What Have I Been Up To? - AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop

Hiking up Bird Ridge - Indian, AK
I know! I know! It has been three whole weeks since I have written a blog post. And for that I apologize. What I have been finding is that the older I get and the more elaborate my activities and projects become, the more intense my focus will be for the periods of time that I am working. Essentially, this is what happened since my last post at the beginning of June. I have been home for a whole three days and am finally getting situated again, even if not completely over the hump of my jet lag. So, here is an update on what I have been up to!

For the past few weeks, I had what I would consider my best experience in Alaska. Now, most of my time in the Last Frontier has been incredible. But this time around things were a bit different. First off, I got to do things on my terms. I wasn't being brought up to work for a company. I chose my housing. I created my own program. I brought my partner along for the whole ride. I even took a vacation at the end. All in all, it was a spectacular trip and I came home feeling invigorated, inspired, and ready to keep pushing forward with my Core-ography project, teaching, and the development of my art.

So, what have I been up to these past few weeks? When I left Alaska in December, I promised my students that I would return to Anchorage this summer. What I didn't foresee was that the terms expected to bring me back to this northern state would change and I would have to fulfill this vow on my own. When this became apparent to me, I sought out a way to make my own summer intensive a reality. Luckily, I found an amazing advocate for dance in the state's biggest city, Pulse Dance Company director Stephanie Wonchala, who graciously offered her studio space to hold the first (hopefully annual) AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop.

Now, I have taught for many organizations. From teaching company class for Eugene Ballet to working as a guest instructor for Peridance Capezio Center, to teaching master classes at Los Angeles Ballet Academy and beyond, I have become quite comfortable with my teaching skills. But to undertake my own program was quite nerve-racking. Not only did I have to find my own studio space, I had to worry about marketing, enrollment, curriculum development, tuition payments, travel, accommodations, and legal aspects of running a program for students. I was lucky to have two helpful ladies in Alaska assisting me with a handful of these items. While I knew that this would be quite the undertaking for a one-man show, I felt responsible to follow through for these amazing teens and young adults who have limited local opportunities when it comes to training options. I always tell my students that it is not my responsibility to inspire them, but instead their responsibility to inspire me to want to push them further. And as a testament to these students and how they have inspired me in the past, I created a program just for them.

Classical Technique (Photo: Pamela Montgomery)
For two weeks from June 8 - 19th, Studio Pulse was full of intermediate and advanced level students from Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Butler University, Colorado State University, and the University of Arizona. We began each day with a classical ballet technique class. Many people get confused when they hear the term contemporary ballet. I have oft been asked to teach classes in this genre, but have turned down the request because I don't fully believe in a contemporary ballet class. It is my opinion that contemporary ballet is the perfect fusion of classical ballet and contemporary dance techniques. To teach a class in contemporary ballet would endanger tainting the beautiful lines and necessary strength it takes to properly execute ballet technique. For this reason, I strongly believe in having classical technique separated from contemporary movement. So, we started each day with nearly 2-hours in ballet class.
Contemporary Technique (Photo: Pamela Montgomery)

Following morning technique, we either held pointe class, learned classical or contemporary variations, or explored improvisation techniques. After a short lunch, we spent our afternoons expanding our movement into the contemporary realm. In these classes, we worked through a progressive warm up, honed our classical work into a more stylized movement quality, and used choreographic techniques to develop a collaborative piece of choreography.

At the end of the two weeks, it was quite exciting to see the physical and emotional progress my students had made in this short period of time. In my classes, we don't only work on perfecting technique. I make sure that class is a conversation between my students and myself, where we discuss the reasoning for why things are taught a certain way and the emotional implications of tough pre-professional training. Also, I strongly believe that the studio is a place where it is perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to fail. Without failure, we can not figure out how to succeed. My students were preparing to attend summer intensives at schools including Ballet Met, Kansas City Ballet, Ailey, Ballet Arizona, and Walnut Hill (to name a few), and my goal was to make sure that each student was wholly prepared to show themselves at their strongest for these programs.

