Adaptive Preferences and Ballet

D. Bruckner was not wrong when he stated, “[t]hese [adaptive] preferences belong to those who hold them.”[1] To begin with, Bruckner states that “adaptive preference change occurs when an agent’s preference changes as a result of a change in the agent’s feasible set.”[2] I have recently finished auditioning to professional ballet companies. It would obviously be ideal to get into a company with a fully-paid high-level position, and until now that would have been my preference. However, I have gotten rejections from most of the companies I have auditioned for, and only as of today got a traineeship offer from a company that has no money to pay any additional dancers on top of the dancers already re-contracting for this next season. In light of (a) the rejections I have received from the other companies (which is not uncommon, most people audition for many companies without getting in anywhere at all), and (b) the fact that any company gave me an offer at all, I realized over the course of the evening that my preference to dance with a company that only offered me a full company position changed and altered to a preference to dance anywhere that gave me the opportunity to be dancing full-time at all.

Another element of Bruckner’s paper that made me instantly think of Ballet culture was his discussion of social policy driving individual adaptive preferences.[3] In much of the ballet world, although thankfully this is changing, the ideal dancer is willow-thin as an aesthetic ideal. As such, many companies will only hire dancers with such a body type because of this social, cultural “policy”. Such an outlook by companies, which are the forces behind whether or not dancers get jobs and are employable, tends to push dancers to diet and exercise and, in some cases, develop unhealthy eating disorders simply to fit the mold. This is an excellent example of social policy driving what can become a generally unhealthy lifestyle. Fortunately, many companies are realizing that they are driving forces in dancers’ adaptive preferences for degrees of thinness and are changing to become more inclusive of other body types. Luckily, the dance world is discovering for itself its ability to socially inform adaptive preferences.

It’s interesting to look at theoretical frameworks as such frameworks overlay with real-life examples. It’s even more interesting when the opportunity to see a theoretical framework in action arises right at the moments of big, important events and decisions in your life.

[1] Donald W. Bruckner, In Defense of Adaptive Preferences, 142 Philosophical Studies 307, 317 (2009).

[2] Id. at 308.

[3] Id. at 311.

27. Larger Than Life

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to perform with Adagio Ballet’s Nutcracker as Mrs. Stahlbaum and, as no surprise to many of you, the Sugarplum Fairy.

This is at least the sixth year that I’ve performed the sugarplum variation in some capacity. It’s always been one of my favorite variations and the role itself has become one of my all-time favorite roles. To me, the Sugarplum Fairy is always a mix of sweetness and regality; she’s a queen, but at the same time, her kingdom of sweets is a place of pure happiness made out of all sorts of delights.

This weekend, I received one of the best compliments I think I have ever received. The man who played Drosselmeyer has been a professional dancer for well over thirty years and has seen countless productions of Nutcracker over the years. He watched my solo during the Saturday evening show. On Sunday, when I saw him, he said he was extremely impressed with my variation. Sugarplum always a technically challenging variation, but he said that most of the time when he sees someone dancing the variation, the technique is the only part that comes through. He said he has never seen anyone dance the character of Sugarplum more than I did, that it was pure sweetness sprinkled everywhere.

Dancing the character is always what I’ve strived to do, especially with that variation. I couldn’t have asked for a better compliment.

With due deference, the years I’ve spent spending on thinking about this character was really inspired by one of the first Sugarplums I got to watch in my young dancer life. She was the second sugarplum that I got to watch up close when I started performing in The Nutcracker, and she was so flirty and so spicy about her Sugarplum performance that I’ve always said she was my favorite. I don’t remember if she had perfect technique or not, but it didn’t matter. If you fully live your character, and not just dance it, that character really comes to life.

Before the show on Sunday, I put on my tutu and tiara and went to a tea where all the little girls and boys and their moms were looking forward to meeting some of the Nutcracker characters before the show. My favorite moment was when this one little girl and her mom came up to me and the little girl asked me if I knew the Tooth Fairy. She had just lost her second tooth at the tea but had accidentally swallowed it, so she didn’t know if the Tooth Fairy would be okay with that. I told her that I have never met the Tooth Fairy personally, but I have written her letters before (which I really did, when I was young), and that if she wrote the Tooth Fairy a letter explaining what happened and put that under her pillow that night, the Tooth Fairy should be just fine with it.

Now, I never would have been able to tell you that my love of ballet would ever lead me to a moment where some little girl would ask me, as the Sugarplum Fairy, if I was friends with the Tooth Fairy. That’s a kind of magic you can never forget.

