Thursday, July 30, 2009

Economic Rave

(Reader caveat: this is NOT about dance but you’ll have to indulge me.)

I just got turned down for a job driving an invalid to his intravenous therapy four days a week. That’s all; just driving and a little housework. He said I’m overqualified (I’ve heard that a million times). He must have guessed from my manner of speaking because he didn’t even know about my degrees. I’ve been trying to appear less qualified: modest dress, no make-up, I leave my degree dates off my resume, sometimes I leave education off altogether. Besides, wouldn’t you want to have someone overqualified for a job rather than underqualified? Does my degree make it more difficult for me to drive my car across town? Do these employers think that because I have a doctorate that I don’t do my own laundry? How dare they assume that I’ll get bored and leave. Frack them all! What’s an old broad like me suppose to do to get a job?

I have been underemployed for 20 years, beginning when I returned to college to get my bachelors degree. Since then, I had one short-lived, full-time, full-benefits job from which I was laid off during the 1990s economic downturn. I listened to the advice of my college councilors and signed up for graduate school. (I should have listened to the college Cassandra’s who kept saying “Graduate school is hell,” “Don’t do it” and “You will regret it.” They were right.)

Aside from the mental and physical exhaustion caused by graduate-level studies, the economic effects of this move (literally from Massachusetts to California, and figuratively from layperson to scholar) were disastrous. I left the work force during my peak earning years and accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt. I have had to cobbled together teaching assistantships, fellowships, and temporary teaching jobs. I worked at an office supply shop, a video store, and I managed an import shop: all part-time, all underpaid. I did have a 6-week gig last summer as an editor but that business relies on government contracts. So that ended prematurely.

For the last year, we (my husband, whose inadequate salary keeps us just above water) and I have borrowed money from his parents, emptied our moderate retirement funds to pay our income taxes (and you can bet it chapped my ass when Washington was bailing out Wall Street with my tax money), and are living off the remnants of a workers compensation settlement.

I developed disabling tendonitis and arthritis in my hands while working in retail. My job options are thus limited by a small physical disability, and by my higher education, but also, I am convinced, by my age and gender. No one wants to hire an old woman (57), regardless of her skills.

Over the past two years, I have made every possible effort to secure any kind of job. I paid for the services of a career councilor, spit-polished my resumes, broadened my employment scope. I tried networking but that’s BS in an area as depressed as this one (San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley). I started a blog and signed up on Facebook and joined LinkedIn on the recommendation that this is the new way to network. I have lowered my expectations and lowered my standards. I still look for jobs but aside from medical and technical opportunities, there just aren’t any out there. And its even worse now than a year ago

We have tightened our belts (sold the boot-straps for a sandwich). I stopped going to dance classes, stopped renting movies, stopped eating out. We make our own pizzas on Friday nights instead of ordering one. We groom our dog at home and I only get my hair cut every 8-10 months. Changing our lifestyle was easy compared to changing our lives. We considered getting rid of some of the expensive technologies that our new society demands we own, but that would only cripple us more. I’ve sold many of my books and bellydance jewelry and costumes for spare cash. I’ve considered selling more precious items but when I examined the sales for these sorts of things on eBay and Craigslist I noticed no one was buying.

This story is not unique. I know plenty of other women struggling desperately to find jobs (or even those jobettes the Feminists used to decry). My husband and I are not destitute—we have a lovely rented cottage and we haven’t gone hungry. And we have many good friends here. I count heavily on those blessings.

So the moral of this story: if you have been unemployed for more than 6 months and are beginning to despair, know this: it ain’t your fault. It isn’t because your resume isn’t written well, or because you have too much or too little experience, or because you didn’t follow up with a phone call, or because you have a character flaw, or because you aren’t trying hard enough. It is a brutal market out there and there may be nothing you can do about it. I’m not saying you should stop looking for a job, but—and I know this is hard—try not to take it personally.

Friday, July 24, 2009

SYTYCD Choreographers have mastered the art of the 90 second duet.

