9.15.2014

Video Break - My New Choreography Reel

I spend a lot of time working on so many projects that it can sometimes be hard to keep track of where I am going and what I am doing. Well, amongst the craziness of my first few weeks in my new job position, I have still somehow found a way to keep freelancing at the forefront of my attention. One of my favorite things is when I receive new footage of a piece that I have danced in or created. Well, I received footage of Distinct Perceptions, the piece that I choreographed for the National Choreographers Initiative a few weeks ago, and have finally managed to update my choreography reel to start sending out. I am really excited to start pushing my freelance choreography career as much as I have with my freelance dancing. Here is the new reel. I certainly hope you enjoy!


9.04.2014

How to Survive Burn-Out

Every dancer has heard of it. Every dancer fears it. But few dancers actually have the tools to understand what it truly means to be burnt out. I've spent so many years of my life diving passionately into this career; perfecting my technique daily, reading and educating myself through dance periodicals, watching Youtube videos, and much more. I love dance more than most dancers that I know. For this very reason, how could it be possible that I ever would experience burnout within my passion. Well, it happened. And I am recovering from it. How did I get burnt out? What did I do to identify it? And what am I doing to make sure that my career as a dancer doesn't escape me?

It took me a long time to realize that I was burnt out. This wasn't a slow realization that occurred over time. It was more of a BAM! in your face type of moment. As many of my readers know, I was selected to choreograph for the National Choreographers Initiative this past July. After suffering an injury dancing in Oakland back in May, I took some time off to allow my body to recover. What I didn't realize was that my mind needed more recovery than my body did. I took an entire month off before starting to get back in shape. By the time that I had arrived at NCI, I was about 70% where I would hope to be if I was prepping for a performance. Since I was choreographing, I didn't need to be in performance shape. I figured that I would show up nearly there and spend the weeks that I was creating my piece working towards 100%. On the third day of company class, I noticed that my back wasn't quite as recovered as I had hoped it would be after taking the time off that I did. But instead of panicking like I may have in the past, I calmed myself with the knowledge that my choreography wouldn't be affected by my ability to physically perform. Keeping that in mind, I choreographed on
Leading my dancers in rehearsal at NCI
my dancers for the remainder of the day while in a bit of pain. I also noticed that I was starting to feel that something had changed mentally for me.

At the end of this gratifying workday, I called my partner as usual. But what came out of my mouth in our conversation was quite unusual. While I have had greatly gratifying experiences in my freelancing work over the past season, I realized that I hadn't enjoyed much of the time I had spent working in the studio or finding work in over a year, aside from performing onstage. Taking class and rehearsing without the pressure of surviving until the performance was a great relief. I spent that day conducting my dancers in joyful bliss. Feeling this way in the studio was something I hadn't experienced in over a year. How was this possible? I am in love with dance! But it was true. I instantaneously recognized that I was suffering from burnout.

You can see the emotional exhaustion - flying home from Oakland
The question at this point was, "What caused my burnout?" The roots of my affliction stemmed from one nasty seed. Fear. I spent my entire 2013 - 2014 season dancing in fear. The first day of my gig with Barak Ballet, my rental car broke down on PCH in rush hour traffic. I did a gig in West Virginia where I was told that I was going to stay with a host family, only to be left in a motel down the street from a handful of strip clubs (somebody even knocked on my door the first night). In San Francisco, I learned 2 ballets in a short period of time, only to find myself fighting to protect my body when being rushed through the rehearsal process. At yet another job, I learned an entire three act ballet in five 3-hour days to perform the role the following week. To cap out an exhausting season, I found myself living like a homeless person in Oakland and San Francisco, all while rehearsing in dangerous conditions. There was more, but I will leave it at that. Fear drove me deeply into burnout. Fear for my safety. Fear for my physical health. And fear that I was going to burn a bridge in many situations that unionized company dancers would likely walk out on. But one of the worst fears of all that kept me driving forth throughout this year of burnout was the fear that I couldn't pay my bills.

In my opinion, the main reason that dancers burnout is because they are forced to push forward when they are clearly afraid, tired, hurting, or more. If you are enjoying yourself and feeling rewarded by dance, it is almost impossible to burnout. But if you are pushing yourself to continue dancing because of pressure to perform, parents, promotion, pay, or pain, you are likely on the easy road to burning out. This past year while experiencing one of my most successful years working as a freelancer, I recognized something was wrong early on. Reading my blog back in October, it was clear that I was already pushing my limits with stress in my career. I hadn't spent more than 5 weeks at home in over 2 years. I missed financial stability. And I was exhausted by the constant need to stand up to employers and explain that, while I was hired short-term and there was no investment in me long-term, they needed to respect the limitations of the human body (proper rehearsal procedures, appropriate rehearsal time, etc). But back in October, it was the beginning of a new season and finding a full-time company position, at that time, was an impossibility. Beyond that, teaching jobs were mostly filled and I was limited in my options to find work. For these reasons, I continued to press forth and fight a battle not for my career, but survival.

Now that I recognized the reasons for my burnout, it was time for me to take action. Experiencing the trauma of overexerting and over-stressing your mind and body often woos you to play games with yourself. I was often depressed and considered ending my dance career altogether. I, even, found myself playing this dangerous game where I would ask myself, "Would I be upset if I just broke my ankle right now," or "What would I do if I never took a dance class again?" Once you start going down this road, it can be a slippery slope. My first task was to stop playing these games with myself. I also had to recognize that the pain from my injury, and a subsequent follow-up injury from compensating for my back, wasn't helping the situation. I stopped taking class and started taking care of myself.

My view while working to reclaim my Sunday guilt-free
Another major part of my burnout was the fact that I was working night and day. Class in the morning, gym afterwards, come home and look for work, update my website, teach class, come home and blog, look for more work, and worry about how this will all implode if I get hurt. This was a standard day for me. I, often, wouldn't even take a day off from this schedule unless I was working at a gig. I needed to stop looking for work and to let my information sit still for awhile. Beyond that, I needed to find ways to relax and smell the roses. For nearly 3 years, I couldn't just sit around all day on a Sunday watching TV, going for a walk, or sleeping in without feeling overwhelming, gut-punching guilt. I needed to take a break from the life that I had created to survive as a freelance dance artist.

I guess the big question here is, where am I today? I'm getting better. My body is feeling better. My mind is getting better. And I still love dance. I have been really lucky that an amazing job offer came my way right as I realized that I was burnt out. What I have found is that the best way to work through burnout is to lighten the load of that item that is burning you out. So many young dancers have felt the pain of burnout and fell completely out of a potentially beautiful career in dance. I feel that it is important to keep working on what you love while burnt out, just at a different capacity. I am currently working towards getting back in shape. Just at a much slower pace than I would typically do. I am focusing on keeping my body healthy, instead of beating it back into shape. I have also been lucky to have a renewed focus on dance through my choreography. Also, I am allowing myself to take more than a day off in between taking class if I feel it is necessary. If you keep your burnt out activity far enough away to allow for recovery, but close enough to allow that recovery to involve the work that has burnt you out, I truly believe that you will not become so overwhelmed that you push that activity out of your life permanently. I am also working with a new dance organization and exploring a new side of my dance career that is more stable and could lead to an eventually permanent transition after I am done with my dance career. I find that working on something that is gratifying, while working on something that is challenging helps to lessen the burden of this dangerous state.

At this point, I can't come out and say that I have survived burnout. But I can share my process and offer advice that has helped me throughout this process. While my current job doesn't have me dancing full-time, I am still keeping professional dance performance in my path. But instead of focusing on getting back onstage in an unhealthy way, I am focusing on healing my physical health and approaching the next stage of my performance career from a place of positive mental health. When I am back on top, in regards to my physical and emotional health, I am lucky to be in a place where I can continue to work in whatever capacity that I wish. Once again, I find myself hopeful to continue enjoying a professional performance career beyond the 12 years that I have already attained. But for now, I step back into my healing and continue to defend myself from that career-threatening injury called burnout.

