Barefootblogger: thoughts on dance

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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


It continues to astound me that a dancer can continue to improve.

I remember when that first occcurred to me. Sometime in high school I realized that turning professional did not represent a dead stop, but in fact a new beginning, a new road of improving. While it’s true that in the ballet world there’s a relatively limited time to accomplish the “big stuff”: major pas de deuxs, in big ballets, with all the tricks of the trade. But on a daily level, grappling with technique, line, form, there is always room to grow. A dancer must somehow find a way to love rehearsal. That’s where the improving happens, in leaps and bounds. Repetition of steps, ad infinitum it sometimes feels like, begets an integrity, a resoursefulness, that’s brought to the stage and, I swear, a spectator can tell.

Last week I watched James demonstrate a phrase. We learned it the day before and continued working on it, over and over, in the context of his new ballet. I was struck by his ease and beauty. At 45, he is, in many ways, at the top of his game. Just last season he performed a solo created almost fifteen years ago. He said that last year he danced it better than ever. It’s because he learned where to relax, where to conserve. Plus his body knew the niches of the dance that much more, fifteen years of knowlegde and practice more.

I feel this too in many ways. I feel my core more, even as I feel increasing back pain. My body is smart. It knows how to do things better and with ease. I can actually stand in first position without desperately gripping the barre, even after lunch.

As week two of the new season winds down, I write as I prepare my dinner after a day of nothing but carrots: a real one and some juice. Adrenaline courses through my veins and, behold, I look forward to rehearsal tomorrow!

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Summer is coming to a close, and I can feel it in the air. Its quality is different and the light too. The shadows are longer, and the shafts of end-of-the-day sunlight are more golden and autumnal. This is my favorite time of year, perhaps for its simultaneous blend of things winding down combined with the promise of new beginnings.

This moment is the newest beginning I’ve ever had, and I’ve had many. They all run together, however, in the face of this one, this new road without J and our marriage. This weather, actual and emotional, hammers that point home more than anything. More even than my move to my new apartment. Maybe because the weather is so certain and so beyond my control.

I start back with James Sewell Ballet on Monday. Even though this is year thirteen for me, the feeling is the same: first-day-of-school butterflies and total fear. Once I step into the studio, it will all become clear. I will reconnect with James, resume my close and specific relationships with the others, and see myself in the mirror again. How will I look?

As I’m currently PMSing, slightly rounder. As I botched my haircolor, slightly darker. As my hair’s kind of growing out (what in the hell am I doing with my hair?), slightly shaggier. And as I’ve just climbed a mountain personally, slightly stronger, with a broader visibility on a clear day.

I am happy and sad. These are truly simultaneous. How can one relatively little body contain so much? Sometimes it’s overwhelming. It’ll be a relief to get some of this pent-up emotion out in the studio, through my pores and my limbs and my expression. The wordless nature of my work makes for resoursefulness when needing to get a thing out.

Wordless and wordy. I’ve become very wordy this summer with these blogs and my almost constant communication with friends and family, my support. Plus, my Buddhist chanting, though in Sanskrit, is words. Behind them, pushing them out, are my intentions, my fears, my nature. I try to decifer the mysteries of my heart. I try to look at these squarely and with bravery.

Dancing. When not doing it I wonder how it’s possible, the contortions and the discipline. When doing it I wonder…I wonder.

And that’s the pull…the wondrous gravitational force behind my falling toward the earth. I am of it: dirty gorgeous and bloated with water, full of autumn sun and unpredictable storms to weather.

Friday, August 18, 2006

New Process

I started a new piece today! A duet fo myself and N, about running. We start jogging in place, we pause mid stride, we resume, we lunge and pounce.

We partner, engage and detach.
My brain is abuz.
My heart is happy to be creating from scratch.

I like the music, Radiohead.

We’ll continue for a few more weeks then audition for the Walker Art Center’s Choreographer’s Evening. Oh, I want to get in again.

I will work again tomorrow, continuing to map out our course, as a pair and as a piece. What is it becoming? So far we jog, we stop. There seems to be emerging a theme about pouncing on the other’s back. Also an armpit intimacy, heartbreaking in its childishness.

N casts his vote about this moment or that. I listen and apply what I want, unafraid to say, umm…no. Or scarier…yes, yes, that, do that.

