dance

The Palm Of My Hand

It’s been said several times and by different people, that I know how to capture an audience, and hold them in the palm of my hand. Those that have attributed that superpower to me aren’t in fact wrong. It’s both a talent of mine, and also a skill. What do I mean by both?

You’ve no doubt heard of the nature vs. nurture argument vis a vis psychology as well as behavior. Is it something passed down in the genes, & inherent in the person from birth (the SO’s half-Asian children loving rice and not doing well with milk; a person’s sexual orientation), or are the things a person is good at and the things they do because of their environment/how they’re raised (there’ve been multitudinous debates about what made the Columbine shooters do what they did, and also about where talent comes from)? I want to talk about the very latter.

Growing up, I was a dancer, writer, and theatre person, habits and behaviors of which having started almost from day 1. As a toddler, it went beyond loving Alice in Wonderland: I *became* her for days on end. At 4 or 5, my obsession with Wizard of Oz went way beyond merely loving the movie and reading some of the books (yes, I was an advanced reader); I cast my family members as the roles. To this day, my mother still gives me shit for casting her as the Wicked Witch of the West (my dad was the scarecrow, I was Dorothy, and my little brother was Toto, natch). It wasn’t till adulthood when I could explain to her that that was the strongest female character in the movie: Glinda, my mom certainly was not, but neither was she Auntie Em. And she couldn’t be Dorothy. It actually fits well with her awful temper and etc. but I digress. Though, not really…

I have also always been an excellent mover & dancer. I’ve had ability beyond my technical skill level all my life, culminating in a prominent aerial dance company casting me in lead roles in their dance pieces in the mid-late ‘90s, while still calling me a “non dancer” the while. The director couldn’t deny my ability, though, and my dancer mom would always confirm by saying everyone can learn technique, but that I had something more: an innate talent.

As far as presence, that would soon translate to stage presence, and my junior high drama teacher always told me something similar: I had an innate talent, a natural knack, of taking a stage and dominating it. Immense stage presence and personal power. I remember he once did a “test” on the class, telling us all about it first: we were to, one at a time, fake some laughter, and he wanted to see if any of our fake stage laughs would be contagious, making the room join in with the real thing. Nobody’s laughter was contagious (fake laughter isn’t, unlike fake yawns).

Well, nobody’s, that is, but mine.

This vast personal power has been good for me in a few ways, very difficult in several others, but that’s another post for another day.

But.

Is this all from some mysterious talent I was born with? Or is it more a matter of my environment, and how I was raised, than any magical gift? I mean, I started displaying these talents and powers very very young. My mother, though, was a dance education major when she became pregnant with me (I always joke that I’ve been performing onstage since *before* I was born). She was a stay-at-home mom for my early development, taking me to the library twice a week, reading to me constantly, and including me in her children’s dance / creative movement classes until I was too old to take them, which is when I drifted into junior high theatre. So, I mean…

My junior high as well as high school had robust theatre and music programs, with brilliant professionals teaching us, which means that by the time I got to college and entered their BFA program in acting (one of the prominent ones in the country), I had undergone literally a lifetime of excellent training. Training, and encouragement. And of course, after the BFA program, I was that much better.

Would I have this incredible ability to hold a crowd as a middle aged adult, this immense personal power and huge presence, had I not grown up in that environment? With, say, parents who despised and denigrated the arts, weren’t artists themselves, or even forbade me to engage in performance the way I did, not only onstage but in everyday life, as I developed? If I had gone to crappy schools, with bad teachers, or no arts exposure in school at all? Well. Maybe. Would’ve been a lot harder, if I even managed to recognize the desire.

But.

That, of course, is a series of questions impossible to answer sufficiently. There’s literally no way to know.

One of the mysteries of the ages: nature or nurture, hard work or innate talent, magic or science…. actually the answer to that myriad mystery, methinks, is: Both.

Both, of each of those things.

And yesterday I cupped the Blue Dime Cabaret Central City audience in the palm of my hand, both as I danced and as I chatted during our producer spiel. It’s a thing that feels natural, for me. I get a little nervously charged before a show, but performing is easy—I know it like the back of my hand. Or the palm.

Then again, I’ve been doing it since before I was born…

Yoga For Misanthropes

My new movement guide, Yoga For Misanthropes, is now live on YouTube. I was asked to go online and be my brand of snarky yoga teacher for those who want to start a habit of health and happiness, but hate people enough that they don’t want to go to a class. No, really: I was literally asked this, on Twitter. And how could I refuse?

