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Upside down Soprano-how aerial arts have helped my singing

I like to sing upside down. 

It was all a bit of a "for fun" experiment at first. I sing opera and like pole dancing and aerial circus arts. "Do you ever sing AND do aerial?" people would ask. I said, sure, why not give it a try. 

Since then, I've sung from my lyra in various variety and burlesque shows in the city, often upside down or from "amazon" type positions, where I am slightly sideways with space between my ribs. I decided to show some videos to my voice teacher (whom I've been studying with for 10 years), just for fun.

What happened next was unexpected.

"You sing better this way!" She exclaimed. "You should sing upside down all the time."

But why is that, exactly? In my last couple voice lessons, we (well, I) decided to find out. 

In my late 20's, I started to lose my extreme high notes. Not like, "high C" kind of high notes, but the E's, and F's required of a true coloratura (that's the highest and lightest type of soprano there is in the opera world, for my non singing friends-it requires tremendous agility and extreme high notes). There was a time in my early 20's when the most redeeming quality of my voice was anything above a high C. When I lost my upper extension and started singing standard repertoire well, only then people started asking if I would sing Queen of the Night. Irony. 

Around 27, I sang my last Olympia and Cunegonde and decided to hang up my coloratura hat. While I never lost the agility, the range just stressed me out too much. My voice lessons were stressful. They all felt like "you better be able to sing these high notes, or else." The harder I tried, the worse it got. I'm little and blonde and spunky and this is the repertoire people expect from me. I have to sing Olympia, I have to be Blondchen, I have to sing Adele, that's the only way I can "make it." I was miserable. I don't even like these arias or these characters anyways, I thought. I dreaded bringing that rep into lessons, and dreaded being asked for it in auditions.

One day, I said, fuck it. I don't have to sing any of this.  Voices change. Tastes change. People change. I'm 35 for Christ's sake. You can't make me be the fucking doll forever. I started getting cast in repertoire I loved and brought that to lessons instead-Handel, Bach, Kurt Weill, lots of baroque and contemporary music. Since then, my voice lined up, and I mean REALLY lined up. People who have known my singing for a long time began approaching me after concerts to marvel at the difference, strangers often ask who I study with in hopes of getting a lesson. It did me a world of good to stop obsessing over what everyone else wanted me to do. It freed me up to make the rest of my range more beautiful and consistent than ever in repertoire that I really loved. 

Sure, my loss of extension is probably in part to due to a vocal shift in my late 20's which is not uncommon. But it is also due to tongue tension, one of my biggest issues in singing. They aren't issues that keep me from singing beautifully in most of my range, but they are issues nonetheless. For anyone who knows anything about vocal pedagogy, a tense tongue or depressing the back of it in any way can cause a lot of problems, especially with the upper extension of the voice. My teacher has tried everything to fix it. Putting the tip of my tongue in the web to discourage me from depressing the back of it. Putting a plastic bag over her hand and physically trying to hold on to my tongue to keep me from grabbing in my throat (that was pretty fun, not.)  Trying to make me act like I'm going to throw up (you know, the motion when your tongue comes up and out of your throat and almost out of your mouth so that the back of it is up and out) All of these tactics are designed to distract me or give me something else to do to get out of my own way, but my tongue is sneaky and finds a way around everything she tries to go back to its evil ways.

Which brings me to the singing upside down thing. For starters, one reason she thinks it helps is because when I am inverted, my ribs are lifted and extended. You will hear many teachers talk about "keeping the ribs out" for extreme high notes, almost "like you have wings." But you can't be holding or pressing them out. (Holding and pressing are bad words when it comes to singing in general) They need to be lifted without being pushed or stressed, they need to have buoyancy. Another reason she thinks it helps is that being inverted not only keeps the ribs lifted, but it creates space between the lowest rib towards your back and your hips, so that the body isn't being compressed in any way, allowing the air flow of your breath to move more freely and efficiently. Finally, when you are upside down, the core is engaged and the neck and head are hanging there loose and free. You can't "support" by grabbing in the throat or tensing up your jaw-the vocal production can come from breath support alone. We were able to apply a lot of these concepts while standing upright by lifting my arms straight up over my head and then extending to one side to feel the space created between my lower ribs and hips. She had a picture printed out of me singing in the hoop that she would put in front of my face during the lesson as a reminder-you can clearly see the space I am creating in my ribs and between my lowest ribs and hips in the picture. Just looking at it helped give me the lift and extension in the ribs that I needed.

Finally, in another effort to tame my tongue, we took two little bites of baby carrot and put them underneath my tongue. My job was to sing high Ds (the end of Lied der Lulu, specifically) while keeping my ribs lifted, and the carrots underneath my tongue pressed down flat to the bottom of my mouth so that she could not see them when I opened my mouth to sing, which kept the back of my tongue lifted and out of the throat and made it impossible to depress in any way. And bam. The high Ds were flying out of me like they haven't in years. Not that I need them for anything soon, but it's nice to have in the toolbox! Maybe in the next week or two I can make a video of all this, but I thought I would write about it since I just got out of a lesson and don't want to forget. For now, as long as I've got my carrots and a lyra, I guess I can still sing Lulu after all. 

