Please enjoy the second half of our Spotlight interview with dancer/teacher/choreographer Lees Hummel. Act I premiered on Saturday, December 3, 2011.
I love asking this question of all interviewees. How much sleep do you generally get? Are you good about setting your own reasonable bedtime, or do you carve out downtime, social time, creative time from sleep?
Funny you should ask about sleep. I remember being 7 months pregnant sitting in a café in Charlotte, NC, reading The New York Times and a woman came up to me and told me to enjoy this quiet time I had alone, because after the child was born I wouldn't sleep again for at least 5 years. I couldn't imagine that was actually true and I thought she was a bit of an alarmist freak, but sadly, she was right.
Nyssa was never a good sleeper.
When she was born, I had to supplement breast milk with formula and it took us 4 months to figure out she was allergic to milk based formulas, which was why she was always crying and in pain after eating and rarely slept more than a couple of hours. When we finally switched to soy formula, I remember she slept 3-4 hours in a row and I thought I had been re-born. I remember getting 3 nights of consecutive sleep for 7 or 8 hours when Nyssa was 4 years old (which was a first ever) when she started her first week of preschool, which was also my first full week of returning to work full time.
Since then, I generally get a few nights of consecutive sleep, 7 to 8 hours, although, she STILL wakes up in the middle of the night at least a couple times a week and still calls for her mommy. I am hoping that in college she won't call me in the middle of the night, but there are no promises!
As I am advancing quickly into later middle age, I am adamant about getting enough rest to get through the day. Both my daughter and myself have strict bedtime schedules, which we try to adhere to all the time. With my daughter's ADHD and restless sleep habits, going to bed when it's bedtime is imperative. Most nights, I couldn't stay up late even if I wanted to. Sometimes I fall asleep before she does....
Your daughter is no longer in that high-maintenance baby/toddler/preschooler age. To me this conjures up an image of a lot more personal and creative time. Is this true?
Ha! She is still very high maintenance, but the maintenance and time challenges are different. I am no longer brushing her teeth for her or making sure she gets to the toilet, but now, other things take up time. She is an intelligent, creative ADHD child who has some social skills issues and who is very sensitive and talented. She is a whirlwind of energy who can come into the room and totally disrupt everything that is currently happening with the strength of a cyclone. It takes much focus and concentration to, not only, keep her on track, but not lose track of what I am doing in the process. Getting out the door is still a 15-minute ordeal, dealing with putting a coat on, getting her backpack and band instrument. She loves to talk, share and communicate. Keeping up with her discussions can be exhilarating and exhausting. She can hyper focus and concentrate, so if she gets into reading a book or playing a computer game, it can be trying to get her to come back to reality and focus on a new task. Trying to keep control of her obvious computer skills by monitoring her Internet use is in itself a full time job, one that I push mostly on to her father, as she has far surpassed me in technological ability.
Also, she is at the age where many discussions of bad words, sex and social interaction occur regularly. A friend of mine from Nashville visited recently and after spending a weekend with us kept asking me "how do you do it?" and "how do you find the energy?" Carving out personal time still requires strict planning. If I see she is hyper focused on a computer game and I need to prep a class, that is when I do it. But, generally, I don't feel like I have much personal time at all. It is difficult because she is an only child with almost no friends and we don't have relatives close by. Even if we did have relatives who could visit regularly, they are either too old to really want to interact with her or just not interested in keeping up with a 9 year old. So we are really very involved with her life, probably much more than someone who comes from a large family of siblings.
Has being a mother changed your creative approach or point of view? Has it changed your teaching style? If so how?
I don't know if motherhood, per se, has changed my creative point of view or teaching style. I do know that AGE has. When choreographing, I am more cerebral in my approach than in previous years. I am still very physical, but I analyze the concepts and goals much more. I was always trying to create a body friendly approach to my teaching (and choreography) but now, I rely much more on communication through my voice and eyes rather than my physicality. I don't demonstrate full out after the first couple of times and I actively try to analyze the modes of learning that my students' possess so I can communicate more clearly my intent. I suppose that my understanding of HOW students learn has increased since my child was born but I don't really think it has changed my approach or creative views.
Many dancers check their children's feet and flexibility as though they were checking their genetic potential for the Kirov. Have you ever done this?
That is too funny. I knew better than to worry about Nyssa's feet because the first ultrasound I had when I was pregnant showed her right big toe, which was a carbon copy of my husband’s. I knew there was NO WAY she would be a ballerina. She does have a wonderful natural rhythm and way of moving, which I attribute to DNA and the fact that I was re-staging Jump Rhythm Jazz Project choreography when I was pregnant. She does not have the drive, passion or concentration to do ballet. She is a free spirit - a singer, actress and hip-hop dancer.
Has she seen you dance? What does she think?
I don't know if she remembers seeing me dance on stage? She has seen me dance while teaching and choreographing. She has no filter and is brutally honest. She says I'm good at modern, ballet, tap and jazz but that I stink at hip-hop. I think a few times she has seen videos of me dancing and is always surprised like "that's you?!" She gets mad at me for not being a famous dancer, for not having danced for celebrities because she wants to be a famous singer and actress. She says all the kids that are famous have famous parents that get the kids famous. I tell her not everyone has a free ride and can be famous. Unfortunately, she's not buying it. Sigh.
Any advice for mothers who continue to be artistic gypsies well into their thirties and forties?
I believe that although motherhood can be exhausting, it can give you the experience, energy and confidence to do more than you ever imagined you could. If you can maintain some semblance of artistic freedom while being a full time mother and wife, you can pretty much cope with anything that comes your way. Never stop being artistic and creative because that is the key to maintaining sanity in the face of chaos. It is the outlet that no one can take away from you. It is the peace and quiet that will calm and focus you when the vomit and poop are free flowing.