Things I’ve Learned This Year (2019)

Hey all and congrats on revolving around the sun again! It’s truly revolutionary. Though I haven’t been as present here lately, I’m back with little assortment of things I learned this year  (like last year). 

Input and environment are as much a part of artmaking as output.

I began the year feeling that I didn’t have the right environment, audience, collaborators, or knowledge to effectively make the work I was most interested in. While prior commitments kept me making, I decided to spend more of my spare energy surrounding myself with people and ideas that inspired me, rather than initiating projects. My choices may not have seemed productive or professionally focused from the outside, but I trusted (correctly) that my work would be soon to follow my changes in perspective. 

Exceptionalism is usually incorrect and deeply overrated.

What’s better than claiming a trophy spot as the first and only something? Researching and highlighting the (perhaps under-acknowledged) work of those who came before you. Connecting with and supporting others with similar experiences and aspirations. Holding the door open for others to join you. 

Hierarchies of performance are pretty arbitrary.

I’ve continued to perform in a variety of environments from concert stages to nightclubs to schools to art exhibits to festivals.  Things that are not as correlated as I once believed: many people attend, how much rehearsal (or even training) is needed, how much it’s paid, how invested I feel in the work, and how “impressive” the gig looks on my resume. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–each performance experience offers a different type of value–but it has made me further detach from hierarchies of prestige within the dance world and prioritize projects on my own terms. 

No level of wokeness exempts people from human psychology.

No one is too feminist to remain in an abusive relationship. No one is too vocally body positive to struggle with eating disorders. No one is too informed about psychology to need therapy. Human brains remain human regardless of education or politics. Let’s accept this reality for ourselves and others so we don’t overlook or further stigmatize our struggles.

If you’re terribly embarrassed by your past self, that’s just a sign that you’re growing as a person…

…so I guess I should be proud to be deeply embarrassed by who I was less than a year ago. Though I cringe, I also thank previous versions of myself for awkwardly and openly stumbling through ideas, spaces, and roles they didn’t yet know how to navigate so that I can move through the world a bit more smoothly today.

People can have great politics but be bad humans.

(For the record, no, I don’t think the reverse of this statement is equally true.)

A healthy relationship with conflict is essential. 

It’s equally harmful to arbitrarily stir up conflict with no purpose and to be too averse to conflict to assert any values. (I have sometimes fallen into the latter category.) Choosing when and how to productively engage in with disagreement and criticism is a skill that I’ve come to really respect and prioritize developing.

Words are less important than the meanings behind them.

People can use the same word to mean different things and different words to mean the same thing. There are people doing great work without the perfect terminology attached to it, and there are people skillfully co-opting the language of social justice for marketing or personal manipulation. Language is an important tool to help us understand each other’s perspectives but when we over-fixate on words and miss the perspectives behind them, we end up picking the wrong battles.

Everyone is an authority on their own experience.

Any room I am in is filled with people who have lived different lives than me and know things I don’t. Though this once made me afraid of leader/teacher/facilitator roles, I am learning how leading a room can be about authorizing, organizing, and channeling the wealth of knowledge, rather than trying to provide all of it. 

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.

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Remember how I learned something in 2013, 2014, 2015? Well guess what–I did it again.