 



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Pole Competition Reflection

Less than a year ago, I wrote this little blog about my very first pole competition. I entered the Supershag Pole Fitness Championships in Boston, Level 2, after being cajoled into it by a friend. My initial response was, “WHAT?!!! I could never!”

I’ve tried to pin point exactly where that lack of confidence that sometimes haunts me comes from. I love to dance, but I’m admittedly a perfectionist. I just don’t like to do things badly. Despite a lifelong dance background, I was put in my place very quickly when I moved to New York and went to a few Broadway dance calls. I felt like a total joke. I just couldn’t keep up or retain any of the combinations. I didn’t have the form, the flexibility, the style. I’ve danced in a zillion musicals. Why was I so awful and falling apart in these auditions? It was like everyone else should be on “So you think you can dance” and I was one of those awful people they highlight in the first few episodes. Compared to everyone around me, it was clear to me that I was strictly an opera singer who could move, maybe kind of, and that is it. I decided to accept that, and I stopped dancing and working out for the most part, with the exception of running and yoga on occasion.

Enter, pole!

I remember the huge high I got just by signing up for that competition, and the fear and excitement that followed over the next few months. I wanted to get up on stage and MOVE! I had never taken anything above a Level 2 pole class, and only had a handful of “tricks” under my belt. I trained all wrong, fractured a rib in the process, barely ran my piece for anyone, almost chickened out for the dress rehearsal at the studio. I remember how scared and excited I was before going on stage-I was so determined to make this goal I set for myself happen.  I really wanted to call myself a “real” pole dancer (what the hell does that even mean anyways?!), and I wanted an audience, pictures, video-PROOF that I could do it. When it was all over, I was so happy-in excruciating rib pain that I would not wish on my worst enemy, but happy! I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Performing a pole routine in the middle of a hotel conference room was seriously just as thrilling for me as the day I made my Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center debuts as a soprano soloist -Can you believe that shit?! It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true!!! I did not win, but I just missed getting a medal. And I thought, that went ok considering the slightly disastrous lead up. AND it was fun. What could I accomplish if I worked harder and smarter?

I have given up a lot since then. I rarely make last minute social plans. I would absolutely never accept a last minute happy hour invitation when I have planned to take class. I plan anything non pole or music related far in advance so that I can plan to take class around it. When I am in rehearsals for an opera, I find myself annoyed when it doesn’t leave me time to take class, and anxiously look for any small windows when I can go. When I go out of town for a gig or family obligation, I search for studios where I can take class with other people, not wanting an opportunity to learn something new or get stronger to pass me by. Absolutely nothing pisses me off more than when I get stuck late at work at my day job, causing me to miss a class I wanted to take. When I’m having a slow day at work, I plot and scheme to sneak out and practice or take a class I normally can’t make. Every time I get paid, I calculate how much money I can throw towards class, workshops, pole clothes. When I am in the park or at the beach, I have a hard time sitting and relaxing, because I am too freaking jazzed about making progress in my back flexibility (or lack thereof, but I’m trying!) and new gymnastics skills. I started piling on conditioning classes on top of pole and aerial class, and started to see a difference. I record almost everything I learn, and constantly scroll through my video library so that I don’t forget and can refresh my memory.

Now that I’ve made myself sound a little psycho…..I guess that leads me to today, a couple days after competing in my third competition, Amateur Level 4 at the Pole Sport Organization’s US Nationals. Before I competed in my first pole competition last fall, I would not have believed in a million years that I would be competing at, much less winning, the most advanced amateur level by this time. Hell, I would not have believed it even a few months ago!

What did I learn this year? Going to class religiously makes all the difference. And I mean religiously. And even though it takes a hell of a lot of time, it is worth it. Every time I learn something new or hit a goal with one of my regular teachers or guest instructors, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. It’s like running downstairs on Christmas morning and ripping open all of your presents!  It makes me so happy and excited! I know when I walk into the studio, I’m going to be supported and encouraged in every class unconditionally by familiar faces, all of whom are working towards a common goal-to be better in some way. It’s addicting to see progress, and addicting to be around people that have healthy goals, that are healthy in body and mind. I’ve learned how to train better and more efficiently. I’ve learned that when your body says no, you have to respect that and give it a rest. I’ve learned that one run of your routine in a day is enough. I’ve learned that sometimes, your skill set is enough, even if you see people doing things you can’t do. I’ve learned that communicating with an audience is just as important as a strong technique. I’ve learned that it pays off to invest in private lessons, to have buddies to train with, to seek out, accept and welcome any morsel of help that comes your way. It’s not a path that you should walk down all by yourself. You need help! I don’t know what I was thinking before when I didn’t get more help!!!

I have found a lot of joy in training for competition this year, because it allows me to live out fantasies I have of pole dancing to music I absolutely love. I daydream about it on the subway, walking from place to place, while I’m eating breakfast. Little movies in my head.  I can bring them to life on stage, and I don’t have to audition for anyone or learn a crazy dance combination that doesn’t fit my body to do it. I can make it whatever I want to make it, and the competition organizers will give you lights, a stage (in this case, a gorgeous theater), an audience, a whole media crew, and you can just get up there and make it a reality. Pretty liberating for the frustrated dancer inside of me. It forces me to have a goal with a deadline, to polish what I learn, and makes me hungrier to see just what this body is capable of.

