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! 😀

Morning Reading :)

Here’s a quote from my morning reading that stands out to me as something I can empathize a bit with.

“Think, they say patiently, we could make you famous again. Let me fall in love one last time, I beg them. Teach me mortality, frighten me into the present. Help me to find the heft of these days. That the nights will be full enough and my heart feral.”

—from “I Imagine The Gods” by Jack Gilbert

Have a great day everyone.

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.

Misguided Chain Reactions

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day:

“You wouldn’t worry about what people thought of you so much if you knew how little they did.”

I saw another, which I’m paraphrasing because I’m not sure I have it worded exactly right.

Don’t dwell too long on the negative things in life, but rather turn your energy to those things and people that inspire you.

Maybe it was Tara Stiles, a famous Yogi I’m a fan of, who said that last one. Maybe it’s written in the Holy Bible; I’m sure it’s certainly wise enough a sentiment to be in there. Regardless, there’s an inherent vitality to the ideas presented in these two modern morals if we just listen to them.

On one hand, we have a quote telling us not to worry about what other people think, while on the other we have one telling us to focus our hearts on those that inspire us, not those that bring us down.

I think we ought to focus on thanking those who inspire us by becoming great enough that we inspire them to keep on inspiring.

We ought to seek people around us who build us up, people who we know will think of us in their nightly prayers and who will look forward to our company in the coming days. We ought to surround ourselves with no nonsense people who will push us and inspire us and put us in our places when we aren’t living up to our obligations. People who will call us out not just when we aren’t living up to the physical obligations we make like showing up to meetings on time, but the obligations we make that are more mental, such as showing up prepared and energetic and ready to work whenever we arrive somewhere. We should seek people like my friend and mentor in the Tap Ensemble here at K-State who tells me bluntly when I need to work on a step and master it, even if it’s a basic one, but who I believe also will call me out in the morning if I don’t bring my normal energy to the place as well. We should seek to put ourselves in company of people like this, people who’s toughness with us is founded in care and the desire to see us grow. People who’s skill in our chosen crafts inspire us to push ourselves harder; not so that they’ll think more of us when we’re not around, but so they’ll think more of us when we are.

As we strive to be better and to fulfill the expectations of those who inspire us, we should deliberately think more of them. We should think of them in our evening prayers, we should tell people about how grateful we are for them, we should thank God for them or the universe for them, or maybe both depending on your beliefs.

The people of the world generally have a problem: we focus too readily on things that bring us down.

When I say “bring us down,” I don’t just mean things that make us “sad.” I think that’s part of the problem too, our communicators and writers have gotten so cliché in their use of the word “down” that it can seemingly mean nothing else beside “sad.” But thoughts and emotions that bring us down can be completely unrelated to sadness. Fear or anger are obvious ones that can make a person feel “down,” but there are less obvious emotions such as resentment, jealousy, and even irritation or annoyance that can do the same. These things cause us to think more about negative things, things we don’t like or believe in, and they draw our focus away from what we should be focused on: our passions and using them to benefit the universe as much as possible.

This morning, I woke up and checked Facebook and saw my employer, the newspaper, posted an article about the band’s performance at the K-State football game last night. I saw how many people were offended by the performance. I was irritated, not at the newspaper at all by any means, which I’m grateful and blessed enough to be employed by, but at the idea people were so offended by what I thought was an amazing performance. I was irritated at how many people saw a sexual innuendo in it. Maybe I was too naive to see it, even as I watched it live online and had a “bird’s eye” view of the thing. Maybe I was too naive or stubborn to see it even as I watched the meme online afterward while trying to focus on the video itself instead of the childish giggling of the twenty-something-year-olds in the background. Maybe my mind isn’t in the gutter as much as I sometimes beat myself up for it being.

Either way, the performance was good, and I can’t imagine performing music while marching in such specific patterns while listening to the music, keeping rhythm and beat, and staying in step. The difficulty of such a combination is unimaginable for me. I sang choir for four years. Maybe I wasn’t any good, but just singing the right notes with the right dynamics and tempo alone was hard. Doing it while moving would have been nearly impossible. Still, people were hating on/criticizing the band members and the band director, so much that the band director put out an official statement on Facebook. This really angered me. It still does when I think about it.

I digress again, and there you see how quickly it can happen! There you see how easy that trap of negativity is to fall into even as I write about it and am consciously aware of it. That quote up near the top of the page about focusing on what inspires you, instead of what brings you down, immediately came to my heart even as I read the article and got annoyed at all the Hatorade baths people were giving the band instead of the Gatorade baths they deserved.

When I realized my irritation, it felt like a gentle scolding. It came from all I’d been taught by God and life. It was not an angry scolding but rather a disappointed one. In my soul, it felt the way the words “Son, come on now. What are you doing?” would have felt had those come from my mom or dad as I grew up. It wasn’t angry, but it was clearly a distinct, unhappy call to step up my game and focus.