I will be posting videos of yoga and Pilates sequences and other combinations thereof, that you can follow at home, of all levels, starting with the first vid that’s up today.

https://youtu.be/rLQuGLd7vv0

This first vid is a long gooey stretch sequence, and the sound may be a little iffy, as I recorded it in stage combat class during warmups. I’m planning on putting up more starting today.

Enjoy!

O, the Many Glorious Things I am Up To Right Now

Whew! Goodness, lovely lurkers, what’s been happening? Yet again I realize I have been neglecting you whilst writing personal essays and memoir type stuff (read: whining a lot) under my pen name. That writing, plus the robust article needs of YourBoulder, all are keeping my wee swordfighting mitts away from here. Owa Tana Siam. (Say it aloud. It’s one of the many sillinesses I remember uttered by the Great Yendor, mathematician and magician, the wizard that was Everything Good And Pure About The Renaissance Festival, back when I used to sling steel there.)

So let’s see, what mischief have I been managing lately? Here’s a list:

Work! I’m still reaching out all my feelers in the process of this career change. Peddling Your Body Tells Your Story to everybody that needs it. Which is, of course, everybody. In the meantime, I continue to tread water with my academic work: this summer it’s an online section of Staging Cultures, which you’ve heard me discuss before. An online Children’s Lit is coming up soonish for the grad students at DU, so that one should be fun–let me know if you’d like to be an audience for my read-aloud vids; I plan on making a bunch of new ones. Haven’t heard from Regis in a while, which makes me wonder if I’ve been canceled like a Whedon franchise there. But I’ve also applied to teach comp at CCD, so that might fill in some gaps come fall if they decide to have me on.

Play! er, I mean, Plays! I’m the fight director for an all-female production of Richard III at Lost & Found Theatre, which should be a gas. I taught my basic movement seminar to the cast the other day, and will go coordinate the fighty bits next week. My kingdom for a horse… After that, my next gig of that nature that I know of will be fight directing for FRCC’s production of MacBeth, in September. Is this a dagger I see before me?

Boobies! Burlesque, that is. Blue Dime Cabaret is going strong; still the crazy be-tasseled geniuses we are, we had two shows up at Charlie’s Bar in Central City for Lou Bunch Day, which looks quite likely to turn into a yearly commitment.

Charlie’s Bar never knew what hit em…

Which is cool. For those, I channeled the late great Madeline Kahn and did my quirky Zuko version of “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles. Then the very next week we were back in Boulder for our June Is Busting Out All Over show, for which I sang two numbers and also emceed. Our next show will be Back To School themed, which makes me realize I’m going to need to get myself a schoolgirl skirt. I’ll keep you posted on the date for that–it’ll be in August.

All that plus all the writing, plus divorce proceedings? I’m lucky I get to see my partner at all. Or, he is, I guess. Ahem. 😉

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll try to get back here for some Sherlockian nerdiness very soon. Ciao.

Breakin’

Or maybe it’s Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. I couldn’t decide which. And now that I have, I must admit that I don’t remember if there were actual songs called that, within the soundtracks of those movies. Welp, too late—the title is chosen, and no I can’t be bothered to research those delightful pieces of ‘80s dross. Which are still so bad they’re gloriously good. Thanks anyway.

I was big into break dancing back in the day, being the daughter of a dancer, and wildly admired Michael Jackson’s incredible movement skills (it wasn’t break dancing, what he did—I’d call it a self-stylized form of jazz). One summer, at age 12 or 13, I took a break dancing class and concurrently, a jazz dance class that focused solely on the big dance number from Thriller. The album and subsequent music videos had just come out, and it was all the rage.

Still is, to an extent. Except. The recently released documentary on the horrifying activities that were regular occurrences at Neverland, plus #metoo, combine to make it not so easy to separate the artist from his art. The pedophile, I mean. From his art.

I have this discussion with most groups of my students: is it possible to appreciate and enjoy a work of art when the creator of same was a monster? I mean, beyond understanding the mental illnesses of some, like Van Gogh or Pollock. For example, can you enjoy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, knowing its author photographed little girls in the nude? I happen to, but then I first fell in love with Lewis Carroll’s wonderful oeuvre of nonsense when I was myself a little girl of just the age he’d reportedly erotically fixate upon. I don’t have a correct answer to this issue, but as far as anyone knows, erotic obsessions aside, Dr. Dodgson never raped anybody. Not that that particularly helps.

There’s a mighty dance battle towards the end of She Kills Monsters, the play I’m helping RRCC with, and as I chose music clips and dances to include in the battle, of course I went right to including the iconic moves from Thriller. But then it hit me. Can I do this, anymore? Does this dance elicit joy? It used to—even as recently as last year, the Thriller dance was a go-to for iconic moves of the 1980s, and Halloween dance flash mobs were still joyfully doing it down the streets. But now?