People sometimes ask, what is the point of spending all this time pole dancing? What do you want from all of this? While I’m not sure exactly, I once saw a meme of a pole dancer that said “I’m training for life!” That is an answer I like very much.

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You Should Take Voice Lessons

After yesterday's post, I've had a few requests to resurrect an oldie but goodie video I made/wrote a few years ago that visits the typical conversation many classical singers have with strangers about singing opera-enjoy!

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Everybody, calm down. You CAN be a successful opera singer!

In the past few weeks, there have been several blog postings from fellow opera singers that have a "Why You'll Never be a Successful Opera Singer" theme. Mini lectures, if you will, on how much work it takes, how much tenacity, how much money you'll spend on your education, how little work there is, how poor you will be, how many "normal" things you have to give up in life to sing opera, how you should never attempt this career unless you are willing to give it all up, etc etc etc.

What is a "successful opera singer" anyways? I mean aside from the basic requirement that you are someone that gets paid money in exchange for singing in public. A singer who has no other job besides singing? There are many ways to do that besides being an A house singer. I know lots of people who survive on church gigs and choral gigs, or who took a full time job in the Met chorus. People who get a gig here and there and claim to have no other job besides singing, when they actually live at their parents' house or are supported by their spouse or other family members. Is it the title that makes you a success? The fact that you don't supplement with any other job? Or is it singing in A houses? Are you not a "successful" singer if your career doesn't take you to the Met or La Scala? Is getting a fest contract and building your life in Germany what success means for you? Are you successful if you have an active regional career and perform in lots of smaller houses? What if most of your performances take place in big cities, like New York, San Francisco, Chicago? Does that make you more successful than a singer who travels regionally and performs in smaller cities? What if you make enough money singing to pay your living expenses, but it's not enough to pay your student loans on top of that? Are you not successful then? Is it how much money you make? Where you're singing? Your reviews? What if you're on a voice faculty somewhere and sing a few big contracts per year? Are you not a successul opera singer because you also teach?

I write all this because there really is no one right answer. We throw this "success" word around, but what does it really mean anyways?

While singing indeed takes lots of hard work and tenacity, some of the hardest working, smartest, and most talented singers I know never end up working professionally (to clarify again, getting paid to sing). I've met plenty of lazy singers as well, who don't take advantage of every master class, every training opportunity, who don't put a lot of time into their languages and studies-who have what one would consider a "big career". The right voice singing the right aria in front of the right person at the right time.

There is no formula. There is no perfect answer. Working hard and having talent doesn't entitle you to a full performance schedule or come with any guarantees. And it can be quite the financial burden. Maybe that's what the bloggers are trying to get at.

I say you CAN make it. You CAN be successful. If you are open to the idea that success is not the same for everyone, why would you let someone else tell you what being a success is? The person who defines "success" and "making it" is YOU. Why should people studying opera or people who are already working professionally in the opera world put some kind of ultimatum on themselves by comparing themselves to others who have a completely different story to tell about how they arrived to today?

You can sing professionally and have a personal life, get married, have children, do lots of traveling, or stay based in one city by taking a fest contract or doing most of your work in one particular area. You can sing professionally and have lots of other hobbies. You can sing professionally and identify as being something other than just an "opera singer." Likewise, you can have other jobs besides singing and identify with being an "opera singer."  Where did this idea come from that being an opera singer automatically means you have to fill your life with imbalance and personal drama? That if your life is not all opera all the time you are not a successful opera singer?

Studying music is one of the most positive and enriching things you can do in your life. It may not result in the career you envisioned, or it very well may. The opera world has changed. Many opera companies in the US have closed their doors in the past 10 years. But there are new companies, too, and opportunities to combine opera with other mediums and types of media. There is hope. You can be a successful, working opera singer. Work hard, enjoy the ride, and just keep going. Seriously, it's all going to be just fine.

 

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Engagement Day

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The day Scott asked me to marry him actually started with a nightmare! Like an actual nightmare that I woke up from around 6 AM about Scott not wanting to be with me anymore, LOL (of all things! I told Scott as soon as I woke up and apparently he was like, great, just great, of all days) Of course, this is not an actual fear of mine, but these days I am under a lot of pressure and have been feeling so anxious lately. Church and concert gigs pile up over the holidays, audition season, I'm memorizing and polishing a gigantic role in a Handel opera in italian, the day job is hectic this time of year, I have promised myself I won't slack in my dance and aerial training when my schedule gets tough, and what about time for my relationship? My mind gets consumed with how to manage all these things at once and I worry worry worry and worry some more. The anxiety dreams manifest themselves in many ways, mostly stage dreams (i.e. performing a role I don't know or haven't done in 10 years), dreams about losing people I love, going to prison, or being attacked by zombies (too much breaking bad, orange is the new black, walking dead (Ugh I'm so sad about Hershel!!!!),  you get the idea)

We get out of bed and start our morning routine. As we're getting dressed, Scott asks me if I would like to meet for a drink later at Center Bar (one of our favorite places to get cocktails at Columbus Circle) after my opera coaching since the rest of our week is pretty jammed. While it crosses my mind that meeting after 8 on a Monday isn't super ideal, this request in no way strikes me as out of the ordinary. I'm always up for a mini date, sure!

