And you are…

It would be fruitless to say that I had a productive day. Today was actually one of those overworked, over-scheduled days where I had to take a walk (sans iPod, phone, everything) and take a big bath in my abundant thoughts. It’s one of the more healthy affectations I’ve cajoled myself into performing. It helps to remember why it is that I’m doing all this everything all the time forever.

This is not to say, for a moment at least, that I did not want to take my complimentary 2 night hotel stay for Harrah’s Resort down to Atlantic City in order to gamble all of my “savings” away on the roulette table, hoping I would get lucky enough to make enough money to put together a masterpiece. Why dream when you have all this!?

I spent the earlier portion of my day staying ahead of my workload at work and making sure to take care of Friday’s leftover remnants of follow-ups and to-do’s that didn’t quite make it to the level of accomplishment that usually shows itself before the end of the work week. A botched attempt to get a flu shot at the doctor (he recommended a pharmacy) and I ran a few domestic errands, preparing for my sojourn to Germany next week.

There was the facebook banter and catching up and checking my schedule for the week. I’m so busy now that I have all this time on my hands. I forgot for a minute that I had friends! And oh so many libra birthdays. I actually took a lunch today and ate at my other other job at the bar, half of which was filled with former and current employees. Good times. I met a tall, handsome man who is fresh to the city and we chatted over a cigarette. It just so happens that he is classically trained in dance. My head started spinning, minding his posture and gait, thinking of millions of ways to use his body. Hopefully he’ll be at my next rehearsal.

The biggest part of the longish day was towards the end of the beginning of the night, in an office far far away. By far far away I mean out of my league. But if there is anything I learned from my idol, Courtney Love (insanity phase 2 circa Kurt’s Death), is that you can be in whatever league you want to be if you learn how to play the game without changing who you are. Sure, you can put on the makeup and wear the dress, but you can still be the loudest one at the bar.

And oh so high that bar is (or barre, if you well).

The Dance Advance offices are so metro and chic, you totally forget that you’re in Philly (no offense) and you feel like you’re on camera. The hallway that precedes the front desk has stark white walls adorned with retro inspired free form drawings with a modern edge and in contemporary colors of bright pink, green and yellow. Surely a local artist commission. The offices are filled with more sterile white walls, paired nicely with grey accents and a bold but subtle modern print carpet in blue and metallic tones. There are little quotes on the wall, some of them more decipherable than others and there are sparse offerings of track lighting scattered about, some on unorthodox parts of the wall instead of the ceiling. The furniture looks modern Euro but comfortable. There is glass everywhere, but not in the industrial sense, more like a trendy, metropolitan business incubator.

I walked into the conference room where the seminar slash Q&A session regarding the 2010 grant cycle/process was held and was immediately impressed with the conference room chairs. They were metal and mesh with black plastic legs and had fabric seats that were covered in a textile of navy blue with green abstract circles. The arms were adjustable and the seat tilted all the way back, almost deliberately forcing you to relax. The room was immaculate. On the back side table there were drinks and coffee and I noticed the appropriation of rations and the use of real glassware. Again, impressed. I glowed with comfort and envy.

The director walked from the podium to introduce himself to me first (obviously, per usual, I sat at the front of the class) and uttered “I’m afraid I don’t know you.” I announced my “real” name (that sounds so less interesting than the one I actually use) and he moved on to everybody else, cheerily laughing with several of the faces of people he “already knew” while I feigned my non-embarrassment.

By the end of the session I was feeling informed and not really so out of my league as when I walked to the front desk that resembled a modular spacecraft. I drifted off a couple of times, really soaking in what he said about making an “argument” for your proposal and some really good ideas came to mind. I had a list of questions, most of which he answered.

Afterward I walked up to him and thanked him for his help and asked him a short question about the documentation specifics and he answered promptly and efficiently. Then, he asked me if I had any upcoming shows and I told him that I was waiting to hear back from a couple of places. He then asked me if I was in rehearsal and I said “yes”. He suggested that I invite him and some of the staff to see any works in progress I have coming up and I agreed. And then I left.