Sitting on Flattop Mountain this weekend overlooking Anchorage, AK

8.22.2014

Stress-free Travel Tips from an "Economy" Jet-Setter

Waiting to get on my flight to Anchorage
Many of my friends and family have expressed awe or been enamored by the fact that I travel constantly. They think, “Famous dance artist sees the world stays in luxury accommodations all whilst doing what he loves!” Doesn’t get more glamorous than that. Right? Well, unfortunately, I am neither famous, nor a luxury jet-setter. In fact, I like to call myself an economy jet-setter. There is currently a little girl sitting behind me kicking my seat and another young lady, about 3 years older, sitting in front of me curling her feet under her seat to kick my feet. I really lucked out on this flight, though, because out of the three or so seats that didn’t sell, one of those is the middle seat next to me. But to make up for it, I get kiddy kicks and the rank vapors of a raw diaper that clearly has needed changing for about 2 hours. Yes, I am a jet-setter. But not in any sense a la Kardashian.

Traveling stresses people out. I love watching people give one another the stink eye when somebody walks straight up to the horribly organized lines at the gate where every passenger is bottlenecked towards a ticketing agent that is only the beginning setting of your jetting ways. Truth be told, it doesn’t really matter the order that you line up, as we are all going to be on the same plane. Still, for some reason, traveling stirs great fear of being left behind, being left without, or suffering unimaginable discomfort. Out of all of those, the last one is probably the most accurate item.

I care so much about packing
I have developed this really nonchalant habit of packing last second. To be completely honest, I don’t really give a shit if I forget something. If I didn’t pack underwear, I can easily go out and buy some cheap underwear from Target. If I forget sunscreen, I can simply run to the closest convenience store for whichever brand is cheapest and doesn’t look like one of those dangerous tubes of Chinese toothpaste that were being put out years ago. There are very few items that are so strategically pertinent to assuring me the perfect trip that I need to pack it days in advance, all so that I can go back to my luggage and recheck it every day for 3 days before leaving. Once I forgot to pack my make-up bag for performances. I left that performance $15 in the hole and with a backup set of make-up for that performance when I didn’t realize that my foundation was out. In the end, I just consider it an asset.

I would say the most stressful part of traveling for me is making sure that I arrive to the airport on-time. Perhaps, I wait a little too long and have to speed walk to the train. Or maybe my partner and I didn’t plan the hourly Enterprise Rent-A-Car well, and we got stuck in rush-hour traffic. But what I’ve learned is that most of the time, even if I get to the airport with barely over an hour to get to the gate, I always make it.

The next potentially stressful step of traveling would be the weight of my luggage. I have somehow mastered the 50 pound mark in a piece of luggage that could easily hold 100 pounds or more. I can pick up my luggage and guess within a few pounds whether I will be over or not. Some people need to stand on a scale with their luggage and deduct their weight, but I have only misgauged the weight of my luggage once in the past 3 years. Worst comes to worst, I am so close that I can easily pull one or two items out and inconvenience myself a bit by carrying it around the entire trip. I almost always bring two bags brimming with a mixture of regular clothes, dance clothes, toiletries, and equipment to keep my body running properly. I find that I can keep the weight of my luggage down by limiting toiletries and purchasing them once I arrive on location. Whether the company that I am working for pays for my luggage or not, I generally try to check one bag and drag a carry-on and backpack to the gate.

Economy jet-setter < Casual Traveler
The next step of being an economy jet-setter is to go through security. Although I am more expert than most travelers, I still have to stand in the same line as everybody else while watching the elite few who have traveled more, or can afford to pay TSA off, slide through relaxed security measures. This line is the next place that I watch my fellow less-traveled peers start to panic. First things first, before you even get to the line, prepare yourself. Take everything in your pockets and put it in your backpack, purse, or carry-on. That doesn’t mean jewelry, but it does mean your wallet, chapstick, cell phone, change, and any other materials you may keep in your pockets. Put your hat away, take off your jacket, slide your belt off, and don’t forget that hoodie. Just make it as simple as possible. Once you get past the people that verify you have a boarding pass, you are going to wait in line for anywhere from a few minutes to over a half hour. If you’re flight is getting close, tell a TSA agent. But be prepared, most of the time they are going to be short with you. It may feel rude to you because you think your time and flight are more important than anyone else at that moment. Yes, they heard you. Yes, they want to help you. But there are likely about 100-200 other people that they also have to care about at any given moment. Give them a chance to keep order and assess the situation. If a few minutes have passed and they haven’t addressed it, check in again. They are more likely to get you to your plane on time than not. Airports lose money when passengers miss flights, they are set up to get as many people on their flights as possible. Just don’t panic!

Now that you’ve put everything together and you’ve waited in line watching people roll their eyes, huffing and puffing, or on the verge of tears, you will come up to the next TSA agent. They will look at your ID (that you took out before you put your wallet away) and ticket. I never really understand what they are doing up there. Whether profiling, thinking about dinner, or just making sure that you have proper documentation, I don’t know. But what I do know is that you should at least try to look like you don’t have anything to hide. A smile and a, “Hello. How are you,” might not hurt either. After you are either approved or thrown into a holding cell (joking), you will be pushed towards a line to have your bags and body scanned. Grab two containers. Throw your laptop in one and your shoes/jacket/hoodie/other personal items in the other one. Make sure you put your computer bag in the scanner first, followed by your computer, your personal items, then any carry-on luggage. You can then choose to let some random trained personnel in another room who has seen a thousand outlines of people’s body parts each week look at a scan of your body or do a thorough pat down. I’d rather somebody ogle my shadowy goodies than have them pat down with rubber gloves. Once you get the green light to collect your items, rush over to the scanner and hope that you remembered to remove that canister of mace you keep in your bookbag because your boyfriend is paranoid about you walking the streets alone. Now that you see your items, you are ready to quickly throw everything that you meticulously pulled out back together. I always put my book bag in the scanner first because I don’t want to hold onto my computer while I’m waiting for my book bag to come out. If things start to take awhile, I can throw my shoes, hoodie, and hat back on. Your big carry on should be last because you likely haven’t taken anything out of it. Grab and go.

Once you’ve collected your personal belongings, it is now time to dash towards your gate to wait for an hour and a half because you were nervous that you might not make it to your gate in 2 hours. I always opt for a relaxing walk around the airport. Maybe I’ll find a nice view, a store I’ve never heard of, or an outlet to charge my phone or computer before my oft cross-country flight. Every once in awhile, I run into somebody I know. This method usually helps me feel as if I have yet to begin a potentially long travel day. I do my best to feel like I am just going about a normal day, like walking through a mall. In fact, I try to arrive at my gate within minutes of the boarding time for my flight. Sometimes, I’ll even wait until after the called time to arrive. Once you arrive at the gate, you feel like you are committed. And beyond that, there is rarely a good place to sit, other than the floor, during those moments prior to boarding.

Now they have started to make boarding announcements and have slowly crept from calling military, those with children, or those with disabilities to first class, air mile program members, and whomever else they feel like treating better than we economy jet-setters. Airlines usually like to put stowage on the plane first, and believe you me, ballet dancers never fly first-class, business, or economy-preferred. While your boarding number may have been called, you don’t necessarily have to board with your group. You will not be denied access because you didn’t follow the crowd. Anyway, why would you want to be first on a plane only to sit and watch everybody else get on the flight after you. The last thing I want to do is increase the amount of time that I have to sit in, perhaps, the most uncomfortable chair manufactured next to an electric chair? While a majority of my fellow flyers are performing the stink-eyed bottleneck dance that I earlier referred to, I’m sitting in one of those newly emptied seats at the gate shortening the duration of my flight.

