Have I Been Forgotten?

Avenue of the Arts & City Hall - Philadelphia - My morning walk to open class
After nearly 7 months away, I can't even begin to explain how exciting it was for me to return home to Philly. Not only was I thrilled to see my partner and be in my own space, I was excited to see my cats, walk down familiar streets, and sleep in my own bed. Another rousing prospect high on my list was seeing all of my friends that were eagerly awaiting my return home. The day before I embarked on my 3 month tour to Alaska, a large group of about 20 friends gathered with me at a local pub. Last week, when I posted on Facebook that "I.....AM.....HOME", I was expecting the same reception that I received when I left. Alas, I got three responses. My sister said, "yay," my mom said, "woo hoo," and one Philly-based friend responded, "welcome home." And although about 15 people liked my status update, only 3 were local friends. As the next few days passed, I anxiously awaited phone calls, texts, and messages that somebody wanted to hang out with me. One or two came, but, other than that, it has generally been crickets. Then reality started to set in. I had been away for nearly 7 months with only a short break between gigs. Had I been forgotten?

To answer this question, I feel that I need to look all the way back to my childhood. I remember around the age of 13, I decided to dedicate myself to this crazy art of dance. I remember aching inside, I wanted it so badly. I didn't know exactly what was aching and I had an amorphous idea of what I wanted, but I ached for some sort of success and notoriety. As the years progressed, a small handful of students at my home dance studio, Chester Valley Dance Academy, convinced the director to add a Friday night ballet class. We didn't care that all of our peers were going to parties, seeing the newest blockbusters, and having youthful romances. All we knew was that we wanted another chance to dance, no matter the social consequence. Yes, we missed those occasions and, yes, we missed many more. But that little hurt that we did feel was covered up by our successes. We got into summer programs, we won awards at competitions, and we got to travel more than those sitting next to us in English class.

Once I moved on from my home studio, I was thrown into an environment with dozens of dancers, instead of four, just like me. We had made mature sacrifices as mere children. We passed on integral social building parts of our childhood to do something fascinating. We didn't care if we missed prom. We didn't care if we got made fun of for being men and dancing. We didn't care if our friends slowly started to drift away because we were always at dance. Finally, we had entered an environment with kids like us. At the Kirov Academy of Ballet, it was impossible to not become close to your peers. We lived, danced, ate, and received our academic education all in the same building. There was no need to turn down friendship for dance because we were always together in everything we did. But once we graduated, some dancers got contracts, some went to college, and others quit dance altogether and we scattered across the country like pigeons searching for breadcrumbs. We had to start the process all over again. Yes, we finally had solid friendships, just none of them lived close enough to hang out.

Reuniting w/suitemates from SAB 10 years later - Me (PNB), Jermel Johnson (PA Ballet), Andrew Scordato (NYCB)
Most dancers finally begin to have a solid social life once they join a company. This is when one usually settles down in one place for an extended period of time. Aside from befriending colleagues, being an independent adult allows you to pick and choose friends outside of dance who are fine with the oft erratic schedule of a dancer. Once I lived in Seattle for a long enough period of time, I had a solid group of friends in and out of dance. At that point, I felt that all of the sacrifices from my childhood paid off. I had the best of both worlds; my success as an artist and the social life that I had passed on years before. Then I decided to make a career change and moved away from that social atmosphere that had become an integral part of my young adult life.

Moving is almost always traumatic. Aside from relocating and adjusting to a change of environment, you need to find a new base of support. Unfortunately, my work takes me away from home for weeks and months at a time. I am lucky that my partner is mostly stationed in Philly throughout the year and has developed his own base of friends. Whenever I return home from a gig, he sits me down and reads a long list of people that are very excited to finally meet me. This is really nice and I always enjoy his new friends. For me, though, I feel that I have only acquired what is mostly panning out to be acquaintances with great potential. Now don't get me wrong, I have made some good friends in Philadelphia and I do have great relationships in the suburbs from my childhood. But for the most part, it is nearly impossible to cultivate caring, understanding, and mutual friendships when I am always picking up and leaving right as things start to blossom. It makes complete and total sense to me that I have these banging send offs and disappointing returns.

