Yesterday I had my first massive triggered PTSD episode in about 3 years.
Now I know that already sounds like a lot of psychology buzzwords that seems to be rampant on social media but I'm here to dispel what it's actually like to have PTSD. To start, I'm going to delve into a little bit to how I developed a disorder more often associated with soldiers, cops and paramedics than with 30-something arts workers. To enlighten you on what it's like to experience PTSD first hand, I'm going to give you a play-by-play of yesterday's events, from the trigger, to the disorder, to the aftermath.
I've gotten increasingly annoyed with the flippant use of the word trigger, but in this case the word actually applies. The misconceptions around PTSD and triggers are:
A little bit of history about my traumas (plural):
I would like to start by saying I had a fantastic home life. My parents are still together and have always loved and supported me, who I am and all my quirks. I'm quite convinced I would be in far deeper trouble if I didn't have that unwavering support system at home. Whenever I left the house was a different story.
I was severely bullied as a kid from about 3rd grade until about the beginning of 8th grade. I was regularly taunted and teased, psychologically and physically abused. I was told on a daily basis how weird I was, how no one wants me here, and I should go home and kill myself. I was body checked into walls and got more bloody noses from stuff being thrown at my face than I can remember. A couple of times the neighbourhood kids invited me out to play specifically to insult me and push me around, just for fun. I had no friends, and in 6th and 7th grades when I started to withdraw from my abusers and become antisocial, I was put on a suicide watch at my school and was forced to see the school councillor weekly (a woman who regularly belittled my experiences and didn't take them seriously). These experiences awaked my depression at 10 years old (which became a massive issue in my early teens), and laid the ground work to leave me vulnerable to the trauma I would experience in my late teens into my 20s. I credit these experiences in part to my anxiety disorder, my inability to be in and fear of large crowds and mobs, my trust issues when it comes to people's intentions, and the unreasonable belief that no one really likes me (I'm simply being humoured because it's polite). It has affected more friendships and relationships than I can count in more ways than I can list.
(I should note at this point that it has taken me literal years with a therapist to dissect how these events have shaped the person I am today, and to try to find the means to cope with my mental afflictions and lived experiences; and I am now able to share these experiences with you because of those years of personal work and care.)
By and large over the past 5 years, I've gotten really good at not only noticing what could be a trigger for me and avoiding it, but taking the care I need to when I'm triggered and removing myself from the stimulus. I've been able to lead a relatively normal live and I haven't had a serious episode in 3 years... until I was blind sided yesterday.
I stupidly read a Facebook thread written by people I knew and respected criticizing a dance company I used to work for. Normally something so mundane (albeit shitty) wouldn't phase me, but something was different this time. As I read the awful comments, the aggressive body shaming (from those who claim to be "body positive", of course), and saw comment after comment of aggressive bullying, my mind and body gave a visceral response. Unbeknownst to me, this stupid, self indulgent, entitled Facebook thread had become a trigger.
My mind began racing. My breathing quickened and shortened. My heart was vibrating. My skin started to tingle. It wasn't too long until I felt tears coming down my face. I started to get restless, wringing my hands. I became tempted to break my massive rule to not engage in politics and arguments online (a rule that is put in place for my anxiety disorder and PTSD). Instead, I messaged a good friend of mine to talk about what I was feeling, hoping to dispel this response. I made tea. I did some breathing exercises. All my regular tricks to calm my mind and settle my body weren't working the way they normally did. The thing about when PTSD is triggered is that your mind and your body go into a state of emergency, as if you are physically being threatened, usually in a similar way to what you have already experienced. But I wasn't being threatened. This thread had nothing to do with me. My mind raced as this imaginary mob from a Facebook thread came banging on my door, yelling and grabbing at my clothes, spitting the same words I've heard from so many bullies before then in my face. I somehow logically assessed this mob was coming for me next. I could feel hands on my body as a paced alone in my apartment. I checked the clock. Today I was scheduled to see my therapist. The timing couldn't have been better.
As I'm walking to my appointment, all my senses are heightened, as if I'm walking through the jungle expecting to be attacked by a panther. Even as I'm listening to music trying to distract my thoughts, I'm sensitive to every environmental sound, every quick motion, every body the passes me, as if one of them could attack. I walk quickly and directly, focusing on my breath, trying not to cry. I make it to my therapist's office, heave a sigh, and immediately break.
In our session, we establish why this thread was a trigger: the language that was used which echoed some of the things I've been told, the bullying the critics employed, the lack of agency to the woman whose body they were shaming (something I'm familiar with as a professional dancer), the fact that I was once very close with the dance company under scrutiny, the use of victimhood as justification for poor behaviour, the hypocrisy in arguments made, the vilification of people who I saw like me...
