Friday, January 29, 2010

Run number one.

Today we ran "The Moor's Pavane" in costume for the first time since we began combing through all of the details. I can tell this is going to be even more special of an experience than I had imagined. I am discovering how far simplicity can go in playing the villain. It's delicious! I must say though that after I play this role I always feel that I need to take a bath. The character is absolutely slimy! The best way to describe him is as a foul smell that creeps up on you. I have a quote that I'd like to share that has really helped me as I've been working on Iago. My friend who is playing Amelia (Iago's wife/pawn) is the one who found it and gave it to me.

The great nineteenth-century actor Booth wrote about playing Iago: "To portray Iago properly you must seem to be what all the characters think, and say, you are, not what the spectators know you to be; try to win even them by your sincerity. Don't act the villain, don't look it, or speak it, (by scowling and growling, I mean), but think it all the time. Be genial, sometimes jovial, always gentlemanly. Quick in motion as in thought; lithe and sinuous as a snake."

It's my goal to accomplish a portrayal of the role that encompasses this guidance. I love the challenge!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cherished friends.

It's the people you meet and the memories you make with them that will carry you through life. I believe this with all of my heart. Tonight, my visiting friend and I were the guests of two dear ballet supporters (to be more clear, they're overall arts, life and practically EVERYTHING supporters.) They have always been so generous and kind, and I have loved the moments I have spent with them.

I am touched by the gift of hospitality that some people have. These gentlemen are no exception to that rule. I strive to be like them. They can make you feel comfortable and cared for, and I always leave feeling inspired and more intelligent than when I walked in.

How does this fit into the subject of my "retirement?" It's simple. Leaving a job isn't just that. After being in a place as long as I have, leaving my job also means saying "farewell" (or at least "see you later") to the people who have helped to craft my memories and personal development in this home. When I look back over my career, there are a handful people who I can call "angels" for lack of a better word. They have taken me under their wing and have supported me not only by coming to see shows, but also by taking an interest in my life on a personal level. I always love to get to know who people are and identify them by their personalities-not simply by what they do. I love it when others share this same interest in me.

Sometimes in life people such as my friends from this evening are given to us, but sometimes we have to seek them out. "Seeking" isn't an actual practice. To me, one can seek by opening oneself up and being receptive to the kindness of others. This said, it takes two people to maintain a relationship. When/if kind people are brought into our lives, we need to not just accept their kindness but actively participate and learn from them. I would be honored to learn to be a gracious gentleman like these friends.

Their tutelage has been every bit as important to my growth as a human on this journey as the classes, rehearsals and performances I was privileged to have during my time in the company.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Wow. What an experience it is reworking Iago. It may be one of the most tiring things I've done all season. It's completely different for me this time, and I can already tell that I'm making new discoveries as I hoped I would. I am loving interacting with my cast mates and discovering all the nuances of the work. I am really loving working with my partner. She gives me so much to play off of, and I am almost intimidated by her excellence. I love that challenge.

I know I have spoken of not enjoying the "process" that is rehearsing, but this time, I'm loving it. I know that this may be due to the fact that this is almost more of a play than a ballet, but no matter what it is classified as, I'm still in the company and thrilled to be enjoying one of my last "processes."

The process of getting cast in a role in a ballet company is different every time. In our company, we often have auditions of sorts where everyone gets a chance to be seen for a couple of days (or sometimes more) before the casting in narrowed down. Even once it has been, there can sometimes be more people learning the role than casting can permit to actually perform it.

The first time doing the part I was heavily focused first on simply getting the part. That always takes a lot of energy and stamina. This time, I've known for a while that I have the role. To be clear, this doesn't mean I have had a false sense of confidence, but it has helped me relax and focus only on the work at hand and not focus on whether someone is going to get the part over me. It's a nice feeling, but it gives me much more time to stress over the part.

Now, that "stress" is what I live for. It's fascinating, as I said yesterday, to see the role taking a different shape as I strip away the affectations and preconceived notions that I had of the part. I hope the character will continue to grow and mold itself to me. I feel that as long as my choices are clear, the story will be told, and that's the important part.

I am so lucky to get another shot at this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Recreating a role such as Iago is an amazing experience. Today, we began the tedious but wonderful process of adding the details and motivation to the steps we had learned over the last couple of weeks for "The Moor's Pavane." I became quickly aware of how I was fabricating what I remembered from the last time I played the part rather than beginning again. To get an authentic feeling from a role such as this, I need to simplify, simplify, simplify. Less truly is more. The strange thing is that I didn't realize that I wasn't being authentic until it was pointed out. I really do try to be aware of these things. Thank goodness I don't have to try to direct myself.

