Monthly Archives: April 2012

Accessorize! How to Make Ballroom Jewelry, Part One

As promised, here’s the next installment on costuming, as I learn to replicate expensive ballroom costume crap in the comfort and fabric-scrap-strewn luxury of my kitchen. Last time, we looked at how to make the straps that hold costumes together – today, it’s bracelets and armbands!

An essential component of any costume is bling. You have to accessorize your dress, or it looks half finished. The costume department on Dancing With The Stars has buckets of them so Karina can stack them up her tiny arms every week.

Trouble is, those accessories can end up costing as much as the dress – mostly because high quality Swarovski rhinestones are expensive, and gluing those little bastards onto things is a time intensive process.

At my most recent competition, I checked the price on regular bangle bracelets with a couple vendors, and the average market price these days is about $50-$60 per bracelet. That seemed pretty steep to me, so I decided to try making my own. I already had to make armbands for my Latin costume, so what the hell, right? I had taken the time to check out the bracelets and it seemed like it was just lycra wrapped around a stiff material to give the thing structure, and then stoned.

I decided to use 1/2 in plastic dress boning (hur, hur, BONING) as the stiff material (I know, I know). I cut it to size in strips and then ran a line of glue down the center of the boning strip so that when I rolled the lycra around it, it would stay put. I did the first one with E6000, but that was a little too much firepower, so for the second bracelet I used Gemtac and that was fine. I only needed enough glue to hold the fabric in place for a bit while I wrapped the lycra, not enough to permanently secure it through the zombie apocalypse.

I hand-sewed through the lycra and the boning along the inside of the strip, just to make sure that it stayed attached.

After I ran the stitches all the way down the strip, I cut off the extra lycra and figured out how to make the strip into a circle.

The first thing I tried was just joining the ends together and whip stitching it closed. But that did not work at all because the boning sat in a teardrop shape instead of the circle that I wanted. So I pulled it all out and figured that I needed to have some overlap of the two ends in order for the circle to stay intact once I sewed it shut.

I overlapped the two ends about 1/4 of an inch and hand sewed (hand shoved my needle – that was a lot of crap to sew through!) the thing closed, which ended up giving me a pretty satisfactory circle. I tried to keep everything as tacked down as possible so that when I was ready to stone the bracelet, there wouldn’t be any extra fabric or thread or loose ends of things fouling up my stoning.

Then I stoned it with Swarovski – I ran a line of Crystal AB 20ss down the center and filled it out with Crystal AB 16ss on either side, which fit just about perfectly. The 20ss go much faster, but the 16ss give more sparkle, and also I had more of them, so that’s what happened.

I’m really happy with the way they came out – they look exactly like the ones the vendors sell (except that mine are slightly different colored lycra and the stoning is better). And God knows I saved some money! It literally came out to about ten percent of the cost. If I had more ambition, I would do some bracelets and sell them. Maybe a summer project?

Total cost for 2 bracelets – $11.95 (versus $110.00)

4 way stretch lycra – $1.05

Plastic boning (ha!) – $0.40

Gemtac, stones, thread – $10.50

Total time – about three hours (but only because I was learning – the second bracelet I did in about an hour start to finish)

The finished product, shown here with Latin fingers so you get the full effect. (You will also note that I have not one but two different kinds of fake tan in the background – that’s ballroom for you, baby. You can also see the plastic boning strips in their raw form on the left – they worked really well, and I have a giant roll of the stuff that only cost $20. It would probably make about 23948290384023 bracelets.)

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Respect.

My students often observe on their first or second lessons (especially when I teach couples) that learning to dance is a lot like therapy. Actually, they usually say that it’s harder than therapy!

My job is super awesome, even when I’m doing more marriage counseling than dance teaching. Sometimes you need an external mediator and observer – especially when the pattern of behavior in a relationship has calcified. The most typical thing I see is a couple (usually a long-married straight couple) where one is always on the other’s case about some damn thing or another. It’s so unproductive, especially because the conversations usually go like this:

Blamer: Well, I just can’t  do my steps right because s/he’s doing *this* (demonstrates hyper-exaggerated version of some minor flaw).

Blame-ee: (silence)

Me: Well, maybe the reason s/he’s doing that is because you’re doing x, y, and z, which makes it very difficult for the step to happen. Try this.

Blamer: Oh, wow, that worked so much better!