We then took some steps to settle what thoughts I had that were keeping me ramped up and ready for attack: I'm not the unwanted kid anymore, my work is very different from the company under scrutiny, I'm strong and convicted in my beliefs and will not allow myself to be shaken, I have good intent and work to do the right thing, I am a master of my craft and have earned the good I have received, I will not be deterred by those who show jealousy and project their insecurities onto me. We practised expressing my anger, something I'm not especially good at, as I have been taught through lived experience my anger is bad, unjustified and unwanted.
I left my therapists office mentally settled, but still emotionally raw. I took my walk home and made the poor decision to carry about my day.
I should have been smarter and cancelled all my other appointments and taken the day to self-care, but being the driven ambitious artist that I am, I decided I'd be fine and push though, and rationalized that being active would help me cope. My first appointment went well, my second however I mishandled a dancer when they demanded more emotional energy than I could given in my state (it's an action I will have to rectify). I ended up cutting my time with a client short, to which she was super understanding when I gave my reasons, being a PTSD sufferer herself. My last rehearsal of the day was productive, and talking to members of my cast helped me deal with some of the days events and feel a little more human, but I wasn't out of the woods yet.
The most bizarre thing about having an episode is the emotional aftermath. There is an intense guilt that follows you after you have such a visceral response to a trigger, because the response is instinctual and not logical, and you are not always in control of the response. Your body picks up habits based on what it experiences that become ingrained in your being both consciously and unconciously, be it adaptation to repetitive movement, or response to repetitive experiences. Some of these habits are good: physical training, please and thank you, moving to music you like, laughter. Some of them are not, and are habits put in place again both consciously and unconsciously as means of protection and recovery from threat, but they are habits none the less. It's like programmed responses to stimuli, and while there is the power to control it to a degree, some of these responses become automatic, for better or for worse. This is a basis of PTSD, that the response because of traumatic stimulus become so strong and so ingrained, that even the feeling (provoked or unprovoked) of a familiar threat or experience causes an individual to react in their own response as a means for protection and preservation, even if the threat isn't real and actual. This often defies the logic of the sufferer, as they are able to register that there is no perceived threat, but are unable to control the body and mind's automated response to the feeling, thus creating residual feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment after an episode. Often these feeling are echoed and enforced by people's reactions to a sufferer's episode, because to the outside eye, a trigger simply looks like an overreaction. But to the sufferer, the threat is very real. This creates a vicious emotional cycle for PTSD sufferers, especially to those who are undiagnosed. It's why sufferers feel so much shame around their condition, and why it's still a very taboo mental illness for those who do not hold occupations often associated with PTSD. To the outside world, what "reason" would these people have to be triggered? Conversely, the casual use of the work "trigger" continues to delegitimize the experience of PTSD sufferers. A triggers not simply upsetting content, it is far more nuanced and complex. And an "episode" isn't simply being upset, it is a full body, involuntary, physical response.
It's the next day and after a good night's sleep and writing this piece, I'm feeling far more calm than I was yesterday. I still have some aftermath to take care off (I'm still pretty guilt-ridden), but I have the necessary tools in place to be recovered by the weekend. I'm feeling confident and solid enough to send this piece out into the world, hopefully to enlighten those who have had misconceptions and promote more empathy and understanding towards each other. Like any mental illness, this is a hidden affliction, but a very real one. Practise love and tolerance. Practise self care. You truly never know the path a person has walked until you gaze at the trail behind them.
Reposted from Facebook:
Get ready for a long-winded post kids!
Landed back on Canadian soil! I'm currently sitting in a short layover in St. John's Newfoundland before catching my flight back to Pearson, and I'm taking this opportunity to reflect on a 22 day adventure that has definitely changed me.
Firstly, let me thank, Leslie Glen, Caitlin Arbour and my best friend J. Mallory Veney for housing a wayward showgirl! You all made my trip easy and delightful!!!
After getting accepted to the London Burlesque Festival, I decided to take the opportunity to do something I felt like everyone had done except me: run around Europe like a wind-blown vagabond. I have spent the better part of my life dedicated to my art and my career. My ambition and dedication, though they are traits I pride myself in, had, until the past three years, kept me from travelling and taking in certain experiences that I were told were staples of my young life. After taking a trip to Austrailia (holy shit!) 4 years ago, I made a promise to myself to make travel a bit more of a priority, and to begin creating opportunities to leave the country. This trip was a huge test for me. Thus far I've always had somewhere solid to land: friends, a gig, what have you, and this time, for a large chunk of my trip (and thanks to a bit of twisted fate) I didn't. My logic was, if 18-year-olds have been doing this after high school for the past 60 years, why would it be any more difficult for me?