One and one-half minutes is not long, yet SYTYCD choreographers have crammed a lot of content into that brief time. And perhaps because the human condition is so complex, they have used that time to reflect on innumerable subjects from the mundane to the sublime.

Traditional (heterosexual) couplings of ballroom dance are obvious duet choices and we have witnessed every variety: cha cha, samba, waltz, foxtrot, jive, disco, tango, rumba, paso doble, and the dreaded quickstep. These have been performed with more or less success and many have been outstanding. But for me, the really original work is being done in less specific genres, ones they call contemporary, jazz, and hip hop, even Broadway. These have styles that are particular to them, but are so flexible that they can be employed to express nearly any human experience.

Week 7 had two exceptional examples of what I mean. Tyce Diorio’s touching duet for Melissa and Ade addressed an immensely emotional subject: cancer. In 1 minute and 30 seconds, this team of artists expressed the fear, confusion, and loss of a cancer patient while demonstrating the difficult role of friends and lovers in providing a safe place for her to stand. The closing lift, with Melissa reaching into the future on Ade’s shoulder, was one of the most powerful single moments in SYTYCD history. Has anything else brought Nigel to tears (not to mention the rest of the judges, Diorio, and the studio and home audiences).

From this sublime performance, we jumped to a dark, zombie choreography by Shane Sparks. This theme always recalls Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but in the capable hands of Sparks, it was entirely fresh. Kayla and Jason performed it brilliantly building the drama to another electrifying conclusion: the strangulation of Kayla.

On the 100th anniversary program, we had a chance to see some of our favorite mini-dramas from past seasons. The Hummingbird piece was as magical as the first time, with those preternatural creatures poking inquisitively at one another. I had hoped we would see Mia Michaels’ moving tribute to her father. Michaels is a daring choreographer: remember her addiction piece from week 5.

I would love to see some of these short-form choreographies developed into larger forms, though many of them are so complete in themselves its hard to imagine how that could happen. A good drama has a beginning, a middle, and end, and a good plot. How they accomplish all that in 90 seconds is truly admirable. Is it any wonder that 4 of their choreographers have received Emmy Award nominations?

We will get a chance to see and hear from these and many other contemporary choreographers in an upcoming documentary “Move: The Film” due out in 2010. Meanwhile check out their website and YouTube preview. And for a cogent review of week 7 SYTYCD, check out Tonya Planks blog, Swan Lake Samba Girl.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Local Bellydance Studio Celebrates 1-Year Anniversary

One year ago, Janelle Rodriguez bought Masala Raks dance studio, renamed it Pleasure Point Fitness and Dance Center, and continued with the original owners’ (Ray's and Naomi’s) excellent dance programming. Their emphasis is still bellydance but they now offer ballet, Spanish sevilliana, nia, zumba (Brazilian-based aerobics), and four varieties of yoga. Janelle and her business partner, Jennifer Moore,  celebrated their anniversary by holding a dance party (called a hafla). As Ray and Naomi had done at Masala, the dancing took place outside the studio in the parking lot with a shade tent and carpet for the dancers. And lots of traffic stopping to ogle from 41st Avenue. 

In performance were Pleasure Point dance instructors, their students, and a few old friends of Janelle’s who came in for the event. Like Santa Cruz more generally, PPFDC boasts a wide array of bellydance varieties from traditional to modern. We saw cabaret with and without veil, Egyptian-style cane dance, and gothic tribal. It was a wonderful way to see what the instructors are up to, but also for students to experience performing in public. In fact, my first public performance as a bellydancer took place at one of Masala’s haflas (American Tribal Style with Kim Okrant). The general casualness of these haflas makes it a welcoming environment for beginners.

So congratulations to all the beginner performers and many thanks to Janelle and Jennifer. We all appreciate your efforts and look forward to the next year of classes and workshops.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

DSL Finally

We finally have DSL service up here in our mountain home. So I should be able to load pertinent photos and YouTube videos. Just for practice, here are a few from National Dance Week in Santa Cruz.