When I finally muster up the energy to drag my carry-on to the gate, I execute one of the best tricks an economy jet-setter has. Most people feel like they need to have their carry-on by their sides all the way to their destination. I have seen grown adults act like this is their childhood “blankey.”I have actually seen people in tears over being torn apart from their beloved baggage. But the way I see it is exactly as it sounds. Baggage! I don’t need any extra baggage. Especially, if my dearest employer wanted to save a few pennies and has me connecting at a hub airport with less than 30 minutes for my next departure. While others stomp their feet and act like babies, I always walk up to the counter and offer to check my carry-on to my destination to save their precious overhead space. The truth is, I’ve only had my luggage lost once or twice. And it was never really a crisis. I always got it in the end. And while, maybe I could have more options to occupy myself on my flight in my carry-on, I almost always bring too much entertainment. So, I check my bag at the gate, which is almost always met with a “thank you” from the tired of the same old story airline staff. In the end, what nobody realizes is that I just pulled a fast one on them. I actually packed my carry-on with all of my heavier clothes, like jeans, jackets, sweatshirts, etc. My drag-bag is actually heavier per-capita than my larger checked luggage. My other luggage was under 50 pounds because of this tactic and I only had to pay to check one of my bags. Very sneaky, right?

Now that I have dropped the ball-and-chain of my carry-on, I walk onto the airplane with a light and airy smile upon my face knowing that I won’t have to run to that next terminal with luggage dragging behind me. I calmly sit in my seat, look around at the rest of the flight, finally taking a deep breath, and beg to whatever god I don’t believe in that nobody sits next to me. This rarely happens, but it’s worth having some hope in life. Before everybody sits down, I check my airline magazine to see if the crossword has been done. And if it has, I sneakily check the other seats before my flight companions take their seats. I pop in my earbuds, start playing some music, and think about how much I would rather be home with my hubby right now.

My scarf sleeping trick
The next step of having a comfortable travel experience is to get in a comfortable place to sleep. Whether you are sitting at the window (which I prefer), the aisle, or the “bitch” middle seat, I have a few tips to make life more wonderful. You know those round, 3/4 circle neck pillows that people love to travel with? Well, I think they are being marketed incorrectly. These things don’t really help prevent you from leaving with a neck ache if you fall asleep with one on. But, they do provide amazing lower back support if you throw it under your achey, dance-ridden back. I always make sure I wear the loosest, trendiest pants possible. I also take off my shoes immediately upon sitting. Yes, shoes. My fellow flip-flop wearers usually end up with numb, frozen toes by the time we reach cruising altitude. If you put your backpack or purse in the middle of the storage under your seat, you can put your shoes on the sides of your bag, slip your legs on top of your shoes and around your bag, and stretch your legs out for the entirety of the flight. I always make sure that I wear an oversized hoodie and bring a scarf, as well. When you are ready to fall into your plane slumber, pull your hood up and over your eyes, grab your scarf, shove it inside the hoodie between your neck and shoulder on the side you would like to lean your head, and VOILA you can sleep without your head ever having to hang over the side of the cliff of a pillow. This, I assure you, is the most comfortable way to sleep on a flight.

Now that you’ve fallen asleep comfortably and shortened the strain of a tedious flight, welcome to your glorious jet-setting destination. Take pictures for Instagram. Post jet-setting statuses to Facebook. And be sure to let people know that you are getting paid to live this facade of a glamorous lifestyle. But all kidding aside, traveling isn’t really that stressful. If your flight is delayed or, even, cancelled, you will be fine. If your luggage doesn’t show up, you will make do. If you’re luggage is overweight, you’ll find a way to make it under or pay the extra fee. For those that travel infrequently, even the most minor hiccups can bring a surge of adrenaline and put one on the defense. But in all reality, you are about 99% going to end up where you are supposed to be, around the time you are supposed to be, with all of your belongings. Oh, and that lucky middle seat that is empty next to me? I kindly asked the father behind me to switch seats with his little bundle of joy, as to stop the 3 hour kicking rampage I have incurred. With this post; you win, I win, we all win! Cheers to the jet-setting life!

Safe Travels!

8.07.2014

Should Artists be Shamed into Taking "Normal" Jobs?

At the beginning of 2014, I posted an article on Facebook about the hotly debated emergency extension of unemployment benefits. My intention was to use this platform to put a face to a statistic for people who are connected to me through this social media site. Instead of getting the chance to inform some of my friends, an acquaintance I had met only a few times nastily and judgmentally brought an unexpected wave of wrath onto my page. This person, who barely knew me, was judging my use of unemployment without even hearing how I ended up on the assistance program or how I had been desperately searching for a full-time job in my field. I had spent a great deal of time trying to find solid employment in the dance world. But instead of asking for facts, she berated me by stating that I was abusing the system and should just go ahead and get a restaurant job or work as a barista. She felt that it was my duty to take whatever menial job necessary to get off of unemployment. After spending months and months executing well beyond the 3 required weekly work searches (3 being the minimum), I was being reprimanded by someone who wasn't informed in the least about my situation. Little did she know that I was barely collecting benefits as it was because of my freelance work and part-time teaching job with Koresh Dance Company. While it was uncomfortable having this woman awkwardly attack me on a public forum, she also got me thinking about what was considered an appropriate job for not just myself, but all professional dancers and artists.

I wouldn't necessarily say I've ever had a normal job. When I was 14, I would help my mom out at her Dollar Store. But I was so young and dedicated to dance that it didn't last long before I was at the studio daily. In fact, I can't even remember if she paid me. My first full-time job was working as an apprentice with Houston Ballet at the ripe age of 19. I have spent 12 years cultivating my career as a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, and an advocate for the arts. When I found out that the benefit of unemployment (my safety net and right after being unrightfully fired for an on the job injury) wouldn't be extended, I panicked. I was already employed part-time and collecting a small amount of salary each week teaching at Koresh. I had also obtained about 12 weeks of dance work through the end of Spring. I wouldn't end up receiving unemployment during those weeks that I was dancing and received a reduced rate when I was off due to my part-time compensation. Unemployment was just a safety net for me until I could find a regular place to dance and call home. But all of a sudden, I found myself questioning if I was a bad citizen and whether or not I should desperately take any minimum wage job I could find, which I would have had no experience in and probably wouldn't provide anything sufficient enough to pay all of my bills.

I have many freelancing friends that take restaurant, barista, and other random jobs just to make ends meet. They often miss class and stand on their feet for hours before and after working those very feet in a rehearsal studio. Not only is this exhausting, but it can heighten one's chance of injury and accelerate the process of burnout. When I started looking into getting a normal non-dance related job, I found myself living in fear and anxiety. Will I have to give up my dance career? Will I suffer from depression? Will the quality of my dancing go downhill? How can I go from making $1000 per show to minimum wage plus tips? Beyond that, can my eccentric artist personality coexist in a non-artistic workspace? I had so many questions that came up when I considered this as an option.

The woman that chose to publicly criticize me stated that she had to get a restaurant job while trying to make ends meet while striving to make a career for herself as a ballet student going through finishing school. She, unfortunately, never made a professional career as a dancer and moved on to other work. When I read this information, it made a little more sense. At one point in this person's time as a dance student, she had to step outside of her art to make ends meet in order to keep reaching for her goal of dancing professionally. While she had the heart of an artist, it wasn't her career. Since then, she has cultivated a successful career beyond her dancing years. Without experiencing our career, people often assume that a professional artist's art isn't actually a career. When she argued that unemployment wasn't an end to a means for me to continue practicing my art, it all began to make sense to me. It also made me very sad about the way that most people, including a former hopeful dancer, looked at artists. It is so very often that people forget that art is a legitimate job. If you work in marketing, you should look for jobs in the marketing field. Not McDonalds. But if you are an artist, you are expected to look for a job in the field of "what-the-fuck-ever-I-can-get." It is greatly unfortunate that this double-standard exists. But a great percentage of our society feels this way, even those that once aspired to be just like me and my artist friends.

