28 December 2017

Rediscovering Choreography...

My official plan for National Choreography Month 2018 is more or less drawn up. I deliberately overplanned it, so I don't run out of songs halfway through the month like I did last November. I've also done a rough outline of choreography projects I want to accomplish over the next full calendar year. And I am SO excited for all of it. It's taking a lot of willpower to not start nibbling on the Nachmo list now.

So in order to satisfy the choreography bug while not starting on my January projects, I decided to revisit a ballet project that I have wanted to do for literally years. I had started it in early 2016, but then a(nother) series of discouraging/frustrating life events and then performance season happened... the latter altered my time-management habits just long enough to disrupt my choreography 'schedule' (such as it was), and the former sucked the last wisps of wind out of my proverbial sails and plunged me into a deep, soul-eating depressive episode that almost ended in suicide. From about April 2016 till this past November, I created almost literally nothing, nothing of substance.

Even during that indescribably dark time, I would occasionally think about this particular piece and think, I really should finish that. It's probably one of my best concepts ever, and I was always quite excited about it. But the fact that it probably is one of my best ideas also terrified me. Could I do justice to the concept? Would refining the abstract concept down to specific counts and movements ruin the big picture in my head? (The nature of the piece and the props I'm using for it are also notoriously difficult to notate.) Knowing that the finished piece would require seven dancers -- six on pointe -- to perform was also disheartening. After all, what was the point of creating this great piece if no-one would ever see it because there's no-one to perform it? But the fact that it was sitting there half-done finally bothered me enough that as of yesterday I've gone back to it.

I spent a day re-learning it -- figuring out how far I had gotten and going over what I've already done and notated. Again I'm reminded why I take SUCH detailed notes of my own choreography. I hear so many choreographers say they never write anything down, and honestly I think that's a huge mistake. Not only does your work not survive after you're gone, it's very possible that the work may be lost while you're still alive. Memory fails even before death becomes an issue. This piece would have been completely lost if I hadn't written it all down. Because it was so long ago, I remembered literally nothing except the abstract concept. Not one of the steps or sequences remained in my memory. I would have had to start completely from scratch and in a dance this emotionally (and practically) complex, you want as much of the work already done as possible and you really do not want to try to reconstruct the thing. You never think when you set a work aside for the day that you may not touch it again for nearly two years. Taking detailed notes allows for that possibility and is your safety net in case the possibility becomes a reality. (Also, having dated and detailed notes may be useful if there's ever a question of copyright at some point in the future...) But I digress.

I was surprised to find I had laid a darn good foundation. I've learned/absorbed a LOT about choreography and form in the past two years and half-expected this piece to look juvenile... but honestly I had set myself up really well. I had a handful of solid motifs for my pointe dancers and some pretty good character work done for everyone involved. Even the prop work didn't feel 'cheesy,' even though I hardly ever work with props and fully expected my lack of experience to be glaring. I choreographed the next thirty seconds of music in less than half an hour -- which is incredible for seven dancers, especially for someone who really hasn't choreographed ballet in two years.

As usual, I have no wrap-up for this post because the story's still being written, the dance is still being choreographed. But I am SO EXCITED for the choreography to come -- in this dance, in Nachmo 2018, and in the next year.

27 December 2017

New Video!

After years of dreaming and overplanning, I finally bit the bullet and created a dance video.

I'd actually tried to film this piece last year, but couldn't get the lighting right. I set it on the back burner for school, then work, then school again. At the end of November, my roommate and I had a conversation that inspired me to move ahead and film one of my other overplanned limbo projects. That one proved to be more complicated than I anticipated, plus there were about a thousand other people trying to rent the filming venue at the same time. So I set my sights on something shorter and simpler (and quicker to film). I wanted one video done by the end of 2017. A friend and I cobbled together as many lights as we could find and shot this in about forty-five minutes the Wednesday before Christmas break. I edited it in the week between my return home and Christmas.

Here it is: https://youtu.be/27qAVyz8B7k


16 December 2017

Choreography Ramblings

13 December 2017, 5.46pm.

That thirty-day choreography challenge has been SO good for me. I am in a MUCH better place mentally and emotionally right now, and I have momentum and motivation for at least one aspect of my creative life (my writing is still pretty dead in the water -- one of the reasons I haven't posted here much lately). I'm starting to tiptoe into the next phase of my choreographic dream... I don't want to get into too much detail until I'm in the final stages of this phase.

