Completely Not Ready

I have known this day would come, and I confess I am completely unready for it.

Today, those of us in the Kansas State University Tap Dance Ensemble, as well as the other dancers cast in Spring Dance 2017, take the floors in Nichols Hall for intensives to prepare us for our shows in March.

For me personally, it’s the last first time that I’ll step on the floor in Studio 026 as a student, and I confess that no matter how excited I am to graduate this coming May, the emotional weight of the steps I’m about to take weigh on me heavier than anything I’ve ever done.

I’ll of course try and be an adult and keep it together as much as possible, but the fact is seeing my teammates will bring me a joy only matchable perhaps by the sadness of a final new beginning.

It’ll take everything I am, every ounce of strength I’ve never showed the world, to focus on what I need to, which is how amazingly blessed I get to be as we start the new semester, and, what is more…

As we all get to dance our way into it.

 

Have a great day everyone :).

A Few Weeks In To Tap 3

Editor’s Note: This was initially written back in early February, but was never published though it was fully written. Now seems like an appropriate and interesting time to share, as a way of taking it back to a time in Tap 3. Enjoy 🙂

 

It’s horrifying to think we’re already in February isn’t it?

This semester, I started taking Tap 3 “Advanced Tap.” I also decided, prior to the semester, that I would begin training for my first full marathon. This is something I’ve failed at twice before, in each instance because I tried to train for a full that fell on Feb. 14 or that weekend, which meant I had to train through the snow and through winters that felt about as warm as I imagined the surface of Pluto must feel.

Still, I was sure I could do it this time. It was El Niño, so it was setting up to be the warmest winter in years, and I was training for a May race. Should have worked perfectly.

Instead, I realized by the end of week one that I made a massive miscalculation.

I misjudged the devil out of Tap 3.

I knew it would be fun, and I knew it would be mentally hard, and I knew it would be a workout, but my gosh I didn’t see how much of a workout it would always be.

Keep in mind I’m not complaining at all. I love it, and I love knowing that, by the time it’s done, I’ll be ready to completely rock dance camp again in August. I love knowing it’s making me sharper. I love knowing it’s pushing me far outside my comfort zone and making my feet faster, more precise and capable of enduring more than I ever thought they could.

I just also may have to stop my full-force training, and make this kind of a “dummy-run.” I may try and add the miles and see if I can get to the point of running it, and just run it in Manhattan to see what it feels like and see if I want to deal with that in a full-race environment. Initially though, in weeks 2-4 of my running training, all indications were that I flirted with achilles tendonitis. So I backed off running for those three weeks and ran a grand total of nine miles in there. That’s nowhere near what I “should” be at per my running training, so I’m probably in a bit of trouble with that one. Oh well.

For the moment though, there’s something bigger making me want to hold off on training. I really really really (for emphasis) hate feeling like I’m not dancing well enough to compete on the Tap Ensemble. I want to get better, I want to be one of the best dancers on the Ensemble, even if that isn’t possible and never will be possible because of how new I am. I want to make that pursuit though! I want to chase the gap between the other dances and I like a racing opponent in the distance who I can see ahead of me but fading and who I’m determined to overtake. I musn’t let an injury derail that pursuit, so if I have to back off running to stay healthy while I get used to this semester’s dance load, I can accept that.

I feel such tremendous loyalty to my team that I find myself inclined to give tap my full athletic priority for the moment. I’ll run, but the mileage may not be enough to make it to my chosen full marathon race-date. Instead, I may have to “settle” for trying to PR again at the Bill Snyder Highway Half-Marathon this year. :). Then again though, I did place third in my age group last year, and I’m eating better and training harder via core workouts and dance classes, so maybe I can make the effort in that regard count.

Here’s the truth: I love this dance stuff. I’m not good at it, but I want to be, and I’ll do anything to be, within ethical and legal limits of course! I want to become good enough that I can do it at local gigs and talent shows and maybe even one day become a professional. I have no expectations, but as I once wrote:

Growth,

The preceptor that teaches us to dance with Success,

Chooses to keep better quality company than Comfort.

 

Tap Happy 🙂

-Shelton 🙂

 

Poetry: Uninstalled Strings

Listen to the rhythm of my feet.
Listen to the heart pour itself forth.
Like Pavarotti’s tenor notes,
Like Lebron yelling “Cleveland!”
Like the way monks in the Alps pray for humanity.
 
Listen not for sounds of skill
for my feet are delicate, slow, and untrained.
Listen not for hints of Heaven-instilled greatness,
all you’ll hear is a need
for consistently-hard work.
 
But listen instead for the accented voice that lacks eloquence.
Listen to the feet as they
stumble through shuffles like a poet through a sestina.
Listen. Watch. Feel.
And take heart.
 
Hear the ebbs and flows of the soul through the soles
like a high mountain creek.
Hear the dissonance of weakness and vulnerability
conveyed fiercely, ferociously,
in a stomp shim-sham shimmy and a paradiddle.
 
This poetry of rhythm does not come from skill.
It is not eloquent or gentle or soft-handed.
It is bred of pure desire and prayers for patience.
It is bred like the hockey player in the desert.
It is bred like passion breeds with age.
 
It is bred like a piano player breeds skill with Beethoven
on a piano with uninstalled strings.

A Sick Beat To Start Your Sunday :)

Hey Everyone!

Something I’m going to work on doing more on this site from now on is sharing neat dance videos when I find them (and I usually find lots of them). I haven’t done that a lot, but I want to. This site is, and always will be, primarily about the beauty of life, and dance :).

Here’s a little bit of both! This deserves to be the first offering toward that commitment :). This is the type of sick beat that Taylor Swift said we should be getting down to :P. Enjoy!

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 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 :).

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. 🙂

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.