Friday, November 29, 2013

Chronicles of an Understudy

I had a tough time with casting this semester. After 3 auditions, I was cast in only one piece in a student-choreographed production by one of my close friends. I was extremely lucky, after expressing my devotion to my favorite professor, that I was taken on as an understudy to a faculty-choreographed piece.

As eternally grateful as I am to have had any part in the creation of the piece, I struggled with understudying. Dancers by nature are perfectionists: we all are, to some degree. I'm pretty extreme in my perfectionism and my expectations of myself. I learned 5 parts, out of the 10 dancers cast.

Even if you've never been an understudy, think back to any piece you've been in. No two dancers ever do exactly the same thing, even if the choreography never differentiates between dancers. Your pathways on the stage and interaction with other dancers are always unique to your role in the piece. The piece I understudied was exclusively partner work: I had to learn partnering, 90% of the time without a partner, and hardly never with the partner that I would be dancing with if someone got injured.

However, this was not the hardest part of being an understudy. For me, the hardest part was not being in the piece. I was lucky that my choreographer did not ignore us understudies, that the cast was never coldly exclusive, and that my fellow understudies became my loving family. Despite all the positives, there was always the nagging jealousy of those that were cast that coupled with the contrasting fear of someone being injured and being thrown into the piece unexpectedly.

I was incredibly happy and proud of the dancers in the piece, and the sense of awe every time I watched the piece never faded. I was their #2 fan, right behind the choreographer. I knew all of their parts intimately, I videotaped every run, and I closely analyzed the music to the point where I knew it as well as the choreographer did (if not better). I was proud of my work. I'm so thankful that no one was injured and that I never had to replace anyone. At the same time, I desperately wanted at least one chance to feel the way they did, to be a part of the magic that went into creating the piece, an indispensable part of a beautiful, complex puzzle.

Understudying is an experience. Every performer should do it once: it builds your strength and character, as well as working your brain in a totally different manner. Being an understudy is essentially more difficult than actually being a part of the piece or performance. I gained so much insight into dance, emotions, and myself from my time understudying. At the same time, I know in my heart that it's not for me. And that's okay.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ink or no?

This is a question that's been running around my mind since I turned eighteen, with a little curiosity beforehand. Tattoos? Can I have a tattoo as a dancer? Will it be frowned upon? My curiosity and yearning became even worse when I was asked to design a tattoo that represented me as a person as an assignment for my sociology class. I became attached to the design.

An article just appeared in Dance Magazine titled "Indelible Expressions," which touches on the topic and meaning of tattoos. A soloist with American Ballet Theatre, Sascha Radetsky has his fair share of large, dark tattoos. While he understands when he is asked to cover his tattoos for contemporary or classical ballets in most cases, he expresses his belief that ballet and ink can coexist. They even have some similarities: dance and tattoos are both artistic forms of self-expression, "only the latter doesn't require a theater, peculiar female footwear, or unfortunate male undergarments to function." (I like this guy.)

I'm still torn, because even though tattoos are becoming more and more widely accepted, Radetsky notes that many dancers lose out on job opportunities because of their tattoos. Even though there is now makeup or flesh-colored tape that can cover almost any tattoo, some choreographers (especially in classical ballet) do not approve or like to hire dancers that have any tattoos, regardless of whether they are seen in the costume or not. Modern dance and contemporary ballet are becoming more accepting of tattoos, but you'll probably forever have to cover tattoos for a music video or the Nutcracker.

Despite the hassle and potential job loss, it's still attractive. What do you think?
only the latter medium doesn’t require a theater, peculiar female footwear, or unfortunate male undergarments to function. - See more at:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 31

Wooo made it to post #31 of this series and past 40,000 views! Have some more awesome videos.

Movement Research: Floorwork and Libertango - Tom Weksler
Absolutely stunning control and innovation. It's hard to believe what the human body can do, given the right training, resources, and a healthy dose of daring. This makes me want to get into bboying and inversions so I can add them into my contemporary/modern floorwork.

New York City Ballet Pas de Deux
What would a pas de deux look like from the perspective of two professional ballerina/ballerinos? Whether you've been partnering your whole life or just want to show some of your non-dancing friends/relatives what your point of view is, this video gives a fantastic insider's perspective.