Here's a comparison. Have you ever noticed how when a macaroni noodle is left overnight in water it can swell to be extra large? The normal size of the pasta was lovely to see and eat when it was first cooked, but the next day, the swollen left over noodle in the pot looks kind of gross.

This is kind of how acting can be. I was pleased with my portrayal of Iago a few seasons ago. That memory has sat in my head-not unlike the noodle left in the water. Now, if I pull the same Iago out of my memory and attempt to play him again, it isn't as appealing. It isn't the same attractive product that it was the last time. It is swollen, mushy and overdone.

Perhaps this is an odd way to explain this, but I think it makes sense. Today we began to strip away the junk and work on pulling new things out of the character. I was more tired by the end of the day from my mental activity than I was from the massive amounts of physical activity I did last week! Funny how that can happen! I am bubbling with enthusiasm to get back into the studio and continue making discoveries. I am also thrilled by the passion and energy that my cast members are putting into their roles.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Moor's Pavane Part II

We have roughed through learning the steps for Jose Limon's "The Moor's Pavane" which is loosely based on Othello (as I've said before.) Tomorrow, the lady who set it on us last time returns to begin working us through it. Oh, and will she ever WORK us! I am thrilled to remember the little details that I have forgotten and hopefully discover new ones. This is such an intricate piece, and when it works correctly, it's a beauty.

This should be an exhausting but rewarding week!

I also have one of my best friends coming in tomorrow to spend the week. I am excited. I have been so lucky to have so many people who are dear to me coming through Kansas City!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A wonderful two weeks.

My teacher has now left Kansas City after two intense but rewarding weeks of working on Lambarena with the company. She really breathed such lovely life and energy into the environment amongst the dancers. I feel so fortunate to also have gotten to take her classes again while she was here. She has a unique way of pushing me that I respond well to.

Ballet instructing and coaching for professional dancers has to be done in such a way that is different from coaching students. We have different needs as we progress and become more seasoned as artists. I know that for myself, I no longer respond to being yelled at as I may have once upon a time. I love the ever strict mentality of ballet, but I respond to a gentler, more nurturing tone, and this is exactly how my teacher worked with us.

Even in times of frustration, she stayed above board and positive with us. I don't know how she did it. I do know that I am sad that she is gone, but I am glad that she will continue working throughout the dance world and bringing her light to those who need refreshment.

Friday, January 22, 2010


When you're in a company for a period of time as long as I have been, it is remarkable to watch how life grows and changes around you. I've seen children who were babies blossom into people who are lovely to hold a conversation with, friends get married, friends then have babies-all of the things that come with normal life everywhere, but to me something seems odd. I still feel that I'm in a sort of "ballet bubble" in which time has stood still. I'm still that ten year old going to ballet class, goofily running around and annoying the other dancers. (while at the same time being consistently respectful to the art form at all of course-ha!)

I guess the idea of how much life has happened around me and of course to me in ten short years really blows my mind. As a child and teenager it seemed to go by so slowly, and I wasn't aware of all of the changes life brings. Now, I see and remember so much from this past decade.

I thought of this tonight after I attended my second birthday celebration in two days for a couple of colleagues. Birthdays are huge triumphs to me. I am one who considers each added year as a gift. It makes me sad to think that even though I'll be able to stay in touch with my friends here in Kansas City, my life won't be with them anymore. I'll miss seeing the one year old baby of a friend I've known since we were eighteen grow up. I won't be here to celebrate the birthdays of the two colleagues from yesterday and today (along with many others.)

It also makes me sad that those who I am closest to won't get to directly see what I am up to on a daily basis. I find it all so odd, and I haven't decided what to do with these discoveries yet.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

...from the corner of my mind.

I thought it might be time for another anecdote. I recently recounted the story of my spill during "The Nutcracker." This is one from my third season in the company.

We were rehearsing a rather awkward military(ish) piece-complete with camouflage and barets. (not do be confused with "bourrees" which is a French term that is used in ballet technique.) At one point in the piece, there were a series of drag/slides across the floor. These were executed by the man standing behind the woman on the left side of the stage with his hands under her armpits, and she was locked in an erect, board-like stance on two feet. He leaned her far to the left to begin pushing her into a slide with her feet going towards the right. As he approached center, he pulled her upright and leaned her to the right so now he was dragging her with her body tilted head first toward stage right, and this continued to exit offstage. This was accomplished while running.

