Friday, March 27, 2015

Stop Buying Sh*t For Your Kids

I had stopped shopping for myself.   Some of my bras had actual holes in the fabric. I had underwear that, if it were a child, would be in first grade.

My closet descended into a cabinet full of beautiful high-end items -- many from the Clinton administration – things I had no occasion to wear, and crap from stores where you could also buy things like fluorescent-colored relish and anti-fungal creams. Gradually, getting dressed devolved into creating an outfit from a late 90s thrift shop and a bag of clothes someone wore in a food fight.  

Since my pesky kids wouldn’t stop growing, I poured my clothing dollars and my fashion sense into their wardrobes. I’d live vicariously through what I purchased for them. If they looked good, it could only reflect positively on me, right?  People would say to themselves, "That mom might be slovenly and disheveled, but her darling children and their stylish outfits tell us she's got it goin' on!"

But last week, I realized that I had let things downgrade way too far.  Lady A’s preschool was having a ribbon cutting for the new building façade and lobby.  Parents were invited to attend the ceremony, as were the faculty, administration, the school’s board of trustees, and even several local politicos.  I had planned to grab my little girl before the festivities began and be nowhere in sight when the glitterati gathered.  Instead, as usual, I couldn’t get my act together in time, and arrived just as the children and all the honored guests had assembled in front of the building. 

Even though I saw another mom dressed in everyday attire listening to the tribute before taking her son home, there was no way I was going anywhere near the front entrance.  Dressed in a long-sleeve, red and orange striped shirt, black jeans and Converse, I looked like a 40-something-year-old reject from the cast of 70s Zoom. I sat in my car halfway down the street until it was over and I could leave with my little girl in anonymity.

This had to end.

The very next day, I took myself to Marshall’s and bought some tops and sweaters.

Walking through the line to check out, I noticed several displays full of kid stuff.  My mental ticker tape began. “Oh look at those barettes for Lady A!  And more books for Mr. R!  They would love. . . ”   

What the hell was I doing? I thought.  Couldn’t I leave a store and buy something only for me?  It was bad enough that right after I left Marshall’s I’d be scurrying through three separate grocery stores to make sure my little angels had their preferred menu. Did I need to bring them back some more things that would soon be lost, trashed or left in toy limbo?

Hey-ell no.

Another woman was mulling over some frilly headbands. “I am not buying my children one. More. Thing.” I proclaimed aloud as I walked away from the display and took my place in line. “They have everything and I have NOTHING.”

“You’re right!” agreed the woman.  “You’ve inspired me.  I was going to buy something for my girls, but they have plenty.”

I stood a few inches taller, feeling perversely self-satisfied for having encouraged another mom to join me in going to a store and buying not a thing for her children.  I didn’t know if a little more denial in my kids’ lives would stave off resentment fueled rages about how little I did for myself; and it certainly wouldn’t replenish my underwear drawers with cute little sets.  Still, it was a step in the right direction.

I mattered.

I could treat myself and no one else.

And most of all, buying my kids a ton of shit didn’t make me a better mother.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

The Point of Turning

I'm not sure when it happened or how, but suddenly pirouettes à la seconde, aka turns in second were everywhere.

There you'd be, watching a perfectly decent, even lovely piece, and the dancer, if not a whole ensemble would step high, then low into the preparation of life.  Ladies and Gentlemen!  Ms. Multiple Pirouettes Has Entered the Building!  

You were then treated to a double or triple followed in parallel retiré followed by 8-16 counts of pirouettes in second.  Oodles of spins with one leg extended to the side. No matter what the rest of the dance said, no matter how clear and expressive every other movement, what mattered was completing that turn series. 

That damned turn series.  

Once upon a time turns in second were the hallmark of the flashy coda performed by the male lead in a classical ballet. Now, in an effort to make anything better, folks sprinkle them anywhere and everywhere.  

Pirouettes à la seconde have become the chia seeds of choreography.

