This Time It’s Personal

I meant to write this last night when I got home from teaching and taking class myself but I was asleep by 11.

The word of the yesterday: desiccateverb- meaning to dry out or make dull (Cool words make me feel better)

Huge ridiculous meltdown yesterday. I started the day on an extreme high with my interview with the Director of Dance St. Louis, but adrenaline was pumping like mad from the minute that I woke up (late). I think luck was on my side because I parked in an illegal lot downtown to be close to the Arts Center and managed to escape a ticket. Also, I felt that the interview went extremely well. More on that later.

Anyways, I left feeling incredibly motivated and excited for the future of dance in St. Louis, for my own future- even to the point that the idea of NOT getting into grad school and escaping to New York is not at all terrible anymore. I almost hope that I don’t get in. (I’ll at least avoid that ridiculous tuition, AKA student loan debt) I feel like I’m meeting people and institutions that share my values and support not only the arts, but me as an individual. I feel like I’ve been fighting to be seen as the artist I want to be ever since Butler and I’m finally getting close to some of those goals. Well, sort of, anyways.

Definitely not as a dancer. I feel like my motto ever since leaving Louisville in 2009 has been, ‘Wow, I’m so out-of-shape!’ When I take breaks from dance, I am lucky that I retain most if not all of my flexibility. But my strength goes straight out the window, and strength is crucial for technique. Flexibility is just a finishing touch. After my season ended in Louisville, I barely danced at all between April and September, when my season started with Roxey Ballet in new Jersey. So I was out of shape to begin with. The reason why I was so excited to take that job was because of the call-back audition where I spent an entire day taking ballet then pointe then yoga then repertoire with the director, which was challenging contemporary. I thought I would become the strong, technically sound ballet dancer that I wanted to be and perform new and interesting work. Yeah, that didn’t so much happen. Between September to January when I left, the director did not teach a SINGLE class. I think he sat in on maybe four rehearsals. One of the company members taught class and he was a great teacher, but it just isn’t as motivating as having the person responsible for casting staring down your sloppy 5th position. And from January to….August I did a handful of classes in St. louis and New York or shows with more pedestrian kind of movement that required great musicality and performance but not-so-much classroom technique.

In my last season with a ballet company in st. Louis, I showed up a total mess and don’t think by May, I had improved much on that. I could blame the (in-my-opinion) poorly constructed, lazy technique classes, the over-all lack of professionalism, the lack of inspiration and motivation, but I know for myself that I wanted to dance a certain way, and if you don’t get what you need from class there are exercises you can do outside of class to gain strength. It is my fault that I didn’t motivate myself to do more. It’s hard when you feel like it’s all you can do to show up and get through it, let alone feeling some drive and passion, especially if you don’t feel it from your teachers and director. I remember having one class where I was saying in my head, ‘Jess, this is what you’ve wanted to do all of your life and in this environment, you aren’t even feeling pressure regarding body-size so be grateful, work harder, and enjoy yourself’….and I just couldn’t.  I think there was a cocktail of problems from my outside personal life, my uncertainty about the future, and the actual work being done in the studio that accounted for feeling miserable every single day. At this time last year, I think I had almost given up on myself and decided that yes, I love dance, but if I can’t do it the way I would want to see it on a stage, then I should find something else to do with my time. I’m conceited enough to believe that I can be exceptional at something, and I’d rather be great at something than mediocre at dance, even if it is the thing I love most.

A pigeon's delusions of Grandeur found via Matchbook Magazine)

I don’t know where the months of October, November, and December went. Down the toilet. I just completely stopped caring about anything; dance, my friends, my health. Somewhere in the time of starting at Alive, and getting to review some truly amazing shows and just finishing my application for grad school I very slowly have come back to those feelings of motivation- of striving for something, and of course for me, it’s always arts related. Teaching people who are so eager to learn and excited has also been so helpful for me, to the point that I not only want to deliver the best classes I can, but to share in that excitement. I started going back to class about a week and a half ago and besides teaching, I’ve taken some form of dance myself almost every day. And I’m happy to say that mostly I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, even though it’s torturous on my weak body and even more harrying on my self-esteem. I’ve based most of my self-worth on the fact that I’m an accomplished dancer for such a long time, to face yourself in the mirror and realize that you flat-out stink makes me feel completely worthless.

I have zero upper-body strength and my cardio is dreadful. So enter in my schedule- Anthony Redd William’s cardio hip hop class (feel free to laugh at the idea of me doing hip hop- it is indeed hilarious). This class is really fun, high energy, I love the music, Redd is an amazing teacher…but it’s pretty much 45 minutes of jumping, throwing your arms around, and fast, strong movement in constant plie (bent knees)…in other words, all things I’m bad at. I tend to feel accomplished if I can just get through it, let alone look even remotely good.  I think that’s the general feeling from most of the people in class.

Mostly everyone is in their 20’s I would guess, and I would say it’s mostly people without a lot of dance experience who are just trying to move and stay in shape. You would think I’d have the upper hand in there, having been a professional. I can at least pick up the moves. There was a fun move we did yesterday that entailed: 4 jumps, then stick out your left hip as the right foot goes out and right arm goes up, then switch to sticking your right hip out and switching the arms. Really not hard. and we did it a million times and the girl standing next to me still couldn’t figure it out. She looked like a confused spastic cheerleader. The sad thing is, she still looked better than me. Why? Because I had to stop. I thought I was going to pass out. I’m the only person in the entire class of loonies that couldn’t even keep up. Total failure.