Most of the challenges I cam across were expected (learning the hard way about exchange rates and making attempts not to overspend). Some were not (3 out of 4 broken wheels on my luggage too early in my trip). I had thoughts of warnings people gave me on my trip (I was going to thieved and abducted in Paris, which obviously didn't happen) and then had to face the realities unprepared (the culture shock that became Germany). But my good friend Rachel was right, you travel alone and you learn how truly clever and resourceful you can be. My biggest surprise truly has been how much this trip has changed me.
So let's start with the superficial crap: My bucket list, where I crossed off a bunch of items, including some I didn't know I had until they happened.
- take a ballet class in Paris (followed by a Graham class - bonus points)
- Climb the Eiffel Tower (only to the second floor by stairs, too expensive to go to the top)
- See Versailles (almost all of it in one day! Wicked sunburn because of it)
- Eat decadent French food
- Attend service in Notre Dame Cathedral (didn't know it was an item til it happened)
- See the Alps
- Get lost, then find my way (Geneva, Paris, Hamburg)
- watch a Shakespeare rehearsal in the Globe Theatre (Twelfth Night, if you must know)
- feel comfortable in another city
- Climb a mountain
- See a bunch of famous art
- feed parakeets in Hyde Park
Now for the harder stuff.
I mentioned it in my last video. I've always felt like I've never belonged. Since I was about 15, it's like, the second I attached myself to a group, or "found my tribe", or "hashtag family affair", something would happen that would isolate me or exile me; someone decides I'm not enough/too much of something, someone decides they have an issue with me and don't address it and leave me guessing, people try to "help" by pointing out my flaws, gossip, talking about ways to "fix the problem" (usually referring to the problem being me)... whatever it was it would begin to feel like a clique. I've never had a good association with cliques. The cliques I knew as a kid were the group of girls who would call me out to "play" and then taunt me and kick my ass (literally). They were the ones who would set up scenarios to embarrass or shame me publicly. They would gaslight me in saying "you're too sensitive!" You're too aggressive!" "Why are you freaking out, it was just a joke!" I was belittled for my intelligence, my passion, my creativity, and my general weirdness. I was used for whatever they needed from me. I've spend my life feeling like the bulk of my friendships were false moments, forged because I served as a symbol for these women, as an example of what not to be, or as a project to be fixed, not an individual to be loved and accepted unconditionally. I learned not to trust. I accepted that that no one sticks around for me. That every friendship ends, and that that is just the way it is, and maybe for me, the way it is meant to be.
And yet somehow, with each newly forged friendship, I loved harder than the last, gave every ounce of loyalty I could, devoted my time and my energy and treated it like we would be friends forever, naively believing each time, that my love would be returned to me. And I regret nothing. I will continue to love, even if that love is not returned or rewarded. I will employ my empathy in every situation, ESPECIALLY when I have been wronged. It took me years to realize my sensitivity and emotionality wasn't a weakness, but a super power. I fought that vulnerable aspect of my nature for years, until I realized, very recently, just how powerful it was. My empathic nature, my emotional demeanour has become my biggest strength.
I see my life as a lush garden, filled with a wide variety of trees, shrubs and the most beautiful flowers. You pull the weeds when they grow (they're easier and easier to spot with practise). You see a strange plant and see if it blossoms into something beautiful, keep it if you like it in your garden, compost if you don't. You trim trees, maintaining their beautiful shape. But sometimes flowers wilt, or die, or rot. Yes, they were beautiful once, but they have had their season. Maybe they'll grow back next year or in the future, maybe they won't, but you must clear the waste and make it useful. Compost. Remember the flower, enjoy it while it lasts, but there's not point in trying to save something that's already dead, even if it died before you were ready for it.
And this trip, this time alone, has really solidified my life as a garden. I have my favourite plants. I have my lush, solid trees that weather all seasons and the roughest storms. I am blessed that I have the trees I do. My shrubs blossom when the seasons are right, and I still love them even when not in bloom. But I can no longer worry about the longevity of flowers, and I have no patience for weeds.
I have come from this trip more self-assured. I'm not ashamed of what other's have weighed as "too this", "not enough that", or my favourite threat I've heard a LOT of in the past year "no one will like you/hire you/love you if you're this". I'm getting too old to humour that kind of projected insecurity. And maybe the traits you're criticizing, are the traits you're afraid to embody.
