Category Archives: Dance

Refreshed and Returning


When I wrote my previous post in February, I didn’t realize that it would mark the start of a two-month blogging break.  But life has a way of conspiring against us to keep us busy and away from our online ponderings, I suppose.

Work has been extremely busy and hectic, thereby sapping me of a lot of energy and motivation.  What little I had left of both generally went into dance classes at Park Avenue Dance Company or working on preparations for the dance company’s annual benefit.  The latter turned out quite nicely, by the way.  By the time I got done with everything, I was ready to come home, kick back, watch a little television, and head for bed before the next day brought its hectic schedule to more doorstep.

Those who know me well, however, should realize that the last two months weren’t all work devoid of play, however.  I did manage to get in a few trips to Tilt for some great dancing.  (In a a future post, I hope to talk about the Elmira-based Club Chill, which I checked out last night while I was at my parents’ home for the weekend.)  And the first weekend in April, Marina and I made another trip to Toronto, where we saw the Chimera Project in its performance of Blood.  The performance was fantastic, powerful, and highly athletic.  And Marina and I had front row seats — seats close enough that I could’ve stood up and reached over to caress the chest of the extremely hot dancer that was lying on the front of the stage.  Let’s just say I discovered how much self-restraint I had in that moment.

But now that I’ve had a bit of a break and things in my life seem a bit calmer, I’ve decided it’s time for me to start posting again.  So with a bit of good fortune, I should start making a few more posts over the next week or so.  Because like the rising sun, I will always return.

I just don’t have as regular an orbit as the sun.

(The photo in this image was taken by Jon Sullivan, who was kind enough to release it to the public domain.)

Dance and Masculinity

Fictitious Spec Ad

Jeremy over at Good As You blogged about a fictitious student spec ad that recently ran in CMYK magazine. The ad, which can be seen in this post, plays off on the stereotype that a man who does ballet is somehow less masculine than a man who plays football or some other sport. (Of course, I wonder what the guys who do ballet and play football would say to that.) Of course, on another level, some people are taking this as a homophobic ad, concerned about the stereotype that a man who does ballet is most likely gay.

As a gay man who is taking dance (though not ballet at this time) classes, I’m not too bothered by this ad. I have heard people suggest that dance in general and ballet in particular are not masculine activities, and I personally think their point of view is baseless and ignorant. My usual response to such a claim is to either roll my eyes and move the conversation along or to politely challenge the speaker to join me for one dance class before we discuss their opinion. I have yet to have any guy accept that challenge.

Personally, I’m not bothered by the ad because as a dancer, I know the lie behind it. And I know who I am and what I like, and I’m not willing to let the opinion of an ignorant person get to me. It’s really that simple.

However, one of Jeremy’s commenters, Lorion, does raise a good point. There are those people who are hurt by this kind of mentality. Some men — especially younger guys who are still trying to find themselves — are more deeply affected by this. It’s hard to be that seemingly rare teenage boy who’s interested in dance, singing, or theater. Friends who think men should follow more so-called masculine pursuits tend to tease, and that can be hard to handle. In fact, it could exert enough pressure to get a young man to reconsider pursuing such an interest. This is even worse if similar pressure comes from parents. And that is a problem that needs to be addressed.

It seems to me, however, that the proper way to address this problem is on an individual basis. After all, a student spec ad merely expresses an unfortunately common sentiment. That sentiment would have permeated some sectors of our society regardless of whether the ad was published. In some ways, I think it’s good that the ad was published, as it provides and opportunity to address the underlying mentality, its prevalence, and its effect on some people. It also gives us the opportunity to consider how to counteract and otherwise mitigate its effects.

I think that the first and most important step in helping a young man who finds himself ridiculed for having in interest in dance (or anything else) is simply to encourage him. I think it’s important to let him know that while others might not approve of his interests or seem them as worthy of respect and honor, we do. And we need to help him find others who share his interest. (After all, even though I’m secure in my own masculinity, I fully admit that it’s always a pleasant discovery when I find another guy is going to be in a particular class with me.) These things will stop the sense of isolation that such ridicule is usually intended to create and what ultimately empowers it to be hurtful.

I also think that it’s important to encourage sympathy for those who would choose to ridicule another. In my experience, it seems that the most common reason for such ridicule is that its a way for the ridiculer to mask his (I can’t think of a single woman who has ever made a negative comment about my interest in dance) own insecurities. Having your own masculinity challenged is much less painful when you realize that the challenger feels like his own is in jeopardy. (Indeed, it’s quite sad to continue that another man’s masculinity is so fragile as to face potential damage and even destruction simply because of how I choose to spend my free time.) Understanding this also opens up the possibility of compassion and even an opportunity for healing for the person who feels threatened and needs to lash out.

