This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 13 - Teaser by Sarah Weber Gallo

You guys! It turns out starting a business while working full time and trying to be a present parent is harder and more time-consuming than going to grad school while doing the same. You know that joke about congratulations-now-here’s-your-mop-and-bucket? Totally. True.

Just yesterday when I had a private lesson cancel last minute, did I take that precious hour to do a yoga practice or work out a new phrase or to sit down and read or write? Nope. I grabbed the bucket and mop and gambled that the floor would be dry in time for the next class. I am so good at mopping. And when I took the bucket into the janitor’s closet to fill her up for the job and saw glitter in the sink, I turned into SLJ from that snake movie: “There better be no mother $%#ing glitter on my mother $%#ing dance floor!”

I am so good at mopping that I have become convinced that the physical act of mopping will feature heavily in my next dance. I’m brewing a dance about time and the suspension of reality therein. A clock with no hands. And mopping.

Because time is the thing now. I’ve been bending it with some success since September. I’ve looked at each week’s schedule and routinely observed that I am expected to be physically present in two, or sometimes three, places at once. In different States. My daughter has a Hermione Granger Time Turner necklace. I look at it wistfully. It would be so cool if that thing really worked.

It doesn’t.

So I’m writing this today on the bus heading into the Port Authority. On the way to the first leg of today’s unique marathon. I will take the first hour of a two-hour class. I will leave class early to rehearse Fledermaus at the Met for several hours. During breaks in this rehearsal I will be simultaneously planning my next class and answering emails about the Winter semester. I will leave this rehearsal early to take the bus back to New Jersey to teach my Theatre Dance class. (Here I will see my daughter for approximately 3 minutes. I’m building us a future, kid! Mwah!). I will lock the studio and take three trains to the East Village to observe and give notes at the dress rehearsal of a production of Othello I choreographed. I will reverse that commute to arrive home by approximately midnight. I will have a drink.

Yesterday was similarly varied and epic. Likewise tomorrow. I consume a lot of coffee.

Coffee aside, the only way this dynamic puzzle works is because I have a husband who does the bulk of the childcare and homework and guinea pig feeding. (Holla JG!). But also, I am able by constitution and training to arrive at each moment fully present and embodied. This is a capacity evolved from a lifetime of dancing. Dancers must be intellectually nimble - to jump quick-fire from task to task, moment to moment, idea to idea. Heck, job to job.

You guys! This is true in artistry as well. The best dancers are those who appear to have more time. In art, as in life, the best are those who can willfully bend time. (Holla Sylvie Guillem!). I don’t presume to be the best at any of this, but I do certainly do the time bending. And the mopping. And there better be no mother $%#ing glitter on my mother $%#ing dance floor!
Just wait, this will all be in my next dance.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 12 - I Watched Flesh and Bone So You Don't Have To by Sarah Weber Gallo

I watched “Flesh and Bone” so you don’t have to.

Flesh and Bone is not a good show.

I keep watching only because they had the good sense to cast actual dancers, many of whom I know. And because there is no denying that Irina Dvorovenko is stunning. But the show is so pedantically plotted and paced that you might use it to teach a small child about setting up an expectation for the audience. And. Then. Delivering. The. Expectation. You will never be surprised by this show.

This, despite all the gratuitous nudity and sexually charged situations. Oh my! Poor desperate ballerina flees to the strip club to figure out her identity! How she suffers. This “alabaster skinned angel” who must exorcise her whore side to feel whole in yet another 2-dimensional rendering of a tortured ballerina. This isn’t me reading the show through my typical feminist lens. This is me reading the show exactly as it is written and presented. It’s dumb.

I mean, Breaking Bad (made by the same creators) was a crazy and hyper-melodramatic show in which the situations consistently tried belief, but it worked because the center of its bleakness was a true anti-hero. Our Pittsburgh ballerina heroine in Flesh and Bone is neither hero nor anti-hero. She can dance, but she leaves one wondering what all the furrowed-brow fuss is about.

Maybe the show’s creator, having once danced, was simply too reverent about La Dance. The show may fancy itself gritty, but it is so earnest and precious it makes me itch. Worse, it is terminally humorless.

Attention Civilians: Real, flesh and blood professional dancers laugh a lot. Our humor may be of the gallows variety and may tend toward the vulgar, but it is front and center to the experience of being a dancer. The body is our tool, so we spend a lot of time tending to it and talking about it and using it and flashing it. We are frequently naked in the presence of our co-workers and we think nothing of openly sharing the state of our digestive system. Or our menstruation. It’s all directly work-related. We touch each other too much. It is decidedly un-sexy. We are aware of our absurdities. We are aware that we are constitutionally unsuited to more conventional work environments and often joke that the lot of us would be an HR nightmare in any other profession. We laugh about this.

