After the success of Lori Wilson’s last Guest Blog.We got comments from all over the country. I ask her if she wanted to do another before we all leave here tomorrow. She said yes, but wanted to write about dancing, teaching and cooking. I always tell me guest logger to write what you want. I don’t edit them or prompt them. My thought is that it is always great for dancers and dance people to write about our lives since so little is actually out there. So enjoy Lori’s observations below.
Traveling Ballet Master to Traveling Chef Master
Christopher Fleming: My mentor in many ways, but I never thought he’d teach me how to cook!
I am spending two weeks teaching at Huntsville Ballet’s Summer Intensive (Phillip Otto, Rachel Butler) with the Intermediate level while Christopher teaches the Advanced. (There are also other teachers for modern, pilates, etc.). As a dancer, there is nothing else quite like hearing the stories of your teachers when they were kids, but to hear the stories shared casually in Phil and Rachel’s home between the three of them, I feel like I hit the Dance History gold mine!
After my last blog, Chris shared with me his experience auditioning for American Ballet Theatre’s school. At the end of an audition with 200 students finally narrowed down to 6 and after the last big jump combination, he turned around for a few seconds to stretch his calves. To his dismay when he turned back around, everyone was gone! pianist, teacher, panel other auditioners (What he did not know at the time was that he was the only one left after all the others had been eliminated). It wasn’t till he left the main studio and negotiated the maze of the old building on 60th street that the Director was there to meet him (Leon Danielian) an offered him the scholarship that changed his life. Chris’s point to me was that you never know what can happen, he thought he had failed and in that moment vowed to work harder. Things turned out okay, but hard work is the only answer to success,
So there is absolutely something to be said about spending a week with your former teachers in an environment as their peer. Basically, think about spending a week with your PH.D professor in his home, and yes, that’s exactly the kind of experience I have every time I come to Huntsville!
But this blog is about Christopher’s cooking skills. I have learned how to cook something different EVERY night, with the spices and stories about PNB from Rachel and NYCB from Chris. (SERIOUSLY, a gold mine, right?!) There’s no “dancer handbook” out there, about how this that or the other works in the dance world, (which is just not the same environment as other workplaces) but there are plenty of cookbooks out there. It seems like every partnering class I had with Chris, there was one poor girl that would inevitably grab her partner’s hand while he lifted her. Not smart, right. I mean, think about it, there’s a guy lifting you in the air with his hands, and she’s trying to grab them?! Yeah, that’s the lesson Chris taught EVERY partnering class. And it almost seems like common sense, right? Apparently you are wrong, ask the girls who grabbed they’re partners hands. Same idea while skinning a cucumber, you should cut away from yourself, but I didn’t know this until after Chris informed me. So now I cut with my knuckles tucked under instead of with my fingers out so I don’t lose one. While setting choreography, you must be really spatially aware, so as not to run over somebody coming off stage at the same spot that someone else might enter stage, especially when there are acrobatics involved. Again, Chris has pointed out this logic to many a clueless dancer. Sounds a lot like chopping to me: you need to be pretty spatially aware so as not to cut up your fingers! Thanks Chris, I’m glad I’m not missing a finger, yet. So class and rehearsals are a lot like cooking. For example, Chris taught me how to make sushi, from the rice, to rolling the ingredients in the bamboo, to cutting the sushi properly (which I still can’t really do because my hands aren’t really big enough, so I cheated while he was outside on the phone!). However, my first sushi, was a LITTLE over wasabied. On the bright side, my sinuses are cleared up! But that’s another point that ballet teaches. You only learn by doing. And I appreciate Christopher’s class because he never tells you what you are doing wrong, he ASKS. Therefore, you have to figure out what you’re doing wrong. Otherwise, you’ll never realize that you’re knee is bent, or you’re stepping with the left instead of the right, etc. I try to emulate Chris in this when I teach class, because I became much more aware of my strengths and weaknesses thanks to his teaching theory. Another example: as my friend Ashley pointed out in the comments of my last blog, Chris always said, “People pay to see you MOVE! Now MOVE IT!!” This adds so much more excitement to dancing. Think about it, would you rather see someone pose on stage for 30 minutes, or would you rather see him cross the stage back and forth and diagonally and exit and enter during those 30 minutes while MOVING across the stage? Yeah, I agree. And much in the sense of adding flavor to your dancing, fresh herbs add a lot of flavor to your cooking. I usually cook with dried herbs, they last longer and easier to access for a busy lifestyle. After tasting an omelet and homemade pizza sauce with fresh herbs, I’ll never go back! It’s like seeing an exciting ballet- once you’ve experienced that, you have to go back and see the ballet again and again! Basically, Christopher’s philosophy about dancing is the same when translating into cooking. Everything makes sense. In class, if your heads snaps around during a turn, you’re body will follow, otherwise, you’ll be without a head (or body, whichever way you think of it). When jumping, if you get your hips up, your body will follow. Very practical, and to some, easier said than done. However, I love this idea- and will translate it into all aspects of my life. Who wouldn’t want to cook a meal if you are enjoying the experience as an experience, and not a chore. Much like dancing, I enjoy class, because I know that experience helps me grow as an artist. Cooking shouldn’t be a big “to-do”, just a beginning to an end. You cook to eat. You rehearse to perform. That simple. (at least that’s Chris’s philosophy in my opinion, but hopefully I’ll be able to adopt it eventually.)