A Trip to Toronto

It’s been a while since my last post. Unfortunately, life has been a bit crazy for the past few weeks. Between a crazy project at work, keeping up with dance classes, and fighting off what I can only assume was the stomach bug from hell, blogging has fallen quite low on my list of priorities. However, now that I have a half hour or so before I need to run to the company holiday party, I thought I’d take a few moments to write a bit about my adventure with friends to Toronto last Saturday.

Every year, my jazz instructor, Marina, goes to Toronto the Saturday after Thanksgiving. She had mentioned it to Rudi, who decided to go with her. At some point, they got the crazy idea to invite me. Having heard about these excursions from a couple different sources, I was all too eager to accept that invitation. So that morning, I crawled out of bed, into some clothes, and drove over to Marina’s house. I was there by about 6:15. Rudi got there a half hour or so later, and we were on the road by about 7:00 that morning.

The drive up was pleasant and uneventful. We only made one stop, and that was at the border. This allowed us to exchange our currency and grab a quick breakfast at Tim Horton’s. Then we went through the checkpoint and continued on our way to Toronto.

We were in the city by 10:30, so we parked in the garage across the street from the theater we’d be attending that evening and walked down to the facilities where DanceTeq teaches there classes. We arrive about forty five minutes before the modern class started. Class that day was taught by a substitute, Matthew Waldie. The class was too advanced for me (mainly due to the pace rather than complexity of technique), so I watched (which gave me plenty of opportunities to semi-secretly watch Matthew and pray the drool wasn’t too obvious) while Marina and Rudi actually participated. Both struggled with the class at various points and Marina was particularly out of breath by the end of class. I actually took a certain amount of pleasure in that realization. After all, I saw in Marina’s expression the same exhaustion and sense of pushing beyond her capabilities that I frequently feel when I take her class. So it’s nice to see one of my instructors in that same space, herself.

After class, we did a bit of shopping. Of course, this meant walking from the waterfront to the major shopping areas in the city. Fortunately, I had the sense to pack a pair of decent sneakers. Shopping went pretty well, and I even managed to pick up a nice shirt, though I need to lose about another twenty pounds before it looks quite right on me. Unfortunately, the manufacturers of stylish clothing still haven’t decided to let those of us in plus sizes look good. But I’ll try not to rant too much about that.

After shopping, we made the trek back to the waterfront to grab a quick dinner and head to our show. We went to see “Lost Action” by the Canadian dance company, Kidd Pivot. The show was quite good, especially in terms of strength and technique. The company has four male dancers, and it’s amazing to see the kinds of things a dance company can do with that kind of muscle. There was one scene in which all four guys worked together to lift one of the women and move her around the stage, twisting and turning her body. The fact that they did this without popping one of her joints out of socket — let alone with deceptive ease — was incredible.

The show itself was a bit confusing. “Lost Action” is an abstract performance piece, and I don’t really do well with abstract art, at least not yet. One of the things that I took away from the performance was a sense that it involved a theme of enforced conformity, an observation that Marina and Rudi both felt made a lot of sense at the time. Of course, having just reread what Kidd Pivot says about the performance themselves, I’m not sure I was on base at all. Of course, Christine would point out that this is the beauty of dance. Different people interpret the same thing differently.

After the show, we made a quick, peaceful, and enjoyable trip back home. Rudi and I talked most of the way while Marina slept. Fortunately, she did wake up at the border so we could get across okay.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip and I look forward to making more of them in the future. I certainly couldn’t have asked for better traveling companions, either. Hopefully, they feel the same way. (There was that one teasing crack I made to Rudi, though…)

Breaking the Silence

After nearly a month long silence, I decided it’s finally time to write here again. I apologize for being gone so long. However, life made it necessary. To be honest, between the fact that I’ve been too busy at work to do much writing and the fact that what I had to write about were things I’m not comfortable sharing publicly, the lengthy silence was necessary.

Of course, I’m still somewhat busy, and not just because of work. My activities with Park Avenue Dance Company are taking up a great deal of my time. I believe that I mentioned that starting this Fall, I’d be taking three classes a week there. True to form, I am now in the Tuesday evening Beginner’s Contemporary class, the Wedensday evening Floor-Barre Plus class, and the Saturday morning Beginner’s Jazz class. That means that I’m spending between three and a half and four hours dancing every week. Who needs a gym membership with that kind of exercise?