I realized, while studying for my International Trade Law final earlier today, that that magical moment had happened because I had stepped into a role, and in that role I was larger than life. People become larger than life all the time, actually. Just because we’re not always the Sugarplum Fairy doesn’t mean that we aren’t other roles that are still larger than ourselves at our most basic human level.

For instance, one of the attorneys at the EPA whom I interned with this past semester was a manager of a team of attorneys. That didn’t mean she wasn’t herself. She could be herself, but in that role as manager, she was larger than that and encompassed all these additional traits that she as a person didn’t necessarily have. I’m not going to speak much on politics, but political roles are no different. Once you’ve stepped into the shoes of, say, the President of a country, you are no longer just yourself; you know owe that role to everyone who relies on that role. (That connection is what made me think of all this while studying for international trade today.)

Now, we all have our own roles, whether they are few or numerous, magical or mundane. But for the most part, I don’t think we actually think of those roles and the implications they can have. But just becoming even that much more aware of that role and what capacity that role has for playing a part in the world should never be undervalued. We can use those roles for evil or for good, but I like thinking that most of us would choose for good.

So go sprinkle some sweetness in the world and fully embody the character you admire the most.

23. Only Human

We’re all only human.

We all have our own failings and short-sights and triumphs. We have our personal moments of greatness and of downfalls. There’s only so much each and everyone one of us can do within the limitations of time and space and possibilities. I’ve seen a few different people recently struggle with what to do with their lives given the parameters of their backgrounds, abilities, career goals, and passions, among other factors. I myself feel the different tugs and pulls of different fields and interests day from day.

So how do we do the most with our time and our energy? How do we manage to do as much as we can while staying sane?

I went to an interview for a legal internship for the Summer of 2018 this past week. It was an interview for what is essentially my dream job. I’m not going to say where it was, in case I don’t get it. Needless to say, I’ve been working towards this particular interview or something very similar to it for the past six years of my life. At the end of the interview when my interviewer was walking me out the door, I asked her if there were any classes I should be taking or anything I should be doing differently for this career path. She replied that I was actually doing everything exactly right and to stick with it.

I delegated my time in college very carefully for getting a bachelor degree in biology with a minor in economics. Apparently that worked. And now that I’m in law school, the classes I’m taking this semester all feed perfectly into doing ocean-related work: environmental, maritime, international law, and international trade law. These were the classes that I wanted to take more than any others and the ones I thought would do the most amount of good for trying to get where I want to go. And these were the same classes that really stuck out to those interviewing me and said I was the perfect candidate for their work because of these classes.

So on one hand, I think I’m doing a fairly decent job of striving towards my legal career goals of working on ocean-related issues. I only have so many law school classes and internships I can fit in.

On the other hand, I think the balance of ballet in my life is starting to figure itself out as well. This semester, I can only take ballet classes Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, because I’m either in law school classes, working at the EPA, or teaching at all other times during the week when ballet class is available. However, that still means I can fit in three ballet classes a week, which is what I was going last year. This year, I’m actually finding ways to rehearse and perform beyond just taking weekly ballet classes.

Firstly, I’m rehearsing for party parent for Adagio’s Nutcracker. Since they’re doing a restructuring of their Nutcracker this year, actual adults are coming in to play party parents. Ricardo was amazing enough to agree to do party parent with me, and it’s such a joy to get to dance next to him in rehearsals. All my students were darling and told me this week in class that he dances very well and he has a very nice face for being on stage. That just about made my heart burst.

Secondly, a few weeks back I saw that one of the dancers I’ve become friends with at Washington Ballet (she’s amazing and danced professionally for many years before graduating from Georgetown Law a few years back) was going to a small company audition. I asked her about it and if she thinks it would be something that I could do while in law school. She replied in the affirmative and so I went and auditioned for this group. This past week we had our first two rehearsals for their annual show they do in March. I came home from both rehearsals simply glowing with a new-found purpose that I haven’t felt since I was last dancing at BRT.

The group, called Classical Repertory Dance Ensemble, is a local group in DC comprised of all adults with over 20 years of ballet experience. (I think I might actually be the baby of the group since I just have 20 years, and most of them have between 20 and 30 years.) This is the first time since I was probably 12 or 13 that I have gotten the opportunity to dance in a group of all adults. It’s amazing. Both pieces we rehearsed for this week – one was Paquita (which I’ve never had the opportunity to do before) and the other a contemporary piece – were on pointe. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a room full of non-student dancers all on pointe and all working together towards a common choreographic goal. It’s amazing. I have seriously missed it so much. I am so grateful and happy to have found CRDE and I’m so excited to get to dance with them, hopefully for years to come.