I have ambitions. I have goals. I have visions of how I want the world around me to unfold, and if you want to be with me on this ride, I welcome you! I'm happy to bring anyone who wants to join, support, witness, contribute to this world I see in my head.
But if you're not helping me, you're in my way. And I no longer have the time or patience to humour those who do not work, believe and love as I do.
To the next adventure!!! xoxo
Sorry for the title, but those who know , know my love for theatricality.
There are many who would argue that this was the "worst year ever"; with prominent celebrity deaths, numerous high profile (and not high profile but probably should have been) terrorist attacks, the end of the Obama era and the beginning of the fall of the US as we know it under president-elect Donald Trump, boats of displaced refugees, missing aboriginal women, rampant sexism and racism normalized by media, and numerous personal hardships befallen to many in my social and professional circles. There are a lot of people ready to say "fuck you, 2016" and move into the bright shiny optimism of beginning a new year! And to them I say...
Have you learned nothing?
I mean, I get it. This year was not a cake walk by any means, for myself included. For me it was an incredibly awkward and disappointing year where despite my best intentions and well laid plans, things just never quite worked out the way I wanted them to, if they didn't blow up directly in my face altogether. But to send the experiences of this year forever into the vault and gloss it over with "things will be better in 2017" would be a huge disservice to the lessons learned in a year of tested faith. And instead of focusing on all the experiences that made this year suck, I would like to impart some of the lessons I learned in this year, a year I will remember spend learning old lessons in new ways.
1. TAKE UP SPACE
I really got taken advantage of this year by a number of diffrent people and collectives. I want to make it clear that I am about 85% sure it was unintentional by the parties who wronged me (and there were more than a couple over the span of 12 months). And I know it was unintentional becasue when I finally spoke up about how I felt taken advantage of or unappreciated, said parties where shocked at my sentiment. The problem lies not in their abuse of my presence, but by my lack of setting clear boundries, make demands and my eagerness to please and be liked. You see, I have a warped idea of reciprocity; that if I do good, be likable, give what is needed, that I will be prepaid properly in accolades, praise, appreciation and support, on top of agreed monetary payment. Because I try to work hard under this mentality with my own employees, I assume everyone does. It was naive of me to think so. People, and the businesses they run, are inherently selfish. You are only as valuable to them as you are useful. It doesn't matter what personal affiliation to try to create or maintain, if you don't carve out your space and claim it as yours, it will be taken from you. The one thing I will give credit to myself for is that this is the first year where when my space was taken, I finally spoke up about it, eventually, one way or the other. I spoke out when I felt working conditions were unjust or unreasonable. I spoke out when I felt disrespected (even if I got push back on multiple occasions on that one). This year, despite hurt I felt in these situations, I took my first steps in standing my ground what what I believed was right, and what I thought I deserved. Most were receptive, a handful questioned me. Those who questioned me made me dig my heels in harder, a response I don't normally have (despite what people like to project on the "brassy loud redhead", I don't do well with conflict or confrontation.) So as awful as it felt to be neglected, unappreciated, or merely considered an after thought when I should have been more of a priority, I learned that I am valuable, and practiced standing my ground and demanding what I deserve; a practise I turly hope to fine tune in the new year.
2. IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE, DO IT YOURSELF
This goes slightly hand in hand with the first point. I wanted those I was spending significant amounts of time with and around to look out for my best interests, when in reality they gain nothing from my personal happiness and well being. And again, people are inately selfish, to expect reciprocity is naive and fruitless, unless it's contracted. By the time I came to this realization I started acting more selfishly, and not putting the same energy into people who weren't reciprocating my enegry, instead turning that focus on to me and my needs. Apprently those people noticed, and were quite put off by my "self-centredness"; to which I say "Well if you weren't going to do it, that means I have to." And an odd correlation I found when this happened was: those who naturally reciprocated my energies and sentiments, naturally had more respect for me and what I do. Those who didn't, didn't respect me and often undermined my emotions, experiences and decisions. Egro one can conculde, selfishness is a show of self respect. Doing more than I had to for others while neglecting my own desires and needs was a lack of self respect, not a display of generosity or good work ethic. Although I will likely still struggle with this concept and the guilt that usually befalls me when I feel I am doing "less than" for others or the collective, I am working to do more for myself, by myself. My goal is to truly be my own cheerleader and to master my own confidence, and not require the approval or encouragement from outside sources now knowing how truly fickle they are. And on that note...