The default assumption tends to be, I am doing my part just right and trying hard and this person I am dancing with is DELIBERATELY messing up and trying to make it harder for me ON PURPOSE and now I can’t do my part properly.

No. No, that is not what is happening. Stop it. Please stop it, you are not helping. It boils down to this:

You cannot dance the other person’s part.

I think that a lot of partnering issues can be resolved with the following four guidelines:

  1. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are trying their best and that the efforts they are making are in good faith.
  2. Value what they are contributing to the partnership. Turns out you cannot do partner dancing by yourself! Even if you are awesome and amazing and free of any fault ever, you need them.
  3. Accept it. (This is a rule of improv, but it works for partner dancing, too). Rather than trying to argue when your partner says, I think you are doing x, or I feel like y is happening at this point, just accept it. Say, okay! What can we do about that? (Even if you think they are wrong. Even if you KNOW they are wrong.)
  4. Solve the problem, not the relationship. Is he getting in your way on the second half of that turn? Are you pulling him off balance with your spiral? Maybe! You know what that is? It’s a discrete and specific problem, not a verdict on your entire history and interaction with that person. Yes, I know. He always does this, that, or some other damn thing. Get over it and fix your turn. Have drinks and bitch at each other later, or go complain to your friends, but keep that shit off the floor.

In thinking about prospective partners, the biggest criterion for me is RESPECT. Namely: will this person treat me with respect, will he value what I do and what I bring to the partnership? A coach once said to me – and this is probably my favorite thing ever –

You can make somebody a better dancer, but you can’t make them not an asshole.

So. True. I have danced with enough people who don’t respect me to know that it makes a HUGE difference. Things will not always go well. You will have good days and bad days, you will fuck up sometimes and they will fuck up sometimes and everybody will have their feelings hurt. But if there is a fundamental respect for each other, that is not the end of the world, and it will not make you feel like the bottom of someone’s shoe.

In other words, we need to take a fucking cue from what happens here at 0:38:

Let’s all try to be more like Riccardo, please! How great is he??

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Ballroom, Body Image, and Lousy Bargains

[Disclaimer: this is my personal experience and not any kind of representative sample. Also, all the stuff I’m talking about here has been my experience as a professional; my experience as a student was very different, so please don’t anybody think I’m talking about your experience, your situation. I’m really not.]

•     •     •

Two years ago: I was having coffee with a friend, my competition fake nails (bright orange) wrapped around the white mug which I thought looked cool. 

“If it makes me too crazy, I’ll stop,” I said. “I can keep it straight in my head.”

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to,” she said. “Is it worth it?”

“I think so,” I said. “It’s hard. But I think I can keep it from getting to me, too much.”

•     •     •

A year ago: a conversation with a coach.

“Take it from me,” he said. “Unless you look the right way, they just don’t take you seriously.”

“I know,” I said.

“The judges won’t even look at your dancing,” he said. “It’s just the way it is.”

•     •     •

Two weeks ago: a conversation with a student.

“You look amazing,” she said. “Like, you always looked great, but now…”

“Well, thanks,” I said, “I’ve been training pretty hard and I’m happy with where my dancing is.”

“No,” she said, “I mean, sure, your dancing is awesome, but I mean… YOU look great. Like, you’ve lost a lot of weight and, I don’t know, you look like a real ballroom dancer now.”

*     *     *

When I started dancing again three years ago, I was pretty seriously out of shape, for lots of reasons. Still, I had worked hard in my own brain to be okay with who I was and how I looked.

It would take me a long time, but I finally managed to mostly stop that horrible thing where when you feel bad about yourself, you say the worst things you can think of in your brain… why? I don’t know, I think it’s sort of like emotional cutting. It’s really nasty. Anyway, my go-to most horrible thing was always, you’re fat, you’re ugly. Simple, distilled, and unvarnished.

And it worked, until one day I (thanks in no small part to feminism and body acceptance activists’ writing) I said to myself, dude, seriously – you are fat. Relax. It’s fine. It’s just what it is. And you’re not ugly. And even if you were, why is that like the worst thing in the world? Who is it hurting? 

And after that, I would still, when I felt horrible, fall into the thought pattern of: you are so disgusting…but then I would think, eh, maybe? But whatever. Not that big a deal.

Changing that thought process and actually appreciating my body for what it could do instead of hating it for being a constant disappointment was no easy task.

