On “President”

This is a post about President. Not about any particular individual occupying a particular presidential office, but about President, the idea and aspiration. The thing you once thought you might be one day (at least if you were lucky enough to ever be told you should dream so big–or at least before you learned you shouldn’t).

The first presidential election I remember was Bush v Gore 2000. I got a Kids Voting ballot with pictures of all the candidates, and awarded each of my empty votes to whichever guy I thought had the better headshot. Sometimes it was hard because they kind of looked the same. For the record, I voted for Gore. (In retrospect, I stand by my decision but not my reasons.)

I asked my mom if girls were allowed to be presidents. I learned that they were, but none of them had yet. Like many ambitious little girls first hearing this news, I was less concerned with why this was the case than I was with beating out any other ambitious girls to the “first” spot. (In retrospect, I realize that being the first anything is terribly overrated if you’re the only.)

The people counting the votes needed extra time, my parents informed me, as they watched the news with anticipation. I thought that made sense, because counting that high must be really hard. I later heard that that the guy who got the most votes didn’t get to be president. I thought that might kind of be nice for him, because now he could brag about winning without having to be in charge of everyone. (In retrospect, he sure did.)

Being president sounded like a lot of pressure–people always seemed angry at presidents–so I thought I might aim for vice president instead. I checked that no girls had been vice president either, so I could still be first at something. Thinking realistically, I decided that I would start my career being vice president of small countries, then incrementally work my way up to bigger ones. (In retrospect, that plan could have used some refinement.)

At my neighbor’s birthday party that week, his know-it-all older brother offered a piece of candy to whoever could answer the question “Who was the first president?” He proceeded to inform that me and the three other people who blurted out “George Washington” that we were wrong–George was the first president of the US, but not the world. He didn’t know the name of the actual first president, but insisted that it was someone else. (In retrospect, maybe he didn’t know it all.)

(Today I Googled “first president in the world. The ambiguous definition of “president” across languages and systems of government leaves no clear answer. Possibly Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli, President of the Corsican Republic in 1755. His republic didn’t work out, but at least he was first at something.)

My mom told me that I couldn’t be president of Lebanon because I wasn’t the right religion. I wasn’t quite sure what religion I was, but “Deputy Speaker of Parliament” sounded less cool, so I immediately became a firm opponent of sectarianism. (In retrospect, I had a point, but Deputy Speakers of Parliament can also be cool.)

The next election season, I learned about write-in candidates. I asked my parents if they would vote for me, and was kind of offended that they said no. Unfortunately, they had other plans for positions like “mayor” and “senator,” but eventually agreed to write me in for soil commissioner. (In retrospect, I apologize for trivializing the soil commissioner race. Soil commissioners are as important as presidents.)

(What kind of person would want to be a president anyway?)

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Things I Learned As a Post-Grad Dancer (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1. Not real advice, just the best conclusions I can come up with so far.

I need to see more performances.

In a city with tons of incredible performances of all sorts, enough of them inexpensive and convenient, why am I not seeing them? Because I’m tired, dammit.

But I would really like to prioritize getting myself in the audience this year. Because I’m a hypocrite asking people to watch me without watching them. Because I need to learn and be inspired. Because I’m sick regretfully reading reviews of things I missed.

Maybe none of us were really prepared for this.

Having attended a liberal arts dance program that exposed us to some amazing faculty and guest choreographers, but did not emphasize producing professional dancers, I expected to be behind conservatory-grads in terms of training and career preparation.

However, it sounds like most conservatories are still preparing their students to enter full-time modern repertory companies, which is rare right now. So we’re all kind of floundering as we figure out how to keep dancing and hustling and navigating the freelance scene.

Given that this is the case, part of me still wishes I had the opportunity to really hone my skills in a distraction-free dance-bubble, before real life kicked in. On the other hand, my college experience offered practice in creating my own training schedule, fitting dance into my life around responsibilities, and creating and marketing my own work, all skills that have made it easier to build dance into my life post-grad.

Professionalism is about being able to work in non-ideal circumstances.

You didn’t have time to warm up. You’re tired from working a morning shift job before. The studio is small. The performance space is smaller than the studio you rehearsed in. The performance space is a concrete staircase and your knee hurts. etc. These are all real problems and bad excuses if you are being paid to perform. I’m finding that the most consistently-working artists have found ways to work safely, intelligently, and creatively around any physical or situational limitations.

And I’m challenging myself to use any given circumstance as an opportunity to practice creative problem-solving. Recently, little things like improv videos on my apartment staircase or coffee shop logbook poetry have helped maintain a thread of creativity in my life when I don’t have dedicated time and space to create.

