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...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pet Peeve: Decisions, Politics, and Drama

Making decisions is a really terrible, hard part of life. Sometimes you make good ones, and sometimes you make bad ones. The worst, though, is when there isn't a clear difference between the good and the bad.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided that dance was going to be a big part of my future. I wanted it to be a double major or minor in college (which, by the way, it is part of my double major/dual degree now). I went to an extremely academic college prep, and there are only so many hours in a day. I had to decide how to most wisely spend my time dancing: at school, or in a real dance studio. I was spending over 15 hours a week dancing, but less than half of that was training at a studio, and I needed to progress faster if I wanted to dance in college.

So I had to make a decision: stay with the high school dance team, have the opportunity to choreograph and be one of the "best" dancers, and become team captain my senior year while not improving my technique, or spend more hours in my studio honing my skills and possibly joining a studio group. The clear choice for my future was to quit my school team.

But nobody quits the school team. Everyone expected me to become team captain and choreograph for our annual dance show, and being on the school team was an unspoken contract to stay until you graduated. I was basically a local celebrity. All of my friends were in the school team, and there was no way to leave without there being bad blood. And I liked the school team, I didn't know many girls at my studio. I would have to burn my bridges to do what was right for my future, or stay with what was fun and comfortable and risk my future.

I made the hard decision: I quit the school team and spent more time at the studio, and I'm so grateful to my younger self that I did. My relationship with all of the girls on the team was never the same: one girl still won't speak to me or acknowledge my existence to this day, many years later. Even my teacher didn't approve, she didn't let me choreograph my junior year (but she did my senior year) and I wasn't cast in as many pieces in the annual show. Also, joining my studio team so late meant that I never really fit in the two years I was with them. It wasn't exactly fun, but I learned so much.

I hate politics, but for some silly reason, it isn't possible for dancers to live without drama. Even now, in my college dance department (which is possibly one of the least cutthroat and internally competitive departments out there), there's so much unnecessary political drama that even the teachers get caught up in it.

In the end, do what's right for you. Always consider others and the possible ramifications of your actions, but remember that you don't owe anybody anything and that your life is the most important thing to you. You shouldn't ever sacrifice your own future for anybody or anything. The most rewarding decisions are sometimes the most uncomfortable to make, but they'll be worth it. Look at the decision from all angles. It doesn't matter what they'll say about you in the weeks to come if more people will look at you and applaud in the years to come. The easy decisions rarely amount to anything, and the best decisions are never easy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cheaper Ways to Stay in Shape This Summer

Training to be a dancer is expensive! Classes can range from $10-$30 per session, and then there's summer intensives, costumes, shoes, dancewear, rehearsals, and gas money! It's the summer, and you've got plenty of things to spend your money on besides classes.

Hold on, I'm not saying you shouldn't take class. Please do - if you can, take at least ballet (preferably multiple times per week) and one other style (jazz, modern, contemporary, lyrical, hip hop, ballroom, etc) to keep your technique up. But for those of us who are strapped for cash, I've got a few free and/or cheap ideas to keep you in your best dance (and bikini) shape.