In our old building, there was a series of floor to ceiling windows that lined the right side of the studio. There were ballet barres that ran along the windows, and below them, on the floor were metal heating/air conditioning vents.

My partner and I are known for many things, but one of our most proud attributes is that we belong to what we named "The Big-Foot Club." (or B.F.C.) I have always been president, and she, vice-president. We share a common bond, for on numerous occasions, our feet have gotten in the way of our normal life tasks. This day was no exception.

I took off full force from stage left. All was well. I lifted her vertically. All was going as planned. As I took her to the right, mayhem ensued. Somehow, my body decided it would be a good idea to place my left foot under both of hers. As I tripped, I freed my foot in time to step over her body, turning her face down to the floor at a forty-five degree angle. Precisely at this moment, fate intervened and placed my right foot under her feet. All of this continued in an extremely graceful bobbling, stumbling manner at approximately fifty-two miles per hour. I struggled for what seemed like a lifetime to get us back on our feet.

Then I saw it. The barre and the window.

When young boys/men are first learning to partner young girls/women, every teacher worth his or her salt preaches one thing. Make the lady look good no matter what. To take it a step further, if something is going wrong, save the lady. Especially in the event of lifts, men are taught to land under the girl if all else fails.

I had always prided myself with my acute knowledge of partnering that only comes with years of meticulous coaching. In that split three year second, I did what came naturally to me. Full with the momentum of the step, I heaved my partner head first under the barre towards the window and landed completely on top of her. Her hands hit the metal vent making the most violent sound that could accompany nothing else but death itself.

Nice job, Matthew.

As we peeled our mangled bodies off of the floor, we soon discovered that we were both in one piece-well, two pieces, naturally. The faces of those around us were momentarily those of people who had just witnessed a car accident, but the room soon erupted with laughter upon the realization that we were relatively unscathed.

Little did I know at the time that moments like these are the ones that define a career. These are what ballet legends are made of. It's not the number of pirouettes one does or how high one jumps that people remember. It's the disasters.

I can say only one thing about this momentous occasion in my ballet history. I owe that young woman my life. She really sacrificed herself for the greater good of my career. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Reminder.

Tonight, over dinner with my beloved teacher, she shared more advice. I feel that I could listen to her for hours.

She reminded me how as dancers we are lucky to get paid to do what we love. This is a view I have long shared with her and those around me. She spoke also about the other side of the coin that we often forget. Part of getting paid for doing what we love is coming to acceptance that we are also getting paid for all of the other times when we aren't doing what we love. Those are times such as when rehearsals go too long without seeming productive, the people we work for may seem difficult, we may not get the parts we want, etc. Life isn't fair.

It's not only this way in dance. There isn't a business out there (that I can think of) where one can be 100% happy every second of every paid hour. As dancers, we often get ruffled by the unpleasantries of the business, but as my teacher wisely said, we signed the contract for the junk as well as the pleasant parts.

I feel that if I as an artist can continually remember this, it will make my career (and has) so much more pleasant. I must add that I'm growing ever more ready for different "unpleasantries" in my next adventure. Some that come to mind are: unemployment, day jobs, auditioning (except I'm going to enjoy that remember?!?) However, it's the ones that I don't know about yet that I'm intrigued by. I have no way of knowing what they will be until they plop into my lap. Then, I'll have to make the decision to once again take the bad with the good and learn to enjoy life, or become angry and miserable. Who wants to be miserable? The choice seems simple, but I think that more often than not, we as humans choose the negative. It may be an easier choice to make, but the long term effects are terrible on the soul.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Crazy things keep happening. I'll say it again-I'm on the right path. I hate to show my pessimistic side, but things keep going so well overall, I'm concerned that I'm due some bad luck!

I will preface this story by saying that I don't believe in anything until I see it on paper. I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch.

The short of it is that a friend of mine with whom I acted four years ago here in Kansas City (and have stayed loosely in contact with) is looking for a roommate. Bingo! He asked me out of the blue if I was needing a roommate, and I told him that I and a friend am planning on moving to the city and hoping to perhaps get another roommate. He was already thinking of having two, and he was also thinking of looking for a place in Queens, which is where we want to live!

This gentleman said that he would begin looking in March which is when my friend will be in the city visiting, thereby they could meet. His current lease is up in May. This is all too serendipitous. I'm completely floored. I had no problems speaking for my Kansas City friend and telling him that we were up for it. When I got off the phone with "New York," and called my friend and let him know about this he was elated.