So, the question is, should I have just taken any menial job outside of my profession that seemed below my standards because I am a professional artist? I don't know. But even without one of those jobs, I have found ways to make ends meet (even if, at times, tightly so). And because I held out and resisted the temptation of this localized socio-cultural bullying, I was able to obtain a full-time job in my field that appropriately represents the professional artist that I am and rewards me as such. Yes, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. But professional artists need to remember that art is their job. Not some fun, child-like hobby that we are too stubborn to let go of.

A desperate moment in my new work, Distinct Perceptions (Dancers: Shira Lanyi & Allen Abrams - Photo: Dave Friedman)


7.29.2014

A Freelance Dancer's Summer Dream - National Choreographers Initiative

My beautiful cast of dancers for NCI 2014
I just finished a wildly intense 3-week program with the National Choreographers Initiative. Yesterday, my long-time friend who danced in my new ballet, Jackie McConnell (also whom I met as a teen at the Houston Ballet summer intensive 13 or so years ago), sent me a text message expressing joy and sadness. My response to her was, "I love when I leave a gig and I feel sad. It means that something beautiful has happened." Well, something beautiful did happen and 4 choreographers, 16 dancers, and a dance laboratory setting created by director Molly Lynch was all it took to create a magical and rewarding program that takes place in, of all times of the year, the summer.

Jackie McConnell in Distinct Perceptions (Photo: Dave Friedman)
The sun and heat are up outside while the AC is on inside and people just want to live on a towel by the beach collecting seashells. Summertime is a great time for humanity, but it is a really poor time for the dance community (read about the "summer slow-down" here). It makes sense. Why would people want to buy tickets to sit in a dark, cool theatre when they could be lounging by the pool or watching an outdoor screening of some 90's movie? This can present a problem for freelance dance artists and company members across the country. While many dancers spend their summer teaching at summer intensives or recovering their bodies, most don't have a chance to extend their reach as an artist until the first leaves start falling come September. But all of this changed a little over a decade ago when Molly established her program that selects "4 choreographers of note" to create new works on campus at the studios of the University of California - Irvine.

UC-Irvine Dance Department studios
It was three weeks ago today that I arrived at this same location where I experienced what I often call the most inspiring summer of my childhood. Thirteen years ago, I attended the 2nd annual American Ballet Theatre - Orange County summer intensive on the exact same campus that NCI is held. I felt very nostalgic and hopeful about being back in these studios where my career-trajectory changed back in 2001. When I was a kid, I arrived knowing that I would be attending Houston Ballet Academy's year-round program. But by the time I left, I had begged my mom to let me attend an audition for the School of American Ballet. In the end, I went to the Kirov Academy of Ballet, but that decision was an integral part of what set me on my path to get where I am today. This time, I didn't arrive in Orange County a student, but one of the 4 choreographers selected out of over 60 applicants for this prestigious workshop. I was proud, honored, and quite nervous.

After arriving, we choreographers watched the dancers (who ranged from young newbies to seasoned professionals) take class, auditioned them in our style, selected our cast, and held our first short rehearsals. There were sixteen beautiful dancers who work as freelancers and/or dance with companies like Sacramento Ballet, Richmond Ballet, Ballet Austin, Texas Ballet Theater, Momix, Festival Ballet Providence, Company C Contemporary Ballet, and Nashville Ballet. But for the next 3 weeks, they would all function as freelancers working as one company. I was lucky enough to be invited to choreograph or dance for this program. But since you can only do one, I chose to choreograph because of the prestige and relative challenge of obtaining this opportunity. If I had not been selected as a choreographer, I definitely would have loved to work as a dancer.

The schedule for NCI is quite intense. Class starts every day at 10 am. Following the warmup, there are two 3-hour blocks of rehearsals, where dancers are split into two separate casts to work with two different choreographers. After the first few hours of rehearsal, there is a 45-minute lunch followed by the next 3-hour block with the other two choreographers.

NCI 2014 Choreographers - Me, Garrett, Gabrielle, & Philip
Every season, Molly selects four diferent choreographers to create works. So, the program can be a very different experience from year to year. One summer dancers may be asked to work with only neo-classical choreographers, when the next year most could be extremely contemporary. This year, we had a very diverse mix of choreographers for the program. Philip Neal; former NYC Ballet Principal, Gabrielle Lamb; former Morphoses & Les Grands Ballet Canadiens soloist, and Garrett Smith; Norwegian National Ballet dancer, were the other choreographers that joined me in creating new pieces. The wide range of dance that each of us  asked the dancers to adapt to and perform were about as different as you could imagine. The dancers definitely stepped up to the challenge.

In total, the dancers spent about 6-hours each day partaking in the creation of our new works. One special aspect of the NCI program is that there is no pressure on choreographers to finish their product, to present a fully-realized concept, or to create a perfect piece for reviewers to critique. The intention of this program is to give the choreographers a chance to explore something new or challenge themselves to reach out of their comfort zone. After the final performance, there are no reviews. This can present a unique experience for dancers as well, since they often get to experience choreographers testing new styles, unconventional processes, and less explored techniques on them. With the intensity of the program, the close collaboration, and the reduced pressure, the dancers easily bond with most choreographers throughout the experience.

Distinct Perceptions (Photo: Dave Friedman)
Beyond the studio, the dancers spend a lot of time together while living in dormitories down the block from the studios. Most dancers have fond memories of special bonds with peers during summer intensives. Once we become adults, we don't often have this type of co-op experience. By the time you hit about 24 years old, you really start to enjoy your own privacy. But the dancers expressed throughout their time at the dorms the deep sense of bonding that takes place when you work and live in close quarters with one another. Making dinners together, going to Disneyland and the beach together, and enjoying some time away from normal life to focus only on dance for a period of time can be very special. And to make matters better, you can even have a glass or two of wine without fear that you are going to be kicked out and sent home if the chaperone catches you imbibing. All-around, the dancers expressed plenty of enjoyment with most aspects of the Initative.

The Irvine Barclay Theater
At the end of the 3-week program, there is a public showing of the 4 creations at the beautiful 750-seat Irvine Barclay Theater. With 11 years of the community supporting this program, the show almost always sells out to a very highly engaged audience. There is no budget for costuming, the curtain never comes down, and the choreographers don't bow at the end of their piece. But instead, they offer a stellar lighting designer (Monique L'Heureux), a choreographer introduction before each piece, and a Q&A with the choreographers following the program. The audience leaves feeling like they took part in an integral piece of the future of dance, the dancers leave with a sense of accomplishment, and the choreographers leave with a sense of renewed exploration. In the end, inspiration is the common thread.

Looking at the list of choreographers that have gone through the NCI program is like reading a Who's Who of accomplished dance-makers. Val Caniparoli (international choreographer), Edwaard Liang (BalletMet director), Amy Seiwert (Smuin resident choreographer, Imagery founder/director), Olivier Wevers (founder/director of Whim W'him), Melissa Barak (Barak Ballet founder/director), amongst many other names have all taken part in the program. For the dancers, this program isn't just a chance to stretch themselves as artists. It is a chance to make connections with choreographers who are often at the beginning of what can become very accomplished careers. To establish that type of connection early on in their career can be one of the most valuable networking opportunities for any dancer and can change the way they approach their work.

Distinct Perceptions (Photo: Dave Friedman)

7.10.2014

100th Post - 100 Things That Inspire Me

When I started this blog over two years ago, I couldn't have imagined that I would embark on a project that has been viewed more than 50,000 times around the globe, put my name on a list of important bloggers, and gotten me hired to write articles for publications. I'm also proud to see that I have the breadth of knowledge in my field to produce content from week to week. With all of this said, today, Life of a Freelance Dancer reaches an entirely new milestone.

This post (yes, this one that you are reading right now) is our 100th post. Instead of trying to write something thoughtful or (more) self-embellishing, I offer to share 100 things that have inspired me to become the person and dancer I am today. Inspiration is what drives us to do what we do and be who we are. Here's a taste of what has developed me over the years.

