16 January 2019

Day 16 - National Choreography Month

In my psychology class this morning, we were discussing attachment theory. Me being me, I immediately starting making connections between the categories and the people I know in real life -- especially those who have been in positions of authority over me. One of the words the prof used to describe parents of the ambivalent children in Ainsworth's 1978 study was 'unpredictable.'

It was like lightning. That was the word to describe my relationship with almost everybody in my life -- my mom, certain professors, several people I tentatively call 'friends.' It even describes myself to a point. I've spent my whole life thinking -- hoping -- I could trust this person, or this person, or maybe that person, only to have them suddenly turn cold and drop me... then when I confront them about it, they deny it. Yes, this is emotional abuse, but it's also unpredictable. For some reason I needed that word. That is what makes it hell -- the fact that you just never know what they're going to do in any given situation. Will they extend grace? Or will they explode and give up on you?

The whole concept of my relationship with these authority figures throughout my life continued percolating in my brain after class.
We'll pause this thought and come back to it.

Secondary train of thought -- yesterday I was talking with someone and I was trying to describe perfectionism -- how I've internalised the voices of all the people who said I wasn't good enough and would never be and now I tell myself that, I beat myself up for every tiny mistake because so has everyone else. Maybe not consistently -- there's that 'unpredictable' thing again -- but often enough that I am terrified of screwing up because there's a strong possibility that I will not receive a grace response -- instead I'll be screamed at, or worse, tossed aside forever. I've often said perfectionism is like a whip across my back, lashing me every time I try to rest rather than practice, and the whip comes down with renewed fury whenever I screw something up.

Today, as I was pondering my relationship with these authority figures and my perfectionism, the question formed: who's holding the whip?

My initial thought was to draw what I was picturing, but of course I'm rubbish at drawing. But the whip motif -- the whip in the hands of these specific people -- suddenly came to life in my mind and it became a percussion section. And then came the song -- Rose's When Will I Be Loved.

The thing percolated in my mind through my piano and voice lessons, and afterwards I sat and listened to the song and sketched out a general story.

I love it when this happens -- when there's an actual story to the song. Not just a theme, a story -- the passage of characters through choices and consequences. I've only managed it in two other pieces.

This one is dark -- so dark it surprises even me (and I can be a pretty dark person). I had a moment where I thought maybe I should cushion this a bit, but I don't think I will. This is reality for a lot of us, and if you (the viewer) can't handle that, too bad. This dance is a depiction of what it's like to live with the voices of everyone who should have been a stable figure in your life but is not stable inside your head and it touches on the loneliness of having to figure out life completely on your own because nobody's ever truly properly there for you, not consistently. This is what it's like to constantly hear this voice in your head saying you're not good enough and you never will be. It's exhausting to try to keep even a half-step ahead of that voice, that whip. It's exhausting to be beat down by your own mind every single second of your existence. It's deeply, gut-wrenchingly disheartening to have nobody consistent to turn to -- no rock to go to when you're struggling. It's so freaking hard to keep going -- completely alone -- into the storm of voices screaming that you might as well stop trying because you'll never be good enough anyway.

If I'm honest, this is for M. I think the whip came down on her back harder than it does even on mine. It killed her -- this relentless push for perfection at any cost. Who planted the initial seed of that voice in her mind, that broken record telling her she wasn't good enough -- that despite all those hours of relentless practice and effort and time, she wasn't good enough? There's no telling. Even in my life, it's entirely possible that I assumed somebody wanted more of me than they actually did and I just internalised that imagined standard and fed all my subsequent life experiences into it.

I'm excited for this piece, in a weird way. It'll be raw, but hopefully it'll get the viewer's attention. Hopefully it does justice to the dark side of what we perfectionists experience.

14 January 2019

Tell Me You Know

The following was written 13 October 2018, three weeks after M's death. I was talking about this with someone not long ago and decided that yes, I am going to post this -- I believe it needs to be said.
This is the original, unedited post from that time.

If you know someone is grieving, please say something. Please acknowledge their existence. Even if you just say, 'I heard what happened. I'm so sorry.' Just tell me you know.

