On Reading “The Abnormal Is Not Courage” by Jack Gilbert

I am overwhelmed.
I have seen through the half-blind verse of another
writer’s eyes. I have become
involuntarily mesmerized
as if watching an owl fly
illuminated only by the light of the stars beyond,
little more than a mere memory of a shadow.
 
I have been overwhelmed,
have looked into her
eyes before “Anything Goes” in 2014. Seen
Taylor Swift at the Sprint Center a year earlier heard
13,000 fans sing in blissful ignorance about love.
I have been overwhelmed by the poem
the way I felt walking
home after my very first dance class.
The way I felt after seeing Carolyn dance
to win “Dancing with the K-State Stars.”
 
I am, at the hands of verse
Emancipated.
Enthralled.
Left wordless.
Freed.
Voluntarily recaptured.
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Proclamation.

On the morning of the opening performance of Springdance 2016, I woke up with a horrifyingly sad, exciting, terrifying realization. The date: April 1st, 2016.

The realization: I can’t let this end.

This camaraderie. This teamwork. This rush you get from it all.

Forget the performing. Every true performer feels that. The way you feel when the lights are off but the curtain comes up with you holding your shape like a statue, eyes burning with energy in the darkness while the audience waits eagerly to see you and your teammates, your peers, your fellow goddesses, illuminated by the lights from the wings of the stage. Forget the performing. Forget the way you wait on the lights to rise, to ignite the fuse of desire that runs from them straight into your soul, causing it to leave your body and transpose itself on the stage through your movements.

Forget that. Everyone feels that.

The rush I’m talking about is very different, it’s the rush of the process. Of auditioning, of making it, of struggling through choreography that you’re determined to get but that you never really nail until the final two dress-rehearsals; as if your mind possesses the same blazing hot competitive fire the best professional athletes are known for. The fire that dictates that, when the moment is crucial and everything they’ve ever worked for falls upon their shoulders and a single, solitary moment, they come through seemingly effortlessly.

I’m talking about the rush of casual, sweet conversations with the beautiful dancers backstage. The casual jokes about the week or the way the assistant stage-manager looks “adorable” running across the stage. The joy of dancing with people. Of doing something that at times can be so solitary but is inherently social, even to the point that you know you never actually dance alone, even if you have a solo, because people in the wings and people around you love what you do because you do it.

In such a competitive world, that’s a beautifully dissonant concept. And it’s one I’ve been so blessed, to the point of being spoiled, to be a part of.

On April 1st, I woke up and realized how bitterly sad it was that I only had these two, and next year’s two, Springdance performances left. I woke up and realized that, ok fine, these things have to end eventually. Time, after all, waits for no one. But damn it if that means I have to stop performing, or at least stop trying to.

Because here’s the thing: Such sadness, matched with the joy of making so many friends through rehearsals and short conversations, can overwhelm the heart. It can do so to the extent that you realize you need to change how you live because of how special it all is.

Even if it changes, even if what we feel is just the naiveté of college dance and in the real world it changes to the point of being totally unrecognizable, the very fact that it existed at all makes it worth seeking for all eternity. Makes it worth fighting for for all eternity.

Makes it worth creating anew in the case it has gone extinct or been forgotten.

In a way, I suppose that’s what Love is, isn’t it?

I guess what I mean to say is simply this: I want to dance for the rest of my life. Not just as something that supports my running-life, but maybe even professionally.

And I know my dancing peers would say that might be a bit “ambitious,” maybe outright “insane.” I get that, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against me. All I’ve got is passion, the desire to work hard, and some of the best friends and teachers on the planet who are willing to put up with my inexperience and help me mosey along.

Yet so many have told me they disagree that I’m “wasting my time.” So many have told me to go for it, from those I have known closely to those that I haven’t known at all but who I have still bounced questions off of randomly (like I did to one former professional-ballerina who lives in the Boston area). I get it; I’m not a great dancer yet. I started old (at age 24). I’m a dude in a girls’ sport. Hell, I’m a straight dude in a predominantly girls’ sport, which can make things even more complicated. There’s a lot to navigate both socially and physically (as an athlete). I have so far to go to get to any professionally-respectable level.

But when I woke up that morning, I realized that what we’ve done, and what we were doing, and what we did, were all I wanted from life.

So I’ve spent the last few days contemplating. Now, I’m ready to say it:

I’m going to get good.