Which is why when I started dancing more seriously and getting into better shape, it felt almost like a betrayal.

I hated that I was getting non-stop positive reinforcement from people – you look so great! Yay for you! Oh my gosh, you look amazing!

Which basically just meant, in my brain: you know all that damaging shit you thought about yourself before? Yeah, you were right. And everybody else thought it too.

The problem is, on the floor, your body is your instrument. That’s what you perform with, that’s the site where your art is produced. So you have to be okay with it being the object of other peoples’ regard, with their critical gaze – that’s part of the JOB. But it also sucks because, you know, it’s you. Added to which, the emotional intensity and honesty that dancing requires means that if you ARE separated from your body, if you are not truly engaged with your movement, it doesn’t work. So you have to fully inhabit your body and accept that it will be constantly critiqued. It’s difficult not to take that personally.

I know – I absolutely know – that in many ways, ballroom dancing is a shallow fucking industry. That’s okay. Take it or leave it, right?

But some days, the lack of critical awareness is harder than others. And it’s even tougher when you’re a smart cookie who doesn’t look like a ballroom dancer is supposed to look.

I am not a tiny Russian woman, with legs up to my eyebrows and perfect ballet feet. I never will be. At my highest potential, when I am eventually in the best shape I possibly can be, I will be super strong and powerful, but still short and pretty compact. That’s just how I’m built.

Right now, I’m still Ballroom Fat (TM) – basically like Hollywood Fat. Defined as: actually totally fine and in good shape and in a normal, uncrazy world, not really meriting comment; but in your weird twisted world, so gross.

And you know what sucks about that the most? I see these other girls on the floor, thin and pretty and tan, and I am objectively better than they are. Like, my turns are faster, my footwork is cleaner, my connection is better, my dancing is just of a higher standard. But it does. Not. Matter.

Until I look the right way, I am not going to have an easy time finding a serious partner, and I am not going to be marked well by the judges. It sucks out loud, and I hate it. Because I actually like how I look and my whole situation, but I know that I am in the minority on that one. There is a certain standard, an appearance, A Look – and it’s just the ante you have to throw on the table, your cost of admission. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to agree with it, but it’s how the system works.

So now, unlike before, the shit I say to myself is true.

Why doesn’t that dude want to dance with you? Because you’re fat.

Why did you not make the finals? Because you look the wrong way.

I know that it’s shallow and stupid and that’s okay, I guess, because mostly I don’t feel bad about myself, I just feel tired. It is exhausting to know that you are looked at and judged and that you fall short all the time, and even worse to realize that when someone actually takes the time to see you and your dancing, they recognize the quality. Always the tone of surprise – hey, you’re pretty good!

Fuck you.

But really? What I dislike the most is the crazy bargains it makes me deal with, the chock full of nuts ideas it makes me entertain.

*     *     *

A week ago: drinks with another dancer.

“I need the judges to look at me and not say, oh, that fat girl is a pretty decent dancer,” I said.

“Totally,” she replied. “You want them to look at you and say, oh, that girl is a good dancer.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“But you’re doing it, right?” she asked. “I mean, you’re in better shape and you’re eating better, and, like, you must feel better…”

“I am, and I do,” I said. “But how fucked up is it that I don’t really care about any of that? Like, if you said to me: you can dance for the next twenty years and stay pretty much how you are right now, or you can dance for five years, blow your knees completely, but look thin and amazing for that period? I would take the five.”

“And I hate that I think that,” I added.

“Yeah,” she said, thinking for a long moment. “But I’d take the five too.”

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(Semi) Live! Behind the scenes competition blogging, part two

I’m back home again – I really tried to update LIIIIVE, but I’ll tell you the honest-to-God truth:

(1) I was working my tail off.

(2) When I wasn’t working I was out carousing with other dancers.

(3) When I wasn’t carousing or working I was passed out dead asleep so that I could continue to do (1) and (2).

Y’all, it was super fun. The other issue is that until yesterday, I had my competition nails on, and I don’t know about you, but I find it absolutely impossible to type with those stupid bastards. It hurts, and it’s awkward, and I am usually a super fast typist so it irritates the hell out of me.

But! I did keep notes! So for anybody who loves ballroom competitions, who’s considering competing, who just generally finds the whole thing fascinating because it is a tan and sparkly circus sideshow, I present, in no particular order, DO’s and DON’Ts of ballroom competition, followed by some stuff I learned at this comp that was new to me. (I’ve been doing this crap for a while, but this was my first time on the judges’ side, so it was pretty instructive.