Free Ideas:
  1. Swim in your local community pool - swimming is absolutely fantastic cross training for dancers. It's easy on the joints, the water provides natural resistance (strength training!), increases your lung capacity, and it's intensely cardiovascular if you do laps.
  2. Jogging - great cardiovascular exercise, and you can listen to music, explore new places, and relax while you're at it. Jogging also trains your legs to move in a pattern very different from dancing - you get to spend a lot of time in parallel, learning how to be efficient and push off of your back foot. For even better training, do it on the beach!
  3. At-home workout - create a regimen of all your favorite (and least favorite) exercises and stretches. Be sure to alternate strength, endurance, stretching, and cardio, and choose exercises that will target various muscle groups.
  4. Exercise-ize your daily life - if you don't have time to devote to a daily ritual, add little things throughout your day. Park as far away as you can from the front door, use a basket instead of a cart in the grocery store, take the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator, push your chair back and do squats while you're on the computer, or pull out that shake weight you got as a gag gift for Christmas. Even better: wear ankle weights. You can easily make your own with a pair of old socks and some rice.
  5. Grab a yoga mat or towel and look up yoga exercises on Youtube - it's easy to follow along! You can put on some relaxing music and rewatch the exercises as many times as you need to get them right.
  6. Get a few friends together and teach your own dance classes - you don't need to be in a real studio to dance, especially if you're doing a ballet barre and center adage and petite allegro! Switch off who's preparing the lesson plan and playing "teacher" (don't want to lose your alignment, it's always good to have someone else watching). You'll be more motivated to follow through if other people are in on it, and you gain valuable teaching experience. I firmly believe that if you can teach your peers, you can teach anyone!
  7. Watch movies or Youtube dances and learn the moves - teach yourself some fantastic choreography! Or...
  8. Create your own dance film - I did, and it was so much fun! Choose a song, a theme, and flex your choreographic brain. Hey, maybe you'll get Youtube famous and I'll be posting your video on my "best of the best" posts (if you do make a film, PLEASE link me)!
  9. Bike or rollerblade wherever you go - if you live in a town small enough, or if you don't need to go too far, consider walking or biking!
  10. Instead of meeting your friends for coffee, go hiking - that'll save you the $4.95 you were about to spend on a latte, and you get some fun bonding time while working up a sweat and communing with nature.
  11. Do Pilates during commercial breaks - no one likes commercials. Even a few minutes of exercise interspersed will get your blood pumping instead of being a complete couch potato.
  12. Have dance parties in your own house - whether you dress up and invite your friend group over for a private club night or you're rocking out to Top 40 in your underwear, have fun while listening to great music and making a fool out of yourself.
Cheap Ideas:
  1. Find a fun exercise DVD or game - there are awesome Zumba, Pilates, and Yoga DVD's on the market! Make a trip to your local Target or Walmart and pick out a few fun ones to do with your mom or best friend. If you've got a Wii Fit, have fun while working out with games like Just Dance!
  2. Consider getting a gym membership - some people love gyms! If your parents don't have a treadmill at home, find a gym that's close to your home. They might be offering some great summer deals or student discounts. If you go a few times a week, it could cost you only a dollar or two for every time you go - loads cheaper than dance class. I know some gyms in the area that are offering deals that would cost me the price of two classes at my dance studio.
  3. Invest in your own small exercise equipment - over the course of my dance career, I've gathered lots of handy items that help me do a full body workout at home. It's not much equipment, but I'll have them forever. Other things like ankle or wrist weights, a Pilates band or ring, and light dumbbells could also be a good investment.
  4. Just take one class - if you want to get started in Yoga or Pilates and don't know how, find a great studio and take a class or two. Ask the teacher for a list of the exercises you do or for recommendations on a book or website to help remind you of how to do each exercise. Then carve out an hour or two every week and practice what you've learned!
  5. Go shopping instead of online browsing - grab a friend and hit the streets or mall! Bonus points if you take the stairs instead of the escalator or if you bike instead of drive. 
To help you save money: 
  1. Vow to stop drinking soda and other flavored drinks - these calorie and sugar-laden drinks can really subtract from your wallet and add to your waistline. Choose lighter options like tea, or try flavoring your water with cucumber or lemon.
  2. Choose classes wisely - if you are going to take class (good idea), choose classes you absolutely need. I'd take at least two or three classes a week, with at least one of those being ballet. Ballet isn't the basis of dance for nothing.
  3. Find studios closer to home - my studio is a good 45 minutes away in traffic. If you're not too attached to any one studio, I'm sure your wallet will thank you - gas is expensive!
  4. Don't eat out as much - eating out is expensive and unhealthy! Make your own meals at home with your parents or friends.
I'll admit I don't take a lot of my own advice. I've only done half of the things I've listed above. But hey, I'm trying! Maybe my ideas will help you. What tips do you have for staying active on a dime?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Don't Lose Hope

I guess I'm writing this more as therapy for me (I'll dance out the rest of my frustrations tonight). But hopefully, my thoughts will help you too.

What started as an offhanded comment to my mom about how under-accomplished I feel compared to some of my college dance classmates (saw one in an ad in Dance Magazine, saw a few more on TV) ended in crying over my (lack of) future prospects in the dance field.