Flesh and Bone’s dismal lack of humor is its most egregious offense, with its utter lack of joy a close second. You guys! Dancing is a fundamentally joyful activity! The product of all those years of rigorous training is the ability to enjoy the sensation of physical mastery, the satisfaction of bounding through space in the company of like-minded people. Known colloquially as the J.O.D., this Joy of Dance allows the dancer to transcend physical pain and to develop artistry. Without the J.O.D., there is no room for artistry to develop. None of the fictional dancers in Flesh and Bone get to be artists. The show not only fails to shed new light on the world of dancing, it misses the point of dancing entirely.

Forget this show people. Set your Sunday night sights on Homeland instead. At least there, you are sure to be surprised.

Nov 24th, 2015

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 11 by Sarah Weber Gallo

THE NOT RECITAL

My kid just enthralled me with her poise during her very first flamenco recital. She is normally pretty wily, so it was sweet to watch her intense focus and her real love affair with that ruffled skirt, that shawl, that fan.

I am compelled to describe the recital because it was just so…Not Recital. Filling the program were numerous dances in the naturalistic tradition of Isadora Duncan. In many cases, the young dancers were credited as movement creators. Parents paid no recital fee. There were no age-inappropriate costumes or music selections. Everyone stayed until the end, when the performance culminated with a gentle waltz and a celebratory tossing of rose petals. All proceeds went to benefit the local homeless shelter.

To be clear, there is very little likelihood that any of the students will become professional dancers. But I don’t think the lack of discernible excellence is necessarily a bad thing. Because really, what is the point of putting children in dance classes? Work with me here:

Approximately 97% of the girl children in this town are currently or have previously been enrolled in some form of dance class - primarily ballet. I continue to question the primacy of ballet in early dance training for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I don’t think any rational parent offers dance classes to her young children because she hopes they will become excellent professional dancers. Sure, a handful of kids will show themselves to be gifted, love the practice, excel in the form, and insist on advanced training. But the majority of our children are present in these classes because we hope to instill in them a little physical discipline, a dash of grace, and hopefully an expressive outlet for their massive imaginations.

This last quality is what I witnessed in abundance during Olivia’s recital on Saturday night. Children draped in toga-like swaths of fabric flitted around the stage in undisciplined formations of glee. Nary a classical line in evidence. Every child in full agency of her experience.

Jaded Dancer Me knows that the whole experience was too freaking wholesome to be true. Mom Me thinks it was just fine.

Maybe in a few years I will consider a more vocational model of training for Olivia. If she discovers that she loves dancing. But for now, she’s getting exactly what she needs and I don’t feel like I’m whoring her out for some unattainable ideal. So flit around kid! Work your shawl! And turn 6. There’s time.

She says she wants to be a scientist anyway.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 10 by Sarah Weber Gallo

IN WHICH TEAM GALLO TAKES ON NYCB

“I thought you said this was a matinee! Matinees start at 2 PM. 11 AM? Our weekend is ruined! Is it too much to ask to sleep in on a Saturday?”

Thus begins the next stop on my taking-Olivia-to-see-dance odyssey. This time, we are bringing the Daddy-O. For the record, the Daddy-O was my original going-to-see-dance date, but since becoming parents, we have found ourselves splitting our affinities. Or, as the Daddy-O would say, “We send a representative.” So today, I am determined to remain excited that Team Gallo is in full effect, regardless of the morning’s agitation. Because we are heading into the perfect storm of kid cultural currency: the New York City Ballet Family Matinee.

I want to be delicate about this, because I am about to write critical words about a sacred institution. And because, in concept, I applaud this valiant effort at artistic outreach and building future audiences. But, I have to wonder - as did the family next to us at Rosa Mexicano after the show - if anyone on the artistic team behind Saturday’s lecture demonstration has kids. The series really is a stellar idea, and is seemingly successful, but it could be so much more effective. The show needed a director.

There was just so much didactic talking. If keeping the attention of children is a goal of your performance, more lecturing than dancing is not the ideal ratio of activities. And, if you want to have some audience participation, that’s great! But you can’t repeat it more than three times. The children will become bored (and Olivia will start chastising the girls behind her for eating snacks in the theater). And, if you want to bring up the house lights during said audience participation, go ahead. But please bring them down again for the remainder of the performance. I get that you want to be non-threatening, but the effect is more like a convention of a thousand distracted pigeons craning their little ruffled necks around to see E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. other than what is on stage.

And the poor dancers! It had already been established that the audience was incapable of maintaining a clapped rhythm without speeding up exponentially. So when half of the audience (ahem, the Daddy-O included), began enthusiastically clapping along to the rhythm in “Agon,” I died a little. I was, however, gratified to notice that Stravinsky’s score to “Agon” seemed to capture Olivia’s attention more than any segment, because I share that affinity. And I loved seeing that ballet again from such close proximity. (All the tickets for the Family Matinee series are $20, so if you order early enough, you can sit in premium seats for fourth ring prices).