*     *     *

DO dance as many heats as you possibly can. Look, competing (as a student) is expensive, no lie. I get that. All the professionals get that. But if you’re going to do it, I swear to God, you will have infinitely more fun if you dance 80 heats as compared to 15. You’re already there, you’re already looking fabulous, you might as well just do it! There is nothing, NOTHING worse than sitting and watching other people dance and thinking, shit, I should be out on that floor.

DO enjoy yourself! If you’re going to be out on the floor, please be having fun! If you look terrified or bored, it is just a bummer. Just enjoy the hell out of it; the judges will forgive a lot if you smile and take genuine pleasure in your dancing.

DON’T overdo it on the dress. Be sensitive to what flatters your particular body type and your dancing. I know that I always say, it’s ballroom, more is more…but ladies. Seriously. Sometimes, no, it is not. If your dress has feathers and ruffles and stones and netting and gloves and a goddamn cocker spaniel, it’s probably too much. You want people to watch your dancing, not whisper about the dress.

DO own your floor. That part of the floor you’re dancing on? It’s YOURS. It belongs to YOU. You are the Lord High Commander of that part of the floor – own it! Take up space! Do not allow other people to impinge on your sovereign territory! I was watching some friends of mine compete in the pro divisions, and I’m telling you, there were seventeen or eighteen couples out on the floor. I was looking for these friends and couldn’t find them – why? They weren’t owning their floor.

DO show up to the on-deck area. Don’t be an ass about this. If you are a pro and you are dancing with six different ladies, I get it. You can’t line up on deck every time. But if that’s you, it’s YOUR responsibility to be on your shit and not miss a heat. Do not make the deck captain come look for you. Do not make the MC announce your number over the loudspeaker. Embarrassing!

DO be pleasant and courteous to everyone. You know why? Well, number one, it’s decent fucking manners, and what, were you raised in a barn? But if you need a more politic reason – you never know who is behind you, or who is paying attention. People remember. Keep your mouth shut. Be pleasant. If you need to talk shit, roll out of the ballroom and wait until you are in a secure third-party location.

DO get over yourself. At the end of the day, it’s still a damn ballroom dance competition. It’s pretty ridiculous. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Oh, I almost forgot – this is probably my number one rule:

DO cut the waistband out of your fishnets. Ladies, you look beautiful. You have these amazing dresses, you spent a ton of money on them, your hair and makeup looks great! Please please please please please do not wear fishnets with the waistband cutting you in half like a sausage. I don’t care what kind of shape you are or aren’t in, it’s still visible. And it looks bad. Fishnets are made of elastic. Your dress has a built in bodysuit. Get some scissors, cut the waistband off your fishnets, and they will still stay up and do their job and you will have a smooth line.

*     *     *

And here is some stuff I learned, in no particular order:

• Being able to haul ass gracefully and still smile at the judges is worth something. Way to not fall down and still BOOK it across the ballroom! One judge said to me, “Girl, you were RUNNING. I was watching you more than I was watching the pros compete. It was more interesting.”

• The best hair spray (maybe ever?) is got2b glued freezing spray. Seriously, I did my hair Friday afternoon and then worked my tail off Friday evening and then went out and fell into bed around 4 and then I got up and showered around 8 am (I kept it from getting too wet) and MY HAIR STILL LOOKED PERFECT. Awesome.

• All judges mark differently. Some are done scoring thirty seconds in, some wait until the music stops to write down their order, and some do a rough draft order and then revise it as they watch the heat. The moral of the story is, if anybody tells you stupid things like, oh, all judges do x, they are wrong. Wrong!

Smashbox makes this really amazing concealer. If you are, I don’t know, let’s just pick a random example, going out drinking and dancing till five in the morning and kissing a bunch of random boys and girls and then rolling back to your hotel room and trying to look ballroom polished and fabulous for a seven am call, THIS IS YOUR CONCEALER.

• Always overdress. (That’s one of my rules for living, actually, but I saw it in action this week.) There was a lovely girl, brand new trainee instructor, who showed up to the last evening’s formal banquet and show in what was basically a sun dress. Nobody cared, really, because whatever, but she was uncomfortable. Always bring an extra evening gown, or something that is black tie appropriate. You never know. It’s ballroom, baby. You can’t overdo it. (Except for the feathers + spaniel dress situation, but that’s been covered.)