Scott knows me well. He knows that if he WAITS, and spontaneously asks me to have a drink later in the day and I am not wearing something I feel sexy and amazing in, I will either say no, or go to H & M and buy a new dress. This is just my way. I know I don't need to impress scott with sexy clothes, but I just feel the urge to look and feel majorly hot when we go out together, even if it's just a drink. I want my hair and makeup to look nice and I want to wear my special stay on lipstick so we can make out a little. I get excited every time we meet out, and like to be prepared! I take his cue and throw on one of my go-to plunging neckline american apparel halter dresses that I practically live in and have a zillion colors of, and throw a conservative cardigan over it for day time. He asks me if he thinks the bow tie he picked looks good with his shirt. I tell him he looks great.

We proceed to get ready for the day with every intention of getting an early start. The rain is pouring down and it is freezing when we step outside. We wait for the shuttle bus to the subway. It comes! And then it does not stop for us because it is full. We wait at least 30 minutes. Now we are both running late.

The day is long and crazy for both of us at work.

Scott suggests over IM that we meet at the Lincoln Ristorante for a drink instead of Center Bar, because "We haven't been there in a while." The Lincoln is where we met on our first date. This should ABSOLUTELY be a sign that something is going on, but it literally does not phase me, because I'm busy, stressed out, and my mind is preoccupied. "Sure," I write back. "Let's meet at the fountain!" He suggests. Again, isn't this getting majorly obvious here? Meeting outside? And it's like 35 degrees out? But I am feeling so crushed with stress and people making demands of me at work and frustrated that I have no time to study my music that it still does not cross my mind. He tells me everyone at work likes his bow tie/shirt combination.

6 PM comes. Not only am I running behind to get to my Handel coaching, the 6 train from Grand Central is a hot mess. I wait forever, and then I cram myself onto a train so full that I let myself wave back and forth with the crowd without holding onto anything, people holding me up and pressing against me on all sides. I become sweaty and uncomfortable.

Once I get to my opera coaching with the fabulous Jennifer Peterson,  I tell her I should probably leave by 8:15, I'm supposed to meet Scott later.  She says she definitely MUST leave by 8, she's going to a concert at Carnegie. Ok then. We do some great work, get through all of Act II of Agrippina, and by the end of the hour, I feel exhausted. My blood sugar is dropping and I'm feeling shaky. I contemplate texting Scott to ask him to bring me a bag of chips or a snack so that I don't get drunk immediately after one sip of martini. I want to eat something but also don't want to order an appetizer at the bar and drive up our bill if we're just having a drink. I forget to write the text because I am busy touching up my makeup and taking off my cardigan so that I can get into date mode. Jennifer comments that it is so cute that I am touching up, and I explain that the Lincoln is a nice place and I need to look good for our date!

I text Scott to let him know I'm on my way and get in a cab with Jennifer to head to Lincoln Center, who will then head to Carnegie from there.

Scott does not text me back. Oh boy, I think to myself, I bet his meetings at work went late and he is drinking scotch now with his team before he leaves. That's just what people who work in advertising do. Well, shit, I'm not going to go to the fountain to wait there in the cold if he's not there yet. I will wait until he responds to my text. When I get out of the cab, I decide I would prefer to head to the bathroom/coat check area at the Restaurant so I can look at myself in the mirror again maybe and stay warm.

I call Scott. "Where are you?"

"Hi babe! I'm here at the restaurant, I'm near coat check."

"What? No! Come to the fountain! I'm here! Come to the fountain!"

STILL, I just am not getting the hint. I really wish I had, because I would have checked my bags so that we could have taken some pictures where you don't see the 40 pounds of New York necessities (musical scores, ipad, water, pole clothes, makeup, umbrella, tupperware containers of food) slung over my back!

But this still does not strike me as abnormal. Scott is the kind of guy who gets ideas in his head-he gets sudden cravings for certain types of food, gets fixated on going to certain restaurants or bars, how his drink is made, building light fixtures or indoor herb gardens with tomato plants that get out of control or going out to buy tactical picnic equipment and maybe look at flashlights and tents if the urge hits him. It does not seem strange to me that maybe Scott wants to make out a little by the fountain or take some instagram pictures or whatever, I am happy to humor him.

So I'm walking and I see Scott standing by the fountain. He is looking at me and smiling. He is wearing his nice long chesterfield coat that he did not wear to work this morning in the rain, but I have not processed this information.

Wow, he is not budging away from that fountain. At all. He has planted himself right there, in front of it.  I have to walk the whole way to the fountain while he smiles at me. I smile back.

At this point, I am thinking something is going on, but there is no way it is THAT question, it just would not be convenient to ask that on some random Monday night that has no significance to us while we're all stressed out. It is something else, like maybe he got a raise, maybe his job is relocating him to London and will I come with?

Scott goes down on one knee.

Of course, I am shocked at the timing, not the question. Of course I want to spend my life with this man. We talk about our future all the time. There is no playing games or awkward dancing around talk of where we will be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 30 years from now. We will be together and trying to make our way in the world as a team, just like we are today. There is absolutely not a shred of doubt in my mind about this.

And then he asked.

Will you Marry Me? (I think there was more here but I had a momentary black out)

YES!

And he put a beautiful ring on my left hand. And we kissed for a while. And smiled. And kissed again.

