The problem with residencies for me is that I attach. It’s true. I admit it. I’m supposed to go in and do my job, communicate the information, pass on the steps of the brilliant dance maker whose work I’m entrusted with, give the students tools to do it with integrity and go on about my business. If there is any inspiration, it should be because of my work ethic, or my physical embodiment of the goals the dancers are trying to realize, but not necessarily because I’ve done anything other than my job.
Not that there is anything wrong with investing in young dancers every chance we get. A few dancer/teachers I know also do visual diagnostics about body restrictions that might prohibit dancers from getting to the work. We tailor exercises in technique classes to answer specific problems. We learn names.
But then I start to prescribe fixes for their individual technical quirks, worry about whether they got enough rest, whether they really understand what they are doing, how they will get jobs in this industry later on, you know stuff I can’t do anything about in a week.
What slowed my roll at George Mason University last week is that I felt deathly ill the night I arrived to the hotel. For the first three days of teaching class (and the ballet), I lumbered into the building, and pushed through a grenade-blown immune system. I vowed daily not to search symptoms on the internet and then diagnose myself with a life-threatening disease, which is what the website would have surely confirmed. So the head cold (let’s go with that) crept into my sinuses and frontal lobe and literally slowed down thought it was so painful. Sleep was a struggle and negotiating the cold—which must have been the same kind that killed the French when they ignorantly tried to invade the Soviet Union back in the day—left me able to do only the bare minimum.
Still I was determined to get the hallmarks of Byrd’s technique into the dancers' bodies. The work ethic of the dancers and the hospitality of the staff helped. One of the biggest concepts in his work – and also in life if you want to relieve lower back stress and increase everyday efficiency – is to keep the hips on top of the legs at all times in a neutral configuration as weight gets shifted from leg to leg. By neutral, I mean aligned the way hips would be situated on a hanging skeleton model. Of course, there are muscular imbalances that may displace it, but given the option to drop it likes it hot or clap it, saying no is best if you want to succeed at the glacial physical demands in a Byrd ballet. Also, it’s important to know where those hips and pelvis are facing at all times so that specificity of steps is achievable.
By Wednesday I was well enough to invest fully and yell at the dancers when their hips were all over the place, sliding back, facing weird angles. I had complained about how orientation of the pelvis helps rudder what happens next and how (mixable into life paradigms as well). In one of my rude moments, imperative to the thorough development of dancers into great artists, I must have yelled, “Where is your pelvis? Where is your pelvis? WHERE is your pelvis?” Then, before pressing the play button, I thought, “I need a T-shirt that says that…”
Except that it wasn’t just a thought because on the last day of the residency, the dancers presented me with a gift bag containing a card, a GMU sweatshirt and the tee I’m wearing in this photo.
It made my entire week. It made any complaints my body may have had worth it. It made the hours of learning the ballet myself in advance (so that I could teach it) worth it. It reinforced my belief that the extra investment is not in vain, and that dancers are paying attention and do seek the information. It validated my choice to give back during my dance career vs. once the ballet slippers are buried. It got to me profoundly, nudging deeply under my ribcage in the best way.
And on top of it too, as I wore the shirt for the rest of the day starting from when this picture was taken. It made for very interesting reactions when strangers saw me in it later, but that’s another blog. Where is your pelvis? These dancers are going to always know the answer and it warms my heart.