Students of AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop (minus 3 students)
If you thought running my own summer intensive wasn't enough, I also wanted to offer something to the greater freelance community of Anchorage (yes, there is a small group of freelancers in the state's capitol). A few times during my program, I taught master classes to local adult dancers. I also spent some time staging a short piece that will be performed in Pulse Dance Company's upcoming season. Working with these dancers was inspiring. My hope for these dancers is that they can be major advocates for the arts and dance in a place that needs passionate people to educate their community about why they should attend performances and give to the arts. This is not an easy task, but I feel that they are up to the challenge.
Working w/ Pulse Dance Company

Usually, at the end of gigs I've been brought in for, I head home or onto the next job. But like my time in New Orleans, I chose to tag a few more days onto my trip in Alaska. While this was my 4th extended period of time in this great state, I was astounded by the numerous activities available that I still hadn't explored.

One of the brown bears we made friends with (about 10 feet away)
Along with my partner, a friend joined us in our continued explorations of south-central Alaska. Immediately after my last rehearsal with Pulse Dance Company, I ran to Ellison Air to fly on a 6-seater plane to the Lake Clark Wilderness Reserve. As we flew past Anchorage over Cook Inlet into the wild, we saw the incredible lay-out of this glacially carved landscape. With the color of mineral-rich soil staining water bodies, red-tinted tundra, and stunningly peaked mountains, we flew for nearly an hour in our hunt for bears. Yes. BEARS! After landing in a lake and transferring to a small boat, we floated for a few hours, where we viewed brown bears swimming and eating salmon (within a few feet of our boat), bald eagles flying above our heads, and fish jumping out of the water in preparation to run up Wolverine Creek. Perhaps, the most intense part of our journey was when two of us had to briefly depart the boat to walk a short trail in deep brush to an out house. We couldn't see left or right as we pushed brush out of the way and screamed at the top of our lungs in this forestry teeming with bears. We yelled and clapped to warn any that might be sleeping beside us as we walked by that we were heading their way. Next time, I'll just go off the side of the boat.

Beautiful glacial blue of Surprise glacier
The day after our adventurous bear outing we headed to the odd town of Whittier, where you must drive through the longest multi-use one-way tunnel in the world and nearly all of its denizens live in one tall apartment building. From here, we took a 26-glacier boat tour on Phillips Cruises. This 5-hour trip had us watching whale fins slapping the water, sea otters swimming on their backs with babies on their chests, and amazingly ancient endangered glaciers of all types. While the stunning beauty of this trip will definitely remain in my mind for years to come, the obnoxious nature of the people on these boats will hopefully fade. To see so many people stuffed on a boat to view endangered nature and to see how selfishly they acted to catch a selfie was a sad reminder of why many of these places are at risk for being destroyed or lost.

After our glacier tour, we headed across the Kenai Peninsula to the stunning town of Homer. I love this place and have fond memories of my 31st birthday here. I received a surprise from our friend who had secretly convinced my partner to cancel our accommodations. Instead, she had us stay with her at the top of the hill in Homer with a glorious view. For the next two days, I essentially rested my AK-BK exhausted mind while taking in the culture of this fishing town and sitting on the couch of our house staring at the incredible view.

Panoramic of our home and view while staying in Homer, AK
Once we had completed our two days of rest in Homer, we headed back to Anchorage to catch our flight home. But Alaska wasn't done with us yet. Along the drive back, multiple moose (bucks, moms, and babies) came to the side of the highway to eat a meal and pose for our cameras. We made a stop-off at an incredible artist's wood carving outpost in the middle of nowhere. We stopped in Soldotna before heading to the miniature, historic town of Hope for dinner. After enjoying too much time talking to the wood carver's wife and stopping to determine how to remove a bird from the grill of our car (as we left Hope, it flew in front of our car...I guess it had left Hope behind), we were feeling rushed to get back to our home-stay to repack before our 1 AM flight. But incredibly, at about 9:45 pm, as the sun still shined brightly, our lateness happened to run into a rare phenomenon known as the boretide (explained here) in Cook Inlet. As I dramatically threw the car into a U-turn on the Seward Highway, my car-mates didn't understand why I had acted so erraticly. As I threw the door open and ran away from the car screaming, "GRAB YOUR CAMERAS AND RUN!!!!" they quickly realized why I was so excited. Surfers and Beluga whales alike were riding this 6-ish foot wave that dramatically sweeps through Cook Inlet as it transitions past low-tide. Alaska was clearly waving goodbye to us after an incredible 3 weeks in the state.

I never expected to visit Alaska in my lifetime. When my partner and I decided to leave Seattle, we made a bucket list for our time left in the state. One item on our list was to visit Alaska since it was so close to Seattle. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and we wrote off visiting since it wasn't an easy possibility. Little did I know that only a few short years later, I would proudly call Alaska my 2nd home. I can't wait to return to this magical state, whether it be before or during my next AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop!