He told me to turn around and say hello to Josh Merwin, our friend and professional photographer who captured the moment perfectly. Scott had reached out to Jennifer earlier to make sure we left our coaching on time so she could get me to Lincoln Center at a decent hour. I told him I was thinking about taking an aerial hoop class that Monday night at Body & Pole, so apparently he called the studio to make sure I was not signed up and that they should tell me the class is canceled if did, LOL.

I always thought I would cry or something when this day came, but I was too shocked. I was shaking like a leaf because adrenaline was like, coursing through my veins!

I'm glad I didn't eat a snack beforehand, because then we had a beautiful dinner date at the Lincoln, where we enjoyed champagne, a lovely meal, and a bottle of wine. They even took the label off the bottle and attached it to heavy card stock and put it an envelope for us to frame.

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Scott told me that when we visited my Dad in Durham over Thanksgiving, he asked him for permission to marry me when I was out on a trail run. His answer was, "That's the best news I've gotten in 30 years." He even told Scott that he made his year when he dropped us off at the airport to say goodbye, but still, I did not pick up on it, because my dad says majorly weird things all the time.  Apparently Scott kept trying to snag my cell phone in order to call my mom as well, but every time he went for it, I had it some place different and foiled his plan.

So that was the day! I love my ring, it is just beautiful. For those who don't read all the facebook comments, it was Scott's great grandfather's pinky ring and is over 150 years old. He passed it down to Scott's grandmother, who wore it her entire life. This is the first time it is an engagement ring.

It is perfect and looks like it was designed just for me even though it has been in his family all along.

I am very excited to be Scott's fiancé!

 

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12 Stages of performing new music

1.) THE OFFER

ELATION!  I've been asked to sing a brand new piece of music, never performed before! (ok, sometimes the notice isn't exactly far in advance, but whatever) I'm going to make this my own and get paid for doing what I love. There' s something uniquely special about being able to take ownership of a role or piece of music that has never been performed before-the only person setting the bar is me. Though new music tends to be difficult and challenging to learn and coordinate, I'm an expert and would not have been asked otherwise. This is a niche of mine, after all.  I can't wait to dive in. YESS!!!!!

2.) ANXIETY

Um.....ok, so....now that I've said yes, I just realized I have absolutely no idea what this is actually going to entail. How long is the score, really? I'm not necessarily expecting it to be tonal (hell, it might be microtonal!) but exactly how A-tonal are we talking here? Will I be requested to sing an octave higher or lower than my actual range allows? Leaps of two octaves at a time? Is the point of this piece to be as impossible as possible? WHYYY do I always say yes to this stuff? Is it just because I can or because I actually enjoy it? Who's playing anyways? When am I going to get the score?

3.) ANTICIPATION

The pdf of the score arrives in my inbox!!!! I excitedly scour the pages to make sure I'm not going to have to ask the composer to rewrite anything that is out of my range or otherwise impossible. That's the nice thing about working with living composers-most things are negotiable;) Ok, ok...this is manageable...I think? I hope.....Now that I've seen it all, I accept my fate and schedule the necessary practice time. Minimum of one-two hours per day until it is learned. Sometimes more, with breaks in between.

4.) PREPARATION 

I highlight my part. I subdivide all the 7/8 measures with slashes and triangles so I know how they will be conducted. I play each phrase, page by page, repeatedly on the piano, in the correct range and rhythm. Then I record it just playing the piano. Then I record myself singing each phrase page by page on the piano. I listen to myself singing it on the subway, as I'm pounding the pavement, before I go to sleep. Any time I have free that I am not actually practicing, I listen until I'm bored of it as possible. I practice it until I'm sick of it and can practice it backwards and forwards. Only then will I be ready to walk into rehearsal, where half of it will probably leave my brain.

5.) THE WALL

Good god, the frustration! Am I ever going to learn this? Some of it's sticking, some of it's not. I have no idea what the other instrumentalists and singers are doing around me, and the Midi recording just sounds like a HOT MESS WHAT IS THIS?!!!!  I don't know what to do. I can't take in anymore. I sit in the practice room and cry a little. I text friends expressing my fear and worry. They text back and tell me I'm a rock star, don't worry.

6.) FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

It's hard to sleep before the first day of rehearsal. Will I be the least prepared? The most prepared? Will the composer be happy with me? What about the conductor, and my colleages? When we finally dig in, it's exciting (and sometimes a bit of a shock) to hear how this all sounds together. Usually an impressive group of singers and instrumentalists are involved, as composers of difficult music know better than to take their chances. They're no dummies.

7.) ANNOYANCE

Is it just me, or should we learn this music before diving into character devolpment? This ain't Nozze di Figaro....#justsaying

8.) REVELATION

OK, this is finally coming together! All this craziness is now getting stuck in my head. I hum tunes that sound nonsensical to civilians when I'm not in rehearsal. That's a good sign. The magical moments begin to emerge, and the impossible now seems possible. Things that sounded and felt completely unintuitve at first now seem regular as rain. Moments of beauty, moments of humour, moments of intensity show themselves, page by page. And I remember why I love singing new music.

9.) REGRET

OH MY GOD. Now that we're off book, this is a disaster! I'm never doing this again.

10.) EXASPERATION

ARE WE EVER GOING TO GET THROUGH THIS PIECE BEFORE THE SHOW? JESUS CHRIST.