Friday, July 10, 2009

SYTYCD: Let’s talk about the choreographers

The producers have gathered a tremendous cast of choreographers, most of whom would never have been heard of outside their small circles. Every season they get better, perhaps because the dancers get better and can handle more complex choreographies. The last two weeks (4 and 5) have been outstanding showcases for these talented choreographers.

This week top honors go to Mia Michaels and Leo Barrionuevo and Miriam Larici. Michaels created yet another moving and startling contemporary piece, this time for Kayla and Kupono. The subject was addiction and the dynamic created between the dancers (Kupono as the addiction and Kayla as the addicted) truthfully depicted that relationship of longing and despair. Kupono’s relentless and confident pull on Kayla’s attempts to escape were performed with deep conviction. These two performed with similar intensity and skill in week 4 with Sonya Tayeh’s outstanding contemporary piece, another of my favorites. (I can’t believe that only a few weeks ago I thought Kupono should have been eliminated. He has proved me very wrong. I now think he is the best male dancer of the season.) Michaels’ talent seems to grow stronger every season and I wish she would create a touring company so we could watch a whole evening of her work.

Barrionuevo and Larici are (I think) new to the broadcast and I hope they become regulars. Their Argentine Tango for Janette and Brandon was filled with the passion and complexity the form is known for. They didn’t seem to hold anything back just because their dancers were inexperienced in tango. And with the considerable talents of Janette and Brandon, they didn’t need to. Even Lythgoe gave them a standing o. Brandon, usually so childlike in behavior and appearance, completely transformed himself into a dramatic tanquero and Janette’s long lunges and flicking feet were gorgeous.

Last night, though, there were many other excellent choreographies. Joey Dowling’s Broadway number (the Dance at the Gym music from West Side Story) for Kayla and Kupono was joyous, jazzy and fun. I loved its playfulness, despite the judges who thought it wasn’t enough like Robbins’ original dance (they were wrong: I don’t think Dowling intended them to be the Jets).

Mandy Moore and Wade Robson, both veterans of SYTYCD, consistently bring us exciting new choreography. Moore’s lyrical jazz finally gave Caitlyn and Jason a chance to shine. These dancers have too often been the unfortunate victims of unsuccessful choreography and atrocious costume disasters. Moore created a charming and delicious piece that was just too short. I wanted to see where this was going. Maybe she will develop this into a longer dance.


Robson, along with Michaels, is favored by the dancers and audience alike. This week he choreographed a jazz piece for Janette and Brandon who interpreted Robson’s unique movements to perfection. As thieves, the dancers skulked around the stage with fresh and quirky movements.

D Sanchez’s disco was superbly performed by Melissa and Ade and had me wanting to join in. This was true for the disco she created for Janette and Brandon in week 2. It helped that she got to use real disco music. Tony Merideth’s jive utilized the technical skill of Jeanine and the stage presence of Philip to great advantage. He also created a lovely foxtrot for Caitlyn and Jason, again demonstrating their talents. I thot Nap and Tab’s lyrical hip hop (who knew hip hop could be lyrical?) was delightful, although I don’t think Evan was really up to the task. Randi’s performance, however, expressed genuine pleasure in the movement.

A quick comment on the Russian Kalinka performed by Jeanine and Philip. I was thrilled that the producers took a risk and introduced a dance from the folk tradition. This one is technically and stylistically challenging and the dancers performed admirably. Philip’s lines could have been crisper and Jeanine’s landings could have been lighter, but I hope the unusualness of the style won’t discourage voters or the producers from trying again.

Postscript: Results show.