Not only will I keep dancing, I’m going to push myself athletically and make that my focus so that maybe one day, I’ll be good, or, even crazier, “great.” And, by “great,” I mean good enough that I can land a low-level gig performing. Certainly teaching, but maybe even performing.

If nothing else though, I’ll never stop auditioning. My love and passion for it, my unquenchable craving for it that I can’t restrain, won’t allow it.

Athletically, I’ve always been a long-distance runner first. Today, I’m announcing that I’m going to change that up and become a dancer first, and a runner second. Not because I don’t like running, and not because I don’t love runners, because I love both.

But my soul burns with icy desire to be a better dancer, to help those dancers around me, to inspire the world that way.

I was put on this earth to tell stories. I can serenade everyday citizens with my poetry and can seduce poets into reading long writing segments with my prose.

Now though, I want to learn to do it with movement as well. I always did, but the other day, I learned that this is inescapable, and, because it is, I need to give it absolutely all priority outside of my writing, even to the point of sacrificing my emphasis in something I’m good at, like running.

So perhaps I should reintroduce myself. I am Shelton Matthew Burch. I am a Writer, and I am an aspiring Tap Dancer.

I train to be the best storyteller and athlete possible, both through writing and dance. Athletically, I choose to be a dancer first. To support and thrive at running, but to use it to support the endurance needed to dance so that I might inspire the world not just with my words but with my movements. I strive to become as flexible and strong as an olympic-level athlete, but with the endurance of a competitive half-marathoner.

And, above all, I seek to glorify God through my excellence in both. This is what I chase. This is how I serve, and this is who I will be. 🙂

Have a great day everyone. 🙂

The Newbie Chronicles (Part 4): “That’s As Relaxed As My Hamstring Gets.”….”Oh My God, That’s Scary.”

As the spring semester rolled on, and Springdance results were posted, I continued my quest of bodily exploration. Ballet 1 was my central class of choice since our Tap teacher was on sabbatical for the next five or six months.

The quote in the title was one of many fascinating exchanges I had with my Ballet teacher that semester.

At one point, the lovely and kind teacher came over to me during warmups at the barre and looked at my hamstrings, then gently grabbed the back of my leg and told me to relax. I told her I was, which she initially seemed not to believe until we worked on it a little more.

Apparently I’m tighter than a broke man’s beer budget.

Flash forward six to nine months, all the way to two weeks ago, and the adventures have continued. A couple of weeks prior, I went into the local doctor’s office here on campus and asked to get my knees checked out. I was worried I had accidentally damaged myself the Tuesday prior before Tap class. I was warming up to a song I’d recently found (“Run Boy Run” by Woodkid) and I wasn’t nice to my knees.

Well that initial doctor had told me “no tap until you can see the physical therapist.”

It was, however, her opening line about 10 minutes prior that won my trust as she ordered me to sprawl out on the table in exam room four.

“…well, I won’t be able to help you much, but physical therapy will.”

Bill Snyder couldn’t have given me a more inspirational pep talk, or one that would have inspired such confidence in what he was about to say.

Just kidding. Thanks lady.

Still, I went to Tap class after that day and took it easy. The truth of the matter was that in 13 years of running I had experienced pain of almost all varieties. This, though, was something new. This was a burning type thing around the knee caps, and slightly more tension in the IT Bands. As athletes, I’ve always believed it was our obligation to our bodies to know when we were just being sissies and whining because we were sore, and to know how to differentiate between when we might actually be hurt. That’s why I went in at all; I thought I might have pinched a meniscus or something.

About a week later, I sat again on the table sprawled out, but this time not in exam room four. This time, I was in the physical therapists office, and Alissa, the therapist who I’d seen for my wrist injury in March, was directing one of the other physical therapists as the newer therapist examined my leg.

She led me through some tests measuring strength and flexibility. Before long, the lady came to my knee caps, where most of my pain had been centralized, and tried to move them.

Remember that first exchange I told you about between my ballet teacher in spring and I? You know, the one in the title bar above? Well, that basically happened again.

The therapist told me, and I’m paraphrasing here: “You know those are supposed to be able to move right?”

Wait…what?

Apparently the muscles and such that flow over the knee cap are supposed to be relaxed enough that a person should be able to move their kneecap up and down and left and right without too much difficulty.

Surprise!

I guess running and dancing and athletic stuff in general causes your muscles to tighten up. Since I’ve added dancing to my regular fitness activities in the last year, it appears I’ve pushed my activity beyond what my body could tolerate without regular stretching.

Again: surprise!!!