My smile melted on my face. Initially I was upset and frustrated but at the same time I was kind of turned on by the challenge. I never have to worry about how I’ve gotten as far as I have. I’m good at what I do, I am ambitious and organized, I am a perfectionist, and doggonit, people like me. You want to put me under the microscope? Bring it. I did feel a little threatened by some people in the room but only because of their reputation. When the director was going through the common mistakes that applicant’s make I was like “duh”. We shall see.

It was kind of enthralling, the whole process. Here I am, this alley cat, scratching at the door, sadly watching the pretty Siamese cats lopping up warm milk. Meow. Meow.

This is all for money. It’s a business. And it is with that money that I will see little return on except all the intangible rewards that come with producing art. I worry that I will be or go crazy and present myself in an uncouth, unprofessional way. Is that not one of the personality flaws of the artist? Oh, I’ve met plenty a crazy one in my day.

I kept thinking about the “argument” that I have to make. I can’t lose focus on the project. No matter what happens, every application is a process of practice. This is one of the best ideas that I’ve had in a very long time and I’d like the fiscal and professional help in making it come to fruition. I have struggled so many times in the past with lack of time and money, both of which pay for each other. So much of my work is under rehearsed because I don’t have the time to commit myself or the money to a proper dance rehearsal. I water down my work because there will be no time to repeat it over, and over, and over and over and over again until it’s just about almost perfect. There is no money to have a guilt-free rehearsal or audition, knowing that the talent is going to get paid for their work. It’s such a simple equation.

On my walk I was thinking about how hard it is for us all. We were all sitting in that conference room like survivors. We had what most would call a pointless degree in Theatre, Dance, Media Arts, et al. It is so frustrating to be in a profession where people are constantly telling you “there’s no money in that.” Just recently at an orientation function at school I met so many parents that were disappointed their son or daughter didn’t want to be a doctor or engineer. Poor art school kids.

But there are survivors among us, and no matter what we have to do- plead for money, work as baristas and bartenders, eat cereal every night for dinner, we know that we will be happier doing what we do more than any other profession out there. Except maybe Trophy Wife.

Dream The Living

I’ve been whelmed in a storm of varying sources of clichéd adages regarding dreams and goals. The fabric of my artistic desires are once again blanketing me in a suffocating warmth. I don’t mean to get dramatic, I just am.

Now that I cut more “stuff” out of my life that was of import but usurps my time for pursuits otherwise, I feel calm and anxiety in abundance. I am rushing to get things done, to put myself out there, to start/finish new and old work, to finally “make it” tomorrow, if not today. While it is totally clear now that I’ve streamlined my goals, I keep coming up with mini-accomplishments that I deem necessary to fulfill the aforementioned. I have steps that I want to take to get to where I want, yet there are so many forks in the road to success. It is anathema to be so talented and to have so many facets of talent to dole out. Modestly speaking, there are some genres where my strength is stronger, but in all areas, I am constantly trying to improve.

The biggest piece of meat on my plate right now is applying for the highly esteemed and scandalous Dance Advance annual grant that is administered by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. I am really going out on a limb in applying for said grant, but I qualify and primarily, I just want to get my name out there (in a good way, for a change). The struggle for me in the dance world has been that my accolades are unconventional. Most of the work I have produced has been in art galleries, nightclubs, bars, music videos, and at fringe festivals. A majority of the work I have done has been in the burlesque genre or watered down avant-garde work for younger, drunker audiences. To some this may seem like an advantage, coming from left field, but in the dance world, reputation means everything, and no federally funded program that I know of wants to be involved with anything that has a history of being provocative in a sexual manner. Don’t get me started on the significance of burlesque and vaudeville in dance history, it has been the life force of some of the most prominent dance makers across the world. Two of my idols, Josephine Baker and Bob Fosse have exploited the “poor man’s theatre” in order to become two of the most auspicious dance icons, ever.

Grant writing is good practice for someone like me who has a strong background in writing but has trouble streamlining ideas. There is an art form to grant writing, in every genre, not just the arts. There is a lot of research that you have to do coupled with the ability to make poignant, compelling arguments as to why someone should allot you a specific amount of cash to produce and promote your supposed masterpiece.