That’s my point in all of this. We as society need to focus more. We need to stop dwelling on what’s bad or what irritates us. It’s okay to feel those things, it’s even okay to ponder why they are bad or irritating. It isn’t productive to dwell on them though. We need to find our passions in life; those things that we can do as energetically as we used to play on the playgrounds in our elementary schools, and focus on those.

We should be focused on what we love. We should be focused on serving God and the universe (depending on your beliefs here) through our passions. We should be so focused, in fact, that we don’t have time to keep dwelling on what upsets us, or bothers us, or angers us beyond the point that it inspires us to try and change it. In other words, if it’s not something we can control but it’s something we don’t like, we must be tough enough and disciplined enough to turn our attention back to making the most good with what we can: our passions.

When start to do that, when we start again to dwell on those people or things that inspire us to be better, we will begin to inspire others to be better. We will think of them when they are not around and they will think of us, and we will start to create a circle of inspiration that will spread like a nuclear reaction, and the world will be better for it.

It has to start with us, and it has to start right the hell now.

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.

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 🙂

The Newbie Chronicles (part 3): Initial Audition Results

You ever have one of those moments where you do something so impossibly bad that you then have to go do something you know you aren’t horrible at shortly thereafter, just to make yourself feel better?

Yeah, I was there. I mean on one hand, what could I really expect. I’d never been through an audition for a show before. Heck, two days earlier I had only ever had my first dance audition of any type; for the local tap group. That audition felt ambitious enough, so what was I even doing at this one?! Auditioning for a show? Me? Like with a single year of dance classes and no ballet to speak of?

I admit I almost chose to skip the auditions on the morning of them, at least a full three dozen times in the three hours leading up to them actually. I was THAT nervous. But I couldn’t back out, because there was a new friend who I had met casually the day I went in to meet my future ballet teacher. It was a real friendly girl who had reached out and said ‘hi’ and basically said the dance division was small and they liked knowing everyone, and since I was one of like seven guys (that’s a liberal estimate, not a conservative one on my part lol) they wanted to at least say hi. That day, this friend had said I should audition for this show, and I had said I would. So in the interest of knowing that she would be there, I figured I’d better make a decent impression by at least not backing out. Sure I’d screw up, sure she’d see exactly why I was reluctant, but at least I wouldn’t be the twerp who told one of the best ballerina’s in the program he would do something only to not. What kind of first impression would that be! Nope, this had to happen, inhibitions and shyness be damned.

So there I was. Of course, I knew I was in hot water right from the start. Make no mistake, I had no illusions about my inabilities. I’m a really new dancer, I’m not afraid to face that reality, but I also knew that my tap and jazz teacher wouldn’t be there because she’s taking sabbatical this semester, so I knew nothing I’d ever seen would appear in the audition. Thus, the whole “I’m new” excuse to myself only carried so much weight.

It started off about as you’d expect for a dude who didn’t know any ballet terms except Plie, First Position and Third position. Basically everything that happened in the audition was ballet or ballet related with a twist of Modern style (which I also haven’t taken, I’m just guessing here). To give you a feel about just how bad it went and how I felt leaving, here’s another story, a true one, that’ll give you a little better frame of reference.

It Was Like That One Game Against K-State’s Ultimate Frisbee Team

Back in high school I played Ultimate Frisbee. Still do off and on actually. In 2006, in my Junior year of high school, I was on the high school team at the school I would end up graduating. It was a good team, a really good team, and I held my own on it. They would end up actually finishing in the top 25 high school teams in the nation that season. That year, we were going to play the high school team from our rival school in the city where I now go to college. However, that year, their team collapsed, leaving us with no way to qualify for the national tournament. We desperately needed a tournament under our belt to earn a spot at nationals. So what did we do? We picked the Kansas State University tournament and went out to play against some of the local college teams.

We actually did okay against the local community colleges, including Washburn University, a great largely-law school in Topeka. Actually, we beat them the second day of the tournament after barely loosing to them on the first day. It was great, we left there feeling like I don’t even know what. Something wonderful. However, the one loss that I remember distinctly is the one where we went up against the host team, Kansas State.

Just how bad did that game go? Well, for us high school juniors and seniors, these guys and girls looked like titans. I’d swear they had a solid 18 inches of height on all of us. While most of the college teams at the tournament brought less than 14 people, and we brought two full 7 person lineups, allowing us to cycle out faster and essentially outrun most of them, K-State had a full two lineups and then some extra players still. They had talent, they had physical advantage, and unlike anyone else at that tournament, they had the fresh legs to keep up with us. It was a bloodbath. Plain and simple. It was so bad, in fact, that as we were playing, they would give us pointers on how to play better against them. For those who don’t know, in ultimate frisbee you can’t run with the disk. Usually there’s a person there trying to keep you as a thrower from getting your pass off whenever you have it. Well, I distinctly remember the guy who was playing defense on me giving me instructions on how to pivot and keep my body more under control while I was trying to throw around him. And this was DURING the game. That’s how bad it was. I think we lost 13-2.