Process. Engaged in one. Deepening into my life here on earth. At this end of my day, before my evening begins, I take a moment for myself and plot my uncharted course for the rest.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Left Calf

Last night, or early this AM, I was awakened with the onset of a Charlie Horse.

A Charlie Horse is a cramp, I think almost always of the leg, that is like the last, heart-pounding moments of nearing the top of a rollercoaster hill combined with the inevitable fall, downward, to where you think you’re gonna die. That’s exactly how it is with a Charlie Horse.

The worst is that transitional threshold where you know it’s coming, you’re falling. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, and no one can help, not even my cat who kneaded next to me in sympathy. It’s not like a sneeze or an orgasm, where you think it’s going to happen yet for whatever twisted reason of fate, doesn’t. No, this onset is guaranteed.

And so it happened. I put my hands over my face and succumbed. It’s best if I can relax the rest of me, but that’s not always possible. Just having returned from NYC, the concrete walking combined with my Robert Battle workshop (fantastic!) did a number on my body, not to mention the many subway steps with my suitcase over the two days it took to get home.

Charlie Horses have periodically plagued me. Sometimes I’ll go a whole year without one. They usually occur when I’m in the midst of some hard dancing. This one though, while somewhat dance related, was also pure emotion. Some stuff exited the building, and I am glad.

As I was rendered motionless with my hands over my face, pressing, I remembered that yesterday was my, our, wedding anniversary. That was hard to swallow given that things in that department are coming to a close. J and I had lunch and an easy and then hard conversation. I’m so glad and proud that trust is there between us like a safety net. I can always fall into it, no matter what. But it’s still a fall; it is indeed inevitable and inevitably painful. Here too I place my hands over my face and wait it out.

Like my left calf, I know I’ll feel the residual emotional effects today. I’ll have to periodically stretch out in anticipation of class tomorrow, and I will perhaps shed a few tears in some random Fringe show. It’s all good. I am stronger for it all. Bring it on, just not so often that I can’t recover in between.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I just returned from NYC, my third trip this summer. Sunday night was J’s wedding, her second, and I am inspired.

She married S, soon to be a Rabbi. This Jewish wedding, therefore, pulled out all the stops: the chuppah, the broken glass, the recitations, and best of all, at least to me, the dancing!

Upon arrival at the reception, we were occupied with cocktails and h’orderves. Eventually we made our way upstairs to our dinner tables, the Klezmer band in full swing. And then they came, J and S, newly married. S carried her in, and they commenced their dance, our dance. This epic must have lasted 20 minutes. One by one we all chained up, holding hands, letting one another in, and surprisingly, not stepping on toes. On and on we circled, with them in the middle. Changing forms was fluid. Chairs found, the newleyweds were lifted exhaultantly aloft. Then they sat in front while we entertained. B and I did Modern Dance to the Klezmer riffs.

I am reminded that their ceremony began with J circling S. Around and around she went, smiling increasingly as if S was relaying a new joke with each pass. I thought about my first piece of choreography, “The Virgin in the Garden”. Towards the end of the second section, “Avoidance”, I run concentric circles around the man. I always thought of that moment, that desperate running, as akin to the scene in the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve: a desperate reversal of planetary revolution, an attempt to go back in time.

Not so here with J circling S. She seeks not to go back in time, but forward, ever forward, toward their new life, their new love that continues to increase, represented by that circle, and their wedding bands: the unending flow of love.

That’s an interesting concept. I suppose on some level an unending flow of love is possible, even when a marriage ends. The connection is still there, just different, maybe more capable of continuing the love for having severed the circle, turning it into a line, setting it free. If the circle starts to strangle sometimes the thing to do is open it wide.

After dinner, toasts and long, long prayers, the dancing recommenced. I hooked up with L and exercised my new groove, ending in a dip. Then B and I, for the last dance of fhe evening, went nuts: improvisational contemporary ballet to an oldies balled. Spinning in our flowered party dresses and high heels, we echoed the dance of earlier, this time a girlie duet, a winding down and a send-off.

I ended this wedding with my own circle. Down a level there was a fountain; I’d been eying it all night. I took my shoes off, hitched up my dress, and circled. Feet soaked and legs sprayed, this was a baptism, a rite, a ritual, a passage. Indeed, I am blessed.