It has taken me a great deal of time to compile this list. So thank you for your patience with the hiatus in posting. I have divided this list into a few categories, so feel free to peruse through the sub-sections (for those with a short attention span) to see who, what, which performances, and more have inspired me over the past 30 years. Maybe some of these items will inspire you along your path as well! Enjoy!

People (non-dance related):

1. My partner - My life partner, Dan Loya, who you have already read enough about (Read blog post here)

2. My Family - My family has inspired me to do what I wanted to do and to be who I am. Perhaps, in my childhood, there were certain challenges that inspired me to work hard for my art and push further to become successful. But in the end, everything worked out just right. Without the support, countless hours driving me to and from classes and rehearsals, allowing me to leave home a year early, letting
Mom, niece, brother, and sister
me be who I am, and continuing today as my never-exhausting cheerleaders, my career wouldn't have been possible.

3. Childhood Friends - I have been lucky to maintain a few friends from early on in my childhood as we have grown into full-fledged adults. Most of my friends from my school years have disappeared into suburban living; either falling off my radar or keeping the loosest of connections on Facebook. But these few friends that I am still very close with have and will always have my back, no matter the length of time or distance. And considering how much I travel and disappear at times, I am inspired by their willingness to understand me for who I am, what I do, and still stay connected.

Boyd & me
4. PNB Physical Therapist, Boyd Bender - Boyd is what I like to call a Virtuoso Physical Therapist. Beyond being stellar at his job of keeping PNB dancers onstage, he has worked with the likes of Tiger Woods, the WNBA-champion Seattle Storm, and sports teams all around the Pacific Northwest. Boyd has shown me what it means to be a generous and caring human being. Not only is he an inspirational person and father-figure to me, he is also a pretty cool guy!

5. Larry Rappoldt - The first time I ever recognized what it was to feel passionate about something was with music. I played the piano since I was 5. While I didn't fall for this instrument right away, by middle school my teacher had wooed me into playing the xylophone in our concert band. Within a year, I was bit by the music bug and had taken up the flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone. This is all thanks to the passion transferred to me by my childhood piano instructor and middle school band teacher, Larry Rappoldt. Larry taught me how important it was to love what I do. And the music education that I received with him helps me in my dancing every day. Plus, I still play the flute (and piano when I can find one to play).

6. The Generosity of Friends - I was talking about a friend that has helped me out a great deal lately. The person I was speaking with said, "Oh...you have a benefactor." I said, "No. They are just a friend." No matter how you put it, I have been very lucky to have come across some really great people throughout my career that believe so much in what I do, that they have helped me reach my goals outside of emotional support. Joerg Gablonski, Ray Hoekstra, and Mimi Chiang, among others, have been generous friends that have helped support my career and choreography.

Me, Grandma, bro, & sis after the Boscov's T-giving parade
7. My Grandmother - While my grandmother is no longer alive, when she saw that I was passionate about something (even at the young age of 5) she made sure to figure out a way to let me do what I wanted and needed to do. Living with the adversity of a lower-income household, we didn't always get what we wanted. But she made sure we got what we needed.

8. The Village - My mom always told me that I was raised by the village. There are so many people that were once a part of my life, and some who still are, that helped groom me into the man that I am today. I wouldn't have made it where I am today without The Village.


People (dancers/choreographers/writers)

9. Kimberly Martin - Perhaps, one of the most important people that has entered my life is a woman named Kimberly Martin. When I first met Kim, she was in her final years of dancing with the Russian Ballet Theatre of Delaware. Not only did Ms. Kim teach me, listen to my excited ramblings, and drive me to any and every audition I felt I needed to go to (sometimes taking trips to and from NYC 3 times in one weekend); she made me a part of her family. On weekends, I lived with Kim and she taught me what it was like to live as a ballet dancer; in rehearsal, in conversation, and in the home. Still, 12 years into my professional career, Kim is a very important part of who I am and always a family member to turn to in the good times, the bad, or with the craziest of ideas. 

10. Colleagues - I think it is important, when dancing for a company, to look around the room and find the dancers who inspire you. When dancing with Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and all of the companies since, there have been a great many dancers that I looked towards for inspiration. Benjamin Griffiths (PNB) taught me what it is to extend your lines. Lindsi Dec (PNB) taught me what it means to have a kind sense of humor when you dance and to be a supportive co-worker. Ingrid Zweifel (Houston) taught me how to use your shortcomings to your advantage. Rebecca Johnston (PNB) taught me that you can still get an education while you are dancing. Jessica Tretter (Rochester City Ballet) taught me that, if you really want to dance, you can wake up at 4 am every morning to make ends meet. Misa Kuranaga (Boston Ballet) taught me that you can become a professional, humble yourself back to a student, and become an international star. Melissa Hough (Norwegian National Ballet) taught me that your body type doesn't have to hold you back. Matthew Prescott (former Joffrey, current Phantom) taught me that there are careers beyond conventional company life. There are so many more people that I could list. Just take a look around the room, stop thinking about yourself for a moment, and see the inspiration around you.

11. Cynthia Gregory - I was very lucky to somehow get chosen to dance at the Hampton Dance Festival as a 16-year old hopeful. This was a pilot summer program that, unfortunately, never took off. We danced in the woods, hung out with a small group of 16 dancers (many of which have had great careers), and got to hang out with Cynthia Gregory for a week. Cynthia was so down to earth and even stayed in our un-airconditioned cabin for an entire week. At the end of the program, this legend gave all of us her information to stay in touch as we entered the beginnings of our dance careers. Throughout my career, Cynthia has always been available to offer me some advice or to listen to what I am up to. And, not only is she considered one of the only true American Prima Ballerina Assoluta's, she is inspiringly down to earth.

12. Role Models - Once I moved away from home, I had a handful of role-models and mentors that helped teach me what it took to be a ballet dancer. Fabulous teachers; like Jock Soto, Peter Boal, and Vladimir Djouloukhadze, taught me what I needed to know to push me in the direction of dancing with major companies. But nobody stepped up to the plate like School of American Ballet teacher Katrina Killian. Katrina wasn't even a teacher of mine. She chose me to perform in a handful of lecture demonstrations that take place every year through a SAB outreach program. While my work with her could have ceased there, Katrina pulled me into studios to work on my technique, advocated for me, and became a friendly face in a wildly competitive atmosphere. 

13. Carlos Acosta - I remember that day; I was sitting in Spanish class with my fellow Houston Ballet colleagues. We were taking a class through Houston Community College. About ten minutes into class, Carlos walked into the room and took about 5 minutes of the class with us. Carlos, in my days as a student, was the most incredible male dancer known to man. As his career winds down, I
still think of how I aspired to be like him for so long.

Ms. Maria Chapman!
14. Maria Chapman (my muse) - Beyond being my first partner at PNB, Maria Chapman taught me to trust in myself as a choreographer. While I haven't had the chance to choreograph on her since my first piece in the company's annual choreographer's showcase, I still see her dancing in my head every time I begin creating a new work.

15. Fernando Bujones - After spending much of my teenage years competing in competitions like Starpower and New York City Dance Alliance, I decided to enter the very first Youth America Grand Prix. I danced a variation from a ballet I had never heard of before, La Fille Mal Gardee, and learned the variation from a man I had never heard of, Fernando Bujones. This was my first inspiration as a young male ballet dancer.

16. Josh Spell, Kiyon Gaines, & Jordan Pacitti - When I first entered PNB, I figured I would spend a couple years in the corps and then quickly move through the ranks. One thing I never took into account was that I would have to learn how to function as a member of the corps. This is rarely taught to students at the top of their classes in school. These three gentlemen kindly taught me the ropes of dancing in a group of people. By the time that we all left the company, we were mentioned in publication as the "Golden Era" of PNB's corps men

17. Leigh Witchel - The first interaction I ever had with Leigh was after he reviewed my SAB workshop performance. He wrote a very nice review that pointed out the fact that I very excitedly air-bit as I finished the end of a very difficult variation. We finally connected in person when I performed at the Guggenheim Museum in their Works and Process series in 2011, where he moderated the performance. Ever since, Leigh has become a close friend, confidant, and mentor of mine. Beyond writing reviews as the dance critic for the NY Post, he also writes for multiple other dance publications.