• The judges notice and remember bad behavior on the part of professionals. As a student, the event is for YOU. The pros are there to make sure you dance well and have fun, not to be tools. Not only do the judges notice and remember, they tell each other about it and laugh and laugh and laugh and then they do not call you back when you are on the floor with your professional partner. (See above, don’t be an ass.)

• Students are amazing. Seriously, it is so awesome to see them improving and learning and dancing their hearts out on the floor. It is ABSOLUTELY what makes this the best job in the world. If you are a student – thank you!!!!! You are the best.

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Live! Behind the scenes competition blogging, part one

So I got into town this morning, all ready to go! I think it is going to be really hard to work this competition and know that I am not dancing at all – that completely sucks. There are lots of (bullshit and non-bullshit, but mostly bullshit) reasons why that’s the case, but it still sucks out loud. I predict having several drinks and bitching at length about that situation around Friday or Saturday evening.

I love ballroom competitions. They are weird, and artificial, and bizarre, and AMAZING. There’s something about them that is just so great – I don’t know what it is. Thank God that I have a competition coming up in two weeks that I am dancing in; and dancing a shit ton, as well. Given that I am ALREADY getting bummed out about not dancing, and we haven’t even convened yet, it’s a pretty good sign (and a good heads up in the Making Life Choices division) that next time I do one of these bad boys I better be on the floor at some point.

*      *      *

I remember my first real competition as a new baby dancer; I had no idea that you could make ladies’ hair do some of the things they did to it. And of course, not knowing ballroom hair from a hole in the ground, I did mine very badly with, like, no hairspray at all, and it fell down into my face during the samba, nearly killing some innocent bystanders with bobby pin shrapnel. Never again!

*      *      *

So at this competition, I am working as a runner – the person who runs around and picks up scoresheets from the judges (who usually stand on the edge of the dance floor) and delivers them to the scrutineer (who inputs those scores and tabulates the placements for a particular heat). I haven’t done this job before, really – I’ve been a deck captain (the person who gets everybody in the next heat lined up – “on deck” – and ready to go so that the competition runs smoothly) and have assisted the judges before, but that was at a much smaller event. This is a big national competition, and it will be very interesting to see how it goes.

So why am I doing this? Couple of reasons:

(1) It’s a great way to get to know the judges and the national-level folks at various studios and organizations.

(2) It pays pretty decently.

(3) If I can’t be on the floor with students or a pro partner, it’s the next best thing.

I am going to be super ballroom about it, though – I want people to see me doing my job and know that I am a DANCER, not just some random flunky who wears a lot of black. The kiss of death question is, “so, do you dance?” You bet your sweet ass I do. So hair, nails, tan (although not so much tan as I would do if I were really competing) and ballroom-business attire… a chimeric hybrid of dancewear and business attire that says, yes, I know how to WORK IT on the floor, but right now I am being professional and organized, excuse me, I know this blazer looks awesome and my skirt is HELLA flippy.

We have our first judges’ meeting tonight at six; I better get my fake nails glued on before then.

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Dress Repair 101 – Strap it on!

So you know those nude straps that hold essentially every ballroom costume together?

Every ballroom costume made after 1989, that is.

I pulled some pink straps off a smooth dress and was trying to replicate them in nude:

 

(The bottom one is the original strap from the dress – the top is one of my failed attempts.)

It was 100% trial and error – I knew that basically, you had to wrap 1/2 inch elastic in 4-way stretch lycra and zig-zag stitch it, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Here, presented for your entertainment, are some do’s and don’t of how  to sew nude costume straps.

 

(1) DON’T make a sausage casing. 

So my first idea was to make a sort of sausage casing/pillowcase for the elastic and just slide it in. This is a terrible idea for a couple reasons. Firstly, lyrcra is a slippery bitch, and trying to get it to stay still while you sew it is ridiculous. Secondly, there’s no way it will be tight enough unless you sew it smaller than the 1/2 inch and then you have to shove the elastic through and it does not stretch properly. Plus, the elastic will slide around inside the lyrcra and just generally look like crap. It’s like a bizarre elastic condom. Nobody wants that.

 

(1a) Don’t use lycra that’s too soft.