As I've said, it can be frightening to think about moving somewhere new, but it seems that the road is still being laid out before me (us.) All I can do at this moment is once again encourage anyone who feels that they are on the brink of change to align themselves properly, do their homework, make sure they're following their heart, and GO FOR IT.

I'll continue riding this wave until it breaks, and then I'll figure out the next step.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Once again, I threw myself into the deep end and survived. My audition today was a lot of fun. Call me corny, but I still think things are happening in a way that it seems I'm being allowed to safely ease myself into the audition scene. Let me explain.

In the case of this audition, I knew that I was probably not right for any of the roles being performed in this company's summer season, but the people running the audition were generous, kind, easy going and funny. They never made me feel that I was wasting their time. When I auditioned for the before mentioned local outdoor theatre here in Kansas City, the auditors were also kind and encouraging. The way I look at it, I'm being given a gift of safe auditions before I have to potentially deal with some tough situations.

Or, actually what I'm hoping for, is that I have been preparing myself appropriately, and I'm discovering that it's not going to get much worse than this. Perhaps there really isn't that much to be afraid of.

At any rate, once again, I succeeded (for myself) at giving the best performance I could and enjoying it while I was in the moment. Why not? I don't want to be a bitter actor before I even have a chance to try my hand in New York! As far as I see it, it can only keep getting better and better, and at some point, I will eventually get the job that's right for me. Keep those auditions coming.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Quiet time.

Today, after a night of revelry with my teacher and some friends, I did something I rarely do. I slept until one o'clock. I spent the day mostly by myself. Being alone is important to me as an artist. It gives me time to refuel. Sometimes, it can be lonely, but I find that when I give in and let myself be quiet, I can reflect and prepare myself for whatever is next.

Tomorrow, I have the audition that I had spoken of for which I've been preparing "two contrasting monologues." The ones I decided to use are from a play called "Kennedy's Children" and another one called "Tracers." To say that I'm nervous would be a bit of an understatement-well, actually I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'll just go and give it my best shot. It's my first time auditioning for something like this, so I'm excited about the new opportunity.

Each audition is a chance to perform. (my new mantra.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Farewell Christmas.

Okay, it's gone. Although my decorations have been down for over a week, my huge Christmas tree has been standing waiting to be hauled away for kindling by a co-worker. Due to weather and scheduling dilemmas, I finally decided to just take it out to the dumpster.

What does this have to do with my retirement? To me, this signifies letting go of something that has been special to me here in my lovely home. I won't see another tree in this apartment. I won't have another Christmas caroling party with my friends here. In a way, as long as the tree was standing, I was in denial that the festivities were over.

I am admittedly a sap when it comes to things like this, so there you have it. So long Kansas City holidays. This is where I am tonight on this adventure.

On the grander scheme of things, a dear friend of mine found a wonderful deal on an apartment in New York for himself. This encouraged me to know that I will be okay when it's my time to look. Somewhere, a dark part of me feels that I should be more nervous about this than I am, but I still feel an overall sense of calm. I keep reminding myself that many people have made huge life changes before me. As long as I don't lose my drive, I have no reason to think that things won't work out fine.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Moor's Pavane.

Today we began re-learning "The Moor's Pavane" which is a dramatic work based on Shakespeare's "Othello" by Jose Limon. It uses four dancers to tell the story in about twenty minutes. I had the honor of playing Iago a few years ago, and I feel privileged to get to play the role again this time.

This is what I call a "once in a lifetime" type of part (I think I've spoken of it before.) I'm lucky to get to do it again. It was thrilling to begin thinking about my character, and I look forward to seeing how the work evolves once we get it staged and the lady who originally set it on us comes back to refine the details.

I love playing the villain. What I love about theatre is the chance to taste many different types of characters without necessarily having to be like them in real life. It's a wonderful escape.

I am working with a partner who I learned the ballet with last time but didn't get to perform it because of an injury. I am excited that she is getting to finally do the part. She put a lot into it, so it will be good for that to be rewarded.

Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Words of Wisdom.

How is it possible that one person can be so inspiring? Tonight, I had dinner with my teacher who is setting Lambarena. We had over ten years of catching up to do, and we're not finished yet, but it was a lovely time to reconnect. In and outside of the studio, she is completely generous with her guidance about the ballet world as well as life. She is the first person I have really gotten to sit down with who has told me about her experience of leaving the ballet company field and shed light on things to look out for as well as forward to. I'd like to share a bit of what she shared with me. Note: I am interpreting what she said at the same time as I am digesting it.

