5 AM, St. Louis

Ah, insomnia, we’re starting to become good friends, aren’t we?

I still can’t really believe it that I’ve been here in St. Louis a month already. So much of my mind is still in South Carolina, living on a couch in the Circus House…

I have started this blog post countless times over the past few weeks, but somehow I haven’t been able to write down what I’ve been experiencing in any sort of meaningful way. Let’s just start at the beginning:

A lot has changed. My couch surfing has landed me in the abode of Ms. Lola van Ella while I attempt to figure out life here in St. Louis. I’m working at a diner in town. I’ve begun teaching classes at the Dance Co-Op on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 PM (my website will soon be updated with all the pertinent information). I got to take an incredibly rejuvenating Level I workshop with Suhaila Salimpour, one of my biggest dance influences and mentors. I got to work with a gifted local photographer, Tim Barker. I’ve had a breast make a surprise guest appearance at a gig, and performed at another (difficult) gig that taught me a hard lesson about making sure the places that book me understand what exactly it is I do.

But all of my experiences, positive and negative, just seem to keep circling back around to the same questions:

Who do I want to be, and what do I want?

It’s quite a jolting question when you start to realize that the universe is offering you a rare chance to redefine several important factors in how your day-to-day life is structured. All of the sudden, I need to think about what part of the city I want to live in. I need to figure out how I will make my income. I need to figure out what to fill the hours of my days with in an unfamiliar city with few friends. I need to figure out what direction to take my dancing with — what image to market, what material to teach.

I’m not trying to whine — it’s definitely an exciting prospect. I’m truly looking forward to living on my own for the first time EVER, and I’m glad to be in a new city. But I’m starting to realize that I am procrastinating (are you surprised?) really identifying what I want out of a city, dance… and life in general.

All my life I have wrestled with unrealistic expectations. When I was in Columbia, I dreamed of getting the hell out, getting to a new city, and starting a new life for myself. Now that I’m here, I realize that I was an idiot for thinking I would come to a new city and things would be different without a clear idea of what I wanted my life to be like. You have to know what you want before you can devise a plan to pursue it.

I think a lot of my indecision centers around jobs. I have been dreading getting a full-time job because I’m not ready to give up my focus on dance. I worry that a full-time job will prevent me from touring with the Happy and Humpy Traveling Medicine show. I worry it will hurt my dance education. When I think about the highlights on 2010 so far, all have centered around me traveling to study with some of the best instructors I’ve ever worked with. I really don’t want to give that up for a desk job. But I also want to be able to support myself, particularly now that I’m on my own.

And unfortunately this all-too-familiar indecision has begun to push my life back in a direction I don’t want to go in. I’ve become indecisive about everything, from what I should eat to what I should teach in class. When I start to think about a way to be financially stable while pursuing dancing the way I want to (traveling, taking lots of classes, starting on bigger projects here), the indecision and procrastination pull on either side of me to prevent me from committing to anything. The fear of “not getting it right” has begun to dominate my life.

I think we’re all familiar with how crappy day-to-day life feels when fear is your primary motivator. I truly believe what Amy Sigil says, that “Fate favors the risky.” With dance, I have taken a lot of risks — some which have panned out, others that were epic flops; all were totally worth it– but in my life off-stage it’s proven to be more difficult. I incredibly frustrated that my fears of failure have jolted me into this long, unsettled period, especially since this was the type of path I was hoping to avoid by leaving Columbia.

All of this stupid angst and fear has had a definite impact on my dancing. I feel unmotivated to dance at all, and when I do, it is flat and emotionless.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I had a really hard time writing this post. Part of me feels like a failure that I do not have these life questions figured out. Part of me reads this post and thinks, “No one wants to hear you whine.” Part of me thinks that it’s important that I’m honest when I blog and post about my experiences, positive and negative. Part of me is ashamed to admit that I have struggled so much with feeling unmotivated.

But writing has always served as a way for me to articulate everything that has been floating around in my brain and begin to make sense of it. I have noticed that many times once I get to this point of blogging, I often come out the other side with a better sense of what I need to do and where I need to go from there.

So, I’m putting this out into the universe:

I am going to find an apartment, where I can live on my own, have a dance space, have my cat back. I am going to find job(s) that allow me the freedom to travel but allow me to support myself. I am going to take more dance classes and continue to teach. I am going to make a goddamn try at this whole “living in St. Louis” thing. No more bullshit, no more excuses. I will take a risk, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll try another.

Fate does favor the risky, as I’m told.

Life After Cirque

Ah, the joys of public transportation. The train has just made its much-anticipated lurch forward – only two hours behind schedule. Good ol’ Amtrak, reliable in its perpetual tardiness.