Still, I was happy to have learned all of this, especially after the two therapists consulted and decided just to humor me and check out my meniscuses (which were totally fine). Here’s what I learned:


Negatives:

-Yes, I’ll be in pain now and then, particularly in the knees.

-I’ll always be prone to such soreness without preventative measures.

Positives:

-Those preventative measures consist simply of 30 minutes to an hour per day of stretching. Once I get into a routine of that, I’ll be fine as long as I maintain that parallel to my level of activity.

-Since stretching is a way of preventing injuries, stuff like Yoga is great. Meaning I have to keep doing it not just because I love Yoga, but because if I don’t, I could be forced to deal with injuries from running and tap dancing as well.


I’ve always been determined to resist aging as much as possible, both in my body and in mind, but apparently I’ll have to go old-school here, and just start stretching before my day begins.

A Hiatus From Yoga…Reluctantly

I subscribe to a number of Yoga related websites and services, via Facebook, Twitter, the whole shebang. I love my Manduka mat and my towel and my blocks, and in the single year I’ve been doing Yoga I’ve seen such an improvement in how I felt and in my flexibility.

So words can’t describe my frustration that my wrist hasn’t healed completely.

For some background, here’s wassup. On the morning of March 4th, I woke up with soreness in my right wrist. It was bad. Stiff and sore at the same time. I wasn’t able to put weight on it at all. Pushups were impossible. Figuring I had simply slept on it awkwardly, I decided to lay off it for a couple of weeks.

Two weeks later, I tried putting weight on it again. It hadn’t improved. The initial soreness from the night of the 3rd was gone by the end of the 4th, but two weeks later I still wasn’t able to put weight on it at all. This is when I sought medical attention.

The local doctor said I had sprained it. I was put in a wrap and told to lay off of it for a few weeks. Four weeks later I went back. It had been improving, and I was able to put weight on it finally, holding full pushup poses without pain. So the doctor cleared me to gradually start working on strengthening it again.

Still, I would have random stints of pain in the wrist and arm, and I wasn’t sure what it was. Also, I was experiencing tingling occasionally in my ring and pinkie fingers in that same hand. This was troubling because I’m right hand dominant. I’m a writer, I’ve played Ultimate Frisbee intermittently, these are just a couple of the things I do a lot. So I emailed him and told him about these symptoms after thanking him for all his help (he had done well in my opinion). He said these symptoms seemed related to the Ulnar Nerve. He referred me to the in-house physical therapist. This was back around the end of May that this happened.

Six weeks of 1-2 sessions of physical therapy per week, various exploratory sessions and some slight improvement before regression later, I have now been referred to a local hand specialist. The one thing that seems to have been totally crossed off the list is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome because the nerve giving me trouble doesn’t run through the Carpal area, according to my therapist. Otherwise though, after consulting my initial doctor, they have decided this goes above their level with regards to hand knowledge.

So I’ve been referred within the city to a place a couple of blocks from where I live. It took me a week to get an appointment due to availability, so it’s impossible to know yet if that’s a great thing or a horrible one. Either way, I’m eager to hopefully learn what’s up.

In the meantime, as you might have guessed, there’s to be no pushups and thus no Yoga (Downward dog, plank poses, and a number of other yoga poses have similar configurations as to where your weight is put).

I’m grateful to God for my running and dancing, and that my legs are holding steady through the initial week of training for my first full marathon. Without Tap dancing or running, I’d be in pretty bad shape right now psychologically. I’m not in great shape as it is, but those two things have kept my moral steady and kept me from getting too particularly down on myself because I have to write less. Even typing often brings on tingling in that same hand and area, so as I write this you should know I do it without my normal level of comfort.

For someone who has never been able to see himself as able to do anything besides writing well enough to make a living off of it, this is scary friggin stuff. But again, praise God for running and Tap dancing.

That Lady In The Center Of That Stupid Video; A Writing Response For My Poetry Class

A couple of quick things about this poem:

1. I had to take some creative license, as the prompt required me to use the word “crimson” and couldn’t figure out how to describe where the girl in the yellow shirt was. So I wrote this poem about her, and imagined that she was in the center in a crimson shirt.

2. I called the video “stupid” because I can’t get it out of my head ever since I stumbled up on it for the first time last night. The song is calming, yet the rhythms are incredible, the footwork amazing, and the dance overall is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. So the word “stupid” is meant as a term of affection. 🙂

Here’s the link to the video:

Here’s a link to the poem:

2 That Lady In the Center On That Stupid Video That’s Stuck In My Head

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.