Three full weeks after my good friend's sudden death, I'm only just finding out now that all my professors and teachers found out the same day I did. They didn't know her at all -- the one person I told first told all of them. I don't mind all of them knowing... but I wish they would have said something to me. For three weeks I've been carrying this and while yes, I do have close friends who are checking in on me, it would still be helpful to know all the rest of you know and are in my corner. At least say 'I'm sorry...'

I don't know why this bothers me so much. I feel like they just let me struggle alone. I feel like they all said, 'ah, she'll be fine.' And maybe I will be -- but not in a void, and not at the moment. Don't ignore me now -- being ignored is exactly what leads to suicide in the first place. If you want to prevent other suicide deaths in the memory of this fantastically bright person you never knew, then make sure nobody slips through the cracks. Make sure nobody else feels abandoned, or ignored, or stigmatised.

Yes, I have been putting on a brave face. But that's exactly what I've been doing -- 'putting on' a brave face. It's not real, and it's exhausting -- trying to keep up this facade so you don't abandon me just because I'm grieving something beyond my control.

The following was a Facebook post I drafted that same week and never published. In retrospect, I wish I had. It won't have the same effect now because of the time that's passed between her death and the present day, but maybe it'll be helpful to you all in the future as your other friends lose people in tragic ways.

Can I rant for a second?

Let me be clear: I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm about to write the kind of post that ends up with a million people commenting stuff like 'wow thanks for sharing' because they feel obligated in some way to acknowledge it rather than because they actually feel anything. I'm telling you -- don't comment unless you actually mean it. I can tell from a mile away if you don't and it just makes everything awkward for both of us. I would prefer that you not comment at all rather than say something insincere or off-topic. I'm not looking for sympathy. I just want to say this.

(Also, trigger warning.)

So -- most of you apparently know by now that two weeks ago I lost a very good friend to suicide. This is the fourth person close to me that I've lost in three years and from past experience I knew that if I said one word about it, people were going to start coming out of the woodwork telling me how I'm not trying hard enough to get over it and how I was being 'too negative.' So for the past two weeks I have deliberately put on a brave face. I have said nothing. I have asked for nothing. I have continued to live my life as if everything was fine even though there's a MASSIVE hole in my heart. Believe me, I wanted to say something. I wanted to at least give people a heads-up to the pain I'm in, to explain why I might seem a little 'off.' But I knew people would think I was just milking for sympathy and they would resent me and treat me even worse so I kept my mouth shut.

And now I'm beginning to find out that literally EVERYONE around me found out the same day I did. I know it's a small town and rumours spread, and I honestly don't mind that people know -- but the thing is NOBODY, not one of these people, reached out to me to see how I was doing. Most of these people know I have a history of similar struggles. I would assume most of these people are aware that copycat suicide is a thing and be at least slightly concerned for my safety. But nobody checked in. Nobody even said, 'hey, I heard; I'm so sorry.' Even that would have made me feel supported. But now I just feel ignored and abandoned. You knew I was suffering and you turned a blind eye. And I think that almost hurts more than the knowledge that my immensely creative, fun-loving, talented, vivacious friend ended her own life.

You know who commits suicide? Those who feel alone and abandoned.

You know how I feel right now? Alone and abandoned.

Just SAY something. It doesn't have to be much. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just let me know you see me.

09 January 2019

Dignity, Children, and Dance

I've been in the dance world since 2000. Over that time period, choreography -- especially for young children (ages 4-11ish) -- has gone from 'adorable' to 'sexy.' This shift has been so widely accepted that today's media (and consumers) actually call these highly sexual dances 'adorable.'

And yet... we are constantly seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter about how poorly girls and women (in particular) are treated. How many are treated as less-than. How many are abused. How many are raped. How rarely/insufficiently justice is done to the perpetrators of these crimes. How intelligent, skilled, creative women are widely seen as nothing more than sex objects. Remember #MeToo?

Who is giving off this perception? Why does this mindset still exist? Are we really doing everything we can to train our children to think otherwise? (Children are the future. Societal change starts with them.)