Three Positives That Happened

Well, this ballet audition, or rather this show audition that was mostly ballet, really felt like that. It was funny actually, because at one point, I was lined up in front of the lady who will be my ballet teacher this semester, and she actually was encouraging me as she saw my facial expressions betray my inner frustration at myself. Thank God for her that day. No joke. I really needed that, because I felt awful as I went through all of that, and even though she hadn’t had me in class, there she was after just casually talking to me once on a single day weeks before, saying “You’re doing fine Shelton, keep going. You’ll be okay.” I’ll forever look on that moment as one of my favorite ever, actually.

Believe it or not though, there were three great parts about that day.

The second great thing was that I actually got to dance with this friend who had convinced me to show up. Now, I don’t mean “dance with” as in couple dance, but rather more like “work around.” We were in the same lines sometimes, so in some cases we did the same choreography at the same time. Well, okay, that’s ambitious of me to say. Let me rephrase that: SHE did the choreography, I just hoped I didn’t look like a fawn with a drinking problem as I visualized myself trying to do it :P. There we go, that’s much more accurate. In any case, at one point I got too close as she spun during some choreography, and when she came out of it I took a gentle, and graceful, but midly noticeable, kick to the right ribs. I felt bad about it, because she seemed to feel bad and apologized, but I was behind her in the movement sequence and it was actually me who caused it by following too close. Served me right. Still though, she was really sweet about it. Either way though, I look back at it and even at the time I was actually thrilled. It didn’t hurt, and now I can say I’ve been kicked in the ribs by someone who may end up doing this professionally, if I’m any judge of talent at all. Because if there was anything I learned that day, it was that this friend I’d randomly met, had pure and well earned swagger. She was spectacular as a dancer, both from how she danced and how she conducted herself during the audition. She’d be directing us other dancers to get in lines actually during the audition, coordinating and leading us like a military sergeant just trying to hold a line in battle or something, and I think we all sensed the complete understanding she had of what needed to happen. She was calm, but direct and directing, and it actually made me feel better knowing that as long as I did what she told me, I wouldn’t commit any cardinal sins regarding dance auditions. There was a lot of comfort in that actually, with it being my first one. Basically we followed her lead and, at least from my perspective, she crushed that audition. I left that day in awe of her.

The other positive that came from that audition was that there was another person I met the day I went in and talked to my future teacher. That day, as I went and talked to my future professor, the previously discussed girl had a couple of other dancers with her as well (they were getting dressed in regular clothes after class). The second person I met was also at this audition, and we danced in more pieces together than even the first dancer and I. Actually in one, we had to work with another dancer but wordlessly and just via eye contact, and she and I did. Occasionally, between other dances throughout the audition, we’d whisper back and forth, and as it turned out she’s going to be a teacher’s aid (if I understand it right) for one of my two classes with this teacher this semester! She also is a great girl, and the more she and I talked the more I realized there’s potential for a great friendship there as well. That was a really neat revelation of that audition. That was the third great thing that happened that day.

Aftermath

In the end though, like I said, it felt horrible. I left there thinking I had done even worse than I previously expected. But hey, at least I’d been kicked in the ribs, realized I had another potential friend and realized I’d have a really encouraging teacher this semester right? Still, I left that audition and went straight to the tap studio down the hall and went to work for a full thirty minutes as hard as I could. I had to get that audition out of my head before I left the building. It was, in my opinion that day, that bad.

The story could end there, but it doesn’t. By either a miracle of movement on my part that day, or a total leap of faith by the three choreographers who ran us through movements that day, I actually made it! I’ll actually be in multiple pieces! Maybe they just wanted to get guys involved and there I was! Maybe they just wanted to encourage a new dancer! Maybe I did okay! Who cares! I don’t know what their logic is, and I don’t want to!!!! I just know I’m going to work my heart out to prove that casting me was a great decision! 🙂 To this day, my mind is still overwhelmed, and I still blush like an elementary school boy who just got kissed when I think about that day and all that’s ahead :).

The Newbie Chronicles! (Category Description)

Welcome to this blog’s flagship page! If you enjoy anything on this blog, I believe it’s the stories here that will hook you :). This is, proverbially, “my baby” as a writer. This is my favorite page, and I’m sure it’ll be yours as well. 🙂

This is where you’ll find the more humorous of adventures in my life as a newly realized yogi and dancer. If I make some kind of mistake, or go through something that on explanation to my friends makes them laugh with any regularity, it’ll go here. If it’s ridiculous or so out of my comfort zone that I just have to pause and laugh it off, it’ll go here lol. The posts may not happen on an specific schedule, they’ll just be published as they happen. If I reference someone in particular in a way that may seem critical of them or offensive, I’ll usually get their permission first. So know that if it’s here, you can enjoy it and laugh at it guiltlessly.  🙂