  1. No, I'm not the best dancer in my program.
  2. No, I do not go to the best dance program ever.
  3. No, I do not have that much training compared to most dancers.
  4. No, I do not have an agent and have never danced professionally. 
  5. No, I do not have any "real world" experience.
Since I decided to go into dance, I wanted to go to New York. First, for college, but when that didn't happen, I wanted to move to NYC after college to dance. It's so cosmopolitan and eclectic for all forms of art, and is definitely a dance mecca. Lots of dancers move to the city to give it a go. Not many of them "make it."

It's scary. I still have time left in college (thank goodness), but I'm already daunted by the idea of moving so far away from home into one of the most expensive cities in the world with one of the least lucrative job aspirations. I don't come from a family that can support me no matter how much money I'm losing on rent or how many injuries I sustain - I'm pretty much on my own. Supporting myself with dance seems unlikely, and even less likely given the fact that I'm not even the most noticeable dancer in my own college program.

There are so many times I have wished that I loved something else (like theoretical physics). But I don't, I have to accept the fact that I'm meant to dance. I have been incredibly lucky thus far with my timing and the opportunities given to me, and I am thankful for each one. Even though it's hard sometimes, I have faith that I'm a dancer and that that's okay. I may not be the best, but I'm good. Every company, choreographer, group, etc is looking for something different, and I believe that I have something that somebody will see and say 'I want to hire that.' I don't expect anything, but I also believe in my accumulated skills on and off the dance floor. And when you get scared, you should too. Just have faith, and don't lose hope. It's all part of the dance life.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


I literally had one of the biggest epiphanies of my entire dancing life (okay, entire life, period) in my modern class on Wednesday. The idea had started in my Pilates class on Tuesday, where my teacher used me as a model for the class. Every dancer's dream is to be used as a demonstrator for the class, right? Unfortunately, I was demonstrating for my inability, not my ability. I laid on my back on the floor, completely relaxing, while my Pilates teacher attempted to flatten my shoulder blades against my ribs. When she finished, I felt like I couldn't move: I have some pretty impressive winging shoulder blades:
My shoulders are like this, just worse. Angel wings? Photo Credit
Winging scapulae are not a freakish, crazy ability to be proud of and show off when your friends are doing crazy things with their tongues or thumbs (yeah, I did that). The wing is a sign that the muscles on your back aren't strong enough to hold your scapula down against your ribcage. If the subscapularis, serratus anterior, and rhomboids were strong enough, your scapula should glide along your ribcage, not pop off of it. All my life I've been trying to correct for this problem by pinching my shoulder blades together, which gets tiring after a while, so I stop. Problem still unsolved.

My epiphany? If I pull down on your lats (latissimus dorsi), it will automatically pull my scapulae down into place, my shoulders will float back, my core will activate, and my ribs will drop down. Aka, your back is connected to your core. Best posture of my freaking life.

For a while now, people have been trying to tell me my core is too weak. I've been doing exercises to strengthen my core and back while mobilizing my ribs and stretching the muscles that have been tightening (I've got terrible rib/back pain on the left side. Hurts to breathe). What I realized is that I'm not too weak (although the problem started because I was), the problem is that I'm not activating the right muscles. I'm not too weak, or moving too much or too little, I'm not moving right. I realized that my back doesn't hurt when I activate these muscles the right way.

Now, obviously things don't change overnight. You can't change the habits of a lifetime in half a week, so I've still got back pain. But as I near the end of this year of college, it's comforting to know that college has taught me something that no doubt will carry me through the rest of my career. I may have to spend this entire summer repatterning the way I dance, but it will increase my longevity in the industry and decrease my injuries.

Parents, studio owners, teachers, young dancers, dancers of all ages: catch it early. Don't let your student/child/friends/self get away with inefficient movement. College has been a process of unlearning everything my studio failed to teach me or hammered into me and reshaping my dancing into something malleable and efficient. Do it now!

PS: I'm at 30,000+ views! SO EXCITED.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is Dance a Sport?

My school paper recently published an article concerning whether or not dancers should be allowed athletic health insurance coverage from the university. This brings up an interesting question that I've heard a lot in the past few years: is Dance considered a sport, and are dancers athletes?

Here's my answer: No, dance is not a sport. Yes, dancers are athletes. Let me explain myself.