I've spoken on the issue of how we dancers complain about what we do. We discussed this together, and she had a take on it that I hadn't ever considered. In a way, dancers are brainwashed. We live sheltered in a community of artists whom we work with, play with, but most importantly obey orders with. From the time we are young and training, we are taught to jump when commanded-go here, now back there. Stay still. Turn. In this field we rarely have a voice of our own. Even if the person setting the ballet or teaching us is incredibly incorrect in their instruction, we have little or no wiggle room within our arena in which to point that out. Thereby, when we are together with our associates who also have had no voice all day/week/years, we need to let it out. We need to communicate and express our frustrations. Sometimes we do this in a positive manner, but often we don't. I found this to be an interesting take on the subject.

This segued into how she felt once she left company life. All of a sudden, dancers are in the "real world" without the cocoon of our closest friends on a thirty hour a week basis. This can be a complete culture shock. Now, of course, we may still have instructions being ordered to us, but it's no where near the same. Our interaction with people becomes different, and this can be scary. "Normal" people may not have the same interest and definitely not the same passion as we do about dance. We have to recreate our sense of "normalcy." I can see how this could be a bit traumatizing to someone who stared in the mirror and talked to other people who also stared in the mirror and discussed dance for decades at a time.

This is another reason why I am a huge proponent of expanding ones circle of friends during a dance career. I hadn't fully thought of this issue in this way, so it's a bit unnerving, but I feel that I am fairly well prepared for being tossed into the real world. Also, I'm lucky because I'm going into a field that is linked to my current profession.

When I praised her for the way she relates to dancers and seems to not have forgotten what it was like to be one, she had an amazing response. She said that she swore to herself when she was younger that she would remember how she didn't like being treated as if she didn't have a brain, and thereby, she wouldn't do that when she was in the position of authority. She also spoke of a "revelation" she had when she was in her early days as a teacher/coach/ballet mistress. She realized that the "mirror was now behind her." She was looking at the dancers-not at the mirror any longer. It was up to her to give them the material and guidance they needed in order to help them succeed. It wasn't only about her career anymore. Wow. So clear, so wise, so honest, so sincere.

She gave me some advice as I prepare to move on. She spoke of the fear that comes with transitioning, and she told me something that her Father said to her:

"As long as it comes from the heart, you will never say the wrong thing. Your sincerity will come through."

To me, this summarized the mystery of her her ability to be so gracious. It is so clear that everything comes from her heart. This may have summarized the "mystery," but it doesn't simplify it. Not everyone can have this gift. One can work on/for it, but it has to be something you were born with, and born with it she was.

Tonight's visit was a true gem. I feel honored to have my teacher also be my friend but still teach me valuable lessons.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I began work today after a fun and restful two week break from the ballet. We jumped in with both feet and began work on an exciting ballet called Lambarena. This is a piece we performed several years ago, and it infuses music by Bach with African music. Fittingly, the choreography reflects the music blending ballet with African dance.

Today I realized again how refreshing it can be to revisit a work that was fun to dance the first time. More than that, I was reminded of how much personal mindset can make or break us in this profession (and in life.) When we first learned the piece, it was still fairly early in my career, and although I remember enjoying it, I was in the ensemble (not a lead role.) Naturally, we as dancers get more excited to do a lead part. It's human nature. This time, I am still in the ensemble, but number one: I am excited to be in the piece at all; two: I feel a sense of peace and freedom that comes with knowing that I'm nearing the end and want to make sure I enjoy every last step; three: another one of my favorite teachers-this time from my days at the Rock School of Pennsylvania Ballet (as it was then called) is setting the piece.

She came into the company today and breathed life and enjoyment into the process of learning dance as she always has. She has such an aura around her that sucks you in and reminds you why you love to dance. On a personal level, she is encouraging and kind to all which in return gains her respect and makes the dancer want to work harder. These qualities (as I have observed in my time) are not always widely possessed by artists in the dance world. It is an unfortunate truth that I have learned usually stems from insecurities. (Fortunately, I haven't had to work with too many negative people.) This repetiteur reminded me today that it is possible to be confident in what she had accomplished in her life artistically and still encourage all of us to give our all without taking the joy out of it for us. I hope I can have an eighth of this ability someday.

When she was talking to us and explaining the celebratory nature of the piece, my eyes began to well up (surprise, surprise.) I was suddenly transported back over ten years, and I remembered that this was the teacher who added oxygen to my already ignited passion for dance causing it to burst into flame. I began to evolve from student into artist during my time at the Rock School, and she was the one who taught me that it was okay to love dance.