Okay, so today’s theme was music, and it makes sense that you had the instrumentalists onstage and that you introduced the different sections of the orchestra. And it was really fun to meet the percussionist who played the china bowls with chopsticks during “Varied Trio (in four).” But why did you then bury him behind three rows of music stands so his work was not a visible aspect of the performance? Blocking, people. Blocking. And risers.

When it was all over and the kids burst chattering forth in a swirling leaping mass of party dresses, the Daddy-O leaned in and asked whether I think it better to take Olivia to programs geared toward kids or to whatever I want to see. He had to know I would say the latter. I mean, this kid has a pretty long attention span and has shown herself capable of being taken along for the ride of a good performance, but throw a thousand other kids in a bright auditorium into the equation, and the performance is lost.

NYCB, I do love what you are trying to do here, and at these prices, even at this too-early-for-the-Daddy-O hour, we will certainly try again next year. But please, get that director. Preferably a parent. I can recommend a few.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 9 by Sarah Weber Gallo

TAKING MY DAUGHTER TO SEE DANCE 2.0

I’m taking my daughter to see dance again. And we totally got on the wrong boat! We are sitting on the top deck of the Hudson River ferry gleefully holding our faces to the wind when I realize that, um, we just didn’t stop at World Financial Center. Around the lower tip of Manhattan we motor in the waning light to the Wall Street stop, which is practically on the East River side; which I didn’t even know existed; which is nowhere near a subway that will take us to Gibney.

Hoards of hollow-eyed Young Professionals stream onto the ferry and, at this point, I’m ready to give up, ride the boat home, and call it a night. Which is to say that my determination to keep this family cultured is about to be outweighed by sunset ennui on a school night. When suddenly, a boat lackey calls out, “I called the captain in the next slip. He’s stopping at WFC. You can board his boat and make your show on time!”

Like I said, I was ready to give in. So I put it to the kid to decide. “Olivia, do you still want to try to see the dance show? Or would you rather just go home and call it a river adventure?”

“I want to see the dance show. And mom, stop calling everything an adventure. Sassy.

So we go. And the dance is very good! It’s Amy Miller’s new piece performed by the lithe and spunky dancers of Gina Gibney’s company. Olivia sits on my lap, and she is getting too tall for this. Her wind-frizzed hair is making my nose itchy. But I am pleased to spend 30 minutes in the presence of complex and well-executed dance in the company of my daughter. When the dance ends and I join in the loud and appreciative applause, Olivia grabs my hands and tries to physically prohibit me from clapping because it is “too loud” (spoken in whiny voice). I find this extremely annoying.

Also, it is already past her bedtime on a school night, so I make the executive decision to bail on the second half. We are required, however, to have a floor picnic of snacks since there has been no proper dinner. And we discuss.

“Mommy, I want to stay for the second half.”

“Really? Did you like the dance that much?”

“No. I don’t like dancing. I only like the ones you are in.”

Oh.

Oh wow. I think she wanted to see the dance show because she knew I wanted to see the dance show. This is perhaps the least ego-centric behavior in this demanding five-year-old girl’s life.

But, as I bask in the glow of this realization, the dancers begin preparing for their entrance for the second half. Right next to us. Because it’s a studio-theater and this is backstage. Oops. And of course, I know all of the dancers from either direct contact or class around town. And OkOkOkOk I’m clearly not seeing the second half of your show but I really liked the first dance and you all performed brilliantly and it’s just because my kid is 5 and it’s after bedtime on a school night and there was the boat and oh sorry Brandon you should be preparing for your entrance without my adventure story intruding in your brain space…

And Olvia blurts out, “Hey dancers! I have a loose tooth. Feel it!”

Thusly defused, we take our leave. But not before I am again chastised for using the word “adventure” and not without much imitative leaping and twirling from the kid who supposedly doesn’t like dancing. Interesting. I think we’ll take the train home.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 8 by Sarah Weber Gallo

THE NOT AUDITION

This is not an audition. This is an interview for a big girl job. Friends, however does one prepare for such an event?

This is so weird! I never left the workforce - even after becoming a mom. I took my designated maternity leave (6 weeks of which was spent recovering from the physical trauma of C-section. Who knew?), and went right back to dancing - and pumping - while my husband did the lion’s share of the parenting. Well, whoop-dee-do for me. A consistently employed professional woman who has never had a job interview. Weird.

When other moms find out that I am a dancer, and that I am in transition from full-time performing to other meaningful (and remunerative) employment in the field, I receive the following unsolicited advice: 1. Open a dance studio in town, or 2. Become a Broadway choreographer. I usually don’t have the heart to tell them that I despise pre-ballet and have no interest in tarnishing our already tenuous social relationships by tracking down their late tuition payments, or that one doesn’t just magically become a Broadway choreographer. But really, Corporate Mom and Condo Mom, I know you are well-meaning, so thanks for the advice.