18. Val Caniparoli & Amy Seiwert - I have had the luck to find friendship with two well-established choreographers, who have been helping guide me along my path as a dance-maker. Val Caniparoli and Amy Seiwert are always a simple message away from offering their insight and advice towards success.

19. Abby Relic (my cooter) - One friend who inspires me every day is my former co-worker, Abby Relic. I could go on for hours about this lovely lady, but I will say only this. The reason that Abby is so inspirational to me is for how freely and openly she loves and for the way that she lives and enjoys life. She also fully accepts me for who I am, no matter what. And not many people are like this.

20. Rosie Gaynor - This sweet-voiced balletomane turned dance writer has been an inspiration for me since she started writing about dance. We have spent many nights over dinner discussing every tiny aspect of the dance world. And while she definitely has an opinionand has no problem being critical in her writing, she once told me this. If she has something negative to say, she will always leave it out and find the positive that she found in the performance.

21. Angel Corella - Angel was very sweet when I worked with him during the few months I dance with American Ballet Theatre (concurrently while finishing my training at SAB). After that, he left the company to start up a national ballet company in Spain. Years and years of effort have been undermined by the Spanish government and their lack of support. And while Angel did recently have to let go of his dream for that company, I have so much respect for the fact that he tried against adversity for so many years. Not to mention that he was one of the most inspirational dancers I had ever seen dance during my training years.

22. Cathy Bartelmo-Moran - Another person who taught me passion from a young age was the director of my first true dance school, Chester Valley Dance Academy. Cathy Bartelmo-Moran was another person that taught me what it means to love what I do. She created an atmosphere that let me explore many different styles of dance without ever pressuring me to push towards a career. Though, when she saw that I wanted one, she did everything in her power to give me opportunities, quality teachers, and outlets to get what I needed.

23. SAB Friends - I talk a lot about my time at SAB because it was a very formidable time of my life. I have always enjoyed inspiring friends wherever I go. But none were like the group of friends that I had while at SAB. I was a very intense student and often took myself way too seriously. While this may have turned some people off, my friends not only remained loyal, but lovingly put me in check when I jumped too far off the deep end. Many of us are still very close today.

24. Ethan Stiefel - I remember watching Ethan Stiefel pirouette in the movie Center Stage a few weeks before attending my first ballet summer intensive with Houston Ballet. This is the first time that I remember noticing what it looks like to execute a truly beautiful pirouette, one that looks effortless and floats at the end. Noticing this moment changed my dancing entirely.


People (groups):

25. Dancers in General - Just the idea that there are incredible dancers all-around the world is fascinating to me. We are such a rare breed, but even with the small percentage of dancers compared to non-dancers in the world, this small group of professionals is fantastic. After leaving PNB, I was so happy to find this to be true, even in the smallest of companies I was working with. 

26. My Friends - My friends are all so wildly talented and successful. I think about the Facebook feed of many of the people I went to high school with and how most their friends are posting pictures of their weddings, babies, and vacations. My friends post about dance performances, links to Dance & Pointe Magazine, Broadway shows, Television shows, awards, and much more.

27. Prodigies - For those of us that have made it, at least, to a finishing school, we all know how inspiring a youthful prodigy can be in the classroom. These dancers push everybody in the room to work harder because somebody younger than them is already two steps ahead of them. The unfortunate reality of these prodigies is that many of them burnout before their career even gets started. For this reason, I am always drawn to watch the prodigies that actually live up to the expectations of their youth.

28. Sharers - People who share their stories when society tells them not to offer so much inspiration. I always say that people are comforted by hearing others experiences that are similar to theirs. 

29. Olympic Athletes - Before I fell in love with dance, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it would either have been a gymnast or an ice skater (figure skating). I am still so inspired by the Olympics and the athletes that commit to one (or a very few) event/s that they compete in.

30. Selfless People - I have met so many selfless people over the years. My most recent experience with what I now call my "Housing Crisis of Oakland Ballet" really reassured me that there are so many selfless people in the world. I spent nearly 6 weeks staying with people that didn't even know me before I moved into their house gratis. I'm not always very selfless and these people inspire me to work on that.

31. People with Emotional Differences - I've always been fascinated by people who's minds don't work like a majority of the world's population. I spent 7 years in Seattle walking through an area behind my apartment that was riddled with homeless people. Instead of being annoyed, I was fascinated. I was also raised around mental illness and think that my understanding of why certain people acted a specific way has led to a lifelong fascination with people who see the world differently than I do.  

32. Other Asthmatics - Everybody has their struggles. I have spent much of my life struggling with Asthma. Only thanks to dance and woodwind instruments has my illness improved as I have gotten older. I love to hear stories about other athletes that have struggled with this ailment that makes it difficult to practice their sport. On a hard day, where I can barely catch my breathe, I can look to them for hope and relief.  

33. Celebrities - I'm not inspired to be a celebrity. Nor am I inspired by how celebrities live their lives. I don't read celebrity gossip mags or follow blogs. But what does inspire me about celebrities is how so many of them handle themselves in the public spotlight. I think I'd lose my shit, pronto, if I was being followed around by paparazzi all the time.

34. Grounded Successful People - It is always impressive to interact with somebody in our field that has high status, but is still very grounded. The more successful we become as artists, the more freedom we have to be as off-the-wall as we want to. Sometimes, people even prefer it that way. But when you are talking to a star or a genius and they aren't wildly eccentric or disinterested in having a regular conversation, that is very impressive to experience.

35. Gay Friends - I have been blessed with a handful of gay friends that were around during the Stonewall & AIDS era. When I was younger, I embraced my sexuality a bit less than I do today. The strength of these men and women that fought through some tragically tough times inspires me to be as positive a role model for my community as possible.

Companies:

36. Russian Ballet Theatre of Delaware - While this company no longer exists, this was my first introduction to the life of a ballet dancer. Most of my childhood ballet teachers came from this company and I had my first experiences in company class with this troupe that was mostly made out of Russian defectees.

37. Pacific Northwest Ballet - It is impossible to dance for a company for as long as I did and not feel inspired by it. PNB didn't only offer me a career, it offered me an important viewpoint and a pedigree to build the rest of my career off of.

38. Houston Ballet - This was the first summer program I ever attended, the first professional ballet company I ever saw perform, and my first full-time company contract.

39. American Ballet Theatre - Having seen as many of this company's VHS productions as possible, I was greatly inspired to dance at the level of the men in this company. While I did eventually accomplish this dream, when I was told I would have to wait to hear if a contract would become available, I decided to take an offer with Houston Ballet instead of risking losing that offer.

40. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago - I had seen contemporary performances performed by large ballet companies and small, local companies before. But I had never seen a world-class company that was purely devoted to contemporary works until Hubbard Street toured through Seattle. This company inspired me to explore the world of contemporary dance.


Performances & Shows:

41. Stars of the 21st Century Gala/In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated - Ms. Kim (read #9) had tickets to see the Stars of the 21st Century Gala in New York City back in 1999. When one of her friends wasn't able to attend, she gifted me the extra ticket. I remember that I enjoyed watching these stars perform famous pas de deux from multiple ballets. But when a couple from Paris Opera Ballet performed a pas de deux from Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, I knew that I was going to be a ballet dancer. After dancing in jazz competitions for years, I didn't know that ballet could be edgy and adrenaline-pumping. I walked out of the theatre that night with a changed perspective and inspired to change my life.