It seems I am on a roll right now with faces from my past coming into my life and bringing my career full circle. I am ever aware, and I don't care if I repeat this one hundred more times, that I believe that when one puts oneself in line with the correct path, the world comes to you. I hope this continues for me, but for now I want to revel in the experience (humbly of course) as long as it lasts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A family tree.

Yesterday, as I had mentioned I would, I saw my teachers who were in Kansas City to teach the audition for my old school. As I was walking them down the hallway, one of the girls I teach said, "Hi Matthew!" I wasn't expecting the wave of emotion that almost came over me as I realized that there were three generations of dancers represented in a five foot radius. The familial feeling that I felt confirmed once more what I had written about in my previous entry about the "legacy of dance." I am about to be a "retired ballet dancer" as my teachers are. Seeing my student and all of the other dancers eagerly awaiting their audition-their chance to keep furthering themselves to get to where my teachers have been and where I am currently was huge to me! They want it so badly, and I wish them half of the luck that I have had.

I still look up to my teachers. It was an honor to hang out with them and sit as adults together.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cosmic Energy.

Never underestimate the power of the universe. Okay, I don't mean for this to sound esoteric or hokey, but I am serious. Sometimes, I'm learning, It's strange to see how things come together when you line yourself up on the "correct" path.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from the father of one of my students. This kid is an extremely talented young dancer, and I have offered my assistance in any way possible in helping him get into a professional training school. His dad asked if I could write a recommendation letter to my alma mater, NCSA, and I was thrilled to oblige.

Of course, I took it a step further than simply writing a letter, and I called one of my favorite ballet teachers, the assistant dean of the dance department to personally recommend him. My teacher, of course, was attentive and gracious, and made sure he knew the student's name, and then he dropped the exciting news.

He would himself actually be in Kansas City conducting the audition! I was completely thrilled. I haven't seen him or the other teacher traveling with him for at least five years. It seems that everything is lining up for me to bring my balletic career full circle. I've gotten to visit the Rock School in Pennsylvania, one of my teachers from there will be setting a ballet on us for the next couple of weeks, and today, I'll get to see two of my most influential teachers. How thrilling!

I completely respect the legacy of dance. To have the opportunity to have my own student audition for the people and school who taught me to dance is huge. I am seeing with my own eyes the legacy of which I am a part. As I have said before, I am honored to be a part of such a wonderful tradition, and I hope things go well for my student tomorrow. (Regardless, I get to see my teachers!)

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Along with knowing our careers will be shorter than most, dancers know one other thing going in: we won't make much money. Of course, everything is relative and varies from company size and location and such, but I am yet to personally know a dancer who feels "independently wealthy" simply from doing ballet. Even in the larger companies such as New York City Ballet, Houston Ballet and San Francisco Ballet (to name a few) where dancers are paid substantially more than the smaller companies around the country, high cost of living and higher tax rates come into play.

During times of temporary layoffs, most dancers collect government aid, better known as unemployment. Some people have hang-ups on this thereby they don't participate, but I view it as being the closest to government support for the arts that I am likely to see. (a colleague of mine once said this, and I stole it from her.) I don't take this assistance for granted, and I've always been extremely grateful for it.

Today, I saw a recently released movie that deals with people losing their jobs and being unsure about their futures. It made me think about my upcoming situation. For years, I have collected unemployment benefits with the knowledge that it was only for a short time. I have always had a "return to work date." In March, I will collect my last week of unemployment with a such known date. After that, I will collect for the reason that I am out of work.

At the moment, I'm not really frightened by this prospect, but it is a bit strange to think about. I will really need to be pounding the pavement the second I step foot in New York to find work. I spoke several entries before how lucky we are as dancers to have long and renewable contract seasons. Now, the fact that this will not be the case for me any longer is sinking in all over again and with a bit more intensity as May 9th draws ever closer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Making Friends.

Friends are a vital part of who I am almost to a fault sometimes. There have been times in my life when I have cared too much what others think about me, and I have found my identity in the people I hang around with. In some situations I have allowed myself to be a doormat because I didn't want to be alone. In finally learning to be comfortable with myself and not get walked over, I am learning (from my mistakes) how to be a better friend.