  1. “Doing it all” is kind of an overrated goal. “Doing some of it really well at a reasonable pace, and also having time to sleep, socialize, and be a person” is kind of an underrated one.
  2. Being interested in the ideas behind a field is different than enjoying the daily practice of it. Both are important if you want to be happy doing it.
    • Personally, I encounter this tension whenever I find an area of academic research super important and compelling, but realize that sitting alone in a library or in front of a computer all day makes me want to smash things. Ideally, I’d like to find ways to engage with ideas I’m interested in through practices I enjoy.
  3. Don’t trust people who always say it’s gonna be okay—it’s statistically unlikely. (Cheerleaders have a pretty bad accuracy record. So do some pollitical pundits.)
  4. Lots of people manage to have impressive careers without actually doing their jobs very well. My working theory is that whoever is mediocre the loudest and most confidently wins.
    • Or in the long-term, maybe whoever sticks around the longest wins.
  5. There is a such thing as trying too hard.
  6. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill. One that I’m going to need next year on several levels.
    • I did a lot of improv this semester, including a 15 minute piece of semistructured group improvisation on stage. In the process, I got pretty used to not knowing what situation I’m going to find myself in, but knowing that I can rely on the tools and skills I’ve developed to deal with it. And if I’m out of ideas, sometimes the best choice is to stop and look to the people around me.
  7. Ironic understatement is one of the overlooked love languages.
  8. Lots of companies/organizations project a positive/progressive image, but if you take a look at their internal practices, you might get a different picture.
  9. You know how some people gain so much academic knowledge but loose the ability to use common sense or talk in straightforward language? Or some dancers gain so much technical and performance training but loose the ability to walk naturally or dance at a party? Especially as I’m coming out of school, my goal is to make sure that whatever new/fancy/advanced skills I gain are supplementing, not replacing, whatever I had before.
  10. Half of knowing how to have a good conversation is knowing how to listen.
  11. Theories and frameworks can be useful ways to organize and understand reality. But if reality isn’t fitting your theory, you should probably rethink the theory, not the reality.
  12. People are always interpreting what they learn–news, history, other people–through the lens of narratives they already know. Sometimes that makes us ignore the people and events that don’t fit the pre-established narratives.
    • And if your reality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative, it’s a good opportunity to get an alternative narrative out into the world.
  13. One way to deal with feeling misunderstood is to get better at explaining yourself.
  14. Multiple famous/cool people died this year, but there are also lots of cool people still alive. We can appreciate those people too.
  15. Most things described as “it’s complicated” and “it’s a long story” can actually be summed up in one sentence.
  16. It’s been three years, and I’m still not sure what this blog is about.

Things I Learned This Semester: Round 6

Another semester, another batch of vague bite-sized Junior Wisdom:

  • Distinguish between what you’re interested in and what you’re truly excited by. (A comment from my friend’s advisor on thesis topics which has got me reevaluating lots of life choices).
  • Buying the larger size leggings is always the better decision.
  • Being okay with being seen doing things you’re bad at is a skill that gets better with practice (i.e. Me taking hip hop. And classical variations).
    • It’s also a really awesome skill which expands the range of experiences you can say yes to and things you can learn.
  • You don’t have to make yourself stop caring about what people think. You can just start caring so much about what your doing that it overrides that other stuff.
  • Taking fewer classes and actually having enough time to think about them is a good setup, if you can make it happen.
  • Coffee is not the same thing as sleep. Only sleep is sleep.
  • If you don’t know, ask the question. If you kinda know but maybe not, ask the question anyway.
  • Activism doesn’t have to have a particular form or tone to count. Activism can (and should) look like a lot of things.
  • Even super legit arts organizations and nonprofits which appear to have their finances together actually don’t. Which is really depressing from a systemic perspective, but maybe a little bit comforting personally to know that your financial issues are not a reflection of your value, talent, or legitimacy.
  • If you wait until you have it all figured out to start talking, you’re gonna be silently waiting for a long time.
  • Caring is the new Not Caring.
    • *(Not really–Not Caring is still probably cooler, but I’m trying to make caring happen.)
  • I’m way better at dealing with problems when they’re other people’s problems.
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I didn’t learn how to draw, but I did get really bored this week…

15 Things I Learned in 2015

Well, since I made lists for 2013 and 2014, I guess I should make another one for this year (or at least everything since my last semester-ly list).

  1. A one-month trial of Microsoft Office can last forever if you never restart your computer.
  2. Cooking sounds a lot more appealing at the beginning of the semester.
  3. Don’t underestimate how much people can change (in all the best and worst ways).
  4. Don’t underestimate how much the world can change (in all the best and worst ways).
  5. Professional success is sometimes more about making friends than being the “best.” I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.
  6. You don’t have to be everything that you admire in other people.
  7. I need prioritize taking care of my body or this “young and invincible” thing is gonna run out fast (i.e. sleep and adequate warm-ups are not optional).
  8. Yoga is awesome.
  9. Perceiving things categorically (starting with sounds and colors) is neurologically efficient, but that doesn’t mean it reflects reality.
  10. Those who don’t learn history are destined to make up their own version of it.
  11. The person grading your paper actually does want you to do well–it’s so much easier and less of a downer to grade.
  12. Things which may actually be a contest to see who avoids quitting the longest: dance, blogging.
  13. If you can make five-year-olds learn something, adults are a breeze.
  14. If you want to see our society’s sexist and racist assumptions spelled out without the usual coding or denial, listen to kids. And sometimes presidential candidates.
  15. Comedy is really a nuanced, powerful, and generally underrated art. No joke.