The artist “lifestyle poverty” (which is to some extent a choice) is different from actual lifetime poverty (which is overwhelmingly not).

This is not exactly a new insight, but it does seem especially apparent and under-acknowledged among the “starving artist” class, as we gentrify working-class neighborhoods and dominate the better-payed service jobs. Expect a length post on this later.

I can’t take myself too seriously.

The world might be a an angry button-press away from annihilation, and I’m in a studio figuring out different ways to spin on my butt. And I would not be doing it if I didn’t deeply and wholeheartedly love finding different ways to spin on my butt. But how is that not hilariously absurd?

Besides, taking myself too seriously has never made me better at anything.

Things I’ve Learned as a Post-Grad Dancer (Part One)

Since I’ve been doing the post-grad shuffle for about 6 months now–dancing, freelancing, hustling, and a bit of adulting, as the kids these days say–I thought I would share some lessons I’ve learned so far about being a freelance dancer in New York. This is definitely not how-to-guide or expert advice–there are people much more qualified for that–but rather, some honest observations from my personal experience.

The dance field is less like a pyramid and more like a landscape.

Sure there are some positions higher than others, and plenty of climbing involved, but it’s certainly not a single hierarchy based on one standard of being “the best.” There is incredible diversity in what a successful performer, company, or career looks like, and being a professional is not necessarily about “having what it takes to make it to the top” so much as finding the right niche to carve out a sustainable career. That journey might involve moving around the field horizontally, as well as moving up.

Pickiness is not for me (yet).

There is value in only considering projects that you are truly interested in, particularly if you’ve been working for a while. But right now, I am learning a lot from showing up at classes and auditions that–at least from the description–are “not really my thing.”

Because sometimes the actual experience differs from how it appears on (virtual) paper. Sometimes I reconsider what “my thing” really is. Sometimes going into unfamiliar territory reveals some weaknesses that I would like to work on (one of my goals is to take hip hop classes next year).

And sometimes I just don’t like something. Learning more about what I don’t like and why is also artistically valuable right now.

Some of the most valuable networking* is lateral.

A lot of us have the impression that professional networking is about trying to shmooze with the person at the front of the room. It can be, but it can also mean turning to one of the very talented and creative person who got cut with you at an audition and deciding to hang out and make a piece together.

*(The word “networking” still makes me vomit a little inside.)

Personal administration for freelancers takes time and labor–so budget for it.

Once you add it up, the time it spends to coordinate schedules, respond to emails, and search for new opportunities is not negligible. And it takes extra mental bandwidth to keep track of multiple jobs/projects/clients, as opposed to focusing on one thing. If you don’t specifically budget time for this type of work, you  can either end up slacking on some important logistics or just over-exhausted.

Most of being an adult is sitting on different types of transportation.

And it’s always going to take more time to get there than expected. I had a tough time accepting that I can’t just pack my days full minute-to-minute like I did in college. Planning in more buffer time can feel wasteful or inefficient, but it’s really just responsible (and I’m taking podcast suggestions).

Affordable class options exist if you look around.

When I finished my work-study program in September, I was worried that I would be unable–or at least very de-incentivized–to keep up regular training with the cost of dance classes in NYC (up to $22!). However, while I do sometimes fork over the full-sticker price for class at big studios, I have also found several less expensive options to fill in my schedule.

Personally, I have attended The Playground ($5, usually improv-based classes), Access 8 Classes at Gibney ($8 with rotating contemporary choreographers), $5 Community Ballet, $5 Ballet and Contemporary Classes at Brooklyn Studios for Dance, Broadway Donation Classes (Theater Dance/Ballet/Hip Hop), donation classes With Allison Cook Beaty Dance (Modern/Rep/Conditioning), and complimentary classes at the Merce Cunningham Trust attached to (free) workshop participation. The Broke Dancer Calendar is also a great resource for finding $10 and under classes.

These classes may not have the hype or schedule convenience of larger studios, but they do offer equal quality instruction (sometimes literally the same instructors) and oftentimes, smaller class sizes. If you keep your eyes open on social media and ask around, there’s a lot out there.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I share my current thoughts on defining professionalism, college vs. conservatories, artist poverty vs. actual poverty, and seriousness.

Me and My Life (Profesh and Unprofesh)

It is profoundly weird and disorienting having summer end and no set structure to go back to. On the other hand, I’m starting to piece together a structure for my post-grad life, and I’m pretty thrilled with some of the pieces! Here’s what’s up with me:

(As usual, you can check the news page of my website for details and a constant supply of self-promotion.)