A friend jogged my memory today by asking how long it took me to make friends in Kansas City. This made me try to remember the chronological order. When I arrived, I only knew a small handful of people. I knew the girl I've credited as being the one who "got me the job," and I knew a few people from school. On my first day here, I went into Walmart. I walked almost straight into a guy I had known from a summer program years before. "Matthew?" he asked. "Kansas City Ballet?" We quickly realized we were here for the same reason!

Thereby, most of my friendships began within the nuclear structure of my ballet family. Within the company, I became friends with a dancer who had a weekly "Writing Group" meeting. This was made up of dancers and non-dancers. She became the first to introduce me to people outside of the ballet. Things began to explode from then on.

Over the first and second year, I naturally expanded my reach from the walls of my job into the community. My closest friends were still in the company, and many of them are still some of my colleagues. I also began to work with another company in Kansas City as a guest artist. There I met a whole new community of artists.

All of these relationships have served me in wondrous ways over my years here, and I feel that overall, these friendships have been mutually beneficial. There have been extreme highs and extreme lows, and through them many of the people I have known here have become rocks in my life.

Why am I writing about this? Another frightening aspect of leaving my "home" is that I will be jumping into another pool. This time however, I already know even more people and have a family already in place. I don't take them for granted though. It's one thing to maintain long distance relationships with friends, but to suddenly throw myself onto their turf for good is another thing. I have no doubt that I will be welcomed with open arms, but still, I want to be sensitive to those around me. There will be adjustments to be made.

I am deeply saddened to be moving away from my Kansas City friends and family. In some areas, they watched me grow up more than immediate family over the past decade. I have always been good at staying in touch with people, but I am well aware that not everyone does this with such diligence as I. That's ok. I know that it isn't necessarily a reflection on our friendships, but the thought of losing touch with people makes me grieve.

I didn't know where this entry was going when I began writing it tonight. Now I do. It has begun to sink in for the first time tonight how profound this "good-bye" is. I hope that my friends and I will be able to stay in touch. I guess I'll find out soon enough.


Last night as I was getting ready to teach my usual Tuesday ballet class, one of my favorite students who is now in college was taking the class before mine. She has always been a hard worker and often takes as many classes as she can. Students such as this one are gems.

I asked her if she was going to stay for class, and she told me that she was going to go take another class instead. I flat-out guilt tripped her into taking mine (or at least the majority of it) by saying that it would probably be the last time she had my class. This was all in good fun naturally, but I was so happy she stayed.

I realize for myself that this is a reminder of how attached I have gotten to the kids I have had the pleasure of seeing on a weekly basis for years. Holding onto a favorite student is yet another way of trying to prolong the inevitable. It's not so much wanting to bring the kid "back into the nest" as it is trying to keep myself there where it is safe. I am scared to get pushed out and re-learn to fly.

It is exciting when I see students come back and take my class. It is the biggest honor to know that even with their new experiences, they still have regard for me and what I passed on. As selfish as it may be, I am happy that this student stayed. It always helps me push myself as a teacher when a former student returns.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Experiences.

Today I learned of a theatre company that will be holding auditions in Kansas City this month. Here's the thing. It's of the non-musical variety. I emailed and was given an audition time. I have to prepare two contrasting monologues, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

I know I have tons to learn, but I believe in what I call the "sink or swim method." I want to jump into the deep end and take risks. I know that I need to get into more acting classes in order to really take hold of the technical aspects of straight theatre where I am less experienced. However, I know that I love what I do, and just like I did with dance, I want to push myself and see how far I can go. After all, an audition is another chance to perform! I'll have about four minutes to put on a mini show! Thereby, I'm going to get some coaching and go for it! At 5:10pm on Monday the 18th, I'll be performing two monologues. I'll be as ready as I can be, and I will have a wonderful time.

I am entering a completely different world than that which I am most comfortable. Why not?!? Why limit myself to just one type of theatre? In many ways I feel that I did that with dance. I was so focused in my training on ballet (mostly because that's all I had time for) that I didn't get as well versed as I now know would have been helpful in areas such as tap and jazz, and now I feel I'm playing catch up. Thereby, why not give straight theatre a try? Who knows? I could be good at it. I may not get the role, but the answer is always "No" to those who don't try.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A note from my past.

I found an old English assignment from around when I was about fifteen at NCSA, and I'd like to share it: (I've preserved it the way I wrote it then-corrected some spelling and punctuation but not any of the phrasing.)