Cheers to a successful trip to Alaska!!!!!


Travel Post - It Is Only an Airport - CALM DOWN!!!!!

Many of you may have have been disappointed that I wasn't living up to my claim of being a nationally touring freelancer over the past few months. Honestly, I needed a break from the chaos of sitting amongst my fellow homo sapiens at airport gates from city to sparkling city, among other reasons. Yes, I traveled by bus to New York City a handful of times over the past 6 months (and luckily took the Bolt Bus instead of the train the night of the Amtrak crash), but I haven't existed amongst the rank and file economy class of aerial travelers for some time. It has been glorious to say the least. But, I'm back at it. In fact, I began writing this blog on my phone waiting in the security line at Philadelphia International Airport and continued while flying from Philadelphia to Phoenix. Now, during my layover in Phoenix on my way back to Anchorage, I am beginning to transcribe it from a random table at a random coffee stand with this beautiful image burning color into my eyes.

Looking out the window at the airport in Phoenix
With that said, I'm actually quite inspired by reentering the regular travel schedule of a freelance dancer and choreographer. I am heading back to Alaska to kick off my inaugural intensive training experience, AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop. And, as I was attempting to check in for my flight with the ticket attendant waving me to the counter, not one of the three people blocking my path moved (or even turned their heads) when I kindly, but audibly spoke, "Excuse me." There is just something about airports that make most people lose their sensibilities and act like animals sitting around a watering hole, a la Mean Girls.

So, this time around, I've decided to have an interlude list blog between all of these "Create Your Own Project" series postings. With that said, I am here to offer you all of the advice you could ever need on how to CALM DOWN and act with civility when you are at an airport. Cheers!

- Keep this in mind at all times. It's just an airport. It is no different than the rest of life. In fact, the rules are almost exactly the same as they were in elementary school. Stand in line. Be nice to and aware of the people around you. Listen to the people in charge. And you will have few problems. Simple.

- If you are all like, "OMG!!! I get nervous before I fly...and sometimes it...umm...affects my stomach...but I need privacy...to...umm..." too much information, DON'T FRET! There usually are bathrooms located on the floor where you collect your ticket and drop your baggage off. These lavatories are usually completely empty and absolutely spotless. Aside from the occasional employee who goes in there to take a whiz, nobody goes in there or seems to know they exist.

(Note: at this point, my flight is probably already boarding...and I'm still sitting here in the cafe typing my blog. See how calm I am?)

- If you have a question or concern, ask an employee or TSA agent. They may seem to rudely ignore you, cut you off, or be short with you. They have a lot to tend to. Just wait patiently until they can find a moment to answer you. If you stand there and wait for them to assess the many situations in front of them, they will eventually give you a competent, attentive answer...even if they don't smile and say "Have a nice day!" They are more interested in maintaining all of the crazies running around than giving you their full attention and offering a smile. And, more often than not, when they realize that you get how it works, they will be nicer and more willing to help you out.

- Oh no! You raised your voice at or approached an airline worker or security agent with an angry tone. Be prepared for them to have no interest in assisting you in any way, shape, or form. It, honestly, is never ever acceptable to treat airport employees this way. No matter how in the right you are, they are in control and can make your trip miserable from start to finish.

In no rush...
(OK...I finally left the cafe at this point. I was one of the last people to board my plane. And I even had time to take a picture!)

- I have flown hundreds of times and my luggage has always shown up at my location...eventually. If your luggage doesn't show up with your person, unless you are carrying an organ for transplant or the hope diamond, calm down, take a breathe, and stop somewhere inexpensive like Target (and price-match) for a cheap new outfit and some toiletries. Chances are you'll have a good memory/story every time you wear it again. I always find that my best experiences come from working through adversity.

- Employees and TSA agents want you to make your flight. You aren't the only person that has somewhere to go. You honestly don't need to be at your gate until about 10 minutes before departure, when they close the door to your plane. If you are cutting it close, talk to an airport employee. Just understand that everybody's goal is to get you to your destination. If you miss your flight, not only are you a hassle to the airline, you are lost revenue.

- With the above said, you don't need to be at your gate an hour before your flight (if I haven't driven that point home yet). I usually show up about 5-10 minutes after boarding begins. What's the rush? And who really wants to be the first passenger on the plane to stake their claim and feel pride in their victory of knowing they made it on the flight. I'd rather be the last person on the plane and shorten the length of time I'm strapped into those damn uncomfortable economy seats. Everybody on that flight is going to get to their destination, whether you are first or last.