3. YOU ONLY HAVE A LIMTED AMOUNT OF FUCKS. CHOOSE WHERE TO GIVE THEM WISELY
This comes from a conversation I had with Nikola Steer maybe 2 years ago now? The idea is this: You have about 100 fucks in your pocket. You can't get any more fucks, there is a cap. That means you have to do the math to portion your fucks out to the things what really need them: your health, your loved ones, your job, etc. Becuase you have a finite number of fucks to give, you have to be cautious of things and people that could covince you they are worth giving a fuck, when really your fucks are better spent elsewhere. And becasue your fucks are finite, you have to be aware of when you waste a fuck on something that doesn't deserve it. Now the good news is your fucks are transferable. You can decide to no longer give a fuck about one thing and put that fuck to something more important. But the number of fucks you're allowed to give stays the same. In short, I'm trying to give less fucks.
4. NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LIKE YOU ALL THE TIME, IF THEY EVEN LIKE YOU AT ALL
This works on two different levels.
Level One: Social Media
My #100DaysOfDanceChallenge taught me a LOT of things - how to be present in the moment when I dance, attempts to not overthink, how to navigate performance when you don't feel like it, musicality, the list goes on.
It also attempted to teach me not to depend in the response from social media or any other outside sources to validate your work. Now I say attempt becasue I feel like the lesson hasn't fully sunk in yet; I still VERY much care about what other think of me and my work, but I got a glimpse if what it felt like to enjoy my art because I made it and it made me feel good. By half way through the challenge, after failed attempts for audience engagement, I learned to stop looking for likes and to actually look at the work I was creating and let how it made me feel, both in its creation and its viewing, resonate. It even helped me look at other art more critcally and not like something becasue others said it was "good", forcing me to articulate why a piece did or did not impact me and why. With this in mind, I try to remember that not everything I create will be good, nor with it always be everyone's taste, but that doesn't define my worth as a person or an artist, nor should it stop me for continuing to create.
Level 2: In Real Life
I've had to be the "bad guy" more than once this year by simply putting my foot down for what I needed, wanted or deserved. It felt awful to start it, as I don't like creating conflict or facing confrontation, but nine times out of ten I felt AMAZING afterwards. Even when I severed a couple of friendships over the past 24 months, it hurt to do it in the moment but I felt shockingly weightless a couple of weeks after. If someone is not serving you with their energy, there's no need to have them like you. They are entitled to that, as you are entitled to not be in their presence.
In closing, I want to highlight some of the good/notable things that happened this year:
To be honest, currently 2017 has me scared shitless, but if I'm being honest, I think I missed that feeling. It's a feeling of possibility that is mine and mine alone. I'm dependant on certain aspects for success but I'm not bound to them. I look forward to taking the next month in particular to train my body back to a place where I'm happy with it. I'll likely be documenting my progress, if not for those who wish to see it, but so I can see it for myself. I'm making a point to be more social this year, as teaching as much as I did left me socially depleted. I'm excited to practise being selfish, in hopes I can gain my confidence and the self-possession I wish to achieve.
Oh! And I also want to write more. Apparently I'm a good writer (or so I'm told). Let's see where that goes...
Well would you look at that! Two posts in only a matter of weeks? Maybe I'll keep this writing thing.
I've just gotten back from my shrink and have made some interesting realizations that I feel like need to come out into the ether less they dissipate and I forget they ever existed. Also, keeping log of these images as possible reference for future work, and what better place than a public forum! *side eye* But I digress, I hope some of my word help others who struggle with the battle inside their brains, and give comfort that you're definitely not alone in that struggle.
If you read back in my posts, you notice I've made a couple of mentions to my struggle with my mental health, specifically with depression and anxiety. My outward symptoms (for me) include moodiness, isolation, pessimistic attitude, agoraphobia (fear of open spaces and crowds), lack of motivation and love for things that make me happy, paranoia, hyperventilation and exhaustion. Generally whenever I've had an episode, I hate everyone, I hate everything and leaving the house takes some serious coaching. My impulse is to hide in my bed and sleep hours at a time in the middle of the day. Routine tasks like taking public transit all of a sudden feel like a life or death experience that are so incredibly overwhelming that I can feel my heart beat faster in my throat if I even think about it; nevermind being out in large social settings. My senses tend to become hyper sensitive and too much movement or sound makes me irritable and tense, and if I don't get some place calm asap, that's usually when a public display of panic comes out. In my darkest moment, I feel hopeless. Everything is futile and nothing I've done and nothing I am matters. Those times are the worst, and some pretty morbid thoughts appear in my head.