I discussed it with the young students who would be performing the dance battle, and they concurred amongst themselves that the work is bigger than the man. But it bugged me, and when I brought it up later to the SO, he averred it was a bad idea. Putting that dance up on stage will not cause joy to an audience in late April 2019; it will cause discomfort at best, triggering at worst. Maybe in time we’ll be able to appreciate Michael Jackson’s art again, at a farther remove, but we really can’t now. Not anymore. So I removed the Thriller section from the dance battle.

And hey, maybe more time won’t heal those wounds Jackson caused. If they don’t, is that such a bad thing? Is the loss of a brilliant body of work worth the healing of the way too many survivors that are trying to live good lives in the aftermath of a nightmare? I’d say so.

Anyway, it’s high time we stopped praising the monsters for their art while waving away their wrongdoings. I’m looking at you, Woody Allen. Too long.

But that’s not why I titled this post Breakin’. It’s because I was breaking in these new boots at the time of this writing, and was feeling it a little, after a couple days straight of wearing them. I’m wearing them today again, to go teach the finished dance battle, sans Thriller, tonight.

Not nearly such an exciting topic, eh. Whatever. I’ll allow it.

P.S. Look at that photo. Talk about a Band of Young Men, amirite? And, yes, they’re about to enter into a dance battle. I mean, OBViously…

Aesthetics

The two screens facing me side by side at the sports bar are showing hockey and figure skating, respectively, in parallel. Both, obviously, feature ice skating and scoring points. But other than that, they couldn’t be more different sports.

In fact, I’d question the calling of figure skating a sport. There’s an appealing aesthetic to both movements I see on both screens, but only one of them is actually being scored on the beauty of the movements as well as the difficulty of the execution of same.

Costume differences aside (sexist, if you look at both the male and female requirements of such in figure skating), the hockey is aesthetically pleasing because of the concision and focus of the moves involved. Also if you happen to enjoy watching combative arts—the fights involved in hockey have a particular aesthetic appeal. But the points scored in hockey (and dings on the teams) have everything to do with getting the puck in the opposing team’s net. The spareness and quickness and speed and difficulty level of the moves in hockey that are so pleasing to the eye are all focused on this. (Well I mean maybe the fights aren’t that focused on that one goal, but. You get my point.)

The figure skaters also get points, though they’re competing solo. A big part of how they score points is on their difficulty level and array of big trick moves of various kinds, whether they execute them correctly, land on their feet not their asses out of them, etc. But another good sized chunk of how they score points is how beautifully they skate.

What does that mean, though? It’s not only technical prowess—the judges are looking for certain requirements done technically correctly, sure, but doing them *well*? That’s a whole ‘nother monster.

Many people, when interrogating me on my current profession, ask how I can grade all these kids on their artistic works, when they’re still learning and young and isn’t it all subjective anyway.

It is subjective, art. But I still give grades to my students.

Part of this is basic: do they have their lines memorized, did they write to the assignment requirements, did they spell shit correctly, etc. but that’s all the easy part. That’s all technique. That’s getting the puck in the net. I also grade them on how good they are, though.

Of course I take all kinds of things into account when doing so: how old are they, how much experience do they have, etc. I mean, two 18 year olds attempting to perform scenes from 1775 restoration comedy The Rivals aren’t going to cut it to the same level as highly trained 30-somethings in a professional troupe. But.

There’s still an aesthetic standard I hold the 18 year olds to, and it isn’t any different than what the 30something professionals are doing. But I have to give the 18 year olds a grade. And I really am grading them on how good the art is they’ve presented.

Postmodernists and hippy tribalists will call this unfair. Who am I, they whine, who is any one (especially white) person to dictate what art is “good?” For that matter, what is “art,” anyway, man?

I recently wrote a rant (called “Actually, Don’t“) wherein I ranted about this type of thing. I know you’re never supposed to read the comments but I did on a friend’s reshare. What I wrote rubbed a lot of people wrong, and they called me pedantic, an asshole, and how can you judge real art, man?

Thing is, you can. Thing is, you should. We should. Who gets to? Qualified people. People who know what goes into an art, and can judge based on many factors, including (but not limited to) their own (erstwhile or current) prowess in same.

Beauty is a formula: Technique plus passion. Have the one alone, you only get a certain number of points, but not a perfect 10. Have only the other, you can’t even execute your art—can’t even get it done.

Anyway, both screens are pretty.