I’m working within my limitations as best I can. I finally feel like I’m getting to a place where I am starting to balance everything together in such a way that I can actually pursue both my passions. It’s the first time I feel like I’ve actually been able to do so since I moved to DC. I feel complete in a way I haven’t since leaving Albuquerque behind. But in a way, I feel more complete now. I’m closer than ever to my long-term career goals. I feel like I’m so close to actually beginning to make a difference in the world.

This doesn’t mean I’m doing everything I want to be able to do. There are far too many limitations for that. If I could be doing everything I want to be doing, I would be getting scuba diving certified, I would be actively learning Spanish, and I would be writing, to name a few. But we’re all only human. So we’ve got to do what we can with the time we are given and hope that it all works out. We have to seize the opportunities we find and actively work towards our goals with the most information we can. We’ve got to keep in mind our goals that we actually want to meet and complete and keep sight of the path it takes to get there. We’ve got to follow that path, even if it means we zig and zag to eventually get to the signposts that tell us we’re doing right. And somehow we’ll make it, even if we’re only human.

 

21. Updates on a New Academic Year

Law school classes, externships at the EPA, ballet classes, and teaching have all finally started up and I finally feel like the semester has officially started. So here’s an update on what this semester is looking like for me!

Law School
Today technically marks the end of the second week of law school classes for the semester, but since we didn’t have Monday classes for labor day, it doesn’t quite feel like two full weeks have passed. This semester, I only have classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Most of my classes are late afternoon or evening classes and my earliest class starts at 11:10am.

I’m taking Environmental Law, Maritime Law, International Law, International Trade and Regulations, and an Externship Seminar. I really like all of my classes this semester because these are all subjects I am actually interested in and feel are very important for hopefully doing some kind of law relating to ocean conservation in the future. I think Environmental Law might be my favorite class, although to be honest it is hard to choose between my different classes.

On Mondays, I have Environmental Law in the morning and then a break from 12:30-3:30. Then, if I’m unlucky, I have three classes in a row from 3:30-9:55pm at night. If I’m lucky and don’t have my externship seminar (it’s only every other week), then I have class from 3:30-7:45. Those will be very nice Mondays. On Wednesdays, I just have Environmental Law in the mornings and then International Law from 5:45-8:45. Luckily I have lots of time to go home and eat and study between my classes in the afternoon.

Externship
So this semester I’m externing (it’s the exact same thing as interning, just during the semester) at the Environmental Protection Agency, more colloquially as the EPA. I have to work there 15 hours a week to get three credits for it and am working 9-5 there Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ve only gone for two days so far, but the place is great. I’m nervous to work there just because I don’t really know what kinds of tasks or projects I’ll get assigned every day. But it will be a very good experience and I’m glad I get the opportunity to work there.

Bonus points: the main staircase at the EPA looks like something right out of the wizarding world. There’s even a time-turner-like chandelier hanging down in the middle of the staircase.

Teaching
Last night was my first night back teaching at Adagio Ballet and the first day of classes for the school year. I missed being there. It’s such a wonderful group of teachings and students. The girls are all so sweet and hard working. Last year I was only teaching two nights a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays – there, but this year I’m teaching those two nights at the same time and then also two additional classes Friday evenings. I feel like I really lucked out with finding an amazing place to teach and I really am thrilled to be back.

In past years, Adagio’s Nutcracker was essentially their winter recital for all the classes. So my class last year was Spanish, the class next door was Chinese, etc. This year, they completely redid the structure of it so everyone who wanted to dance in the Nutcracker had to audition back during the summer. They also needed some party parents from the faculty and interested adults, so Ricardo and I will both be party parents this year! I’m so excited. I’ve never gotten to dance on stage with my significant other before. He’s going to be just fantastic. I’ll also be rehearsing another role I’ll be performing for their Nutcracker. Hint: there will most likely be a tutu involved.

Ballet Class
I haven’t been able to go take ballet class since I got back into town because my car decided to die on me two days after we got back. Thus, I haven’t had a way to actually drive to ballet class and it’s a bit too far away by public transportation or uber. My car finally got fixed two days ago, though, so this morning was my first morning back in ballet class. I actually get to take class every weekend now, as well as Fridays and possibly on Monday and Wednesday mornings before darting off to Environmental Law. Either way, it feels so great to be back. There are some things that I feel rusty with, but overall I’m amazed that I haven’t gotten too out of shape over the course of the summer. I feel good and motivated now and being back in the school context just helped me get back into ballet class mood as well.