What you don't see is how my mind reacts, and some of the images that have come to me during dark times or full blown episodes. Coming to a calmer period of my mental health in my life (through rigorous work with my shrink and some serious self care and reflecction), I will attempt to share some of the feelings and images I've felt with the depression and anxiety through about 20 years I have suffered at the hands of my own brain. Keep in mind I'm leaving out some of the experiences that have acted as triggers for my depression and anxiety and am strictly talking about how it felt. (I feel like the numerous hard experiences I've had are an entirely other post I'm not ready to write about yet). I hope it brings clarity to just how someone feels when having an episode.
Aged 10: The Empty Room
My first real recollection of these fun feelings was when I was about 10 years old. I was not a popular kid. In fact, I would argue that I was flat out disliked. I didn't have any friends, and the "friends" I did have would regularly make fun of me, bully me, belittle me, and a couple of times it got to physically pushing me around. The first time I remember the empty room I think was my 10th, maybe 11th birthday. It was the first birthday I didn't throw a party, because some girl made a comment that even if I did, no one would show up. To avoid what I thought was inevitable, I told my mom I didn't want a party. Instead I made invitations, loot bags and games for me and my dolls and stuffed animals. I ran away in my head to this imaginary party I was throwing for myself in my room, with my toys. That was how the empty room began; this wide, vacant feeling in my head, with white walls, and echoed if you talked. There were no windows, no doors. It felt safe, especially if I'd had a bad day with the bullying at school. And then I'd stay in the room just a bit too long, and that feeling of safe would turn unsettling. Safe would become quiet, would become lonely, and eventually it would make me feel forgotten. It felt like I could scream bloody murder and no one would hear me. This wide, tall, vast white room would fill with the sounds of my own voice running through various emotions; fear, despair, desperation, sorrow. If I kept my voice low, it was manageable. But the second I wanted to yell or scream to get out, the sound would bounce off the walls, echoing my cries mockingly back from the walls to remind me that on one was ever going to come for me, and that was unwanted and forgettable. As I got older, it felt as if that room was shrinking. It still echoed as a cavernous space, but the walls became closer, as if trying to keep me still. The empty room, with it's echoing wailing walls would shrink until it bonded and bound to my skin.
Aged 14: Black Tar
Convinced that high school would allow me to start with a clean slate, I was excited to leave my small town elementary school and go to a high school a 35 minute drive away that had an arts program, where I auditioned and was accepted to their dance department. I made friends alright, was social, was liked, learned to socialize. But nothing ever felt right. Some days I would feel physically heavy, like I couldn't pick my feet up. I'd have moment where friends wanted to be around me, but I found excuses to avoid them . I started feeling off and out of place in every situation. I'd be needlessly awkward and quiet. My mind would go into hyperactivity at the slightest off comment and create fantastical situations where I'd imagine being told off and disowned by my friends. I would spiral in my own thoughts into this black tar pit that would gradually sink my body down, immobilizing me. I'd wish for the tar to just take me under, swallow me whole and just get it over with. I confided in a boy who had severe OCD who knew how to talk me down from those moments where I'd isolate myself. He'd tell me I was pretty , that the world needed me, and give me little doodles and trinkets to show me I was important. He would describe the tar to me, as if he could see it too. It was nice to have someone who didn't think I was being dramatic or crazy. Our friendship ended during a manipulative and controlling relationship I was in with another boy at 17. The tar came back afterwords and I sat in it , but this time with pride and vindication, as if this is what I deserve and that how things were meant to be.
Aged 20: The Rhino
It's odd to say that I liked the black tar. Yeah it was heavy sometimes, and sometimes it kept me from moving and doing what maybe I should have been doing in my late teens and entering my twenties, but I honestly didn't mind it. It was warm, it was safe, it felt stable. I often mistook it for being solid and grounded. That is, until my tar changed form. In the second year of university, I was being berated by my ballet teacher in class in university (which was a common occurrence in my program to anyone and everyone), and a huge force entered my head. I tore around my brain, through thoughts and memories, through logic and emotion until I didn't know which was which. I felt my chest clench , my eyes well up, I was holding my breath, I was trying not to cry. I blamed being too sensitive, or being over worked, or being over tired for this hard rush. I ran to the bathroom and cried as hard as I could for about a minute, cleaned up my face, and went back to finish class. I thought that was just a one time thing. Boy, was I wrong. Sometimes it made sense, I'd be overtired, over worked, under stress and the rhino would barrel through the door, tear though the filing cabinets in my head where I had intricately placed my thoughts and ideas and make a clunky stomping scene. Then when it was satisfied with the damage, it would simply walk out again, without any acknowledgement of me or what it had done. I'd be left to pick up the papers and files and resort my thoughts, ideas and feelings. But sometimes, the rhino would appear without warning. It would overturn furniture, tear through the walls like paper, leave carnage in its wake. It would hit me sometimes in the process, knocking me down or leaving me bruised. Sometimes it would leave right away, but sometimes it would decide to plunk down and sleep right in front of me. These times felt the scariest. The slightest rustle as I cleaned up the disaster the rhino made would wake it, and it would go tearing through my headspace again, leaving holes, tearing papers. Sometimes it felt like the rhino was hunting me, staring me down daring me to run. I would be paralyzed, starting into the eyes of an angry beast ready to charge. I've never felt so helpless. At about 24 the rhino made an ultimate blow and I had very public emotional break down, prompting me to finally seek help.
