Making it work - My Hurricane Sandy rehearsal experience

Its been awhile since Ive really had a chance to write a serious post. I, initially, was planning on writing about how well my networking event for freelancers went, but this week got a bit crazy and I didn't get around to writing that. Instead, I ended up spending a majority of the week prepping for a hurricane and figuring out how to do my job without getting stranded or putting myself in danger. My next post will focus on my event, but for the moment everybody has got Sandy on their minds.

I took a bus home from NYC on Wednesday night last week flying high on the success of the event that my friend Bennyroyce Royon and I had thrown. My first task upon arrival was to take out the trash for our block. We save money on our rent by helping our landlord out with this chore. After lugging about five trash cans and six recycling buckets around the block, I sat down to take a rest and the news was on. NBC Philadelphia's long-time meteorologist, Glenn Hurricane Schwartz, was talking about a tropical weather system that had just developed into a hurricane. This cyclone's name was Sandy and she was about to make landfall in Jamaica. They had mentioned that the storm's track had the potential to take a turn that nobody had ever seen before. The potential danger was mentioned, but the actuality of it happening was met with a bit of skepticism.

The next day, I started solidifying plans for rehearsals with Ballet Nova near Washington, D.C. I will be performing the grand pas de deux with a student in their Nutcracker in December. Since I leave for Rochester City Ballet this coming weekend, the only time that I had to rehearse was this past Sunday - Tuesday. Things were all set for rehearsal and the forecast still seemed ridiculous. They were saying that a handful of forecasts were pushing Sandy over the Jersey shore, which meant that Philadelphia would receive the brunt of the the wind and rain from the storm. The news said that if this happened, it wouldnt happen until Tuesday evening. Still feeling skeptical about this news, I went about my business as usual; getting back in shape and enjoying some Halloween festivities.

As Friday approached, newscasters were starting to talk about this storm system more seriously. Still with a hint of skepticism, they mentioned that more and more forecast models were sending this storm right at us on a track that has never happened before with a tropical system, especially at the end of October. With all of this uncertainty and a stronger hint of potentiality, I decided it was time to be a bit more proactive with my communication with Ballet Nova. I truly feel that openness and honesty are the best way to deal with any situation and that is exactly how I approached this. I talked to the director of the school and mentioned my concern about the forecast. Being that I need about 5 days to prepare everything to leave for 5 weeks, I absolutely couldn't be stranded in DC. On top of that, if a possibly catastrophic weather event was going to affect Philadelphia, I wanted to be home to protect my partner, pets, and home. Since they were expecting the storm to hit on Tuesday evening, I suggested that we shorten the rehearsal period from 3 days to 2 days. The director was more than understanding of my concern and we decided to remain in contact and make a decision based on the following day's forecast.

When Saturday arrived, news only got worse. Sandy, now poorly noted as Frankenstorm, was really panning out to make history. And not only was she going to make history, she was going to do it a day earlier than yesterday's forecast. Newscasters were starting to make this storm sound really frightening. I fought with myself the entire day to make the right decision for my upcoming rehearsals in DC. My gut told me to completely cancel and just stick around Philly to avoid any complications or danger. But my mind told me that I had to stick with my commitments and remain professional and travel for at least the first two days of the rehearsal period. I had an unfortunate case of dancers syndrome. Even in the face of danger, I wanted to show up, do my best, and not let anybody down. In my mind, anything that wasn't exactly what we had planned on was going to disappoint my employer. Finally, as the evening approached, I made my last ditch effort to make something work out, even though I was absolutely uncomfortable with the prospect. I would take a bus down to DC, rehearse as long as necessary during the day, and take the last train back to Philly that same night. My hopes were that the storm would travel slower than forecast and that we wouldn't feel any effects until I was safely inside my apartment. I felt like I was being overly dramatic and that I was blowing things out of proportion, but in the end I needed to do what I felt I needed to do.