Sinister Kid - David Lim
This piece won first place in the upper division at WOD this year (reference: DanceSpirit). Enjoy.

Sean Lew dancing to Applause by Lady Gaga - Miguel Zarate
I'm sure you've all seen this since it went viral...but how sick is this kid? I only wish I were half that sassy.

#sharethemattress - Ryan Steele
This is a full campaign with a whole slough of videos. This is just one of them. It's fantastic. Here's another great one.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pet Peeve: To Diet or Not to Diet (Part II)

Part 1 of this post discussed my views on healthy eating, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and deciding what, if any, diet to follow. Now, I want to discuss my own diet.

I follow a fairly strict no-starchy-or-refined-carbs diet, which I affectionately call "eating like a diabetic." Because, really, that's exactly what it is. Over the summer, a close family member discovered they were prediabetic, which prompted me to learn exactly what it means to eat for a diabetic lifestyle.

The Idea
I read The Glycemic Load Diabetes Solution, which is a fantastic, life-changing read whether or not you yourself are diabetic. Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are three of the most common chronic diseases in the US, and all three are linked to higher risk of heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, and various cancers. The idea is to cut out foods that not only are high on the glycemic index, but those that are high on the glycemic load. The glycemic index compares foods by how much sugar each food item contains, while the glycemic load compares foods by how quickly and how much of said sugar will be distributed into your bloodstream. Hopefully, you can see why it is important to consider both when choosing your carbohydrates.

The main idea is that carbs don't have to be starchy - fruits and vegetables are also made up of carbohydrates that are much more nutrient dense (more vitamins and minerals per calorie) than breads and pastas. Starchy carbs release all their sugar into your bloodstream at once, causing a spike that makes your body store the extra as fat. After your body has stored it all away as fat, you experience a sugar crash and more hunger sensations. Sucks huh?

My Diet
So what do I eat if I don't eat carbs? Well, I don't eat starchy and refined carbs. You're thinking breads, pastas, cereals, rice. But that also includes chips, crackers, pretzels, potatoes, granola, oatmeal, porridge, and even sweet potatoes.

The government tells you, via My Plate or the Food Pyramid, that starchy carbs should be a major part of your diet - the most servings in your day. I eliminated that entirely and enlarged the fruits and vegetables category.

What do I eat in a day?
I'm a college kid on the go (moreso than most), but I figured out how to cook simple meals in less than 15 minutes that I can pack to go. I start off my day with greek yogurt with some chia seeds, berries, nuts, and another piece of fruit (a pear, peach, plum, apple, etc). Lunch and dinner usually look pretty similar: a piece of chicken, a sausage, ground turkey, eggs, etc as protein and probably 3-4 servings of kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers (if I don't have time to cook), etc. Somewhere in the middle of the day, I'll have an apple and some trail mix as a snack.

I mix my own trail mix with pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, crasins, and raisins. I always have a mason jar full of it in my backpack for whenever I get hungry. As soon as I feel hunger pangs, I eat a handful and drink more water to keep my stomach happy and blood sugar constant.

How do I feel and why did I do it?
I feel great, probably better than ever. I don't really experience carb cravings, but sometimes I'll have a handful of pretzels, chips, or some chocolate. Moderation is key - I'm rarely starving, so I'll just eat a little and feel satisfied.

I did it to lose weight, to be honest. I wanted to be healthy and prevent disease (diabetes runs in my family, as well as breast cancer), but my immediate goal was to lose 10 pounds. I wasn't overweight by any means, but I could stand to lose a little tummy fat (most people can) and...let's be real, I'm a dancer. We always want to lose weight.

I've been about 5 weeks on this diet, and that combined with a little more exercise has helped me to lose 5-6 pounds, which is a pretty good deal in my eyes. I feel and look better, and I don't feel as though I've lost much.