Recently, on The Huffington Post Alexandra Villareal wrote a highly inflammatory piece about how Maddie Zeigler of Dance Moms and Sia video fame had single-handedly saved dance, bringing interest to a dying art.  She listed lazy millenials, the retirement of several world-class ballerinas, and a lack of accessibility in postmodern choreography as among the major agents of Dance's death.  The dance community went mad with rage, leaping after her with comment section pitchforks and torches.  How dare she!  Then the blogger behind the site to move and be moved wrote an impassioned rebuttal chastising Ms. Villareal for her ignorance about dance and dancers, lauding all that contemporary dance has given us, and stating point blank that:

no matter how wonderful Maddie Ziegler may or may not be, a twelve-year-old simply cannot resurrect an entire art form."

But maybe what both Ms. Villareal and "to move and be moved" should be lamenting is how we have arrived at the point where for a large segment of todays young dancers, pirouettes in second and other tricks have come to symbolize and validate one's skill set. How is it that when our understanding of somatics and pedagogy have exploded (just ask professional dancers of my generation how they would compare their younger dancing selves to many of today's teens and college students), a small set of movements indicates that a dancer has technically arrived?  

I'm not sure if it symbolizes a lack of faith in both the substance and subtleties of our physical knowledge, or a failure to delve into untapped possibilities.  

Whatever the case, something has gone horribly wrong. 

When I see dance after dance full of the tricks du jour, my head buzzes with questions. A part of me knows the choreographer has made a conscious choice. She values virtuosity wants to show off the pyrotechnics of her dancers.  But then again, maybe the choreographer hasn't learned the art of subtlety - how to use mind-blowing athleticism in service to a bigger theme.  Or maybe the choreographer has decided to give 'em the ol’ Razzle Dazzle, feeling that since nuanced gesture will be lost on the rabble, she might as well make the audience jump out of their seats with legs to the heavens and 847 successive pirouettes.

But when our young dancers choreograph this way, shouldn't we ask them to reexamine their options? We owe it to them, and to dance with a capital D, to let them know that tricks do not make a good dancer, or a good dance.  Of course, dancers must be as strong and as technically versatile as possible.  They need to be flexible yet steely, with gorgeous lines, a fierce jump, and an ability to turn (not spin) for days. Dancers want their bodies -- their instruments -- to be able to do anything a choreographer asks of them.  But what a choreographer wants, at least I hope, and what the art form needs, is people who can communicate with their bodies.  Movers who can tell a story, inviting the audience into an entire world of thought and feeling with a tilt of the head, a roll of the shoulder, with a single percussive breath.  

And those dancers who have been led to believe that the trick is the stamp of approval are in for the rudest of awakenings.  Maybe in college, or maybe when they embark on the audition circuit.   

Your leg up by your ear isn't the same as a knack for hitting a home run against the star pitcher. Dance is an art form, not a sport.  

It's not only what you do, but how you do it. 

Surely there are people out there who see that the emperor is wearing no clothes.  Not only teachers and choreographers in the academic or conservatory circles, but those in the competition wing of the dance world where this aesthetic is most prevalent.  I see plenty of despairing complaints on dance teacher forums.  Maybe the naysayers are in the minority and don't want to risk losing competitions, let alone offending colleagues, parents, and an entire industry.  

Maybe this new set of tricks is too far gone.

Surely turns in second will fade to black only to be replaced by something else.  I am sure when I was in high school there was some "move" or style we younger dancers loved that made my teachers' skin crawl. And surely this step or mannerism was something that seemed so deliciously advanced that even its mediocre demonstration made us feel one step closer to being pros. 

But somewhere along the line I learned the error of my ways, and eventually became mortified to have been guilty of such terpsichorean sin. I hope this current round of tricks will go the same way.  As is bound to happen with chia seeds, we'll see past the hype and move on.  

But my God, what will they think of next?
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