This is probably the phase of this whole dream that intimidates me the most. It's the phase where I have to start getting other people involved. For someone like me, who has spent her whole life trying to be independent, trying not to be a nuisance, trying not to need other people for even a few seconds, it goes completely against over a decade and a half of self-discipline even just to ask if my friends would be willing to help with this. I feel more vulnerable asking my friends for help than I do filming myself doing brand-new (raw and unedited) choreography on my phone and then posting it all over social media.

I've already been planning National Choreography Month in January. I am more excited for this thing this year than any other year I've done it. I blame the thirty-day challenge last month for that. Usually for Nachmo (that's what it's called...) I do something like, 'choreograph X number of dances this month.' This January I was going to modify that to 'thirty-two (or sixty-four) counts per day,' but having just done that this November, I want something a little more challenging than that. I haven't settled on exactly what that looks like yet, but I have a few viable ideas.

The other problem is I don't do a lot of solo choreography. Most of the music that inspires me is more suited for groups (or at least two or three people). I used up everything that inspired any kind of solo dance in November for the challenge. So now if I want to show off anything I choreograph, I'm going to need to find other dancers. This terrifies me, for the same reasons mentioned above -- I hate imposing on people, to the point where I will go without if it means I don't ask anything of anyone. People have such busy lives now that asking for a mere ten seconds of their time is often intimidating -- never mind days or weeks.

15 December 2017

Trust, Continued

As I mentioned around the end of last year, I was thinking a lot about trust.

It's a word my professors here use often -- 'trust yourself,' 'trust the process,' 'trust God,' 'trust your practice,' 'trust (teachers)' -- and I couldn't do any of it. Years of manipulation and emotional abuse had told me very clearly that nobody could be trusted. The decimation of everyone I ever cared about in 2015 led me to conclude that even God could not be trusted.

When you can trust nobody else -- not even God -- all you have left is yourself. This terrified me. I knew I would let myself down, but I had nothing else. So I trusted only myself, and if I screwed something up, I did what I had learned in childhood, the only way to maybe escape a tiny amount of the consequences of failure -- I beat myself up about it. (If you beat yourself up about it enough, sometimes the person you've disappointed/angered will be placated... Sometimes.) There was no forgiveness until there was improvement. Of course, this kind of pressure makes improvement almost impossible, but I knew no other way. To forgive myself for a mistake before I had seen improvement felt like accepting mediocrity. I have been overlooked and ignored and passed over my entire life because there is always someone better than me. Mediocrity is a death sentence. To accept it was unforgivable.

In the end, I could not really even trust myself, and I knew this. I kept letting myself down, but in the absence of any other viable options, I kept re-placing my trust in myself... knowing it was fruitless and I would end up frustrated. Trusting myself wasn't the ideal option, but it was the best option out of a very limited pool of choices.

This cycle wound me up so tightly that all I wanted was to make it stop. I wanted off the merry-go-round of constant failure. And the only way to stop failing is to stop trying...

I attempted suicide on 8 March. The knowledge that I could no longer trust myself took on another, very vivid, meaning.

By the end of the month, things had gone about as far as they could go. It was no longer a matter of if I was going to die, it was a matter of when. Something had to give. I could not trust myself, and I could no longer pretend that I could. I had to find someone.

At the beginning of April, I expanded my circle of trust to two -- myself, and a prof. I told him what was happening -- trusted this prof literally with my life. And then I trusted another teacher with the story. And then a counsellor. And then three friends. I could almost physically feel weight coming off my weary heart with every retelling of the story, every connection with someone who -- it turned out -- cared about me.

But trust isn't a switch that flips on and off. It's a habit. I had spent twenty years building a habit of not trusting anyone, of questioning everything anyone said (especially if it was nice) because they were likely to go back on it anyway, of figuring things out for myself because sooner or later those who said they'd help me would give up on me. There were moments now, acts of trust, but not a habit. I still didn't really believe any of these people who knew the story were in it for the long haul -- nobody ever was. I figured I might as well plan to keep carrying it myself, because eventually that was what was going to happen anyway. Twenty years of being used for sympathy had taught me that the phrase 'I'm here for you' has an expiry date.