Other
So I think those are my main responsibilities that occur every week! On top of that, all I have to worry about are job applications and interviews for a legal job next summer, possibly auditioning for and rehearsing for the upcoming Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society musical, and other items that may or may not pop up.

But every night I am lucky enough to get to go home to my amazing boyfriend and amazing little cloud being of a cat. My life would not be the same without them and I am so infinitely grateful for their places in my life. Neither Ricardo nor I would know what do without Rumple. He’s such a sweet, crazy little cat. He loves playing. He’s become so vocal that he will just meow and meowl at us for apparently no reason whatsoever sometimes. But we love him and I’m pretty darn sure he loves us back.

Now that things are settling down, I’m going to get back to regular blog writing. So thank you for reading!

20. The Need to Prove Yourself

When I went back to Albuquerque two weeks ago, I took class at my home studio of Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico (BRT) every day that I could. It was automatically my priority. I felt so at home and so comfortable there even though it had been more than a month since I’d taken ballet class and was incredibly out of shape. Nonetheless, I went to ballet class every day and within three or four days felt back in shape (with the exception that I wasn’t turning as consistently or as much as I’m used to.)

I finally returned back home to D.C. last night and took class today at the Washington Ballet’s adult program, where I’ve been taking class for the past year since I moved to D.C. I didn’t feel the same kind of soul or fire or motivation to take class here as I did back in Albuquerque a mere week ago. And I think I figured out why.

Back in Albuquerque, at BRT, everyone knows me. I grew up there. I spent almost 20 years of my life there. When I moved to D.C., the only person who had been at BRT longer than me was the director herself. I haven’t felt like I’ve had to prove myself in years upon years at BRT. I’ve proved who I am as a dancer over and over again over the years and I don’t have a need to show that I’m better than anyone there. For me, dancing at BRT just allows me to truly dance and be free.

In D.C., no one knows me. I’m one of dozens, if not hundreds, of dancers who move to D.C. for school or work or some other reason and still take class to try to stay in shape and because we love it. The problem, I’ve realized, with my mentality here, is that I feel that I’m constantly trying to prove myself in every class. It’s rare for me to take a ballet class without me trying to prove my worth as a dancer to the teacher or to my fellow students or to myself. Here, it’s been very difficult to just let go and dance.

There are many incredible dancers that I am lucky enough to take class with. For instance, just today there was a girl I’ve only seen around once or twice before. She just moved here from Arizona. And she was absolutely lovely. It’s inspiring to be around so many amazing dancers every day, but it’s also difficult because I’m constantly comparing myself to them. It’s been almost ten years since I have systematically compared myself to other dancers; I’ve compared myself to myself since I was a young teenager. But now, I think it’s different for me because I do feel this pressure to show that I’m good enough to dance in a company. That I am good enough to dance at Washington Ballet if I got the chance and gave it such commitment.

The most difficult part is that I have chosen law school and a legal career instead of a career in ballet. So right now, all of my attempts to prove myself are my attempts to live out that “what if” I had really put my entire heart and soul into trying to dance in a full-time company. They are my attempts to prove to myself that I am as good as those around me and that the past many years of my life – the blood and sweat and tears – haven’t all been for naught.

It took me going back to Albuquerque and dancing at BRT every day for a week to realize what it is that I’m missing here in D.C. And what I’m missing is the absolute freedom and joy in just dancing for myself and myself alone. Of course I still love taking class while I’m here, but the past several months I’ve felt such trepidation at even just showing up at the studio to take class. Tonight I finally realized it’s because I’m growing anxious about having to prove myself day after day.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be able to compare my own dancing with my own dancing and with no one else’s. That’s how you improve. That’s how you excel. That is the way to really, truly enjoy the work you put into something that you love. And that’s what I’m going to try to get back to from here on out.

8. When Intentions Aren’t Enough

It’s harder and harder for me to feel like I’m keeping up with ballet and not falling far behind. Every day I don’t go to ballet class (even if that means I’m teaching or otherwise working) feels like a bit more of a failure to me. I’ve managed to get to the point where I almost detest going to easier classes because I take so few as it is that it feels like a waste to only take easy classes that don’t challenge me.

I want to perform so badly. I want to be dancing in a company and working hard in a studio so badly. If I’m not doing that, I don’t feel whole. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing everything I’m capable of or everything I have the potential to do. That’s the life I love and am used to living and it’s too difficult to simply give that up.