A week before I am slated to begin my thirteenth season with James Sewell Ballet I contemplate the coming repertory. The wedding has turned out to be the perfect research because, among other things, we are reconstructing James’ “Klezmer Dances”. I’ve been wanting to revisit this one for years. The music is infectious, and the various sections come together to form an impression of a community that transcends specific experience. The piece is en pointe, however my solo is blessedly barefoot, my favorite state.

I am in a circle of candles, about 8’ in diameter. I dance to a solo oboe, a metaphor for a Rabbi communing directly with God. I begin and end the same every time, but the bulk of the solo is an improv based on prescribed movements and intentions. I remember the first time around really struggling with this in rehearsal. It was hard for me to muster the appropriate intensity when in the studio. I probably felt inhibited in the bare, light rehearsal room, especially with folks watching. It’ll be interesting, therefore, to see how things go this time. Aside from the obvious excitement of looking forward to performing, I am mostly excited about working with James on this again. We really hit on something during the initial creation period, and my hope is to go deeper, creating a spiral out of the circle, going around again, but on a different, higher level.

As my summer winds down, I think about the little spiral that’s formed these three months. For awhile I was indeed turning, just in the same damn spot. I wore bare the surface under my feet. Now, however, I am beginning to move, to spiral instead of merely circle. I look forward to returning to work, to going deeper, to bringing my recent experience to my craft.

At the end of the solo, after the contained whirlwind of dancing, I blow. The candles, like with a birthday wish, extinguish all at once. But the impression of light is still there, lingering in the mind’s eye, the promise of a circle.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Last Saturday was my one-night-only performance of “Carmen” with the MN Orchestra. I was commissioned to choreograph a five-minute chunk as part of this semi-staging. As the Fringe continues, I must admit a part of me wanted to be out seeing shows. Having seen two earlier in the day, I felt my Ultra Pass burning in my pocket. The juxtaposition of venues, Orchestra Hall vs. the Playwright’s Center, was, well, it was noted.

As we stretched and warmed up for our entrance at the top of Act II, we followed along, listening to the monitors. The first burst of applause came like a thunderclap. We were playing to a sold-out house! Adreneline increased, and suddenly I was warm and ready.

The four of us made our way to the stage level and waited in the semi-darkness. M and I commenced a waltz in the wings, my gypsy skirt flaring. I felt female and in my element, at the ready to perform.

The theme this summer, however, has not been focused on performing. It’s rather been about the opposite: letting it all hang loose, letting the unexpected meltdowns occur, honoring the rythyms of my grief.

Our cue came, and we followed the chorus out in front of the orchestra. S and E commenced their duet with M and I following 24 counts later, precise as math. Surprisingly I felt on-my-leg, solid, technically precise. I opened my face, I saw M and past him into the balconies, and I realized I hadn’t performed since the James Sewell Ballet season, along with my marriage, ended in May.

As gypsies we were mandated to be gritty, smarmy. In short, slutty.

What a relief!
A fitting end to this phase of my grief.

After the show there was a special dinner in the greenroom as this was the summer season closer. Near the end the conductor said a few words. Blah blah and then…just as I was sinking my teeth into another bite of dessert, there it was, the l-word: love. Suddenly this enormous enterprise, this anti-Fringe, was boiled down to this basic common denominator. I could have been at the Fringe, or anywhere. I was home.

It all, all of it, boils down to that. As merde gifts (Dancers say “merde” to one another before a show. “Shit” in French, this is good luck, so that you won’t say it onstage. Merde gifts, therefore, are good luck presents.) I had given heart shaped little dishes, for earrings or change or whatever. And I found myself saying, “… because my heart is getting bigger.”

Indeed. Its capacity grows a little each day. I don’t always feel this progress. But when my shirts are ill fitting, like on last Wednesday, I think this is why.

I have absorbed a mountain of hard news, and it has had to go somewhere. Sometimes I’ve felt like throwing up; I shed a bunch of salty tears, leaking out mostly as a solo. Still, a critical mass of emotion remains, and my heart chooses to absorb.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


The Minnesota Fringe Festival is going on, and tonight, I saw the perfect show. Perfect in it’s utter sincerity and lack of talent. I don’t need to name names; we all know what I mean. It’s a show, the epitome of “fringy”, that’s so bad it’s good.

It began in earnest, with plastic costumes and folk music. I was smitten. I sat with R and knew she was feeling the same. There was no way I could walk out on this one; I had to see this glorious train wreck to the bitter end. Thankfully it used only ½ of it’s allotted time.