11.) THE DRESS REHEARSAL 

Ok, it may have been like pulling teeth, but we did it. We did it without stopping! (almost) We have a show. I think.

11.) THE PERFORMANCE 

It's the day of the show y'all. Wrong notes or not, this is the time to commit. Everything that seemed extremely consequential in rehearsal actually isn't, because when it comes to new music, what the audience wants most is enthusiasm, energy, talent, commitment, and the big picture. If they were looking for something predictable or for perfection, they could just stay home and listen to their favorite recording of Boheme. 

12.) REFLECTION 

I've almost forgotten the hardship that lead up to the performance.....almost....I CAN'T WAIT TO DO THIS AGAIN!

 



 

 

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My first pole competition

So, I thought I'd share with you the experience I had preparing for and performing in my first pole competition. I've been dabbling in pole on and off for a couple years, but when I started to see significant progress after really dedicating myself and getting to class more regularly this past winter, I was inspired to set some goals!

4 Months Before Competition

I'm in aerial hoop class, rocking it out, having a good time, when my friend Kat says, "Hey, you should sign up for the competition coming up in September in Boston!"

"HA! Me? No, no way."

"Why not? You're super strong! I'm signing up, you should do it! Level 2!"

I tell her I will think about it. I go home and check out the website for the SuperShag Pole Fitness Championships in Boston. I'm comforted when I read the rules about dividing the competition by levels.

Ok, so I can compete and perform on a pole in public without being the next Felix Cane? Honestly, I had no idea that was possible, I thought you had to be a pole superstar to compete or perform. I watch every youtube video I can find that says "pole dance competition level 2." Hmmm, I can do a lot of this stuff, why not. I sign up. Now I am excited! It's fun to have a goal. Part of why I love pole, is that when I'm not in rehearsals for an opera, it makes me feel like I'm part of something else so that I don't go into the depths of despair and lose my sense of self worth and dignity when I'm not working on a show. I'm both excited and scared at the thought of performing on pole in public.

14 Weeks Before Competition

In the interest of expanding my repertoire a little, I teach myself a few things on youtube. I had never taken a Level 3 class at this point and was a little scared to try, but really wanted to see if I could figure out a few tricks called Jade and Allegra, and see if I could get chopsticks back in my body since I hadn't tried in a while. Voila! I figure out allegra but it tweaks my left side a little, so I decide to save it for another time and place.

Once I finally figure out the logistics after watching a zillion videos, Jade fits like a glove and feels wonderful. I am excited when I see the video of myself getting it for the first time! Chopsticks looks terrible. I can't believe I was good at it at one time. After a week I realize I need to get my hand forward, stretch my legs up and out like crazy, and hold my body up between my side and my leg. I take a few more videos. It looks good! Between all that and butterfly and some of my favorite spin combos, I have some stuff to work with that should hopefully take up 3 minutes. OK!

13 Weeks Before Competition

I listen to Spotify on my iPhone constantly, trying to figure out what I'm going for and what song I want to dance to. I have always fantasized about dancing to George Michael's Kissing a Fool. I decide on that....but then...I don't know, I feel like I want to pick something stronger. I practice to Sondre Lerche a lot, but couldn't really find a song that was right....Scott wants to see me dance to The Kills, but even though their music is strong and sexy, I feel like there is no direction. It doesn't rise and fall or go anywhere. I'm a girl who needs a song with a climax!

Finally I decide on "Feeling Good" by Muse. I have loved this song since I first saw this androgynous male dancer tear the stage apart dancing to it during a burlesque show in Orlando back in 2006. He had a collar, black patent leather trench coat, dark eye makeup, the works. I had never heard of the band before (I'm just not with the times apparently) and the song and his performance has always stuck with me. I use this as inspiration and go with it.


12 Weeks Before Competition

I do a work shop with Sergia Louie Anderson at the studio and totally love all of her ideas about storytelling and movement. I have a private lesson with her the following day to help set the intro of my song. She doesn't know me or my body very well yet, but we come up with something simple and with lots of character. She encourages me to always go back to character so that my routine isn't just a bunch of tricks. It's a great session. Yay! I have the first 60 seconds of my 3 minutes done. I decide I want to wear some sexy black body binds (I see lots of dancers wearing them and they look pretty hot!) over a red top and bottom as my outfit, and I place the order. I also order some red body binds, just for fun.

11 Weeks Before Competition

At this point I am also in rehearsals for a show with Center for Contemporary Opera and have to go to Michigan to do a 90 minute Cabaret the day after the Opera, so I'm feeling overwhelmed and crazed and more focused on my voice and memorization, not to mention I've never done a cabaret, I'm going to have to banter between pieces, what will I say?

When I'm not in rehearsals, I stretch a lot and try to work like hell on my flexibility since I had no time for class. This might sound clinical, but since I didn't have too much time to get to the pole studio and only know a finite number of moves and combos, I sit down and make a list of things I know how to do. From here I try to figure out what I can link together from the repertoire I have into combinations that make sense. I listen to my song on the subway and wherever I'm walking and imagine what would look best where.  Of course this is all in my mind because I am wrapped up in my other shows.