I started off with this 4 way stretch that is actually swimsuit lining (I think) because the color was closer to what I wanted. But it was so soft, it kept tearing at the needle puncture sites when I stretched the elastic. There’s no way it would be tough enough to stand up to ballroom wear. So I ended up going with sparkly nude instead that was a little darker, but much more durable. I also experimented with red – it turns out that it doesn’t matter at all if the grain of the lycra lines up with the elastic, it all stretches great no matter how you slap it together. So that’s nice.

 

(2) DON’T just assume that because you cut it wide enough, the edges will meet. 

I thought, you know, just fold it and kind of push the edges together as you sew and it will work out! Here’s why that turned out to be a stupid idea: LYCRA IS SLIPPERY AS A MOTHERFUCKER. It slides around and the edge you THOUGHT was attached turns out not to be, so the fabric doesn’t actually wrap all the way around the elastic. It will look good from the front, and then you turn it over and swear a whole lot because that turned out to be a total waste of time.

 

(3) DON’T pull the elastic through the machine.

So I have my mother’s old sewing machine (which incidentally I had NO idea how to thread or do anything with, so thanks internet for helping a sister out) and when I was about ten, she was teaching me how to sew pillowcases and curtains and whatnot. She would always tell me not to pull the fabric through – guide it through from the front of the machine, don’t pull it from the back. And then she would swear like a sailor because she actually hated sewing and it was a pain in her ass and why wouldn’t the motherfucking bobbin sit in the goddamned thing fucking correctly etc etc. 

Turns out that lesson (plus the profanity) are still constants in my sewing efforts. I was attempting to pull the lycra tight around the elastic, but in the process of trying to wrap a stretchy slippery fabric around a substance whose entire point of being is to elasticate, I ended up pulling it and the zig zag stitch I was laying in didn’t fall properly – it ended up with this weird warped sort of thing happening, so the strap would not have lain flat once it was attached to the dress. Bummer.

 

(4) DO pretend it’s a burrito.

Cut the lycra a little wider than double the width of the elastic, and fold one side over the elastic so that it’s flush with an edge, and then fold the other side over. Hold that bitch tight and run a quick line of stitches across the top of the elastic so that nothing moves. After that, sort of keep folding it over as you go down, folding one side in to stay close to the edge of the elastic and pulling the other side all the way across. Because it’s wider, the extra fabric will actually go past the elastic – this is totally fine, don’t stress out about that. After you’ve gone all the way down, set a similar line of stitches on the bottom of the elastic. Then trim off the extra fabric close to the zig-zag stitch – this is easy because you can just pull on the lycra and sort of run your scissors along and it comes right off and doesn’t fray.

Finished product:

 Yay! Learning by doing.

Next time: attaching sequin fringe and making armbands.

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Show up, shut up, and play.

My parents were both musicians, and I was a working musician as well by the time I was in high school. They both taught me a lot about how to work in the arts, but one of my father’s sayings has stuck with me more than anything else. For any gig you book, he used, to say, there were only three things you needed to do:

  1. Show up.
  2. Shut up.
  3. Play.

The conductor wasn’t interested in your opinion or why you were late or what you would do in the second movement. He wanted you to be in your fucking chair on time, to not give him any static, and to come in on the goddamn downbeat when he cued you.

I had “show up, shut up, and play” drilled into my head from an early, early age, so I’m always surprised to see how frequently these things are an issue. So many folks – often smart, generally with it people – can’t get to work on time, have lots of reasons why they can’t do their job, and invariably have MANY opinions about how it’s always somebody else’s fault.

Who the fuck cares. Not your students, whose lesson you were late to. Not your boss, who has to re-arrange shit around your late ass. Not your co-workers, who have to cover your shit. And certainly not everybody else who managed to get THEIR shit together and do their jobs.

You better believe I have a hard time with (2) – shut up. I show right the hell up and I will play the bejesus out of whatever you give me, but I love to talk. One of my biggest challenges has been trying to turn my smack talking into getting it done – to not just bitch and complain about how I would like things to be done… and wouldn’t it be nice if… and that bitch doesn’t do her job… and instead do MY thing, own MY shit. And you know what? It works.

Show up. Shut up. Play.

If you can’t do those things, make it so you can or find something else to do with your time. It’s not YMCA t-ball, kids. Everybody doesn’t get to play and everybody sure as hell doesn’t win. I may not be the best dancer in the world (I’m not, duh) but I will work harder than anybody else to get my fucking job done the best way I know how.