The jazz class is going quite well, though I have a lot to learn. Marina has been quite patient with me, homing in on my need to learn to shift my weight and regain my balance quickly. Fortunately, it’s a very small class, so I’m getting a lot of personal attention (and harassment). It’s worth every moment, believe me.

However, my involvement with the dance company has moved beyond taking classes and attending performances. After the September performance at ArtisanWorks, Christine took me aside and asked me if I’d be willing to join the board of directors for the company. I agreed, and I attended my first board meeting last Wednesday.

This means that in addition to learning to dance (and getting in better shape), I’m now beginning to spend time trying to sell tickets (are any of my readers interested in buying?) to and otherwise promote ROTO 3, which is coming up in just under three weeks.

So far, I just sold one ticket. However, I’m hoping to sell one or two more at the end of the week. And I have another possible sale, but the person needs to wait until the event is closer to verify she has the money for it. Hopefully, as I work through my friends, I’ll sell more. Char has also been kind enough to let me put up a poster at the shop to generate interest. Hopefully, a few ticket sales will result in the process.

I’m also working with another board member to coordinate our attempts to get ROTO on various community calendars in the area. I’m also hoping to get a mention — if not a brief talk — on either radio or television. (If not, I’m hoping to at least make the necessary contacts to make such a possibility a reality for next year.) I’m hoping that helping with getting the word out there will make up for the fact that I don’t have a lot of friends in the area to whom I can directly sell tickets. 😉

Life is great, but crazy and busy. And to think, I still have to squeeze my day job into the picture.

Dance mania!

Last night, I went to my normal Wednesday night dance class. As usual, I had an absolute blast. This summer has been great review for me. We’ve had a lot of new students in class, which means that Christine has really slowed things down and worked on reviewing technique. This has given me an opportunity to take a few steps back and work on my own technique.

Of course, this has been somewhat of a challenge, as well. To be honest, some of the dance exercises are actually more strenuous when done in slow motion. While I was able to quickly execute certain movements and be done with it before, I now have to move through the motions more slowly. This means that my muscles have to work harder to suspend a leg in mid-air for several counts in some exercises.

Of course, a couple of the new students have decided to watch me during a lot of the exercises. They’ve decided that I know what I’m doing, which I actually think is somewhat of a mistake on their part. I’ve certainly improved over the past six months, I grant you. However, I still make a good number of mistakes, and my technique still needs work. More importantly, I need to work on doing things well consistently.

Of course, Christine doesn’t seem to mind the fact that the other students watch me. in fact, when it came time for us to do our phrase while she watched, one of the women said something about keeping an eye on me so she could follow along. So Christine decided to move me to front and center of the group so everyone could watch and follow. Oh dear. The good news is that the phrase we are working on right now is rather slow, so I’ve been able to do really well. (It takes me longer to really get some of the more upbeat phrases.) And the fact that we’re currently working on a phrase that I learned back in January when I started the class helps a lot, too. (Of course, I don’t think the other students realize this.)

The real excitement, however, came for me when I decided to stick around and take the jazz dance class too. I had previously talked to Marina, who teaches that class, and got permission to take it. I was a bit nervous because I was concerned about confusing myself with two different styles of dance. Then there’s also the fact that originally, the Wednesday night jazz dance class was intended to be an intermediate class, so I was concerned about being able to keep up. Then there were just my concerns about taking two dance classes back-to-back. After all, two and a half hours of almost non-stop dance is quite the workout.

Fortunately, everything worked out fine. The class was challenging, but that was mostly because I’m not used to the warm-ups and exercises that Marina does in her class. And like many dance instructors, she tends to give a long list of exercises we’re going to do over the course of an entire song, then start the music and have us go to it. This meant that I got lost more than once, but I was generally able to recover.

The differences in styles also turned out to be less of an issue than I expected. Certainly, there are differences and I had trouble adjusting to a few things. (For example, I kept wanting to turn out when doing tondus, whereas some of the tondu exercises Marina uses require the feet to remain in parallel position. It takes a bit of mental adjustment.

As for the length of time dancing, that proved to be a minor issue. Other than a blister on my right big toe and a leg cramp last night, I made out quite well. As a result, I’ve decided to attend the jazz dance class for the remaining two weeks in this term. After that, it’ll be time for the Fall sessions to start. Marina said she plans on trying to start up another beginners jazz dance class on Saturdays, and I’m thinking about registering for it. I’d stick with the intermediate class, but I already have other obligations on Wednesday.

Besides, a Saturday class will have me dancing three days a week, which would be good.

Back to Dance Class

This week, I went to both of my dance classes. Tuesday was my first dance class in almost a month. After a week and a half of being out due to an injured ankle and another two weeks of break between the Spring and Summer sessions, it was nice to get back into the swing of things. Of course, it was also pure agony.