10 Weeks Before Competition

Ok, one opera down, one cabaret down, so happy with how everything went, I'm back and have another singing performance this week that is fully staged baroque Italian music with more text than I have ever memorized in my god forsaken life. I am off book at this point because I predicted how hectic this time would be and started working on memorization months ago. My favorite opera photographer offered to shoot me doing some pole and aerial hoop stuff as well this week. Like a fool, I do this the DAY OF the baroque Italian concert. I was much more sore from the shoot than I anticipated, but seeing the pictures boosts my confidence. I look like a real pole dancer! Yay! The show goes fantastically well. Now I can focus on this routine! Good times.

8 Weeks Before Competition

I figure out the order in which I want my combinations to go, and I try running them at the studio during an open practice time. I'm really surprised how winded I am after doing a bunch of combos and tricks in a row, but to my relief, I video myself doing it all at once and it looks ok. Granted I needed some choreography and needed to put it all together with my song, but I am feeling better about having the stamina.

6 Weeks Before Competition

Ugh. My intro isn't fitting in with my vision now that I have my costume and ideas for the rest of the routine. I think it will work for something else, but for this, it's not feeling right, and I decide to start over. Now I don't have the first 60 seconds of my song anymore, ugh! I have a private session with one of my fave teachers EVER, Dalijah Franklin. I love her style and feel like a lot of what she teaches fits and flatters my body really well. After an hour, the intro is done and I just love it. It is EXACTLY what I want. We talk about keeping the style consistent through my combinations, i.e. it's a strong song so maybe I want strong hands and not ballerina hands, etc. I'm on the right track. Joy!

Weeks 5-2 Before Competition

I decide the best plan of action is to practice in the private room 2x per week for an hour, and go to open practice on Saturdays. Slowly my piece starts to come together. I constantly take video and fix things. I have friends watch the video and critique, and this is all extremely helpful. Scott starts asking me what I'm thinking about when I get quiet, and then he stops asking because he knows the answer is going to be "pole dancing."

During these weeks I notice some discomfort in my right side. I've had intercostal pulls before, and I was pretty sure it was something like that. I'm feeling some pain after every time that I practice, but I figure it will be all good as long as I take days off in between. I make an appointment with a chinese acupuncture/body work guru that all pole dancers swear by just to make sure I take care of my right side during this time.

12 Days Before Competition

My right side is bothering me, sort of under my ribs, but I figure I just need to work on getting stronger. In the course of an hour, I get through my routine about 4 times. I don't know why I did it a fourth time, but at this point in my training I'm realizing less at a time is more. I'm hurting.

11 Days Before Competition

Uh oh. I'm hurting, like really hurting. If I sneeze or move the wrong way, it feels like my right rib cage is being stabbed. I'm very worried. Tomorrow I go see Mr. Pole Acupuncture Guru and maybe he can fix me.

10 Days Before Competition

I literally can't wait to see this acupuncture guy. I show up and he asks me a million questions about everything from my poop to my emotional state. Finally we get to work. I pass what he calls his "rib fracture" test. Meaning, the way my muscles are tightening around my 8th rib, he believes it is fractured. GREAT.   He does some pretty painful tui-na and body adjustment on me. I am cracking all over the place and am just trying to stay calm and take deep breaths because I want to get fixed. He needles me and then prescribes some herbs for me to make into tea called "rib fracture formula." I leave feeling happy that I went and head to china town to pick up 5 bags of herbs which look like pine cones and dirt and tree bark. By the time I get there, I'm very uncomfortable. My right side is in stabbing pain and I feel like my abs were also getting weird, like I could no longer hold them in and had no control of that muscle group.

I get the herbs and shuffle home. I'm disoriented, I can't find the nearest subway, I can't get a cab, I'm in pain, I can't take big steps. I start humming and singing to myself and counting and trying to just get home in one piece. I make it! I start making the tea right away. I take a hydrocodone from when I got my wisdom teeth out. The tea is done and tastes like dirt. I do not care. I drink it. Also, I drink a vodka martini. Goodnight.

9 Days Before Competition

Holy Balls, i can barely get out of bed. This cannot be. I'm scared but I don't want to pull out. I have to prove to myself that I can do this. I am very worried. And upset. I drink the stupid tea. I drench my right side in Tiger Balm and take as many epsom salt baths as possible. Scott likes the smell of the tiger balm at least. This blows. I hate everything.

4 Days Before Competition

Have not been on the pole in a week. I have a room reserved to practice tonight, I do not want to go but my side is feeling a little better. I decide that at the very least, if I am truly planning on performing on Saturday, I have to at least walk through my routine. I get to the studio and it comforts me to help my friend I'm sharing the room with on her routine.

Also, to my horror, I find out I've been practicing the WRONG WAY!!!!!!! I've been practicing with spin pole on the right and static on the left, and it is the opposite. JESUS CHRIST, REALLY?! Ugh. Thank god I decided to come. I do a walk/run of my piece, leaving out chopsticks, Jade, anything that would allow the pole to touch or strain my right side. It actually feels ok, and I improvise the few changes I need to make regarding switching the poles around. I go home and take an epsom salt bath and apply tiger balm.

2 Days Before Competition

Ribs and right side improving. There's a dress rehearsal at the studio and I'm nervous all day. You would think I was making my met debut or something. Ridiculous.