After six weeks of living away from home, I’m finally coming home to St. Louis.

I began broken.  I lost two people that were dear to me, one to death. Everything I had prioritized for the past five years suddenly was no longer important.  The thought of redefining myself in a completely new city was wholly unexciting… and downright frightening.

My mornings were marked by that weight of dull dread that sat on my chest. The days were marching forward but I was stuck, paralyzed by indecision. Every once in awhile I would grudgingly allow myself to hope that today would be the day where I would find that magic road map for my life. It’s hard to find that clarity when you honestly aren’t sure where you made the wrong turn.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And I don’t want to grow up.

I went away because I had to, for my sanity and to figure out what the hell I wanted out of life. All I could figure out in Columbia MO was that I was miserable and that I had no idea where to go next. I opened my email one day and out of the blue I come across an offhand message from Natalie Brown: “You should visit sometime and come train with us.”

The next thing I knew, I was on the phone asking if I could come the next week.

I was expecting to learn a lot from both Natalie and Asharah. They are phenomenal dancers that I have followed for years now, both with a completely different skill set to offer me. I knew their classes – Natalie’s American Tribal Style and Asharah’s Suhaila-based classes – were areas that I wanted to train in, but I wasn’t really anticipating how much I would gain from actually living in a house with other artists.

Natalie and Asharah became a little family for the month I was there. We would cook good meals for one another, discuss and sew costuming, train and do yoga together, work on pieces together – we managed to teach Natalie and perform the Suhaila Level II drum solo with finger cymbals and most of the Level III layering while I was there.

I realized there that I hadn’t taken a belly dance class since November.
I realized that I really had missed that more than I thought.
And I realized – and witnessed – how incredibly important it was to have community… to have those tiny families, those scrappy bands of people that share your weird. Where you can create, and grow… and heal. Few people get the rare opportunity to have several of those families. I’m one of the lucky ones that could call many places home.

I had many really incredible experiences this trip. I got hypnotized and thought my name was Susan. I cried during the best Reiki massage ever. I fell in love with quinoa (it’s a complete protein!). I saw one of the most incredible puppet shows of my life. I got to perform with Columbia Alternacirque at their Art Bar Show. I made my first fairy costume. Fractals helped me see a link between science and God. I drove to Atlanta to TA a workshop with Natalie and Asharah and dance a solo in the show.

And I had dance epiphanies!

1) The moments of silence and stillness are just as powerful – and just as important – as the movements themselves. I am always convinced my choreography is not interesting enough. I will sit and nitpick a 20-second section of choreographies for hours upon hour, trying to perfectly represent every beat, note and lyric. And I realized that this a form of insecurity and fear Natalie helped me realize that I need to allow myself to hold out some of the longer phrases in the music. Already I can tell that this concept is going to be very important for the development of my dance style.

2) Be honest in your song choice. Asharah helped me through a bit of a quandary when I was trying to pick my solo music for the Atlanta show. I really wanted to dance to “Song for You” by Alexei Murdoch, but I was afraid that the audience wouldn’t get it, or it wouldn’t be impressive enough, and I was debating if I should go for a “crowd-pleaser” song. Asharah reminded me that honesty is everything in any form of art that we create. I chose “Song for You.”

3) Learn how you work best. I worked harder on this Atlanta solo more than I have worked on any one individual solo, and a lot of the work I did was not accomplished on the dance floor. I had every note of my song memorized. I recorded and watched videos of myself dancing to the piece. I developed a pretty complete framework for my entire piece listening to it on repeat on the drive to Atlanta for several hours and had choreographed large chunks ahead of time.  I danced my piece out at the workshop space and ahead of time on the stage I would be performing. For the hour before I went on, I stretched with my iPod and visualized myself dancing the piece repeatedly. I did some emotional prep. By the time I went onstage, I felt like I could surrender and let my body remember and retell the story I had spent weeks teaching it.

I’m so excited because I feel like I conquered a pretty big fear. When you improvise, it almost feels a little safe. If you look awkward or weird, you have the “I was just making it up as I went” excuse ready  to defend yourself. If you try and fail… it’s a hell of a lot more painful.  Now I have a completely different idea of how I am going to approach choreographing and performing in general. I feel like a giant door has been unlocked.

One of my good friends told me once his goal when he travels is to live in places, not just visit them. Natalie, Asharah, Nate, Chris, Kendall, Amanda, Aaron, Jessie, Gina, Maria, Susan, Dana, Gina, Jaia, Maria, James, Victoria, Lacy, Christy, the Moodys, Mark and Wendy, Josh, Tom, Fred, Darbuka Dave, Christine, James, Ambur, and countless others… this was so much more than a visit. Thank you.