Actually, Don’t

I’m not a big fan of these inspirational-poster-style meme type things in general, lovely lurkers, but this one in particular has bothered me for a long time. And I’d like to explain to you why, in a brief rant.

Ahem.

First, allow me to describe this image, both for the sake of any of my readers with visual impairment, but also so that we are all on the same page, as far as what we are looking at:

We’ve got a sepia-toned photograph, depicting a row of five little girls at a ballet barre. All five girls are dressed in ballet class garb (tutus, tights, etc.) and look to be around four years old. From left to right, four of the little girls are faced sideways to us, looking up at what we can assume is a dance instructor, in a neat row (well, neat for four-year-olds), all attempting some vestige of a ballet position. The fifth girl, on the far right as we look, however, is upside down, ass over teakettle, her knees hooked over the barre, hands holding on, smiling at the camera. A large caption adorns the top of the photo, declaring, “Be the girl on the right.”

No.

I mean, no. Especially if you want to learn ballet.

Look, I understand the sentiment of this message (saccharine though it may be). What the creator of this image is trying to say is that standing out from the crowd is more important than being like all the others, and that self-expression is better than forcing oneself into a typical lockstep with everyone else. I get it, I do; and being a lifelong denizen of The Island of Misfit Toys myself, I, too, value the great gift of being weird.

Thing is, this picture is bullshit.

That little girl on the right is not engaging in joyous self-expression (well, maybe she is, but that’s not the point); that little girl is misbehaving. Her hanging on the barre is not just as valid as the ballet techniques being learned by the other girls, just because it comes from an authentic place. She’s not learning ballet, she’s not paying attention to the adult in charge of her learning (and her welfare), and, worst of all, she’s hindering the learning of the other girls, who are actually there trying to learn a technique. Believe me, I’ve taught many a dance and a martial arts class to little kids–that teacher who’s out of frame has to stop class to get that misbehaving girl to join the group and do as she’s supposed to. If the girl continues to be “the girl on the right,” her parents will be called in to remove her from class.

Don’t be the girl on the right.

The girl on the right is never going to learn how to dance ballet if this is what she does in class. If she grows up like this, she’ll be an entitled little nightmare with no respect for authority nor discipline in practice for whatever she does.

But, Jenn, we shouldn’t be blind followers of rigid rules and authority, I hear some of you protesting. The best artists are those who flout the rules and go their own way. Well, sure. And you’re right, except for one thing.

Those rule-breaking artists who thumb their noses at authority? Those iconoclasts of cutting edge creativity? How do you think they learned how to do their art?

The best artists learn the rules, thoroughly and completely, and from a teacher (or master, or authority figure of some kind), before they can then break them. The discipline that comes with training, that is: learning technique, comes first. Then, once the artist is a master of doing it the same as those masters who came before him, then and only then can he break those rules and make something unusual out of his art.

Art, any art, that lacks technique is nothing but a wet rag (read up on Grotowski, the great theatre movement technique disciplinarian, for more on this concept). Hirschfeld, the great Broadway caricaturist, said how he needed to learn the precise anatomy of an arm, and be able to draw it with scientific precision, before he then could draw an arm using one curving line. Pure self-expression, with no technique or structure, is not art. It’s healthy, and good for you, sure, but its audience should be limited to a therapist, if anyone.

I went to grad school for poetry at Naropa University (google it, kids). While I was pleasantly surprised at the academic and technical rigor present in that MFA training program, there was still so much of this: “it’s authentic, coming from my heart/experience, and therefore it’s good art.” No. No, it ain’t. It needs revision, and lots of it. And, seriously: editing your authentic bit of self-expression will do nothing to diminish the power of your true voice; quite the contrary. If you construct the messy vomit of your raw self-expression into a good poem, then it will echo and resonate to your readers, as opposed to being a selfish forcing of them to watch you masturbate.

If self-expression is to be art, it needs technique. To learn technique, one needs discipline. And Yes, Virginia, that discipline comes with training, which might just consist of rote repetitions, drills, and copying your teacher (and/or other masters). I mean, can you imagine a martial artist, who has never taken a class but likes playing around by punching her couch at home, getting into the sparring ring with another, who has a black belt (and you can imagine what training and discipline that requires)? I don’t care how well and powerfully that martial artist can punch her couch, she’s going to get her ass trounced in that ring. Why? No technique. Authenticity is great, but it actually doesn’t really matter to anyone but you. And art is supposed to be a communication, something that goes out from the artist into the world to be shared.

No other way to be a master oneself, unless one starts from square one, there at the barre, in a neat row, trying to imitate one’s teacher as exactly as possible.

Don’t be the girl on the right. Not until you’ve mastered ballet, by being the girls on the left.