Age 24-25: The Smoke Demon
I started seeing my shrink. I remember describing to her that my head felt like being in a dust storm and not being able to see an object that was right in front of me. As I worked though how my thoughts and emotions worked, my rhino became a smoke demon. You see, the fun thing about mental illness is that it grows and evolves with you. The more I worked, the older I got, the more my mental illness evolved and got smarter with me. This smoke demon resembled the smoke demon in Fern Gully (you know, the one voiced by Tim Curry). Except mine didn't speak, it hissed. Sometimes soft and gentle, sometimes hard and aggressive . It had long boney fingers that would appear from any part of its cloud and beckon. It would wrap those fingers around me, sometimes it would caress me softly as it sighed in my ear. A couple of times it beckoned me into heavy traffic. More than once I was impulsed to follow. Other times it felt like it scratched and tore through my flesh and laughed as it watched my struggle. Sometimes the smoke was so thick around me all I could do was sleep. Sleep would keep the smoke quite and still at my feet. If the smoke was awake, it would rise and swirl around me, blurring my vision, making me see things that were there and that weren't really happening. It would gaslight me. The smoke made people believe I was crazy. Eventually I started to believe I was crazy too. Gradually, through hard work and regular visits to my shrink, the smoke began to change shape. Days where the smoke felt so thick that my eyes burned became less and less frequent. I was beginning to have days where the smoke wasn't even there at all! Eventually, the smoke dissipated, and took a new form.
Now: The Hollywood Manager
He looks like a cross between Bruce Campbell and the 1990s cartoon Joker. He wears a royal blue power suit with a purple dress shirt and a red tie. He's muscularly built, clean shaven with a strong jawline. His eyes flicker between false concern and mischief. His hair is jet black, and oiled back. He's got a smug, winning smile. For the first time that I can recall, he can speak. He whispers in my ear. He doesn't tell me what to do but he plants seeds in my head, in hopes that I'll "come to my own conclusions" and "make the right decisions". I know he's not looking out for me. He only looks out for himself. I can often ignore his inane accusations and passive aggressive jabs, but every now and again I question myself and wonder if he's making some sense. I've learned that certain people and situations fuel his intentions, and he uses those people and situations as leverage against me, because he can. He knows my past, all my fears and insecurities. What's weird now is that I can actively talk to him. And I know his game. He doesn't win nearly as many rounds as he used to, but I still have trouble tuning him out. Ever now and again he pokes the right nerve and I need to stay in bed and recover. But he's manageable. I'm often winning arguments and making my own choices in spite of this con artist. I have more control, for now. Until he evolves and takes a new form.
I'm looking at some of these past posts and averaging about one blog post a year. Maybe I should write more...
Anywho, yesterday was the last day I was accepting casting submissions for expanding my company roster with High Society Cabaret. I should make a note that although it's not my first time being on the other side of an audition table, it WAS my first time being on the admin side of a casting call to artists and being able to see how people submit themselves for a call. The process proved to be... interesting. I learned a lot! I was amazed at applications making some mistakes on processes that I thought were common sense! But since common sense doesn't seem to be common to the new stock of emerging dancers, let me outline some dos and don'ts when submitting yourself and your content to a casting call.
1. Read the casting submission directions and follow them
You'd think this goes without saying, but I got quite a few submissions missing vital information I needed in order to assess whether or not the dancer was suitable to bring in for an interview.
I should note that because I think auditions are a time and money suck and I generally don't like them, I approached my casting this time around more like a job interview (also because I feel like artistic business endeavours such as casting and company policy should be handled with a more business/corporate veneer and I'm attempting to put that into practice). So when I say you need to include your headshot, resume, cover letter (tell me what you've heard about my company or me, why you want to join my company, and why I should hire you) and video footage, you better give me all four of those items. Most of my applications were missing cover letters, which is annoying but I can survive. However I had a couple of applications missing footage, one was even missing a headshot! If I'm not auditioning, I need to see you dance and I need to see your face. Your look is part of how I evaluate whether or not you're right for the job.