I won't pretend to know the answers to all these questions, but I want to zero in on something that is frequently a huge part of a little girl's life: dance.

In North America, it's fairly common practice for young girls to take at least a year or two of dance classes. And most families, whether or not they have children in dance classes, are familiar with competitive dance thanks to shows like America's Got Talent, Dancing With The Stars, Dance Moms, So You Think You Can Dance, and the like (to say nothing of the videos floating around social media/BuzzFeed). Even if your children aren't in dance themselves, they're certainly seeing it from their screens, friends, and/or siblings.

Every so often you'll see a social media post where a rape victim is wearing a sweatshirt and jeans holding a sign saying 'This is what I was wearing,' indicating that they were not dressed provocatively at the time of their rape.

Then look at the 'costumes' your children -- daughters, sons, nieces, grandchildren -- are wearing in these videos with millions of views on YouTube. If people in jeans and sweatshirts are common victims of rape, how much more likely are these vulnerable kids in a bandeau and booty shorts to get molested or raped? I haven't even mentioned the highly sexual choreography. And then we wonder why pedophilia is on the rise...?

The siblings and friends of the dance students in 2000 when I first began training are legal adults now, or nearly (and one need not be a legal adult to engage in a sexual crime against a child). There is a whole generation of near-adults who have been raised on a steady diet of child porn made socially acceptable by sequins, stage lights, awards, and clever show titles and distributed in plain sight through every cable hookup and WiFi hotspot in North America.

04 January 2019

The Annual Goalpost

I kind of dislike the annual goal-setting. It's hard. Part of it is because a lot of these goals are pretty abstract and difficult to measure progress in, but part of it is also because I genuinely have no idea what province I'm going to be in this time next year. I graduate (hopefully) in April... and then what? I have three viable options, and at the moment it's a waiting game to see which will pan out.

As far as that goes -- I want to stay in the performing arts. I've already got a few auditions lined up for 2019 -- the second is in less than a week. So I guess that counts as a goal. But what do I want to do around that -- when I'm not actually at rehearsal or practicing or performing? What do I want to work on in practice?

First -- dance.
If I do end up moving, goal #1 is to find a practice space. I'm spoiled here right now -- I have relatively unlimited access to a studio a five-minute walk from my house, and I have a connection to another studio in the next town over if I need it. I've had the opportunity to practice literally every day for the past two years and I would not be where I am now as a dancer if it wasn't for that. In dance, perhaps more than any other discipline, daily practice is absolutely CRUCIAL even just to maintain technique. Dance technique/ability gets lost faster than technique in any other discipline I've attempted.
Goal #2 would be to find classes (and a job to pay for them). If I can't find a studio to practice in on my own time, this would be the next best thing, plus it's also important to have a trained teacher looking at my technique and giving corrections on a regular basis even when I am practicing on my own regularly. I know at this point a career as a full-time classical ballerina is not likely, but I would still like to train toward that level, just for my own strength and enjoyment (and also to prove to those who said I couldn't that I can).

I want to do more choreography. Of course this includes National Choreography Month in January, but it also includes more dance videos. For 2018 my goal was to make multiple new dance videos (I believe I actually said 'one per month'), but unfortunately I only accomplished one (plus two live videos). I do want to continue the videos into 2019 though. At least two videos? I hope? Hopefully more, but realistically (financially) I might only be able to pull off two. I'd like to do at least one ballet one (to show that I'm not just a tapper -- then again, I'm definitely stronger in tap than ballet and I don't want the ballet videos to suffer artistically because of my lack of ability).

Talking of choreography, I've been wanting to make a longer story-show for a while now. Like maybe a half-hour to an hour of dance that somehow follows a cohesive story or at least a theme. I'm not sure how to approach it or what exactly to tackle, but I would really love to do something like this at some point in my life -- why not lay some groundwork for it now? I've already begun work on this a bit -- choreographing the first side of Daniel Amos' phenomenal album Doppelgänger as a long(ish)-form work to start.