I'm slowly realizing that dancing and being really good at it is hard and nearly impossible even for male dancers. When I was young and dancing, I knew that I would be doing amazing balletic stunts by the time I was sixteen. Now, I'm almost to that age, and I don't believe I'm quite at that level of achievement quite yet. Sure, I can do some tricks that I never believed I could, but I'm learning that there's more to it than that. I am now focusing on the refinement of the movement and the quality of it. I want to dance from my heart because I know that no matter how many turns I can do or how high I can jump, I will never be a true dancer without the passion. I believe that this knowledge is lost so much, especially in the dance department here. This is because we compete with each other too much. Competition is healthy. We need to learn to compete with ourselves. If we can do this (we the dancers and everyone for that matter,) we will no longer be clones to this stereotypical image that I created for myself at age eleven.

I think perhaps I wasn't too far off the mark back then in 1996. It's nice to find gentle and blunt reminders of the ideals I had way back when. I will use this as inspiration as I push onward.

So long Christmas.

I procrastinated long enough. I had my Christmas decorations up earlier than I have in years and I took them down later than ever. The tree is still standing and a friend will haul it away and use it for kindling. (how symbolic...) Just as I have been doing with everything this holiday season, I really wanted to savor my last Christmas in my loft. Five weeks seems to be all that I can allow myself to live in the winter wonderland-it's time to move on.

It was difficult putting my ornaments and other odds and ends away. In the past, I would loosely pack them and shove them in my closet, but this time, I taped the boxes shut with duct tape. To be dramatic, it felt as if I was sealing a time capsule or a crypt of some sort. Ten years of Kansas City memories were laid to rest to be resurrected in a different place.

In placing the boxes in my closet, I began to come across things such as old shoes and clothes that I will be needing to gather to take to the thrift store-it's happening!! Yikes! As the ball fell on Times Square, I visualize that it bounced and began rolling after me Indiana Jones-style.

I am deeply saddened by this being my last Christmas here, but there is a new day about to dawn. l am looking forward to the holidays in New York or wherever I may be at this time next year. Time to get to work.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year.

Another decade has gone by. It has been the most eventful in my life so far. It really is amazing how much can be packed into ten years, and just like that, they're gone. It reminds me of how short and special life is.

I spent New Years Eve in a new way for myself. I was the "coat-check guy" (as I became known) in the VIP section of a party. My friend owns a lovely restaurant in town, and was kind enough to hire me to help at this large scale event. Having never been very good at quick math, I was a bit nervous when I learned that I would be in charge of the money at my station. Of course, it's not that hard to add and subtract, but when you have people in droves handing-no practically throwing their coats at you for an hour and a half, it can be a bit nerve wracking! It all worked out fine, and my room didn't lose a single coat. Phew!

When things had calmed down, I had time to sit and reflect while I people-watched. I confess, I was a bit lonely sitting by myself looking at people enjoying themselves, but I kept thinking, "Keep your eye on the prize, Matthew. This may not your New Years celebration, but it is your new year." I'm making a change-a huge one. I wonder if that's going to be a tradition? Every ten years, change. I think I like that. I like ten year chunks of time. It's an even number and it goes well with my self diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

A few of the party goers interactions with me really caught my attention. Early on, one gentleman thanked me "for doing this tonight." A couple others were concerned if I would get to have "a real toast." Another even poured me some of her champagne to make sure. It was kind of these people to acknowledge me and the fact that I too am a person. I had to giggle a bit on the inside though because while they seemed to be pitying me, it was my choice to be there! And, I was happily taking their money!

To me, it just goes to show how much we take people for granted. I didn't see a single guest in that room who I knew and as far as I know, no one knew who I am/was. I don't mean that to sound snobbish, but it's true! As long as I'm in Kansas City, a large part of my identity is defined by being a member of the Kansas City Ballet. I was on stage less than a week before performing in front of thousands, and now I was taking coats.

I have always tried to be cognisant of people in positions of service. Being one of them myself, I find it interesting to see how poorly people treat others especially when they think they are above them. Personally, I find joy in taking people's coats, in waiting tables, in serving others. Honestly, I find more joy in the reflective time afterwards, because during it can be stressful, but I know this will get easier with time.

No matter what my job is at the moment, I want to be the best at it that I can be-no matter if I'm on stage or in a coat check room. It was humbling to realize yet again how much my tiny ounce of "fame" is fleeting, but it was still ok. My mind was focused, my senses were sharp, and I felt proud to play my part in a different kind of cast on a different type of stage. Trust me, if I find myself staying in that "company" for a while, I'll work my way up the ladder just as I have in my current profession. That's not ego speaking. It's just me knowing my own drive and potential.

I had a great New Years Eve. Perhaps it was "My" New Years celebration after all.