In the interest of longevity, I have been leaning more towards administration. So, I find myself this morning fretting about what to wear, guessing at the level of professional dress expected. I don’t own a suit. I tried. Really though, the professional attire section of Macys gave me heart palpitations. Everything is so fussy and you can’t move. This does not work for me because I will require a level of good feeling, as Christine Wright puts it, in my body to successfully present myself in an office environment. So I found a bright red jacket in the non-business section, and I plan to make it work with other stuff in my wardrobe. Hopefully this will signify BOLDNESS or CREATIVE THINKING or ORIGINALITY. I’ll report back.

How to quantify all the qualitative measures of my work experience as a dancer? Does the business world value 3-dimensional thinking? Improvisation? That time I stepped on my costume and slid all the way onto my back on a stainless steel raked stage and still managed to hoist myself up over the heads of my partners in split-second time for the dolphin lift? Could these experiences be repackaged as, say, Strategic-Longitudinal-Planning! Systems-Generation! Collaborative-Team-Building! Growing-Capital-In-Emerging-Markets! Well, maybe not that last one. But otherwise? You bet!

Also, let’s not forget that dancing makes you smart. All that sophisticated cross-body patterning is associated with higher-level cognitive functioning - teach a child to skip, etc. By my own unscientific research, crosswords are infinitely easier after ballet class than after getting a manicure or shopping for suits at Macy’s.

And how about grace? This quality is in palpable decline in our city of aggression and myopic striving. It’s going to be a long, hot summer folks; wouldn’t we all benefit from a little more grace in our daily pursuits and interactions? Obviously I think the answer is yes. Or at least I intend to harness all the forces of physical and behavioral grace learned from a lifetime of embodiment to convince Mr. Potential Employer that he needs ME in that office. Right? Right.

So, in an effort to prepare herself mentally for the unfamiliar territory of the corporate job interview, the dancer decides to stop fretting about her attire and…goes to class.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 7 by Sarah Weber Gallo

A lot is written about the plight of the free-lance dancer (and rightly so), but I’m thinking today about what it means to be in a company. An exercise in nostalgia, to be sure.

For those readers who do not know the skinny, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet is disbanded. Through scheduled downsizing of tenured dancers, the Met has arrived at a place where all dancers work on a per-performance basis. Where there once was company, there is now a pile of backpacks - a grand hotel turned youth hostel. And my daughter, internalizing overheard conversations about my career transition, has started telling people I got fired. Which isn’t actually true. Kid, it’s complicated. How to explain decades of internecine labor history to a 5-year old?

But I digress.

Thank Pete for the chorus! That glorious anchor remains, and from its excellence blooms security. Juilliard dance grads rejoice! And get thee to Belinda and Karen for the how-things-run-here nuts and bolts orientation that was formerly the de facto job of senior dancers. They will take care of you, keep you apprised of your rights and prevent you from running to stage before your call. From these ladies you will learn that dancing in an opera, that most interdisciplinary of art forms, is rather dissimilar from all you know about concert dance. And this will be the free-lance gig that lulls you into a sense of company, of belonging. You know what? It’s a real thing.

Let me tell you something about the Metropolitan Opera chorus. After my little family lost our apartment in a 3 building fire, the chorus took up a collection and presented me with a box of cash into which pockets had clearly been emptied - the dancers did too, and the costume shop, for that matter. Company. I was mortified to be in need of such charity. And moved. And in that moment (Carol Wright!), a safety net opened up beneath me - a web of connectedness that I hadn’t previously considered.

Because even after more than a decade as a company member, I retain the fierce qualities of a free-lancer. By nature and practice I am bullheaded and self-sufficient and hard-working and stubborn and rash. I am not supposed to be in need of help. Quintessentially American, I guess. So is my daughter. “NO MOMMY I WILL DO IT. DON’T HELP MOMMY!” But she knows that we were helped by the artists of the Met during our time of need, and I hope this bit of family mythology will cause her to know that feeling of connectedness, of company.

And when I make my final, super-slow descent off the deck in tonight’s season ending performance of Un Ballo in Maschera, it is only fitting that I will be greeted with the elegantly floating hands of Dan and Craig. They will guide me safely and beautifully offstage.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 6 by Sarah Weber Gallo

OBVIOUS DANCER

Why am I standing in fourth position right now? Feeling like some pimply adolescent? This is absurd. I am an accomplished professional dancer and a reasonably awesome mom, yet I am reduced to apologetic posing by the presence of a ballet dancer on the playground.