2. Make sure your headshot looks like you.
Glamour shots are fun! (remember how I'm pretty and naked for a portion of my living?) and they're great for promotional material for classes, shows, etc., but they are usually TERRIBLE for headshots! You're gussied up, sexified, airbrushed, and basically only being one facet of yourself, and it may not be the facet I want. Your head shot should be relatively neutral in terms of casting and should look like you!
3. Make sure YOU are the one featured in your demo reel/dance footage
*sigh* Where do I begin?
There are two major pieces of footage you should try to avoid when making a submission: large group choreography and class footage. Here's why:
I DON'T KNOW WHICH DANCER YOU ARE!!!
How can I assess your fabulousness when I don't know which one is you? My eye is going to be drawn to the most dazzling, eye popping mover in the video, and that mover may or my not be you. I don't know. If you feel you MUST submit footage of you in group choreography, please, for the love of god, make a note in the video which one is you. There are a bunch of ways to do it: title written on the frame, isolating you in the group and opening up to the wide shot of the ensemble, fucking draw an arrow, I don't care. But I'm not psychic, I barely know your face so how am I going to know your movement. Help me out a little here!
My personal pet peeve is also class choreography in lieu of a demo. If that's what you're submitting, you better be fucking slaying that routine Yanis Marshall style. I naturally better not be taking my eyes off you. It's super depressing and makes me feel a little guilty when you send me footage of your dancing in class and I find I'm not watching you, I'm watching the girl to your left that is giving me way more face, style, heart and is fiercely outshining you. Sorry.
Also, when I've asked for professional working experience and all you have available is class footage, I just naturally assume you haven't really worked professionally. I need to know you have stepped foot on a stage or set before, know how to work in the environment and with other people. Also keep in mind, working professionally means you GET PAID IN MONEY for what you do. Not experience, not exposure, not during some half-assed, not real, post secondary "training program" (almost every single one of them is a scam, btw), you get paid in coins and notes. If that is not something that happens on the regular for you, you need to re-evaluate how you approach your career, how you train, and who you work with, otherwise you're not a professional.
4. Please please PLEASE on the hips of Martha Graham research the company you are applying to!
The number of young urban dancers that applied to my company because of the word "burlesque" was ASTOUNDING! Before I continue down this tangent, let me clarify exactly what burlesque is for a moment:
I would like to make this clear: just because you dance in heels and make a face as if you're taking a really sexy poop, does not make you a burlesque dancer. Modern burlesque involves any combination of satire, humour, caricature, visual opulence , sensuality/sexuality and/or tease (stripping). Dancing is an asset for sure! But your visuals, performance quality and overall charisma are equally important.
Moreover, a lot of the work I do works strictly in vintage aesthetics before about 1975. I work in a cabaret dance style, where our stages aren't always big so you have to be smart and adaptable in your dancing. Our work also takes from vaudeville, is interactive, and I stress that the dancers be strong performers who are comfortable with audience interaction and can freestyle and improvise on stage and in the audience (and that doesn't mean high kicks, tricks and 32 foutteés. It means, can you pay attention and react in character to your environment and all it holds.) All this I feel is present in the company's media if not blatantly stated on our website and Facebook page. When you drop a sentence like "I've been doing burlesque" and I see nothing that fits the above descriptions and definitions, I wonder a) do you even know what you're talking about and b) do you even KNOW what company you've sent your content to? All it does is it makes you look sloppy and uneducated, and I don't want to hire someone I have to do some intensive training with.
5. You can't control what the panel wants, all you can do I bring the best version of yourself forward.
You could be the most technically talented dancer that applies, but if you don't fit what I'm looking for, I won't hire you. It's not personal, I promise. I just have some specific traits I want out of my performers and you may not have those specific traits. And this is the life when you work as a dancer, or any artist! If your goal and method is the audition circuit, you have to constantly hone your craft while playing a numbers game. And the more you submit to, the more likely someone, somewhere will give you a job. It can get really defeating, trust me. I did it for nearly 10 years before I pretty recently decided it wasn't the game I wanted to play anymore and that's not how I wanted to play it. And that's the other thing: there is no "right" way to have a career. That being said, how your career unfolds has a lot to do with you. So discover what you want, how you want to work and the work you want to do any take the steps you need to make it happen. No one will do it for you. There is no job as a dancer that is going to "make " you. They are all cumulative experiences that will shape you as an artist , and it's up to you to use them to cultivate the career you want to have.