I was trusting a select few now, but I was cautious. With my heart in such a fragile state, I could NOT afford to have my trust broken again -- it would mean almost certain death. They say to choose your friends well, but everyone looks good on the surface, How do you know who really will stick with you? Does any human even have that much patience?

Although the darkness I was in in March never really lifted to begin with, in September it made another violent assault, and at the end of October, its fury increased tenfold. I lived for weeks on the verge of complete (mental/physical) collapse. There were about five consecutive days where I would sit in the living room and wonder if I should call 9-1-1, if I would survive the next twenty minutes.

Trusting only in myself for so long means I can be very self-disciplined. Last school year I had begun to be particularly intentional about daily habits like dance and voice practice, eating healthy, and getting fresh air (most of these I was trying to do anyway, but last year I began to keep track of how much I was actually doing any of this). Upon returning to school in September, I returned to more or less that same routine -- practice voice, practice dance, walk to school and back, keep track of nutritional intake and make meal adjustments throughout the day as needed, at least attempt to go to bed earlier than 2am, doing all of these even when I really did not feel like any of it mattered to anybody.

After a while, I found myself thinking, 'if you do this (daily discipline mentioned above), you'll feel better.' At first a common retort was, 'no it doesn't. It never does.' But by the end of November I actually began to feel joy again -- for the first time in a long time. I distinctly remember bouncing around the kitchen one day, then suddenly asking, 'what am I so excited for?' I still don't know what I was excited for, but I decided not to question it. For the first time in literally years, I was happy.

And I realised that implementing all these little things, even when I didn't feel like it -- that was trust, on some level. That little voice saying 'you'll feel better' was onto something. I was trusting that maybe eventually it would result in something or mean something. It's fairly widely known that singing, dancing, fresh air, and good nutrition all improve mood from a scientific perspective... and over time, they actually do. They don't tell you that sometimes the effect is cumulative. I feel like that knowledge would help a lot of people, so here it is -- keep doing these things. Trust that the benefits come after consistent practice, not after one session.

Once that clicked in my head, suddenly a bad practice session was no longer cause for suicidal thoughts (I am not kidding -- a bad practice session would literally end with me writing a prototype suicide note. This was not an infrequent occurrence -- my attempt in March happened immediately after a frustrating dance practice). I was suddenly able to tell myself that one rough warmup did not mean my voice (or my body) was shot for the rest of the day -- and I was actually able to believe that.

Make no mistake -- everything is not perfect. I'm still reluctant to say it's even 'okay.' Trusting all that practice to actually result in improvement sometime down the line is still difficult, especially in singing. I still feel so far behind to begin with, and because I was in such a dark place for most of the semester, my singing suffered greatly. As a result, so did my performance. As a result, so did my self-confidence. As a result, so did my professors' trust in me to take on any responsibility at all onstage. I may never get another speaking role at this college (or possibly anywhere) because I showed very clearly this semester that I do not deserve one. And as much as it pains me to know this: that is absolutely fair. That whole downward spiral this semester makes singing so much harder now, with all those horrific performances in my very recent past and my instinct to beat myself up -- to only forgive when improvement is made -- still so strong. I'm trying to take solace in knowing that the concept of 'trusting' -- in the way my teachers/professors describe it -- makes more sense now.

I only hope it isn't too late to do anything with this understanding -- that I haven't managed to sink my career for good.

09 December 2017

Society, Silence, and Christian Expectations - A Brief Rant

Found in the Notes app in my phone. I still stand by this.

K. Rant time.

I am sick of society DEMANDING we keep silent about the things that bother, hurt, or frighten us. I am tired of people expecting everyone to always be happy and always be okay. I am tired of people misinterpreting others' pain/struggles as 'they're just looking for attention' or 'they're just whiny.'

I hate this unwritten code of silence. And it's at its absolute worst in the churches and 'Christian communities' of North America.

Christianity, by definition, follows a guy WHO WAS BETRAYED BY HIS FRIENDS AND EXECUTED BY THE GOVERNMENT, yet somehow Christians expect everyone's life to be trouble-free? To the point where if you DO struggle, you're blacklisted because it pokes holes in their theology?

That's not Christianity, people. That's Cloud Cuckoo Land.