Part of this is that I love fruits and veggies - I'm sure this diet could be devastating to someone who loves starchy carbs. The lifestyle change wasn't that radical for me, it was just one less food item I had to prepare (and when you're cooking for yourself, it's a huge difference). As always, moderation is key. I had to ease into giving up carbs, but it's second nature to me now. I order my burgers without buns or at least take off the top bun (to justify ordering fries). I'll order protein and veggie entrees at restaurants and replace the mashed potatoes with green beans. Sugary drinks are mostly gone, but I'll keep some juice in the fridge for when I need something sweet.

**Edit: the most important thing when considering a change in your diet is "Is this a diet?" Diets are not supposed to be short-lived, I-need-to-lose-weight-now deals. A true diet is a lifestyle change, a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.

Remember, what works for me might not work for you, and my beliefs may not be consistent with yours and what you've learned. Either way, I hope you learned something, and maybe that you'll consider a good lifestyle change. Good luck!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 30

High For This Cover - Anthony Lee choreography
This piece shows that choreography doesn't have to be fast, flashy, or even contain large movement to be dynamic and captivating.

Polina Semionova
Absolutely exquisite. A good ballerina doesn't need costumes, lights, or a partner to show her talent: just give her a huge stage, an empty grand opera house, and a camera. Oh, and she's getting a flower named after her!

Yves Saint Laurent commercial for Belle D'Opium
This commercial was banned for it's supposed 'suggestion of injecting opiates into the body.' However, the choreography, cinematography, and soundtrack meld together in a captivating and dramatic minute of dance.

Simkin and the City
"What if real people acted the way dancers do in story ballets?" Hilarious and beautiful at the same time. The reactions of some of the onlookers are priceless.

Get Loose - Alan Lee
Hot and beautiful, great style.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What is Modern Dance?


I took an abrupt hiatus a month and a half ago, and in the middle of a series of posts! I'm a horrible person. I'm sorry. It's been hard for me to come up with anything to post...because really, I had nothing to say. I'm recovering very nicely from my injury (might even be normal by the time school starts), but I haven't really, truly danced in so long that I've almost forgotten what I loved so much about it. I've been having doubts, in short. Forgive me.

I read this glorious article in the Huffington Post yesterday titled "What the Heck Is Modern Dance?" by Nora Younkin. I did a few posts (Part 1 and Part 2) earlier that discussed what I call "The Question," or "What kind of dance?" and "What do you want to do with your degree?" I love dance and I'm proud of it, but I hate answering these questions.

Very much like Ms. Younkin, the truth is that I don't really know what I'm going to do in the future. Modern and contemporary dance is my favorite genre, persay. There are modern companies and groups that I'd love to dance for. I might move to New York City and give it a go.

Dancers combine many disciplines, including athleticism, artistry and creativity, education, and global and political awareness. Though it may be all-encompassing and too presumptuous to say, I have always considered modern dance to be the more "intellectual" branch of dance. Jazz is largely known for its commercialism or showiness, and ballet is viewed as the art form to entertain kings and queens. Modern dance was born from dancers for dancers in rebellion against ballet to explore and create new things. In Younkin's words, "Modern dance is a big invitation for interpretation, and sometimes it requires the audience to take an open-minded leap into the new, unknown, bizarre or abrasive." In some cases, modern dance isn't even intended for an audience (Cunningham anyone?).

People think they don't "get" dance because they don't understand what a piece means, or why certain movements are used. I like to tell these people that it doesn't matter what it means (unless it's a story ballet or Broadway musical). What matters is that you, as an audience member, take something away from the performance, whether that be a memory of a beautiful spectacle or a deeper understanding of sadness, betrayal, and heartbreak. Everything doesn't have to make sense. After all, what is art but a senseless realm for open interpretation?

As I finish writing this post and publish it, I feel like I've regained half of my love for dance. At least, my respect and fondness for the intellectual defense of dance has returned. Thank goodness I'm going to ballet tonight.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pet Peeve: To Diet or Not to Diet (Part I)

I've always firmly believed Garfield's description of dieting: diet is "die" with a "t." As I started taking nutrition, physiology, and other science classes in college, that idea seemed to reaffirm itself time and time again. I've been arguing with my parents about what's "good" and "bad" in the food world, but everything seems to go in circles! On the other hand, who doesn't want to lose weight, have more energy, and feel great?