Show up. Shut up. Play.

Speaking of which, I fucking love this:

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Liveblogging a dance competition from the inside!

So next week I will be at a big national dance competition (about 10,000 entries over four days, to give you a sense of scale) working for the judges. I’m going to liveblog the whole process – that’s right, I’m going to be reporting liiiiiiiiiiiiiive from the floor to throw out some thoughts about competitive ballroom.

(I love that even though I am not dancing at this comp, I am still tanning because I’m going to be on the floor under the lights and I don’t want to look un-ballroom and bring shame on my house. Ballroom! It’s weird.)

To all six readers out there – let me know if there’s something you’d really like to know, and I’ll try to find out for you. But don’t get crazy, this isn’t the New York Times.

 

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Ok Go rules.

Hat tip to The Spinning Dancer for hooking me up with this AWESOMENESS. I just love it. The art direction is killer, man, and the dancers are fabulous and the whole thing just makes me so happy! I think I have watched it 9283409238984903829034 times now. (That is a lot of times.)

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I believe in you.

It’s awesome to be self-confident. It’s totally great to believe in yourself and have that can-do bootstrapping attitude. It’s a fine line, of course, between believing in yourself and being a self-aggrandizing entitled asshat convinced of his or her own unique special snowflake qualities that are a singular gift to the world at large. But as long as you keep it under control, a healthy level of self-regard is essential.

Especially as a dancer, right? Because you have to BELIEVE when you get out on the floor that you are going to be fantastic, that you are going to win, that you are worth looking at. Because if you don’t believe it, let me tell you, friend, nobody else will either.

But sometimes, even with all of that, what you really, really, really need is for someone else to believe it, too.

And for them to say it.

It is absolutely impossible to overstate the importance of saying and hearing these four words:

“I believe in you.”

Last night I went out dancing with some co-workers – it was the after work, who-gives-a-shit kind of dancing. We fooled around, switched out partners, flirted, got a little buzzed, and generally remembered why dancing is so goddamn much fun. Later that night I was chatting with one of the gentlemen, a long-time veteran of the dance business. He’s seen a lot of people come and go, and knows what the hell he’s talking about.

I had not had a great week. There were the general levels of ambient drama that always pervade a studio, extra personal drama with another dancer leading up to a competition we were preparing for, and I wasn’t teaching a lot of lessons, so I was making even less than my usual high-rolling tens of dollars.

And I was expressing that to this guy, and he took my hands and looked at me and said, “You are going to be fine. You are.”

And I nodded and said, yeah, yeah, no, I know, sure, I will be.

And he cut me off, and said, “I’ve seen you dance, I’ve danced with you, I’ve seen you teach. And you have something that not a lot of people have – you are special, you really are. And I believe in you.”

And it made me cry. It made me cry because I was a little bit drunk, but truly because I was so touched that someone actually gave a shit, that someone bothered to watch me and think about me and didn’t just write me off immediately; that this man, who knew whereof the fuck he spoke, believed in me.

It made a difference. You have to believe in yourself, sure. But sometimes you need an assist.

*                           *                           *

Last week, one of my students had his first session with a serious coach. His session with her was a true learning experience – she gave him things that he’ll be working on for the next six months (honestly, for the rest of his life as a dancer!) – but it was a change of pace for him. It was a jump up the ladder in terms of expectations and difficulty. Not just one rung, but three or four. Afterwards, we were sitting together, going over his notes from the session, and it was clear that he was a little overwhelmed.

“That was a lot, huh?” I said.

“Yeah.” He nodded, looking down at his notes.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “She could have told you that everything was great, that you looked perfect, that you were amazing. But she didn’t. You know why? Because she wants you to be a better dancer. And so do I. She takes you seriously, and she knows that you can do all these things. I know it too.”

“I guess…” he said.

“Listen,” I said, “I need you to hear this. You did such a good job today. You were pushed further than you’ve gone before, and you really came through. I know this will make you better.”

“Okay,” he said, not convinced.

“I believe in you,” I said. “I really do. I believe you are a good dancer and I believe you will get better and be a great dancer. That will happen. I need you to believe that, too.”

He straightened his shoulders and looked at me, and I could tell that he believed it a little more, too.

You gotta say it out loud, or it doesn’t count.

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