Things I Learned This Year Part 1 (Spaces)

I usually wrap up the arbitrary time interval of the Gregorian calendar with some “Things I Learned post(s) (like this, this, this, or this). This year, I’m feeling splainy, so I’m gonna break it into a few chunks. starting with some loosely tied reflections on spaces. 

The same work/idea can read tremendously differently in different contexts.
What is considered “funny,” “novel,” “intense,” or “radical,” is so defined by the venue and audience.

The environment and people I’m working with matter more to me than I previously thought.
This applies both to artistic and non-artistic work. But in particular, I expected that I would be so eager (and desperate) for dance jobs that I would tolerate any toxicity surrounding them. On the contrary, as I’ve gotten more professional experience, I’m realizing how much the people, practices, and values surrounding me influence both my happiness and quality of work, and this really affects how I choose projects.

Dance performances can be more fun, interesting, and effective outside of the usual dance concerts.
Many of the performances I’ve been doing lately have involved performing contemporary dance in non-dance venues, including art galleries, music concerts, theater festivals, and open mics. I’ve found refreshingly un-jaded audiences, taken feedback from new perspectives, absorbed some useful creative and business practices from different types of artists, and met lots of cool people outside the concert dance bubble.

Don’t mistake comfort for familiarity. Your comfort zone might be something you haven’t stepped into.
Turns out I enjoy acrobatics, drag, spoken word poetry, and talking on podcasts. I’ve also been reevaluating the social spaces I’ve been in for the last few years–which ones was I actually at home in and which ones was I just competent at navigating?

Identity-specific spaces can be freeing in ways I didn’t know I needed.
I didn’t use to seek out identity-specific spaces, with a variety of excuses: because I felt I didn’t “need” them, because I didn’t want to be exclusively defined by identity markers, or because I assumed I wasn’t the perfect prototype of someone who would belong in that community. I was wrong.

Some of my favorite experiences and relationships this year have come through identity-centric communities. Ironically, I suddenly felt less defined by those identities (since they were the least distinctive thing about me in context). However, I was also free to reflect on parts of my life I often censor, downplay, or have to over-explain and “represent positively.” With fewer walls up, I found myself becoming a more open, relaxed, creative version of myself, that I hope to bring into more aspects of my life.




Cheap strippers might bare it all for a few bucks,
but we’re artists here–
we’ll do it for the mere exposure.

When empty hands talk
up their “great exposure”
they knock our covers off
and bring us to their feet,
because we know they know we think
to be more seen must be a good thing.

So turn up the exposure:
show your soul and your skin and any dark place in between–
you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t desperate be seen.

Shed another layer, shed another light, shed another tear or more,
until you’re washed out in bright lights
from overexposure.


You’re probably not wondering where I’ve been for the last week or so, but the great thing about blogging is that I’m going tell you anyway. Or at least the SparkNotes version:

    • Gave a lecture for the Intro Psych class I TA (Or half a lecture, anyway).

We’re in it for the citations.

    • Wrote a thing about sarcasm:

      Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 9.49.55 PM

      I dedicate a disproportionate amount of my paper-writing energies toward making bad puns.

    • Wrote a thing involving the Polar Express, high-fashion prosthetics, and point-light displays of yoga. School is weird.
    • Stopped sleeping, fell apart, and started sleeping again.
    • Danced in a show and another show.
    • Ripped most of my toenail off onstage while dancing in a show.
    • Taped it togther and danced again.
    • Danced with a dinosaur:

Things that Blow My Mind #4857: Appalachian Spring Was Originally About Abolitionism

Stuff I learn while working on a dance history paper:

Nothing says shiny, idealized American history like Appalachian Spring. The Aaron Copland score is recognized as a quintessential representation of rural Americana. And Martha Graham’s ballet shows pioneers, a preacher, and a newly married couple making a life on the frontier.

(I personally prefer to watch Martha as a murderous mythological madwoman, but I guess this was also a thing . . . )

But that’s not the history they started out with. Graham sent Copland a series of scripts outlining her vision of the then-untitled piece, which changed significantly during the process. The first included a scene based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was cut early on. The second, which Copland used to compose the score, still included an abolitionist figure based on John Brown and a fugitive slave, as well as an “Indian Girl” figure.

For whatever reason–maybe the potential political controversy–these figures were cut from Graham’s final piece. But when Aaron Copland was writing the soundtrack to your images of an ideal, whitewashed American past, he was thinking about the Civil War and racial conflict.

Just think about that.

Kind of turns the whole iconography of American exceptionalism on its head, right?

For more on this subject, check out Mark Franko’s book Martha Graham in Love and War.

In other news, I’m currently in tech week for two different shows this weekend. So this week’s activities are brought to you by Starbucks™.