When I experience disappointment, I try to turn the tables and look at things from an outside perspective. Going through this process over the last week, I have come to realize a few things. The first being that it is not uncommon for people to latch onto me quickly. I am quite outgoing and friendly, which generally makes me easy to approach. Most non-dancers initially seek my friendship because of their intrigue in me as a dancer. I find that people seek to know the professional side of me before the personal. It takes awhile for acquaintances to really get to know me on a more personal level, which is truly when the friendship starts. I have to spend time cultivating potential friends to look at me as a person that dances instead of only as a dancer. This usually takes multiple, frequent encounters. Unfortunately, my work schedule doesn't allow that pertinent relationship building time. So, most of the people I meet feel a great connection to me that is easily pushed to the side after I leave town.

Along the same note, I have to remind myself of the well-known idiom, "Out of sight. Out of mind." When you don't see somebody with a hint of regularity, it is easy to forget about your relationship with that person. This is human nature, therefore removing the personal blame from either side of the equation. If an important connection hasn't been cultivated, one can't be held accountable for moving on to more important relationships in their lives.

Keeping the above in mind, I came to realize that I must accept some of the blame in my feelings of being disregarded. When I travel, I must adjust to a new environment. I have to learn the layout of the city, meet new colleagues, and find enough time to rest from all of the hard work I put in. When I come home from a long day in the studio, I am more likely to draw a bath and pour a glass of wine than I am to call or message a new friend. At the very moment that I started to feel bitter towards the lack of excitement in my return, I had to look at myself and accept that I put very little effort into cultivating something that I shouldn't expect as a given.

Once I got over the fact that nobody was calling me, I started contacting people. And as I have slowly started adjusting to being home and begun returning to my routine, I have run into some of the people that I had hoped would reach out to me. Each one of them has responded with the same excitement that they had when I left. It must be kept in perspective that, as I do when I get busy, people don't necessarily forget about you when you aren't around. Just because somebody hasn't contacted you, doesn't mean that they don't care about you anymore or that you haven't crossed their mind. Essentially, I am surrounded by successful adults that are just as busy as I am. They probably feel the same way about me that I felt about them. If one offers a gentle reminder that they have returned, they will get a better response than they would if they egotistically waited around for everybody else to make initial contact.

With this new mindset, I don't feel as forgotten as I did just days ago. Being a freelancer, we are lucky that we get to make friends everywhere that we go. While most adults stay in one place and cultivate their one group of friends, I have the privilege of traveling the world and making friends in each city that I travel. While there isn't always sheer excitement each time I come and go, there is often excitement everywhere I go. It is actually a privilege to have friends wherever I travel. This must not be taken for granted. When I finally decide to settle down and slow the pace of my freelancing, I can be more concerned about having a solid social group at home. And to be completely honest, if I am to be forgotten, it can't really be all that bad. I survived these feelings as a teenager. So I can surely live a happy life with these feelings as an adult. Not much has really changed since I was a devoted teenage dance student passionate about my art.


Returning to Providence

Sleeping Beauty rehearsal - Shura Baryshnikov as Carabosse & Emily Loscocco as the Lilac Fairy (Photo: A. Cemal Ekin)
Almost one year ago to the day, I was sitting on an Amtrak train writing a blog about my wonderful host family that I had spent a month living with in Providence, Rhode Island while guesting with Festival Ballet Providence. Although, I had some experience freelancing before that gig, it was my first as a full-time freelance artist. I am experiencing a bit of de ja vu since I am currently on a train heading home to Philly after saying goodbye to the same host family. Three weeks ago, I was brought back to the Ocean State to dance with FBP in their season closing production of Sleeping Beauty. It was due to the relationship that we had cultivated last year that I was asked to come back and dance with the company again.

A few weeks before I left Alaska, I contacted the director of Festival to see if he needed any guest artists for his production of Sleeping Beauty. Since the company is comprised of about 25 artists, it is not uncommon for them to hire guest artists to supplement their productions of these large scale classical ballets. At the time of contact, the company was in the theatre working on a different production and they weren't able to let me know if they needed me. I only found out that I was hired a little less than a week prior to my leaving. I had just arrived home from Anchorage when they let me know they needed me. After spending 3 months in Alaska, I only had 5 days at home before I hopped aboard a train to begin rehearsing. Sometimes, that is how work happens. I have learned to be prepared to travel at a moment's notice.
Providence is beautiful in the springtime

Although I do prefer a bit more warning, I was happy to return to Providence for many reasons. The moment that I was hired, I jokingly told the director that I wouldn't take the job if I couldn't stay with the host family I was with last year. He already knew that I would make this request and within an hour I had received a text from my host mother letting me know, "Of course you'll stay with us. I'll start cooking!" I was very happy to reconnect with the fam and to catch up on happenings of the past year.

I was also excited, surprisingly, to take class with the company again. Last year, I dreaded returning to the achingly slow classes that were founded by Agrippina Vaganova. Strict Russian-style classes are hard as can be. After training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet for a year, I was reluctant to return to that training, especially after cultivating myself into a Balanchine dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet. What I wasn't expecting was how much strength I would gain from the technique during my time with FBP last season. This time around, I was excited to benefit from these classes. At times, I just couldn't make it through the painstakingly slow adagios that are often given. But I definitely felt that my technique got stronger over the last few weeks. I even had a mind-blowing revelation during one of the classes. Well, I didn't quite have this revelation, but the teacher explained one thing that had always irked me about Russian training. After giving a particularly hard combination, the ballet master, Cosmin Marculetiu, let the dancers in on a little secret about Vaganova training. He stated, "This combination wasn't created to make you feel good. It was made to make you fail." This statement validated all of my feelings about this style of training since I left KAB. I always felt like I was a horrible dancer in Russian classes. I didn't realize that this was exactly the point. Although, I don't prefer to feel like I am failing each day, I can now better appreciate this technique. It was developed to challenge you beyond your threshold, so that one can handle difficult choreography with ease.

One thing that I really appreciated upon my return to the company was how welcomed I felt by the dancers and staff. There has been a lot of turnover in the company since last season, so there were many new faces. Although there were new dancers, from the moment I walked into the studio I felt that people were genuinely happy to see me. There was only a rumor that I might be returning, so most of the dancers weren't expecting to see me when I arrived. I was embraced with warm smiles, hugs, and chatty catching up. Those that didn't know me quickly warmed up to me and, within a day or two, I felt almost as if I had met them the season prior. Being a freelancer, I am constantly faced with the discomfort of breaking into each company's unique bubble, which is commonly tight knit and competitive. It was nice to walk into the studio knowing that I didn't have to prove myself or awkwardly engage people until someone befriended me. I appreciate this more than one would probably think due to the fact that my work forces me to exist in a constant state outside of my comfort zone.

Taking this job was not a career boosting opportunity for me. I didn't return to Festival to be a star. The director didn't hire me to dance in place of his dancers. He already has beautiful, quality dancers who are more than qualified to dance their repertoire's leading roles. When I take work, I usually prefer to be the Prince or some other leading character. But if I am going to take a job where I am only needed to supplement corps roles, especially roles I most often performed during my apprenticeship/1st year in the corps, I would prefer for it to be in an environment that I enjoy. During the past three weeks, I was so happy to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, take quality classes, and perform with little stress in my roles. Last year, I felt like I was returning to my roots in Providence. This year, I felt like I was returning to see an old friend.

Carabosse & her crew of gargoyles


Video Break - Performing "The Nutcracker" grand pas de deux

This past week I received my first offer to perform a guesting for the 2013 Nutcracker season. Even though it is only the beginning of May, many schools and companies are already beginning to prepare for this holiday delight. The Nutcracker is often future professionals introduction to ballet. And although most of us pros have a massive-love hate relationship with the ballet, we know that it inspires and pays the bills. Last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to perform in Ballet Nova's The Nutcracker in Arlington, Virginia with a very talented 16-year old student that came up through the school. Below you can see a majority of the grand pas de deux that we performed together with mere hours of rehearsal time together. Enjoy!