Back it up: I’m with my 5-year old daughter on Danger Island in Hoboken (the very playground that sent my mother to the ER bleeding from the head within 5 hours of her arrival), and we are covered in sand and having fun! Until in walks ballet-mom, and all my insecurities are cued. She is all external rotation and flawless bun and hyperextension. I don’t know her, or her angelic blonde children, but she is clearly City Ballet. And instead of approaching her and introducing myself as a fellow sufferer, I become obsessed with how much more obvious it is that she is a dancer than I. To be clear, I don’t have any dancerly body issues. This is some ancient, deep-seeded modern-dancer anxiety, this.

So I start to broadcast, rather than drive an interaction that would acknowledge our sisterhood as dancer moms. Ack these layers of identity! It’s like my fourth position and my prominent bunions are suddenly needy: “I’m a dancer too! Well, not that kind of dancer, but still..” Ridiculous. Anyone who knows me expects nothing but confidence and ability. So what is happening here? My friend Anna tells me that Jewish people do this broadcasting thing - and it is known as bagel-ing.

We all do this - dancers, I mean. We bagel. If we see another obvious dancer on the subway, we sit a little straighter. We may even feel a sudden need to roll our ankles or stand on releve. And we definitely walk more duck-like around Lincoln Center than in other nabes. We justify these behaviors by telling ourselves we are a little late for class and just need a little innocent warm-up action. Obvious Dancer!

Back at Danger Island, where ballet v. modern insecurities combine with the exigencies of public parenting to create a perfect storm of self-judgement, I just can’t stand the idea that ballet-mom might pity me for being less accomplished. That she will categorize me as a lesser dancer because I chose to hang up the pointe shoes 20 years ago in favor of other, equally rigorous, forms of dance. That she will look with alarm upon my wild-eyed child. But really, why would she make any such judgements? She probably would have welcomed the overture. It’s not her, it’s me.

For all my talk of letting my freak flag fly, I hereby admit that I am still indoctrinated to value ballet over all other forms of dance. Merde. Apparently a lifetime of habitual thinking is hard to break. Meanwhile, I better get back to the task at hand. Sure Olivia, I’ll pump the water. Let’s turn this sandbox into a mud pit!

This Mom Dances - Tumblr post # 5 by Sarah Weber Gallo

LINDA LINDA LINDA!

This is the final week of the Met season, and I am taking company class with Linda Gelinas.

Linda Linda Linda!

You left your New Hampshire home at 16 years old for a job at Bagel Nosh and a scholarship at Joffrey. Your two grown children are dancers. Your ex-husband was a dancer. For fun, you and your daughter study film of Alessandra Ferri. Oh Captain, my Dance Captain, I love to make fun of you for being such a ballet nerd!

But truthfully, I regard her with awe. Because Linda Gelinas is a dance journeywoman of the highest caliber. Dancing is it for her. This is plain in her youthful verve on stage, in her insistence on jumping with the men during grande allegro, in her industrious oversight of the dancers’ persnickety shoe orders, in her robust teaching and mentoring of younger dancers.

Dancing at the Metropolitan Opera is a thing of obstacles. To paraphrase former Met dancer Victoria Rinaldi: If you want to see a girl do 32 foutes, go see ABT. If you want to see a girl do 32 foutes with a fruit basket on her head on a rotating raked stage flanked by constipated dogs, go to the Met. Linda Gelinas has done these things and much more during her 30 + years of performing at the Met. She joined the company at 20 years old, when the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Ensemble, or MOBE, still toured separately from the opera proper during the off-season - ancient history, that. Her children were reared in the opera house. The measure of her career is made of myriad extraordinary things. Things that separate opera dance from concert dance. Things for which she is always first to volunteer. Because her answer is always yes; often yes, and?!…

Linda will be the first to blind jump through a 3-story-high darkened trap door into the arms of inconsistent stagehands. She will take the up-rake track while dancers 20 years her junior flow easily down-rake. And I swear I saw her jumping at West Side Dance the day after knee surgery. She will smooth decades-old dressing room personality clashes - all with smiling sincerity. I think it comes done to humility. Humility of the sort that begets longevity and inspires devotion.

When I encounter one of the hundreds of extra dancers who have done time at the Met, I am invariably asked about Linda. “How is Linda doing? Please tell her thanks for saving me in Manon!” “Is Linda still dancing? She’s my hero!” And as I stand at the barre today watching her demonstrate fierce grande battlements, I think the same thing.

Linda Linda Linda!

You will never be featured on the cover of dance magazine. And unlike your more famous friend across the plaza, you will not be feted with a retirement concert of your favorite roles (although our party after your last Aida was a fun tribute and full of heart!). Not because you aren’t amazing, but because journeywomen like you are the uncelebrated laborers of the dance world. It is your lot, and mine. But dancers know. We see you. And on your last night we will have a quick Heineken, have a laugh, and head home.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr Post # 4 by Sarah Weber Gallo

“Oh It’s Such a Perfect Day! I’m Glad I Spent it with You.”