I go home and bleach my roots and re-tone my hair which always takes a ton of time, so that keeps me from going crazy. I get in costume and makeup and start to warm up. My right side is hurting. Ugh maybe I should not go. I start to talk myself out of it, thinking maybe I just need to conserve for Saturday. But I know damn well that not doing a dress rehearsal that is free for the taking is totally freaking dumb. So I suck it up and go.

There are 17 or 18 dancers competing, and everyone is amazing and so fun to watch. I start to relax, because everyone is just cheering and screaming, and they will cheer as much for crazy tricks as they will for a look at the audience. I decide to substitute a figure four layback for my chopsticks (probably the culprit of the injury) to save my ribs in the dress. As Kat told me, "dance with the boy you brought."

Boy am I glad I did it. Not only was everyone so supportive, but with the adrenaline I learned that you have to watch spinning too fast on the pole. At the end I was spinning so fast I did not feel safe and had to jump off and not finish the combination how I wanted. Also my boob popped out so I learned I had to fix that. Yep. All I can say is, thank god I went-I would not have wanted to figure out I have those issues in live performance! I go home and take an epsom salt bath, tiger balm, bla bla bla.

1 Day Before Competition

I'm hurting but not feeling broken. Scott and I fly standby on an earlier flight since originally we weren't going to get into Boston until very late, and I wanted to see the space and the poles that evening. We arrive and can't find anywhere to eat since Scott is gluten free and will get sick. We finally settle on California Pizza Kitchen. He orders a salad. I order a BBQ chicken pizza. At 7 PM, I register and check out the space--totally not what I was expecting, much smaller, and not on any kind of stage, more of a dance floor in the middle of a large room. I test the poles a bit but decide any more than that will make me psych myself out. I meet up with a long time friend who also sings opera and does pole, have an awesome dinner date with Scott, order some scotch as a night cap, take a bath in epsom salts, tiger balm, and go to bed.

Day Of The Show!

I'm feeling pretty good today actually! My ribs have felt the best they have in 10 days. Scott and I go out for breakfast at an adorable place, I eat 2 eggs, some potatoes, and a little toast. After breakfast we head back to the competition so we can watch and support people in my studio since my group wasn't set to go on until 2 PM.  There were MANY varying degrees of skill and style from person to person within each level, which also set my mind at ease aside from the casual feel of the space. One thing I noticed with a lot of dancers who obviously had nice skill sets was that so many people looked at the floor the whole time! I headed back to my hotel room to do hair and makeup and warm up.

I put on my costume and sew the red triangle top I'm wearing together from the bottom to the middle to avoid any more wardrobe malfunctions and also used lots of double sided tape, just in case.

FINALLY! It's 2 PM and my event is starting. Of course I'm no. 21 to go out of 25. The waiting seemed like a lifetime. I paced around, stretched, watched lots of the other competitors. The back stage area felt claustrophobic and cramped, so I figured it was just best to be out and about, moving and watching people. I was beyond antsy at this point and just wanted to go and get it out of my system.

Closer to my performance, I went to the back stage area and tried to focus, which was hard with all the craziness around. I did some jumping jacks with my friend Pauline who was going shortly after me. I didn't want to put in headphones because sometimes I feel like that transports me out of the present space I'm in, and I wanted to be really really aware. Like, which side are the judges on, which side to the stage am I heading when I walk out, etc. I wanted to stay as oriented as possible.

FINALLY they call my name. Good god, I can't remember the last time I was so nervous, but seriously I just need to do this, like right now. I kneel and feel my hand shaking as I extend it out when the music started. Oh well, it's dramatic, right? My headstand goes well, I hit everything I want to hit in the intro. From there, I crossed the stage and went into one of my favorite spin combos. At this point, I'm amped up, but feeling calm. I begin my second spin combo and decide to go for chopsticks, and pray to the Lord above that they don't look horrible and that I don't die of pain. I go for it, people are cheering, I can feel my legs shaking as I'm pushing them up and out with all my might. I was excited to discover they looked half decent when I saw cell phone video afterwards! I get out of chopsticks and have a couple seconds to evaluate the pain factor before going to the the next sequence, and they felt ok. I crawl across the floor, I climb, I butterfly, I kartwheel, I take a breath just like Kyra said before I went into my last spin so as not to lose control. The last invert was a little sloppy, but I don't spin too fast, I get into my jade without too much drama, and then, it was all over.

I DID IT!

I was out of breath and my mouth felt like a barren desert, but I did it!

Needless to say, I was thrilled and giddy with happiness. They announce the awards, I cheer for the beautiful dancer from my studio who got third place, and I sigh with relief that it is all over and that I was happy with my performance.

To my surprise, when they put up the score sheets at the end (I had NO idea they did that) I got 4th out of 25 in my division! I was totally shocked. But I thought that was pretty cool and motivating-if I can give a good performance with a cracked rib and only a handful of tricks and flows under my belt, what might I be able to do if I learn more? I watched dancers for the rest of the day, and everyone from my studio was just glorious. I also saw some really inspiring performances by people I don't know. There was this girl who danced to "Like a Boy" with a baseball cap. I wish I remembered her name because it was awesome and I loved it.

Scott was a great sport through it all, making dinner when I came home late, picking up epsom salts, understanding when I drifted off to space, and being at the competition to support me.

Now I am resting so that my body can heal.

Do I want to do this all over again? HELL YES!!!!!!!!

I already made a list of things I want to learn that I can't do yet:)

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