Why is dance not a sport?
I defend dance as a sport sometimes because it can be competitive. There are dance competitions, it can be considered a "team" effort, and there is an audience and a "court," but dance is not essentially an athletic event. Sports have an ultimate goal, like getting a ball into a net, or scoring a certain number of points. Beyond having a biased referee, there are rules in a sport and they're followed objectively. In dance, there are no rules, no opponents, and almost everything is subjective.

How can dancers be athletes if dance isn't a sport?
People can be athletic without playing a sport. The girl next door who jogs for half an hour every day can be just as athletic as any "real athlete." Dance isn't as aerobic of an activity as many sports are (I mean, we don't run back and forth and purposefully tackle people for long periods of time), but dance requires motor skills, coordination, balance, and physicality like any other sport. Plus, have you seen the videos on SYTYCD dancers being tested at the Gatorade sports center? Dancers' reflexes and agility are better than even some basketball players. Every athlete's instrument is his or her body - there's nothing else that really does your work for you.

Should dancers be offered athletic health insurance?
Yep, I definitely think so. Dancers often have as many if not more complex injuries than athletes in sports. Sure, we don't have as many concussions as football players do (although, I've seen at least 5 concussions in my department of 100+ people in the past year, so that's debatable). But rotated pelvises, ribs, vertebrae? Sprained ankles, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis? Probably just as common in dance as in other sports.

Dance is a hybrid between a sport and an art. That's not to say there aren't others: what about figure skating? Figure skating has been an Olympic sport since the early 20th century. Ice skaters are judged in both technical capability/execution as well as artistic performance, just like dancers in dance competitions. There's little debate about whether figure skating is a sport, so should dance be one as well?

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 28

OPI - Culture of Color
Yes, you read it right. OPI, the nail polish maker. Made an ad with 4 dancers, each representing and wearing a different shade of OPI polish. In a dance battle with a horse. A horse. Yes, a horse.

Val Chmerkovskiy for Zendaya Coleman on DWTS
They added Contemporary to Dancing With The Stars! Interesting addition and pretty well done, but I don't think all the stars can keep up with this, and it might be dangerous for some.

Vinh Nguyen - Break Ya Neck
Clean, simple, but still brilliant concept, choreography, and filming.

Wrecking Orchestra - Amazing Tron Dance
I can't say the dancing is anything new or exciting, or even particularly good. But man, you've got to admire those special effects and how they use them. Fascinating.

Wayne McGregor and Mark Ronson - Royal Ballet LIVE - Carbon Life
Insider's perspective. Very cool!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 27

Gabe Copeland for Tap Overload - Poppin' Taps
Did I mention I'm obsessed with 'Thrift Shop'? No? Here's another clever version...tap style!

Gene Kelly - Tapping on Roller Skates
We all knew Gene Kelly was amazing, but color me impressed.

Jason Gorman - Baby's Romance
Musical and intricate, danced two different ways by two beautiful dancers.

The Royal Ballet - A Day in the Life of a Dancer
I'm sure not all ballet companies run their dancers' lives like this, but it's probably pretty close. Looks exhausting!

DS2DIO - Chachi Gonzales and Ian Eastwood in Dancers Among Us
If you haven't heard of Dancers Among Us, Chachi/Ian Eastwood, or DS2DIO/Jon M. Chu, you should go check them out.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

tWitch & Allison

GOT ENGAGED! I can't even handle it.

Catch the video of the proposal here:

Tell me girls, is this how you'd want your future husband to propose if you were to marry a dancer? Do you want to marry a dancer?

Friday, March 1, 2013

When You Can't Dance...

In my previous post, I wrote on injury and how demoralizing it can be for a dancer. Sitting out is a terrible feeling. Your soul is screaming to dance and it breaks your heart that your body isn't able to facilitate that kind of movement.

I've been there. I was extremely demoralized myself when I wrote that piece. I've been struggling with a rotated vertebrae and twisted ribs that made it hard to breathe, slouch, and turn my neck to drive, let alone dance from Halloween until late December of 2012 (although, I had some pretty fabulous posture for a few months). I spent nights crying in frustration, or trying not to because it hurt to gasp for air. I didn't know what to do.

