Jessica Lang Dance, said something interesting to start our dance class.

She said the best way to get better at being creative was to practice creativity daily.

What an idea, what a thought, what a truth. Lombardi once said “We are what we repeatedly do.” He said “Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” Yet so too is creativity. So too is elegance, eloquence, power and beauty (both in the masculine and the feminine sense, as applicable in your case). 

So is love. So is openness. So is vulnerability and thus so is growth. And all of these, from loving someone well, which requires an absolute passionate dedication to self-improvement (whether as a friend or as a lover), to dancing, to writing, to just existing as a good person, all of these start with creativity which requires growth which thus requires a certain level of absolute vulnerability.

Marianne Williamson once wrote that “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

That takes practice. It takes creativity. And, like Jessica Lang said: the best way to get better at being creative, is to practice it daily.

Have a good day everyone. Send me your thoughts as they come to you.

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. 🙂