Ringing in the New Year

Sheesh, lovely lurkers. I need to take a moment and list my stuff coming up in the new year. I just wrote about New Year’s resolutions under my own name on my other, memoir-y blog, and it made me need to come here and share with you all the amazing shit that’s on deck, in the hole, and whatever other baseball or double-entendres you like.

Buckle up.

School: Regis’ next 8-week session starts mid-month. Those are all one-on-one grad students in all kinds of subjects, you’ll recall. So far, I’ve got a student who’ll be learning about Editing Non-Fiction.

Metro starts soon after. I’ve got an online section of Theatre History and Crit II, which should be great once I revamp and update it. I also have a Stage Movement class assigned to me, but as there’s only 8 students enrolled so far, that might not actually go. Good news is, the department chair is going to go into battle w the dean on my (well, its) behalf, and it is a required course, so I am allowing myself a modicum of hope.

It would not be a good thing for that one to be canceled, for more than one reason, not the least of which is: this is my specialty and I’d like to have something to show non-academics in that area. Also that I don’t know what’s up with DU; if they’re planning on ghosting me too or not. I have to function as though they are. Pray for me.

Writing: I’m slated to write the next series of Problematic Tropes articles over at Writers’ HQ, so stay tuned. If I can get disciplined, and get help from the SO, I’ll be putting forth one per month starting in January. So stay tuned there.

Performance: I’m doing lots of Blue Dime Cabaret, and a big fight direction project, all of which start in January.

Blue Dime Cabaret has three performances in January (starting on the 11th) over at Dangerous Theatre, and one at Full Cycle on February 16th. I’ll be performing on the 18th, and no idea what’s going on on the 16th, since we haven’t curated that one yet.

Somehow, most of the images of my emcee stint at Blue Dime at our December show depict me drinking beer. Yeah, I’ll allow it.

I’m choreographing and fight directing for D&D based play She Kills Monsters over at Red Rocks Community College. This play not only has, like, one fight per page, but it’s all fantasy styled, which should be super fun. I hear the director has cast a bunch of extra monsters, too, so that should be a blast. Plus, I’m getting paid a full semester’s worth of community college faculty salary for this project, which will be a huge help.

Career Shift: I need to read Ibarra’s book Working Identity again, as it is a rough patch in this area at the moment. I keep applying for multiple random things in the realm of content creation and such. More importantly though: I am doing my best to push my body language consultation / seminars, etc. to the hilt. This is what I’m needing to do next, and I know there’s need and demand out there; I just need to find it and bring it to the right places.

Hm, that’s a lot of “need” in one short paragraph. Welp. It’s apropos of the topic, so I’m leaving them.

Oh, and I applied to Denver Comic Con (sorry: Pop Culture Con) and Page 23, too, so let’s hope I’ll be presenting there again this summer the way I have for many years now.

Also? Pray for Pirates. I’ll explain later, just do. That’d be very cool too.

So.

Sigh.

That’s a lot, innit. Well. Bring it (ring it)…🍾🥂🎉

Dispatches From The Trenches, er, News From Midterms (in more ways than one):

Well goodness. In all my diary-like postings on my pen-name blog, I’ve neglected all you lovely lurkers. Well. Several of you follow me on Twitter and FB, yes? Anyway.

Let’s see, what’s happening? Oh, I’ve voted already. So ssh.

Teaching-wise: The young peeps at Metro are just embarking on their enormous one-act project, and the online ones are just now beginning to think about their research papers, as well as reading Black Elk Speaks. One Regis ha’semester has concluded, and another has begun–one of those is doing a Comparative Mythology course, which as you prolly know is one of my main expertises. So that’ll be fun. DU is about to end, with a reading event and last online week to go, only.

I’m about to teach a big group of junior high littles how to wield fist and (wooden) blade, and insert same into their Shakespeare scenes. That’s going to be fun, and for the first session I’m gonna be ghosted by a journalist from the Boulder Weekly, who’s doing two (2!) stories on me the next couple months.

Performance-wise, I had a lovely and kind of emotional time doing Vampires again. And our next Blue Dime Cabaret will occur at Full Cycle on December 14th. We’re gonna be covered by a few news sources too, so that’s a cool thing. It’s really becoming a thing that people follow, and etc.

Other than that (what other? What could I possibly add to all this?!) I’m still exploring/working on my career change: going to do a body language workshop for the Denver chapter of Spellbinders, coming up.

What better image to cap this post off with but me and the co-founder of Blue Dime Cabaret, cavorting in a real coffin at the first of two of the Vampires shows? What better, I ask you?