I sat out of a lot of classes. At my university, dancers who sit out of class fill out observation forms. Basically, you watch for specific things and answer questions. You write about dance and learn to develop a critical eye. I've always been a harsh critic watching dance, but a few things happened while I was watching that had never happened to me before:
  1. I got to know the dancers around me. I mean really. I really watched them for the first time, without looking for things to make my dancing better or for things that they were doing wrong. I looked for dancing. Just pure movement. What came of it? I fell in love with literally every dancer around me at some point. And that made me so much more grateful for where I was and the opportunities I had.
  2. I improved. Now that I'm dancing again (although not without pain), I feel that something has changed. Watching classes made me a better dancer. I notice this particularly in my modern class (strangely, the class I did not have to fill out observation forms for). When I came back to dance in late January, after 3 months having not danced a full modern class, I suddenly was on. On my leg. On my center. On fire. I absorbed so many nuances of the style and technique that I just never saw when I had to dance it just by watching.
  3. My dynamic range is so much bigger. I have so many more choices now, simply because I took the time to watch. Watching other people make choices that I would never make prompts me to take risks and go where I would never go before, now that I know what's possible.
So I dare you to sit out and watch a class. Even if you're not injured. Heck, I think everybody should sit out and watch a class every once in a while. You start to see things you've never seen before, and it changes you. Since I took literally a 3 month break from classes, I've seen such a change in my dancing that I hardly recognize myself anymore. My muscles and skeleton move more efficiently, I'm more relaxed (I'm a pretty uptight, organized, anal retentive person, usually...if you can't tell already), and I'm in love with all of the dancers I know.

How did I see the change? I performed in our biggest show of the year in December, when my back was hurting so much I couldn't breathe sometimes and I depressed my navicular on opening night (leading to shin splints so bad I was limping for 2 weeks). However, I danced completely normally and characteristically of myself. In January, only a month later, I watched a video of myself dancing in a rehearsal video for a different piece. Sure, the styles were different and I wasn't in as much pain in the second video. But I looked different. I saw a different side of myself. I had never seen myself dance so freely, so relaxed. That's when I knew that taking the time off and changing my view on dance and on my injuries had made me a stronger person. Being a stronger person made me a stronger dancer, and it liberated me and made me capable of everything and anything I could think of. Sure, I'm still working on it, but I know that that break was crucial for me.

So if you're injured, please take this as an inspiration. Watch dance, but don't watch idly or critically. Watch actively, with what my sociology teacher calls "beginner's mind." Have no expectations and watch like you've never seen dance before. Like a sponge, absorb every nuance that you possibly can. You'll miss moving a lot, and I promise that it will be frustrating to sit out, all the same. But it could make all the difference, like it has for me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pet Peeve: Frustration and Not Dancing

For a dancer, realizing she can't dance (whether it's on her own or being told by a teacher or doctor) is morally and emotionally crushing. Sitting out of class seems nice at first (finally get to rest), but your heart and soul want to dance! Your body just isn't into it.

For the past 3 years, I've dealt with injury after injury: foot (cuboid), knee, back, foot (cuboid again), back (vertebrae), foot (navicular), back. I suppose I'm lucky that none of these injuries have put me in crutches or casts and that I've largely been able to function on my own, but many of them have taken me out of class for significant periods of time.

I'm writing this because I've been struggling with a twisted vertebrae (which is pulling 9 others out of place with it) since October. It took me out of class for a month and a half and I'm still adjusting. And just today during class, I felt something in my lower back go. I'm currently dealing with low back pain with which I can't walk or sit without feeling.

So what do you do when you have an excruciating injury? Ice/heat, roll it, stretch, or rest. Talk to your teacher. Talk to a doctor. Talk to friends, physical therapists, parents. Anyone who will listen, you tell and get advice from, hoping something will fix it. Opinion after opinion and you realize that you're just going to have to live with it for a while.

And that's when you start to give up. Exercising releases endorphins, which you're not getting anymore. Your brain and body are used to those endorphins. Dance is your life, and it's something you can't do right now. All you want when you're tired and dancing is to sit out and watch, but when you're injured and watching, all you want is to dance. Desperation, mild depression, and frustration settle in because there's little you can do but wait. We've all been there.

All I can offer is to cry. Cry with someone who will listen and get it all out from time to time. Write if that's your method of getting it out. You need some way of releasing the tension and frustration that isn't dancing (usually how dancers release tension...) because you can't dance. If you let the frustration and negative energy sit and build in your body, it will take even longer for you to heal.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 26

Kimberly Cole Music Video Audition
This makes me so happy, that people without training and who would normally be overlooked can go all out and work the room. He's sexier than I am. Probably.