While I love my roots in burlesque, I will always try to shed that stigma that comes along with it despite the fact that I have successfully entertained sold-out audiences for years, all of whom were quite grateful for my efforts (and for boobs). I recently ran into someone who was involved with the show I was a part of and they are thinking of putting a show in a new venue. I was so flattered after talking to him, he reminded me of what a valuable talent I am and insisted that I put together some work to be showcased there. Many times (including this last time) he has said to me “You really run a good show. I really really like what you do. Everything always comes together when you’re around.” Be still my heart.

So next week I’m marching into the Dance Advance offices to sit (nervously) and talk to the programmers about my piece and why it’s so fucking special and deserves a face in the dance community just like the rest of the best.

My idea was inspired (as mentioned in previous posts) by the phenomenon that was/is Vogue Revolution on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew”. I’ve gone back and watched a lot of my choreography which admittedly I spend hours doing like any narcissistic artist. I noticed that a lot of the arm movements that I’m known for (or at least, that the dancers point out) are derivative of voguing and my experiences with it. If I had to define my style, I would say that it is indicative of my background in gymnastics mostly. There is a lot of symmetry and stiffness in my movements in an attempt to define perfect posture. In acrobatics, there is so much physics of the body going on, if one leg trails the other, you can end up landing on your face, so this is an important aspect of my movement compositions. While I grew up with hip-hop and even choreographed for my sister who had a stint as an MC, much of hip-hop is way too loosey-goosey and calculated at the same time, much like tap dance, which is another form I do not excel at. I will always hate to love ballet, but I adore gracefulness in dance, so I utilize a lot of its vocabulary. I wouldn’t be so engulfed in dance if it weren’t for taking modern in college which is a heavy influence in my work, but a more improvisational form of the Graham technique is seen in my work. When it comes down to it, I like to use a lot of unorthodox props (gas masks, dog cone collars, leashes, restraints, blindfolds) and furniture (I love dancing on a chair). I have also been cursed with a severe curvature in my back, so I exaggerate that in my choreography. Also I have trouble with my toe point so I use a lot of flexed feet in my work. I love isolations which are products of jazz movement so I’ll add a lot of compositions where just one part of the body moves at once, mostly the head, shoulders, one leg or one arm, sometimes in combination with a turn or extension. I’m also known for my “DeVo turn” that consists of a kick to the side that crosses in front of the other leg, then a turn on both feet back to center (known as a soutenu). Choreographers I have been inspired by (read: stolen from) include but are not limited to: Alvin Ailey, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham, Bob Avian, Gene Kelly, Doris Humphrey and José Limón.

The general idea of the piece will be to incorporate the voguing dance style into a post modern conceptual movement work. I contacted the award-winning documentary filmmaker, Wolfgang Busch, and talked to him about the project. He is officially my go-to person as far as research for the project is concerned and has already helped me tremendously in putting the narrative together. Originally I wanted to do a piece based on his documentary “How Do I Look?” that would include footage from his film in an attempt to produce a performance documentary, but the ideas were shooting in way too many directions and I thought it’d be better just to salvage my original idea of just putting together a ballet, before it was usurped by superfluous byproducts. After speaking to Busch, I felt confident in what it was that I am trying to do. He was very kind and interested in my project and even offered to put me in contact with some of the legendary members of the ballroom scene.

The easiest and the hardest part of composing a dance piece is picking the music. I am inspired on a daily basis by the music in my ipod and unfortunately there isn’t a lot of new music out there being produced that sparks any formidable ideas besides the work of Daniel Bernard Roumain who I have used countless times in my work. It could be that I’m still stuck in my 90s grunge rock alternative phase, but I still keep my ears open hoping to hear something that literally makes me want to dance.

The issue with this project is I want to pay homage to the music that inspired the work even though I am not a fan of electronic music. I have to think that if I’m going to create something original, I can allow myself the freedom to choreograph to a different style of music without necessarily having to make a statement. We shall see.

I put my ideas on hold and I went back and watched all of my choreography in my never ending attempt to produce an original vernacular for my dance style/technique. I went to see a couple of fringe shows that were very inspiring (and also to stay abreast of the works of my competition), I went and watched some of my favorite dance pieces: Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”, work of Bob Fosse and Gene Kelly, and contemporary music videos from Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and Justin Timberlake. I think it’ll all start to come together when I get back into the nightclub dance floor, and I’ll be able to see first hand what it is that inspired me in the first place.