There I was in the dark, in the second row of a theater where I’ve performed, and my heart sang in flat accompaniment. These folks hit upon all the archetypes, or enough of them to bring us along. There was the king, the queen, the fallen-from-grace son, the Puck look-alike, the fool, the politician, the medicine woman and the innocent. Plus a maypole! And apples! It was relegion.

This is why I love the Fringe; this is why I’m on it’s board. It’s not to give more to those who already dominate our cultural landscape. It’s to give these folks a chance. It’s to commune with the church basement performers in all of us.

Tonight I witnessed a phase of evolution. From plastic may they graduate to organic materials and the know-how to deliver a line. Meanwhile I’ll continue to sit in the house, on the verge of tears, hoping that I can affect as profoundly.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Today the theme emerging is about connections. I am in the midst of severing one of the most significant a person can have, that of a spouse.

My work has been in reestablishing my independence, reclaiming it, though really I had it all along. But it’s the bit about conducting one’s life with someone else in mind that trips me up. I always had J in mind, even when we spent time apart, which was often. So now, as I wander through grocery store aisles and DVD shelves at the library, who do I consider?

I feel a little lost. Who do I take care of now? (Not that I did such a hot job of taking care, but at times I did, when it was welcome.)

As I’m teaching so much this summer I remember that I can take care of my students. I can pass on to them my love and passion for dance. I can instill in them ideas about bravery and daring and musicality. But then I have to let it go and not caretake.

As dancers we are like warriors. We fight our worst enemy every day, ourselves. And so in this sense I take care of myself. I try to be gentle with my aging body and my youthful heart. As I carve enormous shapes into space, I aim not to pull apart but to hang together, like a mobile. With each connection my body makes it silently remembers all the times it connected before. The patterning began aeons ago, or so thirty years of dancing seems.

Connections. Within and without. Inside my own self then carried and shared out into the world. It is not lost on me, this magnificent opportunity, while I have only myself to consider, to widely connect. Link. Bond. Life to life and moment to moment. It will be through these sincere efforts that I will rediscover, reconsider myself. And so I give myself permission to go ahead, to not be afraid, to open and to receive. To give and then let go of the result. This is the hardest, and I must give it to myself: the gift of unconditional outcome.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I’m thinking about words, wondering if they’re more or less ephemeral than dance.

One of the reasons why I love dance so, why I love the performing arts in general, is this very ephemeral nature. Inherent, implicit in the concept, is that one will never encounter any particular set of circumstances again. All the world’s a stage, and as a result, everyone’s performing their show at the same time, and they all eventually melt away, upward, into the ether.

Lately I find myself very engaged with words, both well-thought-out and stream-of-consciousness ones. I find too that I want to hold on tight to them, like a lifeline or a home. And yet I know, from recent experience especially, that the tighter I try to grip, the sweatier my hands.

I am in the middle of watching “Casablanca”. Again. I’ve seen it about a million times. At the end of the first series of flashback scenes, Rick is standing, in the rain of course, at a train station waiting for Ilsa. She sends a note in her stead. We read it along with him, along with the rain as it washes her words away. Their meaning is grasped and is gone. Is the meaning gone or merely the words? Does the dance still exist, or is it just a slug’s slime trail, sort of sparkling on the concrete?

I still hold on tight. Words represent moments in time. They are our time capsules, our glimpses into our own histories and stories. Sometimes I take great comfort in re-reading my own thoughts. Maybe not from the fifth grade, but from five years ago, or from yesterday. I am unravelling my own mystery, seeing the pattern of my choices, connecting the dots.

Words inspire me when I choreograph. I often lead performers through a writing exercise where we select a few significant words from a personal writing and interpret them through movement. I’ve made many a dance launching from this pad. It’s effective in that it gets our collective, intellectual juices flowing. The movement is no longer about itself, it’s linked to a personal experience, a history. A herstory.

As I write this a heavy rain falls. I am reminded of the “Casablanca” image, and I wonder if all my words of late are washing away like Ilsa’s did, desperately and with music swelling?

Yet this rain is a relief, a new beginning, a break to a hot spell. I stand on my balcony, still wet, with lightning illuminating the sky. My stomach does a flip-flop, and my heart wonders if words truly bring people together or if the most we can attain is to be brought closer to ourselves? I’d like to think both. Words are what they are, we should take them at face value, and yet strive, with every fiber, to live up to them, the eloquent ones.