Kyle Hanagami - Thrift Shop
Slightly obsessed with this song (oops), but this video is pretty incredible. I love the way they go in and out of groups with the choreography and how involved the camera is with the movement.

Yun Qun Shui Xiu (Chinese Water Sleeves)
I'm a little biased because I'm using Chinese Water Sleeve videos as research for a piece I'm currently choreographing, but I think this is quite amazing. If you've never heard of Water Sleeves, it's a Chinese dance form where women wear silk dresses with very long sleeves. The sleeves are supposed to mimic the flow of water or ink (calligraphy).

Leann Alduenda - Jesse and Sebastian
Two very different but beautiful dancers performing a beautiful combination with a beautiful ending.

Pacman & Jaja - Home @ Heart
Really sick choreography, also a super cute theme.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tools of the Trade

Being a dancer is expensive. You pay money for classes and leotards and shoes and band-aids, then you pay for physical therapy and doctors when you're injured, then you don't get paid that much in the end if and when you secure a job. That being said, there are some tools (I call them "toys") that can make it less expensive in the long run by keeping you toned up and loose. I present to you a full total workout and general dancer well-being kit with only a few tools:

Tool #1: foam roller
Photo Credit

 Foam rollers are great. You can roll your legs, your back, your glutes, etc when they're tight and tired. You can use them to do exercises (see photo above). You can use them to whack people. Who doesn't want a giant tube of foam?

Tool #2: weighted yoga balls
Soft Weighted Workout Balls
Photo Credit
These balls can be used as weights for arm strengthening (2 lbs isn't much, but as a dancer, you don't want bulky muscle. Lean muscle is built with less weight and more reps). My Pilates teacher likes to use them as an indicator of whether or not you're scooping your abs (put it on your stomach when you do Pilates exercises/crunches). The dance kinesiologist in my department uses them to help release pecs (lie on top of the ball with it situated right under your collarbone next to your armpit). Put one between your knees while you're doing exercises to remind yourself to keep them together. Use it as a doorstop...

Tool #3: theraband
Replaces: foot stretchers, yoga straps, dumbbells/weights
Theraband stretch
Photo Credit
The theraband is basically your at-home, all-in-one gym. You can use it for strengthening exercises (pull the band as taut as you want in order to add resistance) or stretching (see above image). Different thicknesses/weights of bands will provide more or less resistance as well.

Tool #4: pinky ball/spiky ball
using a reflex ball
Photo Credit

Photo Credit

If you have plantar fasciitis, a spiky pinky ball is your best friend. It will help break up that tension build up and get your fluids flowing again. A pinky ball is great for feet (as seen above), but I personally love using them for sciatica. If you have a knot in your butt, or your turnout muscles are just dying from your first day back in ballet in 2 months (hear, hear...), lie on your back and put the ball underneath your butt with your leg bent at the knee and roll around until you find the sore spot. If you're brave, let the leg drop to the side. Feel the relief! It follows the searing pain, I swear.

Tool #5: epsom salt
Epsom Salt Bath
Photo Credit
When all else fails, epsom salt is there to help draw the lactic acid out of your muscles after a long day. An epsom salt bath can help warm up your muscles and simultaneously detoxify your body so that you can stretch after your bath and that you'll be less sore the next day.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Injuries You Can Heal: Back

I know what you're thinking. "Daisy, you're insane. If I could heal my back myself, I wouldn't be spending hundreds of dollars on doctors, physical therapy, and chiropractors." Hear me out.

I've spent the last 3 months with a thoracic (rib cage) vertebrae out of place. It's causing severe back pain when I twist, side bend to the left, and when I breathe. Fun huh? I went to two different doctors, a chiropractor, saw four different physical therapists, and got almost as many diagnoses: sprained back, inflamed intercostals, lumbar misalignment, tense erector muscles...the list goes on. It took me a while to get the "your vertebrae is in the wrong place" diagnosis.

And then one of my therapists was able to fix it (mostly). Horray! It was getting better throughout January, but still not completely gone.