I woke up this past Sunday at about 7 am to get prepared for my trip. It was already raining and it was breezy outside. This didn't put me at ease. I had tried to get an earlier bus down to DC so that I could get back to Philly earlier, but all of the buses were sold out except for a 3 am and 11 pm trip. Way too many people were trying to get home before the storm hit. We jumped on the freeway and the Megabus driver gave us their run-down of emergency procedures, which now included the bus blowing over in wind or encountering flooding. We actually made our trip down to DC in good time considering the weather, but having fewer cars on the roads probably helped.

From Union Station, the director of the school picked me up and we got to know each other along the drive. Two fun pieces of information I learned driving to the school were that the school used to formerly be the Arlington Center for Dance (where I went to my very first summer program audition for Houston Ballet Academy and eventually attended that program) and that I have a handful of friends that started at that school. Once we arrived, we launched straight away into a full-blown rehearsal. I'm quite glad that I had already learned most of the choreography for the production. I was initially planning on having a nice outline of the choreography, then really digging into it for the 3-day rehearsal period. Once news of the hurricane started to get more serious, I began learning the choreography more seriously. This proved to be a smart move. We were able to fly through the rehearsal process at a fast rate and accomplish nearly as much in 4 hours that we probably wouldve done in the 9 hours I was supposed to be there.

The bread aisle at our local supermarket
Around 5 pm, I got that message that I was praying I wouldn't get. A friend emailed me and told me that all Amtrak trains had been cancelled on the Northeast corridor. We stopped rehearsal immediately and frantically searched to find out if this was true. As is normal in any situation like this hurricane, people sometimes get/give incorrect information. It wasnt clear if this was happening, but it put a fire under our butts to get me back to the station. I suggested we run the entire pas de deux one time and then run to the train station. I'm glad that we did this, as I wanted the student to be as comfortable as possible for my arrival (I dont want to forget to say that she was quite impressive). We ran the grand pas de deux and I jumped in my clothes and we flew on over to Union station. Luckily, the information I had received was incorrect and trains were still running. They had all been cancelled for the following day, but trains for that evening were still running. I was able to change my ticket to an earlier time to assure that I made it on one, as there was still potential to cancel. The train station had a frantic energy and lines were ridiculously long as people attempted to get home before the storm showed its wrath. The interesting thing, though, was that people were friendlier than usual. Perhaps, events like this make people realize the things that are more important to them. Anyway, I arrived home around 10:00 that night (looking at the departure board, I lucked out arriving earlier as trains started to get cancelled/severely delayed) and stopped by our local grocery store as they were closing (I had already been shopping days earlier, but I wanted a treat after all of the drama). I made it home safe and was able to ride out the storm with my partner.

Although the storm was not horribly scary in Philadelphia (we had winds near 70 mph and I swore the tree across the street from us was going to fall on our apartment), it did actually live up to the hype that forecasters had built it up to be. My thoughts are with all of those that suffered the most damage, especially on the Jersey coast and in New York City. For all we know, we could've seen such destruction here in Philly. I learned a few interesting lessons from Sandy this past week. When it comes to your own safety and comfort, you have to follow your gut. Nobody can truly predict what nature has in store for us. Safety comes before dance. And when it comes to your career, you have to do everything you can do to perform your job duties within reason. I feel that the openness of communication I had with the director and the odd, potentially dangerous forecast actually helped create a quicker connection between the two of us. In the end, all was fine here in Philly. A medium sized tree branch hit our building, but there wasnt any damage from it. There are leaves all over the place, as we live across the street from a park. Philly lost a lot of trees, but otherwise seemed to fare well with the storm. I feel that I really went out of my way to make this rehearsal happen and Im glad that I was willing to make it work. And now, I'll have this story to tell my grandkids.


  1. Thanks for the post. I had been looking for something related and found your web site in the process.. I will definitely be back for more.

    1. Glad you happened upon my blog. Hope you fared well in Sandy. Please keep checking in!