The overwhelming feeling that I ALWAYS need to be in shape.

A typical view driving around Los Angeles
Well isn't this the story of my life. When I worked with Pacific Northwest Ballet, we had a 40-week contract. Essentially, we were handed a schedule of our upcoming year which dictated when we would work, rest, and gear up to get back in shape after resting. One area of my freelancing life that I have yet to get a handle on is how and when to take a break. I find that I have an overwhelming sense of anxiety about taking breaks and getting out of shape because I never know when work is going to appear out of thin air. Well, I finally decided to take a vacation with my partner to his hometown of Los Angeles for a week from July 3-10. I told my anxiety to take a break and let my body take one, too. Of course, the second I let my guard down, an old friend of mine sends me a text message a day before I return home from vacation. "Did you see there is an American in Paris audition in NYC 7/15?" My stomach started to sink, my legs began to shake (maybe this is an exaggeration), and my anxiety rose to the surface as reality started to set in. I had one week to get back in tip-top shape.

One of the most challenging aspects of freelancing is deciding when to take a break. I wrote a blog awhile back about the importance of taking breaks. A majority of the discussion was focused on why we take breaks and how to take them properly. One thing I didn't really touch upon was the anxiety that many dancers feel about getting out of shape. From a very young age, young hopeful children begin feeling the pressure of improvement. At a certain point in most dancer's training, they feel like they can't even rest a day in their training or they will start to fall behind everybody else. Even though I have already had a substantial career, I still fear that if I slow down for a moment I will fall behind everyone, as I did when I was a student. Putting that in writing, it doesn't even really make any sense. Who do I have to fall behind at this point? Myself. This thought of falling behind as a student translates into, "if I am not constantly training, working, rehearsing, etc., I am going to lose everything that I have worked for," as a professional.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about having a dance career versus a normal career. In most non-dance careers, you know that as you get older you will always have the knowledge that you've gained, even if your mind isn't as sharp, you sustain an injury, or you level out. Unfortunately, as a professional dancer, you know that at a certain point, while having the knowledge of all of your hard work, you will lose nearly everything you have worked for physically. Another friend of mine who recently retired from the professional ballet life was telling me that after a year of not dancing en pointe, while her body still knows how to do it, it doesn't have the strength to do it anymore. At her young age, she can, of course, work to get that strength back if she wishes. But in just under a year, one can lose 20 years of strength building. This is the best example of why we dancers fear taking a break so much.

My partner (R) and me (L) at the pier in Santa Monica
When I finished my season back in the middle of May, I didn't have a definitive day that I would be returning to any workplace to dance. With this in mind and no contracts signed, I knew that I couldn't just stop dancing for the summer. So, up until July 3, I have been taking regular classes every week and playing around with choreography in the studio on top of teaching. I wasn't in top notch shape, but if I needed to, I felt that I could gear it up and be close within a week or so. I did know that at some point during the summer, I just needed to enjoy the life of a normal human being. When I bought my plane ticket to L.A. I knew that this was that time. I told myself, "if something comes along, you will deal with it the best you can. You are not a robot and you deserve to lay on the beach, eat and drink whatever you want, and sleep in until whatever hour you wish." Unfortunately, and fortunately, life decided to miss my vacation memo and a very big opportunity was thrust in my face.

The view for my jog in Long Beach
As soon as I found out about this audition for a 6-week workshop to create the musical, "An American in Paris," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon was taking place, I knew that I had no choice but to stop vacationing and desperately try to return to a somewhat functional level of dancing. After gaining acceptance to the audition, on the last day of my vacation, I began getting in shape. I did my ab series, gave myself a barre in the dining room of our friends condo, and jogged/walked 3 miles along Long Beach. I flew the next day and began an intense, but smart, 5-day period of getting back into shape.

While I definitely feel caught off guard in this moment, I am going into this audition hopeful and knowing that not only have I done everything that I can for this moment, but also everything I can for my dance career and being. Yes, one of my biggest fears as a freelancer has come to fruition. But at the same time, if I don't attempt to take breaks, my body and mind will probably not continue to love dance the way it does. So, as my Bolt bus is currently driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, I must bring this post to a close. But what it really comes down to is that dancers must take time off. Freelancers don't have the luxury of a regular stream-lined schedule. They need to always be in shape. And although that is not possible, they need to be prepared to not always be prepared as perfectly as they may wish. Although I am very hopeful and excited about tomorrow's audition, no matter the turn out, I will leave knowing that I did the best that I could. And not just for this one audition, but as a freelance dancer trying to exist in this sometimes spontaneous world.

(UPDATE: Although I wrote this on my way into the city, I am now editing it on my way out of the city. I won't say much, but the audition went very well. I was even asked to sing, my first time ever singing for an audition. :-)

1 comment:

  1. Anxiety is why I stopped myself from dancing and why I'm taking a two-week vacation. I'm going to my partners home town as well. :)
    I love to dance, but when earning money doing it, it can seem as a cage, especially because you end up not dancing for yourself and your own ideas, but for other people's ideas and stuff that you don't necessarily like. I'm not in your dance field, but in different forms and I feel the stress and pressure nibling from all sides. Currently, I've limited myself to only doing yoga and pilates because dance technique was starting to drive me mad and I feel a big difference. I don't train to strain myself but to rebuild and restore, I can almost feel my nervous system realigning and stuff releasing.

    If only more dancers would speak up on these topics, maybe we wouldn't expect too much from ourselves and burn out so easily.

    I wish you best of luck for the audition and to get a big role in the show. :)