42. Dark Matters - Crystal Pite's incredible Dark Matters is a touring production that is part dance theatre and part pure contemporary dance. I would love to get inside this woman's mind to see where she came up with the idea of a stick person that a man creates that slowly turns on him and kills his owner. After the entire stage crashes down on top of the death scene at the end of the first act, the second act opens up to some of the most fluid and intricate dancing I've ever seen.



43. Wicked - The Broadway show that is the prequel to The Wizard of Oz doesn't just have a great story. The dancing and music sent chills up and down my body. Definitely in my top five favorite shows.

44.  Alchemy - When I was still training, I lived with Ms. Kim on weekends. If she wasn't home, I would watch her ballet videos like there was no tomorrow. There was one piece that I had seen Russian Ballet Theatre of Delaware perform live, Alchemy by Daniel Baudendistel, that blew my mind. I would sometimes watch this video multiple times in a row, I was so obsessed.

45. Shoot the Moon - When I was in Los Angeles performing with Barak Ballet, I finally got to see Nederlands Dans Theatre perform. One of the works that evening was a piece by Lightfoot Leon titled Shoot the Moon. I've seen dance theatre before, but never like this. This beautiful work was set to Philip Glass music and included a set of 3 wall-papered room that rotated on an axis set in the center of the stage, windows, and live camera work that was projected in black and white above the stage. This was one of the most mind-blowing performances I've ever seen.



46. Triad - This MacMillan ballet was performed for the filming of American Ballet Theatre at The Met. Robert LaFosse, Amanda McKerrow, and Johann Renvall dance in a twisted love triangle to a beautiful Prokofiev score. Seeing this ballet on VHS play with the nuances of the music was the first time I truly recognized musicality.



47. So You Think You Can Dance - I know I'm gonna get shit for this one, but it is very true that this show inspires me. Beautiful dancers, beautiful stories, beautiful dancing, amazing choreographers, and (best of all) exposure to the country for our art. Yeah, some of the stuff on that show is pure shit, but I feel the show offers more than enough inspiration to make up for the unnecessary drama and blips of cheesy choreography.


Performances I've been in:

48. A Midsummer's Night Dream - The first time I saw this piece was at the Houston Ballet summer intensive on PBS. Little did I know that the company I was watching on TV would soon become my home company. After seeing NYCB perform this piece live the following summer, I knew that I had to dance this ballet and I had to play Puck. It took a long time, but let's just say mission accomplished. Though, it took me nearly 10 years and about 5 different roles to get there.



49. One Flat Thing, Reproduced - This strange Forsythe work that starts with the screeching of 20 tables being hauled onstage by the dancers and drives forth with a nightly remix of electronic noises was one of the first works I was ever called out of the Corps to dance in. My first few years at PNB, I struggled to get noticed by our boss. But once the Forsythe stagers came into the studio and workshopped with us dancers for a few days, I got my chance. From then on, Peter Boal finally noticed that I excelled at contemporary works and my trajectory in the company changed.



50. West Side Story - I have never performed in the musical theatre production of West Side Story, but I did have the opportunity to dance Robbins' West Side Story Suite at PNB. I performed the short, but crazy breakout solo during Cool, and I became quite known for my inspired performances of this cracked out solo. This was one of the first times that I felt that I had truly found how to dive into a character.

51. Romeo and Juliet - When I danced Romeo with the Fort Wayne Ballet this past season, I knew I was going to love the experience. Romeo is such an iconic role that many male dancers dream of dancing as a child. Getting the chance to tackle iconic roles, like this one, are what push people like me through those hard combinations in class.

Lucia Rogers & me (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)

52. Serious Pleasures - Getting to perform this Dove work that is so centered on raw sexuality really inspired me to change my dancing. Where I had always tried to dance within this perfect framework of technique, I was finally able to let everything loose onstage.



Leah Merchant & me (Photo: Angela Sterling)
53. Rubies - The Stravinsky score starts like a flash of lightning followed by a large crash of thunder. The primary-thunder silence gives way to a slight rumble of what is to come. Then the storm arrives starts. This is how Balanchine's Rubies enters the stage. My first viewing of Rubies was San Francisco Ballet at City Center. This was one of the first Balanchine ballets that I really loved. Little did I know I would perform this work over 30 times throughout my career at PNB. In fact, my final show at PNB was dancing Rubies.


Music:

54. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring - This powerful piece of music doesn't only have a great back story, it is one of the most amazing works ever created. Whether thinking about working directly with Glen Tetley a few months before he passed, playing the composition on my IPhone, dancing this excruciatingly exhausting work in 10 times in 10 days, or sitting in the audience listening to an orchestra play, I always end up with goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes.


55. Minimalist Music - Composers like Philip Glass, John Adams, and Steve Reich create music that doesn't always tell you what is happening, but instead inspires you to feel a mood. I love sitting around the house, zoning out to the beautifully harmonic, repetitious beauty of a minimalist work. This mood music also works magic for choreography because it allows the choreographer to have more freedom to create their work based off of their own choices versus what the music tells them to do.

56. Tchaikovsky - Very few composers have made so much music that is so beautiful and iconic. In fact, I don't think I would've fallen in love with classical music if it weren't for this man.

57. Electronic Music - Before the days of EDM (Electronic Dance Music), before anybody decided to come up with a douche-y abbreviation for this amazing style of music, I used to listen to electronic dance music. My friends would make fun of me for the thumping beats, the rise and fall, and the lack of any popular vocal artists singing the tunes I enjoyed so much. Nearly 20 years later, electronic music is everywhere. Now I'm proud to say that I was a trend-setter and am still a regular listener.


Dance Related:

58. Curtain Out - When the curtain flies out and you feel the cool rush of an air conditioned theatre hit the stage and there are thousands of people in the theatre sitting in collective silence. This. Is. Incredible. 

59. Choreographing - I love the art of making dance. Beyond working with the dancers and getting to have a majority say in the product that is put onstage. I'm in love with the idea that choreographing let's people see inside my mind. There are very few times in life where you can show somebody exactly what it looks like inside your brain. (Me at my next show. "Yeah. Did you see that? That's what my brain looks like")

60. Contemporary Work - I was more focused on jazz and modern when I was a kid, so when I found the middle ground between ballet and jazz, I fell in love. 

61. Conditions for Dancers - Being an AGMA delegate for 3 years at PNB taught me how inspirational it can be to fight for better conditions for dancers. Whether it be physical studio conditions, healthcare, or salary, I am greatly inspired by our art's fight to be treated like the world-class athletes we are. 

62. Jackson International Ballet Competition - The first time I heard about an IBC, I was studying with the Russian Ballet Theatre of Delaware and they had hired two prodigies, the Canterna sisters, to perform in their repertory production. One had just returned from Jackson with a gold medal, one of the most prestigious awards in the world competition circuit. Following that, I tried to go to the competition twice, but my efforts were hampered by the director of the Kirov Academy of Ballet not feeling I was ready and later by strep throat, a tonsillectomy, and mono. While I have aged out, I still love following the competition every few years when it comes back around.

63. Imperfection - It was a great day for me when I came to the realization that the dance world is imperfect. Perfect technique doesn't mean promotion. Perfect choreography doesn't equal a perfect review. Perfect execution doesn't equal a perfect body and lengthy career. The beauty of the dance world is watching imperfect people trying to be as perfect as possible in an imperfect art.

64. Hyperextension - Being one of those dancers that was less than blessed physically, I have always been inspired by the beautiful line that hyperextended knees create. Yeah, they can be weak. But I don't care! I'd take an inch or two of hyperextension any day.

My friend, Lauren Fadeley (PA Ballet Principal), giving you major hyperextension w/Zach Hench

65. Playing a character - I find there is nothing more inspiring and rewarding than getting to fully envelope yourself in a character role onstage. I can easily get lost in pretending to be someone else. Instead of trying to play that character, I try to actually be that character.