The internets:

  • First off, I finally gave in and got an Instagram (@nadiainherownworld) after years of avoiding it for no particular reason! I look forward to expanding my skill set by wasting time in ways other than Facebook. I mean networking.

Day-ance

  • I’m really excited to be a part of Gotham Dance Theater, and we’ve recently begun rehearsals for the fall season!
  • In other performance news, I will be dancing in a piece by Joe Monteleone as part of Amalgamate Dance Company’s Guest Artist Showcase! The performance, which also includes work by Douglas Gillespie, Tiffany Mills, and Joya Powell, will be September 17.
  • It still feels way too warm to be hearing snow music, but we’ve begun rehearsals for Giada Ferrone’s Nutcracker NYC: A Contemporary Ballet. Performances December 8 and 9!
  • I recently joined Artery, a platform for hosting/performing at/finding pop-up showcases, and it has been one of my favorite things ever. Basically, I have been improvising solos at various rooftop showcases alongside amazing singers, musicians, dancers, and visual artists, and getting to know some wonderful, supportive people.
    • Stay tuned: my roommates and I are looking to organize an all improv showcase before it gets too cold: all improv, any genre (music, dance, theater, comedy, etc.)

But also…

  • I’m a tutor, office assistant, hopefully soon-to-be dance teaching assistant, and barista-in-training.
  • At the moment, I am also a deeply congested  and foggy person.
  • Yesterday, I got on a train in the wrong direction, spaced out, and drifted to Queens. Clearly, my brain is killing it.
  • I tried trimming my hair with a comb-thing which, from the Amazon reviews, seems to be mostly used by people with long-haired cats. Although I am not exactly the same as as a long-haired cat, I figured that we have enough similarities. It worked pretty well.

Dancing on Roofs to Radiolab

I’ve been spending most of the past week or so at City Center Studios learning and rehearsing Merce Cunningham repertory, which by the way, is a physical tongue twister and an equation and a calve killer and a dance history lesson all at the same time (one might even say we are im-Merce-d *knee slap*). I’m really excited to show what we’ve been working on at the showing on Friday (there will be a live stream too, so check the Cunningham Trust streaming page at 4:30pm!)

But last Friday night, I took my dancing back downtown for a different sort of performance experience, improvising at a rooftop showcase organized by Artery, alongside three other captivating musicians and dancers.

When planning for this show, I was in the process of moving apartments and didn’t have the wifi access to do my usual music search. I considered just dancing to whatever was on my phone–and then realized that mostly included a bunch of NPR Radiolab episodes (I’ve been commuting a lot lately).

My friends immediately told me to go with it, and I did–smashing a few episodes together and throwing in some Gwen Stefani and some of my own sound effects.

Here’s what resulted: let’s call it a little study on curiosity, words, and fear.

A Straightforward Update Post: Nadia Does Things

I’ve recently crossed the post-grad threshold between “nothing is happening” and “why is everything happening at the same time?” and thought I was due for a standard life update blog post. This feels much more straightforward and somewhat more self-promotional than what I normally do here, but hey, I promise I’ll be back with the rambly feel-pieces you know and tolerate soon enough.

As usual, the news page on my website will have all the self-promotional deets.

Right now:

  • I’m in my last weekend of performances of “Genesis 22” with the Woolgatherers Theater Group on Governor’s Island. It’s an immersive piece with six directors showing their various re-interpretations (theater, dance, funny, serious, and everything in-between) of a biblical story. I’m a dancey version of Isaac who finds myself some crazy partnering and ends up with audience members covering me in candles.
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Photo by Nathan Luttrull and Jan Paulo Musni. Choreography by Caedra Scott-Flaherty.

One of the most challenging things about immersive theater, I’m realizing, is repetition. We repeat our 20 minute piece four times during each performance, as audience members explore and cycle through the different rooms. Not only is this physically demanding, but it also requires that we bring a similar focus and energy to each run–whether it happens to be in a near-empty room or filled with vocal group of 8-year-olds from a summer camp on the island. However, it’s also a chance to really dig into one piece of material and discover new things each time.

More Dancey Things Coming Up That Have Me Pumped:

  • The day after our last show on the island, I’m jumping right in to a performance workshop with the Merce Cunningham Trust. We’ll be training in Cunningham technique and re-staging Cunningham’s 1973 work “Changing Steps” for a performance on August 11.
  • The week after that, on August 18 I’ll be performing in a piece with Trainor Dance at the Battery Dance Festival.