I think the agony was mostly caused by the one exercise we did on Tuesday — an exercise that got incorporated into our dance phrase at the end of the night. This exercise involves a move, which I’ll try to describe. You start seated on the ground with your knees bent and your lower legs and feet tucked off to the left of your torso. You then swing your legs so that they’re off to the right of your torso. Then you swing them back back to the left. Then you fall to your right and roll onto your back, you’re knees bent and over your chest. You continue the roll back into a sitting position with your legs on your right again. You reverse the roll and end up back with your legs on your left. You then whip your legs around clockwise so that they go from left to right, then behind you (this requires that you allow your torso to come forward and lay stomach down) back to your left, to the front, and finally ending once again bent and tucked to your right. I imagine that description is hard to follow, but I don’t have video. In some ways, I think it helps to picture a gymnast doing a routine on the horse. Except in the dance exercise, you’re not trying to hold your weight up on your arms as you whip your lower bod around.

This exercise is murder, especially when you consider the speed at which you’re trying to whip your legs in a 360+ degree circuit around your body. (You have just a couple beats in the music to do it.) Quite frankly, at 280 pounds, I have a lot of weight I’m trying to move in a short period of time. Of course, Michael (who weights at least 100 pounds less than me) said he also found the exercise painful the first time Christine introduced it in class a year or so ago. So I take comfort in the knowledge that it’s not just me.

Other than that, both nights were actually pretty close to a cake walk. Because this week was the start of a new session and we had a lot of new students in both classes, Christine decided to start over and take things slowly. So the exercises were a lot simpler than what I was used to by the time our last session was coming to a close. Of course, I’m not complaining about this. Simpler, more familiar exercises in class mean that I can take this time to work on perfecting my technique and working on some issues I’m having — like the fact that I tend to pull my arm too far back when holding it in second position.

Wednesday night, Christine chose to revisit a phrase that the class was working on when I joined back in January. Again, this meant that it was familiar (well, part of it, because she went further with it this time). It also meant that I could focus on getting the arms right, which I had problems with the last time we worked on this phrase. After we refused the phrase a few times, Christine asked me if I got it. I said yes, and she sent Barbara (another long-time student in the class) and myself to the back of the room where the other students could follow our lead when we got to the part of the phrase where everyone turned around. Not that I minded, but it was quite a surprise.

Call me the dancing fool

Originally posted to Multiply on 3 February 2008.

Two weeks ago, I started taking dance classes. Half my friends are laughing over the whole thing, but all of them are being relatively supportive.

This is not the first time that I’ve taken a dance class, mind you. My junior year in college, I took two semester’s of dance class. I took the first semester because it counted against my phys ed requirement to graduate. I figured it was a nice alternative to trying to play a sport (I have yet to find one I’m not awful at) or go fly fishing (which I despise). So when my housemate suggested Joan’s dance class, I decided it was worth a shot. I ended up taking the class for the second semester simply because I enjoyed it.

A few weeks ago, I noticed some cookbooks on a table at work for sale. After reading the material next to the cookbooks, I learned that they were to raise money for the Park Avenue Dance Company. I also found out which coworker brought them in and inquired as to his involvement with the organization. As it turns out, he’s one of their dancers.

As we briefly discussed the matter, he suggested I give one of their dance classes a try. As I had already been thinking about it (I had already checked out their website), it didn’t take him much time to convince me. The following Tuesday, I took my bag of with workout clothes over to the dance studio and had my first class.

I’ve had three more classes since that night and have loved every minute of it. In fact, I’m reaching the point where I feel like the class is the highlight of my week. I enjoy dance that much. In fact, I forgot just how much I enjoyed it.

It’s been close to thirteen years since Joan’s class. And while Joan’s class primarily focused on ballet, Christine’s class is more contemporary, which means that I’ve had to relearn a few things anyway. However, I have noticed that a lot of the work at the bar is the same, which is why I seem to be picking that up pretty fast. Now if I can get just as good at the rest of it all. But I’m making slow progress.

One nice thing about the class is that it’s an answer to my concern about exercise during the cold months. Now I have at least one hour a week of good exercise planned — exercise which is far more intense than the walking I normally do, anyway. I’m also considering picking up the Wednesday night class, which is 99% floor and bar exercises. Add to that the fact that I hope to eventually start practicing the routines at home (I’m still trying to learn them right now and don’t wish to practice them “wrong”), and I should have no problems maintaining my physical activity year round.

And of course, I want to try the jazz class someday. But I think I need to get more comfortable with the contemporary dance stuff before I confuse myself with a second style and instructor.