Typical.

Pressed snooze twice again. Now I have t-minus 37 minutes to caffeinate and get out the door. These are the only minutes I will share today with my daughter.

A quick snuggle on the couch and then we eschew a proper seated breakfast for a floor picnic of handheld frozen waffles and a game of Connect 4. I’m teaching her strategy and she will beat me soon.

Then BAM! Down to t-minus 15 minutes to dress, brush teeth, braid hair, argue over weather-appropriate footwear, put blankie to sleep in her cozy nook, and COME ON COME ON COME ON get out that door.

We walk the 10 minutes to school while carrying on a steady banter about school and Harry Potter. And she asks with some little fear, “Mommy, do you have a show tonight?”

I do.

This is one of those days where I will not be able to come home between rehearsal and performance, so the next time I see Olivia she will be snoring lightly with her face craned toward the door of her room as if in anticipation of my arrival.

The worst hours of such days for me are between 5-7 PM, when there is enough time for me to leave the theater for dinner, errands, and some fresh air, but not enough time to go home. So I emerge onto Broadway to be confronted with Upper West Side parents walking with their children, talking about school and Harry Potter. And I fight the urge to join their conversation. “My daughter likes Hermione too! She pronounces it ‘Ah-Miley’ and loved it when she danced with that boy at the ball in Harry Potter 4.” Ugh. Get it together, Weber. You don’t know these people and they don’t care that your daughter is in aftercare in Hoboken right now.

I love what I do - well, mostly - I mean every workplace has it’s politics and annoying bureaucracies, right? But I do love performing and being surrounded by a company of world class artists. Even the late nights suit my temperament. And this job has sustained our family. But the truth is, that sustenance consists of a tenuous hold on middle class comforts in a really expensive city. And when I see those UWS parents between the hours of 5 and 7, the classist chip on my shoulder gains another ounce.

Sorry Olivia. Your mom is a dancer and your dad is a playwright. Not only do we work long odd hours, but we habitually take on other time-consuming projects for the sake of making art. We make dances and give readings and sometimes we sing for our suppers, as the saying goes. And we probably can’t send you to camp this summer.

But our lives are filled with experiences of value, and tomorrow is Saturday! And although I have a 2 show day, we can definitely steal a few more hours. Maybe you can even come with me for the matinee.

This Mom Dances - tumblr post # 3 by Sarah Weber Gallo

No Dancers, This is 40(s)

Gloria Steinham was on the cover of the Times Sunday Review section with the byline, “This is what 80 Looks Like.” And I, now in my 40th - wait, 41st - year, could barely suppress a chuckle as these song lyrics from Ryan Adams (also born in 1974) popped uninvited into mind, “And I am in the twilight of my youth, not that I’m going to remember. Have you seen the moon tonight, is it blue?”

I have been a professional dancer in this city for almost 20 years, having hitched a ride here with a now forgotten boyfriend moments after graduation. And I cringe every time I hear the comfy adage about dancers dying twice. Because it presumes a romanticism about dancing that belies the work and craft of the profession. And because it is pejorative. And because, as countless dancers of a certain age will no doubt agree, I am dancing better now than I did in my 20s. That is not to say that I am correct, but I have arrived at the place where I can’t make a wrong move. I also can’t do the splits all day long, nor do I want to, and despite the strangely splayed leg images constantly spewed forth on the Dancers Over 40 Facebook page. (Really dancers Over 40? What antiquated value system are you espousing over there? Haven’t any of you learned how to be virtuosic without putting your foot behind your ear? Really? You got all the memos! Hell it was probably one of your inane posts that reminded me of the whole syrupy notion of dancers dying twice.)

Because I got the memo, and still chose dancing as a profession. So I have a close personal relationship with my mortality, in dance and otherwise. Even during the years of youthful drug experimentation and promiscuity, (Sorry mom, it’s true) I was engaged in constant dialogue with that old friend. “Well, yes, Death, I will be taking this risk. Else how will I really know the stuff of which I am made…of what I am capable…of how I cope?” And so, as the song goes, “I ended up the kind of kid who goes down chutes too narrow.” Don’t all dancers?

Dancing is an irrational profession. It’s as if we are all running around with under developed pre-frontal cortexes. We are creatures of the ephemeral fleeting moment - as our profession demands. When we are working we do not think about futures; we think about nows. We are like my 5 year old daughter who is seemingly incapable of putting on pants in the morning because she is otherwise engaged with some fascinating thing like a broken shell that fits together almost perfectly so it should probably become a magic trick that will be repeated for every child and adult she will encounter in the next hour. If we ever get to school. We are never early. We - dancers, I mean - will labor at this thing despite the minuscule odds of success, financial or otherwise, because…I don’t know why. Because we like to walk around saying things like, “head-tail” and “ephemerality of the fleeting performative moment”. The chutes are too narrow.