I want to make a proper memorial dance for M. Ideally I would also like to actually have the opportunity to stage it (still haven't been able to stage Brittney's, my cousin's, or my grandpa's...).

I want to start doing more live (dance) performances. Right now I'm thinking competitions, coffeehouses, talent shows, et cetera (in addition to the one college recital). Just to get more audience response to my performance and choreography so I can see what needs to improve. Plus it'll keep me comfortable with live performance as opposed to the safety net of video editing.

I want to continue working on my flexibility. I feel less tight than usual (overall), but so far it's not translating into actual flexibility. This is still my greatest hindrance as a performer. Not just as a dancer, as a performer, full stop. I have had theatre directors pass over me even though I'm technically excellent, fairly expressive, and relatively strong simply because I'm not flexible. I'm so so close to my left front split and it's absolutely driving me crazy that I can't get those last two inches (I've been stuck there since probably about late September/early October).

I need to work on allegro more. I have some level of natural gifting for it, but I don't push myself in it nearly enough. It's hard to get up that much energy when practicing by oneself.

I also want to work on my wings (in tap), both single and double-foot. I'm decent at them actually... what I need is stamina. On that topic, I want to work on my stamina in general. It's MUCH better than it was when I started college (I couldn't even get through the first side of the Intermediate port de bras without literally collapsing), but it's still not great. Again, if I would actually just do allegro instead of avoiding it all the time...

I'm realising lately that I have a lot of mental tension around dance, of all things. I think at least part of the reason I don't push myself in allegro a lot (*cough* at all) is because I'm not confident I'm doing everything correctly (which is why I need dance classes with actual teachers, not just self-directed practice...), so 1. I'm scared I'll get incorrect technique in my muscle memory, and 2. I'm scared I'll injure myself. The one and only dance injury that ever actually sidelined me (ankle) happened during allegro. I'm also starting to wonder if mental tension is at least part of the plateau in my stretching. I notice during one stretch in particular that I can push myself farther without pain, but when I do, I just really, really dislike how it feels in my body -- so much that I actually feel slightly sick -- so I ease off it. So far I've only noticed it in that one stretch (on only one side... the other side I can push it fine), but maybe there are others I haven't clued into yet.

Regarding voice...
It's hard to set goals here. I still know very little about singing and what I should expect of myself. What's reasonable? What do I even want? I don't know. Until very recently, my only goal was to not suck. Now that I'm getting past that point, I don't really know what's next. I'd kind of like to learn more opera and musical theatre (mostly to challenge my acting skills, actually -- since I don't really know what to strive for in actual sound/technique).

And piano...
Oh yes, by the way, I started piano this past semester and absolutely fell in love with it. I took one semester at the beginning of my college career in 2013, but I was too angry and tense and perfectionistic and easily frustrated to enjoy it so of course I didn't really get anywhere in my abilities. Now I'm in a better place to receive the joy that playing piano brings me. I really just want to learn as much as I can. I just get lost in playing, and before I know it, a whole hour will have slipped by. The only other thing I have EVER done that with is dance.
Over Christmas break I've gone through my sister's earlier piano rep (she's a few grades ahead of me) and pulled out probably about a dozen songs that I feel are around or not insanely far above my current level of playing. I'm trying to think of a piece that I can set as a reasonable goal for the end of the year that won't be too easy for me to get by April, but also won't still be completely out of reach by November. I feel like I don't have enough of a sense of my growth trajectory yet to really make any solid long-term plans here so for now I'm just trying to take this a few pieces at a time, while consistently challenging myself.

Of course I'd like to do NaNoWriMo in 2019 as well, but I'll ponder that more after graduation (I usually start percolating ideas around June).

I want to continue work on Kyrie. I had some momentum on it before NaNoWriMo this year, and it actually influenced my NaNoWriMo novel quite a bit because I couldn't quite get out of Kyrie brain during November (at one point during the month I said 'this novel is basically Kyrie but less good').

Basically the plan at the moment is 'audition for ALL the things!' I'm currently lining up my audition schedule for the next few months (I have one next week) and I have to say, I am VERY excited.
I want to work on my acting skills. I don't quite know how that looks yet. I'm trying to figure something out, but it's hard when I don't really know what the goal actually is, or even how you 'practice' acting.