Updates (In which I do less than It All)

Things I did this weekend:

  • Performed in the Barnard dance department show at New York Live Arts. The choreographers and dancers were absolutely killing it this year with some beautiful, intelligent, and hilarious work (in addition to being generally awesome people to be around all day).
  • Wrote two papers and a presentation.
  • Struggled with the subway system.
  • Tried really hard not to neglect my parents who flew in to see me.

Choreography by the fabulous Caitlin Trainor. Photo by the fabulous Julia Cervantes. 

Things I didn’t do:

  • Laundry

It’s really really been awhile. I need to catch up before I revert to my super-seasonally-inappropriate clothing reserve and excessive body spray as an alternative to washing.

In related news, I think this is gonna be my new go-to answer for questions like “Is it possible to do dance and academics?”–Yes, but not laundry.

I’m pretty sure this is also the definitive answer to the perpetual question of “Can women Have it All?” (Which women? What’s “all?” No one really seems to care)–No: they can either have a reasonable laundry schedule or everything else, but not both. 

(Feel free to pull that out in interviews, female CEOs.)

I’m gonna go do laundry now.

The Recap

Where have I been this last week? you may or may not be wondering: Actually doing stuff. What stuff? you may or wish to know: why, let me tell you.

This past weekend was the dance department show, which was one of the most intense performances I have been in, and also one of my favorites. The first piece I was in was a contemporary ballet piece by Diane Coburn Bruning. We were in pointe shoes, knee pads and jumpsuits, jumping on our knees, slapping ourselves, and generally being fierce, mad warrior women in a scene of twisted beauty. And we had a live string quartet.

Siege  Choreography by Diane Coburn Bruning  Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Choreography by Diane Coburn Bruning
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

After an intermission, I was back onstage in a restaging of Mark Morris’ Gloria, which is one of the most musically interesting and challenging pieces I have done (he does some beautifully unexpected things with Vivaldi), and a piece that we got really emotionally attached to as a cast. It’s also a 30 minute piece with a lot of jumping, so I kind of wondered whether I would make it through tech week and three shows (spoiler: I did.)

Gloria Choreography by Mark Morris Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Choreography by Mark Morris
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

This New York Times reviewer was not really a fan, but hey, I’ll include a link anyway, because there’s no shame in getting negative reviews. (Even if they misspell “pointe,” for instance.)

I had a little bit of a post-performance slump afterwards. I guess after all the excitement and and adrenaline calmed down, I realized that I was really exhausted. Not to mention that emotional hole that’s left when things end. And it didn’t exactly help that I had planned to finish one or more huge final papers the next day . . . that didn’t really work. I did, however, get to spend some time with my mom who was visiting for the weekend, which was really nice.

Monday was my last day of classes for the semester. That all happened fast. And slow. And probably at a moderate tempo too.

Yesterday I spent most of the day writing papers and hopping between review sessions (can’t complain–I got some really good free pizza and cupcakes out of those). In between all of that, I went out to see NYCB with a group from my ballet class, and we obnoxiously fangirled over our teacher Antonio Carmena, who was doing a principle part in Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements.

I think we're cute.

I think we’re cute.

I finally finished and turned in my final paper for my experimental psych class today. Our experiment may not have been the most legit (small sample probz–did you know that most college students actually don’t want to participate in a 30 minute survey with no compensation which involves doing math?), but I think the topic itself–stereotype-threat and socioeconomic status–is really interesting and important. The gist of what we found is that being reminded of socioeconomic status makes low-income students test worse and change their behavior/language to avoid stereotypes, and this sucks, and universities should care.

Now for another paper. And finals

Maybe in all the stress, I won’t have time to notice the weird, reverberating emptiness of all this being over. And I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

Why are Peasants in Ballet Always Happy? (And Other Pressing Questions)

Finishing off the first of two very intense weeks (with a lot of paper-writing and number-crunching, and even more studio time), I had my first show today, performing Coppelia with our student ballet group. My performance went pretty well, especially considering that I learned one of the pieces pretty last minute (though there were some technical difficulties with the music in the second act, which demanded some serious creative improvisation from the people onstage).

Of course, nothing says performance weekend like semi-sensical backstage commentary. Some selected conversations from me and other dancers:

“Look happy–you’re peasants. Wait, why are peasants in ballets always happy?”
(Later) “It’s because they’ve already plotted the revolution!”

“Why are hours dancing at a wedding?”
“Is measured time really a friend you want at your wedding? Or does it invite itself?”

When, unfortunately, one dancer is sick, leaving the waltz short an hour:
“It’s about daylight savings time!”
“It’s about special relativity!”
“It means we’re going to die sooner!”

The new hook-up culture:



On an unrelated note, check out these videos I danced in last weekend with a few friends from my internship: