This amazing day includes an Eco-friendly art market in the ECI gym showcasing work from both professional artists and from our own talented student artists. Come and SHOP!
AND don’t forget to check out the awesome clothing SWAP in the cafeteria from 12-3pm. Early donation drop-off 10am.
One donated item = one ticket.
$5 entry fee for the Swap
Buy New items for one ticket or $2 each. Fundraising for the Arts program and ECI impact club, providing recycling program within the school and other sustainable activities.
Live music will be provided throughout the day by our talented Eastwood musicians, and a concession booth will be open selling coffee, tea and muffins.
Funds raised from the Eco Shop table rentals will support the Integrated Arts Program at Eastwood.
Funds raised from the Eco Swap will be split between the Eastwood Environment Impact Team and the Integrated Arts Program
I’ll be there, with all four books for sale. It’s the perfect place to sell stories about dance, and selling my books also supports arts programming at the high school level. Even if you don’t need to buy any books from me, come out to see what other artists–both professional and student–are doing and support the arts.
Novels about dance can become too sterile: the ones I read as a teen (I don’t recall the series name anymore) always centered around a protagonist who was trying to make it. Fame had the same premise. A Chorus Line. Billy Elliot. Center Stage. One recent exception so far is Off Kilter. I always knew I’d write a novel about dance, but I wanted to write one that didn’t follow that generic plot line. (Though I did write one when I was 16 that will thankfully never see the light of day.) Although Between Worlds is about more than dance, dance plays a central role in Juliana’s life.
How to Write about Dance in Fiction?
So dance is part of Juliana’s life, but using dance in fiction carries a certain challenge: how to describe what the dancer is doing and feeling without boring the audience.
Dance is a visual art form. I’ve written dance reviews, but just talking about steps wouldn’t have any effect on my readers. Instead, I had to talk about the choreography, costumes, lighting, the dancers themselves, because all those elements worked together. With Juliana, though, I don’t have access to all those elements. Does the reader care about the lighting in Juliana’s dance studio? Or does the reader want a detailed description of her dance outfits?
I also need to remember that not all readers are looking for novels about dance. They’re reading the series instead because they like the premise of the series, or because they enjoy the juxtaposition of a historical storyline with a contemporary one. In addition, steps mean nothing to a reader who has never studied dance.
As I debated my dilemma some more, I realized that when I wrote about dancers for other magazines, we never talked about the steps; we talked about what dance felt like to them, or what they loved about dance. If they were older dancers (like, way older), we discussed how they danced now. But it was never, or at least rarely, about the steps.
How to Write about the Dancer in a Novel, Then?
When I was 14, my emotional self wanted to pull me deeper inside my conscious self, but I was scared of forgetting where I was in my dance and of sharing too much of myself on stage. It means that, when writing storylines about dance, I have to stretch past my own experience. When I describe how Juliana gets lost in her dancing, I’m describing a dream, because it’s not something I’ve ever been able to fully realize for myself. (If you’re able to get lost in dance, tell me in the comments section below what that’s like.)
So I needed to find a balance. Too much description about dance, and I risked losing some readers. Too much emphasis on Juliana’s thoughts, and I risked losing yet others. I was confident I could achieve that balance, so the next question came up: what dance form to use?
Writing Involves Rhythm. So Does Dance.
Dance in fiction often focuses on ballet. Dance in movies currently seems to be more hip hop and street than ballet. I wanted something different, but I also had to be comfortable writing about it. So I chose tap. But how could I incorporate it so that readers who’ve never studied it understand what I’m writing?
Aside from being my favourite form of dance, tap also has the bonus of fairly standard vocabulary, and at least to my ears, the terminology often matches the rhythm (or can be made to do so.) In the last scene of The Move, Juliana taps on her new tap board while working through the major changes that happened in her life. The scene was challenging to write, but I think it achieved the balance needed to express a teen dancer and still keep the reader’s interest.
Let me know in the comments section what your thoughts were on that last scene. Be sure to mention if you’ve danced or not.
Have Questions about Writing Novels about Dance?
If you’re happening upon this blog post because you’re doing a project on dance for school, or if you have questions about writing and dance, feel free to leave your questions below. If they’re personal (i.e., you don’t want the world knowing your question and my answer), email me. I’ll certainly do my best to answer.
Allard didn’t start learning flamenco dance until she was 19, an age by which many professional dancers start their careers. She moved to Spain when she was 21 and studied flamenco intensively for six years.
What Is Flamenco?
“First and foremost, flamenco is an expression of a people, the southern Spanish Gypsies,” she explains. “It’s a voice of their struggle.”
If you’ve only seen flamenco, whether on television or on stage, you likely think first of the dramatic form of dance, usually done by women draped in elegant dresses with frills. However, Allard explains that it actually started with song.
“It’s songs of pain, but also of joy. So, it’s really a sub-culture that was really, for a long time, put aside, and they were actually for some time not even allowed to sing,” Allard says. “So, the voice comes first, and then the guitar came, the rhythms, the dance.”
When the Body Doesn’t Fit the Type
As an artistic director and choreographer, though, Allard must add her own voice to this old art form, so she began with her body. As a blue-eyed woman who stands 5’9”, she is not physically what the average viewer likely imagines when they think of a flamenco dancer.
“I’m physically not at all Spanish looking or Gypsy looking,” she says. “So, I have to really somehow adapt from the very start of my studies. I had to adapt the movement to my body, which wasn’t short.”
Adapting an art form, though, doesn’t mean doing whatever you feel works and leaving the rest behind. It’s still important to learn the basics.
Always, Always, Always, Start a A
“I trained in traditional flamenco, because it’s the only thing you can train in, and I believe very strongly in knowing your ABCs before actually doing poetry. You can’t start from poetry, you have to know the words,” Allard says.
I feel very strongly about that in any form of art. It’s not to bore you: after all, who gets a high from practicing straight lines and squares of dots when you first begin to draw? Or from doing more pliés in one month of ballet classes than you eat chocolate in a year?
The point is that those basics strengthen you to carry out your art with fewer errors down the road. In the case of drawing, those errors may mean inaccurate lines. In the case of ballet, those errors can be injuries.
The Basic Structure = Your New Language
There’s another reason, though, for focusing on those basic structures, whatever your form: you learn the form’s language, which is what allows you that new channel of expression. Even if you choose to write, you are still learning a new language, because the forms that typically make for strong writing are different than those that work for a wonderful conversationalist.
It’s the language of flamenco that allowed Allard the freedom to begin experimenting. Her company’s name means “the other shore.” Not only is she located in Montreal, Canada, on the other side of the Atlantic from Spain, but she also experiments with flamenco. When you watch this video, can you see the language of flamenco breaking through the fur cap and exposed pregnant belly?
Flamenco for Today
“I see flamenco as a a very contemporary art,” Allard says, “because I see I’m doing this today in 2018, so I don’t think I have to wear a skirt with frills, I don’t think I have to wear a flower in my hair. If I feel like it, I will, but for me that’s not a code I feel I have to respect, if I can use that word. I’m very free that way. If I want to wear trousers, I will.”
Even just by wearing pants, Allard’s choreography changes.
“As women in flamenco would traditionally wear long skirts, it makes movement rounder, and it also makes for a prop because you’re actually touching the skirt and using it in the movement and it gives volume to a movement. When you have pants on, you don’t have that volume, you don’t have round, it’s all angles. When I work with pants on, I go for angles.”
For Allard, flamenco’s core is a raw emotion, one that borders on ugliness. She explains further:
“There’s that very fine line between something that is beautiful and something that is ugly. When you watch a flamenco singer, the expression on the face sometimes is very intense. For somebody it can be very ugly to look at, but I find that very beautiful.”
There is no ideal age to start flamenco. Allard has students well into their senior years who, she feels, have a stronger wisdom about their body than younger students may have. She suggests taking advantage of this wisdom: if you are older, you do what you can, you don’t push.
If starting dance is on your mind, just find an adult class taught by a qualified instructor and sign up. If that’s too much for you, though, maybe get out to see more performances, even ones you’re not sure you’ll like. (Something we discussed in the previous post, with Trevor Copp.)
And if you’re in Toronto from October 2-6, catch Fall for Dance North, where Allard’s company will be performing, be sure to get tickets (only $15 each) and enjoy the rawness and intensity that is traditional flamenco dance.
Theatre guru Trevor Copp has a bowl of theatre tickets, roughly 1,200 of them. The bowl makes its stage appearance when Copp judges the Ontario Drama Festival (formerly the Sears Drama Festival): it contains one way of exploring creativity, and he has a reason for placing this bowl under the limelight at this moment.
The bowls contains the tickets of all the theatre shows he himself has seen. Copp tells the students, “There’s three things that we need to become great creators. We need to study the work, we need to do the work, and here’s the third one that is completely inadequately done: we need to see the work. […]”
He then adds, “These tickets did more for me than my master’s degree did, more than all this other stuff I did. This is actually the work right here. This seeing pieces over and over again.”
Copp founded Burlington’s Tottering Biped Theatre in 2009, a professional company emphasizing original, issue-driven, and highly physical work. He has been a professional actor, dancer, director, choreographer, educator, theatre devisor, and arts advocate for over 15 years, and his work ranges from classical to contemporary, performing in over 30 cities nationally and internationally and at numerous professional theatre festivals. His TED Talk, “Ballroom Dancing that Breaks Gender Roles,” has received almost 620,000 views on the TED website at time of writing.
Develop Creativity by Experiencing Creativity
Copp has built a meaningful, sustainable life out of his love for the arts, and he’s learned a few things. Being creative doesn’t mean just producing: you also have to join the conversation.
“You can get a degree in theatre without seeing a play. It’s just this thing that’s baffling to me,” says Copp.
I’m going to say it now, and you’ll hear it from me again, and Copp will say further down in this blog post: being creative isn’t some random talent that some are born with and others aren’t. We all have it, but you have to engage with it, and one way of doing that is by taking in others’ creative endeavours.
So, if you think that young artists are exposed to thousands of hours of creativity that you as a working adult just don’t have time to engage in, think again.
“The thing that I absolutely rail about,” says Copp, “is the lack of student artists attending art. The lack of young actors seeing acting, the young dancers seeing dance.”
Afraid of the Negative?
Seeing other works not only feeds your ideas, but by helping you discern what you do and don’t like, you’re learning more about yourself. The reason I returned to part-time grad studies this year was to be forced to read things I normally wouldn’t read.
(That includes Günter Grass’s Tin Drum, but having to force my way through that monstrosity of a book is teaching me about craft, storytelling, character creation…all of it…not to mention persistence.)
As you see various artistic works, some will speak to you, some will not, just like Grass’s writing absolutely does not speak to me. That’s okay, and that’s part of the conversation you need to engage in. I believe that society in general is losing the art of meaningful conversation, which includes respectfully explaining why you don’t like something. This isn’t your grandmother’s meatloaf we’re talking about here, this is art, in the broad sense of the word.
Neil Gaiman on Arthur
If you have kids, you probably watched Marc Brown’sArthur at some point in time. Did you see the Arthur episode with Neil Gaiman? Sue Ellen, the cat, is at a book signing. Neil Gaiman asks her if she’s a writer, but because she writes and draws, she doesn’t know where she fits in. He tells her about graphic novels, something he’s also done, so she reads one and becomes inspired to work on one herself. As she begins exploring creativity, she creates a story.
Her friends don’t understand her work, though, and she becomes discouraged. Gaiman consoles her, saying that her friends are clearly interested in her story, even if they don’t understand it or even like it. She takes his advice to heart and continues creating.
In other words, her work has begun a conversation, but it could only happen because she engaged in conversation first, both literally (by talking to Gaiman) and figuratively (by reading a graphic novel, something she’d never heard of before).
(If you want an easy book to read about developing your own voice, read Arthur Writes a Story, by Marc Brown.)
But You Don’t Have to Publish
Sue Ellen likely hopes to publish someday, but you don’t have to. Ever. You can create your own art (painting, dancing, composing, drawing, whatever) in your own private space, where no eyes will ever cast their gaze upon it.
And that’s totally fine!
But in order to help you develop your sense of who you are and how your voice sounds, you need to expose yourself to others’ art and let it touch you.
Vulnerability and Art
Of the works that speak to you, some will really hit you, sometimes in surprising ways. In my experience, that “hit” is to my most vulnerable spot, the spot I need to open up in my writing so that it’s Lori the Author writing and not Lori the Copywriter.
“We’re in a culture that doesn’t sit you down and make you look at your vulnerability and make you ask questions about it,” says Copp.
Opening up your vulnerability in your art doesn’t mean you have to let out your deep secrets. This isn’t Catholic confession we’re talking about here: you’re exploring creativity. Therefore, it’s about opening up the parts of you that are scared to come out. This will likely never be one massive explosion of exposed vulnerability: it’ll be a trickle.
And again, that’s okay!
Encourage that trickle by returning to your art and seeing if you can notice where you’ve closed up and need to open yourself. I notice it in my work where I suddenly have my protagonist move into a scene that doesn’t naturally flow with the story.
“We have this incredible facility for healing,” says Copp, “and that facility, I think, really comes about for the people who are creating and continue connecting themselves to their [artistic] work. If you’re just technical and talented, and you ride on that, you won’t go through that journey.”
Exploring Creativity Isn’t a Crap Shoot
As I keep emphasizing, creativity isn’t some random talent you’re either born with or aren’t, and Copp sees things the same way. In fact, he feels that people born with a strong talent in a skill often misconstrued as creativity can actually fall into a trap that hinders their creativity.
“I think that our cultural assumptions, that someone who is born with an artistic talent is creative, is faulty,” he says. “That they were born with grace and flexibility and balance, all those things, none of that makes them creative.”
Again, just because some people are born with certain aptitudes does not make them creative. You have to explore creativity, not just replicate it.
“The fact that you can land a quadruple [pirouette], good for you. That doesn’t make you a creative person,” Copp emphasizes (like I do).
“I think highly talented artists have this danger where the talent skips the part where their work is in dialogue with their actual life, with their emotional, spiritual, intellectual life. It can skip all that because they’re too talented.”
Copp’s own biography is a case in point: he went into theatre first forpersonal development. Born with an identical twin, Copp grew up so close with someone that he didn’t always need to express himself; he and his twin just knew what the other was thinking. Once he hit adolescence, though, he realized that the rest of the world didn’t communicate the way he and his twin brother did, and he had to learn to bring himself outside of himself.
In other words, studying acting was never about an inborn skill he had.
“I pride myself on being an untalented performer. In school, I was never the lead, never got the awards, I never got any of that. I was just a person who was like, ‘I think this is how I want to grow up.’”
Creativity = Art + Life
For Copp, his real life and his onstage life had to match. For example, Copp used to find it difficult to express anger in real life, and that transferred to the stage: he couldn’t act angry, either.
“I don’t know how to do something onstage and not do it in my life,” he says. “I associate creativity with forcing yourself to lock those two together: ‘What’s happening in my life, what’s happening onstage, how do I make sure that the two are in correspondence?’”
So, if you’re holding back on exploring your creativity because you believe you don’t have the talent, then erase that belief from your head right now. Instead, replace it with joining the conversation.
That might mean going to a local church that offers noon-hour concerts, or attending more art or live theatre shows, or joining a book club. You’ll learn more by this extensive exposure than you ever could if you’d been born with the artistic skills you’re trying to cultivate in your own life.
When I turned 40, I suddenly cared about aging. Always active in my younger years through dance, and proudly displaying a photo of me doing the splits still at age 37, turning 40 suddenly made me realize my body was changing. So when I spoke with Bonnie Masina, who started dancing flamenco at age 50, I was all ears.
Flamenco is a passionate, emotional dance form for both men and women and has its own style of musical accompaniment. I’ve seen flamenco dances on and off over the years, thought right now the music for the flamenco routine from Riverdance is playing in my mind.
One thing I’ve noticed is the age range of female flamenco dancers. (I feel like I see more pictures of female dancers because of the beauty of their dresses.) Coming from your standard North American background, seeing an older female dancer is rare.
The Body Changes As You Age
But starting flamenco at age 50 is not something I hear of too often. Granted, Masina did compete in ballroom and Latin dance in her youth, but she says she stopped when she was 20 because of kids and, well, life. Getting back into dance after a 30-year hiatus can’t be easy.
But that’s not as remarkable as the rest of Masina’s story. She worked for decades in IT, eventually reaching IT Manager and working extensive hours, which she describes as 24/7. From all those hours glued to a computer, she’d developed rotator cuff injuries in her shoulders and spinal problems resulted in pain in several of her fingers. Over time, she’d lost the ability to raise her arms past her shoulders and to articulate those three fingers: they started functioning as one because years of bad posture had begun pinching things. (I’m fighting the beginnings of that kind of job-related injury.) In addition, a broken toe had broken through the bottom of her foot and healed that way.
These may sound like minor inconveniences. After all, we’re used to hearing about catastrophic accidents to get our attention. However, this is how aging works: bit by bit, the story of your life grows into your body. But instead of the sexy scar across the adventure-movie star’s face, it’s little aches and pains that start to change how you move. I’m over 10 years younger than Masina, and I’ve already noticed it, too.
Flamenco at Fifty
Masina’s hectic work schedule inspired her to seek out its complete opposite: dance. She sought out something Latin but didn’t want a partner. So flamenco it was. She registered with Carmen Romero’s School of Flamenco Dance Arts in Toronto. Masina learned quickly the need to leave work at work and focus on her dancing.
“If you let the outside world in, you’ll mess up,” she says.
Masina didn’t let her injuries get in the way. When Romero tried to push Masina’s arms up, Romero said, “Oh my gosh, you’re stuck!” Masina recalls. “I wanted to be unstuck and I knew dance and repetitively doing it and trying to do things better would help. I can now pull my arms all the way beside my ears.”
Masina even found a way to deal with her improperly healed foot: orthotics with a hole for her bone and, with Romero’s help, special flamenco shoes with a lower heel.
But unlike those products-for-the-aging commercials that make it seem like aging is a picnic, Masina explains it took her a while to dance properly. “But I was determined I was not going to not dance because of one stupid bone in my foot,” she says.
Over time, Masina sought chiropractic treatment and therapy for her fingers, and with Romero, who’s also a brain-injury therapist, regained almost complete use of those three fingers. She also learned how to balance better so she wouldn’t aggravate her foot.
Age Doesn’t Matter With Flamenco
Flamenco has become a sort of second life for Masina, and she’s adamant that you can start at any age and at any ability level.
“I don’t think it matters what your age is, dance can help you, even if it’s just having fun,” she says. She’s even taught flamenco at a senior’s home. “You can dance in a chair. You don’t have to be all over the dance floor to enjoy dance.”
Picking up dance can be done at any age and at any ability. When my chiropractor told me the pain I’d been experiencing for months in a joint in my toe was osteoarthritic pain, I thought I’d never be able to dance again. Mind you, I don’t dance every year, but the thought of never is a bit much. However, after talking with Masina, I might revisit that.
[grey_box]The Little KW Flamenco Fest takes place this weekend, running July 31-August 2 at various locations. The program includes workshops (disclosure: some are held at my sister’s studio), and they’re open to all.[/grey_box]
With Change on the Horizon, Cadilla Moved Towards It
Life is full of transitions, and I won’t bore you with a list of all the usual ones. But as you explore your creativity, remember that transitions can happen here, too. Bored with painting? Try writing. Need to move more? Try dancing. Need to move less? Try painting. Professional creatives go through transitions, too, and if they’re lucky, it’s by choice. For Alejandro Álvarez Cadilla, creator of the new CBC mini-series mockumentary Off Kilter, that’s what happened.
Reaching Dreams Early
Cadilla had reached the height of his professional dance career, dancing as a principal dancer for Nacho Duarto in Spain.“It was like a dream come true,” Cadilla says of getting that job back in 2004. But three years into his dream job, things began to change. Cadilla started to get a little bored with performing on stage and knew he needed something more fulfilling. Moreover, he knew he’d have to transition eventually—all dancers do—and he didn’t want to wait for his body to give up first.
Just by chance, Cadilla took a script-writing class, where he had to write and film a short autobiographical film on whatever he wanted to. Being a stage professional himself, he filmed a short on stage fright.
“I just had a crappy camcorder and I edited it on iMovie, and it did really well in film festivals,” he says. That’s when he realized he had an eye for framing and a knack for storytelling. “So I really became curious.”
Cadilla continued dancing for another year or two and opted to try acting. But even after completing one year at the Oxford School of Drama, something was still missing.
“As much as I enjoy performing—I’d been performing for so long—it wasn’t that I didn’t find it fulfilling, it’s that I was kind of tired of being on the the receiving end of someone else’s opinion as it pertains to whether I was going to get a job or not.”
The Main Difference for Cadilla Between On Stage and Off Stage
Performers are all subject to the same process: being selected isn’t just based on their ability. As aware as I was of that (and it was part of the reason I didn’t want to even attempt a professional dance career), it stared me in the face a few years ago when I took my son to see the So You Think You Can Dance tour. Suddenly, the camera wasn’t there to “smoothen things out” and each dancer’s true strengths and weaknesses shouted at me like a seller at a market.
“You can’t pitch yourself as an actor or dancer,” Cadilla says, “but it works as a writer because you pitch a project. Everyone’s looking for a good story, so that gave me much more of an outlet.”
The thing with transitions is that they don’t have to be all or nothing, and they weren’t for Cadilla. Although not all of his productions involve dance, Off Kilter is a comedy set in the dance world, and Cadilla draws heavily from his experiences.
Bringing Dance in Front of the Camera
“I wanted anything related to dance, anything that happens in the studio, I wanted it to be something that a real dancer looks at and says, ‘Okay, that’s really what happened. That’s really what they say. That’s really what they do. That’s really the workflow.’”
If all I’d heard about the new series was that it was a dance comedy, I likely wouldn’t have tuned in. Sure, a comedy about the dance world is new, but I find almost all dance shows are about some young dancer trying to make it. For example:
Center Stage: 12 teens enrol in the American Ballet Academy and aspire to future dance careers.
Billy Elliot: a young boy from a mining town tries to get in to the Royal Ballet .
A Chorus Line: lots of dancers audition for a few spots in a show.
There’s Dance Academy, Save the Last Dance (the protagonist wanted to be a professional dancer until things were cut short), Black Swan (she wants the lead in Swan Lake), Dirty Dancing, Flashdance…the list goes on. Yes, there are exceptions, but that’s generally the plot line.
Off Kilter is Definitely On Topic
Instead of giving us more of the above but just funny, Cadilla took what he had seen in the dance world and fed it into these eight short episodes. For example, you’ll see an “old” ballerina (she’s only 39) whose body is starting to break down on her, but she has to support a child at home and deal with her ex-husband’s young new girlfriend.
“I enjoyed Black Swan,” Cadilla says, “but I can tell you that there isn’t a single soloist at the American Ballet Theatre that lives at home with her mom in a pink room with teddy bears. Those women are made of hardened steel because at a company like ABT or The National [Ballet of Canada], the workload is so intense.”
And instead of focussing the show on a young dancer, Cadilla turned the lens on to an aging choreographer, played by Cadilla himself, trying to make a comeback after a plagiarism scandal in the 90s.
I found the whole take refreshingly creative.
How Does Cadilla Create?
So let’s bring this post to a close with my favourite question: Does Cadilla have any last thoughts on creativity before we finish our interview?
“One thing that’s really important for me in terms of how I create is that I always take the time to not do anything. The way that I write is that I sit down and just start writing. And I take pauses. I’ll have a cup of coffee, and I’ll think.”
Although Cadilla understands the allure and the need of social media, he’s not big on it himself.
“If we’re constantly looking for that chemical stimuli we get whenever we get a like on something, you’re never going to be able to slow down and let your own creativity develop. Because it’s a slow process. It’s something that takes the time to just sit down and ponder,” he says.
I told him how much I agreed with him. One change I made several years ago was to stop watching TV while in the kitchen, even if I was washing dishes. It lets me mull over problems I’m experiencing in my own creative projects, and, maybe more importantly, lets my brain not think about something for a change.
(I still watch something if I’m ironing, though: that one’s hard to give up.)
As you explore your creative side, don’t be afraid to try different creative outlets. Creativity flows through us from one medium to the next, and Cadilla has embraced that flow fully.
One myth I want to take down with this interview is the romanticized image of inspiration. Yes, we all get eureka moments: I have plenty of them. However, in my case, they’re never actually good ideas. Instead, those moments of inspiration are actually doors to the real idea, but I get too caught up in those moments to make use of the gateway they are it. (Which hurts when you realize you need to delete half your novel because it’s full of eureka moments.)
Laurence Lemieux also puts to bed the myth that inspiration comes in a flash of lightning. She’s the artistic director of Citadel+Compagnie and the choreographer of Looking for Elvis, which plays at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance in Toronto from May 2-5 and May 9-12, 2018, alongside renowned Canadian choreographer James Kudelka’s work The Man in Black.
The idea for Looking for Elvis began back in 2012, when Lemieux travelled to Graceland as part of a road trip to Nashville with her daughter to celebrate a milestone birthday.
“It was not at all what I thought it would be,” Lemieux says about Graceland, Elvis’s home in Memphis. She was expecting a mansion. “And you get there and it’s a little home.” (I agree with her: I had the same experience when I visited in my teens.)
But visiting Graceland opened up her artist’s mind: “I could imagine living in that home, because even though it was the 70s, it was really cozy. And I was like, ‘Wow! Who is this guy?’ I wanted to know more about Elvis.”
It’s not that Lemieux didn’t know who he was—she has always been a fan but “not like a crazy fan,” she says. But who was the man behind the performer?
She believes all performers experience what Elvis must have experienced, though admittedly usually to a smaller extent.
“You do a great show, people clap, you take a bow, you feel like a million bucks, you take your make-up off, you go home, and, you know, you eat a sandwich. The glamour is really sometimes in the moment on stage and then your life is actually not that,” she says.
Even though the question was planted with this visit, Lemieux says she didn’t have the idea at that time to choreograph a show that would answer it. She did listen to more of his music, but not even then did she have the moment of inspiration. It took a commission from another local dance company before she realized she might be on to something. Later, when Kudelka was remounting The Man in Black, Lemieux felt the two pieces would complement each other nicely for a show.
Lemieux never saw Elvis in a negative light. He wasn’t “fat” or “tacky” in her mind. Instead, she believes Elvis had a talent, and everyone wanted to make money off him: “They want money, so they want him to perform. So the damage that does to the person himself, that’s what I wanted to look at,” Lemieux says. It’s a cycle that keeps repeating: Michael Jackson, Prince, and many more.
To Lemieux, if Elvis were an office worker, he would have probably been sent home for a few weeks to rest and recuperate. I’d have to agree with her on that: a sick employee could actually cost a company money, whereas sending them home for awhile and having their short-term disability insurance cover the bill would save money. With performers, it’s the opposite: A performer can really be “here today, gone tomorrow,” and if the performer doesn’t perform, then the entourage doesn’t get paid.
Each choreographer has their own way of working. Some know exactly what they want and direct the dancers accordingly, whereas others have ideas in their mind and work with the dancers to embody those ideas on stage. Lemieux’s style more closely matches the latter group. She directs the movement but has her dancers find their own personal journey through it. “But I tell them emotionally where it should be sitting,” she says. “I tell them who they are in that moment and what they should be thinking. So, I give them a lot of feedback on their character more than the actual steps. Sometimes I think I direct them more like I would an actor.”
Kudelka has been the resident choreographer at Citadel+Compagnie for ten years now. Former Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada, the New York Times has called him “ballet’s most original choreographer.” The Man in Black, though, is not what comes to mind when you think of ballet. A homage to Johnny Cash, the work’s backbone is four dancers in cowboy boots. In contrast to Looking for Elvis, which Lemieux describes as more emotional, The Man in Black is Kudelka’s response to the music as a score. (Kudelka was not available for an interview, so I couldn’t ask him how the idea for this piece came about.)
The beauty of creativity is exploration: Lemieux describes one sequence in The Man in Black where Kudelka explores what cowboys would do if they had to dance. (Picturing Clint Eastwood trying to line dance makes me smile.) In Looking for Elvis, Lemieux choreographed a sequence where one dancer embodies Las Vegas Elvis, with all the bling, and she puts a microscope on what happens once he begins to falter: some of his friends turn their back on him, ignore him.
Inspiration doesn’t always come with a flash of lightning or a crescendo in orchestral music. It sometimes comes to us slowly, seeping via little windows into our minds until something pushes us to create a whole out of the pieces. If you find yourself frustrated with your own creative endeavours, see if you’re waiting for that eureka moment. Because if you are, you’ll be waiting for a long time. The world around you is already speaking to you, and those ideas are already in your head, waiting to be expressed. Lemieux works her ideas out on her dancers, and just like her, you can work your ideas out in your art form. That’s where you’ll find your creativity. And your inspiration.
Looking for Elvis and The Man in Black will be showing at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance in Toronto from May 2-5 and May 9-12, 2018. Tickets are available here.
The first quarter of 2018 is almost over. So, I’m going to ask that ominous question, the one that sounds like the monster that’s been hiding in your closet all these years, whose presence you keep denying to yourself.
How are your New Years’ goals coming along?
Ouch. Did that hurt? Did you feel an arrow fly into your stomach? Or maybe into your head as you suddenly remembered you even had New Years’ goals?
I’m certain you’re not alone, and I’ve got news for you: it’s not too late to start the pursuit again.
Review the Last 3 Months
This might be painful, but quarterly reviews clarify for you what’s going on. What’s really going on. They break the safety bubble you live in, because you’re faced with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly when you review your progress of the past three months. But keep this in mind: In my experience, the more honest I am with myself and my progress, the easier pursuing my goals becomes. Why? Because I fear less.
When you review your last few months, ask yourself these questions:
Am I where I want to be?
If so, what did I do that got me there? (And continue doing it.)
If not, what did I do that didn’t work? (And find a new way of doing it.)
Get Support to Reach Your Goals
If you’re on track with your goals, you probably don’t want to mess with things. But if you’re off track, then it may be time to get help.
Here’s what happened to me last year: For the first time during my annual review, I calculated how much the time I’d spent on marketing efforts, multiplied it by the hourly rate of what I’d earned for the year, and used the total as a measure of how much money I’d “spent” on marketing last year. I then reviewed how much new business I’d won over the year. The final figures weren’t pretty. In fact, they were pretty devastating. So, I contacted a marketing consultant to do an audit on my efforts and set me on the right path.
But that’s what I’m talking about. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, haven’t reached your word goal, or still have the same number of customers as last year, get help! Either join a group, see your doctor, find a good therapist or coach…Whatever your means allow, now’s the time to get a little assistance.
Do You Need to Re-Align?
The beauty with checking in on your goals every quarter like this is that it gives you a chance to re-align them with where you are now. Remember, you created your New Years’ goals in a certain frame of mind, at a certain time in your life, under a certain set of circumstances. If your situation has changed, you may need to adjust how you achieve your goals.
What if you planned to write 1,000 words a week but the serious diagnosis of a loved one rammed you off course? It doesn’t mean you can’t write at all.
What if you wanted to quit smoking but in the meantime lost your job, leaving you with more stress than your non-smoking self can handle? That doesn’t mean you can’t regain your footing. You adjust. (And, of course, get help so you can make it through.) Remember, every little bit helps, so don’t discount small, regular steps towards your goals. Not everything has to be achieved by leaps and bounds.
Don’t be Afraid
Looking at progress is a powerful motivator to help you move forward. It’ll help you figure out what’s gone wrong and hopefully inspire you to plan your next steps to get back on track.
They say every journey begins with a step. Take that next step now to get back on the path you dreamed for yourself this year.
Studying dance growing up makes you acutely aware of your body. For me, I never fully knew where I fit: After a failed audition for a major ballet school when I was 12, I was told my rib cage was the wrong shape. (My mom reminded me recently that she was told I’d need to have my floating ribs removed to have the proper curves.) However, when I auditioned for a Toronto production of Crazy For You, I fulfilled at least one requirement: Chorus members had to be 5’7” or taller. Some women tried to circumvent the requirement by wearing heels, but they were found out soon enough. (I didn’t get the role, but I fit the height requirements.)
Only 1 Person for a Role
I recently talked to two brothers, Kevin and Michael Scheitzbach, who are hip-hop artists in Brampton, just outside of Toronto. Only 17 and 21 (though actually three years apart), they’ve already learned to understand that a failed audition doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad dancers, but rather, they’re just not a right fit for that part.
“But I feel like we’ve learned to accept that maybe we’re not what they’re looking for, or maybe they needed to fit this roll differently and only one of us could book it. We’ve learned to accept it now, whenever we go to an audition. It doesn’t stop us from continuing to love what we do,” said Michael, the older brother.
You likely know Stockard Channing as Rizzo on Grease, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Watching her play Lois Lane was an odd experience: she was just fine, but she just didn’t fit. Margot Kidder was truly the only one who fit the role. I think the edge Channing had that got her cast in Grease wasn’t right for the 70s/80s Superman franchise.
Being Like Everyone Else?
I always thought that the audition circuit in dance was about trying to make yourself fit a certain mould. There is some truth to that, but only some. It was actually about trying to find where you fit best. Yes, I fulfilled the height requirement for Crazy For You, but my personality didn’t, and for all I know, my body (aside from my height) may not have, either.
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that, because of his height, he’d never be a leading man on stage, but he also said he’s okay with that. Just the other week, I saw him perform the role of Cosmo Brown in Singin’ in the Rain, and I’d almost say he stole the show: the role fit him perfectly.
Copying at the Start
When you’re learning your art form, be it dance, writing, painting, an instrument, it’s normal to copy the masters at first. I definitely made my attempts:
I remember our ballet teacher having a small TV and VCR hooked up in the studio, and we’d try some of the chorus work from Swan Lake.
My last tap solo was to “Singin’ in the Rain,” complete with umbrella, and my dance teacher asked me to learn a piece of Gene Kelly’s choreography.
My friends and I often watched a movie and tried to mimic the singers. (Three teenagers trying to sound like Bette Midler one moment and then soprano Rebecca Caine the next must have required a lot of patience from our parents.)
When I read my manuscripts from my teen years, I can tell you exactly what TV show I was watching when I wrote it: I changed the names of the characters and the story’s location, but I copied the central plot.
Copying the masters, so long as it’s part of your learning, is how knowledge is passed down. As the old saying goes, there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel. Studying the great artists of our past merges their knowledge with ours and we don’t waste time discovering what’s already been discovered. That’s partly why dancers today can accomplish so much more than dancers from years gone by: the ones who listened to their teachers and studied those at the peak of their craft could move further faster sooner.
You at the Finish
But there comes a point in time when you realize you have something special to offer. I got to talk to former prima ballerina Evelyn Hart two months ago, and we agreed that the artists everyone reveres, in our case dancers, are not copies of someone else: they have something unique about them that no one else has.
Just take the classic examples of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire: you would never mistake one for the other, even when they’re dancing together.
I know my parents would have never had my floating ribs removed, because it would that have been a very drastic and expensive operation for a pre-teen. But something more important lay underneath my request to audition that my parents knew about: a friend of mine had disappeared that year and was studying at that school. I wanted to get in, too, just because she had done it. So, my decision to audition had nothing to do with fulfilling a dream but everything to do with being like someone else.
To be successful in your art, and (I believe) in almost anything you do, you need to find that balance between listening to your teachers, who are passing on sometimes centuries of knowledge and tradition, and growing into who you truly are. For some, it’s an easy journey; for others, like me, it’s more difficult. But it is possible.
The downside to being creative is that your creativity can show up when it’s perhaps not as beneficial to your day-to-day running. In my case, it happened with my online presence: two websites, a blog, and five domains (those three plus two more). Thankfully, I stopped getting creative at the social media stage: I only have four accounts there, and one I’ve almost laid dormant.
However you spend your creative life, whether it’s for fun or as a career, managing your online presence shouldn’t be time-consuming: After all, you want to spend time on your writing, dancing, music, art, etc., right? If you’re freelancing, you’d rather be earning money than frequently managing your online presence.
I’m now unifying everything into one website, and I’m trying out a new theory.
People Want to Know Me
Two months ago, I wrote about how artist and freelancing websites need to differ: an artist website needs to focus on portfolio and expertise, whereas a freelancing website needs to emphasize the services you offer (and also include your portfolio and expertise).
I still stand by those differences. But over the past six months or so, I’ve been working through some marketing advice from Kristen Lamb, a freelance and indie editor, and a book by Michael Port, a business consultant for service providers (which freelancers are).
Lamb focuses on indie authors. In her blogging workshop (excellent, by the way), she emphasized how important it is to market myself as a person, because people who share my interests are more likely to read my books. If someone is looking for a horror, then a blog about dance, life, and marketing will signal that I’m not that author.
In Book Yourself Solid, Port describes how to make your marketing fit you and how to find customers who jive with you, which is why I love his book. As a service provider, and one who does all the writing herself, I’m not interested in getting millions of hits to my websites, hundreds of calls a week, etc.; there’s only so much in my workload I can handle. Port’s promise is to help me find the right customers for me, and in his opinion, I can help that process along by being me. (I add one caveat, though: Professionalism is still important. Putting up drunken party photos of yourself is not what he means.)
Simplifying My Online Presence
Returning to my new website, that means shining a brighter (but still professional) light on who I am. That doesn’t mean I’m going to have my bio on my homepage: that won’t be effective in my case. But having my homepage reflect who I am will let me unify both sides of my writing.
But what prompted all of this? It wasn’t just the time I was spending on my websites and blog, it was feedback, and likely not the kind of feedback you’d expect for such a change.
My current copywriting website got compliments from several writers I respect, but I received almost no inquiries through it. Those who hung around the website long enough to read up on my pricing also didn’t jump off at pricing; they jumped off elsewhere. So if my website was so good, and pricing wasn’t scaring people off, why wasn’t I getting much business through it?
Design for Your Audience, Not Your Colleagues
That’s when I realized that everyone who had complimented me on my website was a writer. Save for content strategists and some marketing managers, most people looking for my services won’t be writers themselves.
In addition, I had learned through several sources (including Lamb) that Google likes websites that are frequently updated. I update my copywriting/translating website every month or two, my website dedicated to writing about dance every year or two, and yet I update my blog – which does not advertise my services directly – every week.
To add to my troubles, the two main websites overlapped when it came to my expertise in dance. Why on Earth was I maintaining two sites with similar content?
So, I’m returning to a simpler strategy, one that will let me focus more on my writing while hopefully strengthening my presence with Google and allowing me to present a full picture of myself to potential clients and readers.
Have you found ways to save time in your marketing? Share them below.
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