66. Live Orchestra - There is nothing that compares to having live orchestra while you are dancing. Yes, there can be a sense of risk in that you don't know how fast the conductor will go or if the musicians will be having an on night. But feeling the music being created as you dance adds amazing possibilities to connect to the music.

67. Unaware Talent - This one is pretty straightforward. It is enjoyable to sit back and watch a dancer that is superbly talented, but completely unaware of it. Whether through naivete or inexperience, it is a beautiful reminder of how we all started dancing.

68. Influence - I am greatly inspired by the idea that if I work hard and passionately to achieve as much success and knowledge in my field as possible, that people will turn to me for work, advice, and influence in our field. 

69. True Training Academies - Schools that turn out a multitude of professionals on the regular fascinate me. There are so many academies across the country that have a small few dancers that make dance a career for themselves. But there are schools like Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Draper Center for Dance, Marin Ballet, Westside Ballet Academy, and a small handful more that have a track record over years and years of pumping out highly skilled dancers from their start.

70. Street-style dancing - We always wish we could be something else. Me? I always wished that I was a phenomenal commercial hip-hop or street-style dancer. These dancers look so cool with all their swag and moves. Fluid, broken apart, amazingly fast pattern work, acrobatics, and wild adaptability are all qualities that street-style dancers share.


71. Floating - The feeling of floating in a perfectly executed pirouette or jump.

72. Standing Ovations - It feels incredible to have an audience jump to it's feet within moments of the end of a performance. It is rare for it to happen so quickly, but when it does you know you have been a part of something spectacular and special.


Others:
73. Unique Happenings in your Day to Day - When I lived with a direct view of South Street in Philly, every day around noon an elderly man wearing shorts, no shirt (if it was hot), and rollerblades, would skate by playing the trumpet. No music, just a bunch of honks and note changes. While he doesn't directly inspire me with his nonsense, I love when something so unique happens in your day to day that it completely pulls your attention out of your own world. I love taking notice of the odd and quirky things that grab me throughout the day.

74. Making People Think - I think that I look at the world from a very unique and open perspective. If I can get somebody to look at a subject from a new viewpoint, I feel that I have accomplished a monumental task.

75. Big Cities - Very few things inspire me as much as large metropolitan cities. Tall buildings, people everywhere, a variety of fascinating culture to explore, fun events, important things happening, and much more. I feed off of the energy like a plug in an outlet.

76. International Travel - Going back to my inspiration about making people think. International travel does exactly that to me. It is so easy to get caught up in our way of life and within our culture, that we can forget that our reality is completely different than somebody in a place like Vietnam or Kenya.

77. Sex - Beyond all things in this world, I think sex is one of the most inspiring things. And we would all be lying if we didn't say that many works are inspired by the human body and sexuality. Dancers are the epitome of classy, sexual inspiration.

78. Making People Happy - I love seeing people's responses to one of my actions that made somebody's day a little better. Whether it be a performance or an act of kindness, I always feel the reward and want to do it again.

79. "Coming out on top" stories - I struggle with this one. I always find the story of a dancer who navigated a challenging path that made it out on top. It is impossible not to find these stories inspiring. But at the same time, their stories are told as if that is the final chapter of their book. I love to hear about dancers succeeding in the face of difficult circumstance, but I also try to keep in mind that their story continues beyond the exposure of their past.

80. Biggest Loser - I am an absolute sucker for the Biggest Loser television show. While it is clearly sensationalism at its' best, I love the message that it puts out. Some days, I swear I'm going to gain a few hundred pounds just so I can be on that show. "Former Ballet Dancer Tries to Shed the Pounds and Make a Comeback!"

81. American Beauty - This movie is the first movie that I saw that really made me think out of the box. What a fascinating way that some of these characters see and experience life. I very specifically recall the film of the plastic bag blowing in the wind. Since I've seen this movie, I've choreographed to the soundtrack and worked directly with the composer's sister.


82. Japanese Culture - I always tell people that I am an Asian stuck in a white person's body. Alright, so maybe that sounds offensive, but I mean it as the biggest compliment. I love how future-forward this sophisticated Eastern culture can be, while at the same time being so respectful of its' past.

Dan & me at Shibuya crossing in Tokyo
83. Money - Money seems to inspire many things in life. Sometimes good and sometimes bad. I am inspired by money mostly because I want to travel internationally and eat/drink at expensive restaurants.

84. Green - Ok. I realize. Yes, stating that a color is inspirational is really odd. But I'm going to do it anyway. First off, give me a break. I am writing 100 things that inspire me. Beyond that, I really, truly love the color green. Clothes, nature, beautiful eyes, and so much more. 

85. Nightclubs - There are few places that people can go and dance their asses off without caring what they look like.

86. Skyscrapers - I am a skyscraper afficionado, or nerd. The fact that the human species has found a way to build these beautiful constructions high into the clouds has and always will fascinate me.

87. Autumn - There is no season that has so much to offer like the Fall season. Change is probably one of the most inspirational things on Earth. There are few times of the year where change can be so vividly apparent.

88. Fame - Not the movie or TV show. This can sometimes seem shallow, but I am inspired by fame. I love the idea of having a certain amount of fame. Enough where people pull you aside to show appreciation for your work and passion, but not so much that you can't go out in public without some privacy.

89. Inspiring Others - The idea that I can inspire others is unimaginably inspiring. It pushes me to work harder and go further.

90. Reality - I'm fascinated by the idea that reality isn't equal for all. My reality is my own reality, but that doesn't make it right or wrong. The way somebody views a pool of water may be completely different than the way I see it.

91. Natural Disasters - Whether hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, etc., it is incredible what our earth can do and how different we look at life when they happen.

92. Fear - Fear is, unfortunately, one of the biggest factors that inspires me. If I'm too tired to take class, I take class out of fear that my technique will falter. If I don't feel like looking for freelancing work, fear reminds me that I need to pay my bills. While a negative way to get things done, it is inspirational nonetheless.

93. Coffee - The fact that my love affair with coffee only started 3 years ago doesn't equal the measure of happiness coffee gives me. Coffee inspires me to wake up, it inspires me to finish class, and it inspires me to do things when I don't feel I have the energy to accomplish them.

94. 2nd Chances - This one can often be very difficult for me to give. But when somebody gives me a second chance, I am always so hopeful of proving myself and coming out on top. It is so inspirational to see somebody let go and offer another opportunity to right a wrong.

95. Social Media - This platform has given me a voice within my community that I may never have been able to have if social media weren't available. From this blog to Myspace to Facebook to Twitter, Instagram and more, I have ways to get my thoughts out, to stay connected, and help my community.

96. Philadelphia - When I was a child, I felt that I had to move out of Philly because it had nothing to offer me. By the time that I just happened to get a job in Philly ten years later, I didn't realize that Philly was such an important place for me. I was raised in the suburbs and a lot of people who helped groom me to be the person that I am today live in the area. Beyond that, I'm close to New York City. The best part of living in Philly, though, is that it is perhaps one of the most unique cities in the country. Few cities in the US have as much charm and history to pull inspiration from.

HOME
97. Love - I have always had trouble expressing love verbally. But I have no problem showing love. It is such a powerful feeling that inspires all of the great things that happen in the world.

98. Congeniality - Somebody cracks a joke that isn't funny and 3 out of 4 people in the conversation roll their eyes. The 4th person laughs at the joke, even though they don't find it humorous. I am always appreciative of that 4th person and aspire to be like them. Where is the value in making a person feel like shit when all anybody really wants is to feel like they fit in and make people feel good.

99. Success - Just the idea of success is inspirational to me. What inspires success? Watching others and/or experiencing your own success.

100. Myself - I am sure that this is not how anybody expected me to finish this post. But I think it is important for people to read this and understand that it is an integral part of each and everyone's life. I inspire myself. I don't often give myself enough credit for where I have come from and where I have gone. My successes have inspired greater successes. And while, at times, I can be very hard on myself, I wouldn't be able to achieve anything if I wasn't the person that I am.

What has inspired you to become who you are?