I'm Tired!! (photo cred; Matt Seimens)

I think a big part of that was because I hardly got any sleep and I only ate breakfast. And in my sick way, until I realized that I had no energy after teaching for almost 3 hours and then trying to take a cardio class, thought that was an accomplishment. It’s kind of confusing, I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve danced for six hours on a cup of coffee and an apple and didn’t feel like this. Maybe I was used to it, or maybe I was just younger. Again, in my warped attitude towards my body and health, a part of me is berating myself for not still being that way, and seeing that as the goal.  I don’t know if anyone else has ever been this crazy, but it is an exhausting process to hate yourself and beat yourself up for not being better, thinner, prettier, smarter, every minute. I don’t think a day of my life has gone by in over ten years where I haven’t been obsessed with becoming a better dancer and becoming thinner (even if I didn’t do anything about those desires, meaning even more negative self-talk)

So yesterday was just a total break down of the self for me- between that feeling of renewed hope and energy from the first part of the day, to taking that motivation into a negative realm where I thought ‘well if I’m going back to dance and being given all of these opportunities, I can’t disappoint anyone so I can’t eat’ and then giving everything I have as a teacher and then seeing myself failing in class, it was a slippery unhealthy slope to sweating buckets and then crying my eyes out when I got home. Good God, I feel dehydrated.

It is really easy for me to be motivated towards an end goal, out of pressure or fear. I actually have an old calendar that I used to keep where I would either write ‘Failure‘ or “success’ on each day. Success looked like: exercised a certain amount, ate a certain amount, perfect blood sugars. I think in some weird way, it kept me more motivated to write that I was a failure over and over and over. But I really don’t want to be this way anymore.

On the Up and Up (found via Matchbook Magazine Tumblr)

I am a person of extremes. I’m either good or bad, things are all or nothing. To be ok with myself I must push  myself in class, and to even go to class, I must have eaten a small or nonexistent amount so that I can stand to look at myself in the mirror, and more importantly so that I will take my insulin. If I feel that I’ve eaten too much, I won’t take my medicine to avoid gaining weight and then I feel so incredibly sick that I can’t move at all, let alone dance.  I feel constantly afraid that I’m going to ‘mess up’ and then the whole day is ruined. I find it hard to have the strength to take my medicine and go to class just to work hard and enjoy it if I don’t feel good about my body, and I feel equally bad about myself if I decide that i won’t put myself through the self-bashing of going to class and will still take the medicine and eat properly. it has to be all or nothing and I don’t know where to forgive myself if I don’t tick off every box to feel like I’ve succeeded that day.

So today the word is rehydrate. Not just in fluid but in patience and knowledge. I’ve been through a lot of therapy to deal with these feelings and actions, and I think it’s time to reinforce positive messages for myself. If anyone else struggles with these kinds of feelings of negative body image or self talk, confidence, or deciphering the drive to be healthy and happy from a fixed image, I suggest the book ‘Life without Ed’ by Jenni Schaefer. it is the one and only book I’ve ever found helpful and trust me I’ve read them all.

This post was really long, garrulous, and maybe more open than I should be. I know a lot of people just go to blogs for something funny, or a cool picture, so if that is you I apologize. I’m also guessing that  most of those people trickled off by the second paragraph so if you’ve stuck it out with me, you’re either probably my friend or understand these kinds of behaviors. If you’re the former, thank you, if you’re the latter, I wish you success in a non-meaured kind of way and motivation that doesn’t come out of fear or pressure.

I think it’s high time to build up both that outer and inner strength.

The Wishing Well on the Interlochen Arts Academy Campus- 2002

4 thoughts on “This Time It’s Personal

  1. Hey Jess,

    This was a powerfully insightful blog about what has been going on for you. I understand where you are coming from and joint through each day having to try to push beyond the limits in front of you confronting your past present and future. I digress. What I want to say is never give in to those failures they make you stronger having to push to succeed and I am glad to hear hat you are finding renewed strength. Also you have inspired me to challenge myself more to look beyond the moment to see the possibilities within the day.

    Hoping you succeed greatly
    Michael Green

  2. Hey Jess, it’s lu. remember me from way back when at butler? I have been out of the dance world (but never not a dancer) for 3 years now. I say, sober for 3 years.
    This entry is phenomenally personal and we (being dancers) all know where you are coming from and understand. We (being ex professional dancers) have come to health and happiness on the other side.
    I could write a book for you in this tiny “leave a reply” box, but I think the best thing to say (as if you don’t already know) is teaching and/or continuing your education in another field isn’t giving up or nearly as bad as it sounds. In fact, I can without a doubt tell you I am happier and feel more accomplished in my life as a Peace Corps volunteer and psychology student. I am proud of my past as a dancer and love that that was me (admittedly I was never as good as you), but I am a healthier all around now.
    Have you heard of the book “full catastrophie living” by john kabat-zin (i think i spelled that right)? I have read some chapters from it that i found very interesting and therapeutic.

    you are an amazing woman. don’t allow the fucked up world of ballet suck at your creativity (which it sounds like you dont). use your creativity everywhere.

    i send you many a good vibe my dear.

    if you feel like laughing at my shenanigans

    • Hey lu! Of course I remember you! I remember bugging you about places to stay when I went to Austin Ballet’s program. I also, for whatever reason have a strong image of you burned into my head from Susan’s modern class wearing a red halter leo. So glad that you’re doing well and I love your blog- thanks for sharing!

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