Between law school and teaching ballet, my life has been taken over. I don’t really have many spare chunks of hours these days to go drive half an hour to a studio (they’re all half an hour away; I live in the epicenter of D.C. dance studios). I have a few such chunks of time that line up for when classes are offered, but that isn’t enough.

At this point, I’ve looked into so many options for continuing to dance with a company. I’m out of luck for a full, every-day company for this upcoming year but I do have a potential place or two where I will definitely be auditioning next year for their season. Otherwise, there is one place a city over where I could audition for their two shows a year, and I will definitely be doing that. They only have rehearsals on sundays so that is doable for me.

In general I can still do most everything I could before. But I can sense the places where I am getting weaker or less technical. It might be a small slip-up from not quite closing fifth at the barre or less consistent pirouettes. It doesn’t matter what that weakness is. What matters is I know it exists and I do my best to correct it but there is only so much you can do when you’re taking one or two classes a week. So much is muscle memory and stamina. Intention can only go so far.

This life I’m living is completely wonderful in so many ways. Actually dancing ballet is the one thing I’m missing. I’m doing my best to figure out how to incorporate that into schedules of law school classes and teaching and internships. But what if that intention to dance isn’t enough? It doesn’t feel like it’s enough right now. I’m just going to keep trying until it is enough to make that part of my life happen.

2. Of Tutus and Chances

This past weekend marks the first time I have gotten to wear a tutu in over a year. It was also my third rehearsal at Baltimore Ballet for Swan Lake Act II, which we are performing in two weeks. For me, the highlight of the weekend was definitely getting to dance in a tutu though. It’s

I’ve always felt most comfortable and in my element in a ballet studio or theatre. Tutus are my version of every girl’s dream wedding dresses. If I can be a princess or sugarplum fairy or swan in a tutu, I would choose that over anything else any day. So, naturally, when I got to wear a tutu this past weekend, was thrilled. If you think about it, a tutu is a strange thing. But we associate it so much with this concept of beauty and regality that encompasses every aspect of classical ballet that a tutu becomes a symbol of the very thing we dancers work so hard for so many years to attain.

I’ve worked hard and I’ve been lucky enough to have that hard work pay off in the multitude of opportunities I have received over the years. Ballet is no exception. Since 2010, I’ve had the privilege of getting to dance the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker four different times in various forms. It has become a defining role for me. There’s a regality of character and a gracious beauty woven into the character. Of course, Sugarplum requires a tutu. The other defining role I’ve gotten the chance to dance that required a tutu was Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. I cannot tell you the absolute magic of getting to be on stage as a princess falling in love with her prince while every eye in the audience is on you. It’s a breathtaking moment that is simply unexplainable.

Saying goodbye to that world and that life was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I made my peace with it last December when I performed as Sugarplum for the last time. Well, I thought I made my peace with it but now I’m certain that that isn’t quite accurate.

How do you make yourself come to terms with the results of your life decisions? I made the best possible choice I could have made in coming to Georgetown Law. I don’t regret that decision one bit. I only regret that I can’t dance here the same way I could dance before. I regret not having tried harder to audition for companies. I thought I was okay with that, but over and over again I keep finding out that I’m not quite okay. Dancing is a piece of my soul and it feels like that little piece is missing. So how do I reconcile myself with the fact that I’m missing one of the parts that has been so intrinsic in my life for so long? Just teaching and taking the occasional ballet class doesn’t do it. I guess this is where Baltimore Ballet comes in.

I sent them my resume a few weeks back. Not four days later I got a call from them. They said they had a situation where one of their dancers had just dropped out and was not able to perform, and was there any possibility that I could come in on Sundays and fill in for her? I was delighted and instantly said yes; Sundays the one day I have off every week and I am more than happy to spend that one free day rehearsing for a ballet. Since then, every Sunday I’ve been driving up to Baltimore and rehearsing the second act of Swan Lake.

It worked out perfectly. So while I desperately miss dancing in an actual company, I’m slowly figuring out how to incorporate ballet into my life in more creative ways. Isn’t that one of the secrets to life though? Figuring out how to incorporate the things you love in a way that makes your life fuller and more rich in every possible way?

So how do we do that? How do we incorporate the things we love into our lives and fit everything in? I don’t have all the answers and I won’t even pretend to have it all figured out. But thus far what has worked for me, and what I’m hoping will bring about even more results in the near future, is to think creatively and think outside the box. How else would I have been able to find Baltimore Ballet? How else will we be able to attain the lives we want to be living?