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.



You were my rock, in that I felt you poking around between my toes longer than I could ignore, so I had to take you out.

You were my rock that I kept kicking down the road, until I got bored.

You were my rock, in that I was silly enough to think I could just paint a smiling face on you and call you my pet.

You were my rock, and I wanted a collection.

You were my rock, in that I looked at you and saw the work of art you would be once I chipped away the extra parts.

You were my rock, but I wasn’t much of a sculptor.


Ticklish Spots

“Laughter is a defense mechanism,” she warned me. 

I smiled, “Yeah, it’s my favorite one!”

Ticklish spots are located in the most vulnerable parts of your body. They’re highly sensitive locations, dense with receptors for touch and pain. If you’re a particularly ticklish individual, they’re often places of tension, where thick layers of fascia wrapped around the muscles have solidified, forming adhesions. They’re the places where you could feel excruciating pain if anyone were to dig in too deep.

But few will ever get that far. A light touch on the spot will send you into a bout of laughter, a playful grin on your face as you retract away and shake the hands off of you. You complicate the job for doctors and lovers and TSA agents, but you complicate it with a smile.

And through the discomfort, all you will do is laugh and shake them off–so long as no one comes in too close and presses too hard.

Sometimes you wonder what might happen if you were to let someone keep digging through the tight spots. You would laugh more and more until you couldn’t anymore. Eventually, as they’d comb through the knotted layers of flesh, it might break up some of that scar tissue, release some of that nagging tension, un-train your convulsive reflex.

But as the blood vessels tangled up in those knots would rupture, the blood flowing to the surface, dark bruises would reveal to the world just where you can be hurt. And the unmasked pain on your face would reveal just how much.

So you remind yourself that, tight and twisted as it may be, you built up that impenetrable wall of fascia for a reason. And maybe not all knots are meant to be unraveled.

Besides, laughing is cute and releases endorphins.

Journal Bits: Life-(is always)-Changing

In honor of #ThrowbackSunday I thought I’d post another journal bit from my Paris trip:

It’s a cliche to call study abroad experiences “life changing.” The more cynical types would roll their eyes and call that an overstatement. I would just call it redundant. Life is always changing. 

Every moment, every choice inevitably alters the course of what comes after it. Maybe not a lot, but a little. Big, pivotal moments matter, but so do the little choices, the little micro-turns you make everyday until you find yourself headed in another direction.

I’m thinking about this as I’m reaching the end of my time in college and getting ready for life as a real person/professional/adult/whatever. I used to assume that my life trajectory would be shaped by “big” decisions–what school to go to; what major and career to choose; what city to live in–but it has been and will be shaped just as much by the little choices that accumulate day after day–whether to show up for class; whether to warm up; whether to stay and talk; whether to ask that question; whether to go out; whether to sleep; whether to make one more little dance or write one more little thing.

For what it’s worth, I guess that as much difficulty I’ve had with declaring the “big” choice to “be a dancer,”  I’ve been pretty unwavering about my daily choice to dance, as much as I possibly can. I think that matters.

Anyway, what I think I’m saying is that being in Paris is life-changing, and so is being in school as usual, and so is being at home, ridiculously bored, thinking about where I wish I was, what I wish I was doing, and what the hell I’m going to do with the rest of the day.


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.

Semester Recap: Things I Learned

  • Say yes, then figure out how–that’s how you realize what you’re capable of.
  • Or say no. No can also be a smart, sane, necessary choice.
  • Possible ≠ good for you.
  • On the other hand, testing the boundaries of possibility is fun and informative.
  • No one is actually a real adult with their shit together. Some are just better at pretending.
  • Talking under pressure is hard. I think we should be less harsh on babbling pageant contestants, because some of my phone interviews have probably made incoherent Miss America speeches seem pretty brilliant.
  • The archetype of the asshole genius is overrated. There are enough people in all fields, who are doing brilliant work and being genuinely kind, generous people, who provide a better model to aspire to. Success doesn’t mandate an overinflated ego–that’s just an excuse.
  • When I say “I don’t know,” it sometimes means “I’m not ready to admit what I really want.”
  • Life is a series of rejections with a few key exceptions.
  • It’s not about whether you mess up. It’s about how you mess up.
  • Sometimes there’s not an app for that.
  • Stress doesn’t really crush you until you feel like you’re dealing with it alone.
  • Sometimes, having someone ask “are you doing okay?” can mean everything.
  • “Independence” is a lie. We’re all dependent on the help and work of other people, even if we pretend otherwise. And I think that acknowledging help beats faking independence.
  • Don’t skip the hard parts.
  • Some people have it a lot harder.
  • Dancing is actually the best.