Happy New Year y’all! Have fun and don’t make too many resolutions!

14 Things I Learned in 2014

Last year I did a 13 Things I Learned in 2013 list, so surprise, I’m back with 14 more for this year (mostly from this semester, since I already made a first year of college list).

  1. Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
  2. You don’t get bonus points for making yourself miserable while you do it.
  3. Very rarely will will my regrets include “I wish I had stayed home and studied more.”
  4. Wikipedia surfing may teach you as much as college. If you do it way too long.
  5. Accusing people of “oversensitivity” makes no sense when you realize the guts it takes to call people out. (This applies even if you think that person is wrong and even if they are.) Why is the alternative (fearful, uncomfortable silence) equated to “toughness,” whatever that means?
  6. 5 dining swipes a week can take you surprisingly far if you milk them for all they’re worth (and by that I mean taking out cups filled with milk. And cereal. And bread. And peanut butter. I think you get the idea.)
  7. If you let people see you at your worst once, you’ll have nothing to hide (this applies to pirouettes and emotions and sweatpants).
  8. Who knows what “being yourself” really means, but stopping-being-what-you-know-you’re-really-not is a good step.
  9. Actually doing all the reading for class may not be the most time-efficient approach, but it certainly has its charm.
  10. Spotify.
  11. Opposites can attract, but that doesn’t mean they won’t blow up at each other when they meet.
  12. It’s okay to make space for the people who make space for you, instead of leaving empty holes for those who won’t.
  13. Events that don’t advertise the free food have the best free food.
  14. It’s okay to act like you care.

Things I’ve Learned in my First Year of College

  • Everything interesting happens after 3 am.
  • That doesn’t mean that everything that happens after 3 am is always interesting.
  • Waiting until after 3 am to find out is not the best strategy when you have ballet class the next morning.
  • A lot of people here are good at talking, but the best thing is when you find people who are really good at listening.
  • Asking people for permission or asking if something is possible only gives people the opportunity to tell you “no.” Do it before someone talks you out of it.
  • Your grade isn’t always correlated with how good you feel about your work, and that’s okay. That won’t even change much after you see the grade, and that’s probably a good thing. It means you have your own standards.
  • Emotions, moods, sleep, and weather affect your dancing. Much more than you would like. We’re human.
  • Pretty much everything that happens in life can be analyzed in terms of some social theory. That doesn’t mean that everyone around you wants to hear it.
  • Cronuts are overrated.
  • Once you do something once, you’re way more likely to keep doing it.
  • “Productive mode” is not always the best. You find/make some of the best things by wandering.
  • Friendships don’t happen because you have a lot in common with each other or objectively seem like a good match. They happen because of chance and physical proximity and stupid little points of initial bonding which end up developing into something way more meaningful and transformative than it is perfect or reasonably predictable.
  • Genuinely asking people to explain their views can be a lot more interesting/valuable than just arguing back.
  • A lot of people are willing to get outraged over things. Fewer people are actually willing to change things. That’s because it’s harder and confusing and easy to screw up. But I still want to be in that second category more often.
  • Listening to/belting out early 2000s pop songs is an instant bonding activity. I get old people and their nostalgia.
  • Massage trains appear abnormal from the outside.
  • Go ahead and stretch with other people in your room. People will get used to you. Once people see something about three times, it’s “normal.” Or close enough.
  • People are drawn to “real.” I’m not exactly sure what that is yet.
  • Don’t be afraid of being “clingy.” Life goes too fast not to have something or someone to cling to. And most people really want to cling back.
  • Just because other people don’t seem to talk about their problems, doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Literally everyone has problems.
  • “Home” is a flexible concept.
  • You and your work doesn’t have to be the “best” to have value.
  • Wanting is different from liking.
  • The “real world” is not as far over your head as you think it is.
  • There is always subtext.