What can I say? I’m disappointed, dismayed, pissed off. I was sure Randi and Evan would be going home. Evan just hasn’t impressed me as much as I thot he would; he hasn’t grown as a dancer. Philip has surprised and delighted me consistently. And I’d rather watch Caitlyn than Randi. Caitlyn is the best soloist the show has ever had. At least Philip and Caitlyn will be on the tour. From here on, every elimination will be a disappointment. Best get used to it, I guess.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It don’t matter if you’re black or white: MJs racial and gender ambiguity

Much has already been said about Michael Jackson’s racial makeover. Some have speculated that it was an attempt to deny his blackness. Others suggest his medical procedures were an attempt to erase the image of his father as it was reflected in his own face. Certainly he felt compelled to alter his nose again and again for reasons we many never understand, tho there is growing evidence that plastic surgeries can become an obsession.

But I’d like to offer another possible interpretation for these changes: that his desire was to become all races, all humans. I am not arguing that white is the universal default. No matter how white MJ came to appear, we never for a moment forgot that he was black. His music, dance, and other contributions to black culture (and to American culture) are undeniable. But examine his humanitarian videos: in Black or White we see Jackson metamorphize from human to black panther and back again (am I reading too much into that metaphor?). And in an exquisite representation of his belief in the oneness of humankind, we watch smiling face after smiling face morph from one race to another and from one gender to another.

Jackson’s ambiguous gender and sexuality were also frequent subjects of discussion. His pre-pubescent voice, underdeveloped physique, our doubts that his marriages were “real” (that is, that he was even capable of consummation), each contributed to MJ’s apparent polymorphism, as well as to the frequent references to his childlike nature. After all, children, in American ideology anyway, are pre-sexual and gender neutral.

Perhaps, not content with the narrowness of his given self, Jackson made himself over into a universal figure. He was both child and adult, man and woman, black and white, gloved and ungloved. He was not “either/or” but “both/and.” Jackson stood at the crossroads of socially polarizing forces. His music and dance shattered divisions of race, gender, and class. His corporeality came to reflect that. He violated the cultural order, unmasking its ability to divide us. And that made him subversive and threatening, and, for people who cannot tolerate that threat, perverse.

The body—its surfaces and its interiority—is a reflection of social norms and altering the body is a comment on those habits. Perhaps Michael Jackson’s body modifications and presentations were a somatic response to his social politics. This isn’t to say that the other explanations are false, only that there may be another way to look at it (both/and not either/or). It is, after all, just me speculating, but then speculation is all we will ever have regarding Michael Jackson’s fantastical transformations.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lythgoe announces national dance foundation

Inspired by the success of American Idol’s charitable efforts--Idol Gives Back--SYTYCD producer Nigel Lythgoe has established Dizzy Feet Foundation with the help of choreographers Adam Shankman and Carrie Ann Inaba, and actress Katie Holmes. The Foundation’s goal is to “support, improve, and increase access to dance education.” It will provide scholarships for disadvantaged students and create a national standard for teaching.

This is the first time a national effort has been instituted at such a public level.  Many urban dance schools offer scholarships but their resources are limited and their scope necessarily narrow. I know that there are national arts education standards developed for K-12 but I don’t know if they apply to independent studios. It will be interesting to see how these standards compare with DFF’s. I am certain their stamp of approval will help parents make better selections for their kids. Right now, anyone…and I mean anyone…can open a studio and claim to have sufficient knowledge. If you’ve watched the early auditions on SYTYCD, you may have heard Lythgoe take some of these morons to task for claiming to be teachers. Its one of the reasons I respect him so much.

Watch SYTYCD’s 100th episode on July 23 for their introductory performance (a tribute to Judy Garland’s “Get Happy” from Summer Stock, my favorite of her films). For more details check out the official press release on their website

Also in the news, in addition to the passing of Michael Jackson (see my tribute blog on, the dance world also lost German avant-garde choreographer Pina Bausch. She was most popularly known for her 1982 piece in which the stage was covered in pink carnations. She died of cancer at the age of 68.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More MJ Tributes

For more tributes to Michael Jackson as a dancer check out the following: Commentary: Michael Jackson, A Dancer's Tribute to the King of Pop, the Godfather of Commercial Dance Michael Jackson (1958-2009) Moon Walker His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music