I have been comparing all of the facts in my head for quite some time now. DanceSpirit recently did a great article on 5 Reasons Not to Diet Through Your Teen Years, which brings up some really good points. I'll try to list out my own reasons with the science behind them:

  1. Extremes are bad: moderation is always the key. Love bacon, or coffee, or chocolate? Have one piece, or one cup - not five. One can't hurt that much, but five can. In the same way, extreme dieting like the Atkins diet (all red meat and green leafies, no carbs) or the Master Cleanse (lemons, water, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and a laxative) can hurt more than they help for the reasons listed in the article. Technology may have advanced the human race, but the human body is almost exactly the same as the caveman's body was centuries ago. Your body is simple and stupid.
    • note: some people consider vegetarianism or veganism to be extremes. They can be for some people (my mom has terrible stomach problems if she doesn't eat meat), but for some people, it can be the right choice. Everyone has a different body chemistry - not everyone is cut out to be vegan, and some vegans are very healthy.
  2. Never, ever starve yourself: you're a dancer! Food is literally what fuels your instrument. If you try to diet by not eating enough, your metabolism will ultimately slow down because your body is tricked into "survival mode," thinking you're starving and can't find food. This will trigger cravings for starchy or sugary foods like fries, chips, and sweets because they are a quick way to get glucose, the only fuel your brain can use, into your bloodstream.
  3. Too much of a good thing: I'm repeating myself a bit, but extremes are bad. If you eat only celery and tomatoes because they're "safe," think again. You'll be missing a lot of vitamins and minerals you need that you'd get with a varied diet. Supplements aren't an answer - your body absorbs natural nutrients much easier and they're much more compatible with your body chemistry. Likewise, it's good to drink water, but it's possible to drink too much! You might be flushing out some of those important vitamins and minerals that you need, and in extreme cases you can thin your blood too much and pass out!
Of course, you have to do good things too, not just avoid bad things.
  1. Variation is key: Another repetition, but varying your diet is a way to diet! If you eat the same thing every day, your body will become very efficient at processing and storing that food. For me, I was eating a slice of whole grain toast with almond butter and a banana for breakfast every day. It started out as a very filling food that would last me hours, but within weeks, I was starving just 45 minutes later after eating exactly the same breakfast! Eating different things at different times each day will keep your body guessing, working, and burning more calories. Don't let it get lazy!
  2. Eat breakfast: Have you ever heard people tell you to work out first thing in the morning because it jumpstarts your metabolism and helps you burn more calories all day? Breakfast does the same thing - it starts your metabolism and helps regulate your appetite and hunger/thirst hormones for the day. Studies show that people who don't eat breakfast regularly (or forgo it for a cup of coffee) eat more throughout the day and are prone to making poorer health choices.
  3. Exercise!: As much as we all hate to hear it, the only way to truly "diet" is a lifestyle change, and that means food and exercise. I came up with some ways to stay in shape this summer, and remember that something is better than nothing! If you want to lose weight, you have to do more than you're currently doing (yes, even dancers). More muscle burns more calories even when it's sitting doing nothing, so pick up some strength training and tone up!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 29

Sorah Yang and Young J - Hold On
**WARNING: explicit lyrics. These two move so incredibly fast. Blink or breathe and you've already missed something spectacular.

Ricky Ubeda - Slide
I think I've been dancing this wrong my entire life (although middle school me would never have pulled out a tilt at a school dance). Those competition judges must have a great sense of humor.

tWitch and Allison - on Dancing with the Stars
Old news, but admit it: none of us can get enough of this couple.

Shaping Sound - Bohemian Rhapsody
When you combine one of the best songs ever written with one of the premier companies in the US, a fantastic lighting designer with an eye for the theatrical, a rock concert set-up, and screaming crowd, you get one of the most epic performances ever created for contemporary dance.

Christopher Scott for SYTYCD Top 10 guys - Sand
Flawless. I have no words for how much I admire Christopher Scott for this concept, choreography, and creativity, and equal admiration for the guys who partnered the sand (and each other) so effortlessly. So many things could have gone wrong (slip, sand in the eyes...), but it was perfection. Nigel may be onto something about wanting his ashes to be danced with when he dies...