New things starting up:

  • I recently joined Dance/NYC’s Junior Committee, a group of young professionals with various roles in the dance field who come together to discuss relevant social and economic issues. I’m one of the communications coordinators, and we’re looking for ways to use our blog and social media to expand give these discussions a public platform and wider visibility.

Particularly as I am primarily pursuing performance right now, I want to reject the expectation that performers are just silent, voiceless bodies to be used. I’m clearly too opinionated for that, so I’m excited to have a space where I can have a voice and create platforms for more voices in the dance community to be heard.

  • I’m just starting writing for Reductress.com, my favorite source of ironically faux-feminist satire! I always thought that puns and sarcasm would end up being my marketable skills.

Stuff that keeps going:

  • I continue to be a dance class junky and love meeting other dance class junkies of various persuasions, so I’m having a great time taking class in a variety of styles through Mark Morris Dance Center’s work-study program.
  • Generating income is hard. I’m looking for tutoring demand to start picking up as kiddos head back to school.

Between the profesh stuff…

  • As you may have noticed from the previous picture, I have significantly less hair now, and I love it!

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  • My sister popped in last weekend to go to a Mashrou’ Leila concert with me (if you don’t know them, they are a socially-concious Lebanese alt-rock group with dope music videos that you should check out). It was both amazing and perhaps the gayrab-est thing I have been to. I tried really hard to get them to sign my shoe and barely failed.
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So close though.

  • I’m trying to move apartments at the end of this month! Fortunately, I don’t have that much stuff (it’s not “minimalism,” it’s just not having much stuff).

On my personal project back-burner: 

  • A dance film called “Neutral Pelvis” (Can pelvises really be neutral though, ya know?)
  • A sorta-historical essay about the role of White Jesus in legal race construction

 

Keeping Stuff Separate (Normal People Edition)

Sometimes I am shocked and fascinated by how cleanly compartmentalized many people’s lives seem to be:

You go to work, which is something you do for money and not fun. You are paid based on what you can do and how good you are at it, which is unrelated to who you are and how good of a person you are.

And work hours are for working hard and shouldn’t be squandered on chatting or joking or mindwandering or checking social media. Work is payed precisely because there are other things you’d rather be doing.

But there is no reason to check your work email or plan out your latest project after hours. Don’t squander your free time–you’re not being paid.

Of course you are a fun person with recreational interests, which are enjoyable and relaxing. There is no reason for these interests to be a source of intense effort or stress, because they are not your job.

And of course you care about being good, so you siphon off some money (and maybe even some time) from the regular part of your budget to donate to charity. You get reminders for this kind of stuff once or twice a year, so its no big deal if you forget the rest of the time.

And obviously you have a personal life too: you should expect to fall in love by going on dates in which you meet for the purpose of mutually evaluating each other as sexual and romantic prospects. These people should ideally have no other significance in your life outside this context, though the goal is that they become your most significant other

And though they should be ideally be people with whom you share similar values and enjoy being around, they should never be compared to “friends,” a category of people who belong in a completely discrete zone.

And don’t bring up politics on a date, because that’s not part of polite conversation. What’s politics got to do with love?

And certainly don’t bring up your love life in a pollitical context, because that’s vulgar and inappropriate. What’s love got to do with politics?

And obviously, don’t talk about love or politics at work. These things are of no professional relevance.

You should care about serious issues like violence and discrimination, of course. It is important to make time each evening to stay updated on such issues, so that when the occasion calls for it, you can voice your concerns in such somber, sober conversations. There are no jokes and no smiling in these talks. How insensitive could you be to discuss big, serious issues as if they were everyday problems?

And the rest of the time, don’t be a downer who brings up race or bombs in fun, casual conversations. Such big, serious issues have no place in everyday life. You shouldn’t have to think about those things when you’re not trying to think about them.

Your body is relevant insofar as it is a sexual object or a subject of medical interest. You dedicate maybe an hour each day to intentionally rigorous physical exertion for those reasons. The rest of the time you can mostly disregard your material existence. (If it gives you aggressive signals to pay attention to it, there are ways to drown that out.)

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I assume that this all makes perfect sense to plenty of people. Personally, compartmentalization has never been my strength.

Lately I’ve been questioning the implications of pursuing artistic careers in which the lines between professional, personal, and pollitical are pretty nonexistent. On one hand, it seems much more natural to me to be living life as an interconnected whole. And I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to do that (or at least try).

On the other hand, when you get your professional ambitions, artistic passion, pollitical expression, personal relationships, physical and emotional health, and income all hopelessly tied up in one another, it seems terrifyingly easy to let one of them pull the others out of whack.

There are advantages to keeping stuff separate, I guess.