Anyway, I am a 40 - wait, 41 - year old dancer. A journeywoman. I’m no Wendy Whelan, or Gloria Steinham, for that matter; and I have never been on the cover of Dance Magazine. But I have been in this business since I upstaged the boy playing Michael Jackson as self-appointed lead ghoul in our dance studio recital version of Thriller. So I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I know that dancers who say things like, “I am only truly myself when I am dancing,” and “Dancing is my only passion,” are going to crash and burn - if not now, than certainly at 40. This is a profession, people, not a fairy tale. Well, maybe Grimm, but certainly not Disney. This is work (of course, we are fortunate that our workplaces aren’t cubicles), but this is still work. And just as older senior partners at law firms become honorary at a certain point, the reckoning will come to all of us. As it is upon me. Dancer emeritus.

I’ve been preparing for this reckoning (not first death - ugh) for as long as I can remember. Always watching older dancers and taking cues from the most realistic and graceful among them (read: not the tunic wearers at Steps. Although, they are strangely beautiful, in a Miss Havisham sort of way). Thankfully I now find myself less interested in competing against younger dancers than in mentoring them. And frankly, I will not miss the endless days and late nights of full-time performing. I have been interpreting other people’s creative visions for lo these many years, and it’s that, more than my body, that is getting old. So I am enjoying being choosy about my projects and my collaborators and making my own dances. I am anticipating taking an active role in educating new generations of dancer citizens. And here is what I will tell them: Read books. Read newspapers. Listen to loud music. Get your rocks off. Be political. Don’t separate your dancing body from your intelligent mind. Do be intelligent. Do not be romantic about your work, for it, much like New York City, will never be romantic about you.

Because here’s the thing: if you measure your value by a narrowly focused idea of virtuosity (who decided the splits are virtuous anyway?), turning 40 will be pretty durn depressing. But, if you apply yourself to this profession with a purposeful sense of broad minded inquiry, you will arrive at 40 with excitement and brio. The future is once again wide open, and you ain’t dead yet. So get a life dancers. Because I’ve seen the moon, and, hell, it’s not really all that blue.

This Mom Dances - Tumblr Post # 2 by Sarah Weber Gallo

Pre-Ballet Blues

When I tell another mom that I am a professional dancer two things happen. First, she takes a surreptitious scan of my body and makes a quick mental calculation involving our comparative height/weight/age ratio. Then she asks where I have Olivia studying ballet.

Then I say, “She doesn’t.”

Because, let me be very clear on this: pre-ballet is boring.

It’s boring because they don’t dance. They stand on those little spots. They are not allowed to touch the barre. They wait their turn. They sit on the spots. Maybe they get to jump over a pair of moldy old pointe shoes! That is, if every kid in the class succeeds in following the rules. And woe be unto you if you get a class with one rebellious child, for your kid will never get to jump over the shoes.

Olivia was 3 years old when I enrolled her in such a class, at considerable expense to my wallet and my soul. How my soul clenched during the interminable 45 minutes of parent visitation day! The children were bored. The instructor (a professional dancer and younger colleague of mine) was trying heroically to hide her boredom. The parents, successful and ambitious professional people all, were reduced to infantile smiling and waving and clapping just to fill the void of sticky, despairing malaise permeating the room. Right. We never went back.

Should she even dance? Is it a benefit or a curse to have a parent (two, in Olivia’s case) in the arts? My husband jokes that we should push her into the arts so she will run kicking and screaming in adolescent rebellion toward math and science. But because I have made a career of this art form by the skin of my teeth, I can’t enter into the conversation lightly.

Here’s the thing: dance is a performing art form. It is inherently expressive, even in the most abstract choreographies. It does not exist for purposes of fitness, though fitness may certainly be a secondary benefit. Paradoxically, it does not exist for the purpose of discipline, which you wouldn’t know from the typical pre-ballet paradigm. A performed dance is fundamentally an expression of an idea, just as a microchip might be the best expression of a Silicon Valley mogul’s idea (albeit a more well-remunerated one). But when taught to children in the absence of an idea, ballet is just a bunch of steps. Steps that very few people can perfect. Boring.

And yes, ballet is the foundation of all western forms of dance. But I am not convinced it the best first course of dance study - one of the best contemporary dancers I know studied tap exclusively until college. And in our increasingly global society, dance, much like politics, needs to rethink the Eurocentrism we have held so dear. This is beginning to happen at the university level, where Dance of the African Diaspora is becoming an increasingly legitimized course of study. (Yesss!). But what about our children?