Today was my first dance class in 5 weeks. I've been in dancing in those weeks, but not doing the intensity that a class demands. One modern class and my back was in just as much pain as it was in 3 months ago when I first felt the injury.

I came back to my room and did a little research to see if there was anything I could do. Lo and behold, I found an article from called Spontaneous Release by Positioning. Even though the article stresses that you must have someone else do it for you, I was able to achieve a similar result with a spiky pinky ball on the floor. It feels better. Not perfect, but better.

Now as a warning, this isn't an end-all-be-all. Not all back problems are vertebrae out of place. Make sure you are sure of your diagnosis (aka you've seen at least 2-3 doctors who have had the same opinion). It would be best if you could teach someone to do it for you, but alas, I am alone in my apartment, so the pinky ball and floor worked almost as well. Now I'm going to go practice fix it again and see if I can fix it entirely.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ideal Dancer's Body: Knees and Elbows

Strange thing to be ideal about, huh? But for the dancers who are underextended, overextended, or have bowed legs, you know what I'm talking about. These are just a few of the more common joint appearance "issues."

Under extension is a problem because your arms or legs never look straight. Whenever your teacher says "straighten your knees!," your reply is "I am!" This problem could be in the joint (structural), or it could be muscular.  For example, maybe the bicep is always slightly activated and the tricep is too weak to fully counteract the bicep, resulting in a perpetually "bent" elbow.

Hyperextension (or "Over extension") is a lot more common and "easier" to fix. This is when your arms or legs seem to bend backwards, past the point of being "straight."

Photo Credit
Usually, hyperextended elbows or knees are not harmful or cause for alarm. The bad news is it's also fairly "incurable." Hyperextended girls are usually told to "soften" their elbows and knees all the time and must learn to continually mildly bend their joints in order for them to appear "straight."

Bowed legs affect a good portion of the population, especially Asians. This is a condition where the legs are curved outward so that the knees do not touch on the inside when the person stands with their feet together.
Photo Credit

Also not something curable, but mild bow-leggedness most likely does not put a person at risk for injury. The only thing a bow-legged individual needs to watch for is tracking their knees over their toes in parallel first position - it is hard for you to know where your knees are and the tendency is for them to drift apart.

All of the conditions I have listed above are mostly aesthetic - there is no way or reason to correct for any of these joint abnormalities. Some of the best dancers there are have these abnormalities and are very aware of them: in fact, it is the abnormality that makes them more aware and causes them to pay special attention to correct posture and stance at all times. While none of these necessarily create an "ideal" look, there is nothing wrong with them. Some choreographers may even exploit these abilities (some really love hyperextended elbows. It's interesting). Love the body you've been given.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pet Peeve: Take the Correction

Few things make me angrier than someone who ignores, disregards, or doesn't make an effort to change once they are given something to work on. What's the point in continuing doing what you're doing if it won't make you better? Why would you keep practicing with the same bad habit or wrong movement in a piece of choreography?

I don't mean from class to class, really - heck if I could remember all of the corrections I've ever been given. There's way too many things to think about, especially in ballet (head back, chin up, eyeline, fingers soft, elbow curved, arms lifted, turned out from the hips, weight over the balls of the feet, weight between your 1st and 2nd toes, hips square, shoulders back, breathing. And you haven't even moved yet) or during a dance number. But if you are given a specific correction or suggestion by a choreographer or teacher (or even friend!), why wouldn't you do it?

Sometimes it's hard to remember. I get that, I do it all the time. I'm given one correction and then the next time I do the movement, I've completely forgotten. But I remember at the end, beat myself up for it, and remember it the next time. And the time after that.

But what really gets me is when people don't care. They hear the comment, and it goes in one ear and straight out the other without hitting anything in between. It's hard for some people to change, but some people just don't want to. And why are you a dancer if you don't want to change? If you don't want to improve? Why are you still here?

If you don't give your best effort to making a correction when it's given to you, you're wasting everyone's time: your own, your choreographers'/teachers', and your classmates. You wasted a chance to improve, you wasted your choreographer's time in giving you that correction when they could have been looking at someone else who cares, and you are wasting someone else's chance to get noticed or improve.

So don't be lazy. Don't settle for good enough. Make improvements every day, and respect yourself and everyone around you by giving it your all.