Next I have to think about venue. Do I want to put this piece in a bar, on the dance floor? Do I want a traditional stage? Do I want to put it somewhere unique? These are all questions I don’t have a lot of time to answer, but my first inclination is to keep it simple, put it in a familiar place, but wouldn’t it be cool if…

And then there’s the dancers. The painter’s paint. I am so fortunate to have a few dancers who love my work and would go out of their way to work with me just for the love of art. They get a lot out of what I do. We are all so refreshed after a dance rehearsal, wishing we could spend the rest of our lives dancing everyday. They are all talented and have their own little unique nuances that I play off of and try to highlight as much as I can. What has always been a problem for me is acquiring dancers of the male persuasion. Dance is a field where men are few and far between and most trained male dancers end up dancing with companies right after school. I did run into a guy on the dance floor sometime last year and I had told him that I was a choreographer and wanted to work with him. We had a few “battles” on the dance floor and cheered each other on. He has training in dance and is an excellent voguer from what I could tell, but somehow he has fallen to the way side, but I will try to contact him again and get him in the studio.

This is why we need the egg before the chicken. Because I have no money for the project, I can’t hold an audition and shell out that elusive salary that, while meager, is the necessary incentive for someone to work with you. Dance is work after all.

I know I whine about not being there yet, but I really have no right to complain. I have no doubt that all of this that I’m doing is going to pay off one day. I know in my heart that my ambition will never give out on me. I know from what I do and what I hear that my work is good, original, cutting edge, and entertaining. I’m not wasting my time. Will I be a star in the art world? That is hard to say. If it were to happen, I know it would more than likely be from writing or acting than from dance. How many famous dancers does anyone know? And surely, that number must outweigh the number of actual successful dancers.

Growing up I had about 17,000 aspirations. A chef, an Olympian, a professor. More than anything I wanted to direct and choreograph music videos. I have one under my belt, but I feel as though the market has totally changed. Not really a goal anymore.

I called today to make an appointment for a grant proposal review and consultation. Upon announcing my name the director of the program informed me that I “must be new to the scene” since she had never heard of me. I told her that I had been working for over 6 years in a more “underground” environment. I didn’t mention that I was a CEC recipient or that I was named Best New Choreographer of 2007.

I will never forget the opening line from a speech that I heard at an SSDC meeting in reference to succeeding in show business: “…it’s 40% who you know, 20% talent and 40% who you know.” Truer words have never been spoken. I have been loathe to learn all about the in-and-outs (pun) of networking, and I have to say that I am better at it than most people. I think my experience in my “real job” has afforded me the intuition to know when and where to use honey or vinegar. While I can be an opportunist if I really wanted to be, I haven’t had to take that drastic measure because I’m not die hard enough to put myself before someone for the sake of success. I believe it is to be earned.

Now that I have more time on my hands, there has been a lot in the way of thinking. I’m still in the emotional process of getting through a divorce which is heartbreaking and inspirational all at once. I’ve finally had the time to mourn, but at the same time, it’s given me a chance to step back and take a look at myself, as if I don’t do that enough. I have been reviewing scripts and writing reviews and I’ve even considered starting to submit some articles to a very prominent online magazine that I’m on the list for. I submitted samples to an editor a couple years back and I keep getting sent all these offers to write articles, but I just can’t deal with journalism, there’s no room for embellishment. But I’m considering using it as a resumé builder.

I’m going to Germany in two weeks and I’m sure that will have a bevy of opportunities for enlightenment and inspiration. I dare to say I’m excited about the trip. I know that the food and culture alone will coerce me to try to figure out a way to live there. I’m such a metropolis whore. It doesn’t help that I’ve been following bloggers who spend most of their time traveling all over the world writing about the things they love. I imagine that would be the perfect kind of life for me considering I have no major anvil in my life and I want to experience everything that life has to offer. We shall see. For now, I’m just going to keep persevering, hoping that the light at the end of the tunnel is a bright future.