I want to see a little expressive context included in the early study of dance. And more importantly, let’s make it an empowering experience for our girls and boys. I want to see my daughter emerge from a dance class with words, gestures, and exuberant full-bodied physicality. Not a list of her insufficiencies.

So no. I don’t have Olivia in ballet.
I have her in Flamenco.
Details available upon request.

Apr 28th, 2015

This Mom Dances - Tumblr Post # 1 by Sarah Weber Gallo

Taking My Daughter To See Dance

I started taking Olivia to see dance concerts way too soon. I have no regrets about this, although it turns out that a handful of people don’t appreciate the presence of a 3-year-old at the Joyce (note to self: those free standing chairs on the loge are not, as I had hoped, better for young children. In fact, they invite disruptive behaviors and shall never again be occupied by the likes of us. Further note to self: ditto aisle seats. Conclusion: sit the kid smack in the middle of the theater where she may be influenced by the calm seatedness of neighboring patrons and where escape is not an option).

I have a lot of anecdotes.

There was this one Friday evening at a MAD museum works-in-progress showing. I wanted to see what Susan Marshall had been working on, and, knowing it has something to do with Beyoncé, I was pretty sure Olivia would dig it. She did! Also on the program, however, was a quiet solo for NYCB principal dancer Jared Angle in which he gamely attempted a decidedly post-modern score, fighting all the while his balletic tendency toward majestic presentation. I was already a little uncomfortable for him when Olivia started narrating in stage-y kid whispers, “And the prince went riding through the forest to get to the tower to save the Princess and they escaped the witch and bopped her on the head and sang weeweeweewee all the way home and then they got married and…happy ever after”. Then she started humming, encouragingly. It was as if she knew by the telltale signs in his body carriage that he would be more comfortable as a cavalier. I thought her narration gave the dance some much needed context. I also thought it was time to leave. And then, before we could make our discreet escape, Sara Du Jour came trouncing down the aisle as a fantastically bitchy Carmen Miranda. Du Jour performed much of her satiric and virtuosic gyrations in Olivia’s general direction, and the kid was entranced.

I do these things because I am a dancer. And, for reasons readily apparent to new parents everywhere, having a young child has severely limited my consumption of cultural happenings. Also I want my daughter to know all manner of performance art. Else why rear a kid in New York City? Also I am selfish. I had Olivia at 35 years old, late by the Midwestern standards of my Indiana upbringing, but normal or even early by New York dancer standards. (We who make the most fragile of livings in our leotards and who flourish during our best child-bearing years only to plunge into early mid-life crises as our fertility dries up concurrently with our performing careers must sacrifice just a little bit more than other ambitious and devoted career women when we meticulously calculate our family planning). Anyway, I express my selfishness - and my grown-up-ness - by taking my 5-year-old daughter to see Doug Varone and Dancers, not Dora and Friends. I despise Dora.

When she was born, I eschewed the company of new mommy friends who share only the accident of our childrens’ births, favoring instead the worn and comfortably vulgar company of my friends who dance. I was determined to integrate Olivia into my dancing life. I hope this teaches her the importance of valuing what you do for a living by standards other than financial (Lawd knows this career isn’t best measured by financial success).

This kid has grown up in the green room of the Metropolitan Opera house. Until about a year ago, she thought all adults went to work through the stage door. She can identify Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria within 1.2 notes. She was not scared of Luca Pizzarone in his furry Caliban costume. She did not like watching me fly up in the chandelier as a slightly demented showgirl in Fledermaus. She prefers watching “The Red Shoes” on a rainy day, and has been know to quip, “ Champagne cocktail please” with exactly Moira Shearer’s intonation. (This always cracks me up). She watched Eiko and Koma’s “Caravan” at MOMA last year until closing time. She sat facing Marina Abromovic with her big unblinking judgemental little kid eyes. She prefers ballet to most contemporary dance because of the costumes, but I am working on that.

If all of this sounds like bragging, it is because I am bragging.

Sorry Chucky Cheese and Sesame Place, we will never visit because I am too much of a snob. I haven’t spent my entire life in the study and practice of fine art to shell out $100 a ticket to see Frozen on Ice when I know Piña Bausch’s company is in Brooklyn and Mark Dendy is at
Abrons (never did get to see that since Mark messaged me that the show is not appropriate for kids).

I will curate my child’s artistic upbringing, dammit. Not just because I trust my own expertise after a lifetime in this field, but because this is something we do together and I insist that I find enjoyment in the experience too. My own mother always took me to the ballet - really to whatever dance company came to Indianapolis - and it was with her that my mind was blown by Batsheva circa 1986. So even though Olivia pronounced the end of Elke Rindfleisch’s evening-length solo, “a little boring,” (it was past her bedtime and the scene did reward quiet attention), I persevere because I am certain that any one of these experiences will similarly blow her mind.