- Do you really want to drag your carry-on around that airport during your layover? And how often do you truly get up to pull something out of it during the flight? In fact, I don't think I've ever seen somebody pull their rolling luggage down into the aisle mid-flight, unzip it, pull something out, and put it back up in the overhead compartment. I always pack my heaviest items in my carry-on to save on baggage fees, then walk straight to the counter at the gate and offer my carry-on to be checked to my destination. It's free. It helps. It's not a hassle. The gate agents love you for it. And a majority of the time, I only needed that extra thing from my carry-on before I got onto the flight.

- You are not the most important person in the airport (unless, perhaps, you're an A-list celebrity). Just like driving or walking down the street, your time is not more important than everybody else's. Calm down and act with a sense of humanity.

- You've traveled more than once in your lifetime? Congratulations...you've been delayed. Now calm down, grab a beer, charge your devices, and do something practical. Write a blog ;-) or play a game. Or explore your terminal. Or find a quiet place in a corner of the airport and take that nap you need because you were too nervous about your travels to sleep.

- You've lost your ID or passport. Calm down. Think about the places you might have left it or put it down. Is it in your car? On the seat of the train? At the magazine shop's counter? Can't find it? PANIC!!!!! Honestly, this would be the only time I would really lose my cool.

- AHHHH!!!! I have to get scanned by an X-ray machine. Is it gonna give me cancer? How invasive! Chill! The shadowy silhouette of your penis or breasts are nothing the TSA agents are writing home about (or taking pictures of). Again, you are one of thousands of penises and breasts being scanned each and every day. Again, you are not the most important person walking through the airport.

- Rolling luggage rolls behind you. Turn your head around and look behind yourself every once in awhile. Also, don't walk into my rolling luggage. I just walked by you and you clearly saw it. But you lack enough common sense to slow down (or have lost it in your airport panic). And if you trip yourself over my luggage, don't give me a dirty look because I'm already flashing one back at you.

- If somebody says "Excuse me," look at them and determine what they are seeking. "Excuse me" does not mean "STAND YOUR GROUND" and ignore everybody around you."

- Not all security lines are created equal. Maybe you can go to a security line that is located a bit further away in distance, but has a much shorter queue. Most terminals are connected once you get past those pesky TSA procedures, anyway.

- If you have to suffer through a flight of loud talkers and crying babies, it is probably your fault for not making a playlist to block out the noises echoing back and forth in that happy tube we call a fuselage.

- I've mentioned this before, while you are waiting to go through security you should be emptying
your pockets into your bag, pulling out your ID and boarding pass, and prepping to remove your laptop from your carry-on. There is no excuse for being unprepared and imploding once you walk up to the conveyor belt. Maybe, mentally preparing in line will occupy your panicked thoughts about missing your flight or losing your luggage.

- Nearly everything you travel with can be replaced. If it can't, leave it at home or keep it on your person at all times. Though, if my phone or ID go missing you might see some frantic actions.

- Need to waste time in a terminal? If it is a big enough airport, treat the shops like the mall. Don't buy anything because it's likely overpriced, but go window shopping. Or, even better, download the game Ingress on your phone and run around the airport stealing portals for good or evil (just make sure to leave enough time to recharge your phone).

- If you don't plan on watching your kids or teaching them appropriate airport etiquette, don't conceive them in the first place.

- If you plan on having a bad attitude on the plane (reasonably or not), whether with a fellow passenger or a flight attendant, prepare to be shamed. A few years ago, I got snappy with an elderly man sitting in the seat behind me in the middle of Nutcracker season. He probably pulled on the back of my seat about 20 times throughout the flight. I was burnt out on traveling and exhausted from all of my gigs. Whether I was in the right or not, the death stares and shameful looks I got from those around me took away any gratification I got from having my seat stay in one position for the last 2 hours of the flight.

It's JUST AN AIRPORT!!!! and not worth the stress
Remember...airports and airplanes are not unique or uncommon experiences. While it may be that for you, at any given time thousands of people are flying miles above your very head. There is no reason to treat an airport experience like you are standing in a depleted food ration line after a natural disaster. As I like to say, CTFD (which isn't only an acronym for Career Transitions for Dancers...and may begin with the word calm and end with the word down).