Goals for life in general... These are the ones that are hardest to attain. The performing/artistic ones can be so easily incorporated into a schedule -- go to a practice room/studio for a few hours. But these are harder -- 98% of my life is wrapped up in the arts, so to do anything outside of it feels clunky and unnatural (well -- more clunky and unnatural than my artistic endeavours).

The biggest one is keep in contact with my friends.
This is a hard one. Due to depression, the way I was raised, and the way I was treated by my peers during my teen years, I have this deep-seated belief that nobody has time for me (and this belief is strong in my mind whether I'm in a good headspace or not). People have better things to do than spend time with me. So 99% of the time I don't even try to initiate contact with other people, even my closest friends. I'm terrified I'm going to wear out my welcome and then I'll be truly friendless, and I don't ever want to go back there again. I'd rather have a 'friend' that I'm too scared to talk to than overdo the talking and end up with no friends at all.
I think a subgoal of this might be to quit apologising that I'm spending time with them on the rare occasion that I actually do convince myself to spend time with them.

The other one is to not move back home immediately after graduating.
As much as I love my family and my friends at home and my home dance school and the city and the landscape, I don't dare go back too soon and settle back into my pre-college rut. I did that after I graduated with my Associate in 2015 and it almost literally killed me -- I had a $60,000 degree that I was doing literally nothing with and I was living the same dead-end life that I had before I went to college. I wound up feeling like my life was a waste and that I was a waste. There's an overpass I drive over on the commute from my home dance school and I cannot even count how many times over that next year I almost pulled over and jumped onto the busy highway below. Knowing this, I need to make a life for myself outside of both home and school, at least for a time. Once I know that I can survive on my own without school to set my routine, maybe I will end up back around home, closer to my family. But if I do it too soon, all the growth and excitement of what I've been learning out on my own in college will fizzle and I'll dead-end again. And that's so dangerous for me. I need to keep forward momentum, and I won't be able to do that if I move back home immediately after graduation.

I need to nail down my 'why.' Why do I perform? Why do I keep practicing? Why do I do this? 'Because I love it' is a good start, but I'm not convinced that it's really enough (it sure isn't when I'm struggling to motivate myself to practice an allegro that I know nobody will ever see me do). That reason seems inherently selfish to me, so I feel guilty about it. Which of course makes me second-guess myself which makes me tense and frustrated which of course means I continue to suck at performing. I need a strong reason to keep slogging through when it's tough. I am definitely the type of person who absolutely WILL NOT do something unless you can give me an extremely good reason to do it/do it this way. 'Because I said so' has never worked on me, even as a kid. 'Because it'll make this easier/sound better/look better/give you a better foundation for what's to come' resonates with me. Tell me why and I'll do it gladly. But so far I haven't been able to tell myself on the hard days why I do this. I love it. I do. I have never known joy like the joy I (usually) have during performance runs. But somehow that doesn't feel like a good enough reason, and it's keeping me hesitant.

03 January 2019

Day 3 - National Choreography Month

Accidentally started working on DA's 'Mall (All Over The World)' so I guess that's what we're starting with this year.

As longtime readers know, Doppelgänger is one of my favourite albums of all time. It's a concept album largely about the sins of the church and their effect on society, which of course is something dear to my heart. I've always wanted to do a show centering around this music, and this year on my many long commutes between Alberta and Saskatchewan listening to this album I've started to piece it together.

I've already choreographed a couple of cuts from this album and I'm working at joining them into a cohesive whole. But my current piece is entirely new (tap) choreography.

It's an ensemble dance of course (large groups is what I do best), but I'm trying not to make it too complex visually. I'm taking some thematic inspiration from Steve Taylor's brilliantly incisive 'I Want To Be A Clone' -- repetitive movements, loud bashing, the march of progress and society drowning out any dissenting voices. Cloneliness is next to godliness, right?

However, I do need it to be aurally intriguing, and that's what I suck at.